In a different life Ash Ketchum looks upon his world from an unique perspective.


30. 29

Gossip is a curious thing. Though it is often demonized it is also an essential feature of human socialization. It helps form bonds within groups and it helps to keep everyone up-to-date on their peer's lives. Without gossip human society would not be as cohesive as it is. Given that much of humanity's power lies within its social abilities, being able to cooperate in large groups, one could say that gossip is necessary for humanity to exist.

However with gossip come rumors. Unsubstantiated statements, misinformation, hurtful things, harmless things, wonderful things, horrifying things, fun things, deadly things, rumors are all that and more. They spread through all forms of gossip, jumping from ear to ear, computer to computer, and phone to phone. They can almost resemble living things: they have an origin, they grow, they change, and they eventually die.

The most interesting part about rumors though, is their origin. There is always something there, something real, even if the resulting rumor bears no resemblance to that thing. A cyborg monster under the bridge? A drunken hobo who flipped a trash can over themselves. An eldritch tear in the world from which the screams of the damned ring out? Wind in some sort of tunnel (Mystics wouldn't let anyone else near an eldritch tear in the world, such a thing would be too valuable of a resource to share. Sorcerer kings had gone to war over such things, soaking the earth with the lifeblood of humans and pokémon alike, just for five minutes alone with such a thing.)

Sometimes though, it is easy to see the truth behind a rumor. A crazed machamp wreaking havoc in a mountain range? Bruno needed to do a better job of keeping his team away from alcohol. An alien invasion of a power plant? A magnezone was looking for a new home. A garden growing overnight? A bunch of plant type pokémon decided to rest there.

Even more rare is when the rumor is almost completely true. A plague of dragons eating people? Lance was attacking a criminal stronghold. Silph Co. had created a digitial pokémon? Porygon. A gym leader quitting his gym to follow some newbie trainer, along with a gym trainer related to three gym leaders who also decided to follow the same newbie trainer?


Nah, that one couldn't be true. It was just ridiculous.

The point being, rumors couldbe anywhere from laughably false to nearly spot on. And they spread throughout all communities, to all communities. A rumor might start among some sort of electronic community, spread to a retirement community, leap to bankers, trickle into the security guards, be carried to a pub and spread to all sorts of different social groups from there.

It could race through the criminal underworld like fire in a dry forest, reaching even the heads of criminal groups in no time. From there it could slowly make its way to the opposing communities, the League and law enforcement, from their streetwise contacts. It would spread slower there, giving the criminal elements more time to ponder it, more time to decide whether or not to investigate.

Such was the case with the rumor that there was a pokéraised child among a herd of kangaskhan in the Safari Zone, no older than five, who also had a rudimentary grasp of human languages.

The rumor was heard by the scheming and cunning head of Team Rocket, by the fanatical heads of Team Aqua and Team Magma, the mysterious head of Team Galaxy, and by the disinterested ruler of the criminal element in Unova, who eventually saw a different opportunity if the rumor turned out to be true.

Each head had to consider the probability of such a rumor being true, the risk/reward ratio, best plan of action, and the time to react. How many should they send and how fast. And since it was in Kanto, how would they deal with Team Rocket, who ruled the criminal underworld there.

Shinji Burrows and Sakura Olafson, the two mid-level Rocket executives commanding the ten man combat team that were camped out on the edge of the Safari Zone, didn't know most of those details. They knew their mission and that was enough.

Shinji Burrows was on the bulky side of a medium build and slightly taller than average. He kept his black hair cut short in front to keep it out of his brown eyes, and a bit longer in back. His frame was covered by the gold trimmed black Rocket executive uniform that was just barely doing an adequate enough job of keeping him from wishing that they could build a fire. It was a moonless night and the Team Rocket delegation was camped out on the border of forest and grassland. The executive sat there, doing minor tasks to distract himself from the cold.

"I told you that you should have packed warmer," the other executive, Sakura Olafson chided him. She was wearing a woolen long coat over her athletic frame, and gloves, hiding most of her caramel colored skin. Her light blonde hair was kept in a low ponytail at the back of her head. She was looking at her fellow executive calmly, her brown doe like eyes showing neither pity nor pleasure at his suffering.

"I did," Shinji replied. "But we lost some equipment when that last ferry lost our luggage and I didn't pack any backups because it would've slowed us down."

"See if any of the men have spares," Sakura idly suggested.

