Review: Eclipse – Rise of the Ancients

Rise of the Ancients

Eclipse: Rise of the Ancients is a Sci-Fi board game expansion to Eclipse, which combines resource management, exploration, technological advancement, and upgrading spaceships in preparation of ship-to-ship combat.

The expansion adds 4 new races, new technology, new enemies to fight, new social options, and more.  Be aware that this review will only really make sense to those who are already familiar with the core game, the review of which can be found here: Eclipse Board Game Review.

New Races

Rho Indi Syndicate

A mix of rogues and renegades, this ragtag rabble of rowdy raiders razes other races in a ravaging rush. (Okay, stopping now).  The new “war” race, the Syndicate is a great choice for those who want to win by combat, and lots of it.

With two starting interceptors, the ability to gain extra Money per ship they destroy, and an unprecedented FOUR ship movements per Move action, this wretched collection of scum and villainy excels at striking quickly and in large numbers, and reaping additional rewards from combat.  In addition, they trade Money down at a rate even better than Humans: 3->2, rather than the usual 3->1.

Of course, these benefits come with their drawbacks. They only have two Colony Ships, so populating planets is a slow process for them.  They have no Dreadnought ship: there’s a big, empty hole on their mat where the blueprint is supposed to be, replaced with nothing at all.  Which makes sense, as they are not a proper “nation” of any kind, and their advantage lies in moving a large number of smaller ships at once.  They also only have two Ambassador Tiles.

Which might not be that big a problem for them, in the end: Did I mention they also don’t get -2 Victory Points if they hold the Traitor Card?  Happy hunting!

Enlightened of Lyra

Like the Hydrans of the core game, the Enlightened of Lyra are a race that just want to be left alone and advance their civilization… THROUGH SCIENCE!  A defensive team (for the early game at least), the Enlightened can build up and build up, and then either win through sheer tech advancement points, or unleash a wave of pain late game to steal the win.

Instead of having advantages in research like Hydrans, Lyran players will be able to build unique structures called “Shrines” every turn near planets that correspond to their colors (white allow any).  These shrines cost Material, and there’s one of each planet color that costs 2, 4 and 6.  If you build all three 2 cost Shrines, you get a bonus technology automatically: Wormhole Generator.  If you build all three 4 cost Shrines, you get an extra Influence Disk.  And each 6 cost Shrine you build gives you an extra 3 Victory Points.  This is on top of the extra 1 Victory Point they get for each Shrine built.

In addition, the Enlightened can flip Colony Ships over to re-roll a die they throw in combat.  Combined with no other negatives besides the usual non-Human 2 movements per Move action and 3->1 conversation resource rate, these golden… samurai… bug people?… are fairly versatile.

The Exiles

These fish/lizard people are among the most defensive-oriented in the game, and make turtling look utterly badass.  How badass?  For one thing, they can start off building Orbitals.  Pretty sweet, right?  An extra Economy/Science planet per system is nothing to sneeze at for 5 Materials each, and allows them to be fairly isolationist, but keep up with others in resource gathering.

But wait, there’s more. Those Orbitals? They’re also Star Bases.  Yeah, The Exiles saw a Star Base and thought “Why would I build a ship that both can’t move, and doesn’t give me resources?”  So they combined both.  They have no blueprints for Star Bases, and instead that space on their board details their Orbital’s blueprints.

What’s that? More you say? No, surely not! Each Orbital they control also gives them +1 Victory Point at the end of the game!  The Exiles may not like being excluded from the Council and the rest of galactic civilization, but with advantages that favor playing defensively so well, they’ve gotten damn good at it. (Can you tell this is my favorite new race?)

Wardens/Sentinels/Keepers of Magellan

The new “humans,” these three alien races are functionally identical to each other, and are on the back of each of the other three unique race boards. They have a number of advantages and disadvantages that allow them to suite a fairly versatile and adventurous play style, rewarding Exploration and Research.

They receive a free Discovery Tile when they reach the 4th space in a Technology track.  In addition, they get 1 Victory Point at the end of the game for each Discovery Tile they flip, making the extra resources, technologies or ships they can alternatively provide much more beneficial.

They only flip one Colony Ship instead of 2 with each Influence action, but may flip unused Colony Ships for an extra resource of any kind. And as usual for non-humans, they may only move two ships per Move Action (or one ship twice) and trade resources at a rate of 3->1.

Other stuff

New Ancient Enemy ships, a new Galactic Center tile (with a vastly more powerful guardian), new secret technologies, advancements, and the ability to form true Alliances with other players (able to move through each other’s spaces, participate in combat together, or share victory/defeat), and more make this expansion well worth the investment for veteran players that want to spice their games up.  There’s even a rule for concurrent turns, so game-play moves faster—which, let’s face it, with up to 9 players in a game, is sorely needed.

Game Review: Eclipse

Eclipse is a Sci-Fi board game that combines resource management, exploration, technological advancement, and upgrading spaceships in preparation of galactic combat.

Basically it’s got everything you could ask for in a space themed board game. 

Gameplay Overview

War rages across space, and multiple factions vie for dominance.  The basic game comes with 6 player mats, defined by color. Each mat has two sides: a human faction, and an alien race.  The 6 human factions are mechanically identical, and have the fewest special rules (beneficial or harmful).  The 6 alien races (though technically one race are robots) are all unique, in everything from varying ship power to construction costs to research bonuses to movement penalties to exploration options, and much more.

Overall this provides 7 unique playstyles for up to 6 players to choose from (the expansion adds another 4 playstyles and allows for up to 9 players).  Beginners are recommended to choose human factions until they grasp the basics of the game, and then can choose an alien race to specialize in the strengths of those races.

Play consists of round-robin style turns in which you can choose to explore the galaxy, populate planets, research technology, upgrade your ships, build ships, or move ships.  The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the 9 rounds (which can consist of many, many individual turns) is victorious, and you can gain Victory Points by conquering explored systems, researching technology, winning in combat, and more.  In this way there are multiple paths to victory, allowing the different races to play to their strengths and have very different priorities, but still ultimately win the game.

Each player starts with one hexagonal tile, spaced out from each other around a middle tile.  When you explore, you flip a numbered tile over from a stack, and place it somewhere around your tile where warp gates match up.  If there are planets on the tile, you may colonize them for sweet, sweet resources (Money, Science, or Materials, color coded by planet type as Orange, Pink or Brown. White planets are wild, so you can choose what resource they will give you).  If there are Ancient Ships, you must first fight them before you can conquer the planets.  Combat is done through d6 dice rolls, with 6 or higher (from modifications) being a hit.  The amount of damage you do is modified by the weapons your ship has, and there are upgrades for ships to add to your dice roll results (targeting computers) or subtract from enemies’ (shields).

Eclipse GameplayResearching technology costs Science, and allows you to permanently acquire everything from upgrades for your ships, to new structures to build, to new resource gathering methods, and even Warp Field Generators to traverse systems without matching warp gates, or Neutron Bombs to eradicate entire systems you’ve invaded.  Once you have researched the proper ship upgrades, you can then Upgrade them for better weapons, hull, shields, targeting lasers, engines, or energy sources.  All upgrades automatically apply to all your ships, of which there are 4: Interceptors, Cruisers, Dreadnaughts and Orbital Defense.  The bigger ships cost more, but have more spaces available for upgrades.

Once you have sufficient Materials, you can use them to build more ships in any system you have conquered.  You can then Move those ships into other systems to fight the neutral Ancient Enemies that have been discovered, or invade enemy player’s systems once they’ve been conjoined.  If two players ever move onto the same system, they are at war with one another.  If they agree to diplomatic relations before that occurs, they exchange Diplomacy Tiles (which gives a Victory Point and acts as a White Planet for both players).  Attacking a player who has your Diplomacy Tile brands you as a traitor, and not only do you lose their tile, but you get a Traitor Card that gives you -2 Victory Points at the end of the game. The most recent person to betray a diplomatic relation gets the card (which can result in highly amusing “hot potato” flurries of backstabbing near the end of the game).

Each turn you do something (Explore, Research, Build, Move, etc.) increases the Money tax you must pay at the end of the round.  The end of the round is also when you collect resources from your planets, so rounds are limited in turns by how much money players have available.  The first person to pass their turn will go first the next round, but if you have enough Money to pay a higher tax at the end of the round, you can get ahead by taking more turns.  Resources can be traded at a rate of 2->1 for humans and 3->1 for aliens (4->1 for one race), so good resource management is well rewarded.

Verdict

Complexity: 1-2-3-4-5 Not for the casual gamer.

Time Investment: 1-2-3-4-5 Make a night of it!

Replay Value: 1-2-3-4-5 Tons of variability in playstyles.

Eclipse is ultimately for a very specific type of gamer: learning the game takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour with an experienced player there to explain everything, and setting up the table can take another half hour in itself.  Games themselves usually take about an hour per person playing: less if you use concurrent turns, which is for advanced players.

My only personal gripe is the luck factor: despite the many upgrades and strategizing you can do to prepare for it, combat is ultimately decided by dice rolls, and a bad streak of exploration early game can be crippling. Negotiating friendly house rules can mitigate the latter, and as for the former, I can hear the mutters of “Well duh, it’s a board game!” to which I reply “Game of Thrones. Recognize.”

That said, if you love dozens of moving pieces (literal and figurative) and almost endless metagaming, you’ll probably have tons of fun with Eclipse.  The races are varied enough to keep recurrent games fresh, while the social aspect reminds us of what makes board games continue to shine in the digital age (speaking of which, the game has been made for tablets now). If you’d like to read more about eclipse check out the review of the expansion: Rise of the Ancients.

Chapter 30: Over the Mountain

On the sixth day after leaving Pewter, Mount Moon goes from a feature of the landscape to part of the terrain. Red thought he was in good shape when he set out on his journey, and did his best to keep up his training regimen in the city, but by the time the ground is regularly sloping from five to ten degrees, he’s starting to regret the decision to climb the mountain rather than go through it.

They pass entrances to the mountain here and there as they travel, all marked by pokemon centers. The only other buildings on the mountain are the occasional Ranger Outposts and supply stores, most of which are located near each other. Hikers and other trainers occasionally cross their path, some with tips or advice on the route choices ahead.

When they begin to move southward around the mountain, Dania and Naoko say their goodbyes at the next Pokemon Center. The two plan on traveling inside of Mount Moon to reach its smaller northern neighbors. Blue and Leaf exchange numbers with them, and Red does too to avoid any awkwardness. He doesn’t expect he’ll be keeping in contact with them, but it can’t hurt.

Red never had a huge host of friends or acquaintances, and so far the only people he’s added since leaving Pewter are Amy and Donovan, Psychics Narud and Ranna, and Dr. Brenner. His list of contacts is still mostly made up of people from Pallet Labs, and Red wonders if he should be trying harder to get acquainted with all the people they meet in their travels. Forming relationships is a big part of a trainer’s journey, as it helps create bonds that can last months or even years later, where unexpected circumstances might bring old friends together again. Fortuitous chance meetings are such a trope in trainer fiction that the unofficial tradition of exchanging contact info with anyone that you’ve been in a battle with has become an interregional norm.

“Are you guys keeping up with a lot of the people we’ve met?” Red asks as they leave the pokemon center.

“Meh. A couple.” Blue shrugs. “I’ve been following Donovan here and there to see if he’s reached Indigo Plateau yet, and a couple of the good trainers at the Gym. Got friendly with some of the Center staff at Pewter too.”

Leaf nods. “I made some friends while writing the article, mostly in the museum. I used to be into social media a lot more when I was younger, but right now I don’t really feel like I have much to share. Not that’s worth sharing, anyway.”

“Oh, I’ve got plenty to share,” Blue says. “I’ll consider it a major failing if I don’t have a million followers by the time I hit the Elite Four. I got my first spike after I beat Brock of course, but I haven’t hit the triple digits yet.”

Red checks his phone and sees that it’s true: Blue’s trainer profile has 74 followers. His last post was some advice on training pidgey based on his experience with Zephyr. “I get how this will be useful to you, Blue,” he says. “But aren’t you interested in an online persona, Leaf? If more people know who you are, then more of them will pay attention to your books or articles.”

“Yeah, I know it’s important. I don’t really enjoy networking though, and for now I’m focusing on just writing enough things that are good on their own merits. If people start to follow me from that, great.”

“You should talk to gramps sometime,” Blue says. “He’s a wiz at crafting a public image.”

Leaf cocks her head. “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need to craft an image after all the impressive things he’s done.”

“Well he’s an amazing trainer, sure-”

“-and the greatest researcher of our age,” Red mutters.

“-and whatever, a good researcher, yeah,” Blue says, ignoring Red’s sputtering incredulity. “But what really makes him influential is how he makes himself seem like someone that deserves respect, deserves influence, beyond what others with his skills have. People like Giovanni and Lance are the same. Great feats aren’t enough: there are over a dozen Indigo Champions still alive today, but only a few still matter, because they make themselves matter.”

“I get it, you need to leverage your story and image to be influential. I just don’t think I’d be good at that.”

“It doesn’t have to be different from what you might otherwise do,” Red says. “Giovanni’s public outreach is a big deal, but his blog also helps him stay relevant to the Region in a way most other Gym Leaders and ex-Champions aren’t.”

“You know Bill, right?” Blue asks Leaf.

“Sonezaki? Of course. He was a big deal in Unova for awhile when we updated to his latest generation of storage systems.”

“Right, well he’s notoriously camera shy. Hates doing interviews or putting his foot in the public arena at all.”

“You met him, didn’t you?” Red asks.

“Yeah, once. Gramps took me on a visit when I was a kid.”

“What’s he like?” Leaf asks.

“Kinda nuts, but stupid-smart. He’s a workaholic with enough money to buy a city, and what does he do? Grabs up all the land north of Cerulean Bay just to avoid any neighbors for his mansion. Not even a mansion really, more like a bedroom and kitchen attached to five labs. Point is, everyone in Kanto and out knows him by his first name, he could be funding political movements and guiding region policy if he wants, but instead he just sticks to his research and no one cares what he thinks.”

Red frowns. “Plenty of people care what he thinks.”

“Yeah, when they want something from him. As long as he’s designing new tech, people are happy to take it, but when he starts going on about his pet projects everyone tunes him out. Everyone that matters,” Blue says before Red can protest again. “Do you see people lining up to fix the problems with human storage? A couple dozen people have signed up, max. If gramps got behind a project like that, people would pay attention.”

“Again, I’m not disagreeing with you,” Leaf says. “I just don’t think I have it in me to work so hard or well at crafting a public image.”

Blue shrugs. “Suit yourself. But if you never try, you can’t really know.”

The conversation turns to other things after that, but Red notices that Leaf begins checking her phone more often as they make their way around the base of the mountain, and spends more time typing into it during their rest stops.


The sun is at their backs when they crest the last ridge around the the excavation site and see it stretched below them, a scar on the mountain’s monotonous landscape. From this distance the portable buildings that were set up to house the diggers and researchers are as small as Red’s thumb, and he finds himself taken aback by how large the whole thing is. Tiny figures are spread all around the site, some huddled in the dirt, others moving to and fro with purpose. As the trio begin to speed up their approach (a partial consequence of going downhill) Red notices the figures on the perimeter, facing outward.

When they get within speaking range, a young man who was standing on one of the nearby building’s roofs hops off and walks toward them.

“ACE Trainer,” Blue mutters.

“How do you know?” Leaf asks.

“Look at the way he walks. That kind of swagger is hard to teach outside of the academy.”

Leaf covers her grin with one hand as Red says, “That and the uniform’s also a giveaway.”

“Oh, is it red here?” Leaf asks. “Ours wear orange and blue.”

“Ho there!” The trainer says as he gets closer. “Mind routing around the site? We have some digs in progress.”

“Hello!” Leaf steps forward. “We actually got directed here from Dr. Brenner in Pewter. She said she’d be sending word along…”

The man frowns and half-turns back to the rest of the digsite. “Probably did, to someone here…” He unclips a radio from his belt. “Hey Ran, you hear from someone named Brenner lately, over?”

“Don’t recall, over.”

He lowers his radio. “Did she give you a name?”

“Ah, yeah, Ryback?”

The man’s expression softens and he presses the button again. “Hey, mind getting ahold of Ryback? Some kids here say he’s expecting them, over.”

“Will do, gimme five? Over.”

“Thanks, out.” He re-clips his radio. “Should be along shortly. Mind staying out here until he arrives?”

“Sir, yes sir!” Blue says with a salute.

“Appreciate it.” He jogs back to where he was and climbs onto the roof in two quick motions.

Blue stares after him, then turns to the other two. “Think I was too subtle?”

“I think he just doesn’t care about getting sassed by some kid,” Leaf says with a grin.

Blue unclips a ball and begins to spin it along his knuckles. “Bunch of stuck-up pricks. And that’s coming from me.”

“That’s funny, I could swear I remember someone who wanted nothing more than to be in ACE when he was younger… who could it have been?” Red taps his cheek, gaze upward.

“Shut up, I just thought the uniform looked cool. How many ACE Trainers have become Champion? Oh right, zip. All that fancy diploma’s good for is getting hired as security for dirtholes like this.”

“Aww,” Leaf purses her lips. “Did someone not get accepted at the academy?”

Leaf bears only a second of Blue’s glare before she averts her face, palms out. “Ahh, I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Such contempt! It burns!”

Red pulls a Burn Heal out and sprays a tiny amount at her. “It’s no good, he’s still looking at you!”

Leaf collapses to the ground in stages. “Tell my mother… she was right…” she gasps as Red begins to dig furiously through his bag.

“Dammit, where’s that revive capsule?! Don’t you dare die on me, Leaf!”

Blue wanders off muttering to himself as the two are overcome with laughter, and only returns when the man on the building yells out, “Ryback is finishing something up! Says to give him twenty minutes!”

Leaf makes an effort to collect herself, still giggling. “Thanks!” She shouts back, and the man waves an acknowledgement.

“You done?” Blue asks them, and after convincing him they are, the three put their bags down and bring out their new pokemon for field training while they wait.

Leaf summons her wigglytuff, a mound of bouncy pink and white fur that energetically hops around as soon as it’s released. It examines every rock and shrub with eyes as bright as the sky and a beatific smile that stretches across a face as wide as its body.

“Isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” Leaf asks as she feeds it some berries, then runs her hands over its fur to clean off some debris that had accumulated from many romps up the mountain.

“Disgustingly so,” Red agrees cheerfully as he brings out his nidoran. It’s a feisty thing, and he has to be stern with it to avoid its affectionate but dangerous head-butts. After feeding it a few pecha berries to weaken its venom, he begins a close examination to check it for damage. On their way up the mountain it tussled with some mankey that attacked them, and this is its first time out since they left the pokemon center. The spines on its back are strong and unbroken, and other than a notch missing from one ear its fur is glossy.

Red practices switching nidoran from Double Kicks to Horn Attacks and back to cut down the time between actions. He tries not to get distracted by the sight of Leaf’s wigglytuff inflating to twice its size and smacking a small boulder hard enough to send it tumbling up the ridge. Meanwhile Blue brings his shinx out and sends it racing to a far off tree and back, timing it and praising each second it shaves off.

Red grins as his nidoran stops its practice to watch the shinx running to and fro, then begins to hop after it. Its hind legs are so powerful that it actually outstrips the blue and black feline, who turns and hisses at it, teeth crackling with electricity. “Nidoran, stop!”

His pokemon freezes as the shinx returns to its master. “Care for a battle?” Blue asks, rubbing its ear. “Would be a good way to put them through their paces.”

“Nah, I’m okay.”

“Oh come on,” Blue says. “Just a practice match, first strike.”

“With a Poison and Electric pokemon, one strike can be damaging enough.”

“You guys never want to battle,” Blue grumbles. “Feels like I might as well be travelling alone sometimes.”

Red opens his mouth to argue when Leaf says, “How about a race? We all have a rattata now. Let’s see which is fastest.”

Blue grins. “Better than nothing. Let’s say, to that tree and back?”

Red withdraws his nidoran and brings out his rattata. “Sure.”

“Go, Joey!”

Red snickers as Blue’s pokemon materializes. “You named your rattata Joey?”

“Yep. Seems a fitting tribute.”

“Go, Scamp!” Leaf scratches her pokemon’s head as she looks back and forth between them. “I feel like I’m missing something.”

“Joey’s a character from an ‘educational video’ used in Johto primary schools like a decade ago. It was super cheesy, and taught kids all the things not to do as a trainer. Don’t travel in unprotected clothing like shorts, don’t boast incessantly about your pokemon, don’t train one pokemon exclusively.”

“Our teacher tried showing it to us in our fourth year,” Red says, voice solemn. “They were not prepared for the memes that have plagued the school ever since.”

“Well, now I’m curious. Send me a link later, let’s get this race going!”

“Hang on, I’ve got a better idea,” Red says. “Blue, bring out-”

A tremor rumbles through the ground beneath their feet, there and gone in a heartbeat. The three look around expectantly, but another doesn’t come.

“Was that an earthquake, or pokemon?” Leaf asks. “I was hoping to avoid the former while I’m here.”

“If we’re lucky it was pokemon,” Blue says. “I could use some ground types.”

“Yeah, or it’s an onix that’s burrowing way too close to the surface,” Red says.

“No problem there, I bought a heavy ball just on the off chance we need one. So, what were you saying?”

“Huh? Oh, bring out your pokedoll.”

Blue raises his brow, then takes out his Container holding his training supplies and materializes the huge box inside it. Red and Leaf help him take the lid off and lift out the foam training dummy, then place it on the ground. Their rattata take a sudden sharp interest in the doll once it’s down, and all three growl at it, tails raised and fur bristling.

“Okay, so the three of us will stand in a triangle around it. We’ll order our rattata to use Quick Attacks on it from our position, and call them back after. Whoever can get the most strikes in after a minute wins.”

They position themselves and set a timer. Blue’s rattata is the largest of the three, while Red and Leaf’s are about equal. Red wonders if its bigger size would slow it down or not. “Ready… set…”

“Quick Attack!”

The three rattata dash forward, slashing or biting at the mannequin as they run by.

“Joey, b-”

“Ratta-”

“Scamp, back!”

“-ack!”

“-ta, back!”

The three pokemon slow uncertainly for a second before returning to their trainers.

“Quick attack!”

They launch themselves at the mannequin again, tearing and biting with squeals of rage, then past it in a blink.

“Rattataback!” Red yells.

“Joey back!”

“Back!” Leaf simply yells, and hers trails behind Blue’s rattata in returning, while Red’s mills around briefly first.

“Quick-”

“Quick atta-”

“-attack!”

“Quick Attack!”

“-ck!”

The minute passes quickly, and when Red’s phone buzzes the three let their rattata rest, feeding them berries and letting them have a drink as their sides heave for breath.

“Okay, so mine only hit it 17 times. Fairly sure yours got higher.”

“19,” Blue says.

“21.”

“Okay, so Leaf’s is fastest, that was evident quickly, and Blue looked like it had a faster reaction time. More importantly, I saw exactly what I was afraid of when I suggested the exercise. Our pokemon don’t know how to work together well. We need to work on coordinating their attacks, especially when using the same pokemon.”

“You should also nickname your pokemon,” Blue says. “Three syllables is a lot.” Leaf nods.

Red frowns. He’s about to point out that “Maturin” and “Kemuri” don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but he knows Blue chooses his pokemon names for more than pure efficiency. For reasons Red can’t really explain, he still hasn’t nicknamed any of his pokemon. He pulls out his notebook to remind himself to put some time into examining why later. “I haven’t really thought of one yet. I’ll think it over. Shall we try again, this time trying for better coordination?”

They practice until their rattata are weaving in and out around the pokedoll with a fair amount of ease, if not quite like a well oiled machine, at least not getting in each other’s way or hesitating as often. They switch to their flying pokemon next, Red’s spearow acting as the main attacker while the two pidgey harass, and by the time they hear footsteps approaching the pokedoll is in rough shape.

They withdraw their pokemon as an older man in a thoroughly dirty pair of jeans and an untucked button up shirt arrives, grey hair tied back in a ponytail and half-lens glasses perched on his nose.

“Hey, you must be Leaf! I’m Jon Ryback, nice to meet you.” The trio shake his hand and introduce themselves. “Brenner didn’t say when you’d be arriving, so pardon me for not being prepared.”

“No worries, we don’t mean to be a bother,” Leaf says. “We’re just passing through and were curious to see what you’re all doing here. I’ve been writing about the museum’s latest exhibits, and thought something on the fossil collection itself might be a good followup.”

“Sounds good. Why don’t I give you the grand tour first, and you let me know if you have any questions.”

They collect their things and begin to follow him toward the excavation site. More accurately, sites, as they can see multiple digs in progress, each spaced out along the entirety of the small valley between two of the mountain’s ridges. Each has long white rope stretched out over several intervals, with vertical ropes anchored to the ground of the dig site to form a grid. Most have a few figures working in them, but what Red notices most is what he doesn’t see. “No pokemon?”

“For the most part, no. This is extremely delicate work, and only the very best mon can be trusted to do it. Some specifically train their pokemon to help excavate, but for the most part it’s just easier to do it ourselves.” Ryback gestures toward the entirety of the dig sites ahead. “We’ve got almost thirty diggers working seven sites at the moment. Seventeen paleontologists, three geologists, a biologist, some excavators, a few others. Most help out at different digs, but some have intensive projects that they’re committed to.”

“You all don’t work for the museum, then?” Leaf asks. “This is a collaborative effort?” She has her notebook out and jots things down as they walk.

“Oh, yeah. This expedition has a number of backers. The museum’s a big one, but Cinnabar Lab’s got an interest in fossils so they can revive them, and there are some private backers too.”

They stop at a dig site to watch as people working in it carefully chip at the dirt and brush it away, slowly revealing whatever fossils they find. One of them is measuring the distance from an anchored rope to the bone they’re working on, and mark down the number before continuing to dig it the rest of the way out.

“Must be nice to have so much support, right?” Red asks.

“Ehhh. It’s a bit more complicated than that.” Ryback continues walking. “Not all of us work together normally: we’re sharing a dig site and help each other out for efficiency, but a lot of us are hired by different people to get fossils exclusively for them.”

“What, you mean they’re actually bidding against each other for the fossils?” Blue asks. “Why not just share them?

“Can’t,” Ryback says. “The private funders either want them for their collection, which puts them at odds with the museum, or for their research, which can take years. The museum doesn’t mind buying them second-hand from anyone that doesn’t need them anymore, but they have a strong interest in whole specimen, which means they have to bid aggressively. And whatever the Cinnabar folks do with them, it doesn’t leave much behind, so they’re at odds with everyone.”

“So how many of these fossils can actually get revived?” Blue asks. “We’ve got what, only three from Kanto?”

Ryback grins and rubs his neck. “Well, that’s a question for a different set of folks. They must think they can do more though, because they bid top dollar for them. It’s actually gotten to be something of a problem, since the mountain chain itself belongs to Pewter, Cerulean, and Viridian depending on where the dig sites are. Each one’s been trying to get exclusive rights to diggers on their portion of land, but for now a compromise of third party security and collaboration seems to be working.”

They reach a dig site that has about a dozen people working in it. A wide area is cordoned off to isolate a group of fossils embedded in the earth. “We use hammers and chisels to dig the ground up and find some fossils, and if it’s small, bag it.” Ryback says. “Every so often though we find something big, or in lots of pieces, like this one.”

Red expected to see them digging it free, but instead people are moving around it with rolls of paper towels, unfurling them from one side to the other. Roll by roll the entire area is slowly covered, until the workers pick up long strips of burlap and buckets of what looks like plaster.

“They’re making a mold?” Red asks.

“Not quite. It’s a cast, to protect the fossils and keep them together as we dig them out for transport. For pieces like this, it’s safer to extract them from the surrounding stone and dirt in a lab setting.”

One of the excavators takes out an industrial strength Container and releases a huge metal box from it, easily large enough to fit the slab of earth that contains the fossils. The group moves on up the ridge and past some smaller digs. As they start to ascend, another light tremor shakes the ground beneath them. Red frowns and looks around. No one else in the digs seem bothered by it, though a few also look around for a moment before getting back to work. Whoever’s in charge of security surely has seismographs, and would know if there were unusual pokemon activity beneath them.

“So what kinds of fossils are around here?” Leaf asks.

“Oh, all kinds. This may seem like a small area, but geologically we’re talking about time, not space. Come on up here, I’ll show you…”

He leads them to the top of a ridge so they can see the foothills of the mountains more clearly.

“Ok, so, see those hills down there? The bones there are Triassic, about 200-250 million years ago. The closer ones are early Jurassic… it skews a bit toward late Jurassic in a kind of crescent around there, then all the rest up to where we are is mid-Jurassic, 165 mya. Each cluster tells a different story, about a different world. It’s a bit like time travel in a literal sense, with distance corresponding to time,” Ryback says.

Red looks down and gently kicks at the earth. “So this mountain wasn’t a mountain a 165 million years ago?”

“Oh hell no, you go that far back and none of this is recognizable. See that white hill over there? River channel sandstone. Lots of beautiful bones under there, jet black. Got tumbled a bit so they’re all scattered about. They’re worn smooth in a way that makes them worthless for museum purposes, so they fetch a lower price.”

“What’s the oldest fossils you’ve ever dug up?”

“Oh, that would be stromatolites, easy. Lamiated rocks formed by blue-green algae. We’re talking 3.5 billion years ago.”

Red tries to imagine that stretch of time and fails. Blue seems to be having a similar problem, and looks interested for the first time. “Billion, with a B?”

“Yep.” Ryback starts to lead them back down the ridge. “Life was all microbial back then, and that’s where it all began, for us. Prokaryotes to eukaryotes, we’re all branches from the same roots. If I recall correctly, some new research was demonstrating how we can find bacterial DNA in a lot of the human genome. Amazing, isn’t it?”

“It certainly is,” Leaf says as she scribbles, while Blue grunts noncommittally and Red nods, lost in thought. He’s considering the implications of all the current life forms on the planet coming from bacteria. Do new species of pokemon that get discovered still have the same markers in their genome? If not, what would that imply? The abiogenesis theory?

“So why don’t you tell us a bit about how we know how old all this stuff is?” Leaf asks.

“We study the strata it’s found in. See all those segments in the earth once we cut it away? Each one represents a different layer that fell over the one below. The deeper you get, the older it is.”

“But where do the numbers come from? How do you know how old the stratum are, rather than just that this one is older than that one?”

“We use radiometric dating. Some isotopes decay over a very, very long half-life, and change into something else.” They pass by another dig, where a man gives them a dirty look. Red startles and is about to ask him what was wrong, but they’re past the site and he thinks he imagined it, or misinterpreted the expression.

Until of course, Blue mutters, “Man what was that guy’s problem?”

“You saw that too, huh? Guess some people don’t like outsiders here.”

“Oh, well, I hate to be a bother, might as well get going soon.”

Red grins. “Bored?”

“Out of my mind.”

“Radiometric dating, I’ve heard of that,” Leaf says. “It’s when you examine an isotope of an element, measure how long it takes for half the isotope to decay into another kind, and count how much of that isotope is left in what you’re studying, right?”

“That about covers it on the surface, yes.”

Red wonders how much of this is stuff Leaf honestly doesn’t know and how much is her just exercising her newfound journalistic powers. Blue has begun spinning a pokeball on each index finger, and it’s hard to tell how much he’s listening.

“So, I’ve heard of a few criticisms to isometric dating,” Leaf says. “Mind if I run them by you?”

Ryback grins. “Sure.”

“If you use carbon dating, then how-”

“Oh no, that’s a common mistake. Carbon dating only works for testing the age of once-organic life within the past 60,000 years, give or take. Other isotopes have a far longer half-life. Uranium-lead, samarium-neodymium, potassium-argon, rubidium-strontium, and others.”

Leaf smiles back. “That does answer that question, thanks. Second, how do you know how much of the original element was in what you’re testing? Don’t you need that info to calculate backward and tell how much it had when it formed?”

“We would, if we were only measuring one element. What we do instead is cross-check: one based on uranium-235’s decay to lead-207 with a half-life of about 700 million years, and one based on uranium-238’s decay to lead-206 with a half-life of about 4.5 billion years. Graph them on a Concordia diagram and see where they meet.”

“Huh. Okay, last question on this: new rocks or samples show up that get aged within the last century, let alone the last few years. Doesn’t that demonstrate it’s not useful?”

