All posts by Damon Sasi

Chapter 14: Desensitization

“So, what if we cut off Blue’s finger?” Leaf asks as they walk.

Blue glances at her, then steps to the side of the road so Red is between them. “I’d tell Squirtle to bite off two of yours, is what.”

Leaf grins. “She’d have to get through Bulbasaur first. My point is, would a psychic be able to lift it immediately after?”

Red scratches his hair, considering Leaf’s question. The morning dawned with clear blue skies above, and after a communal breakfast, they said goodbye to Allie, Matthew and the twins and resumed their journey north. Once they were on their way, Red filled the others in on the details of his spinarak capture, and his conversation with Professor Oak.

“It’s a good idea-”

Blue steps farther from him too.

“-but hard to test, obviously. From what I read, cut hair and nail clippings lose whatever protection they have as soon as the dark type moves away, since the ‘dead zone’ they passively emit doesn’t extend past their skin. And psychics have reported that the dead zone fades shortly after death, though that’s medical death, not brain death. So I’m not sure how long a severed body part would retain it.” Red puts on a speculative look and peers intently at Blue’s hands, stroking his chin.

“Hey!” Blue says as Leaf laughs, and slows his pace so that he’s behind both of them. “Keep your beady eyes to yourself and find a pokemon to chop up for your experiments.”

Leaf’s laughter cuts off, and she frowns over her shoulder as Red mutters “beady eyes?” to himself. “That’s disgusting! You’d have to do it while it’s still alive to test it.”

“You just suggested chopping off my finger!”

“It was a hypothetical! Some pokemon are actually butchered alive.”

Red blinks. “Are they? Which?”

Leaf grimaces. “Shellfish meat has a bad taste if it’s killed before it’s cooked, so they often boil or chop up living ones.”

“At least they’re killing them for food,” Blue says.

“Is that supposed to make it better?”

“Uh… doesn’t it?”

They start to argue over the ethics of eating pokemon, but Red is too distracted by her example to get involved. He pulls his pokedex out to see if there are any dark-type crustaceans.

“If you care about what happens to your pokemon you must recognize they’re capable of feeling, so why is it alright to kill them for food when we don’t have to?”

“I care about my pokemon because they’re mine, pokemon get hurt and killed in the wild all the time.”

“So that’s an excuse to hurt more of them?”

“It’s a fact of nature. Even plants can feel, if feeling is all you care about, well, something’s gonna die no matter what you eat-”

“Found one,” Red says to cut off their argument before it escalates further. “Crawdaunt, Water/Dark. A group of psychics went to different restaurants preparing them and reported that after they were, er, chopped up, their parts kept their own dead zones for a short time after being separated, but before the crawdaunt died.”

Leaf looks faintly nauseous. “Well, that’s that, then. If the deadzone is tied to the body parts, then it can’t be something in the mind.”

Red shakes his head. “Not necessarily. We don’t actually know the mechanics of how it works. What if the source is the mind, and the field it subconsciously covers the body with just takes awhile to fade?”

They continue to discuss it for the rest of the morning, all the while keeping their eyes peeled for cocoons, webs, or nesting pokemon as they travel. Despite the lower chances of running into pokemon together, no one suggests splitting up again.

Short of blind luck however, Red despairs at finding a hoothoot or noctowl before they leave the forest, let alone some of the rarer pokemon like pikachu or budew. They’ve been walking at about 3 kilometers an hour, and would likely leave the forest by tomorrow afternoon. Thinking of the bird that flew overhead last night, he’s more frustrated than ever that he’s the only one among them without a flier. He’d rather not settle for a pidgey or spearow, neither of which are capable of mental attacks.

In the meantime they bring their own pokemon out and train with them as they travel. Leaf sends her rattata from one bush to another on her side to hone its precision in following directions. She eventually nicknames him “Scamp” after he tries to grab a bit of pokepuff from Blue’s shroomish. The fungal pokemon waddles along beside them on its stubby feet, dutifully sending clouds of different spores and powders over bushes Blue wants to check for hidden wilds.

Red decided to summon Charmander for some physical training. The fire lizards’ strongest muscles are in their hind legs, vital to help them leap out of harm’s way while young and launch themselves into the air when they grow wings.

Once Charmander manages to grab the bit of pokepuff Red holds near his chest, he lifts the next bit to eye level.

“Jump!”

Charmander leaps, biting at the air before he falls back to the grass.

Blue smirks. “Speaking of losing fingers…”

“Come on, Charmander, you can do it. Jump!”

Charmander crouches, then leaps again, snagging the pokepuff.

“Good job Charmander!” Red tears off another piece and lifts it above his head. “Again, jump!” His pokemon tries, again and again, but can’t go higher than Red’s head. He growls and leaps again, snapping at the air before falling to the grass, breathing hard.

“Go on boy, you’re getting higher. Jump!”

Charmander looks at the pokepuff, then him. He makes a gurgling sound, and suddenly starts climbing Red’s leg.

“Hey!” Red stops walking, stretching his arm higher as his other hand reaches for his pokemon. “That’s cheating!”

Charmander pays him no mind, crawling around his side to avoid his hand, tail kept carefully apart as he makes his way up Red’s shirt, then leaps off and grabs the pokepuff. Upon landing, the fire lizard happily curls up on the grass and munches on his prize. Red sighs.

“So are you going to punish that?” Blue says. “Since he was supposed to jump?”

“I wouldn’t,” Leaf says as she tosses a berry to Scamp. “Might discourage creative problem solving.”

Red nods. “Guess he’s had enough jumping for now.” He rubs the soft hide on Charmander’s head, then returns him to his pokeball as the others walk ahead.

Red summons his spinarak for the first time since he caught it. As soon as it’s out, he avoids looking directly at the face-like pattern on its back. He feels his thoughts shying away from the memory for fear of feeling its echo again, but the problem with trying not to think of something-

dark

alone

Red focuses his gaze on one of its legs, quickly bending down to check if its wounds from before healed properly. He can’t quite bring himself to touch the arachnoid, and simply pulls some jerky out, shredding it into small bits for it to eat.

Something simple to start… “Spinarak, string shot!” he says, pointing at the branch of a nearby tree. The bug turns to see what he’s pointing at, then shoots its webbing up, attaching a line to the branch. “Climb!” It scuttles up the string until it can hang from the beach. “Return.” It drops and scurries back over to him. “Good job.”

Red drops the meat strips, and suppresses a sudden shudder as its mandibles clack audibly. He’s glad bug pokemon don’t react as positively to physical affection, because he can’t bring himself to treat it as warmly as his rattata or charmander. And that’s even putting aside the-

cold

hurts

Red shakes himself, breath catching in his throat. This is going to be harder than he thought.

Bug pokemon always creeped him out. Just the thought of his spinarak crawling up his body or resting on his arm makes him break out in goosebumps.

I need to desensitize myself, Red realizes. Pokemon professors need to be capable of studying all kinds of pokemon. Professor Oak doesn’t get squeamish when handling venonat, or paras.

Unfortunately, Red never mastered that particular brain hack. He knows the theory though: small exposures in safe and calming circumstances until he no longer feels an aversion to that, then moving on to more extreme circumstances.

Red sighs and tells his spinarak to follow him as he catches up with the others, then begins training it in basic webbing commands: string shot, trip lines, web traps, slowly working his way up to the more complex traps and obstacles. The other two watch his new pokemon curiously for a bit, but if they notice the way Red avoids looking directly at or touching it, they don’t comment.

The hours pass, and the sun rises to its zenith. Eventually the trio finds a clearing to stop in for lunch. There’s a small boulder resting beside a nearby tree, and Blue points at it as the other two feed their pokemon, then withdraw them.

“Shroomish, Leech Seed!”

His pokemon’s soft body contracts, then pulses, the dimples in its fungal dome sending out half a dozen seeds over the rock. A gel around the seeds causies them to stick, and soon they split open. Thin roots snake out to find the miniscule pits and wedges in the stone, and within few seconds a dozen small cracks are heard. Leaf steps closer and kneels to watch, keeping her hands away from the glistening roots as it they slowly press into the boulder.

But soon the vines stop growing, and the seeds fall off one by one, the ends of their roots wilting. Blue frowns and sends his pokemon to eat them. “That wasn’t particularly impressive. In the vids I’ve seen, leech seed can eventually bring down even an onyx.”

“Well, there’s a difference between ‘living’ stone and ‘dead’ stone. This,” Leaf says as she knocks a fist on the boulder, “Is just rock. It’s virtually devoid of nutrients for the roots to absorb, and is much harder for the digestive enzymes of the leech seed’s roots to break down. But living stone is basically like really hard chitin. It’s still organic.”

“Damn. I wanted to get a sense for how well it would work on Leader Brock’s pokemon. ” Blue pulls out some berries for his shroomish once the pokemon finishes eating the barely grown plants.

“The leader of your Rock Gym is named ‘Brock’?”

“His name’s Takeshi actually, but he goes by Brock.” Red says. “Don’t any of your Leaders use nicknames?”

She smiles. “Yeah, our Flying Gym leader’s is Skyla. So what kind of Leader is Brock?”

“Very involved locally,” Blue says. “The city loves him, which means anyone who wants to be mayor there has to hold his favor.”

“So much for the separation of powers.”

Red shrugs. “The people have spoken. Thankfully he seems smart and competent, so things in Pewter have been going pretty well. They have a lot of civic pride.”

Blue withdraws his shroomish, and the three remove their facemasks and take out food for lunch. Leaf has some bread, cheese, and tomato slices, and Red realizes that he hasn’t seen her eat any meat. Granted, most of their trail food consists of fruit, rice balls and granola. Rather than put her on the spot about it, he tests his hypothesis by offering her some jerky, which she politely turns down. After hearing her objections to the way pokemon are treated, he wonders if she avoids eating any pokemon at all, even the plants and water types.

After they eat, Leaf steps away for a bit to call her mother while Red quickly confirms that Zapdos’s storm is still safely north of Pewter. Blue begins setting up some virtual training for his new pokemon, and Red checks his mail.

He looks at the message from Leader Giovanni again before going to his new messages. It’s still hard to believe that such a huge figure had actually taken the time to respond to a random message by a fan. Red doesn’t consider himself easily star-struck after growing up knowing the world famous Professor Oak, but Giovanni’s accomplishments are just as impressive in their own way. More than that, he has a unique way of rationally looking at the world, and Red always learns something new by reading his blog posts.

Red goes to his new messages and sees one from Professor Oak:

Hello Red,

I sent an email to Elite Agatha last night, and she responded to me this morning. Psychic attacks are generally felt as mental, while ghostly attacks are experienced as emotional. This seems like an antiquated conception of the division between the mind and emotions, which is why we call both mental attacks, but she insists the difference is noticeable to those sensitive to such things, however fine the line is to others.

I’ll ask some others just to verify, but this is Agatha’s area of expertise, and if we take what she says as a working hypothesis for now, the description you gave of the attack makes it seem more emotional than mental. Hard to be sure though. I would make finding out your top priority.

Safe travels,

Sam

Red puts his phone away. “Hey Blue, wanna do me a favor?”

“What’s up?” Blue taps at the pokedex screen, gaze intent.

“Would you mind letting my spinarak use its mental attack on you?”

Blue’s fingers pause, and he lowers his pokedex a bit to look at Red. “Say that again?”

“I’m still not sure if it was a psychic attack or a ghost one, and since you’re dark…”

“No.” Blue turns back to his pokedex.

“I don’t mean right now, but after I train it a bit-”

“Sorry. I’ll pass on testing out its poison too, or Charmander’s fire.”

Red laughs. “Come on, seriously. It won’t affect you at all if it’s psychic, and you’ll barely feel it if not.”

“No shit? I didn’t realize.” Blue raises the pokedex a bit higher, leaning back against his bag so his face is hidden behind it.

Red’s smile fades, brow furrowed. “Why not?”

“I just don’t feel like it.”

“That’s not a reason.”

“Sure it is. Not my concern if you won’t take it.”

A hot flush spreads through Red’s chest. “What’s your problem?”

“An annoying bidoof who can’t take no for an answer.”

And ignites. “I guess it was too much to expect a rational justification from you.”

“Guess so.”

Leaf rejoins them, looking a bit apprehensive. “What’s up?”

“Nothing. Blue’s just being self-centered jackass.”

Blue lowers his pokedex and sits up with a scowl. “You asked me for a favor, but I’m the self-centered one?!”

“You refused without even explaining why!”

“Sorry professor, better get used to the fact that you don’t always get to know everything!”

Leaf steps forward, palms out to both of them and looking a bit shocked. “Woah, guys, calm down…”

Red can’t remember standing, but Blue is too, and he cranes his neck to look at him around Leaf. “If you’re not going to supply a reason for your actions,” Red says as blood pounds in his ears, “Then you can’t complain if I come up with my own.”

“I can if you’re calling me selfish for not obeying your every command!”

“‘Every command?’ Excuse me for assuming you’d want to help me get my researcher license!”

“Well excuse me if I don’t like being experimented on just because I’m dark!”

Red’s anger hits a wall. “What? That’s not-”

“Yes, it is! I’m just a test subject to you now, aren’t I?”

“Come on, you know me better than that! Besides, you said you were over it!”

“I lied, you idiot!”

The two of them are breathing hard as that last shout fades away, and as Red tries to think of something to say, Blue makes a sound of disgust and grabs his water bottle before striding away,

“Wait, Blue-”

“I’m gonna take a leak, Red. Mind if I have some privacy?”

Red stops following, cheeks hot as he glances at Leaf. She’s looking after Blue with a mix of puzzlement and sadness though, and when she turns to Red there’s a fierce light in her eyes.

“You. Explain.”

“It was… I just asked him if… ah, hell.” Red sighs and sits back down, wanting to simultaneously punch Blue and apologize to him. “I asked if he’d mind me testing my spinarak’s mental attack on him. When I told Blue I knew he was dark last night, he said it doesn’t bother him any more.”

“Did you consider whether he was putting on a brave face?”

Red rubs his face. “Not at all. He’s right, I am an idiot.”

Leaf lowers herself to a crouch, leaning back against a tree. “I don’t think taking your friend at his word makes you an idiot. It was a mistake. If you did consider it but ignored it, that might be a different story.”

“You don’t know Blue the way I do. In retrospect it’s obvious that it would bother him more than he let on, like the fact that he didn’t tell me himself after all these years.”

