All posts by Damon Sasi

Chapter 27: Challenges

“Daro, Bulldoze!”

“Maturin, Withdraw!”

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

“Daro, Slam!”

“Maturin, Bubble!”

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

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

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

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

“Okay, your pick. ”

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

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

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

“Go, Dream!”

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

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

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

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

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

Still too slow. “Maturin, Withdrawup!”

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

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Quick attack!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You could have said no over text.”

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

“Don’t need her to.”

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

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

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

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

“So? Are you free or not?”

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

“Alright, pick an arena room then.”

“What, here and now?”

“Got something better to do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rocksteady, Take Down!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rocksteady, Hammer Arm!”

“Kemuri, Feint Attack!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jarod grins. “Liked that, huh?”

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

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

“May you profit from them all.”

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

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

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

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

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


“Excuse me. Pardon me. So sorry…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf brightens. “I finished it last night.”

“That’s great! When can I read it?”

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

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

She smiles. “Sure.”

“What?”

“What, what?”

“You seemed, I don’t know, amused.”

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

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

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

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

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

“No prob.”

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

“Yeah, we finished the last session yesterday.”

“So what have you got so far?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Challenger, Blue Oak, first badge.”

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

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

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

“I challenge Pewter Gym for Mastery.”

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

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

“Go, Graveler!”

“Go, Gon!”

“Graveler, Rock Throw!”

“Gon, Leech Seed!”

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

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

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

“Gon, Poison Powder!”

“Graveler, Body Slam!”

“Gon, back!”

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

“Graveler, Stone Edge!”

“Maturin, Withdraw!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He caught one?” Leaf gasps.

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

“Brock doesn’t seem happy.”

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

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

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

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

“Shhh!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Leaf Blade!”

“Bide!”

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

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

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

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

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

Thud.

A single stomp of Brock’s heavy boot.

Thud thud. Thud… Thud-thud.

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

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

Thud. Thud thud… thud.

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

Thud, thud, thud… thud-thud-thud!

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

“Oh,” Leaf says softly. “Shit…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf shakes her head. “His onix.”

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

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

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

“Onix, Dig!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thud, thud thud thud, thud.

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

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

“Onix, Wrap!”

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

“Withdrawup!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“I could tell. You sound like Blue.”

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

Leaf groans. “Not you too.”

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

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

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

“Congratulations, Blue!”

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

“Yeah? You guys enjoyed it?”

“Red’s been going on about it since we left the match,” Leaf says, avoiding her own response. No need to rain on their parade. “Your pokemon are okay, though?”

“They have a small facility here, I got them checked out after the match. Kemuri and Gon will be healed up in no time, Maturin just needed some potion and rest. She was snug in her shell before the onix started thrashing.”

The knot of worry in Leaf’s chest relaxes, and she takes what feels like the first full breath since the match started. “And Brock’s onix, it’s okay too?”

“I don’t know, haven’t seen him since the stadium. He should be on his way now though.”

Red and Blue begin talking about the finer details of the match, and Leaf wanders over to the refreshment table to grab a soda and nibble at the vegetable tray. She feels herself growing more calm little by little as time passes, eventually sitting on the couch with a small plate of food. She wonders if she’ll ever get used to watching pokemon fight. Everyone in that auditorium seemed to be enjoying themselves. Even when they were worried that one of the pokemon had gotten hurt (or rather, more hurt than “expected”), it didn’t seem to really bother them. They left the match talking and laughing. Even Red.

Maybe there’s just something wrong with her.

She picks at her food until there’s a knock at the door, and the Gym Leader walks in a moment later. “Hello everyone. Sit, sit. I just came by to congratulate you again, Mr. Oak.”

“Thank you, Leader.”

“Your shiftry took me by surprise tonight. It must have given you trouble, or I imagine you would have used it in our first match. Unless that was just a story, and you acquired it recently?”

“No, it was all true.”

“Remarkable. Who helped you train it?”

“Red did, and Jarod.”

“And your squirtle?”

“Being able to withdraw is one of Maturin’s greatest strengths, but after our last match, I couldn’t allow it to become such a liability again. Even with Kemuri, I wanted to make sure Maturin would be more prepared. So I trained her for a few maneuvers while in her shell. ” Blue smiles. “Kemuri weakened your onix enough that Maturin didn’t even need a direct hit. Once you went for the Wrap again, I knew I had you.”

“And yet it was a great risk. If your squirtle wasn’t fully withdrawn, or my onix had a more violent reaction…”

Blue shrugs. “It was a calculated risk. Even adolescent onix are massive and powerful creatures, and expecting to take one down without some fallout is unrealistic. Of all my pokemon, Maturin is most capable of staying safe.”

“And onix’s dig attack? How did you know that part of the arena floor was safe from tunneling?”

“I didn’t. From some exploration, I knew that the smaller arenas have more solid ground just around the inside corners. I just figured my best bet was to act as though it was true for the big one as well, since if I was wrong I probably wouldn’t win anyway.”

Brock nods. “You’ve acted decisively, from training to combat, and beat me honestly. It was an honor to battle you.”

“The honor is mine, Leader.” Blue bows. “Thank you for all the help your gym has been.”

“I heard you’ve been as much a teacher to others here. Truth be told, I hoped you would stay another month, perhaps even Challenge for membership.”

Blue looks genuinely surprised for a moment. “I’m honored. Really. But we’ll be moving on soon. I have a long way to go.”

“You’re welcome back any time.” They clasp hands, and Brock turns to her and Red. “And you two? You were in the Viridian Fire too, weren’t you? My city thanks you for your help.”

“No need to thank us. We got kind of caught up in it,” Red says.

Leaf nods. “Blue was the hero. Red and I didn’t get the chance to help anyone.”

“I don’t know about all that,” Red says. “You definitely saved me.”

“I’d say we’re both even on that score.”

Brock smiles. “You were the injured one, right? And you were the one looking after him. I remember. Your friend was quite worried about you two.”

Blue’s cheeks redden, and Leaf grins. “He’s a sweetheart,” she says, and to her delight he flushes further.

“Should I expect your Challenges someday?”

“Not likely,” Red says. “But I’d love to pick your brain about Rock pokemon someday, especially some of their abilities.”

Brock smiles. “A researcher, then? I should have known as much, travelling with an Oak. I don’t normally have time to spare, but I might be able to answer an email occasionally, if they’re not too long or frequent.”

“Really? Thanks!”

“And you? Are you a researcher too?”

If she’s ever going to get the Gym Leader’s perspective on the museum, now’s her best chance. “Not quite. I’m dabbling in some journalism at the moment, and was wondering if you’d be interested in a quick interview?”

“Interesting. What about?”

“The Pewter Museum. I tried to schedule an interview through your gym, but they said…” She trails off at the slight frown on Brock’s face.

“I’m sorry, I don’t really have the time for such things. My concerns are Pewter’s Gym and its people’s safety. I’m sure there are others more qualified to answer questions on the museum.” Brock stands up, and the three trainers do too. “Congratulations again, Mr. Oak. If you have time before you leave, come by my office, and I’ll teach you the basics of the Bide technique.”

“I will, thank you.” Blue bows again, and Red and Leaf follow suit. Brock returns it, then leaves.

Blue and Red return to chatting about the match as they go to the food table. Leaf stays behind and munches on a carrot. Even knowing it was a long shot, Leaf feels slightly hurt. The Gym Leader didn’t even offer her the occasional email question like Red.

Well, she tried. If he got upset with what she writes, he had his chance to weigh in. It’s probably delusional to think he’d care what her little article says, but if he does decide to speak out after it’s published, well, at least it’ll have accomplished something.

Chapter 26: The Right Questions

Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap.

Leaf sits ramrod straight in the stiff chair, fingers drumming the notepad on her lap. She’s the only person in the waiting room besides the receptionist, an older woman with stern half-lens glasses and her hair up in a tight bun. Leaf arrived thirty minutes early, and she has to refrain from checking the time again. She knows it’s near time. She should be called in to the mayor’s office any moment now.

The museum director declined participation in an interview, but was willing to communicate to the mayor that “a tourist from Unova” wanted to write an article on it. Dr. Brenner said that would get the mayor’s attention, as there’s been a push recently to improve the city’s interregional reputation. Leaf doesn’t know if they namedropped her mom or grandpa, but it probably didn’t hurt if they did.

Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap.

The receptionist glances from her computer monitor to Leaf’s fingers. She clasps her hands beneath her legs to keep them still and wishes she brought a book. She was worried it would appear unprofessional. She could take her phone out and read from there, but that probably would look even worse. Leaf makes a resolution to bring a book to any similar future situations. Being antsy doesn’t look particularly professional anyway, and it’s far more boring.

Leaf has met plenty of politicians and famous public figures before. It’s something of an occupational hazard when you tour the region with its eminent pokemon expert. But it was easy not to be nervous of, say, the mayor of Driftveil, when the woman was clearly so excited to meet the Professor Juniper… they were always polite to her, and she found the meetings more boring than anything most of the time. As such, not even meeting Professor Oak had made her particularly star-struck.

But this is different. She’s not here to just greet and shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Mayor Kitto: she’s here to interview him, and if she screws it up…

Leaf takes a deep breath, then another. If I screw it up, the worst that happens is I don’t get any material from him for the article. There’s nothing to be worried about, and being nervous is just going ot make it harder.

Whether it’s the self admonishment or the breathing, Leaf feels herself calming little by little… until the receptionist calls her name.

“Yes?” she asks, jumping slightly out of her seat, then freezing halfway to standing.

“Mayor Kitto will see you now.”

Leaf completes her stand and thanks the receptionist as she enters the mayor’s office. Leaf has a moment of surprise at how much more simple and utilitarian it is compared to the ones in Unova. Maybe it’s a Pewter thing rather than a Kanto one. Or maybe it’s a Kitto thing.

The man himself is sitting at a desk that looks intimidatingly busy with files and folders. Mayor Kitto appears to be in his mid-40s, short dark hair starting to grey at the temples and permanent smile lines around his eyes. He stands and offers his hand over the desk, which Leaf shakes after wiping her palm on her skirt.

“Miss Juniper, good morning! I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Please, sit down. Oh, excuse me…” He begins to clear some of the folders from the middle of his desk and stack them onto those to the sides, clearing a sightpath between them as she sits on one of the chairs.

“It’s no problem, thank you for the appointment!” Leaf can’t help but look at all the paperwork. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything too important…”

“Not at all. Hard to believe I know, but the stacks were twice as big this morning.”

Leaf stares. “Is your… computer broken?”

Mayor Kitto laughs. “Have you ever heard of the virtual office?”

“Sure.”

“It’s a myth. Especially in the public sphere: too much need for accountability. Which makes all this paperwork a necessary evil, I’m afraid.”

“Is that a big concern of yours?” Leaf wants to take her notebook and pencil out, but refrains. Laura told her that taking them out would be a signal that the interview has begun, and a reminder that anything said might be printed. Best to build a rapport in a more casual atmosphere first.

Mayor Kitto leans back in his chair. “One of the top concerns for anyone in public office, I would hope. Without it, there’s no trust, and if we don’t trust our leaders we might as well go back to letting the warlords rule us.”

Leaf smiles. “A desk full of paperwork is all that stands between us and feudalism?”

He smiles back. “You can quote me on it. Accountability is the bedrock of a representative government. But I don’t mean to bore you with political science. Tell me how you liked our museum.”

“Oh, it’s fantastic!”

“Do you have a favorite exhibit?”

“I think the interactive fossil excavation. It was a lot of fun!”

The mayor beams. “My daughter thought so too. Came home after they unveiled it and started digging up the whole back yard, dabbing at rocks with a paintbrush.” He chuckles. “She’s studying to be a paleontologist now, so I’d say it did its job. ”

“I know how she feels. I half wanted to become one myself, while I was there.”

“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. The director said you were writing an article on it, right? What did you want to ask me?”

“Well, why don’t we start at the beginning? For you, at least. When did you first go to the museum? What was it like for you?”

The mayor chuckles. “Pretty boring, to be honest. It was much smaller back then, and the exhibits were very dry. My dad took me, he was a biologist who worked on one of them, and it was interesting, but not a passion of mine. My real interest in it came after…”

Kitto begins to recount the history of the museum, along with some context of the city at the time. Much of it Leaf has already learned on her own, but he’s a decent storyteller, and she surreptitiously remembers to pick up her notebook at one point and start jotting down lines as she listens.

“-and then they brought those first complete sets of fossils in, and arranged them all into what the pokemon looked like at the time… that was a turning point. Most people around here had no idea how important the fossils were, they just thought it was an interesting exhibit. But within the next month the influx of tourists became noticeable, and then awareness spread quickly as people and the media began to talk about what was drawing them. That’s when the shift to a focus on geology and paleontology started, and the city was never the same. The economic impact of increased tourism are hard to overstate, and we’ve seen regular growth ever since.”

“That’s great,” Leaf says as she writes down the last line for a potential quote. “So are you happy with the latest exhibits?”

“That would be the timeline of the fossil record, right? Yes, very happy. I think it’s very important.”

“What in specific do you think makes it so vital?”

“Well, you know, the implications. For life, us, everything. It’s a big deal.”

Hm. Not quite quote worthy. “I think so too. That’s why it seems so strange to me how many people are against them.”

“Well, hopefully they’ll come around in time.”

Leaf waits a beat, but that’s all he says. She can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. Kitto doesn’t seem as passionate about it as she hoped when she found out that he made them possible. It makes sense for a mayor to be focused on economic impacts rather than scientific ones, but…

“Is that why you pushed for the newer exhibits on the possible origins of life and species?” When she was preparing her questions she was going to ask Laura recommended against too many questions that imply an answer already, but said that they can get a more direct response on important topics.

Kitto’s blinks. “Pushed for it? Where did you hear that?”

“Oh, maybe I misunderstood.” She taps her lip with the end of her pencil thoughtfully. “Someone at the museum suggested that you recommended it, or gave the go ahead, or something like that. Is that not right?”

“Ah, just some visitor, then? Well, as much as I’d like to claim credit, the museum’s board and director decide on exhibits.” He gives a wry grin. “All we do from city hall is help pay the bills.”

“I see. Is the funding ever increased or decreased based on what’s exhibited?”

The mayor glances at her notebook, so quickly Leaf almost misses it. “Never directly, but a large portion of its budget is decided ultimately by the public, and without advocates in public office, it can find itself walking a delicate line.”

“In the interviews I’ve done so far, I’ve noticed a lot of disagreement on the latest exhibit, mostly by citizens rather than tourists. What has the controversy been like for you?”

“Well, I’ve gotten my fair share of letters on the exhibit, but then, I’ve gotten letters about cracks in sidewalks too. It’s natural for people to speak their mind and give feedback, but any organized expressions of disapproval have been very mild. And like I said, the Museum’s board is in charge of those decisions.”

“Is there anyone in the public eye you would recommend talking to for an opposing perspective on the exhibits?”

“Hmmm.” The mayor leans back in his chair with his hands clasped, looking up. “Well, there was a letter writing campaign that was organized by some local pastors and religious leaders. Others have been very supportive, however.” He lists some names on both sides of the issue, and she scribbles down the ones that are new to her.

“What about Leader Brock?”

“The Leader has been careful to avoid any public comment on the topic.” His tone is bland and pleasant enough. Is she imagining hostility because of what Dr. Brenner said? Leaf has to remind herself that she’s not trying to stir up drama or make things more political. She just wants to know what’s going on.

Leaf pushes her curiosity to the side. “I tried getting an interview already, but I don’t think I’ll be hearing back from them.”

“Well, the Leader is a busy man. More than just papers on his desk.” Kitto chuckles. “I on the other hand am happy to help encourage more Unovans to come and visit our city and region. I hope I’ve done that.”

“You have, thanks.” Leaf closes her notebook and tucks it away, indicating that the interview is over. Time to clear the air. “I just want to make sure, the director did mention that I would be publishing it locally as well, right?”

The mayor smiles. “He did. That’s the main reason I made time for the interview.”

Leaf feels confused. If his focus is increasing tourism, why would he care if it’s published locally? Unless that’s not actually his main goal at all. “Well, I don’t expect it’ll get a lot of attention here. It’s just an opinion piece from a stranger.”

“Don’t be so sure. An interview with the mayor is no small thing, and I’ll be sure to give it a mention when I can.”

Leaf bites her lower lip before noticing and stopping herself. “Not that I don’t appreciate all the help, but… considering you don’t seem particularly interested in the museum’s latest exhibit, and that’s what the major focus of the article is, why did you agree to the interview?”

The mayor is quiet, and Leaf waits. Eventually he says, “What do you think of a leader’s position in the community, Miss Juniper?”

“I never really thought about it before all this. They have a very important role and a lot of influence, don’t they? More than I realized.”

“More, would you say, than was intended by the Regional Charter?”

“I guess that depends on the leader.”

Mayor Kitto smiles. “What’s the most important aspect of representative government, Miss Juniper?”

She considers her answers, but she already knows what he’s expecting, and she mostly agrees in any case. “Accountability.”

“And what’s the major difference between a mayor and a leader?”

“Accountability.” Again, she knows that’s the answer he wants to hear, but now she’s thinking further. “Mayors are public servants, and if the public dislikes some policy or action, they’re voted out. A leader isn’t, they’re replaced mostly by Challenge and other checks of skill or competence.”

“Does a mayor ever influence a city’s defense decisions, or gym standards?”

Leaf smiles. “Not that I’ve seen.” The very idea seems silly.

“And do leaders have no influence on topics outside their purview?”

She shakes her head. “Leaders often command more respect than anyone else in a city. And that can’t help but affect people’s beliefs on other topics.”

“Would you say that’s a healthy balance?”

Leaf is quiet this time, and the mayor doesn’t interrupt it. “There must be some reverse effect as well though,” she says eventually. “Popular leaders affect the public’s opinion, but… the public’s opinions are part of what decides how popular a leader is…”

Mayor Kitto smiles, then glances at his computer screen. “I’m afraid my next appointment is in four minutes. Thank you for your time, Miss Juniper.”

“Thank you, Mayor.” She shakes his hand, then gets up and leaves the office, barely noticing her surroundings. It isn’t until she’s out in the sunlight again that she realizes the mayor never actually answered her question, instead only asking his own.


Blue and Red sit in the mess hall of the Trainer House, one hand shoveling food into their mouths and the other holding up their pokedex, eyes glued to the screens. It’s the tail end of lunch time, and the tables around them are mostly empty.

Blue just arrived from training at the gym with Maturin, Gon and Zephyr, and has about an hour before he’s due at the pokemon center to help out with the beginning of the evening shift. Volunteering there doesn’t feel like a chore anymore, though it does leave him tired at night.

And nights are when he’s been focusing on his shiftry, trying to modulate its behavior through simulations and checking to see if it changed at all in meatspace.

It hasn’t.

Every night, he tries to get it to follow his commands, and every night, it continues trying to kill him. He doesn’t want to admit it to Red, but he’s been considering giving up more and more. He even looked halfheartedly into ads by trainers looking for shiftry, but the vetting process for trading pokemon is strict. Blue would never get through the live test without demonstrating that his shiftry is too wild, even if it’s only violent toward him.

People don’t tend to want traumatized pokemon.

“Hey, apparently some trainers have found their shiftry calmer after eating the right type of foods,” Red says, one hand flicking through the dex’s screen while the other twirls noodles around his fork and lifts it to his mouth. “Oh, but it also might not leave them wholly lucid…”

Blue snorts. “Yeah, I considered tranqing him, but it’s hard enough to get the dose right between asleep and high as a kite, let alone leaving him fit for training.”

“Well, it’s an idea to consider.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Blue looks through the current simulation’s intended goals, then flicks it aside and checks out the next one. “‘To housebreak your pokemon,’ ‘to reduce hostility between your pokemon,’ ‘to reduce pokemon trauma’… that one might be useful, but where’s the sim for ‘stop your pokemon from being full of bloodthirsty vengeance?'”

“Hey, I think this is it!”

“What, really?” Blue leans over to look.

“No, not that.” Red highlights something on his pokedex with his fingers, then transfers it locally. Blue’s dex pings, and he taps the notification of what Red sent him. It’s a tab on the shiftry page for their social habits. He goes to the highlighted lines.

Another sign of shiftry’s high intelligence, and another behavior that earned them the title of “Wicked Pokemon,” is their intricate and violent social structure. Few pokemon species are as vicious in establishing their pecking order. Even obedient shiftry are known to attack the pokemon a trainer used to defeat them…

Blue’s flare of hope and excitement peters out. “That doesn’t help us,” he says, closing the page and going back to looking through training and bonding simulations. “I already used violence to subdue it, that’s why it hates me in the first place.”

“No, keep reading, did you get to this part? ‘In the wild, this often results in re-establishment of dominance, as shiftry habitually attempt to usurp leadership from those above them in their family.’ Don’t you see? It doesn’t hate you, it just sees you as its dominant!”

Blue stares. “But I am its dominant. How does anyone train a shiftry if…” He trails off as he remembers what was written. “Wait, so because from its perspective I defeated it instead of a pokemon…?”

“It was already down and out when you cut it up, right? Maybe it thinks that it can take you now that it’s healthy.”

“That’s nuts, how do they work so well together if they’re constantly trying to kill their superiors?”

“Well, they’re not. They might try to sneak in a kill if they see weakness, but for the most part a shiftry that gets beaten stays beaten, and it’s easy to remember why when your alpha is bigger and stronger than you. You, on the other hand, look nothing like a man-sized shiftry’s superior. No offense.”

Blue puts his pokedex down, considering this. “So I need to beat it again, when it’s healthy. Or get one of my pokemon to do it, rather.”

“That’s my current hypothesis, yeah. But you might have to do more than just beat it the normal way, as in capture it in a ball. You need to actually establish dominance.” Red glances at his screen, then closes the dex and begins cleaning up his tray. “We can talk about it tonight, I’ve got an appointment in forty minutes and the psychic’s office is thirty away. See you later.”

“Later,” Blue mutters, barely noticing Red’s departure. The idea spins around and around his mind, coming closer to a landing with every revolution. He should have seen it earlier. His shiftry wants to fight him, just like any wild pokemon before it’s caught. And just like any wild pokemon, he would have to show it that he’s higher in the pecking order.

Which means…

Blue checks the time, then jumps up to throw out his tray and head for the elevators. He has almost an hour before he’s due at the pokecenter. And that’s an hour he can use to make his pokemon his, for real.

Blue hurries to his room to grab his pack, then down to the training hall. The rooms are mostly full of trainers and their pokemon, and Blue jogs between the doors to find an empty one, not caring what type it’s for. He won’t be needing the supplies.

Blue ends up in a Rock type training room, which he takes as a stroke of luck considering the layout is similar to the arenas at Pewter Gym. He unhooks the shiftry’s greatball and bounces it between his palms as he considers his strategy.

When he first encountered the shiftry in Viridian, taking it on alone would have given him trouble. He barely managed to beat the other, and lost his caterpie, beedrill and nearly Zephyr to do so. But that was weeks of training and experience ago.

His main problems are his pokemon’s types. Gon would be all but useless, as his seeds and powders would have no effect, and Maturin is at a type disadvantage. Which means it will be up to Zephyr, the pokemon he has trained with the least since coming to Pewter.

But he’s gotten a lot stronger regardless, and he has the type advantage. Blue reaches for Zephyr’s pokeball and prepares to release him…

…when the thought comes that he’s being stupid.

This is too big a risk to take alone. He won’t let fear rule his decisions: he knows he can do this, despite the danger. But if he lets his overconfidence get Zephyr or himself killed, he’ll have shown he learned nothing from his time here.

Blue reclips his ball and leaves the training room, deciding to wait until Red is available tonight.


“Six more,” Psychic Ranna says, handing Red half a dozen sheets with the latest test results. They’re in her office, its light magenta wallpaper and deeply cushioned couches giving it an oddly soothing atmosphere. It reminds Red of his old therapist’s office, though the two look nothing alike.

He thumbs through the surveys and nods. “Good, an even thirty. Are you still feeling okay?”

“Yes, thankfully there are still no lasting effects. How’s the data looking so far?”

“Not great,” Red admits.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and sounds like she means it. “Any appointments for Sunday?”

“Not so far. I have one I think will be free on Tuesday, and hopefully another nine will contact me by the end of next week. I’ll let you know if anything changes. Enjoy your Saturday.”

“Thank you. Goodnight Red.”

“Night.” He heads for the door and makes his way to the Trainer House by the light of the streetlamps. It’s a bit of a bother coming here to pick up the reports every few days, but he can’t have her read the reports to type them up and email them after they’re written, so manual pickup it is. Thankfully she’s not hard to work with. It’s good to have met a psychic who’s pleasant, if still a bit distant.

Pewter is busy winding down the workday and preparing for the weekend. Red passes by a lot of couples and groups of friends, laughing and chatting as they head into movie theaters and bars and restaurants. The latter often emit savory scents that make his belly rumble. He has to keep reminding himself that he has to save his money, that five to ten dollars here and there add up, and that cheap and perfectly serviceable food is waiting for him at the Trainer House. After almost a month of eating meals consisting of mostly noodles or rice, he’s homesick for his mom’s cooking.

More than that, he misses his friends. Everyone’s so busy with their projects that other than in the quick nightly tests with Blue and occasional shared meal with him or Leaf, they’ve all but stopped talking to each other. Red thought his research would keep him happy, but he knows that’s where the real problem is.

“Not great” was an understatement. What Red could have said was that his research is a bust. Unless the six in his hand and the next ten subjects are wildly different from the previous ones, he can already see from the emerging data that any correlation between a spinarak’s mental attacks and the % of their mass unaccounted for in the pokedex is extremely low, and likely nonexistent.

He knows that it’s still important to finish. There might still be something to be learned once he has all the data, or in a qualitative analysis of the reports. And even if not, null results are vitally important in science. What he’s learned may not be important, but it can help guide people toward things that are.

None of that helps him feel like he hasn’t wasted the past month, or dread the hours more of writing and analysis to come. And all of which just make his feelings of loneliness and restlessness worst.

His only solace is his time spent with his pokemon. He tries to fit in an hour every night to spend time with at least one of them, whether it’s for a bit of training, playing a game, or just walking around the city. Charmander and Rattata enjoy the park, and over the past week he’s felt safe picking Pichu up and carrying him around without cheri berries.

He hasn’t brought his spinarak out since leaving the forest.

Red arrives at the Trainer House and heads to the dining hall. He fills his tray with some rice balls and steamed vegetables, and reads over the reports as he eats.

Subject 25 – 4/10

A sensation of intense vertigo and fear, coupled with discomfort in the stomach and chest akin to looking down from a high place. Recording shows shortness of breath for approximately fourteen seconds. Discomfort was bearable but unpleasant.

Subject 26 – 2/10

Mild fear and discomfort. Couldn’t quite pinpoint a theme. Odd sensation in stomach.

Subject 27 – 7/10

Debilitating fear. Horrible. Feelings of falling from a great height. Coupled with an intense physical reaction. I have nearly fallen from my chair and am gripping tight to ensure that I do not panic entirely. The spinarak’s trainer is writing this. By dictation. Before I remove the memory. Now. Alright you can

It stops there. Red puts the papers down, skin feeling clammy with nerves from expecting a flashback to his own experience. He had them for the first two weeks of reading the reports, but they’ve slowly been getting more bearable, and he hasn’t had one at all in the past few days. Whatever lingering effects his spinarak’s attack had on him seem to finally be wearing off. He drinks some water and moves on to the next one.

Subject 28 – 5/10

A sensation of vertigo and terror, with intense discomfort in the stomach and chest akin to looking down from high up. Recording shows intense physical reaction for about twenty-two seconds. Discomfort was fairly strong.

Red looks at the similarities between 4 and 5, interested by how they overlap. The similar language and sentence structure in equal scores is something that he wants to study more. Surely other scientists have caught on to how interesting the idea of selective amnesia can be on studies of memory and personality? If so, he hasn’t heard of it yet.

Red finishes eating and reading the other two reports, then heads up to the computer lab and enters the data. He sighs as he sees the line representing the attack score vary wildly in relation to the matching spinaraks’ “Other” data.

His own spinarak, subject 11, turned out to have a substantially powerful attack after all: it scored an 8/10, tieing it with one other spinarak as the second highest recorded. It made him feel better knowing that his spinarak’s mental attacks actually are powerful for its species, even after it became clear from the rest of the data that it’s one of the few with a high score on both metrics.

Psychic Ranna told him that she was basing her scale off previous Ghost type attacks she experienced when she was younger and still remembers. It worries him a bit that her baseline is so potentially different from what she’s comparing it to now, but that’s the downside of having your subject forget each test.

One idea he’s glad he had was to use the video recording of each event to monitor how long it takes for her to physically calm down. It’s imprecise and not particularly useful for extremely low scores, where she has no visible reaction, or high scores, where she often wipes the memory shortly afterward rather than waiting for it to fade on its own, but he couldn’t think of anything better at the time.

With a sigh, Red opens the document where he’s been writing the full paper and picks it up where he left off. He’s done with most of the Abstract, Introduction and Methodology, and is updating them all and the Results as new data comes in. He’s just about to email a question to Professor Oak when his phone rings.

“Hey Blue, what’s up?”

“Just got out. You at the House?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, I’m heading there. I know it’s early, but I want to try out your idea from lunch. You free?”

Right, that. Red hopes he’s right about it and Blue manages to tame the shiftry, because he doesn’t think his friend will be able to beat Brock otherwise.

“I’m working on something right now…” Red looks at his paper, considering the hours of writing and editing ahead, and grimaces. He’s happy to have an excuse to put that off. “But I can put it on hold when you get here.”

“Awesome, thanks. See you soon.”

Red puts his phone away and works halfheartedly for the next half hour, mind elsewhere. If Blue tries to beat the shiftry again, Red will have to be far away to ensure it works properly, which will make it difficult to help protect Blue if things get out of hand. He wonders if they should get Leaf too, but he knows she probably won’t approve of their method of rehabilitating a potentially traumatized pokemon through more violence. It even feels a bit convenient to Red: he expected to find some complex or unique method of calming the shiftry down or getting it to listen to Blue. Just having to rough it up some seems anticlimactic.

But that’s silly. They might have just been wrong in their first assumption of the shiftry’s behavior, and correcting that assumption would hopefully lead to a different result. Reality doesn’t care about convenience or dramatic story progression.

As his research is demonstrating to him.

Red grimaces as he realizes he’s been staring at the screen without typing for five minutes. He saves his work and he logs off the computer, then heads to his room to collect his things and wait for Blue downstairs.

Blue arrives in his volunteer scrubs and dashes up to his room to change and grab his stuff, instructing Red to try to find a Rock training room. By the time he does so, Blue has already arrived and jogs over to the right door when Red texts him which one is free.

“Okay, so here’s the plan,” Blue says, unhooking a pokeball and sending Zephyr out. “I’ll try to keep Zephyr moving fast in and out, so it doesn’t have a chance to get a solid hit in. Do you think Charmander could slow it down without hurting it too badly?”

Red watches Zephyr soar around the room, then perch on Blue’s arm. “It would be risky. I think I have a better idea.” He reaches for the pokeball at his back. It’s been days since his last flashback. Time to put it to the real test. “Let’s see if this works first… go, Spinarak!”

The bug materializes and immediately skitters around a small boulder, then on top of it, turning from side to side with a clatter of its feet. The sound gives Red the jitters, but when he forces himself to look at the pattern on its thorax…

dark…

cold…

Red grits his teeth, focusing on his breathing. The sense of mental anguish is there, but bearable… just.

“Red? You alright?”

He realizes Blue is looking at him with concern, and flashes a thumbs-up. “Let’s do it.”


Blue unhooks his shiftry’s greatball and positions himself in a space without rocks around him. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Red says, standing on the opposite end with his spinarak. Both of them have their air masks on.