Shinji shook his head.

"Already checked," he informed her.

"Then just take one of theirs," she told him coldly.

"No need," the male executive replied. "I can stand it."

"There's no need to take the risk of you getting sick," Ms. Olafson said to him. "It would be better if one of the combat team got sick; we can afford to sacrifice one of them."

"Our performance will look better if we keep them alive and healthy," Mr. Burrows retorted. "We'll get bigger bonuses that way."

"That's only if the rumor is substantiated," the blonde woman replied. "We have no way of knowing if there is a pokéraised child that can adequately speak human languages as well in the Safari Zone. Although, the fact that the rumor states that he was taken in by kangaskhan does add credence to the story. That sort of behavior would not be out of character for that species of pokémon."

"Doesn't matter," said Shinji. "If the rumor is true, just think of everything that we could do with that child. We could use wild pokémon as spies, trick League members, interrogate pokémon, get better data on our experiments, and track down the more powerful wild pokémon. Just think of the promotions and money we'll get if he exists."

"Yes," Sakura replied, uninterested. "I'm certain we will be greatly rewarded if our mission is successful. But we must consider how we're going to capture said child. We might need to restrict the number of kangaskhan we kill when we attack the herd; it will make him more willing to cooperate. On the other hand if we sedate him after capturing him and let the specialists back at headquarters work on him, casualty rates won't matter as much. We could also break him as we go along, but then we run the risk of killing him."

"Sedate him," Shinji answered. "It'll be safer than breaking his limbs."

Neither one batted an eyelash as they discussed torturing a child.

"You know, I wonder why we don't just make a child who can understand both human languages and pokémon," Shinji said.

"There are several reasons," Sakura replied. "You're not the first to come up with the idea. The first problem is nobody is sure how pokémon communicate; there's indication that they have a complex language on par with most human languages, that somehow works by each pokémon saying the name of their species or parts of that name. Since that can't be all there is too it, most postulate that there's something going on, either with body language, or something more exotic, like psychic activity. Not every human is capable of learning the language it seems. Secondly there's the difficulty of trying to balance their comprehension of the two languages. Most of the pokéraised children, even when they learn a human language, can only communicate with us as well as a pokémon. It's just as useful to play charades with a pokémon as it is to talk to them. And with the ones that were part of an experiment, they could only understand the pokémon language at about the same level."

"Thirdly," the female Rocket executive continued. "There's the expense involved. You have to get a child, a collection of pokémon, feed them all, teach the child both languages, ensure their cooperation, and so many other factors, some of which involve either advanced equipment. Team Rocket doesn't have the resources to do such a thing. Very few people have them nowadays. That's part of why this child is so special; if he already has some grasp of human languages at this age, and is fluent in the pokémon language, then there's a high probability that he can become fluent in both."

"If he exists that is," Shinji added. "So how are we going to go about finding him?"

They continued to plan until two members of the combat team arrived to take the next watch.

"What are we waiting for?" Asked a tall and skinny man, with light blue hair, dressed in a black and white striped shirt, blue pants, and a blue headband. The blue headband was adorned with a horizontal white oval, with a triangle coming up out of the middle of the top part, and two half bones coming out of the bottom half. It was the symbol of Team Aqua. His name was Jimmy Newlands and he was one of the three mid-level members of Team Aqua that had been sent to investigate the rumor in the Safari Zone.

The group was setting up their camp, erecting tents and unrolling sleeping bags. They were camped out by one of the many lakes within the Safari zone, surrounded by lush vegetation.

"For your night vision," Juliet Kondo told him. She was a pale woman, with a pockmarked face and long black hair. "So how we supposed ta track this kid?"

"He's with a herd of kangaskhan," Jimmy told her.

"So?" Juliet asked, uncomprehending.

"A herd. What comes in mind when someone says herd?" Jimmy glared at her. "Normally one thinks of grazing and wide open spaces. Plains, grasslands, or similar terrain. It won't be that difficult to find him and bring glory to Team Aqua! We could start looking now! No need to wait and delay our righteous cause!" His voice increased in volume as his passion grew.

"So we can trip and break our necks on a tree root?" Juliet rolled her eyes. "Sounds real glorious."

"What part of grasslands don't you seem to get?" Jimmy glared at her.

