Chapter 2: 99
Adrian did long-multiplication in his head as he always did when he was nervous. It was a fun game, because he had to keep it hard enough so that his brain would not simultaneously begin thinking of what he was nervous about while trying to keep it simple enough so that he would not make a careless mistake that he would disturb him even more. Fortunately, it was an easy balance. He could make the questions as long and complex as he wanted and still get them.
Then a knock interrupted him. As the problem he had just been drawing up melted away, his worries emerged once more. In a futile attempt to distract himself once more, he tried to make each of his strides the exact same length and keep them all at a specific pace, but it didn’t work. A servant came at a brisk pace to open the giant twin-doors, but Adrian waved him off with his left hand and pulled the door open with his right.
The man at the door was wearing a blue suit with a postage hat and a fearow behind him, but for some reason the two together seemed to look like a 99. Adrian shut his eyes and shook his head, to rid himself of the scene, and opened them to see the bewildered-looking postman trying to hand him a letter. He took it, closed the door, and carefully ripped it open.
He had memorized exactly where the score would be, planned out the series of motions he would do to open the message, and he executed his plan with precision. The seconds passed like eons, he kept envisioning a 99 on the paper, and sure enough when he opened it he saw a 99. But it took him but half a second to realize that he was still imagining the 99, that there was really a 100.
There were cautious footsteps coming from the hallway that came from the study. His father stood at the mouth of the hallway with his mouth slightly raised, as if about to speak. But instead, he walked over to where Adrian was standing and looked over his shoulder.
What came next was the most fascinating moment of Adrian’s life to that point. The end of his father’s lips both rose together, and then his lower lip dropped to leave a smile. It was the first time Adrian had seen him smile in his entire life, and he wasn’t sure what to do with it. Then, in a day already full of astonishing events came another first: Adrian found his father’s hand on his left shoulder.
And in yet another first, his father seemed incapable of coherent thought. As he read over the acceptance letter, he simply mumbled facts, “100%... Articuno Class… 100%...” Then he turned to Adrian and said, “Son, you know you’ve just made history. That test is meant to be impossible to ace. And you’ve done it!”
It was just what Adrian hated about man. Here his father was, excited, happy, proud, pleased, almost in tears. Adrian would have never expected it; those were emotions he had not seen in his father ever. And yet here they were, where yesterday Adrian wondered if his father was even capable of them. Even while it exemplified all of the nihilistic tendencies of humankind he hated so much, he couldn’t quite bring himself to hate that moment. It was an emotion even he himself didn’t know, as he had never felt it before. It wasn’t the smug satisfaction he felt every time he aced other difficult tasks, nor the cockiness he felt when his teachers praised him for his brilliance, but something far more primitive. He tried to place the feeling, to analyze every aspect of it so that he could replicate it later, but he couldn’t and it angered him.
The worst part was that the moment was over a moment later. “I’ll call up the family,” his father said proudly, and was off. He hated himself for failing to bottle up that moment and save it forever, he hated that the only emotion he had ever felt was worth saving was gone.
His family was gathered around the long table that his father usually reserved for business.
“A perfect score!” said Uncle Karl, “I can hardly believe it! If it were anyone but Adrian, I would send those scores back and have them checked again!” His father mumbled that the scores were already checked a few times anyways. “I mean, I thought that Nigel’s 99% was good, but 100!”
Adrian liked Uncle Karl, how he insisted on needling his father for getting a 99.7%. It had been Uncle Karl’s dream to see Adrian beat his father. Once, Uncle Karl had the dream of making Academy history, but his 93.6% was far from the bar. He then lowered his standards to simply beating out his younger brother, but when those hopes were crushed too he settled simply for hoping that Adrian’s father would one day be beaten. It was entertaining, how even an uncle’s praise to his nephew had base motives.
Amongst the many toasts and talk, his grandmother sat at the head of the table soberly. Her silence would once have been unnerving to Adrian, but she had proven herself even more aloof than his father. That she even bothered to show up was praise enough, for she had decided she was above many of the family functions.
Only Uncle Karl had the nerve to approach her, and even then he simply asked her if she wanted desert. As she had taken only a single bite from her cake, it was pretty clear that she didn’t, so Adrian guessed that Uncle Karl had been dared by one of his second cousins to try to approach her.
Adrian wondered how his grandmother had made it to the Elite Four whilst being so cold. The rest of the Elite Four had all been charismatic and had at least one memorable trait like Lorelei’s carefully manipulated beauty, Bruno’s diehard work ethic, and Lance’s fiery arrogance. But Agatha was just known for her condescension and nostalgic babbling. All of the rest were dearly beloved by their swathes of fans, but his grandmother had none.
Of course, Adrian didn’t quite understand the desire to be popular to begin with. Why would anyone want to be worshipped by a bunch of inept fools? Whenever he reflected on the meaning of popularity, he always found it appropriate to pity God, it there was one. But then again, it was unlikely God would make something so imperfect as man if he was analytical enough to see all of their defects.
Then an unfamiliar voice pulled him from his thoughts. It was crackly, gruff, and decidedly untrustworthy. Turning to its source, he was ashamed to find that it was his own grandmother and that it had been so long since he last heard her spoke that her voice was nearly unrecognizable.
“Nigel, would you mind if I took Adrian to the Academy myself?”
Adrian’s father was just as struck as the rest of the table, but he was able to collect himself relatively quickly. “I have already made the arrangements,” he explained. The very trace of an incoming scowl from his grandmother forced him to rethink his statement. His father quickly corrected himself, so quickly that it sounded like the two statements were really one. “But I have a week to change them. Of course you may.”
She then returned to her thoughts and remained silent for the rest of the night.
Adrian and his grandmother soared atop a private skarmory that belonged to the family. It was the skarmory’s eighth journey to the Pokemon Academy, so it knew its way very well.
“You know, this is the first time I’ve been to the Academy since it opened,” his grandmother told him. Sadly, it did not surprise Adrian that she hadn’t gone to any of his relatives’ initiations or graduations. Of course, this made it all the more curious that she had decided to accompany him, of all people, on his journey. After all, they were anything but close.
Apparently, she was well aware that he would be thinking as much. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I accompanied you and not my firstborn son or any of our other relatives. There are a few reasons. The first is that by all accounts this will be the last chance I have to make this journey with good reasoning and that I have to have a talk to Professor Oak before I die. But do not be distraught. That isn’t the only reason I am coming.”
“There is something special about you, Adrian. It’s not your intelligence alone; as I am sure you would think. Nor is it that I see myself in you. Contrarily, you are nothing like me and I have never seen a person so cynical and coldly calculating. And it is not that I believe you have strong potential for greatness. Your obvious disdain for the human world will inhibit that. The thing is, I cannot honestly place it myself, but for reasons even I don’t know there is nobody I would trust more with this task.”
“Most people my age have long lost all of their pokemon. However, as a ghost trainer, I am left with one. When I die, and I feel that will not be too long from now, I want you to take care of Gengar. Know that I do not intend this as an honor or a display of favoritism, but instead as a responsibility. He is fiercely independent, vindictive, and mischievous. And I have no idea why I feel that you are the only one who can take care of him.”
He wasn’t sure what to say. So he said the dumbest thing he could think of. “I will not disappoint you, grandmother.”
She nodded solemnly, and then returned to her normal silence. It was the longest she had ever talked to him, and in fact the longest anyone had ever talked to him one on one.
When they landed, she instructed him to deport on his own so that he would not be burdened by her overbearing presence when he was making his first appearance. In all reality, he wasn’t sure why she had done as much. She knew very well that he could care less of what people thought of him anyways.