Blue takes a deep breath, feeling the calm descend. There’s a distant fear under it, but it’s mostly from the idea that they might be wrong, and that this won’t work. But if it doesn’t work, there’s nothing he can do about it now. Either it will or it won’t, and he’ll deal with it if not. In the meantime, he knows what he needs to do. All that’s left is to do it.

“Go, shiftry!”

It appears halfway between them, facing Red. Blue catches the ball on its return and immediately points with his other hand. “Zephyr, wing attack!”

His pidgey lets out a battle screech as it dives and rakes its talons through the shiftry’s long white hair as it flies by. It gives its coughing roar and pirouettes, eyes searching for a target and locking onto Blue.

“Spinarak, string shot!”

Blue is already jumping back as the shiftry springs toward him, but its jump catches short mid-air, and it lands awkwardly as the sticky webbing tethers it to the ground. Zephyr comes down for another pass and sends the shiftry spinning in place again with another long scratch along its side. The shiftry swipes at it with both arms, but Zephyr does a twisting dive that lets it slip under its reach.

“String shot!”

A line of web attaches to the shiftry’s right arm, and its attempt to chase after Zephyr is aborted. It turns to try and hack at the restraining lines, and Zephyr rakes its other side, causing it to flinch and swipe at him again.

“Gonna try to get its other arm! Spinarak, string shot!”

The webbing misses the limb and drapes itself over the shifty’s shoulder. Blue’s about to order Zephyr to peck when the shiftry gathers itself into a ball and tumbles to the side, stretching the strings of web as it moves in an arc around toward Red’s spinarak.

Shit! “Zephyr, Feather Dance!”

“Spinarak, dodge!”

Red’s spinarak scuttles to the side as the shiftry awkwardly struggles against the webbing to chase it. Zephyr soars overhead and hovers in place above the shiftry, wings flapping in a blur that sends tufts of down and feathers everywhere. The shiftry swipes at them in irritation, then lets out an explosive sneeze, followed by racking coughs that cause its whole body to shake.

“Do bugs breathe? Zephyr, Quick Attack!”

“It’ll be fine! Spinarak, String Shot!”

The shiftry gives its coughing roar again, this time literally coughing as it shakes its head, mane of hair rustling and shedding bits of feather dander. It abruptly raises its head and stares at Red… and its eyes begin to glow.

“Gah!” Red clutches at his head and shakes it. A surge of panic makes Blue break into a sprint as Red drops to his knees and frantically scratches at his arms. “AHH, BLUE, MAKE IT STOP!”

Blue dashes in front of his friend, arms down to the sides to try to cover Red as much as possible. “Shit, sorry! I thought it would try it on me! Are you okay?!” The shiftry is still staring at him, eyes aglow.

“Nngh… yeah… ugh, that felt terrible!” There’s a sound behind him, and Blue turns to see Red sitting back with his head between his legs. “Gimme… just, a moment…”

Blue stares at his shiftry, anger growing into a slow rage. This goddamn pokemon tried to kill him and the others in Viridian, and after he saved its life it’s given him nothing but trouble. Now it’s hurting his friend, who’s only here for his sake. “Zephyr, Feather Dance!”

Another rain of down and feathers cover the shiftry, and after a moment of continued intense staring, the shiftry begins to twitch and rumble, a low series of coughs building in its chest until it doubles over.

“It stopped, Red. How you doing?”

“I’ll be alright. The shiftry?”

“Almost done I think. Just call out for a couple more String Shots and let’s end this.”

Their pokemon continue to harry and trip up the shiftry as it tries to free itself from the webs and slice the infuriatingly quick pidgey in two. Eventually it begins to tire, stuck by half a dozen weblines and bleeding from multiple wounds. Red eventually recovers enough to stand up and spread out from Blue, and after a few more attempts to untangle itself, the shiftry lets out a groan and falls to its side, chest heaving as it catches its breath.

“Spinarak, return!”

“Zephyr, return!”

They both keep their pokemon’s balls ready in their hands as they watch the shiftry struggle to get back up, then collapse back down. “Think that did it?” Red asks, voice rough.

“One way to find out.” Blue approaches the shiftry, anger making him fearless. He gets some powerful deja vu, staring down at the shiftry as it labors for breath and struggles to lift its arms enough to reach him.

“Blue, back up. You want it to remember one of our pokemon defeating it.”

Blue lets out a breath, the nods and steps to the side. “You got something in mind?”

“Yeah.” Red reclips spinarak’s ball and takes out another one. “Go, Pichu!”

The yellow rodent appears in a flash of light, and immediately darts to its master’s side, tail quivering up as it stares at the struggling shiftry. “Why him?” Blue asks, then answers his own question. “Distance and resistance.”

“Yeah. Charmander might do too much damage, and the others have to get too close.” Red walks around the shiftry so that he’s out of its sight, and Blue does the same. “Pichu, Thundershock!”

The pichu lets out a high pitched squeal, and a jolt of electricity jumps between it and Blue’s shiftry. His pokemon jerks and tries to attack, but the shocks combined with the webbing keep it flailing on the ground.

Pichu stops, cheeks losing their glow little by little. “What do you think?” Red asks.

Blue watches his shiftry in silence, and eventually it begins to struggle to its feet again, leaf-blades spreading and closing as it focuses on the pichu. From here they can’t see its eyes, and Blue is worried about it attempting another Extrasensory attack. “Another.”

“Thundershock!”

Again the jolt of electricity, again the waiting and watching as his shiftry, after a moment’s rest, tries to go on the offensive again. Stay down, dammit. “Once more.”

Bbzzaaaap! Smoke begins to curl up from the shiftry, and Red calls for his pokemon to stop. Blue watches as his shiftry draws in one laborious breath after another… but doesn’t attempt to rise.

“Shiftry, return!”

“Pichu, return!”

Blue lets out a breath as he aligns his greatball lens with his pokedex, tension easing slowly. Red reclips his pokeball and stares at Blue’s greatball speculatively. “Think it worked?”

“One way to find out. First though, back to the pokecenter.” Blue takes off his mask, and Red follows suit. Blue notices Red’s face is a bit pale and sweaty. “Thanks man. For everything.” He holds out his fist as they head for the door, and Red bumps it.

“Anytime. I’m going to go get some rest. Let me know when you get back.”

“You sure you’re going to be okay?”

“Yeah. Just hope I don’t have to do anything like that again soon.”

“The psychic attack was that bad, huh?”

“Oh, yeah, that sucked too. I meant more what we did to the shiftry. I know it was trying to kill you, and maybe this is the only way it’ll become tame, but it still felt… cruel.”

Blue lets out a breath and leans against the elevator wall, remembering the hatred that boiled up in him when Red got hurt. “I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s a cruel world. As long as we can control the shiftry and use it to protect others, that’s a net win.”

“Then you’re okay with that? Becoming cruel ourselves?” Red asks, meeting his gaze.

Blue looks back at him, remembering the pokemon and people that were cut down by the shiftry in Viridian. “If that’s what it takes? Sure.” He punches the button for the lobby. “Better us than them.”

Chapter 25: The Art of Persuasion, Part II

When Red first sees it, he thinks it’s another rejection letter. His eyes catch on sorry to inform you and his cursor is halfway to deleting it before he sees the number farther down.

His heart skips a beat and his skin goes cold as he quickly reads the paragraph in full, then starts from the beginning, pulse speeding up as he grins wider and wider.

Dear Mr. Verres,

Thank you for your petition. We are sorry to inform you that there is not sufficient interest in your research proposal at this time to grant the full funding requested. However, we have decided that a smaller grant could still serve to explore whether your hypothesis justifies further study.

If this is acceptable, please contact us by the end of the day to receive the proper forms. The offer will be valid for two months, and once accepted, the grant of $2,000 will be made available to you for the duration of four months.

Thank you,

Mara Enuo

Distribution Manager

Seeds for the Future, Inc.

“Hey.” The girl on a neighboring computer is looking at him with concern. “Are you alright?”

Red’s growing cackles end in a cough and nods. “Yeah, just… saw a funny meowth picture.”

The girl raises a brow, and Red struggles to tone his grin down to appropriate levels until she turns back to her screen. By then the euphoric rush begins to subside, and he has to confront the reduced funding.

It’s not terrible. Red’s original estimates were for the duration of their month in Pewter, and he’s already a week into it. If he uses the last few days of the month to analyze the data and write the paper, the money should afford him a psychic’s services for the three weeks between now and then. It’ll mean a smaller scale for the project, but it’s better than nothing.

Red looks back through his outbox for the letter he sent to Seeds and saves it for future reference. The next time he has to write for grant money, he’ll start by modelling the general tone and themes of this one. It might not be important, for all he knows any other decently written letter would have gotten the same response from them. One of his supervisors at Pallet Labs, Dr. Madi, suggested he try them out, as they’re known for funding a wide variety of cheap and eccentric research projects in search of undiscovered low hanging fruit.

Red forwards the acceptance letter to Professor Oak and Dr. Madi, then opens his contacts. Now that funding is a probability rather than a possibility, he can start contacting psychics to find one that’s interested in being hired as a human lab rattata.

Red writes a proposal to Narud first, both as a courtesy and because he already has his contact info. He attaches the acceptance letter and sends it off, then looks up other psychics advertising in Pewter.

The remains of Red’s elation quickly peter out as he looks through the potential choices. Counting Narud, there are a total of 7 psychics free to render services at different times throughout the next three weeks. Red was prepared to write up an email and then send it out to all the potential testers, but with such a limited pool he can’t afford to waste a single proposal that isn’t perfect. Red’s already regretting how casually he wrote the one to Narud.

Since he expects to get the answers to these back quickly, he can and should take his time with them, and iterate on each based on any notable weaknesses in the previous. Red begins more in-depth research of the psychics, treating them as he would the grant agencies and trying to learn all he can about their interests and motivations.

It doesn’t matter that he’s the one offering money now: a competent psychic is rarely lacking work, and well paying work at that. Unless Red finds some hint that one of them is under severe financial stress, he needs them more than they need him, and that means he’s already entering the potential partnership at a disadvantage.

Other than studying pokemon, few subjects captured his attention as a kid besides psychology. He read some books on finance and economics and found them mildly interesting, but they never held his attention until he found ones that went into more detail on the incentives that drive behavior, or interpersonal dynamics between people engaging in business deals. One that particularly stuck in his mind detailed the “Golden Rules” of negotiation… many of which he’s breaking right now.

He’s doing his background research, so that’s a plus, but it’s pretty much the only one he has going for him. The worst offense is that he’s negotiating from a place of desperation. Some of it is about manageable expectations: he knows not to let the psychics figure out how limited his options are. But the hard reality at the core of it is that he can’t afford to walk away from all of them… and a negotiation one party can’t walk away from is no negotiation at all.

Red frowns and looks at the email he wrote to Narud, wishing he hadn’t attached the letter but knowing it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Another rule he’s going to have to break is not showing them everything he has to offer right away. The worst he can do is also the best, and offering anything less than 2,000, even just to set a low “anchor” for expectations, would be simply insulting and probably lead to an immediate rejection.

Red leans back in his chair and puts his hands behind his head. What’s left? Lateral concession, for one: if they want more money he can’t give, he can offer something unrelated that they value, if he can figure out what that might be. It also ties into the most important rule: make sure that they feel like they can walk away with a win.

Red’s stomach growls, and he logs off and leaves the computer lab to get some food. He woke up this morning expecting another long day of research and writing, and it turns out that even with his unexpected first success, he’ll be doing more of the same. Ah well. At least he’s mentally prepared.

Red checks his phone as he walks in case he missed any texts from Blue or Leaf. The three of them haven’t been in one place since the night of Blue’s loss, and Red still hasn’t told either of them that he’s psychic. When they find out that he’s trying to hire one it will be a hard question to dodge, so when he has a second to spare, he’ll have to think on how to approach that, too.

Maybe he’ll just write them a letter.


“You kids these days, you don’t understand anything. You think you do, with the internet on your phones, ready to answer any questions you have in a second. But knowledge and understanding, those are completely different. Completely different! You understand?”

“No, obaa-sama,” Leaf says with a slight dip of her head.

The old woman’s face wrinkles further as she smiles, one hand tucking a loop of silver hair behind her ear. “Good. Then maybe there’s hope for you. Your accent is atrocious though. Stick to Unown.”

Leaf smiles back. “Yes, grandmother.”

The two are sitting on a bench outside Pewter Museum, in the shade of an oak tree. Leaf’s bulbasaur and the old woman’s roselia are playing around its trunk, stopping to race for the berries the two throw to them every so often.

“Your question comes from a place of simplicity. Where do the majuu come from, why they are so different from us. That is what this museum displays. I do not mind what they say they have found. I mind that they assume this will help them understand the majuu.

Leaf tosses another berry with her left hand while her right scribbles on the notebook propped up against her leg. “You don’t believe it will?”

“Rocks from the ground are not understanding. Perhaps the gods made the majuu from water, perhaps from stone. Perhaps they did both or neither. We cannot go back and see, so we guess. But why? What matters is that they are here, and we are here, and we must try and live together.”

Leaf nods. “I agree that the most important thing is learning to live with them. But if we learn their origins, we can learn more about why they behave the way they do.”

“And so?”

“Well, so we can train them better. Or maybe we learn more about their biology, develop better medicine for them. And some people revere certain pokemon or hate others based on beliefs that might be wrong. Isn’t that important?”

The old woman turns her cane slowly in her hand, the pokeball at its tip catching the sunlight through the branches. Eventually her head bobs from side to side. “Perhaps.  Or perhaps you just fool yourselves into new false thoughts. When I was your age, people respected the majuu, and that respect kept us safe. Now we have these machines to do that, but we lost the respect of forces greater than ourselves.”

“I was always taught to respect pokemon, both as friends and threats.”

Iie, iie. No. This very name you use, ‘pokemon,’ shows how little respect there is. It is a hard thing to explain, across the century between us. I cannot describe to you what the world was like before such a word existed. What it was like to hear one’s children call those we fought for centuries their ‘pocket monsters,’ and brandish them as playthings.”

Leaf pauses in her writing to think of an answer to this, and the old woman leans forward to throw a pair of berries at the two pokemon. Bulbasaur’s vines lash out to grab both, but the roselia rebuffs one with one flower while the other catches the berry and lowers it to her mouth. The old woman runs a finger over the pokeball at the end of her cane “They are useful, hai. But putting a majuu in a toy does not make them toys. The gods still soar above our heads, beyond the reach of our mortal tricks. How many have died, attempting to capture them?”

“But if one were ever caught,” Leaf says, picking her words with care, “Wouldn’t that save a lot more lives, eventually?”

“And who will this trainer be? What new calamities will they bring, with the power of a god in their pocket? Kingdoms have warred for less, long before mankind’s reach exceeded its grasp. Perhaps next someone will make a ball big enough and catch the earth. Or throw it far enough, and catch the sun. It is folly.”

Leaf nods dutifully and finishes up her notes. There’s a lot more she can say, if she wants to convince the old woman of the good that scientific progress brings, despite the risks. The woman herself would likely not have lived past her hundredth year without advances in medicine. But it’s not Leaf’s job today to persuade people one by one. She’s here to simply listen and question and learn. This is her fourth interview today, found by simply wandering around outside and inside the museum and asking people who don’t seem busy if they would answer some questions about it and themselves. This conversation drifted quite far afield compared to the others, but still feels pertinent.

Leaf throws her last few berries to their pokemon and watches them eat, then stands and withdraws her bulbasaur. She turns to the old woman and bows. “Thank you for your wisdom, grandmother.”

“Pah.” The old woman waves her hand to the side, as if brushing away some crumbs. “The young do not listen to the old.” She smiles. “And perhaps they shouldn’t. It is not our world to live in for long, and regardless, you will do with it as you choose when we are gone.”

Leaf smiles and bows again, then goes in search of another interview.


“I’m afraid two thousand isn’t enough to cover three weeks on call,” Psychic Ranna says.

Red feels his stomach clench, and switches the phone to his other hand as he takes a moment to ensure his voice is steady. “You wouldn’t need to be on call, just so long as I can send the participants to you at some point within the three weeks for a quick session.”

It’s the day after he got his acceptance letter, and Red’s sitting in one of the Trainer House’s work rooms. He’s on his second to last potential experiment partner. Narud rejected his offer out of hand, and the rest of the psychics he contacted were just as firm in their negation, if not quite as haughty. He started calling rather than sending emails after the third, and considered going to meet them before realizing the idiocy of negotiating with a psychic in person. Not that he has anything to hide, but he doesn’t know exactly how a psychic reads someone, and whatever points he might gain for sincerity would probably be offset by his unbidden thoughts of desperation and manipulating the situation to his advantage.

“That… might be workable,” the psychic says, and Red’s heart leaps. “If the appointments are brief enough. You merely want me to submit to a Night Shade attack and record the experience, correct?”

“Yes. All in all, that would take maybe 10 minutes, right?”

“More like twenty, I would say.”

“Twenty, then.” Red looks over the notes he made on Ranna before calling. Her advertised services are a mixture of therapeutic work and romantic validation, with what Red suspects is a bit of private investigation, euphemistically concealed. Her site is decorated with vague espeon imagery, her calendar for the coming week shows no openings on Saturdays, and while there are openings starting from 10 in the morning, most of the appointments she already has start after noon. They all have clearly defined start and end times, so it will be easy for Red to schedule and fit in quick sessions with subjects. “I’m fully willing to work around any openings in your schedule.”

“What would the recording entail?”

“A simple video is fine, along with a written line or two of description, then a score from 1-10 on how intense or painful the experience was. After that you can induce amnesia to erase the memory.” Learning about that particular ability had strengthened his methodology immensely. Normally he would be worried about the psychic’s experiences of the previous sessions influencing their assessment of the later ones, but they could literally forget what it was like each time. It’s the closest way of ensuring objectivity for something so subjective short of cloning them a few dozen times and lining each to a separate attack.

“And what is the purpose of this study?”

“That I can’t tell you until after the tests are done. In order for it to be as objective as possible, I need to minimize any influence I might have on your judgement.”

There’s silence from the other end, and Red holds his breath. “Then I believe I can accept this-” Yes! “-as long as I can take steps to assure my safety.”

Uh oh. “Steps like what?”

“Ensuring the trainer does not mean me ill, or cannot take advantage of my weakened state if one of their attacks incapacitates me.”

Red relaxes. “That sounds perfectly reasonable.”

“The trainer will have to subject themselves to checks I deem necessary.”

“I’ll be sure they understand before participating.”

“Also, I do not make appointments on Saturdays.”

“I know. That’s fine.”

“And I would like to cap the maximum appointments to 20.”

Red is quiet. He accepted her other conditions easily, expecting something more important lay behind them, and here it is. A sticking point. “I’m afraid it will have to be more than that. This is a scientific study, and the sample size, meaning the amount of pokemon tested, is of vital importance. Too few and the study would be worthless.”

“And 20 is too few?”

“It is.”

“Then the compensation is not adequate. I cannot agree to meet with any number of people in three weeks for a flat fee. There could be hundreds.”

“I understand, that’s a valid concern. If you could agree to 60, the study would be far more robust.”

“In three weeks? Perhaps 30 could be done.”

“I’m afraid that’s still too low.” How many subjects does he realistically expect to have? He’d like to think he can get at least 60, but that’s being optimistic. He has to go in with low expectations, or he’ll waste concessions bargaining for something too high. If he can get her to 40, that would probably be enough, and anything above that is a bonus. “I might be able to find a significant result with 50.”

“Fifty appointments for $2,000 is unacceptable, even at twenty minutes per session.”

Red does some quick math and realizes that she’s turning down two thousand dollars for roughly two days of work, spread out over three weeks. Red reminds himself to become a professional psychic if he’s ever having money trouble after he develops his powers. “Keep in mind this is a maximum. If I can’t find more than, say, 3 people, you’ll have 2,000 for maybe an hour of work.”

“Well, that hardly seems more fair to you. Perhaps we could work on a session by session basis. This would also free you to work with other psychics if they have more availability.”

Red’s pulse speeds up. This is exactly where he didn’t want the conversation to go. Without the discount of a bundle deal, he’s not going to be able to afford more than 20 sessions at a normal price anyway. “Unfortunately, there are restrictions on grant money’s use.” Technically true. “In addition, using a different psychic would introduce far too much subjectivity. The only way this can work is with a mutual commitment.” Don’t just tell them what you need, tell them how it benefits them. “And remember, this business comes at no opportunity cost. I will find the clients and work them into the openings in your schedule, so that you don’t have a conflict with any other appointments.”

“A fair point. In light of that, I believe I can do 35.”

Still not quite what he wants, but Red is out of things to offer. There has to be something else, some lateral concession… “If you can go as high as 45, I can arrange around Sunday as well.”

“I normally have appointments on Sunday. It’s no bother.”

What else? Red looks at her schedule again. “What if I also refrain from any appointments before noon?” Come on, come on…

Another moment of silence, and then: “Forty. That is as high as I can go.”

Red bursts into a grin and gives himself a second or two before saying, “Agreed. Thank you. Should I head over now so we can finalize the details and arrange for the fund transfer?”

“Yes, I will be available until one.”

“See you soon.” Red hangs up, then leaps into the air and whoops, punching at the ceiling before throwing the door open and jogging down the hall toward the elevators.


Leaf watches the cursor move to the end of a sentence, then split the paragraph in half. “New paragraph there?”

“Yes,” Laura says through Leaf’s earphones. “The point on Pewter’s proud history was made, and can stand alone. Don’t link it explicitly to the contributions to the rest of the region and world, since that point can be much stronger on its own, once expanded.”

“Got it.” Leaf moves her own cursor down and types in some notes to indicate what will fill out the rest of the paragraph. Meanwhile Laura’s cursor scrolls farther down the shared document as she reads on.

“Good, good… Hmm. ‘Pewter’s leadership is needed more than ever’ is a bit much, you don’t want to tell them what you believe, you want to show them why it’s the naturally correct belief to have.”

Leaf scrolls down to where she is and thinks a moment, then begins rewriting:

Over the course of a generation, the paleontologists and geologists of Pewter have revolutionized their fields. The museum has grown steadily all the while, showcasing their findings, educating the public, drawing tourism, and employing thousands, directly or indirectly. Through its partnership with Cinnabar Labs, a whole new field of scientific exploration was founded: the resurrection of ancient life. New secrets began to be uncovered and revealed every day as humanity raced to explore the new world Pewter made possible.

But Pewter is no longer at the forefront of its own creation. In the last few years it has seen less innovation and discovery, and its museum, which once had new exhibits every year, went almost a decade without any. Others have risen to showcase the new discoveries, though their pace is slow.

Through Pewter runs the wisdom and tenacity of generations, traits that are unmatched by the other cities that race forward to fill the void it leaves behind. The world is full of dangers, both old and new. Species of pokemon that have not existed for millennia are returning to the world. Without proper leadership, humanity’s reach may, before long, exceed its grasp.

“Very nice,” Laura says. “Take out ‘and revealed’ from “uncovered and revealed,’ and change ‘once had’ to ‘once opened.’ We’ll also have to work on your passive voice later. I like the last line quite a bit, by the way. Where’s it from?”

“An older woman I interviewed a couple days ago said something like it. Should I credit her?”

“If it’s not a direct quote, no. Let me see… hm. Looks like a poet said something similar, over a hundred years ago. Maybe that’s where she got it, or maybe it’s just an old saying. Either way, it’s fine as is.”

Leaf smiles and tucks her hair behind her ear. She’s been writing since morning, and needs a good meal, a hot shower, and a full night’s sleep in that order, but right now she’s just excited to be writing again. She’s almost back at where her original was in terms of length. “So what do you think so far?”

“Not a bad start. I’d say you’re about halfway done content-wise, but three quarters of the way there in word count. Keep an eye on that, or it’ll keep creeping up faster than it should and you’ll just have to edit out more at the end. How are the interviews going?”

“I’ve pretty much finished with citizens in the city, those at the museum, and tourists. Next I just need to get some big names. There’s Dr. Brenner, who I told you about, and I’m hoping she can get me an in with others, like the director, or even the mayor.”

“The mayor?”

“Yeah, apparently he’s the one who’s been giving them the green light to open the new exhibits.”

Mrs. Verres is quiet for a moment, and Leaf continues typing until she says, “How political is this, Leaf? I know it’s a contentious topic for some residents, but what else is there to it?”

Leaf pauses in her writing. “Um. I’m not sure. Dr. Brenner said that she thinks Leader Brock is upset about the new exhibits?”

“They weren’t allowed before?”

“Something like that, yeah.” She hears Laura sigh, and feels a stab of worry. “Is that a problem?”

“Well, maybe not. I wish I’d known this sooner, though.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think-”

“No, it’s not your fault. I should have thought of it.”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing sweety, I’m sure it-”

“Don’t patronize me.”

There’s a moment of silence, and Leaf puts her hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry Mrs. Verres, for a moment there I totally forgot who I was talking to-”

Laura chuckles, and Leaf feels some tension go out of her shoulders. “Who are you talking to? I’m no one special.”

“That’s not true, you’ve been so nice and helpful, and I just felt like I was… well, like I was talking to my mom.”

“I guess I can take that as a compliment,” Laura asks, voice wry. “Do you talk to your mother like that?”

“Sometimes. She usually does a good job of not talking down to me.”

“Like I was. You’re right. I’m sorry, I forget sometimes what it was like to be young. Let me collect my thoughts for a moment.”

Leaf does some half-hearted editing while she waits, trying to ignore her anxiety. Would Laura stop helping her, now? Maybe she would ask her to rewrite it all from scratch again… or tell her to give it up completely. Leaf doesn’t think she could do that, regardless of what Laura says.

“Okay, so here’s the thing. How much do you know about politics?”

“Not a whole lot. I know a bit of Unova’s, but-”

“No, not local issues or groups. I mean politics itself. The practice of influence, governance, and even control of others.”

“I guess I’ve been learning a bit about the first from you.”

“A bit, yes. But there’s a huge difference between writing to influence others on a topic, and writing to change people’s political beliefs… especially when there might be political figures involved. Can you guess why?”

“Because they might take it personally?”

Laura lets out a brief laugh. “Personally, she says. Leaf, people’s jobs might hinge on denying what you say in this article. People may have spent years working against the change you’re advocating for. This isn’t just an opinion piece anymore, it’s an attack.”

Leaf frowns. “But… I’m not naming anyone, or-”

“Doesn’t matter. Politics is always about conflict, just instead of fighting the person you disagree with physically, you use words. You’re entering a battle, maybe even a war, and you’re not trained for it.”

Leaf tries to fully consider what Laura is telling her, rather than reject it or minimize it out of hand. “So what you’re saying is, my article won’t convince anyone,” she says at last, and slumps back in her chair.

“Not at all: it may well convince a lot of people. The problem is, the people it doesn’t convince aren’t just going to shake their head and go along their day. In fact, the more people it convinces, the more the people it doesn’t convince are going to get up in arms and start firing back.”

Leaf smiles, sitting up again. “So it starts discussion. That’s great! I don’t mind if a few people get upset, as long as it gets people talking about the issues.”

“I’m sorry Leaf, I’m not being clear. Some people, maybe even most, will argue the issues, yes. But some will find a much easier target: you.”

“What? Why me?” Leaf shakes her head. “Nevermind, stupid question. Because it’s easier than addressing the arguments. Much better to discredit the young foreign girl who thinks she knows what’s best for Pewter, after being here all of a month.”

“If it’s any consolation, they would do the same to anyone arguing a side that they oppose. It’s just the nature of the beast. And even within that kind of political theater, most of it won’t be personal… but for some it will. It can get nasty, Leaf. And I know you don’t want me to talk down to you, but nasty even for an adult. Do you understand? Some of them might hold back because of your age, but others won’t. They’ll drag you through the mud if they can, try to make you a laughingstock. Whatever dirt they can find, they’ll dig up and fling, and the rest will just pull some out thei… out of thin air, and throw that too.”

Leaf sits quietly through this, mind playing it out in full detail. She imagines reading articles about herself, portrayed as some ditzy airhead, or stuck up know-it-all. She imagines them dissecting her article, taking things out of context and putting a negative spin on everything. She imagines them finding out about the time she threw a tantrum at a store when she was younger, causing a huge scene and throwing merchandise around until a pokemon got loose and the store got evacuated. Part of her knows she’s more embarrassed in retrospect than her mom was (grandpa thought it was hilarious), but it’s something she still internally cringes at when thinking about, and it would mortify her to have Red or Blue learn about it, let alone all of Pewter.

And at that thought, more than any fear or embarrassment, she finds herself getting angry.

“Now, I don’t want this to scare you off the project. And maybe I’m blowing things way out of proportion, and it’s not a big deal at all. What you might want to consider is-”

“I’m not scared. And I’m not giving it up,” Leaf says, keeping her voice level. If I let them shut me up out of fear, before I even try, then what good am I? “If this article might convince people, might really change things for the better, then I’m going to publish it, and deal with the consequences.” And if they think I’ll just take it lying down…

“Well, that’s very brave of you Leaf, but I’m worried you’re not… no, I’m sorry. I won’t patronize you. If you think you’re ready to handle that, well… you’re already risking your life every day, I guess this is just another battlefield.”

Leaf smiles. “Thanks, Mrs. Verres.”

“Don’t thank me yet. We may both come to regret this. But I was going to say, there might be a way to get the message out and avoid any unpleasantness.”

Leaf tilts her head. “A pseudonym?” She considers it. She likes to think she’s not vain, so it shouldn’t matter to her if her name is the one on everyone’s lips, as long as they’re talking about what matters. “Are there any downsides?”

“Not usually, no. But a pseudonym is just a buffer. If the article gets big, and if it’s as political as I fear, then dedicated detractors will think you’re some rival they already know, and work to expose you. They’ll figure it out fairly quick, especially if you speak to the mayor. The more people you talk to the easier it will be for them to find out who you are. But it might buy you time for things to blow over.”

“So I just need to think of a name to use.”

“Yep. You have two choices: a real name, which is a bit harder for people to figure out is fake, or an obviously fake name, which gives anyone investigating you a headstart in terms of knowing they’re looking at a pseudonym off the bat. The positive side of using an obviously fake name is that it gets more attention, in general, and might give the story longer legs.”

“Do you have a recommendation?”

“Yes: go with what your publisher says. Whoever it ends up being, they might not even let you use a pseudonym at all. If you end up just posting it online, obviously it doesn’t matter.”

Leaf nods slowly. “Right. This is all stuff to worry about later. For now, I just need to focus on getting the article done.”

“That’s the spirit. And one thing to keep in mind too, which I didn’t mention because it generally doesn’t make up for it, though sometimes it might. For every detractor you have, you’ll probably have just as many supporters. Some will support you just because you’re on their ‘team’ and are wearing their uniform, so to speak, but many will honestly admire you and defend you. And the admiration and loyalty of people you’ve never met is no small thing.”


“So it looks like your spinarak’s chitin has a higher proportion of sclerotin compared to the average, by about 17%.” Red turns his pokedex around so the trainer can see the screen, then points to a part of one of the two-tailed graphs. “It’s also larger than average for its age, as you probably noticed. What you might not know is its size puts it more than two standard deviations from the norm. So out of a thousand spinarak, at least 977 of them will be smaller than yours.”

The trainer’s expression shifts from bemused to interested throughout the explanation. “Wow. I had no idea it was that big a difference. Maybe I should focus some time this week on training it…”

Red smiles. “It might be rewarding. It’s probably more durable than other spinarak, though it might have a bit of decreased mobility. That’s guesswork though, for all I know its speed isn’t impacted at all.”

The trainer nods, face thoughtful as he reclips the ball to his waist. “Thanks a lot. So where do I go now?”

“Right in there,” Red says, pointing down the hall to the door at the end. They’re sitting in a waiting lobby on the second floor of an office building. “Psychic Ranna should be done with her appointment in a few minutes, and is ready with the proper forms so you can safely order your spinarak to use Night Shade on her.”

“Alright. Will you let me know what all this was about, after you finish?”

“Sure, if you’d like.” Red makes a note next to the trainer’s name. “If all goes well, you might even be able to read about it in the dex.”

