Beneath the crystal dome at the summit of Mount Lanakila, all is serene; all is peaceful. The dome sparkles in the midday sun, the air is still, pure white clouds drift softly past the mountain below, and the inlaid Pokéball design on my throne pulses gently with a warm azure light.
“…sweet Arceus, I’m SO BORED!”
Around one o’clock in the afternoon, my scheduled challenger shows up.
“Finally,” I complain. “What took you so long?” Hau rubs the back of his neck in embarrassment.
“Eheh… Gramps pulled some new move we hadn’t seen before. Almost didn’t get past him this time. Raichu came through for me, though.” The electric mouse Pokémon hovering at his side crackles at him affectionately, and he pats it on the head.
“And what did you learn?” I ask expectantly. Hau sighs.
“Even Kahunas are always learning and perfecting new techniques,” he replies in the sing-song voice of a bored child reciting the moral of a story.
“Good. Now… shall we?” He grins.
“I’ve made it this far and I’m not done yet! After all, there’s still a trainer standing right in front of me that I’ve got to overcome!” I grin back.
“That’s the spirit! Now hurry up and get me out of this mess!”
I suppose I didn’t really expect him to win this time. Hau’s progress has been impressive, I have to admit, but I still don’t think he understands the gravity of what he’s asking for. As if to symbolise the new level he achieved in defeating his grandfather, he’s added a Crabominable – Hala’s signature Pokémon – to his existing team of Raichu, Flareon, Komala and Primarina. There is a nagging inelegance in his style, his Pokémon have not perfected all of their techniques, and there is still the barest hint of hesitation between his thoughts and their actions. I could lecture him about all this, but the fact is, he’s already on the path; he and his Pokémon are going to keep advancing regardless of what I do. Every time we battle, Hau comes a little closer. For now, though, he’s still a long way off, and his Primarina’s valiant last stand against my Decidueye ends in defeat.
“Seriously!?” Hau blurts after we have recalled our Pokémon. “This is really frustrating, you know? I seriously tried my hardest!” I smile at him.
“I should hope so; I don’t want to be Champion of this backwater one day longer than I have to! You are getting better; I promise I’m not just saying that.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” He returns my smile. “And at least I had a blast going all out against you.”
“Likewise! Now…” I wander to the edge of the arena platform and sit down, legs dangling over the edge, then pat the ground next to me. “Come on; time for this week’s lesson.” Hau obediently sits down alongside me. A thought strikes him.
“Say, d’you do this after all the challenges you get?”
“No. Just with you.” He looks at me in surprise. “Sooner or later, Hau… maybe sooner than either of us realises… that’s going to be your chair. I want you to be ready. I owe you that.” Hau shakes his head.
“This is so heavy, man…”
“Being the Champion is.”
“Sooo… what are this week’s words of wisdom?” I stare out at the crystal dome in silence for a while.
“We’ve tangled with some more Ultra Beasts since the last time I saw you.”
“With that… international police guy, right? Look-?”
“Don’t say it!” I cut him off. “Don’t you dare say that smug prick’s ridiculous code name; I refuse to dignify it by using it. Also, I think he can hear whenever anyone in the world says it.” I glance shiftily from side to side to stress my point.
“Uh…” Hau hesitates, confused. “What am I s’posed to call him?”
“…I have a few suggestions, but I think I’d get in trouble with Hala if you ever repeated any of them. Mr. L will do, I suppose.” I frown thoughtfully. “Watch out for that one. He likes to treat Champions as his own unpaid interns.”
“I’ll… remember that.”
“See that you do. Anyway, yes. We went on several more missions for him and his superior, hunting more of the Beasts that appeared when Lusamine opened that wormhole at the Aether Paradise.” Hau shudders.
“Man, those things give me the creeps.”
“That makes two of us.”
“It wasn’t more of those scary floating mind-controlling ones, was it? Just seeing one of them was enough for a lifetime!”
“No… no, different species. A humanoid insect faster than the eye… a bundle of raw nerve cords full of electricity… some kind of biomechanical rocket… and a huge, devouring mouth, consuming everything around it.” Hau cocks his head, trying to picture them and clearly failing. “I… could bring one for you to meet, but I’m not entirely certain that would be safe.”
“Oh, no no no, that’s fine!” he replies hurriedly, then realises the significance of what I just said. “Wait… you could bring one?”
