It was Haruka's sixteenth birthday and she couldn't be happier. When most girls turned sweet sixteen, they wanted something really special like ponies or Porsches, and huge birthday parties. It was also the legal age to drive, so all teenagers looked fondly to the day that they could get their driver's license - all but Haruka, anyway. She had another license in mind.
She was getting her Pokémon license.
Haruka hummed in front of the mirror as she held several metal hair clips in her mouth, reaching back behind her head to clip up her long brown hair. She tucked in the back until she was left with what she fondly called puppy-ear-tails. They looked like little golden retriever ears on either side of her head. Some jerks made comments about it, calling them handlebars, but she always ignored them.
She thought it was cute, and that was all that mattered.
"Hmhmhm~!" Haruka finished up clipping her hair and grabbed her bandanna off the dresser. It was blue, save for two white disjointed lines curling around a full white circle at the center. It was a Pokéball, and the emblem of the Pokémon League itself. It was only fitting that a Pokémon Trainer wear something with the League emblem on it. She tied it around her head like a cap, then put her hands on her hips and regarded her reflection.
The cap completed her outfit of a blue zip-up vest with black lapels and black bike pants with matching black socks and blue sneakers. Haruka imagined that if there was an outfit for Pokémon Trainers, this was probably what it looked like - probably, sort of. Anyway, she looked rather snazzy in it, if she did say so herself. Which she was saying so herself, so that was the end of it.
"Last thing, last thing," Haruka muttered as she slipped on her gloves, the portion that covered the hands white in color while the fingers and trim were black. She clenched her hands in to fists before she pumped them in to the hair. "Alright! Pokémon Master Haruka is a go!"
Dr. Odamaki sat at the kitchen table, enjoying his coffee as he read the newspaper. He looked less like a doctor, even in his white lab coat, and more like a beachcomber in his short khaki pants, navy t-shirt, and sandals. His short messy brown hair and scraggly beard didn't help this impression any. But whatever his appearances suggested, Dr. Odamaki was a premier professor on Pokémon, particularly Pokémon habitats and Pokémon behavior in the wild.
A flurry of activity upstairs caused Dr. Odamaki to pause in mid-sip, glancing up just in time to watch his teenage daughter nearly leap down the stairs. She jumped three steps at a time before she was finally at the bottom, then rushed over to the kitchen table. She slammed her hands down, causing the professor's plate of toast to rattle slightly.
"I'm ready!" Haruka said. "Let's go, let's go!"
"Don't you want some breakfast first?" Dr. Odamaki asked, with an awkward laugh. "It's a bit of a drive to Kotoki Town."
"Time and food wait for no trainer!" Haruka said.
"At least eat in the car," Dr. Odamaki said as he stood up. "Or your mother will have me for breakfast."
Haruka puffed out her cheeks as she huffed. "Fiiiine."
Dr. Odamaki went about getting himself ready, picking up his wallet and keys off of the little shelf on the wall by the door. He glanced over to his daughter, who shoved two pieces of bread in to the toaster and turned it on. It wasn't exactly a full breakfast, but he suspected it was the most he would get out of the teenage girl. Haruka glared at the toaster, as if she thought the little device would somehow work faster if it knew just how displeased she was with it.
Despite the glare, the little machine worked at its own pace and lightly toasted the slices of bread before popping them up with a loud 'clank'. Haruka furiously wiped cream cheese on to the toast with a knife before shoving both slices in to her mouth at once and raced towards the front door.
"Mf gew, mfff gewww!" Haruka said, before she was out the door. Dr. Odamaki chuckled ruefully then followed after his daughter.
The car ride to Kotoki Town was slow, at least in Haruka's eyes. The old dusty brown pick-up truck traveled the unpaved road at a diligent pace. It wasn't anything fancy, but it got the job done. In her father's line of work, it paid to have a car that could take a beating and still get him where he needed to go, regardless of the terrain. It didn't have to look nice or be expensive to do that.
