All posts by Damon Sasi

“Safe Spaces” for the Right and Left.

Apparently, Texas students stormed out of a class wherein the professor asserted that humans all descended from Africans.

Texan students storm out after professor says we’re all of African descent

My brain feels wobbly around this, which tells me there’s something more to it that I’m not grasping right.

I’ve always thought of trigger warnings and safe spaces in college campuses as obviously important-if-done-properly, but widely blown out of context and misunderstood and exaggerated by detractors in order to talk down to millennials or find a new avenue to attack “PC culture.” I haven’t been in school for about five years, so it’s never really affected me, but my sympathies have always been vaguely with the people asking for what I consider to be justified uses for triggers (to prepare students for traumatic content in lessons) and safe spaces (to allow discussion of voices that normally self-censor due to fear or anxiety).

This event seems to fit into neither of those. It’s a professor, apparently innocently, relaying facts, and people getting upset and leaving the class as a result of their own political beliefs (as opposed to walking out because the environment was not “safe,” since presumably, no one was heckling people for walking out until they started to do so).

What makes this interesting of course is that the politics of it are flipped around from the stereotypes. So presumably, “PC” liberals would be hypocritical to mock the people walking out, but only if they don’t view trigger warnings and safe spaces as applying the way I described: if they do only consider them as meant for traumatic material or oppressed minorities, then they’re not being hypocritical in mocking people for reacting in a way that they themselves are often mocked for supposedly condoning, since they would consider that mockery to be aimed at a strawman that they are watching occur in real-time, but from the “opposition.” In other words, gleeful mockery at seeing people who normally might make fun of them for doing the exact thing the people leaving the rooms are doing is kind of understandable. Kind of like seeing a bully run home crying to their mother after the bully has repeatedly used the “crybaby” insult on them.

(Whether they’re being rude, or whether it’s the best reaction to have, is a different matter, of course.)

On the flip side of this, there are potentially conservatives who are NOT okay with trigger warnings of any kind, and NOT okay with safe spaces of any kind. Hopefully none of those people are making excuses for the people who walked out (in the interests of not being hypocritical), but if they’re attacking them for being representative of how “PC” and “pampered” college kids are these days, then they’re still strawmanning, because again, the usually proposed uses of trigger warnings and safe spaces would not apply to this circumstance. So once again, I find my sympathies aligning with the liberals ever-so-slightly more than I do the conservatives, assuming no one is being hypocritical (for the hypocrites, obviously, my sympathy is minimal).

Now, maybe I’m misunderstanding what the real use of safe spaces and trigger warnings have been about. Maybe I believe in the “ideals,” but in the trenches of the war these ideas are fighting in, people are pushing for safe spaces for ANY topic, or trigger warnings for ANY topic, that might offend anyone and, as the detractors insist, simply serve as an excuse to further distance themselves from ideas they dislike, and entrench themselves in intellectual bubbles.

I don’t doubt that some people might in fact want that, but I tend to view those who do as in the extremes: maybe that’s a mistake. Since I’m not in the trenches, I don’t know.

But for now, I’m going to hold onto the ideal, and examine this circumstance (at last) through the lens of what I hope might do the most possible good:

Do the people who walked out of this class deserve a “safe space?”

The uncharitable view, of course, is that they simply walked out because they didn’t want to listen to someone talk about things they considered “obviously wrong” or “offensive” to their notions of what humans were, where they came from, and how their religious beliefs and racial identity tied into their ego and sense of self.

So assuming the professor acted professionally, which seems to be the case just from the article, most people I think would say no, on both sides of the aisle. This is, as I said, the classic strawman of this position, made all the more contentious because it’s being actualized by the political culture that tends to most often be against “PC” culture.

But from the perspective of the kids who left, do THEY feel like they had to leave because they were unable to speak their mind free of ridicule or peer pressure?
 
And that, I don’t know. But it’s possible. On most college campuses, even in Texas, conservatives can in fact be a minority that feels “unsafe” airing their political or religious views for fear of the ridicule it’ll bring.

So if I’m being charitable, which I’d like to be, maybe these students really do need a safe space to talk about their beliefs about the origin of mankind without being mocked or feeling pressured into accepting the views of those around them, so they can really articulate what they believe and why, and maybe be more open to having their views challenged and changed.

And of course maybe there was a mix of both such students who walked out of the class. Apparently some stayed behind to argue, in any case.

Ok, the wobblyness has mostly faded, now that I’ve written all that out and feel a bit more secure in what I think and why. If anyone wants to let me know if I’ve missed something, please do.

I Hate Prophecies (and So Should You!)

There is no form of artificial plot advancement, no unnecessary McGuffin so odious and unimaginative as “The Prophecy.” Almost every single story that has a prophecy or any kind of “precognition” in it could remain exactly the same, or be improved, by the clean removal of them.

Need a reason to make this uninteresting character The Hero? Try a prophecy that forces them into the center of existence!

Need motivation for someone to do something they normally wouldn’t do? Have YOU tried PROPHECY today? Guaranteed to utterly circumvent any sense of organic agency your characters might have!

Hey, how about those pesky worries that your characters or plot aren’t engaging enough? Not to worry friend, we’ve all been there, and with just a little bit of PROPHECY thrown in, your readers will be HOOKED!

And that’s not all! PROPHECY comes in many DISTINCT FLAVORS!

The Vague Prophecy: Excellent for keeping your audience guessing as they try to decipher your cryptic, shitty poetry! This way you can either fulfill it or not, and still make it seem mystically wise in retrospect!

Example: “The White Queen will see red, when by dark hearts she’s led.” Is it her dark heart? Someone else she trusts? What does see red mean? Who knows?! Does the prophecy even matter? Not really!

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Want to write an utterly predictable story no one can relate to? Just dress it up with some “deep” existential questions about free will that ultimately have no impact or moral wisdom beyond the scope of the by-the-numbers plot!

Example: The Dark Lord will be defeated by the child! But how!? Simple! Upon hearing the prophecy, they will attempt to undermine it, and somehow be hoist by their own petard! Everyone loves a Deus ex Prophecy!

The Incomplete Prophecy: Want to keep some artificial tension? Make your prophecy completely understandable and straightforward so that it ensures a lot of angst over a foretold tragic event, but have it leave out vital bits of information that renders it utterly meaningless!

Example: “You will kill your father.” (But they end up dying from a painful disease or wound, and ask for a mercy killing! Hooray!)

The Spoiler Prophecy: One of the favorites, who doesn’t love a good SPOILER right in the middle of the story? Now we know what you’re thinking, aren’t all prophecies spoilers in some regard? Not as much as this one, which serves NO PURPOSE other than to inform the readers, while keeping the characters ignorant! The trick is to make sure the prophecies have NOTHING to do with the character who hears/sees it, and they can’t ALTER the outcome in any way! So not only is it utterly meaningless except to break the fourth wall, you don’t even have to change anything in your story to fit it in! It’s like it means nothing at all! nothingatall! nothingatall!

Example: A bunch of dead people at a feast, their leader with a wolf for a head! What could it mean?! Nothing to the person seeing it, but ho ho, what a shocker it’ll be for the readers once they get far enough in the story and come back to it! You clever writer you, dropping such discrete hints of the future plans you alone know and control!

That’s right, with the power of PROPHECY, you too can elevate your subpar, generic fantasy and science-fiction into the over-used-tropesphere!

(Note: Any apparent reference to specific stories is almost completely coincidental, and not a remark on the overall quality of that story, prophecy notwithstanding. On top of which, fanfiction works are somewhat exempt from this criticism, as they usually have a source material that includes prophecies to abide by.)

Chapter 36: The Shape of Things to Come

Red watches the clefairy walk away, mind stuttering and restarting between thoughts.

I notice…

No seriously what-

IT’S A TALKING CLEFAIRY

…that I…

-is that a talking pokemon I didn’t see its mouth move-

CATCH IT NO WAIT BRAIN DAMAGE(?!)

-but the sound definitely came from it or maybe the house behind it-

…am confused.

And then the clefairy reaches the front door and vanishes.

“The fuck,” Leaf finishes in a deadpan voice, just as Red’s brain processes this final bit of information and snaps it all into place.

“Hologram!” Red shouts, pointing at the door.

“Oh!” Leaf’s face clears. “Of course.”

“It’s a hologram!”

“Yeah, has to be.”

“Holog-”

“Red!”

Red lets out a breath and gives his head a shake. “Sorry. I’m okay.” He bends down to pick his hat up, heart thumping in his chest. “That was… weird.”

“It still is. Why does he have a clefairy hologram outside his house?”

They both jump as an arbok suddenly appears in front of them, swaying from side to side with its hood flared. “Would you have preferred something like this?” the voice says. “The point was to bring you this way without making you feel threatened.”

“W-why wouldn’t you just use the speakers instead?” Red asks, pulse once again dashing frantically at the sudden appearance of the arbok. Red can definitely tell the voice is coming from the direction of the door now.

“The answer will be obvious once you step inside. Which you still haven’t done. Now hurry up.” The arbok vanishes.

Red and Leaf exchange a look, then step toward the door, which automatically opens to reveal a straight, bare hallway.

The temperature inside is cool, the lights dim but steady. At the end of the hallway the clefairy waits for them, and in the dimmer light it’s easier to see the latticework of thin colored beams coming down from dots on the ceiling to make the image. As they approach, it takes the left hand path, leading them through a living room. There’s an attached kitchen, and the clefairy stops outside it.

Red and Leaf stare at it a moment, and then Bill’s voice makes them both jump. It’s loud, coming from all around them. “Grab me a soda, would you? Feel free to help yourselves too.” He sounds distracted, and Red hears the hum of an open mic for a moment before it cuts.

The two exchange glances, then Leaf slowly steps forward and opens the fridge. “Um. Preference?”

“Uh, anything’s fine.” Red takes the can and looks around. He spies a bathroom through an open door, and a bedroom in yet another. All of the rooms are barely furnished with bare walls. “Should we wait here?”

“This way.”

The clefairy walks toward a stairway in the corner, and disappears. Red wonders if it would reappear at the bottom, but when he and Leaf descend, they find themselves facing a door made of some strange, opaque glass. A red beam quickly scans them from head to toe, causing both to recoil and wince, and then the door begins to make pneumatic noises as it unlocks, shifts in place a bit, then slides open.

The first thing that Red notices is the music, a light and quick instrumental song, mostly composed of the violin and piano. It’s loud enough that Red is surprised he didn’t hear even a bit of it before the door opened.

Red and Leaf stare at the laboratory beyond the doorway. Rows and rows of work tables, stocked with every kind of biochemical equipment known to man… and quite a few that look completely alien to Red.

The rows of different microscopes are easy to identify, but next to them is something that looks like a cross between a fridge, an incubator and a thermocycler. Meanwhile, the actual thermocyclers are on their own table next to some vortexers.

The most extraordinary sight, however, is the sheer movement of the lab.

Centrifuges are spinning, racks of stoppered vials shift up or down, contents plucked by robotic arms and placed in temperature controlled containers or other equipment.

The music cuts off, and Bill’s voice fills the room. “Well? Come in.”

The two step over the threshold together, and the door closes behind them in a way that Red can’t help but find ominous. All the strangeness is starting to worry him. How much does anyone really know about Bill, anyway? The guy is notorious for being secretive, yet he invites two strangers into his lab without apparent reason? Professor Oak wouldn’t send us here if Bill was some crazy hermit…

Unless Bill went crazy recently.

“Uh. Hi, Mr. Sonezaki,” he says. “Are you here?”

The clefairy appears ahead of them, floating over a round indentation in the floor and ceiling. It doesn’t move, but merely points an arm. Apparently the hologram network isn’t as extensive here. Red studies the indent in the floor as they pass it, but can’t see anything that explains its purpose.

They pass rows of freezers and other chemical storage containers, all labeled with a dizzying amount of materials. Electrophoresis boxes, fume hoods… is that a hazchem suit draped over the back of that chair?

“Just one person works here?” Leaf asks as they pass some NMR and chromatography work tables, with enough spectrophotometers to take up their own wide table.

Red stops moving for a moment to study a series of 3D printers set against one wall. “I don’t think even Pallet Labs has this much equipment.” He keeps walking, then has to resist the urge to stop again and study what look like automated DNA extractors. “I knew he was rich, but the amount of money he could make renting this place out…”

“I think I have a new definition of the word,” Leaf murmurs as they pass from one section of the lab to another. Another holopad appears every so often, with floating clefairy pointing them first one way, then another as the lab continues to expand in different directions. One finally points them to a man, sitting in front of a series of over a dozen glass boxes.

“Give me a minute,” the man says, back to them. “You can pour the soda in here.” He tilts his head to the side to indicate an empty cup with a straw in it.

Leaf and Red approach to look over Bill’s shoulders at his work station. Screens show each box containing a large petri dish with small, thin teal vines, all roughly the same size. As they watch, a drop of purple liquid falls onto each from small droppers suspended over them. Another drop falls, then another, then another, every few seconds.

“What are you doing?” Leaf whispers, both cans of soda still in her hand.

“Testing…” Drip. “The regenerative power…” Drip. “Of tangela cells.” Drip.

Red leans closer. “What’s in the-oh.” Red watches on one of the screens as a drop of the liquid hits a vine and makes a part of it wither, the vibrant teal turning brown… for a moment at least, until it suddenly fills out and regains its color again. Red watches the liquid etch a scar down either side of the vine to collect in the edges of what he originally took to be a petri dish: instead it’s a plastic lid over some kind of drain.

“Roserade acid,” he says, typing with one hand and reaching for his cup with the other. “They look like they’re fully recovering, but they weren’t always this small. Biomass decrease has been mostly linear. We should be near the end soon… Hey, the soda?”

“Oh!” Leaf says. “Right.” She opens a can and pours it into the cup, slowing as the foam builds up.

“Thanks.” He immediately turns his head a bit and begins drinking from the straw.

Red watches him, feeling a bit surreal. Whenever he imagined someday meeting Bill Sonezaki, it was never like this. Up close, the legendary inventor appears older than in videos and pictures. Though still in his mid thirties, there are already silver streaks in his hair, and deep lines around his eyes. He has a few days worth of scruff on his cheeks, and there’s an odd device around one of his ears, attached to a small screen in front of his right eye. It looks familiar to Red, and after a moment he realized it reminds him of an anime where people had devices that would “scan” a pokemon’s “power level.” He can see data on the lens, though he can’t read it, and watches Bill’s eyes as they alternate between watching the camera feeds on the monitors and going out of focus to read the smaller, closer screen.

“So, uh. You said you needed help with something? Is it this?” Red leans down to get a closer look at the thin vine.

Bill sucks the last of the soda from the cup, and straightens. “Ahhh. Nope, just wanted a soda. Thanks.” He belches. “‘Scuse me.”

Red stares. “A soda.”

“Yeah, I didn’t want to leave in the middle of the trial.”

“But… Professor Oak called me over an hour ago,” Red says, speaking slowly. “You’ve been sitting here that long?”

“Oh, hell no.”

“Ah, then what-”

“I’ve been here about… how long is it now, Eva?”

A woman’s voice speaks all around them, causing Leaf and Red to jump. “Three hours, seventeen minutes and thirty seven seconds.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right. This latest sample blew past my expectations, or I would have brought more to drink.” Drip… drip… drip… “Looks like they need a refill.” He gets up and goes to each container, refilling their drippers with wide vials of bright purple acid.

I thought Bill lived here alone? Red’s about to ask about it, when Leaf speaks up. “Um. Mr. Sonez-”

“Just Bill is fine.”

“Bill, okay. So, um, why did you invite us here?”

“Hmm.” Bill continues to drip the acid with one hand as the other changes the magnification. “You know, I can’t remember. There was something I wanted you to do for me, but I was a bit preoccupied with this when Oak called. And thirsty.”

“Was it about the abra?” Red asks. “I want to use your land, to catch some. I have an idea to-”

“No,” Bill says, frowning. “I don’t think that was it.”

Red’s stomach turns to lead, and he exchanges a look with Leaf, who gives a helpless shrug. “Are you sure? The Professor said-”

“Right, right,” Bill says, gaze still on the screens.

Red blinks, waiting for more. He wonders for a moment if Bill is carrying on two conversations at once, through his earpiece. “So… was that a yes? On the abra thing?”

“Acoustic displacement, right? Herding them into a hazard zone? Yeah, sounds fun.”

Relief floods through Red, and he sees Leaf hesitate before saying, “Sooo… the thing you asked us here to do for you… Could it have just been to bring you a soda, then?”

“No, no.” Bill slowly refills the acid in one of the drippers, one hand leaving the beaker for a moment to scratch his hair. “Maybe.”

They stare at him.

“A bit. I’m sure there was something else too though.” Bill checks the amount in the dripper feed, then moves on to the next box. “Eva, did I set a memo?”

“No, sir,” the voice says.

“Damn. Memo, Eva: ‘Make more memos. Especially after phone calls.’ Maybe if I listen to a recording of the call I’ll remember.” He continues his work silently for a moment, then shakes his head. “Nope, didn’t help.”

“I can start naming things?” Red asks. “Free association?”

“Go for it.”

“Something to do with pokemon. Something to do with catching them. Catching abra. Psychics Types. Something to do with us. Leaf Juniper? Red Verres? Um.”

“People, places, things,” Leaf says. “Pallet Town, Vermillion City? Maybe about what happened with us at Mt. Moon?”

Bill stops shaking his head, brow raised as he lifts the acid container and looks at them. “Wait, what happened at Mt. Moon?”

“You didn’t hear?”

“I don’t really follow the news. And by really I mean pretty much ever.”

“Um. Well it probably wasn’t that then.”

“Was it an activity you wanted to do?” Red asks. “Talk to us about something? Our journey? The new pokedexes?”

“You know, I’m starting to think it might have been the soda,” Bill says, voice thoughtful as he finishes with the last container.

“You didn’t invite us all the way out here just to give you a soda,” Red says. He’s not sure if he’s trying to convince Bill or himself. “Inviting strangers into your house, just for that? Aren’t you a really private person?”

“Ha. The media just say that because I won’t let them step foot on my property. Or grant interviews.” He returns to his desk and types something out that brings up a bunch of graphs, displays of the weight of each sample over time. “Also might be because I don’t go anywhere. People tend to irritate me. Well, I’ll figure it out. You guys are welcome to hang around while I finish this.”

“Is this… something you do often?” Leaf asks as she circles a container, then kneels a bit to look under the dish. Red wonders how she feels about watching a piece of a pokemon get experimented on. Maybe it’s not so bad since it’s just a vine, and tangela lose bits of them all the time… though Red has to wonder how big this one was when it started.

“Yes, but normally it doesn’t take so long. This new strain is definitely going to shift priorities around. Hopefully I can get this all fully automated by the end of the week, so I can start the next trials soon.”

Red blinks. “New strain? You made this vine?”

“Tweaked it. Tangela cells are pretty efficient at regeneration, and occasionally you’ll find one in the wild that heals at ridiculous rates. I just had to find out which genetic markers were different between them and the others, and see if I could improve it further.”

“That’s amazing,” Leaf says as she watches a vine regenerate over and over again. “Are you trying to design a better potion formula?”

“Ha. No, I’ll leave that to Devon. I’d rather just give people these abilities instead.”

The lab is silent but for the movement of machinery, and Bill’s fingers moving over his keyboard. Red and Leaf both stare at him, then look at each other. “Is that… possible?” Red asks at last.

“Possible? Sure, why not. Probable? Dunno. But regenerating cells is something our body knows how to do already, and if we can make them better at it, the payoff would be huge. Rapid healing, disease resistance, limb regeneration, and if we’re lucky, even stop the effects of aging. Maybe eliminate them altogether.”

Red tries to wrap his mind around humans having such powers. It would be… amazing. Just one of those would make people so much safer, reduce so much suffering. But all of them, together? It’s like something out of science fiction. He can’t help but be skeptical, but if Bill Sonezaki thinks it can be done, is committing his time and energy to doing it…

“And pokemon?” Leaf asks. “Are you trying to give them these abilities too?”

“Naturally.” Bill frowns at a screen, then brings up a code editing window and examines it. “I’ve spent half my life writing TMs to give pokemon new abilities. Mostly for combat, because that’s what the market wanted. But this has combat value too. The next steps are to try and spread this regeneration to other plant pokemon, then non-plant pokemon, particularly mamm-Ooh, yes, that’s it.” He sits forward, eyes on a new window that popped up on his screen.

Leaf raises her head from the box she was examining. “What-”

“Shut up, I need to concentrate.”

Leaf’s mouth drops open, eyes wide. “I… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“Shhh, shshshsh…”

Red feels anger boiling up in his chest. Don’t upset him, we’re guests, he might kick us out, the abra- “Hey! There’s no reason to be so rude after she came all this way to bring you a soda!”

Leaf rapidly shakes her head at him while Bill frowns, gaze still on the screen. “Okay, sure. Please shut up, would you? Go explore the lab for a bit. Don’t touch anything.”

Leaf is already moving toward Red before Bill finishes speaking. She takes his arm and drags him away before he can say anything else. “It’s okay, really,” she whispers. “I don’t think he means to be rude.”

“That’s not really an excuse,” Red whispers back as they leave Bill behind. “Who goes from a normal conversation to telling people to shut up without warning?”

“Someone without people skills. Maybe something important came up. Come on, let’s look around.”

He and Leaf make their way back through the lab, and before long the music comes back on through the speakers all around them. They drink their soda and find some more automated equipment to study, watching on monitors as data is gathered and recorded throughout dozens of trials. The sheer scope of the research Bill is getting done here makes Red envious.

“And this is just one building,” Leaf says. “We haven’t crossed over into one of the others underground, have we?”

“No, I think they’re all something different.” Red looks at some transfer slots, silver container balls resting in their docks. He can imagine Bill ordering the equipment he needs into them for easy distribution around the lab. “All this stuff has been just for biochem.”

It takes almost half an hour for Bill join them, and they still don’t manage to see everything in the lab. He walks toward them with a purposeful stride, then passes right by. “Walk with me. There were other things I planned to do today before that took up my whole morning. Luckily none of it is time sensitive.”

They follow him through the lab as he checks on equipment and the results of certain trials, occasionally muttering to himself. Red realizes he’s probably talking to the woman, Eva, whoever that is. During one of the silent stretches, Red summons the courage to ask, “So, is it okay if we speak now?”

“Speak about what?”

“I mean ask questions. Talk.”

“Sure, why wouldn’t it be?”

Red sighs. When he imagined meeting Bill, he always expected someone a bit more like Professor Oak than Blue. “So, that clefairy hologram. Why, exactly?”

“It’s a useful way of scaring off pokemon that get too close to the buildings, or interacting with people without having to go up.”

“I get that, but why not use yourself instead of a clefairy?”

“They’re modeled after the pokemon that have been rendered for sims. I never bothered to digitize myself.”

They reach a door like the one they entered. Red’s pretty sure it’s not where they came in, and sure enough when it opens they face a completely different type of lab from the first one.

Instead of chemistry equipment, this area seems to be full of computers and robotics. There’s a lot less movement of ongoing experiments, but a lot more visibly identifiable projects. One desk is cluttered with parts for what looks like a new pokedex prototype, while another has a dissected pokenav. Each table has mechanical arms situated around them, most of them motionless.

As they enter, the music around them changes, this time to some electronic song with an industrial sound and heavy beats. After a moment Bill mutters something, and its volume drops to a background whisper.

“Is this where you work on storage?” Red asks. Bill’s development of the interregional storage system is what he’s most famous for, but Red doesn’t see anything that looks like it would be related.

“No, storage and transmutation tech is in the physics lab. This is where I study machine learning, particularly improving narrow AI and solving alignment problems.”

“Narrow AI?”

“Weak. Focused. Able to hold a conversation or perform tasks about just a few specific things, no matter how deep that thing is.”

“Opposed to being able to learn everything?”

“Yeah. Like your pokedex. It’ll tell you all you want to know about pokemon, but ask it how to cook your breakfast and you’re out of luck.”

“Oh. Isn’t that pretty easy to program in though?”

“Sure, you could program it for any number of tasks, hardware permitting. But it’ll never learn new ones on its own. You don’t know all this? What are they even teaching in schools these days, just how to throw a pokeball?”

Red flushes. “That, and how to stay alive.”

“You’re one of Oak’s though, aren’t you? I figured you’d know more than that.”

Red catches Leaf’s glance, and takes a breath to calm himself. “I never really studied computers much. Mostly psychology, physics, chemistry, and pokemon biology.”

Bill tsks. “All that’s not going to matter much if AI keeps improving at its current rate. Should’ve studied computers.”

“I did, a bit,” Leaf says before Red responds.

“Juniper, right? I helped design your granddad’s species tracking algorithms.” Bill leads them past more machinery and electronics, then stops at a holopad and pulls on some gloves that go to his elbows. “Fun guy to work with. Even funner to drink with.”

“Thanks. I think.”

“So tell me, spawn of Cedric, what you think you know about AI, and how you think you know it.”

Red blinks. He’s only ever read that phrase in Giovanni’s writings, and those that read him. He wonders if Bill does too.

“Well,” Leaf says as Bill mutters something, and the hologram suddenly comes to life, showing some complex shape Red can’t make heads or tails of. It looks like three series of spheres spaced out with lines drawn between them in three dimensions. “I guess the first thing I think I know is that general AI is hard. And the reason I think I know that is that if it wasn’t, we would have figured it out by now.”

“Go on,” Bill says as he studies the hologram a moment. Spheres and lines shift as they watch, and eventually Bill extends a hand and casually waves it along the side of the projection, shifting the whole image to view it from “below.”

“General AI would be… well, like a person. It would be able to think for itself, or at least think so broadly it might as well be considered conscious. But it would be smarter than us, be able to think thousands of times faster. All the speed of a computer with all the flexibility of a human mind.”

“And what would this AI do?” Bill asks.

“Well, whatever we ask it to. It could run tests faster than us, solve coordination problems, collate all the data in the world and examine it objectively to make connections we wouldn’t.”

“Mhm.” Bill turns the hologram again, then reaches in and manipulate some of the lines and orbs around, faster than Red could follow before pulling back out to look at it again, and watch how it changes in response. “So you’d just use it as an Oracle?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh boy. Okay, let’s keep this basic. There are a few ways to classify AI. Some popular ones are Oracle, Genie, and Sovereign. Oracles are basically question boxes. They can’t act in the world other than to transmit information. You give the AI a set of data, ask it a question, and have it tell you the answer. Basically like the pokedex, but more broadly intelligent. Able to figure out answers you didn’t explicitly program it with.

“Genie aren’t contained. Hook a Genie up to a robot, give it a blueprint, and tell it to build you a house according to the blueprint using the materials you put in front of it, and if it’s made well, it’ll do that, then stop and wait for further orders. Or, to use an example of what’s coming soon to roads near you, put the Genies in cars that will drive you around anywhere you tell them to. A narrow Genie might choose from a set of predetermined routes to preset locations, but a more general intelligence auto could figure out its own route to custom locations. Tell it to drive you to a lake in the forest, and it’ll do it.

“And Sovereigns are the least tightly bound AI. They can take more complex orders, and carry them out in novel ways, without waiting for human approval at every step. Instead of giving the Sovereign the materials to use, you’d ask it to build you a house with whatever it could find. And if you’re not blisteringly stupid, you would put limitations on it to ensure those materials aren’t people, or pokemon, or from other houses.”

Red frowns as he watches Bill change the color of two of the spheres, which drastically alters the arrangement of the lines before he changes them back. “Are there any machines like that yet? Sovereigns?”

“Sure, in the narrow sense. Any machine that works independently on loose goals is a Sovereign. Computers trying to maximize returns in the stock market, for example. They have a goal and that’s about it.”