“That’s right. My “assignment” was to capture all of the rogue Ultra Beasts in order to prevent them from causing any harm to Alola’s fragile environment. So that’s what I did.”
“Capture!? Well- well, you’re gonna put them back, right? Back… y’know. Where they came from?”
“That… may not be so straightforward. The technology Lusamine used to open her Ultra Wormhole is useless without Nebby, and he seems… reluctant to open another one into Ultra Space. I’m not sure I can return them to their own dimension.”
“Wh- what are you gonna do with them, then?”
“Funnily enough, Interpol had no specific plan for that stage of the operation. What’s more, all the accounts of their previous responses to situations like this are supposedly classified… although, frankly, I doubt they would be much help.” A thought occurs to me. “What would you do, Hau?” I ask pointedly.
“Me? Why’s that matter?”
“Because the next time this happens, it might be on your watch.” His eyes widen in panic. “Take your time. Try to cover all the angles. What choices can you think of?”
“Um…” Hau hesitates. “Well, we can’t let them go, can we? That just puts us back where we started, with a bunch of Ultra Beasts running wild in Alola.”
“But…” he continues, thinking out loud. “Maybe… somewhere else? Couldn’t there be some other region really far away… somewhere they could live in peace?”
“Interesting idea. I did ask Wicke about that – with Lusamine more or less out of commission, she’s the closest thing any of us have to an expert on the Ultra Beasts’ behaviour and physiology. She’s looking into it, but she’s not optimistic. Their metabolisms are wildly inefficient under typical Earth conditions, so they have to eat ravenously just to keep their powers from fading, which wreaks havoc on the local food chains, and the unfamiliar environment provokes a near-constant fight-or-flight response that places them under incredible metabolic strain…”
“…huh?” Hau asks in befuddlement. I remember I’m not supposed to be teaching him Pokémon ecology.
“Uh… the point is… we haven’t found any good options. Not on Earth, anyway – and at the moment, Earth is the only available planet.” I shrug.
“Could you build a habitat? The Aether Foundation had that awesome indoor Pokémon preserve, yeah? They could build another one for the Ultra Beasts, to be like their home!”
“Mayyyyybe…” I say hesitantly. “At the moment, Gladion is the acting President of the Aether Foundation, and his partner Pokémon was born to be a “Beast-Killer”… so… I’m not so sure how enthusiastic he’ll be about devoting most of the Foundation’s remaining manpower and resources to building a reservation for the Ultra Beasts.”
“Aue, you’re right! I wouldn’t wanna have that talk!”
“I mean, I’m definitely going to talk to him about it!” I add quickly. “It’s just… going to take some persuasive nuance. That, and there’s still so much we don’t know about Ultra Space. It’ll take time to gather data – but we have Professor Burnet, and we have Wicke and the Aether Foundation. In the meantime, though…” I trail off and shrug again.
“I… I guess you could put them in stasis, right? Like all those Pokémon Ms. Lusamine had in her lab…?” He shivers at the thought. “You couldn’t leave them in there permanently… I don’t even like the thought of doing it at all. But at least it would give you more time to find a new place for them to live, or a way to send them home.” I nod.
“Always be suspicious of “temporary” solutions to hard problems. They have a tendency to become permanent when no-one’s looking. But yes, that’s a decent idea.” Hau nods, and thinks in silence for another minute.
“You said you… captured them, yeah? Like Pokémon, in Pokéballs?” he asks.
“That’s right. Using the Beast Balls that Lusamine developed to catch Nihilego.”
“So the Ultra Beasts are Pokémon then?” I pause.
“Hmm. What do you think?”
“Uh… well… they sure aren’t human, right? So… they must be?” He thinks it’s a trick question. Can’t blame him; I ask Hau a lot of trick questions.
“Not every living thing that isn’t human is a Pokémon,” I remind him. “Think of the plants, think of bacteria… the Pokérus, whatever that is…” I reach into my backpack, pull out an empty Pokéball, and turn it over in my hands pensively. “According to Wicke, ordinary Pokéballs have trouble recognising the Ultra Beasts as Pokémon. Their physiology is too different. That’s why Lusamine ordered the Foundation to create the Beast Balls.”
“But you can catch them, right? And they use Pokémon moves, and they have Pokémon types.”