“Cool. Good luck!”

Red watches him go through the door, then heads back to his room at the Trainer House, tugging his hat down and whistling to himself. He’s never been particularly good at whistling, but he’s in a whistling mood, and there’s no one around to stop him.

This would make the seventh subject scanned and tested in just the second day. Some of the trainers are clearly excited by the offer of metrics for their pokemon, and really enjoyed reading as many bits of data as possible, until Red started just emailing them a copy of the results. At the current rate, he could easily get forty by the end of the month, though realistically the frequency of visitors would probably slow down once the initial pool of interested people come through. Others like the most recent trainer just seemed more curious than anything. Still, if he could get forty that wouldn’t be bad at all for an exploratory study.

The methodology is straightforward. He uses the pokedex to get a reading of the spinarak’s “other” metric, then plots that against the 1-10 score Psychic Ranna gives each spinarak. She doesn’t know what’s being tested and has no incentives tied to the outcome, so since she shouldn’t be inclined to inflate or deflate the numbers, and his data comes directly from the pokedex, there’s little chance of misinterpreting or fudging it. Overall it’s a fairly straightforward experiment, but when simplicity is all it takes, it’s often for the best. Now he just needs to find someone to send in with his spinarak, so Ranna doesn’t know it’s his and has no reason to judge it differently…

Red reaches his dorm room and goes to his bed, lying down and opening his dex. He’s so engrossed in comparing the spinaraks’ data that he doesn’t realize he has company until they’re leaning against his bedpost.

“Knock knock.” Blue says.

Red looks up and blinks. “Yo. What’s up? Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“I’ve been busy. Like yourself, huh?” Blue hooks a thumb in his pocket and leans down to read his dex screen. “You free tonight? I need your help with something.”


“This is nuts.”

Blue smirks at Red. “If you want to back out, now’s the time.”

Red shakes his head with a scowl. “I’m not gonna let you do it alone, I’m just going on the record.”

The two are in one of the House’s Grass Type training rooms. Charmander is at Red’s feet, digging curiously at the dirt that makes up the floor, and Zephyr is fluttering around. Blue tosses his shiftry’s greatball from hand to hand. They just finished keying it toward both his and Red’s voices.

He spent more hours than he could count over the past week training his shiftry virtually, giving it plenty of positive memories to offset the negative ones it surely has of him. Blue doesn’t trust the routine anti-human-aggression programs to keep this particular pokemon from being hostile. There are prerecorded simulations to choose from on the dex, and Blue went through them in a particular order: first Blue finding Shiftry alone and hurt, then slowly nursing him back to health, little by little. They wouldn’t replace the memories it already has, but they would offer another history, and hopefully confuse it enough so that it doesn’t automatically want to attack him.

“It’s got to be done sometime. I need to know how he acts in meatspace, and you’re the only one I trust to have my back on it.”

“Only one dumb enough and close enough, you mean,” Red grumbles, but he stays his ground and widens his stance a bit, hands on an empty pokeball and his charmander’s. “Let’s get it over with.”

“Okay. Ready… set… GO, shiftry!”

The pokemon bursts into existence exactly halfway between him and Red. Blue catches the ball and immediately aims its lens forward, ready to withdraw his pokemon if it pounces on his friend-

-but Blue’s shiftry simply stands there, its body fully restored, if a bit undernourished looking.

Red stands ready, his charmander in a defensive stance. Blue can’t see his shiftry’s face, but Red doesn’t look alarmed, just apprehensive.

“I think… it might be okay?” Red says.

Blue reaches down to his poffin pouch and says “Shiftry, foo-”

At the sound of his voice, his shiftry snaps around on one foot, handleaves fanning out and legs coiling beneath it. Red cries out a warning as it leaps-

“Return!”

The beam hits it mid-air and sucks it back into Blue’s greatball.

Blue stares at it, a sick feeling churning in his stomach. It hadn’t attacked Red, but it still remembers him, and not fondly. All that time spent trying to affect its behavior and view of him, all those hours watching a virtual screen and subtly coaxing it along, and the first test in the real world couldn’t have gone worse.

“Well, that could have gone worse.”

Blue glares at Red. “How?”

“One of us could be dead.” Red strokes his charmander’s head. “For the record, it looked very tense when it was summoned. Maybe it wasn’t your voice that triggered it, just the fact that it was hearing something unexpected from behind it.”

Blue snorts, then tosses his greatball to Red. It’s an easy throw, but Red barely catches it, which doesn’t particularly inspire confidence for the next part.

“You try, then. Let’s see if he goes for me right away.”

“I don’t think the most direct approach is best, in this circumstance.”

“Well it’s the fastest.”

“I don’t think the fastest approach is best in this circumstance either,” Red says. “I’m mostly concerned I’ll miss the return catch and you’ll get killed and I’ll have to fill out a lot of paperwork about responsible use of House training rooms.”

“I believe in you,” Blue says. “And if you don’t believe in you, believe in the me that believes in you.”

Red frowns. “That’s from-”

“Just throw the damn ball!”

Red rolls his eyes and cocks his arm back. “Ready… set… go, Shiftry!”

The release is a bit closer to Red than the middle, which might be for the best, considering, and Red does catch the great ball on its return arc. After that, Blue’s attention is too focused on the shiftry, which locks its gaze on him and immediately crouches for a leap.

Blue takes a step back, hand rising with another greatball. “Zeph-”

“Shiftry, return!”

Red sucks the shiftry back into its ball, then stares at it thoughtfully, other hand going up to adjust his cap. “You know, there’s a chance it’s not trying to attack you.”

Blue raises his head. “Yeah?”

Red nods. “It might be going for a hug.”

Blue gives him a flat stare, and Red’s face remains stoically neutral. “We can’t know until we try.”

Blue cracks a smile and holds his hand up. Red tosses the greatball back, a bit to the right, and Blue snatches it out of the air. “I’m going to call that Plan D, for Dumbass, and keep thinking of alternatives.”

“What if you have some food ready for it? Maybe it’s hungry.”

They try it, and then a trough of water, then both, then put Blue farther behind them. The last is the only one that makes the shiftry hesitate: it clearly identifies Blue, notices the food and water between and to the side, then goes for them.

“Well, that’s promising.” Red stands by, ready with the greatball. “Think you can talk?”

Zephyr spots the pokemon and flies down to land on Blue’s shoulder, looking ready to launch himself at the shiftry. Blue wonders if he thinks it’s the same one that almost killed him. “Ahhhh,” Blue intones, quietly, then with increasing volume. The shiftry pays no heed. “Wom. Pow! Fnnadle! Laracra! Rotund!”

“Rotund is actually a word.”

“Shut up, Red.” Huh. The shiftry isn’t responding to the sound of his voice, or even whole words. “I’m going to try some commands.”

“Kay.” Red steps a bit closer with the greatball, on the opposite side of the food and water.

Blue wipes his sweaty palms on his pants and considers his options. “Shiftry, down.”

His pokemon pauses mid-gobble, the fanlike leaves on its hands flexing outward and inward.

“Shiftry, down!

It drops to its haunches, and Blue blinks. “Well, damn.” He begins to walk forward. “I wonder if-”

The shiftry springs at him, and Blue tucks into a roll while Zephyr launches up. Blue tumbles beneath the shiftry as it leaps to where he was, and Zephyr dives at the shiftry just as Red returns it to the greatball. When Blue stops rolling and bounces to his feet, it takes him a moment to realize the threat has passed.

“You alright?”

“Fine.” Blue looks at where the shiftry was, then presses his back to the wall and slides down it to the floor. Zephyr flutters down to the dirt, pecks at some of it, then hops over to Blue, who strokes his feathers.

Red comes over and sits beside him. “Back to the drawing board, huh?”

Blue grunts. “It was worth a shot. I knew it would take awhile, just gotta keep at it and see if I can think of something else in the meantime.”

“Let me know when you want to try again,” Red says, clapping him on the shoulder. “There are some books on unruly pokemon that I can show you. They might come in handy.”

“Thanks. And thanks for doing this.”

“Of course.”

“I’m serious. I know you’ve got your own stuff going on. I owe you one.”

Red coughs. “Funny you should mention that…”

“Ha. What is it?”

“I need you to take my spinarak to a psychic and have it hit her with Night Shade.”

Blue raises a brow.

Red explains his experiment, and what he needs Blue to do. “Sounds easy enough. So hey, you met with this psychic, right? What did she say about, you know…”

Red stares at the ground. Just as Blue is about to nudge him, he says, “I actually met with a psychic at the hospital. They told me I’m… well, I’m psychic.”

Blue nods, letting out a hollow breath. Of course.

“But I’m also not psychic.”

“Um…”

“He said I have the ability. But that I locked it up. My powers, or whatever. They’re locked up by themselves. I don’t know, the whole thing is weird.”

Blue stares. “Why? I mean why would your powers do that?”

Red lifts a handful of dirt, letting it drop back down slowly. “When my dad died, apparently. That’s what he said, anyway. Unresolved issues or something.”

The two friends sit in silence as Red’s charmander wanders over to the food and begins to munch at the remaining poffins. Blue can’t think of anything to say. He tries to be happy that Red’s a psychic. Just because he isn’t one, just because he wanted it since he was young enough to realize what being a psychic meant, doesn’t mean he can’t be happy for Red. Friends should support each other, not get bitter about shit like that. He thinks he could force himself to congratulate him, and even come to fully mean it in time. But this new twist makes it weird.

“You’ll figure it out,” Blue says at last. “The fuck does that psychic know? You’ll make it work.”

Red looks at him. “You think so?”

“Of course. You’re a smart guy, you know, in your way. Look at you, already doing your own research a couple weeks out of the lab. Whatever the block thing is, you’ll work through it.”

Red smiles. “Thanks, man. And I’m not just saying this because you said that, but I know you’ll get Brock at the end of the month.”

Blue grins. “Of course I will.” His grin fades a bit. “I notice you didn’t say I’ll train this shiftry.”

Red looks at him, solemn again. “You’re the most dedicated trainer I’ve ever met, Blue. I’m sure you’ll go far and do a lot of great things. But one thing I know, and that you know now too, is that you don’t win every battle. Maybe this shiftry is one of those battles. Maybe it’s just too far gone. And sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, how persuasive you can be, how much skill you have… you can’t have everything. Sometimes you just can’t win.”

Blue wants to reject what he says, but he can’t. The lesson he learned at the Gym, and in the forest standing over the dead pikachu, is still too fresh.

“No. Sometimes you don’t win.” He gets to his feet, and Red stands beside him. “But I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me from trying.”

Chapter 24: The Art of Persuasion, Part I

“A month here, huh?”

Blue nods, staring at his feet. He just arrived at the Trainer House a few minutes ago, looking more humbled than Red’s seen in years. He hasn’t had a chance to watch Blue’s battle with Brock yet, but surely it can’t have gone that bad?

Red looks at Leaf and raises a brow. Blue’s ego probably needed to get taken down a peg or two, but he still wants to help his friend out. On top of which, before today Red was probably the one who would be least against staying in one place for so long. “I’m game. What about you Leaf? Think you could stomach sticking around?”

Blue looks up in relief, then turns to her. Leaf smiles. “Let’s do it. I’m sure I’ll think of something to fill the time…”


Red wakes up early Sunday morning to write up and refine his research proposal, then start looking for funding. The rest of the day is spent seeking grants from anyone and everyone that might be even remotely interested.

First Red makes a list of organizations that give grant money to independent researchers. Then he finds out what particular topics they funded research on before or were looking to fund research on now. Only then does he start his letters, each tailored to their goals and values. Since all he needs is the money to hire a psychic on and off for about a month, his asking amount is relatively low compared to most others: a measly four thousand dollars.

During lunch, he looks up the average amount of grant requests independent researchers send out before getting funded, then doubles it and estimates he could get funding by the end of the week if he does nothing but eat, sleep, research, and write.

So that’s what he decides to do.

By Monday the first rejection emails start coming in, almost faster than he can send out new applications. The International Bug Catchers Association thought the hypothesis was focused more on psychic phenomenon than bugs, and the Institute of Psychic Phenomenon thought that even if correct, it might only have to do with bugs, or even just spinarak. Red sighs and thinks of forwarding their emails to each other before changing his mind and sending them to Professor Oak with an eyeroll emote in the subject line.

By the end of Tuesday, Red’s fingers are cramping over the keyboard. He powers through, stopping only for a quick break to have dinner with Leaf and Blue. His mind wasn’t really on the conversation though, and the other two seemed similarly preoccupied, and relieved to get back to work afterward. When Leaf asked if she could have his mother’s phone number, he gave it to her without even asking why she wanted it.

On Wednesday morning Red gets excited when he reads an email from Professor Oak about a rather eccentric millionaire who often funds research trying to prove the existence of a “psychic particle.” He spends most of the time before lunch taking extra care writing and revising the email to him, but when the response letter arrives that night, it politely informs him that such a particle would only exist in true psychics, not “lowly bugs.”

By Thursday he’s seeing application letters in his dreams and putting ice packs over his fingers while he reads about new potential funders. He’s over halfway through his list now, and starting to get nervous.

It isn’t until Friday morning that desperation sets in. As he reviews his list over breakfast, Red realizes he’s nearing the end of it. He hasn’t heard back from half the organizations he emailed, and has to stop himself from scratching out the remaining ones from the beginning of the week.

As Friday night fades into the wee hours of Saturday morning and the desperation begins to turn to dread, Red starts to seriously consider either giving up on his idea or asking Professor Oak if the Pallet Lab could fund it. It’s not a matter of pride that he hasn’t yet: he has no qualms about mentioning that he worked at the Lab under Professor Oak (sometimes directly, so he’s not lying). But the whole point of his journey is to experience and understand the process of doing research on his own, so he can learn from it.

And what he’s learned so far is actually rather valuable: namely that getting a research grant is tedious, difficult work, especially when the topic you’re testing is obscure or not immediately relevant to anyone’s interests. And really, isn’t that how it should be? The very fact that he’s thinking of scrapping the whole thing makes it easy to decide against asking the Pallet Lab to fund it. If the idea really has merit, he should be able to find funding for it, right?

Such are the drift of Red’s thoughts as he finally pushes away from the desk in the Trainer House’s computer lab and staggers off to the floor his room is on. At 2 AM the halls and elevators are mostly empty, and Red enjoys having the large public bathroom on his floor mostly to himself.

After he showers and brushes his teeth, he makes his way to his room and quietly eases the door open. He notices that Blue’s bed is empty, and wonders if he’s in the training rooms downstairs. He hasn’t exchanged more than a few words with Blue or Leaf in the last couple days, and he briefly wonders what they’re up to.

As he slips beneath the sheets his mind turns back to his potential research topic. Is it possible to crowdfund the money he needs, maybe? The asking price is pretty low, after all… he’ll have to look into that in the morning…

Red slips his aching hands under the cool sheets of his pillow and yawns, thoughts on scientific breakthroughs in history that came from seemingly unimportant discoveries. He wonders if someone would eventually write about all this, the struggle of Red Verres’s first groundbreaking experiment…

Self-indulgent as the thought is, it makes him smile. He knows he has to be careful of the gambler’s fallacy though-no, wait, not the gambler’s fallacy, that’s the one about thinking the probability of a random event increases if it hasn’t happened in awhile, and vice versa. It’s the one he always gets confused with gambler’s fallacy…

His tired mind searches around a bit before it finds it: sunk cost, that’s the one. People have a tendency to grow attached to endeavors that they’ve spent a lot of effort or money on. If they give up before seeing results, they feel like they’ve wasted it all for nothing. It makes them more likely to throw good money after bad, though if told about someone else in the same situation, they would likely advise giving up.

Combined the two fallacies are part of what makes gambling so dangerous, and that’s basically what he’s doing: gambling his time and energy on the potential chance of getting the grant money.

Is he deciding to go on because of all the time he already put into it? The best way to ensure he’s not is to precommit to stopping after a certain time period or threshold is reached. A gambler hitting the poker tables might only bring a couple hundred dollars of cash with him when he leaves the house and put a hold on his account until the following morning, to ensure they can’t lose more than that no matter how strong the urge to recoup their losses.

Unfortunately he doesn’t have as elegant a solution for himself, but maybe he doesn’t need one. He has a built-in threshold: the list of organizations. Red pulls out his phone and writes a memo to himself:

Future Red:

When you finish writing to all the groups we’ve already researched, STOP. No looking up new ones. No crowdsourcing. Just accept that the research isn’t substantial or compelling enough for now, and let it go.

I know where you sleep,

Past Red

Red sets the memo to an alarm that’ll go off on Sunday morning, then puts his phone away. Now he can commit to finishing what he started, and will know he gave it his best honest try. If nothing else, he can try to get a government grant in December during their yearly application acceptance, though they rarely give them out to individual researchers, let alone novices. Though hopefully by then he won’t be a novice anymore.

Either way, tomorrow is another day, with its own opportunities to explore.


Three days after she asked Red for his mom’s number, Leaf sits in a workroom at the Trainer House with her laptop and phone out. On the screen is a list of questions, and after writing the last one, she gives it a quick read through, then sits back and makes the call.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mrs. Verres? This is Leaf.”

“Leaf? Is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine. I asked Red for your number, and was wondering if you had a moment to talk?”

“I’m in the middle of something right now, but if it’s not an emergency I can call you back in about ten minutes, if that’s alright?”

“Oh, of course! I’m sorry, I should have texted first-”

“Not at all. What did you want to talk about?”

“I have a project I wanted your opinion on. Red told me you’re a journalist, and I’m thinking of writing a few pieces on the Pewter Museum.”

“Well, I’m flattered. Of course, I’d be happy to help however I can. I’ll call you in a bit, alright?”

“Great, thank you!”

Leaf closes the call and lowers the phone, fingers running over the cover as she turns it over and over in her hands.

Ever since she was little, she’s never had any trouble walking up to strangers and talking to them. One of the benefits of being raised constantly on the move was getting used to meeting new people all the time. She especially loves befriending people who can teach her new things, like Dr. Brenner at the museum, and her “interviews” with others formed the basis for the traveler’s log she wrote for herself of all the places she went with her mom and grandpa.

When she came to Kanto the idea she had in mind was to write about their local myths and stories, but visiting the museum gave her a different idea. What she wants to write now isn’t just some stories to entertain or inform. The reaction of many locals to the museum’s exhibits makes her want to persuade.

And for that, she’ll need help. After almost a week of writing interspersed with researching the history of Pewter City and its museum, she finally finished, and decided it’s time for an outside opinion. There are others she could have talked to, friends of hers or her family’s in Unova. But Mrs. Verres is from Kanto, and knows its culture and people. She can’t hope to change many people’s mind if she doesn’t do her best to understand them first.

Leaf goes back to her rough draft until Mrs. Verres calls back. She starts the paper with her visit to the museum as a tourist to Kanto, how much it impressed her, and how important the presentation of new scientific research can be to society and future generations. It seemed a bit too dry at first, so she made sure to pepper it with little observations and anecdotes from her visit. The wide eyed excitement of the children, the energy of adventure and discovery that permeated (most of) the crowds.

But she doesn’t know if it’s enough. She tries to read it objectively and has to admit that it isn’t particularly inspirational. Maybe some good quotes…

She’s fiddling with the closing paragraph’s language when her phone rings. “Hey Mrs. Verres, thanks for calling back so quick!”

“No problem, but please, call me Laura. So what can I do for you?”

Leaf gives a summary of her and Red’s museum visit on Saturday, and what she wants to do. Halfway through the explanation Mrs. Verres-Laura-asks Leaf to email what she’s written so far. Leaf does so, and she can tell when Laura starts reading because her side of the conversation becomes “Mmms” and “Uh huh”s.

“So yeah, that’s about it. Any advice you could give would be appreciated.”

“Sure, give me a minute to finish up.”

“Kay.” Leaf waits, rereading parts of it herself. She notices her legs kicking and stops them, then crosses them before some other nervous tick manifests. This is the first time she’s shown someone her writing with the direct intention of getting feedback, and she both looks forward to and dreads what Laura might have to say.

Finally Laura exhales. “Alright, all done. It was very well written, by the way. I’m impressed.”

“Thanks! I’ve been working on it since Saturday. Do you have any advice on how to make it better?”

“I do, but first, have you ever gotten a critique of your work before?”

“Like, by a professional? Not really. But it’s okay, you can be honest. I won’t be hurt by whatever you say.”

Laura chuckles. “If that’s true then it means one of us hasn’t done our jobs properly. My editor’s suggestions always felt like chopping bits off one of my children.”

Leaf smiles. “I don’t think I’m there yet.”

“Well, I’ll get to the point then: you’re going to have to rewrite the whole thing.”

Leaf’s smile wilts. “I-what?”

“From scratch. Maybe you can keep some of the middle, especially the first hand observations, those were fantastic.”

Despair and confusion and, yes, hurt, make it hard to respond for the space of a couple breaths. “You didn’t like it.”

“I quite enjoyed it actually. As I said, it was very well written. But the truth is, it’s fluff. It’s a review mixed with an opinion piece. And other than getting people who already agree with you to nod over their breakfast or afternoon coffee, you’re barely going to make a dent in the views of someone who doesn’t agree with you. At best maybe you’ll get people who haven’t been to the museum before to plan a visit. Which is nice, but not what you’re after, right?”

Leaf bites her lower lip. She expected an incisive critique, had thought some of these things herself, but hearing them said by another really drives them home. “No. Not really. But you’re right, it’s not… new. I’m not saying anything new, and I’m not saying it in a new way.”

“That’s it exactly. You’re not doing investigative reporting, you’re writing to persuade. And that means you need to focus on completely different things.”

Leaf nods to herself, mentally getting used to the idea of rewriting the piece. It’s a daunting task after she worked so hard on this one, but at least she has the research all done, and Laura is right. What she’s written so far won’t convince anyone.

“Leaf? You alright hon?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry, I know-”

“No, it’s okay. This is why I called you. It all makes sense. Thank you.” She straightens in her chair and opens a new document. “Okay, so… any advice on what to do instead?”

“Absolutely. First let’s list what you did right: you appealed to three of the big four. Logic, emotions, and ethics. Can you guess what the one you missed was?”

Leaf considers the arguments she deliberately avoided. “Authority?”

“Close, but not quite. This is a mistake young writers make all the time when trying to argue against ideas of older generations. You didn’t appeal to tradition.”

Leaf frowns. “Of course not, tradition’s stupid. Heck, the whole point is to break people from clinging to tradition.”

“And that’s exactly why your writing won’t reach anyone you want it to. Leaf, the people who don’t like the new exhibits have a very different value system than you. Do you really think ignoring what they think is important, let alone deriding it, will change their view?”

“No, you’re right. But what am I supposed to do then?”

“Understand their values better. You want to reduce the influence of a value you don’t share, but because you don’t share it, you’re missing how it can help you.”

“Help me?”

“Yes. Really immersing yourself in opposing views is a skill that takes a lifetime to cultivate, but for now, the first step is to figure out what purpose the value serves, why it makes sense to them. Always remember that people’s beliefs and worldviews are more complex than first impression lets on. Since your actual goal isn’t to make them find traditions less important, just make sure tradition doesn’t hold them back in this one area, you can actually use the overall value to your advantage.”

“Hang on, let me think a moment.” Leaf puts the phone down and puts it on speaker, then spins her chair in a slow circle with one foot, eyes closed.

If she were a proud Pewter citizen, irate at the museum’s sudden attack on her traditional beliefs, what other traditions might balance that out? What would another Pewter citizen who likes the changes say?

She remembers speaking to the visitors on Saturday when she started writing. Most were tourists, but of the natives there were a handful that spoke about it all with a subtle but powerful pride.

Ah. Leaf smiles and opens her eyes, putting her foot down to stop her rotation. “I can focus on Pewter’s other tradition: how they’ve always been at the forefront of science and discovery.”

“Exactly. Remember that traditions are cherished not just because of comfort or pride, but often from an inherent sense that what’s worked so far must have value, and that rocking the boat is risky. Show them the risks in the status quo, offer them a new source of value”

Leaf has already started typing as Laura talks. “Does it matter if my point isn’t strictly true? I mean, a lot of geological and paleontological discoveries came from Pewter, but other cities have them beat in general, and they’re obviously not current on this topic.”

“I’m glad you asked, because there are seven general traits to effective persuasion. Ready to write things down?”

Leaf finishes her last thought and starts a new paragraph. “Hit me with them.”

“Repetition, Consistency, Social Proof, Agitate then Solve, Prognosticate, Tribalism, and Storytelling.”

Leaf’s fingers fly over the keyboard. “Okay, I think I get the first two and the last one. What about the rest?”

“I’m going to go over them all. Let me know which one you think answers your question. First is Repetition. Pretty simple, the challenge is in presenting the same point or argument in a variety of ways. You want it to stick, but you don’t want to bore them. Next is consistency, also basic: no wild shifts in tone or hypocritical positions.

“Social Proof is basically an appeal to popularity, but without blatantly doing so. Most people will subconsciously find it easier to accept a belief that they feel is mainstream, or held by certain popular individuals. At the very least, it wards against automatic rejection of an idea as too bizarre or ‘obviously crazy.’ As long as you know your audience and are subtle about it, it can help with just about any demographic. That last part applies to all of these, by the way: subtlety is key.”

“Got it. So that one doesn’t really answer my question, but it’s still important for me to keep in mind. What if most people disagree with it?”

“Do you actually know the real numbers? Have you looked into any surveys or polls?”

“I tried to find some on it, but couldn’t.”

“Consider doing one yourself then. Work with the museum if you can. But if it turns out the vast majority are against it, that’s where popular figures can come in. Movie stars, famous trainers, professors, whoever.

“Next is Agitate then Solve. You want to present the audience with a compelling reason the status quo isn’t good, the problems it’s causing, then offer a solution. Make sure the reader or listener understands the problem, why it’s a problem, then sees your suggestion as the most obvious thing in the world.”

Leaf grins. “There’s my answer. ‘Pewter City, once the crown jewel of Kanto for its leadership in Earth Sciences, has been steadily falling behind…'”

“Now you’re getting it. And prognosticate is an extension of that. Do a bit of informed prediction. Why will the bad thing get worse? If Pewter doesn’t regain its dominance, what next?”

“It might start losing tourism, see brain drain, and become a hollow shell of its former self.”

Laura laughs. “Cut the last line and you’re gold. Remember, subtle!”

“Right, right. Tribalism is an ‘us vs them’ thing, yeah?”

“Yep. Like Social Proof, but more stark. I wouldn’t normally advocate pushing this one: tribalism can get ugly fast, and it usually doesn’t need any encouragement to get there. But it has a positive side to it too, and that’s what you have to tap into, if you can. Can you see it?”

Leaf thinks. “Nationality? Other cities or regions will get ahead of Pewter?”

“Sort of, though that’s just another flavor of Agitate and Prognosticate, and it’s not particularly inspirational.”

“Hold on.” Leaf thinks again, closing her eyes and letting her legs tap and drag her around and around. Eventually she frowns and shakes her head. “I don’t think I’m seeing it.”

“Well, there’s not just one correct answer for any of this. Tell me whatever comes to mind.”

“I can’t really think of anything, to be honest. How would you approach it?”

“Well, there’s one tribe that encompasses them all, and works fairly well as a fallback for almost any topic. Make it about our eternal struggle: humanity against the elements. The world is a pretty hostile place, and if mankind has to do everything it can to seek the truth, utilize discoveries, develop new technology, and defend itself from pokemon.”

Leaf has stopped spinning, merely sitting and staring at her phone with her brow furrowed. “I… don’t think I can use that one.”

“Why not?”

Leaf opens her mouth to say… what, she isn’t sure. But the thought of framing the issue, any issue, as humanity vs pokemon, doesn’t sit right with her. Sure, humans working together as one global tribe is important, but painting pokemon as the enemy, as the “them” that needs to be guarded against… it just feels wrong. The life and wellbeing of humans and pokemon are linked, and one isn’t inherently higher than the other. Just because she’s a human doesn’t mean she should promote humanity at the expense of pokemon.

“It’s complicated. I guess I just don’t think I believe it, in this case.”

There’s silence, and Leaf worries that Laura will inquire further, demand her true justification. Instead she simply says “Alright, well you don’t have to use all of them, and if you find another way to apply that one feel free to take a different angle. If not though your article will be more streamlined with fewer things to clutter it up.”

Leaf lets out a breath and returns to her keyboard. “Right. And the last one?”

“Ultimately, the most compelling thing you can do with all of the above is weave it into a story. I don’t mean it has to have a protagonist and a plot and everything. Make it real: don’t talk about yourself, but talk about what you see. Descriptive language, framed as what’s simply there and plain to see to everyone. Draw them in with an evocative scene, introduce real life characters accompanied by quotes. Your whole piece should frame a narrative that the readers feel part of. It’s about them, ultimately.”

Leaf is nodding to herself as she listens and types. “Right, yeah. That’s what I was trying to do with mine.”

“And you did a good job for what it was. I hope you see why this might work better though.”

“Absolutely. I really can’t thank you enough-”

“It was my pleasure. Feel free to send me your drafts or call again if you need to.”

“Thanks. Any last bits of advice?”

“End with a quote. Something profound, or at least profound sounding. The beginning of the piece has to be good enough to inform and hook your readers, but leaving them with something evocative and easy to remember is almost as important. Out of curiosity, how are you planning to publish it?”

“I didn’t think that far ahead honestly. My travel blog for sure, then maybe some local boards or forums, and the museum’s review page.”

“Hmm. Not a lot of traffic on any of those. You want a wide audience, right?”

“Yeah, I’m kind of hoping people will enjoy it enough to share organically.”

“Why not try a news site?”

“I’d love to, but I haven’t looked into it yet and don’t know what their restrictions or requirements are. Maybe one of the news sites will pick up on it.” Or maybe, if she happens to know someone in the business locally…

“Well if that doesn’t pan out, I might know a guy who knows a girl who can give it a look.”

Leaf grins.


It’s late when Blue enters the Pokemon Center, tired from a long day at the Gym. He’s been spending his nights at the Center, helping out however he could. It’s still a bit short-staffed from the backlog of pokemon injured during the fire, and Blue learned basic pokemon first aid from a young age, so he’s more helpful than random volunteers.

If he had his preference, Blue would be using this time to train more, or catch up on his sleep. But gramps was right when he said Blue has to start cultivating his image in as many different ways as he can, and that’s doubly true with his loss at the Gym.

But tonight he’s here for something else too.

The same older doctor is waiting for him when he goes to retrieve his shiftry, finally all healed up and ready for him to retrieve. She’s warmed up to him considerably since he started working here, doing whatever tasks need getting done diligently and without complaint. Blue discovered fairly quickly that someone who’ll do the tedious or less desirable tasks with a smile tend to get in people’s good graces.

Blue exchanges pleasantries with her while he holds the shiftry’s greatball in his hand, feeling its cool metal against this palm.

The night of his defeat, he hadn’t been able to sleep at all. He tossed and turned for hours, mind replaying the match and trying to come up with ways he could have won, or can win in a month. It was only after it arrived at the obvious solution that his brain finally called it quits and let him sleep.

This is his key to victory, right here. His shiftry is the strongest pokemon he has. Once properly trained, it will be more than capable of taking down whatever Brock sends against him.

Which means all he has to do is train it to accept and follow his orders.

Blue runs a finger over a ridge on the ball’s lid, then clips it to is belt and heads for the supply room to change into scrubs. He’s worried that because of the way he caught the shiftry, it might be harder than normal to train.

He’ll just have to be… persuasive.

Chapter 23: The Decisive Path, Part II

Now this… this is more like it.

Hours after his qualification matches, Blue looks out over the Leader Stadium, a vast underground room. He stands just inside the challenger’s entrance, at the midpoint of one of the rectangular room’s incredibly long walls. Watching the Challenge matches on TV, Blue often thought the Pewter gym was too boring. Misty’s water sports, Surge’s electric fields, Erika’s living arena, which he saw in person once as a spectator… they all make it clear that something fantastic is happening, something that will help forge legends and shape fates. Sure, Brock’s arena is bigger than theirs, but all that space has nothing to catch the eye. From the other side of a screen, the battles might as well be happening in some big warehouse.