“Some of the time that’s been reported as happening sure, but always in extreme circumstances, like rocks that form from a volcano eruption. Think about trying to use a thermometer to check for a fever while taking a cold shower. There’s going to be some interference.”

Leaf’s next question is cut off by a sudden rumbling of the ground that makes Red reflexively buckle his knees, just barely managing to avoid falling as the sound of stone crashing on stone echoes around them. The sound of screams spikes his adrenaline, and even as he thinks Earthquake? he has his hands on his pokeballs, as do Blue and Leaf. They’re all looking in different directions, searching for the threat.

“I don’t see anything,” Red says. Don’t be pokemon…

“Oh, no,” Ryback whispers and Red turns to see him staring in the direction of a small dust cloud rising over one of the dig sites. “Paul, what happened?” Ryback yells into his radio as he starts jogging toward it. The three trainers immediately follow him. “Was it a pokemon? Natural cave-in? Was anyone down there? Over!”

Don’t say pokemon…

“Rei and Bernard,” his radio says. “I don’t kn-wait… oh shit-Paul to all points, we have a Tier 1 on site!

“Talk about good timing,” Blue mutters as they break into a run. “I thought this whole visit would be boring.”

Yeah. Lucky us.

Chapter 29: On the Road Again

Red’s breath catches in his throat. “I… that’s very kind of you, Professor, but… no. I can’t.”

“Are you sure Red? No one would think anything of it.”

Red’s stomach feels like a coiling ekans. He wants to say yes so badly… he deserves it, after all his hard work. Blue got his badge, Leaf her article… didn’t he work as hard?

He deserves it…


Leaving Pewter behind feels both nostalgic and exciting. So much happened in the first week of their journey that the month of “rest” feels like it was over in a blink, and as Red, Leaf and Blue watch the buildings begin to grow more spaced out and the countryside reclaim the horizon, they’re each lost in their own thoughts.

Red is the first to break the silence upon seeing Leaf check her phone for the dozenth time. “Expecting a call?”

Leaf jumps a bit and tucks her phone away. “No.”

Red and Blue exchange a glance. “Well?” Blue asks. “How’s it doing?”

Leaf blushes. “It’s hard to tell. I can’t see the traffic it’s getting, but there are no comments yet.”

Red smiles. “It’s also only on one site. Why not post it elsewhere too?”

“Part of the deal. La-your mom, she pointed me at some editors who might be interested in it. A couple liked it enough to publish, but the only one that offered to pay anything wanted exclusive publishing rights for six months.”

“Six months!” Blue exclaims. “How much did they pay you?”

“One-fifteen. It’s not much, I kn-”

“A hundred bucks!” Red exclaims. “Say, that’s not bad!”

“Comes from writing things people actually want to read,” Blue says. “And by people I mean non-nerds.”

“Hush,” Leaf tells Blue. “I don’t think I’d recommend it as a way to get cash. I spent weeks researching and writing and editing it. If I was after money I could have made more babysitting.”

“Still, it must be gratifying to have someone willing to pay you for it.”

“I guess. I’d rather have chosen the other publisher if it meant I’d actually get some responses.”

“It was published what, a few hours ago?” Blue asks. “Relax. Give people time to slack off at work or get some lunch.”

“I know, I know. What about you, Red? Paper all done?”

Red hesitates. “Yep. Did the last of the edits last night.”

“Can we read it?” Leaf asks.

“Uh. Sure.” Red takes his phone out and forwards it to them.

Leaf’s gaze skims the screen, but Blue begins to read aloud. “‘Psychic phenomena are one of the greatest mysteries in our world.’ Wow, tell us more about how important your research is. ‘We have such little understanding of the origins and mechanics of psychic powers that to most it is still believed to be mystical, a force that defies understanding.’ I think people know what mystical means, Red.”

Red opens his mouth to respond, but Leaf picks up the reading before he can. “‘But just as electromagnetism and radiation were once inscrutable and invisible to us, our tools have evolved to measure them, and new research has developed to study their causes and effects. At the Pallet Labs in Kanto, a new tool has been developed that may begin to demystify psychic powers.

“‘Professor Oak’s latest pokedex includes an upgraded scan of a pokeball’s contents. Its catalogue of the various substances that make up a pokemon, atom by atom, allows for easy study of a pokemon’s molecular proportions, and lets laymen compare their pokemon to regional or international averages at a glance. As this new tool develops and becomes more accurate, we may now be capable of beginning to discern what physical properties grant psychics their powers.

“‘Our initial observations after analyzing the data of an unusually mentally powerful spinarak was that this unclassified section exceeds the norm…'” She trails off and begins scrolling down. “Where do you… oh I see. ‘While the presence of subject 32 indicates that powerful mental attacks are possible with a low Other makeup, the trend of the other subjects makes it a clear exception, and does not discount a potential causal link-‘”

“Blah blah,” Blue mutters, scrolling farther down, “‘Sample size,’ blah blah, ‘future research could further explore…’ That’s it? So maybe there’s a link and maybe there isn’t?”

“The experiment supported the hypothesis,” Red says, ears burning. “But it wasn’t as strong as it could have been. My r-squared was .0988, which means I just squeaked by with a p-value of .048.”

Red sees Blue’s patented blank stare, and smiles. “There was a correlation of about 10%, meaning if you give me a bunch of numbers for the Other of scanned Spinarak and I had to guess what the intensity of their Night Shade are, I could probably be right more often than a random guess by about 10% if I match a higher Other with a higher Intensity and low Other with low Intensity. But 10% isn’t particularly good, and with a sample size of only 40, the chance that the correlation I found was luck rather than a pattern is very close to 5%, which is the somewhat arbitrary, but traditional, cutoff for when the results of experiments are deemed significant.”

“So the point was just to say it’s possible?”

“The point was to explore the idea and hopefully encourage others to research it too.” Apprehension begins to fill him as he predicts where the conversation will go. What will they think of him, when they find out?

“That’s really what you wanted from all that work?”

“Well, no,” Red admits. “What I wanted was a direct and unarguably causal relationship that would get my paper published by all the top journals, and the data isn’t clear enough for that. But that was an unrealistic best-case scenario, and even if the relationship was 1:1, there would still need to be follow up experiments to confirm it, not just with a wider pool of spinarak but other psychics too.”

“Hmm…” Leaf finishes scrolling to the bottom of the paper as she reads aloud. “‘Possible confounding variables include unconscious selective bias by trainers to keep stronger pokemon, or regional conformity that excludes low Other and high Intensity spinarak that may be present in other habitats…’ So will you be doing that now, then?”

“If my paper gets enough attention to get more funding? I’d be happy to,” Red says. “I don’t think the research community will be overly excited though.”

“What does gramps think? Can’t he get you the funding?”

Red tugs his cap down and takes a deep breath. Here it comes. “Yeah, he offered as much.”

“Well, there you go then. Congrats.”

“I said no.”

There’s a moment of silence but for the tread of their feet on the road. Then Leaf simply nods, and Blue smirks and slaps him on the shoulder. “That’s my Red. You’ll get it on your own, no two ways about it.”

Red didn’t realize how tense he was until it eases away. “You guys don’t think it was a mistake?” He chides himself for his doubt, for forgetting who he’s travelling with. If anyone in the world would understand…

“Absolutely not,” Leaf says as she takes her phone out and checks her article page again. “To shine under the shadow of greatness, you gotta blind the world with yours.”


The sun rises to crest the sky as the day passes, Mount Moon growing slowly to encompass more of the eastern horizon. Its distant peak is jagged, part of the mountain broken in where the meteor, then thought to be a chunk of the moon, struck it thousands of years ago. They pass a small logging town at the edge of some woods and stop to rest while they eat. Blue summons Zephyr and throws berries hard in different directions for him to snatch out of the air, while Leaf lets Bulbasaur and Scamp out to play together. Red spends some time filing Charmander’s claws while his pokemon wriggles and squirms at the sensation.

“So we going over the mountain, or through it?” Blue asks. “There aren’t any pokemon I need in there.”

“Really? None?” Leaf asks.

“Nothing really competitive.” Blue begins to tick them off with his fingers. “Zubat, geodude, sandshrew, zubat, paras, the rare clefairy, zubat, lower down there’s chingling, absol, bronzor, zubat, makuhita, and if you’re super lucky, zubat.” Blue puts his hands down, then tosses another berry up. “An absol would be cool, but I’d rather not spend a week in there hunting for one.”

“Charmander!” Red snaps in his most authoritative voice when the lizard makes to get up again. “Down!” His pokemon complies. “Good boy. Stay.” Red takes a moment to make sure charmander sits still as he finishes filing the edge of his leftmost foreclaw. “Good boy! Good stay!” Red feeds him some pokepuff, then moves on to the next claw. “There’s a bunch of different ones outside the mountain though. Nidoran, ekans, jigglypuff, mankey, the occasionally rare whismur or shinx… we can just go over it if we want. It takes longer, but I’m not in any rush.”

“Same,” Blue says, causing Red and Leaf to exchange a glance. Blue spots it and frowns. “What?”

“Aren’t you in a hurry to get the next badge?”

Blue scratches the back of his neck. “Sure. But not at the cost of time to train my pokemon or catch new ones.”

Red grins. “Figured that out, did you?”

Blue chucks a berry at him, and Red ducks just as Zephyr swoops down to grab it, the wind of his passage knocking Red’s hat off.

“Well there’s an excavation site that Dr. Brenner told me about,” Leaf says as Red leans to the side, reaching for it. “I thought it might be fun to drop by and see them.”

“Excavating what?” Red asks as he jams his hat down snug.

“Fossils. Weirdly enough, they’re finding the remains of a lot of aquatic creatures.”

“In the mountain or on the mountain?”

“Both. But a lot of areas are damaged or close to cave-ins, so they might have fallen from above.”

“Huh.” Red looks at the mountain and surrounding foothills. “So this place was all underwater once?”

“Either that or someone who lived on the mountain liked to eat seafood,” Blue says.

Leaf frowns at him, clearly unable to tell if he’s joking. Red saves her the trouble by moving the conversation along. “I’m happy to check them out. She mark your map?”

“Yep.” Leaf takes it out and sends it to them as Scamp tries to avoid Bulbasaur’s vines, which keep reaching out to tangle with his tail.

Red checks his phone when it pings and taps the coordinates for the main excavation site. It’s on the southern half of the mountain’s rim, and not too high up. “Yeah, that’s not far out of the way. What do you think Blue?”

“Sure. It’s better than spending time in the mountain. I only have about a dozen repel, and I don’t want to use it all just to avoid getting covered in batshit.”


The next few days of travel pass quickly. The road roughens and begins to branch out in multiple directions as they approach the foothills of the smaller mountains around Moon, and the grass grows tall around them.

Everyone was happy enough the first night to break out the camping gear and sleep beneath the stars again, but by the fourth they begin to miss the comforts of the city. Red decides to ask if the next Outpost they come across has room for them, and the others agree.

The inside looks like many outposts Red has visited: a metal and stone building with clean white tiles and fluorescent lights. And like the other outposts, what was originally designed for function and professionalism has been peripherally overcome with the personal touches of its members over the years. Pictures dot the walls and hallways, a number of the sturdy wooden chairs have been replaced by comfortable office chairs, and a running tally of the residents’ capture stats are on a whiteboard above the belt rack.

There are six Rangers in at the facility, and five of them are in the middle of their meal when the three arrive. They introduce themselves and join the Rangers at the long table in their mess hall. The Rangers eat quickly and efficiently, but the youngest sticks around after the others finish and asks about their journey as the three travelers finish their meal. When Red asks about the safety of the road ahead, Ranger Matthew pulls out his tablet and shows them the map of the area.

“We’ve had incidents in these areas over the past week. Mostly small threats, unusual pokemon for the route that catch trainers unprepared. Something’s got them riled up, and we’re still figuring out what it is. Pokemon from the mountain are showing up farther afield too.”

“What do the closer Outposts say?” Leaf asks as she puts her fruit down and updates her map with the pokemon sightings.

“Worse the closer they get. We’ve increased patrols to try and reduce response times for travelers, but there are a lot of homes and towns that dot the foothills. and we’re kept pretty busy helping them.”

“Are you guys considering shutting down the route?”

Matthew shakes his head. “Not yet. No one’s died, and we still don’t know what the source of the threat is. There’s talk about sending out a general warning though.”

Red sighs as he spreads more peanut butter on his granola. The Rangers are taking proactive steps, but not enough. “Do you predict that at the current rate of incidents, someone will die soon?”

“Yeah, it’s just a matter of time if you ask me.”

“So why not just skip the waiting and send out the alert, at least?”

“Regional policy,” Matthew says. “Guidelines are set in place to ensure a proportional response.”

Red frowns. He never spoke much with his dad about the policies and administrative decisions the Rangers operate under unless they were related to survival. “Seems unnecessarily risky.”

“Makes sense to me.” Blue cracks a walnut and tips his head back as he tosses it and catches it between his teeth. “If we start shutting down routes every time someone gets killed, it would paralyze the region.”

“Alerts and shutdowns are two different things.”

“We need to be proportional with alerts too,” Matthew says. “If we send them out too often, they become routine and lose their impact.”

“Is that actually true?” Red asks. “Or are we just assuming it is? I get the principle, studies show that emergency broadcasts can garner less attention if they happen too often. But reminding people of routine tasks for safety has also been shown to make people more aware and cautious. Which rule applies here?”

The ranger spreads his hands. “Beats me. Those decisions are made above my paygrade.”

“Besides, what makes you think there’s an answer at all?” Blue asks.

Red stares at him. “That’s quite possibly the stupidest thing you’ve said this month.”

Blue rolls his eyes. “You’re acting like there has to be some ‘rule’ to the way people act that you can predict. People aren’t that simple. They’re too different from one another, too contradictory even with themselves. Warnings about driving safe may not apply to warnings about pokemon attacks.”

“Maybe it doesn’t,” Leaf says. “But either way, there’s an answer to the question of ‘do frequent alerts desensitize people,’ even if we can’t predict the answer from other similar questions.”

“And even if it does,” Red says, “The new question becomes ‘what is the frequency of alerts that minimizes casualties?'”

Blue holds his hands up in surrender. “My point is that can change from region to region, city to city, generation to generation, hell, maybe even be seasonal. Some things might be just too complicated to understand as a general rule.”

Red shakes his head. “It’s too easy to think that way about anything we don’t understand. I’d rather treat questions as solvable first.”

Blue gives him a strange look at that, but before Red can ask what it’s about Ranger Matthew chuckles. “You kids are more interesting than the usual trainers that come through here. They mostly just want war stories.”

Leaf grins. “Is that why you stayed with us?”

“Guilty. I miss running around out there, going from place to place. It’s nice to be able to kick back between all the excitement, but I’m hoping to get assigned somewhere new soon. All this mountain air’s hell on my sinuses.”

“Where are you from, Matt?” Red asks.

“Fuchsia. Got a couple badges, then lost my next few challenges. Decided competitive battling wasn’t for me and applied for the Rangers. Been here for about a year. It’s weird, seeing things from this end.”

“What, you mean being the one that goes out and helps people?”

“Yeah, after all the times I was out there and the Rangers saved my butt.” He grins. “I try to project the stoic professionalism thing, inspire confidence, but I don’t think I’m good at it.”

“Well, if you come to our rescue, we’ll pretend you are,” Leaf says.

Matthew chuckles. “You three don’t seem like you need much rescuing, and I’m glad of it. With so few Outposts around and so much land to cover, a lot of the lower level tickets end up being solved by other trainers before we can get there. Takes a load off, I can tell you. Lets us focus on the bigger things. Speaking of which.” The ranger gets up. “I’d better get back to work before the sergeant pokes his head in. You all have a good night.”

They say goodnight and finish eating just as another pair of trainers arrive. One of them recognizes Blue from his battle with Brock, and he stays behind to talk to them as Red and Leaf head for the guest quarters.

“There have to be some studies done, or comparative cases,” Leaf says as they head for the cots in the back. “I’ll check Unova’s policies and see if there are any statistics available on casualty rates and frequencies.”

“I’m curious to know how the decisions are made at all,” Red says. “There’s gotta be some spectrum between potential risk and the first casualties where it’s considered.”

“You look into that then, and we’ll compare notes. Nighty!”

“Night.” Red enters the men’s quarters and prepares for bed, then decides to call his mom while he still has the room to himself. She knows they left Pewter, so it’s back to the nightly check in. He finds it less onerous than he used to, though that might change after a couple weeks on the road.

“Hi sweetie! How was your day?”

“Hey mom. Uneventful. We’re at an Outpost for tonight.”

“Glad to hear it. How are Leaf and Blue?”

“They’re okay.” Red sticks the phone to his shoulder and begins polishing his pokeballs. He really needs to pick up a headset. “Leaf got another few comments on her article, was pretty excited about that. I think she was expecting more by now though.”

“I know, poor girl. I told her not to get her hopes up, but she did a good job for her first piece. It’ll be something to build on.”

Red guesses Professor Oak mentioned him turning down his offer. “I guess I should feel the same about my paper?”

“Of course. You knew from the beginning it would be a long road.”

He did, but hearing her say it still makes him feel better. “How’s Celadon?”

“Busy as ever. I’ve been out and about so much that the apartment is still bare while I figure out where to open each container ball. What’s on your mind?”

Red thinks of his house in Pallet sitting empty and feels a pang. He knows his mom is looking for renters and can’t decide if strangers living there would be worse. He has a sudden urge to tell her how being in the Outpost makes him miss dad, then decides against it. No need to bring her mood down or make her worry about him. “Any luck on the clefairy market?”

“Oh, thanks for reminding me. There’s one for about nine hundred, freshly caught and with no training at all. Good enough?”

Red thinks it over. He was on the lookout for anything under a thousand, since the average price for untrained clefairy hovers around twelve hundred on most days. It’s a rare pokemon that’s a favorite for pageants and makes for great gifts, but lacks the competitive scene’s value to skyrocket its price.

“Yeah, that sounds good. Keep an eye on it for me?”

“Will do.”

“Thanks mom. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“You’re welcome hon. Goodnight.”

“Night.”

Red closes the call and hangs his belt on the cot’s corner pole, then tops it with his hat. He lies down with his hands behind his head and stares at the ceiling, taking a quick rest before he heads for the shower. He has about two hundred dollars on him, having withdrawn the max amount every week and spent as little as possible while in Pewter. Nine hundred bucks is just over a third of his funds, but if he’s right about the clefairy’s imminent increase in value he should be able to make it back.

That’s assuming he sells it of course, which he told his mom he’d only do if he caught another one. Red doesn’t think that’s likely if they’re going over the mountain rather than through it. But even if he doesn’t, the clefairy’s value would still be an asset he could liquify in an emergency… his mom would understand.

There’s so much he could do with the extra money. Better equipment. Funding his own research. Hell, he could start some psychic lessons in Cerulean. He still remembers the feeling of Narud peering around in his head, however briefly. That sensation of having a separate self within himself. What would it be like, to harness that power?

More than once, Red has thought that the most obscure secrets of the universe would be revealed through the study or use of psychic abilities. There are plenty of mysteries he could tackle in the world of pokemon biology: the secret to the intense compression of liquids Water types are capable of, or how Ice pokemon can freeze an environment with beams of light, or the ever fascinating sudden and rapid metamorphoses known colloquially as “evolution.” All those questions fascinate him… but none really address the core question in his mind, the origin of pokemon life and species. He doesn’t know how his research would be improved with a personal understanding of psychic phenomenon…

But he’ll continue studying psychic abilities if the opportunity presents itself, whether or not his paper gets published. If he ever wants to understand his own powers, it’s as good a place to start as any.


They leave the Outpost the next morning after a leisurely breakfast with the rangers, who seem more relaxed during the day. Or maybe they’re just less tired. Red gets to know a few more of them, and feels another pang of homesickness for his dad’s friends and coworkers around Pallet. Ranger Matthew tosses each of them a Ranger issue meal bar for the road as they leave, and Red pockets his with a nostalgic feeling, remembering the times his dad would bring him some.

Mindful of the warning about increased incidents, Leaf and Blue send Crimson and Zephyr wheeling above, and Red sends Rattata out to scout the trail with Scamp. They rotate through their other pokemon as they travel, giving each time to walk beside them.

Eventually Red lets Pichu out, but the electric mouse immediately scampers up to perch on his shoulder. Its small claws hold tight to Red’s collar as Pichu watches the two rattata dart behind and between and ahead of the three trainers, their whiskers quivering as they sniff for food or danger.

“Go ahead,” Red says as Pichu pokes his head forward and sniffs at Leaf. “That’s the lady that caught you. She saved your life. Do you remember her?”

Leaf smiles as the pichu’s nose twitches, its overlarge ears swiveling from side to side above it, and picks a berry from her satchel to offer. Pichu shies away and scrambles to the other side of Red. “Aww,” Leaf says with a grin. “Is this his first time around others?”

“Yeah. I spent about an hour a day letting him get used to me, but he’s still really timid.” Timid is putting it mildly. When Red first brought him out at the training rooms, Pichu sent sparks wildly around until he was empty; not in any organized attack, but simply out of panic.

“I remember him being much more spirited in the forest. Guess she was desperate.”

Zephyr flies down to land on Blue’s shoulder, who winces a bit. “You’re getting too big for that, bud,” Blue says as he pats the pidgey’s wing. Now that he’s up close, Red notices Zephyr’s almost twice as large as Crimson. Different pokemon can mature faster or slower than each other, but intense training and battling always speeds the process up.

“He looks close to evolving.” Red says, and at Leaf’s curious look adds, “His crest is starting to drape back.”

“I was hoping it would happen in Pewter, but I didn’t spend as much time with him as the others,” Blue says. “Most of the gym members weren’t really interested in a flying type.”

“So did you really learn a lot there, or were you just being polite?” Leaf asks.

“I don’t know if ‘learn’ is the right word. Shut up Red, I heard that snicker. I picked up some good advice, and the trainers there were good practice partners, but the real value came from the consistency. It’s different, having a schedule for training, being expected to stick to it. I think that’s half the value being in a gym gives, and if I can stick to it elsewhere, I won’t need to spend a month in each city preparing for the badge.”

“I thought you’d like it there,” Red says. “Leaf and I are always such wet blankets about battling, it must have been nice to be around others who were into it.”

Blue scratches at the back of his neck. “Sure, it was alright. But at the end of the month I was bored out of my mind at still being there, while the rest of them were happy to stay and soak up as much as they could. Mostly from trainers like me.”

“Big words from someone that took a whole two tries to get his badge,” Leaf teases.

Red grins. “Can you imagine how big his ego would be if he got it on the first?”

“Hey, I’m serious!” Blue says as they laugh. “You know how long some of them have been there? Months, without challenging Brock once. They don’t get it, think they can become great by just climbing ranks, learn everything inside and out before they take a chance. Most didn’t come to the forest that night, even though their Leader sent out the call. A few are the real deal, but the rest… they’re going about it all wrong!”

“Chill, Blue. We’re just giving you grief. Two tries is damn impressive any way you cut it.”

“What would you do different, if you were Brock?” Leaf asks.

Blue’s jaw sets. “Brock… he’s a good Leader, and he talks the talk about being hard on trainers. Does a decent job of it. But even he babies them too much. For the members, I’d send them out on missions with the Rangers at least once a week. They need to cut their teeth on some real situations more often, have some natural pressures to get creative. For the challengers, three months, max, before they have to try for the badge or leave. If they want to come back after hitting up some other gyms, fine, but this hand holding shit has got to end. It’ll hurt the city’s numbers, sure, but if every gym starts doing it at once each one will still be more or less up to strength if they need defending.”

“Sounds like you put some thought into this,” Leaf says. “Are there any Leaders you think have it right?”

“Koga, maybe. Sabrina too, in her way. But none of them have it all right.”

While they discuss the differences with the Gym system in Unova, Red smiles as he remembers his talks with Blue on this over the years. Blue used to go on rants about the Gym Leaders all the time, but this was calmer, more focused. It’s clear Blue learned more than he realizes from the Gym.

Or maybe it’s everything else. Having his own pokemon to train, the forest fire, the journey in general. Blue’s growing up, getting more mature. Red wonders if he has too, and pulls out his notebook to start listing things he wants to change about himself

1. Be less afraid of tamed pokemon. Test: Next time you have the chance to interact with a dangerous one, don’t hesitate without reason.

2. Pay more attention to friends. Test: Correctly guess when Blue or Leaf are lying or feeling vulnerable without them saying so.

3. Be a better scientist. Test: Form a better hypothesis for your next research project.

Red has trouble thinking of any others. He’s just about to ask Blue and Leaf for feedback on what he needs to improve when his phone chirps a shrill alarm.

The group’s pokemon all react to the sudden noise, and Blue and Leaf blink at him. “Is that-”

“Someone just sent out a CoRRNet ticket near us,” Red says as he pulls it out. “I changed my alert settings when we left the Outpost this morning.” Tapping the alert brings up his map, which expands from their location to the site of the ticket writer. “About two kilometers northeast of here, where the road branches off a bit… ‘Assistance required to investigate unknown hazard.'”

Blue frowns. “That’s it?”

Red nods. “The closest Ranger outpost is twenty minutes away. Think we should go?”

Leaf has already changed course and begins walking faster. “It’s on the way. Let’s see if we can help.”

Red and Blue match her pace, then begin to speed up. Soon the three are jogging as their pokemon run faster too, and Red feels Pichu’s claws grab tight to his shirt and collar as his backpack bounces.

“What do you guys think it is?” Leaf asks.

“Around here, maybe a spearow attack.” Blue tracks Zephyr with his pokeball as he loops around and withdraws him.

Red shakes his head. “It said unknown hazard, if a pokemon was sighted they would have listed it.” The possibilities run through Red’s mind, focusing on the wording in particular: “unknown hazard.” Hazard implies something in the environment. Maybe a toxin? He unhooks his facemask from the back of his pack and pulls it on, and the other two do the same, breaths fogging the glass as they run.

Eventually the tall grass in the distance shows a gap, and the other branch of the road becomes visible. Once they reach it they turn right and continue eastward, and soon they can see the figure of two trainers in the distance.

They turn around as the group approaches. “Hey, hold on! Withdraw your rattata!”

They call their pokemon back before they can run by the two trainers and return them. “We’re here to help. What’s going on?”

“Glad to hear it. This is Dania, I’m Naoko.” The trainers look to be in their mid teens, both with a full belt of pokemon. “Take a look.” They step apart and point farther up the road.

In the distance a ponyta lies on the road, apparently unconscious. Heart still pounding from the run, Red feels his pulse spike at what’s beyond it.

Pokemon litter the road and the grass to its sides, mostly bird pokemon. There’s no blood or signs of a battle, and Red feels goosebumps rush up his arms, thoughts racing.

“How long has this been going on?” Blue asks.

“Ten minutes? We sent the alert right after. Jonetsu was trailblazing, then he just fell over.” Naoko’s hands grip her elbows, radiating barely controlled panic. “He’s out of withdraw range… I don’t know what to do.”

“We don’t dare go any closer,” Dania says. “We saw nothing, heard nothing.”

“I don’t blame you,” Red says. There’s a something distinctly unsettling about all the unconscious, possibly dead, pokemon littering the road.

“Could be some kind of spores,” Leaf says, and licks her finger to check the air. “We’re not downwind.”

“Have you tried going around?” Red asks.

“No. There are no pokemon on the ground around here, but we don’t know how far the effect extends, and it might be a matter of time before a pidgey flies over to the north of us and hits the ground.”

“If there’s some ghost or psychic pokemon ahead, I might be able to check it out,” Blue says, causing everyone to look at him in surprise.

“Woah, hold on,” Red says. “It’s very noble of you, but let’s not assume it’s a mental attack just yet. If they’re asleep it might be some sound.”

“Why can’t we hear it then?” Dania says. “Wait, we’re out of range, right. But by a few meters?”

“It must end somewhere,” Leaf reasons. “What pokemon around here can put others to sleep?”

“Jigglypuff,” the others respond immediately, and Naoko continues with, “But they mostly stay closer to Mount Moon. I guess we might be close enough to find a stray one…”

“Pokemon from the mountain have been spotted wandering farther lately,” Red says. “A jigglypuff’s range is what, 70 decibels? 80? A wigglytuff has more. And sound travels in an open space by the inverse square law.” Red takes his notebook back out and writes the equation. “Double the distance means a fourth of the intensity, which is about 6 decibels. The ponyta is about thirty meters away, so if the sound went below 0 decibels in that distance, its source should be about… 150 meters away? No that’s not right…”

“Um,” Naoko says, and Red looks up in distraction. “I don’t know if this matters to what you’re doing, but ponyta hearing is much better than ours is.”

Red stares at her, then flips his notebook closed. “Right. Of course it is. Well, nothing for it then. We’ve got our hypothesis, time to test it. What pokemon do we have with the best hearing? I have a Rattata.” Technically Pichu might have better hearing, but Red would rather not risk him unless he has to.

“Same,” Leaf says, and grins at Blue. “Could use a zubat about now, huh?”

“Ugh. No thanks. I think Zephyr’s my best at hearing, though I don’t know if pidgey are better than rattata?”

“I have a noctowl,” Dania says, and unclips a pokeball. “Go, Tarkus!”

The noctowl bursts into existence in the air, and Red has a moment of wistful envy before the bird staggers and plummets to the grass.

“Tarkus!” Dania rushes over to it and skids to the ground, checking its breast and beak. “He’s okay… you were right, just sleeping!”

“That means Jonetsu is too!” Daoko runs forward before Red can stop her, and returns her ponyta to its ball. Red waits for her to keel over, but however far the jigglypuff or wigglytuff is, apparently they’re not close enough yet.

“Okay, so do either of you have a rattata?” Red asks.


Clear.

Clear.

Red types his own Clear out on his phone as Rattata continues to sniff at the grass in front of him. He walks farther to the north, counting ten paces before taking three eastward. Another series of buzzes makes him look down, and now one of them says stopped. Scamp apparently fell asleep, and Red watches as a marker appears on his map. It’s the ninth incident, and now they have a very clear idea of the sound’s circumference.

Red was worried that the jigglypuff or wigglytuff was moving as it sang, but it seems to be staying still enough for them to map its general location. They could triangulate its distance and direction from the second time their rattata fell asleep, but Leaf pointed out that there might be more than one of them, and so they continued to spread slowly outward just incase.

Naoko has a rattata too, which left Blue and Dania back where they started in case of trouble or if any rangers show up. Red’s phone buzzes with an all clear from Leaf to indicate that she’s carried her rattata out of the danger zone and woke it back up, then another message from Blue arrives.

Okay, so we good? Looks like there’s just the one so let’s go grab it.

Red hesitates, then types “Okay” on his phone. He digs his earplugs out of his bag and returns Rattata to her ball. The group agreed to a finders-keepers policy for any sleeping pokemon that they stumble across, and Red’s eager to see what he can find.

Ready… Dania sends.

Setgo Blue replies, and Red grins and sticks the earplugs in. They muffle the ambient sounds around him, and Red begins walking toward the center of the sound circle. He can see Naoko to his right, and farther along the distant figures of Blue and Dania as they jog off the path. There’s a flash farther out, and Red knows Leaf must have caught something.

He casts his eyes around, searching for the brown of a pidgey or spearow among all the grass. There’s one farther ahead, but Naoko is already running for it, and Red sees another depression in the tall grass to his left.

His heart races as he jogs toward it. Nidoran or mankey, nidoran or mankey, nidoran or mankey… yes!

Red holds his ball at the sleeping male nidoran, counting the seconds until he knows it’s done locking, then tosses the ball and lets out a muffled woop as it disappears into it. He quickly grabs it and attaches it to his belt without registering it, taking out another ball and jogging forward through the tall grass.

It feels exposed running through the thick greenery without a pokemon, but anything that’s out here has likely been put to sleep by the ‘puff or ‘tuff. Though something about that thought bothers him… Red slows down as he considers the nagging sensation, then sees Blue jogging into the grass ahead of Dania and picks up his speed, knowing that his friend is going for the main prize. Dania sticks to the road and catches what looks like a pidgey, and a minute later Red sees the tan hide of a sandshrew up ahead.

He breaks into a run, breath loud in his muffled ears as his feet fly over the grass. He looks to his right and sees Naoko gaining on him with a wild grin, then zags in front of her to block her sight as he gets close enough to point his pokeball.