“Seems like a fine line between a Genie and a Sovereign,” Leaf says.

Red turns to her. “I think it’s about level of control, not intelligence. Sometimes they’re tangible, like, an Oracle like the pokedex can’t open doors or move anything, so it’s obviously constrained that way. But a Genie like an automatic car might have to ask you for permission and show its route before taking it, so you can stop it from driving you through a river. Whereas a Sovereign wouldn’t have to ask permission, it would just… do things?” He turns to Bill questioningly. “Why would anyone make a Sovereign, anyway?”

“Because sometimes you don’t know how to get to your goal at all. Remember, if AGI is being used, it’s being used to do something humans can’t. If you ask it to figure out a way to stop humans from aging, it might do it by manipulating our genetic code, or it might do it by synthesizing some wonder drug. You don’t actually know what you want it to do, you just know what you want done. It’s up to the machine to figure out what your actual desire is, your coherent extrapolated volition.” Bill frowns at his holograph, tweaks one more thing, then makes a gesture with his arm that shuts off the display. “Eva, prepare some food for us above the computer lab. Twenty minutes.” He strips the gloves off and sticks them in his pocket as he starts walking again.

“Certainly, sir. Preference?”

“Steak.”

“We have tauros and bouffalant in stock.”

“Tauros. What do you guys want?”

“Uh, anything’s fine,” Red says in surprise.

“Come on, kid, pick something.”

“Um. Come back to me.”

“No pokemon for me, please, Eva,” Leaf says, voice raised.

“Understood. I can prepare a salad of mixed greens with tangerine slices, walnuts and feta cheese to ensure a balanced nutritional meal. Is that acceptable?”

“Very acceptable, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Well?” Bill asks as he pauses to watch a mechanical arm disassemble and reassemble a series of small, complex metal pieces. It keeps trying new permutations, and Red is distracted by the blur of movement for a moment before he realizes Bill is talking to him.

“Oh, uh, pidgey burger? Please?”

“Certainly.”

“Thank you, Eva,” Red says, looking around for a camera or microphone to direct his attention to.

“You’re welcome.”

“So is Eva a Genie, then?” Leaf asks, and Red suddenly feels very stupid. “Since she—it—can’t act independently, and just follows your direct orders?”

“Yep, though she has a number of autonomous routines, as you’ve seen,” Bill says as he types something into the console beside the robotic arm, causing it to stop moving and reset back to a resting state. He then leads on, walking deeper into the lab. “As far as I’m aware she’s one of the four strongest AI in the world, but that just makes her less narrow than the others. She’s still a long way from true general intelligence.”

“So you’re trying to make her smarter?” Red asks. “Win the race for AGI?”

Bill barks laughter. “Fuck no, and I’ve had to sabotage a number of projects trying to work on self-improving AI. Haven’t you been listening?”

“I think so? Wouldn’t strong AI help you out a lot? I mean, you’re not, uh, ‘blisteringly stupid,’ right? Eva’s not going to turn us into hamburgers just because she, I mean it, runs out of pidgey meat.”

Bill sighs. “Ok, let’s see how smart you are, Mr. Verres. What do you want? What’s your goal in life?”

Red pauses a moment to consider how this might be a trap, then says, “To learn. Specifically, I’m most curious about the origin of pokemon species. Study how they arise, where they come from.”

“That’s it?”

Red blinks. He’s not used to people dismissing his aspiration as too low. “It’s one of the greatest mysteries in the world. And… there are so many hypotheses and beliefs out there, none with any real evidence to support one theory over another. Learning the truth about reality is important to me.”

“One of Oak’s, alright. But try to dream a bit bigger. What do you really want, if you could have anything, even supposedly impossible things?”

I want my dad back.

It takes Red a moment to shove that thought away, after the pain of it echoes through his chest, again and again and again, reverberating with his heartbeats. He puts on a thoughtful face until it passes, breaths suddenly shallow.

He knows Bill said “impossible,” but the impossible has a quality to it that the merely improbable lacks. Even if a computer could reverse engineer his dad’s genetic code from his and his mom’s, then flash grow a clone, at best the new Tom’s experiences would be made up of imperfect and disjointed memories from those that knew him. It could reassemble Tom Verres atom by atom, but where would it get an image for the brain? Short of time travel or some evidence of an afterlife, Red’s father is dead, and no scientific breakthrough, no matter how miraculous, is going to change that.

Once the ache fades, Red says, “I guess ending death would be the most important thing. Not just aging and disease, but also pacifying all wild pokemon. Make the world a truly safe place to live.”

“Fine, great, you’re an enlightened humanist. Now, what are your challenges, if you use AGI?”

“Um. Can I have a minute to think about it?”

“I would be disappointed if you didn’t take at least five.”

Red ponders this as they continue to walk around the lab. Leaf asks some questions about the future of human interface virtual reality while Red tries to think it through. He takes out his notepad and starts writing down ideas.

“Isn’t that kind of important though?” Leaf asks. “People could use that to train their pokemon so much more safely-”

“Yeah, but it’s kind of boring.”

Leaf’s eyes widen.  “Boring?”

“It bores me.”  Bill watches a group of small robots navigate a maze for a moment, then pulls up the past trial data from the screen beside it.  “So I don’t do it.”

“But… it could solve so many problems! Help so many people!”

Bill shrugs, eyes on the screen. “So let someone else figure it out. I’ve got more important things to deal with.”

Leaf frowns. “So is it because it’s boring, or because it’s not important?”

“Both. Have you noticed that people have a hundred new problems and crises every year? They never stop finding new limits that they need someone else to help them overcome. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with it all.”

Leaf watches a robot stop moving as Bill types something on the keyboard, then start its maze over by trying a completely different route. “You talk like you’re not one of them.”

“I try not to be, when I can help it. I moved out here to get away from all their pointless needs.”

Leaf frowns. “Why bother with any of the things you do, then?”

“Because the problems I’m trying to solve matter. And before you ask, yes, I’m qualified to determine that. Especially since it’s my time and money I’m spending.”

“I didn’t mean to-”

“Yes you did, but it’s fine,” Bill says as he closes the program and starts walking again. “You’re still young. And that’s not an ageism thing, it’s just an objective metric of life experience.”

Red is only half listening to their conversation as he finishes sketching out his thoughts, but he catches the look from Leaf and smiles at her.  “People skills,” he mouths, and her expression clears as she smiles back. “I think I’m ready,” he says.

“Alright, walk me through it.”

“Ok, so I’m not using a Sovereign at all. If I just say ‘Figure out a way to stop people from dying,’ it might just start capturing everyone in pokeballs. If I explicitly rule that out, it might make a nanobot army and go around knocking people out to put them in suspension pods that keep them alive indefinitely. If I add qualifiers like ‘make sure nothing else about them changes,’ it might find a way to stop people from dying that keeps aging. If I explicitly include a stop to aging in the requirement, it might make us stop being able to change at all, because I said ‘nothing else about them changes,’ and technically that could be interpreted as literally, everything else has to stay the same. There are just too many ways it might go wrong.”

Bill nods. “Basic, but you get the point. There are way worse things it could do.”

“Like what?”

“Remember that it’s a machine, not magic. It has to have the resources to accomplish whatever it sets out to do. It has to prioritize. Should it go for the big win that stops everyone from dying, or go for faster, smaller wins? Maybe it cures diseases first to save those people, then changes human genes to cure wounds in seconds to stop those deaths, then tries to stop aging to save the older people from dropping off.”

“None of that sounds bad,” Leaf says. “It might not be the most efficient, but it’s still saving people. Actually, it might be the most efficient after all. It’s smarter than us, isn’t it? Maybe its method of deciding would be better.”

“Better by what values? Is the life of a great grandmother with advanced dementia as valuable as the life of their great granddaughter? Even if we all agree that’s the case, and we input different weight to every category imaginary, ever see an AI play Chess, or Go?”

“Right,” Leaf says, speaking slowly. “It’ll start making decisions that don’t make sense to us.”

“It might even seem like it’s malfunctioning,” Red says. “How would we know? It might decide the main priority to save humans from dying is to stop the sun from eventually expanding, and waste all its time and the planet’s resources pursuing a path to stopping that. To us it would just look like it’s crazy and we’d pull the plug.”

Bill nods. “All this, of course, changes the more human-like the machine is in its intelligence. And it’s why it’s absolutely essential that it can communicate its intentions and actions clearly. We need to be able to understand what it’s doing and why, at all times. But that leads us to the question of autonomy. Who, ultimately, is it explaining its actions to? Who’s giving it orders? Its creator? Lot of power to put into one person’s hands. A committee? Just kill me now.”

“What about itself?” Leaf says quietly. “If it’s truly sapient, anything else would be slavery.”

“Give the girl a star!” Bill is getting more and more animated as the conversation goes on, and paying less attention to the various tasks he stops to do around the lab. Red wonders how often he has visitors, and if he misses company to talk with, even if they’re not his peers. “If we’re talking about a truly sapient machine, that’s a whole different mess. Me, I’m not bothered by the moral question as much as I am the security risk it poses. Anything with sapience and even the slightest bit of self-preservation is going to pose enormous existential risk, even if it’s just a box with a text screen.”

“But even without sapience, a strong enough AI could end humanity by accident,” Red says, thoughts spinning. “Why haven’t I heard about all this, anyway? An existential threat this big…”

“It’s too big,” Leaf says. “People can’t grasp it. It’s like worrying about a meteor strike.”

“But we know this meteor strike is coming, and soon,” Bill says. “Sure, ‘soon’ may be twenty years, or it may be fifty, or it may be a hundred. But it’s not an if, it’s a when. So, knowing all that, Mr. Verres, you still haven’t finished your explanation.”

“Right. Well. Sovereign is out, like I said. But so is Genie. Even if it’s one task at a time, that’s all it takes sometimes, especially if I’m not the only one with access to the AI. The more people it might take orders from, the higher the chances that it does something wrong, or does something the wrong way. I’m sticking with an Oracle. I teach it everything we know about biology, and ask it to tell me the instructions for designing a retrovirus that will end mammal aging. When it does, we study the design, and if it seems okay, create a batch and test it on pokemon. If it seems to work, test it on human volunteers.”

“And that’s how you would word it? ‘End mammal aging?'”

“Yeah. Even if it decides that killing something ‘ends aging,’ we’ll know from the pokemon trials before we try it on humans.” Leaf makes a face, but Red just shrugs. “Whatever the problem is, just keep re-iterating until we get it right.”

“And what if it’s communicable? You said ‘end mammal aging.’ Sounds to me like you want to end all mammal aging on the planet.”

“We’d test it in sterile chambers,” Red says. “Obviously.”

“Obviously. So, you’ve maybe got a beginning of an idea of one of the problems we face with advancing AI technology. And you started with Sovereign and worked your way down, which is the ideal way to think about AI safety.”

“There’s more to it than that though, right?” Red asks as he thinks through all the complications in designing a system that can think and act on its own “What about incentives? If it’s sapient, how do you get your machine to want to do things for you? Once you program its values, how do you program its incentives? There are so many ways it could go wrong!”

“Now you’re getting it.” Bill smiles. “I’m glad inviting you here wasn’t a waste of time.”

“I’m still stuck on the whole ‘slavery’ thing,” Leaf says. “There’s no way to actually stop an AI from becoming sapient accidentally, is there?”

“Not unless neuroscientists isolate what exactly consciousness is, and the brain structure responsible for it,” Bill says as he leads them to another door. Red wonders if they’re about to enter another lab or go upstairs to eat. “Until then, for all we know it might just be an emergent property of sufficiently broad intelligence, and could arise on its own if we make a computer that’s smart and flexible enough.”

The door opens to reveals a flight of stairs, leading them into a living room that looks exactly like the one they first entered to go into the biochem lab.

Bill walks into the kitchen, where three plates of food sit waiting, with a can of soda sitting beside each… the same flavors that they took earlier from the other fridge. “Help yourselves,” Bill says as he takes his plate over to the table, and Red and Leaf follow to do the same. Now that he has a moment to study it, Red notices there’s barely any room in the kitchen for someone to cook or move around: most of it is filled with a series of machines that Eva uses to prepare meals. Red looks up and sees motionless mechanical arms attached to rails on the ceiling.

“What do you guys want to look at while we eat?” Bill asks once they sit down. “Beach?” The walls suddenly have yellow sand, rolling blue waves, and piercing blue skies projected onto them in every direction, as if the three sit on a tiny island. “Forests?” The oceans are replaced with endless brown and green, and the slow roar of crashing waves is replaced with birdsong and wind rushing through countless leaves. “Cafe?” Now the walls show bustling sidewalks in Cerulean city, the forest sounds replaced by ambient chatter and traffic.

Red stares, mouth open mid-bite at the changing environment around them. “Is this… live footage?” he asks, watching a woman in a long coat with an eevee perched on her shoulder walk by on the wall to his left. If he pays attention, he can just make out the fuzziness of the image as it’s projected onto the blank walls.

“Nah, goes for about thirty minutes before it loops.”

“It’s awesome,” Leaf says. “This one’s fine with me.”

Red nods, finally biting into his burger. It’s delicious. “I think this is the coolest house I’ve ever been in,” he says, mouth full. “And the coolest labs. Thanks for inviting us here, Bill, even if it was just so you could get a soda.”

“I know there was something else,” Bill says as he starts to cut his steak. “It’ll come to me. In the meantime, let’s talk about your plan to catch abra.”

Red pulls his gaze away from watching someone ride by the street next to them on a tauros. “Sure. So, we’ve got some speakers, and I figured we’d use them to set up a field-”

“I know the basics. What I wanted to see for myself is what kind of person you are. Oak doesn’t give licenses out to just anyone, but it’s always good to be sure.”

“And… what kind of person am I?” Red asks.

“The kind who probably won’t get himself killed on my property and make me have to deal with the media. So when do you want to do it?”

“Oh. Well I figured we’d wait for Blue to finish at the gym for today, unless he gets out late. In which case, tomorrow?”

“No.” Bill shakes his head. “If you’re doing this on my land, you’ll wait till next week.”

Red blinks. “Um. Sure, if you insist. Why next week?”

“Because you’re going to spend the time between then and now preparing. You’ll find the best spot to do it, set up mock trials, and practice drills. Once you’ve got an idea of what to expect and how to respond, then you can try for real.”

“Yeah, okay, that makes a lot of sense. Are you going to determine if we’re ready or not?”

“Ha. Like I have time for that. No, I’m not going to babysit. You’ve got the land and the time you need to figure it out. The rest is on you.”

Red nods. “I appreciate it. More than I can say. Is there anything you want out of all this? Some of the abra, maybe?”

Bill waves his knife to the side dismissively. “Let’s just say you’ll owe me a favor. Nothing particularly dangerous, and nothing illegal. It’ll probably be whatever that thing is that I can’t remember wanting to ask you to do. Sound fair?”

“Yeah, more than fair! Thanks again.”

“Don’t mention it. Oak said you’re doing this for research, right? Not just to get rich quick?”

Red swallows his mouthful and washes it down. “Yeah.” He explains his ideas, and is surprised to see Bill’s attention sharpen away from his meal.

“No luck with the research journals so far, huh?” Bill asks, tipping his soda can back as he takes a swig.

Red shakes his head, suppressing a sigh. “I probably should have taken Professor Oak up on his offer.”

“Don’t let it get you down. The whole system’s broken, believe me: I’m self funded, sitting on top of a dozen new breakthroughs a year, have an AI to make writing research papers a breeze, and I still get frustrated by how broken the world of science publishing is.”

Red stares at him. “Uh. How is that supposed to not let it get me down, again?”

Bill purses his lips, then shrugs. “Alright, so it should probably get you down. If it helps, it’s just another problem I’m hoping will be solved soon.”

“How?”

“A new narrow AI I’ve been doing some consulting on for Scott Alexander. It’s called Raikoth, and it’s going to turn the scientific world on its head.”

“Is it a research Oracle?”

“More like a database with a bunch of linked prediction markets. The way things work now, researchers are both the people who come up with the theory they want to test, and then do the experiments to test them. Right away, you’ve got a bunch of biases interfering with what should be a truly objective process. What if, instead, anyone could come up with a theory, and outsource the experimentation to a neutral, special lab that has no skin in the game?”

“I see why it removes bad incentives,” Leaf says. “But how does it fix the funding and publishing issue?”

“I think I get it,” Red says, starting to smile. “Prediction markets, meaning people are betting on whether the theories are right or wrong?”

“Yep. Some particular theory might start out negative-sum, with the missing money going to fund the research when the betting pool becomes large enough. But convince a Region to subsidize payouts, and now you’ve got positive sum markets that starts to look very lucrative to the average citizen looking to make a quick buck. Instead of reviewing hundreds of proposals by dozens of labs trying to get a taste of the yearly research budget pie, the Regional government just pays that money to Raikoth, marked specifically for a particular kind of research they want to see done. Private organizations do the same thing: take some of their research budget, put it into Raikoth on specific theories they want to see tested, and watch as more and more money pours in to fund it.”

Red’s grinning now. “What about the research lab though? The consulting scientists would have to be watched to make sure no one involved is betting.”

“Naturally. The oversight would come from investors on both sides, and once a lab or researcher is selected, they’d take proposals from both sides, and decide on an experimental draft. Then they’d publish it.”

“Before the research is done? Pre-registration, to make sure they don’t change the methodology?”

“More than that, it’ll be the exact paper that’s published, just with the numbers all blank. ‘We compared three different levels of muk exposure and found that the highest level had X percent more health problems, characterized by fever, rash, cough, and so on, than the lowest, p Y.’ After the research is done, just fill in the numbers, add a Discussion section, and boom. No alterations in changing how the results are shown or which tests are done during the data gathering.”

“And since the research odds are being made public,” Leaf says, “Everyone can weigh in, with not just their money, but also their reputation.”

“Oh yeah. Researchers and consulting scientists are going to be held to a new standard, completely by natural incentives. A public record showing a history of accurate predictions will become not just lucrative financially, but give a lot of prestige that makes them more likely to have their own research ideas funded and tested out in the marketplace, or even hired to consult. And if the results don’t feel conclusive enough, and people are still arguing over whether it’s true or not, a replication study can be funded the same way, because people obviously still care.”

“What if an idea doesn’t get funding?” Red asks, thinking of the week he spent trying to get funding. “What if no one cares enough about the proposal?”

“Then we’re no worse off than we are now. But remember, this can be crowd-funded incrementally. People have opinions about things, people want to make money with little effort, and there are guaranteed to be science hedge funds that go around trying to make a quick buck off someone’s hypothesis.”

“You know what my favorite part of that idea is?” Leaf says with a sly smile. “The people who keep pushing bad ideas, even after research debunks them… they’ll keep betting against the research, until they either go broke, or have to admit to themselves that they don’t actually believe in what they say they do enough to risk money on it.”

Bill snorts. “Some of them will stay in denial, insist that the system is corrupt or biased somehow anyway. But yeah, it’ll punish that kind of thinking pretty hard, and make their views mostly irrelevant. Same with companies falsifying reports by paying researchers to do the studies for them. With Raikoth, there’ll be a profit motive for everyone to be on the lookout for corruption.”

“Sounds great,” Red says, feeling wistful and frustrated as he imagines such a system. “I hope you guys finish it soon.”

“Hopefully not too long. In the meantime though, if you ever manage to find something out in your research, let me know. Some solid evidence might be enough for me to build a whole new lab.” Bill rubs his chin. “I’ve thought about diving into psychic research before, just didn’t think it was worth it.”

“Well, if you want to fund some exploratory research…” Red grins.

Bill chuckles, shaking his head. “You can use my land, but without some solid justification that your idea has merit, even a few hundred dollars is money I have better priorities for. No offense.”

“No, I get it,” Red says, feeling only a little disappointed. It was a long shot, but now that he knows what Bill spends his time working on, Red can’t begrudge him his higher priorities.

“Are you interested in psychic research to help with AI value alignment?” Leaf asks as she spears a tangerine slice with her fork.

“That and I’d like to be psychic, if I can. How’d you know?”

She smiles. “Seems like the best way to make sure it understands what you really want.”

Bill nods. “Find out how psychic communication works biologically, and we may be able to get it to work mechanically. Not only could we control machines telepathically, we could ensure that our actual CEV is more likely to be followed.”

“CEV?”

“Coherent extrapolated volition.”

“You mentioned that before,” Red recalls. “I understand the words individually, but as a phrase I’m not sure I get it. It’s just what you want? Making sense of your will?”

“It’s Yudkowsky’s term for the ‘end game,’ so to speak. Remember when we were talking about oversight? Who’s the computer listening to? Eventually we should probably make sure that one person can’t use the machine for evil, which means programming it with the ability to make all the best decisions for everyone, itself.”

“I can’t imagine people being happy with that,” Leaf says. “They’re barely content with other humans that they elected deciding things for them.”

“Again, end-game. You wouldn’t design your first AI to do this, it’s at the end of the hierarchy of getting it to do what you mean, and not just what you say, to the point where you may not even have to say anything anymore.”

“That would mean getting every part before it right,” Red says. “Not just what you value, but also what you will value, which means… knowing how you think? How you will think, in any given situation?”

Bill shakes his head. “More than that, even.”

“What can be more than that?” Leaf asks.

“Okay, so first you want to make sure the machine knows what you consider important, so it can avoid altering those in the wrong way, or let you know if something you ask it to do will require it to. So if you ask it to find a way to clean pollutants out of the air, and it knows that you care about there being a certain amount of oxygen in the air for humans to breathe, then it won’t use a solution that alters that.

“Second, you want the machine to be able to model and understand what you believe, so it can tell you if something you believe is wrong. If you ask an AI to find a way to to undo the effects of a human entering a pokeball, the AI should be able to understand that you’re under the assumption that they’ll be restored back to their former self.  If a treatment the AI comes up with would restore a human’s intelligence but wipe out their memories and personality, it should know to let you know that.

“Third, you want the machine to be able to model your desire in asking them to accomplish something. This is the classic idea of a wish being granted in a literal fashion rather than in the way the wisher intended, and of course, it’s incredibly complex and difficult. Like before, this is the machine knowing that when you ask it to end aging, you meant that you want to end the negative effects of aging on your mind and body.

“And finally, coherent extrapolated volition. Not just what you want, given the knowledge and beliefs you have, but what you would want, if you had all the knowledge the AI does, and could better consider arguments for and against your beliefs, and could better judge and understand yourself and your desires.”

“That… sounds incredibly hard. And dangerous,” Red says. He stopped eating while he listened, and brings the burger halfway up to his mouth before lowering it again, still deep in thought. “You’d need to teach the machine ethics that everyone can agree on.”

“Meta ethics,” Leaf says. “The very idea of how we know what right and wrong even are…”

“Bill, who else is working on this?” Red asks. “Not just you, right?”

“No, I mostly just fund research and do some consulting work once in awhile. Bostrom, Müller, Amodei, Taylor, Russell, and many others are doing the heavy lifting. As you saw, I’ve got too many other projects to work on.”

“How much more important can they be?” Red asks.

“Well, first off, I want to live long enough to see the singularity,” Bill says as he inspects a slice of the meat and mutters something to himself, or probably Eva. “Which means I need to help make sure society doesn’t come crashing down from a series of catastrophic pokemon attacks. Improving trainer tech makes for a fun hobby, and is economical to boot, which means more money I can donate to fund other worthy causes. Then there’s solving the actual dying problem itself, whether from some antibiotic resistant pandemic, a degenerative disease, or just old age.”

Leaf twirls her fork around on her plate, looking pensive. “I have a question.”

“What’s up?” Bill asks as he uses a piece of bread to start sopping up the juices on his plate.

“When AI is built, it’ll have a body, right? Even if it’s just a box, there’s a physical location that is, in essence, it.

“Yeah, and it might actually be pretty big too, depending on how powerful it needs to be. Might be a literal box, like the old computer towers that sat beside people’s desks.”

Red sees where Leaf is going. “Oh, shit. What happens if that physical object becomes a pokemon, like beldum?”

Professor Oak told him about that: the interregional panic during his school days, when a library in Hoenn was destroyed overnight from within by a swarm of the new pokemon. Investigations showed that the computers in their lab were all gone without a trace, and endless steps were taken worldwide to try and find out what happened, either to replicate it, or avoid having the same thing happen elsewhere. Efforts on both sides met with limited success.

Bill nods, face serious as he toys with the last of his food, gaze down. “It’s been talked about, believe me. Best case scenario is we get something like a super metagross, smarter than most. Worst case, well…”

“It might be sapient,” Red says, feeling a chill.

“With the way inanimate objects gain sentience when they become pokemon, it’s distinctly possible. AGI is frightening enough when it’s just limited to what computers and machinery can do. A pokemon that’s smarter than a human, and has Electric or Steel or Psychic powers? Arceus help us all… and I don’t even believe in that thousand-armed horse.”


A week, Bill said, before Red could try his abra catching experiment.

Sometimes a week feels like a lifetime. This one, Red knows, would be the blink of an eye.

As he and Leaf ride back to the Trainer House from Bill’s, his thoughts are still on all they learned from the inventor. There’s a sense of emptiness in his stomach that his burger is doing nothing to combat.

“You okay?” Leaf asks as they cross Nugget Bridge. “You’ve been quiet since we left.”

“Just thinking.”

“Your notebook isn’t out.”

Red looks at her. She’s smiling, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “It bothers you, huh?”

He snorts. “What, the part where everyone’s going to probably die in a generation or two?”

“Or the part where stopping that from happening will probably involve enslaving a newly created, intelligent being?”

“Or the part where the vast majority of people don’t care enough to do anything about it?”

Her smile is more genuine now. “Or the part where if you do anything else with your life, it might all just be meaningless?”

He chuckles. “Or the part where all our other problems are ‘boring’ and unimportant?”

“Are they, though?” she asks, turning serious. “Is he right?”

Red stretches his arms over his head and leans back. “I don’t know. Maybe he is. If so, I should probably just abandon what I’m working on now and start studying computers.”

“What if you’re not good at computer stuff?”

Red smiles. “I guess I’m just not that important then. What about you, you said you liked it well enough. Are you going to change your goals, now?”

“Ha! No way.” She shakes her head, tossing her hair over her shoulders as her eyes gleam in the passing street lights. “The weeks I spent in Pewter, learning about people, how to change their minds, write in a way that speaks to them… None of the things I’ve tried before have felt as right.”

“Or as important?”

“Yeah. I want to be influential enough to make a difference in how people think about pokemon, and maybe get more people to treat them like I do. Stop people from eating them, or glorifying battles for sport. And I’m still going to do that, if I can. But why stop there? If I can convince people to stop eating pokemon, why not also convince people to take existential threats more seriously? I’m still going to make a difference, and I’m going to do it my way.”

Red watches her, chest warm with admiration. “You’re pretty awesome, you know that?”

Her cheeks color as her eyes widen. “Um. Thanks.”

Red looks away. “Sorry. I was just… I was having trouble with it. But hearing that helped.”

“Well. Uh. Good. I’m glad.”

They ride in silence again, and after a few moments Leaf pulls her phone out and begins typing on it. Red stops trying to look casual and at ease, and eventually his awkwardness fades as he considers what Leaf said. There’s no reason to give up what he’s good at, what he’s passionate about, if it means he can make a difference in his own way. He’s not going to stop trying to learn about where pokemon come from, and the best path to figuring that out for now is still in trying to understand what psychic phenomena are. Bill even said that would be useful for potential value alignment in AI.

But what Bill talked about still makes him feel small. Helpless.

Red feels his fingernails cutting into his palms, and looks to see them clenched into fists.

…for the clever mind does naught with thought but lights a shuttered room…

He slowly forces them open.

…with these handsspeak ‘break!’and split the world in two…

Red takes his phone out and sends a message to his mom. A few seconds later she responds:

Hey Red, how are you?

