The leader of the local gym was a woman named Korrina.
Korrina’s job was to battle people, normally children, who managed to complete the (simplistic) gym puzzles and reach her. Her squad of intentionally underpowered Pokémon would provide a moderate challenge. If she was defeated, which happened about seventy per cent of the time, she would award them the gym’s badge. In very rare cases, she then awarded them something else.
This was the extent of her job. It was very boring. The gym was only interesting to roller-skate around so many times, so she whiled aware the hours playing a popular mascot kart-racing game with her Lucario.
Lucario, the Aura Pokémon, looks like a jackal got stuffed into a child’s suit of armour, which cut off its air supply until it turned blue. This one had been with Korrina since childhood. Today, his normally impeccable poker face was troubled, and not because of the missiles she kept pelting him with.
‘Somethin’ up?’ she said.
‘I felt a disturbance in the auras,’ Lucario aura-ed.
‘Huh.’ She paused and stood up. ‘Interesting challenger? Or a…’
She was interrupted by the arrival of a show-off in her combat arena.
It was a tall man, dressed in a dinner jacket, with a purple bow tie. He skated onto the platform, as did they all; then pirouetted rapidly, slowing to a stop in the very centre of the arena. He then spread his bandy legs, pointed to the ceiling with both index fingers, and produced…
…was that a laugh? Maybe after the vocal chords making it had been through a meat grinder.
A Slowpoke slid into the arena after him, spinning around on its bottom and bumping into two walls.
‘Ah, you’re just jealous because you don’t have Waluigi’s style,’ said the tall man, apparently to the Slowpoke.
Korrina reclaimed control of her jaw. She looked, out of the corner of her eye, at Lucario. The latter seemed to be trying to hide in his suit of armour.
‘Powerful aura?’ she asked.
Lucario didn’t reply.
She turned back to the thin man. One index finger had been redirected towards her.
‘Your gym sucks! Where are the rowing machines, the exercise bikes, the… Yes, I know, I’m just saying, you advertise yourself as a gym, you should be expected to… Okay, okay. Whatever. Er, Cooltrainer Waluigi challenges you!’
Korrina had lost control of her jaw again. While she struggled to recover, the thin man looked past her.
‘Is that Crash Team Racing?’ he said. ‘Why would you play Crash Team Racing, it sucks! Only one of the characters has a moustache. You know what should play… don’t interrupt, I’m trying to give her some good advice!’
Whatever was happening, it was at least different from all the ten-year-olds who fancied themselves ‘Pokémon Masters’. She reclaimed the jaw again.
‘Er, right! I’m Korrina, this gym’s leader! You may have rolled through my gym’s puzzles, but now we must see if you’re ready to face the Mega Evolution successor! Well, my mysterious trainer…’
Waluigi was looking out of the window and making a waffling mouth with his hand. Even little kids had the good sense to pay her some respect.
‘You know what, never mind, let’s get this show on the road.’
She threw her first Poké Ball into the centre of the arena. Suddenly she wished she’d brought her A-team. This weirdo needed crushing.
‘Slowpoke,’ said the weirdo, ‘grab it.’
The ball froze in mid-air.
Behind Korrina, Lucario aura-gasped.
‘Now chuck it away.’
The ball remained stationary for a moment. Was the Slowpoke’s dopey smile changing? Was its smile… vaguely impressed?
The ball went out of the window with a crash of broken glass. Korrina’s jaw was getting a work-out.
‘Th- th-… That’s against the rules!’
The weirdo’s spiky face fell. ‘Aw no, not again! Is it? No?’ It perked up, disappointingly. ‘No it’s not against the rules! That I, WALUIGI,’ (Korrina put her hands over her ears) ‘know very well because I am a Pokémon Cooltrainer! Wahahahah!’