“Yeah, but should we define what is or isn’t a Pokémon based on the relationship it has with humans, and how it fights our battles? That’s kinda self-centred of us, isn’t it?” Hau hesitates, but then shakes his head decisively.
“Pokémon training isn’t just about what Pokémon do for humans! It’s about having fun, and being friends, and eating malasadas together on the beach! You’ve gotta reach out to them, give ‘em a chance to make friends! Maybe then this world won’t be so scary, and they can live here and be happy!” I chuckle.
“Ever the ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” I say drily. “Friendship alone can’t overcome the hardships of living in an alien dimension, Hau. But I suppose it could make it easier. And much as I hate to admit it, if anyone’s going to try it, I probably have the best chance.”
“What, because you’re such an epic trainer?” Hau asks, a hint of scepticism in his voice.
“Heh. I wish. No, it’s… something else. Because of our… unique experiences… Lillie, B, Guzma, Lusamine and I are something that Interpol calls “Fallers” – people who’ve spent time in Ultra Space and lived to tell the tale. We have what you might call the “scent” of the Ultra Wormholes on us, something that the Beasts can sense. They think we’re a way home.” Hau looks baffled at first, but then I see a lightbulb go on in his head.
“If you remind them of home, you can keep them calm! You can help them adjust to living on Earth!”
“Hypothetically, yes. It’s worth a try, anyway. I haven’t actually attempted to communicate with any of the Ultra Beasts in my… care… just yet.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Hau asks, with the cavalier attitude of someone who has absolutely no idea what the worst that could happen is.
“I’m not sure,” I admit. “But… there was the matter of the Interpol task force’s leader. The Hoennese woman.” The change in subject makes his eyebrows go up in confusion.
“Oh, right – you said you thought you knew her from somewhere? Did you find out anything else?” I shrug.
“Well, it was her, all right. Anabel, Salon Maiden of the Battle Tower, at one point the third most powerful trainer in Hoenn, and rumoured to be a gifted psychic. Only she disappeared years ago, and as far as I know she’s still listed in her home region as a missing person.” Hau wrinkles his nose.
“Did she run away to join the International Police? Fake her death or something?”
“Not a bad guess, but no. The truth is… stranger. Apparently, she is also a Faller. She disappeared when she ran afoul of an Ultra Wormhole, and was found by Interpol agents on Poni Island, suffering from amnesia. They figured out what had happened to her when they detected the radiation signature of the Wormholes on her body… but they never told her that. She has no idea what happened to her.”
“That doesn’t sound right at all! How can they keep that from her!?”
“Well…” I begin hesitantly. “I’d like to say it’s because her own Interpol superiors are concerned about bringing back her traumatic memories, or something… but to be honest, I think they just consider her more useful as an operative specialising in Ultra Beasts if she doesn’t know about her status as a Faller. Easier to use her as bait.” Noticing a look of horror on Hau’s face, I explain further. “These are not nice people, Hau. They’re on our side, and they’re miraculously competent, with… a certain notable exception. But they are every bit as ruthless as Lusamine’s Aether Foundation, and they will use you if you let them.”
“Aue… this is making my head spin,” he complains. “And you still haven’t explained what Anabel has to do with you trying to train the Ultra Beasts.”
“Oh! Right. Yes. Well… The way the Ultra Beasts react to Anabel, as a Faller, makes me… more than a little nervous,” I admit. “They were extremely aggressive towards her – as if they thought she was guarding or blocking their way home.” Hau’s face falls.
“So maybe they’ll blame you for them being stuck in Alola, eh?”
“And react accordingly, yes. And there’s something else, a sort of… mental fatigue that Anabel seems to suffer from being around them. It could just be to do with the length of time she spent in Ultra Space, or even a result of her natural psychic potential, but considering the way Nihilego was able to influence Lusamine…” I realise that I’m speculating more wildly than usual, and shake my head clear. “I don’t know, but like I said, the idea makes me… nervous about talking to them.”
“So trying to train them like Pokémon isn’t a sure thing either…” he decides, summing up the last minute or so of conversation. I let the silence linger for a while, hesitating to bring up my last point.
“There’s another possibility you’re not suggesting.” Hau just stares in confusion.
“I give up, cousin; what’s the other option?” I look away, close my eyes, and sigh.