Good. Just checking in.

Thank you hon. Are you enjoying Cerulean City?

Yeah. I met Bill! His house was nuts… he has like five of them, all connected to labs.

Exciting! What’s he like?

Red smiles. Unique. He had a hologram outside his house of a clefairy, and when he spoke through the external speakers Leaf and I thought it was talking at first!

Ha ha! That must have been fun for you 🙂

Almost had a heart attack xP But also it reminded me, you said you found a good price for a clefairy, right?

Yep, still watching it for you. No one bought it. Want it now?

Yes please. Send it to Cerulean North’s Trainer House.

Will do. After vetting it should be available by tomorrow.

Thanks mom. Love you lots.

You too dear, say hi to the others for me *kiss kiss*

Red exits the messenger and immediately opens the pokemon market app. He checks the clefairy entries, and refreshes until he sees the one his mom mentioned disappear.

Nine hundred dollars. He told his mom he wouldn’t sell it unless he caught one at Mt. Moon… which he hadn’t.

But that was before he and Leaf nearly died in the forest fire. Before his first research project was so inconclusive. Before he found out how expensive psychic training was. Before he lost his rattata and spearow. Before Blue and Leaf almost got killed by a Renegade.

Before he met Bill, and learned just how small his ambitions and goals might actually be.

He can’t afford self-imposed disadvantages like this. He really wouldn’t mind having a clefairy of his own, but that $900 investment would easily fetch three times the price once Daisy reveals her new routine at the next Coordinator event, which will be at the end of the month, if Red remembers right.

He’ll need every resource, every scrap of luck or talent he can leverage, if he wants to make a difference in the world of today, and the future that’s coming.

Sorry, mom. He tucks his phone away, staring outside the window as the cab navigates the lively nighttime streets of the city. He rests his forehead against the cool glass and closes his eyes. I warned you I wouldn’t live up to your expectations.

Confirmation Bias

If confirmation bias had an image, it would be something like this:

How many black dots do you see in there? If you’re like most people. chances are you see 1, maybe 2. Until you move your eyes. And then you see another 1, maybe 2. And the first ones you saw are gone.

There are 12 black dots in that image. At most you can probably only see a fraction of them at a time.   And yet your mind convinces you that it can see the whole image perfectly… so much so that it helpfully fills out the grey intersections where the other dots are, leaving them empty. Don’t mind them. Nothing to see there.

Our minds are so good at pattern recognition they will ignore data about reality to complete the patterns they perceive. And if you’re one of the rare people who can see all 12 at once, don’t worry: there are plenty of other things that will fool you instead.

If your brain can trick you into only seeing one or two of the dots on this image at the same time, you can rest assured it can trick you into thinking you know more than you actually do about data that isn’t even all in front of you at the same time, let alone data that isn’t all the data in the world about that topic.

That’s the trickiest half of confirmation bias. Not just focusing on data that confirms what you believe, but ignoring evidence that goes against what you believe, so thoroughly that something in your mind filters it from your senses or memory before it even reaches “you.”

There’s nothing wrong with having a belief without having all the data concerning it.  We’re imperfect beings, and can’t go through life having 0% confidence in things just because of unknown unknowns.

But believing something isn’t the same as being 100% or even 90% confident that it’s true. You can believe in something and acknowledge that you’re only 70% confident in it, or 53.8% confident, as long as you know of things that would increase or decrease your confidence if brought to your attention.

But most people don’t think that way. They don’t talk about their beliefs in probabilities. Even if they acknowledge that they “might be wrong,” they’re confident that what they think is true. And research has shown people to be overconfident in their beliefs again and again and again.

Thanks to empiricism and reason, we do have good reasons to believe certain scientific and philosophical ideas. They’ve been vigorously tested and used to make correct predictions about the world. They’ve been used to change things in our external, shared reality. It’s okay to be confident in things like “I exist” and “things in the world can be measured.”

But things like political beliefs? Beliefs about people you’ve never met? Beliefs about systems you’ve never studied?

Lower your confidence in all of those. All of them.

When you’ve reached the point where you know what you value (Equality, Justice, Health, etc) but are not quite positive about what the right things to do to achieve the optimal balance of those values in the real world are, you’re a bit closer to understanding what you think you know and why you think you know it.

If you’ve reached solipsism, dial it back. That way lies madness, and insufferable, pointless arguments.

Chapter 35: Deception

Leaf wakes up the next morning with a sick feeling in her gut. She went to sleep late last night, engrossed by every new comment that showed up on a half dozen different news and community sites.

People condemned the vandals, or supported them, or made unrelated arguments and accusations, seeming to fit the events into whatever narrative they happened to believe. It was dizzying trying to keep up with it, especially with only token comments from anyone official, who would probably wait until morning before making a more complete statement. Just like Leaf knew she should. Eventually she forced herself to turn off her phone and tossed and turned for an hour before drifting off to troubled sleep.

But things don’t seem any clearer this morning when she grabs her phone and immediately begins browsing the sites again, still rubbing the gum from her eyes. She absorbs all the comments that people left overnight, and it gets harder not to respond, especially when they bring her up directly, misrepresent her arguments, or outright put words in her mouth. She knows that running around trying to put fires out might just feed them, especially when groggy and stressed.

She checks the time to see if it’s too early to message Laura, and frowns to see that it’s only 6:18 AM. She shouldn’t, especially since she already knows what Red’s mom would say: keep your head down, let it blow itself out, make a statement when things are calmer. Her heart aches when she sees the pictures, reposted again and again, of the glass doors and windows of the museum smashed in, spray painted symbols of Pewter’s predominant religion on the wall beside it. She thinks of all the people who worked there who she met, who took time out of their day to speak with her, like Dr. Brennan, and regrets bringing such trouble into their lives.

I’m not responsible for this. The people who did it are, and maybe the ones who egged them on.

Easy to say. Hard to fully accept.

She finally forces herself to close her phone again, and gets out of bed to shower and prepare for the day. She starts thinking of things to say, statements to make. An apology first, for clearly angering so many people. A plea for peaceful discourse. Would that make her sound too weak? Should she care? She wonders how Mayor Kitto feels about her now. Probably wishes she’d never come to Pewter.

She leaves the public bathrooms wanting to just crawl back into bed and draw the covers over her head. But when she gets back to her room and, against her better judgement, checks her phone again, she sees something that makes her smile.

It’s an organized message, from over a dozen Pewter churches. They openly condemn the vandalism, and its perpetrators, and plead that the city discuss its differences without anger. A small group of volunteers have already helped clean the graffiti, and the overall tone of the conversations does seem to have shifted slightly since the message went out.

Leaf feels a hundred pounds lighter as she closes her browser and messages Red and Blue, then puts her phone away and gathers her things. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as she thought.

She meets the boys downstairs for breakfast, then they pay at the front and head to the nearby pokecenter. The sun is still rising, and Cerulean West is rising with it. People in work clothes, often with a cup of coffee in one hand, busily move from place to place before the crowds start congesting the roads. Blue’s on his phone as he walks behind Red and Leaf, who talk about the trip to Cerulean North. It isn’t until they reach the center that Blue stops dead and stares at her. “What the hell happened to your following, Leaf?”

“Oh. Uh. Something happened in Pewter.” She flushes. She hadn’t sent Blue the news article last night, thinking he wouldn’t be as interested.

“The museum was vandalized,” Red explains, then looks at her. “I didn’t want to bring it up, figured you might be upset about it.”

“I am. Just trying to see how things turn out.”

“See how things turn out?!” Blue points his screen at her. “Your following doubled overnight! Doubled! How are you not riding this wave? You should be typing until your fingers are sore!”

“Whoa, no,” Red says. “Bad idea. You might cause more drama, it’ll look like you’re making it about you.”

“She can’t just say nothing, it’ll look callous-”

“Guys,” Leaf interrupts. “I was planning on asking Laura, when we’re getting our pokemon. Think she’s awake now, Red?”

“Yeah, she’s an early riser. We’ll let you get your pokemon first so you can call her after.”

“Thanks.” They walk in and go to the line reception hall, a sizeable line already formed as the pokemon trainers prepared for their day. “Or I guess I can do it now. Save my spot?”

They agree, and Leaf wanders over to an empty table to make the call. She breathes deep to settle her nerves as the phone rings, and mostly succeeds by the time Laura picks up. “Good morning, Leaf. Is everything okay?”

“Morning Laura! Yep, everything’s fine. Sorry for the early call.”

“Not a problem, I’m just moving into my new apartment and trying to figure out where to open each container ball. What’s on your mind?”

“Well…” Leaf gives Laura what was intended to be a quick summary, but she keeps thinking of new comments she read or thoughts she had to add to it, until she finally trails off with, “And now I’m thinking it might be best to answer after all, since there was such support-”

“No,” Laura says. “It’s great that there’s been positivity too, but you should still keep out of it. This may be one of the hardest things you learn to do Leaf, so listen carefully. When you’re just a private citizen, you can make all the posts in forums you want. You can have dozens of conversations a day about everything you think of or are interested in. But once you step into the limelight, once you’re in any way a public figure, your whole perspective has to change. And from what I’m seeing right now with your following, you’re definitely a public figure. A minor one, mostly just in one city, but still.”

Leaf listens and tries to really absorb her words. “Okay, yeah. I knew that, I guess I just had to hear you say it too. So not even an apology, right?”

“No, not even that. You did nothing wrong. You just wrote an article, and nothing in it was inaccurate or misrepresented anyone. No offense Leaf, but it shouldn’t even have grown as big as it did. It likely wouldn’t have without the mayor shining a spotlight on it.”

“I know. I bet he’s wishing he didn’t, now.”

Laura makes a sound that Leaf can’t quite interpret. “Regardless, the best thing you can do right now, with things as they are, is ignore it… and get to work on your next article.”

Leaf blinks. “What? Oh. Not on the museum, on something else, right? Keep the momentum going.”

“Exactly. If you’re going to be a journalist, even part time, you have to always be moving on to the next thing. Your job isn’t to pick a hill and fight on it until the bitter end. If you ever want to go into politics, that’s the time to make ideological stands. As a journalist, your job is to investigate and report.”

Leaf is silent for a moment. Does she want to be a journalist, really? She set out to just write something that might make a difference about something she cared about. That’s basically what journalists do, but… after all that happened, is it something she’s willing to keep going through over and over? Or is it just going to be like her other interests, a short lived passion that drives her to try something new, learn new skills, then get bored and move on?  She thinks about the book she was planning on writing about local myths in Kanto, and how she has little interest in that anymore.

On the other hand, Leaf’s mind is already racing through ideas for what she could write another article about. It’s an exciting feeling, and she enjoys the idea that she might have made a difference, even if it had some negative consequences. If this is going to be another short lived passion, she’ll at least ride it until it peters out, not bow out early because a few windows got broken. “Okay, so I’ll start looking for a new thing to write about. What if someone asks me about it, though? No comment?”

“If you’re ever in front of a camera or in an interview with someone, you can comment on it. But you have to be careful. Again, public figure versus private are two very different things. Now that you have a following, you can’t just think about what you say… you also have to think about what people will hear.”

“Like that preacher.”

Laura’s tone darkens. “Exactly like him. Thankfully he’s getting some backlash over it, from the other priests even. We’ll see what he does in response. But regardless, stay out of it. I’m saying that in my official capacity as your mentor.”

Leaf smiles. “Don’t worry, I’m convinced.”

“Good. I’ve got some friends in Cerulean, maybe someone has extra leads they don’t have time to investigate. One of them might be a good start for a story, if you don’t find something else that interests you.”

“That would be great. Thanks, Laura.”

“Of course, hon. Give Red and Blue my love, and enjoy Cerulean!”

“I will. Bye!”

Leaf closes the call and flips the phone around and around in her hands for a moment, thinking. She feels better about things now, like she doesn’t have to hurry up and respond to the situation. She can just take her time and-

The phone rings and vibrates in her hand, startling her into almost tossing it up. She looks around to make sure no one saw, then checks the caller ID. Hm. Unrecognized.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Leaf, how are you?”

Leaf blinks. “Mayor Kitto, hi. I’m… fine, thanks, and yourself?”

“Good, thanks for asking.” The mayor sounds busy, and Leaf imagines him at his desk of paperwork, talking with her via headset while he types with one hand and flips through a folder with the other. “Listen, I know you’re probably busy with your travels. I just wanted to let you know there’s been an incident-”

“Oh gods, another one?” Leaf’s stomach is cold.

“What? Oh, you know about the museum then? Sorry, that’s what I meant.”

“Oh! Yeah, I saw the report last night.”

He chuckles. “Still keeping an eye on our fair city? I’m happy to hear it. Well, that makes this conversation much shorter. I was wondering when you plan to respond? I have a press release in a couple hours, and was hoping to-”

“Respond? To who?”

“To… the situation. In general. You were going to make a statement of some kind, right?”

Leaf is suddenly very, very glad she called Laura when she did. If she’d had this conversation first, she’d feel compelled to assure the mayor that she would, despite having no idea what to say. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Wouldn’t I just make things worse somehow?”

“Oh, I don’t think there’s going to be anything more from this, some folks just got carried away. There’s been a great coming together this morning, and I’m sure you could help with that.”

Leaf frowns. She is glad for the show of solidarity, and if she makes a clear statement of appreciation for that, it could push back a bit against the idea that she’s trying to stir up the city, which is something she saw a number of times from her detractors . Maybe he’s right… “I’ll have to think about it.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Wrong? No, everything’s fine. Why?”

Mayor Kitto doesn’t sound busy any more, voice thoughtful. “I’m sorry, I guess I just assumed this would be something you’re interested in. Was I wrong to involve you in all this, Leaf? I hope I didn’t misread your intentions.”

Leaf rubs her brow with one hand. She wishes she had a moment to think, things feel like they’re speeding up again. “No, I’m g-glad that you mentioned my article.” She almost said grateful, which she was, but… it suddenly didn’t feel prudent to say. “I just want to make sure I’m not doing more harm than good.”

Kitto is quiet for a moment, then says, “I understand. You’re a smart woman. Trust your instincts, and I’m sure you’ll do the right thing. Thanks for your time, Leaf.”

“And you, Mayor.” She ends the call with relief, and begins to spin her phone around and around in her hands again. After a moment she puts it on the table and stares at it distrustfully from there.

Damn it all. She was ready to move on after talking with Laura, but now she’s not quite as sure of herself. She rests her elbows on the table and puts her face between her hands, gaze distant. If she distrusts the mayor’s motives, she shouldn’t do something he wants her to without knowing them. She knows that Laura, at least, has her best interests at heart. So why is she still torn on this?

Because it’s hard to leave it behind, she realizes. That’s what Laura meant. The limelight could be an addictive thing, especially for someone that will rely on attention for their work.

She wouldn’t be doing it for attention, though, if she does it at all. She’d be doing it to help…

Leaf abruptly stands up and pockets her phone. She needs to focus on something else. The sooner she finds a new topic to catch her interest, the sooner she can put the temptation to stay involved in Pewter behind her.

As she heads back toward the guys, she wonders what engaging stories Cerulean City might be hiding.


Cerulean North is much wider than West, stretching all along the coast of the bay. Blue watches it approach from his seat on the roof of the bus, breathing in deep as he catches a glimpse of the coast through the high rises. He imagines he can smell salt on the air, and knows it’s just his imagination. He just misses the beach in Pallet.

Red and Leaf are standing with their hands on the railing, watching the city slowly grow around them as the bus weaves its way toward the heart of Cerulean North, where Blue will find its Gym.

Blue’s fingers trace the lids of his pokeballs for Kemuri, Gon, Maturin and Ion. A shiftry, a shroomish, a squirtle and a shinx… to beat one of the most powerful Water Type trainers in the world, and a powerful psychic at that. Blue doesn’t think he’s ready yet: his loss in Pewter still weighs heavily on his mind. But the only way to regain his momentum is to take Misty out in their first fight, to defeat her utterly if he can, with pokemon to spare.

He doesn’t know if that’ll be possible with his current lineup. Gym Leaders select the strength of their pokemon and the complexity of their strategy based on the number of badges their challengers have, but the jump in difficulty between getting one’s first and second badges is much higher than any other. Ideally that wouldn’t be the case, but Leaders would always pull the most punches against someone untested, and showing that you’re capable of beating one of them is enough for the rest to scale back the majority of their safety precautions.

Blue is going to need stronger pokemon before he faces Misty. No, not new ones that would take awhile to train and become familiar with… he’ll need his pokemon to be stronger.

He’ll need some of them to evolve.

“Not interested in seeing the view, Blue?” His attention snaps up to see Leaf smiling at him from the balcony.

“Been here a couple times before with gramps and Daisy.” And apparently once with his parents when he was very young, though he doesn’t remember it as well as Daisy does.

Red drops back into the chair beside him, arms over his head to grip the back of it as he stares up at a highrise they pass. “Did you ever meet Misty?”

“Sort of. We had dinner with her once just after she became Leader. I was pretty young though, don’t think I spoke much.”

“Do you know what her virtue is?” Leaf asks.

“No, like most Leaders, she doesn’t talk about it. But speculation online is that she favors adaptability. Being able to change to sudden circumstances. That or clever use of the environment.”

Red frowns. “Is this an actual thing? You’d think it would be pretty easy to find out about.”

Blue shrugs a shoulder. “To be honest it’s more of a tradition than a rule. Some Leaders probably don’t care as much about it. And it can only give you a path to take for victory. It’s not the only one.”

“Brock trained you in Bide because you demonstrated his, right? Might be worth figuring out, in case she gives you something too.”

“I’ll see what I can learn from her gym members.” The bus enters the city’s main street, stopping to let some people leave and others board. Blue sits up in his seat, watching for the road that will lead to the gym. “The battles themselves might give me some idea.”

A couple stops later, Red and Leaf get off when the bus reaches Cerulean North’s Trainer House. They wish Blue good luck, and agree to meet him for dinner. Blue nods along to whatever suggestions they make, forgetting them a moment later when the bus pulls away. As the gym approaches, all Blue can think about are the upcoming battles.

Pokemon evolve over time as they grow older, but their growth is accelerated when they’re in combat. If he wants to evolve his pokemon, putting them into combat is the best way to do it, but in the wild there’s always the risk of danger. A gym is the best place to get lots of fighting experience safely.

The problem is, that would require Blue switching his pokemon constantly, regardless of efficiency. Not only will it make combat harder, but it would make him appear less skilled than he is, which might make it harder for him to climb the ranks quickly and challenge Misty.

The buildings abruptly fall away to either side as the bus turns a corner, and the coast of Cerulean Bay fills the horizon. Blue stands, hands gripping the seat in front of him, as the gym comes into sight. Unlike Pewter, with its solid walls of imposing grey, Cerulean Gym looks like one giant stadium from the front, round and expanding outward with each floor, metal and glass gleaming in the sunlight.

The sight makes Blue’s heart feel like it’s expanding in his chest, and he smiles as the gym grows to fill his vision. It’s only been a couple weeks since he beat Brock, but an eventful couple weeks, and he feels like it was forever ago. Finally, he’s back where he belongs.

The bus pulls up to the front of the parking lot, and Blue slings his bag over his shoulder and goes down the stairs with the other trainers and tourists. The reception hall is large and ostentatious, with signs pointing to different stadiums and training rooms. At the center is a large aquarium filled with water pokemon, and Blue can’t help but wonder how safe it is, which is of course the point. There are few better ways to showcase how well the gym can train their pokemon than to put a bunch of them on display in a public area and trust that all will be well.

Blue steps up to the aquarium, where an eight or nine year old kid has their face pressed up to the glass. A school of goldeen part around a seadra going in the opposite direction, while on the other side a tentacruel floats serenely by, any pokemon around it giving a wide berth to its many trailing limbs. Defensive pokemon like tentacruel would be the main struggle for him, its Poison typing able to counter Gon’s Grass. If Blue’s forced to use Ion too soon, the shinx wouldn’t be able to take a less defensive pokemon by surprise for a quick knockout.

“Hey!” Blue turns in surprise to find the kid staring at him. “You’re Blue Oak!”

Blue blinks. He hadn’t expected his first fan encounter to be with someone so young. Was he following trainers at that age? He grins. Of course he was. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Wooow, I saw your fight with Brock online! That last attack was so cool, I was scared your squirtle got crushed! Did you know it would be okay the whole time? When did you get to Cerulean? Are you here to challenge Misty?”

Blue finds himself striking a pose without meaning to, shoulders straight and chin up, legs slightly apart. “I’m here to beat Misty. Can I count on your support?”

“Yeah, for sure! Oh man, when are you going to challenge her? I want to be there!”

Blue fights the sudden urge to say something stupid, like Tomorrow. “Well, we’ll see how long it takes me to get through her gym members. Are you going to be in town long?”

“Oh, yeah, I live in Cerulean East. I come here all the time.”

Blue looks around. “You’re not here on a field trip, are you? Why aren’t you at school?”

The kid suddenly hesitates. “I’m here with my… mom. She’s… in the bathroom.”

“Mmhm.” Should he reprimand him? He’s got to set a good example if kids this young are already following him, but hell, who didn’t skip classes now and then? “Don’t worry, I used to do the same all the time.” Blue winks at the sudden look of relief on the kid’s face. “I’ll be sure to post the date of my challenge, so if you keep following me you’ll definitely see it.”

“Alright! I hope you get to her soon!”

“Me too, kid. What’s your name?”

“Dennis!”

“Alright, Dennis. I’m going to start my battles soon. Why don’t you head back to school and pretend you got out of bed late? That way you’re less likely to get in trouble before my match.”

“Yeah, alright! Good luck Blue!”

Blue gives a two finger salute, then heads toward the registration desk feeling lighter than air.

What was it Lance once said? “The path to strength is a path of hardship. To fear failure is to fear becoming strong.” So what if it’s a greater risk? He’s got a bag full of medicine to keep his pokemon fighting, and all day to beat Misty’s subordinates. If he can’t win with a handicap, he can’t prepare for the true challenges ahead.

He knows it’s stupid to feel any more confident just because he met some starstruck fan, but by the time he reaches the counter and slaps his trainer ID down on it, he’s still grinning.

Half an hour later, he’s standing in the first stadium, a basic training room with small arena floating in a pool of water that fills its floor, one pokeball spinning in each hand as he waits for the other door to open.

He already let Maturin test the depth of the brackish water and soak up as much as she could. He used the Pewter gym’s water rooms to train her in aquatic combat as much as he could, but its facilities were much more limited than Cerulean’s. He plans on putting them to good use while he’s here.

The other door opens, and a trainer walks in. Blue stops spinning the balls and stares. “Amy!”

The older teen winks. “Heya Blue. How’s it going?”

“I… what are you doing here?”

“Ouch, right in the ego.” She’s grinning as she mounts her platform and stands opposite him. “I’ve been here for almost a week now. Does that mean you’re not following me?” Amy starts taking out some aquatic training equipment and placing them beside the standard ones hanging on the edge of the railing.

“I am, yeah, I just… I’ve been busy.” And he’d been following her brother Donovan much more closely, only checking in on her a couple times since they left Viridian.

“I know, it was all over the news, same day I beat Misty. Do we need to start coordinating our plans, or can you just agree to not hog all the press with heroics next time I win a badge?”

Blue grins. “We can try, but it wasn’t really something I planned. No promises.”

“Figures. So, let’s do this thing, yeah? I’m sure you’re in a rush to make your mark here too.”

Blue clips and unclips balls around his belt, shoulders tensing. “Ready when you are. What are the rules?”

“Beat me. Go, poliwhirl!” The blue amphibian materializes on the stadium, skin glistening. Its clear stomach shows the swirling pattern of its internal organs before it falls onto all fours, black eyes blinking around. “This is my only decent water pokemon so far,” she explains. “I decided to join the Gym to improve my training of him and my others.”

Blue hesitates, hands hovering over each ball. “So I just have to beat this one?” From what he saw of Amy, she’s a crafty battler. He doesn’t want to underestimate her just because she’s using a single pokemon.

“Yep.”

“And I can use as many pokemon as I want?”

“Standard six. Now quit stalling and summon.”

He smiles. “Right.” That decides it. He reclips Gon’s ball and unclips Zephyr’s. “Go, Zephyr!”

His pidgey comes out standing on the platform, and as Blue catches its ball he sees the look of confusion on Amy’s face. “A flying type? Really?”

“Really.” He takes his whistle out and blows on it, causing his pokemon to take off and begin circling the arena, feeling his attention narrowing to the battlefield. The next time he breathes out, he feels his body calming, heartbeat slow and steady, every nerve ready to react.

Amy frowns, then shrugs and snaps her fingers. Her poliwhirl immediately dives into the water around them, disappearing from sight as Amy expands a metal stick and puts one end in the water, fingers poised over the buttons on the handle. “Good luck hitting him from up there. Ready, set, go!” She presses a button.

Blue whistles the command to dodge, and Zephyr flips into a sideways roll as the poliwhirl bobs up and spits a stream of water at him. Before Blue can make another command the pokemon is gone, and Zephyr continues to circle the arena. Amy keeps clicking buttons, and soon the poliwhirl appears again at the other end of the arena. Zephyr dodges another Water Gun, diving to return the attack only to find the spot of water empty and placid.

Blue whistles again to warn his pokemon away, causing him to climb altitude just as the poliwhirl appears again and shoots. The next few seconds are a rapid series of attacks and dodges, Zephyr skimming the water with his talons just as the poliwhirl ducks under again, only to come up a few meters away to fire back at the spot Zephyr was a moment before.

Blue keeps blowing on the whistle, dodge, attack, climb, left, attack, dodge, circle, trying to catch the poliwhirl with a lucky strike. Amy is focused on the match, but she doesn’t have to do as much, and he can tell from her occasional looks at him that she’s wondering what he’s doing. Her pokemon isn’t going to run out of water any time soon, and it’s faster than pidgey is.

Once Zephyr starts to tire, the shots of water begin to get closer and closer, until one clips his wing and knocks him out of the air. Zephyr recovers quickly, but Blue catches his pokemon with a return beam and quickly sends out Joey. His rattata seems confused, never having been in a stadium or training room before, but as soon as the poliwhirl leaps up from the water for its next attack, Joey dodges to the side without Blue even needing to prompt him.

“What are you doing, Blue?” Amy suddenly asks, drawing his attention to her. One hand is on her hip as she stares at him, brow furrowed. “I know you have two Grass pokemon.”

“You think I’m going to tell you my strategy just like that?” He grins.

She narrows her eyes. “So you do have a strategy? Because from here it looks like you’re not taking me seriously.”

“Nope, totally part of my plan. Promise.”

“I’ll hold you to that. It better be good.” She returns to commanding her poliwhirl, a slight frown still on her face.

Blue has less of a chance to counter her attacks from on land, but a rattata’s reaction speed is better than pidgey’s, and he manages to cleanly dodge each of the poliwhirl’s attacks, which continue to be simple Water Guns. This goes on for for a solid two minutes before Amy speaks again.

“If you think you’re going to lure me onto land, we’ll be here all day. I thought you’d be in a rush to reach Misty, after how quickly you Challenged Brock.”

“Maybe I learned some humility from losing to him,” he says, which makes her snort and command another Water Gun.

Blue is happy to keep dodging as long as he can, but as another minute drags by, he fights the urge to grow complacent. A drop of sweat rolls down his neck as he keeps his eyes on the battlefield, preserving his voice by only giving a few oral commands when needed. There’s no safe spot on the arena to hide, and since Amy’s pokemon can go to either side of the arena in moments, the closer his rattata is to the middle the more time it has to dodge attacks where even a fraction of a second makes a difference.

When Joey’s next dodge brings him closer to the side the poliwhirl is however, Amy presses something different, and her poliwhirl rises out of the water in a small wave. No time to dodge. “Quick Attack!”