But standing in it himself, Blue has a new appreciation for the impact of size. “Big” doesn’t cover it. The room is goddamn enormous.

He can practically feel the vastness of the arena in the quality of the air. It seems to be as large as the entire building above it, and effectively triples the building’s carrying capacity in the event of an emergency. The stands easily look fifty rows deep and are elevated most of the way up the walls. From this distance the people on them are small as his fingernail, and he realizes that from their vantage point he probably looks even smaller in contrast to all the space before him.

He was wrong about Pewter Gym. More than any spectacle could, its stark and massive arena makes it clear: this is something important. This is a place destiny is decided.

Time to kick off his.

“Challenger, Blue Oak. First badge.”

The speakers are loud enough to easily cut through the chatter of the spectators. Before the echo begins to fade, Blue is already striding out toward the challenger’s platform as the distant applause ripple through the room. Back straight, arms casually at his sides. The stands only seem about a quarter full from Blue’s vantage point. Not a bad draw on such relatively short notice: the fact that he’s an Oak probably did a lot to help attract people. He can feel his hands trembling with excitement. Thankfully the wide screens stationed along the upper walls don’t show it. He’ll be steady once the match starts and his attention focuses on the battle. He hopes.

The dozen steps up to his platform feel steeper than they are, and once he’s above its walls and on the platform, he moves to the railing. The size of the arena from this angle makes him suck in a breath. The field stretches out below and to either side of him, at least ten times the size of the one he fought in before, like a segment of the mountain was cut out and placed under the gym. Just imagining Aeosis fighting here, weaving between the boulders and diving beneath the ground to come up beneath his pokemon, makes him break out in a cold sweat.

Thankfully, he won’t have to worry about facing that monster. He pities any trainer that saves Pewter for their last badge. Whatever Brock ends up choosing for Blue can’t be worse than the supposed demigod of Mt. Moon.

Blue refrains from wiping the back of his neck, acutely aware of the cameras trained on him. He keeps his face carefully placid, not blank and empty, but alert and at ease. Crafting his image is important, and that image has to be of someone in control of themselves.

Grinning like a madman might give a bad impression.

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

This time the applause are much louder. Brock is hard to make out in the distance, but the screens show him walking toward his platform in his usual orange and dark-khaki shirt and cargo pants. Like his gym, Brock often clothes himself in the functional rather than flashy. It makes the Gym Leader look far less imposing than the reinforced leather he wore in the forest, which he needed to safely ride Aeosis.

As Brock gets close enough to mount his platform, Blue can just recognize him with the naked eye. Brock attaches an earpiece and mic to his ear, and Blue takes out the one he was given and does the same. After a moment the earpiece comes to life, and he hears Brock’s voice in it. “Hello again, Mr. Oak. Left toggle is to talk to me, right is to use the stadium speakers. Test your mic by responding to me, then announce your challenge after I address you, and then we’ll begin.”

Blue feels along the edge of his earpiece and toggles it to the left. “Okay, ready.”

Brock’s voice booms around the stadium. “Citizens of Pewter, gym members, guests from afar, welcome. Today another has come to test his mettle in our forge. Though still in his first week as a trainer, he has shown the will and skill to attempt a place among us as equals. Blue Oak, Pewter Gym honors your request. State the nature of your Challenge.”

Mastery, Membership, or Leadership. After a trainer fights their way to the top of a Gym, those are the options for formal Challenge. Each is more difficult than the last, and dictates what pokemon and techniques Brock will use.

Blue toggles his mic’s switch to the right. “I challenge Pewter Gym for Mastery.”

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

The platforms hum to life and detach from the stairs leading up to them. Blue looks to his right and left, where the edge of the arena’s railing goes through the bottom of his platform to help it move. He doesn’t expect the match to require much movement, but he widens his step and braces his legs just in case.

“Go, geodude!”

Blue sees the flash, and the wide arena, the huge stadium, the crowds, it all falls away as his world narrows down to the pokemon on the other side of the arena.

He doesn’t even feel insulted at Brock’s choice of a lowly geodude after he already defeated Jarod’s graveler. A pokemon in one trainer’s hands can for all intents and purposes be a completely different one in another’s.

Unfortunately his plans are now derailed. He thought up strategies to use for a number of pokemon Brock might open with, even checking the history of earlier Challenges to get an idea for what might come, but Leaders are notorious for rarely repeating strategies.

Best to play it safe and assume this one won’t be as easy to beat as the last.

“Go, Gon!”

Blue’s freshly named shroomish appears on the field, and he catches the pokeball as it jumps back up toward him. As this would be his first public match, he took the time to rename the rest of his pokemon beforehand. The mushroom waddles about, too far from the geodude to spot the threat. “Gon, battle!” His pokemon goes still, then faces outward from Blue. If Brock favors decisive actions at the opportune moment, rushing into the battle would be the worst thing Blue could do. Or would it be the best one?

“We begin the match at a distance, as often occurs in the wild.” Brock’s voice holds everyone’s attention even as their eyes are locked on the pokemon, waiting for the first move. “The challenger makes an intelligent choice of pokemon for type advantage, but more important is his wisdom to remain cautious.”

Brock puts one hand out, metal claws covering the tips of his fingers. As the stadium holds its breath, Brock taps a pattern on the metal railing in front of him, another microphone stationed close to ensure the sound is spread.

His pokemon immediately begins to pick at itself, fingers chipping off bits of rocky hide. It grabs a rock from the ground and grinds the pieces against it, then tosses the rock toward Gon before repeating the process with a new one. The stones don’t travel far before arcing down, but they never touch the ground, instead hovering above it and gently floating outward at slightly different heights and speeds.

“Stealth Rock, an environmental hazard that will punish indecisiveness by bombarding new targets with stones. With his Grass pokemon’s status effects, the Challenger could outlast us easily by alternating pokemon. We must make it harder for him to win a waiting game.”

As Brock narrates to the audience, about half of whom are taking notes, Blue racks his brain for what potential traps besides the apparent and obvious one he might walk into if he tries to go on the offensive. He can keep a respectable distance while using leech seeds or powders, but geodude’s rock throws outrange them.

Blue’s fingers twitch. He’s already been outplayed. He just thought to use shroomish’s stun spore and risk sending Zephyr out for a quick gust to send it toward the geodude, but the floating rocks would knock him out of the sky the moment he got close. Was that intentional? Did Brock confer with his subordinates before the match?

Doesn’t matter. Focus on victory and find the path to it.

There are almost a dozen rocks out now, each spinning lazily above the ground in a half circle between their pokemon and in different directions from other. Gon can take a hit from them much better than Zephyr could. As long as he can get a leech seed onto the geodude the stealth rocks won’t matter as much, but even that might take too long. In which case his best bet is to end it quickly…

“Gon, Absorb!”

His pokemon waddles toward the floating stones. As soon as he gets close to one, it begins to gravitate toward him, faster and faster until it smacks into the shroomish and knocks him to the side.

The other nearby stealth rocks, which had begun to float toward Gon, immediately slow and begin floating in other directions, repelled by the one near him. Blue watches his pokemon get to his feet, injured but still okay, and lets out a breath. The rocks don’t move quick enough and aren’t big enough to do much damage to pokemon that aren’t weak to rocks in the first place. Gon begins to run forward again, now inside the stealth rock field.

Brock taps another command onto the railing, and his geodude moves quickly as Gon closes the distance between them, pulling up and tossing a stone as big as its fist. It hits Gon square in the face, and Blue’s pokemon tumbles backward.

As he feared, this geodude is much better trained than the one he fought before. If he gets close enough for Absorb, it might knock his pokemon out with a tackle before his pokemon can restore itself.

“Gon, Leech Seed!”

“Geodude, Dig!”

Murmurs ripple throughout the stadium as Brock’s pokemon begins rapidly tunneling under the ground. Blue watches the seeds arc through the air with his heart in his throat, but they land too late on the upturned soil where the geodude disappeared.

“Our biggest weakness as Rock trainers is our speed.” Brock’s voice fills the stadium again, immediately silencing the crowd. “Our pokemon rely on their tough hides to protect them, but when they face their weaknesses they cannot afford to take every hit. Whether by training or TM, ensure your pokemon have an escape tool for emergencies.”

Blue feels his lips threatening to stretch into a smile, and wipes the sweat from his neck again. He’s losing, and badly, but all he feels is exhilarated. This is the kind of challenge he was looking for. And he can still see a path.

“Gon, ready!” His pokemon goes still as it prepares for his next command.

“What will you do now, Blue? It doesn’t look as though your pokemon can take much more. Will you try someone else?”

Blue’s head snaps up as he’s addressed directly. Leader Brock stands with his arms crossed, patiently waiting for Blue’s next move. Graciously giving him the opportunity to withdraw his pokemon.

Blue switches his mic to the private channel too. “I was considering it, but honestly? I’m thinking maybe my shroomish can take one more hit. Funny thing about that last command, it was verbal. How do you plan on bringing your geodude back up while standing all the way up on the platform?”

Blue can see Brock’s smile on the screens above, and switches his mic back to open broadcast. The audience begins to murmur, no doubt wondering what he and the Gym Leader said. The more experienced among them have probably realized already and are explaining to their neighbors: once underground, Brock can’t send any more commands to his pokemon from on his platform. Geodude will default to the behavior of a wild pokemon, and only be able to detect Blue’s shroomish if he moves.

Which means all Blue has to do is wait. If Gon were older he would be able to use Growth, temporarily boosting the effects of his attacks, but if Blue is quick enough they won’t need it.

Time ticks by, and the crowd grows restless as they watch the motionless shroomish and trainers. The floating stones continue to rotate lazily midair, but some of them have begun to lower. Blue tracks the one closest to the ground, pulse speeding up as he feels the decisive point of the match approaching. Almost… almost…

It touches down, and a few seconds later geodude’s fist bursts out of the ground beneath it with a CRACK that sends it flying.

“Shroomish, Stun Spore!” Blue yells as the geodude pulls itself above the surface, and whatever Brock taps out against the railing is too late: the spores fall over the geodude, and its movements slow to a jerky halt.

“Gon, Absorb!”

“Geodude, return!”

Applause fill the stadium as Brock’s pokemon is recalled in a beam of light. Blue quickly smooths his face of any irritation, and smiles as the cameras shift to him. League rules are clear that trainers should withdraw their pokemon in a competitive battle the moment they believe theirs has lost, as well as refrain from attacking when it’s clear they’ve won. Still, he would have liked to get the Absorb off to heal Gon up before the geodude was withdrawn.

“Well done, challenger! You have once again demonstrated the trait our gym most prizes.”

“Thank you, Leader. I learned the value of decisive action while fighting the Viridian Forest fire, and from our meeting there I knew I had more to learn. Your members proved apt teachers throughout the day.”

Blue can hear the murmur of the crowd’s distant conversations again, and his smile widens briefly. He hoped before the match for a natural circumstance to speak to the crowd, and Brock gave him the perfect opening. In the space of seconds he established that he was in Viridian helping fight the fire and that he met Brock there. He would let the listeners fill in the details themselves: if the scene they envision is Blue Oak and their Gym Leader fighting side by side against the blaze, all the better. And a final, casual mention that this was his first day stepping into the gym, for those that don’t already know it.

As for the idea that Blue was exhibiting “decisiveness,” he’s starting to have his doubts. It really feels more like patience to him. He could ask Brock the difference after he wins, but that would probably ruin the moment, not to mention make him look like an idiot.

Brock unclips another ball from his belt. A heavyball. “Then let’s put your understanding to the final test. Defeat this pokemon, and Pewter’s badge will be yours. Go, Onix!”

Blue nearly has a heart attack in the time between the crowd’s shout of excitement and his mind to catch up with what he heard: “onix,” not Aeosis. Of course. That would be ridiculous. And yet some part of him is absurdly disappointed.

The onix is an adolescent, only about six meters long. Its rocky skin is a light grey, and its horn hasn’t finished forming. None of which really matters. Brock is widely acknowledged to be the greatest onix trainer in the world. This onix doesn’t have to be Aeosis to be a threat.

Thankfully it’s one of the pokemon he was prepared for, as unlikely as it seemed. As the onix looks around at its surroundings and goes still upon seeing Blue’s shroomish, Brock opens his mouth to say something else to the audience, but Blue cuts him off. “Gon, Leech Seed!”

His bruised and battered shroomish responds immediately, and the seeds arc up and land in various spots along the onix’s segmented body. “Gon, S-!”

“Onix, Ta-

“-tun S-”

“-ckle!”

“-pore!”

Blue and Brock’s commands blend together uselessly, but the Gym Leader immediately follows his with taps from his fingers, and his onix dives forward. The tip of its snout hits Gon and sends the shroomish flying backward.

Blue already has his pokeball in hand and aimed out, tracking his pokemon through the air in a state of icy detachment. “Gon, return!” The beam flashes out and intercepts his shroomish, sucking it back into the ball.

The stadium is still and quiet for a moment, and then applause echo from every corner. Blue lowers his pokeball and stares at it a moment, then takes out his pokedex and aligns the lenses.

Something eases in his chest when it confirms that his shroomish is still alive, and he puts his dex away with a sigh. That was close. He got greedy, trying to grab an advantage even with an injured pokemon.

“Is your pokemon alright?” asks Brock in his ear.

“Yeah,” he says back. “That was irresponsible of me.”

“I train my Challenger pokemon to pull their punches, but your shroomish could easily have been crushed.”

Blue feels a flush rise in his neck. He already admitted his mistake. “I’ll be more careful.”

“I was apologizing: each of us reacted instinctually. Let’s both try to do better.” Brock switches back to public broadcasting just as the crowd is beginning to quiet down. “An excellent save by the challenger! Never forget to train yourself as well as your pokemon: both your lives will often depend on your reflexes and coordination.”

Blue tunes out Brock’s words and focuses on his options during the brief respite. The leech seeds are planted, which means he just needs to buy time. He can send Zephyr out, but a single hit by a rock would knock it down, and if this onix is anywhere near as accurate as the geodude was, that won’t take long. Blue already got lucky once: to gamble on Zephyr surviving a Rock Throw would be beyond reckless.

Which means he has one choice left. “Go, Maturin!”

His squirtle appears on the battlefield. It doesn’t take long for her to spot the massive onix facing her and drop onto all fours, head thrust belligerently outward. “Maturin, Bubble!”

His squirtle dashes forward to get in range while Brock taps out his own command. Brock’s onix uncoils itself and lunges at a diagonal, and Maturin shifts her rear feet to turn with the massive rocksnake as it weaves in and out of the rocks on the battlefield.

Maturin sends out a series of bubbles just as the onix swerves again. The bubbles hit the onix’s side and pop explosively, their water raising a cracked, white welt at each spot along its rocky hide. The onix flinches and slows in its rush, and rears back.

A roar of pain reveals a maw massive enough to fit Maturin between its rock jaws, and Maturin recoils, ending its attack. Before Blue can give another command, the onix puts on a burst of speed, lunging around to the left of Blue’s squirtle before cutting sharply to the right.

“Maturin, Withdraw!” Blue yells as his pokemon is lost to view. On the monitors above he sees his pokemon from an overhead angle as she tucks herself into her shell just before the onix wraps itself around her and constricts.

The arena is so quiet Blue can hear his heartbeats under the low grinding of the onix’s tightening coils. “Another strong play,” Brock says over the speakers. “The challenger’s chosen a pokemon with both a type advantage and a strong defense. In combination with the leech seeds, it could potentially whittle down our onix. The question, then, is simple: how long can it hold out?”

Blue watches the leech seeds stuck to the onix’s skin stretch their roots out bit by bit, green tendrils slowly spreading over the light grey stone. Too slowly. A squirtle’s shell can withstand hundreds of pounds of pressure, but even an adolescent onix can exert more than that. Blue almost pulls out his pokedex to check the exact numbers, but he knows it wouldn’t matter. The leech seeds won’t bring the onix down quick enough. He needs more time.

Blue’s hand twitches toward his belt, then stops. The onix’s body is blocking his line of sight: the pokeball’s beam wouldn’t be able to reach his squirtle. Even if he could return Maturin, Zephyr won’t last long anyway.

Did he lose, just like that? No, there has to be a way…

“Do you yield, trainer?” Brock’s voice holds no reproach, but Blue imagines the judgement of those watching. How long is he willing to let his pokemon suffer? How much is he willing to risk its life, just to win?

But he has to win. There’s got to be something, some way out…

The worst part is that he can’t even give her new commands: all of her attacks require at least poking her head out of her shell, and she was standing horizontally on all fours when she withdrew. He can see on the monitor that her limb and head openings are right up against the onix. The first thing he has to do is fix that. “Maturin, Rapid Spin!”

For a moment Blue wonders if she heard him through all that stone, but then her shell begins to turn. After a moment he sees her stubby legs and arms clawing and scrambling at the onix’s stone hide, gripping the rough sides of each boulder to turn and twist around and around until she’s sticking up vertically. “Maturin, Water Gun!” Blue shouts as Brock taps out another command.

The onix bobs its head to the side as she sticks her head out and spurts water at its face. Blotches of white spread along its skin where some of the water falls, and it responds by roaring again and squeezing tighter. Maturin is forced to withdraw completely to avoid her extremities getting crushed, and the onix seems more angry than hurt. None of the water hit where the leech seeds are.

The grinding of the onix’s boulders rubbing against each other seems to fill the arena, and Blue can see his pokemon’s shell getting squeezed tighter and tighter. As his options fall away one by one, he feels his battle calm crack and fall apart. He tries desperately to call it back, to sink deeper into the objective clarity it provides, but every second that passes makes him feel more and more like he’s back in Viridian, with the shiftry dispatching his pokemon and rushing at him through the mist… his mind fills with that panicked desire to slow time down, stop it for just a moment-

“Trainer. Do you yield?”

This last said privately in his earpiece. Brock is being gracious in victory, and all it does is awaken Blue’s anger. He wants to yell out for Maturin to water gun again, hope that his pokemon can miraculously pull it off and force the onix to release her…

No. That was the first thing, the very first rule he recognized about what separates the good trainers he watched from the bad ones. Good trainers don’t just give commands and hope for the best. Both might seem like they ask the impossible of their pokemon, but the winners are the ones that always have a plan, some path to victory.

And somewhere in this fight, Blue lost his.

“I yield.”


Blue closes the call with Red after telling him about the match and agreeing to meet him and Leaf at the nearby Trainer House soon. He’s sitting on a couch in what looks like a staff common room, which he has all to himself as he waits for Brock to show up from wherever he is. The TV is on some local news channel with the sound off, and Blue stares past it unseeing.

The last thirty minutes were a bit of a blur. After Blue was defeated and their pokemon recalled, he stood on his platform and listened to the spectators’ applause and the Gym Leader’s final lessons from the match. Then Brock told him privately to follow the attendant back at the entrance, who led him to this room and told him to make himself comfortable. There’s a table laden with snacks and beverages, but they hold no appeal for Blue. All he wanted to do since withdrawing Maturin was leave, but he smiled and nodded as if he didn’t feel hollow inside.

Giovanni. Lance. Cynthia. His idols, the youngest trainers to become regional Champions in history, were all undefeated in their gym battles. It was part of their legend, that they were pokemon masters even from a young age.

A legend that Blue won’t share. And he has no one to blame but himself. How could he ever have thought he had patience? From the moment they got their pokemon, he was so focused on getting on the road and staying on the move, all so they could reach Pewter and he could get a badge within his first week as a trainer, something not even Giovanni accomplished.

His mistakes are so obvious now. Did he really try to take on a Gym Leader with just three pokemon? Sure he had the type advantage for two of them, but so what? He knew that wouldn’t be enough, any scrub can catch the right pokemon for a gym, but most fail in their challenges. He’s a pokemon trainer, not a pokemon catcher. And just packing some training in as he travels isn’t enough.

He wonders why this is all so obvious to him now, when it does him no good. Would Red or Leaf have told him as much if he asked them? Would he have listened? The thought makes him want to find a bed and pull the covers over his head for about a week.

There’s still a small part of him that insists that he just got unlucky, that he should have sent Zephyr out and tried to stall for the leech seeds, but instead he forces himself to go over his mistakes again and again until the persistent voice of stubbornness finally grows tired of it and slinks off elsewhere.

Blue’s exhausted in general, really. He’s barely gotten any rest since they set out, and was up early to start at the gym when it opened. Just as he considers lying down on the couch and catching some shuteye, there’s a knock on the door, and then it opens. Leader Brock comes in looking annoyingly stoic as ever, and Blue gets to his feet with a mostly contained sigh.

“Please, stay seated. I know you’ve had a long day. How are you holding up?”

Blue frowns as Brock sits on the couch across from him. He was expecting a lecture about safe battle standards or basic training responsibilities, not a pity party. “I’m fine. Just a bit tired.”

“I’ll bet. You arrived when, eight in the morning? Nine?”

“Closer to eight.”

“Quite a day. They’re still talking about it, you know.”

“About what?” Blue asks warily.

“The way you ‘took the gym by storm.’ Went right through the ranks without stopping, even beating Jarod and Sharzad! I was impressed with you after Viridian, and after battling you firsthand I can see how driven you are. I bet a lot of people will come to train with you, if you stick around for another challenge.”

Blue’s spirits were rising slightly as Brock spoke, but now they plummet back to the pit of his stomach. Right. As a general standard, Gym Leaders only accept challenges from the same trainer once a month. He would have to live with this failure for weeks before he can try wipe it away with a victory, and despite his new wisdom about the need to take things slower, the thought of spending a whole month in Pewter training is almost intolerable. “I… would love to. But I’m pretty sure my traveling companions would want to move on before then.”

Brock nods. “Well, however long you’re here, feel free to sign up for our classes or trainings. You earned the admissions already.”

Blue sits up a bit. “If I do well in the trainings, is it possible we could rematch sooner than…” he trails off as Brock’s smile fades.

“No, I’m sorry,” the Gym Leader says in a voice that brooks no argument. “I know some Leaders will bend that rule once in awhile, but I never have. You fought well, but you’re not ready yet. Surely you see that?”

If admitting it to himself was hard, Blue finds admitting it to another impossible. He simply grunts and changes the topic. “So what did you call me back here for?”

“I just told you.”

Blue blinks. “What, that?”

Brock grins wide as he leans back against the couch. “What, were you expecting a browbeating? I like to talk to challengers after the match, whether they win or lose. Especially the latter. I know it can be disheartening.”

Despite himself, Blue finds himself liking Brock. He’s been nothing but courteous even when he didn’t have to be, and the Leader’s charisma is as strong as he always heard. Now that the initial bout of moping is out of his system, he remembers that he’s having a private, personal conversation with a Gym Leader. Letting such an opportunity go to waste would be like throwing in the towel on his dreams and goals altogether.

“Well I have to admit you’ve cheered me up considerably. If you don’t mind my asking, could you explain your Gym’s virtue to me a bit more? I thought I understood it, but clearly still have much to learn.” The irony of having said practically the same thing earlier for the crowds when he was sure of his impending victory doesn’t escape him.

Brock’s face lights up, and Blue recognizes the expression of an ideologue with his favorite conversation topic. Red gets like that with science all the time. “Of course! But you sell yourself short, Blue, from what I saw you understand it quite well: the commitment to act once you’ve found a path to victory.”

Blue can sort of see how that relates to the Gym Leader’s fighting style, but it seems more like a vague platitude than a specific virtue. It is, after all, something he thinks of often, and has seen mentioned elsewhere. What makes Brock’s philosophy so different in practice?

A concrete example suddenly occurs to him. “So that’s the virtue you based your signature move on?”

“Exactly. Most people think Bide is about patience, but decisiveness is the true value. Complete commitment to a principle or action, with everything you’ve got. Often that takes patience, to wait for the perfect moment, but when you see it you go after it, full force and damn the consequences. That last part can be risky, of course. That’s why I’ve stopped teaching it by default to even those that earn a badge. Much easier to just hand them a copy of the Rock Tomb TM.”

Blue’s brow furrows. “I think your technique would be perfect for my fighting style and pokemon. What would I need to do for you to teach it to me?”

Brock gets to his feet, and Blue follows, wondering if he said something wrong. “First off, complete the rest of our trainings. After that, we can talk about it, and the virtue of decisiveness, again. Deal?”

Blue looks at the Leader’s outstretched hand. After a moment he takes it with a smile. The single most important thing about completing one’s ambitions is to not let setbacks stop your commitment. To turn defeats into victories, if possible. He may not have gotten the perfect Gym record he wanted, but maybe he can earn something more valuable instead.

“Deal.”

Chapter 22: The Decisive Path, Part I

The Pewter Gym’s exterior is the most imposing in all of Kanto, so large it can house half the city’s population in an emergency, with grey stone walls thick enough to withstand a charging rhydon. The walls around the front gateway are carved to resemble an onix rearing above, and walking past its threshold feels like leaving the modernity of the city around it behind.

Once inside, that idea is quickly dispelled. Despite the grey stone of the floor and walls, its doors slide open automatically, and its light installations are strong and unobtrusive, running in thin bars along the sides of the ceiling. Trainers and gym staff walk halls with the smooth gait of people with places to be and things to do, and after a moment Blue’s pace matches theirs.

As he passes the training rooms he can hear the muffled shouts of commands, and his fingers repeatedly brush the cool metal of his pokeballs as he resists the urge to unclip and play with them. Everyone he passes has a full belt of six, and the empty spots on his belt feel crippling. His shiftry is still recuperating at the pokemon center, and while it would be nice to have the fully evolved and powerful Grass type with him, it’s not likely to be obedient anyway.

Blue’s fingers brush the pokeballs to the front of his belt. Doesn’t matter. If he’s half the trainer he thinks he is, his squirtle and shroomish will be all he needs.

To be a Champion that leads the people beyond what they think is possible, he needs to be a trainer that proves the impossible can be done. The quicker he gets his first badge, and the more handicaps he has, the greater his fame will grow.

He walks straight past the auditoriums, past the demonstration rooms, the simulation facilities, and straight to the administrative offices. It’s early enough that there’s almost no one here, and he goes straight to the receptionist at the desk and puts his trainer card on the table.

“Blue Oak, here to challenge Leader Brock for a Pewter Badge.”


The stadium is small, about twice the size of a training room. A few steps beyond the entrance door the stone of the floor stops at the edge of the stadium’s walls, which contain a brownish orange soil littered with rocks and boulders of various sizes. There’s no scoreboard, no stands for a crowd, not even a podium for the trainers to stand on, just a square of slightly elevated land on each side. All in all, barely distinguishable from the kind of room a Trainer House might have.

Even still, Blue can practically feel his blood sing as he steps onto the tiny platform raised just above the field. He tilts his head up, feeling the heat of the overhead lamps on his face. The touch of cool metal beneath his fingers is electric, and the edge of his lips twitch, threatening to split up into a grin at any moment.

This. This is where he belongs.

None of the boulders are tall enough to obstruct his sight across the stadium, and Blue takes note of which rocks might provide good cover or can be climbed for a high ground advantage. His pokemon aren’t trained well enough for him to guide exactly where they go, but if they were… there’s a great mini-plateau for shroomish to rain pollen and seeds down from, and squirtle could use the sloping rock to the side to keep away from enemies-

The door across the room slides open and his opponent steps through. He’s not much to look at: a young man in cargo pants and a tank top, hair buzz-cut short. He watches Blue with a neutral expression, tossing a pokeball between his hands as he steps onto the opposing platform.

“Blue Oak?”

“That’s me.” Blue’s fingers itch to unclip one of his balls and copy the other trainer’s motions with it, or show him up with a finger spin or knuckle roll, the way the old man had. He practiced it daily and almost has it down.

“No badges, right?”

“Yeah.”

The young man nods and rotates one hand to toss his ball out without warning. “Go, Geodude!” He catches the ball when it returns and begins tossing it back and forth again. “One pokemon, first knock out.”

Blue sends out his shroomish, the detached calm descending to stifle his annoyance and excitement. This is just a preliminary check to ensure he’s not a total scrub. He plans on ending it as quickly and cleanly as possible. “Shroomish, Leech Seed.”

“Geodude, Rock Throw.”

Blue’s pokemon contracts its body before launching a trio of seeds across the stadium. The geodude moves in slow, short jerks as its arms push it forward, and one of the sticky seeds lands directly on it and begins to spread its vines.

It doesn’t seem to even notice, simply approaching the nearest rock and lifting it over its head.

“Shroomish, dodge!”

The rock is flung in an arc, easy to avoid. It bounces along the dirt and hits the edge of the stadium with a thud. “Shroomish, Stun Spore!”

“Geodude, return.” The rock pokemon is struck by its trainer’s red beam and withdrawn, leaving the leach seed and its barely grown roots to fall to the ground as the spores descend over them.

Blue frowns at his opponent. “Your pokemon wasn’t knocked out.”

The other trainer is already leaving, ball back at his hip. “The match was over. Your next opponent will be here soon.”

The sound of the closing door cuts off the response that rises to Blue’s lips. He knows gym qualifier matches are meant as tests for competence rather than full battles of skill, but what’s the point of sending someone out with a single pokemon?

Blue calls out “Shroomish, here!” to bring his pokemon back into withdraw range, then returns it to its ball. He wonders how long it would take for someone else to come out, and hops down from his platform onto the stadium. The dirt of the ground is soft under his shoes, and he crouches down to feel it between his fingers. Soon his whole hand is underground, and his brow furrows as he begins to dig. How far down does the stadium floor go?

Soon he’s elbow deep in the dirt. He pulls his arm out and brushes it clean as best he can before shoving the displaced pile of it back in the hole and standing. Would it be cheating to plant some traps for the next trainer? Probably. In a League match he wouldn’t be able to, and a wild encounter wouldn’t give him the opportunity either.

But even if he can’t manipulate the environment to his aid, as long as he knows the lay of the land he’ll have an edge against opponents, whether they’re other trainers or wild pokemon.

Blue begins walking the stadium, kicking into the dirt with the toes of his shoes. Some parts are firmer than others, and eventually he finds a spot that feels like solid stone just beneath the soil. A quick dig confirms it, and he begins to feel outward from the solid portion of the ground, noting that it goes up to the wall of the stadium. Walking around the occasional rock, he taps first in one direction, then the other, then continues on until he reaches a corner and starts a new side. After a minute of this he steps away, counting how many he takes before the ground grows softer again.

About five and a half. Hm. Apparently the trench they dug to fill the stadium with dirt didn’t start at its borders. What can he do with that?

Not a whole lot. The dirt gives digging pokemon a great advantage, while the stone would prevent all but a few rock pokemon from going under. It would also stop plants from growing, and make it harder to hide environmental hazards.

Blue continues testing the ground until the door opens again and another trainer comes through. The girl mounts the platform on her side and gives Blue a quizzical look. “What are you doing?”

“Just stretching my legs.” Blue returns to his own platform and takes out his shroomish’s ball again. “Rules?”

“One pokemon, first knockout.” She sends out a nosepass, the peculiar looking rock pokemon gathering electric charge as it marches rigidly across the arena.

Blue shrugs and sends shroomish out again. Electric shocks won’t hurt him much, and he can use leech seed and absorb to wear her pokemon down in a couple of minutes.

However, as soon as his shroomish has landed a leech seed and began absorbing the nosepass to regenerate the damage from its shocks, the trainer returns it again, barely twenty seconds into the match.

“You win,” she says, and walks out the way she came.

Blue sighs. He expected to run through the trainers until he got as high as he could, but this is ridiculous.

He hops back into the arena and sprays his shroomish with a bit of potion to help heal any residual damage, then resumes exploring the arena. Before long another trainer shows up, and after them another, and another, as he’s tested against a variety of rock pokemon.