Haruka wasn't really interested in cars, anyway. How could cars possibly compare to little acorns with eyes and feet or sharks shaped like torpedoes? It couldn't, that's how! Pokémon were totally fascinating to her, filled with all sorts of mystery and wonder just waiting to be discovered.
Maybe that was her father's influence, which was something her mother always complained about, but none of that mattered. Whatever the reasons, Haruka was Haruka and the world had better be ready for its newest Pokémon Trainer!
"Hmhmhm~!" Haruka stuck her head out the window as she stared far ahead. The dusty path wound itself across the country side, through the forest. Trees stretched far and wide, separating the town of Kotoki from her home, Mishiro Town.
Really, Mishiro barely even counted as a town. It was a tiny little settlement in the middle of nowhere, where everyone knew each other and the biggest news always had to first come from Kotoki Town. Kotoki wasn't exactly a sprawling metropolis itself but it had its own Pokémon Center and a Pokémon League branch, which was far more than Mishiro had. It was a town where people went to get away from everything, and Mishiro was certainly away from everything. Her father's laboratory ended up having to function as a temporary Pokémon Center for any trainers who happened to wander by. He didn't really mind that, it always gave him an excuse to talk to the trainers about their Pokémon and their journeys.
And it gave Haruka the opportunity to hear about them as well.
"Haruka," Dr. Odamaki said, getting his daughter's attention. "Are you sure you want this? Wouldn't you rather go to college and get a degree, and maybe a career in something? It'd be a guaranteed income, and you'd be much safer."
Haruka paused at that before she slowly turned to stare at her father, hard. Her lips pursed in to a tight line as her eyes bore right in to her father's face. If it were possible to catch someone on fire through a stare alone, Dr. Odamaki would surely have burst in to flames.
"I know, I know," Dr. Odamaki said, with a laugh. "But I promised your mother I'd at least ask you. She's just worried about you. Being a Pokémon Trainer can be dangerous, you know?"
Haruka made a noise before she crossed her arms. "Pokémon Training is a career!"
"Yes, but it doesn't always pay," Dr. Odamaki said. "It requires a lot of luck and skill to-"
"I have luck and I'm gonna get skill!" Haruka said as she jerked her fists skyward to emphasize her point, nearly hitting the roof of the truck. "If I'm no good at battles, I'll try contests. If I'm no good at contests, I'll try Pokéathalons. If I'm no good at Pokéathalons, I'll try musicals. And if I'm no good at musicals, I'll try battles again! Eventually I'll be good at something!"
Dr. Odamaki looked at his daughter for a moment before he smiled softly. "I'm sure you will, Haruka."
The rest of the trip was uneventful, the dusty old truck following the road all the way to Kotoki Town. The road seemed to go on endlessly, even though Haruka logically knew that there had to be an end to it. It just felt like it went on forever just to spite her.
Haruka was more than a little relieved when the forest finally parted and she could see the town of Kotoki in the distance. In particular, she could see a large white dome-shaped building with a red roof peeking above the smaller, more traditional houses. It was the Pokémon Center, home to the Kotoki Pokémon League Branch and their destination.
"Almost there," Dr. Odamaki said. "Are you ready for this?"
"I'm so ready I'm about to explode!" Haruka said as she peered out the window again. "It's a readiness explosion!"
Dr. Odamaki chuckled.
By the time her father was able to get to the Pokémon Center and find a parking spot, Haruka really did look like she was about to explode. Squirming and twitching anxiously, she practically jumped out of the truck and ran in to the building before her father could even finish turning off the truck. Locking the doors, he hurried after her as fast as his sandals could take him and found his daughter looking around with wide-eyed wonder.
The interior of the Pokémon Center was huge, which was only natural if it had any hope of containing everything inside it. Front and center was a massive counter where a registered Pokémon nurse waited, ready to accept trainers' Pokémon and tend to them. Most of the front lobby was dedicated to this function, as the doors directly behind the counter lead to the Pokémon infirmary. Inside, certified specialists tended to the Pokémon and took care of any ailment that might be troubling them. This was the primary purpose of all Pokémon Centers - providing assistance to trainers and their Pokémon.