Leaf has a brow raised. “Is it really that big a deal, here? There’s some prejudice in Unova, but…”

“When my mom was our age, it was illegal for them to hold public office,” Red says. “People said someone with a dark mind could hide any corruption from psychics. Like mind reading’s reliable enough to detect that anyway, right? It was stupid superstition at the heart of it. Dark pokemon have pretty much always been seen as evil in Kanto, and a lot of villains in our movies and shows are dark. Things are a bit better now, but you’ll still meet some that makes a big deal of it.”

“Wow. That kind of explains why he kept it secret though, doesn’t it?”

Red shakes his head, anger returning. “Even from me? Talk about lack of trust!”

Leaf frowns. “Red… don’t take this the wrong way, but how many other friends do you have, besides Blue?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Can I make a prediction? Or speculation, rather?”

Her phrasing helps Red take a step outside himself. “Uh… yeah. Go ahead.”

She picks up a dead leaf and begins to slowly shred it with her fingers, gaze down. “I know I just met you and Blue, so let me know how far off I am. You made a few friends when you were younger, but none of them really kept up with you in school as well as Blue did. After he lost his parents and you lost your dad, it became more than just a rivalry. Blue didn’t focus as much on academics, but he’s still smart, and you both had the same drive. Took your goals seriously. Other kids became hard to relate to, and eventually you started to spend most of your time with him or older researchers and lab assistants. But they weren’t really your equals, while Blue was.”

Red is watching her with a mix of embarrassment and admiration. “Okay, you’re not far off at all. In fact your model is surprisingly good considering what info you have. What made all that so obvious?”

She smiles. “Not just you. I think that summary fits him too. I’ve never heard either of you refer to others your age when you talk. Your past agreements or arguments all seem to be with each other. Other than family members, it’s like there’s no one else for either of you. You guys aren’t just friends.”

Red feels a bit uncomfortable as she talks, then distinctly nervous by the end. “Woah, woah, you’re not saying… it’s not like we’re…”

Leaf looks puzzled for a second, then laughs. “No, I don’t mean it like that! I’m just saying, if you were just close friends, he probably would have told you. But beyond that, you guys act like brothers, and brothers sometimes have a sense of rivalry. My guess is, he didn’t avoid telling you out of lack of trust, but because he was embarrassed at being seen as lesser.”

Red thinks back to how he felt after his spinarak blasted him, careful not to think of the blast itself. He hadn’t wanted to tell Leaf and Blue because he hadn’t wanted to admit his weakness. It was only the necessity that made him do so. He wonders how many other important sides of themselves people hide from each other, even those they care about, out of embarrassment. It’s easy to say “He should just trust me” when it’s not you that feels ashamed.

“Yeah. I get it.” Red sighs. “So you think I should apologize?”

“Damn right you should.”

Red gets to his feet as Blue walks back into the clearing. “Hey man, I’m really s-”

“Forget it.” Blue waves a hand. “Let’s just drop it, alright? We should keep moving anyway.”

“Uh… sure. You got it.” Shit. Despite all that, he still hoped to perform the spinarak test. Now he can’t think of a tactful way to bring it up. Red’s movements are aggressive as he packs his bag, but he keeps his irritation off his face as they start walking again.

It’s so frustrating to have the answer to a question so close, and be unable to test it. The itch to know is still there, and it gets worse the longer he tries to think of alternate ways to determine the attack type, all of which are significantly less precise. Worst case, he could just wait to find another normal or dark type to test it on, but a pokemon wouldn’t be able to communicate what it had felt. He finds himself getting angry at Blue again for refusing. Maybe he could arrange to accidentally-

Red slams the door on that train of thought, a sick feeling in his gut. Even knowing Blue would be immune or resistant to its effects, it’s a horrible thing to think of doing to his friend.

To anyone! he screams at himself. That’s Mad Scientist thinking! That’s the kind of thing that gets people branded as Renegades!

Red forces himself to take out his notebook and start writing about something, anything else, as they walk. His hands are shaking a bit. I’d never do something like that, he assures himself.Least of all to a friend. Never.


The kilometers pass steadily underfoot as afternoon gives way to evening, and each of them gets some training in with the rest of their pokemon. Blue and Leaf train with their starters and pidgey, but neither takes out their beedrill, wanting to do some extensive virtual training with them first. Having fewer pokemon than the others, Red brings Charmander back out after finishing with his rattata’s training, and lets the two of them get used to concurrent orders as they walk. After a couple hours, his rattata has gone through three pokepuffs and Charmander two, but they’ve mostly stopped reacting to his words unless they’re prefaced properly. Red is impressed by how much smarter his well-bred Charmander is compared to the wild rattata.

Eventually the sun begins to set, and they find another Ranger Outpost to camp by. They stop at the outpost itself, a small collection of buildings where they can pick up some free traveling rations and food for their pokemon, courtesy of their Trainer IDs.

There’s no spare room for uninjured travelers in the buildings themselves, so the three set up camp within the wards again, using a trio of handlamps to light the perimeter before laying out their bedrolls in a loose triangle. Red calls his mom briefly to assure her he’s still alright, then checks CoRRNet with some trepidation for any news in the area he might have missed. All seems quiet in the forest, however. They’re about twelve kilometers from its northern edge, and fifteen from Pewter. Zapdos seems to have swung to the west, and Pewter is no longer in a state of high alert.

“I’ll take last watch,” Blue says as he finishes eating, then slips into his bedroll and turns to his side before waiting for a response.

“Okay,” Leaf says. “Night.”

“Night,” Red echoes. Despite saying they’d put the fight behind them, Blue was distant all afternoon. Red isn’t sure how long he’ll stay upset, but he’s willing to wait at least a day before poking at it. Normally after a big fight they would keep their distance and cool off for a bit, but that’s not really an option here.

He turns to Leaf. “You tired?”

She shakes her head. “I’ll probably stay up for a bit. First one to fall sleep gets second watch?”

“Deal.”

They lie down and open their pokedexes. Red looks up efficient ways to set up webbing with spinarak, wondering how to make use of it tonight. He could put a bit of pokepuff in it to draw prey. It would probably work on caterpie and other bugs, but a hoothoot would free itself within seconds without spinarak hanging around nearby to distract or attack it after it’s caught.

He closes his pokedex and starts sketching out different web patterns that might better secure a bird pokemon. He could have two sets of vertical lines to the sides of the main web to snare its wings, but what about the talons?

It’s hard to use a bug pokemon’s skills to try and stop a flying type. They got lucky before with Bulbasaur and the pidgey, and Bulbasaur was badly hurt all the same. Red frowns, thinking of psychic and ghost and dark interactions again, and begins writing them all out, then categorizing all the pokemon types.

Substance:

Normal, Fire, Water, Plant, Electric, Poison, Rock, Metal, Bug, Ghost

Descriptive:

Flying, Fighting, Ground, Dragon, Psychic, Ice

“Whatcha writing?” Leaf asks, voice low.

Red cranes his neck to look at Leaf and sees her lying with her hands behind her head, staring up at the dark. He turns back to his notebook and reads the lists out loud.

“Huh. That’s an interesting way to divide them.”

“Remember our conversation a couple days ago? When we just set out?”

“Yeah. You think of the types as emergent properties rather than fundamental aspects.”

“For some, yeah. But I’m not sure if I’m right in all of them.”

“Ground being descriptive does seem odd. But why wasn’t Dark listed?”

Red sighs. “Because I have no idea where to put it.”

He hears her shift and sees her lying on her side to face him, so he turns to do the same. “From what we learned today, it seems like a fundamental aspect of their biology.”

“Possibly.”

“Probably.”

He shrugs a shoulder. “Maybe probably. The way their immunity works is moderate evidence for it. But there’s other evidence against. Before, I would have said Dark Type was descriptive for the same reason Psychic is. That there’s nothing inherent to the biology that interacts uniquely with certain elements or substances, the way water conducts electricity or metal is harder than rock. Is every cell in a psychic type psychic? Probably not: all the phenomenon we observe with psychics relate to their mental powers’ strengths and shortcomings, not their biology. So I thought Dark types were similar, because other than their unique resistance and immunity to ghost and psychic phenomenon, they don’t really have any unique interactions.”

“But that’s not actually true,” Leaf says. “You have Fighting down as Descriptive-I understand why, I remember your point from earlier-but even if it’s just a label put on anything that is really muscular and agile, fighting pokemon tend to have a clear advantage against Dark pokemon, even the physically tough ones.”

“But is that because of something unique to the Dark typing, or just an interaction of the individual species? There aren’t really many physically strong Dark pokemon. Some are very fast, and some are bulky, but by and large, they’re not strong. So what if it’s just the result of that?”

“But then other strong physical types, like Rock-”

“Think outside the bounds of the typing system for a moment: is there any reason that a Fighting pokemon’s punch should be so much harder for an umbreon or mightyena to recover from than, say, a heavy rock thrown at them, or a body slam?”

Leaf takes a few moments to think about it, eyes staring down. Red waits patiently for her to finish setting aside the assumptions their cultures surround pokemon types with.

Eventually she looks up and says, “No. But from all we can observe, that’s just the way it is.”

Red slumps back, arm covering his eyes. “I know,” he moans quietly. “It doesn’t make sense!”

Leaf laughs, hand over her mouth. “If the evidence doesn’t match your beliefs…”

“Right, right.” Red sighs. “Just because something doesn’t make sense to me doesn’t mean the world’s wrong. It just means my model of the world is off somewhere.”

“Why do you care about this so much anyway? It seems like the kind of thing a competitive trainer would obsess over.”

Red feels himself get defensive, then realizes she’s asking out of genuine curiosity. After only having Blue to discuss things like this with for so long, he’s not really used to that. “Because it confuses me, and things that confuse me are the best warning flags I have to unknown unknowns.”

Leaf smiles. “Unknown unowns? You think there are more than twenty-eight?”

Red grimaces, lips twitching up. “That was a terrible pun.”

“Inown.”

Red groans and mimes throwing his pencil at her. She ducks her head, then comes up grinning. “So you mean it’s the way you realize there’s something you don’t know that you don’t know?”

“Right. When we feel confusion, it’s the result of some new data that’s at odds with our model of how reality is. So either our model is flawed for not being able to account for the new stimulus, or the stimulus is false.”

“Like if Blue wakes up tomorrow and starts reading science journals?”

It’s Red’s turn to cover his laugh, and he turns to glance at his friend’s still form. Blue’s breaths are steady and even. “I’m still holding out hope he will eventually, but if it was something sudden, then yeah.”

“And since your model of Blue includes a disinterest in science articles, then maybe that part of the model is wrong.”

Red nods. “Just the first few times though, after which my model of him will have updated, and it won’t be confusing anymore. Alternatively-”

“Alternatively, your model of the article might be what was wrong. Your confusion would be from ‘why is Blue reading something he normally finds boring?’ but maybe it’s about something relevant to competitive battles.”

“Have we been reading the same blogs?”

“Not in this case, but it makes sense. Except, what do you mean by the stimulus being false? Like if it’s just an illusion of Blue, or a hallucination?”

Red smiles. “That’s a possibility, though a very low one. More likely is that he’s just pretending to read an article to irritate me.”

She raises a brow. “Does he do that?”

“Not really. Though when we were younger he once started carrying around a notebook and randomly scribbling in it every time I did or said something.”

Leaf buries her laugh in her arms. “It’s not funny,” Red says, indignation fighting his own smile. She nods without looking up, and his smile wins out. “Okay, it’s a little funny. Anyway, that’s why I’m so interested in pokemon types. They’re a major clue to the way the world really works, and the more they don’t make sense, the more I wonder whether what we know is really accurate.”

Leaf is still smiling when she raises her head, but her tone is serious. “Have you considered whether we just can’t understand it? If it’s just something unknowable?”

Red shrugs. “Sure, but what’s the use of that kind of thinking? Just throw our hands up and stop trying to figure things out? There may be limits to what our flawed and feeble minds can do, but until there’s a sign we’ve reached it, I don’t see the point in being pessimistic.”

“Just checking to make sure. It’s at least worth recognizing when you might be on a dead end path.”

“Yeah. What about you? Doesn’t the weirdness of typing interest you at all?”

Leaf turns to lie on her back again. “Sure. But then, everything interests me. That’s kind of my problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was raised by two generations of professors. Mom just got her title and lab last year, but she’s always been a researcher. Grampa specialized in pokemon population distributions when I was a kid, so we traveled all over Unova when I was growing up.”

Red refrains at the last second from exclaiming over how cool that must have been. Her mood is too melancholy, so instead he just says, “What was that like? I’ve lived in Palette my whole life.”

“It was fun, for the most part. I made a lot of different friends… but I had a hard time relating to them, and always had to move again soon. I had a lot of cool experiences and opportunities, but never stuck around in one place long enough to really feel like I belonged, or focus seriously on a single project. I’m interested in a lot of different fields of study, but not really an expert in any of them. I’m good at living outdoors. I’m an okay fisher, back when I fished. I’m good with pokemon, I’m good with numbers. I liked gardening, but wasn’t so good at that. I’m okay at programming, I actually enjoyed it a lot, but I only had a few tutors spread out over the years and there was never much time to really learn it formally or practice much.”

Leaf goes quiet after that, and Red keeps the silence, waiting. Eventually she says, “I want to find something I’m really great at. I want to be an activist, maybe go into politics, but I’m too young to be taken seriously in most fields other than as a trainer. And I felt like my worldview was too tied to Unova’s culture. I wanted a wider perspective, to see how other regions think about pokemon and human interactions. I had the idea for a book on the legends of different cultures because I like writing, and grampa’s research on Unova’s legends always fascinated me. The way people describe the old stories of Zekrom and Reshiram’s battles as a clash between Truth and Idealism, or how they ascribe meaning and purpose to the Forces of Nature when they go around causing disasters.”

Red smiles a bit. “Well, you came to the right place if you’re looking for parallels to that.”

“Yeah. Comparing the different views on your Storm Trio and our Weather Trio should be interesting. Speaking of which, are you and Blue really planning on heading into the storm if Zapdos comes?”

“Yeah,” Red says after a moment. He doesn’t bring up his contingency plans in case Blue might not be fully asleep or wakes up at any moment. It occurs to him that he could send her an email, give her an idea of his plans and enlist her help. “But like we said, we’re not going to just rush at Zapdos and try to take it down. We just want to help others, for now.”