Roggenrola, bonsly, larvitar… each is quickly withdrawn once it becomes clear that Shroomish’s spores, seeds and absorption abilities nullify the defense of their tough hides. A trainer with a dwebble gives Shroomish his first challenge, the Rock/Bug pokemon eating the leech seeds and going into its shell to avoid the stun spores, all the while inching closer and closer while Blue tries to direct his pokemon’s waddling retreat.

Once his shroomish gets backed into a corner, Blue’s calm gets tinged with worry, and he switches Shroomish for Squirtle. If it likes to hide in its shell so much, I’ll drown it in the damn thing. As soon as the Water type comes out however, the opposing trainer withdraws his pokemon and declares Blue the victor.

Blue rubs some sweat from the back of his neck. It’s a bit frustrating to have the battle called so abruptly, almost like he’s being cheated out of showing what he’s capable of, but for once he’s glad of it. He wants to preserve Squirtle’s water as long as possible, and generally avoid his pokemon getting tired out. It’s been almost two hours since his first battle, and the adrenaline of each fight is starting to tire him out once it wears off.

He brings Shroomish back out to give it the once over. The mushroom pokemon’s edges are drooping, its movements sluggish. Blue opens his bag and takes some food out for it, frowning slightly. Food and potions can only go so far: his shroomish has maybe another few minutes of fight time left before the exhaustion starts to really show.

Its leech seed supply is running low too. He counted eighteen seeds used, out of the roughly thirty the average shroomish stores. He’ll have to get a full count at some point…

The next trainer comes out, and this one Blue recognizes: it’s Jarod, the gym’s Third in command. The trainer is in his late 20s, with spiky orange hair and a thin scar that stands out against his dark skin. It stretches from ear to ear across his cheeks and nose, splitting his face almost evenly across the middle.

Blue stands, brow raised. “Already?”

“Brock said to keep an eye out for you. It’s clear that any more of the same would just be wasting time.” Jarod unclips a greatball as he walks to his platform.

Blue eyes the ball warily as he walks around to his. “Works for me. So what’s the deal? Another quick test?”

Jarod smiles, and casually tosses the ball forward. It spits out a graveler in a flash of light. “First knockout.”

Blue smiles back. Things are finally getting serious. “Leech Seed!”

“Graveler, Rollout.”

A jolt goes up Blue’s spine as the graveler pitches itself forward with its thick legs and arms, dodging the seeds that arc toward it and rolling toward his shroomish. “Shroomish dodge!” He yells, and his pokemon thrusts itself haphazardly to the side, luckily in the right direction to barely avoid the oncoming mass of living stone. The graveler rolls past and strikes a boulder close to the edge of the arena, ricocheting off and catching itself on its hands and feet before launching forward again.

Blue doesn’t give it another chance, pokeballs already in hand. “Shroomish, return!” So that’s the game, is it? His shroomish can’t dodge forever, and it would be hard for leech seeds or other status impairments to hit the graveler while it was moving like that. Even if one landed, it would take awhile to wear the large pokemon down. With that much weight and strength behind the enemy’s roll, his squishy shroomish couldn’t afford to risk a single hit.

Which means he needs something tougher. “Go, Squirtle!” His pokemon appears on all fours, looking around curiously until it spots the graveler. “Bubble!” he shouts just as Jarod yells “Rollout!”

The turtle sucks in a deep breath, then coughs out a stream of bubbles that float toward the onrushing graveler. “Withdraw!” Blue says, and his pokemon ducks into her shell. The graveler rolls straight into the bubbles just as they begin to lose their forward momentum and drift downward, and upon touching each a loud bang is heard, accompanied by a flash of light.

The rock pokemon didn’t achieve much speed yet when it hit the bubbles, and they knock it slightly to the side. Squirtle takes a glancing hit and bounces up against a rock before uncurling from her shell and returning to a ready position.

The graveler also reorients itself, light discolorations on its rocky skin where mist from the bubbles hit. It growls in irritation more than pain, and prepares to launch forward again. Blue quickly yells “Water Gun,” but Jarod says “Defense Curl” and his graveler huddles down on the ground, protecting its face so that only its back is hit. The pokemon’s stone skin turns white and cracks in numerous places from the water, but when its trainer commands it to Rollout again it does so without apparent difficulty, and Blue counters with another Bubble and Withdraw.

Squirtle bounces against two rocks this time before fetching up alongside the edge of the stadium. To his relief she still seems unharmed when she emerges from her shell, and he absently wipes some sweat above his eye as he watches the graveler careen around the other side of the stadium. With its water allergy (shut up Red, no one cares if it’s “not an ‘actual’ allergy”) a direct blast to the graveler’s face would be a one-hit-knockout. Until he can get a clear shot, Bubble will at least slow it down with minimal water use… but he doesn’t know how much longer squirtle can avoid a serious injury, and there’s another way he can slow it down too.

Graveler’s not just a Rock type, but also Ground because of its reliance on being in its element… and Squirtle’s water counters that too.

Graveler comes at his pokemon again and again, and each time Blue’s pokemon is knocked around, he keeps a careful eye on its surroundings. Finally the turtle lands in an area near the middle mostly devoid of rocks, and the Graveler prepares itself to rollout again.

“Squirtle, Soak!”

His pokemon hesitates a moment, not having a target in front of it, then belches a brief flood of water onto the ground, drenching the soil in a spreading circle. The graveler launches itself forward just as Jarod yells “Graveller, stop!”

The boulder pokemon tries to halt itself, too late. Its momentum carries it forward another few revolutions, just enough to get it well and truly stuck in the patch of mud, its weight too much for its stubby arms and legs to pull itself out. Blue was prepared to command his squirtle to withdraw in case it made it through, but he’ll never get a cleaner shot than now. “Squirtle, Water G-!”

The graveler is caught in a beam of light and disappears back into its ball. Jarod bounces it in his palm with a thoughtful look on his face. “Took you longer than I expected to think of that.”

Blue scowls as he withdraws his squirtle. “I waited for a good position.”

“The starting position was perfect for it.”

He’s right. Squirtle began the fight in a part of the arena similar to where it ended. “I was taken by surprise at first.”

“Right. Which is why I said you took longer than I expected.”

Blue feels heat brush through his chest, and takes a moment to keep his voice calm. “Well you were a bit slow on your reaction, for someone that saw it coming.”

“Not really. My pokemon began moving just as you did it, so my command wouldn’t have stopped it in time anyway.” Jarod’s voice is mild, his gaze locked on Blue’s from across the arena. “So you didn’t time it that way on purpose? Lucky you.”

“Lucky?” Blue’s laugh is sharp. “If that’s what you want to call your screw up. If you didn’t slow your pokemon down it might have made it through. The mud would have stuck to it, hurt it plenty, but you good as killed it.”

“That looked like your idea actually, if I hadn’t returned it in time.”

“You said to first knock out! I didn’t know you considered the fight over!”

“It should have been obvious that the fight was over. But I guess I’m forgetting you’re still a novice.”

“Oh that’s crap! One more Water Gun wouldn’t have killed your graveler, and the damn thing would have crushed my shroomish like a Bug type if it hadn’t dodged in ti-you think that’s funny?”

Jarod’s laughter stops, but he’s still grinning, face transformed from its earlier calm. Blue can feel his pulse in his temples, and takes long, deep breaths as his rage burns through him.

“If you want to train under Brock,” Jarod says conversationally, “You need to develop thicker skin.”

“And you need to learn how to accept a loss,” Blue spits back. “How did someone like you make Third?” Even as he’s saying it, the realization strikes that Jarod’s been baiting him, and it only makes him madder.

Jarod cocks his head, still smiling. “You think you’re a better trainer than me?”

“I know I am, or I wouldn’t be here. Is this the part where you pull out your real pokemon and make it fight my squirtle?”

“Would you accept such a challenge?” Jarod asks, sounding genuinely curious.

You bet I would almost makes it past his lips, but he bites them to stop it. The Third’s personal pokemon would crush him. He knows that, and he can’t put his pokemon in such a risk just for his pride. “Give me a month, and I’ll take you up on that.”

“A month,” Jarod says, voice flat. “That’s not even enough time for your squirtle to evolve.”

Probably not, but it might be enough to train his shiftry… “Is that a no?”

Jarod stares at him for a moment, and then cracks a smile. “Sure, why not. One pokemon, first knockout.”

Blue’s grin is savage. “You’re on.”

Jarod tips a salute and turns for the door.

Blue lets out a breath and wonders how long he has until the next trainer comes out. He summons Squirtle and takes out his water bottle, letting her drink it all down as he sprays her with the rest of his potion. Her battle wasn’t long, but it was hard on her, leaving visible scratches on her shell and her skin dry. He picks her up and takes her down to the mud she made, letting her play around in it for awhile to soak back up some of the water she lost. He grins as she burrows slightly underneath and pokes her head out to look up at him.

For the first time since starting, he considers taking his pokemon to a center to heal up and rest. He could do it… it wouldn’t cost him any progress from his earlier victories. But it would cost him time, since he can’t be sure when the next trainers up in the ranks will be ready for him. It might not be until tomorrow. It might not be until even later.

The quicker he gets his badge, the more his legend will grow. No way is he going to call it quits after his first actual match of any challenge.

Blue summons Shroomish so both pokemon can catch a breather in meatspace. He sits down and rests his hand on his shroomish’s dome as it dozes. Squirtle crawls over his legs and gets mud all over his pants, and he takes out some seaweed crisps to feed her.

He wonders how Red and Leaf are doing. He pulls out his phone he sees a text from Red from about an hour ago. His fingers hover over the screen to respond, then withdraw as he puts the phone away. The mood is too relaxing to break with a chat right now. He closes his eyes and leans his head back as his squirtle curls up next to him.

Sometime later, the door opens again. He gets to his feet and withdraws his pokemon, then sucks in a sharp breath.

Sharzad, Second Leader of the Pewter Gym, is mounting her platform. She smiles down at him, one hand resting on a ball at her hip.

“Expecting someone else?”

“Sort of.” He thought he’d passed some marker, gone on to the next level of Gym members. Instead he’s facing the Second now? Does that mean… “If I beat you, is Brock next?”

She grins. “Depends on how you beat me. This hasn’t been a binary evaluation, even from the start.”

Blue nods slowly. He knows every gym operates a bit differently in how they organize their internal structure and deal with challenges. There’s also talk that each Gym Leader looks for different qualities in trainers… things that they believe are most important to being a master.

It’s not hard to guess what Brock, master of Rock pokemon, might think is the best quality. Something that revolves around his favored type’s strengths. You need to be patient when you run a defensive strategy.

Is that why he’s been rising up the ranks so quickly? Is he showing strong patience? It’s not a quality he’d normally assign to himself, but maybe it’s true for pokemon battles. He was using a slow and steady strategy after all. And they definitely have the room recorded: maybe he was being watched between matches, to see if he’d grow restless or not use his time well.

Blue smiles as he mounts his platform. Patience. Yeah, he has that when he needs it. A true pokemon master and Champion needs every positive trait, and it’s good to have acknowledgement of his potential so soon.

“Ready?” Sharzad asks, shaking her long dark hair back and slipping a band around it.

“Single knockout again?”

“Nope. Full lineup.”

Blue’s fingers tap Squirtle’s ball at his hip. In this kind of battle, only having three pokemon is a huge handicap… but he only sees one at her hip. “Alright.”

She unclips her ball and tosses it. “Go, Tala!”

A flash of light, and Blue’s heart sinks as a cradily appears. One of the resurrected ancient pokemon, the rock skinned plant pokemon is the perfect counter to his team. He knew Sharzad favors its family, but he didn’t think she’d use one against him. The Rock/Grass type would have an equal defensive advantage against all three of his pokemon, but still have an advantage offensively against Squirtle with its Grass attacks, and could knock Zephyr out of the sky with rocks. That leaves Shroomish, but the cradily would be immune or counteract the mushroom’s spores and seeds, and without those he has no edge. Meanwhile the cradily can produce acids and toxins that Shroomish can’t risk being exposed to.

He’s so screwed.

And yet instead of feeling angry or frustrated…. he feels the calm of the battle cloaking him again. This is just another step. Just another challenge on the way to Champion, and no one, no one, is as deserving of that title as he is.

He can win this. Winning is what he does.

Cradily’s weakness is its immobility. Its suction cups can attach to almost any surface, but they’re currently sticking it in place on the arena floor, where it’s also spreading down roots to feed through. The rocks around it are a dangerous resource at its disposal, but they’re still a resource. Blue can assault it like a fortress, attack it from below and above after starving it out.

“Ready whenever you are!” Sharzad calls out gaily, and Blue’s hand unclips and flings out a ball in one fluid motion.

“Go, Shroomish!”

His pokemon appears, and Pewter’s Second doesn’t waste a second. “Tala, Rock Slide!”

Vines thick as Blue’s leg punch into the dirt and begin to heave. The ground of the arena shifts as it rakes up and flings a dozen small boulders.

“Shroomish, dodge!” They spray the field in an arc of noisy collisions, and his pokemon barely gets out of the way on time. “Shroomish, Leech Seed!”

The seeds are shot out, and Sharzad’s pokemon ignores them, acids on its flower petals quickly overcoming the seeds and killing them before they can grow. As predicted.

Unlike the dwebble though, the cradily doesn’t recognize the seeds that failed to wrap around it as food, and those that survive drop to the ground and begin to take root. The soil is too dry and lifeless for them to grow much, but some pale green vines creep out.

“Rock Slide!”

“Dodge! Leech Seed!”

“Rock Slide!”

“Leech Seed!”

Patience. That’s the key to fighting the strength of the earth itself. You’ve got to have patience. Thankfully, plants and water also have patience: patience enough for their roots to split stones, for their waves to wear them smooth over thousands of years.

“Rock Slide!” Sharzad yells, and this time one of the rocks hit his shroomish and knocks it back.

Blue watches, heart in his throat, as his pokemon slowly gets back to its feet. It seems to walk alright (though it’s hard to tell with its waddling gait), and Blue and Sharzad exchange a look, then a nod. Injured, but still good to fight.

Still, the idea that her pokemon is gathering more ammunition below the surface, and maybe even began before their match officially started, makes this plan much more risky. How far can it reach, exactly?

Blue feels worry thread through his shoulders and brow in rigid lines as he considers the possibilities. If he can’t cut it off… but the battle calm won’t allow for second guessing his plan at this point. It’s the only chance he has, the only path to victory. He has to see it through.

“Shroomish, Leech Seed!”

“Tala, Rock Slide!”

This one hits again, and sooner than he’d like, he has to withdraw his pokemon. The dirt around the cradily is carpeted with growing, interwoven vines, but he could have gotten a few more seeds off before running out… “Go, Squirtle!”

“Tala, Rock Slide!”

“Squirtle, Withdraw!”

His pokemon hides in her shell as the rocks hit, then emerges. There are new scrapes on her shell, but she seems unhurt. Blue grins. “Good girl!”

Sharzad crosses her arms over her torso, eyebrows raised. “A Water type? I’ve been curious about your plan, and I can’t wait to see where you’re going with this. Tala, Rock Slide!”

“Squirtle, Withdraw!” Fortunate for him, the ancient pokemon doesn’t produce Leech Seeds, and the rest of its Grass attacks are close range. Unfortunate for him, Blue needs to get close to use Soak, his most effective way to spread water. He’ll have to do what he can at a distance.

“Squirtle, Water Gun!”

The burst of water hits the cradily with no apparent effect, its rocky portions not affected the same way other Rock pokemon are. It might even be benefiting from the water, drinking it in, but that’s fine: what he cares about is the water that hits the ground by it, quickly getting soaked up by the ever growing vines of Shroomish’s leech seeds.

“What’s this? Trying to raise a dangerous garden around her?”

Blue doesn’t ask how she knows her pokemon’s gender, focusing instead on Squirtle’s timing to withdraw or try and dodge the next few oncoming attacks.

Soon an almost solid green carpet is spread around the cradily, though none are touching it: every time its vines try to curl around the pokemon’s trunk, it releases an acidic sheen to kill them off. Blue doesn’t command Squirtle to keep attacking: it’s time to focus on the defensive.

Sweat plasters Blue’s shirt to his skin, his eyes unblinking on the arena as he watches for every little twitch the enemy pokemon makes that might betray another attack. Sharzad has largely stopped commanding her pokemon, and it continues to occasionally fling or roll or tumble rocks at his squirtle. The arena is looking almost completely different now, with a wide spread of rocks in various sizes against the wall and in an arc from the cradily.

And finally, it happens: a hesitation. A pause, as Blue’s pokemon stands ready and defiant despite being hit twice more, and the plant pokemon stares back, vines still stretched below the much overturned and pilfered through soil.

“Tala, Energy Ball!”

Now.

“Squirtle, return! Go, Zephyr!”

His pidgey soars through the air with chirps of joy as cradily begins gathering motes of green light. The Energy Ball floats forward, a green mass of light that almost seems to swarm within itself. It peters out and dissolves into little bits the farther it goes, and eventually fades away long before it reaches his pidgey. When Zephyr spots the pokemon that’s facing its trainer, it soars down to perch on his shoulder. Blue smiles and strokes its feathers. It was good to see him flying. After his battle with the shiftry, Blue worried that he never would again.

Blue raises the whistle to his lips and points forward with his other hand. “Zephyr, Wing Attack!”

His pokemon launches itself with a flap of wings that cools his skin. It soars at the enemy with a battle cry, buffeting and slashing at its exposed plant parts.

“Tala, Smack Down!”

Her pokemon tries, its vines writhing beneath the ground as best it can with all the leech seed clogging and guarding the easy paths down. Or maybe it’s just simply out of rocks, as he hoped.

“Tala, Acid!”

One short blast on his whistle, and his pokemon dodges up.

“Tala, Mega Drain!”

Two short blasts to back off. Zephyr is able to harass and attack Sharzad’s pokemon almost without fear, dodging or gaining altitude to avoid whatever attacks do come his way. Meanwhile the cradily is getting badly torn up, and all the leech vines spread around it are cutting off its ability to draw more nutrients from the ground to heal itself.

It’s done. Victory is a heady rush, and Blue grins as Zephyr dives in and tears off another of the cradily’s long pink tentacle-petals, leaving it with one left. A moment later Sharzad withdraws her pokemon with a crooked smile. “Good match.”

Blue withdraws his pidgey, then feels like collapsing back down from relief, unaware of how much tension he was holding in. Instead he takes a deep breath and smiles back. “You too. So, did I pass?”

“Faced with a major type and experience disadvantage, you managed to restrict and starve out my pokemon’s attacks before launching an effective counter strike. I’d say that’s a yes.”

Blue grins and clips his ball. “Should I wait here for him?”

She laughs. “What are you, nuts? You’re not fighting Brock in a dingy place like this. Besides, the area’s a mess.” She’s not wrong: the tossed rocks, the mud pile, the interwoven mat of leech seeds… “And you shouldn’t be fighting him at all without resting up and doing some training, but if you insist, I’ll show you the waiting room for the main stadium. In the meanwhile, it’s time for you to get your pokemon healed. It’s impressive that you did all this in one go, but I don’t want you losing to Brock at anything but your best.”

The words main stadium are still ringing in his head, and he follows her out the door. “To be honest I kind of expected another test of some kind. Like, sitting there for an hour straight until he was available.”

Sharzad tosses her hair over a shoulder to give him an odd look. “Why would we do that?”

“You know, to test my patience. I guess I demonstrated it enough though, huh?” She’s staring blankly at him. “The trait Gym Leaders value? It’s patience for Brock, isn’t it? That’s why you guys let me challenge you so quickly?”

The gym’s Second laughs, the sound bouncing off its stone corridors. “Oh, no, that’s not Brock’s virtue at all. We didn’t even consider that when reviewing your matches.”

Blue feels heat rising in his cheeks. “But… then what-”

“It’s kind of the opposite, in fact. Patience on its own can be useful, but too much is a bad thing. As Rock trainers, we know that giving our opponents too much time will let them circumvent our defenses.” She gives him a lopsided grin. “Someone with patience would probably have more pokemon before challenging a Gym Leader.”

Blue’s flush spreads, and he fights down the argue how patient he was being. She doesn’t understand what he’s trying to accomplish. Besides, whatever this other trait is he clearly has that. “So what does Brock value?”

“Knowing when to strike decisively. Knowing when to take a risk, rather than waiting forever and playing it safe. If you’re always waiting for the perfect moment… sometimes, that can cost you everything.” Sharzad’s gaze is distant, tone soft, and Blue gets the feeling she’s thinking about something more personal than pokemon battles. “Sometimes the strongest play you can make is the one with the highest risk. And a true master knows when those situations are, and commits to them mind, body and soul.”

Chapter 21: Sample Bias

The Pewter Museum of Paleontology is one of the city’s crown jewels, almost as massive as its gym. It’s situated to the far north of Pewter, where the slopes of the surrounding mountains are traced with roads and pockmarked with mansions of the city’s most wealthy inhabitants. In the deepening twilight, Red watches through the cab’s window as the museum’s external lights suddenly turn on and highlight it, so that it’s visible from miles away.

He gently massages his right arm, morbidly drawn to feeling the muted tenderness deep within it. He was released from the hospital just an hour ago, and texted the others to let them know. Blue didn’t respond, but Leaf said she was still at the museum, so after stopping by the pokemon center Red used some of his swiftly dwindling funds to take a cab there.

As he waits, Red goes over his finances. The new week is coming soon, which means he’ll be able to take out another $100 from his savings of $2,148. His mom deposits a portion of his dad’s pension into it every month, adding another five hundred or so. He did some heavy spending to get ready for the journey, but now he’s hoping to live a bit frugally to start building his savings some more.

The problem is new opportunities to spend keep popping up, like paying Psychic Narud to help with his research, let alone any lessons. At times like this the weekly allowance limit is grating, but he knows that one of the best ways to exercising self control is to have such artificial limits until they become habitual.

The best solution he can think of is to apply to a research institution for funding. He has to preregister his hypothesis and research methodology anyway, so putting in some more work for an application to some places might be worthwhile. But at this point he’s not particularly sure his original hypothesis is even worth testing anymore.

When Red met Psychic Laurie and explained the situation, the doctor grumbled and muttered to himself a bit as he felt around in Red’s mind, much the same way Narud had. Even prepared for the sensation this time it was still disconcerting, and Red was relieved when the doctor finished, even though he simply confirmed Narud’s estimation and left to see his next patient without another word.

With his spinarak’s attack confirmed as a ghost move instead of a psychic one, his own supposed psychic trauma could explain why it was so strong against him. But it doesn’t exclude the possibility that it was still an abnormally strong attack paired with a particularly vulnerable target. The high concentration of “Other” that his pokedex detected in his spinarak might still be a significant indication of powerful ability.

It’s a thin thread, and seeming thinner all the time. Still, the experiment might be worth running regardless: for the personal experience, yes, but also for the field as a whole. A null finding is still important, so that anyone else who has a similar hypothesis can look back and see his research found no correlation. Such failures are integral for the pursuit of science to march on.

Red sighs. It just sucks to be the one to eat the cost of it, this time.

The taxi pulls up to the front of the museum, and Red hands the cabbie a twenty before stepping out into the night, tucking away his three dollars of change. It’s just his imagination that his wallet feels lighter, surely…

Red begins to climb the right side of the steps toward the museum entrance. An irregular stream of people walk down the left, mostly younger kids with their parents. About halfway up there’s a huge recess in the staircase, with a bronze statue of an aerodactyl skeleton on a podium. Red smiles as he watches a girl of about 5 reach up to grasp the last bone of its long tail, only to be shoo’d away by her father.

Red reaches the top and pushes through the glass doors, into the wide and well lit lobby. His eyes are drawn up to the dome above him, which has been painted to look like an overhead view of an excavation site, with people working to unearth some unidentified skeleton. Red hasn’t been to the museum since he was the little girl’s age, but he remembers the sense of wonder it evoked. He knows it’s had a lot of renovations and new exhibits since he was last here, and an echo of that wonder returns as he heads toward the ticket stalls.

“One please,” he says, and slides over another five. 43… He forces a smile at the receptionist and enters the museum proper, trying to shake worries of his diminishing cash for awhile and enjoy himself. After the past few days, he figures he deserves it.

The museum is a honeycomb of interconnected sections, each chamber focusing on a different topic. Red starts by entering a long, looping hall, its outside wall showing different strata of earth with pictures and descriptions of the fossils that have been found in each. Occasionally a sample will be on display in a plastic box sticking out of the wall, and Red stops around the middle of the 64-66 million year stratum to admire the perfectly preserved skull of a baby tyrunt, each tooth the size of his fingernails.

The inside wall of the curving hall opens into different rooms that further explore the time period it’s across from. The earlier rooms each cover shorter periods of time, but once it gets far enough back, it’s not uncommon to see tens of millions of years lumped into one room. Red goes into one of the last ones, which is between the 350 million and 400 million year stratum. It’s designed to look like it’s underwater, with blue tinted lights and bubbling aquariums, to fit with all the fossils here being from aquatic creatures. A relicanth swims lazily in a tank set in the far wall, ignoring the two kids that are tapping on the glass to get its attention.

Red’s phone buzzes, and he sees a message from Leaf asking where he is. After he responds, he wanders over to one of the walls with a lot of writing on it.

From here on back in the fossil record, we find nothing but aquatic creatures. This isn’t an accident! The ocean is considered by many to be the source of the first lifeforms: did you know that there are more Water pokemon than any other type? Some scientists believe that hot ocean vents created the perfect environment for the first organisms to form. Whether that’s true or not, current evidence indicates that land creatures didn’t show up until far after aquatic ones, and the earliest specimen show many of their same features. Whether the result of natural processes or some intelligent creator, the ocean is one of the most fertile grounds for discovering secrets of the potential origin of life on earth, and clues to the origin of species.

Under the writing there’s a progression of different skeletons, each vaguely less fishy than the last, with the age marked next to each. Red moves on to the next wall, which shows specimen from this time period.

He stares at a sectioned omanyte’s shell, admiring the polished gleam of each chamber and smooth geometry of the septa’s curvature. The origin of species… it’s not hard to imagine some intelligent creator when looking at things like this. Pokemon like klink and magnemite seem far too organized to have just popped into existence on their own. Far easier to grasp the idea of a purposeful creator than the sheer, mind boggling mathematical odds of pseudo-random natural processes forming such complex, working organisms.

But you can’t just look at one thing and draw conclusions from that. Avoiding such sample bias is fundamental to science. You can support any conclusion you want if you only look at examples that fit your hypothesis.

If you examine one species in a vacuum, like omanyte, it might make sense to believe it was designed by some intelligent creator that values beauty. But if such a creator exists, they’re terribly inconsistent in exhibiting that value.

Yes, the omanyte’s shell is beautiful, by many human standards of beauty anyway. But what about a vertebrate’s skeleton? Not particularly considered beautiful. Or the chitinous form of insects, which many like himself find outright repulsive?

So if beauty isn’t a recurring theme in nature, then maybe some other value was prioritized. The beauty of the omanyte’s shell compared to the chitinous form of a spinarak might be subjective, but order is fairly objective. Life may not all be beautiful, but perhaps an argument could be made that it’s organized? Klink are living beings made of moving gears. Surely that’s the fingerprint of an organized creator?

Red snorts. Voltorb, another pokemon that came into existence more recently, are so volatile that they often live short, fairly pointless lives before exploding, without even attempts at reproduction. The route of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in non-fish vertebrate travels from the brain to the larynx by looping around the aortic arch. In adult giraffarig, that means about twenty feet of extra nerve, a particularly wasteful and pointless design, the result of chaos, not order…

Or maybe expecting gods to follow human concepts like reason and consistency is mistaken on its own, and there are multiple who care about different things, or just one that has no unified or consistent methodology. In which case, trying to understand them would be worse than useless.

But anyone could cloud any idea in contradictory or inconsistent aspects to shield it from logical examination. Not being able to understand something doesn’t affect its potential truth value at all, nor justify believing in it.

Red yawns and leans against the exhibit, surprised at how weary he is after spending so much time in bed lately. Maybe it had something to do with his psychic experience earlier. He wonders if he should tell Leaf about it right away, or wait until Blue’s around too…

The bubbling of the water tanks and the chatter of the museum visitors makes for a soothing background noise, and he rests his forehead against the cool glass of the exhibit, feeling oddly detached from himself. As the dozens of voices buzz around him, Red admires the path of the helix spiral from an inch away, musing over whether the clue to some god lies somewhere in its curves, perhaps one of order and chaos, his gaze following the loops up right down left, up right down left, up right down left…

“Red!”

He turns and sees Leaf jogging toward him with a wide grin. “It’s good to see you up and about! Isn’t this place great? Come on, you’ve got to see this new exhibit that’s going up.” She grabs his left arm and begins to pull him past the rest of the aquatic fossils section. “I’ve been talking to the researcher in charge of it, and it looks fascinating, especially since we’ll be passing by Mount Moon soon.”

Red lets her drag him along as his senses return. “What’s it about?”

“Another explanation for the possible origin of life!” She waggles her other hand’s fingers, voice deepening. “Frooom spaaaace!”

Red grins. “Radiopanspermia? I thought that was proven unlikely: any bacteria that can travel by radiation pressure would be too small to survive in space without protection. Also what does it have to do with paleontology?”

“Not radiopanspermia, lithopanspermia.” They’ve exit the strata tunnel, and Leaf lets go of his hand as they walk together toward the back of the museum, past the artificial indoor dig site and theater room. “The bacteria hitches a ride on or in meteorites.”

“So not from space then: from another planet and then through space. What bacteria can survive in space? And planetary re-entry?”

“Cyanobacteria have been shown to do the first but not the second, but non-photosynthetic organisms deep within rocks to protect them have a chance to survive the exit and entry process.”

Red’s brow rises. “This has been tested?”

Leaf grins. “That’s what the exhibit is for. Many of the conditions were simulated of course, but it seems possible.”

They reach a doorway with a Coming Attraction banner over it, where a splashy cardboard graphic showing a meteor strike advertises the new exhibit. Red slows down, but Leaf walks around it and through the doorway.

“Uh, Leaf…?”

“Come on back, it’s okay!”

Red follows her, and they emerge in a half finished showroom. Most of the floor is still bare and empty, and the walls are bright with a recent coat of paint. A worker is at the top of a ladder installing some lights, and two more are pulling things out of a Container box while a fourth puts the lid back on his and withdraws it into its ball.

Leaf leads him to the side through another door, and this room is clearly much closer to being done. It looks like a small lab, with a focus on equipment and samples. An older woman is testing an unusually large and wide centrifuge on the far side of the room, her grey hair tied back in a ponytail as she peers through her glasses at the spinning machine. She’s dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and flip-flops, and when Leaf and Red approach she looks up with a smile.

“You must be Red.” She holds out her hand. “I’m Dr. Brenner.”

He shakes it, marveling anew at how normal his arm feels. “Red Verres. What’s your field of study, Dr. Brenner?”

“Officially it’s microbiology, but lately I’ve been branching out.” She pats the edge of the centrifuge. “Lately I’ve been studying astrophysics more. It’s fascinating stuff.”

Red nods. Like math, he finds studying physics more pragmatic than fascinating, but that might just be because he’s not as good at it as he’d like to be. “We’re not interrupting anything, are we?”

“Oh, no, not at all, I’m glad for the company.” She shuts off the centrifuge, and they watch it slow to a stop. She takes empty beakers out and puts them aside. “I’m just testing the equipment before the grand opening. Would you like the not-so-grand pre-opening tour?”

“Sure. I know the basics, but I’m curious to know what you’ve got on display here.”

Leaf stays behind to read the info-placard by the centrifuge as Red follows Dr. Brenner around the lab. “Well, there are a number of aspects to lithopanspermia that needed to be verified for the hypothesis to stay viable. First off, microbial life would need to be capable of surviving the stress of planetary ejection, that is, the gravitational pressure of escape velocity.”

“Is that what the centrifuge was for?”