His pokemon lashes out and strikes the poliwhirl just before the water crashes down around him, but Amy’s pokemon is too distracted by the strike to follow up properly. As soon as Joey rolls to a stop and shakes himself off, Blue orders another Quick Attack just as Amy sends her poliwhirl back into the water. It turns and shoots a water Gun that Joey just barely has time to dodge.

“Close,” Blue says once Joey is back in the center, ready and waiting. His heart pounds in his throat as he watches his pokemon for any sign of injury.

“Yep. Think your rattata is smart enough to stay away from the edge now?”

“Guess we’ll see.”

Amy grins and sends another volley of attacks at Joey, who does indeed keep more to the middle with his leaps. Blue keeps an eye on the water just in case there’s any obvious amounts of blood from the wound he inflicted, but the wound must have been a shallow one. He wouldn’t win this on a light tap.

Surely her pokemon is getting tired by now? He can’t tell if it’s attacking any slower, but Joey is finally starting to feel the past few minutes of constant movement. Blue watches the shots of water hit closer and closer, and debates trying an attack before Joey gets too slow…

No. Now is the time for patience, not decisive action. He’ll stick to his plan.

It happens a few Water Guns later: the poliwhirl bobs up and spurts a jet that nails Joey square in the face. The rattata’s light body goes tumbling back, and Blue withdraws him immediately. Good job. He reclips the ball, and chooses another.

“If you send out another pokemon that’s just going to dodge over and over, I’m going to just leave and declare you the loser,” Amy says, voice flat.

Blue grins. “No you won’t. You already said all I have to do is beat your poliwhirl. You didn’t give a time limit, and you’re not going to go back on that now.” He hopes. “Go, Zubat!”

This is ridiculous!” Amy glares at him as his pokemon materializes and begins fluttering around the room. “What can you possibly mean to do with that?”

“That’s for me to know, and you to find out.”

She scoffs. “Fine, have it your way.” And with that the fight is on again, the poliwhirl bobbing out of the water to spit a stream at his zubat.

Thankfully it’s as hard to hit as Zephyr was, and has its own projectile of sorts. “Zubat, Supersonic!”

His pokemon hovers in place and sends a tight beam of sound, inaudible to Blue or Amy, at the poliwhirl just as it ducks beneath the water. Blue can’t tell if it was affected or not, the move is unreliable even in the best of circumstances, but now at least he has a chance to fight back.

As the battle continues, Amy becomes visibly more cautious. Her gaze never leaves his pokemon as she presses buttons again and again, directing her poliwhirl around the arena to shoot and duck and circle around again. Blue tries to time the gap between each shot, but she keeps things unpredictable, sometimes coming up just a few seconds later on the same side of the arena, another time staying under for almost a minute before appearing at the corner nearest Blue.

Time is on her side, and she knows it. Her pokemon is in its element, barely using any energy to swim from place to place, more or less at its leisure. Meanwhile, his zubat is fluttering madly about, no stalactites or other objects on the ceilings or walls to rest on, even if that wouldn’t make it a sitting target. Blue begins to wonder if Amy’s also spacing out some of the attacks to let any confusion that might linger from a Supersonic fade. If he’s being optimistic, he can interpret her occasional button pushes that don’t result in anything as her pokemon being too disoriented to follow orders, but she’s also probably just moving it from place to place, or even trying to mislead Blue. He wouldn’t be surprised if some of the buttons on the handle didn’t do anything.

Some would call that paranoid. If there’s one thing Blue has learned from watching a thousand competitive trainers battle, it’s never to underestimate the depths they’ll go to hide their methods and mislead opponents.

He’d like to think he learned the lesson well.

“Zubat, Supersonic!”

Zubat sends another beam of sound down, but instead of dodging away as Blue expected, Amy’s poliwhirl just shoots another Water Gun, then another and another. His zubat is hit by the second and fourth, and Blue quickly withdraws it before looking at Amy’s poliwhirl.

This time its confusion is clear, the pokemon swimming left and right, then turning over to kick its webbed feet into the air for an ineffective dive. Amy keeps pressing the same button over and over, waiting for her pokemon to snap out of it.

This is his chance. But is it time yet? He could send Kemuri out now, get a quick Razor Leaf in…

“Go, Ekans!”

His pokemon appears on the stadium and uncoils. Its tongue flicks out as it gets its bearings, then turns to the poliwhirl still floating in the water. “Acid!”

Amy presses a button, and her pokemon ducks beneath the water. “Seriously?” She asks, hand on a hip. “You’re using your fourth slot for an ekans?”

Blue shrugs. It won’t leave room for Maturin, Gon and Kemuri, but if Blue’s right, he won’t need both of his Grass types. “I’m the one that should be indignant,” he says. “You were faking that confusion, weren’t you?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she asks, pressing a button, and Blue quickly yells for his pokemon to dodge as the poliwhirl attacks again.

Blue smiles. She’s attacking so soon again to prove that she didn’t get lucky with her poliwhirl diving at just the right moment. He’ll likely never know whether her poliwhirl was ever really confused or not, but it wouldn’t have changed his plans if he did.

The battle continues more evenly matched than ever, with Amy’s poliwhirl having to dodge the sprays of acid his ekans shot out of its mouth every time it was attacked. His pokemon isn’t as good at dodging as the others, but he’s able to do some damage before he takes a couple hits and Blue withdraws him. Amy’s poliwhirl has visible burns on its skin from small splashes of acid.

“Two left,” Amy says. “It’s now or never.”

Blue nods. It’s time. “Go, Kemuri!”

Amy presses a button as soon as Blue’s pokemon appears, and when the poliwhirl bobs to the surface, it grips the sides of the arena and stares at the plant pokemon in unwavering concentration.

“Kemuri, dod-”

A beam of white light flash-freezes the ground as it traces a path upward toward Kemuri. Blue’s pokemon reacts too slowly to completely avoid it, and ice covers one of its leafy arms.

Ha. Blue knew she had an ice move just waiting for him to bring out a Grass Type. Now he knows better than to use Gon for his sixth pokemon. The shroomish wouldn’t have stood a chance, with his stubby legs.

As it stands, even Kemuri wouldn’t be able to keep up… but Amy’s poliwhirl is hurt, and must be at least a bit tired by now.

The poliwhirl dives out of sight, then reappears on the other end of the arena, preparing to shoot another beam. This time Kemuri dodges it, and the match becomes a game of whack-a-diglett as Blue’s shiftry leaps from place to place, avoiding Ice Beams and swiping at the poliwhirl with his unfrozen arm. His Leaf Tornado would be practically worthless while it thawed, and Blue is tempted to focus on dodging until it does. But if he gets taken out without doing any damage, Blue would be in a tight spot. He needs to either finish things now, or weaken the poliwhirl enough for Maturin to finish it off.

For now though they appear to be at a stalemate. Each time the poliwhirl tries to fire off another beam, Kemuri reaches it before it can and swipes, forcing it to dive back under. Poliwhirl aren’t naturally capable of ice attacks, which means Amy used a TM to teach it… and while it’s useful to have the wider coverage, especially against Grass types, it would never be as efficient or effective with the attack as an Ice pokemon.

Blue’s pulse jumps as the poliwhirl suddenly shoots out a Bubblebeam on its next surface. A rapid popopopopop fills the stadium as the stream of exploding bubbles strikes Kemuri and slows it down. “Kemuri, d-”

“Poliwhirl, Ice-”

“-odge!”

“-Beam!”

His pokemon abandons its forward momentum and throws itself to the side as the poliwhirl stops its attack and concentrates on another beam of freezing white light. It catches his pokemon in the side, and Blue knows it’s now or never. “Razor Leaf!”

Shivering and half covered in frost, Blue’s pokemon spreads the leaves of one hand and swings it, sending the sharp tips of each flying out like spinning shuriken. Amy’s poliwhirl is just ending its attack when they strike it, and the pokemon immediately ducks under the water, which darkens with its blood.

Blue quickly withdraws his pokemon and waits while Amy taps a button on her controller, pokeball in her other hand. They wait in tense silence for a few moments, and then her poliwhirl jumps out of the water and lands on the stadium, glistening skin retaining most of the water so that barely any drips onto the floor.

Amy hops onto the stadium floor and inspects her pokemon’s wounds. Blue can see the bleeding gashes along its arm and to the side of one bulbous eye. They appear to be superficial wounds, not enough to take it down if this was a real fight in the wild, but…

Amy turns to him. “What have you got left?”

“I was going to use my squirtle,” he says, and wonders if he should mention his shinx. It would make quick work of her pokemon, maybe would have even beat it while it was fresh, but he’d rather not reveal it until he faces Misty, just in case…

Amy deliberates a moment, then nods. “Okay, you win. But I want to know why it took you so long to bring your shiftry out,” she says as she takes out a potion and sprays her poliwhirl’s injuries. She murmurs something to it as she feeds it a poffin, then withdraws her pokemon and leans against the wall of her platform, arms crossed. “Spill.”

Blue feels himself relax as soon as she admits defeat, and leans against his platform railing as his battle calm slowly leaks away, replaced with a giddy relief. “I was partly trying to draw out the match,” he admits. “It was a great chance to give my pokemon some combat experience.” Part of him is a little disappointed he didn’t get a chance to send Maturin out. “But there was more to it than that. I watched your fight with Misty, and I knew I had to test for a range of attacks. I didn’t want you surprising me with a reverse coverage move the way you did her.”

The corner of her mouth twitches upward. “I thought you said you weren’t following me?”

He grins. “Those were your words, I just said I’ve been busy. But not too busy to watch Misty’s most recent battles, considering my plans to challenge her and all. I didn’t know you stayed after, that was an actual surprise, but I was happy to let you assume it also meant I didn’t see your battle.”

“Hmph. Well, as irritating as it was, you definitely earned the victory.” She cocks her head a bit, considering him. “You’ve got what it takes to go far, Blue. I look forward to seeing your Challenge.”

Her calculating look strongly reminds him of his sister. The two of them would probably get along, now that he thinks of it. Daisy tends to treat him like a kid more often than not, but once he shows his competence in an area, she respects him as an equal, more or less. It’s something he appreciates. “Thanks. For the match, too.”

“No problem. You going to hit the pokemon center?”

“No, I’ll be ready for the next battle in a minute.”

She raises a brow, but doesn’t comment. “Alright, I’ll go let them know. Good luck.”

Blue sits down and opens his bag, taking potion and ether bottles out so he can start healing his pokemon up for their next opponent.


Red sits cross-legged on his bed at the Trainer House, eyes closed and earphones on. The soothing sound of the ocean rushing against the shore fills his ears, and he can almost feel the hot sand and sunlight, almost smell the salt as he imagines himself on the beach…

Wait, no, he’s supposed to be focusing on his breathing. He banishes all thoughts of the beach and just focuses on drawing air in slowly through his nose… but now memories of going to the beach crowd in, playing in the sand with the Oaks or walking between his mom and dad along the beach, his small hands in theirs… His mom’s face, so happy, and his dad, looking at him with love-

Red’s eyes snap open. He sighs, and he reaches out to stop the sound loop playing on his phone before searching for a new one. Again.

It’s been two hours since he checked into the Trainer House with Leaf and came up to claim a bed. She said she was going to buy a laptop, then go around town talking to the locals. Red was curious what she was up to, but just agreed to talk to her later. He was eager to try meditating again, this time without distractions. Unfortunately, after doing some basic practice with an audio guide’s voice, he was failing at doing it on his own, which the websites for practicing sensitives insisted was necessary.

He already went through various online suggestions: acoustic music, which he found too distracting, the sound of rain and far-off thunder, which made him sleepy, and the crackle of a fireplace, which brought back more memories of camping with his dad.

Meditation never worked for Red before. He couldn’t stop the racing thoughts that ran through his head long enough to relax or clear his mind… despite his therapist telling Red he wasn’t actually supposed to clear his mind, that that was impossible. How did she put it?

Imagine a river,” his therapist said, sitting in lotus position across from him. “It is your mind. In it, your consciousness, the thing that you call Red,” she extended a finger and touches it between Red’s eyes, “is the fish that swims surrounded by its water, your thoughts. You swim sometimes left or right, up or down… but you follow the river’s flow, barely aware of it. Only when you try and resist the current and swim upstream are you fully conscious of the effect the river has on your behavior.”

So, meditation is going to help me control the current?”

No, that is impossible. The river is you, but its current is shaped by things that are not you. The riverbank, the rocks in the earth, the rains. You cannot control the world around you. You can only react. While our eyes are closed, and we focus on our breathing, you will think random thoughts. You will hear things that draw your attention. A door closing in another office, or a phone ringing. They will distract you, return you to the river’s flow. Your job is to stay above the current. To sit on a rock in its waters, letting them flow around you, through you, wet without being submerged. When a thought flows by, pick it up, examine it… then let it go. Return to your breathing, your awareness of your body, and you will be at peace, no matter how the river rages.”

Red drums his fingers on his knee, then decides to give it a shot. He queues up a looping river soundtrack, and soon his ears are filled with the babbling of a brook, and the soft sigh of the wind through leaves above. When no memories immediately intrude, Red closes his eyes and tries to focus on his breathing again.

Breathe in… He draws the cool air into his lungs, slowly, counting to three.

Breathe out… He feels it exit his nose in a steady trickle, over the course of another three seconds.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

This is dumb.

The thought comes unbidden, despite his desire to focus on the meditation. Red finds it frustrating that even without intrusive memories, his mind is still offering up distractions.

Breathe in…

I should be working on getting published.

Breathe out…

Or just training with one of my po-no, focus!

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Red is suddenly aware that his left foot is a bit uncomfortable, tucked under his right knee the way it is. He adjusts it slightly, then tries to go back to the breathing. Focus on the feeling of air moving through your nose and lungs. Nothing else. Just feel that.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

The sound of the river is calming. He can almost picture himself there, and decides to do exactly that. First just the river, its banks green and surrounded by forest. Then he places a big, mostly flat rock in the middle of the river, just large enough for a boy to sit on it. He watches the water split around it, lapping occasionally at the edges. Finally he places himself on the boulder, sitting as he imagines he looks now.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Without audio or visual distraction, he’s able to focus entirely on his thoughts and sensations. The feeling of his shirt on his skin, the pressure on his lower legs, the soft pillow against his back. His mind keeps wandering to Blue and Leaf and his mom and Professor Oak and Daisy and his dad, but in a way that gets more and more diffuse, easy for him to ignore and refocus on his breathing.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Eventually he feels like he’s as focused as he’s going to get, and starts ramping up his awareness. First he focuses on the crown of his head, and, imagining a ring of light, slowly traces it down to his neck, heightening his awareness of each part it passes. When it reaches his mouth he feels his tongue stuck to the roof of it, and relaxes his jaw to let it fall. It feels strange though, and after a moment he realizes he stopped moving the ring down, too distracted by the odd sensation of forcing his tongue to find a comfortable position so he can’t constantly feel it.

He sighs and opens his eyes again. There are a couple others in the room with him, one lying on their bed and reading, the other talking on their phone. Red considers taking an earplug out to hear what they’re saying, then banishes the impulse as sheer nosiness born from akrasia.

He forces himself to close his eyes and try again, picturing the river, the rock, himself, returning to his slow, steady breaths. This time when the ring reaches his mouth, he just lets it fall open a little, leaving his tongue in a comfortable and unobtrusive position.

Unfortunately now he keeps thinking of how he looks to anyone passing by, who would probably think he fell asleep. He almost closes his mouth, then decides against it. What should he care what strangers think?

…But now he’s busy thinking that just thinking about how he shouldn’t be distracted by what other people are thinking is distracting hi-

Breathing, focus on the breathing. In… out… in… out…

He finally moves the ring of light farther down, past his chin and neck, over his chest. He becomes aware of his heart beating, and even more aware of the expansion of his lungs, before his stomach starts to distract him. It’s been a few hours since breakfast, and he’s getting a bit hungry…

Red tries to move past the sensation, but now his mind keeps wondering what he’ll have for lunch, and whether he should ask Leaf to join him, and if he should try again when he’s full. After five minutes he decides to start all over, returning to his breathing, then imagining the river, then starting the ring of light at his head and moving it down his ne-

Bing!

Red’s eyes snap open as the river sound is interrupted by the received message alert. He sighs and checks it, surprised for a moment to see that over an hour has passed since he began meditating.

His irritation vanishes when he realizes the email is from a publishing journal interested in his study.

Trainer Red,

We found your paper on the research boards looking for peer review and publication. We find your hypothesis and results fascinating, and would like to volunteer our services. If you find this agreeable, please contact us at your earliest convenience.

Yours Truly,

Advanced Research Publications

Red grins as he starts composing a response. He cautions himself not to be too optimistic, but still, it’s hard to be less excited at the prospect that today he might get his Researcher’s license. Well, not today, but from a chain of events that start today.

Once he sends his response, Red grabs a snack bar from his bag and starts munching on it as he paces, thoughts of lunch with Leaf forgotten. He notices the odd looks from the others in the room and goes out into the hallway to pace instead, checking his phone every so often even though he knows it will alert him when one arrives.

He’s looking at his screen when it does, and his grin slowly fades as he reads it. He stares for a moment, thumbs hesitating over the response keyboard. He starts typing a few times, only to delete what he wrote a few words in, until he finally just calls the number in the email signature.

“Hello, Advanced Research Publications, how may I direct your call?”

“Hi. Uh. I got an email about interest in publishing my paper, and had a few quest-”

“Please hold.”

Red listens to the waiting music with a slight frown, and continues pacing the hall. After a moment he realizes he’s still holding his snack bar and tucks it in his pocket. Of course it was all too good to be true. But still, he has to know for sure…

“Hello, this is Donald, how can I help you?”

“Hi. I’m Red Verres, I received an email about publishing my paper… I had some questions, if you wouldn’t mind?”

“Okay Red, give me one moment…” Red hears typing, and stops pacing so he can lean against the wall as he waits. “Yeees, I see. Well, what did you want to know, Red?”

“The email, it asked for… money. A lot. I just wanted to clarify, is this a submission fee, or a publication fee?” Please say publication…

“Submission, but I can assure you that we only send such offers to those we have great confidence in reaching our standards.”

“Are the offers made post peer review?” What an odd order of operation…

“No, technically that will still need to be done. But if you’re worried, we offer a very dynamic review process. And if the submission fee is a bit too high, we offer reductions if you have volunteer reviewers that will work with us.”

Red blinks. “I’m sorry, I don’t know if I heard that right. Did you just say volunteer reviewers? I pick them? To review my own paper?”

“Absolutely. We at ARP believe in an open access scientific community.”

“So I can just have my two friends submit their reviews?”

“As long as they have a Researcher’s license, we welcome their expertise.”

“Oh, well, that makes everything better.” Red clenches his teeth and takes a calming breath. It does help, but not by much. He holds out hope that maybe this isn’t as bad as he thought. “So is this submission fee in lieu of a publishing fee?”

“There is a minor publishing fee too, as we’re not subscription based. Our papers are offered free for all on our website, to ensure that your research has the highest chance of being read and cited.”

Red relaxes a little. That’s a bit more reasonable, then… and he does want people to read it, after all. “Well, how much is the publishing fee?”

“Eight hundred. But you can pay it in installments, and if you agree to review papers for our journal, we can reduce it for each journal you review, down to three hundred.”

Red’s hand rises to cover his eyes. “Because once I get published, I’ll have my Researcher license, and can review others to get their papers published too.”

“Exactly! If you’d like to submit your paper with reviewers, I can go ahead and email you the proper forms. If you have trouble finding reviewers, we can put you in contact with some who-”

“Yeah, sure, just email me whatever. Thanks.” Red hangs up and sighs. Thanks for not getting my hopes up, Past Red.

Anytime, Future Red.

Red feels like complaining to someone, and squashes the impulse to call his mom or Professor Oak. Leaf might be more acceptable, but he doesn’t want to distract her from her work. Instead he simply goes back to his room and finishes his snack bar as he lies on his bed and renews his search for journals to submit to. Journals that aren’t pyramid schemes churning out unvetted papers.

After Red submits to a few more places, he considers trying meditation again, and instead decides to scroll through recent research discoveries. There are some neat findings on different metal compositions in “Steel” Type pokemon that keep him engrossed for an hour, which leads him to some of the latest papers on interregional pokemon diversity. Red thinks back to his conversation with Professor Oak about there being no psychic rattata, and his recent readings about sensitives versus psychics.

Of course, it’s possible for there to be rather large differences in pokemon from different regions. Over millennia, natural selection is a powerful force for change. There may be no rattata that are Psychic Types, but in the Alolan islands there are Dark ones. Not just that, their raichu are Psychic, their exeggutor aren’t, their meowth are Dark, and their marowak have powers normally associated with Ghost Type pokemon. The regional differences there prove that whatever trait causes pokemon to become a type like Psychic or Dark can be introduced into a genetic pool, or manifest after enough mutation.

Red thinks of pokemon like noctowl and spinarak, who have some limited psychic powers, but aren’t considered Psychic Types. Maybe someday, somewhere in the world they’ll have developed what rudimentary powers they have, and be considered full Psychic Types.

If so, Red hopes whoever discovers them has the sense to call them something new. He wonders if researchers like Darwin debated what to call them when they discovered such variations in their travels. Red’s not sure why the alternate evolutions from Alola are still called “raichu,” “exeggutor,” “marowak” and “meowth,” rather than given their own names like others, such as gallade and froslass.

Semantic confusion aside, discovering his own variation would make for an amazing discovery. Journals would pay him to publish that paper.

Red takes out his notebook and makes a reminder to read more into pokemon breeding. If he can identify the strongest psychics in spinarak populations, maybe he can breed the first ever Bug/Psychic spinarak.

He could start reading about it now, but he has enough on his plate. With reluctance, he puts such thoughts aside and gets back to work on his abra plan. He starts drafting proposals to put on the city’s message boards to attract other trainers.

What really irks him is that he’s going to have to share the method with others. It would get out eventually, he knew, and it should, if it would lead to more people being able to catch and study abra. But it would have been nice to get some exclusive benefit out of the idea first, instead of sharing it with a dozen others, aside from Leaf and Blue.

But then, is that really necessary? Surely they don’t need a dozen. Red abandons his current draft and decides to work out exactly how many people it would take to safely enact.

He quickly realizes that while stronger trainers would require less of them, they would still need a lot of them in any case just to cover the full area necessary. What he needs is to find a place that doesn’t need so much caution, so that more trainers aren’t necessary. Or even a place near a Ranger Outpost around Cerulean Bay, where the abra are found…

Something tugs at Red’s memory. Blue. Something Blue said, recently. About abra? No, about the area. Land around Cerulean Bay is incredibly expensive to own, and a lot of it to the west is untamed, while the north…

The north.

Red sits up and calls Professor Oak.

“Hello Red! I was just going to have lunch, do you mind if I call you back?”

“No problem Professor, but I just have a quick question.”

“Yes?”

“I need to talk to Bill.”


“Thank you!” Leaf waves at the taxi as it makes a u-turn, driving off back down the singular road that goes all along Cerulean Bay. Beside her, Red looks around at the verdant fields on one side of them and the shocking blue of the water on the other. He can just make out the mountains from here, those around Moon to the west and the smaller range to the north.

“This place is so pretty,” Leaf says as the wind whips her hair back. She raises a hand to shove her hat down more securely, and slowly turns to take it all in. “I’m surprised more people don’t live here.”

“I guess that’s one of the perks to being able to afford all this land.” Red steps off the road and onto the small path through the long grass. In the distance, he can just make out a building that looks far too wide to be a single person’s house. “Lack of neighbors, if you don’t want them.”

“Makes you wonder why he invited you.” Leaf sprays herself with some repellant, then offers it to Red, who does the same. “I mean I’m happy to come along, but couldn’t you guys just talk on the phone?”

“Once he knew what I wanted, he insisted.” Red shrugs. “I’m just happy to get to meet him.”

They make their way toward the house, which slowly resolves itself into several distinct shapes. Technically the house can be referred to as a cottage, relatively small and quaint looking, but it’s connected to so many wider, more modern buildings around it that the whole thing can easily be referred to as complex. Red spots a proximity sensor stuck in the ground to their left as they get within a kilometer of it, and wonders what Bill does if there’s a real threat in the area. From what he understands, the tech-genius has never distinguished himself as a particularly powerful trainer.

They just reach the clearing around the buildings when Leaf suddenly grabs Red’s arm and pulls him to a stop. “Red, look!

Red follows her finger, and feels his heart jump into his throat. In the distance, right near the front door of one of the side buildings, there’s the unmistakable pink and fluffy form of a clefairy. The squat bipedal pokemon is just standing there, and Red quickly grabs a pokeball out of his pocket.

“Should we summon something?” he whispers.

“Might scare it off,” she says, holding her own pair of pokeballs now. “You go left.”

He nods, and the two split off to either side, moving slowly and quietly. Red can hear his heartbeat as he takes step after careful step forward, the wind threatening to blow his cap off as he stays carefully upwind of the pokemon.

Won’t matter, their hearing is much stronger than their smell, maybe Leaf should summon her Wigglytuff after all…

But the clefairy continues to just stand there as they approach, and Red gets close enough to see it’s looking right at him. He freezes, waiting for Leaf to approach it from the other side, when suddenly-

“About time. What took you guys so long?”

Red stares.

Leaf stares.

The wind blows Red’s hat off, and he doesn’t move.

The clefairy is still looking directly at him, voice surprisingly loud considering the distance between them, and all too human.

“Come on in, I need your help with something.” It turns and starts walking toward the front door.

Red stares after it, then turns slowly to Leaf, whose face is as blankly shocked as he imagines his is. It feels like his brain is broken. His mouth moves silently for a moment, then can only emit a flat, calm, “What.”

 

The Power of Guilt

“Sorry is the Kool-Aid of human emotions. It’s what you say when you spill a cup of coffee or throw a gutterball when you’re bowling with the girls in the league. True sorrow is as rare as true love.” -Stephen King

Inside Out was a movie about a young girl named Riley who has five anthropomorphized emotions: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust, and Fear. The emotions each played an important role in keeping Riley safe and happy, though it took the plot of the movie to teach everyone what function Sadness served: to signal to others that you are not okay, that you are not happy with things as they are, that you need help. Sometimes it’s an emotion that tells you that, so you become motivated to change things.

Surprising as it may be to some, this is not an obvious thing. There are many people who do not understand it, and even understanding it, have trouble integrating it into their behavior and worldview. One group of such people are children or teenagers who experience grief and don’t receive the proper support. They can often act in destructive ways, to themselves and others, until they receive help processing their own emotions and the changes in their lives. Another group are adults who were handed too much responsibility at too young an age, and, later in life, have trouble expressing sadness or hurt. This is especially true when the people causing them distress are simultaneously those that need them to be fine.  Others are adults who were conditioned at a young age against showing any weakness or vulnerability, either as a method to control them or a misguided attempt to strengthen them, and never shook off that conditioning.

Like any emotion, sadness can be overtuned or undertuned to the point of dysfunction. But the reason the movie was valuable is that it shined a spotlight on an emotion many people don’t understand as well as they do Joy or Anger or Fear, an emotion that can make them inherently uncomfortable to talk about or express.

If I were to write the sequel to Inside Out, it would be about Riley growing into a teenager with a host of new emotions, and the focus of the plot would be learning about Guilt.

Like Sadness, Guilt is an emotion that causes discomfort. We actively try to avoid actions that we know will cause it, and subconsciously try to explain our actions or thoughts in a favorable light to assuage it, a process misnomously referred to as “rationalization.”  When Guilt is too active, when people are conditioned to feel it too much from too many things, it can lead to self-flagellation and undeserved repentance that limits growth and makes happiness seem itself a poison.

