Story by Jack Bumby. Part 1 of 3.
The PA system buzzed and a tired voice crackled out. “Sorry folks, looks like we’re here all night. The water’s too choppy to cross, but we’ll have you in Vermilion City by daybreak tomorrow.”
The others groaned. Arcanine let out a low whine and covered his head with his paw. I leant back into her fur and lowered the brim of my hat over my eyes. The giant living pillow beneath my head rumbled.
I’m not sure how long I slept before their discussion woke me. I opened my eyes and surveyed the cabin. Flames bounced from the low ceiling, down the walls, and lit up the sleeping Pokémon around the space. In the centre, the other trainers were huddled around a small fire – talking about their glory days. It took a few moments for me to gather my senses, but I realised they were talking about the biggest Pokémon they’d ever encountered, or perhaps the most dangerous. In my experience, the two went hand-in-hand. Jamie’s laughter had awoken me. It was a sudden, distressing sound, like a Haunter with a sore throat. I closed my eyes, hoping to catch up with the last few tendrils of the dream I was having before they vanished forever.
“Hey Robert!” It was Jamie. I briefly wondered about keeping my eyes closed, pretending I was still sound asleep and hadn’t heard her. But there wasn’t much chance of me falling back asleep anyway. I sat up and stretched my arms with a dull pop.
“Yes, Jamie?” Irritation had seeped into my voice. I tried to hide it. “Are you guys alright?”
“We were wondering,” she broke eye contact, shifting her gaze to the straw-ridden floor, “What’s the most dangerous Pokémon you’ve ever seen? Face-to-face I mean.”
The others looked around at me. Their voracious eyes flickered orange in the fire-light.
“Guys, you don’t want to hear an old man’s stories.”
“Of course we do!” Jamie burst in.
“It’s not very nice. I don’t like to talk about it.” Arcanine shifted under me, nudging me with her head. “But, if you guys want to hear it.”
Jamie looked back at the others, as if to say I told you he would. Whatever anyone says, deep down everyone enjoys telling stories.
“Ok, shift a bit closer. And put that fire out. The sun’s coming up soon and we’ll be on the move again.”
When I was a young man, I made a bit of a name for myself as a trainer. Nothing fancy, but enough to attract the attention of a few particular organisations. They liked my efficiency, and the fact that I’d never lost a battle didn’t hurt things either. I’d also managed to catch a troublesome Onix, one people said could never be caught – let alone trained. (But that, as they say, is another story for another day). There was one up-and-coming organisation in particular that took an interest after that moment. You’ve probably heard of them as Team Rocket, but back then they were called something different. I can’t recall.
I took the meeting with the head honcho. You have to remember, I was popular back then, and that meant I made a lot of Pokédollars. But being that popular, I spent most of it as I made it. Usually on things I’d regret. So I took the meeting. What harm was there? He was offering me some sort of opportunity, said it would raise my profile even more and it’d be easy money. And, as I said, my pockets were tapped. I was more than willing to ride that potential gravy train.
The meeting was odd. I was lead, or escorted, to the penthouse office of the biggest building I’d seen in my life. In that office was one table, and a chair on either side. The man across from me during that meeting made next to no impression in my mind. It’s as if he could have been any number of people.
“We want you to catch a Pokémon, a Venusaur,” he said. His voice was perhaps the least memorable thing about this already forgettable man. Looking back, I think he wanted me to forget every detail about him.
“Of course.” I was happy to do it, this was firmly in my wheelhouse. But I knew the old idiom, if something’s too good to be true, blah, blah. “What’s the catch?” I asked.
“No catch. Having this Venusaur out of the equation is in this business’ best interest. It’s been causing quite a lot of environmental havoc. Not to mention quite a bit of pandemonium with the local populace.”
It was an altruistic view, but it mattered little to me. I only needed to know one thing, “What’s the pay?”
He went into more detail after that. Apparently, a Venusaur was running rampant in a rural area just outside the Kanto region. It was a desolate, depressing place. Only reachable by boat. It was this more than the money that hooked me. As a boy I’d always been fascinated by the dark places on the map, the undiscovered areas of the world. Of course, by the time I’d grown up, the majority had been discovered and someone had built a Pokémart and a gym. After we’d agreed on pay, the only question I wanted answering was when I could get started.
The boat they gave me should have been my first clue that things weren’t exactly on the level. It was named the S.S. Cactus, and it looked like a wreck that had been left as a bizarre floating mausoleum. The captain didn’t instil much confidence in me either. An ancient Mr Mime, he looked older than even the ship. The moth-eaten peaked cap atop his head appeared older than the two combined. He showed me to my quarters. It was a small cabin at the rear of the ship, barely large enough for myself and Growlithe. But we’d spent a few tough nights in Viridian Forest, and compared to that with its incessant buzzing of Beedrils and the constant hooting of Noctowls, the cramped accommodation was practically the S.S. Anne.
I soon found out that, apart from the Captain and the Machamp acting as First Mate, we were the only ones on that vast ship. But, through a tricky exchange, the Captain assured us that it wasn’t a long journey. I asked the First Mate and the Captain just before we set off if either of them had heard talk of the Venusaur at the end of the river. The Captain pretended not to have heard, and First Mate Machamp all of a sudden made himself very busy moving my luggage aboard.
Soon after that, we began our journey into that enigmatic place of mystery and malice.