"Shut up both of you," spoke up the third member of their group, Akiko Watanabe. "We'll wait until morning before we begin searching." She was a slim woman, with short brown hair. She was also dressed in a Team Aqua uniform, like the other two.

"The longer we delay-" Jimmy began, but Akiko cut him off.

"I'm well aware that there might be others searching for this child," she told him. "But the fact remains that we're all tired, even if you refuse to admit it, and will function better after some sleep. We stand a better chance of retrieving the rumored child if we're aren't busy trying to keep our eyelids up."

"Don't you care-" Jimmy tried again, but once more Akiko cut him off.

"Of course I care!" Her own voice began to rise. "This child could accelerate our plans tenfold. With his abilities, or at least the ones he's said to have, he can help us locate ditto-born Kyogres!"

"Ditto-born?" Juliet asked. Akiko rolled her eyes at her teammate's ignorance.

"The offspring of a legendary and a ditto," she informed Juliet. "Strong pokémon, but nowhere near as strong as the legendary parent. You occasionally see high level trainers with them. I'm pretty sure that there's at least one in Hoenn with an articuno. The point is that the child could help us undo the damage humanity has done to the seas; help to atone for the sins of his species and destroy the facilities of pollution!"

"Fine," grumbled the male of the group. "I'm just worried that my sister-"

"Her group of land-shits won't be able to catch up," Juliet rolled her eyes. "We sabotaged their jeep, remember?"

"They could've easily gotten a new one," Jimmy informed her.

"They can do that?"

Jimmy and Akiko rolled their eyes in tandem.

"We should start a fire," the golden haired young man suggested. He was wearing grey-black pants, with a red belt, and a grey-black sleeveless shirt that disappeared under a grey-red mantle, with a hood and black ears on said hood. Over his chest, on the mantle, was the symbol of Team Magma. He and his two compatriots were sitting on their sleeping bags in a circle, on a rocky hill in the Safari Zone.

"I'm sorry Barclay, but we can't afford to risk it," replied a woman with light blue hair. She was wearing a uniform similar to the first speaker, Barclay Yoshida, but with a short grey-black skirt instead of pants.

"And why not?" protested the golden haired man.

"Because it would be too visible," the last member of their group, a short green haired man, Christopher Eberstark, informed him. "It would give away our position to anyone who happened to be paying attention."

"So?" Barclay asked. "If they come for us, we can just burn them too."

"I'm afraid we can't afford any wildfires on this operation," the blue haired woman told him, Alice Newlands. "As tempting as a prospect as it is to kill my brother in such a manner, you might endanger the child we're searching for."

"Though we should be prepared to take out any potential rival groups," Christopher said. "We'll need to stay hidden while we search, so we can prioritize eliminations vs searching, figuring out who we should kill-"

"Why bother with that?" Barclay spoke up again. "Just kill them all."

"That's not why we're here," Alice reminded him. "We're here to look into the rumor and possibly retrieve the child, if he exists, as you well know. The retrieval of said child will be of far more benefit to Team Magma than killing off any rival teams here."

"Fine," Barclay gritted his teeth. "If it means we find Lord Groudon sooner, then I'll restrain myself."

"Very good," responded Alice. "It'll put us one step closer to our holy cause."

Barclay nodded. Yes, one step closer to the holy cause. Wiping away the corrupt and sinful human civilization which had committed so many crimes against nature. Burning all the humans, and building new habitats for the pokémon species that had been harmed by humanity. He'd put up with other humans to achieve that goal; he put up with not burning things for that.

He'd even ignore the piss-heads to do so.

"Do you know how much longer she will take?" Asked a green haired man. He was clad in knee high silver boots, black pants, a silver shirt with two black sections on the lower sides, with a high collar with a black strip. His sleeves were made out of some sort of shiny, segmented material. Over his chest was the golden G that marked him as a member of Team Galactic.

"I cannot tell," replied a man with dark blue hair, also in the uniform of Team Galactic "You know the way in which she works the Art can be time consuming, but it is always accurate."

They both turned to look at the black haired woman. Her uniform was similar, but the pants looked like her sleeves. She was sitting in a lotus position and softly murmuring a chant, over and over. She was sitting before a pool of clear water, dark in the moonless night.

"The scrying spell will complete when it completes," the man with dark blue hair said. "We cannot rush such things." He briefly narrowed his eyes in focus. A pack opened and a sleeping bag unrolled itself. "It is a shame that my talents are merely telekinetic," the blue man said, mainly pondering aloud, "a telepath would have been much more useful."