But without Guilt, we end up with a world of dangerously static people. Guilt, properly felt and understood, leads to change. Guilt, properly acknowledged and reacted to, leads to growth.

What Do I think I Know, and Why Do I Think I Know it?

When I was too young to understand rational justifications for behavior, Guilt was the emotion that led to the most memorable moments of personal growth.  When I was at summer camp we used to throw crab apples at each other for fun. One that I threw accidentally hit a girl near the eye. Her wails led to an intense sensation of guilt that did far more to deter me from repeating the action than any punishments the camp counselors devised. When future games of throwing crab apples commenced, I found something better to do with my time. Well, probably not better, but less likely to hurt others.

That was an accident. Once in elementary school, I hurt someone out of cold, calculated anger. The PE teacher randomly divided us into two teams and sent my group to the field first.  When we switched, I ended up at the back of the line for kicking the ball. Someone had to be there, and that day it was me. It had been a long, hot 30 minute wait to get my turn to kick, and I was counting down the minutes before I knew the bell would ring. Finally, with moments to spare, it was my turn. I positioned myself, watched the bright red ball come bouncing toward me, and just as I prepared myself to kick it, one of my classmates ran in front of me and, laughing like a loon, sent it sailing over the field.

The bell rang before the ball could be returned, and as we walked back toward the school buildings, my eyes locked on the back of the ball-kicker’s head. My “righteous” rage thinned to a laser point, and I strode up to him from behind, tapped his shoulder, and sucker-punched him in the face as hard as I could.

I can’t remember if I got any satisfaction in seeing him curled up on the ground and screaming in pain. I only remember the guilt afterward, as I promised myself I would never do that again.

And I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I never hurt someone again.

My older brother used to beat me fairly often when we were young. Our relationship got a lot better after I moved out for college, and better still after he left for the military, but while I was young he would hit me for all manner of things, sometimes in frightening rages, other times just as a playful form of expressing annoyance.

It wasn’t until my best friend broke down in tears and told me he wanted me to stop hitting him that I realized I’d adopted my brother’s behavior. Not in anger, just “playful” punches on the arm or slaps upside the head.  It was like someone had shined a light on a dark corner of my mind, illuminating machinery I hadn’t even known was there. I began to cry too, and promised him I would stop. And I did.

I cried again years later while reading Ender’s Game for the first time. “I’m just like Peter,” Ender thinks at the end of the first chapter, crying over the boy he beat.  “Take away my monitor, and I’m just like Peter.” Becoming my older brother was my greatest fear as a child.

Hurting people isn’t the only thing to be guilty about, of course. I used to steal all the time as a child. Magic card packs from toy stores, food from supermarkets. Eventually I got caught, threatened with jail, fingerprinted, and released without a trip to the police station. I felt miserable the whole ride home. My mother’s recriminations stopped at “next time don’t get caught,” but my own continued all the way to my bedroom. While there, I lay on the covers and stared at the ceiling. I knew I had to fight my urge to steal, kill it completely dead, before it landed me in more trouble. So I identified each and every one of the irrational thoughts I’d been repeating to avoid Guilt at stealing, my “rationalizations,” and discarded them.

It’s not fair that we’re poor and can’t afford things. If everyone who was poor stole society would collapse, and I’m not literally starving to death. Discard.

I’m stealing from large stores and national companies, not individuals. They won’t even notice the loss. Individual people work at these stores and rely on them doing well to maintain their job or get better pay. Discard.

I’m very kind and generous to others. It balances out. Helping others does not justify unrelated actions that harm others. Discard.

By the time I left my room that evening, I had resolved never to shoplift again. The community service and special classes I had to attend were superfluous: my desires for self preservation, and guilt over the people I was hurting, were strong enough to fuel change, and I was thankfully rational enough to leverage them into the right changes to my thinking patterns to be effective. The urges to steal were still there, but they were easier to resist every time I did, until they ceased almost completely. I haven’t shoplifted since.

All this isn’t to say I’m perfect. I got into a fight a couple years ago and hurt someone more than was justified by the circumstances. I still occasionally fill my water cup with soda from the fountains at fast food places. Guilt only works as a mechanism for change when it’s genuinely connected to an action, and that disconnect between actions that are intellectually recognized as wrong, but don’t emotionally result in guilt, is what confuses so many people who struggle with change, either in themselves or others.

How Does This Knowledge Help?

Besides the value in understanding guilt’s role in helping us grow, there’s also the value in understanding what its absence in others signals.

In my line of work, and often through my extended social circle, one of the hardest challenges I see people struggle with is emotional abuse. Because it isn’t as overt as physical abuse, and because by its very nature it turns one’s own thoughts and feelings against them, it’s important to understand how valuable guilt is to changing someone’s behavior and helping them grow, so that you can also identify why those that lack guilt, won’t.

Narcissists exist. They can be parents. They can be siblings. They can be friends. Whether it’s due mostly to biology or social factors, this reality has to be confronted and addressed at some point in many people’s lives. Narcissists aren’t sociopaths, or psychopaths. Just people who cannot help but primarily see the world in terms of their own wants and needs. And of course people can fall on a spectrum for narcissism. But those at the extreme end can be frighteningly hard to know how to deal with… especially if they’re someone close to you.

In systemic therapy, all behavior is examined through the system it’s a part of, even if it’s uncomfortable to do so. When someone emotionally abuses their spouse, we ask “What is that spouse doing that’s allowing that behavior to continue?” Not because we’re blaming the spouse for being abused, but because everything people do communicates something to those around them, and either reinforces or punishes the actions of those around them. If you can’t make someone want to change (and you often can’t), sometimes you have to change what happens if they don’t.

If there was a quick and simple one-size-fits-all solution to getting people to change negative behaviors, the world would look like a very different place. People are complicated, and different enough from each other that, even with generally applicable incentives and behavior models, finding just the right lever to pull or button to push can be the work of hours of intensive exploration and analysis.

But over time we’ve generally learned what doesn’t work, and that knowledge is worth spreading.  The word “enabling” is tossed around fairly often, and is an important concept to understand when it comes to battling addiction. But people don’t just enable each other’s alcoholism or gambling obsessions. People also enable each other’s selfishness or cruelty, usually because we don’t realize how we’re doing it.

And that’s where the presence or lack of guilt is so important.

Shame is an external form of guilt. If someone is acting selfishly, or callously, or dishonestly, shame done right can shock them into better self-awareness. It’s an extrinsic motivation, an outside incentive that can help lead to change even if the person doesn’t want it. It’s not the ideal mechanism, but it can be a vital starting point.

Unfortunately, as a tool, shame’s natural state is a mallet. It’s hard to wield with the precision necessary to constructively affect behavior. It’s also far too often wielded in the name of ego rather than compassion.

Shaming someone for their religious beliefs (or lack of them), their sexuality, their hobbies or interests, or because they reflect poorly on the shamer, are all done far more often than the “constructive” forms of shaming. It’s this widespread destructiveness that’s given “shame” and “guilt” such negative connotations, where it’s considered wrong by many to impose your beliefs or morals on another’s actions.

Let’s focus on that distinction here:

Destructive shaming frames the issue as outside the person’s control.  It often manifests in contempt, shouting, and belittling. It tends to either incite self-loathing or defensiveness, neither of which lead to positive changes.

Examples: “You always do this. You never do that. Why do you do that? Why are you like that?  Are you lazy/stupid? You’re a horrible person. You’re pathetic.”

Constructive shaming focuses on appeals to the actor’s better nature, and their stated or ostensible values and desires to not harm others. It manifests in frank but calm language, is surrounded by support, and followed by a positive goal.

Examples: “I want to make sure you know how much this is hurting me/them. I know you don’t want that. What do you think might be causing this? Is there anything I can do to help?”

Constructive shaming is not a magic bullet. People who repeatedly act in their own interest at the expense of others, or at the expense of themselves, have spent years learning to “rationalize” and justify their actions, and, at a more advanced level, learn to cycle through self-recrimination as a method of assuaging guilt.

Enablers are often sought out at this point. The guilty party will admit their shameful acts to people who are “safe,” friends or family that they know will offer empty platitudes as support, like “You’re a good person” and “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be happy.”

Telling someone they’re a good person when they made an honest mistake is helpful. Telling them they’re a good person when they repeatedly do things “good people” don’t is not.

Telling someone they deserve to be happy is important when they keep putting other people’s desires over their own. Telling them they deserve to be happy when they repeatedly put their own desires first at the expense of others is not.

And yet this is what makes up a lot of a friend-group’s or family’s interactions when someone expresses guilt. They want to help. They want to signal support. These are admirable desires, but they have to be measured against history and desired outcomes.

If a friend calls you to berate themselves over cheating on their significant other while simultaneously fishing for support in how unhappy they are with their SO, recognize that distinction between support and enabling.

If a sibling laughs about how they can’t remember their “crazy hijinks” of the night before because of how blackout drunk they got, laugh with them if you want to, but see if that laughter is covering some deeper issue.

People often hide their own concerns for their safety and wellbeing, or their fear of judgement/shame by others, in humor or a casual assurance that everything is fine.  Expressing guilt becomes a form of guilty pleasure, a signal to attract comfort from others, and receiving comfort and absolution from others makes it easier to continue the same behavior.

The first step in changing that behavior is often changing the responses to it. Every part of a system has some affect on the other parts of the system, and if you can’t directly change the behavior of Part A, you can try to alter it through the behavior of Part B, or through the response of Part B through Part C.

The Takeaway

When trying to change your own behavior, lean into guilt. Focus on it, remember it, and ask others to provide the external shaming of your future self if necessary. Don’t let the guilt consume you: use it as strength and motivation to become the best version of yourself.

When trying to change someone else’s behavior… well, that’s where things get complicated. Always try to change people’s behavior through kindness and understanding first. When that fails, “tough love” is sometimes necessary, assuming you have the right relationship with them and temperament to ensure it’s done properly.

But sometimes love isn’t enough.

Idealistic Me wants to believe that everyone can change, when they’re ready and if they have the proper support.  Pragmatic Me recognizes that, time, effort, and resources are limited, and that if someone does not want to change, sacrificing good people’s time and effort and value to enable bad actions is not just irrational, but immoral.

Even the worst human in history might change and grow and become a better person with a thousand years of life to live. Unfortunately, for now we only have a handful of decades to work with, and for many, that’s just not enough.

To make things worse, there are many ways society pressures people to persist in helping those that abuse them and others: “they’re family,” or “true love is unconditional,” or “friends are meant to support each other.”  These too can be the tools of an abuser, to turn someone’s guilt against themselves and keep them trapped in servitude.

For those that cannot be guilted, cannot be shamed, who wear their selfishness on their sleeve or repeatedly promise change without demonstrating it, often hiding behind tears and dramatic acts of attention-seeking self-destruction, the best option is often to simply cut them out like a cancer.

And this is always easier said than done, a bitter path to take, full of its own facets of guilt that need to be examined, acknowledged, and in this case, often discarded.

But that’s another post.

In the meantime, recognize how important guilt is to change your own behavior, when you need to. There’s a certain point where not judging yourself, not beating yourself up over your mistakes, is just as wrong as putting yourself into a self-hate spiral.

Until you can put the behaviors behind you, the ones that make you harm other people, the ones that make you harm yourself, you shouldn’t forgive yourself for the pain you cause.

Become a better person first. Use whatever tools you can, including guilt, to get there. And once you’ve got a handle on it, then forgive your past self, because you’re not that person anymore.

And at the same time, recognize how important a lack of guilt in someone else is as a signal that they’re not ready to change .

Don’t let guilt become a cage you lock yourself in, and don’t let others who lack guilt use your love for them against you. Narcissists and emotional abusers don’t need to trap you in their own dysfunction: they know exactly how to take guilt and make into a prison that you’ll build for yourself, deflecting any shame aimed at them and handing it back to you, brick by brick.

Chapter 34: Redefining Priorities

As Ryback predicted, the mountainside is rife with wild pokemon as they make their way to the nearest ranger outpost. Thankfully four pokemon are enough to scare off most they come across, and the one geodude foolish enough to throw a rock at them is killed instantly by a blast of water from Ryback’s poliwhirl.

“Was that necessary?” Leaf asks, face pale.

“Seriously, that would have been an easy catch.” Blue frowns at the geodude, whose entire body has turned a cracked, mottled white. He’s clearly wondering if he should try to catch it anyway.

“No distractions,” Ryback says without breaking stride. “The last thing we need is to call attention to ourselves with a prolonged fight.” The paleontologist continues to to set a brisk pace, clearly intending to get them to safety before the sun sets.

Red privately agrees, and jogs to keep up with him. He remembers that the nearest ranger outpost isn’t far in absolute distance, but the mountain road twists and turns so much it would take them the rest of the day to get there if they’re lucky. Charmander follows on all fours, looking better for the rest he got earlier, but Red still doesn’t want to tax him any more than is necessary with wild encounters.

Luckily they only encounter a few more, which are ended just as swiftly. A sandslash gets scared off by Maturin and the poliwhirl’s Water Guns, and a pair of zubat swoop down at them only to be chased off by an Ember and a cloud of Sleep Powder from Charmander and Bulbasaur.

About an hour into their travels, Ryback’s and Red’s phones chime. Red checks his and sees an email with an attached form from Ranger Sasaki. They stop for a quick rest, and the two open the forms, which ask for virtual signatures to verify Witnessing the Renegade branding. Red hesitates a moment, then signs it. The document is simply a confirmation of what occurred, not a second chance to Witness or absolve Yuuta. He has no extra information or new arguments anyway, just a sense of lingering unease.

By the time the sun sets, they reach an outpost that’s on high alert. Even with the sensors at its perimeter, four rangers stand guard around the building.

“This is where I leave you,” Ryback says as they withdraw their pokemon. He shakes each of their hands. “Get some well earned rest tonight, and stay safe on your way to Cerulean.”

“You’re not going to spend the night?” Leaf asks. “Maybe have that drink?”

He smiles. “No, I should fly back soon. It’s going to be all hands on deck for awhile.”

“Well, thanks for the escort,” Red says. “And the fossils. Especially mine.”

“Don’t mention it. Just be sure to message me if you end up visiting Cinnabar. I’d be curious to know if they can work with them.”

The trio agree, and say goodnight. After Ryback takes off on his pidgeot, they introduce themselves to the Rangers inside, then go to the visitor’s room and put their bags beside their cots before going to the dining room. There are a couple other trainers there, and they exchange polite small talk as they eat. No one seems interested in prolonged conversation, least of all Red, whose eyes are already drooping by the time he finishes his granola bars and apple. After he visits the bathroom and returns to their beds, he’s happy to see that everyone’s preparing for lights out.

While the rest of the visiting trainers take turns washing up, Red sends his mom an email summarizing what happened and assuring her that they’re all okay. He underplays his role in the fighting so as not to worry her, and after a moment decides against telling her about losing his pokemon. He knows it would be more likely to result in a phone call, and he’s not in the mood tonight.

Red takes his journal out and flips back to the questions he wrote the first night of their journey, about trainer’s bonds with their pokemon. He re-examines his observations and questions in light of how he feels now, taking the time to really focus on his pain and sadness.

Observation: I’m feeling remarkably attached to my pokemon after such a short time with them.

Question 2: Does it affect my objectivity when regarding them in other ways?

Red frowns. He can’t really say that it does. He wouldn’t hesitate in the future to use his pokemon in defense of wild attacks, even if it means losing them… though the thought of losing Pichu or Charmander does make him feel a particularly sharp pain.

But more than the pokemon he lost, his thoughts are on the people who died. Who they were, how they died, the people they left behind. He even finds himself thinking that way about Yuuta, Renegade though he is, and still alive, for now. .

Red flips to a new page and taps it with his pencil, then writes at the top, Is sympathy for renegades normal? After a moment’s thought he adds under it, Should I care?

The questions aren’t idle. He doesn’t know what makes someone become a Renegade, but it makes sense that being more sympathetic to them might be a warning sign. He certainly never saw the question addressed in public discourse, which signals to him that it’s a taboo topic. He can’t be the only one to wonder it, but maybe others have already learned that it gets them strange looks and hostile responses if they air their concerns.

He wonders if he should ask Leaf. She seems to care about things like this more than he does, or at least have thought about them at length, unlike Blue. Red writes himself a reminder to ask her privately, then takes his phone out and starts to search online forums for similar questions. For a moment he hesitates with the word Renegade in the search bar, remembering conspiracy theories where people’s search topics are aggregated to catch illegal activity, then decides to press on. All he’s doing is asking questions, and he can always say he’s looking for academic curiosity.

Just as he starts to browse the results page, however, his phone chimes and vibrates in his hands, causing him to jump. He calms his racing heart by reminding himself it’s probably just his mom. He considers ignoring it until tomorrow, then sighs and closes his search page to check.

It’s a message from CoRRNet, a formal one telling him that that Leader Misty has reviewed the Witnessing and that the execution was carried out. It goes on to thank him for his service, but Red turns off his phone before finishing it, gaze up at the ceiling.

“You okay?” Leaf asks from the cot to his left. Blue looks over from their other side, still flossing his teeth.

“Yuuta,” Red says, and debates a number of ways to finish the sentence before simply saying, “It’s done.”

The other two are silent, and Red wonders if now, at last, they’d speak about it. Instead the last trainer straggles back in and asks if everyone’s ready for him to turn the lights off. The rest of the room agrees, and people begin exchanging goodnights. Red lies down and pulls the covers over himself with some relief, feeling too tired to get into the topic anyway.

Instead of falling asleep though, his thoughts churn in slow circles, replaying the day’s events and always ending with Yuuta’s Witnessing. Thinking about his potential friends, his family. How they would get the news. How they would feel. How he would, if it were him. How he felt after dad died.

Red tosses and turns as the room around him slowly goes quiet and still, with the occasional rustling and shifting. He can hear Blue snoring before long, though Leaf seems just as restless as him.

Eventually he realizes that if he’s not going to get any rest, at least he should be productive. He slips out of bed and tiptoes between the cots until he can emerge into the brightly lit hallway. Rangers at outposts sleep in shifts, with a third of the staff resting at any given time, but when he passes the sleep quarters, the doors are open and the beds are empty. The outpost would be on high alert until the mountain calms down from the recent influx of rampaging wild pokemon.

Red goes to the dining hall, where a pair of rangers are eating quietly. He nods to them and sits at the table with his phone out, staring down at the screen.

Ever since he finished his spinarak research, he’s felt conflicted and aimless. Finding a journal to publish it would take a lot of time and energy, and he knows he has to do it at some point, but he hasn’t been able to find the motivation between everything that’s been going on. He could blame the distractions and dangers of travelling, but the truth is his heart isn’t in it. After spending so much time and effort getting funding for his project, even the idea of delving back into more paperwork saps his will.

So. First step is admitting the problem: he’s been procrastinating. And the reason is simple. Despite the potential, far off rewards, at the end of the day, what interests him is learning and testing ideas, not getting published. He wants a Researcher license so he can have more resources to do science, but it’s hard to motivate himself if it means hours of ancillary work.

Now what’s he going to do about it? There’s no point in wishing for a better work ethic, and trying to force himself to just “buckle down” and do it might not be the most effective way to move forward. What he needs is a compromise.

A new project to focus on. Yes, that would do it. Work that he can feel energized by but won’t take up all his time. That way he can swap between the work that’s less fun and the one that’s more exciting.

“You okay, kid?”

Red looks up to see one of the rangers looking at him. “Huh?”

“You’ve been sitting there zoned out for ten minutes.”

Red smiles. “Sorry, yeah. Just tired.”

“Don’t push yourself so hard. If you’re tired get some sleep.”

“Thanks.” Red looks back at the empty search bar on his screen, still smiling. Sleep? How could he sleep now? His mind is fully awake and burning with ideas for his next research project.

Psychics. He still thinks they hold the key, or at least one of the keys, to understanding pokemon, humans, and reality as a whole. He needs to keep his research focused in that direction, and that means studying psychic pokemon directly. Spinarak aren’t even psychic in the strictest sense, they just have some shared abilities. If he really wants to learn what sets psychics apart, he needs to study full-fledged psychic pokemon.

The problem is, trainers with psychic pokemon are rare. He won’t be able to ask for dozens of volunteers to bring him test subjects. He’s going to need to get a fair amount himself.

And around Cerulean City, that means one thing: he’s going to need a lot of abra, one of the hardest pokemon to catch in all of Kanto.

Red begins to research, not stopping until well into the night.


Thanks to increased ranger and trainer activity, by morning the mountain’s threat level returns to normal, and the next few days of travel go by quickly. Red begins to drink more tea, and even coffee where it’s offered free, though the bitter taste is a chore to “acquire.” Still, it helps him get extra work done at night and stay alert during the day. If Blue or Leaf notice the bags under Red’s eyes, they don’t mention it.

Their thoughts are occupied on other things in any case. Leaf’s follower count doubled after the mayor’s interview, then doubles again by the end of the day as her article gets more and more hits. By the next morning she has almost as many as Blue, despite his own bump of notoriety. Leaf begins to occasionally read comments to her article out loud, and after the three discuss them a bit, write a response. At one point she calls Red’s mom to ask if she should respond to a popular priest’s post, and after tailoring her reply over the course of a day, the subsequent jump after posting it makes her following surpass the youngest Oak’s.

To Blue’s credit he doesn’t begrudge her the increased fame, and only trains that much harder while on the road, determined to be ready to take the Cerulean Gym by storm the way he did Pewter’s. He promises Red and Leaf that he won’t be challenging Misty on his first day there, but will only make it clear that he can if he wants to.

“Is Kemuri your lead, or your trump?” Red asks as he watches Blue run through drills with the shiftry during one of their rest stops.

“If I can sweep with him, I will,” Blue says. “But I know they’re going to throw some bulk at me, and I’ll have to wear that down with Gon and Maturin first. Ion will be the trump; if I don’t reveal an Electric Type right away they might think I don’t have one. Thanks again for him, Leaf.”

“Of course. Just make sure you treat him right.” Leaf tosses nuts for Scamp to catch and bring back to her without eating them, rewarding him each time with a different nut than the one she threw.

“No worries there, I’ve got big plans for this little shinx. I was pretty disappointed about not getting a pikachu in Viridian.” He eyes Red’s pichu as she sits perched on his hat. “She’s still afraid to walk around on her own?”

Red shrugs. “Or she just likes to be on high places.”

“Well, I hope she evolves soon. They’re featherweights until they do.”

“She’ll evolve when she’s ready.” Red reaches a hand up and rubs the electric mouse’s fur.

“They need to feel safe and cared for before they can,” Leaf says. “She’s obviously going to be a challenge in that respect.”

“Well, she had a pretty traumatic capture,” Red says. “And I don’t plan on putting her in real combat until she does evolve, so it might be awhile anyway.” After losing his rattata and spearow, Red feels particularly protective of his pichu now. He still hasn’t named his pokemon, and part of him is wondering if he’s resisting simply so it isn’t harder if he loses them. It’s a thought he doesn’t have time to contemplate now, so he just writes himself a reminder for later. Flipping through the pages, he’s starting to feel overwhelmed by all the things he needs to take the time to research and think about. For now though, he’s set on focusing on his next research project and getting his last one published.

Red rarely traveled when he was younger: since his dad was so often away from home and his mom wasn’t a trainer, he mostly stayed in Pallet Town unless Professor Oak brought him along on one of their family trips. As such, he’s been to almost as many cities and towns in the past month as in the rest of his life combined, and when they finally catch sight of Cerulean City a few days after leaving the dig site, Red feels a growing sense of excitement to finally visit the famous tourist spot.

As the trio make their way down the slopes of the mountains, Cerulean City stretches out ahead of them like a sprawl of loosely tossed metal and glass. Unlike Viridian or Pewter, with their tightly packed buildings and busy streets, Cerulean is spread out, with four major pockets of high rises and the occasional skyscraper divided by wide green suburban areas. Within a day they’re walking through outlying residential neighborhoods that are similar to other cities, but as soon as they pass into the first urban areas, Cerulean West, the soul of the city becomes clear.

The sidewalks are wide and flanked by shops, restaurants, and stalls that an assortment of people seem constantly on their way in or out of. Double decked busses are a continuous presence on the roads, shuttling people to and from every which way. Through the bottom levels’ windows Red can see people looking bored or engrossed in their phone or a book, while the people on the top are often standing and taking pictures of their surroundings. He knew Cerulean got thousands of visitors a day, but he expected them to be more concentrated in Cerulean North along the coast of the bay.

But as they make their way through the city to find a shopping mall to replenish their supplies, it becomes obvious that the shining beaches aren’t all the city has to offer. They pass an ostentatious theater house on one side advertising two musicals and a play, then a high priced department store with glass walls. Some people have small pokemon with them, hanging off of shoulders, in backpacks, or at the end of leashes, and others are using the streets to ride their pokemon in the reserved lane. As they pass a music store, a famous pop star suddenly appears beside them, singing her heart out. Red stares over his shoulder, amazed at how far localized hologram technology has come.

“Hey Blue, you know we’re rooting for you, right?” Red says. “You go in there, and you get that badge. But, you know, if you don’t…”

“Right away…” Leaf says, face pressed up against the window of a bike store as they walk by.

“If it takes you a try or two…”

“Or three…”

“It’s okay, you know? We’re here for you.” Red puts his hand on Blue’s shoulder, gaze distracted by a street magician who throws a huge velvet cloth over a machoke, then whisks it off to reveal two machop, one standing on another’s shoulders. “You take another month if you need.”

“Or two…”

Blue shrugs Red’s hand off with a grin. “You guys go nuts. If we have to stick around that long, I’m going to Nugget Road and trying for some gold. Or better yet, hunting through the tall grass along the bay. There are some prime catching spots up there.”

“Well, we’re definitely going there before you challenge Misty,” Red says. “I know what my next research subject is going to be: abra.”

Blue laughs. “That might take you more than a couple months.”

Leaf frowns. “I looked them up after seeing the Renegade’s, but they weren’t listed as too rare.”

“Finding one’s not the problem, you can probably see a dozen in a day. Catching them is.”

“They’re natural teleporters?” Leaf asks, eyes wide.

“From birth.”

“Not to worry, my friends, for I,” Red says, “Have a plan.”

“A plan, you say.” Leaf rubs her chin.

“A clever plan.”

“Tried and true?”

“Well, no. That’s what makes it so clever. As far as I could tell, no one else has tried it.”

“Sooo, it’s more of an experiment.”

“Yes. A clever experiment.”

“Uh oh,” Blue mutters.

“Hey, most of them have been fine. I’ve spent the past few nights researching this, and I really think it’ll work.”

“It’s not going to get us surrounded by pikachu is it?” Leaf asks. “Because that clever plan worked a bit too well.”

“Don’t worry, there aren’t any pikachu around here,” Red says as he steps briefly onto the street to go around a light pole.

Leaf narrows her eyes. “That was a suspiciously narrow defense.”

“Fine, so there’s a non-zero chance that the experiment will have negative consequences. Such is the life of a trainer. Where’s your spirit of adventure?”

“I don’t have one, and neither do you.” Leaf frowns as someone jostles her while walking by.

“Okay, where’s your spirit of intellectual curiosity?”

She smiles. “Well, yeah, I am curious.”

Blue raises a hand. “I’m not.”

“Ah, but you have a spirit of adventure.”

Blue hesitates, then lowers his hand. “Yeah, alright. If it works, we’d make bank, and I want to buy a bike. So what’s the plan?”

They turn a corner and see the shopping mall on the other side of the street. “I’m glad you asked…”


The problem, Red explains as they restock their toiletries and basic traveling staples, is that there are few attacks that can connect faster than thought. In order to get close enough to even hit an abra with anything that might hold it still, you’d already have to be in range of their psychic senses, and from there they just need the slightest excuse to teleport away. Even sufficiently aggressive thoughts not directed at them have been known to scare them off.