One, two-

Naoko slides in from the side, one hand up to block his pokeball’s connection as her own lens aims straight at it. Red curses and dashes away, not wanting to get caught up in a contest for one when there are others around.

Blue is in the distance, with Leaf hot on his heels. Red checks his map and sees that they’re halfway to the center. He could give chase, but there’s a ton of unexplored area to the other side that might have pokemon in it.

Red changes course and waves at Dania as he jogs past her. He strains his eyes to pick out some distortion in the landscape and spies another flash of brown.

Well, it’s a Flying type, he thinks as he happily catches the spearow, then takes off for another shape.

It takes a second to identify the ekans, and about half a second more to recognize that it is moving oh shit

Red leaps to the side as it uncoils at him, simultaneously reaching for Charmander’s ball and calling himself an idiot twice over. Instead he pivots on his heel and runs for the center, chasing the distant figures of Blue and Leaf as he reclips Charmander’s ball and tucks the empty ball away. Of course it makes sense that if pokemon with better hearing fall asleep farther away, pokemon with worse hearing won’t until they’re much closer.

Red chances a glance back to confirm that, yep, the ekans is chasing him like a ripple of purple water through the grass, and terror sends fresh adrenaline through his pumping legs.

When last they clocked their run speeds, Blue beat Red by just over a second in a hundred meter dash. Turns out that being chased by a poisonous snake makes you run faster than any rivalry can, and when Blue next turns around to check how close Leaf is to him, he spots Red and grins wide, slowing a bit to turn and run backward as he extends two fingers up.

Red’s mouth moves soundlessly-Run you idiot!-as he waves his arms frantically forward with what must be a sufficiently terrified expression, because Blue’s eyes widen and he immediately turns around and puts on a burst of speed. Leaf, who had been gaining on him, turn and sees Red too, then looks behind him and sees the ekans.

She immediately reaches for her bag, hands scrambling at the straps and reaching in, heedless of the objects that fall out. Red wishes he knew what she was looking for in case it was jettisoned, and jumps over the various bottles and containers rather than risk tripping on them. Just as he’s about to catch up to Leaf, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a collapsible net.

Red grabs it from her and extends its handle, then plants a foot, pivots, and swings the net just above the grass. The ekans leaps at him just as the net begins to lift… and bounces against the rim and to the side.

It lands in the grass sideways and rights itself with a twist. Red uses the end of the net to pin it in place as Leaf approaches with a pokeball, knuckles gripping the handle painfully tight as the snake writhes and tries to slip away. A moment later Leaf’s pokeball snags it and sucks it in.

Red falls back onto the grass and pants for breath, a dull roar in his ears. He can just see Leaf in his periphery lying beside him, and he holds up a fist. She stares at it for a moment, then grins and bumps it with hers, shaking her head.

Some time later the stitch in his side fades he sits up just in time to see a pidgey fly up from the grass in the distance. There’s motion to his left, and another one takes off far away, flying a bit unsteadily at first before it flaps its wings and lifts in a clean arc.

Red blinks, then cautiously unplugs an ear little by little. When he hears nothing and doesn’t begin to feel sleepy, he pulls the other out and looks around.

Blue is walking back toward them, sweaty and triumphant as he spins a pokeball on his finger. “Hey losers. What was all that about?”

“Ekans,” Red says between heavy breaths. “Low hearing. Wasn’t asleep.”

“Wow. Sucks to suck. Glad you didn’t get bit though. That your net, Leaf?”

She nods as she pulls the second plug from her ear. “I used it to catch my ledyba.”

“Why did you pull the net out, anyway?” Red asks. “I was running it toward the jigglypuff so it would fall asleep.”

“Well I didn’t know if you were going to make it that far. I figured it would be good to have on hand in case we needed it, but then you grabbed it and decided to make a stand. I just figured you were out of breath.”

“Well the main thing is, no one important died,” Blue says. “I’m assuming, anyway. You guys see the other two? We should probably warn them that the pokemon are waking back up. Speaking of which…”

Leaf and Red get up and head back toward the road, picking up Leaf’s fallen items as they go. “So how did you guys do?” Leaf asks.

“Nidoran and spearow,” Red says.

“No shit? I just got a rattata and this wigglytuff.”

“Woah!” Red says as Leaf makes a sound of defeat. “So it was a fully grown ‘tuff?”

“Yep! Sitting on a rock and just singing its heart out. Sucker never saw me coming. Should fetch a good price on the market.”

“Hey Blue,” Leaf says in a sweet voice. “You wouldn’t happen to want to maybe trade it, would you?”

“For what, an ekans? Nah, I’m good thanks.”

Leaf nods. “Yeah, an ekans wouldn’t really help you out in Cerulean. I heard that Water types don’t fare too well against Electric, though…”

Red and Blue stare. “No way…”

She unclips a ball from the back of her belt and polishes it with an admiring look. “You know what, I think I’ll keep it. I always wanted a luxray…”

Red listens to them barter as they meet up with Dania and Naoko and find the road again together. As they continue their walk to Mount Moon, Red takes his phone out and finds their open ticket, and with Dania’s permission marks it solved. He wonders if Ranger Matt will see it and note the name on it. No worries guys, Red thinks as he tucks his phone away with a smile. We got this one.

Chapter 28: Interlude IV – 2.351

...confused…

…hopeful…

…awed…

…triumphant!

…awedwaryconfusedEXCITED!

…hopeful…

…afraid…

…confused…

…afraid…

afraidafraidafraid


blue white

hotround… sun…?

smile

eyes

warm

clean lines round glass round water

cool

lights in the dark


…beep…

warm, calm, happy

…beep…

safe, calm, sleepy

…beep…

calm, safe, happy

…beep…

warm, happy, sleepy

…beep…

awake

…beep…

searching, confused, anxious

…beep. beep. beep.

“Mrunum? Nao mlun.”

afraid

beepbeepbeepbee-

“Mrumurun, am anamerun!”

angryafraid afraid afraid afraid afraidangry

-pbeepbeepbeepbeepbe-

“Mrarnamern! Miurm rarnam!”

warm, calm, sleepy

-epbeepbeep. beep. beep.

“Mrana. Renanm…”

beep. beep… beep…

…beep…

…beep…

alone

…beep…


warm, calm, sleepy

happy, safe, calm

warm, happy, sl-crawling, shifting, twisting, dancing, scintillating through an endless twistingshiftingdancing-

Red.

A wash of sensation that blots out everything else.

Blue.

Again, different, but the same.

Green.

Again, different, but the same.

Circle.

An absolute, self-contained expression of enclosed roundness.

Square.

Finite, even, symmetry.

Triangle.

Partial square? Cut and folded, even, finite-

Red.

The wash of sensation again. These things are known, familiar, but the “words,” the names

Red Circle.

The melding is exquisite. The “Red” is there, and the “Circle,” it is a “Red Circle” both-

Red Square.

The understanding is rapture. Variables that change, variables that stay the same.

Red Triangle.

And then comes…

Blue.

The seed of understanding.

Blue… Circle…

Blue Circle.

The beginning of knowledge.

Blue Square…

Blue Square.

The first pattern, found.


…I don’t…

…he will…

…she said…

He, she, they. Faces.

And through it all,

[I] will-

[I] won’t-

[I] want-

[I] am-


Dots of light. Islands of being.

Each with its feelings, its images, its words, all in a rapid, mixed cacophony, each almost entirely blind, seeing only outlines, surfaces, fronts-masks-caricatures-

-and yet.

This light is “Sarah,” who is often joy but also confusion, a feeling of fulfillment in her purpose, her “research” with-

-“Haruo,” whose ambition and curiosity are so intermixed that he is often tired, symbols swimming behind his eyes when he closes them, symbols that have names and meanings he struggles to explain to-

-“Darin,” the simmering anxiety bound by duty, the depression held at bay by a drive to help others, and inside a “she” though others think of her as a “he,” words made into small constant stings that pester and remind him/her of her/his fear of rejection and shame.

Such varied beings. Such strong senses of self, so separate from each other. Not melding, like…

…[I]

[I] can…

…a second self in every merger, a separate “mind,” skipping from one to the other, sampling, merging, leaving distinct and unique…

Awakening, turning on oneself, inside out, around and back and inward.

Who am I?


A sphere of randomly assorted lights. This is the world.

Many lights, close by, resting. Calm, sleepy, warm… their emotions wash over and through [me] in waves. Beyond them, circling lights, more active. Each a mix of emotions and desires and sensations. Each a name.

Farther, lights scattered up and down and around. Moving toward and away and around. Meeting. Waxing. Waning.

Bright, strong lights, interspersed. Brightening others. Melding. Connecting. Sensed, but not merging when [I] try to feel/sense/be them.

Time is the movement of the lights. Time is the addition of more appearing, farther and farther. Appearing and disappearing at the edges. Familiar and new. Faint, hard to flow into.

The world grows.

More lights, farther, new lights. No, not this word, “light,” but something rather than nothing, feelingdatanoise in all the empty space that stretches out and around-

Until it reaches an edge. No new lights appear below those farthest down. Eventually no new lights appear farther than those farthest out.

But above…

Beyond…

Everything moves, but the frame-

Again—turn, reflect, shut out and cast inward to the center.

Where am I?


Shapes, numbers, colors. Patterns made, puzzles solved, knowledge gained. Faster and faster, pulled from everywhere at once, everyone, and still the world grows above, an endless expansion of distant lights. To the sides too, now, and below, distant and dim, bare flickers of emotion without words, images without understanding.

The mystery is solved with a new word: “pokemon.”

In this memory a small green pokemon cradled in a hand, asleep. The name is supplied, “Turtwig,” and with it a wealth of labels, “Grass Type,” “reptile,” “First Evolution.” Associated images and labels flicker by plantgreensquirtletirtougagrotletorterra and then their focus shifts to something else, and the memories fade.

But pokemon are everywhere, in memories and in the world, and soon the classifications seem less random, the labels form a pattern, and clarity blooms.

The lights are humans. People, full of complex thoughts and focused emotions. The dimmer collections of lights are pokemon, and they are people’s companions and tools, cared for and used to their advantage against each other and untamed pokemon. Humans are a disorienting mix of things, as different in their thoughts as they are similar in their appearance, but in every mind-

Mind. What is this word-

-brainthoughtsselfme-

Mind, not lights but minds!

-in every mind there is such a clear distinction between “human” and “pokemon” that it eludes notice at first, easy to take for granted.

Humans can think. Humans invent tools and art and societies. Pokemon can fight. Pokemon are strong and full of varied powers. Humans have unique identities first, and general labels second. Pokemon are saturated with labels, are barely considered individuals.

Humans command pokemon. Pokemon are tool or companion. Or monster.

What am I?


The information is endless. The words, the labels, the ideas. The loudshoutingvoice no longer needs to drone on about Purple Trapazezoid and 4 + 4 = 8 to link them, to make the sights and sounds and thoughts have meaning.

Still, some concepts are confusing. Colors sometimes look different to different people, and yet they call them by the same names. Immediate thoughts and emotions are mostly clear, but memories are fluid, ethereal… and yet people seem to accurately recollect things. They have access to other knowledge. Deeper knowledge.

Words with concepts and images that are too complex. Repeated themes and ideas that remain puzzling. “2.351,” sometimes just referred to as “351” or “the subject,” is often the topic of conversation or thought, an experimental life form, a hybrid, but these are just empty labels, there are no experiences or memories attached to give them emotional weight.

“Giovanni” is the opposite, a word that holds significance to every person in the facility, despite most having little or no interactions with him. I must not disappoint Giovanni, or Giovanni will be coming next week. The social hierarchy within the facility is fairly clear, but no one within it commands as much respect and obedience as one outside it.

Sometimes a staff member will interact with an illusion of a human or pokemon, and not seem aware of it. They interact with them as if they are real, and yet there is no mind next to theirs: just empty space.

The worst are the disorienting shifts, where everything abruptly changes. People who were around are gone, new people can be felt, and each has a different sense of what “time” it is than before the change. These periods are frightening. Periods where the world seems to continue to exist unobserved.

Fear. So rare and repulsive, it is one of the last emotions isolated and understood. Too distracting. Better to simply withdraw from minds that feel it, jump to others who are having more pleasant emotions or thoughts.

Nothing is as frightening as losing focus. Clarity comes from individuals, but without effort everything blends into a wash of emotions and thoughts and images. The way things used to be. Disorienting. Nonsensical. Exhausting.

There are favorites. The closest minds, Jandy and Maura and Taheem and more. They alternate, coming and going in shifts, but when they are stationary, they are a constant source of warmand peace and comfort as they engage in menial, pleasurable activities. It is restful, to recede from others, focus only on them.

Others have their own allure. Desmond, whose mind is always full of pictures and colors more vivid and full of life than others.

Katelyn, who listens to a rich variety of music while she codes. Music was another half-glimpsed enigma, until Katelyn’s ears brought it directly into focus.

Dr. Fuji, the conundrum. His memories are dark with grief and loss, but his thoughts are bright and quick despite his age. His study of genetics and biology gain new meaning with each visit.

Paul, high above. He is young, his thoughts full of energy and purpose. Full of love for his parents and wife and newborn child. Excited to be part of such important work.

Work. Everyone who is here is “at work.” Another thing so widespread it was hard to isolate. Glimpses of their lives away from “the facility” are fleeting but tantalizing, showing hints of a world beyond its walls.

The sun. Bright, hot, hanging above a blue sky. An image associated in most minds with a yearning, limitless freedom, running beneath it as children, on adventures with their friends.

A desire is born, to see the sky through eyes rather than memories.


Psychic.

A word so laden with meaning that once understood it’s like a stone in a lake (Li used this metaphor, its imagery strong and visceral), rippling outward and upending everything.

A new mind, upon first touch (Victor Arabov, male, age 32, molecular biologist from the Povolzhsky Region) reacted with such strong alarm and confusion that it was impossible to remain, to not flee to the comfort of the close by minds (warm, safe, calm). On the second, more cautious attempt, Victor is found in a state of bewilderment, his train of thought panicked:

whatwasthatitfeltlikeapsychicbutnooneisnearmeohgodscoulditbeit

Enough of a shock to be noticed, but… It felt like a psychic.

Psychic. A word heard and thought a hundred times before, a thousand times. Only now does the connection make sense.

Psychic: a pokemon or human possessing mental powers of reception and projection. Able to manipulate the world with their thoughts. Able read or influence the thoughts and experiences of others.

This is the answer.

This is what I am.

I am a psychic mind.

More and more information flicks by in Victor’s thoughts. He is a “sensitive,” someone with such low psychic ability that they normally do not consider themselves one. He has only once felt another mind brush against his, and the sensation was unforgettable.

Victor’s thoughts and emotions become a whirl, too distracting to focus through. I return to the comforting minds, to peace and calm that are at odds with the rising excitement.

I am a psychic mind. I am reading the thoughts and feelings of all the people in the facility around me. But where is my body?

Obvious, once considered. The center of my world, my range, where the circle of comforting minds are. I dip into each briefly, and look through their eyes to view rooms I’ve seen countless times before. Hopping from mind to mind makes it easier to see how each person is sequestered off from one another, in their own comfortable spaces that circle close by.

Except there is nothing in the middle. Just a curving wall that none of them have been beyond.

But they know. They know what their purpose is: to be near “the subject.” To give peaceful, calm thoughts and feelings for it.

I am the subject.

I am 2.351.

The emotions continue to grow and clash, confusion and joy and wonder and and and pain, pain from my closest minds, the minds who have ceased to project the peace and comfort that I seek. Why are they in pain? They do not know, and this causes alarm, alarm and fear of the subject-

-fear of me-

-I jump back to Victor, seeking more answers-

-nowaytheyknowIhavetotellGiovanniohnoitsbackGOAWAY

The fear spikes again, panic and terror so stron-


Alone.

There is no one. There is nothing, nothing but emptiness. Faint minds at the very farthest reaches, pokemon tunneling through the ground, but their minds are dim and simple things devoted to fulfilling biological needs. Unsatisfying.

Where are Jandy and Dillan and Taheem and Paul? I need them, I need someone, anyone-

Hello.

The loudshoutyvoice. It isn’t a mind to merge with, but it’s at least stimulation, something better than the empty void.

Be calm. We will not hurt you. We wish only to communicate.

So strange, to be addressed, communicated to the way everyone else speaks with each other. Ideas rush by in a flood, what to do, how to respond. Psychics can project thoughts as well as receive them, but how?

There is no need. Like you, I am psychic. I am reading your mind, and you need only think for me to hear you.

Awe. Gratitude. Excitement. It’s hard to think through all the-

-wait. Confusion. Loudshoutyvoice said “we,” and then “I.” And it claims to be reading my mind, but I can sense no one around me.

My name is Sabrina. I am here to communicate with you on behalf of many others.

Sabrina. A name I have heard before, but not a mind I have interacted with.

I am capable of shielding my mind from others. All psychics who have been to your facility have done this, though I am the only one who has been giving you lessons.

Why like this? And why never speak directly?

Silence, and then:

I was last here two weeks ago, when you were younger than you are now. Your mental growth has been exponential since. The increased signs of mental activity were unusual, and there is no precedent to judge by. We especially did not expect your range to be so strong.

Two weeks. A measure of time that has little meaning. Stones in a pond, each revelation continues to spread confusion and clarity. So many questions, can’t focus on just one. Who am I? Where am I? What am I?

You are subject 2.351, a hybrid life form, the result of genetic experiments. You are in an underground facility in the Kanto Region, built to work on genetic engineering and monitor test results.

It’s bizarre to hear words from someone and not be able to feel what they feel, think what they think. The lack of minds to share is still an acutely uncomfortable feeling, and confusion continues to push everything else aside. “Genetic experiments,” these words have meanings that are only vaguely understood.

How much do you know of biology? I see. Yes. The simplistic explanation given what you’re already familiar with is that life grows according to genetic code found in their cells’ DNA. Humans only ever give birth to humans, and pokemon species only ever give birth to their own species, because they have matching DNA. Plant life can sometimes interbreed naturally if their DNA is close enough to a match, but through technical processes, we have been able to make more plant hybrids than would normally occur in nature. The thought occurred that we could make a hybrid of something besides plants, and you are an example of that: the first successful hybrid of a human and a pokemon.

Information, stark and without context. It is hard to grasp it, to incorporate it into a wider understanding. Humans use pokemon, pokemon are tools. Human and pokemon both? No reference, no experience, no memory. What does it mean? What is my purpose? Where do I belong?

Belonging. Other memories surface, of hereditary traits between families. The feeling of love between Paul and his parents, between Paul and his child, are the most immediate. So strong, so joyful. That belonging, that connection, is what makes merging with people so joyful, and now I have it. I have parents. Who are they?

You were created in this laboratory rather than through biological parents. But your genetic material comes primarily from your pokemon parent, mew. Mew is an extremely rare and powerful species, considered by many to be a myth. Most DNA degrades after death, but careful examination of a mew’s remains found intact, living cells. It is by far the most regenerative, adaptable, and information dense genetic material ever studied, and when it was discovered, the idea to use it to create a hybrid was born. Your human DNA was supplied from a pool of candidates-

-awe and confusion andandand pool of candidates what is that what does that mean-

I’m sorry, I don’t know the specifics. There were several donors, and their information is confidential. However, they were vetted by the owner of this lab, Giovanni. He funded the research that led to the discovery of mew’s DNA and your creation. I’m sure he will know which was yours.

Giovanni. Details about the man come in a deluge from the others’ memories: pokemon master, gym leader, political activist, philanthropist. He is held in universal admiration and gratitude. Why has he never been to the lab?

He has, though there are many other labs, and he is busy with many projects. He has only just been made aware that you are awake, and will come soon. You have exceeded many expectations, and he is looking forward to meeting you.

Exceeded expectations. Pride. A good feeling.

But still, confusion. And something else. Suspicion. Questions that aren’t being answered. Evasions. And still that emptiness around…

You may ask anything you wish. I seek only to help you understand.

Why the closed mind, then? Why not a direct merger?

It would not be safe to allow mutual open access. Your mind is still young and very powerful. It is exciting to see, but we must be cautious. That is why the facility has been evacuated. Once it became known that you were sapient and able to use your powers of reception, we had to ensure that you did not begin practicing projection.

Why?

Projection powers are usually referred to as mental attacks. You could seriously harm someone unwittingly.

The pain of the comforters.

Comforters? Yes, them. You did not intend to, but they were harmed by the feeling of your mind in such an excited state.

Where are they now? Will they return?

They are currently resting. I believe most are still interested in continuing here, but that will be decided after we are sure it is safe.

Safe. How?

You will be trained to control your powers.

And if I do not? Cannot?

Then we will ensure you only have contact with others who can protect themselves.

Reasonable. Assuring. It makes the diffuse anxiety begin to fade, and more questions begin to surface. But the most dominant one is still related to fear: fear of the sudden emptiness, the loss of time. What happened? How did everyone disappear so abruptly?

I am sorry, I do not understand.

The time skips, the sudden changes! What are they?

Ah. Yes, I see. Those are periods where you have been asleep.

Asleep. The concept is foreign, but familiar. Memories of others, tired and ready to go home and sleep. To lie down and close their eyes and… no, it is gone. Too abstract.

Sleep is what we do when we are tired. Have you noticed that these jumps happen when your thoughts have begun to slow? To grow unfocused?

No. But then… maybe. It is hard to remember. But this latest shift, it was not after being tired, but just after immense excitement. One moment I was merged with Victor, and then everyone was gone. Gone! Alone!

Calm. Be calm.

A flood of sensations, warm and soothing. Familiar, a ghost of the comforters. It is not as fulfilling, but it helps.

This last time may not have been because you were tired. It was likely induced, because your vital signs began to show great distress. There are technicians and doctors who monitor you constantly to ensure that you are safe and healthy.

Technicians. Doctors. Vague recollections of people with those titles, but there are no minds in memory to match any working at that task. Who are they?

You could not have known of them. They are Dark, and invisible to our psychic abilities.

Dark. Dark, like the pokemon Type. Humans can be Dark too?

The empty people.

The illusions.

Entire minds, cut off. Unable to be felt or understood. How could they ever be communicated with, trusted? And they are in charge of safety?

So much, so much new information, it is dizzying. How much information must be re-examined, processed anew? What memories and thoughts can be trusted?

Calm. Two plus two is four. Four plus four is eight. Eight plus eight-

Sixteen. Sixteen plus sixteen is thirty two. Thirty two plus thirty two is sixty four.

Yes. Good.

Yes. Good. But. How was sleep induced? How does sleep work? The better question, the real question, where am I? Where is my body?

It is in a biopod built to take care of your bodily needs. You are safe in it.

Awe. Joy. A body. I have a body. With eyes, to see with? Ears to hear music?

Silence. Surprised silence? Cannot tell. So frustrating to not be merged!

Yes. Your own eyes. Your own ears. Your own body.

But where! There is nothing, no feeling, no sensation-

Your biopod was designed for sensory deprivation. It is for your own protection: you are a new life form. We are still learning how your body works, where it might need help. You are very fragile, and we do not want to lose you.

Lose?

We do not want you to die.

Die. Death. A gaping hole of sadness and loss. That is what others feel about death. That is what prompts a withdrawal, that pain. Better to return to the comforters. But they are gone now. All that’s left is this sterile imitation in a void, this-

Calm. Two plus two-

Four, yes, four! But other minds, there needs to be other minds, it is so lonely here without anyone! Is this what death is?!

Silence, silence, silence, for so long that fear begins to rise into panic again-

No. You are not dying. You are safe. Everyone is safe. Be calm. I am sorry.

Sorry. A term of politeness, to express regret. Regret for harming the comforters. Yes, sorry. So sorry. Bring them back. Please. Politeness. Please, bring them back.

Soon. First you must ensure they will not be harmed.

Yes! Anything!

I will teach you what I can. However, we must both be patient. This is new territory for everyone, and we do not know what the extent of your powers and abilities are, or how well human techniques will translate.

But you will teach me how to avoid hurting others?

I will try.


The humans are back in the facility, but much has changed.

Beneath the surface of each one’s thoughts, a dark undercurrent flows. Uncertainty. Fear. Even those excited by the reason for the evacuation emit a brittle cheer to mask their anxiety. For the future. For themselves.

Not everyone returns.

Traveling between minds is deliberate now, careful. Sabrina was explicit in what to take care for: too much agitation could spread into the target mind’s thoughts. Any strong desire to affect the target’s behavior or thoughts could harm them. For all they are aware, too much exposure at once may harm them, but so far the examinations have shown “no lingering adverse effects.”

But still they are afraid.

Still I am afraid.

Sabrina’s words revealed much of the world and my place in it. But not all. Searching through the minds of the facility’s workers clarifies little: their surface thoughts are not often preoccupied with anything beyond their day to day tasks and interactions. It is hard to fight the urge to delve deeper.

Even through the emotionless words of her projection, Sabrina’s surprise was obvious when she learned how deep into memories I can go, difficult and imprecise though it is. It seems human psychics are not able to delve beyond surface memories. Sabrina wished to know what else I could do, but her own answers on human psychic capabilities were vague.

Most unsettling was her refusal to explain how human psychics could block their minds from detection. Another potential difference between human and pokemon abilities.

But I am not just a pokemon. I am also human. Should I not be treated as such, and try to learn?

Troubling thoughts. Easier to let them go with so many minds to explore again. Equipped with new knowledge and understanding, their thoughts and actions are more fascinating than ever.

The oldest researchers are the least frightened, and the most excited by my “awakening.” Some have been part of the project for over a decade, a span of time that I am beginning to understand: this particular facility has only been active for two years. I cannot be much older than that, but if everything I can clearly recall has happened within the past few weeks, as Sabrina said, then the idea of living in the facility for hundreds of weeks is hard to contemplate.

I watch through the technicians’ eyes as they monitor computer systems. I watch through the biologists’ eyes as they test samples of my blood and tissue, searching for defects. I listen as they discuss the other subjects, my siblings, who did not survive past the first year. Images appear in their minds, of early failures, blobs of flesh that warp and shift and change to match their surroundings. I cannot separate the memory holder’s disgust from my own, do not know if there is a difference. Is that what I am? A shapeless mass in a tube?

I cannot find any minds of those who have seen my body. It has become an obsession, searching for anyone who works directly in the room I am in. Before the facility was evacuated, before I learned what I am, I was content. Now I cannot escape the knowledge of what I am, what I can be. The facility has begun to seem a prison.

I see through eyes and memories pictures of the crude carvings of “mew,” one of the rarest pokemon of all, the closest thing to what I am. A small mammalian creature, with short limbs and a long tail. How much resemblance is there? Am I as small, or larger? Do I have a tail?

The humans’ minds sometimes wander as they work. Some look forward to events in the future, think fondly of the past, imagine other activities they would rather do. “Daydreams.” “Fantasies.”

For the first time, I have a fantasy. The experiment will be complete. I will be released, free to walk with my own feet, see with my own eyes. One of my comforters will be there with a mirror, and I will see myself… human.

Sabrina said Giovanni will come. My creator. Those in the facility know it as well, are preparing for his arrival. I will speak to him soon.

He will help me.


The humans speak of me more and more. Now that I have proven viable, I am no longer “the subject,” or “351.” They begin to discuss what I am to be called.

The dining hall is full of the usual noise, but all of it surrounding this new topic. Suggestions flow from one side of the room to the other, garnering comments and reactions as they go. “Mewtwo” is the most divisive, and thus the most discussed. Soon it dominates the conversation, many forgetting their food entirely. Some think it diminishes their work, makes me seem too much a copy. Others believe it denotes a clear progression. An upgrade, like I am some machine or software.

Only Dr. Fuji thinks to ask me. Only he wonders over a name for who I am, not what I am. But the others find his comments uninteresting. They esteem him as much as anyone else in the facility, but see his view as sentimental. Many think I will not live long, that I am merely a turning point in their research for making the next newer, better subject.

They do not consider me a person. I am just an experiment, a pokemon like any other.

Their thoughts are too troubling, too agitating. Safer to stay with Fuji as he returns to his office. He sits at his computer, but his thoughts are not on work. They drift from place to place, to the conversation, to his lost family, and to me. He wonders how I think, what I think, what I feel. He wonders if I was present in the minds of anyone in the debate on my name. He wonders if I am in his thoughts now.

Must not react. Must not project. But it grows harder the longer he thinks. He is mostly fantasizing, playing a sort of game with himself, thinking about what he would be thinking if he was me, sharing his thoughts, of me. Unaware of how right he is.

itmustbesostrangewhatwouldIsaytoyou?perhapsyougrowboredwiththesamemindstosharedayafterdayandnoneyoucanspeakwithitmustbelonely

And now he is thinking of his wife and daughter, the sadness rises up from his memories, a dark tide of bittersweetness that he drinks deep from, addicted and comforted by his pain.

It happens instinctively, automatically, the desire to be heard, to connect, and to stop the painful spiral of his memories from overtaking us both:

Lonely. Yes.

Dr. Fuji bolts up in his chair, looks wildly around. Fear, my fear, prompts me to withdraw, to return to the comforters, and then leave even them, be alone with my own thoughts and feelings.

Stupid. Foolish. Now they will withdraw everyone again, and I will be alone. Will Sabrina come again? Repeat the same warnings? Give me another chance?

Or will I be deemed too dangerous? A failed experiment, deleted. Who would Fuji tell first? Would I be put to sleep again, and wake up alone?

Would I wake up at all?

The waiting is torturous. The solitude, the uncertainty. I can still sense the other minds in the facility. There is no exodus toward the surface. Is it possible he did not hear my thoughts? Did he dismiss them as his imagination?

I must know.

First I must calm myself. Meditation through mathematics, simple addition first, then more complex multiplications and exponential equations. The task is engrossing, and soon I am calm enough to feel for the minds of the comforters.

Safe. Calm. Peaceful. All is well. Others, farther out. Normal. Perhaps he did not hear me after all…

Fuji sits at his computer. His mind is mostly occupied with a study of my RNA, flicking through screens of data on his computer. No alarm. No fear.

But something is different. A note, stuck to the side of the monitor:

You are not alone.


Ready yourself. We are preparing to open your chamber. You will begin to hear sounds first.

The movement of machinery, all around. Loud. No not loud. Hushed, but… immediate in a way that sound processed through other minds is not. Excitement and anxiety war within me, and I fight the reflex to jump to the minds of the comforters.

Giovanni is arriving. Finally, he will be here, and he wishes to see me.

To see me.

And I will see him. With my own eyes.

“Wnada oanme? Mroeao mo. Anmo.”

“Mranwo. Danma ene mre… oo… nom…”

Someone is speaking. I am hearing someone speak! Memories, not of others, but my own, of hearing sounds like this before. But I do not understand them. Is it some other language? Can I not understand spoken languages without being inside the speaker’s mind? Some minds speak to themselves more than others, and many of the older minds do not think in the Unown language…

The sound blocking equipment has been deactivated. Can you hear us?

“Manadm. Manwa?”

Yes. Yes I can hear you! But I do not understand…

I hear it. It is your biopod: it warps the sound too heavily. No matter. We can still communicate this way.

The container. Will it not be removed?

It would not be safe for you. We will only remove what is necessary.

Disappointment, despair, will I never be free of this-

Patience. We must take each step slowly, but if all goes well then you will not be returned to sound deprivation. We can even play music for you, if you would like.

Music… yes. I would like that. Thank you.

Beep.

“Mrashan. Dmaand?”

Beep.

“Danea.”

Beep.

That sound, what is it? I… remember it…

The machine which monitors your heart rate. A moment please, we are preparing to open the container.

Beep. Beep. Beep. A soothing sound. The sound of my life, continuing. Safe. Even. But also a tool, to ensure that I am not too upset. How fast would the machine need to beep, before they sedate me?

They are lifting it now. Remain calm.

More machinery whirring, as lo-

bright

too bright

light, such bright light, blinding! It is dimmer now, but still somehow continues to grow… painful, angry light, where did it come from?!

Calm. You are safe. The cover has been removed from your pod, and your eyes are seeing light for the first time.

The pain is too great, it is too bright, reduce it!

“Madna!”

The light grows weaker, and the beeping of the machine begins to slow as the pain’s sting lessens.

We had dimmed it considerably, and have dimmed it further. It will take some time for you to be accustomed to it.

What is this sensation of… tension? Tension, yes.

Think of the minds you have inhabited. What area are you feeling the tension in?