"It does us no good to think on such things," spoke the last member of their group, a man with purple hair. "Instead we should either begin making our plan of action or working on our emotional control."

"There is little we can do until her scrying spell finishes," the green haired man replied.

"-rupam sunyata sunyataiva rupam; rupan na prthak sunyata!" the black haired woman's voice picked up in volume and the water before her began to glow. Her eyes snapped open. "It is done."

The other members of the Team Galactic delegation gathered around the pool.

"There are twelve humans here," the woman spoke and the face of the water reflected her words. Team Galactic saw the Team Rocket group in their camp, the scrying spell illuminating the scene with a light that the members of Team Rocket could not see.

"Two executives," the blue haired man observed. "The rest are either grunts or a combat team. I expected more from them, seeing as they control this territory."

"They may be expecting little resistance, or have data that indicates that the rumor is false," the green haired man told him. "Still, as long they remain unaware of us they will pose no trouble at all."

The black haired woman nodded. The image in the water changed to show the three members of Team Aqua.

"Team Aqua," the purple haired man stated. "I cannot tell their strength from appearance alone."

"Have you had a chance to look at their pokémon," asked the green haired man.

The black haired woman shook her head.

"They have kept them in their pokéballs and I lack the skill to scry through those."

"They may prove troublesome," the blue haired man reflected.

"There is more," the black haired woman said. Once more the face of the water changed.

"Team Magma. This may solve our problem," stated the purple haired man. "If we can goad those two into fighting then we may move about undisturbed until we either retrieve the child or finish off the survivors."

"There is no need to goad them into fighting," disagreed the green haired man. "It is in their nature to fight each other, helpless in the grip of their emotions."

"A waste," the black haired woman said.

"I agree," the blue haired man added. "If we find this child we may accelerate our plans to fix the Mistake."

"All will be better when we fix the Mistake," the green haired man said. "Are there any others?"

The picture in the water changed again to show no one in a forested and rocky area nearby Team Galactic's own position.

"I thought I sensed someone here," the black haired woman stated. "But it turned out to merely be my own failings in the Art."

"It is no matter," the blue haired man dismissed her concerns. "We know who opposes us. Now we must make a plan of action."

"And they have a spellcaster as well," Jessie said, rubbing her hands together. "Is it good form to poach from other bad guys?"

James tapped his chin as he thought. He, Jessie, and Meowth were sitting around a cave, on a bunch of comfy folding chairs, under a tarp ceiling held up by four poles that kept any water from dripping on them. Near the back of the small cave, also under a tarp ceiling, was a small field kitchen. Before them was a projector and a screen for the upcoming Movie Night.

Weezing slept in his pokéball and Arbok's tail was curled around Jessie's legs, and he was contentedly resting on a couple of heated camping pads. A couple of electric lanterns hung from the corners of the false ceiling. Jessie was reading a book while James fiddled away on some electronic device or other.

"I don't think we should," Meowth spoke up. "They're here for a reason and nobodies said anything about letting other bad guy groups to work in Kanto."

Meowth frowned. He couldn't remember the last time Team Rocket had let a foreign group into their territory. He had overheard talk about it, but nothing more recent than around a decade ago.

"I guess that makes sense," Jessie admitted. "So I wonder why they're here?"

"It's probably related to why those Aquas and Magmas are around," James told her. "Honestly if we get involved it might take all day tomorrow-"

"And that's unacceptable," Jessie finished. "We can't miss Movie Night."

"So what should we work on in the meantime?" Jessie asked the other two. "We've got most of tomorrow to kill."

"We could watch and find out what everyone's up to," James suggested.

"We'll have to take extra care not to be caught then," Jessie cautioned. "And we'll have to withdraw early to make sure we don't get caught up in anything. Though maybe we should offer our comrades some help?"

"Nah,"James waved away the suggestion. "We can't do everything for them. Besides, Move Night."

"Alright, then strictly observation tomorrow."

"Sounds like a plan," Meowth said before yawning. "Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta turn in. It takes a lot of sleep to remain the top cat ya know."

"Sounds like an idea," James agreed. "Let me just set up the security cameras first."

"You've got first watch then," Jessie informed him, stretching and yawning. She got up, grabbed her pack, and pulled out her sleeping bag. "Maybe we should look for the twerp tomorrow instead."