“Still, you’ll need well trained pokemon just to handle any wild pokemon rampaging due to Pressure. Do you think three pokemon are enough?”

“No, I don’t. We’re not likely to find new pokemon training ours while we travel though.”

“So what’s your plan?”

“What makes you think I have one?”

Leaf smiles. “Unless your notebook is full of nothing but doodles, you’d better have something.”

Red smiles back and pushes himself to his elbows. “You know, I actually do. And you might be able to help with it…”


Red wakes to the feel of a hand shaking his shoulder. There’s a second of disorientation, then he scrambles off his belly and looks up at Leaf, who’s smiling. “Getsumthin?” he mutters, rubbing at his eyes. “Caterpie again?”

“Nope. Say hello to your first flier.”

Red blinks at her, then pushes himself to his feet and turns to the branches above, where Leaf is shining one of the lamp lights. The second web he instructed his spinarak to weave is still up there, and the pokepuff he’d climbed up and put there is gone. In its place…

Red grins. A hoothoot hangs tangled in the web, sleeping. Its feathers are covered in the sleep spores Leaf’s bulbasaur had coated the web with.

“Awesome,” Red says, mind coming fully awake as he gets out his pokeball. “When-”

“Just now. I heard its wings, then it struggled a bit in the web. I think its beak was full of the pokepuff, because it didn’t make much noise. We should set up another one, maybe we’ll get another!”

“Yeah, let me just-”

“What’s going on? We under attack?”

Red and Leaf turn guiltily to Blue, who’s staring blearily up at them. They forgot to keep their voices down.

“Sorry Blue, everything’s fine. We caught a hoothoot.”

Red turns back and aims his pokeball, but the web is too far up. He set the first one lower so they could see it in the light, but a caterpie crawled into it before he even fell asleep. Leaf insisted he take it after giving up his chance at the beedrill, so he caught his second bug pokemon. The second web was put higher, and between the long branches of two trees in hopes of being more accessible to a flier rather than a crawler.

Red puts his pokeball away and begins climbing, and Leaf shines the light on the tree to help him see.

“Oh, nice,” Blue says, getting to his feet and rubbing his face. “Hang up another and catch me one, would you?”

“Sure,” Red grunts, limbs burning as he pulls himself up to the branch parallel with the web.

“We actually hung another two,” Leaf says, pointing. “Nothing in them yet though.”

He straddles it and drags himself carefully closer, then takes out his pokeball and aims it. After a moment it pings, and he lobs it onto the sleeping pokemon. The ball absorbs it in a flash of light and falls to the grass below. “That’s five. Told you I’d catch up to…” Red trails off as a second flash registers to his side. He turns, thinking one of them had caught another that appeared just then, but they’re both looking up at him.

“What is it Red?”

“Thought I saw something. You guys didn’t-”

The night briefly lights up again, and suddenly Red has trouble breathing. His heart races in his throat as he automatically starts to count, feeling his body tremble.

0… 1… 2… 3…

“What was that?” Blue turns to face the direction of the flash. To the west.

4… 5… 6… 7…

“Red! What’s wrong?” Leaf asks.

8… 9… 10… 11…

Red stares out into the darkness of the trees, and sees another bolt of electricity light the distant forest.

Chapter 13: Theory Induced Blindness

As night descends on Viridian, Red checks their map for other travelers setting up camps nearby. There’s one within the wards of the Ranger Outpost, so they head east to join it. The forest darkens quickly, and soon they have their flashlights out to avoid walking into trees or bushes. Red has one eye on his phone to guide them, so he sees when they cross the proximity border of the wards. Whoever’s on watch at the Ranger Outpost just got an infrared image of them, and knows nothing dangerous has arrived.

Eventually they find a small clearing with a ring of dim lanterns hanging on the trees at the perimeter. In the middle are a quartet of sleeping bags with three girls and a boy sitting on them. They rise as Red, Blue and Leaf arrive, and Red can see pokeballs on each of their belts, though the boy only has two.

“Hey there. Mind if we join you?” Leaf asks.

“Sure-sure,” one of the girls says, beckoning with one hand. “The more the merrier.” She’s a bit shorter than the other two, with pitch black hair worn in a pixie cut. The taller pair are identical twins with light auburn hair, while the boy has blonde hair cut in a bowl and wears glasses. All three girls are a bit older than Red, though the boy looks a bit younger. “I’m Allie, this is Ayame and Kiku, and that’s Matthew.”

“Nice to meet you all. I’m Leaf, this is Red and Blue.” Red waves, and Blue tips a salute with his fingers.

The four rearrange their bags in a half circle so the newcomers can start unpacking their things, the bright flashes of their containers lighting up the night. “So, where ya from, where ya headed?” Allie asks as they open the boxes and take out their sleeping bags.

“Pallet.” Blue says. “Headed to Pewter. You?”

“Matthew and I are going south to see our uncle.”

“We’re going to take the Pallet ferry to Cinnabar,” one of the twins says. Red has already forgotten which is which.

He lets the others field questions as he sits on his sleeping bag and takes out his notebook. The whole walk here, he couldn’t get his mind off Luke and the beedrill. Maybe his daily assessment will help him stop circling around it.

Red takes out a granola bar and begins writing as he eats. He knows it might come off as rude, but at least Matthew seems similarly disinterested in small talk, playing on a handheld game system.

Mistakes I made today… He taps his pencil on the sheet, thinking over the trip from Viridian City. Nothing too major there. He overcame his fear of the skarmory, and didn’t make any impulse purchases. Once he got to the forest though, he nearly lost his pokedex. Red grimaces and writes, Be more careful with pokedex. Invaluable asset is not worth risking for higher chance of encountering pokemon. At least he hadn’t tried it at night first: he can just imagine a noctowl swooping by and snatching it out of his hand.

Now that he’s crossing that strategy out though, he needs a new one. He turns back to a previous entry where he’d written down ideas for how to find pokemon-

“You’re from Unova?”

Red looks up to see Matthew talking to Leaf, his game system forgotten. “I am,” she says with a smile.

“Cool! Do you watch League of Heroes?”

Her smile turns to a grin. “You know League of Heroes? I didn’t think it was available here.”

“Allie and I watch it online,” the boy says. “It’s great!”

“What’s League of Heroes?” Ayame or Kiku asks.

“It’s a Unovan cartoon, like Power Force Ten. There’s a video game too.”

“What’s Power Force Ten?” Leaf asks, and the group chuckles. Red turns back to his notebook. Using forms of bait or instructing his pokemon to find natural prey in the area are his best bets. Though now that he has a spinarak… He writes String up webs, maybe wait on a branch for it to catch something.

“You first.” Allie says.

“Well, it’s a about a team of superheroes,” Leaf says. “There’s Crobatman, he’s an assassin with super reflexes and a wingsuit; Luxray, she’s my favorite, she manipulates light; Ironman, he’s a robot that’s artificially intelligent; Supermon, who has all the powers of the different pokemon types-”

“What, all of them?” Blue asks.

“Seems kind of overpowered,” Red says, distracted despite himself as he erases a miswritten word.

“No, no, he can only use one of them at a time,” Matthew says.

Leaf nods. “He has to switch between them-

“-he can only do it once every ten minutes-”

“-and he gets their weaknesses too. There’s also Techno-”

-she’s my favorite-

-she has no powers, but she’s super smart and has a bunch of inventions-

-she made Crobatman’s suit!”

“Stop interrupting, Matt,” Allie says, batting his arm. “Anyway, it’s a pretty cool show. Power Force Ten is sort of like Kanto’s version of it, in terms of popularity. Nine humans found some of Arceus’s legendary Elemental Plates, the ones for Sky, Earth, Mind, Body, Flame, Sea, Meadow, Lightning, and Stone.”

Leaf blinks. “Why is it called Power Force Ten, then?”

“Oh, Milo is the tenth. He’s considered the ‘Normal’ type-”

Red snorts, and everyone turns to him. He looks up. “Sorry, it’s nothing.”

“Ignore him,” Blue says. “He’s a hater.”

“I am not. Milo is my favorite character.”

“Does he have a power?” Leaf asks.

“No,” Matthew says. “But he makes up for it by being really smart.”

“Like Techno?”

“Not so much with technology, but other ways.”

Red nods. “He’s good at getting the team to work together, thinking outside the box, and is a great strategist.”

“And since he uses pokemon instead of relying on powers, he’s the best trainer among them,” Blue adds.

“What made you laugh then?”

“I just think their idea of the Arceus Plates is funny. I mean, a ‘Sky Plate’ that grants ‘Sky Powers?’ Like having wings is a power, somehow?”

“It’s just a show,” Matthew says with a frown.

“I know,” Red says quickly. “I like the show. I just laughed because calling Milo the ‘Normal Type’ made me imagine them writing in a ‘Normal Plate’…” Now Allie is frowning at him too, and the sisters are raising mirroring eyebrows. “Forget it,” Red mutters and turns back to his notebook, biting into the granola.

There’s a pause, then Leaf says, “So what about the other types?”

Ayame or Kiko tick them off her fingers. “The Dread, Frost, Insect, Spirit, Toxic, Iron, and Draco Plates were found by Renegades.”

“They’re pretty evil,” Kiko or Ayame says with taboo relish.

Once spinarak spins a web, I could put pokepuffs in it to attract prey…

Blue smirks. “And totally badass. My favorite is Magnus. His wife and kid were killed by a metagross, and when the the Dread plate came to him and gave him the powers of dark pokemon, he decided it was so he could wipe out all psychics, pokemon and human.”

“No way, Lung is the coolest,” Matthew says. “He can actually turn into a dragon, it’s awesome-”

…though it might still take too much time while traveling…

“He’s in trouble now that Crystalla might be switching sides,” Allie says, then says to Leaf. “She’s got the Frost Plate.”

“No way, she’s not going to break up with Lung,” one of the sisters say. “Kagari’s charming, but he’s a jerk.”

“He’s a hot jerk,” the other sister says with a giggle.

Blue turns to Leaf. “Kagari’s the-”

“Flame Plate?” She grins.

Red sighs and wishes he’d brought some headphones. He hadn’t really imagined needing to be able to tune out sound on his journey. That excuse isn’t going to be valid forever. It’s not like he has infinite resources though, and no matter how thorough he is in trying to think of them, there are countless things he won’t realize he might need until he does.

He tries his best to focus and writes a bit more as the conversation continues about the different character dynamics, but it’s too distracting. He feels himself getting more and more frustrated as his train of thought keeps derailing, and when he finishes his granola he forces himself to his feet.

“Gonna go call my mom,” he explains, and steps away from the clearing while the others continue talking. Once he’s outside the ring of lanterns and the voices are a mess of indistinguishable noise, he sits down with his back to a tree and he takes a deep breath. He has no reason to be so irritated with the others.

The forest stretches dark and still ahead of him, quiet but for the hum of voices behind and the occasional sound of pokemon in the distance. He hears a flutter of wings at one point, and wonders if a noctowl is on the hunt. Trying to catch one in this darkness would be worse than stupid though.

Red just listens to the wind in the branches and his own breaths until he feels himself again. As he gazes out into the night, he can’t help but wonder if somewhere out there, there are others lying dead or dying, unable to find a safe place to camp for the night.

He shakes himself and lets his breath out, then takes his phone out to call his mom. She answers on the third ring. “Hi honey! How is everything?”

“Hi mom. Everything’s alright. We’re all safe, getting ready to turn in for the night.”

“Are you enjoying the city?”

“We left this afternoon actually. We’re in Viridian Forest.”

“Already? Aren’t you going a bit fast, Red?”

“There just wasn’t much reason to stay. We didn’t become trainers to hang out in the city, you know.”

“I’m just worried about the storm…”

“Yeah, that’s kinda scary,” Red says. “But hopefully it’ll pass before we get there, and if not, there are few safer cities in summer than Pewter.”

“I know. Just be careful.”

Red rubs his knee, which is mostly pain free now. “We will. So how’s everything with you?”

“Productive! I have some news, actually.” She tells him about her plans to return to work in Celadon, which Red is happy to hear. Then she mentions what Daisy showed her last night.

“Pitch and tone…” Red marvels. “That’s an amazing discovery.”

“It was really something else, Red. I wish you could have seen it!”

“I can’t wait to,” Red says. “Daisy has her Researcher license, so once she unveils it at the Coordinator competition, I’m sure she’ll post demonstrations and trials on the pokedex.”

“I’m not sure what the applications of it would be though. Not battles, surely?”

Red’s pencil is in his hand, though he can’t remember taking it out, and he hasn’t enough light to write by anyway. He taps it against his leg instead. “Hard to tell. It sounds like it requires way too much buildup to be used in battles, but if you could pinpoint a certain power’s requisite tone, and if it’s all the same with different clefairy, then it could be invaluable for certain tasks. There’ll be a huge demand for clefairy when the news gets out, especially among researchers.”

“Well then, it’s a good thing you have a heads up.”

Red grins. “I’m definitely not leaving Mount Moon without one. In fact… would you mind if I dipped into my savings a bit?”

“What for?”

“To buy some clefairy.”

There’s a pause. “I don’t know that that’s such a good idea, Red.”

“It’s definitely a sound investment, I promise-”

“It’s not the financial angle. I just don’t think Daisy showed me what she did so you could profit off other people’s ignorance.”

“But I really need the money!”

“So do the people who are selling clefairy, for all you know.”

Red scowls. “It’s not like I can corner the market or anything.”

“So it’s alright if you can only cheat a few people instead of many?”

“Cheat seems a strong word for it-”

“Do you know how many stories I’ve covered on insider trading?”

“That’s completely different!” Red realizes he’s almost shouting, and takes a deep breath, lowering his voice. “I’m not influencing how much clefairy will be worth.”

“It’s not just about whether you have influence. It’s about a mutual understanding of value. The person you’re buying from doesn’t know as much as you do, and you know it. You are deliberately taking advantage of their ignorance.”

“So, what, I can’t buy something I think is undervalued? Different people have different reasons to value something. That’s why they engage in trade.”

“But they share an understanding of each other’s values and motives. Red, if you wanted to buy a clefairy for personal use, it wouldn’t be a problem. But you want to do it just to sell to someone else! You know the buyer wouldn’t take the deal if they knew what you would do with it.”

Red opens his mouth, then closes it. He… actually doesn’t have an argument for that… but… “But I really need the money!” he says, hating how juvenile he sounds.