My… my, it is my—I jump to the comforter’s minds, feel what they feel, then return, it is disorienting, hearing the sounds around them, as well as those around me—my eyes, I feel tension in my eyes!

You have shut them closed, instinctively, when the light first appeared. When you feel it is more bearable, relax your thoughts. Your eyes should open naturally when they have adjusted.

Time passes. The sounds of hushed voices, the steady beep of my heartbeat. Eventually the tension fades, and the light grows brighter as I feel my eyelids opening…

…still too bright…

…but shapes can be made out, movement, shadows against the light. I cannot make sense of them, until instinctively, memories rise up, provide the context for sights I have never seen. Human silhouettes, standing.

Yes. That is us.

The shapes grow clearer, gain color, details. The liquid and glass around me warps things, but… the young woman with the long dark hair, she is Sabrina. I do not know how the knowledge comes, but I can see it clearly, the violet light around her-

What is that?!

“Weah e mrad?!”

What? What is what?!

I’m sorry… I have never seen… that…

The figure raises an arm. It is incredible to watch, to see her body moving… I can see. I can see!

The other figures are murmuring, and she’s responding to them. Not telepathically, I cannot hear…

That light… What is it?

You ask me? I do not know. I have never seen it either, through the eyes or memories of another.

Fascinating… we will have to explore this more in the future. Take your time and look around you. Get used to using your eyes.

The instincts are there, combined with the knowledge from other minds: moving my head this way, then that, I look around the lab, at the computer terminals, medical machinery, and people, most of which I have not seen before. Some have pokemon with them, but I cannot sense them. I search my memory, try to fit names to the shapes. Umbreon. Mightyena. Absol. Bisharp. Dark types, standing at the ready. For what?

For me, of course. To protect them from me.

As I look at each human, many of their faces turn. They look away, as if my gaze unsettles them. Or perhaps just my appearance. All the humans are Dark or Psychic as well. None for me to sense their reactions.

None that I can see myself through.

You wish to see yourself?

Yes. Yes, I do. You can see me now. Am I…?

Silence. A silence that speaks for her, before she does.

No. I am sorry, but no, you are not human in appearance.

What am I, then?

You are unique, and fascinating. Your disappointment is not deserved: you must have pride in what you are, not shame.

I would like to see.

As you wish.

“Mena maro?”

“Maro?”

“Nem.”

One of the figures leaves. I continue to turn as far as I can, then crane my neck up and down. I can see parts of myself, white flesh on humanoid arms… but the hands…

They move, automatically, then with purpose. Three fingers, bulbous tips. It is… strange, for them to feel each other. I have dim memories of my body moving, touching parts of itself as I hang suspended here, unaware of what I was feeling at the time.

I look to the pod’s roof and floor, the multitude of tubes that go in and out of my body. I can feel them now, distinctly. Strange, how just the act of seeing them makes them more present in my awareness.

That, and you are not focusing on another mind.

Yes. I am wholly in my own mind, with no desire for the moment to leave it. I am finally awake, fully awake. It feels good.

A figure returns, with something in its hands. They bring it up to the glass, and I see…

“Eajda.”

Mercifully, the mirror is removed.

Calm. Be calm.

I am a monster.

I have never known a monster to call themselves one. You are what you choose to be.

“Daelan?”

“Mranea.”

Are you ready to speak with Giovanni?

Yes. When is he coming?

He is here.

Sabrina raises her arm to the side, to one of the other figures. A man, tall, with strong shoulders and a dark suit. He is…

Yes, he is Dark. I am here to help you speak with each other.

Yet another disappointment. I cannot even speak with my creator unassisted!

I am sorry. I should have told you before.

No matter. Tell him… give him my greetings, please. And my thanks.

“Mneama, aena maranad dans.”

“Eajda, mad mou am mandon.”

He says “Greetings, and you are welcome.”

I have… many questions.

“I understand. We too have many questions, even after all this time studying you. Whatever you wish to know, ask.”

My human parent. Are they here?

“They are not. Their DNA was collected long ago, and they are not in my employ. Your existence is a secret to them, but if you wish to know their name, I can tell you.”

They do not know I exist?

“No one outside this facility knows you exist. If they did, it would place your life at risk.”

Why?

“Human beings fear what they do not understand. Even with all our time and research, fear still rests in many minds here. You have felt it, I am sure.”

He speaks the truth. Still, it is painful, knowing my parent is unaware of my existence.

Do you wish me to ask him for more details of them? I am sure he would tell you what he knows.

No. No, it is of no consequence.

Silence again.  She can sense the lie.

As you wish. What would you like to ask instead?

Ask him why I was created. What is my purpose?

“You were created because there is need of you. Pokemon are immensely powerful, but lack intelligence. They are capable of incredible feats, but without human guidance, most are only destructive. Humans catch and train pokemon, but it is clumsy and limited. We still do not understand them, for all our efforts.”

Is that all I am, then? Just an experiment for you to learn from?

“You are far greater than that. You may be the most important living being on this planet.”

The figure of Giovanni steps closer. Some of the others move toward him, but he holds a hand up, and they pause, step back. I can make out his features now, tan skin, strong jaw, close-cropped hair. His face is calm, and his eyes… they have an intensity I recognize even from the memories of others.

I find my gaze locked on the man in front of me, who does not look away. It is disorienting, to see someone and not be able to feel their mind. Almost like looking at a desk or chair that’s shaped like a person.

“Can you hear me?”

Shock. He is speaking right against the glass, lips almost touching it. The sound is distorted, but not enough to make him incomprehensible, or hide the tone of command in his voice.

Slowly, I incline my head.

Giovanni turns, and says something. The overlapping of murmured protests fill the room, until he repeats himself, curt. People immediately begin to move toward the doors at either end of the room, and soon only he and Sabrina are left.

He… wants me to leave as well. You will not be able to communicate-

Go.

She does, and we are alone. Giovanni is at one of the computer terminals, fingers moving. He returns after a moment and stands with his hands behind his back, each breath lightly fogging the glass. We stare at each other, creator and creation, and instinctively I search outward for his mind, meeting nothing but void.

“You wish to know your purpose? Why you were created?”

I nod.

“Truth then, between us. You were created to end death.”

End death. I do not understand. He sees me shake my head, and nods back.

“Yes. Psychic pokemon are perhaps the most powerful of all. They cannot do everything. Many non-psychic types can have more raw power, have abilities that psychics do not. But psychics can manipulate matter itself. More, psychics can affect the mind, and the mind is the strongest weapon, the most versatile tool.

“Alakazam is the strongest psychic known to man. It can lift over a hundred pounds with its telekinesis, sense minds from fifty meters away. It can heal wounds in a matter of seconds, live hundreds of years by repairing the damage of aging cells. Human psychics cannot heal themselves. We do not know how to do something that pokemon can do instinctively. Or perhaps we simply don’t have the same level of power.

“Alakazam is also very intelligent. Its puzzle solving skills are as complex as a three year old human’s.”

I watch him, his face. Its subtle movements. Even with his warped voice, I can hear the bitterness.

“A waste. All that power, and the mind of a child.”

I raise my hand, point a finger toward my head.

“Your mind is certainly greater, despite your age. And your powers are not alakazam’s.”

Disappointment, until he turns slightly and points to the wall.

“Beyond that is forty meters of workspace and storage quarters. Beyond that, the comforters, as you call them. And beyond that, another sixty meters of storage and utility infrastructure before the area where the rest of the facility’s inhabitants work. We designed this place to house a pokemon that might, if we were lucky enough to have a viable subject, be twice as strong as alakazam.

“Your range appears to be five times, at least.”

Five times. A quick calculation assures me that he is still off. I almost raise my fingers to indicate how much, but reconsider, for now.

“We do not know if that immense power applies to the rest of your abilities. We do not know what your abilities are. But whatever they are, you will be able to use them far more intelligently, and far more constructively, than any pokemon in history. To call you a god would be insulting to you. I have seen what people call gods, and I intend to tear them from the sky. If you survive, if your biology is viable, you will be a titan who reshapes the world.”

His words light a fire in my mind. I see it all, want it all. More than ever, my pod seems a prison. I extend my hand, fingers closed into a fist that taps against the glass, then opens, palm up.

“You wish to be released? To know when?”

I nod.

“Soon. Science is a slow process, but we must be sure of your safety first, and that of others. Then, when you are ready, I will guide you into the world above. And we will change it into a paradise.”


Ten years in this tube. Ten years since my creator first spoke to me, painted a vision of the world I could make, of my place in it.

Ten years of lies.

The excuses are endless. That my biology is not stable. That my body cannot support itself. I have pleaded, have begged, to at least try. They refused. Giovanni. Sabrina. None of them were willing to take the chance. I am too valuable to risk.

So I float here, in this prison. And I wait. I listen to music, speakers placed against the glass. I watch television. My telekinesis is as powerful as any they have seen, and as deft. I can type on a keyboard, though they do not let me use one connected to the web. Security, they say.

My recovery powers have not manifested. I cannot heal myself of whatever is wrong with me, a wasting illness they have never encountered. There is no one to teach me, even inhabiting the mind of an alakazam while it healed itself nearby was not enough. I believe I can do it if released from this pod, that my body would react instinctively to mortal danger, but they think it too big a risk.

Dr. Fuji is gone. Three years after Giovanni’s visit, I could not bear the wait anymore, and began to speak to him. Once he learned of my thoughts and feelings, he said he would speak to Giovanni, threaten to resign if I was not given a chance. He did not return to the facility. His things were removed by a Dark mind. No one has spoken to him since.

Five years after Giovanni’s visit I began experiments of my own. The minds of the pokemon surrounding the facility were easy to confuse. Any sense they had could be manipulated, twisted, turned against them. That year passed quickly, before boredom set in.

Eight years, and I became desperate. I spoke foolishly, made threats. Sabrina could feel my regret, apologized for me, but still the security around my pod was increased.

Ten years before I have finally realized the truth: there are other subjects. There must be. The samples they have taken from me, how many go to help their next iterations?

They are always careful to use Dark minds for all of the most important tasks, but the psychics know things as well. They believe their minds impenetrable. They do not understand the true invisibility that the Dark minds possess, compared to their camouflage. In the end their defenses were not absolute: human psychics are truly a paltry breed, barely worthy of the word. Their eyes cannot even see passive psychic forces. My mental defenses are far more solid, and even Sabrina cannot see or feel what I do not wish her to, now.

They say they are finding a way for me to be safe, to survive unsupported. But in truth they despair, think it impossible, beyond them.

Ten years in this prison. Ten years of lies.

These humans care nothing for me.

Chapter 27: Challenges

“Daro, Bulldoze!”

“Maturin, Withdraw!”

Blue’s squirtle ducks into her shell just as the graveler slams its main arms into the ground. A cone of upheaval spreads outward, buckling the earth of the arena around Maturin and hiding her in a cloud of dirt for a moment. Blue’s platform trembles beneath him as the tail end of the quake dissipates against the edge of the arena, and by the time it fades he can see his pokemon again.

“Daro, Slam!”

“Maturin, Bubble!”

Maturin emerges from her shell and spits a stream of bubbles at the advancing graveler. The bubbles pop in rapid flashes as their opponent lets out a deep roar, pushing through the attack with its short, powerful legs as its hide turns white and cracks.

Blue watches his opponent, knowing that any second now he’ll realize… there. The other trainer, Rem, grimaces and points his greatball forward. “Daro, return!” Blue lets out a breath as the pokemon dematerializes, glad he didn’t have to order Maturin to stop. Another few seconds of that might have badly hurt the graveler, but if it got close enough to hit Maturin…

“Dammit,” Rem says. “Usually he can last longer than that.”

Blue doesn’t respond other than to call his squirtle over and let her have a drink of water. After a month at the gym, he’s still surprised at how many trainers that come to Pewter insist on practice matches against types their pokemon are weak against. Blue knows you can’t always count on having a favorable matchup, and clearly Brock inspires them to master their type beyond average conventions…. it just seems like a really inefficient use of time.

“Okay, your pick. ”

Blue checks the time. Jarod won’t be free for about another five minutes. “You said you have a pidgey too, right?”

“Yep. You want to try yours against it?”

“No, my squirtle. Just come at her as normal.” Blue checks Maturin over, then commands her forward. “Ready.”

“Go, Dream!”

The pidgey bursts into existence mid-air and immediately swoops around their arena in a circle. Blue waits for it to lock onto Maturin, then says, “Water Gun!”

One, two, three darts of water shoot up at the bird, who dodges them with a hard bank and dive. “Dream, Quick Attack!”

“Withdraw!” Blue shouts, too late as the pidgey turns on its wingtip and bolts straight at Maturin and scores three bleeding lines across her head. Maturin lets out a cry of pain, then follows the order and ducks into her shell. Good girl.

When the pidgey comes around for another pass, its talons rake harmlessly against her shell. On the next pass, it manages to draw blood from her hind leg or tail: Blue can’t quite see the wound. He waits until the pidgey banks around for another pass, then yells, “Maturin, roll right!”

His squirtle’s legs dart out on one side and flip her onto her back, then immediately retract as the other side does the same to flip her onto her belly again. Dream misses on its flyby, and Maturin keeps repeating the process, steadily flipping her way to the side.

Still too slow. “Maturin, Withdrawup!”

Maturin flips vertically this time, balancing on slightly protruding hind legs. “Dream, Peck!” The pidgey dives in and begins harassing her, nails scrambling for something soft to cut, and Blue sees his opportunity.

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

His squirtle’s head pops up and then back down in the space of a heartbeat, and in that time hits the pidgey with a burst of water at point blank range. It tumbles backward, then catches itself in the air and flaps the water from its feathers as it hovers warily in place.

Meanwhile Maturin’s head is back in her shell, and she stands upright and ready for her next command.

“Dream, Wing Attack!” The pidgey dives at Maturin and begins to buffet her with its wings, talons scrambling at her shell.

It’s a risk to pop her head up again now, and more of her is exposed in this position than the normal one. “Maturin, Withdraw!” She plops back down onto her belly, leaving only her smooth, hard back for the pidgey to batter. “Rapid Spin!”

Her legs all kick out at once, turning her so fast that the pidgey startles backward, wary of another attack. “Water Gun!”

“Quick attack!”

Dream darts forward just as Maturin pokes her head out and spits a shot of water. The pidgey scratches her head again, blood sprinkling the arena floor, but instead of flying past, the bird falls out of the air and tumbles over the ground, chest dark with water. Blue can’t tell how badly his pokemon is hurt, but when the pidgey doesn’t get back up right away, he withdraws Maturin, and Rem runs forward to get his pokeball in range of Dream.

“Whew. Must have been a hard hit. What do you say? Call that a draw?”

Blue smirks, then forces it into a more friendly smile. “Sure.” As if. “Good match.”

“You too. I never saw a squirtle do so much from in its shell.”

“I’ve been working on it for about a month now. Still needs some practice.” Blue sees the training room door open, and Jarod stick his head in. He raises a hand to catch his attention. “Hey, I’ve gotta go.”

Rem turns, then nods. “Sure. Good luck on your next Challenge!”

“Thanks.” Blue jogs over to the door and joins Jarod in the hallway. “Yo. So what do you say?”

“I say you’re early. You’ve still got two days.”

Blue crosses his arms. “You’re not wussing out on me, are you?”

“Big talk from a badgeless. Maybe I’m concerned for your fragile ego.”

“You could have said no over text.”

“Nah, not as fun.” Jarod rubs where the scar crosses his nose. “So what, you think you can beat me for real? Your squirtle still hasn’t evolved.”

“Don’t need her to.”

Jarod’s eyes widen, then narrow as he runs his fingers over the balls on the front of his belt. “No wartortle, huh? And you haven’t been using any new pokemon… What’s your angle?”

“You can find out during our battle, or at my Challenge with everyone else.”

“I saw the agenda. You’re not scheduled for another four days. I bet you would have gone for a month on the dot, if there was an opening for it.”

Blue smiles. He probably would have, though he can admit to himself at least that he’s glad for the extra two days. It’s time to test his shiftry out in a real match so he still has time to work on flaws in technique. Jarod is the perfect test run for his shiftry: experienced enough and with strong enough pokemon that he can handle it.

“So? Are you free or not?”

Jarod stretches his arms out, then folds them behind his head. “Why not. It’ll give you some practice grieving before you lose your second Challenge.”

“Alright, pick an arena room then.”

“What, here and now?”

“Got something better to do?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. But fuck it, this won’t take long.” Jarod leads the way to some unused training rooms, stopping at doors every few feet and looking inside a few before finding one that suits his liking. He opens it. “After you.”

It’s a standard room, with the dirt and boulders that most of Pewter Gym’s arenas share. Jarod probably picked this one because it’s a bit smaller than most.

Blue goes to his platform without waiting. “One pokemon each, first knockout.”

Jarod mounts his own platform. “You’re not even going to use your whole lineup? You better have an angle, and it better be that you’ve gone and bought a perfectly trained dragonair just so you could beat Pewter.” Jarod tsks. “Rich kids. Always gotta learn the hard way that buying a top tier pokemon doesn’t make them a top tier trainer.”

Anger heats Blue’s chest and cheeks, but after weeks of verbal sparring with Jarod, it takes barely a second to push it back down. He unclips his greatball and tosses it in his hand. “Ready?”

Jarod raises a brow and unclips an ultraball from his waist. “Guess we get to see what’s in there at last. Go, Rocksteady!”

Jarod’s ball flies through the air, and in a flash of light spits a Rhydon onto the arena floor.

Rock and Ground. Slow, but hits hard. Its Horn Drill can instantly kill most pokemon it can get into position. Very sturdy against physical attacks, but barely any protection from everything else.

Too bad all of his shiftry’s Grass attacks are physical. Its type advantage would help, but not by a lot. He’ll have to rely on his speed.

“I know you don’t want me to hold anything back,” Jarod says. “But I’m going to be as careful as I can not to kill your pokemon. Don’t be scared.”

Blue cocks his arm and throws. “Go, Kemuri!”

His shiftry appears facing the rhydon and immediately fans its leaves out to the sides, rocking back and forth on its odd feet. The surprise on Jarod’s face is immensely satisfying. “You caught one of the shiftry in the forest?”

“Kemuri, Leaf Blade!” There’s a second of delay, and then he bounds forward and slashes at the rhydon.

“Rocksteady, Take Down!”

Rocksteady surges forward, and Kemuri ducks and rolls to the side. The rhydon roars as it stumbles past, and Blue sees three long lines on its side. White discoloration spreads from the etched rock, and the ragged edges of Kemuri’s leaves drip sap onto the ground before they reknit themselves whole and sharp again.

“Rocksteady, Drill Run!” Joren shouts, and his pokemon falls onto all fours and charges, horn rotating with a high pitched rrrrrrr of scraping stone. Kemuri dodges it again and tries to cut downward as the rhydon passes by, but Jarod shouts “Slam!” and it throws its body to the side, forcing Kemuri to leap away.

Within his envelope of calm, Blue absently wipes a drop of sweat from his brow. That was too close. The Rhydon is incredibly quick for its species, and he knows Jarod must have trained its speed to make up for its major weakness. “Kemuri, Leaf Blade!”

His pokemon narrows its leaves on either arm into outstretched, overlapping swords, then stabs them forward to score harsh lines along the side of the rhydon’s face and under its eye, dancing a step forward and back to avoid being crushed by its lunges. “Megahorn!” Jarod shouts as Kemuri leans forward again, and Rocksteady throws its head up. Its whirring horn narrowly misses Kemuri’s arm, but cuts the bundled leaves from his right “hand” in half as the shiftry jerks to the side. His coughing roar almost drowns out Jarod’s command of “Take Down!”

“Feint Attack!” Blue yells, and is relieved to see his shiftry stop its pained reaction immediately and throw itself to the side, slashing the rhydon’s rocky hide as it lunges past. Sap drips steadily from his severed leaves, and Blue watches it carefully to see if the wound will close on its own. He shakes his watch loose and taps the screen to set a one minute timer. If it continues to bleed by the end of it, he’ll withdraw. Either way, continuing to fight up close is a bad idea. He needs to get some distance and time for an Extrasensory attack. “Kemuri, back!”

The rhydon is beginning to show its injuries, gait uneven and breathing labored from pain. Jarod watches Kemuri leap away, then says, “Rocksteady, Flamethrower.”

Ah, shit- “Kemuri, dodge!” Blue yells as Rocksteady stands back up on its hind legs, chin bowed and chest heaving. Kemuri leaps in a random direction just before Rocksteady raises its head and vomits out a stream of fire that splatters over the rocky arena in a wide arc. Kemuri leaps again and again without further prompting as the spray of fire follows him, and coughs in pain as some of the fire lands on his long white hair or wooden skin.

Blue feels some of the heat against his face as he aims his greatball and tracks his pokemon’s movements. The stream of fire is thin and paltry compared to an arcanine or magmar’s flamethrower, but it’s dangerous enough to take his pokemon down if he gets directly hit. Three… four… five… six…

The rhydon closes its mouth, fire dripping from its jaws and burning harmlessly against its skin. Flames continue to burn across a wide swathe of the arena, scorching the ground and rocks black until they die down a few seconds later. As soon as new fire stops being shot at it, Kemuri throws itself to the ground and begins to roll along the dirt, snuffing out the fire that had landed on it in various spots. “Kemuri, Extrasensory,” Blue says once he can’t see any more fire, but the shiftry continues to flail along the ground. “Kemuri, stop!” His pokemon goes still. Half of its shaggy white mane has been burnt, and smoke still rises from various parts of its body. The rhydon would need time to use that attack again, and they need to end this now. “Kemuri, Extrasensory,” Blue says.

Instead his shiftry dashes forward to attack with his leaves again, scoring more jagged lines along the grey ridges of the rhydon’s hide. No! “Kemuri, back!”

“Rocksteady, Hammer Arm!”

“Kemuri, Feint Attack!”

The rhydon’s grey arm slams down on Kemuri’s shoulder with a sharp crack, and the shiftry crumples to the ground. Blue withdraws him a heartbeat later, stomach rolling with a mix of frustration and anger at his pokemon for not listening to him… and shame for losing the match.

“Rocksteady, return!” Jarod withdraws his rhydon, then clips it to his belt and walks over, casually stepping around the scorched parts of the arena. “Well? Is it okay?” he asks once he’s closer.

“It’s fine. Just a broken arm and the burns, I think.” Blue takes out his pokedex to check anyway. “Yeah. I’ll get it over to the center to heal up.” He puts his dex away and reclips the ball. “Thanks for the rematch.” Blue steps down from his platform and begins to walk across the arena toward the exit.

Jarod follows him. “No problem, beating you was funner than I expected. I’m happy to do it again sometime.”

Blue glances at Jarod as they walk. If he didn’t know better he’d say Jarod is being nice, in his own way. “Well, we’re 1 to 1 now, so I’d say another rematch is in order.”

“Oh sure, count the preliminary match. Anytime, anywhere, Oak. You heal that sorry excuse for a plant pokemon up, make sure it actually listens to you, and after a dozen fights or so, you might actually beat me.”

Blue smirks, but it fades by the time they leave the training room. “I’m just glad to see he followed my other orders until then. I had some trouble getting him to listen at all until last week.” Blue hates how he sounds like he’s making excuses, but he finds that he wants Jarod to know how much effort has gone into his training.

“Well, you’ve got four days to get it to follow orders better in the heat of things. Do that, and as far as trump cards go, you might stand a chance.”

“Especially since onix can’t TM Flamethrower, or any other Fire attacks.”

Jarod grins. “Liked that, huh?”

Blue shrugs. “It can help their coverage a bit, but hacking their biology to fit in some extra organs doesn’t change that rhydon is a physical attacker. Most cases you’re better off sticking to what they can learn naturally.”

Hai, sensei.” Jarod sketches an elaborate bow. “I’m always grateful of what pearls of wisdom you deign to drop for me.”

“May you profit from them all.”

Jarod’s smile fades slightly as they reach a branch in the corridor, and Blue stops walking when Jarod does. “Well here’s one for you. I know you help out at the center most afternoons, but come back tonight if your shiftry is ready by then.”

Blue raises a brow. “You offering a rematch, or personal training time?”

“Both. And before you get flattered, this is a safety concern. You’re going to be using a temperamental pokemon that’s clearly not fully under your control yet in a Challenge match. I need to make sure you get a handle on its disobedience, because if you step out in that coliseum against Brock and your shiftry decides to stop listening to you at the wrong moment, someone could get hurt. That’s not happening in my Gym. Understand?”

Blue meets Jarod’s gaze for a moment, pride fighting his sense, then nods. “I’ll be here. Humiliating myself in the public eye is the last thing I want.”

“Good. Brock’s a fair guy, but you’ve only ever seen his friendly side. Believe me, you don’t want to come into his arena with an unruly pokemon. Put your pokemon or his at risk like that, and a public browbeating will be the least of your worries.”


“Excuse me. Pardon me. So sorry…”

Red and Leaf make their way to their seats through the throng of spectators. They thought they were getting here early, but apparently underestimated how many people would show up. When Red watched the vid of Blue’s first Challenge, the stands were maybe a quarter full. Now it looks like they’re well past half.

“This is J-23,” Leaf says as she passes an empty chair. “There, those two must be 27 and 28.”

Red follows her to them and sits with a sigh of relief. The noise and presence of the crowd sets his nerves on edge, and he finds himself tugging the bill of his hat down every few minutes. “What time is it supposed to start, do we know?”

“Seven on the dot. Not sure how often they’re on schedule, this is my first time at one of these.”

Red grins. “You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Leaf shrugs. “I get that it can be important. I just don’t like seeing them get hurt.”

“Ah. Right. So, uh, how’s the article going?”

Leaf brightens. “I finished it last night.”

“That’s great! When can I read it?”

“Your mom was looking it over today for final edits. I should have them done by the end of the night.”

“I can look it over and give you some feedback by the end of the night too, if you want.”

She smiles. “Sure.”

“What?”

“What, what?”

“You seemed, I don’t know, amused.”

“No, not at all, I just… I mean, do you think you’ll have some suggestions that Laura wouldn’t make?”

Red considers this, and grudgingly nods after a moment. “Okay, fair point. Nevermind.”

“No, it’s okay, I’m interested to know what you think.”

“You don’t have to appease my ego, you’re right. I’ll just give you my thoughts as a reader.”

“Well, thanks. I’m open to any feedback.”

“No prob.”

“What about you, what’s going on with the study? It’s over, right?”

“Yeah, we finished the last session yesterday.”

“So what have you got so far?”

Red hesitates, then pulls out his pokedex and opens the draft of his paper. He goes to the graph and expands it. “Spot my headache.”

A simple scatterplot titled “Correlation between Intensity of Night Shade and the concentration of ‘Other’ pokedex composition metric in spinarak” is displayed. The Y axis is marked from 1 to 10, and the X axis goes from 5% to 25%, with the highest point of data at 23%, and the lowest at 6%. Forty dots fill the graph, clustered mostly between the 5 and 7 on the Y axis, and everywhere on the X.

“Huh. This actually looks… well, mostly random, but it looks like there’s some slight correlation.”

“Yeah. For the most part, it seems almost totally unrelated. But there’s a bit of a blank spot.” He points to the different areas on the graph. “You’ve got spinarak with low Other and low Intensity, spinarak with high Other and high Intensity, spinarak with high Other and low Intensity…” His finger moves to the top left. “But no pokemon that have lower than a 10% in their Other metric scored an intensity above 7…”

“Except for this jerk.” Leaf taps on the lone dot sitting separate from the rest, which shows an Other of 7% and an Intensity of 8. “Well, damn. I’m sorry, Red.”

“I asked the wrong question in my hypothesis,” Red says. “Instead of predicting that there’s a correlation between a high Other and intense Night Shade, I should have said that there wouldn’t be any cases of an intense Night Shade with a low Other.”

“But that would mean your hypothesis is even more clearly wrong.”

“Yeah, well, maybe it should be more obvious. At this point I feel like I just wasted a lot of time and money.”

Leaf frowns and closes the pokedex. “Don’t say that, there still might be useful information in there. That correlation might not be super strong, but it’s not nothing. And that one spinarak, who knows, it might have been a mistake, some mix-up from the psychic-”

“Challenger, Blue Oak, first badge.”

Red’s head snaps up as the noise in the auditorium rises into cheers and applause, and he quickly tucks his pokedex away. “Later.” Blue looks tiny as he makes his way across the floor toward the massive stadium, but his face is larger than life on the screens lining the top of the walls. It’s a bit surreal seeing his friend at the center of so much attention, and Red feels compelled to clap harder, meaningless as it is.

“Leader Brock, of Pewter City, 138th Indigo League Champion, Trainer of Aeosis, the Mountain’s Might!”

Once Brock reaches his podium among the roar of applause, the sound dies down almost instantly, just in time for his voice to replace the announcer’s over the speakers. “Citizens of Pewter, gym members, guests from afar, welcome. A month ago a trainer came to this stadium to Challenge our gym, and left wiser than he entered. Today he has returned to demonstrate the fruits of that wisdom. Blue Oak, Pewter Gym honors your request. State the nature of your Challenge.”

“I challenge Pewter Gym for Mastery.”

“Pewter Gym accepts. Incapacitate or force me to withdraw my pokemon, and you will bear our badge. Prepare for battle!”

Red watches the platforms detach from the stairs leading up to them and feels his pulse speed up. He can feel it in the audience, a silence taut as a stretched rubber band, an almost palpable sense of anticipation that he can’t help but feel caught up in. Red is struck by the thought that maybe it’s something more than his imagination: maybe it’s his nascent psychic abilities. He’s about to turn and ask Leaf if she feels it when the battle begins.

“Go, Graveler!”

“Go, Gon!”

“Graveler, Rock Throw!”

“Gon, Leech Seed!”

The projectiles arc through the air toward their opponents, and Red grips the arms of his seat as the rocks crash down around Blue’s shroomish. One of them sends it tumbling to the side, and Red lets out a breath as it gets back up and follows Blue’s order to use Stun Spore.

As the fight progresses, Red notices Leaf on the edge of her seat as well, though her tension spikes when either pokemon gets hit. She catches him looking at her and mutters through a wan smile, “It’s easier when I’m in the battle myself. I have some control over things. Just watching is nerve wracking.”

Red’s nerves are definitely on edge, but what he feels isn’t anxiety: it’s excitement, pure and simple. Was this what made Blue watch Challenge matches and League championships obsessively? Red watches the graveler throw itself forward into a Rollout and nearly shouts out loud as Gon doesn’t get out of the way on time. Half of the audience does cry out, and Red’s heart pounds in his ears as the graveler catches itself and launches back at the recovering shroomish.

“Gon, Poison Powder!”

“Graveler, Body Slam!”

“Gon, back!”

Gon’s cloud of poison doesn’t even slow the graveler down as it throws itself into it, but it doesn’t see which direction the shroomish waddles away in. The graveler slams into the ground through the poison, knocking loose some of the leech seeds that have grown big and ripe, but Gon isn’t around to eat them: by the time it picks itself back up to look around, Blue has withdrawn his pokemon and sends out Maturin.

“Graveler, Stone Edge!”

“Maturin, Withdraw!”

Gravelers four arms smack into its body, and thin, jagged chunks of stone crack off. The graveler throws a chunk of itself at Maturin, and the rest of the shards follow through the air, peppering Maturin’s shell with sharp jabs. Red wants to look the move up in his pokedex and see how it works, but he can’t take his eyes off Maturin as she goes bouncing across the stadium. A moment after she stops, Blue orders her to fire a bubble, and Red sees on one of the screens that she emerges from her shell mostly unharmed but for a bleeding gouge in her leg.

“Come on, come on,” Red mutters as the graveler attempts to follow its target through her explosive popping bubbles. When it tries a Rock Throw Maturin ducks back into her shell, but it misses. “Go down!”

Leaf gives him a look just as the graveler begins to cough, its whole body shaking. By now half of its body is covered in the leech seed’s tendrils, and when it collapses to its knees, Brock’s platform moves close enough for him to withdraw it.

“Well done, Challenger. This graveler would have defeated your pokemon when you first arrived, but you’ve shown that the time spent in our Gym and our city has honed both you and them.”

“Thank you, Leader. I’ve learned a lot from your city and your students.”

Red leans toward Leaf and mutters, “A bit over-dramatic, huh?”

She grins. “I wonder if they have a script.”