"We can decide in the morning," James told her. "Besides I'm not sure if he and his friends are going to visit the Safari Zone or simply head to the next gym."

"He'll probably head on, he seems like the type who's in a hurry to get their badges," Jessie said, unrolling her badges. "It's unlikely that'll he'll be in here tomorrow."

It was a bright and cloudless morning. Despite the shrinking hours of the season, the sun still managed to shine with its full glory by the time Brock, Misty, Ash, and Pikachu arrived at the Safari Zone check in station. Thus far it seemed like it would be a warm autumn's day. The air was calm and could have been easily mistaken for a cool spring day instead of a warm autumn one.

Ash and company could see a large forest off in one direction, surrounded by the tall grass that they were currently trekking through. Their destination was a small collection of buildings right dab in the middle of nowhere. They had left a nearby pokémon center earlier that day, before the sun was up, and had spent a couple hours travelling.

Ash was sticking to the rear of the group, despite being the one who chose the destination, hoping not to draw Brock or Misty's attention. They were still a little... aggrieved about what had happened during the time the group had been separated. Brock had decided to increase his training regimen again and had tried to get involved with Aaron's pokémon training, but Ash, called Aaron, had drawn the line there. There had been a brief clash of wills until Misty decided to play peacekeeper.

But, even though she was a neutral party, she occasionally shot dark looks at Ash, glares with one eye twitching.

"I can't believe you," she had said at one point after their reunion. "We leave you alone for a little bit and what happens? You get involved in an illegal construction operation and you get attacked by those Team Rocket psychos again."

"Hey," Ash had protested at the time. "I didn't do anything!"

"You trapped a bunch of trainers," she retorted, "fought a flock of flying types. Again. That sounds like something. Maybe I should assist with your training."

Ash had backpedalled quickly there. Brock was bad enough, but at least his temper was more stable.

Part of him felt smothered by their reactions. But another part of him was pleased. It was nice to have someone care for him, someone his own age (and species) looking out for him, and the training definitely would come in handy one day. Poison Lance would be happy to hear about his companions.

He would be less happy to hear about what Ash had gotten up to on his journey though. He might insist on coming with himself. Ash paled for a moment. That probably wouldn't end well. Ash would have to find some way to dissuade the old weedle from deciding to do so.

Still, despite Brock and Misty's worrying, it was still his journey. He was the one letting them travel with him, not the other way around. If he really wanted he didn't have to travel with them.

Not that he would ever push Brock or Misty away. Unless they went insane or something. Or maybe they were already insane and he simply couldn't tell. Then would it be if they went sane he'd push them away? It was something to ponder.

Regardless, the point was that he was okay with their anger and their increased attention, because as Pikachu had said earlier, they only wanted to kill him because they cared.

The decision to visit the Safari Zone had been made after the very, very, very awkward meeting between Pidgeotto and Magikarp. Pidgeotto and Butterfree being on the same team hadn't been awkward at first, mainly because Pidgeotto had only tried to lure Butterfree away to been eaten, she hadn't even had a chance to attack him, let alone eat his family members.

With Magikarp on the other hand... They had been so tasty!

Magikarp had been pleased to be working with such a nice pidgeotto. Pidgeotto had been a bit weirded out to be working with a magikarp that she was pretty sure would taste very excellent despite the name, "He Who Tastes Like Shit". She wasn't sure if tasting good was genetic or not, but genetics probably was a factor.

Eventually they got to talking about life in the Safari Zone. Pidgeotto had passed through there. She had mainly hunted by the sea, but Magikarp had lived in the interconnected waters his entire life. He had nothing really exciting to tell about his life there, but it had sounded like a nice place to visit. And there were supposed to be a lot of exotic and rare pokémon to meet.

And that brought them to their current situation, heading for a check in station on the edge of the Safari Zone.

"Ah," Brock sighed. "I wonder if they'll have a Ranger Jenny?" A unique take on a winning formula. He could see her now, dressed in khakis, red eyes glaring at poachers as she faced them down with a growlithe. She'd have a love of nature and a fierce independent streak. Brock was already composing poetry in his head for her.

"Down boy," Misty said, grabbing Brock's ear, and pulling him back. "Don't embarrass yourself or we'll be going back."

"And leave Aaron alone?" Brock said, wincing from being dragged by his ear.

"Good point," Misty said, letting go of his ear and snapping her fingers. "Best not to risk it."