“What for?”

“Lots of things! I need to buy a new Container, and a TM, and some trainer supplies-”

“Those sound like wants, not needs. You can afford them now, if you really need them, or I’ll give you the money if you can’t.”

I saw a dead trainer today, do you want me to end up like him because I’m not prepared? Red bites down on his lip. He feels guilty just thinking it, and knows he would feel even more guilty if it works. She’s right though: he doesn’t need the supplies so much as he’d feel better or safer having them, which doesn’t necessarily place his need over that of the person selling the clefairy.

“What if I research the person selling it and see if they’re wealthy, first?”

“Pretend for a moment that Blue isn’t related to Daisy, and he’s selling a clefairy without knowing how much more it will soon be worth. Would you buy it from him just because he’s wealthier than you?”

“Dammit,” Red mutters. “Alright, that was a long shot anyway.”

“Or what about-”

“Alright, alright. I get it. You’re right. Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, be thankful your mother is smart enough to stop you from making mistakes.”

Red smiles a bit. “Thanks mom.”

“You’re welcome.”

“What if-”

“Red!”

“No no, hear me out. What if I just buy one clefairy, strictly for personal use? I’m still a bit far from Mount Moon, and they’re really rare. If I don’t see any, at least I’ll have the one. Even if I do see one, Blue or Leaf might catch it. And if I see one and I catch it, then maybe I can sell it. Which is fine, because I caught it myself, right?”

“That… seems reasonable…”

He grins. “Thanks mom! If you see one for less than a thousand, feel free to grab it.”

“…fine. But if you sell it-”

“I won’t. Promise.”

She sighs. “Any preferences?”

“Nah, the gender ratio pretty well balances out the price distortion for breeding.”

“Alright then. I’ll check the markets tomorrow.”

After a few minutes of idler chat concerning her moving plans, Red says goodnight and ends the call with another promise to “stay safe.”

He stares into the dark forest afterward, thinking about Daisy’s discovery. Kanto legends talk about the clefairy family having all sorts of unusual powers. There are records that classify them as part of their own unique type, but most of their supposedly special properties seem exaggerated, if not completely made up.

Still, there are so many unusual things about them that it’s not hard to imagine there being more to them than is readily apparent… and this might be the key to discovering what they are.

Red catches a hold of his excitement and tries to stuff it into a box of lower expectations. Whatever secrets he might discover in clefairy are a long way off. In the meantime, he already has a mystery to tackle: his spinarak. That mental bla-

-dark emptiness, silent and still-

-st had crippled him, and he still doesn’t know why. If the spinarak wasn’t already hurt and ready to run, it might have killed him while he was prone. Blue and Leaf would have found him lying there on his belly, dead as Luke.

Red still hasn’t told the others. He’s too embarrassed to… but it’s not something he can ignore. A weakness like that can get him killed if it cripples him again at the wrong time, and it can get his companions killed. They have a right to know.

But first he needs to know more about it himself. He takes out his pokedex and goes to spinarak’s file, opening it past the menu summary he’d read earlier. He does a search for “psychic” and reads the first paragraph that shows up.

Both in the wild and after capture, spinarak have demonstrated mental attacks similar to some other insectile pokemon[23]. Experiments have ruled out the possibility that it uses psychic reception to identify prey[24], or protect itself: their capabilities seem purely projection of the psychic and ghost variety. However, they are not often the spinarak’s first or even second strategy of attack. The venom its stinger excretes…

Red taps the [24] and skims the referenced research paper. Observations showed spinarak preparing to deal with captured prey differently before it even saw what it had caught. Some experiments were done to determine if it was indicative of psychic powers, or if it was some other sense like scent or the vibrations on the web. The tests indicated the latter, as they were not able to distinguish between an actual pokemon’s thrashing and artificial manipulation. Furthermore, their behavior changed even when dark pokemon were introduced to their webs. Red goes back to the main article.

…can kill pokemon its size in minutes from a small scratch, and if it has room to maneuver, it will often sting its opponents and then use its web to immobilize them until the opponent succumbs to the toxin.[25] However, despite not being classified as Psychic or Ghost pokemon, some rare spinarak have the ability to attack the mind by inducing some mental discomfort through the patterns on its abdomen. While experiments have shown that the visual component is not necessary[26], it does seem to greatly increase discomfort[27]. The exact method and nature of the mental attacks are currently unknown.

Red looks over the rest of the biological info for any more relevant references. He tried reading about psychic phenomenon when he was younger, but the research on it, what little there was, quickly went beyond his comprehension. He moved onto other things after his tests came back negative. There were just so many other things to learn…

Unfortunately, now he finds himself with serious need to know, and little time to get back into the literature. Red closes the file and takes out his phone. He begins to search for Professor Oak’s number, then stops. The professor had insisted he feel free to call whenever, but Red doesn’t want to take advantage of their relationship. He can do some research first, then call the professor when he has specific questions to ask.

He begins to put the phone away, but there’s a niggling discomfort at the back of his mind. He almost ignores it, but months of training in self-awareness has helped occasioanlly identify cognitive dissonance. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, thinking about his motives.

Lying to himself is one of the most useless and dangerous things he can do. If he’s being honest, it’s his pride that made him hesitate to call the professor. Two days into his journey and he already needs help? It doesn’t fit his mental model of himself, where he’s smart and capable enough to learn and understand things on his own.

But objectively, he knows what a stupid thought that is, not to mention conceited. If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Some of the greatest minds that ever lived had purportedly said that.

Red wants to prove himself as at least Professor Oak’s equal. But progress comes from starting farther than the previous generations, and not taking advantage of his mentor’s knowledge would be as dumb as trying to train pokemon without pokeballs or dex, just because the professor had to.

His ego still doesn’t like it, but Red dials the professor before it can come up with another reason to put it off.

“Hello Red, it’s good to hear from you. How is everything?”

“Hi professor. Sorry to bother you so late-”

“Not at all, not at all. I was hoping you’d call soon, actually. Blue’s too proud to do more than check in by text, but I knew you’d let me live vicariously through you. What exciting adventures have you all been up to?”

Red winces. “Actually professor, it took something of an emergency to get past my ego enough to call.”

The professor’s tone sobers. “Everyone’s alright?”

“Yeah, we’re fine.”

“What happened?”

“We saw a dead guy today.”

There’s a moment of silence where Red has time to be as surprised as Professor Oak. That… wasn’t what he planned to say…

“What happened?” the professor asks again, quieter.

So Red tells him about the beedrill swarm, their argument over what to do, the rangers’ arrival, how well the plan went, and how ultimately useless it all was. Professor Oak listens without interruption.

“Ranger Akio said he’d let me know if they learn something. Not sure if I believe him, but it’s better than nothing. I just hate not being able to find out what happened. And I feel guilty, even though it’s hard to think of something else we could have done. Maybe that’s why, because I can’t think of anything better. What if I had a slingshot? I could have shot a potion and antidote capsule at him, maybe it would have kept him alive until the Rangers came. Or Blue could have done it, he’s a better shot than me-”

“Red.”

He stops and takes a deep breath. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright. I’m sorry you all had to go through that, especially so early on your journey. I empathize with your guilt, but you should know better than to listen to it.”

“I’m not just angsting, though. At least I don’t think I am.”

“Is there something you’re not telling me about why you decided to wait for the Ranger? Convincing Blue wouldn’t have been easy if your reasons weren’t sound.”

“I could barely keep myself from rushing in, honestly.”

“I think if you had tried, the three of you would be dead right now. You’re going to have to get used to the frustration of not solving every problem, or you’re going to get yourself killed before you write your first research paper.”

“But I don’t think I’ve learned anything from it. I can’t think of something different to have tried, or something new to do to be prepared in the future.”

“Then maybe it’s because there isn’t anything. Red, your father was a brave man, and he instilled great values in you-”

Something hot and painful coils through Red’s chest. “I’m not trying to be my dad.”

“Then what… ah. Have you been reading Leader Giovanni’s blog?”

Red blinks. “Yeah, for a few weeks now actually. Do you?”

“Now and then. Giovanni was one of my students at some point, you know. Let me guess: you’re worried you failed in your Heroic Responsibility. That you took the easy way out, waiting for the Rangers to arrive.”

“The Bystander Effect-”

“Doesn’t apply nearly as much if you were the only ones present at the time. What’s really bothering you?”

Red closes his eyes and rests his head against the tree. “I felt relieved, when the Rangers came. I thought, ‘Now they can handle it.’ And now I don’t know if my motives for not trying before that were genuine or not.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself Red. It’s not your responsibility to solve the world’s problems.”

Red sighs. Professor Oak is a genius in a number of ways, but… He wonders what Leader Giovanni would say. “Maybe you’re right. Anyway, sorry for not having a more exciting story to share. I know this probably wasn’t the kind of thing you had in mind for vicarious adventuring.”

“Not quite, but I knew to expect it at some point. And I’m glad you told me. Have you spoken to your mother yet?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to worry her. Could you…”

“As long as she doesn’t ask me, I won’t bring it up.”

Red lets out a breath. “Thank you.”

“Of course. Despite my grouching, I still remember what it was like to be young.”

“How long did you go, before something like this happened?”

The professor is quiet for a moment, and Red hears a chair creak. “About two weeks. Some trainers tried to stop a graveler that was stomping through a town. Would have been easy with today’s pokeball technology, but back then… it crushed two of them, and five pokemon, before it was stopped.”

Red’s mind shies away from the mental image. Graveler are often slow enough to be easily captured today, but he can see why they’d be a bigger threat back when Professor Oak was his age, and the precursor to pokeballs only worked within touching distance. “What did you do?”

“Me? Nothing. I was good even at that age, but I didn’t have any pokemon that could help. I knew I would have just gotten in the way.”

Red wonders if the professor had selected this story among multiple he could have told. “That must have been frustrating.”

The professor gives a short laugh. “Very. I was so upset with myself I didn’t even stick around for the funerals. Over time, the guilt got better… especially once I got into situations where I did get involved. When I proved to myself that I had what it takes to help others. Just as I have every confidence you will.”

“Thanks, professor,” Red whispers.

Professor Oak doesn’t respond, merely humming to himself as he settles in at his desk. Red can hear drawers opening and closing, and the sound of rapid typing on a keyboard. Red looks back at the campsite behind him and sees the others still sitting in a circle, talking. He can make out the sound of their voices, but not the words.

“There was something else I called about. The main thing, actually.”

“You have my undivided attention,” Oak assures him, still clacking away on the keyboard.

Red smiles briefly. It’s rare to see the professor at his desk doing any less than two things at once. “I caught a spinarak earlier today-”

“-yes, I saw. Very well done-”

“-but during the fight I was caught in some sort of mental attack against Charmander. It incapacitated me completely for at least a few seconds, and I didn’t fully recover from it for a few minutes.”

The sound of Oak’s typing slows to a stop. “You say it incapacitated you? A spinarak?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell me everything.”

He does, going into detail about the way it felt during and after. As he describes it, he feels the echo of it again, raw and painful in his mind.

“And it still hurts when I try to think of it, professor.” Red’s throat is dry from so much talking, and he considers going to the campsite for his water bottle. “Is that normal?”

“Yes and no.” The professor is typing again, faster than before.

“Could you be a bit more specific? And possibly reassuring?”

“It’s normal for victims of strong mental attack, but quite rare for a spinarak to be capable of that strong an attack.”

“So either my spinarak is an outlier, or I’m the outlier, and I’d react at least as badly to other mental attacks. Or both.”

“First let’s gather some data by testing out one of the pokedex’s new features. Take yours out and go to your spinarak’s entry.”

Red switches his phone to speaker and places it on the grass, then does so. “Okay. Now what?”

“We’ve added the ability to read pokemon’s digital data and quantify it in easy to read metrics.”

“That sounds pretty cool.” He begins poking around the options on the menu. “One of Bill’s programs?”

“Yep. The Pokemon League has been doing the majority of the funding, and we’ve made a lot of progress. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get objective interspecies measures. The best we can do is estimate a pokemon’s capabilities compared to others of the same species.”

Red navigates to the page labeled “Biology,” and looks down the list of options. Diet, Life Cycle, Chemical Composition… “Okay, I think I see it.” He taps Comparative Metrics, and a bar graph slowly begins to populate, comparing things like muscle mass, chitin density, neuron count, and more to the total average of registered spinaraks within the same age and gender range. Some of the bars go up, while others go down from the baseline of 0% difference. “Woah. This is awesome.”

“Indeed. We’re working on one that will compare performance metrics directly, measured through simulations in virtual space, but in the meantime this might help.”

The bars continue to populate, none stretching very far from the center line. “Now let me see…” Red hears a keyboard clacking, and a little notification pings on the corner of his screen to let him know it’s being shared by PROF. OAK. “Ah, it works. Excellent. And it’s just about done… well now. See the outlier?”

“I do, but what does it mean?” Most of the % differences listed are under 20%, either positive or negative. In Chitin Density, his spinarak has a 16% increase in thickness over others. Its venom sacs on the other hand are -12% the size of the species average. But in the last category, labeled “Other,” the difference is 37%, making it stick out from the rest of the metrics and skew the range of the y axis.

“‘Other’ is where the pokedex puts everything else in the data that can’t be easily categorized, or things we haven’t been able to fully study in a species yet.”

Red feels excitement stir in him. “So this could be something new, right? I mean, potentially, this could be important.”

“Absolutely. I think you just found the topic for your Researcher license article, Red.”

Red’s eyes narrow. “Wait, this isn’t like the charmander tail flame again, is it?”

Professor Oak laughs. “Not this time. Just keep in mind, ‘Other’ is something of a useless metric for the most part. It’s a calculation based on mass and defined by the pokemon’s coding. Whatever was left over that we couldn’t easily account for or distinguish goes there: everything from a pokemon’s stomach bacteria to the thickness of its hair.”

“So… I might discover that psychic powers in spinarak are positively correlated with how much bacteria are in its guts?”

“Just think of the headlines. You might start the first diet fad for psychics. Of course, it might also be completely unrelated.”

Red lowers his pokedex. “Professor… could you explain what psychic powers are?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t know that anyone can do that. Even the psychics themselves fall into camps, some decidedly less scientific than others.”