“Exactly. The next is survival in transit: being able to survive the vacuum of space, and the bombardment of radiation.” They approach a table with a vacuum tube on it. “Nonfunctional, of course,” Dr. Brenner says, tapping the glass. “But simulating space to test different bacteria’s resilience has led to some interesting discoveries with extremophiles. And last is atmospheric re-entry.” They move on an empty part of the room. “Which we test with-”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Red says. “This is all really interesting, but if you don’t mind me saying so, even with experimental tests to ensure it’s possible, isn’t it still too speculative to warrant its own exhibit?”

Dr. Brenner laughs, a full, rich sound that makes Red smile despite a stab of irritation. It was a serious question.

When she finishes though, she’s shaking her head. “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you, I promise. Leaf told me you worked at Oak’s lab, and here I was still treating you like a tourist.” She walks back toward Leaf, and Red follows. “Ah, the clarity of youth. And so polite about it! No, I don’t mind you saying so, especially since I raised the same objection myself. That’s partly why I invited Leaf back here to chat after overhearing her interviewing some of the museum guests.”

Red turns to Leaf. “Interviewing is a strong word,” she says with a smile. “I was just curious to know what they thought of the museum’s exhibits. I’ve been here all day, and saw some very mixed reactions.”

“Like what?”

“Well, there were a few who-”

“Why not read from your review of the museum?” Dr. Brenner says. “It was quite evocative.”

Leaf’s cheeks flush. “That’s nice of you to say, but it’s just a rough draft.”

“You wrote a review?” Red asks, brow raised. “I’d love to hear it.”

She hesitates a moment, then takes a tablet out of her bag and taps a few times on the screen. Leaf clears her throat, then reads, “‘The children were fascinated, wide eyed with wonder as they raced from one exhibit to the next, their energy often too much for the parents that trailed behind. It wasn’t hard to see why: though paleontology is often lumped in with geology as the ‘mere’ study of rocks, Pewter’s Museum of Science clearly spared little expense to bring such a potentially dry field to life’… mmm…. hang on, I went on a bit describing the place… ah, here: ‘the impact of which were most evident on their parents. Some were bemused, others curious or thoughtful. But many looked irritated, shocked, or even angry. It wasn’t long before a pattern emerged: the exhibits that discussed evidence and hypotheses on the origins of life were the most troublesome. When asked about their thoughts on the museum, the responses were fairly similar: an admiration of the production value of the exhibits, but a concern for the accuracy of the subject matter.'”

Leaf pauses, looks up at them, then closes the tablet and tucks it away. “That’s, uh, the main point. It was interesting to see so many people react so strongly to the idea that life originated in the ocean, as if they didn’t expect to see something that challenged their views so much.”

“Is it really that widespread?” Red scratches his hair beneath his hat. “I mean, this isn’t really new knowledge.”

Dr. Brenner smiles. “I think you may have an exaggerated view of just how old and widespread it is. You’re both young: things that were discovered even as little as a decade ago seem like common knowledge, simply because you’ve known of them your whole lives. And you were raised in very educated circles.”

Red frowns. He had a few friends and acquaintances in Pallet Town that weren’t connected to the lab or any scientific field… some were even adults, like his dad’s old friends among the nearby Rangers. But he can’t remember ever really talking to them about things like this. It’s possible, even probable, that his perception of what’s normal is skewed by the company he kept.

“A lot of the people I spoke to were residents of Pewter though,” Leaf says. “Shouldn’t they be a bit less surprised?”

“Ah, well, the museum’s undergone a lot of changes lately. The more we learn the better it refines its exhibits, and the ones that are upsetting people… well, they’re generally newer.” She takes off her glasses and wipes at the lens, frowning down at them.

“Is that why you raised objections?” Leaf asks. “Do you think this one’s going to upset people too?”

Dr. Brenner looks at her in surprise, then smiles and puts her glasses back on, beginning to walk around the lab. They follow her as she starts checking over the various equipment that’s set up. “There were politics involved. I wasn’t always working with the museum, I’m fairly new here, actually, but Pewter has always had a bit of a conflict at its heart when it comes to the science it specializes in and the beliefs of its people.”

Leaf nods. “From what I heard, the main spiritual beliefs of residents hold that the first people came from stone, and that the original beings that survived were mostly rock type creatures.”

“Exactly. Ever since we became capable of reviving extinct species from fossils, many were able to reconcile the new information with those beliefs, and they seemed justified, since every revived pokemon is part rock-type. But we’ve always been unsure if that was just a side effect of the resurrection process. Even if the original creatures might have really been what we manage to create in a lab, others who focus on more than surface facts notice how little the rest of the evidence matches the creation stories.”

“What about the tourists?” Red says.

“Most have their own beliefs, some of which are pretty compatible with the fossil record. But Mayor Kitto and his predecessors, along with the city legislature, always used to put a lot of pressure on the museum board to keep the controversial exhibits from opening.”

Leaf’s brow furrows. “That’s terrible!”

Dr. Brenner grins at her indignation. “Ostensibly it was to ensure the accuracy of the data, and to keep the peace in the city. To be fair, there’s certainly been a lot of complaints in the past year, and it’s been getting worse.”

Red frowns. Public indignation isn’t a justification for suppressing the truth. He supposes he might feel differently if people storm the museum and burn it down, but that seems unlikely. “What changed?” Red asks. “Why did the museum decide to shift course?”

She shrugs. “I wasn’t in the board meetings, heck, I wasn’t even working here at the time. I don’t know what the deciding factor was. But there are always rumors. I’ve heard the mayor’s the one that had a change of heart, told the museum’s board behind closed doors to open whatever new exhibits they wanted.”

“So when you said politics, you meant it literally,” Leaf says. “What does he get out of it?” Red is struck by his friend’s intensity, and he can’t quite place why it feel so familiar until he realizes she reminds him of his mom when chasing down a story.

Dr. Brenner examines a microscope, peering through the lens and adjusting it. The slides nearby are labeled bacillus subtilis. A poster on the wall has a grid with columns labelled Low Earth Orbit, Planetary Ejection, Atmospheric Re-entry, and Simulated Conditions, and bacillus subtilis has checkmarks across the board. “My best guess?”

“And your second best, if you have one.”

She smiles. “Leader Brock isn’t happy about it. Considering Mayor Kitto isn’t an idiot, I’m assuming that was either the intended result, or an understood cost. I think it’s possible that the real pressure has been from the Gym this whole time, and the mayor is starting to push back.”

Leaf whistles quietly. “Power struggles between mayors and leaders seldom end well.”

“At least the museum gets to show whatever it wants now,” Red says. “Brock has no business telling it what to put on display.” Red tries to imagine someone telling the Pallet Lab what it can and can’t study and fails. He’s suddenly glad he never had to worry about the opinions of a popular but uninformed leader, and hopes Pallet doesn’t get a Gym anytime soon.

Leader Brock,” Dr Brenner says, the slightest of emphasis on the title, “Has always done what he thinks is best for our city. I disagree with his perspective, of course, but as far as I know he hasn’t made any ultimatums or commands. In the end, this exhibit is a sort of compromise.”

“How so?”

“Well, recent excavations of meteorite impact sites in Mount Moon found fossils, not just of pokemon but also microbes. There’s some debate over whether they were actually in the meteorites when they landed, and are therefore extraterrestrial, or if they’re from earth.”

“IIIIInteresting,” Red says, rubbing his jaw. People have thought clefairy and jigglypuff came from space for ages… this evidence would do even more to support that theory. “And if it’s proven that life came from rocks in the sky, that goes a long way toward supporting the idea that Pewter’s spiritual beliefs are at least metaphorically correct after all.”

“Exactly. So is it a bit premature compared to some of the other exhibits here? Sure. But speculative as it is, I plan to focus it on the science we have available, which is sound.”

Leaf smiles. “I’m looking forward to coming back when it’s finished.”

Dr. Brenner’s phone buzzes, and she checks the screen before tucking it away. “Sorry to say, I’ve got a prior engagement to go to.”

Leaf is already heading toward the exit, and Red follows her. “That’s okay, we’ve taken up enough of your time.”

The microbiologist laughs as she sees them out of the exhibit. “Not at all, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Are you leaving Pewter soon?”

Red nods. “We might stay for a few days, maybe a week, depending on how long it takes for our friend Blue to challenge Brock. Afterward we’re going to Cerulean.”

She smiles. “Well, I’ve gotten Leaf’s contact info, and sent her the location of the dig site incase you all decide to drop by and see it. I can give them a heads up: I’m sure they’ll be happy to have you visit.”

Red turns to Leaf, who’s grinning apologetically. “I know Mount Moon isn’t the safest place to travel through, but the dig site is on the outskirts. I thought, if our path takes us that way anyway…”

Red smiles back. “It should be okay, yeah. Blue might not be interested in the dig, but I’m sure he’ll be happy for the chance to catch new pokemon.”

“Thanks again, Dr. Brenner,” Leaf says, turning to her and shaking her hand again.

“You’re quite welcome,” she responds as Red does the same. “Feel free to come back anytime before you go. I’ll be here every night, around the same time.”

They wave and head for the museum’s exit, and Red checks his own phone. Still no messages from Blue. “Hey, have you-”

“No, I assumed he spoke to you. Think he’s still at the Gym?”

“One way to find out.” Red calls, and after about a dozen rings Blue finally picks up.

“Oh, Red! Hey man, sorry I didn’t respond earlier, I was, uh, a little busy.”

“That’s alright, I figured as much. You’re not at the gym, are you?”

“Oh, yeah, I am actually.”

Red checks the time with a frown as they leave the museum and begin to head down the front steps. “You’ve been there all day. Don’t your pokemon need a rest?”

“Well, I haven’t been battling for awhile. I, uh… I’m with Leader Brock.”

Red’s brow rises. “Really? I didn’t think he’d be giving private lessons on your first day there.”

“Well, normally he wouldn’t, but… we kind of fought already.”

Red stops dead, and from the expression on Leaf’s face she can hear Blue through the phone too.

“…You what?!

Chapter 20: Body and Mind

The next morning Red finds himself alone in his hospital room and looking for something productive to do. His mom left with Professor Oak last night, Blue is gone to the Pewter Gym, and Leaf is checking out the museum. So Red sets to work looking through all the advertisements for local psychics that offer their services.

Assisting trainers with challenging pokemon or difficult to learn commands is a psychic’s most common trade, followed by testing people for psychic ability or damage. But since Red wants a psychic who’s also willing to potentially get attacked by a spinarak, he needs someone whose profile advertises being open to “unlisted requests.”

He realized after talking with Professor Oak that testing his spinarak’s mental attack would be harder than he first thought. Even if he squared it off against his rattata, since he doesn’t actually know what the attack was he can’t reliably ensure that whatever it ends up using against her would be the right one.

So the Professor suggested turning to the experts. In the meantime, Red also put up a bulletin in the city’s online forum. His advertisement asks for a five minute meeting with anyone who has a spinarak and is willing to answer questions about it and submit its data for research purposes. Since Red doesn’t have the funds to pay for their time, instead he offered the opportunity for the trainers to get detailed data about their spinarak from his new pokedex model.

“Sounds good,” Professor Oak says over the phone. “And the psychic?”

“Colan Narud. His resume looked alright, but his main qualification is that he’s available today.”

“I’m sure he’ll do fine. This will be your first one-on-one meeting with a psychic, won’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Nervous?”

Red reflects on his mood, then frowns. “Well I wasn’t before, but now that you ask…”

“I just want to warn you that psychics can be difficult to interact with.”

Red’s brow rises. There are a lot of unflattering sites that discuss psychics and their powers. He tends to ignore most of them, especially those that express superstitious fears, but he remembers commenters in more general forums that expressed a distaste for the attitude or personality of psychics. Red always figured it was a mix of unease and jealousy, but he doesn’t expect Professor Oak to have such prejudices. “Difficult how?”

“It’s like dealing with someone from a different culture, with different social norms and concepts of personal space.”

“Is he going to try and mentally hug me or something?”

Professor Oak chuckles. “More of a mental handshake. Psychics tend to dip into the surface level of people’s thoughts in much the same way we use facial tics and body language for cues about someone’s emotional state. By all accounts it isn’t entirely in their control: just be aware that what you find offensive might not be intended to be.”

“Alright,” Red says slowly. “And how do I tell if they are doing something I should take offense at?”

“Well actual mind reading, though difficult and unreliable, is always a conscious choice. If he seems to pick up on something too specific to glean from surface impressions, you have every right to end the interview. If you want to take extra steps to ensure your privacy, the best bet is to just keep your attention focused on your goals and the current conversation. It can help to write down questions ahead of time, and keep your gaze on them so that your mind doesn’t wander far.”

“That’s not foolproof, is it?”

“No, any more than me asking you not to think of a pink donphan would stop you from doing so. If there’s something specific you desperately don’t want him to know, you would need much more preparation and practice to avoid him learning it as it pops up from time to time in your thoughts.”

“Ah. So this is why people sometimes hire psychics through intermediaries.”

“Absolutely.”

Red’s fingers tap the plastic railing of the bed. “Would you advise against meeting him?”

“If so, I’d have said so by now. I don’t mean to bias your perspective, just prepare you.”

“Alright. Is it okay if I call you after?”

“By all means.”

“Thanks professor.”

Red paces the room after he closes the call, biting his lower lip. Is there anything he knows that he absolutely doesn’t want to be read by a psychic?

Not really. Red considers himself a private person, but as long as the psychic is as discreet as his professional confidentiality requires, he doesn’t really see any harm in having his memories or thoughts dredged up. It’s not like he has any secrets a stranger would find interesting.


Psychic Narud looks about the same in person as his pictures online, but for one thing: he appears to be much younger. Red had a vague idea that the psychic was in his early thirties, but when he walks through the door Red drops at least a decade off that. When Red meets his eyes, however, there’s a weight to them that seems incongruous with the impression of youth. The psychic has decades packed behind his gaze, like an old mind in a young body.

The thought is so odd that Red blinks and looks away, suddenly distrusting his perception. It’s a disconcerting feeling that makes him feel on edge, and Red has to unclench his left hand to extend it as they exchange greetings. He tries to focus on more mundane details.

Narud’s dark indigo hair is cut short everywhere but the front, where it hangs down the sides to frame his smooth face. He’s dressed in black shirt and pants, with a white overcoat that flares out at the collar and coat tails that trail down to his upper thighs, almost but not quite a robe. Red’s seen a few psychics wearing a similar outfit, but not all of them do. He vaguely remembers there being different schools or sects, some of which have their own dress code or uniform. There’s writing on Narud’s white coat, not in the universal Unown, but in the old regional Kanji. On the left is written “ataru mo hakke,” and on the right “ataranu mo hakke.” It’s somewhat encouraging to see a psychic so dismissive of fortune-telling.

“I confess to some surprise,” Narud says as he sits on the chair beside Red’s bed. “I expected my client to be a doctor. Is your arm your only physical injury?”

“Yeah. Do you normally get called to hospitals?”

“I do, though not for mundane ailments. I hope that is not what you contacted me for: as I mentioned on my advertisement, my fee is only half refundable.”

Red fights a frown. “No, it’s unrelated. I was injured in the Viridian pikachu frenzy.”

Narud nods. “A troubling affair.”

“Were you in the forest?”

“I was not.”

“After I meant, to help.”

“No.”

Red waits for something further, but Narud stays silent, gaze steady on his. Red realizes he’s waiting for an explanation, an excuse to justify the psychic not helping out, and one clearly isn’t forthcoming. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect one, or maybe Red’s seeking justification for the vague irritation he feels toward the psychic, with his overly formal speaking and quick reminder of his refund policy.

Chiding himself for being uncharitable, Red clears his throat. “Well, it was pretty hectic. But no, my arm isn’t what I called you for. I have two requests: first, I’d like to check and see if I’m psychic.”

“Of course.” Narud reaches into one of the discreet pockets in his coat and pulls out a deck of cards. “First, simply concentrate on-”

“Wait, I’m sorry, I should have mentioned that I took the standard tests a couple years ago.”

He pauses, then tucks the cards away and reaches into another pocket. “Indeed? Then you want me to apply the more direct approach.”

“I do.” No matter how hard he tried during the test, he wasn’t able to visualize the shapes on the cards from the other person’s mind as they stared at it. From what he read that just meant he wasn’t a natural, but there are a rare few with weaker abilities that don’t develop the skills automatically.

“Very well.” The psychic pulls a pen and a folded sheet of paper out of his other pocket, opening it. “You are aware that this will constitute a direct intrusion into your mind, and that I am not responsible for any new mental discomfort or harm lasting less than twelve hours from our meeting?”

“I am.”

“And are you currently suffering harm from any mental attacks or damage?”

“Er. I think so? I was hit by something a spinarak did recently…”

“Describe the effects.”

Red does so, and the psychic writes them down on the paper. “I believe that’s sufficient. Are you aware of what this form is?”

“Yeah, I read it online.”

“Good. Please sign here.”

Red scans the document to make sure it’s the same one from the net, then scrawls his signature with some difficulty, trying to ensure it looks like the one produced from his right hand. When he’s done he hands it back, palms slightly sweaty.

Narud examines the signature, then nods and tucks it away. “Thank you. Are you ready?” Red nods, pulse beginning to speed up as he tries to prepare himself. “Then I will begin. There is no need to do anything: please let your thoughts wander as they will.”

Red sits still and makes an effort to relax. A few deep breaths later he feels his heartrate begin to slow, but when he wonders if Narud has begun or not it begins to race again. He knows the mental scan won’t feel like anything, but after the last experience of something messing with his head-

empty

dark

Red winces at the memory, and the psychic’s eyes widen. And suddenly Red can feel something… except feel is the wrong word. It’s not a sense of pressure or temperature or texture, nothing like a physical touch. It’s like a part of his brain separate from where his “consciousness” resides is suddenly… awake.

Goosebumps rise along Red’s arms, and he has to stop himself from yelling aloud. The sensation is distinctly unsettling, like watching a movie of yourself doing something you have no memory of. His sense of me, the “core self” residing somewhere just behind and between his eyes, suddenly feels like it has company in his skull. And that company is movingshiftingturningtwisting

“Stop!”

The sensation immediately ceases. Red’s whole body relaxes and he slumps back against his pillow, breathing hard. A drop of sweat slides down the side of his face, and his left hand trembles a bit as he wipes it away. “Was that… you?” Stupid question, but he can barely think past the lingering disorientation. Part of him wonders if his body’s reaction is a “real” one to a sudden and uncomfortable experience, or specifically a side effect of the invasion.

“It was.” The psychic reaches into yet another pocket in his coat and pulls out… candy. A variety of it. He unwraps something orange and eats it, then opens his palm to Red.

Red is about to refuse, then realizes the psychic might be offering for more than politeness. He takes a honey flavored cube and sucks on it, biting down to crunch on the outer shell and let the sweet, gooey center free.

“Thanks. So, uh. Was that supposed to happen?”

Narud actually smiles, making him look even younger for a moment. “It was not outside the realm of possibility. Now that I have touched your psyche, I have both good news and bad.”

Red swallows some of the candy, its comforting sweetness keeping him from getting too disappointed. He knew it was a long shot. “Bad news first, please.”

“I apologize, but it will be easier to explain the other way around. The good news is you have the Gift.”

Red’s stops breathing. “You’re sure?”

“There is no question. Even if you did not notice my touch upon your mind, it was immediately evident from the strength of that memory. It was the spinarak’s attack, yes? As I thought. The effects of Night Shade vary heavily, and while the fears it evokes in the minds of most are generally harmless, those of us with the Gift have much more fertile ground for trauma to grow.”

A confused jumble of emotions are gathering in Red, and he finds himself grinning wide until the last line puts a damper on his jubilation. “Trauma?”

The psychic’s face smooths out. “Would it be fair to say your father’s passing was a traumatic experience for you?”

Red stares as shock and anger and the echo of deep pain rise up in him. He picked that much up from the brief touch?

No. Psychics can only pick up surface emotions and vague impressions.

“Well, you certainly did your homework before coming,” Red says, voice cold.

It’s just a guess, but the psychic dips his head in a nod, completely unabashed. “It’s important for those with the Gift to know as much as possible about our clients. We research the lives of those whose minds we will come in contact with to avoid any unexpected shocks from the use of our powers.”

“And it helps you look more mystically all-knowing.” The psychic’s eyes narrow slightly, and Red tries to force his anger down and soften his tone. “Some people might call that manipulative. Not that stereotypes are always borne of truth, but there’s a reason many people don’t trust psychics. Maybe you should be more upfront with people?”

The psychic’s smile returns, slightly bitter. “It would do little to change perceptions. People fear what they do not understand.”

“People fear what they don’t understand, yes, but that should be more reason to be as honest and upfront as possible, not an excuse to be mysterious.”

“I believe you will see the necessity of such practices after you come into your powers.”

Red’s irritation with the psychic is tempered by the excitement that rushes through him again. “What powers do I have? How can I develop them? Is there a-”

Psychic Narud holds a hand up, and Red stops. “There is still the bad news. I mentioned trauma earlier for a reason. We do not share this information lightly, but those who fail the initial test who are in fact gifted often do so because some traumatic experience halted the natural development of their powers. For many, such intensely negative emotions seems to cut them off from their abilities permanently.”

Red stares at the psychic with growing horror and, unexpectedly, shame. A week ago he hadn’t even suspected he was psychic, and was content with that. Not two minutes after finding out he is, being told he’s psychically crippled makes his gut clench up and his breaths come shallow.

“Be calm. I refer mostly to those who do not recognize their potential until late in life. You are lucky enough to have done so early, though it will still mean many years of work to undo the damage that was done. And I must honestly tell you that you may never fully develop every aspect of your powers. Some may be permanently stunted. But I believe you can recover.”

“I… see. Thank you, that’s kind of reassuring.”

Narud dips his head briefly. “The Gifted are obligated to help welcome new members however possible. Allow me to formally congratulate you, Mr. Verres. The discovering of one’s Gift is usually a great day for us, even in such negative circumstances.” The psychic smiles. “You must have many questions. Please feel free to ask.”

“Many questions” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Red is still trying to get his thoughts in order from the double discovery that he both has psychic powers and that they’re likely stunted somehow. It’s far too much to take in at once, and Red’s right hand itches to start taking notes. He’d dictate them to his phone if he didn’t have company.

“I do, thanks, but I don’t want to take up your time, and I’d like some to put my thoughts in order. Would you mind tabling that for now?”

The psychic nods, though there’s a slight crease between his brow. “Yes, the second request you mentioned. How else can I assist you?”

“You said that the effects you felt were from Night Shade. Are you absolutely sure of that? Could anything else have had the same result?”

Narud shakes his head. “Mental attacks are often misclassified into different categories by effect, as is convenient to trainers. But those with the Gift can sense their true nature, and once we become familiar with them they are impossible to misinterpret. The signature here was how it turned your own deepest trauma against you. The strength of the reaction is from an unusually high loss that runs through the very core of your identity.”

Red swallows the last bit of the honey candy, feeling simultaneously embarrassed and irritated. “I’m obviously still sad about my dad, but it’s not ruining my life or anything. Couldn’t it have just been the strength of the spinarak?”

“You misunderstand: think of your psyche like your biological body, with its own specialized organs, its own homeostasis, its own immune system. Our Gift allows us to manipulate our psyche in ways that others can not, but only after intensive practice and training. Before that point, our powers act on a purely instinctual level, and will often act independently to protect our minds from harm. Your latent powers devoted themselves to partitioning the pain of your father’s loss into its own separate segment of your psyche, and have been maintaining it ever since. This partition was weakened by the spinarak to use your own trauma against you.”

Red opens his mouth to deny the psychic’s words, then realizes he’s just reacting, not actually thinking about what’s being said. He tries to ignore his agitation, but he doesn’t like to remember the months immediately following his dad’s death. Is it possible his recovery wasn’t from his own resilience and the help of his therapist, but the effects of fledgling psychic powers? Now that he’s paying attention, he notices the way his mind shies away from the thought and comes up with excuses that reaffirm what he already believes.

“Hold on please, I need to digest this,” he says as he lies back and closes his eyes without waiting for a response. He begins to take deep breaths, simply focusing on the feel of the bed beneath him and the flow of air in and out of his lungs.

I notice that I am upset. That’s step one: acknowledging that he isn’t thinking clearly anymore. To get back to some semblance of objective thought, he needs to follow through with the rest of the flowchart his therapist helped him construct when he was younger, using each point as guideposts to lead him back to clearer thinking.

Step two: identifying why he’s upset. Is it on the behalf of others, or himself? Clearly himself.

Step three: is he upset at something tangible, or because he encountered an idea he found offensive? Again, clearly the latter. He’s not being harmed in any way. It’s just his ego at stake. So he can take his time in responding to the offending notion.

Step four: is he upset because of something he’s afraid of being true, or because of something he knows is false?

If he’s upset at something because it might be true, then his sense of self is going to be reduced. Part of his identity is attached to his resilience. Accepting the idea that his psychic powers helped hide his trauma from him means giving part of that up.

If the truth hurts, it’s time for change. If the truth hurts, it’s time to grow.

Red rubs at the stubborn frown line between his brow and sighs. That’s the question. Is what he’s upset at true? If it is, then he’ll have to change to accommodate it. And, as his therapist would say, to thank Psychic Narud for the opportunity to grow.

He opens his eyes and turns to the psychic, who seems unperturbed by his abrupt withdrawal. “Can you prove any of this? Is there any experiment we can perform to demonstrate what you’re saying is right?”

Narud’s brow rises and he spreads his hands. “You use the words of science to clarify that which is intangible.”

“Intangible just means it can’t be felt. You’re still making truth claims about reality, and that means you should be able to support it with a prediction. Oxygen in the air is intangible too, but if you doubt its necessity to remain conscious, I could make this room air-tight and predict that you will black out.”

“The Gifted and ungifted alike require oxygen to live, but one cannot prove the existence of light to the blind.”

“Sure one can: just let them hold up an object and tell them what each one is without touching it.”

Narud shakes his head. “Your ability to see gives you an advantage over them, but you cannot prove the mechanism by which it’s gained. They must simply take your word for it.”

“I’m pretty sure there are ways to do that too, for light anyway, but I’m not asking you to prove the existence of the mechanism. I know psychic powers exist. I just need evidence to support this particular assertion.”

“Why hire an expert if you do not trust what they say?” Narud asks, sounding more curious than irritated.

Red frowns. “I hired you to tell me if I’m psychic, and I trust you on that because it’s something I’ve heard is within a psychic’s abilities. I didn’t hire you to judge whether my being psychic is what got me over my dad’s death. It’s possible that you’re just attributing something to it that is unrelated. Do you deny that if I asked a different psychic the same question, they might come up with a different interpretation of events?”

Narud frowns. “The majority would agree with me. But not everyone is equally skilled or capable of more subtle insights.”

Uh huh. “See, that’s reassuring and all, but from my perspective that doesn’t tell me much. Just that if you’re wrong, you’re wrong in an understandable way, like the person who taught you believed in the majority perspective. Without hearing what the others who disagree with you think and why, it’s your word against theirs.”

Narud meets his gaze impassively for a few moments. Eventually he nods and looks away, gaze distant. I probably offended him. Is an apology in order? He’s not sure what he would apologize for: he really does need something to help change his mind, especially when it’s on a topic so entangled in his self-image.

After about a minute, the fingers of Narud’s left hand drum briefly against the arm of the chair before stopping, and the psychic frowns and shifts a bit. Red wonders if he’s having trouble thinking of a way to prove his claims. It can’t be that Red’s the first person to ask him for evidence of what he says, can it?

“If you want some help-”

“No, I have an idea of what to do. The problem is whether you are prepared for it. I am trying to think of an alternative that does not leave you a weeping wreck.”

Red stares. “Um…”

“The most straightforward method would be to remove the partition. But this would mean returning your psyche to the immediate aftermath of your father’s passing, and would certainly constitute Unprovoked Mental Harm by law. Even with your permission, I can not do it.”

Red doesn’t deride the convenience of this answer: on the possibility that Narud is right, Red absolutely agrees that it would be a terrible idea to return to such a state.

But that still leaves him without a good reason to believe the psychic’s interpretation. “If you remove a partition, can you put it back up?” The psychic gives him a look Red can’t quite interpret, and he rushes to add, “Just out of curiosity. I’m not saying I want you to.”

Narud is quiet for a moment, and finally says, “It would be extremely difficult, and severely invasive. Think of the psyche as a body again. It would be like plunging my fingers into your chest to pinch a leaking vein from your heart. More likely to do harm than good.”

Red has the impression there’s more to it than that, but the answer makes sense on its own. “It’s easier to destroy than create.”

“Just so. And that counts when dealing with one’s own psyche as well.”

“So I could learn to remove my own partition, and then build it back up if I don’t like the result?”

“Not without months of work developing your abilities. And that is assuming you can handle the result of removing the partition.”

Red smiles, and it feels bitter even to him. “I survived it before, I can do it again.”

“Can you? The spinarak’s mental attack, Night Shade, is considered a Ghost attack because it targets the emotional weak points in our psyche. For most others the effects of this are mild, but those with the Gift have our own powers turned against us. What you felt from Night Shade was enhanced, but still real. Are you so eager to experience that again in full, permanently?”

Red twitches as another echo of

alone

hurts

flashes through his mind. The original attack practically knocked him out, and he’s still getting echoes of it days later. He thought he just needed to desensitize himself from it, but apparently the damage is done.

Red’s body breaks out in a cold sweat as he imagines trying to live with it

dark

cold

permanently, and he sees Narud wince and raise a hand to rub his temple briefly. “Did you… get that?”

He lowers his hand. “I did, as before. But it is easily remedied.”

“How?”

“Amnesia. The effects of mental attacks are often compounded by repeated exposure. To increase our resilience to them, the Gifted remove the memory of them.”

“Wait, you can actually make yourself forget things? Specific things, without it affecting other stuff?”

“With training, yes.”

“But… how would you even know if you succeeded? Or messed up?”

Narud smiles. “It is difficult to explain to the uninitiated. If you would like to begin your psychic training, I am available for that as well. It is also how we could test what I have told you: when you have gained adequate use of your abilities, you will be able to sense the partition for yourself. Keep in mind however that while it is up, your Gift will be significantly weakened, and it will take you longer than usual to develop it. With that in mind, I can assure you that my rates are quite reasonable.”

Red frowns and looks down, hand rubbing at his neck. “Just to check, is the partition permanently damaged? Is this… symptom going to get worse?”

“Without renewed attack, your psyche should be able to maintain the current equilibrium. There is a chance the damage to the partition will be healed over the months ahead, but yes, there is also a chance that it will weaken, and the symptoms will get worse.”

“Also over a span of months?”

“It would require some other heavy mental shock for it to happen more quickly than that. But I do not mean to frighten you: as I said, it is only a possibility that it will get worse, and it may in fact get better. Just so long as you understand there is a risk.”

Red nods. “I appreciate the honesty.” His mouth is dry, and he reaches for the cup of water on the nightstand. He isn’t sure how long they’ll be in Pewter, and he can’t afford to keep spending money on psychic lessons right now. He could barely afford today’s hundred dollar fee. Especially if he doesn’t know how soon they’ll be useful. Maybe if he starts making money off his research, but for now it’s not really feasible. At least he knows for sure the spinarak’s attack wasn’t psychic. It kind of puts a damper on his hypothesis, but it still might be worth following through to see the results.

He puts the cup back and clears his throat. “Psychic Narud, you’ve been very helpful. Your offer is appreciated, and I’ll have to think over my situation before making a decision. I don’t know how long I’ll be in Pewter, and am still working on getting my finances in order.” Also, he doesn’t entirely like the young man. He isn’t sure if other psychics are better or worse, but it would be foolish to take Narud as his teacher just because he’s the only one he knows.

If the psychic picks any of this up, none shows in his reaction. He merely rises to his feet, hands disappearing into his wide sleeves as he bows his head. “It was my pleasure to assist you today, trainer.”

“I might contact you about another matter soon, if you’re free.”