"I'm not that bad," Ash interjected.

Bad idea idiot, Pikachu said, smirking from atop Ash's head.

"Yes you are," Brock and Misty told him in unison. They looked at each other and then back at him. They then grabbed him under his arms and dragged him between them before continuing onward.

"Anyone have a notebook?" Brock asked. "I want to jot down some thoughts."

"Don't you dare," Misty warned.

"Why do you care so much?" Brock shot her a dark look.

"No need to start any embarrassing rumors," Misty replied. "I don't need my sisters worrying about me traveling with you."

"You're what, twelve," Brock shot back.

"Thirteen," Misty returned. "You two were there for my birthday, remember? But that's old enough, especially after that beauty contest in Porta Vista."

"... the League knows me well enough to find such rumors baseless," Brock said. "And if-"

Misty narrowed her eyes.

"Did you just get the idea to try and lure my sisters out to meet you with said rumors? So you could try and hit on them?" She asked the former gym leader in a dangerous voice.

"Maybe-" Brock began, before the 'Fist of Female Fury' grabbed the front of his shirt and began to ruthlessly shake him.

"Scheming, perverted little," Ash ignored Misty's rantings to walk ahead.

I missed those two, Pikachu stated, reclining on Ash's head and looking back Misty harauging Brock. They can be so entertaining.

And everything exists for your amusement, Ash muttered under his breath.

About time you recognized that fact.

Misty had quit yelling at Brock by the time they had reached the station. Brock took the lead and entered the largest building.

Inside sat an Officer Jenny, sitting at a desk, doing paperwork. Behind her was a series of maps with notes and pins all over them. True to Brock's prediction the Jenny was wearing a khaki ranger uniform, with a campaign hat that had corks hanging off the rim. She looked up from her work when she heard the door open.

"Welcome to the Safari Zone," she said. "Whatcha here for?"

"Just visiting," Brock informed her. "Just need a camping permit."

"Sure," Jenny said. "League ID please?"

Brock dug in his pocket, got his wallet, and pulled out his ID. He handed it to the ranger. She took a look at it.

"Huh, guess I should be calling you sir," she said, handing it back to him, and then digging through her desk.

"The rangers in the Safari Zone are part of the League? I didn't know that." Brock admitted.

"Technically we're with the Pokémon Rangers," Ranger Jenny informed him. "We're a subdivision of the Rangers that works closely with the law enforcement of member states in regard to the management of natural resources. Here they are." She pulled out some papers and gave them to Brock.

"Just fill these out and sign them," she instructed the former gym leader. "You'll be responsible for your friend's conduct. Remember, you only have a camping permit, you can't catch any pokémon. If you're forced to fight with one capture it with a Safari Ball, found in the bin back there, and turn it in at a ranger station so it can be released later."

Aaron and Misty nodded.

"No littering, clean up after yourselves, and don't provoke any of the pokémon here," Jenny continued. "Those are the basic rules."

Brock muttered while filling out the paperwork, taking care to actually read it. Misty took a seat. Ash decided to look around.

A bulletin board caught his eye. The pokéraised child walked over to it and began to read the notices.

"Guide needed," Ash quietly read the papers aloud. "Will pay for samples of wild Chansey egg shells. Reward for pictures of dratini in their natural habitat. Will pay for any news on missing child?"

Ash read the last one again.

It was a request for any information on a child named Tomas, responded to the name 'Tommy' at time of separation, five years ago. Blue hair, black eyes. Details of separation: Aircraft troubles over sector 4E. Child went overboard, automatic parachute deployed. Searched landing site, found parachute, no sign of child. No sign of a struggle. If you have any information please call the number below or visit us at Campsite (Some character that Ash didn't know) thirty-two.

Should be easy enough for us, Ash muttered to Pikachu.

"Hey, Misty," Ash turned to his female friend. "I need help with a character here."

Misty rolled her turquoise eyes.

"Thought you were the bookworm," she said, getting up to help him.

"I've never seen this one before," Ash defended himself as Misty scanned the document.

"It's a delta," she informed him, "and are you thinking about offering to go look? I can't imagine how'd you'd be any more effective than anybody else who looked for the kid."

Because he could understand pokémon while they couldn't, Ash thought to himself. But he didn't say it out loud.

"I might get lucky," he replied instead. "Besides, it's something to do while we're here."