“But you can explain the leading theories, right? I’m feeling a bit vulnerable at the moment, and short of seeking out another pokemon with psychic attacks and letting it blast me, I want to know how likely it is that the… variance is on my end.” He’d almost said “weakness.”

There’s a moment of hesitation. “Red, do you know what theory-induced blindness is?”

“I think I’ve heard the phrase before…”

“A psychologist named Daniel Kahneman coined it. You’ve run across his ideas before, even if you didn’t know it. Theory-induced blindness is a kind of confirmation bias, where thinkingyou know the way the world works means you ignore facts or dismiss ideas that show how it actually works.”

Red processes this, then smiles. “And there’s experimental evidence that supports this? I knew it. I knew it! This totally helps explain the intractability of perceptions of pokemon types-”

“This isn’t just a layman’s bias, Red. Scientists are also vulnerable to it.”

“Really? That sounds… pretty unscientific. How could they just ignore something that contradicts a theory? That’s half the point of testing predictions!”

“Ah, the voice of youth.” Red can hear the Professor’s grin. “You might be surprised how many otherwise intelligent and accomplished scientists can fall prey to it. Especially when inverse incentives are involved.”

“Even you, Professor?”

“Even me. Why do you think I keep so many fresh young minds around?”

“I just figured it’s the next best thing to cloning yourself.” Despite what the professor says, Red finds it hard to believe that a scientist wouldn’t immediately recognize contradicting evidence like a flashing red light. Especially one as accomplished as Professor Oak. He probably did it when he was less experienced-

Red blinks, then abruptly laughs at himself. “Okay, wow. That’s kind of scary.”

“Hm?”

“I just went from doubting what you said to experiencing it first hand, and almost missed the irony.”

The professor chuckles. “Like all biases, it can be subtle. So you see, I’m a bit worried about telling you the predominant hypothesis on psychic phenomenon, let alone whether it’s the one I think is correct. I don’t want to bias your thinking.”

“But I need to know something to help figure it all out, don’t I?”

The professor lets out a breath. “Something, yes. Let me think.”

Red stays quiet as the professor types, using the time to pull his notebook out of his pocket and write “BEWARE THEORY INDUCED BLINDNESS” on the cover by the light of his pokedex, drawing squares around it and putting an exclamation mark at either end, then doodling the open jaws of a gyarados over the top and bottom. After a few minutes, the professor speaks again. “Alright, here’s the crash course. I’m going to do my best to present all the competing theories fairly without promoting one over the others. Forgive me if I go over anything you’ve heard before.”

“Don’t worry about that, it’s been awhile anyway.” Red turns to a fresh page and labels it “Psychic Phenomena.”

“For starters, psychic phenomena are generally classified in two categories: projection and reception. Projection powers are the ones that are the most noticeable to others. They include telekinesis, barriers, teleportation, and reconstruction, among other things. Reception are the subtler powers, like perception, precognition, and focus.”

“Not all psychics have all the powers though, right?” Red asks as he writes.

“Right. Humans psychics vary wildly in strength compared to pokemon of a given species, and are weaker in the few projection powers they have. They seem to be weaker in reception powers too, but since we can’t talk to pokemon, it’s harder to tell. But even all this is controversial, as some academics object to the blanket classifications, and many psychics prefer other interpretations.”

“What do you mean? Mysticism?”

“It’s admittedly a fine line: some of the powers we once considered magical have since been revealed to be psychic, while others we thought were psychic don’t behave the way the majority of psychic powers do, or even the way ghost or dark powers do for pokemon. We think of them all as ‘mental powers,’ but then there are the other unusual abilities people and pokemon have demonstrated: is reading auras a psychic power, or a distinct and separate part of being in tune with ki, as the otherwise non-psychic martial artists insist? Are you starting to see the shape of the problem?”

Red frowns. “There are way too many theories, none of which account for all the evidence.”

“Not by half. And there’s another major problem that throws a snag in everything.”

“What is it?”

“Let’s see if you can figure it out. Pretend you don’t know there are any human psychics, and have only been studying pokemon. What would you say if I told you that humans can exhibit psychic powers?”

Red puts his pencil down and closes his eyes, thinking it over. His first reaction would be skepticism, because if he doesn’t know there are psychic humans, it must be because he hasn’t seen any evidence of them. “I would ask you to show me the human with the powers.”

“What if I said you can’t test their powers right now, but insist you believe they’re true anyway?”

Red opens his eyes, nonplussed. “I… would say you can insist whatever you want, but I can’t make myself believe psychic humans exist outside of a temporary hypothetical, especially when such a thing goes against the natural order as I understand it.”

“So you’d be blinded by your confidence in accepted theories.”

“What? No, that’s ridiculous. There’s a difference between rejecting evidence contradicting your theories and being skeptical of unsupported assertions.”

“Then what argument would you use to try to convince me they don’t exist?”

“None. Until you provide me a reason to believe they might exist, it would be a waste of time. I might as well go around trying to disprove everything random people believe without evidence.”

“But I’m not a random person,” the professor says patiently. “I’m your superior, and I’m telling you that psychic humans exist. How would you convince me I’m wrong?”

Red grumbles and closes his eyes again, turning the problem over in his mind. If he has to try and disprove an untestable assertion, he can only rely on natural laws and time-tested theories that contradict that assertion to cast doubt on it, or refer to ones that would increase the burden of proof beyond reasonable levels. What would make him the most skeptical of psychic humans?

If I haven’t seen or heard of any psychic humans before, my natural inclination would be to assume they don’t exist. But psychic powers do exist, so what makes me so skeptical of the idea that a human could develop them? For them to exist they would have to be an exception to some rule that I already believe about the world, or that my experience leads me to believe is true-

“Oooh, of course. There are no psychic rattata!”

The professor laughs. “Go on.”

“No psychic rattata. Furthermore, no psychic machop, no psychic rhyhorn, no psychic krabby, and no psychic charmander! Pokemon species are either capable of psychic powers or not. Some pokemon like spinarak are capable of limited, narrow mental powers, but there are no pokemon species where one member has exhibited them, but the others haven’t!”

“Exactly. It’s a subset of something called the ‘Speciation Paradox,’ but I like ‘No Psychic Rattata’ better.”

Red runs his fingers through his hair, taking his hat off for a moment and scratching his head as his mind races. “Wow. I’ve occasionally considered ways humans seem fundamentally different from pokemon, but I never really considered the way psychic powers manifest. Now that I recognize it, that’s a pretty major incongruity. It must drive researchers nuts.”

“It does. Unlike the narrow bounds of a pokemon species, humans exhibit wildly varying psychic powers. A tiny fraction have extremely powerful abilities, some have fairly weak powers, and the vast majority apparently have none at all.”

Red puts his cap back on, and begins writing rapidly to cover everything. “So maybe humans, as a whole, are a psychic species with tons of variance. Maybe a lot of what we dismiss as intuition, or even the special bond between some humans and their pokemon, are due to subtle psychic powers. There must be something about our accepted models of psychics, or our accepted models of humans as a species, that this evidence is contradicting.”

“Very good. But it gets worse.”

Red frowns. “Yeah. What about Dark humans? There aren’t any Dark rattata either, outside of those from Alola, which are basically just a different species.”

“Some think it’s just a unique variation of psychic abilities, a defensive adaptation that makes a person or pokemon completely immune to psychic powers. Like pokemon, dark humans project a ‘dead zone’ around them that psychic abilities can’t penetrate, but unlike pokemon, and unlike psychics, no dark human has been able to manipulate that field or take advantage of the other abilities dark pokemon have.”

“That seems significant…” Red says slowly. “I wish I could talk to one of them, and a psychic.”

“I’ll see if I can call in a favor for the latter, but why not just ask Blue?”

Red blinks, pencil pausing mid-stroke. “Wait, what?”

“Oh. Oh dear.”

Red gapes. “That jerk, he never told me! When did he find out?”

“Shortly after he met Elite Agatha. She informed me afterward, and I told him in private. He was quite upset.”

“That’s understandable.” He was disappointed as a kid when he didn’t manifest psychic powers, but at least he could still train psychic pokemon to respond to this thoughts. A pokemon trainer with a dark mind would have twice as hard a time training psychic types, and for some they’d find it completely impossible.

That said, Red can appreciate the trade-off better now that he knows what a mental attack feels like. A blanket protection against psychic attacks, and a resistance to ghost attacks, could be invaluable.

Professor Oak sighs. “I’ll have to apologize for letting his secret slip, I suppose.”

Red hesitates. “If you’d like, I can pretend-”

“No, no. It’s my mistake, and better that he knows you know than maintain a double-deception. It should be something you’re aware of if you’re going to be traveling together anyway.”

“Yeah. Ooo, and this means I can test if my spinarak’s mental attack was psychic or ghost!”

“You’re going to ask it to blast my grandson, aren’t you?”

“…maybe.”

The professor laughs. “Well it wouldn’t be the first time a scientist risks Renegade branding. Just make sure you get him to sign a waiver. Better make that multiple waivers.”

“Wouldn’t it be useful to know, though?”

“You’re wondering if it had such a strong effect because you’re a latent psychic?”

“It crossed the optimistic part of my mind, yeah. But I mean in general, since we’re trying to figure out if there’s something special about my spinarak.”

“Yes, it could definitely be useful to know. Some think psychic and ghost powers are related, certainly more related than psychic and dark. Others think that they’re all variations of the same one. The only things we really know are that some psychics have an affinity with ghost pokemon, and dark trainers have difficulty training either, though psychic types more than ghosts.”

Red’s wrist is cramping from writing so much so quickly, switching between summarizing and writing questions as soon as they spring to mind. “And nothing relates them to ki energy so far?”

“Not so far as I’m aware, though I admit it’s completely outside my area of expertise. Why?”

Red puts the pencil down and flexes his wrist to relieve the ache. “Just thinking out loud. You know my perspective on pokemon types reflecting emergent properties…”

“Ah, yes, I see. Are you reconsidering something about it?”

“Sort of. I’ve been starting to group the types as ‘substantive’ versus ‘descriptive,’ because it helps them make more sense. Like, Water type is substantive, while Flying is descriptive. One is inherent to a pokemon’s genetics, or biological composition. The other is just a description of a property they have.”

“So a pokemon that’s strong is considered Fighting, a descriptive type, but there is nothing inherently “Fighting” about it, unless ki energy proves to exist independent of psychic powers. I imagine you classified Psychic pokemon as descriptive too?”

“Yeah. But now… I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it after I learn more.”

“I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting out.”

“Thanks. In the meantime, I think that’s all the questions I have for now.”

“My advice is to not worry too much about the bigger questions yet. Break the mystery down into smaller problems, and work at solving those. Put the clues together from the outside in.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll be starting with spinarak anyway.”

“Good luck Red, and don’t hesitate to message me again if you think of something else.”

“I will. Thanks again, Professor. For everything.”

“Anytime. Goodnight.”

“Night.” Red closes the call and puts his phone away, ear throbbing from holding it against his shoulder. He finishes writing out his thoughts, and after a few minutes has a page with a flowchart of sorts on it:

Hypothesis: Some biological metric the pokedex classifies as “Other” influences strength of a pokemon’s psychic powers.

Step 1: Find multiple pokemon within a species that exhibit psychic powers.

Step 2: Determine what the relative strength of those powers are between them.

Step 3: Measure their biological metrics to check for correlations between psychic power and Other.

Step 4: If it does, repeat steps 1-3 for another species. If it doesn’t, repeat steps 1-3 with pokemon exhibiting ghostly powers.

Red frowns. He’s going to need a lot of spinarak.


When he gets back to the clearing, the group is still talking about Power Force Ten.

“I’d want the Lightning Plate for sure,” Matthew says. “The superspeed alone makes it awesome.”

“More awesome than flying?” Leaf says. “Sky Plate for me, for sure.” She looks at Red and grins. “Assuming Sky Powers are a thing, of course.”

He smiles back as he sits, feeling considerably more at ease than he had upon first entering the clearing. “Hey, if something like a Sky Plate really exists, far be it from me to decide whether it makes sense. Clearly my view of reality is what’s flawed.” Red takes out his water bottle and drinks, easing the ache in his throat.

“What about you, Red?” Allie asks. “What Plate would you get? Fire?”

“Psychic,” Blue guesses.

“Actually, I’d choose the Fairy Plate.”

Everyone looks surprised. “Fairy types? Those are a myth,” Matthew says.

Red doesn’t remark on the irony. “Maybe. But if Fairy types actually exist, then they should have their own Plate, right?”

“I guess so,” Allie says. “But why do you want it? What would it do?”

“Exactly. What would it do? If it exists, I’d want to find out.”

“I heard legends where they controlled light, like Luxray,” Leaf says. “Turned it into a weapon.”

“I read a book where they could charm others into doing what they want,” Matthew says. “Like mind control.”

The others begin debating what possible powers the Fairy Plate might grant. Leaf turns to Red after a few moments, looking at him speculatively.

“You seem in a better mood.”

He shrugs, then nods. “Had to get something off my chest I guess. Spoke to my mom and Professor Oak.”

“Care to share?”

“Later,” he promises, and she seems satisfied with that.

The conversation continues, then slowly winds down. They arrange for who will take what watch, and Red volunteers to go first, since he woke up so late that morning. After another few minutes of quiet talking punctuated by more and more frequent yawns, the others slip into their bedrolls and drift off one by one.

Blue, who has second watch, is the last to fall asleep. “Want me to wait up with you, Red? Pull a double shift?” he says, voice low.

“Nah, get some rest. Thanks though.”

“No problem,” he mumbles, yawning and turning onto his stomach, arms under his pillow and beside his pokebelt.

“Hey Blue.”

“Hm?”

“Just wanted to let you know… uh… I spoke to your grandpa. I know you’re dark.”

Blue lies quietly for a moment. “That so?”

“He didn’t mean to let it slip, but… well, there’s something I need to tell you. I was kind of embarrassed to before.”

“What’s up?”

“I should wait to tell Leaf too. I just wanted to let you know that I know.”

Blue shrugs his shoulders. “Daisy is too. She doesn’t let it bother her, and I’m over it.”

“Good. I think it’s kind of cool, in a way.”

“Yeah. Gives me an edge against psychic trainers.” Blue shifts deeper into his bedroll. “Remember to wake me on time.”

Red smiles. “See you in a bit.”

As the sounds of the others’ quiet breathing surrounds him, Red takes his phone out and he finds Leader Giovanni’s email address on the Viridian Gym’s site. Then he checks the blog and notices there’s a different address there. Probably better to use that one, since this isn’t concerning gym business.