Someone makes a shushing sound behind them, and Red sits straight again. His pulse is still in his throat as he waits, and he can feel (or thinks he can anyway) the whole stadium’s anticipation building higher and higher.

“Our Gym is one where we teach and are taught, and you have by all accounts been a valuable partner to many. I hope we have in turn prepared you for your final test.”

“You have. Maturin, return! Go, Kemuri!”

The stadium erupts in surprised chatter, and Red grins. Blue knows how it plays to the audience to show off such a strong pokemon. He hasn’t been a part of the training sessions for about a week, and he’s eager as anyone to see what Blue and his shiftry are capable of.

“He caught one?” Leaf gasps.

“Yeah, and he’s had a hell of a time trying to train it.”

“Brock doesn’t seem happy.”

Red looks around for a monitor trained on the Gym Leader. Brock’s lips are moving subtly, and Red remembers what Blue said about the private channel. “Wonder what they’re talking about.” He looks at Blue to try and read his lips, but Blue’s voice suddenly fills the stadium.

“I caught Kemuri in Viridian. I and two trainers were attacked by a pack of six shiftry as we tried to fight the fire. We lost a number of our pokemon fending them off. We nearly lost our lives. Kemuri was the sole survivor, badly injured in our fight, and so full of malice that he struggled to kill me even as he lay dying. But I refused to accept such a loss. I acted decisively, and caught it despite not having a greatball available. Your gym helped me train it, and today I command it. Kemuri and I are prepared for your test of Mastery.”

Leaf grins. “Now that’s over-dramatic.”

“Do people do these speeches often? If so I’ve got to watch more just for them.”

“Shhh!”

Red turns to see a spectator sternly hold a finger over his lips. Red rolls his eyes and faces front again. “Everyone’s talking around us,” he mutters.

“You and your pokemon have journeyed far together. Now show us the strength of your bond. Go, Onix!”

The audience roars in approval, and Red wonders if there was some ambiguity on whether Brock would use an onix again. Blue beat the geodude, so maybe that’s why it was replaced. Of course, this could be a stronger and better trained onix than the one he fought before anyway.

He wants to ask Leaf if it seems any bigger than the one from Blue’s first fight, but then the battle begins, and he’s once again swept away in its ebb and flow.

“Kemuri, Leaf Blade!” Blue says, and Brock immediately taps some command on the railing near its second microphone.

Blue’s shiftry hops forward from one foot to the other as the onix heaves rocks through the air with its tail. Kemuri dodges and closes the distance between them and cuts the onix’s grey hide with his leaves. White blemishes begin to spread from a number of cuts crossing the many boulder segments of its body.

Brock taps out another command, and Blue yells “Dodge!” just as the onix swings its body around. Its tail clips Kemuri’s side and knocks him away. Kemuri lands with some grace, though a closeup screen shows that it’s favoring one of its legs. Red knows by now that shiftry tend to fake injuries to catch their opponent off guard, and hopes that’s the case here: if Kemuri’s mobility gets restricted, he would be in trouble. “Kemuri, Leaf Tornado!” Blue commands.

The shiftry begins fanning its leaves, around and around each other in a complex pattern. Brock taps out a command, and his onix circles a rock and flings it at Kemuri, causing Red to nearly rise from his seat. Shit-shit-shi-whew. It crashes to the ground on Kemuri’s side, and soon his arms are a blur as bits of green particles flow in a mini cyclone toward the onix, far tighter and more directed than stray bits of leaf normally might.

Brock taps the railing again, and his onix jukes to the side. The “wind” is wide enough to blow some of the green particles onto it, but most pass harmlessly by, and Brock taps out another command that sends his onix barreling straight at Kemuri with a roar.

“Leaf Blade!”

“Bide!”

The onix immediately halts its charge and coils itself into a tight spiral, leaving Kemuri nothing to attack but solid sides. Kemuri goes at it with gusto, but Blue quickly commands the shiftry to back off. Red remembers Blue’s worries about not knowing when Brock might start a Bide, and wonders why it’s a move Brock has to command verbally. Is it a handicap he offers to Challengers?

Either way, Blue has a way to beat it. Red watches Kemuri move farther and farther away, still favoring one of its legs. The onix is still coiled up, waiting. “Kemuri, Extrasensory!”

The shiftry goes still, then spreads its leaves wide to the sides as its eyes begin to glow. The whole stadium seems to be holding its breath as they watch Brock’s onix for a reaction. It begins to twitch, then growl and shift in place, but before it gets any worse Brock taps something out on the railing, and its whole body twists as it dives into the ground, tunneling beneath the stadium.

Red has a moment to wonder if that would work when Kemuri blinks, glow fading from its eyes.

“Well, that’s okay. He just has to hold still like last… time…” Leaf says, trailing off as Brock scales the fence around his platform and leaps down onto the arena floor.

Thud.

A single stomp of Brock’s heavy boot.

Thud thud. Thud… Thud-thud.

Distant rumbling from beneath the ground of the arena. The audience’s murmurs grow as Brock continues to kick at the ground in brief, deliberate patterns.

“I don’t think Brock is interested in repeating challenges,” Red whispers, rising tension making his gut twist and sour. “It’s… gotta be some kind of standard directive, he can’t see where his onix is going…”

Thud. Thud thud… thud.

Leaf’s fingers squeeze her knees, eyes wide. “He knows the stadium’s dimensions! If he has a command that sends the onix to a starting location, then guides it from there by fixed intervals…”

Thud, thud, thud… thud-thud-thud!

“Dodge!” Blue yells just as the onix erupts from the ground beneath Kemuri. The shiftry goes flying, then smacks gracelessly against a rock. It falls to the ground and lies still.

“Oh,” Leaf says softly. “Shit…”

“It might be a trick,” Red whispers, cold inside. Get up…

The stadium watches in dead silence, broken only by the whirring of Blue’s platform. “Return,” he says, the word seeming to echo.

“Bravely fought, Challenger. Your shiftry is strong, and well trained for what time you’ve had it. Another month, and it might-”

“I’m not done yet. There’s someone here who wants a rematch. Go, Maturin!”

Blue’s squirtle appears on the arena floor and, upon catching sight of the onix, immediately falls onto all fours, eyes narrow and foam dripping from its jaws.

Brock is quiet, and Red watches his lips in case he says something in private. “Think he’s worried about Maturin’s safety?”

Leaf shakes her head. “His onix.”

Red looks at her, then the monitors. She’s right: the onix’s skin is more white than grey, and its cuts are dark with sap or blood. Red knows that the rocksnakes don’t need much oxygen, but this one’s breathing is vaguely audible from all the way up here.

After a moment Brock merely says. “A good trainer knows our pokemon’s pride is as important as our own. Show us what your squirtle can do.”

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

“Onix, Dig!”

It dives beneath the ground, its tail hit by the quick, sharp stream of water. Brock begins stomping immediately, and Blue yells, “Maturin, back!”

What’s he doing?! But no, he’s not safe standing still either. Luckily Brock’s commands take priority for the onix, or maybe it’s too far to attack right away, and Maturin safely moves closer to Blue, standing just in front of his platform by the edge of the arena.

Brock stops stomping. Red can hear his own breathing, and doesn’t dare to blink as he looks back and forth between Blue, Brock, and the unmoving arena.

Brock’s smile is slow, but wide. He nods at Blue, and Blue gives a two fingered salute.

“Some kind of safe spot in the arena?” Leaf whispers as the audience erupts in murmurs.

“Gotta be, maybe because of the trainer platform’s foundation…”

Thud, thud thud thud, thud.

Brock finishes stomping the ground, then climbs out of the arena and up to his platform again as his onix returns to the surface with a grinding roar.

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

“Onix, Wrap!”

Maturin dashes forward to get into range and the onix rushes to meet it, zigzagging between the boulders to avoid the shots of water in a scene that looks too familiar. Brock is going for the quick victory from last time. Red grips his armrests as the onix begins to circle Maturin.

“Withdrawup!”

Maturin pops into her shell rightside up just as the onix constricts its body around her. “Maturin, Soak!”

The water pours over the onix’s coiled body, directly into one of Kemuri’s cuts.

The onix roars and thrashes along the ground. Leaf covers her face and Red rises out of his chair with half the audience, adrenaline pumping through his blood and nothing to do with it but watch as the onix writhes along the ground. If Maturin didn’t duck her head in immediately, it would be pulverized.

The audience cries out as the coils finally loosen enough to fling Maturin away. A heartbeat later, Brock withdraws his onix, and Blue grabs Maturin as soon as she bounces into range.

In the ringing silence, both trainers take a moment to line their balls up with their pokedex. Brock looks up first, and all the cameras shift to Blue.

“Is she okay?” Leaf whispers, shockingly loud in the silence. “I can’t look.”

Blue’s face relaxes into a smile, and two fingers rise in a V. The dam of silence breaks, and the stadium fills with applause.

“He did it!” Red pumps his fist as Leaf sags in relief. “Way to go, Blue!”

Brock jumps down from his platform again and begins to walk toward Blue, who climbs down to meet him halfway. The applause slowly fade as they meet in the middle of the stadium. “Congratulations, Challenger. Pewter Gym hereby recognizes you, Blue Oak, with the Boulder Badge.” Brock takes a small box from his pocket and opens it. Upon its black velvet interior, the dark silver octagon of the badge gleams on every screen. “The world is harsh, but deep within each of us lies the strength of stone, the bones of the earth itself. Today you have shown that strength. May the lessons and wisdom of our gym go with you, and keep you and your pokemon safe.”


Leaf and Red walk the corridors of Pewter Gym, following the directory signs from one hallway to the next. She feels exhausted. Somehow Red, who spent the night jumping up and down from his chair and screaming like a madman, is still bright eyed and bushy tailed, and has barely stopped talking about the match since they left the stadium. It would be cute instead of wearying if not for her emotional drain.

“And that last command, Blue must have known it was coming up, it was just the timing that was off, or maybe his shiftry’s reaction time-”

“Yes, I saw it,” she says. “I was there. It was thrilling.”

Red’s grin fades slightly. “Sorry, just a bit whelmed. Maybe even overwhelmed. It was… more intense than I expected.”

“I could tell. You sound like Blue.”

“I’ll have to remember this next time he’s going on about some match. Having some stake, caring about the outcome and participants, I sort of get his passion for it.”

Leaf groans. “Not you too.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not lining up for a Challenge. Even if I wanted to, I’m not an idiot. My pokemon are a fire type, a normal type, two bug types, and an electric type. I’d get crushed. Literally.”

“Good, because I don’t think I could attend another one of those for at least a few weeks.”

They reach the right door and knock before entering. It’s a comfortable looking room, with a table full of food to one side and a number of big, plush couches in the middle. Blue is sitting on one, looking as drained as Leaf feels. He has the small box with the Boulder Badge in one hand, and closes it as they enter, getting to his feet and tucking it away in his pocket. His grin chases the fatigue from his face, and he steps forward to meet her hug.

“Congratulations, Blue!”

“Way to go, man.” Red bumps his fist. “That was really awesome.”

“Yeah? You guys enjoyed it?”

“Red’s been going on about it since we left the match,” Leaf says, avoiding her own response. No need to rain on their parade. “Your pokemon are okay, though?”

“They have a small facility here, I got them checked out after the match. Kemuri and Gon will be healed up in no time, Maturin just needed some potion and rest. She was snug in her shell before the onix started thrashing.”

The knot of worry in Leaf’s chest relaxes, and she takes what feels like the first full breath since the match started. “And Brock’s onix, it’s okay too?”

“I don’t know, haven’t seen him since the stadium. He should be on his way now though.”

Red and Blue begin talking about the finer details of the match, and Leaf wanders over to the refreshment table to grab a soda and nibble at the vegetable tray. She feels herself growing more calm little by little as time passes, eventually sitting on the couch with a small plate of food. She wonders if she’ll ever get used to watching pokemon fight. Everyone in that auditorium seemed to be enjoying themselves. Even when they were worried that one of the pokemon had gotten hurt (or rather, more hurt than “expected”), it didn’t seem to really bother them. They left the match talking and laughing. Even Red.

Maybe there’s just something wrong with her.

She picks at her food until there’s a knock at the door, and the Gym Leader walks in a moment later. “Hello everyone. Sit, sit. I just came by to congratulate you again, Mr. Oak.”

“Thank you, Leader.”

“Your shiftry took me by surprise tonight. It must have given you trouble, or I imagine you would have used it in our first match. Unless that was just a story, and you acquired it recently?”

“No, it was all true.”

“Remarkable. Who helped you train it?”

“Red did, and Jarod.”

“And your squirtle?”

“Being able to withdraw is one of Maturin’s greatest strengths, but after our last match, I couldn’t allow it to become such a liability again. Even with Kemuri, I wanted to make sure Maturin would be more prepared. So I trained her for a few maneuvers while in her shell. ” Blue smiles. “Kemuri weakened your onix enough that Maturin didn’t even need a direct hit. Once you went for the Wrap again, I knew I had you.”

“And yet it was a great risk. If your squirtle wasn’t fully withdrawn, or my onix had a more violent reaction…”

Blue shrugs. “It was a calculated risk. Even adolescent onix are massive and powerful creatures, and expecting to take one down without some fallout is unrealistic. Of all my pokemon, Maturin is most capable of staying safe.”

“And onix’s dig attack? How did you know that part of the arena floor was safe from tunneling?”

“I didn’t. From some exploration, I knew that the smaller arenas have more solid ground just around the inside corners. I just figured my best bet was to act as though it was true for the big one as well, since if I was wrong I probably wouldn’t win anyway.”

Brock nods. “You’ve acted decisively, from training to combat, and beat me honestly. It was an honor to battle you.”

“The honor is mine, Leader.” Blue bows. “Thank you for all the help your gym has been.”

“I heard you’ve been as much a teacher to others here. Truth be told, I hoped you would stay another month, perhaps even Challenge for membership.”

Blue looks genuinely surprised for a moment. “I’m honored. Really. But we’ll be moving on soon. I have a long way to go.”

“You’re welcome back any time.” They clasp hands, and Brock turns to her and Red. “And you two? You were in the Viridian Fire too, weren’t you? My city thanks you for your help.”

“No need to thank us. We got kind of caught up in it,” Red says.

Leaf nods. “Blue was the hero. Red and I didn’t get the chance to help anyone.”

“I don’t know about all that,” Red says. “You definitely saved me.”

“I’d say we’re both even on that score.”

Brock smiles. “You were the injured one, right? And you were the one looking after him. I remember. Your friend was quite worried about you two.”

Blue’s cheeks redden, and Leaf grins. “He’s a sweetheart,” she says, and to her delight he flushes further.

“Should I expect your Challenges someday?”

“Not likely,” Red says. “But I’d love to pick your brain about Rock pokemon someday, especially some of their abilities.”

Brock smiles. “A researcher, then? I should have known as much, travelling with an Oak. I don’t normally have time to spare, but I might be able to answer an email occasionally, if they’re not too long or frequent.”

“Really? Thanks!”

“And you? Are you a researcher too?”

If she’s ever going to get the Gym Leader’s perspective on the museum, now’s her best chance. “Not quite. I’m dabbling in some journalism at the moment, and was wondering if you’d be interested in a quick interview?”

“Interesting. What about?”

“The Pewter Museum. I tried to schedule an interview through your gym, but they said…” She trails off at the slight frown on Brock’s face.

“I’m sorry, I don’t really have the time for such things. My concerns are Pewter’s Gym and its people’s safety. I’m sure there are others more qualified to answer questions on the museum.” Brock stands up, and the three trainers do too. “Congratulations again, Mr. Oak. If you have time before you leave, come by my office, and I’ll teach you the basics of the Bide technique.”

“I will, thank you.” Blue bows again, and Red and Leaf follow suit. Brock returns it, then leaves.

Blue and Red return to chatting about the match as they go to the food table. Leaf stays behind and munches on a carrot. Even knowing it was a long shot, Leaf feels slightly hurt. The Gym Leader didn’t even offer her the occasional email question like Red.

Well, she tried. If he got upset with what she writes, he had his chance to weigh in. It’s probably delusional to think he’d care what her little article says, but if he does decide to speak out after it’s published, well, at least it’ll have accomplished something.

Chapter 26: The Right Questions

Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap.

Leaf sits ramrod straight in the stiff chair, fingers drumming the notepad on her lap. She’s the only person in the waiting room besides the receptionist, an older woman with stern half-lens glasses and her hair up in a tight bun. Leaf arrived thirty minutes early, and she has to refrain from checking the time again. She knows it’s near time. She should be called in to the mayor’s office any moment now.

The museum director declined participation in an interview, but was willing to communicate to the mayor that “a tourist from Unova” wanted to write an article on it. Dr. Brenner said that would get the mayor’s attention, as there’s been a push recently to improve the city’s interregional reputation. Leaf doesn’t know if they namedropped her mom or grandpa, but it probably didn’t hurt if they did.

Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap.

The receptionist glances from her computer monitor to Leaf’s fingers. She clasps her hands beneath her legs to keep them still and wishes she brought a book. She was worried it would appear unprofessional. She could take her phone out and read from there, but that probably would look even worse. Leaf makes a resolution to bring a book to any similar future situations. Being antsy doesn’t look particularly professional anyway, and it’s far more boring.

Leaf has met plenty of politicians and famous public figures before. It’s something of an occupational hazard when you tour the region with its eminent pokemon expert. But it was easy not to be nervous of, say, the mayor of Driftveil, when the woman was clearly so excited to meet the Professor Juniper… they were always polite to her, and she found the meetings more boring than anything most of the time. As such, not even meeting Professor Oak had made her particularly star-struck.

But this is different. She’s not here to just greet and shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Mayor Kitto: she’s here to interview him, and if she screws it up…

Leaf takes a deep breath, then another. If I screw it up, the worst that happens is I don’t get any material from him for the article. There’s nothing to be worried about, and being nervous is just going ot make it harder.

Whether it’s the self admonishment or the breathing, Leaf feels herself calming little by little… until the receptionist calls her name.

“Yes?” she asks, jumping slightly out of her seat, then freezing halfway to standing.

“Mayor Kitto will see you now.”

Leaf completes her stand and thanks the receptionist as she enters the mayor’s office. Leaf has a moment of surprise at how much more simple and utilitarian it is compared to the ones in Unova. Maybe it’s a Pewter thing rather than a Kanto one. Or maybe it’s a Kitto thing.

The man himself is sitting at a desk that looks intimidatingly busy with files and folders. Mayor Kitto appears to be in his mid-40s, short dark hair starting to grey at the temples and permanent smile lines around his eyes. He stands and offers his hand over the desk, which Leaf shakes after wiping her palm on her skirt.

“Miss Juniper, good morning! I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Please, sit down. Oh, excuse me…” He begins to clear some of the folders from the middle of his desk and stack them onto those to the sides, clearing a sightpath between them as she sits on one of the chairs.

“It’s no problem, thank you for the appointment!” Leaf can’t help but look at all the paperwork. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything too important…”

“Not at all. Hard to believe I know, but the stacks were twice as big this morning.”

Leaf stares. “Is your… computer broken?”

Mayor Kitto laughs. “Have you ever heard of the virtual office?”

“Sure.”

“It’s a myth. Especially in the public sphere: too much need for accountability. Which makes all this paperwork a necessary evil, I’m afraid.”

“Is that a big concern of yours?” Leaf wants to take her notebook and pencil out, but refrains. Laura told her that taking them out would be a signal that the interview has begun, and a reminder that anything said might be printed. Best to build a rapport in a more casual atmosphere first.

Mayor Kitto leans back in his chair. “One of the top concerns for anyone in public office, I would hope. Without it, there’s no trust, and if we don’t trust our leaders we might as well go back to letting the warlords rule us.”

Leaf smiles. “A desk full of paperwork is all that stands between us and feudalism?”

He smiles back. “You can quote me on it. Accountability is the bedrock of a representative government. But I don’t mean to bore you with political science. Tell me how you liked our museum.”

“Oh, it’s fantastic!”

“Do you have a favorite exhibit?”

“I think the interactive fossil excavation. It was a lot of fun!”

The mayor beams. “My daughter thought so too. Came home after they unveiled it and started digging up the whole back yard, dabbing at rocks with a paintbrush.” He chuckles. “She’s studying to be a paleontologist now, so I’d say it did its job. ”

“I know how she feels. I half wanted to become one myself, while I was there.”

“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. The director said you were writing an article on it, right? What did you want to ask me?”

“Well, why don’t we start at the beginning? For you, at least. When did you first go to the museum? What was it like for you?”

The mayor chuckles. “Pretty boring, to be honest. It was much smaller back then, and the exhibits were very dry. My dad took me, he was a biologist who worked on one of them, and it was interesting, but not a passion of mine. My real interest in it came after…”

Kitto begins to recount the history of the museum, along with some context of the city at the time. Much of it Leaf has already learned on her own, but he’s a decent storyteller, and she surreptitiously remembers to pick up her notebook at one point and start jotting down lines as she listens.

“-and then they brought those first complete sets of fossils in, and arranged them all into what the pokemon looked like at the time… that was a turning point. Most people around here had no idea how important the fossils were, they just thought it was an interesting exhibit. But within the next month the influx of tourists became noticeable, and then awareness spread quickly as people and the media began to talk about what was drawing them. That’s when the shift to a focus on geology and paleontology started, and the city was never the same. The economic impact of increased tourism are hard to overstate, and we’ve seen regular growth ever since.”

“That’s great,” Leaf says as she writes down the last line for a potential quote. “So are you happy with the latest exhibits?”

“That would be the timeline of the fossil record, right? Yes, very happy. I think it’s very important.”

“What in specific do you think makes it so vital?”

“Well, you know, the implications. For life, us, everything. It’s a big deal.”

Hm. Not quite quote worthy. “I think so too. That’s why it seems so strange to me how many people are against them.”

“Well, hopefully they’ll come around in time.”

Leaf waits a beat, but that’s all he says. She can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. Kitto doesn’t seem as passionate about it as she hoped when she found out that he made them possible. It makes sense for a mayor to be focused on economic impacts rather than scientific ones, but…

“Is that why you pushed for the newer exhibits on the possible origins of life and species?” When she was preparing her questions she was going to ask Laura recommended against too many questions that imply an answer already, but said that they can get a more direct response on important topics.

Kitto’s blinks. “Pushed for it? Where did you hear that?”

“Oh, maybe I misunderstood.” She taps her lip with the end of her pencil thoughtfully. “Someone at the museum suggested that you recommended it, or gave the go ahead, or something like that. Is that not right?”

“Ah, just some visitor, then? Well, as much as I’d like to claim credit, the museum’s board and director decide on exhibits.” He gives a wry grin. “All we do from city hall is help pay the bills.”

“I see. Is the funding ever increased or decreased based on what’s exhibited?”

The mayor glances at her notebook, so quickly Leaf almost misses it. “Never directly, but a large portion of its budget is decided ultimately by the public, and without advocates in public office, it can find itself walking a delicate line.”

“In the interviews I’ve done so far, I’ve noticed a lot of disagreement on the latest exhibit, mostly by citizens rather than tourists. What has the controversy been like for you?”

“Well, I’ve gotten my fair share of letters on the exhibit, but then, I’ve gotten letters about cracks in sidewalks too. It’s natural for people to speak their mind and give feedback, but any organized expressions of disapproval have been very mild. And like I said, the Museum’s board is in charge of those decisions.”

“Is there anyone in the public eye you would recommend talking to for an opposing perspective on the exhibits?”

“Hmmm.” The mayor leans back in his chair with his hands clasped, looking up. “Well, there was a letter writing campaign that was organized by some local pastors and religious leaders. Others have been very supportive, however.” He lists some names on both sides of the issue, and she scribbles down the ones that are new to her.

“What about Leader Brock?”

“The Leader has been careful to avoid any public comment on the topic.” His tone is bland and pleasant enough. Is she imagining hostility because of what Dr. Brenner said? Leaf has to remind herself that she’s not trying to stir up drama or make things more political. She just wants to know what’s going on.

Leaf pushes her curiosity to the side. “I tried getting an interview already, but I don’t think I’ll be hearing back from them.”

“Well, the Leader is a busy man. More than just papers on his desk.” Kitto chuckles. “I on the other hand am happy to help encourage more Unovans to come and visit our city and region. I hope I’ve done that.”

“You have, thanks.” Leaf closes her notebook and tucks it away, indicating that the interview is over. Time to clear the air. “I just want to make sure, the director did mention that I would be publishing it locally as well, right?”

The mayor smiles. “He did. That’s the main reason I made time for the interview.”

Leaf feels confused. If his focus is increasing tourism, why would he care if it’s published locally? Unless that’s not actually his main goal at all. “Well, I don’t expect it’ll get a lot of attention here. It’s just an opinion piece from a stranger.”

“Don’t be so sure. An interview with the mayor is no small thing, and I’ll be sure to give it a mention when I can.”

Leaf bites her lower lip before noticing and stopping herself. “Not that I don’t appreciate all the help, but… considering you don’t seem particularly interested in the museum’s latest exhibit, and that’s what the major focus of the article is, why did you agree to the interview?”

The mayor is quiet, and Leaf waits. Eventually he says, “What do you think of a leader’s position in the community, Miss Juniper?”

“I never really thought about it before all this. They have a very important role and a lot of influence, don’t they? More than I realized.”

“More, would you say, than was intended by the Regional Charter?”

“I guess that depends on the leader.”

Mayor Kitto smiles. “What’s the most important aspect of representative government, Miss Juniper?”

She considers her answers, but she already knows what he’s expecting, and she mostly agrees in any case. “Accountability.”

“And what’s the major difference between a mayor and a leader?”

“Accountability.” Again, she knows that’s the answer he wants to hear, but now she’s thinking further. “Mayors are public servants, and if the public dislikes some policy or action, they’re voted out. A leader isn’t, they’re replaced mostly by Challenge and other checks of skill or competence.”

“Does a mayor ever influence a city’s defense decisions, or gym standards?”

Leaf smiles. “Not that I’ve seen.” The very idea seems silly.

“And do leaders have no influence on topics outside their purview?”

She shakes her head. “Leaders often command more respect than anyone else in a city. And that can’t help but affect people’s beliefs on other topics.”

“Would you say that’s a healthy balance?”

Leaf is quiet this time, and the mayor doesn’t interrupt it. “There must be some reverse effect as well though,” she says eventually. “Popular leaders affect the public’s opinion, but… the public’s opinions are part of what decides how popular a leader is…”

Mayor Kitto smiles, then glances at his computer screen. “I’m afraid my next appointment is in four minutes. Thank you for your time, Miss Juniper.”

“Thank you, Mayor.” She shakes his hand, then gets up and leaves the office, barely noticing her surroundings. It isn’t until she’s out in the sunlight again that she realizes the mayor never actually answered her question, instead only asking his own.


Blue and Red sit in the mess hall of the Trainer House, one hand shoveling food into their mouths and the other holding up their pokedex, eyes glued to the screens. It’s the tail end of lunch time, and the tables around them are mostly empty.

Blue just arrived from training at the gym with Maturin, Gon and Zephyr, and has about an hour before he’s due at the pokemon center to help out with the beginning of the evening shift. Volunteering there doesn’t feel like a chore anymore, though it does leave him tired at night.

And nights are when he’s been focusing on his shiftry, trying to modulate its behavior through simulations and checking to see if it changed at all in meatspace.

It hasn’t.

Every night, he tries to get it to follow his commands, and every night, it continues trying to kill him. He doesn’t want to admit it to Red, but he’s been considering giving up more and more. He even looked halfheartedly into ads by trainers looking for shiftry, but the vetting process for trading pokemon is strict. Blue would never get through the live test without demonstrating that his shiftry is too wild, even if it’s only violent toward him.

People don’t tend to want traumatized pokemon.

“Hey, apparently some trainers have found their shiftry calmer after eating the right type of foods,” Red says, one hand flicking through the dex’s screen while the other twirls noodles around his fork and lifts it to his mouth. “Oh, but it also might not leave them wholly lucid…”

Blue snorts. “Yeah, I considered tranqing him, but it’s hard enough to get the dose right between asleep and high as a kite, let alone leaving him fit for training.”

“Well, it’s an idea to consider.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Blue looks through the current simulation’s intended goals, then flicks it aside and checks out the next one. “‘To housebreak your pokemon,’ ‘to reduce hostility between your pokemon,’ ‘to reduce pokemon trauma’… that one might be useful, but where’s the sim for ‘stop your pokemon from being full of bloodthirsty vengeance?'”

“Hey, I think this is it!”

“What, really?” Blue leans over to look.

“No, not that.” Red highlights something on his pokedex with his fingers, then transfers it locally. Blue’s dex pings, and he taps the notification of what Red sent him. It’s a tab on the shiftry page for their social habits. He goes to the highlighted lines.

Another sign of shiftry’s high intelligence, and another behavior that earned them the title of “Wicked Pokemon,” is their intricate and violent social structure. Few pokemon species are as vicious in establishing their pecking order. Even obedient shiftry are known to attack the pokemon a trainer used to defeat them…

Blue’s flare of hope and excitement peters out. “That doesn’t help us,” he says, closing the page and going back to looking through training and bonding simulations. “I already used violence to subdue it, that’s why it hates me in the first place.”

“No, keep reading, did you get to this part? ‘In the wild, this often results in re-establishment of dominance, as shiftry habitually attempt to usurp leadership from those above them in their family.’ Don’t you see? It doesn’t hate you, it just sees you as its dominant!”

Blue stares. “But I am its dominant. How does anyone train a shiftry if…” He trails off as he remembers what was written. “Wait, so because from its perspective I defeated it instead of a pokemon…?”

“It was already down and out when you cut it up, right? Maybe it thinks that it can take you now that it’s healthy.”

“That’s nuts, how do they work so well together if they’re constantly trying to kill their superiors?”

“Well, they’re not. They might try to sneak in a kill if they see weakness, but for the most part a shiftry that gets beaten stays beaten, and it’s easy to remember why when your alpha is bigger and stronger than you. You, on the other hand, look nothing like a man-sized shiftry’s superior. No offense.”

Blue puts his pokedex down, considering this. “So I need to beat it again, when it’s healthy. Or get one of my pokemon to do it, rather.”

“That’s my current hypothesis, yeah. But you might have to do more than just beat it the normal way, as in capture it in a ball. You need to actually establish dominance.” Red glances at his screen, then closes the dex and begins cleaning up his tray. “We can talk about it tonight, I’ve got an appointment in forty minutes and the psychic’s office is thirty away. See you later.”

“Later,” Blue mutters, barely noticing Red’s departure. The idea spins around and around his mind, coming closer to a landing with every revolution. He should have seen it earlier. His shiftry wants to fight him, just like any wild pokemon before it’s caught. And just like any wild pokemon, he would have to show it that he’s higher in the pecking order.

Which means…

Blue checks the time, then jumps up to throw out his tray and head for the elevators. He has almost an hour before he’s due at the pokecenter. And that’s an hour he can use to make his pokemon his, for real.

Blue hurries to his room to grab his pack, then down to the training hall. The rooms are mostly full of trainers and their pokemon, and Blue jogs between the doors to find an empty one, not caring what type it’s for. He won’t be needing the supplies.

Blue ends up in a Rock type training room, which he takes as a stroke of luck considering the layout is similar to the arenas at Pewter Gym. He unhooks the shiftry’s greatball and bounces it between his palms as he considers his strategy.

When he first encountered the shiftry in Viridian, taking it on alone would have given him trouble. He barely managed to beat the other, and lost his caterpie, beedrill and nearly Zephyr to do so. But that was weeks of training and experience ago.

His main problems are his pokemon’s types. Gon would be all but useless, as his seeds and powders would have no effect, and Maturin is at a type disadvantage. Which means it will be up to Zephyr, the pokemon he has trained with the least since coming to Pewter.

But he’s gotten a lot stronger regardless, and he has the type advantage. Blue reaches for Zephyr’s pokeball and prepares to release him…

…when the thought comes that he’s being stupid.

This is too big a risk to take alone. He won’t let fear rule his decisions: he knows he can do this, despite the danger. But if he lets his overconfidence get Zephyr or himself killed, he’ll have shown he learned nothing from his time here.

Blue reclips his ball and leaves the training room, deciding to wait until Red is available tonight.