However, healing wasn't the only purpose of the Pokémon Center. To either side of the central counter were stairways leading to the second floor of the lobby. Up there was the trading facility, where Pokémon trainers could exchange their Pokémon. There were various set-ups with Pokémon League officials to both monitor and authorize the exchanges. Certainly, people could exchange Pokémon anywhere, but it never became official until the new Pokémon was registered with the League. At least this way, the trainers didn't have to go anywhere to do that, not to mention it kept people from getting ripped off. The League always checked the contents to make sure people weren't using Pokéballs that contained different Pokémon than the ones promised or, even worse, no Pokémon at all.
Haruka would no doubt eventually become very familiar with the Pokémon Center, as it was vital to all trainers. But first, she had to become a trainer.
"Where to go, where to go," Haruka glanced around for a sign that might direct her to where new trainers were supposed to go. Failing to see one, she frowned. "Hummm..."
"May I help you?" the nurse asked, as she noticed Haruka's confused look.
"Where are the Pokémon?" Haruka asked, with an exaggerated gesture around the lobby.
"Excuse me?" the nurse blinked.
"Er, what she means is, ah," Dr. Odamaki said as he rubbed the back of his head. "My daughter's here to get her Pokémon license."
"I'm sixteen!" Haruka pumped her fists in the air. "It's Pokémon Master go time!"
The nurse blinked slowly, then covered her mouth with one hand as she giggled politely. "Oh, of course," She turned and gestured to the stairs. "It's just upstairs. It's the large door by the trading center."
Haruka was up the stairs before the nurse could even finish speaking, leaping up them two at a time. "Thank you!"
Dr. Odamaki bowed slightly before he followed after his daughter, taking the stairs with much greater care. The door in question was at the center of the back wall, nestled between the two trading stations. The words 'Pokémon League Headquarters' were written on the wall just over the door, in bold black letters.
Haruka wasted no more time in bolting through the doors, much to the amusement of the League officials and the various trainers using the trading facility at the time. A few chuckled as they exchanged knowing looks, with Dr. Odamaki shrugging sheepishly before following his excited daughter.
Haruka was already speaking to the official at the front desk by the time her father managed to catch up. She looked up when she saw him and quickly gestured him over. "Dad, Dad!"
"Good morning," Dr. Odamaki said as he approached the desk. "We're here for Haruka's Pokémon license."
"So she's told me," the official, a man with neatly trimmed hair, said as he smiled. He set down a set of paperwork in front of Dr. Odamaki. "Please fill these out."
"What's that?" Haruka asked, curiously. A thought struck her, causing her to frown. "Is it another test? I took the Pokémon League test already! I got a good score, too!" Rather than delay things on the big day, Haruka had opted to take the license exam early when her High School had offered it. She spent a whole Sunday taking the test just so she wouldn't have to worry about it today!
"No, no, we already have your results," the official said. "They're simply consent forms."
"Consent forms?" Haruka repeated in confusion.
"It's true that you can become a Pokémon trainer when you turn sixteen, but it's only with parental consent," the official said. "If you do not have parental consent, you must wait until you turn eighteen."
"Whaaaaat?" Haruka gasped, shocked. "But, but, but what kind of parent wouldn't give con-?" The words died as she spoke them, as the image of her mother came to mind. She paused, then puffed her cheeks up with a huff. "Well, I'd just turn eighteen that much faster, then!"
"It's fine, it's fine," Dr. Odamaki said, as he chuckled. He looked over the papers as he signed them with the provided pen. "Your mother knows how much this all means to you."
Haruka crossed her arms with a huff. "It means a lot to everyone that wants to be a Pokémon trainer!"
"Yes, but not everyone is ready to accept their child growing up." Dr. Odamaki muttered.
Haruka looked at her father as she blinked before her expression softened. "Dad..."
"Everything looks in order," the official said before suddenly pulled out a small device. It looked like a cell phone, black with a red Pokéball on the bottom half. He extended the device to Haruka, who accepted it curiously. "This is your Pokédex. Please take great care of it, as it will contain all your personal information."
"A Pokédex," Haruka whispered. "My Pokédex."