Korrina racked her brains. To her horror, she found that he was right. Nothing in the rules strictly prevented you from using your Pokémon to get rid of the opposition’s Poké Ball. Granted, the full Pokémon Rulebook was roughly five hundred pages long, and gym duty had never been quite dull enough to read all of them…
She snatched the next ball from her belt, and hurled it to the floor right in front of her.
The ball erupted into light, as was its wont, to reveal her Machoke. A grey bipedal lizard, with muscles befitting its fighting type, and black and gold markings at the top of its legs. Level 28, deliberately unevolved. That felt like a mistake.
‘Er, what the hell is this?’ said Waluigi.
Her calm deserted her entirely. ‘What do you mean, “what is this”? It’s a Machoke, it’s a fuckin’ Machoke! You never seen a Machoke before, “Cooltrainer Waluigi”?’
Waluigi rubbed his chin. He looked at the Slowpoke several times. The Slowpoke looked back.
The Machoke flexed. That was reassuring. That was what Machokes did.
‘You’re telling me, this is a normal Pokémon?’
‘With a normal posing pouch?’
‘I mean, look at it!’ He strode into the centre of the arena, towards her Machoke. ‘It’s wearing a posing pouch, for God’s sake! Doesn’t exactly leave much to the imagination, does it? You get kids in here? How is that okay?’
He poked the Machoke in the bicep.
It couldn’t attack him. He knew it couldn’t attack him. What on earth did he think he was trying to achieve?
The Machoke flexed again, and cried its name.
Completely normal. Absolutely. All Machokes wore… okay, it definitely was a posing pouch, and yes, it was quite tight, and yes, if you looked hard enough you could definitely see how sculpted its buttocks were, and how well endowed it was (he was, definitely he)…
‘Stop concentratin’ on its posing pouch!’
‘Okay,’ said the awful person, ‘let’s talk about how you can see its biceps through the gaps in its arms. That’s not healthy! You feed it steroids, or what?’
The jaw went again.
Machoke looked around at her. He flexed, and cried his name, but with an uncertain tremor. Had he lost his self-esteem?
And… she had to admit it, the bastard was right. The gaping arm muscles were creepy. Hell, she thought she could see it bleeding when he flexed. How had she not noticed that before? She hoped the Pokémon couldn’t see it in her face, but she thought her poker face had probably gone out of the window with that Poké Ball.
‘Tell you what.’
He opened his bag, got something out of it, and approached Machoke. Then he stepped back, leaving Machoke admiring himself.
He was wearing a purple sequined jacket. He seemed pleased with it.
‘It’s a bit tight,’ said Waluigi, a significant understatement, ‘but it’ll do until you can get some clothes that fit. Now put it away, it’s a blood loss death waiting to happen.’
She did. It was only after she did that she realised she was down two Pokémon.
The bastard. The bastard! The weirdly effective bastard. Time to break out the big guns (big guns that weren’t gaping and bleeding).
‘All right,’ she growled. ‘You want a battle? We’re doin’ a battle. Go, Lucario!’
She span around to face her MVP, the only monster on her she hadn’t deliberately underlevelled to give children a fair fight. Lucario looked at her as if she’d disembowelled his babies in front of him.
‘Yes, you! What’s wrong?’
‘But… but mademoiselle…’
She turned to Waluigi and his Slowpoke. The former was picking his nose with relish. The latter was doing the same, its tail jammed up its left nostril.
‘We’ll steamroll you now, Waluigi!’ She hated the name already. ‘Lucario is a steel-fighting type, neutralising his weakness to your Slowpoke’s psychic-type attacks! He’s been with me since I was a kid. You know what that means? You’re battling against the power of friendship, motherfucker! Furthermore, he has the power to Mega-Evolve! You know what Mega Evolution is? Well I’m about to show you!’
She put her hand to the Mega Ring around her wrist, and allowed herself a smirk.
Waluigi sighed. ‘I guess you’d better do something, huh.’
Korrina hadn’t even known that Slowpokes could breath fire.