He thinks over what he wants to say to catch the Gym Leader’s attention. He probably gets hundreds of emails a day. What sorts of things would he instruct a human filter to pass on to him?

Red remembers a podcaster who gets a lot of mail going over his criteria for “Delete, read, or save for later,” and decides it’s as good a set of guidelines as any:

Esteemed Leader Giovanni,

My name is Red Verres, and I’m an apprentice of Professor Oak’s. I have learned a lot from your blog about the responsibility and values of pokemon trainers and citizens, and want your advice on something…

He succinctly summarizes the events at the flower field. It bothers him a bit to namedrop Professor Oak, but he knows that’s just his ego again. He wants a response, and without something early on to distinguish it, there’s little reason for the letter to even reach Leader Giovanni.

…Professor Oak insists that I did all I could. Part of me wants to believe him, but another part is wary of doing so. I think if I do, it would be too easy to excuse myself for not thinking of something that could have worked, and shirk heroic responsibility in the future.

So I was hoping to get your insight on the matter, if you have the time to respond. If you were in my place, with the resources I had, what would you have done?

Thank you for your time,

Red Verres

By the time he finishes, his hour’s nearly up. He does some reading on Theory-Induced Blindness, then puts his phone away and wakes Blue.

“Lucky bastard,” his friend mutters as he rubs the sleep from his eyes. “First and last watch are always the best.”

Red grins as he slides into his own bedroll. “I can stay up if you want, keep you from nodding off.”

“Nah, I’ve got to refresh myself on caterpie lifecycles. Night bud.”

“Goodnight.” Red covers his eyes with one arm to block off the light, quickly sinking into sleep.


Ranger Akio rides his meganium through the forest, the swarm of the beedrill so loud he can’t even hear his own pokemon’s pants for breath. He glances back and sees them coming, a shifting mass of yellow and black, red eyes seething hatred at the prey that stays just beyond their claws.

Once they’re far enough back, he grips tighter with his thighs and reaches both hands down to his pokebelt. With meganium’s pokeball in one hand and arcanine’s in the other, he slowly rises his his knees, plants one foot on his pokemon’s back, and leaps off, pointing it at the plant pokemon and shouting “Meganium, return!” and “Arcanine, go!” in quick succession.

From one direction, his meganium disappears in a flash of light. From the other, his arcanine rockets out of the ball in his hand, crimson fur bright in the brown and green forest. Akio lands, leaps, and spins onto the fire pokemon’s back, digging his heels in to command him forward-

-and instead gets knocked to the ground, a line of pain etched across his side as the lead beedrill buzzes past him. He tumbles over the grass as his pokemon roars and spews fire at the swarm. Half a dozen fall, but the rest quickly bury the arcanine in a tide of piercing stingers. Akio grabs another two pokeballs and opens his mouth to command them open, but instead a cloud of blood sprays from his lips. He looks down and sees the armblades of a beedrill piercing his lungs. His pokeballs fall from numb fingers as the green blades withdraw, not a beedrill’s after all, thicker and longer, like those of a scyther, and Red’s father falls to his knees-

Red wakes with a cry, kicking at his bedroll and crawling out of it, gasping and trembling as he feels his body for puncture marks.

“What is it?! Are you alright?”

Red looks up to see one of the twins staring at him in concern, one hand on her pokebelt. Fourth or fifth watch, then. He looks around to see if he woke anyone, but the rest are still asleep. Red rubs the cold sweat from his face.

“Fine. I’m fine. Just a nightmare. Sorry.”

“Oh… okay. Um. Do you want to talk about it?”

Red shakes his head and crawls back into his bedroll. “No, I’m okay. Sorry again.”

“That’s alright.” She looks uncomfortable, but sits back down and picks up a book beside her.

Red’s heartbeat begins to slow. He closes his eyes and focuses on his breathing until it evens out again, but he can’t go back to sleep without picturing Luke or Ranger Akio or his father.

Eventually he sighs and takes his phone out to check his mail. He scrolls past some daily reports and newsletters, then spots one in particular.

No way…

Heart racing for a different reason now, he opens the letter from Leader Giovanni, cautioning himself not to get too excited, that it’s probably just an automated response.

But when it loads, the message on his screen reads:

From what details you have provided, I would have acted as you did. If that is not sufficient to your sense of responsibility, and you still fear that you acted out of cowardice, consider this: is there any amount of money that would have convinced you to try? -G

Red lies awake into the next watch change, thinking about it. He eventually responds simply with No, and afterward sleeps until morning without dreams.

Chapter 12: Interlude – Shadows

“Hey boss, I think I see him,” Bode says.

The leader of the Darkmoon Demons rises from his crouch to join Bode at the mouth of the alley. “Yeah, that’s our guy.” Their mark is going down the steps from an apartment building, buttoning up his jacket against the cool wind. It makes Wax wish he has his leathers on, but they’re too identifiable.

The gang left their jackets with the bikes on Cycling Road to avoid notice when coming into Fuschia. They did their best to stay under the radar during the day, holing up in a hotel room and only sending people out on food runs.

Now it’s past midnight, and everyone’s tucked nice and cozy in their beds. “How long since someone else came out?” Wax asks.

“Must’ve been ’bout five minutes,” Bode says, keeping his eyes on the street. “Lot of them left together, earlier, but just a couple people here and there lately. Figure their night’s just about wound down.”

Wax watches their mark walk down the street toward them. Not only does he not have anyone with him, the man doesn’t even have a pokebelt. Perfect. They’re all willing to get their hands dirty and risk some jail time, but Wax doesn’t want anyone getting a bounty on their head.

He turns to his boys. Each is intense and focused, some shivering a bit, though he can’t tell if it’s from the cold, or adrenaline as they psych themselves up for the coming fight. “Listen close,” he says, voice low. “This should be easy money. Break a few bones, grab his wallet, then we’re out. Long as he survives, the heat won’t be so bad and we can avoid the cops. But no one touches their pokeballs, got it? If we get the local Gym and trainers on us we’ll never make it out of the city.”

“What if he’s got a pokemon on him?” Jasper asks.

“If he’s got a ball in his jacket or somethin’ and it opens, Bode and I will handle it. Any of you so much as reaches for your belt, I’ll kick your ass and tell Blackfire to torch your jacket. I don’t run with no Renegades. We clear?” They all mutter and nod, clearly impatient to get going. He feels the excitement growing in himself too, and grins. “Alright, let’s fuck him up.”

The night suddenly lights up in flashes, explosive sounds making them all flinch and reach instinctively for their belts. But instead of a squad of cops and their pokemon descending on them, there’s just smoke. Lots of it, surrounding the gang in a thick haze. Wax’s relief is quickly replaced by confusion. Smoke bombs?

He almost screams when someone nearby him does, and he sees Lam fall to the ground, quickly lost in the roiling smog. He stares wildly around, trying to see what’s happening as one after another the others drop, crying out briefly before going silent.

Wax is about to run for it when Bode’s voice cuts through his panic.

“Wax! Wax it’s Koga! Look!”

Wax follows Bode’s pointing hand, and cranes his neck up to see a figure on the roof of the building beside them. It’s hard to make Leader Koga out with the smoke stinging Wax’s eyes, but no one could mistake these tactics after all the rumors that were going around that Fuschia’s gym leader was cleaning up the streets. A weezing floats beside him, jetting out more smoke down into the alley. Oh fuck me, they were right, we should have stayed the fuck away-

Drop your pokeballs. Now.”

The voice has a mechanical hiss to it, some sort of gasmask, and Wax reaches for his belt. He could send out his houndoom and make a run for it… it would take Koga at least a few seconds to give chase, maybe he can find another alley, jump in a dumpster…

Wax forces himself to take a deep breath, the acrid stench of the smoke almost making him choke. “Koga! This is none of your business! We didn’t use our pokemon, you’ve got no jur-cough-no juris-” Wax breaks off coughing as Koga raises his arms and grips his weezing, then leaps down two stories and lands softly, his descent slow and smooth. The ninja master is shrouded and hard to see through the smog, but as his silhouette approaches, Wax backs up involuntarily. “You’ve got no authority,” Wax chokes out, trying to catch his breath.

“Screw this!” Bode says and bolts for the opening of the alley.

“No you idiot!”

Bode doesn’t get two steps before he cries out in pain and falls, clutching his leg. Then he’s gone, the whole world a haze of smog. Wax can just make out the opening of the alley thanks to the streetlights.

His whole body is trembling as he looks back at Koga, who’s lowering his arms back to his sides, something long and thin held in one. A small sword? There’s a shadow moving through the smog, passing over the bodies of his gangmates. Wax keeps his feet very, very still, not wanting to spook whatever pokemon might be around him.

“Okay… okay you win, here…” Wax undoes his belt and lets it fall to the ground. “We just wanted to make some quick cash, you know? No big deal, a few potions and a night at the hospital and he’d have been fine, we weren’t gonna kill-”

The name of your employer. Give it to me.”

Wax gapes at the figure. “I-no man, you got it all wrong. We were just looking for someone to rob-”

There’s a snapping sound, and something slithers against Wax’s ankle. He screams, jumping away and cowering against the wall, one leg raised off the ground as if to present less targets. “Alright, alright! It was Pat Uzuki! He said head into town, get to this address around this time, showed me a photo, I’m sorry-”

You will never come back to this city. Go, and tell the rest of your kind that Fuschia is not for you. If I see you here again, I will feed you to my arbok.”

Wax simply stares, shivering. My pokemon… Then the last sentence registers, and he remembers that dry, smooth slither between his ankles.

He bows repeatedly as he stumbles backward, groveling his thanks as he keeps his eyes scanning the ground for that shadow. His foot bumps against Bode’s still figure, and Wax hesitates. Bode and he have been running together since they were punks. If Koga really feeds people to his arbok…

“Leader Koga… what about the others-”

GO!” the ninja thunders, and in the smoke Wax sees the shape of a long, thick serpent rise up. Its hood flares out, and it hisses-

-and Wax is running out of the smoke and through the streets, ignoring the bewildered stare of their mark as he runs for the city limits without another look back, gasping apologies to Bode and the others between breaths of sweet, clean air.


The quiet of Kamal Chadha’s office is unbroken by his keyboard’s clacking, just as it’s uninterrupted by the tick-tock of the old fashioned clock above the door, or the muted wind outside. Each is a soothing testament to the quiet’s value.

His eyes flick between two monitors, collating the previous month’s sales reports for Silph’s upcoming regional conference. He always looks forward to them, learning from the other managers and district directors’ successes and failures. He’s particularly excited for this year, when he would be one of the major speakers. He and his people worked hard to bring up Fuschia’s sales, and it shows.

Kamal’s hair is kept short, his nails neatly trimmed. His tie is a silver grey that matches his hair, and at his neck hangs the Golden Wheel of his church. He came to Kanto at the age of seven when his father, an engineer, was headhunted by Silph Co. Kamal had been just a bit too old to easily assimilate to the new culture, and his accent and skin tone had not helped. While other children played after school, Kamal studied at home under his mother’s approving gaze. His family wasn’t shunned, but rather treated with polite aloofness by their neighbors.

Things got better as the decades passed. An influx of foreigners and improved communication technologies led to a more multicultural region, and the younger generations treated him no different than anyone else. But by then Kamal had already internalized the sense of “otherness,” and his focus on his work continued through his middle age, keeping few close friends and pursuing his passion for business. He dallied in romance here and there, but remains a bachelor at fifty-six despite his mother’s incessant cajoling.

In truth, he rarely feels lonely. When he first became a manager, his whole store had become his family. A man can only dedicate time and effort to so many things before one starts to suffer for it, and his work had never suffered.

Kamal’s office phone rings, and he glances at the ID. Building security. He finishes the last few lines of the current column one handed as he picks up the phone. “Yes?”

“Sorry to bother you Mr. Chadha, this is Marissa at the front desk.”

Kamal thinks for a moment before he summons the face of the young security guard. “Yes, hello Marissa. Is everything alright?”

“Quiet night down here, but my husband seems to have misplaced his keys. He’s stuck outside the house, and it’s another half hour until my shift is over. Will you be leaving the office before then, or can I lock up and go a bit early?”

Kamal checks the time. When had midnight come and gone? “I think I’ll be staying the night, as a matter of fact. You go ahead.”

“Are you sure, sir? I can wait for the relief to arrive.”

“Quite sure. Trin is still doing the rounds outside, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then go let your husband into the house before he falls asleep on the lawn.”

He hears the smile in her voice. “Thank you sir. Have a good night.”

“You too.”

Kamal hangs up, then goes back to work. He’s not in the least bit tired, and the idea of going home and dithering about until he’s sleepy doesn’t hold any appeal. Course set, he types for another five minutes, then gets up to take a quick break.

Kamal considers himself a man of simple pleasures, but his office is his major indulgence. At the top of the sixteen story Silph building, it takes up a quarter of the floor. A beautiful painting of a ninetales is on the opposite wall, and a bronze solrock lamp hangs horizontally from the ceiling, splaying light out in a sunburst pattern. Decorations aside, it also functions as a home away from home: connected rooms lead to a kitchen on one side and a bedroom on the other, fully stocked with minibar and entertainment systems.

It’s the former he heads to now, turning on the lights and mixing himself a drink. When he finishes, he takes a glass out onto the western facing balcony to drink in the unusually cool summer night.

Fuschia spreads out beneath him like a cluster of stars fallen to earth. With the safari preserve to the north and the ocean to the south and west, the city is an island of light in a sea of darkness, an opposite reflection of the sky above.

Surprising how quickly a new place could feel like home. He was transferred to Fuschia about eight months ago, and of all the places he lived, both growing up and in the course of his career, none made him feel so at peace just looking out at it.

He wonders if his predecessor felt it at all. Frank Moore was a competent city director and sometime acquaintance, but resigned after a nervous breakdown. Kamal sent some well wishes, but was too busy dealing with his own sudden promotion to discover the personal details. Frank had been getting along in years, and managing all the stores in Fuschia can be stressful work.

Kamal watches the sparks that come and go in the distance, racing over the bridge, or “Cycling Road,” that connects the peninsula to western Kanto and Celadon City. He’s been thinking of riding across it soon, for the exercise and the experience. The view of the ocean on every side is said to be lovely, and some of the restaurants that line the sides of the bridge are very popular.