"It has a variety of functions, which you can customize," the official said. "Primarily, it monitors your Pokémon and provides you information about them. Its Encyclopedia application supplies data on any Pokémon you come across, which is connected to a national database and is updated regularly. There is also a map function and a GPS system."
"We'll put it on our cell phone plan, so you can use it as a cell phone too," Dr. Odamaki said. "We can also open a bank account and connect it to your Pokédex."
"I always recommend that trainers password protect their Pokédexes for that reason." the official said.
"So coooool..." Haruka flipped open the Pokédex and looked at the screen. She immediately spotted six grayed out Pokéballs on the top of the screen. "Huh?"
"Those are your Pokémon slots," Dr. Odamaki said as he looked over his daughter's shoulder. "They'll turn red once you have a Pokémon, and you can click on them to find out information about them."
"All Pokéballs have sensors that communicate with the Pokédex, registering those Pokémon to you and relaying information," the official said. "As a new trainer, you are only allowed to have six Pokémon at any one time. Once all of your slots are filled, you will be unable to catch any more Pokémon until you make room, such as releasing or trading one of the Pokémon you already have."
"I know, I know," Haruka said. "But I can get more slots when I win gym badges and stuff, and rank up! Right, right?"
"That's correct," the official said. "Winning gym badges and increasing your trainer rank allows you to carry more Pokémon."
"I know, I know," Haruka said. "But first I need one Pokémon, before I worry about getting more!"
The official nodded as he smiled. "That's very true, young lady. Shall we pick out your starter?"
"I wanna meet the Pokémon!" Haruka said as she jerked her fists in to the sky again, then realized she was still holding her Pokédex and quickly clutched it to her chest. "Um, um."
"Be careful with it, okay, Haruka?" Dr. Odamaki said. "It's very expensive. You wouldn't want to have to pay for it and a replacement as soon as you start out, after all."
"I know, I know, I don't fully own it yet," Haruka said. "But once we win a few battles, we'll pay it off in no time! Or maybe a few contests. ...Or a musical or something," The teenage girl paused, then smiled. "But whatever, I'll be very careful until then!"
"Until then?" Dr. Odamaki asked. "What about after then?"
"Until then, after then, forever then!" Haruka said. "I'll take good care of my Pokédex!"
"Glad to hear it," the official said. "Now, let's go introduce you to your new partner."
The Pokémon Nursery reminded Haruka of a human nursery. The carpet was a swirl of rainbow, while the wallpaper was white with different colored spots. Toys filled the room, giving the Pokémon something to do while they waited for new trainers to come and pick them up.
"Soooo cuuuuute," Haruka squealed as she pressed her hands and face against the glass. "I want them all!"
"You can only take one, Haruka," Dr. Odamaki said, as he smiled. "Any one you like."
"All of these Pokémon are 'starter' Pokémon," the official said as he peered in to the room. "They have been specifically bred and donated by local breeders to the Pokémon League, and all have specialized training."
Haruka made a kissing face at a curious little Zigzagoon, who then proceeded to lick the glass in response. The teenage girl giggled, then paused and turned to the official. "Training?"
"All starter Pokémon come knowing some offensive and defensive skills," the official said. "They also know other skills, such as CPR and how to use the Pokédex to call an ambulance should their trainer be incapacitated. In essence, they've been trained to take care of you just as much as you take care of them."
"Woooowwww," Haruka muttered. "So I'm being babysat by my Pokémon?"
"That's... one way to look at it." the official said.
"So many smart Pokémon," Haruka said as she looked back in to the nursery. There were so many of them, of all different types. And each one was waiting for a trainer to take care of. "...But what happens if they're not picked?"
"Don't worry about that," the official said. "It's rare that a Pokémon isn't chosen as someone's starter."
"But it does happen, right?" Haruka asked, softly. "That's so sad." If it were up to her, no Pokémon would ever go unpicked.
"All Pokémon are in the nursery for two weeks," the official said. "At the end of two weeks, those Pokémon are then sent to the various agencies across the nation in order to receive additional training."
"Additional training?" Haruka repeated.