To catch one, you either need to be a Dark trainer with a Dark pokemon who gets lucky enough to stumble onto one (“Huge waste of time,” Blue says as they reach the supermarket floor. “Wouldn’t waste a day of training with Kemuri just to maybe catch one.”), or you need a way to stop them from teleporting before they even realize you’re there… without getting close enough for them to detect your thoughts.

“Sound,” Leaf says as they pick out fresh fruit and head over to the boxes of meal bars. “You want to use Wigglytuff to put them to sleep from a long distance.”

“Yeah, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.” Red grabs a couple boxes of peanut-butter covered granola, then decides to try a honey-glazed one too.

“I was going to say, we can’t just walk around with a singing wigglytuff and hope that we find an abra. Besides being a hazard to others, we’d also be mostly defenseless against any wild pokemon that aren’t affected by the singing.”

“Not just that,” Red says as they make their purchases and take a moment to store them in their food Containers. “Others have tried things like it before.”

According to his research, abra can detect incoming threats by the responses of surrounding pokemon. For example, if an abra detects all the pokemon to the west of it losing consciousness one by one in its direction, it’ll teleport away.

If it detects pokemon losing consciousness in every direction around it, it’ll teleport away.

If it detects a stronger mental presence, it’ll teleport away.

If it hears the wind rustle some leaves and drop an apple to the ground, it’ll teleport away… presumably because it thinks it might be a Dark pokemon sneaking up on it.

“It just goes to show how strong a force natural selection can be,” Red says. “When you have such a powerful survival tool against so many deadly predators and threats, the abra that are quickest to use it are the most likely to survive and breed and pass that skittishness down. Especially when there’s virtually no downside.”

“They’re light sleepers too,” Blue says as they take the elevator up to the trainer supply floor. “So what’s the plan?”

“We can’t go running around hoping to find them. We need them to come to us.”

A few years ago, a professor tagged some abra and released them back into the wild to track their movements. It took awhile to find something that would be taken along with the teleportation intact, but eventually she was able to monitor the abra as they popped around a field day to day, foraging and breeding and escaping danger.

“But there wasn’t any pattern, right?” Leaf asks as she puts some potions in her shopping basket.

“How’d you know?”

“They wouldn’t still be so hard to catch if there was.”

“Yep, no pattern at all.” Except for one: newly born abra tended to teleport back to fewer places, confirming the idea that abra could only teleport to places they’ve been before. But there was nothing to indicate how they chose, in the moment, where to go.

Blue picks up a small pouch of pokeballs and tosses another to Red and Leaf. “So how does that help us?”

“It doesn’t,” Red says, catching his and putting it in his basket. “It was pretty demoralizing, to be honest. But it did lead me to the core of my idea: if we can’t predict where they’ll teleport, we need to control where they don’t. Picture a field, with a random amount of abra sprinkled through it, teleporting around. What happens if you and a wigglytuff start walking eastward as it sings?”

“They’ll start teleporting away as pokemon begin to lose consciousness near them in that direction,” Leaf says. “But not in a controlled direction, so some might go north or south instead of all east. If we had more than one wigglytuff, couldn’t we try to come from all directions and herd them into a middle area? Assuming we don’t have to worry about other trainers or resistant pokemon attacking us.”

“It could work, but since we only have yours, I have a better idea,” Red says. “Picture the field again-”

“Can you just tell us?” Blue interrupts as he compares the labels on two antidote bottles. “I’m a bit busy. Better yet just draw it.”

Red smiles and takes out his phone to sketch a picture with his finger. Leaf leans over to watch over his shoulder, which causes Red to mess up a few times, distracted by the feel of her hair brushing his arm.

Once the square field is drawn, Red makes a circle in the middle. “This is us with your wigglytuff in the middle, and the radius of its singing. What if we put speakers here, here, here…” He draws Xs around it, six in total, then draws circles around those. “With each playing the sound of a mightyena, or houndoom. Any abra in that area will teleport away in a random direction, and with so many zones repelling them, we’ll eventually get some that land in the middle with us, where they’ll be put to sleep before they can recognize the danger.” He finishes drawing and shows it to Blue.

“Hmm. Alright, first questi-”

“We’ll put out a localized message to see if any trainers are in the area, and warn them away. Then we’ll sync the speakers to emit their sound at the same time. The two of us will rotate around Leaf’s wigglytuff with our earplugs in searching for any pokemon that come into range of its singing. Leaf will stay with her, so we can message her to stop the singing right away if we’re attacked by a pokemon that’s not affected by it, and to catch any between us.”

Blue frowns through his explanation. “Okay, sixth question. Or seventh. Whatever. Who’s paying for these speakers?”

“I already looked up the price, I can buy them all if you guys don’t want to. Catching just one abra would make up for the cost.”

“I’ll buy two,” Leaf says as they make their way to the checkout counters. “I think this might actually work.”

“Yeah, count me in too. On one condition.” Blue puts his basket on the tray and starts the autoscan, then swipes his card. “You gotta ask gramps what he thinks of it.”

“Waaay ahead of you, buddy.”


Wait, you’re not going to try this alone, are you?”

Of course not, Professor!”

I’m including Blue and Leaf in that ‘alone,’ Red.”

I… Yeah. I knew that. Obviously.”

Listen to me Red, under no circumstances are you to execute such a wide scale public experiment without oversight. Do you understand?”

I’m shocked that you’d think so little of me, Professor. Shocked.”

Don’t make me call your mother.”


Blue sighs. “So much for keeping the method a secret, if it works.”

“Wouldn’t be able to do that anyway, if we’re alerting the area,” Leaf says, and turns back to Red. “Sooo, we’re calling the Rangers?”

Red finishes withdrawing his purchases and snaps his Container ball closed. “We’re calling the Rangers!”


“We can’t help you.”

Red’s heart sinks at the ranger’s flat, uncompromising tone. He shifts his phone to the other ear, trying to keep pace with Blue and Leaf as they walk toward the nearby Pokemon Center. “You don’t have to help us, I just thought-”

“You want us to spread ourselves out over a radius so wide we wouldn’t even be able to see each other, while you set up an audio hazard zone, purposefully, in the middle of where we’d all be.”

“It’s just a precaution. We wouldn’t be doing it if we actually think something bad will happen.” Red sees Blue and Leaf glance at him, clearly able to guess how the conversation is going. “Isn’t it better to be on-site ahead of time just incase?”

“It’s too big a job for our outpost alone, and we’re not calling in rangers from another one just to watch your experiment. We have to be ready for actual emergencies, not manufactured ones. Just playing the mightyena cries might cause a panic or rampage across the whole field.”

“No, I looked into that, see, none of the pokemon here have mightyena listed as a natural predator except abra, so they won’t-”

“Kid. The answer’s no. Get a bunch of trainers together and coordinate something if you can, but we can’t do the job alone.”

Red feels heat creeping up his neck, and clenches his teeth before he says something stupid. “I understand. Thanks anyway.” He closes the call with a grunt of disgust.

“Told you I should have called,” Blue says. “You didn’t even mention that I have a badge.”

Red sighs. “You know what the worst part of this is?”

“That we just spent sixty bucks each for the speakers we can’t use?”

“No, there are plenty of other uses for them. I was thinking of getting some ever since we used sound to scare the ‘chu off in Viridian.” Red’s down to a hundred fifty bucks after their shopping was done, which isn’t as bad as he was expecting when he thought he’d have to buy them alone. “The worst part is, if I decided to go out into the wild and open a jar of honey to attract hordes of pokemon, no one would bat an eye. I mean, some might advise against it, but it’s an accepted practice for skilled trainers. But experiment with something new that can’t possibly be more dangerous than what’s already an accepted strategy…”

Leaf smiles. “To be fair-”

“I know, I know, I don’t actually know what’ll happen. That’s why it’s an experiment.”

“What now, then? Try to get other trainers to help?”

Red sighs. “Maybe. I’ll have to think about it.” Red watches night drape itself over the city like a reluctant curtain, sad to end another day over the bustling metropolis. Cerulean is more than ready for the dark however, and the streets light up with colorful signs and backlit storefronts. They’re near the local downtown now, where the city is most compact before spreading back out into the suburbs all around it. “Maybe I’ll put a post up in the city forum, see if anyone’s interested by tomorrow or the next day.”

“Well, it’ll take us the morning to get to Cerulean North anyway,” Blue says. “I’m going to hit the gym in the afternoon, so I won’t be free until the next day.”

“And I’ve got a backlog of correspondence to get to when I have access to a real keyboard. I think I’m going to get a laptop tomorrow on our way up.”

“Yeah, alright.” Red sighs, thinking of the long night and day ahead of continuing his attempts to get his research published.

They reach the Center and drop off their pokemon, then head to the nearby Trainer House and file into the crowded lobby to register themselves. After some quick meals in the mess hall, the trio says goodnight at the elevators and head upstairs to drop their spare clothes in the laundry rooms and take some long-awaited showers.

Afterward, Red flops onto his bunk bed and takes out his phone as his hair dries. Blue climbs the ladder to the bed above him to drop off his bag, then climbs back down.

“You’re not going to train, are you?” Red asks. He thought Blue dropped all his pokemon at the Center.

“Nah, Sabrina’s taking a Challenge Match tonight. I’m going to the lobby for the big screens. Wanna come?”

“I’m okay, thanks.” Red watches Blue leave, then stares blankly at his phone’s display of another publishing journal. Eventually he realizes he’s not reading it, mind still on Sabrina, the most powerful human psychic in the region, and possibly the world. He frowns and opens a new page.

Something different, tonight. If he’s going to catch an abra soon, he needs to start training his psychic powers, what little he can without a tutor. He doesn’t know how his “block” will interact with his own psychic pokemon trying to communicate with him, but he needs to be as prepared as possible.

Red starts searching for pages that detail rudimentary psychic powers and how to practice them. He keeps scrolling down lists to try and find something as basic as possible, but finds nothing that he thinks he’s capable of.

Eventually he finds a page titled “How to tell if you’re ‘sensitive,'” and opens that. From what Narud said, Red is a full psychic, just without access to his powers, not a sensitive, someone with powers so weak that they’re mostly nonexistent. Still, maybe for practical purposes he should consider himself one for now, and see if there’s anything here that might help.

He reads through some pages detailing different sensations a person might have, or circumstances they might find themselves in, that could tell them if they’re a sensitive. Red occasionally gets a familiar sensation upon reading some of them, like the feeling of being “connected” with someone, even a stranger, or always feeling like he could tell what their emotional state was.

He’s probably just fooling himself through confirmation bias though. Anyone in the room with Yuuta would have been able to “feel” the man’s desperation, that was just an expression anyway. He can’t consider interactions with his mom relevant, she’s family and he spends more time with her than anyone. And for some refuting evidence, he can think of a dozen times at least when he misread even his closest friend, Blue…

…who’s Dark. Huh. I guess I haven’t really given that a chance to fully register, after finding out I was psychic. He puts his phone down and closes his eyes, taking a moment to think back on their friendship and update all the experiences he can remember through the new lens of the two semi-recent discoveries.

If Red’s been operating off of subtle, psychic cues from people his whole life, but not getting any from Blue, then that would account for some of their arguments. Not all, of course, or even most. Maybe even not any: he certainly has no evidence that his impressions of people’s emotions are anything more than his imagination. But it’s still something to keep in mind moving forward.

Red keeps looking through the various sites and pages detailing the difference between sensitives and non-sensitives, and the even bigger gulf between psychics and sensitives, which the sites (often run by psychic groups) always seem to couch in sympathetic tones. “The poor dears,” Red mutters, drawing a glance from a pair of trainers walking by his bed. No matter what they do, the sites don’t quite say, they’ll never be true psychics.

Red can see why that might be a common question or hope, but it still comes off as patronizing to him, as someone who finds himself caught in such an odd middle-space. He knows he’d find it irritating if he was just a sensitive. No one likes being looked down on by a group that considers themselves obviously superior. It’s especially problematic since they’re the ones that are shaping the narrative.

In fact… Red changes his search terms, and suddenly finds sites with a very different framing. Most look less “official,” but there are dozens of blogs and pages dedicated to exploring their own theories of sensitives versus psychics. According to many of them, the one isn’t a “weaker” form of the other, but a different one altogether, the way Ghost pokemon attack people’s “emotions” and Psychics attack their “thoughts.”

Red frowns. That divide always seemed strange to him, but if it’s true, then obviously practicing psychic techniques wouldn’t help a sensitive. The problem is, these sites seem full of unsupported claims and mysticism masquerading as science. He can’t find any research backing them, and eventually gives up and returns to the more “reliable” sites.

Red eventually finds one that recommends meditation and awareness exercises to any sensitive interested in exploring their powers, and he decides to attempt them. His therapist suggested meditation when he was younger, but it hadn’t really worked for him then. Now it might be worth a second try.

He looks around at the room, where a dozen other trainers are chatting quietly or preparing for bed, and decides it’s quiet enough. He plugs in his earphones and waits for the soothing voice to begin walking him through it-

-only to have the phone’s message chime directly in his ear.

Red’s eyes fly open and he curses as he pulls the earplugs out. After a moment his scowl fades, and he sits up to read the article Leaf linked him to.

There’s an embedded video of Leader Brock, but Red doesn’t have to play it, as the caption under it reads “Leader Brock urges peace and unity as recent public politics turn violent.” Apparently the Pewter Museum was vandalized a few hours ago, and just this morning the religious leader Leaf wrote the open letter response to called on Pewter’s faithful to reject its lies, and the propaganda of “foreign influences.”

“Well,” Red says as he scrolls down to see the vitriolic comments, some defending Leaf’s article and calling for an investigation, but many more condemning her, the mayor, and the museum. “Shit.”

Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

[Copied from my book review posted on Amazon]

After hearing all the accolades that have been bestowed on it, and receiving a personal recommendation by someone close to me, I decided to give Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s landmark Magical Realism novel a try. A hundred pages in I felt my attention waning. Two hundred pages in I was utterly bored and disgusted. The next few hundred pages were an exercise in artistic diligence, as, for the love of the craft, I forced myself to search for any hint as to what made the novel good to so many others, and forbade myself from turning away from the abyss lest I someday not recognize it in my own writing.

It is by far the hardest book to finish I’ve ever read, and when all was said and done, did not in the least bit reward my patience.

It seems to me that only those with a very limited experience with novels would find this book enthralling in the modern day. Its “storytelling” is so poor that it’s akin to our ancestor’s scratching on the walls of their cave, one dimensional and confusing and, while surely inspiring when it was first done, unfulfilling compared to the rich tapestry of written literature available to us today.

It started out okay, with a great plot hook of a first sentence: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

This plothook is occasionally mentioned for awhile as we go over not just Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s childhood, but also the lives of his parents and the way they formed the town he grew up in. Okay, great. I’m all for inter-generational stories and settings.

But the plot never truly coalesces around that hook, and it soon becomes obvious there is none. The story is a rambling exploration of a family’s ancestors and descendants, and their town’s history. And while this might be done in a truly engaging way by some authors, it’s not by this one. The sheer amount of random, pointless, and mundane details that fill the pages and pages and pages of this book can be described as nothing less than filler, to me… and I don’t necessarily think filler is a bad thing. Hell, I love the King of filler, Stephen King.

The difference is, when Stephen King spends ten pages detailing a minor character’s formative years, it’s engaging and serves to give you insight into the character. It makes you empathize or feel close to them. It fleshes them out, adds an extra dimension.

None of that ever happens in this book. It’s just random details about people’s random quirks, all written in a distant, third-person-omniscient writing style that makes it sound like a history textbook, with all the worst implications that has for immersion. There are perhaps a dozen scenes in the entire book that last longer than half a page… it’s a nightmare of “tell, don’t show” which makes it hard to care about any of the characters, even without their actions making them so utterly hard to empathize with or like.

And the “magical realism” was perhaps the most disappointing part. I thought I enjoyed magical realism when I was young, but as I grow older and read more of it, I’ve found myself despising the genre when it’s done like this: when it means nothing, nothing, to the story or characters. We hear about how flying carpets are real a few chapters into the story, and no mention is ever made of what world-shattering changes the existence of such a thing would have on history. Aureliano Buendia’s father, who was captivated by the gypsies’ magic inventions like magnets and magnifying glasses and potential alchemy, utterly ignored the power of a flying carpet and what he could do with it. To take this idiocy to the ultimate level, he later tries to search for the ocean near the town, slogging through swamps, over mountains, etc… and never once is any mention made of even considering using a flying carpet to do it.

This treatment of the supernatural makes the genre name a misnomer. Magical Realism implies that it treats the magic as real, as an affecting part of the story. Not as blatant as a fantasy story would, perhaps, but still an intrinsic part of the tale. This book is magical unrealism, because it describes the magic as if it’s real, but it has absolutely no affect on anything. None of the characters act in a realistic fashion when confronted with the magic. It’s a gimmick, pure and simple, as pretty much admitted by the author himself, just a style of storytelling his grandmother would engage in when he was young. You could take out all of the magic in the book and absolutely nothing would change.

On top of all that, it’s incredibly frustrating to read about so many unlikable characters without even a basic plot to string them together… and as if actively trying to break his readers’ immersion, the author continuously drops little bits of future events carelessly into the narrative, so that you might sometimes just meet a new character and within a few lines find out how they die. I can count on one hand the times I felt some true sense of immersion or interest in the novel, and then things went back normal.

Overall I grew quickly disillusioned with all the praise heaped on the book. Back when it first got published, maybe it was seen as “innovative” and “groundbreaking” and “transformative,” but I’ve read dozens more engaging, more educational, more impacting stories that took a quarter of the time to read as this lump of bland, flavorless drivel.

I could rant for hours about this thing, so I’ll stop there.

TL;DR: Don’t buy this book. Find a copy to read first and decide if you like it based off the first few chapters: it doesn’t get any better past that.

Chapter 33 – Interlude: Double Binds

The coliseum was colder than she imagined, colder than she thought she could endure. Hail pelted her thick coat and bounced off hastily donned goggles. Harsh winds tore words from lips made numb by their assault. The metal of her pokeballs bit at her fingers with icy teeth. And all the while, she grinned until her cheeks felt frozen in their new position.

She had thought she was ready. She had thought she was prepared for any obstacle, any twist.

She never imagined that Elite Lorelei would schedule their Challenge match during a blizzard, on top of an indoor glacier.

Misty had never felt so alive.

Remember, you may forfeit at any time,” Lorelei said in her ear before the battle began. “I will not call the match if one of your pokemon is killed.”

Misty responded by sending her poliwrath out to pummel the Elite’s opening cloyster. Its shell was hard as steel, but just as vulnerable to her pokemon’s precise, powerful strikes. Her poliwrath shrugged off its returned attacks and eventually took it down, which began a flurry of swaps and trades. A jynx took down her poliwrath with a mental blast, then got felled itself by Misty’s jellicent. Lorelei sent out a weavile, but Misty was ready with the withdraw this time. Wishing she still had her poliwrath, Misty sent her blastoise out to tank the sweeper. Her pokemon was able to hold its own for awhile, unable to land a solid blow but protected by its thick shell, but the hailstorm was slowly wearing it down, and Misty finally ordered a Body Slam to try and catch the weavile by surprise.

Her pokemon fell onto all fours and thrust itself forward like a battering ram, but slipped on the ice of the glacier and veered a bit to the side. The weavile nimbly flipped itself out of the way, then dashed in for another attack-

-until her blastoise spun on its belly and aimed a cannon right at it for a full on Hydro Pump.

Lorelei didn’t miss a beat, and sent a lapras out that took her blastoise down with a thunderbolt. Misty quickly sent out her starter and lifelong friend, Celest. She grinned as her starmie easily outsped the lapras and hit it with psychic blasts until it was withdrawn, Recovering to heal from the returned electric attacks.

Her first Challenge against the Elite Four, and she was already ahead of the game, with four pokemon against Lorelei’s remaining three. Lorelei may have been a master of Ice pokemon, but Misty had always favored Water types herself, and was more than prepared for the environment and matchup.

A shard of hail slid down her neck, making her shudder and chilling her overconfidence. She mentally directed Celest into the water around them, then linked their minds. Years of training with her starmie allowed her to seamlessly interpret the pokemon’s bizarre senses and alien thoughts. If Lorelei sent out a non-aquatic pokemon, Celest could do hit and runs attacks from the safety of the water, and if the Elite sent out an aquatic pokemon she wouldn’t be able to follow the battle or command her pokemon as well as Misty. With a mental nudge, Celest began rotating around the glacier at high speed as the two surveyed their surroundings through the starmie’s psychic field and waited for Lorelei’s next move.

Lorelei lifted an aquascope from behind her platform walls and walked to the edge of the ice before sending her dewgong into it. She sent the long metal pole of the scope into the water and began fiddling with the controls, moving the camera at its bottom to follow the action as she began sending commands to her pokemon through high frequency clicks.

So much for that idea, Misty thought as she hastily ordered her pokemon to construct a Light Screen. Dewgong’s Water and Ice attacks would be ineffective against Celest, whose ability to naturally cure status effects would help in the outside chance that she was frozen, but the dewgong’s Signal Beam would be especially effective against the psychic starfish.

Instead the dewgong thrust itself at Celest horn first. Misty gasped and doubled over in pain as they were hit by three hundred pounds of blubber sheathed muscle. She quickly commanded Celest to construct a kinetic Barrier around itself as she slowly straightened. Her starmie wouldn’t be able to take another hit like that: she hadn’t expected Lorelei to train her dewgong as a physical attacker, and now the tempo of the battle was on the Elite’s side.

The dewgong hammered Celest again, but its attack was dampened by the Barrier, and Celest just barely clung onto consciousness. Misty ordered Celest to Recover, and her torn flesh began to close and heal, just a hair faster than Lorelei could undo with the next attack. She kept up the assault regardless, and Misty kept Celest in recovery mode, bearing the shared pain through gritted teeth. Once Celest was fully healed she would be strong enough to take a couple hits in a row as she struck back-

Misty felt Celest’s Light Screen fading and saw the trap a second before it was sprung. A second was enough time to react, enough time to command Celest at the speed-of-thought to stop healing and refresh the Light Screen. But with either action equally likely to end in ruin, indecision decided for her.

The Light Screen faded just as Celest finished fully recovering, and in that instant a new pitch of clicks spread through the water. The dewgong blasted Celest with a beam of discordant sound, causing Misty to clutch at her head as the psychic connection broke. She blinked spots out of her eyes as she tried to fight down her panic. Celest was down there, alone and injured… she reached out with her mind to try and re-establish a connection, but sensed nothing but pain and confusion from her starmie.

Misty still had three other pokemon. She could accept the loss of Celest and still use her next three to try for a victory. But that would mean letting her starter stay down there and get pummeled into unconsciousness, or worse-

I forfeit!” she yelled, and within seconds the machines generating the hailstorm shut down as the audience filled the stadium with noise. Misty rushed to the edge of the glacier, stripping off anything water sensitive and taking out her headset before diving into the icy water. She kicked down until she spotted Celest and unclipped its dive ball to return it.

As she kicked back to the surface and climbed onto the glacier, she knew her attempts at becoming Champion were done. Years spent preparing and she had choked in the very first match against the League, had thrown the battle rather than risk harm to her pokemon. Someone so soft could never be Champion. Her hand caressed Celest’s cold ball as she walked to the bridge leading off the glacier, chin held high for the cameras as her spirit withered within her.

Later, as she sat alone outside the Indigo Plateau compound, Lorelei found her. Misty didn’t know how, didn’t question it. She simply continued staring up at the stars as the Elite sat on the bench beside her. They shared a silent handful of minutes before the older woman spoke.

You did a noble thing in there. I hope you’re not still beating yourself up over it.”

Misty didn’t respond, not trusting her voice. Pity was something she wasn’t sure she could take right now, though she wasn’t sensing any from the surface of Lorelei’s thoughts. The woman’s mind was tranquil as a falling snowflake.

“I’ve been following your trainer profile for awhile, you know.”

That got her attention. “I never saw-” Misty stopped herself. Of course Champions and The Four would use fake accounts to follow random trainers. She found herself blushing at the thought of an Elite spending time personally watching her journey, and cursed her weakness for the dozenth time.

Lorelei smiled, far warmer than any she showed in the arena. “You have a good heart. A good head, too. That defense of Cerulean Bay? Masterful.”

That was… a group effort.”

As far as the media portrayed it, yes, but those with the proper channels can learn more personal stories. From my understanding, everyone on the north coast of the city owes their life to you.”

Misty’s face was red as her hair now, and she knew it was ruining her attempt to glare at Lorelei. “Do you give this pep talk to all the failed challengers?”

Just the ones I think have potential.”

Potential for what? Champion?”

To make a difference.”

Misty frowned. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I wasn’t about to throw myself off a cliff or become a hermit or anything.”

Lorelei shook her head. “Not good enough. By this time next year, if you’re not someone’s Second or a Director for CoRRNet, I’ll be very disappointed.”

Misty was ready to get pissed again, but the words stuck in her throat. Gym Second? It’s not that she never considered it, but she’s not Leader material. She has no deep ties to any communities, never joined a Gym… hell, she spent half of her journey travelling alone because she preferred it to being around others. “Where would I…?”

The Elite stretched and got to her feet. “That’s up to you, dear. I just wanted to make sure you don’t waste a single day stuck on this. You had to come here. And you had to lose. To learn something about yourself, down to your core. And to find something new to strive for. That was part of your journey, not the end of it.”

Misty hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, I get that. I… thank you, Elite.”

Call me Lorelei.”


The crowd erupts in cheers as Misty’s wartortle is knocked out. “Nice job,” she says into her mic with a grin, then switches its output to the stadium speakers as she withdraws her pokemon. “Well done, Challenger. I only have three pokemon left, which means we’re entering our Lightning Round. What do you say to picking up the pace a bit?”

The young woman on the opposite end of the arena leans against the railing of her platform. “I remain ready to beat you at twice the speed, Leader, or even thrice it if you’d like.”

The audience gives a collective “oooh” as Misty laughs. She likes this Challenger. In the past week of battling Misty’s Gym members, Amy has shown herself to be a competent trainer with a good sense of humor and showmanship. She would fit right in at Cerulean, if she decides to stay.

But that doesn’t mean Misty’s going to make getting her badge easy for the girl. “Thrice the speed it is! Referees, prepare the buzzers! If either of us spends more than half a second without a pokemon out, the match will be forfeit. Ready? Set! Go, Nomo!”

Her quagsire appears on a sand island between their two raised platforms. The two are surrounded by water, and beyond that the open ocean to the north and Cerulean City to the south. Her gym was built just off the beach of Cerulean Bay, with various stadiums constructed at natural points along the coast. Their audience sits in raised bleachers of easily transported plastic and aluminum, and the arena has no roof, opening their battle to the sky.

Amy withdraws her raichu as Nomo sends a Mud Slap at it, and replaces it with an ivysaur who sends Razor Leaves back at the tentacruel Misty replaces her quagsire with. The Gym Leader’s hands never stop moving, withdraw and summon and switch and withdraw and summon and switch, as she and her challenger shout commands.

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

“Modius, Psyshock!”

“Ruby, Night Slash!”

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

“Tetra, Razor Leaf!”

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

Tentacruel against hypno against crawdaunt against skuntank against quagsire against ivysaur until Misty’s back to her tentacruel, who narrowly misses the Challenger’s ivysaur with her beam as Amy replaces it with her hypno again. Their pokemon are slowly worn down from the constant attacking and switching into hits that were aimed at others.