“Destroy them.” He stifles a gasp.
“What!? No! We can’t!”
“And why is that?”
“They’re still living things, right? And they’re far away from home and prolly scared of us as we are of them! It’s not fair!”
“All true. But they’re also dangerous, powerful entities that don’t belong in this world, have already done noticeable damage to every Alolan ecosystem they’ve touched, and could kill Arceus knows how many Pokémon and humans if they’re left to roam. What if we can’t contain them? What if we can’t teach them to live here in peace?”
“Maybe we can’t, but we have to try!” he protests.
“And if we’re wrong, or if we fail? Who bears responsibility for what the Ultra Beasts do next?
“I- I don’t know, but-! But it’s not their fault either! Lusamine brought them here; they didn’t ask for that!”
“And the people and Pokémon of Alola didn’t ask to be put in the path of a confused and angry extradimensional monster with the powers of a god! Are you ready to take responsibility for that happening?”
“I- no, but- but we can’t kill them just for being lost in our world!”
“And would you really stand by that, if your home were in their path!?”
“I- I- I…” He’s visibly upset; his eyes are starting to water a little, and he turns away and wipes his sleeve over his face. I try to soften my expression, and gently rest a hand on his shoulder. Hau blinks and looks back at me.
“It’s that sort of thing, Hau,” I tell him softly, “that will make you a better Champion than me.” He blinks, puzzled. “I considered it. Interpol considered it. You wouldn’t.”
“You wouldn’t… like… really do it though, would you?” Hau asks. I pause.
“…I might have. If the other choices had all proven… infeasible.” I shake my head. “Do you understand now why I didn’t want this job?” Hau looks out at the sky past the crystal dome.
“…I think so.”
“Do you still want this job?” He says nothing for a long time.
“Yeah. Yeah, I do. I wanna make a difference in people’s lives. I wanna protect people and keep Alola safe and happy. And… I wanna be strong. Strong enough to do what’s right when it matters… and strong enough to admit when I’m weak.” I close my eyes and smile. I think he’s starting to get it. It won’t be long now.
“Responsibility,” I say, leaving the word hanging in the air for a few moments. “When you have power, no choice is easy. You can cross terrible lines to protect the people and places you love, or you can risk everything and everyone in the name of doing what’s right. It’s not up to me to tell you what’s right, but either way, you have to own your choices, because it’s those choices that make you who you are. When you hide from your responsibility, you hide from yourself.” Hau frowns.
“What does that make you?” he asks. I laugh.
“A coward. Always have been.” We sit together for a while, watching the clouds drift by.
“Anyway,” I say, breaking the silence. “That’s enough about me. How about what you’ve been doing? You’re still helping Hala retrain the Team Skull grunts, aren’t you? How are they?”
“They’re all doing really well! They’re taking to this whole rescue team deal way better than I ever woulda thought for such a bunch of troublemakers. We ran a practice mission out on Ten Carat Hill the other day and they totally aced it! Cool under pressure, and awesome team spirit! I guess they just needed someone to give them a second chance! One of them in particular.”
“Oh? Who’s that?”
“Oh, you know, no one special. Just your boyfriend,” Hau says teasingly.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I tell him crossly. “I owe him a drink, that’s all.”
“Really? ‘A’ drink?” Hau asks sceptically.
“Well… okay, maybe I owe him two or three drinks, after my coronation party…”
“Try six or seven!”
“I guess things got a little out of hand…” I concede.
“A little? You challenged Tapu Koko to a fistfight and broke every bone in your hand trying to punch out one of the old basalt idols!” Hau laughs. “That was the best part of our whole journey, hands down!”
“Yeah, yeah…” I grumble.
“And the way B fussed over you for days afterwards…”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”
“Did you know he even asked my gramps to teach him first aid?”
“You are making that up.”
“Trainer’s honour!” he declares, putting his hand on his heart. “It was actually really cute.” I roll my eyes, sigh in exasperation, and try to give him another surly grumble, but end up smiling in spite of myself.
“Well, should I pencil you in for next week? The usual time?”
“You bet!” Hau replies. “So watch out – me and me awesome team are definitely winning the next one!” I smile at him, and offer my hand to shake.
“You’re this region’s future, Hau – may the Tapu help us.” He takes my hand.
“I won’t let you down!”
And the funny thing is… I believe him.