A Retriever in Exile
Off the coast of Slateport, Hoenn, a white cruise ship advanced through the clear, tropical waters toward the lively harbor. On the top deck, passengers gazed eagerly toward white beaches and bustling wharves in the distance. Waves burst against the hull and splashed over the rails, peaked white with foam.
Humans and Pokemon scurried along the steel-sheltered docks. Grunting fisherman hauled their early morning catches off their boats as workers unloaded fresh fruit from cargo vessels. Trainers emerged from ships and stepped down onto the pier, inhaling fresh sawdust from the shipyard.
Fourteen-year-old Slick Silversky emerged from Slateport Inn, wearing a tan-and-blue jacket, his team hanging from his belt by islander custom: one Poke Ball on the left, and five others on the right. Watching the cruise ship approach the docks, he set off down the stone path toward the market.
In the second ball on Slick's right sat a Pikachu, unfit and pudgy.
He smoothed down his fur and twitched his ears, cheeks crackling, staring out from his capsule. He'd heard the explanation of how the Poke Ball worked a hundred times already, and he still didn't get it. But it was cozy and warm at night, and he didn't want to whine.
In his Poke Ball, Lightning felt isolated from the world outside. He stared out at streets of interlocking gray pavers, grassy lawns rippling in the wind. The world bobbed up and down with Slick's every step, all outside sounds muted by insulation gel.
The Pikachu could almost imagine the cool feel of salty spray as they entered the market-square. Strung flags waved in midair overhead as merchants manned their rows of stalls, advertising their crates of freshly caught fish, ripe produce, and hiking supplies to the lively crowds in the marketplace.
The Poke Balls on Slick's belt swayed as the Trainer moved through the crowd. As Lightning's capsule knocked against his neighbor's, he heard a growl as the Umbreon on his right stirred, giving him a filthy look. Quickly, the Pikachu ducked down, laying flat on the gel pad until Insyte turned his head away.
Through the shell of his Poke Ball, Lightning's ears could pick up the muted clamor of eager sellers and awed customers, boisterous but cheerful. He watched as Slick moved onto an antique vendor's stall, polished Wingull pendants dangling from a rack. Twelve stone balls rested in a velvet rack, each with a red-tinted groove that ran around the center; it took a moment before he realized they were Poke Balls.
"Pretty, aren't they?" said Rush, the Marshtomp in the lone Poke Ball on Slick's left side. His voice was hard to hear through two layers of fiberglass, but the Pikachu thought he caught the gist of his words. "Long ago in Johto, Poke Balls were made from from Apricorn shells. And long before that, tribes in Hoenn made Poke Balls from stone."
Lightning squinted toward the Marshtomp, but couldn't get a clear line of sight. "Then they were made from from iron and wood, which led to the Apricorn shells. Others were made from leather and bone." The Pikachu shivered, but said nothing. "Some convenience stores today sell Poke Balls that look like the old iron ones. Oh hey, Shanala, that might interest you--"
The others all glanced to the Vulpix on Sparktail's right as she suddenly pressed her muzzle to the capsule-window, eyes aglow. Outside, Slick was approaching a jeweler's stall, the Vulpix watching his every move. Staring up toward the counter, they saw Slick's mouth move, the jeweler taking out a box.
From Slick's belt, they couldn't see inside, but when the box was opened, the stone inside cast a fiery orange glow on the lid. Shanala's tails wagged with excitement as she saw Slick reach for his wallet.
"Calm down, Shanala, you don't know it's for you," said Rush. "He's already got Firaga for fire attacks. He'll probably drop you soon." Insyte gave the Marshtomp a dirty look. Lightning felt his fur rise at Rush's bluntness, but that was how the Marshtomp usually spoke, he reminded himself.
To Shanala's disappointment, the jeweler frowned at the money in Slick's hand and shook his head. "Not nearly enough," muttered Rush--the only one who could fluently understand human speech. Ears drooping, the Vulpix curled up in her ball quietly and said nothing. "Sorry, Shanala... better luck next time."
A bread knife, a few loaves; some potions, some berries; perhaps Slick was just as disappointed as Shanala, as he hurried through the rest of his errands, quickly leaving the market afterwards.
Their attention turned to the vast expanse of trees beyond Slateport. Lightning's eyes traced the winding dirt-paved trail up ahead towards the rocky shores, the foaming waves crashing in Slater's Bay to the northeast. Lightning tasted the earthy scents of the wild, drifting through his Poke Ball's micro-vents. These were scents he could appreciate, even if a human couldn't.
The Pikachu could see the tangles of short and tall grasses that were decorating the shores in the distance. A gleaming bridge of concrete and steel spanned the width of the bay, connecting Slateport to the distant buildings of Mauville, while leaving the Pokemon dwelling in the wilderness undisturbed.
As they passed through the north gate, Lightning glanced up to Slick, suddenly worried. Six months at a human's side and not a day of training to show for it. He'd watched Slick's travels unfold from his Poke Ball, never used in battle, always left in safety, never challenged, always set aside. What would Slick's Hoenn tour hold in store for him?