When the stiffness in his legs and shoulders fully fades, he finishes his drink and steps back inside. He refills his glass and debates going back on the balcony, then puts the bottle away and returns to the office. It’s only after he sits down at his computer that he notices the young woman on the couch.

Kamal’s heart clenches in his chest, and he nearly spills his drink as he shoots back to his feet. “Who- how did-” He stammers to a stop as he recognizes her from the news. “Mistress Koga? You startled me…” Kamal slowly sits back down, pulse racing as he lets out a shaking breath. “What are you doing in my office? How did you get in the building?”

“I picked the lock after the security guard downstairs left.” The young woman’s short purple hair is drawn back, making the clean angles of her face look severe. She’s dressed in dark, form fitting clothes that almost resembles body armor, and a purple silk scarf is tied around her neck. “It was easy. You should have gotten better ones.”

He does his best to push away his lingering shock, squaring his shoulders and resting his arms on his desk as his heart rate slowly returns to normal. “Thank you for informing me of that. I’ll be sure to do so. Now please explain why I shouldn’t have you arrested for trespassing. Are you applying as a security consultant? If so, I don’t approve of your methods, and I doubt your father would either.”

“My father is my business. We are here to discuss yours.”

Kamal blinks, and understanding washes through him. Not security, then, but some other position. She isn’t the first person to approach him looking for an inside track on a career at Silph, but he’d never had one break into his office to do so before. If she thought he would be impressed of her dedication or some other such foolish thing, she’s badly mistaken.

Leader Koga has clearly spoiled her. A shame; he always seemed a competent Gym Leader. But Kamal supposes everyone has their weaknesses.

“I’m sorry, but this is my office, and you do not dictate the terms here, no matter whose daughter you are.” He takes a sip of his drink. The spike of fear and adrenaline is still bitter in his mouth, and he grimaces. “If you call my secretary during normal business hours and schedule an appointment, I would be happy to see you when I’m available.”

Janine seems to relax somewhat as he speaks, and he frowns at her. “However, I’m still informing your father of this. And if I ever find out you’ve snuck into this or any other building again, I will be forced to call the police. Do you understand?”

She nods, staring at him.

“Goodnight then.” He turns back to his monitors and begins drafting an email to Leader Koga. He notices in his peripheral that she still hasn’t moved, and seems to be twirling some dark grey cylinder between her fingers, like a very long flute.

“If the new security guard arrives before you leave, I won’t intervene on your behalf.”

“He won’t see me.”

The tube is still spinning, and Kamal begins to feel real anger stirring in him. “Do you want me to call the police?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then why are you still here?”

“I’m waiting for the poison to start working.”

Kamal stares at her. “That’s not funny, young lady.”

She doesn’t respond, those amethyst eyes still steady on his, and the bitterness on his tongue is suddenly hard to ignore. He feels a chill, and then flushes as his heart gallops back into a panicked frenzy.

“What- what did you-”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d refill your glass when you came back in, so this was my backup plan.” She stops her fingers, and the “flute” becomes identifiable. It’s a blowgun.

“I’m glad you took another drink though. I’ve used enough darts tonight, and this gives us more time to talk-”

He grabs his office phone and throws himself backward, hitting the floor and pressing the emergency number. “Help, please send help, I’m being…” There’s only silence in his ear. The line is dead.

He’s in the middle of reaching for his cell when the crazy bitch calmly walks around the desk and aims the blowgun at him, one end at her lips. He freezes, and after a moment she draws it away a bit and perches on the edge of his desk. He notices a facemask of some kind hanging from her neck.

“As I was saying, we have time to talk. I want to know who told you to bribe the mayor, and if you answer me, you get the antidote.”

Kamal feels the world shift. This isn’t some random murder by a sociopathic child. But how does she know about that? No money was even transferred! Doesn’t matter right now. That she has a reason for her actions means there’s a glimmer of hope for him.

“I’ll tell you,” he says. “Just let me get to a hospital, and I’ll tell you everything! Please, I can feel it!” He clutches his stomach, a pang of pain making him want to throw up. She’d likely shoot him with a dart if he does though…

“I find that highly unlikely. You’ve just ingested arbok venom. Most venom is harmless when swallowed, did you know? But arbok use a neurotoxin so potent it’s also poisonous. Just takes longer to act. You should lose consciousness in fifteen minutes or so, and any pain you feel is just in your head. So we have time.” She taps the blowgun. “The dart in here will be considerably quicker depending on where it hits.” She puts it to her lips and aims for his chest.

“Wait, wait! Okay!” His skin feels cold and clammy, and despite her words he feels a fire in his gut. She might be lying about the poison’s effects… he’d never heard anything about arbok venom as a poison. Or his body might just be reacting to the stress of the situation. Either way, he doesn’t think the blowgun is a bluff. “There was no bribe! I just reminded Mr. Ramsey that election season is coming up, and how the new safari regulation would affect tourism and local businesses. Nothing illegal was done!”

Janine rolls her eyes. “Yes, because I clearly care so much about legalities. I already know all this. I asked you who told you to do it.”

“No one, it was my idea!”

“Possible, but I don’t think so. There’s been a concerted effort to soften Fuschia’s anti-poaching laws for over two years now. On top of that, resistance to the new regulation has been popping up from all sorts of unlikely directions. It’s possible you’re just concerned with the impact on business, but my bet is you’re a patsy. So give me a name.”

Kamal tries to quiet his panic so he can think. If she wants a name, he’ll give her one. “Okay… I’ll tell you. It was Dylan Omaki. He’s a friend of my late father’s who likes hunting in the safari, and asked me to do it as a favor. Please, I didn’t think any harm would come of it-”

She’s shakes her head. “No one above you in Silph goes by that name. You’re going to have to do better than that.”

“It has nothing to do with Silph! I swear, that’s the truth!”

“Mmhm. And did Mr. Moore also know this friend of your father’s?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Like I said, this isn’t new. It’s just a coincidence that your predecessor was doing the exact same thing?”

Shit. “I don’t… it must be-”

“And the gang I stopped from beating up a union leader tonight? ‘Mr. Omaki’ tell you to facilitate that too?”

He feels cold. “How did you kno-” He clamps his mouth shut, furious with himself as he sees the smug smile on her face. “I had nothing to do with that.”

“I believe you. But you know who ordered it done, don’t you?”

Kamal looks away, a drop of sweat sliding down his neck. He’d been uneasy about that whole business. Dealing with unions is always frustrating and tiresome, but this has been the most stubborn leadership he’s ever encountered. When he explained the recent difficulties with his superior, they assured him they would handle it. He didn’t ask questions. In truth, he didn’t want to know the answers… he was just grateful for their help.

“I was hoping you’d be more on the level than Mr. Moore was. It’s really starting to piss me off.”

The fire in his belly is gone, replaced with a block of ice. She’s here on a vendetta, and he was dangerously close to saying something he shouldn’t. Kamal takes a deep breath and sits up, and Janine stands and steps back, gaze wary.

“I won’t say any more. You can let me die and deal with the investigation of my murder, or you can give me an antidote and walk away. But this interrogation is over.”

“That’s it? Just like that, you don’t care if you die?”

He looks her in the eye. “I’d prefer not to, but I won’t let you intimidate me.” Some measure of calm returns to him, and he’s pleasantly surprised to discover as he says it that it’s the truth. I will not betray my family.

Janine meets his gaze silently. “I misjudged you,” she says eventually, voice quiet. “Nothing in my research indicated a spine of steel. I thought you’d be as easy to break as your predecessor.”

Kamal’s eyes widen. “What?”

“Like I said, he was involved in similar things. Corrupting city officials. Buying off Safari Rangers. Hiring thugs. Nothing solid enough that I could let the police handle it, but clear abuses of power. He had to go.”

Kamal’s fists clench. “What did you do to him?”

“Not much. A history of minor mental issues already set the foundation. I added some stimulants to his nightly drinks to disrupt his sleep cycle, then switched them to hallucinogens. Eventually I began to appear to him in disguise. He thought I was a demon, come to punish him for his sins. Told me all sorts of interesting things. But not what I needed. I suspect he didn’t know.”

She says all this casually. Almost dispassionately. As if breaking a man’s mind and destroying his life was of no consequence. Kamal feels his nails digging into his palms. “You’re a monster. A sick, twisted child.”

Her eyes narrow. “Two rangers at the safari were killed by poachers last spring. The suspects were a group of thugs from out of town, very similar to the ones I ran into tonight. They were tied to the scene by eight witnesses at various points. The rangers’ pokemon had been transferred from balls found in the gang’s possession. They claimed someone had sold the balls to them empty.” Janine crouches down to make it harder for him to avoid her gaze. “How many years do you think they were sentenced to?”

Kamal stares at the wall, feeling sick.

“None. Out of nowhere, an army of lawyers descended and tied the case up for months. In that time, all the witness either changed their story or moved away from Kanto. Every. Single. One.”

She stands. “I can’t prove the witness intimidation. It took me awhile to trace it, but the money that paid for the defense attorneys came from Mr. Moore. Nothing illegal about that, is there? But those rangers deserved justice. Their families deserved justice. This city deserved justice. And since some powerful people seem intent on preventing that, we’ll have to take what we can get.”

The room feels cold, and Kamal is starting to feel groggy. Panic tries to send protests and denials up his throat, but he doesn’t let them pass his lips. Kamal wonders if the new security guard arrived yet. Would he call up when he does? Kamal’s hand rises to the wheel on his necklace, gripping the cool metal in his hand. Its gold-plated prongs dig into his palm a bit, and he savors the sensation, focusing on it to keep alert. “And killing me? That’s justice?”

“I have little against you personally, Mr. Chadha. But I think you work for immoral people. And I cannot allow you to continue spreading their tendrils through my city.”

“This is ridiculous. You’re just a kid-”

“I’m fifteen. In your world that’s not old enough to be more than a cashier or sales clerk, but in mine I assure you, it’s of little impediment.”

“Your world. You mean pokemon training. You’re not an officer of the law. Not a judge. Not an executioner. If you think I’ve done some crime, take me to the police, I’ll sign a confession to whatever you want-”

“What, hand you over to people your superiors can manipulate and buy off? And what would a confession from you be worth, even if it weren’t under duress? You’re just a hand. I want the head.”

“You won’t get it from inside a jail cell.”

“No one saw me enter, nor will they see me leave. Your security cameras are laughably easy to avoid. And there will be little in the investigation to point to foul play. No one will go to jail for your death, least of all me. You accomplish nothing by dying but dying.”

“You can let me go. I’ll resign, like Frank, move away. I’ll never bother you… your city… again.”

She shakes her head. “You would just be replaced, and I’d have to do this all over again. I need to send a stronger message to your bosses this time. Or you could tell me what I want to know.”

Kamal looks away, ignoring the fluttering of his heart. “I can’t.”

“Such misguided loyalty. Don’t you realize you’re a puppet? They knew something happened to Mr. Moore and sent you in case it happened again. You were chosen because you’re expendable. Little family, few friends. Replaceable.”

Kamal straightens his back and turns to her. “That is your interpretation. Mine is that they knew I would be the perfect person for the job. And I will not betray that trust. You will gain nothing by my death but my death.”

She meets his gaze for a moment, and this time she’s the one that looks away, peering out at the night through his window. “I’m sorry. You are worth less than nothing to me alive if you can’t give me what I need.”

Kamal tries to think of some other argument, something to save himself. But there’s nothing. He can’t convince her to release him, and won’t give her what she wants. He doesn’t know anything of what Frank Moore had done, but his activities in the city haven’t been anything worth killing over.

What of that business tonight? Beating up a union leader, she said. What other things like that have been going on?

He doesn’t know. It’s not his job to know. But he trusts that what has been done has been done for the good of the company, for its employees, and ultimately for the society it serves. He won’t help his murderess in whatever vendetta she has against his superiors. He can only wait for the poison to take its course, and hope that help comes before it does. If the new security calls and receives no answer, what would he do? Did Marissa even inform him that Kamal was staying? Surely she would…

Kamal closes his eyes and bows his head, grip loose around his wheel as he tries to control his breathing, and his fear. Arceus, First and Last, watch over your humble servant. Let me be as malleable as the gold of your wheel, so you can shape me into purity. If I have sinned, let me learn from my sins and change, as you change. And if Judgement is upon me, let me face it with courage.

The time passes, and Kamal once again begins to hear the alloys of the silence. The ticking clock. The muted wind. All that’s missing is the clack of his keyboard. He thinks of his past self, content and oblivious of what was coming. How strange and unfair, that life could be so utterly shattered in such a small time without warning.

He realizes that he can’t feel the wheel in his hand anymore, and a moment later that he can barely move his limbs. The tiredness spreads slowly, but noticeably now, and his fear returns, a coiling, frantic thing. It’s far too late to try an escape however: he doubts he could even stand.

The girl is staring at him. Is that pity in her gaze? Regret? The dying ember of hope flares up, but when he opens his mouth, he can’t form any words. He lets his hope fade away. She won’t save him now. He would just be a liability to her, a witness to her crime.

He wonders what she plans to do with his body. How she’ll cover up her involvement. Make it look like a suicide, maybe? Push him off the balcony? What will mother think? Imagining her reaction is agonizing, and in that moment he wants to tell Janine everything if only to spare his mother the grief.

But it’s too late: his consciousness is beginning to drift. Kamal thanks Arceus for the strength to hold out as long as he has, then lets the soothing sounds of the silence comfort him down into oblivion.


The night is cool and smells of salt as Janine travels south, passing from one rooftop to the next. She runs on her forefeet, a silent shadow leaping over the streets of her city. Seeing but unseen, hearing but unheard. It’s exhilarating. Freeing.

Especially at the apex of each jump. She leaps, eyes closed as she flies through the air, weightless for a split second before gravity pulls her back down. She tucks into a roll for the landing, and even that is quiet, her padded clothes muffling the impact and protecting her so she can easily spring back to her feet.

She’s taking a new route home, passing by some rumored trouble spots so she can ensure nothing is going on. Thankfully, all is quiet. It usually is: despite what the cartoons say, it’s really hard to randomly run into a crime as it’s in progress, even in the bad parts of town. Nights like this come from a lot of research, having good reason to suspect something will go down at a certain time and place. Even then she usually ends up staking places out all night for nothing.