“When you have a time and day in mind, you are welcome to check my listing. Be well, Red Verres, until we speak again.”


After the psychic is gone, Red does some research online to try and verify as much of their conversation as he can, and takes notes about their conversation. It’s unfortunate that he has to type, and one handed at that, since it doesn’t have the same memory aid as writing by hand does, but it’s better than nothing.

The results from the web verification is mixed, especially on the metaphor comparing the psyche to a biological body: many seem to find it too clinical and mundane, which is not the direction Red was expecting the criticism to come from. Most of what Narud said seems decently supported however, and when Dr. Willow comes in to check on his arm after lunch, Red asks her if they have a psychic on staff.

“Of course,” she says without looking up from his cast as she undoes it. His arm looks much better than yesterday, most of the bruises faded to yellows and greens. “Why?”

“I had a guest today, a psychic I hired. He told me I’ve got a form of mental damage from a spinarak attack, and I do seem to have the symptoms… I was hoping to get a second opinion.”

She gives him a severe look. “Why didn’t you report mental damage earlier?”

“Er… I sort of forgot about it?” He gives a weak smile. “It’s not debilitating, just occasionally painful. But the psychic said it might get worse, so…”

Dr. Willow mutters something under her breath as she applies ointment that makes his skin tingle. “Well, just going off your arm, you should be out of here tomorrow, so I’ll flag him for a visit when he’s free.”

“Thanks Doctor.”

“Don’t thank me yet. If you think I’m grumpy about not being told sooner, wait till you meet Psychic Laurie. Brilliant man, but not the greatest people skills. Comes with being a doctor and a psychic I suppose: worst of both worlds.”

“Seems to be a running theme.” Hopefully it doesn’t come with the territory of being a trained psychic, because now that he knows he has the potential, or “Gift,” Red is resolved to become one as soon as possible. Even if it means cracking open the vault in his head and letting out the horrors within, he doesn’t like the idea of his powers doing things without his control.

His mind is all he is, all that he really has and can ultimately rely on. And if he has to lock away some painful memories or emotions in a corner of his mind, at the very least he should do it consciously. The alternative is never knowing for sure how he feels, what he thinks, and why.

When the truth hurts, it’s time for change. When the truth hurts, it’s time to grow.

Red sighs. He always dreamed of finding out he was psychic, but instead of being excited, it just seems to come with more worries. “Nothing’s ever easy,” he mutters, not realizing until after that he said it aloud.

“Well, one thing is,” Dr. Willow says as she reapplies his cast. “But you’ve still got a potentially long life ahead of you, so better get used to it.”

Chapter 19: Great Expectations

Red wakes from vague dreams to find himself lying on a comfortable bed. He opens his eyes, and it takes a moment to register his surroundings. Clean white walls, bright lights, a particularly distinct combination of smells, and…

“Mom?”

She sat with her eyes closed in the chair beside the bed, and they suddenly snap open at his voice. “Red!” She moves as though to hug him, then hesitates and rests a hand against his hair instead. “How are you feeling?”

He frowns and tentatively sits up, feeling out his arm. It doesn’t hurt much, but it’s in a cast that heavily restricts movement. “Pretty well, I think. Am I on any medication, or is it healed?”

She smiles, brow still creased with worry. “You’re clean. They said it’ll take about a week to make sure it’s fully healed. You’ve only been asleep for a day.”

Only? I was out a whole day? Is the fire under control? Are Blue and Leaf still in the forest? Do you know if they’re alright?”

“Yes, no, and yes, they’re fine. Calm down, Red, everyone’s safe.”

Not everyone. But he feels himself relaxing, bit by bit. “Where are they now?”

“At the pokemon center I think. Leaf was getting her injuries treated here, and left just an hour ago. She was tenacious in finding out how you were before she went. I quite like her.”

Red looks out the window. He’s on a fairly high floor of the hospital, and can see the sun is setting over the mountains. He can’t believe he was out for so long. “When did you get here? You didn’t go through the forest, did you?”

“No, Sam brought me. He came over this morning before I even turned the news on, and we flew straight here. He dropped me off and went to get the others.”

Red recognizes the strain behind his mother’s calm expression and tone. “Sorry for worrying you. I’m glad you’re here.”

She runs her fingers through his hair briefly, seeming about to say something, then bends forward and kisses his head. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

“I could eat, yeah.”

She smiles and stands up. “I’ll be right back.”

After she’s gone, Red looks around the room a bit more. His pokebelt is hanging from the wall beside him, his backpack on the dresser under the window with his hat placed on top of it. He can’t see his clothes anywhere, but the stuff he had in his pockets are in a clear bag on the nightstand beside the bed. A bit of tension he didn’t realize was there eases from his chest when he sees his pokedex in it.

Unfortunately it’s on the side with his broken arm, so he has to sit up and shift around to reach for his phone. While moving, his arm begins to ache, and he stops immediately until it fades, then moves more carefully. He never studied any medicine and has little idea of how his arm was healed, but the memory of his bone pressing against his skin makes his stomach churn. He’ll have to remember to thank the doctors that helped him when he gets the chance, and the woman that brought him here.

He finally manages to open the bag and extract his phone. He lies back and checks his messages, then finds Blue in his contacts.

Hey, I’m up.

No response for a few seconds, and then:

o shit

good to hear man

how u doin?

I’m alright. Is Leaf with you?

ya just got here

she says hi

u able to leave?

Don’t know, haven’t seen a Dr. yet. Will get back to you. Your pokemon okay?

There’s a pause, and a brush of anxiety makes his pulse speed up. Did they lose anyone?

theyre ok

still waiting on some

Red lets his breath out. Well glad you guys are safe. I’ll let you know when I can head out.

same here man

ttyl

Red opens the local news sites and scans the headlines. Twenty seven dead, over fifty wounded, and six still missing. He looks over the names, feeling a touch of surrealism at spotting his own. And then, under deceased…

Fara Melissa, Kuroda Ayame, Kuroda Kiku, Marcone Walter…

Red is suddenly cold beneath his hospital gown. Ayame and Kiku… they sound familiar, but they might not be the twins they met, he’s so bad with names…

But should it even matter? He shouldn’t be more sorry for those deaths just because they’re people he met, even if it was just once. Each death is a tragedy, even if he doesn’t know them: they’re still someone’s sister, brother, son, daughter, friend. One less person who might create new art, spur new research, or just share a companionable night around a campfire with, able to sleep sound with the knowledge that you’ll keep each other safe.

Red puts his phone down and leans back against his pillow, staring up as a sick burning sensation spreads through his stomach. Twenty seven or more lost, and Red could have easily been one of them. He was worse than useless, nearly getting himself killed right at the start…

No. He cuts off that line of thought, forces himself to think of how he used the onix roar to save himself and Leaf, and how his foresight ensured they had the lightning rods. It was a team effort, and he hadn’t been useless.

Soon he manages to completely banish the self-pity. He’s still sad about those that lost their lives, but he needs to think more constructively. Heroic responsibility doesn’t mean he should ignore the things he did right, or else he wouldn’t be able to expand on them.

Assess, evaluate, optimize…

Red picks his phone back up. First things first: be prepared for similar situations in the future.

He starts researching other pokemon in the surrounding area, first checking how sensitive their hearing is, then finding their most audibly distinct predators. The major issue is where there’s no local apex hunter: if he uses a beedrill buzz to scare off some breloom, he might attract some hungry fearow. Maybe I should make a list of apex predators first…

He’s still working ten minutes later when a doctor arrives. She looks just a bit older than his mom, though that might just be the carefully controlled exhaustion on her face. Red realizes she’s probably been up all night and day with others from the forest continually coming in. When she gets closer, he reads Dr. Willow on her nametag.

“Good evening, Mr. Verres.”

Mr. Verres. Feels strange being called that. “Hello. Are you the one that patched up my arm?”

“One of them, yes. How’s it feeling?”

He experimentally lifts it again and stops when it aches. “Starts hurting here, but just a bit. Thank you for all you’ve done.”

She dips her head. “Not the cleanest break we saw last night, but far from the worst. You got off fairly lucky.”

“Lucky to have such good friends, mostly.” He immediately regrets saying it. The others who died no doubt had good friends with them too. “So, am I free to go?”

“Let’s find out.” She unstraps the cast around his arm and his skin tingles as it comes in contact with the air again. Red winces as he sees how mottled with bruises his arm is, but when the doctor carefully prods at his skin he doesn’t feel any pain. She doesn’t seem satisfied though. “Not for another day to be safe. Think you can keep from moving your arm that long?”

“Do I have to stay in bed?”

“Not if you’re careful.”

“I’ll manage then.” There’s work he can do in the meantime, like researching spinarak, and maybe doing some experimenting with his.

His mom returns with a tray of food in both hands, and the doctor leaves them to it. The smell of mashed potatoes and pidgey nuggets stokes Red’s hunger to a fever pitch, and he begins shoveling them into his mouth as fast as he can move the spoon.

“Chew, Red. It’s not going anywhere.” Once she’s satisfied that he’s slowed down, his mom begins eating too, and for a time there’s silence but for the scrape of plastic cutlery and the distant sound of the hospital’s intercom.

Once his hunger is tamed and he has attention for other things, the silence begins to make him apprehensive. Part of him is glad his mom is here, but the rest is worried about her reaction to his injury.

“Well?” he says after a minute. “Are you going to try and convince me to stop? Keep working in the lab until I’m older?”

His mom raises a brow without looking up from her food. “Would it do any good?”

He smiles. “Do you have any new arguments to add?”

“No. But recent events might have changed their impact.”

Red just shakes his head.

She sets her fork down. “I heard that the three of you helped some Rangers on the way up.”

Oh. Right. “I… it was just-”

“I’m glad.”

He looks up to see her smiling at him.

“Glad that you’re out there, helping others. Your father would be proud.”

Red stares at his tray, heart pounding. It’s the best reaction he could have hoped for, but it feels dishonest. This seems too big a thing to be brushed off as a white lie, and too deliberate to be a lie of omission. “I miss dad. A lot.” The constant ache at the back of his thoughts sharpens for a moment, and he takes a deep breath to push it back into the vault he’d constructed for it. “But I’m not doing this for him.”

She takes his hand and squeezes it. “I know that, Red. That’s why he would be so proud.”

He shakes his head and pulls his hand away. “That’s not it.”

She tilts her head, brow furrowed.

“I don’t want you to have the wrong expectations. One day I’m not going to live up to them, and it’s better to know that now than be… disappointed.” She’s about to speak, and he hurries on. “And I don’t just mean that I’ll fail to save someone, or be too afraid to try. I mean I might decide against trying, as a conscious choice. Do you see? I might deliberately choose against what dad would have.”

His mom is silent for a time, and Red grows more and more worried. This is the frankest discussion they’ve had about his dad for years, and it’s the closest Red’s come to criticizing him. He should have waited, thought more about how he’d word it…

“I married your father because he was the best man I’d ever met,” she says at last. “I miss him every day. And sometimes I think that if he’d been just a bit less good, he’d still be here with us, and still be helping others.”

“We don’t know what happened that day,” Red says quietly. “That’s what you always said. Is there more to the story?”

She shakes her head. “No. It was his duty to go, and for all we know he did exactly as much as he needed to, as much as was smart to. He wasn’t the only one lost, and the others… his friends, they said he saved a lot of lives. That he just got unlucky.”

She takes his hand again, and this time he lets her hold it, her eyes as intense as he’s ever seen them. “However many lives he saved that day, he might have saved more if he lived past it. Maybe that’s just a rationalization. Maybe others would call that a cowardly excuse, but you’re not their child, you’re mine. Whatever the situation, whatever you choose to do, at the end of the day, all I care about is that you’re safe. Understand?”

A number of thoughts and situations come up that he wants to test her statement against, but it doesn’t feel appropriate just now. Unsure of what else to say, Red simply nods.

His mom smiles and lets his hand go. “Good.” She picks up her fork again. “So, tell me what happened after we got off the phone last night. I want to hear everything.”


Blue’s foot taps on the tile of the pokemon center, gaze fixed on the overhead screen above the lobby’s reception desk. He’s been watching the numbers tick slowly upward, both those currently being treated and the average wait times.

It’s been almost twelve hours since he arrived, exhausted and footsore. Gramps picked him and Leaf up from the forest once they were close enough to the city for their cells to start working again. They went to the hospital to get looked at, and while Blue’s wound took just a few minutes to inspect and finish healing, Leaf had to stay for longer. Afterward gramps brought him here before heading back to the forest on Glory, the pidgeot moving quick as a dart through the early morning sky with only one rider.

After Blue handed his pokemon over and was given his frustratingly long wait time, he went to the lobby. It was packed with dozens of other trainers fresh from the forest, and Blue picked himself a comfortable couch to rest on. He intended to at least stay up until he heard from Leaf or Mrs. Verres on how she and Red were doing, but he was out the moment his head touched the top of the squishy backrest.

He woke around noon, groggy and in serious need of a bathroom, to find a message on his phone from Leaf. She and Red were alright, and she was on her way to the pokemon center closest to her and wanted confirmation that it was the same one he’s at. He checked the name and told her it was, then went to relieve himself and wash his face.

By the time she arrives he feels like himself again, but his pokemon are still far from the front of the queue. He stops his leg from jittering and gets up as she approaches. She’s looking much better than the night before, and dressed in fresh clothing. “Hey. Feeling alright?”

She smiles. “A hundred percent. The healing went quick, I mostly stayed to get some rest and so they could check for any lingering effects.”

“And?”

She stretches her arms up and to the sides, then twists at the waist and touches her feet one at a time. “No permanent damage. The shock didn’t go anywhere important, thankfully. How are your pokemon?”

He grunts, mood souring again. “No clue.” He points to the screen.

“Oh. And what number are you?”

“103.”

“Oh dear. I’d better go get mine then.”

They head over to the front desk, whose staff has changed a couple times since Blue arrived. New arrivals have thankfully slowed, and there’s just one nurse manning it now.

“How much longer on 103?” Blue asks the guy while Leaf hands her pokemon over in exchange for her own number.

The young man glances pointedly at the overhead monitor, which shows the numbers that just finished being treated as 82, 89, 92, 94, and 95, while the average wait time is twenty minutes. “Perhaps another few hours, sir.”

Blue grunts his thanks, and they head back toward the couches. “What number are you?”

Leaf shows him her 148. “It’s going to be a long night,” she says. “We should go see Red.”

“Did you get a chance to?”

“Just for a minute or so. He was still sleeping, but his mom was super nice.”

“Yeah, Aunt Laura’s cool.” Blue wonders what Daisy’s up to. Gramps said she was helping out elsewhere in the forest, and he shoots her a quick text to see what’s up. “Let’s get some food first, the diners at pokemon centers are usually better than the stuff at hospitals.”

They go and do so, the tables around the food corner just as crowded as the rest of the center. As they eat their sandwich and salad, Blue gets a text. He expects it to be from Daisy, but it’s Red’s picture that appears.

“Hey, he’s up!”

“Awesome, tell him I said hi!”

Blue nods, fingers already moving, and a moment later he’s staring at the text asking how his pokemon are doing. He still doesn’t know how Zephyr or the shiftry are, but he doesn’t want to tell Red that he lost his caterpie or beedrill either. Maybe it would be better over the phone, get it out of the way, but he wants to be able to tell the whole story at once, give some context. He finishes the convo and puts his phone away. “At least his arm’s okay.”

“Yeah. It’s good that he got to the hospital when he did.”

Blue frowns at the crowd around them. “Some of these people should be there themselves. Their pokemon aren’t going anywhere, even if the line wasn’t so long.”

Leaf shrugs. “Maybe they’re too concerned for them to have any peace of mind. They’ve got to make sure they’re okay first.”

“But they’re in their pokeballs. It doesn’t matter to them if they wait an hour or a week.”

Leaf opens her mouth, then closes it and spears a tomato slice, chewing with a distant look on her face. Blue takes a bite of his sandwich and gets another message, opening it with his other hand to see it’s from his sis this time.

All’s good. Got home a couple hours ago.

And here he was, worrying like a chump. thx 4 checkin in w/ me

Grampa said you’re OK. Whine more <333

Blue snorts. well he didnt tell me u were home

Aww were you concerned about me?

my mistake

That’s sweet bro but I was runnin through Viridian when you were just out of diapers. Anything a newbie like you could get through is nbd

Appreciated though ^_o

Blue shakes his head and puts his phone away. “Be glad you don’t have any siblings.”

“Were you interested in seeing Red in the hospital, even if he wasn’t awake?” Leaf asks.

He blinks. “Uh. Yeah?”

“So how is that different than what they’re doing?”

Blue stares blankly at the trainers she gestured toward, and after a moment he remembers the conversation they were having. “Oh! Man, were you thinking of a response that whole time?”

“It was thirty seconds at most. Well?”

“Well what?”

“How is it different?”

Blue frowns. “Red wasn’t trapped in a pokeball in complete stasis. He might have woken up while I was there. Also I could have looked at him, seen how he was doing. It would have been reassuring.”

Leaf shakes her head impatiently and tucks some hair that gets loose behind her ear. “So let’s say you know he won’t wake up for another few days, and you popped your head in for a quick look. Is that enough? Would sitting beside him for a few hours be a waste?”

“Uh. Sort of, yeah. Red’s a smart guy, he wouldn’t mind if he found out I did more productive stuff. Hell, he’d probably agree with me.”

“What about Mrs. Verres? Would you have told her to leave him be, that he’d be fine without her waiting beside him?”

Blue shifts in his seat. “That’s different. She’s his mom.”

“So?”

“So it’s not about what makes sense, it’s emotional. That’s just the kind of bond parents have with their kids.” A pang of loneliness and pain, chased away with long practice. He knows gramps would stay at his bed if something happened to him. So would Aunt Laura, come to that.

Hm. That thought was kind of comforting. Is that important to Leaf’s point? He has to admit it might be, even if he still thinks it’s kind of a waste of time.

“Well that’s the kind of-”

Blue puts a hand up. “Wait. I get it.”

Leaf’s brow rises. “Get what?”

“I get what you’re saying. It hit me.”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah, just like that.”

Leaf looks skeptical, and he rolls his eyes. “No need for that look, gramps taught me about admitting when I’m wrong long before Red turned into a pain in the ass about it.”

“Sorry.”

“Besides, I wouldn’t say I was wrong unless I really believed it.”

She grins. “True.”

“Anyway, I still think it’s different. Pokemon aren’t humans. They won’t know whether these trainers waited here or not.”

“Maybe not. But it’s not for the pokemon. It’s for the humans.”

Blue considers this, then nods. “The way funerals are for the living.” He stands up. “So, I’ve got a few hours and you’ve got longer. Let’s go see Red, now that he’s awake.”

They leave the pokemon center and begin to walk toward the hospital as twilight cloaks the city. Pewter is very different from Viridian: far more open, with all the tall buildings spread out. Cars are rare here, with the forest to the south and the mountains to every other side, so the streets are much more narrow, and the walkways wider.

Soon they pass through a residential area, where the houses are almost all made of stone. A few young kids are playing on the lawns, some with each other, others with pokemon. A marill swims around two giggling children in a portable pool, and farther along a toddler rides the back of a growlithe under the watchful eye of their parents.

Despite the circumstances, Blue suddenly feels naked without his own pokemon resting at his waist. It feels strange to be uncomfortable around tamed pokemon when he spent his whole life around them. Especially since he’s only had his own for less than a week. Is this what exposure to wild pokemon does? Makes you wary of them all?

“Oh! Look!” Leaf whispers, and Blue follows her gaze to see a woman leaning out a window to splash some milk in the shadow of her house. Leaf stifles her grin behind her hand until they pass, then says, “I can’t believe that’s really a thing. I half thought you guys were joking.”

“Nope. Me and my friend Batu used to wear black and hide in the shadows to leap out at people when we were younger. We’d get splashed with a lot of milk, but it was always worth a laugh. One time-”

Blue’s phone chimes, and he pulls it out while Leaf tries to get a hold of her giggles. He stops walking, and she turns to him with a questioning look.

“It’s the pokecenter,” he says, heart suddenly pounding. “They’re telling me to come in.”

“What, now? They can’t have finished with your pokemon so quickly.”

“Yeah.” The message doesn’t say they’re done being healed, just to report to a certain room as soon as possible. Blue swallows the dryness in his throat and meets Leaf’s concerned gaze. “I guess I’ll catch you later.”

“Do you want me to-”

“No, it’s fine. Go tell Red I’ll be there soon.”

“Alright.” She returns his wave halfheartedly, and then he turns and jogs back the way he came.

Zephyr or the shiftry? Which one did I lose? Or was it both?

Blue makes it back in less than half the time, sweating and out of breath. He quickly follows the directional signs toward D9, and soon finds himself in an intensive care unit.

Blue’s stomach is clenched up like a fist by the time he reaches the door and knocks. A moment later a doctor opens it, almost as old as gramps, with her long greying hair tied in a braid. After confirming who he is she invites him inside the room. It looks less like a medical room and more like a computer lab, each console surrounded by periphery equipment and sporting numerous screens, and he realizes he’s in an assessment room rather than one devoted to treatment.

His pokeballs rest on a machine with spherical indents, each slot including a lens aligned with the ball’s to stream data from it to the nearby terminal. He notices that his shiftry’s ball isn’t among them.

“Hello Mr. Oak, thank you for coming so quickly. Some concerns surfaced while treating your pokemon.”

“Yeah, I figured.” Blue wipes his palms on his jeans. “So what’s up? Are they okay?”

“For the most part. I want to know about one in particular.” The doctor meets his gaze, and Blue suddenly notices how cold hers is. “Your shiftry. What happened to it?”

Blue stands a bit straighter, suddenly wary. “I told the guy at reception, it had some acid burns, puncture wounds, poisoning, and its limbs were cut off.”

“We can see that. I want to know how the amputations occurred.”

“Another shiftry’s leaves cut them off. What’s the problem? Are you able to heal it or not?”

“Your shiftry’s healing has already begun, and is going as best as can be expected. It should make a full recovery within a few days.” The nurse’s eyes are hard on his. “The question is whether it will be returned to you or not.”

Blue’s concern fades, anger taking its place. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen thousands of pokemon injuries. Often from wild battles, some from trainer brawls. The wounds to your shiftry’s arms and legs are different from the rest. We have abuse laws in this region, Mr. Oak.”

Searing heat flares through Blue’s chest, each beat of his heart pumping magma through his veins. Calm. Steady. “Are you accusing me of something?” he says, jaw tight.

She doesn’t flinch at his tone. “Those wounds were specific, deliberate. Another shiftry didn’t do that. I want to know what did.”

“I don’t see how it’s any of your business.”

“As a matter of fact it is. If we suspect trainer abuse we’re required to report it to the licensing association. You can tell me or you can tell an investigative review board, but until you do either, you’re not getting your pokemon back.”

He unclenches his fists and takes a deep breath. After gramps dropped him off, Blue waited until he flew away, then jogged to a small pokemart nearby. He restocked on some supplies, including a few greatballs. Once outside, Blue released his shiftry and quickly recaptured it in a greatball before returning to the pokemon center.

Now he’s wishing he’d kept it in the original ball and just handed them the greatball to put it in when it was healed. “Look, I didn’t have a greatball on me when my group was attacked by the shiftry near the forest fire. I tried to use a pokeball, but it was too big. After we fought them off, this one was still alive, so I used one of the other shiftry’s arms that were severed and made him small enough to fit. He was badly wounded, and I didn’t have any other way to capture him. It was either this, heal him and risk someone else getting attacked, or letting him die. All things considered I thought this was the best option, since grass types can heal almost any wound.”

The doctor’s posture is still rigid, but her expression is a bit less severe. “You were with a group of trainers, and none of you had any greatballs?”

“No, there were only three of us,” he says immediately, while internally kicking himself for not having asked the others. He didn’t even consider it at the time. “Also we were busy last night, you know, trying to stay alive and keep the forest from burning down. If anyone had any before they probably used them by then.”

Her gaze lingers on his for a moment, then she nods. “Given the circumstances, then, I think you did the best you could. It helps that its wounds were promptly cared for. Just to be sure, please give me the names of the other trainers, so I can corroborate your story.”

“Oh come on! Why would I cut up my own pokemon and then bring him here to be healed?”

“Sir, please lower your voice.”

Blue fumes silently for a moment as he calms himself down. Just as he’s about to give her the names, footsteps approaching from the hallway make them both turn.

“Ah, there you are Blue. I thought I heard your voice.”

Professor Oak stands in the doorway, looking tired but smiling. He approaches the monitors, stripping gloves off his hands and tossing them in the trash before he examines Blue’s pokemon info. “Good, good, your pidgey healed just fine.”

Blue’s brain seems to have locked up at his gramp’s unexpected appearance. “His wing’s okay?” he asks after a moment, unable to pick beyond all the other questions.

“Yes, he’ll regain full use of it. The cut was deep, but it missed the bone.”

The doctor is staring at Professor Oak in shock, then turns to Blue. “You’re…?”

“Yeah, that Oak.”

Her cheeks flush, and she turns to the cheerful smile on the Professor’s face with a stammering apology that he waves away before it can take form.

“It’s quite alright, you were only exercising due diligence. I was hoping to have a talk with my grandson before we visit his friend in the hospital, however. Please excuse us, and message me if you need anything.”

“Of course, Professor. Thank you for everything.” She smiles and bows. “Your help has been invaluable, and I’ve never seen my people maintain such good morale in a situation this bad.”

Gramps beams at her and returns her bow, then heads for the door. Blue glances at the doctor as she gives him an apologetic look, pushes his bruised pride aside to mutter some thanks, and follows him.

As they walk through the corridor, his grandpa’s cheerful demeanor doesn’t disappear, but it does gradually fade to its normal, less weaponized form. Blue’s not sure what to say at first: did he just get rescued? It feels like he did, even though he was doing totally fine. He did nothing wrong. So why does it feel like he was let off the hook just because he’s the Professor Oak’s grandson?

To be fair, the Professor hadn’t said anything that could remotely be taken that way. Nor had the doctor implied it. It just seemed taken for granted that the grandson of Professor Oak would of course have the best intentions regarding pokemon wellbeing, and wouldn’t have acted in any way improperly.

Not that he’s complaining. Expectations like that will surely come in handy someday.

Still, even planning to make good use of the Oak name, Blue feels disgruntled. He was fully capable of handling this situation on his own.

Blue lengthens his strides to catch up to his grandpa. “So what are you doing here?” he asks, unable to keep quite all the hostility from his voice.

“Helping with the pokemon, of course. It’s all hands on deck from the surrounding cities, and since you all are here I decided to come to Pewter instead of help in Viridian. I arrived while you were sleeping in the lobby.”

“Ah. Well, thanks for the help back there. Saved me the whole minute it would have taken to give her the trainer’s names.”

The professor’s pale blue eyes flick toward him, and then they’re at the elevators. His grandpa waits until they’re inside and headed for the roof, then turns to him, face serious.

“You’re going to have to be more careful, Blue.”

“With what, exactly?”

“Your choice of victory conditions. There are many paths to becoming Champion, but the one you’ve chosen to walk is narrow as a razor’s edge. Stray too far on either side and you’ll get the title, but accomplish nothing with it.”

Blue scowls, leaning back against the wall and watching the numbers tick up. “You don’t think I know that? I did the best I could with what I had.”

“I believe that, and you believe that, and the two trainers that were with you probably believe that. But when the story gets out, as it certainly will once your fame starts to rise, you’re going to have to be ready to counter the unflattering colors some will paint you in.” The door of the elevator opens. “Start considering what you can do to give them something else to talk about.”

Blue follows him out, thinking it over. Gramps is speaking from experience, and Blue would have to be an idiot to ignore him. “So, what, like spread the story myself?”

“Is that the best you can come up with?” His grandpa waves at someone as they walk through the rooftop’s lobby, with its glass ceiling revealing that night has finally fallen on the city. Once they’re outside on the landing and launching area, he takes out Glory’s ball and summons the pidgeot in a flash of light.

Blue strokes the huge bird’s wing, and when it kneels he climbs onto the second seat on its back. I can’t wait until Zephyr’s this big. “I could help out here with you. Assist with pokemon injured in the forest.”

His grandpa smiles and mounts up before turning Glory toward the edge of the building, the pokemon’s wings spreading as it crouches for takeoff. “That’ll do, for a start…”


“Heyyy, look who’s conscious!”

Leaf turns to see Blue and Professor Oak enter Red’s room, the latter carrying a small bag. Mrs. Verres (“Please, call me Laura”) rises and hugs each of them, then excuses herself to get more chairs. The boys bump fists, and Blue leans on the edge of the bed to get a look at Red’s cast.

“Does it hurt if I do this?” Blue asks, extending a finger toward it.

Red bats his hand away before it can touch. “Thanks for coming, Professor.”

“Of course. From what I gather, you all did remarkably well in the forest, and I wanted to hear your stories personally.” The professor lifts the bag. “I also brought you each something. Ah, thank you Laura.” He takes the seat from her and lowers himself into it.

“You brought us gifts?” Leaf asks, excitement bubbling up in her. “You’ve already given us so much!”

“He’s just protecting his investment,” Blue says as he takes another chair to the other side of Red’s bed. He flips it around so he can prop his arms up on its back while he faces them. “Would have been embarrassing if we kicked the oxygen habit less than a week out.”

“Blue,” Mrs. Verres says, voice calm but firm. “I know you’re joking, but keep in mind that many people didn’t make it out of the forest. You’re all lucky to be alive, despite your achievements.”

To Leaf’s surprise, Blue looks genuinely embarrassed. “You’re right, Aunty. Sorry. So what’d you get us, gramps?”

“First, for Red, an ultraball.” He takes it out and hands it to him.

“Oh Sam, you shouldn’t have!” Laura says, admiring the sleek black and yellow ball that Red takes reverently. His finger traces the small gold lightning bolt etched into its cover.

“Think of it as a safety precaution. Training a pikachu can be dangerous, and at the very least you need to make sure the ball you hold it in can handle a stray bolt.”

“Thanks Professor,” Red says. “I was going to buy one, but now I can use the money on other things.”

“May I suggest some cheri berries? Besides their medicinal uses, they can be fed to your pichu to temporarily weaken its electricity.”

“Really? How does that wo-”

“Later, Red,” Blue says. “Next gift!”

Professor Oak smiles and turns deliberately away from him and toward Leaf. “Miss Juniper. Your decision to catch the pichu at great personal risk was admirable, but exceedingly dangerous. Rather than attempt to convince you not to try such a thing again in the future, I’d rather equip you so that you can do so a bit safer.”

He hands her a clear plastic jar of some thick amber liquid, tightly sealed. “Is this combee honey?” she asks, voice hushed, and Red gives a low whistle. A cup of the stuff can sell for as much as a hundred dollars, and this looks like a whole pint at least.

“It is, of a particularly strong potency. A small dab should be enough to attract any pokemon with a sense of smell. Use with extreme caution.”

Leaf grins and carefully tucks it in her bag. “I will! Thank you!” She’s already imagining all the ways she can use it, not just to catch pokemon, but also to train Bulbasaur. On top of that, plant pokemon are very adaptive at incorporating the effects of new substances in the plants and seeds they grow. He might even be able to develop his own attractive liquid or pollen…

“You’re quite welcome. As for you, Blue, I give you this.” He hands his grandson… a book.

Blue takes it with a frown that looks more like concentration than pique. “Nobunaga’s Ambition,” he reads from the cover, and flips through it. “Any significance here?”

“That’s for you to figure out as you read it. I have every confidence in you.”

Blue sighs as if he’d expected this, but nods and puts the book to the side. Leaf realizes he’s probably used to similarly cryptic directions from his grandfather. “Thanks gramps,” he says, and only sounds half grudging.

“So, what are you all planning now?” Mrs. Verres asks.

“I’m going to hit the gym when my pokemon are better,” Blue says. “Hopefully I can grab the Pewter Badge in a few days.”