“Six more,” Psychic Ranna says, handing Red half a dozen sheets with the latest test results. They’re in her office, its light magenta wallpaper and deeply cushioned couches giving it an oddly soothing atmosphere. It reminds Red of his old therapist’s office, though the two look nothing alike.

He thumbs through the surveys and nods. “Good, an even thirty. Are you still feeling okay?”

“Yes, thankfully there are still no lasting effects. How’s the data looking so far?”

“Not great,” Red admits.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and sounds like she means it. “Any appointments for Sunday?”

“Not so far. I have one I think will be free on Tuesday, and hopefully another nine will contact me by the end of next week. I’ll let you know if anything changes. Enjoy your Saturday.”

“Thank you. Goodnight Red.”

“Night.” He heads for the door and makes his way to the Trainer House by the light of the streetlamps. It’s a bit of a bother coming here to pick up the reports every few days, but he can’t have her read the reports to type them up and email them after they’re written, so manual pickup it is. Thankfully she’s not hard to work with. It’s good to have met a psychic who’s pleasant, if still a bit distant.

Pewter is busy winding down the workday and preparing for the weekend. Red passes by a lot of couples and groups of friends, laughing and chatting as they head into movie theaters and bars and restaurants. The latter often emit savory scents that make his belly rumble. He has to keep reminding himself that he has to save his money, that five to ten dollars here and there add up, and that cheap and perfectly serviceable food is waiting for him at the Trainer House. After almost a month of eating meals consisting of mostly noodles or rice, he’s homesick for his mom’s cooking.

More than that, he misses his friends. Everyone’s so busy with their projects that other than in the quick nightly tests with Blue and occasional shared meal with him or Leaf, they’ve all but stopped talking to each other. Red thought his research would keep him happy, but he knows that’s where the real problem is.

“Not great” was an understatement. What Red could have said was that his research is a bust. Unless the six in his hand and the next ten subjects are wildly different from the previous ones, he can already see from the emerging data that any correlation between a spinarak’s mental attacks and the % of their mass unaccounted for in the pokedex is extremely low, and likely nonexistent.

He knows that it’s still important to finish. There might still be something to be learned once he has all the data, or in a qualitative analysis of the reports. And even if not, null results are vitally important in science. What he’s learned may not be important, but it can help guide people toward things that are.

None of that helps him feel like he hasn’t wasted the past month, or dread the hours more of writing and analysis to come. And all of which just make his feelings of loneliness and restlessness worst.

His only solace is his time spent with his pokemon. He tries to fit in an hour every night to spend time with at least one of them, whether it’s for a bit of training, playing a game, or just walking around the city. Charmander and Rattata enjoy the park, and over the past week he’s felt safe picking Pichu up and carrying him around without cheri berries.

He hasn’t brought his spinarak out since leaving the forest.

Red arrives at the Trainer House and heads to the dining hall. He fills his tray with some rice balls and steamed vegetables, and reads over the reports as he eats.

Subject 25 – 4/10

A sensation of intense vertigo and fear, coupled with discomfort in the stomach and chest akin to looking down from a high place. Recording shows shortness of breath for approximately fourteen seconds. Discomfort was bearable but unpleasant.

Subject 26 – 2/10

Mild fear and discomfort. Couldn’t quite pinpoint a theme. Odd sensation in stomach.

Subject 27 – 7/10

Debilitating fear. Horrible. Feelings of falling from a great height. Coupled with an intense physical reaction. I have nearly fallen from my chair and am gripping tight to ensure that I do not panic entirely. The spinarak’s trainer is writing this. By dictation. Before I remove the memory. Now. Alright you can

It stops there. Red puts the papers down, skin feeling clammy with nerves from expecting a flashback to his own experience. He had them for the first two weeks of reading the reports, but they’ve slowly been getting more bearable, and he hasn’t had one at all in the past few days. Whatever lingering effects his spinarak’s attack had on him seem to finally be wearing off. He drinks some water and moves on to the next one.

Subject 28 – 5/10

A sensation of vertigo and terror, with intense discomfort in the stomach and chest akin to looking down from high up. Recording shows intense physical reaction for about twenty-two seconds. Discomfort was fairly strong.

Red looks at the similarities between 4 and 5, interested by how they overlap. The similar language and sentence structure in equal scores is something that he wants to study more. Surely other scientists have caught on to how interesting the idea of selective amnesia can be on studies of memory and personality? If so, he hasn’t heard of it yet.

Red finishes eating and reading the other two reports, then heads up to the computer lab and enters the data. He sighs as he sees the line representing the attack score vary wildly in relation to the matching spinaraks’ “Other” data.

His own spinarak, subject 11, turned out to have a substantially powerful attack after all: it scored an 8/10, tieing it with one other spinarak as the second highest recorded. It made him feel better knowing that his spinarak’s mental attacks actually are powerful for its species, even after it became clear from the rest of the data that it’s one of the few with a high score on both metrics.

Psychic Ranna told him that she was basing her scale off previous Ghost type attacks she experienced when she was younger and still remembers. It worries him a bit that her baseline is so potentially different from what she’s comparing it to now, but that’s the downside of having your subject forget each test.

One idea he’s glad he had was to use the video recording of each event to monitor how long it takes for her to physically calm down. It’s imprecise and not particularly useful for extremely low scores, where she has no visible reaction, or high scores, where she often wipes the memory shortly afterward rather than waiting for it to fade on its own, but he couldn’t think of anything better at the time.

With a sigh, Red opens the document where he’s been writing the full paper and picks it up where he left off. He’s done with most of the Abstract, Introduction and Methodology, and is updating them all and the Results as new data comes in. He’s just about to email a question to Professor Oak when his phone rings.

“Hey Blue, what’s up?”

“Just got out. You at the House?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, I’m heading there. I know it’s early, but I want to try out your idea from lunch. You free?”

Right, that. Red hopes he’s right about it and Blue manages to tame the shiftry, because he doesn’t think his friend will be able to beat Brock otherwise.

“I’m working on something right now…” Red looks at his paper, considering the hours of writing and editing ahead, and grimaces. He’s happy to have an excuse to put that off. “But I can put it on hold when you get here.”

“Awesome, thanks. See you soon.”

Red puts his phone away and works halfheartedly for the next half hour, mind elsewhere. If Blue tries to beat the shiftry again, Red will have to be far away to ensure it works properly, which will make it difficult to help protect Blue if things get out of hand. He wonders if they should get Leaf too, but he knows she probably won’t approve of their method of rehabilitating a potentially traumatized pokemon through more violence. It even feels a bit convenient to Red: he expected to find some complex or unique method of calming the shiftry down or getting it to listen to Blue. Just having to rough it up some seems anticlimactic.

But that’s silly. They might have just been wrong in their first assumption of the shiftry’s behavior, and correcting that assumption would hopefully lead to a different result. Reality doesn’t care about convenience or dramatic story progression.

As his research is demonstrating to him.

Red grimaces as he realizes he’s been staring at the screen without typing for five minutes. He saves his work and he logs off the computer, then heads to his room to collect his things and wait for Blue downstairs.

Blue arrives in his volunteer scrubs and dashes up to his room to change and grab his stuff, instructing Red to try to find a Rock training room. By the time he does so, Blue has already arrived and jogs over to the right door when Red texts him which one is free.

“Okay, so here’s the plan,” Blue says, unhooking a pokeball and sending Zephyr out. “I’ll try to keep Zephyr moving fast in and out, so it doesn’t have a chance to get a solid hit in. Do you think Charmander could slow it down without hurting it too badly?”

Red watches Zephyr soar around the room, then perch on Blue’s arm. “It would be risky. I think I have a better idea.” He reaches for the pokeball at his back. It’s been days since his last flashback. Time to put it to the real test. “Let’s see if this works first… go, Spinarak!”

The bug materializes and immediately skitters around a small boulder, then on top of it, turning from side to side with a clatter of its feet. The sound gives Red the jitters, but when he forces himself to look at the pattern on its thorax…

dark…

cold…

Red grits his teeth, focusing on his breathing. The sense of mental anguish is there, but bearable… just.

“Red? You alright?”

He realizes Blue is looking at him with concern, and flashes a thumbs-up. “Let’s do it.”


Blue unhooks his shiftry’s greatball and positions himself in a space without rocks around him. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Red says, standing on the opposite end with his spinarak. Both of them have their air masks on.

Blue takes a deep breath, feeling the calm descend. There’s a distant fear under it, but it’s mostly from the idea that they might be wrong, and that this won’t work. But if it doesn’t work, there’s nothing he can do about it now. Either it will or it won’t, and he’ll deal with it if not. In the meantime, he knows what he needs to do. All that’s left is to do it.

“Go, shiftry!”

It appears halfway between them, facing Red. Blue catches the ball on its return and immediately points with his other hand. “Zephyr, wing attack!”

His pidgey lets out a battle screech as it dives and rakes its talons through the shiftry’s long white hair as it flies by. It gives its coughing roar and pirouettes, eyes searching for a target and locking onto Blue.

“Spinarak, string shot!”

Blue is already jumping back as the shiftry springs toward him, but its jump catches short mid-air, and it lands awkwardly as the sticky webbing tethers it to the ground. Zephyr comes down for another pass and sends the shiftry spinning in place again with another long scratch along its side. The shiftry swipes at it with both arms, but Zephyr does a twisting dive that lets it slip under its reach.

“String shot!”

A line of web attaches to the shiftry’s right arm, and its attempt to chase after Zephyr is aborted. It turns to try and hack at the restraining lines, and Zephyr rakes its other side, causing it to flinch and swipe at him again.

“Gonna try to get its other arm! Spinarak, string shot!”

The webbing misses the limb and drapes itself over the shifty’s shoulder. Blue’s about to order Zephyr to peck when the shiftry gathers itself into a ball and tumbles to the side, stretching the strings of web as it moves in an arc around toward Red’s spinarak.

Shit! “Zephyr, Feather Dance!”

“Spinarak, dodge!”

Red’s spinarak scuttles to the side as the shiftry awkwardly struggles against the webbing to chase it. Zephyr soars overhead and hovers in place above the shiftry, wings flapping in a blur that sends tufts of down and feathers everywhere. The shiftry swipes at them in irritation, then lets out an explosive sneeze, followed by racking coughs that cause its whole body to shake.

“Do bugs breathe? Zephyr, Quick Attack!”

“It’ll be fine! Spinarak, String Shot!”

The shiftry gives its coughing roar again, this time literally coughing as it shakes its head, mane of hair rustling and shedding bits of feather dander. It abruptly raises its head and stares at Red… and its eyes begin to glow.

“Gah!” Red clutches at his head and shakes it. A surge of panic makes Blue break into a sprint as Red drops to his knees and frantically scratches at his arms. “AHH, BLUE, MAKE IT STOP!”

Blue dashes in front of his friend, arms down to the sides to try to cover Red as much as possible. “Shit, sorry! I thought it would try it on me! Are you okay?!” The shiftry is still staring at him, eyes aglow.

“Nngh… yeah… ugh, that felt terrible!” There’s a sound behind him, and Blue turns to see Red sitting back with his head between his legs. “Gimme… just, a moment…”

Blue stares at his shiftry, anger growing into a slow rage. This goddamn pokemon tried to kill him and the others in Viridian, and after he saved its life it’s given him nothing but trouble. Now it’s hurting his friend, who’s only here for his sake. “Zephyr, Feather Dance!”

Another rain of down and feathers cover the shiftry, and after a moment of continued intense staring, the shiftry begins to twitch and rumble, a low series of coughs building in its chest until it doubles over.

“It stopped, Red. How you doing?”

“I’ll be alright. The shiftry?”

“Almost done I think. Just call out for a couple more String Shots and let’s end this.”

Their pokemon continue to harry and trip up the shiftry as it tries to free itself from the webs and slice the infuriatingly quick pidgey in two. Eventually it begins to tire, stuck by half a dozen weblines and bleeding from multiple wounds. Red eventually recovers enough to stand up and spread out from Blue, and after a few more attempts to untangle itself, the shiftry lets out a groan and falls to its side, chest heaving as it catches its breath.

“Spinarak, return!”

“Zephyr, return!”

They both keep their pokemon’s balls ready in their hands as they watch the shiftry struggle to get back up, then collapse back down. “Think that did it?” Red asks, voice rough.

“One way to find out.” Blue approaches the shiftry, anger making him fearless. He gets some powerful deja vu, staring down at the shiftry as it labors for breath and struggles to lift its arms enough to reach him.

“Blue, back up. You want it to remember one of our pokemon defeating it.”

Blue lets out a breath, the nods and steps to the side. “You got something in mind?”

“Yeah.” Red reclips spinarak’s ball and takes out another one. “Go, Pichu!”

The yellow rodent appears in a flash of light, and immediately darts to its master’s side, tail quivering up as it stares at the struggling shiftry. “Why him?” Blue asks, then answers his own question. “Distance and resistance.”

“Yeah. Charmander might do too much damage, and the others have to get too close.” Red walks around the shiftry so that he’s out of its sight, and Blue does the same. “Pichu, Thundershock!”

The pichu lets out a high pitched squeal, and a jolt of electricity jumps between it and Blue’s shiftry. His pokemon jerks and tries to attack, but the shocks combined with the webbing keep it flailing on the ground.

Pichu stops, cheeks losing their glow little by little. “What do you think?” Red asks.

Blue watches his shiftry in silence, and eventually it begins to struggle to its feet again, leaf-blades spreading and closing as it focuses on the pichu. From here they can’t see its eyes, and Blue is worried about it attempting another Extrasensory attack. “Another.”

“Thundershock!”

Again the jolt of electricity, again the waiting and watching as his shiftry, after a moment’s rest, tries to go on the offensive again. Stay down, dammit. “Once more.”

Bbzzaaaap! Smoke begins to curl up from the shiftry, and Red calls for his pokemon to stop. Blue watches as his shiftry draws in one laborious breath after another… but doesn’t attempt to rise.

“Shiftry, return!”

“Pichu, return!”

Blue lets out a breath as he aligns his greatball lens with his pokedex, tension easing slowly. Red reclips his pokeball and stares at Blue’s greatball speculatively. “Think it worked?”

“One way to find out. First though, back to the pokecenter.” Blue takes off his mask, and Red follows suit. Blue notices Red’s face is a bit pale and sweaty. “Thanks man. For everything.” He holds out his fist as they head for the door, and Red bumps it.

“Anytime. I’m going to go get some rest. Let me know when you get back.”

“You sure you’re going to be okay?”

“Yeah. Just hope I don’t have to do anything like that again soon.”

“The psychic attack was that bad, huh?”

“Oh, yeah, that sucked too. I meant more what we did to the shiftry. I know it was trying to kill you, and maybe this is the only way it’ll become tame, but it still felt… cruel.”

Blue lets out a breath and leans against the elevator wall, remembering the hatred that boiled up in him when Red got hurt. “I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s a cruel world. As long as we can control the shiftry and use it to protect others, that’s a net win.”

“Then you’re okay with that? Becoming cruel ourselves?” Red asks, meeting his gaze.

Blue looks back at him, remembering the pokemon and people that were cut down by the shiftry in Viridian. “If that’s what it takes? Sure.” He punches the button for the lobby. “Better us than them.”

Chapter 25: The Art of Persuasion, Part II

When Red first sees it, he thinks it’s another rejection letter. His eyes catch on sorry to inform you and his cursor is halfway to deleting it before he sees the number farther down.

His heart skips a beat and his skin goes cold as he quickly reads the paragraph in full, then starts from the beginning, pulse speeding up as he grins wider and wider.

Dear Mr. Verres,

Thank you for your petition. We are sorry to inform you that there is not sufficient interest in your research proposal at this time to grant the full funding requested. However, we have decided that a smaller grant could still serve to explore whether your hypothesis justifies further study.

If this is acceptable, please contact us by the end of the day to receive the proper forms. The offer will be valid for two months, and once accepted, the grant of $2,000 will be made available to you for the duration of four months.

Thank you,

Mara Enuo

Distribution Manager

Seeds for the Future, Inc.

“Hey.” The girl on a neighboring computer is looking at him with concern. “Are you alright?”

Red’s growing cackles end in a cough and nods. “Yeah, just… saw a funny meowth picture.”

The girl raises a brow, and Red struggles to tone his grin down to appropriate levels until she turns back to her screen. By then the euphoric rush begins to subside, and he has to confront the reduced funding.

It’s not terrible. Red’s original estimates were for the duration of their month in Pewter, and he’s already a week into it. If he uses the last few days of the month to analyze the data and write the paper, the money should afford him a psychic’s services for the three weeks between now and then. It’ll mean a smaller scale for the project, but it’s better than nothing.

Red looks back through his outbox for the letter he sent to Seeds and saves it for future reference. The next time he has to write for grant money, he’ll start by modelling the general tone and themes of this one. It might not be important, for all he knows any other decently written letter would have gotten the same response from them. One of his supervisors at Pallet Labs, Dr. Madi, suggested he try them out, as they’re known for funding a wide variety of cheap and eccentric research projects in search of undiscovered low hanging fruit.

Red forwards the acceptance letter to Professor Oak and Dr. Madi, then opens his contacts. Now that funding is a probability rather than a possibility, he can start contacting psychics to find one that’s interested in being hired as a human lab rattata.

Red writes a proposal to Narud first, both as a courtesy and because he already has his contact info. He attaches the acceptance letter and sends it off, then looks up other psychics advertising in Pewter.

The remains of Red’s elation quickly peter out as he looks through the potential choices. Counting Narud, there are a total of 7 psychics free to render services at different times throughout the next three weeks. Red was prepared to write up an email and then send it out to all the potential testers, but with such a limited pool he can’t afford to waste a single proposal that isn’t perfect. Red’s already regretting how casually he wrote the one to Narud.

Since he expects to get the answers to these back quickly, he can and should take his time with them, and iterate on each based on any notable weaknesses in the previous. Red begins more in-depth research of the psychics, treating them as he would the grant agencies and trying to learn all he can about their interests and motivations.

It doesn’t matter that he’s the one offering money now: a competent psychic is rarely lacking work, and well paying work at that. Unless Red finds some hint that one of them is under severe financial stress, he needs them more than they need him, and that means he’s already entering the potential partnership at a disadvantage.

Other than studying pokemon, few subjects captured his attention as a kid besides psychology. He read some books on finance and economics and found them mildly interesting, but they never held his attention until he found ones that went into more detail on the incentives that drive behavior, or interpersonal dynamics between people engaging in business deals. One that particularly stuck in his mind detailed the “Golden Rules” of negotiation… many of which he’s breaking right now.

He’s doing his background research, so that’s a plus, but it’s pretty much the only one he has going for him. The worst offense is that he’s negotiating from a place of desperation. Some of it is about manageable expectations: he knows not to let the psychics figure out how limited his options are. But the hard reality at the core of it is that he can’t afford to walk away from all of them… and a negotiation one party can’t walk away from is no negotiation at all.

Red frowns and looks at the email he wrote to Narud, wishing he hadn’t attached the letter but knowing it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Another rule he’s going to have to break is not showing them everything he has to offer right away. The worst he can do is also the best, and offering anything less than 2,000, even just to set a low “anchor” for expectations, would be simply insulting and probably lead to an immediate rejection.

Red leans back in his chair and puts his hands behind his head. What’s left? Lateral concession, for one: if they want more money he can’t give, he can offer something unrelated that they value, if he can figure out what that might be. It also ties into the most important rule: make sure that they feel like they can walk away with a win.

Red’s stomach growls, and he logs off and leaves the computer lab to get some food. He woke up this morning expecting another long day of research and writing, and it turns out that even with his unexpected first success, he’ll be doing more of the same. Ah well. At least he’s mentally prepared.

Red checks his phone as he walks in case he missed any texts from Blue or Leaf. The three of them haven’t been in one place since the night of Blue’s loss, and Red still hasn’t told either of them that he’s psychic. When they find out that he’s trying to hire one it will be a hard question to dodge, so when he has a second to spare, he’ll have to think on how to approach that, too.

Maybe he’ll just write them a letter.


“You kids these days, you don’t understand anything. You think you do, with the internet on your phones, ready to answer any questions you have in a second. But knowledge and understanding, those are completely different. Completely different! You understand?”

“No, obaa-sama,” Leaf says with a slight dip of her head.

The old woman’s face wrinkles further as she smiles, one hand tucking a loop of silver hair behind her ear. “Good. Then maybe there’s hope for you. Your accent is atrocious though. Stick to Unown.”

Leaf smiles back. “Yes, grandmother.”

The two are sitting on a bench outside Pewter Museum, in the shade of an oak tree. Leaf’s bulbasaur and the old woman’s roselia are playing around its trunk, stopping to race for the berries the two throw to them every so often.

“Your question comes from a place of simplicity. Where do the majuu come from, why they are so different from us. That is what this museum displays. I do not mind what they say they have found. I mind that they assume this will help them understand the majuu.

Leaf tosses another berry with her left hand while her right scribbles on the notebook propped up against her leg. “You don’t believe it will?”

“Rocks from the ground are not understanding. Perhaps the gods made the majuu from water, perhaps from stone. Perhaps they did both or neither. We cannot go back and see, so we guess. But why? What matters is that they are here, and we are here, and we must try and live together.”

Leaf nods. “I agree that the most important thing is learning to live with them. But if we learn their origins, we can learn more about why they behave the way they do.”

“And so?”

“Well, so we can train them better. Or maybe we learn more about their biology, develop better medicine for them. And some people revere certain pokemon or hate others based on beliefs that might be wrong. Isn’t that important?”

The old woman turns her cane slowly in her hand, the pokeball at its tip catching the sunlight through the branches. Eventually her head bobs from side to side. “Perhaps.  Or perhaps you just fool yourselves into new false thoughts. When I was your age, people respected the majuu, and that respect kept us safe. Now we have these machines to do that, but we lost the respect of forces greater than ourselves.”

“I was always taught to respect pokemon, both as friends and threats.”

Iie, iie. No. This very name you use, ‘pokemon,’ shows how little respect there is. It is a hard thing to explain, across the century between us. I cannot describe to you what the world was like before such a word existed. What it was like to hear one’s children call those we fought for centuries their ‘pocket monsters,’ and brandish them as playthings.”

Leaf pauses in her writing to think of an answer to this, and the old woman leans forward to throw a pair of berries at the two pokemon. Bulbasaur’s vines lash out to grab both, but the roselia rebuffs one with one flower while the other catches the berry and lowers it to her mouth. The old woman runs a finger over the pokeball at the end of her cane “They are useful, hai. But putting a majuu in a toy does not make them toys. The gods still soar above our heads, beyond the reach of our mortal tricks. How many have died, attempting to capture them?”

“But if one were ever caught,” Leaf says, picking her words with care, “Wouldn’t that save a lot more lives, eventually?”

“And who will this trainer be? What new calamities will they bring, with the power of a god in their pocket? Kingdoms have warred for less, long before mankind’s reach exceeded its grasp. Perhaps next someone will make a ball big enough and catch the earth. Or throw it far enough, and catch the sun. It is folly.”

Leaf nods dutifully and finishes up her notes. There’s a lot more she can say, if she wants to convince the old woman of the good that scientific progress brings, despite the risks. The woman herself would likely not have lived past her hundredth year without advances in medicine. But it’s not Leaf’s job today to persuade people one by one. She’s here to simply listen and question and learn. This is her fourth interview today, found by simply wandering around outside and inside the museum and asking people who don’t seem busy if they would answer some questions about it and themselves. This conversation drifted quite far afield compared to the others, but still feels pertinent.

Leaf throws her last few berries to their pokemon and watches them eat, then stands and withdraws her bulbasaur. She turns to the old woman and bows. “Thank you for your wisdom, grandmother.”

“Pah.” The old woman waves her hand to the side, as if brushing away some crumbs. “The young do not listen to the old.” She smiles. “And perhaps they shouldn’t. It is not our world to live in for long, and regardless, you will do with it as you choose when we are gone.”

Leaf smiles and bows again, then goes in search of another interview.


“I’m afraid two thousand isn’t enough to cover three weeks on call,” Psychic Ranna says.

Red feels his stomach clench, and switches the phone to his other hand as he takes a moment to ensure his voice is steady. “You wouldn’t need to be on call, just so long as I can send the participants to you at some point within the three weeks for a quick session.”

It’s the day after he got his acceptance letter, and Red’s sitting in one of the Trainer House’s work rooms. He’s on his second to last potential experiment partner. Narud rejected his offer out of hand, and the rest of the psychics he contacted were just as firm in their negation, if not quite as haughty. He started calling rather than sending emails after the third, and considered going to meet them before realizing the idiocy of negotiating with a psychic in person. Not that he has anything to hide, but he doesn’t know exactly how a psychic reads someone, and whatever points he might gain for sincerity would probably be offset by his unbidden thoughts of desperation and manipulating the situation to his advantage.

“That… might be workable,” the psychic says, and Red’s heart leaps. “If the appointments are brief enough. You merely want me to submit to a Night Shade attack and record the experience, correct?”

“Yes. All in all, that would take maybe 10 minutes, right?”

“More like twenty, I would say.”

“Twenty, then.” Red looks over the notes he made on Ranna before calling. Her advertised services are a mixture of therapeutic work and romantic validation, with what Red suspects is a bit of private investigation, euphemistically concealed. Her site is decorated with vague espeon imagery, her calendar for the coming week shows no openings on Saturdays, and while there are openings starting from 10 in the morning, most of the appointments she already has start after noon. They all have clearly defined start and end times, so it will be easy for Red to schedule and fit in quick sessions with subjects. “I’m fully willing to work around any openings in your schedule.”

“What would the recording entail?”

“A simple video is fine, along with a written line or two of description, then a score from 1-10 on how intense or painful the experience was. After that you can induce amnesia to erase the memory.” Learning about that particular ability had strengthened his methodology immensely. Normally he would be worried about the psychic’s experiences of the previous sessions influencing their assessment of the later ones, but they could literally forget what it was like each time. It’s the closest way of ensuring objectivity for something so subjective short of cloning them a few dozen times and lining each to a separate attack.

“And what is the purpose of this study?”

“That I can’t tell you until after the tests are done. In order for it to be as objective as possible, I need to minimize any influence I might have on your judgement.”

There’s silence from the other end, and Red holds his breath. “Then I believe I can accept this-” Yes! “-as long as I can take steps to assure my safety.”

Uh oh. “Steps like what?”

“Ensuring the trainer does not mean me ill, or cannot take advantage of my weakened state if one of their attacks incapacitates me.”

Red relaxes. “That sounds perfectly reasonable.”

“The trainer will have to subject themselves to checks I deem necessary.”

“I’ll be sure they understand before participating.”

“Also, I do not make appointments on Saturdays.”

“I know. That’s fine.”

“And I would like to cap the maximum appointments to 20.”

Red is quiet. He accepted her other conditions easily, expecting something more important lay behind them, and here it is. A sticking point. “I’m afraid it will have to be more than that. This is a scientific study, and the sample size, meaning the amount of pokemon tested, is of vital importance. Too few and the study would be worthless.”

“And 20 is too few?”

“It is.”

“Then the compensation is not adequate. I cannot agree to meet with any number of people in three weeks for a flat fee. There could be hundreds.”

“I understand, that’s a valid concern. If you could agree to 60, the study would be far more robust.”

“In three weeks? Perhaps 30 could be done.”

“I’m afraid that’s still too low.” How many subjects does he realistically expect to have? He’d like to think he can get at least 60, but that’s being optimistic. He has to go in with low expectations, or he’ll waste concessions bargaining for something too high. If he can get her to 40, that would probably be enough, and anything above that is a bonus. “I might be able to find a significant result with 50.”

“Fifty appointments for $2,000 is unacceptable, even at twenty minutes per session.”

Red does some quick math and realizes that she’s turning down two thousand dollars for roughly two days of work, spread out over three weeks. Red reminds himself to become a professional psychic if he’s ever having money trouble after he develops his powers. “Keep in mind this is a maximum. If I can’t find more than, say, 3 people, you’ll have 2,000 for maybe an hour of work.”

“Well, that hardly seems more fair to you. Perhaps we could work on a session by session basis. This would also free you to work with other psychics if they have more availability.”

Red’s pulse speeds up. This is exactly where he didn’t want the conversation to go. Without the discount of a bundle deal, he’s not going to be able to afford more than 20 sessions at a normal price anyway. “Unfortunately, there are restrictions on grant money’s use.” Technically true. “In addition, using a different psychic would introduce far too much subjectivity. The only way this can work is with a mutual commitment.” Don’t just tell them what you need, tell them how it benefits them. “And remember, this business comes at no opportunity cost. I will find the clients and work them into the openings in your schedule, so that you don’t have a conflict with any other appointments.”

“A fair point. In light of that, I believe I can do 35.”

Still not quite what he wants, but Red is out of things to offer. There has to be something else, some lateral concession… “If you can go as high as 45, I can arrange around Sunday as well.”

“I normally have appointments on Sunday. It’s no bother.”

What else? Red looks at her schedule again. “What if I also refrain from any appointments before noon?” Come on, come on…

Another moment of silence, and then: “Forty. That is as high as I can go.”

Red bursts into a grin and gives himself a second or two before saying, “Agreed. Thank you. Should I head over now so we can finalize the details and arrange for the fund transfer?”

“Yes, I will be available until one.”

“See you soon.” Red hangs up, then leaps into the air and whoops, punching at the ceiling before throwing the door open and jogging down the hall toward the elevators.


Leaf watches the cursor move to the end of a sentence, then split the paragraph in half. “New paragraph there?”

“Yes,” Laura says through Leaf’s earphones. “The point on Pewter’s proud history was made, and can stand alone. Don’t link it explicitly to the contributions to the rest of the region and world, since that point can be much stronger on its own, once expanded.”

“Got it.” Leaf moves her own cursor down and types in some notes to indicate what will fill out the rest of the paragraph. Meanwhile Laura’s cursor scrolls farther down the shared document as she reads on.

“Good, good… Hmm. ‘Pewter’s leadership is needed more than ever’ is a bit much, you don’t want to tell them what you believe, you want to show them why it’s the naturally correct belief to have.”

Leaf scrolls down to where she is and thinks a moment, then begins rewriting:

Over the course of a generation, the paleontologists and geologists of Pewter have revolutionized their fields. The museum has grown steadily all the while, showcasing their findings, educating the public, drawing tourism, and employing thousands, directly or indirectly. Through its partnership with Cinnabar Labs, a whole new field of scientific exploration was founded: the resurrection of ancient life. New secrets began to be uncovered and revealed every day as humanity raced to explore the new world Pewter made possible.

But Pewter is no longer at the forefront of its own creation. In the last few years it has seen less innovation and discovery, and its museum, which once had new exhibits every year, went almost a decade without any. Others have risen to showcase the new discoveries, though their pace is slow.

Through Pewter runs the wisdom and tenacity of generations, traits that are unmatched by the other cities that race forward to fill the void it leaves behind. The world is full of dangers, both old and new. Species of pokemon that have not existed for millennia are returning to the world. Without proper leadership, humanity’s reach may, before long, exceed its grasp.

“Very nice,” Laura says. “Take out ‘and revealed’ from “uncovered and revealed,’ and change ‘once had’ to ‘once opened.’ We’ll also have to work on your passive voice later. I like the last line quite a bit, by the way. Where’s it from?”

“An older woman I interviewed a couple days ago said something like it. Should I credit her?”

“If it’s not a direct quote, no. Let me see… hm. Looks like a poet said something similar, over a hundred years ago. Maybe that’s where she got it, or maybe it’s just an old saying. Either way, it’s fine as is.”

Leaf smiles and tucks her hair behind her ear. She’s been writing since morning, and needs a good meal, a hot shower, and a full night’s sleep in that order, but right now she’s just excited to be writing again. She’s almost back at where her original was in terms of length. “So what do you think so far?”

“Not a bad start. I’d say you’re about halfway done content-wise, but three quarters of the way there in word count. Keep an eye on that, or it’ll keep creeping up faster than it should and you’ll just have to edit out more at the end. How are the interviews going?”

“I’ve pretty much finished with citizens in the city, those at the museum, and tourists. Next I just need to get some big names. There’s Dr. Brenner, who I told you about, and I’m hoping she can get me an in with others, like the director, or even the mayor.”

“The mayor?”

“Yeah, apparently he’s the one who’s been giving them the green light to open the new exhibits.”

Mrs. Verres is quiet for a moment, and Leaf continues typing until she says, “How political is this, Leaf? I know it’s a contentious topic for some residents, but what else is there to it?”