"Yes. Depending on their type, they get trained and become service Pokémon to people that need them," the official said. "Such as firefighters, lifeguards, the police, forest rangers, and much more. There are even Pokémon who aid the disabled."
"You see, Haruka?" Dr. Odamaki said. "No Pokémon is ever left behind. They always have a purpose."
"...Okay." Haruka said, feeling a bit relieved. It meant that whoever she didn't pick would still have someone to look after them.
"Have you decided who you want?" Dr. Odamaki asked.
"I think...," Haruka furrowed her eyebrows as she looked at all the different Pokémon. "I want..."
"Dr. Odamaki!" Both Haruka and Dr. Odamaki jumped, turning to see a different official hurrying towards them. It was a young woman in a lab coat, carrying a clipboard. "Thank goodness you're here. That makes things easier."
"Ah, Serena," Dr. Odamaki said. "I'm just here with my daughter, picking out her first Pokémon. What is it?"
"We have another shipment," Serena said. "Could you please come and give us your expert opinion?"
"Ah, of course," Dr. Odamaki's smile immediately disappeared, replaced with a grimace. "Right away."
"Shipment? What?" Haruka looked between her father and Serena, then to the first official. "What, what?"
"It's the other function of the Pokémon League." the first official said, also looking very solemn.
"What is?" Haruka asked, anxiously.
"Dealing with abused Pokémon."
Haruka didn't particularly like this new nursery. It was very empty and colorless, with white walls and flooring. The officials said that it was meant to provide a calming atmosphere for the Pokémon inside, without too much stimulus. It made Haruka think of a doctor's office, and she always hated those.
But maybe that's what these Pokémon needed, because they were so sick.
There were only three Pokémon inside the nursery, and looking at them broke Haruka's heart. Thin and bruised, they looked as though they had been through something terrible. Apparently, that something terrible had been a trainer.
"He had been using starvation tactics to train them," Serena said as she opened the door, entering the room with Dr. Odamaki and Haruka in tow. "He had modded his Pokédex so that it wouldn't register their condition and alert the League. Thankfully, that very mod was what got the attention of the League when he tried to register for a gym battle. The officials investigated the modded Pokédex, and then found these four."
"They always seem to forget that the League checks Pokédexes at official events," Dr. Odamaki said. He looked at the three Pokémon and shook his head. "How awful..."
"Four?" Haruka muttered. She had only seen three - a Kecleon, a Ralts, and a Skitty. Who was the fourth Pokémon?
The answer came to Haruka quickly, when she felt the hair on the back of her head rise. She felt as though something was staring at her, glaring at her. The teenager looked around before noticing a pair of beady blue eyes staring at her from underneath a table. Haruka drew closer and crouched down, coming face to face with a little Torchic. Its main body was covered with red feathers, with white chest feathers. The fan-like feathers on top of its head were also white, though they were singed and dirty. The female Pokémon slunk back away from Haruka, watching her intently.
Haruka stared at the Torchic for a long moment, then smiled softly. "Hello, my name is Haruka. What's yours?"
The Torchic silently stared at the teenage girl.
"I hope the League plans on pressing charges," Dr. Odamaki said as he examined the Kecleon, noting the bruises on its body. "This is inexcusable."
"Of course," Serena said. "We not only confiscated the Pokémon and the modded Pokédex, but also his trainer license. He's going before a judge next week to see if he should only get a suspension or be banned entirely."
"I have no sympathy for him," Dr. Odamaki said, then turned to Serena. "I'll take them back to the lab and evaluate them more there, see if foster care can help them."
"We might have to just send the Torchic to a Pokémon sanctuary," Serena said with a sigh. "She's so hostile to humans that we can't even get close to-"
Dr. Odamaki and Serena paused and turned to stare at Haruka. Haruka sat on the floor with her legs crossed, the little Torchic sitting quietly on her lap. Its eyes were closed as Haruka gently played with her head feathers, rubbing the Pokémon's scalp.
"I think she likes me!" Haruka said.