“I have some research I need to do with my spinarak. If you have time, Professor, I could use some help organizing my thoughts on it…”

“Certainly.”

“And you, Leaf?”

She smiles. “The museum here has the largest fossil collection in the region, right?”

“Cinnabar might rival it,” Professor Oak says. “But it would be close.”

She nods. “I’m going to check it out. I’m really curious to know more about your region’s myths and history.” The older the better, and it doesn’t get much older than fossilized pokemon remains. She’s seen how historical evidence could alter or clash with local myths and beliefs back in Unova.

“It’s a fascinating place,” Professor Oak says. “You should all go.”

“Pass,” Blue says. “Seen it. Pretty boring.”

“I’m down,” Red says.

She smiles at him. “Cool.”

“Well, now that’s settled.” Professor Oak checks the time, then smiles and leans back in his chair, eyes sparkling with excitement. “It’s time for my payment for the gifts. I want to hear everything that happened last night. Who’s going to start?”

Leaf’s phone chimes, and her heart sinks as she sees it’s her mother asking her to call when she can. “Excuse me, I have to take this,” she says as she gets to her feet. “I’ll let Red cover my part.”

She leaves the room and finds a quiet corner of the hospital. She was putting off this conversation, but part of her is glad it’s finally upon her. After the numerous near death experiences in the forest, she doesn’t want to let some misaligned expectations get in the way of her and her mother’s relationship.

Leaf presses the call button, heart hammering as she tries to think of what to say. Should she sound calm and casual, as if nothing’s wrong? Cheerful? The usual cool and controlled?

She’s still trying to decide when the ringing stops, and her mother’s voice is in her ear. “Leaf!”

“Hi mom.”

“Oh honey, it’s good to hear your voice. I checked the Kanto news today and it showed a forest fire near where you said you were! Are you alright?”

Tears prickle at Leaf’s eyes at the naked concern in her mom’s tone, and she closes them. “I’m fine,” she says with a smile as she leans back against the wall. “And… Mom, I wanted to say sorry…”

Chapter 18: Interlude III – Son of Stone

When the gods came upon the earth, it was a single, massive lump of solid stone, floating through the Great Dark. So Brock’s great-grandmother taught him as a child, practicing his basic sums as she knitted a sweater with mesmerizing fluidity. Iron and tin, gold and silver, granite and obsidian, all the metals and minerals blended and fused into one cosmic body. The gods had argued over how they might shape this world, and were still not decided when they reached it. Kagu-tsuchi wished to scoop out the earth’s insides like an egg, and fill it with magma until it became a sun. Watatsumi wished to pound rain upon it until the stone eroded and pitted, and craters formed for lakes and oceans that would cover its surface. Every god and goddess had their own preference for what the world should be, and what manner of creatures they would fill it with.

Soon the argument became more than words, and each god began to form it as they wished. Fire filled its core so that the whole planet glowed, until water fell on the surface to cool it before it burst. Lightning blasted the stone into soil, and plants grew and sucked up the water before it washed all else away. It was a time of endless strife, and the gods were so busy trying to dominate each other that a hundred thousand years passed without a single creature they created surviving to birth a new generation.

It was the god and goddess Haniyasu-Hiko and Haniyasu-Hime that decided to fashion creatures that could live even in such endless turmoil. Though the fire filled its belly, still the stone was there. Though the lightning blasted pits in it, still the stone was there. Though the waves and rain pounded it to sand, still the stone was there. Though the greedy roots cracked it, still the stone was there. And so, they made their beings from stone, which weathered all things, cracked and scorched and pitted and split, but still there.

The rest of the gods’ creatures, crafted from other elements, lived where they could, but the stone people were capable of surviving in the most environments, and spread the farthest. Eventually the gods exhausted themselves into a stalemate, and left to regain their strength on the way to another world. The various creatures and demigods that they had crafted and left behind reached a relative peace of their own, and lived in their domains. As generation after generation passed, the people of stone softened and became flesh and blood. But just as the bones of the earth remained stone, so did the bones of the people, hard and strong enough to stand against the storms of the gods with a straight back.

“That is our legacy, Takeshi,” his great-grandmother told him in her native tongue, thin hands ceasing their waltz to grip his arm with surprising strength. “Stone endures.” Her thumb dug into his skin, not enough to hurt, but so she could feel the bones beneath his flesh. “Inside you lies the strength of the very earth itself. Others have forgotten their ancestors, but our people will always be the children of stone.”


Gym Leader Brock, who no one alive still calls Takeshi, sees the forest around him in the green glow of infrared. More than that, he can feel it through the pokemon he rides. Aeosis’s body winds between the trees, but his sides are so wide that they constantly strip the bark clean off the trunks he brushes against. Sharp cracks come from all sides as smaller trees and bushes snap and get trampled under the onix’s many segments.

“Brock!”

Again and again throughout the forest, trainers stop what they’re doing and look on as the massive rock snake passes by, almost sixty meters long from head to tail. The boulders of its body are the height of a tall man, and from his saddle a few segments behind the onix’s head, Brock’s messy brown hair bobs just below the tree branches.

“Leader Brock is here!”

“Brock! Brock and Aeosis!”

“At your side, Gym Leader!”

Brock uses the metal claws at the end of his gloved fingers to tap a quick pattern on one of Aeosis’s neck boulders, and the onix raises its head up and roars, a response to the the trainers they passed and a rallying cry to those ahead.

It took under twenty minutes to rouse and mobilize the Gym and any volunteers from Pewter once Brock got the emergency alert from Viridian. Brock was filled with pride when he stepped outside his gym and saw the size of the crowd waiting. Nearly twice as many as the last Tier 1 threat, and plenty of familiar faces.

He wasted no time sending out support teams to different parts of the forest based on the Ranger requests, only retaining five groups of five to ride with him toward the biggest fire, where the most help will be needed. A few have peeled off to assist Rangers they passed, and one from each group formed an escort unit for a group of injured trainers.

By the time Brock can see the glow of the fire above the trees, he’s down to five groups of three, each trailing his onix to either side on their own mounts. The others ride a variety of types to be prepared for any situation. Those from his gym tend to favor rock types, but few rock pokemon are fast enough to keep up with an onix.

“Sir, some trainers eight degrees to your left, around what might be a downed tree.” Jarod’s voice murmurs from his earpiece. Brock’s Third is flying above the canopy and looking down with thermal imaging goggles. With the reception out in this part of the forest, the radios are their only way to relay information and help navigate. “I think they’re trying to shift it.”

“Got it.” Brock switches frequencies to the others. “Turning left. Watch the tail.” He taps a subtle rhythm to the left of Aeosis’s neck, and the onix forges a new path through the trees, barely caring about foliage density. Brock’s body is high up enough to avoid most of the brambles and bushes that survive his pokemon’s passage, the rest scratching harmlessly at his armored leggings.

Soon he spots light ahead, blazing in the green tint of his goggles, and he quickly tugs them off until they hang around his neck. Within moments they’re at the downed tree where the the lanterns are hung. The trainers around it are standing at the ready, their pokemon prepared for a fight. Once they spot Brock on Aeosis’s back, their shock and terror gives way to relief, and one of the younger men leans against a tree with a hand over his eyes. “Oh, thank Arceus…”

Before Brock can ask what their situation is, one steps forward. “Leader, our friends are trapped under-”

Brock’s heart sinks. The trunk is nearly as thick as Aeosis, and anyone caught under it would be crushed like a caterpie. But his fingers are already moving in a rapid pattern on Aeosis’s neck. “Stand far back, all of you.” There are some branches extending from the trunk, and it’s possible the broken ones under it are holding some weight off…

They withdraw their pokemon and scramble to the sides as Aeosis rears up, then lowers his gaping maw over the trunk and bites down. Brock grips the handle on his saddle tight with one hand, then taps again to tell Aeosis to lift.

The tree rises slowly as Aeosis brings his head back up. Brock is lifted too as the segment he’s seated on rises, bringing him partway into the canopy. As soon as there’s room, a couple of the trainers begin to crawl under the tree, one holding a lantern. There’s a cry of relief, then dismay, and the others quickly join them to assist in bringing the bodies out.

By then his gymmates and volunteers have arrived, and a few get off their mounts to help. There’s the flash from under the tree of a pokemon being withdrawn into their ball, though in what condition Brock doesn’t know. Once everyone’s out from under the tree, Brock taps another command, and Aeosis drops the trunk with a crash, its middle imprinted with the onix’s triangular bitemark.

Some of the trainers are weeping over one of the bodies, while others surround a second, an unconscious girl whose arm was crushed. The grass is dark with blood in some places, and the smell of it fills the air around them.

Brock turns to the only trainer still standing. “What happened here? Did a raichu bring down the tree?” The woman doesn’t respond, staring in disbelief at her dead friend.

Brock feels a stab of empathy, then pushes it aside. He unstraps himself from his saddle and falls to the grass with a thump that gets her attention. She suddenly seems to realize how close she is to the massive onix, grief and shock joined by sudden fear.

He steps up to her and puts his hand on her shoulder. “What’s your name, trainer?” he asks, putting his will into his tone and grip, the same will that allowed him to catch and train the largest onix in Kanto.

The woman snaps to attention, eyes alert in a face full of loss. “Aiko, sir.”

“What happened here, Aiko?”

“It was… some breloom, we got caught up in their fight with the ‘chu… one of them shot seed bombs out. The trunk was already damaged by other attacks, and the seeds ripped right through it. Brought the whole thing down… we tried to get out of the way, but… Suki…” Tears gather in the trainer’s eyes, and she rubs them away with one hand, stifling a sob.

He squeezes her shoulder, gently but firm enough to bring her focus back to him. “What happened to the breloom? Are they still in the area?”

“Two captured, the rest fled when the tr-tree came down.” She takes a deep breath, then another. “Same with the ‘chu. We didn’t… we haven’t seen them since, but they ran that way.” She points, and her hand is steady.

Brock nods and looks at his people. “Gestov, Mark, stay with them and get the injured to a hospital. Paula, Avanni, see if you can find the breloom and ‘chu.”

They confirm, and he turns back to Aiko. Her face is full of loss and pain, but her eyes are clear, her breaths steady. Satisfied, Brock lowers his voice, speaking with quiet confidence. “Thank you, Aiko. I know your heart is heavy, but the others may yet need your strength to survive the night. Can I count on you to get them through this?”

“I… Yeah. Yeah, I won’t let them down.”

“I know you won’t.” He squeezes her shoulder again, thumb feeling her collarbone. “You have the strength of stone.”

She bows her head. “Thank you, Leader.”

Brock returns to Aeosis and climbs up its boulder segments until he’s back in the saddle. From so high up, he projects his voice for all to hear. “Tonight has taken much from you all, but it’s not yet time to mourn. We don’t know how extensive the rampage is, but the nearest Ranger Outpost has been destroyed, and you can’t stay in the forest. My people will lead you to Pewter, where you will be safe. Courage, for a little longer! Dawn is coming!”

Most of the trainers are looking at him by the end, brushing tears away or standing again, heads held high. Brock turns Aeosis toward a clear path through the trees, and they swiftly leave the gathering behind, his followers waiting until the onix’s long body and tail is gone before following.

Once he’s away from the lights, Brock puts his goggles back on, bringing the forest into green tinged sight again. One hand goes to his ear, and he switches to his Third’s frequency. “Jarod, some breloom may be in the area. Keep an eye out and relay to Paula and Avanni.”

“Yes sir. Be aware, you’re approaching the smoke surrounding the fire. I can’t see through it.”

“Got it. Stay clear for now.” He switches to general chat. “We’re approaching the fire. Groups four and five, spread out and circle around to lend support to the Rangers at different points. Groups two and three, disperse and check for distress signals to assist trainers wherever you find them. Without a steady signal to update them some might be obsolete, but keep looking.” Brock barely ducks in time to avoid a branch that sweeps just over Aeosis’s horn. “Group one, with me.”

A few moments later he sees the smoke, lit by scattered lanterns and the fire at its heart, and then they’re plunging into it. He guides Aeosis with taps of his fingers, a few on the side to turn him toward the denser smoke, and another quick pattern on his back to slow him down. The smoke makes his infrared goggles worse than useless, and he takes them off so he can see by the distant, diffused glow of the fire. As they get closer to the center of it, the light grows, as does the heat in the air.

Within a minute though, Aeosis begins showing signs of distraction, swinging his head around and growling. Brock looks around in the smoke for what might be upsetting his pokemon. Onix are used to navigating in the pitch blackness of mountains and deep within the earth, but maybe the ethereal lights and the thick smoke are making him twitchy.

Aeosis suddenly slows to a stop, and there’s a sharp crack as his pokemon’s head swings around, the horn on his forehead messily splintering a branch into pieces. Brock feels bits of wood rain down on him, and the stoney skin beneath his saddle vibrates with the onix’s growl as it peers into the smoke to their side. He taps a pattern along its skin, frowning. “Aeosis, calm. Forward.”

The onix’s agitation fades slightly and they travel deeper into the smoke, but before long Aeosis becomes unruly again. Brock begins to worry at his behavior. Combined with the low visibility around them, he’s not sure they can avoid crushing someone in their path, and soon he taps the command to stop.

“Something’s got Aeosis riled,” he tells the others through the radio as he unbuckles and leaps to the grass. “I’m dismounting.” Aeosis rears up once he’s clear, head snapping more branches and making them fall in a series of crashes that are almost lost in the onix’s roar.

“Aeosis, down!” Brock yells once the sound fades, ears ringing. He looks around, but can’t spot any threat that his pokemon might be responding to. He reaches forward and taps the command against its body, but the onix doesn’t heed either.

The Gym Leader quickly grabs the nearest boulder segment of its body and begins climbing, fingers gripping the edges to pull himself up and up, past his saddle.

Aeosis sways and turns a bit, an automatic reaction rather than an attempt to shake Brock off. He holds on tight until Aeosis is steady again, then reaches up to the last few boulders so he can grip the horn on its head. He braces his feet against the onix’s right jaw so he can look it in the eye closest to him.

The onix’s head is a bit bigger than he is, its eyes each the size of his fist. The smoke makes it too hard to see the shape and size of his pokemon’s pupil, and Brock has to go by other cues to judge his pokemon’s mood.

“Aeosis! Down!” He taps out the command on the rocky skin of his pokemon’s head as he says it, staring into the onix’s right eye as best he can through the thick smoke.

Its jaw opens, and Brock kicks off, gloved fingers carefully gripping the blunt side of Aeosis’s horn. The jaws snap on empty air, and then Brock is swinging back, heels slamming into his onix just beneath its jaw.

Brock hangs on tight as his pokemon rears back, more in surprise than any pain. Before it can try anything again, he pulls himself up past its mouth until he can crouch on its snout, staring into its eyes from an inch away. “Aeosis! Down!

Brock is distantly aware that his remaining gym members have arrived, fanning out in a loose circle as they watch. They know better than to interfere, but if Aeosis begins to rampage…

His pokemon shakes its head to the side. Not hard, barely a fraction of its full strength… but its full strength is enough to topple a building. Brock is whipped around its horn, the rough edges scraping his heavy gloves as he holds tight to avoid being flung off. He distantly hears yells of alarm from the others as the wind whistles in his ears.

He lands with another doubled kick on its jaw, pain jolting up his legs and pelvis, shoulders and wrists aching. “Stay back, everyone!”

Aeosis growls, eyes rolling to Brock’s new position on his left side. Brock’s hand goes to the heavyball at his belt. He could return Aeosis, get him under control where it’s safer… but that would have to be after tonight, since it would be impossible to find a space big enough to release him within the forest.

Worse than that, it would prove that he’s incapable of controlling his own pokemon.

His hand goes past the ball and unzips his pocket, then pulls out some small quartz shards. He presses them against the pokemon’s lips, letting its taste buds there feel the crystals. Aeosis makes a sound of hunger, and Brock whips his hand away just as his pokemon opens his mouth and snaps at the air.

A drop of sweat rolls down Brock’s neck, easily attributed to the diffuse heat of the nearby fire. “No, Aeosis. Our people need us, and you will listen to me, now! Down, Aeosis, down!”

The only sound is the rapid beat of Brock’s heart as his pokemon shifts its head from side to side… then lowers itself to the grass, laying out flat with a crash that nearly dislodges him.

He holds on for another few seconds, and then slowly steps down, ignoring the pain in his legs, merely glad that they’re still steady. He brushes the quartz against its lips again. “Good, Aeosis. Very good.” His pokemon opens its mouth, and he throws the crystals into its maw for it to crunch and swallow. Aeosis makes a contented sound from deep inside the long caverns of its body.

Brock strokes the ridges above its eyes until it closes its lids in satisfaction. Only then does his Second approach, dismounted from her dodrio. “What happened?” Sharzad asks.

“I’m not sure.” Brock looks around in the thick smoke again, where the other gym trainers have formed a loose semicircle. “Everyone, scout out in pairs, and stay alert!” They begin to move in expanding loops, disappearing between the trees as they explore outward.

Sharzad approaches and strokes Aeosis’s other eyeridge, long black hair tied back in a heavy braid. “What is it boy? What got you so spooked?”

Brock smiles as his onix responds positively to her touch, some of his tension fading. That had been far too close for comfort. Luckily Aeosis seems fine now.

Despite how responsive Aeosis often is, it would be a mistake to treat him like any other pokemon. No matter how much they trained, the onix’s temperament remains wildly unpredictable at times, and with so much power even the slightest mistake can be disastrous. The thought of what Aeosis would do if he ever went on a true rampage has kept Brock up many nights, and compelled him to spend more hours training the onix than the rest of his pokemon combined.

A year before, Brock fought a fully grown tyranitar that came down from Mount Silver. Four stories tall, each of its feet the size of a car, able to level a building with a sweep of its tail. He commanded Aeosis to wrap around it, hoping to bind it into submission for long enough for help to arrive. But after a few seconds of grinding, there was a massive crack, and the tyranitar’s struggles ceased. Brock stared in shock as his onix began feasting on the broken granite skin of its opponent, the enormity of the power he had harnessed truly registering for the first time.

Ever since Brock captured the legend of Mount Moon two years ago, he became something of a mythical figure in Pewter. It helped him expand the gym’s power and influence, but many of the residents began treating him with a deference that bordered on worship, which was distinctly uncomfortable. A number of the city’s citizens, especially the older ones, viewed Aeosis as a god, the progenitor of his race. Brock tried to convince others to work with the onix, but most were too afraid or reverent to attempt it.

As he told anyone who would listen, such talk was foolishness. A god would not be captured and tamed like any other monster, however perilous it had been to accomplish. Like the storm birds, they would be forces of nature beyond human control.

In private though, he can occasionally admit how that might describe Aeosis after all. Sharzad was the only one besides Brock willing and able to train the onix. She explained that in her home country, the onix grew nearly as big more regularly than in Kanto, though she admitted to never seeing one quite his size. It gives Brock a measure of peace to know that if something happens to him, Aeosis would be in good hands.

“He’s probably just unused to the smoke,” she says after a moment, reaching into the pouch at her waist and feeding Aeosis a small amethyst. “Maybe if he went underground he would feel more comfortable?”

Brock rubs his chin. “Maybe. He could submerge just enough that I could still ride him, if we’re careful. But it would heavily damage the tree roots, and-”

“Leader!”

Brock’s hand goes to his ear piece. “Go ahead Wallace.”

“We found two trainers, dead. They weren’t absorbed or eaten, but their bodies long, deep cuts.”

Brock relays the info out loud, and Sharzad swears under her breath, hand at her belt. “Killing without feeding. The only things in the forest that come to mind are shiftry.”

“And they would be virtually invisible in the smoke.” Brock switches to general chat. “High alert to all points! There may be camouflaged shiftry around us.” He switches to group one’s frequency. “Regroup everyone. With any luck Aeosis scared away any that were near, but don’t take any chances.”

“Return!” Sharzad’s dodrio disappears in a flash of light, her hands moving in a blur. “Go, Skydart!” Her huge fearow bursts into existence mid air, and she catches its ball with one hand as her other points outward, spinning in a slow circle. “Whirlwind!”

The fearow caws and tips into an angled spin, flapping wings barely able to fit in the limited clearing Aeosis created above them. The gusts of air send the smoke billowing outward in every direction, and the shiftry are suddenly there like a magician’s trick.

Brock counts five of them standing well away from Aeosis, and when he turns to look look back the way they’d come he sees another dozen approaching the many segments of the onix’s body, possibly more hidden in the smoke farther back. They must have been following them for awhile, more and more drawn to gather for a slaughter.

The ground practically quakes with Aeosis’s growl, but he doesn’t lose control again, glaring at the plant monsters with dilated pupils. Brock and Sharzad exchange a look, and then she holds both arms up and yells “Fly!”

Her fearow swoops down and grabs her arms in his talons, lifting her off with a few beats of his powerful wings. Brock leaps up onto Aeosis’s saddle and straps himself in with one hand as the other goes to his earpiece. “Everyone, use wind to push away the smoke,” he says in general chat. Smart enough for an ambush. Probably even smart enough to recognize a type advantage. “Aeosis, Bide.”

His onix immediately surges around into a coil, Brock holding tight as they whip around and around over Aeosis’s lower body with the grinding sound of stone on stone. Within moments, the pokemon’s entire length is wrapped in an ascending circle, with Brock riding the boulder near his neck at the top, well above the bulk of the onix’s body. Aeosis continues to churn slowly in place, letting them watch all sides.

If the shiftry were distracted by the sudden movement, they get over it quickly. Some bound forward, sharp leaves extended, while others stay back and begin to spit seeds out. They crack against Aeosis’s sides without leaving a mark, but moss and roots swiftly grow where they struck, spreading their way between the boulders as the forward shiftry slash and hack at him, their sharp leaves tearing against his rocky skin and leaving behind lines of acid that etch into the stone of his hide.

Aeosis’s body vibrates as he growls, but Brock taps out his custom command again. Bide, just a little longer… Shiftry are some of the most subtle and cunning pokemon around. If Aeosis just rushed at them, they would use their speed and agility to keep their distance, harry his sides and rear with quick strikes. It might take hours, but eventually they would whittle the titanic onix down.

More and more of the shiftry close in, covering Aeosis’s outer coils with acid scars and roots. Brock keeps his body low and slides his arms into straps along the saddle to avoid any seed that might shoot higher, and to be prepared for what comes next. He watches one of the shiftry in the distance finish spitting seeds out and leap forward to use its leaf blades.

A mirthless grin peels Brock’s lips back. Smart as the shiftry are, humans are smarter. And combined with his training and guidance, the prey they trapped is far too large for them.

Aeosis trembles beneath him and coils himself tighter, almost as if he’s trying to shrink into himself, and the shiftry’s attacks grow more frenzied, most of the remainder swooping in for the kill.

Now. Brock’s claws tap six times against Aeosis’s skin.

GROOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAARRR!

Brock keeps his eyes tightly closed as he’s whipped left and right, body tied so securely to the saddle that he’s in more danger of throwing up from nausea than he is of getting flung off. He’s long since grown used to the disorientation however, and simply holds tight and endures it while his onix unleashes the rage it had built up.

First the tail, swinging out in an unwinding arc that sends shattered shiftry sailing through the air, most already dead before they smash into trees. Then the head, darting left and right, rising and falling again and again to chomp down on the plant pokemon that had avoided the tail. In less than ten seconds, over twenty shiftry lie dead and dying, some chomped in half, the rest broken and battered into pulp.

Brock suddenly tastes eggs, hears a creaky door, feels the chill of the winter wind. A kaleidoscope of colors explode behind his eyelids, and his nose feels stuffed with cut onions, the acidic fumes melting his brain into jelly as the sensations all shift, then shift again, then overlap in a maddening mix. His skin feels both hot and cold in overlapping waves, and his sense of gravity completely unhinges so that it feels like he’s clinging to the saddle to avoid falling into the sky, then feels the pull to his left side, then all directions at once.

Aeosis makes a sound of confusion, slowing to a stop and writhing spastically. Brock struggles against the whirlwind of sensations and opens his eyes a crack as he bounces up and down. The three shiftry that remain are standing far back, and through his goggles, their eyes glow a brilliant green.

His pokemon suddenly flips himself over, rolling into a tree and collapsing its trunk over his back. The spike on his head keeps his foremost boulder segments from touching the ground, and ensure that Brock isn’t crushed in his carefully located saddle. Brock doesn’t know what sensations his onix is being overwhelmed by, but he can feel his own mind scrambling under the assault, and he grits his teeth as he struggles to stay conscious-

At first his brain interprets the high pitched screech as just another hallucination, but then the mental attack abruptly ends. Brock’s whole body sags, and he opens his eyes again to see Sharzad and Skydart diving at a shiftry. They stop mid-air, and there’s a flash before they fly back up. The shiftry they dived at is gone.

The others look up and around, but Skydart dives at them from the other side this time, and silently. He flaps his wings to stop just above them and hover for a couple seconds, displacing the newly gathered smoke. Sharzad hangs one handed, the other holding a greatball out so that it locks on to one of the shiftry, then tossing it for the capture.

The last one tries to spit seeds out at the fearow, but Sharzad shouts “Drill Peck!” and lets go, rolling along the grass as Skydart dodges the seeds and strikes, beak piercing straight through the shiftry’s eye and into its brain.

Brock looks away as the shiftry topples to the ground and the bird pokemon’s long, cruel beak darts in and out to feed, stomach queasy enough. Sharzad collects her great balls and stuffs them in her bag, then goes around to all the shiftry spread out in a circle around them. A couple more get captured as they lie bleeding and broken, but the rest are apparently dead.

By the time she approaches, Aeosis and he are mostly recovered, and Brock has unstrapped himself to feed the onix some more gems. “You two alright?”

“Yeah.” He rubs Aeosis’s eyeridge, then checks his wounds. None are serious enough to warrant medical attention: the onix’s hide is so tough that the acids had burned themselves out before penetrating far. “Nice timing.”

She smiles. “They’re vulnerable when they link up to do mental attacks. Do you think there are more around?”

The Gym Leader frowns. “I doubt it.” Shiftry are fairly rare, and while groups of them ambushing trainers aren’t unheard of, it’s strange to see quite so many. “In fact I’m surprised there were even this many in one area. They must have come from all around…”

The others have begun to arrive, staring around at all the dead shiftry and murmuring in surprise and alarm. Wallace approaches Brock, holding a pair of IDs. “The trainers we found. I marked their coordinates for later.”

“Well done.” He reads their names, Pamela Harris and Derek Watson, committing them to memory and studying their pictures as best he can in the dim light. Their deaths had warned him and his gymmates of the danger they faced. The least he could do is know who they were.

“Everyone else okay?” Sharzad asks, and the others confirm that they hadn’t encountered any trouble. “They must have all been drawn to Aeosis.”

Brock nods and puts the trainer IDs away. “Let’s get going then, before any more show up.”


The fire is a fearsome thing, burning hungrily for kilometers and constantly threatening to spread further. The Rangers and trainers have done a good job with the firebreak, but even with dozens of them working together, they could only expand it outward a bit at a time.

Aeosis almost doubles its size in one lap, then doubles it again in another two.

Brock stands on the onix and holds onto his horn as he tunnels just a bit beneath the surface, guiding him along the edge of the firebreak by tapping on it. Grass, roots and bushes are no obstacle, and the occasional tree takes only a few minutes to uproot and push aside.

After about an hour, the firebreak stretches far enough to safely contain it in every direction. Brock returns to Ranger Haru, who thanks him profusely for his aid. Most of the other rangers and trainers have begun to disperse, some to rest farther from the heat and smoke, others toward preregistered distress signals. Brock already sent the remainder of his group along to help them, and now that the fire is contained, he begins to search for a trainer or Ranger that might recognize the trainer IDs they found.

Someone eventually tells him he saw them with Ranger Malcolm, and when Brock tracks the coordinating Ranger down, his face falls as he takes the IDs.

“Yes, I sent them out,” he says taking his cap off and wiping at the sweat on his forehead. “Those damn shiftry… we had some others encounter them too.” He gestures toward three trainers, two boys and a girl, who are helping with some final cleanup efforts.

“Really?” Brock eyes the trainers, impressed. There probably hadn’t been as many as had attacked him, but they all seem fairly young, one of them especially so. In fact…

“Blue Oak?”

The youth looks up from the branch he’s dragging, then snaps to attention. He hesitates and looks at the other two, who nod at him to go ahead before he jogs over. “Yes, Gym Leader?”

“I thought that was you.”

“You recognized me?”

“We didn’t speak, but you were with your grandfather last year when he visited Pewter.”

The young Oak nods. “Of course. I forgot.”

Brock smiles. He can’t tell if the boy is implying that he regularly forgets meeting Gym Leaders, or if he’s just being modest of recognition he gets for being with his grandfather. “I hear you survived an ambush by some shiftry.”

Blue blinks. “Yeah, about an hour ago.”

“How many were there?”

“Six.”

Six more. “This was within the smoke, yes? How did you spot them?” Brock listens in quiet fascination, then shakes his head. “You got incredibly lucky.”

Blue stiffens a bit, chin rising as his face goes blank. “Yes, Gym Leader.”

“So did I.” Brock grins as Blue’s expression turns to surprise, and explains what happened with his own encounter. “Did you check the area, see if there was anything that caused them to attack you?”

“No, we came back to warn others.”

“Could you find the spot again?”

Blue hesitates. “Maybe. The smoke…”

Brock nods. “I understand. Well, I’m glad you’re okay. You do credit to your family name.”

Blue bows his head, “Thank you, Leader.”

Brock is about to turn away when the boy looks back up, seeming poised to say something further. “Yes?”

“You brought help, right? From Pewter?”

“I did. They’re spread out now assisting others.” Brock frowns. “What’s wrong?”

“I left some friends to come help with the fire. One was injured. If you wouldn’t mind, could you…”

Brock already has a hand on his earpiece, picking up on the boy’s concern. “Names?”

“Red Verres and Leaf Juniper.”

Brock asks over every frequency if anyone has encountered either, and gets the affirmative from Julie. “One of my people has your friend, Red, and is taking him to Pewter. She says the girl stayed behind at your camp.”

For a moment Brock thinks Blue is going to faint in relief, the young boy rocking back as his shoulders sag. He puts a hand out and grips his shoulder. “You alright, son?”

Blue takes a deep breath and nods, standing straighter again. “I’m fine. I just… thank you, Leader.”

The new sincerity in his voice makes Brock smile. He squeezes Blue’s shoulder, feeling the strength of his bones before letting go, remembering Aiko. His position often carries with it many burdens, but it’s moments like this that he feels most deserving of his title. “Thank you, trainer, for your assistance. Feel free to stop by the Gym, if you’re going to Pewter.”

Blue nods. “My friends and I were heading there.”

“Then stay safe until we meet again.”

The boy says goodbye to Ranger Malcolm, then the other two, and heads off into the forest at an odd hopping jog.

“What will you do now, Leader?” the Ranger asks.

“Head farther south. The Viridian Gym might need help with emergencies closer to their side of the forest.” Especially since Giovanni isn’t usually in his city, Brock refrains from saying. It would be uncouth to speak critically of how another Gym Leader manages their city. “Yourself?”

Malcolm sighs. “Once this fire dies down, we’ll have to assess how big an impact tonight will have on the ecology, and decide where and when to rebuild our outpost. The initial pikachu and raichu rampage that started this mess is just the beginning of our worries here. Combined with poachers that will come to take advantage of the confusion and chaos, a Ranger’s work is never done.”

“So it’s said.” Brock holds out his hand. “On behalf of Pewter, thank you for your service. If you need anything from my city, please let us know.”

The Ranger takes it. “Thank you, Leader. Your people made a great difference here, as did your onix. Good hunting.”

Brock nods and heads to Aeosis. He notices that it’s a bit easier to see than it was, and checks the time. Half past four in the morning. The sun’s rising.

Weariness numbs the edges of Brock’s thoughts, but he ignores it and remounts. “Group One, we’re headed south. Form up.”

There’s a lot of forest to cover, and a Gym Leader’s work is never done either.