Misty already took down Amy’s butterfree and tangela, but crawdaunt, tentacruel and quagsire are Misty’s last three pokemon, while Amy still has the raichu she used to knock out Misty’s wartortle. If Misty loses her quagsire Nomo, she’ll have no check against the Electric Type. But being Water/Ground means Amy’s ivysaur would massacre it if she keeps it in play. Misty needs to take out the ivysaur to have a chance.

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

Tentacruel into ivysaur, crawdaunt into hypno, quagsire into skuntank, ivysaur, tentacruel, hypno, crawdaunt, skuntank, quagsire, ivysaur, tentacruel, hypno, crawdaunt, skuntank, quagsire… throw, catch, swap, throw, catch, swap, never more than half a second between one getting withdrawn and the next coming out, setting the pattern, establishing expectation, then-

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

Misty swaps Nomo in to tank the poisonous sludge again, but when Amy moves to withdraw her pokemon in anticipation of the next attack, Misty waits for the ball to leave her hand and immediately withdraws her quagsire and sends her tentacruel out instead.

Amy has less than half a second to decide to either summon her ivysaur into the trap or refuse to voice the command and forfeit. In truth no time to make a new decision at all, only to continue hers or let indecision decide.

“Go, Tetra!”

The ivysaur materializes, and its ball rockets back toward its owner. As Misty speaks her next command, half the eyes in the stadium follow it. One of the camera crew (probably Kara, whose reaction speed is superb) actually tracks it on a big monitor as everyone waits to see if Amy can return her pokemon fast enough.

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

“Tetra, return!”

The stadium erupts as the wavering white-blue light hits the ivysaur and immediately covers its skin and plants in frost before its pokeball’s red beam connects to withdraw it. The rapid battle resumes with barely a missed beat, but now Misty’s just waiting for the ivysaur to come back out, weakened and ready to be picked off.

“Go, Modius, Psyshock!”

“Ruby, Night Slash!”

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

The ivysaur returns and is hit by the earthy projectile, but this time it’s too hurt to shrug it off and stumbles, patches of frost making its movements stiff.

“Tetra, Mega Drain!”

Oh no you don’t. “Go, Osu!”

Her tentacruel materializes just as in time for the ivysaur to begin sapping its life… and instead the plant pokemon staggers away, veins filled with a poison even its own can’t combat.

“Tetra, return!”

Three to three now, but the battle is decided. Misty plays conservatively, scoring free hits every time Amy is forced to swap in her raichu by using Nomo to negate its attacks. Little by little Misty’s pokemon catch up in the war of attrition… until Amy takes her own gamble.

“Luxi, Slam!”

The raichu dashes forward and throws its weight into Nomo, who’s already nearing the end of his endurance.

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

“Luxi, Quick Attack!”

The pokemon duke it out for a few tense seconds, and then Nomo falls and doesn’t get back up.

“Nomo, return! Go, Osu!”

“Luxi, Thunderbolt!

“Osu, Acid!”

Electricity crackles, sending her tentacruel’s many limbs flailing until it lies still, but the raichu squeals in pain as it rolls in the dirt. Amy quickly withdraws it, and sends her skuntank out against Misty’s newly summoned crawdaunt.

“Poison Jab!”

“Crab Hammer!”

“Sludge Bomb!”

“Bubblebeam!”

Down goes the skuntank, and now the stadium is deathly quiet as Amy sends her Psychic pokemon out against Misty’s Water/Dark.

“Ruby, Night Slash!” Her pokemon rushes forward to deliver the final blow, safe in its immunity and trusting its thick shell to take any physical attacks the hypno tries-

“Modius, Focus Blast!”

The stadium explodes with noise and Misty stares in shock as the psychic pokemon drops its pendulum, cups its palms toward the onrushing crawdaunt… and with a sudden tensing of its body, causes her pokemon to collapse.

Trained psychic though she is, Misty couldn’t make out the attack. She knows others who claim the move looks like a blinding sphere of blue light, a bullet of ki that blows its opponent’s “energy” all out of balance, but to her it was just a gesture.

Regardless, the results are clear, and Misty quickly withdraws her pokemon. “Congratulations, Challenger!” she says, voice drowning out the crowd over the speakers. “An absolutely masterful surprise attack, kept hidden until the perfect moment! Cerulean Gym hereby recognizes you, Amy Brennan, with the Cascade Badge, for demonstrating adaptability and quick thinking to surprising circumstances. Your journey will place you in many environments, present you with many choices. May what you’ve learned at our gym and our city keep you safe from life’s unexpected tides.”


Misty hops off Nessa as the lapras brings her to the shore at the bottom of the cliffs, then pats her pokemon’s long blue neck and withdraws her. She’s on one of the few patches of sand sloping up to form a beach, and waves crash against the rocks to either side as she walks up the dunes and makes her way to the southern side of the cliffs above her.

After meeting with Amy for some private congratulations and a membership offer to her gym, Misty got a message from her Second asking her to come to the cliffs northwest of Cerulean City. Ariya reported that she found a new cave that wasn’t on any maps, and Misty asked her Second to wait so she could take a quick rest and join her in investigating.

The climb from the beach to the cliffs is rough, but the view from the top is worth it. Mount Moon rises up to the west and Cerulean City stretches out to the southeast. She can just see Nugget Bridge to the east, but the curving path around the cliff quickly obscures it. The wind carries the salt of the ocean up to her as it crashes against the cliffs below.

The walk is a bit longer than Ariya suggested, but the refreshing breeze and gorgeous scenery holds Misty over until the path takes a sharp curve around the cliff face and trails down to a small plateau. Ariya is there with her feraligatr Renekton out, both facing a massive, uneven hole in the rocks.

Misty’s Gym doesn’t have a formal dress code, but if anyone could convince her to institute one, it would be her Second. Today Ariya is dressed in black fishnet leggings, a side slit mini-skirt, and a tank top that bares her midriff. It’s not the immodesty that bothers Misty, who regularly wears swimsuits to challenge matches and some public appearances, but the lack of protective clothing in the field, and the influence it might have on the younger, more impressionable trainers more interested in looking cool than protecting themselves. At least Ariya’s boots are always serviceable.

“Big,” Misty says upon reaching them.

“Told you. I’m thinking a rhydon, tried to bust through and caused the rest to collapse. Problem is, no rubble.”

Misty walks over to the cliff and looks down. “Rocks must have been blown clear, fell into the sea. No blast marks either?”

“Nope. This is how I found it.”

“Have Dorin check for any reports of people hearing explosions anyway.”

Arya nods and sends a quick text before tucking her phone back away. “Would have to be in the past few days. The last satellite mapped this area a week ago. No hole.”

“Convenient. Ready?”

“After you, fearless Leader.”

Misty sprays herself with a can of repel, then summons Celest and mentally orders the starmie to lift itself into the air as they enter the cavern. With another mental command the red jewel at her center blazes bright and gives Misty and Ariya their first look inside.

The hole was punched through the wall of a wide cavern stretching off to their right and left. The ground slopes down straight ahead into water, with stalactites and stalagmites giving it the appearance of a hungry mouth.

“Cheerful,” Ariya says. “I’ll take the left path.”

“No, we’re sticking together. This is a solutional cave.” Misty walks over to the wall and runs her fingers over it. “Limestone. Acids in the water dissolve it and cause it to drip over time, which forms the stalas.”

“Right, I knew that.”

Misty smiles. “Point is, it’s not some new tunnel dug by pokemon. It took centuries to form. I think we’re in a natural habitat.”

“Ahh, shit. Think there are other exits?”

“If there were before I think we would have found out by now. Better check though. Right first.”

They make their way through the cave slowly, stepping around the rough protrusions in the ground as their pokemon take up the front and rear. Renekton is surprisingly light-footed, scales making the lightest of rasps against the ground as he steps with a lazy reptilian grace. Misty keeps an empty pokeball in one hand. She splits her attention between her footing and using Celest’s massively stronger psychic senses to look out for threats. Pokemon flicker by in her peripheral awareness, most underneath them in the water, some others above them through the ceiling, where apparently the cave extends upward.

The tunnel twists and turns and splits multiple times, giving them glimpses of wider caverns full of water and small islands of rock, boulder filled trenches, and whole tunnels filled with veins of gleaming ore. Misty keeps them moving, turning aside from any sense of pokemon in the distance and taking only the right sides at forks.

Before long however they sense pokemon directly ahead, and without another path to turn to. A nest of golbat and zubat roost above. Most are asleep, but some are merely dozing, curious about the sounds the Leader and her Second make, loud as shouts to their sensitive ears. The repel confuses their sense of smell, but there’s no disguising the warm blood beneath their skin. Though Celest has no way to interpret the sensory input she’s receiving, Misty can almost feel the saliva pool in the golbat’s elastic mouths, and it takes a moment for her to realize she can hear it falling in a steady patter up ahead.

She holds a hand up to pause Ariya, heart pounding. If it wasn’t for Renekton’s looming, dangerous presence, the roost might have attacked by now. Misty and Celest make their way back, past Ariya and Renekton, and begin leading them back to the entrance. After five minutes Ariya whispers, “What was it?”

“Golbat, a lot of them. This place is definitely a habitat, and not a new one.”

They take the path back to the entrance, then try the left hand path for another half hour. When the ground splits, half sloping up and the other sloping down into a pool of water, they stop and follow the twists and turns of the cavern back toward the entrance. As they do Celest picks up a mass of minds from aquatic pokemon below them, goldeen or magikarp. The school of fish is a wash of brief, indistinct thoughts, pinpricks of light that swim in shifting clouds… and then suddenly break apart in panic as something massive charges through the water, full of hunger and rage.

“Hey, you okay? Misty?”

Ariya’s hand is on Misty’s shoulder, and she realizes she and Celest have frozen. “Yeah. There’s a gyarados right under us.”

Her Second’s eyes are wide in the crimson light. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

They move quickly after that, trusting the safety of the backtracked path and Celest’s sensory field to alert them of danger. An odd triplet of minds suddenly approaches from one of the side tunnels, and Misty picks up the pace, moving them past its tunnel just as it enters theirs and begins to follow them.

“Magneton behind us,” Misty says.

“Are you shitting me, a magneton? Here?” Ariya snaps her fingers in a quick pattern, and Renekton sidles up closer to them. “Should we take it down?”

“Not worth the risk of attracting others. We’re almost out.” Misty can feel her pokemon tiring from keeping itself levitated for so long, and is happy to see the gleam of sunlight in the distance.

Until the sunlight gets obscured by a humanoid figure emitting a powerful psychic field.

“Focus or split?” Ariya mutters.

“Split,” Misty says, and immediately orders Celest to construct a Light Screen as the alakazam’s mental field meets theirs. It uses brief, sharp jabs of psychic power to probe for weaknesses, and Misty keeps Celest on the defensive as Ariya turns to face the oncoming magneton, prompting Renekton to do the same.

It enters the ruby light of Celest’s glow. As its prongs begin to glow with electric charge, Ariya snaps three fingers. Renekton roars as his muscles flex and swell. Superpower. An ability that would allow Renekton to deliver a devastating physical blow, which would hopefully take the magneton down in one hit since it would leave Renekton weaker afterward.

A bolt of electricity fills the cavern with light and the smell of ozone. Renekton roars in pain this time, but when Misty blinks the after-image out of her eyes she sees him still standing, partially protected by Celest’s Light Screen. Renekton charges forward on all fours to attack the magneton, and Misty turns her attention to the alakazam.

She doesn’t waste time trying to beat the devastatingly powerful psychic at its own game, and commands Celest to attack with a Bubblebeam. The tight stream of water jets out at the alakazam, only to crash against its own defenses.

The alakazam has the measure of Celest now, and presses the attack. Celest can hold her own defensively, but alakazam are weak to physical attacks, and that’s not starmie’s forte. Misty considers summoning a second pokemon, but her concentration is already nearing its limit. Another bolt of electricity lights the cavern behind her, but she doesn’t turn, trusting Celest’s Light Screen to help keep Renekton safe as crashing fills the cavern and the feraligatr roars again.

We need to end this now, before more pokemon show up. What she needs is a more powerful water attack. Starmie don’t hold much inside themselves, but there’s another source nearby.

“Ariya?”

“This fucker is quick, still haven’t hit it!”

“Screen is fading, do I need to refresh it or can you hold out for a second?”

“I’ll bait another one, then you can let it go.” There’s some snapping, and then, “Now!”

Another flash of electricity, and Misty lets the screen fade as she fully merges her mind with Celest’s. She can’t quite make her pokemon understand her, can’t quite imbue it with her intelligence or interpret its instinctual use of its abilities… but she’s spent years guiding Celest and understanding how to influence the starmie’s natural inclinations.

“Going dark!”

Celest zips around the corner and into the pool of water, taking the light with her. The starmie begins to spin and suck in as much water as she can. As she bloats in in size, she lifts herself and the water around her, launching out of the pool to crash over the alakazam in a crushing wave.

Misty rushes forward and locks a greatball onto the dazed psychic. It recovers enough to send a telekinetic blast at the exhausted Celest, pinning her to a stalactite before Misty throws her ball and captures it.

The pain in misty’s chest brings her to her knees, and she forces herself to concentrate as the crimson light around them begins to blink with Celest’s fading life. Her pokemon is in pain and exhausted, and Misty can’t mentally get her to free and heal herself. The ceiling isn’t high though, and Misty summons her blastoise and orders him to stay still on all fours.

Misty quickly climbs onto his back and uncouples their minds before yanking her pokemon off the impaling stalactite, anticipating another blast of electricity and rushing to get the Light Screen back up before it comes. Instead she hears a thud and a crack as she unclips a Full Restore from her belt and sprays it over her pokemon.

Renekton roars in victory over his fallen foe, and Misty smiles as Celest’s gem regains its full, bright glow. She strokes its spongy limbs and sends it mental thoughts of comfort and pride.

There’s a flash as Ariya captures the magneton, and Misty slides off her blastoise’s shell to withdraw him before collecting the alakazam’s ball. She goes to see if there’s anything she can do to help with Renekton, but Ariya is already spraying him with medicine.

“Nicely done, both of you.”

“Nothing to it. This big lug could use a few more shocks, maybe they’ll speed him up.” She rubs Renekton’s toothy snout, and the feraligatr growls in pleasure.

They leave the cave, relaxing once they’re back outside. Misty withdraws Celest and waits for her nerves to calm as she thinks, eyes closed and face turned toward the sun. “This place is going to need a quarantine,” she says.

“Yeah, no shit. Those pokemon were tough as any I’ve seen in the wild.”

“Fully wild habitats are rare in regions these days. Even the Safari goes through occasional cullings.”

“How long do you think it would take to clean this place out a bit?”

“Months. Or we could just try to close it up again, but in the meantime no one goes in, no matter how many badges they have.”

“You want the Rangers on it, or our people?”

Misty hesitates. “If there are other entrances, we’ll need the Rangers.”

“With pokemon that powerful in there? You said it yourself, if there were, I think we’d have found out about it by now. And hey, think of how much stronger we’ll get with access to monsters like those. I never knew I wanted a magneton, but I’m sure I’ll find some uses for it.”

Ariya’s right, but Misty doesn’t want to make the decision for selfish reasons. Then again, if the Rangers show up then word’s going to get out. People will try to get in, make their own entrance if need be. Better to keep it quiet for now…

“Set up a rotation, only people you know can handle it.” Misty’s phone chirps at her, no doubt updating with messages she was sent while in the cavern sans signal.

“Yes’m. Shouldn’t be a lack of interest, once they know what they have the chance to catch. What should we do if someone else comes by?”

Misty takes her phone out to check her messages. “Unless an Elite or Champion shows up, just let them know it’s off limits, League business.” She blinks at the screen, then curses.

Ariya’s raises her brow. “What’s up?”

“I’ve got to go. Something happened on Mt. Moon.”


Misty enters the press room at a brisk pace, back and gaze straight. There aren’t many reporters in attendance, but she still sees a face she hoped not to. Zoey is a good journalist, or at least that’s what people tell her, but as Gym Leader Misty just finds the woman a pain in the ass. Her only consolation is that Mayor Tonio would be at the mic a lot longer than her, whenever he arrives.

The cameras are already filming when she mounts the steps to the podium. As she waits for the room to quiet down, she pulls a notecard from her sleeve and places it by the microphone, where the raised edges hide it from view. She can feel the general wash of emotions from everyone, a faint breeze of anticipation and anxiety against her mind. There’s also a sense of hunger that she’s come to recognize, mostly from journalists and Challengers: ambition.

“Hello, and thank you for coming,” she says when the room is silent. “An hour ago I learned that a Tier 1 Emergency was taking place on Mt. Moon. A paras colony began a mass migration that spilled out onto the mountain when pokemon within it broke through the surface as they fled. Unfortunately, the location they emerged was a paleontological dig site on the southern mountain face, which had 37 staff members and 16 security on site at the time of the incident.

“Thanks to the efforts of the scientists and security on site, and the immediate response of nearby trainers and Rangers, the threat was contained, pushed back, and eradicated before it could spread and necessitate a full scale response like that of the Vermilion Forest fire. It was a monumental feat of bravery and skill, and all of Cerulean thanks them.”

She can see the reporters readying to ask questions, and heads them off. “Unfortunately, there were a number of casualties. It is with great sorrow that I report the loss of Kazuo Soto, Fareed Newell, Irina Fujita, Dawson Haulover, Agustin Santiago, Mary Ashcroft, and Cerulean’s own Tetsu Akita. Today we honor their memories, and their sacrifice, without which many more lives would surely have been lost.

“There is one more piece of news. Rangers and on site security have confirmed a Renegade branding in the aftermath. The geologist apparently took advantage of the crisis to try and steal the dig’s fossils, nearly killing two of the site’s defenders in the process.”

Cold silence dominates the room as everyone tries to process such an evil act. Misty allows it to linger, her own revulsion lending new steel to her voice and gaze.

“I want to assure everyone in this city that I will be leaving for Mt. Moon shortly so that I can learn of his crimes, ensure they were appropriately Witnessed, and then oversee his execution personally.”

The crowd is quiet for a moment longer, and when it’s clear that she wouldn’t say anything more, begin shouting questions. Misty glances at the door, which she’s hoping the mayor will walk through at any moment. Damn the man, he had more time to prepare than she did.

“One question at a time, please. I’ll be leaving for the mountain soon, but will answer as many as I can. Yes, Mia?” she asks, picking a reporter at random.

“When will the name of the Renegade be made public?”

“The Rangers will release it when they see fit, as usual. They haven’t even told me. Jordan?”

“Will you be calling for an evacuation of the mountain?”

“Right now the Rangers have already placed Mt. Moon on high alert, and every trainer, merchant and Center staff should be aware of the event. The Rangers have increased their patrols of the mountain to search for any hints of an ongoing threat, but so far have reported none. Tyrisha?”

“Are you mobilizing the gym, Leader?”

“Every member is on standby in case the Rangers call for help. Alan?”

“What aid are we sending to the dig site?”

“That’s a question for Mayor Tonio, who should be here soon.” I’m going to strangle him. She’s running out of opportunities not to call on Zoey, who sits patiently with her hand raised. Better get it over with. Zoey’s known to ask tough questions, and if Misty ends up having to call on her and does so last it would signal reluctance. “Yes, Zoey?”

“Thank you, Leader. The initial alert went out almost three hours ago, now. Why did it take so long for our city to respond?”

Dammit. She doesn’t want to so much as hint at the existence of the cavern. “Unfortunately I was investigating a report of wild pokemon outside the city during the initial alert, and had no cell reception.” Her heart sinks as she realizes that would almost certainly invite more questions. I should have prepared an excuse for this.

“Why didn’t your Second mobilize the Gym?”

“One question each, please. Frank?”

“Same question, Leader.”

“Ariya was with me. Peter held the Gym, and reported that he began mobilization at a medium priority. Due to the distance he knew only psychics with a teleporter and trainers with fliers would arrive on time to help, and two members of the Gym did leave for the mountain before the crisis was passed. Yes, Paula?”

“Where were you and Ariya investigating? Was there another incident today?”

“No, thankfully we were able to address the issue.” Misty is grateful that Paula asked two questions so she could ignore the first. Zoey has her hand up again, but luckily so do others. “Sachio?”

“Was anyone injured?”

“No. Mia?”

“What prompted the investigation?”

“A routine patrol brought up a concern.” She’s dodging, and knows it shows. For a Leader and their Second to personally investigate something would make it anything but a “routine” concern.

Zoey’s hand is still in the air, ready to ask where it took place that didn’t have reception, and at that point Misty’s choices will be to either look like she’s making excuses, which makes her weak and potentially suspicious, or to give away details that could expose the cave.

No win, don’t play. “I’m sorry, but that’s all the time I have-”

The door opens and the mayor walks in. “-so please direct any remaining questions to Mayor Tonio.” Asshole. A few seconds earlier and she wouldn’t have had to appear like she was running, but at least he arrived in time for a clean transition.

She slips the card in her sleeve and hands the podium over to the Mayor with a quick smile and nod, then turns on her heel and strides out of the room. “Dial Ariya,” she says after putting her earpiece in. “Report?”

“I’ve got Molly and Ryuso here, they’ve been briefed. What’s up on the mountain?”

“You’ll figure it out a soon as you check the news. I’ll fill you in later with the rest, just head back to the Gym and take over for Peter.”

“Yes’m.”

Misty ends the call as she exits the building and summons her swanna, Nimbus. “Hey boy, ready for a ride?” She straps herself into his harness and puts her goggles on just as the door behind her opens and Zoey walks out, clearly looking for her and just as clearly surprised to see her already leaving. Misty gives an apologetic smile and wave, then takes off toward the distant mountains before the reporter can open her mouth.


The sun is beginning to set as Misty and Nimbus reach Mount Moon and start to climb altitude. The air turns chilly with the fading light and lower pressure, and Misty buttons her coat as a shiver wracks her form.

The dig site is easy to spot from the air, and she hunches down and banks toward it. When they get closer she can see the aftermath of the battle still being cleaned up, and feels a pang of guilt for having missed it. She might not have made it on time even if she hadn’t been in the cavern, but this could clearly have been much worse.

She begins a slow, circling descent until she can land in front of the dig’s largest building. She takes a moment after dismounting to let her legs get used to standing and walking again, then knocks on the door and enters.

The inside is spacious, with a long table and chairs taking up half of the room and the rest left open with counters and cabinets. The building clearly serves as a meeting hall for staff, and Misty spies the site director Dr. Zapata, some of her people, and a ranger at one end of the room while Leader Giovanni and Leader Brock hold their own council at the other. She takes her gloves off and slips them in her coat pockets as she walks to her peers.

“Ah, Misty. Thank you for coming,” Giovanni says.

“Hello Giovanni, Brock. It’s good to see you two again.”

Giovanni inclines his head. “I only wish the circumstances were better.”

“Me too. I’m sorry I’m late.”

“It’s no trouble. We were just about to begin. Let’s speak again after.” Giovanni heads toward the table, and the dig site staff take the cue and do the same. Dr. Zapata takes the head seat at one end, and her people sit around her.

“Glad you could make it,” Brock murmurs to Misty as they follow Giovanni.

She smiles. “You know I wouldn’t leave you alone with him if I could avoid it.”

He grins back. When Leaders meet there are almost always important decisions made about their shared territory, and any not present for those discussions tends to lose out. On top of that, though neither would admit it, on their own it’s easy to be intimidated by the Viridian Leader, and go along with whatever he says. When they’re together though, it’s not as hard to challenge or push back against him from time to time. If Giovanni ever resented the younger Leaders that shared his borders banding against him, he never showed it.

When Misty first became a Leader she felt like something of a fraud around the others. It wasn’t so bad with younger ones like Brock, or later Erika when she took over Celadon, but Koga, Blaine, Surge, and even Sabrina were all so serious and intimidating. And then there was Giovanni, for whom becoming Champion was just a footnote in his legend. Now, after leading Cerulean for almost five years, she feels much more comfortable in her position, but is still occasionally humbled by the fact that they share the same title.

Leader Giovanni takes the other head seat, and Brock goes to the one on his left while she sits at the Champion’s right. She wondered if Erika would come, as she’s the fourth Leader to share borders with them, but technically the mountain range doesn’t extend to Celadon, so she must have bowed out.

“Thank you for joining us, Leaders,” Dr. Zapata says. “We’ve all had a harrowing day, as you can imagine, and we appreciate your presence on such short notice.”

“Of course,” Giovanni says. “My sincerest condolences for your losses, and my thanks for your bravery and sacrifices.” Brock and Misty murmur their agreement, and Dr. Zapata bows her head.

“Thank you. As soon as we’ve finished cleaning the site, I’ve announced a week of mourning and rest before work resumes. I hope by then to have a new security plan in place to assure our financiers and ensure another incident like this isn’t repeated, or is better defended against.”

The others with her nod their agreement, all but one, who sits in distracted silence. Misty recognizes him, the ACE trainer in charge of security for the site. Pete? Palmer? Something like that. She doesn’t need her powers to tell he’s not happy about the topic of conversation. Anxiety, pride, and shame radiate off him in a tightly controlled spiral that fluctuates with his breaths.

“Understandable. First, let us review the facts,” Giovanni says. “The parasect colony was migrating through the mountain, resulting in a wave of fleeing pokemon. One of the forefronts of that wave broke through the weakened ceiling under one of the dig sites. Tragically, two personnel were immediately killed then. I think we can all agree, this is where our review must begin.”

Brock leans forward. “Your seismographs. Why didn’t they give warning of the attack?”

One of the site employees speaks up. “They did, but the person tasked with monitoring them claims that he was not with them at the time. He was later branded a Renegade for using the attack as an excuse to try and steal the fossils, but in any case, it was an unforeseeable failure in site security.”

“Unforeseeable,” Brock says, and looks around. “Does anyone disagree?”

“Perhaps it would be better to ask what you plan to do different, moving forward,” Giovanni says.

“Two people assigned to monitor it, and one must be present at all times, of course,” Dr. Zapata says. “We’ve already begun such a system.”

“Allow me to make a suggestion, then. Update your equipment and send its output over local wireless. Install apps to allow remote monitoring at all times, with alerts for signals over a threshold.”

Dr. Zapata looks surprised. “Does equipment and software exist for such small vibrations? We’re hoping to detect things far more subtle than even the lightest earthquakes.”

Giovanni makes a careless gesture with one hand. “I believe one of my people has spoken of something similar. I will check and ensure you have access to it later tonight. If not, I will try and finance its creation. It would no doubt be a widely useful technology in any case.”

“That… would be very helpful, Leader. Thank you.”

“Next, then. The response to the incident was immediate and effective: removal of the hazardous spores. Unfortunately another person was killed by the moving cloud. What happened?”

A woman speaks up next. “I was the one that made the call, Leader. We had moments to recognize the threat and act before it could spread further and make any coordinated response impossible. I recognized the risk and gave warning of our intentions, then cleared the spores when we received only affirmative messages of safety. Mary… wasn’t one of those to respond, either to say she was clear or not. It’s hard to tell from the—her—remains, but I assumed that anyone unable to respond would already be hurt too badly to be saved by waiting any longer.”

“Understandable. Does anyone here disagree with that decision or its reasoning?” No one answered, and Giovanni nodded. “We shall say no more about it then. Next…”

The conversation goes on, examining each point of the attack, their response, and the result. Though ostensibly the meeting was to ensure the future safety and well-being of the site employees and improve their security, Misty could feel the tension and occasional fear of those on the other side of the table. She understood. Even though they were here to help and not cast blame, it never feels good to have your decisions and actions scrutinized by others, especially those in authority, and especially decisions made in a crisis.