Leaf pauses in her writing. “Um. I’m not sure. Dr. Brenner said that she thinks Leader Brock is upset about the new exhibits?”

“They weren’t allowed before?”

“Something like that, yeah.” She hears Laura sigh, and feels a stab of worry. “Is that a problem?”

“Well, maybe not. I wish I’d known this sooner, though.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think-”

“No, it’s not your fault. I should have thought of it.”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing sweety, I’m sure it-”

“Don’t patronize me.”

There’s a moment of silence, and Leaf puts her hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry Mrs. Verres, for a moment there I totally forgot who I was talking to-”

Laura chuckles, and Leaf feels some tension go out of her shoulders. “Who are you talking to? I’m no one special.”

“That’s not true, you’ve been so nice and helpful, and I just felt like I was… well, like I was talking to my mom.”

“I guess I can take that as a compliment,” Laura asks, voice wry. “Do you talk to your mother like that?”

“Sometimes. She usually does a good job of not talking down to me.”

“Like I was. You’re right. I’m sorry, I forget sometimes what it was like to be young. Let me collect my thoughts for a moment.”

Leaf does some half-hearted editing while she waits, trying to ignore her anxiety. Would Laura stop helping her, now? Maybe she would ask her to rewrite it all from scratch again… or tell her to give it up completely. Leaf doesn’t think she could do that, regardless of what Laura says.

“Okay, so here’s the thing. How much do you know about politics?”

“Not a whole lot. I know a bit of Unova’s, but-”

“No, not local issues or groups. I mean politics itself. The practice of influence, governance, and even control of others.”

“I guess I’ve been learning a bit about the first from you.”

“A bit, yes. But there’s a huge difference between writing to influence others on a topic, and writing to change people’s political beliefs… especially when there might be political figures involved. Can you guess why?”

“Because they might take it personally?”

Laura lets out a brief laugh. “Personally, she says. Leaf, people’s jobs might hinge on denying what you say in this article. People may have spent years working against the change you’re advocating for. This isn’t just an opinion piece anymore, it’s an attack.”

Leaf frowns. “But… I’m not naming anyone, or-”

“Doesn’t matter. Politics is always about conflict, just instead of fighting the person you disagree with physically, you use words. You’re entering a battle, maybe even a war, and you’re not trained for it.”

Leaf tries to fully consider what Laura is telling her, rather than reject it or minimize it out of hand. “So what you’re saying is, my article won’t convince anyone,” she says at last, and slumps back in her chair.

“Not at all: it may well convince a lot of people. The problem is, the people it doesn’t convince aren’t just going to shake their head and go along their day. In fact, the more people it convinces, the more the people it doesn’t convince are going to get up in arms and start firing back.”

Leaf smiles, sitting up again. “So it starts discussion. That’s great! I don’t mind if a few people get upset, as long as it gets people talking about the issues.”

“I’m sorry Leaf, I’m not being clear. Some people, maybe even most, will argue the issues, yes. But some will find a much easier target: you.”

“What? Why me?” Leaf shakes her head. “Nevermind, stupid question. Because it’s easier than addressing the arguments. Much better to discredit the young foreign girl who thinks she knows what’s best for Pewter, after being here all of a month.”

“If it’s any consolation, they would do the same to anyone arguing a side that they oppose. It’s just the nature of the beast. And even within that kind of political theater, most of it won’t be personal… but for some it will. It can get nasty, Leaf. And I know you don’t want me to talk down to you, but nasty even for an adult. Do you understand? Some of them might hold back because of your age, but others won’t. They’ll drag you through the mud if they can, try to make you a laughingstock. Whatever dirt they can find, they’ll dig up and fling, and the rest will just pull some out thei… out of thin air, and throw that too.”

Leaf sits quietly through this, mind playing it out in full detail. She imagines reading articles about herself, portrayed as some ditzy airhead, or stuck up know-it-all. She imagines them dissecting her article, taking things out of context and putting a negative spin on everything. She imagines them finding out about the time she threw a tantrum at a store when she was younger, causing a huge scene and throwing merchandise around until a pokemon got loose and the store got evacuated. Part of her knows she’s more embarrassed in retrospect than her mom was (grandpa thought it was hilarious), but it’s something she still internally cringes at when thinking about, and it would mortify her to have Red or Blue learn about it, let alone all of Pewter.

And at that thought, more than any fear or embarrassment, she finds herself getting angry.

“Now, I don’t want this to scare you off the project. And maybe I’m blowing things way out of proportion, and it’s not a big deal at all. What you might want to consider is-”

“I’m not scared. And I’m not giving it up,” Leaf says, keeping her voice level. If I let them shut me up out of fear, before I even try, then what good am I? “If this article might convince people, might really change things for the better, then I’m going to publish it, and deal with the consequences.” And if they think I’ll just take it lying down…

“Well, that’s very brave of you Leaf, but I’m worried you’re not… no, I’m sorry. I won’t patronize you. If you think you’re ready to handle that, well… you’re already risking your life every day, I guess this is just another battlefield.”

Leaf smiles. “Thanks, Mrs. Verres.”

“Don’t thank me yet. We may both come to regret this. But I was going to say, there might be a way to get the message out and avoid any unpleasantness.”

Leaf tilts her head. “A pseudonym?” She considers it. She likes to think she’s not vain, so it shouldn’t matter to her if her name is the one on everyone’s lips, as long as they’re talking about what matters. “Are there any downsides?”

“Not usually, no. But a pseudonym is just a buffer. If the article gets big, and if it’s as political as I fear, then dedicated detractors will think you’re some rival they already know, and work to expose you. They’ll figure it out fairly quick, especially if you speak to the mayor. The more people you talk to the easier it will be for them to find out who you are. But it might buy you time for things to blow over.”

“So I just need to think of a name to use.”

“Yep. You have two choices: a real name, which is a bit harder for people to figure out is fake, or an obviously fake name, which gives anyone investigating you a headstart in terms of knowing they’re looking at a pseudonym off the bat. The positive side of using an obviously fake name is that it gets more attention, in general, and might give the story longer legs.”

“Do you have a recommendation?”

“Yes: go with what your publisher says. Whoever it ends up being, they might not even let you use a pseudonym at all. If you end up just posting it online, obviously it doesn’t matter.”

Leaf nods slowly. “Right. This is all stuff to worry about later. For now, I just need to focus on getting the article done.”

“That’s the spirit. And one thing to keep in mind too, which I didn’t mention because it generally doesn’t make up for it, though sometimes it might. For every detractor you have, you’ll probably have just as many supporters. Some will support you just because you’re on their ‘team’ and are wearing their uniform, so to speak, but many will honestly admire you and defend you. And the admiration and loyalty of people you’ve never met is no small thing.”


“So it looks like your spinarak’s chitin has a higher proportion of sclerotin compared to the average, by about 17%.” Red turns his pokedex around so the trainer can see the screen, then points to a part of one of the two-tailed graphs. “It’s also larger than average for its age, as you probably noticed. What you might not know is its size puts it more than two standard deviations from the norm. So out of a thousand spinarak, at least 977 of them will be smaller than yours.”

The trainer’s expression shifts from bemused to interested throughout the explanation. “Wow. I had no idea it was that big a difference. Maybe I should focus some time this week on training it…”

Red smiles. “It might be rewarding. It’s probably more durable than other spinarak, though it might have a bit of decreased mobility. That’s guesswork though, for all I know its speed isn’t impacted at all.”

The trainer nods, face thoughtful as he reclips the ball to his waist. “Thanks a lot. So where do I go now?”

“Right in there,” Red says, pointing down the hall to the door at the end. They’re sitting in a waiting lobby on the second floor of an office building. “Psychic Ranna should be done with her appointment in a few minutes, and is ready with the proper forms so you can safely order your spinarak to use Night Shade on her.”

“Alright. Will you let me know what all this was about, after you finish?”

“Sure, if you’d like.” Red makes a note next to the trainer’s name. “If all goes well, you might even be able to read about it in the dex.”

“Cool. Good luck!”

Red watches him go through the door, then heads back to his room at the Trainer House, tugging his hat down and whistling to himself. He’s never been particularly good at whistling, but he’s in a whistling mood, and there’s no one around to stop him.

This would make the seventh subject scanned and tested in just the second day. Some of the trainers are clearly excited by the offer of metrics for their pokemon, and really enjoyed reading as many bits of data as possible, until Red started just emailing them a copy of the results. At the current rate, he could easily get forty by the end of the month, though realistically the frequency of visitors would probably slow down once the initial pool of interested people come through. Others like the most recent trainer just seemed more curious than anything. Still, if he could get forty that wouldn’t be bad at all for an exploratory study.

The methodology is straightforward. He uses the pokedex to get a reading of the spinarak’s “other” metric, then plots that against the 1-10 score Psychic Ranna gives each spinarak. She doesn’t know what’s being tested and has no incentives tied to the outcome, so since she shouldn’t be inclined to inflate or deflate the numbers, and his data comes directly from the pokedex, there’s little chance of misinterpreting or fudging it. Overall it’s a fairly straightforward experiment, but when simplicity is all it takes, it’s often for the best. Now he just needs to find someone to send in with his spinarak, so Ranna doesn’t know it’s his and has no reason to judge it differently…

Red reaches his dorm room and goes to his bed, lying down and opening his dex. He’s so engrossed in comparing the spinaraks’ data that he doesn’t realize he has company until they’re leaning against his bedpost.

“Knock knock.” Blue says.

Red looks up and blinks. “Yo. What’s up? Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“I’ve been busy. Like yourself, huh?” Blue hooks a thumb in his pocket and leans down to read his dex screen. “You free tonight? I need your help with something.”


“This is nuts.”

Blue smirks at Red. “If you want to back out, now’s the time.”

Red shakes his head with a scowl. “I’m not gonna let you do it alone, I’m just going on the record.”

The two are in one of the House’s Grass Type training rooms. Charmander is at Red’s feet, digging curiously at the dirt that makes up the floor, and Zephyr is fluttering around. Blue tosses his shiftry’s greatball from hand to hand. They just finished keying it toward both his and Red’s voices.

He spent more hours than he could count over the past week training his shiftry virtually, giving it plenty of positive memories to offset the negative ones it surely has of him. Blue doesn’t trust the routine anti-human-aggression programs to keep this particular pokemon from being hostile. There are prerecorded simulations to choose from on the dex, and Blue went through them in a particular order: first Blue finding Shiftry alone and hurt, then slowly nursing him back to health, little by little. They wouldn’t replace the memories it already has, but they would offer another history, and hopefully confuse it enough so that it doesn’t automatically want to attack him.

“It’s got to be done sometime. I need to know how he acts in meatspace, and you’re the only one I trust to have my back on it.”

“Only one dumb enough and close enough, you mean,” Red grumbles, but he stays his ground and widens his stance a bit, hands on an empty pokeball and his charmander’s. “Let’s get it over with.”

“Okay. Ready… set… GO, shiftry!”

The pokemon bursts into existence exactly halfway between him and Red. Blue catches the ball and immediately aims its lens forward, ready to withdraw his pokemon if it pounces on his friend-

-but Blue’s shiftry simply stands there, its body fully restored, if a bit undernourished looking.

Red stands ready, his charmander in a defensive stance. Blue can’t see his shiftry’s face, but Red doesn’t look alarmed, just apprehensive.

“I think… it might be okay?” Red says.

Blue reaches down to his poffin pouch and says “Shiftry, foo-”

At the sound of his voice, his shiftry snaps around on one foot, handleaves fanning out and legs coiling beneath it. Red cries out a warning as it leaps-

“Return!”

The beam hits it mid-air and sucks it back into Blue’s greatball.

Blue stares at it, a sick feeling churning in his stomach. It hadn’t attacked Red, but it still remembers him, and not fondly. All that time spent trying to affect its behavior and view of him, all those hours watching a virtual screen and subtly coaxing it along, and the first test in the real world couldn’t have gone worse.

“Well, that could have gone worse.”

Blue glares at Red. “How?”

“One of us could be dead.” Red strokes his charmander’s head. “For the record, it looked very tense when it was summoned. Maybe it wasn’t your voice that triggered it, just the fact that it was hearing something unexpected from behind it.”

Blue snorts, then tosses his greatball to Red. It’s an easy throw, but Red barely catches it, which doesn’t particularly inspire confidence for the next part.

“You try, then. Let’s see if he goes for me right away.”

“I don’t think the most direct approach is best, in this circumstance.”

“Well it’s the fastest.”

“I don’t think the fastest approach is best in this circumstance either,” Red says. “I’m mostly concerned I’ll miss the return catch and you’ll get killed and I’ll have to fill out a lot of paperwork about responsible use of House training rooms.”

“I believe in you,” Blue says. “And if you don’t believe in you, believe in the me that believes in you.”

Red frowns. “That’s from-”

“Just throw the damn ball!”

Red rolls his eyes and cocks his arm back. “Ready… set… go, Shiftry!”

The release is a bit closer to Red than the middle, which might be for the best, considering, and Red does catch the great ball on its return arc. After that, Blue’s attention is too focused on the shiftry, which locks its gaze on him and immediately crouches for a leap.

Blue takes a step back, hand rising with another greatball. “Zeph-”

“Shiftry, return!”

Red sucks the shiftry back into its ball, then stares at it thoughtfully, other hand going up to adjust his cap. “You know, there’s a chance it’s not trying to attack you.”

Blue raises his head. “Yeah?”

Red nods. “It might be going for a hug.”

Blue gives him a flat stare, and Red’s face remains stoically neutral. “We can’t know until we try.”

Blue cracks a smile and holds his hand up. Red tosses the greatball back, a bit to the right, and Blue snatches it out of the air. “I’m going to call that Plan D, for Dumbass, and keep thinking of alternatives.”

“What if you have some food ready for it? Maybe it’s hungry.”

They try it, and then a trough of water, then both, then put Blue farther behind them. The last is the only one that makes the shiftry hesitate: it clearly identifies Blue, notices the food and water between and to the side, then goes for them.

“Well, that’s promising.” Red stands by, ready with the greatball. “Think you can talk?”

Zephyr spots the pokemon and flies down to land on Blue’s shoulder, looking ready to launch himself at the shiftry. Blue wonders if he thinks it’s the same one that almost killed him. “Ahhhh,” Blue intones, quietly, then with increasing volume. The shiftry pays no heed. “Wom. Pow! Fnnadle! Laracra! Rotund!”

“Rotund is actually a word.”

“Shut up, Red.” Huh. The shiftry isn’t responding to the sound of his voice, or even whole words. “I’m going to try some commands.”

“Kay.” Red steps a bit closer with the greatball, on the opposite side of the food and water.

Blue wipes his sweaty palms on his pants and considers his options. “Shiftry, down.”

His pokemon pauses mid-gobble, the fanlike leaves on its hands flexing outward and inward.

“Shiftry, down!

It drops to its haunches, and Blue blinks. “Well, damn.” He begins to walk forward. “I wonder if-”

The shiftry springs at him, and Blue tucks into a roll while Zephyr launches up. Blue tumbles beneath the shiftry as it leaps to where he was, and Zephyr dives at the shiftry just as Red returns it to the greatball. When Blue stops rolling and bounces to his feet, it takes him a moment to realize the threat has passed.

“You alright?”

“Fine.” Blue looks at where the shiftry was, then presses his back to the wall and slides down it to the floor. Zephyr flutters down to the dirt, pecks at some of it, then hops over to Blue, who strokes his feathers.

Red comes over and sits beside him. “Back to the drawing board, huh?”

Blue grunts. “It was worth a shot. I knew it would take awhile, just gotta keep at it and see if I can think of something else in the meantime.”

“Let me know when you want to try again,” Red says, clapping him on the shoulder. “There are some books on unruly pokemon that I can show you. They might come in handy.”

“Thanks. And thanks for doing this.”

“Of course.”

“I’m serious. I know you’ve got your own stuff going on. I owe you one.”

Red coughs. “Funny you should mention that…”

“Ha. What is it?”

“I need you to take my spinarak to a psychic and have it hit her with Night Shade.”

Blue raises a brow.

Red explains his experiment, and what he needs Blue to do. “Sounds easy enough. So hey, you met with this psychic, right? What did she say about, you know…”

Red stares at the ground. Just as Blue is about to nudge him, he says, “I actually met with a psychic at the hospital. They told me I’m… well, I’m psychic.”

Blue nods, letting out a hollow breath. Of course.

“But I’m also not psychic.”

“Um…”

“He said I have the ability. But that I locked it up. My powers, or whatever. They’re locked up by themselves. I don’t know, the whole thing is weird.”

Blue stares. “Why? I mean why would your powers do that?”

Red lifts a handful of dirt, letting it drop back down slowly. “When my dad died, apparently. That’s what he said, anyway. Unresolved issues or something.”

The two friends sit in silence as Red’s charmander wanders over to the food and begins to munch at the remaining poffins. Blue can’t think of anything to say. He tries to be happy that Red’s a psychic. Just because he isn’t one, just because he wanted it since he was young enough to realize what being a psychic meant, doesn’t mean he can’t be happy for Red. Friends should support each other, not get bitter about shit like that. He thinks he could force himself to congratulate him, and even come to fully mean it in time. But this new twist makes it weird.

“You’ll figure it out,” Blue says at last. “The fuck does that psychic know? You’ll make it work.”

Red looks at him. “You think so?”

“Of course. You’re a smart guy, you know, in your way. Look at you, already doing your own research a couple weeks out of the lab. Whatever the block thing is, you’ll work through it.”

Red smiles. “Thanks, man. And I’m not just saying this because you said that, but I know you’ll get Brock at the end of the month.”

Blue grins. “Of course I will.” His grin fades a bit. “I notice you didn’t say I’ll train this shiftry.”

Red looks at him, solemn again. “You’re the most dedicated trainer I’ve ever met, Blue. I’m sure you’ll go far and do a lot of great things. But one thing I know, and that you know now too, is that you don’t win every battle. Maybe this shiftry is one of those battles. Maybe it’s just too far gone. And sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, how persuasive you can be, how much skill you have… you can’t have everything. Sometimes you just can’t win.”

Blue wants to reject what he says, but he can’t. The lesson he learned at the Gym, and in the forest standing over the dead pikachu, is still too fresh.

“No. Sometimes you don’t win.” He gets to his feet, and Red stands beside him. “But I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me from trying.”

Chapter 24: The Art of Persuasion, Part I

“A month here, huh?”

Blue nods, staring at his feet. He just arrived at the Trainer House a few minutes ago, looking more humbled than Red’s seen in years. He hasn’t had a chance to watch Blue’s battle with Brock yet, but surely it can’t have gone that bad?

Red looks at Leaf and raises a brow. Blue’s ego probably needed to get taken down a peg or two, but he still wants to help his friend out. On top of which, before today Red was probably the one who would be least against staying in one place for so long. “I’m game. What about you Leaf? Think you could stomach sticking around?”

Blue looks up in relief, then turns to her. Leaf smiles. “Let’s do it. I’m sure I’ll think of something to fill the time…”


Red wakes up early Sunday morning to write up and refine his research proposal, then start looking for funding. The rest of the day is spent seeking grants from anyone and everyone that might be even remotely interested.

First Red makes a list of organizations that give grant money to independent researchers. Then he finds out what particular topics they funded research on before or were looking to fund research on now. Only then does he start his letters, each tailored to their goals and values. Since all he needs is the money to hire a psychic on and off for about a month, his asking amount is relatively low compared to most others: a measly four thousand dollars.

During lunch, he looks up the average amount of grant requests independent researchers send out before getting funded, then doubles it and estimates he could get funding by the end of the week if he does nothing but eat, sleep, research, and write.

So that’s what he decides to do.

By Monday the first rejection emails start coming in, almost faster than he can send out new applications. The International Bug Catchers Association thought the hypothesis was focused more on psychic phenomenon than bugs, and the Institute of Psychic Phenomenon thought that even if correct, it might only have to do with bugs, or even just spinarak. Red sighs and thinks of forwarding their emails to each other before changing his mind and sending them to Professor Oak with an eyeroll emote in the subject line.

By the end of Tuesday, Red’s fingers are cramping over the keyboard. He powers through, stopping only for a quick break to have dinner with Leaf and Blue. His mind wasn’t really on the conversation though, and the other two seemed similarly preoccupied, and relieved to get back to work afterward. When Leaf asked if she could have his mother’s phone number, he gave it to her without even asking why she wanted it.

On Wednesday morning Red gets excited when he reads an email from Professor Oak about a rather eccentric millionaire who often funds research trying to prove the existence of a “psychic particle.” He spends most of the time before lunch taking extra care writing and revising the email to him, but when the response letter arrives that night, it politely informs him that such a particle would only exist in true psychics, not “lowly bugs.”

By Thursday he’s seeing application letters in his dreams and putting ice packs over his fingers while he reads about new potential funders. He’s over halfway through his list now, and starting to get nervous.

It isn’t until Friday morning that desperation sets in. As he reviews his list over breakfast, Red realizes he’s nearing the end of it. He hasn’t heard back from half the organizations he emailed, and has to stop himself from scratching out the remaining ones from the beginning of the week.

As Friday night fades into the wee hours of Saturday morning and the desperation begins to turn to dread, Red starts to seriously consider either giving up on his idea or asking Professor Oak if the Pallet Lab could fund it. It’s not a matter of pride that he hasn’t yet: he has no qualms about mentioning that he worked at the Lab under Professor Oak (sometimes directly, so he’s not lying). But the whole point of his journey is to experience and understand the process of doing research on his own, so he can learn from it.

And what he’s learned so far is actually rather valuable: namely that getting a research grant is tedious, difficult work, especially when the topic you’re testing is obscure or not immediately relevant to anyone’s interests. And really, isn’t that how it should be? The very fact that he’s thinking of scrapping the whole thing makes it easy to decide against asking the Pallet Lab to fund it. If the idea really has merit, he should be able to find funding for it, right?

Such are the drift of Red’s thoughts as he finally pushes away from the desk in the Trainer House’s computer lab and staggers off to the floor his room is on. At 2 AM the halls and elevators are mostly empty, and Red enjoys having the large public bathroom on his floor mostly to himself.

After he showers and brushes his teeth, he makes his way to his room and quietly eases the door open. He notices that Blue’s bed is empty, and wonders if he’s in the training rooms downstairs. He hasn’t exchanged more than a few words with Blue or Leaf in the last couple days, and he briefly wonders what they’re up to.

As he slips beneath the sheets his mind turns back to his potential research topic. Is it possible to crowdfund the money he needs, maybe? The asking price is pretty low, after all… he’ll have to look into that in the morning…

Red slips his aching hands under the cool sheets of his pillow and yawns, thoughts on scientific breakthroughs in history that came from seemingly unimportant discoveries. He wonders if someone would eventually write about all this, the struggle of Red Verres’s first groundbreaking experiment…

Self-indulgent as the thought is, it makes him smile. He knows he has to be careful of the gambler’s fallacy though-no, wait, not the gambler’s fallacy, that’s the one about thinking the probability of a random event increases if it hasn’t happened in awhile, and vice versa. It’s the one he always gets confused with gambler’s fallacy…

His tired mind searches around a bit before it finds it: sunk cost, that’s the one. People have a tendency to grow attached to endeavors that they’ve spent a lot of effort or money on. If they give up before seeing results, they feel like they’ve wasted it all for nothing. It makes them more likely to throw good money after bad, though if told about someone else in the same situation, they would likely advise giving up.

Combined the two fallacies are part of what makes gambling so dangerous, and that’s basically what he’s doing: gambling his time and energy on the potential chance of getting the grant money.

Is he deciding to go on because of all the time he already put into it? The best way to ensure he’s not is to precommit to stopping after a certain time period or threshold is reached. A gambler hitting the poker tables might only bring a couple hundred dollars of cash with him when he leaves the house and put a hold on his account until the following morning, to ensure they can’t lose more than that no matter how strong the urge to recoup their losses.

Unfortunately he doesn’t have as elegant a solution for himself, but maybe he doesn’t need one. He has a built-in threshold: the list of organizations. Red pulls out his phone and writes a memo to himself:

Future Red:

When you finish writing to all the groups we’ve already researched, STOP. No looking up new ones. No crowdsourcing. Just accept that the research isn’t substantial or compelling enough for now, and let it go.

I know where you sleep,

Past Red

Red sets the memo to an alarm that’ll go off on Sunday morning, then puts his phone away. Now he can commit to finishing what he started, and will know he gave it his best honest try. If nothing else, he can try to get a government grant in December during their yearly application acceptance, though they rarely give them out to individual researchers, let alone novices. Though hopefully by then he won’t be a novice anymore.

Either way, tomorrow is another day, with its own opportunities to explore.


Three days after she asked Red for his mom’s number, Leaf sits in a workroom at the Trainer House with her laptop and phone out. On the screen is a list of questions, and after writing the last one, she gives it a quick read through, then sits back and makes the call.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mrs. Verres? This is Leaf.”

“Leaf? Is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine. I asked Red for your number, and was wondering if you had a moment to talk?”

“I’m in the middle of something right now, but if it’s not an emergency I can call you back in about ten minutes, if that’s alright?”

“Oh, of course! I’m sorry, I should have texted first-”

“Not at all. What did you want to talk about?”

“I have a project I wanted your opinion on. Red told me you’re a journalist, and I’m thinking of writing a few pieces on the Pewter Museum.”

“Well, I’m flattered. Of course, I’d be happy to help however I can. I’ll call you in a bit, alright?”

“Great, thank you!”

Leaf closes the call and lowers the phone, fingers running over the cover as she turns it over and over in her hands.

Ever since she was little, she’s never had any trouble walking up to strangers and talking to them. One of the benefits of being raised constantly on the move was getting used to meeting new people all the time. She especially loves befriending people who can teach her new things, like Dr. Brenner at the museum, and her “interviews” with others formed the basis for the traveler’s log she wrote for herself of all the places she went with her mom and grandpa.

When she came to Kanto the idea she had in mind was to write about their local myths and stories, but visiting the museum gave her a different idea. What she wants to write now isn’t just some stories to entertain or inform. The reaction of many locals to the museum’s exhibits makes her want to persuade.

And for that, she’ll need help. After almost a week of writing interspersed with researching the history of Pewter City and its museum, she finally finished, and decided it’s time for an outside opinion. There are others she could have talked to, friends of hers or her family’s in Unova. But Mrs. Verres is from Kanto, and knows its culture and people. She can’t hope to change many people’s mind if she doesn’t do her best to understand them first.

Leaf goes back to her rough draft until Mrs. Verres calls back. She starts the paper with her visit to the museum as a tourist to Kanto, how much it impressed her, and how important the presentation of new scientific research can be to society and future generations. It seemed a bit too dry at first, so she made sure to pepper it with little observations and anecdotes from her visit. The wide eyed excitement of the children, the energy of adventure and discovery that permeated (most of) the crowds.

But she doesn’t know if it’s enough. She tries to read it objectively and has to admit that it isn’t particularly inspirational. Maybe some good quotes…

She’s fiddling with the closing paragraph’s language when her phone rings. “Hey Mrs. Verres, thanks for calling back so quick!”

“No problem, but please, call me Laura. So what can I do for you?”

Leaf gives a summary of her and Red’s museum visit on Saturday, and what she wants to do. Halfway through the explanation Mrs. Verres-Laura-asks Leaf to email what she’s written so far. Leaf does so, and she can tell when Laura starts reading because her side of the conversation becomes “Mmms” and “Uh huh”s.

“So yeah, that’s about it. Any advice you could give would be appreciated.”

“Sure, give me a minute to finish up.”

“Kay.” Leaf waits, rereading parts of it herself. She notices her legs kicking and stops them, then crosses them before some other nervous tick manifests. This is the first time she’s shown someone her writing with the direct intention of getting feedback, and she both looks forward to and dreads what Laura might have to say.

Finally Laura exhales. “Alright, all done. It was very well written, by the way. I’m impressed.”

“Thanks! I’ve been working on it since Saturday. Do you have any advice on how to make it better?”

“I do, but first, have you ever gotten a critique of your work before?”

“Like, by a professional? Not really. But it’s okay, you can be honest. I won’t be hurt by whatever you say.”

Laura chuckles. “If that’s true then it means one of us hasn’t done our jobs properly. My editor’s suggestions always felt like chopping bits off one of my children.”

Leaf smiles. “I don’t think I’m there yet.”

“Well, I’ll get to the point then: you’re going to have to rewrite the whole thing.”

Leaf’s smile wilts. “I-what?”

“From scratch. Maybe you can keep some of the middle, especially the first hand observations, those were fantastic.”

Despair and confusion and, yes, hurt, make it hard to respond for the space of a couple breaths. “You didn’t like it.”

“I quite enjoyed it actually. As I said, it was very well written. But the truth is, it’s fluff. It’s a review mixed with an opinion piece. And other than getting people who already agree with you to nod over their breakfast or afternoon coffee, you’re barely going to make a dent in the views of someone who doesn’t agree with you. At best maybe you’ll get people who haven’t been to the museum before to plan a visit. Which is nice, but not what you’re after, right?”

Leaf bites her lower lip. She expected an incisive critique, had thought some of these things herself, but hearing them said by another really drives them home. “No. Not really. But you’re right, it’s not… new. I’m not saying anything new, and I’m not saying it in a new way.”

“That’s it exactly. You’re not doing investigative reporting, you’re writing to persuade. And that means you need to focus on completely different things.”

Leaf nods to herself, mentally getting used to the idea of rewriting the piece. It’s a daunting task after she worked so hard on this one, but at least she has the research all done, and Laura is right. What she’s written so far won’t convince anyone.

“Leaf? You alright hon?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry, I know-”

“No, it’s okay. This is why I called you. It all makes sense. Thank you.” She straightens in her chair and opens a new document. “Okay, so… any advice on what to do instead?”

“Absolutely. First let’s list what you did right: you appealed to three of the big four. Logic, emotions, and ethics. Can you guess what the one you missed was?”

Leaf considers the arguments she deliberately avoided. “Authority?”

“Close, but not quite. This is a mistake young writers make all the time when trying to argue against ideas of older generations. You didn’t appeal to tradition.”

Leaf frowns. “Of course not, tradition’s stupid. Heck, the whole point is to break people from clinging to tradition.”

“And that’s exactly why your writing won’t reach anyone you want it to. Leaf, the people who don’t like the new exhibits have a very different value system than you. Do you really think ignoring what they think is important, let alone deriding it, will change their view?”

“No, you’re right. But what am I supposed to do then?”

“Understand their values better. You want to reduce the influence of a value you don’t share, but because you don’t share it, you’re missing how it can help you.”

“Help me?”

“Yes. Really immersing yourself in opposing views is a skill that takes a lifetime to cultivate, but for now, the first step is to figure out what purpose the value serves, why it makes sense to them. Always remember that people’s beliefs and worldviews are more complex than first impression lets on. Since your actual goal isn’t to make them find traditions less important, just make sure tradition doesn’t hold them back in this one area, you can actually use the overall value to your advantage.”

“Hang on, let me think a moment.” Leaf puts the phone down and puts it on speaker, then spins her chair in a slow circle with one foot, eyes closed.

If she were a proud Pewter citizen, irate at the museum’s sudden attack on her traditional beliefs, what other traditions might balance that out? What would another Pewter citizen who likes the changes say?

She remembers speaking to the visitors on Saturday when she started writing. Most were tourists, but of the natives there were a handful that spoke about it all with a subtle but powerful pride.

Ah. Leaf smiles and opens her eyes, putting her foot down to stop her rotation. “I can focus on Pewter’s other tradition: how they’ve always been at the forefront of science and discovery.”

“Exactly. Remember that traditions are cherished not just because of comfort or pride, but often from an inherent sense that what’s worked so far must have value, and that rocking the boat is risky. Show them the risks in the status quo, offer them a new source of value”

Leaf has already started typing as Laura talks. “Does it matter if my point isn’t strictly true? I mean, a lot of geological and paleontological discoveries came from Pewter, but other cities have them beat in general, and they’re obviously not current on this topic.”

“I’m glad you asked, because there are seven general traits to effective persuasion. Ready to write things down?”

Leaf finishes her last thought and starts a new paragraph. “Hit me with them.”

“Repetition, Consistency, Social Proof, Agitate then Solve, Prognosticate, Tribalism, and Storytelling.”