Haruka hummed happily as she sat in the front seat of her father's truck, holding her precious Pokémon in her lap. The newly dubbed Phoenix sat in Haruka's lap, perfectly silent. The little Torchic's head was turned so that she was staring at the car door, pointedly ignoring Dr. Odamaki and the Piplup beside her. The water-type Penguin Pokémon was white with a sky blue head, back, and tail. The two oval markings on its chest and the crown marking just above its beak were black, matching it's black bead eyes. The little Piplup sat comfortably in Haruka's lap beside the Torchic, occasionally casting it curious glances before looking back up at his trainer.
"Hey, Dad," Haruka said, after a moment. "Is this really okay? Isn't it kind of cheating for me to have two Pokémon?"
Dr. Odamaki flinched, having dreaded that question. He had hoped his daughter would have just accepted the situation without question. "Ah, well... not really. You see, the Torchic is a very special case. This was the only way they'd let you take her."
"Phoenix." Haruka said.
"Hm?" Dr. Odamaki blinked.
"Her name is Phoenix." Haruka said.
"Ah, yes, um. Phoenix," Dr. Odamaki said, awkwardly. "They only agreed to let you take Phoenix so long as you agreed to give daily reports through your Pokédex, and only if you took the Piplup with you."
"Zu," Haruka said. "His name is Zu."
"R-right. Phoenix and Zu," Dr. Odamaki said. "So you see, it's not really cheating. You have extra obligations, so you get extra Pokémon."
"But why Zu?" Haruka asked as she turned to her father. "Isn't he from Sinnoh? He's not from a local breeder at all."
"That's right, he's a Sinnoh Pokémon," Dr. Odamaki said. "He was actually sent here to receive training to become a search and rescue water Pokémon. Pokémon aren't really restricted by region when it comes to the League, and we always need water Pokémon."
"That's what I mean," Haruka said. "Is it really okay for me to take him away from such an important job? What if someone drowns?" Their home was actually an island, the island of Hoenn. And with all islands, it was surrounded by vast oceans, making water Pokémon absolutely vital. It wasn't like the mainland at all where they'd only have ocean on one or two sides - all sides had deep water to contend with.
"I'm sure it's okay, Haruka. They're the ones that gave him to you, after all," Dr. Odamaki said. "He's still a starter, and Phoenix isn't. He has all sorts of training that Phoenix doesn't have."
"I knoooow," Haruka said. "But there were other Pokémon there, I could've taken any of the other starters. Why did they give me Zu?"
Dr. Odamaki grimaced. He didn't really want to admit to the truth - that the League had given Zu in order to protect Haruka from Phoenix should the fire-type Pokémon become hostile to her. Water had a type advantage over Fire, and Zu had more experience than any of the other starters available at the nursery. If it came to a fight, Zu would be able to subdue Phoenix with the least amount of danger to Haruka. However, Dr. Odamaki knew that even saying such a thing would completely upset his daughter. Still, how could he answer his curious daughter without lying to her?
Zu looked up at Haruka and chirped quizzically, prompting the teenage girl to giggle and snuggle him tightly against her chest. Phoenix twitched slightly but remained seated in Haruka's lap, leaning against the arm wrapped around her.
Dr. Odamaki looked at Haruka and her two Pokémon before returning his eyes to the road. "Don't you want him?"
"Eh?" Haruka looked up sharply, staring at her father. "Of course I do!"
"That's good," Dr. Odamaki said, as he avoided looking at his daughter. "All those questions just made it sound like you didn't. Like maybe you wanted one of those other starters instead of Zu."
"Ehhhh?" Haruka's eyes widened before she shook her head. "No, no! Of course I want Zu! And Phoenix, too!" She turned to smile reassuringly at the penguin Pokémon. "We'll be the best partners ever, right?"
Zu chirped his agreement, smiling back at Haruka. Phoenix didn't look up, keeping her eyes focused on the car door.
Dr. Odamaki felt guilty about pulling such a stunt and manipulating his daughter. Still, it would keep Haruka from asking any more questions that he simply wasn't prepared to answer. It was for her own benefit, after all.
Now, how was he going to explain this to her mother?