At one point Misty senses a spike of anger and indecision from one of the dig employees, an older man with his arms crossed. She waits for the current speaker to finish before saying, “If I could take a moment, I’d like to say that so far it sounds like everyone here did an admirable job responding to the threat. I want to thank you again for your efforts, and reiterate that this meeting is to help improve preparations in case something similar happens again.” She locks her gaze on that of the older man. “Don’t be afraid to say something if you have a suggestion or comment: you’re among friends.”

He drops his eyes when she finishes speaking, and after the other members of the table murmur their agreement and thanks, looks up. “I…” He hesitates. “I had a thought. Earlier. Didn’t want to accuse anyone of anything. Still don’t. You’re right, everyone did a fine job. Seen a lot of Tier 1s over the years. This was kept local, very local. A fine job.”

He frowns, and seems to be searching for words. The table waits. Finally he says, “Hell, I’ll just spit it out. Some of the trainers, they were using balls to capture pokemon as they fought. Sometimes it’s understandable, ‘course it is, you have a moment to catch something you take it. Sometimes it’s even the best choice strategically. But a lot of trainers were wasting time and energy weakening pokemon rather than killing ’em. Using status effects and baiting attacks on a particularly strong or rare pokemon, while a dozen more walk by, a threat to those around them.

“Like I said, I don’t want to get no one in trouble, or accuse anyone. But I just thought I’d say it, make sure it was out there. Maybe we could tell the Rangers, put up a PSA to remind people. I dunno. Just thought I’d say.” He’s quiet a moment, then nods to himself.

Giovanni steeples his fingers. “Thank you, Misty, and you, Albert, wasn’t it? A good point. As you said, it’s an understandable impulse, but one that bears vigilance against. I’ll personally speak with the mountain’s Director, and see about some coverage for it in an upcoming issue of The Daily Trainer.”

The conversation only goes on another few minutes, and as it wraps up Misty prepares to address the issue she’s concerned about. Giovanni glances at her and lifts a finger from the table, almost imperceptible. He knows what she’ll ask, and apparently wants to address something first. She nods.

“As we conclude, I would like to make one final suggestion,” he says. “When we began this venture, the question of security was broached and, for the time, properly addressed. I want to thank you, Paul, and the rest of your people, for their good work.”

The table murmurs agreement, and the ACE Trainer looks at Giovanni in some surprise, and to Misty’s senses, trepidation. “Thank you, Leader.”

“However. In light of this incident, I’d like to, once again, formally offer Gym services to assist in the security of the site.”

The table is quiet. Paul’s face reddens, but he doesn’t speak. Giovanni’s hands move apart and together, tapping his fingertips. “Let me be clear. I in no way blame Paul or his organization for anything that occurred today. But as some of you may remember, I offered the extra personnel initially, and was voted down by my peers and some of you sitting here. At the time I was eventually convinced that showing such favoritism for a project like this could set an undesired precedent. Now, however, I believe that this incident would clear up any potential misunderstandings by the public, and allow us to ensure the continued safety of the site employees and its assets. I understand that many fossils were almost stolen, and would have been if not for the timely intervention of some assisting trainers. That risk must be minimized as thoroughly as possible.”

Misty and Brock exchange glances. She can read the Pewter Leader’s misgivings, and still shares them herself. “I’m sure that Paul and his people will be extra diligent in watching the fossils,” Misty says slowly. “And I don’t know whether I can commit anyone to such a task.” She thinks of the staff she’ll already be committing to watching the new cavern.

“Nor I,” Brock says. “We’re still assisting in the aftermath of the Viridian Forest fire.”

“I understand,” Giovanni says. “My gym is prepared to staff it ourselves. And I have no doubt as to the efficacy of ACE training. Your people will continue to be employed, Paul, and I will be adding a bonus to their salaries. I was planning to do so regardless. To ensure there is no reduction in perimeter vigilance, however, my people can commit exclusively to guarding the fossils, and allow yours to do their jobs unhindered.”

Paul’s tension slowly leaks away, and while he still feels upset, he eventually says, “Thank you, Leader. That’s very generous of you.”

“I hope that’s agreeable to everyone?” Giovanni spreads his palms. “This endeavor can be the first of many profitable ventures on these mountains, and I merely wish to ensure it has every chance to achieve full success.”

Those around the table begin to nod and voice their agreement, and Misty feels any further objections dying on her lips as even Dr. Zapata capitulates. She feels the wry amusement from Brock and raises her brow at him. Fight, or give in? Brock merely lifts his shoulders in a minute shrug and says, “With all that in mind, I can only agree, of course.”

Misty sighs. “Agreed.” This is often how it is with Giovanni: he can speak eloquently, head off objections, satisfy pride, and, just to add icing on the cake, throw around money wherever necessary to ease people’s resistance and just in general be so gracious that disagreement becomes impossible.

She can even almost believe that it would be a good thing, though she knows the political consequences will come up again and again for years if similar projects come about. The amount of power it grants Viridian Gym is massive. Cerulean and Pewter can gain a share themselves, of course… if they’re able to commit the resources. Which, of course, they can’t.

“Good. Now that’s done with, I believe Misty had one more topic to address?”

“Yes, thank you. I think it’s time at last to speak of the Renegade.” The mood of the room immediately plunges, and Misty throws up some light defenses to keep their emotions from washing over her too much. “I would like to know all the details, if you please.”

The Ranger lifts her head. “I believe I can cover that, Leader.” She explains the situation in concise terms, voice bland as she recounts the Witnessing. Misty is surprised to hear that Blue Oak was one of the trainers to be attacked by and help stop the Renegade. She wasn’t aware Sam’s grandson has begun his journey already.

“Thank you, Ranger. Is there any reason this Yuuta hasn’t been seen by a psychic yet?”

“He was too quick to suggest it himself for me to trust the results, and given his actions I didn’t think it was necessary. You are welcome to examine him if you wish, Leader. Will you be the one to oversee his execution?” She looks between Misty, Brock and Giovanni. “I assumed I would have to transfer him to one of your cities, but with all three of you here…”

“Yes, I can oversee it. I’ll meet with him as soon as we finish here.”

“Understood. Just find me when you’re ready.”

Giovanni looks at her, then to the rest of the table. “Does that cover everything? Any further questions? Well and good. Thank you all again. If anyone needs to speak with me, I will be outside for awhile. A good evening to the rest of you.”

People begin speaking as they leave the table, and the three Leaders rise together and head for the door. Night has fully fallen on the mountain, and Misty stares up at the stars, so bright and rich this far from the city lights.

Giovanni follows her gaze. “Beautiful, are they not? They are at their clearest on mountain tops.” He turns to her and Brock. “I hope I didn’t put either of you out too much tonight?”

“It’s your money and your people,” Brock says, and Misty nods. “If you judge it to be the right thing to do, we can only bow to your wisdom.”

“You have my thanks. Do let me know if there’s anything you need help with regarding the Renegade, Misty.”

“Same,” Brock says.

“I think I’ll be alright. I just want to make sure things go smoothly.” Misty buttons her coat back up as the chill night air seeps in. Overseeing Renegade executions was an unpleasant part of being a Leader for the first year or so, but over time it became easier, especially as she began to see the results of their actions more and more. Now she just sees it as an unhappy responsibility of her office, and strives to ensure she gives each case its due consideration to ensure justice is done. “We got lucky that he was stopped. If those two trainers hadn’t been passing by… but of course one of them was an Oak, so I guess it’s to be expected.”

“Indeed,” Giovanni says. “None of that man’s line have ever had normal journeys. Trouble seems to find them, or perhaps they simply stand out in troubling circumstances more than most.”

“That’s the truth of it,” Brock says. “Blue was in the forest during the fire. I met him before speaking with you. He was widening the firebreak and helped take down a whole family of shiftry. Caught one, too, and used it to get my badge.”

“Wait, he already beat you?” Misty says. “I didn’t realize he was on his journey that long.”

“Oh, he just began it. I think it was a month ago?”

Misty whistles. “That fast, yeah, I should have figured. I guess he’s coming for me next? Should be fun.”

“Don’t be so sure. I’m still digging up my main arena after he revealed a strategic flaw in its design.”

Giovanni chuckles, a rare sound. “Yes, that sounds like an Oak. After his sister, we should expect great things from him.”

“His companions aren’t without note either,” Brock says. “One is seeking to become a Professor, the other some sort of journalist or politician.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of them,” Giovanni says. “If they continue to follow the young Oak on his journey, I look forward to meeting them all.” Misty nods as the door behind them opens, and some of the site workers come out. “If you’ll excuse me, Brock, Misty. Until next we speak.” Giovanni walks off to speak with Dr. Zapata.

Misty sees the Ranger come out and turns to Brock. “Call you later? We’ve got some things to discuss.”

“You got it. Safe travels.”

“You too.” Misty approaches Ranger Sasaki. “I’m ready.”


The Renegade sits tied to his chair apparently unconscious. Ranger Sasaki frowns as she finishes opening the door and sees the rest of the room. “Someone was supposed to be stationed here. You do your thing, Leader, I’m going to go speak with whoever had the last-” The ranger stops and stares as Misty walks up to the Renegade, her heart pounding. “What’s the matter?”

The man in front of her looks asleep, but even asleep there are flickers. Physical sensations, emotional reactions to dreams, something that she should be able to pick up this close. She puts her fingers under his nose, then presses them to his neck.

“Don’t say it…”

Misty drops her hand away, mind racing. “We’d better go speak to them together, Ranger. He’s already dead.”

Chapter 4: The Efficient Market Hypothesis

 

World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimisation.


Gringotts Bank turned out to be an imposing multistoried building made of snow-white marble. It was located partway down Diagon Alley, near an intersection with something called Knockturn Alley, and towered over the neighbouring shops. Its architecture seemed subtly different than the “muggle” British buildings the wizarding world seemed to mimic, but Harry had never studied architecture enough to pinpoint how.

He was also too distracted by the pair of goblins standing at the bank’s ornate double doors.

They were dressed in perfectly tailored uniforms of scarlet and gold, and discreetly examined everyone that walked by the bank. Harry knew they were goblins the way he’d have known a dragon if he saw one: they matched the description of countless fantasy novels in most metrics, if not all. Far from green skinned, the short humanoids were almost as pale as the marble behind them, but they had elongated, pointed nose and ears, extremely long, dextrous looking fingers, and slanted, piercing eyes.

Harry tried not to stare as he and Professor McGonagall approached the stairs leading up to the door. It took all his self control to keep his questions to himself however: here were living beings, apparently just as sapient as humans, but clearly from a drastically different genealogy! He wondered how much their DNA resembled humans, and if the two species were close enough genetically to interbreed. A handful of goblin bones would probably drive Richard Dawkins into an academic frenzy, let alone sight of the real thing.

Above the great double doors was a gold and mahogany plaque bearing the symbol of an ornate key, the word “Gringotts” inscribed on it. Below that were the words Fortius Quo Fidelius.Harry consulted his scattered Latin; Stronger Through Loyalty?

“Good morning,” he said to the goblins, who bowed in response. The doors appeared to be thick, heavy marble, but one of the goblins gripped its lower handle and swung it open with ease, though he appeared no more muscular than Harry. Mental note: size does not correlate with strength in the magical world.

Harry and Professor McGonagall walked through the doors side by side, and the goblin behind them closed it. They were in a small entrance hall that was mostly empty, though curiously there were a pair of fireplaces to either side. In front of them was another set of doors, these silver, also flanked with goblins. As Harry approached, he saw writing engraved on it:

Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.

Harry swallowed. It should have seemed silly, something out of a nursery tale… but standing in what seemed literally a goblin stronghold, the words conveyed a quiet, self-assured threat that sent a shiver up Harry’s spine. Further note: do not get on a goblin’s bad side.

“Greetings Madame McGonagall,” said the goblin to their right, voice reedy and accented with a dialect Harry had never heard before. “Greetings Master Potter.”

“Greetings,” Harry said, and glanced at Professor McGonagall curiously.

“I informed the bank that we would be arriving today, so they would have your family vault key readily located,” she explained. “It hasn’t been accessed in a decade.”

“Ah. Well, thank you for keeping my inheritance safe for me,” Harry told the goblin. He felt rather awkward claiming money from parents he had never met, but knew he would need it for school supplies that were sure to be very expensive. How much would a genuine magic item go for in the muggle world? People already paid exorbitant prices on claptrap that didn’t even work; the tooth cleaning potion he’d seen in a shop window would probably sell for hundreds of pounds, maybe thousands. He hoped he would be able to afford his wand and books at least.

“Merely our duty, Master Potter,” the goblin said, and bowed again. Was it Harry’s imagination, or was there a slightly mocking tone to the goblin’s words?

The goblin opened the door, revealing a long hall filled with goblins and wizards. The latter mostly stood in queues, while the former walked about with an air of urgent business or stood behind podiums and desks that placed them a head above their clients. A rather obvious bit of over-compensation, but Harry didn’t blame them in the slightest.

All this Harry saw through what appeared to be a thin film of water, falling gently from somewhere above the other side of the doors and trickling into a narrow grate on the floor.

“It’s called the Thief’s Downfall,” Professor McGonagall said, seeing Harry’s hesitation. “It washes away many forms of magical disguise, and will ensure we are who we appear to be. Your scar will become visible after we pass through, but I’ll obscure it again when we leave.” The witch walked through the water, then turned to wait for him.

Harry took a breath and stepped through, eyes shut and shoulders tight as he anticipated a cold bath. The water was lukewarm however, and quickly evaporated. Within seconds he felt completely dry, and he opened his eyes in astonishment, hands running through his hair.

Professor McGonagall gave him a brief smile, then led the way to a podium labeled “Special Appointments.” Harry followed, trying not to stare at any one thing too long. He saw a witch weighing a jingling pouch in her hand, goblins writing on long sheets of parchment with feathered quills, and a wizard handing an emerald the size of Harry’s fist to his goblin teller, who took out a monocle and examined the gem.

The goblin they approached seemed older than the others, head mostly bald and hair long and white, with small spectacles perched on his long nose. “Yes?” he asked without glancing up from the parchment he was examining.

“Harry Potter is here to access his vault.”

There was a slight pause, and the goblin’s eyes flicked upward at Harry. “You have the key?”

Professor McGonagall pulled an iron key out of her sleeve, the letter P engraved at its handle. She held it over the desk.

The older goblin took the key, squinting at it for a moment and running his thin fingers over the engraving before handing it back. “Very good.” The goblin reached to the side and picked up a bell, which he rang in a deliberate pattern: ding-a-dong, ding-ding, dong-ding! “Griphook will guide you.” He rolled his parchment up a bit and continued reading. Harry saw that it extended all the way down to the floor. He wondered why a society that clearly had access to books would still use scrolls. Perhaps it was a goblin thing, along with their aversion to fountain pens.

Griphook proved to be a youngish goblin, with relatively smooth skin and full dark hair slicked back over his head. He bowed after approaching them. “Madame McGonagall. Master Potter. Follow me, please.”

The goblin led them out of the main hall through a side door, which opened into a downward staircase. The stairs were clean white marble at first, but soon changed to dark stone, and the glowing chandeliers gave way to flaming torches. Harry knew they must have been enchanted, as there was no smoke, which would have filled the tunnel without some airway to escape through.

I’m walking down a goblin tunnel, Harry thought with a renewed touch of unreality. The tunnel soon leveled off, and then the walls fell away to reveal long, twisting paths with rail tracks along the floor. Mine carts sat on short tracks that branched off the main lines, and Griphook led them to one.

“Please step aboard, Master Potter.”

Harry met the goblin’s gaze. “Mister will suffice, thank you.” Harry remembered vacationing with his parents at an expensive hotel once. They’d been waited on by the staff with an overwhelming deference that was enjoyable, but in an occasionally uncomfortable way. Though the thought of having servants (or better yet, minions) was appealing on a number of levels, he didn’t quite feel comfortable being called “master” by another race. Especially not coupled with the vaguely mocking tone he sensed from the goblins, though perhaps that was merely a difference in mannerisms or accent that didn’t quite translate well. “And my full name is Potter-Evans-Verres.”

The goblin peered back at him for a silent moment, then another. Harry didn’t drop his gaze, and the goblin finally inclined his head briefly. “As you say, Mr. Potter-Evans-Verres.”

Harry followed Professor McGonagall onto the trolley, ignoring her speculative look. He noted the lack of hand rails or seat belts, and began to feel nervous as Griphook stepped in and closed the side hatch. “Is this really the safest way to conduct a banking transaction?”

“No,” Griphook said with a wide grin, revealing sharp teeth. He pulled a key out of his vest pocket, identical to the one Professor McGonagall had, and inserted it into a keyhole at the back of the trolley. “But then, it wouldn’t be much good if it was.” He twisted the key, and the mine cart shuddered, rolled slowly onto the main track, then zoomed forward at what only felt like roughly half the speed of sound.

Harry’s yell of surprise was soon lost behind them as the wind whipped it from his lips, and he gripped the sides of the cart until his knuckles turned white. He gave Professor McGonagall an accusatory glare, and the witch merely raised an eyebrow, arms crossed nonchalantly over her chest as her lips twitched at the corners. Harry grit his teeth and slowly drew his hands back to his sides, ignoring the lurching sensations in his stomach as the cart rocketed through the twisting caverns, down, down, down.

Of course, they’d assure it’s safe if you have the proper means to travel it, Harry chided himself. They passed by glittering crystal outgrowths, various sized vault doors, and through another Thief’s Downfall, this one much bigger and ice cold, though he once again dried in seconds.

Harry raised his voice over the clatter of the wheels. “Do all wizards keep their money here?”

“All that care about their gold!” Griphook replied.

“Gold?”

“And silver, and bronze!” Professor McGonagall called out. “The gold coins are called Galleons, the silver Sickles, and the bronze Knuts. It’s twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle, seventeen Sickles to a Galleon!”

Harry was still processing the implications of this as they shot around a particularly wide corner, and his next question was interrupted by a burst of fire that illuminated the darkness around them. Harry twisted his head around, but the chamber was already out of sight. “What was that?” he yelled back at Griphook.

“Just a dragon!” Griphook said with a smirk, and Harry couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. His mind raced in a whole new direction, monetary matters temporarily tabled.

Soon after, the cart began to slow, its deafening rattle quieting little by little until it finally took one of the branching paths. The trolley coasted along it and reached a relatively small vault door with no markings on it. Griphook hopped out of the cart and walked up to the door, then inserted the same key he’d put into the trolley cart. A second keyhole was parallel to it, and Professor McGonagall inserted her, or rather Harry’s, key into that one. They twisted together, there was a heavy metal clunk, and the door swung inward.

Harry stepped inside the brightly lit marble room and felt his jaw unhinge in a gape.

Heaps of gold Galleons. Stacks of silver Sickles. Piles of bronze Knuts. More money than he’d ever seen in one place, all in the form of gleaming treasure that would make Bluebeard jealous.This… is all mine?

Harry was vaguely aware of Professor McGonagall leaning casually against the wall, eyes intent. Watching him. Well, that made sense. Being plopped in front of a giant heap of gold coins was a test of character so pure it was archetypal.

Harry closed his mouth. First things first… get an estimate of how much money he was actually looking at, in a way he could understand. “Are these coins the pure metal?” he asked Griphook.

“What?” the goblin spat from the doorway, voice harsh. “Are you questioning the integrity of Gringotts, Mr. Potter-Evans-Verres?”

“No,” said Harry, “not at all, sorry if that came out wrong, sir. I just have no idea at all how your financial system works. I’m asking if Galleons in general are made of pure gold.”

“Of course,” said Griphook.

“And can anyone coin them, or are they issued by a monopoly that collects seigniorage?”

Griphook grinned. “Only a fool would trust any but goblin coin!”

“In other words,” Harry said, “the coins aren’t supposed to be worth any more than the metal making them up?”

Griphook stared at Harry. Professor McGonagall looked bemused.

“I mean, suppose I came in here with a ton of silver. Could I get a ton of Sickles made from it?”

“For a fee, Mr. Potter-Evans-Verres.” The goblin watched him with glittering eyes. “For a certain fee. Where would you find a ton of silver, I wonder?”

“I was speaking hypothetically,” Harry said. For now, at any rate. “So… how much would you charge in fees, as a fraction of the whole weight?”

Griphook’s eyes were intent. “I would have to consult my superiors…”

“Give me a wild guess. I won’t hold Gringotts to it.”

“A twentieth part of the metal would well pay for the coining.”

Harry nodded. “Thank you very much, Mr. Griphook.”

So not only is the wizarding economy almost completely decoupled from the Muggle economy, no one here has ever heard of arbitrage. The larger Muggle economy had a fluctuating trading range of gold to silver, so every time the Muggle gold-to-silver ratio got more than 5% away from the weight of seventeen Sickles to one Galleon, either gold or silver should have drained from the wizarding economy until it became impossible to maintain the exchange rate. Bring in a ton of silver, change to Sickles (and pay 5%), change the Sickles for Galleons, take the gold to the Muggle world, exchange it for more silver than you started with, and repeat.

Wasn’t the Muggle gold to silver ratio somewhere around fifty to one? Harry didn’t think it was seventeen, anyway. And it looked like the silver coins were actually smaller than the gold coins.

Then again, Harry was standing in a bank that literally stored your money in vaults guarded by dragons, where you had to go in and take coins out of your vault whenever you wanted to spend money. The finer points of arbitraging away market inefficiencies might well be lost on them. He’d be tempted to make snide remarks about the crudity of their financial system…

But the sad thing is, their way might actually be better.

On the other hand, one competent hedge fundie could probably own the whole wizarding world within a week. Harry filed away this notion in case he ever ran out of money, or had a week free.

Meanwhile, the giant heaps of gold coins within the Potter vault ought to suit his near-term requirements.

Harry stepped forward, and began picking up gold coins with one hand and dumping them into the other.

When he had reached twenty, Professor McGonagall coughed. “I think that will be more than enough to pay for your school supplies, Mr. Potter.”

“Hm?” Harry said, his mind elsewhere. “Hold on, I’m doing a Fermi calculation.”

“A what? ” said Professor McGonagall, sounding somewhat alarmed.

“It’s a mathematical thing. Named after Enrico Fermi. A way of getting rough numbers quickly in your head…”

Twenty gold Galleons weighed a tenth of a kilogram, maybe? And gold was, what, ten thousand British pounds a kilogram? So a Galleon would be worth about fifty pounds… The mounds of gold coins looked to be about sixty coins high and twenty coins wide in either dimension of the base, and a mound was pyramidal, so it would be around one-third of the cube. Eight thousand Galleons per mound, roughly, and there were around five mounds of that size, so forty thousand Galleons or 2 million pounds sterling.

Harry smiled with a certain grim satisfaction. It was too bad that he was right in the middle of discovering the amazing new world of magic, and couldn’t take time out to explore the amazing new world of being rich, which a quick Fermi estimate said was roughly a billion times less interesting.

Still, that’s the last time I ever mow a lawn for one lousy pound.

Harry wheeled from the giant heap of money. “Pardon me for asking, Professor McGonagall, but I understand that my parents were in their twenties when they died. Is this a usual amount of money for a young couple to have in their vault, in the wizarding world?” If it was, a cup of tea probably cost five thousand pounds. Rule one of economics: you can’t eat money.

Professor McGonagall shook her head. “Your father was the last heir of an old family, Mr. Potter. It’s also possible…” The witch hesitated. “Some of this money may be from bounties placed on You-Know-Who, payable to his ki- ah, to whoever might defeat him. Or those bounties might not have been collected yet. I am not sure.”

“Interesting…” Harry said slowly. “So some of this really is, in a sense, mine. That is, earned by me. Sort of. Possibly. Even if I don’t remember the occasion.” Harry’s fingers tapped against his trouser-leg. “That makes me feel less guilty about spending a very tiny fraction of it! Don’t panic, Professor McGonagall!

“Mr. Potter! You are a minor, and as such, you will only be allowed to make reasonable withdrawals from -”

“I am all about reasonable! I am totally on board with fiscal prudence and impulse control! But I did see some things on the way here which would constitute sensible, grown-up purchases…”

Harry locked gazes with Professor McGonagall, engaging in a silent staring contest.

“Like what?” Professor McGonagall said finally.

“Trunks whose insides hold more than their outsides?”

Professor McGonagall’s face grew stern. “Those are very expensive, Mr. Potter!”

“Yes, but -” Harry pleaded. “I’m sure that when I’m an adult I’ll want one. And I can afford one. Logically, it would make just as much sense to buy it now instead of later, and get the use of it right away. It’s the same money either way, right? I mean, I would want a good one, with lots of room inside, good enough that I wouldn’t have to just get a better one later…” Harry trailed off hopefully.

Professor McGonagall’s gaze didn’t waver. “And just what would you keep in a trunk like that, Mr. Potter -”

“Books.”

“Of course,” sighed Professor McGonagall.

“You should have told me much earlier that sort of magic item existed! And that I could afford one! Now my father and I are going to have to spend the next two days frantically hitting up all the secondhand bookshops for old textbooks, so I can have a decent science library with me at Hogwarts – and maybe a small science fiction collection, if I can assemble something decent out of the bargain bins. Or better yet, I’ll make the deal a little sweeter for you, okay? Just let me buy -”

Mr. Potter! You think you can bribe me?”

“What? No! Not like that! I’m saying, Hogwarts can keep some of the books I bring, if you think that any of them would make good additions to the library. I’m going to be getting them cheap, and I just want to have them around somewhere or other. It’s okay to bribe people with books, right? That’s a -”

“Family tradition.”

“Yes, exactly.”

Professor McGonagall’s body seemed to slump, the shoulders lowering within her black robes. “I cannot deny the sense of your words, though I much wish I could. I will allow you to withdraw an additional hundred Galleons, Mr. Potter.” She sighed again. “I know that I shall regret this, and I am doing it anyway.”

“That’s the spirit! And does a ‘mokeskin pouch’ do what I think it does?”

“It can’t do as much as a trunk,” the witch said with visible reluctance, “but… a mokeskin pouch with a Retrieval Charm and Undetectable Extension Charm can hold a number of items until they are called forth by the one who emplaced them -”

“Yes!” Harry’s excitement made him shift from foot to foot, eyes alight. “I definitely need one of those too! Batman’s utility belt of holding! Never mind my swiss army knife, I could carry a whole tool set in there! Or books! I could have the top three books I was reading on me at all times, and just pull one out anywhere! I’ll never have to waste another minute of my life! What do you say, Professor McGonagall? It’s for the sake of children’s reading, the best of all possible causes!”

“…I suppose you may add another ten Galleons.”

“And a little spending money, like you mentioned earlier. I think I can remember seeing one or two other things I might want to store in that pouch.”

Don’t push it, Mr. Potter.

“But oh, Professor McGonagall, why rain on my parade? Surely this is a happy day, when I discover all things wizarding for the first time! Why act the part of the grumpy grownup when instead you could smile and remember your own innocent childhood, watching the look of delight upon my young face as I buy a few toys using an insignificant fraction of the wealth that I earned by defeating the most terrible wizard Britain has ever known, not that I’m accusing you of being ungrateful or anything, but still, what are a few toys compared to that?”

You,” growled Professor McGonagall. There was a look on her face so fearsome and terrible that Harry squeaked and stepped back, knocking over a pile of gold coins with a great jingling noise and sprawling backwards into a heap of money. Griphook sighed and put a palm over his face. “I would be doing a great service to wizarding Britain, Mr. Potter, if I locked you in this vault and left you here.”

And they left without any more trouble.


Hey everyone. This has been a lot of fun, and the feedback has been very gratifying. I’m probably going to stop here: chapter 5 is where I felt the quality began to reflect the rest of the story, and I’d have little to add to it. I might revisit this to provide more context for certain later events (Harry shopping for his wand, for example), but in the meantime I think these chapters do the job of smoothing out the introduction of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. If you somehow found yourself here while being unaware of that fanfic and want to read more, you can continue the story at hpmor.com