Leaf’s fingers fly over the keyboard. “Okay, I think I get the first two and the last one. What about the rest?”

“I’m going to go over them all. Let me know which one you think answers your question. First is Repetition. Pretty simple, the challenge is in presenting the same point or argument in a variety of ways. You want it to stick, but you don’t want to bore them. Next is consistency, also basic: no wild shifts in tone or hypocritical positions.

“Social Proof is basically an appeal to popularity, but without blatantly doing so. Most people will subconsciously find it easier to accept a belief that they feel is mainstream, or held by certain popular individuals. At the very least, it wards against automatic rejection of an idea as too bizarre or ‘obviously crazy.’ As long as you know your audience and are subtle about it, it can help with just about any demographic. That last part applies to all of these, by the way: subtlety is key.”

“Got it. So that one doesn’t really answer my question, but it’s still important for me to keep in mind. What if most people disagree with it?”

“Do you actually know the real numbers? Have you looked into any surveys or polls?”

“I tried to find some on it, but couldn’t.”

“Consider doing one yourself then. Work with the museum if you can. But if it turns out the vast majority are against it, that’s where popular figures can come in. Movie stars, famous trainers, professors, whoever.

“Next is Agitate then Solve. You want to present the audience with a compelling reason the status quo isn’t good, the problems it’s causing, then offer a solution. Make sure the reader or listener understands the problem, why it’s a problem, then sees your suggestion as the most obvious thing in the world.”

Leaf grins. “There’s my answer. ‘Pewter City, once the crown jewel of Kanto for its leadership in Earth Sciences, has been steadily falling behind…'”

“Now you’re getting it. And prognosticate is an extension of that. Do a bit of informed prediction. Why will the bad thing get worse? If Pewter doesn’t regain its dominance, what next?”

“It might start losing tourism, see brain drain, and become a hollow shell of its former self.”

Laura laughs. “Cut the last line and you’re gold. Remember, subtle!”

“Right, right. Tribalism is an ‘us vs them’ thing, yeah?”

“Yep. Like Social Proof, but more stark. I wouldn’t normally advocate pushing this one: tribalism can get ugly fast, and it usually doesn’t need any encouragement to get there. But it has a positive side to it too, and that’s what you have to tap into, if you can. Can you see it?”

Leaf thinks. “Nationality? Other cities or regions will get ahead of Pewter?”

“Sort of, though that’s just another flavor of Agitate and Prognosticate, and it’s not particularly inspirational.”

“Hold on.” Leaf thinks again, closing her eyes and letting her legs tap and drag her around and around. Eventually she frowns and shakes her head. “I don’t think I’m seeing it.”

“Well, there’s not just one correct answer for any of this. Tell me whatever comes to mind.”

“I can’t really think of anything, to be honest. How would you approach it?”

“Well, there’s one tribe that encompasses them all, and works fairly well as a fallback for almost any topic. Make it about our eternal struggle: humanity against the elements. The world is a pretty hostile place, and if mankind has to do everything it can to seek the truth, utilize discoveries, develop new technology, and defend itself from pokemon.”

Leaf has stopped spinning, merely sitting and staring at her phone with her brow furrowed. “I… don’t think I can use that one.”

“Why not?”

Leaf opens her mouth to say… what, she isn’t sure. But the thought of framing the issue, any issue, as humanity vs pokemon, doesn’t sit right with her. Sure, humans working together as one global tribe is important, but painting pokemon as the enemy, as the “them” that needs to be guarded against… it just feels wrong. The life and wellbeing of humans and pokemon are linked, and one isn’t inherently higher than the other. Just because she’s a human doesn’t mean she should promote humanity at the expense of pokemon.

“It’s complicated. I guess I just don’t think I believe it, in this case.”

There’s silence, and Leaf worries that Laura will inquire further, demand her true justification. Instead she simply says “Alright, well you don’t have to use all of them, and if you find another way to apply that one feel free to take a different angle. If not though your article will be more streamlined with fewer things to clutter it up.”

Leaf lets out a breath and returns to her keyboard. “Right. And the last one?”

“Ultimately, the most compelling thing you can do with all of the above is weave it into a story. I don’t mean it has to have a protagonist and a plot and everything. Make it real: don’t talk about yourself, but talk about what you see. Descriptive language, framed as what’s simply there and plain to see to everyone. Draw them in with an evocative scene, introduce real life characters accompanied by quotes. Your whole piece should frame a narrative that the readers feel part of. It’s about them, ultimately.”

Leaf is nodding to herself as she listens and types. “Right, yeah. That’s what I was trying to do with mine.”

“And you did a good job for what it was. I hope you see why this might work better though.”

“Absolutely. I really can’t thank you enough-”

“It was my pleasure. Feel free to send me your drafts or call again if you need to.”

“Thanks. Any last bits of advice?”

“End with a quote. Something profound, or at least profound sounding. The beginning of the piece has to be good enough to inform and hook your readers, but leaving them with something evocative and easy to remember is almost as important. Out of curiosity, how are you planning to publish it?”

“I didn’t think that far ahead honestly. My travel blog for sure, then maybe some local boards or forums, and the museum’s review page.”

“Hmm. Not a lot of traffic on any of those. You want a wide audience, right?”

“Yeah, I’m kind of hoping people will enjoy it enough to share organically.”

“Why not try a news site?”

“I’d love to, but I haven’t looked into it yet and don’t know what their restrictions or requirements are. Maybe one of the news sites will pick up on it.” Or maybe, if she happens to know someone in the business locally…

“Well if that doesn’t pan out, I might know a guy who knows a girl who can give it a look.”

Leaf grins.


It’s late when Blue enters the Pokemon Center, tired from a long day at the Gym. He’s been spending his nights at the Center, helping out however he could. It’s still a bit short-staffed from the backlog of pokemon injured during the fire, and Blue learned basic pokemon first aid from a young age, so he’s more helpful than random volunteers.

If he had his preference, Blue would be using this time to train more, or catch up on his sleep. But gramps was right when he said Blue has to start cultivating his image in as many different ways as he can, and that’s doubly true with his loss at the Gym.

But tonight he’s here for something else too.

The same older doctor is waiting for him when he goes to retrieve his shiftry, finally all healed up and ready for him to retrieve. She’s warmed up to him considerably since he started working here, doing whatever tasks need getting done diligently and without complaint. Blue discovered fairly quickly that someone who’ll do the tedious or less desirable tasks with a smile tend to get in people’s good graces.

Blue exchanges pleasantries with her while he holds the shiftry’s greatball in his hand, feeling its cool metal against this palm.

The night of his defeat, he hadn’t been able to sleep at all. He tossed and turned for hours, mind replaying the match and trying to come up with ways he could have won, or can win in a month. It was only after it arrived at the obvious solution that his brain finally called it quits and let him sleep.

This is his key to victory, right here. His shiftry is the strongest pokemon he has. Once properly trained, it will be more than capable of taking down whatever Brock sends against him.

Which means all he has to do is train it to accept and follow his orders.

Blue runs a finger over a ridge on the ball’s lid, then clips it to is belt and heads for the supply room to change into scrubs. He’s worried that because of the way he caught the shiftry, it might be harder than normal to train.

He’ll just have to be… persuasive.

Chapter 23: The Decisive Path, Part II

Now this… this is more like it.

Hours after his qualification matches, Blue looks out over the Leader Stadium, a vast underground room. He stands just inside the challenger’s entrance, at the midpoint of one of the rectangular room’s incredibly long walls. Watching the Challenge matches on TV, Blue often thought the Pewter gym was too boring. Misty’s water sports, Surge’s electric fields, Erika’s living arena, which he saw in person once as a spectator… they all make it clear that something fantastic is happening, something that will help forge legends and shape fates. Sure, Brock’s arena is bigger than theirs, but all that space has nothing to catch the eye. From the other side of a screen, the battles might as well be happening in some big warehouse.

But standing in it himself, Blue has a new appreciation for the impact of size. “Big” doesn’t cover it. The room is goddamn enormous.

He can practically feel the vastness of the arena in the quality of the air. It seems to be as large as the entire building above it, and effectively triples the building’s carrying capacity in the event of an emergency. The stands easily look fifty rows deep and are elevated most of the way up the walls. From this distance the people on them are small as his fingernail, and he realizes that from their vantage point he probably looks even smaller in contrast to all the space before him.

He was wrong about Pewter Gym. More than any spectacle could, its stark and massive arena makes it clear: this is something important. This is a place destiny is decided.

Time to kick off his.

“Challenger, Blue Oak. First badge.”

The speakers are loud enough to easily cut through the chatter of the spectators. Before the echo begins to fade, Blue is already striding out toward the challenger’s platform as the distant applause ripple through the room. Back straight, arms casually at his sides. The stands only seem about a quarter full from Blue’s vantage point. Not a bad draw on such relatively short notice: the fact that he’s an Oak probably did a lot to help attract people. He can feel his hands trembling with excitement. Thankfully the wide screens stationed along the upper walls don’t show it. He’ll be steady once the match starts and his attention focuses on the battle. He hopes.

The dozen steps up to his platform feel steeper than they are, and once he’s above its walls and on the platform, he moves to the railing. The size of the arena from this angle makes him suck in a breath. The field stretches out below and to either side of him, at least ten times the size of the one he fought in before, like a segment of the mountain was cut out and placed under the gym. Just imagining Aeosis fighting here, weaving between the boulders and diving beneath the ground to come up beneath his pokemon, makes him break out in a cold sweat.

Thankfully, he won’t have to worry about facing that monster. He pities any trainer that saves Pewter for their last badge. Whatever Brock ends up choosing for Blue can’t be worse than the supposed demigod of Mt. Moon.

Blue refrains from wiping the back of his neck, acutely aware of the cameras trained on him. He keeps his face carefully placid, not blank and empty, but alert and at ease. Crafting his image is important, and that image has to be of someone in control of themselves.

Grinning like a madman might give a bad impression.

“Leader Brock, of Pewter City, 138th Indigo League Champion, Trainer of Aeosis, The Mountain’s Might!”

This time the applause are much louder. Brock is hard to make out in the distance, but the screens show him walking toward his platform in his usual orange and dark-khaki shirt and cargo pants. Like his gym, Brock often clothes himself in the functional rather than flashy. It makes the Gym Leader look far less imposing than the reinforced leather he wore in the forest, which he needed to safely ride Aeosis.

As Brock gets close enough to mount his platform, Blue can just recognize him with the naked eye. Brock attaches an earpiece and mic to his ear, and Blue takes out the one he was given and does the same. After a moment the earpiece comes to life, and he hears Brock’s voice in it. “Hello again, Mr. Oak. Left toggle is to talk to me, right is to use the stadium speakers. Test your mic by responding to me, then announce your challenge after I address you, and then we’ll begin.”

Blue feels along the edge of his earpiece and toggles it to the left. “Okay, ready.”

Brock’s voice booms around the stadium. “Citizens of Pewter, gym members, guests from afar, welcome. Today another has come to test his mettle in our forge. Though still in his first week as a trainer, he has shown the will and skill to attempt a place among us as equals. Blue Oak, Pewter Gym honors your request. State the nature of your Challenge.”

Mastery, Membership, or Leadership. After a trainer fights their way to the top of a Gym, those are the options for formal Challenge. Each is more difficult than the last, and dictates what pokemon and techniques Brock will use.

Blue toggles his mic’s switch to the right. “I challenge Pewter Gym for Mastery.”

“Pewter Gym accepts. Incapacitate or force me to withdraw my pokemon, and you will bear our badge. Prepare for battle!”

The platforms hum to life and detach from the stairs leading up to them. Blue looks to his right and left, where the edge of the arena’s railing goes through the bottom of his platform to help it move. He doesn’t expect the match to require much movement, but he widens his step and braces his legs just in case.

“Go, geodude!”

Blue sees the flash, and the wide arena, the huge stadium, the crowds, it all falls away as his world narrows down to the pokemon on the other side of the arena.

He doesn’t even feel insulted at Brock’s choice of a lowly geodude after he already defeated Jarod’s graveler. A pokemon in one trainer’s hands can for all intents and purposes be a completely different one in another’s.

Unfortunately his plans are now derailed. He thought up strategies to use for a number of pokemon Brock might open with, even checking the history of earlier Challenges to get an idea for what might come, but Leaders are notorious for rarely repeating strategies.

Best to play it safe and assume this one won’t be as easy to beat as the last.

“Go, Gon!”

Blue’s freshly named shroomish appears on the field, and he catches the pokeball as it jumps back up toward him. As this would be his first public match, he took the time to rename the rest of his pokemon beforehand. The mushroom waddles about, too far from the geodude to spot the threat. “Gon, battle!” His pokemon goes still, then faces outward from Blue. If Brock favors decisive actions at the opportune moment, rushing into the battle would be the worst thing Blue could do. Or would it be the best one?

“We begin the match at a distance, as often occurs in the wild.” Brock’s voice holds everyone’s attention even as their eyes are locked on the pokemon, waiting for the first move. “The challenger makes an intelligent choice of pokemon for type advantage, but more important is his wisdom to remain cautious.”

Brock puts one hand out, metal claws covering the tips of his fingers. As the stadium holds its breath, Brock taps a pattern on the metal railing in front of him, another microphone stationed close to ensure the sound is spread.

His pokemon immediately begins to pick at itself, fingers chipping off bits of rocky hide. It grabs a rock from the ground and grinds the pieces against it, then tosses the rock toward Gon before repeating the process with a new one. The stones don’t travel far before arcing down, but they never touch the ground, instead hovering above it and gently floating outward at slightly different heights and speeds.

“Stealth Rock, an environmental hazard that will punish indecisiveness by bombarding new targets with stones. With his Grass pokemon’s status effects, the Challenger could outlast us easily by alternating pokemon. We must make it harder for him to win a waiting game.”

As Brock narrates to the audience, about half of whom are taking notes, Blue racks his brain for what potential traps besides the apparent and obvious one he might walk into if he tries to go on the offensive. He can keep a respectable distance while using leech seeds or powders, but geodude’s rock throws outrange them.

Blue’s fingers twitch. He’s already been outplayed. He just thought to use shroomish’s stun spore and risk sending Zephyr out for a quick gust to send it toward the geodude, but the floating rocks would knock him out of the sky the moment he got close. Was that intentional? Did Brock confer with his subordinates before the match?

Doesn’t matter. Focus on victory and find the path to it.

There are almost a dozen rocks out now, each spinning lazily above the ground in a half circle between their pokemon and in different directions from other. Gon can take a hit from them much better than Zephyr could. As long as he can get a leech seed onto the geodude the stealth rocks won’t matter as much, but even that might take too long. In which case his best bet is to end it quickly…

“Gon, Absorb!”

His pokemon waddles toward the floating stones. As soon as he gets close to one, it begins to gravitate toward him, faster and faster until it smacks into the shroomish and knocks him to the side.

The other nearby stealth rocks, which had begun to float toward Gon, immediately slow and begin floating in other directions, repelled by the one near him. Blue watches his pokemon get to his feet, injured but still okay, and lets out a breath. The rocks don’t move quick enough and aren’t big enough to do much damage to pokemon that aren’t weak to rocks in the first place. Gon begins to run forward again, now inside the stealth rock field.

Brock taps another command onto the railing, and his geodude moves quickly as Gon closes the distance between them, pulling up and tossing a stone as big as its fist. It hits Gon square in the face, and Blue’s pokemon tumbles backward.

As he feared, this geodude is much better trained than the one he fought before. If he gets close enough for Absorb, it might knock his pokemon out with a tackle before his pokemon can restore itself.

“Gon, Leech Seed!”

“Geodude, Dig!”

Murmurs ripple throughout the stadium as Brock’s pokemon begins rapidly tunneling under the ground. Blue watches the seeds arc through the air with his heart in his throat, but they land too late on the upturned soil where the geodude disappeared.

“Our biggest weakness as Rock trainers is our speed.” Brock’s voice fills the stadium again, immediately silencing the crowd. “Our pokemon rely on their tough hides to protect them, but when they face their weaknesses they cannot afford to take every hit. Whether by training or TM, ensure your pokemon have an escape tool for emergencies.”

Blue feels his lips threatening to stretch into a smile, and wipes the sweat from his neck again. He’s losing, and badly, but all he feels is exhilarated. This is the kind of challenge he was looking for. And he can still see a path.

“Gon, ready!” His pokemon goes still as it prepares for his next command.

“What will you do now, Blue? It doesn’t look as though your pokemon can take much more. Will you try someone else?”

Blue’s head snaps up as he’s addressed directly. Leader Brock stands with his arms crossed, patiently waiting for Blue’s next move. Graciously giving him the opportunity to withdraw his pokemon.

Blue switches his mic to the private channel too. “I was considering it, but honestly? I’m thinking maybe my shroomish can take one more hit. Funny thing about that last command, it was verbal. How do you plan on bringing your geodude back up while standing all the way up on the platform?”

Blue can see Brock’s smile on the screens above, and switches his mic back to open broadcast. The audience begins to murmur, no doubt wondering what he and the Gym Leader said. The more experienced among them have probably realized already and are explaining to their neighbors: once underground, Brock can’t send any more commands to his pokemon from on his platform. Geodude will default to the behavior of a wild pokemon, and only be able to detect Blue’s shroomish if he moves.

Which means all Blue has to do is wait. If Gon were older he would be able to use Growth, temporarily boosting the effects of his attacks, but if Blue is quick enough they won’t need it.

Time ticks by, and the crowd grows restless as they watch the motionless shroomish and trainers. The floating stones continue to rotate lazily midair, but some of them have begun to lower. Blue tracks the one closest to the ground, pulse speeding up as he feels the decisive point of the match approaching. Almost… almost…

It touches down, and a few seconds later geodude’s fist bursts out of the ground beneath it with a CRACK that sends it flying.

“Shroomish, Stun Spore!” Blue yells as the geodude pulls itself above the surface, and whatever Brock taps out against the railing is too late: the spores fall over the geodude, and its movements slow to a jerky halt.

“Gon, Absorb!”

“Geodude, return!”

Applause fill the stadium as Brock’s pokemon is recalled in a beam of light. Blue quickly smooths his face of any irritation, and smiles as the cameras shift to him. League rules are clear that trainers should withdraw their pokemon in a competitive battle the moment they believe theirs has lost, as well as refrain from attacking when it’s clear they’ve won. Still, he would have liked to get the Absorb off to heal Gon up before the geodude was withdrawn.

“Well done, challenger! You have once again demonstrated the trait our gym most prizes.”

“Thank you, Leader. I learned the value of decisive action while fighting the Viridian Forest fire, and from our meeting there I knew I had more to learn. Your members proved apt teachers throughout the day.”

Blue can hear the murmur of the crowd’s distant conversations again, and his smile widens briefly. He hoped before the match for a natural circumstance to speak to the crowd, and Brock gave him the perfect opening. In the space of seconds he established that he was in Viridian helping fight the fire and that he met Brock there. He would let the listeners fill in the details themselves: if the scene they envision is Blue Oak and their Gym Leader fighting side by side against the blaze, all the better. And a final, casual mention that this was his first day stepping into the gym, for those that don’t already know it.

As for the idea that Blue was exhibiting “decisiveness,” he’s starting to have his doubts. It really feels more like patience to him. He could ask Brock the difference after he wins, but that would probably ruin the moment, not to mention make him look like an idiot.

Brock unclips another ball from his belt. A heavyball. “Then let’s put your understanding to the final test. Defeat this pokemon, and Pewter’s badge will be yours. Go, Onix!”

Blue nearly has a heart attack in the time between the crowd’s shout of excitement and his mind to catch up with what he heard: “onix,” not Aeosis. Of course. That would be ridiculous. And yet some part of him is absurdly disappointed.

The onix is an adolescent, only about six meters long. Its rocky skin is a light grey, and its horn hasn’t finished forming. None of which really matters. Brock is widely acknowledged to be the greatest onix trainer in the world. This onix doesn’t have to be Aeosis to be a threat.

Thankfully it’s one of the pokemon he was prepared for, as unlikely as it seemed. As the onix looks around at its surroundings and goes still upon seeing Blue’s shroomish, Brock opens his mouth to say something else to the audience, but Blue cuts him off. “Gon, Leech Seed!”

His bruised and battered shroomish responds immediately, and the seeds arc up and land in various spots along the onix’s segmented body. “Gon, S-!”

“Onix, Ta-

“-tun S-”

“-ckle!”

“-pore!”

Blue and Brock’s commands blend together uselessly, but the Gym Leader immediately follows his with taps from his fingers, and his onix dives forward. The tip of its snout hits Gon and sends the shroomish flying backward.

Blue already has his pokeball in hand and aimed out, tracking his pokemon through the air in a state of icy detachment. “Gon, return!” The beam flashes out and intercepts his shroomish, sucking it back into the ball.

The stadium is still and quiet for a moment, and then applause echo from every corner. Blue lowers his pokeball and stares at it a moment, then takes out his pokedex and aligns the lenses.

Something eases in his chest when it confirms that his shroomish is still alive, and he puts his dex away with a sigh. That was close. He got greedy, trying to grab an advantage even with an injured pokemon.

“Is your pokemon alright?” asks Brock in his ear.

“Yeah,” he says back. “That was irresponsible of me.”

“I train my Challenger pokemon to pull their punches, but your shroomish could easily have been crushed.”

Blue feels a flush rise in his neck. He already admitted his mistake. “I’ll be more careful.”

“I was apologizing: each of us reacted instinctually. Let’s both try to do better.” Brock switches back to public broadcasting just as the crowd is beginning to quiet down. “An excellent save by the challenger! Never forget to train yourself as well as your pokemon: both your lives will often depend on your reflexes and coordination.”

Blue tunes out Brock’s words and focuses on his options during the brief respite. The leech seeds are planted, which means he just needs to buy time. He can send Zephyr out, but a single hit by a rock would knock it down, and if this onix is anywhere near as accurate as the geodude was, that won’t take long. Blue already got lucky once: to gamble on Zephyr surviving a Rock Throw would be beyond reckless.

Which means he has one choice left. “Go, Maturin!”

His squirtle appears on the battlefield. It doesn’t take long for her to spot the massive onix facing her and drop onto all fours, head thrust belligerently outward. “Maturin, Bubble!”

His squirtle dashes forward to get in range while Brock taps out his own command. Brock’s onix uncoils itself and lunges at a diagonal, and Maturin shifts her rear feet to turn with the massive rocksnake as it weaves in and out of the rocks on the battlefield.

Maturin sends out a series of bubbles just as the onix swerves again. The bubbles hit the onix’s side and pop explosively, their water raising a cracked, white welt at each spot along its rocky hide. The onix flinches and slows in its rush, and rears back.

A roar of pain reveals a maw massive enough to fit Maturin between its rock jaws, and Maturin recoils, ending its attack. Before Blue can give another command, the onix puts on a burst of speed, lunging around to the left of Blue’s squirtle before cutting sharply to the right.

“Maturin, Withdraw!” Blue yells as his pokemon is lost to view. On the monitors above he sees his pokemon from an overhead angle as she tucks herself into her shell just before the onix wraps itself around her and constricts.

The arena is so quiet Blue can hear his heartbeats under the low grinding of the onix’s tightening coils. “Another strong play,” Brock says over the speakers. “The challenger’s chosen a pokemon with both a type advantage and a strong defense. In combination with the leech seeds, it could potentially whittle down our onix. The question, then, is simple: how long can it hold out?”

Blue watches the leech seeds stuck to the onix’s skin stretch their roots out bit by bit, green tendrils slowly spreading over the light grey stone. Too slowly. A squirtle’s shell can withstand hundreds of pounds of pressure, but even an adolescent onix can exert more than that. Blue almost pulls out his pokedex to check the exact numbers, but he knows it wouldn’t matter. The leech seeds won’t bring the onix down quick enough. He needs more time.

Blue’s hand twitches toward his belt, then stops. The onix’s body is blocking his line of sight: the pokeball’s beam wouldn’t be able to reach his squirtle. Even if he could return Maturin, Zephyr won’t last long anyway.

Did he lose, just like that? No, there has to be a way…

“Do you yield, trainer?” Brock’s voice holds no reproach, but Blue imagines the judgement of those watching. How long is he willing to let his pokemon suffer? How much is he willing to risk its life, just to win?

But he has to win. There’s got to be something, some way out…

The worst part is that he can’t even give her new commands: all of her attacks require at least poking her head out of her shell, and she was standing horizontally on all fours when she withdrew. He can see on the monitor that her limb and head openings are right up against the onix. The first thing he has to do is fix that. “Maturin, Rapid Spin!”

For a moment Blue wonders if she heard him through all that stone, but then her shell begins to turn. After a moment he sees her stubby legs and arms clawing and scrambling at the onix’s stone hide, gripping the rough sides of each boulder to turn and twist around and around until she’s sticking up vertically. “Maturin, Water Gun!” Blue shouts as Brock taps out another command.

The onix bobs its head to the side as she sticks her head out and spurts water at its face. Blotches of white spread along its skin where some of the water falls, and it responds by roaring again and squeezing tighter. Maturin is forced to withdraw completely to avoid her extremities getting crushed, and the onix seems more angry than hurt. None of the water hit where the leech seeds are.

The grinding of the onix’s boulders rubbing against each other seems to fill the arena, and Blue can see his pokemon’s shell getting squeezed tighter and tighter. As his options fall away one by one, he feels his battle calm crack and fall apart. He tries desperately to call it back, to sink deeper into the objective clarity it provides, but every second that passes makes him feel more and more like he’s back in Viridian, with the shiftry dispatching his pokemon and rushing at him through the mist… his mind fills with that panicked desire to slow time down, stop it for just a moment-

“Trainer. Do you yield?”

This last said privately in his earpiece. Brock is being gracious in victory, and all it does is awaken Blue’s anger. He wants to yell out for Maturin to water gun again, hope that his pokemon can miraculously pull it off and force the onix to release her…

No. That was the first thing, the very first rule he recognized about what separates the good trainers he watched from the bad ones. Good trainers don’t just give commands and hope for the best. Both might seem like they ask the impossible of their pokemon, but the winners are the ones that always have a plan, some path to victory.

And somewhere in this fight, Blue lost his.

“I yield.”


Blue closes the call with Red after telling him about the match and agreeing to meet him and Leaf at the nearby Trainer House soon. He’s sitting on a couch in what looks like a staff common room, which he has all to himself as he waits for Brock to show up from wherever he is. The TV is on some local news channel with the sound off, and Blue stares past it unseeing.

The last thirty minutes were a bit of a blur. After Blue was defeated and their pokemon recalled, he stood on his platform and listened to the spectators’ applause and the Gym Leader’s final lessons from the match. Then Brock told him privately to follow the attendant back at the entrance, who led him to this room and told him to make himself comfortable. There’s a table laden with snacks and beverages, but they hold no appeal for Blue. All he wanted to do since withdrawing Maturin was leave, but he smiled and nodded as if he didn’t feel hollow inside.

Giovanni. Lance. Cynthia. His idols, the youngest trainers to become regional Champions in history, were all undefeated in their gym battles. It was part of their legend, that they were pokemon masters even from a young age.

A legend that Blue won’t share. And he has no one to blame but himself. How could he ever have thought he had patience? From the moment they got their pokemon, he was so focused on getting on the road and staying on the move, all so they could reach Pewter and he could get a badge within his first week as a trainer, something not even Giovanni accomplished.

His mistakes are so obvious now. Did he really try to take on a Gym Leader with just three pokemon? Sure he had the type advantage for two of them, but so what? He knew that wouldn’t be enough, any scrub can catch the right pokemon for a gym, but most fail in their challenges. He’s a pokemon trainer, not a pokemon catcher. And just packing some training in as he travels isn’t enough.

He wonders why this is all so obvious to him now, when it does him no good. Would Red or Leaf have told him as much if he asked them? Would he have listened? The thought makes him want to find a bed and pull the covers over his head for about a week.

There’s still a small part of him that insists that he just got unlucky, that he should have sent Zephyr out and tried to stall for the leech seeds, but instead he forces himself to go over his mistakes again and again until the persistent voice of stubbornness finally grows tired of it and slinks off elsewhere.

Blue’s exhausted in general, really. He’s barely gotten any rest since they set out, and was up early to start at the gym when it opened. Just as he considers lying down on the couch and catching some shuteye, there’s a knock on the door, and then it opens. Leader Brock comes in looking annoyingly stoic as ever, and Blue gets to his feet with a mostly contained sigh.

“Please, stay seated. I know you’ve had a long day. How are you holding up?”

Blue frowns as Brock sits on the couch across from him. He was expecting a lecture about safe battle standards or basic training responsibilities, not a pity party. “I’m fine. Just a bit tired.”

“I’ll bet. You arrived when, eight in the morning? Nine?”

“Closer to eight.”

“Quite a day. They’re still talking about it, you know.”

“About what?” Blue asks warily.

“The way you ‘took the gym by storm.’ Went right through the ranks without stopping, even beating Jarod and Sharzad! I was impressed with you after Viridian, and after battling you firsthand I can see how driven you are. I bet a lot of people will come to train with you, if you stick around for another challenge.”

Blue’s spirits were rising slightly as Brock spoke, but now they plummet back to the pit of his stomach. Right. As a general standard, Gym Leaders only accept challenges from the same trainer once a month. He would have to live with this failure for weeks before he can try wipe it away with a victory, and despite his new wisdom about the need to take things slower, the thought of spending a whole month in Pewter training is almost intolerable. “I… would love to. But I’m pretty sure my traveling companions would want to move on before then.”

Brock nods. “Well, however long you’re here, feel free to sign up for our classes or trainings. You earned the admissions already.”

Blue sits up a bit. “If I do well in the trainings, is it possible we could rematch sooner than…” he trails off as Brock’s smile fades.

“No, I’m sorry,” the Gym Leader says in a voice that brooks no argument. “I know some Leaders will bend that rule once in awhile, but I never have. You fought well, but you’re not ready yet. Surely you see that?”

If admitting it to himself was hard, Blue finds admitting it to another impossible. He simply grunts and changes the topic. “So what did you call me back here for?”

“I just told you.”

Blue blinks. “What, that?”

Brock grins wide as he leans back against the couch. “What, were you expecting a browbeating? I like to talk to challengers after the match, whether they win or lose. Especially the latter. I know it can be disheartening.”

Despite himself, Blue finds himself liking Brock. He’s been nothing but courteous even when he didn’t have to be, and the Leader’s charisma is as strong as he always heard. Now that the initial bout of moping is out of his system, he remembers that he’s having a private, personal conversation with a Gym Leader. Letting such an opportunity go to waste would be like throwing in the towel on his dreams and goals altogether.

“Well I have to admit you’ve cheered me up considerably. If you don’t mind my asking, could you explain your Gym’s virtue to me a bit more? I thought I understood it, but clearly still have much to learn.” The irony of having said practically the same thing earlier for the crowds when he was sure of his impending victory doesn’t escape him.

Brock’s face lights up, and Blue recognizes the expression of an ideologue with his favorite conversation topic. Red gets like that with science all the time. “Of course! But you sell yourself short, Blue, from what I saw you understand it quite well: the commitment to act once you’ve found a path to victory.”

Blue can sort of see how that relates to the Gym Leader’s fighting style, but it seems more like a vague platitude than a specific virtue. It is, after all, something he thinks of often, and has seen mentioned elsewhere. What makes Brock’s philosophy so different in practice?

A concrete example suddenly occurs to him. “So that’s the virtue you based your signature move on?”

“Exactly. Most people think Bide is about patience, but decisiveness is the true value. Complete commitment to a principle or action, with everything you’ve got. Often that takes patience, to wait for the perfect moment, but when you see it you go after it, full force and damn the consequences. That last part can be risky, of course. That’s why I’ve stopped teaching it by default to even those that earn a badge. Much easier to just hand them a copy of the Rock Tomb TM.”

Blue’s brow furrows. “I think your technique would be perfect for my fighting style and pokemon. What would I need to do for you to teach it to me?”

Brock gets to his feet, and Blue follows, wondering if he said something wrong. “First off, complete the rest of our trainings. After that, we can talk about it, and the virtue of decisiveness, again. Deal?”

Blue looks at the Leader’s outstretched hand. After a moment he takes it with a smile. The single most important thing about completing one’s ambitions is to not let setbacks stop your commitment. To turn defeats into victories, if possible. He may not have gotten the perfect Gym record he wanted, but maybe he can earn something more valuable instead.

“Deal.”