"Doesn't that seem a bit callous?" Misty asked. "I mean we probably aren't going to be here very long. In a sense, we'd be offering the parents some false hope."

"We can also tell more people," Aaron defended himself. "Help get other people to look."

"My question is, why haven't they organized a large scale search?" Misty asked, scanning the notice again. "I'm betting they already have and it didn't turn up anything. They're probably just grasping at straws now." She sighed. "I guess it probably wouldn't hurt."

"Cool!" Ash replied excitedly. "I'll go ask the ranger about this stuff."

Brock was almost done filling out the paperwork, muttering about how he thought that he had gotten free from such tortures the whole while. Jenny was doing her own paperwork.

"What do you know about the paper on the board? The one about the parents looking for that 'Tommy' kid?" Ash asked abruptly.

"There's nothing to say," Jenny replied. "The parents are desperate after the official searches couldn't find anything the year that it happened and the year after. They come down here near the end of summer and leave a little bit after winter starts. They phrase their notices like they think he's still alive, but honestly, I'm pretty sure they're just looking for the body at this point."

She just started smelling weird, Pikachu said.

"Where's campsite... uh... delta thirty-two?" Ash asked, struggling for a moment with the new name.

"It's over here," the ranger replied, pointing to a spot on the map. "If you're going to get involved with this situation I should give you the talk now, instead of waiting for him-" she indicated Brock "-to finish the paperwork. First avoid the rapids at the southern end of the park, the pokémon there can be dangerous. Secondly-" And she continued on like that for some time, listing various dangers and places to avoid. Ash tried to pay attention, but it was hard considering he intended to firstly, ignore her warnings as soon as he entered the Safari Zone proper, and secondly, get his information from primary sources within the park.

"-and that's the basics," Ranger Jenny finished. "There's more information in this-" She reached under her desk and pulled out a fieldbook, "-guide. Look it up if you're not sure."

"Thanks," Ash said, taking the book. If he had known they were giving away free books, he would've come here even without Pidgeotto and Magikarp's recommendations. He flipped it opened, scanned the table of contents, and then flipped through the rest.

"Please don't tell me you're some sort of speed reading savant," Misty pleaded.

"No. Just looking." Ash replied. "What's a savant exactly?"

"Technically it means a distinguished learned person," Misty answered, "but most people use it to mean idiot savant, which is usually a person with a mental disability who is a genius at one particular thing."

Ash nodded and put the book in his bag.

"Look, I can't stop you from wasting your time with this hunt," Jenny said. "But don't get your hopes up. You're not going to find anything."

Something about her demeanor seemed strange to Ash, but he couldn't put his finger on what was wrong with it. Misty gave the ranger a strange look and Brock might have narrowed his eyes. Nobody said anything about it though.

"Still gotta try," Ash replied. "You never know."

They thanked the ranger for her help and exited the station.

"Something's wrong," Brock stated as they headed for campsite delta thirty-two. "That Jenny was hiding something."

"Yeah," Misty said, not bothering to poke fun at Brock at the moment. "She was nervous after Aaron brought up the hunt for Tomas."

"She was?" Ash's gaze swiveled between the two.

So that's why she smelled weird, Pikachu interjected, snapping his little fingers. I'll go ask around the wild pokémon the first chance I get!

"But what could she be hiding?" Brock asked. "I don't know enough about the rangers here to begin to guess."

"And the regular Pokémon Rangers are too decentralized for there to be any sort of conspiracy," Misty added. "Well, any sort of overreaching conspiracy."

"She didn't get nervous when she read my rank," Brock mused, rubbing his chin as he thought. "So it's not something she was afraid of people investigating. We'd need to talk to other rangers to see if they react similarly ..."

"Maybe she just felt bad," Ash suggested. "Like she was one of the people in the first searching thing and she didn't find him. She could be feeling guilty, not nervous."

"True," Brock admitted. "But she urged us not to get involved. That seems more like a nervous action than a guilty one. We should look into this just to be safe... Arceus Dammit Aaron!" Brock finished, burying his face in his palms.

"What did I-" Aaron began, before Misty groaned.

"It happened again," she said, also facepalming. "We just wandered into a potential cover-up or conspiracy! How do you keep doing this?"

"Next time we meet a mystic I'm going to get you checked for curses," Brock muttered. "Alright, ignoring Aaron's inability to avoid whatever trouble is plaguing the place he visits-"

Ash didn't interrupt. After the incident with the digletts and the dam he was starting to accept these incidents as a fact of life.

"- we need to find out what's going on here," Brock finished. "We'll go meet the parents, try and talk to other rangers, and we'll take a quick look to see if we can't find anything related to the kid instead of the kid himself."

"What's there to gain here?" Misty asked. "We need to find that out, if there's anything to find out."

"I don't know," Brock admitted. "We need to talk to the parents first."

It was a relatively short walk to Campsite Delta Thirty-Two. Relatively short to people who crossed the country by walking that was. They reached the area within the hour.

It was in the middle of a field full of tall, yellow-brown, grass. The field was still as they made their way through it, the grass going up to the lower parts of Ash and Misty's thighs. Misty found it slightly ticklish.

Campsite Delta Thirty-Two contained a rather large green building like tent on one side. There was a fire pit in the center and the borders of the site were marked by a circle of small stones.

Ash noticed few paths through the tall grass other than the one they left. Either they didn't get a lot of visitors or everyone stuck to the same paths.

"Hello," Brock called out when the group reached the site. "Is anyone here?"

They heard noise from inside the tent, people putting things down, and quick conversation. And then door flaps opened and two figures rushed out.

There was a woman with long curly auburn hair, dressed in khakis and wearing a campaign hat, with black eyes. She was of average height (for a human, for a nidoqueen, kangaskhan, dragonite, or other large species she was pretty short). There was also a short male, with black hair in a bowl cut, black eyes, and was wearing a bush hat.

"Ah, yes," the man said in a relatively high pitched aristocratic voice. "Can we help you fine folks this day?"

"Is this Campsite Delta Thirty-Two?" Brock asked.

"Yes" the the woman answered. "You're here about the flyer I take it?"

"Yeah!" Ash said. "We wanted to help!"

"But, first," Brock said, before anyone else could say anything, "we've got some questions."

"If it's about compensation-" the man began. Brock shook his head.

"It's about something else. Do you have somewhere we could sit down? We might be talking for a while."

"Certainly," the woman replied. "Come inside, we've got seats."

They entered the tent, the woman holding the tent flap open. Inside was a surprisingly domestic scene with tables, cabinets, and ground covered by large camping rugs. There was a spot to eat, a field bed, and lots and lots of maps. They were everywhere. Some were pinned up and heavily marked. Others were just lying around, rolled and unrolled seemingly at random.

Ash also noticed lots of different kinds of papers scattered about. Typed and neat to handwritten on lined paper.

"Over here, over here," the man said, ushering them towards a table with a couple of chairs. Ash and his friends sat down.

"Alright, just to get some things out of the way," the woman began when Ash, Brock, and Misty had taken seats. "Yes we are the parents of Tommy, we're not giving out our names-"

"Why not?" Ash asked, confused.

"It would be a scandal if word of this got out," the man replied. "And we've been assured that our names don't matter in any case, otherwise we would've given them already. Just call us Momma and Poppa."

"It hasn't been easy keeping this quiet back at home and continuing the search," Momma told them. "We can't go into too much detail..."

"Anyway," Poppa began again, but Brock interrupted him.

"Do you have any enemies that might have benefited or might be benefiting from this?" Brock asked. If he were someone else his eyes would have narrowed.

"Benefitting? Maybe. Benefitted? Considering the loss of Tommy was due to a random bit of turbulence there's no possibility that anyone planned it," Momma answered. "Why do you ask?"

"I'll tell you in a bit," Brock replied. "What about the rangers here? How have they been working with you?"

"Well they headed the first search," Poppa informed them. "And up until last year they've been very helpful and kind to us."

"How did their behavior change?" Brock asked.

"They were very delicate in their approach," Momma informed the group, "but their message boiled down to 'give up'. But we're never going to do that, not while there's even the smallest, most impossible chance that he's alive."

"Or even a chance of finding out his fate," Poppa added. "Even if we search until we die."

"Have you noticed anything... odd or unusual about their behavior?" Brock queried. '

"No, nothing odd," Momma replied.

"Just guilt, but that's to be expected," Poppa added. "They worked so hard during those first years. I imagine that they're not taking their failure very well."

"We thought that they seemed more nervous than guilty," Brock responded. He took a breath. "We think there's something strange going on with this whole business and we'd like to investigate."

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