At least those nights aren’t so exhausting. She just wants to go to bed and stop thinking for a bit. Her thoughts keep circling back to Kamal. Her failure is frustrating on a number of levels, but what bothers her most is how willing he had been to die. She had thought it possible, but hadn’t really believed he would. It worries her that her adversaries have such dedicated employees on staff. She copied his hard drive, and hopes to find some answers there.

The gap between this roof and the next is too wide to jump. As she runs, Janine tosses forward a pokeball and mutters “Go, koffing.”

It opens ahead of her just before the end of the roof, and she catches the ball, clips it to her belt, then grabs her koffing in both hands and says “up” as she leaps forward, her pokemon held just behind her and above her head.

The warm, hollow body of her koffing inflates, extending her leap into a glide. Her feet hit the next roof running, and she lets her koffing go, withdrawing him over her shoulder and reclipping his ball to her belt. The next gap is small enough to jump on her own.

Four hops and another glide later, she’s able to swing over the side of a shop and land in an alley below, a couple blocks from her father’s house. Two meowth leap onto a dumpster as she passes near them, staring at her with shining eyes as the streetlight gleams on their coins. She walks the rest of the way to the house, removing her mask and hood, then stripping the peelable black paint from her pokeballs one half at a time.

The two story house is dark. Her father might be sleeping, or he might be on his computer or watching the news in the living room. She listens for any sounds as she mounts the front steps, but all she hears are the distant waves and the cries of the wingulls above them. The scrape of her key seems very loud as she opens the lock, and she’s careful in opening and closing the door so that it makes as little sound as possible.

She turns the bolt behind her and takes off her shoes and pokebelt as her eyes adjust to the darkness. Once they have, she begins to head for the staircase when she notices the figure on the couch.

Her heart kicks into high gear, and she has a moment of sympathy for how Mr. Chadha must have felt seeing her in his office. She’d learned from the best, after all.

When she’s sure her voice won’t shake, she bows her head and says, “Good evening, father.”

“Good evening, Janine,” he says without inflection “Where have you been.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she decides against lying. For all she knows he arrived just a minute ahead of her after shadowing her all night.

“I did my usual patrols, then went to watch over a union meeting where tomorrow’s protest was being planned. I figured another attempt would be made to disrupt it, but instead a gang of thugs from out of town waited outside to jump Hart McEvoy when he came out. I stopped them.”

“Stopped them. How?”

Her eyes have adjusted enough to make out most of the room from the dim light from outside, but his face is still in shadows. She struggles not to smile as she imagines him shifting the seat around for maximum dramatic effect.

Since she can’t meet his eyes, she just looks at the shadows of his face and folds her arms. “I asked them politely to leave. What do you think?”

“I think you are a foolish and immature-”

“There were six of them-”

Do not interrupt me, Anzu.”

Janine winces. Her dad only calls her that when he’s particularly upset. As if that isn’t bad enough, his accent has gotten thicker throughout their conversation. Raised on the reclusive estates of the Koga clan when he was young, it’s already stronger than most others of his generation. She knows he’s self-conscious about it, even in private, and judges that he’s a handsbreadth away from lapsing completely into Japanese.

She bows her head. “I’m sorry, father.”

“I have warned you time and again of the consequences if you are caught using your pokemon against people. Is your life truly worth so little to you?”

You risked it.”

“I was young and reckless, and I acted throughout the land, not all in a single city. If I was ever convicted, I would not be where I am today. I did not teach you my skills so you could make the same mistakes. I did it so you could protect yourself. ”

“So I should have just let them beat him?”

“Why did you not call the police?”

Janine snorts. “For what? Those magikarp? I needed to know who sent them.”

“They will say that Leader Koga attacked them with pokemon.”

“My pokemon attacked none of them. I used them for cover and to frighten, that’s all.”

“Then you did not need them at all. You put on a spectacle. That is not the way of the ninja.”

“There’s nothing dramatic about being darted unconscious before you even realize what happened. My way makes them frightened. They tell other criminals. It keeps them away from the city.”

“I’ve had to address questions about the crime in Fuschia already. It was not a criminal who asked.”

She saw that interview. It made her a bit apprehensive, but she already decided that if actual charges are ever brought against her father, she’d turn herself in. “Everyone likes a juicy rumor. The point is they won’t talk to the police, they don’t trust them. And they’re too scared of you to risk it.”

Her father’s voice is tight with anger. “Because of your vigilantism.”

“Yes, my vigilantism, which saved a man from being beaten. Besides, unless you’ve been following me all night, you should have an alibi at the gym. Or did Markus not approach you to help train his venomoth?”

Her father is quiet for a moment. “You arranged that?”

“I suggested a time and date I knew you would be free. His request was genuine.”

“I have taught you too well. And now you do not heed me anymore, it seems. Have you outgrown my tutelage, Anzu?”

Something in his tone makes Janine’s chest tighten. She wishes she could see his face. “No, father. I will always value your teachings. But you cannot ask me to ignore my conscience.”

“As I ignore mine.”

“You know what’s going on, and you do nothing. What would you call it?”

“I would call it having sense. It is not just what you do, it is your methods. They are too brazen. You act without respect to the law at all. Would you have me take over the city? Declare myself mayor and gym leader?”

“Would that be so wrong? You’re ten times the man as that butterfree in city hall.”

Her father suddenly sounds tired. “It is not my place, Janine. We are no longer feudal lords, ruling absolutely by virtue of our might. I am Leader of the city’s pokemon trainers, and that is all. My responsibilities are to fight monsters, not people. There are civilian governments, civilian peacekeepers, civilian courts to deal with them. Our society could not function as it does if every trainer took the law into their own hands.”

“Then it’s a good thing they don’t. But that doesn’t mean I won’t, to protect my city.”

“It may not ever be yours if you continue like this.”

Janine lifts her chin. “Who else is there? Patricia? Lee? I’m your daughter. When you join the Elite Four, I’ll show them who your best student is.”

“I meant if you are branded a Renegade.”

“I won’t be.”

Her father stands and moves to the kitchen. He turns on the light before beginning to make some tea. After a moment Janine follows, stopping at the doorway. She’s so sleepy her eyes keep threatening to drift closed, but she’s not sure if she’s been dismissed yet. Once the water is set to boil, her father turns and leans against the counter, arms folded.

Her father’s face looks different in person than on vids. When she was young it had always seemed strange watching the great Michio Koga in interviews or on battle videos, so severe and cold. True, his face is sharp like hers, with a strong jaw and deep lines around his mouth. But it also holds character that doesn’t come across through a screen. An expressive vibrancy that makes even his current stern expression more heated than cool. Her eyes are drawn to the streaks of grey just beginning to form in his pine-green hair. They remind her of Mr. Chadha’s fully grey head, though they’re both about the same age. She wonders when they first appeared.

“So?”

She meets his gaze warily. “So, what?”

“So, what did you discover.”

Janine smiles before quickly schooling her expression. Part of her has always hoped that deep down, her father approves of what she does, and is just worried about her. He can’t completely ignore the good she’s done, or she’s sure he would have forced her to stop. “It’s as I thought. The same middle man from last time, when Mr. Moore was involved in everything. So I went to his replacement, in case there was a connection.”

“Mr… Chad, was it?”

“Chadha.”

“And?”

“I was right. It took a few bluffs, but he’s behind the same sorts of things. Unfortunately he wouldn’t name his superior.”

“So what makes you think there is a connection?”

“Two people from Silph being behind the same things is too much of a coincidence. There’s got to be someone above them guiding their actions.”

Her father shakes his head. “No, there does not. They work in the same business. They had the same responsibilities. They likely share many beliefs. In short, they had similar goals, resources, and values. It is not impossible that their corruption happened to take the same forms by coincidence.”

Janine frowns, replaying her conversation with Kamal over as best she could from memory. She has a recording of the conversation in her phone, but off the top of her head she can’t remember him actually admitting there was someone in Silph giving him orders, name or no name. “I suppose it’s possible…”

“Of course it is. So what did you do to this man, to force out this conspiracy that you made up in your head?”

She scowls. “Even if I was wrong, he isn’t innocent.”

“Answer the question.”

Janine looks away. “I drugged him.”

“With?”

“My own mix. Mostly chloral hydrate in his drink. Made him think he was dying. Some rohypnol for his memory.”

Her father’s face is hard. “In his ‘drink?’ Alcoholic? Baka musume, you could have killed him!”

“Could have,” she says as her temper flares. “But I learned from the best.”

Her father goes still. Janine flinches as his arm twitches up-

-and takes the teapot off the stove beside him, some wisps of steam just beginning to rise. “One of these days you will go too far, Anzu,” he says, not looking at her. “And I will be forced to stop you.”

Janine lets out her breath, heart racing. She turns and heads for the stairs. “If I ever go that far, father, I’m counting on it.”

Chapter 11: Risk Assessment

The forest was dark and full of monsters, but Red wasn’t afraid. The bravest man in the world sat across the fire, and Red knew nothing would happen to him while Tomio Verres was near.

“The most important thing to remember is that everything contains risk, Red. Everything.”

Red watched his father turn the spit over the bed of cinders. “You mean like how you can choke while eating?”

Tomio smiled. “Exactly.” His other hand poured a packet of soy sauce on the pidgey meat. The fire hissed and snapped as the sauce dripped down with the meat’s juices, and the sharp scent filled the air, combating the damp, green smells of the woods. “So tell me, what risks are we taking right now?”

Red thought it over as he carefully peeled the bark from a stick. His father had given the dagger to him last night for his eighth birthday, and he’d been itching to use it all day. He watched each peel of bark curl up, carefully adjusting his grip if it became too thin or thick. “I guess just being here instead of staying at home is a risk. But the fire is the real problem, since it might bring pokemon. Also, the smell of the meat might attract predators.” As he spoke, he imagined sharp teethed pokemon circling the camp just out of sight, slowly drawing in to pounce on his back. The back of his neck tightened, but he resisted the urge to look behind him. His dad would see if there was a pokemon sneaking up on him, and Kage would alert them if any came near.

The mightyena rested with its head on its forelimbs beside the fire, a shadow in the island of light. One eye was open, reflecting the fire as it watched the pidgey meat, nose twitching. Red checked his new spit for splinters, then handed it to his dad, who speared a pair of wings and legs onto it. “What about if we had stayed home? It’s safe there. There are wards around town to alert us if dangerous pokemon come by, and others to help defend us.”

“Well. We might have fallen down the stairs at home.”

Red’s dad smiled and said nothing.

So Red considered some of the dangers back at Pallet Town. He could drown at the beach, but the obvious answer was to just not swim. He could get run over by a car, but they’re so uncommon and easy to avoid that it’s not likely. He eventually realized he was thinking in circles. Everything was too similar to falling down the stairs to be what his dad had in mind. He tried to think of unpredictable dangers like storms, and as a glimmer of understanding surfaced, he thought out loud. “Well… If I stayed home all the time, I wouldn’t learn as much. I could read about wilderness survival, but knowing how to gather food or build a fire properly takes practice. And if I never left home, I’d never get experience in training or defending against wild pokemon. Which might be okay, if I live my whole life at home or in a city. Or it might be deadly, if something unexpected happens. I would basically be gambling that I wouldn’t need that experience and knowledge later.”

“Put another way?”

“Put another way…” Red took his cap off and scratched his head, then left it off so he could feel the wind in his sweaty hair. His mom had taught him to write with as much breadth as possible before editing down to the basics, cutting the fat from the ideas until the core message stood stark and irrefutable. That’s what his dad wanted. “Put another way, if I stayed home I wouldn’t be learning to manage risk. Letting others keep you safe is a risk in itself, a gamble on the long run that you’ll always be protected.”

“Full marks.”

Pride warmed Red deeper than the fire reached. His dad took the first pidgey off the sticks holding it up, and after blowing on the meat a bit, slid it to the end of its spit and offered it to Kage. His mightyena extended his neck without rising and chomped it off the spit, spilling half of the pidgey to the grass. The dark canine began to feast, light bones cracking in his powerful jaws.

“So what are we doing to mitigate our risk right now, Red?”

“Well. First we used some repel to mask our scent. We chose a dense part of the woods so the firelight doesn’t go far. And as a last resort, Kage is ready to defend us if anything comes by.”

Tomio nodded. “What else?”

Red racked his brain to think of what he’d missed. “Our clothes? Nothing bright green or yellow, nothing tan or purple.”

“Yes. Nothing that resembles prey in the area. What else?”

Red frowned. He picked up a third stick and began to peel it. The minutes crawled by, and when he realized he was focusing more on how much time was passing than finding the answer, he shook his head.

“Where are we?” his dad asked.

“About eight kilometers west of Pallet Town.”

“What’s nearby us?”

Red blinked. “Uh… besides Pallet Town… the beach is about two kilometers south… the southern shore, I mean. The western shore is another seven…”

His dad waited silently, still turning the meat as he pours soy sauce on the second pidgey. Eventually he said, “You can check your map.”

Red did so, brow furrowed. His dad rarely told him straight out how he was wrong, instead letting him flail about and find out himself. It was far more embarrassing than the way they taught in school, where the hammer fell quickly at least. But then, there’s less of an audience with his dad than there was in school, especially when Blue wasn’t with them.

Red expanded the map until he saw it. “There’s a Ranger outpost two kilometers up from us. North, I mean.” Now that he saw it, he remembered there being one to the northwest of Pallet. He hadn’t realized it was so close.

“That’s right. To further minimize our risk in camping out, we chose to spend the night near a Ranger outpost. Being constantly aware of your location helps you not get lost, but what if you were in trouble? What if your phone was broken, or your pokeballs were running low on power? You might have tried to go all the way back to Pallet, when there’s help much closer.”

Red put his phone away, cheeks burning. The words were spoken without rebuke, but Red hated missing obvious things. He bit his tongue, pushing down the excuses that tried to bubble up. Whether he’d been lazy or just forgetful didn’t matter. “So why aren’t we spending the night with them?”

“Because I wanted to spend some alone time with my birthday boy.”

Red looked up and saw his dad’s smile. His frustration melted away, and Red finished peeling the stick with a smile before handing it to him.

“So would you say the risk has been properly negated?” Tomio said as he took the spit and speared more meat onto it.

“I guess so, yeah.”

“What else could we do to be safer, other than camping closer to the outpost?”

“I could have my own pokemon,” Red said automatically.

Tomio laughed, and Red grinned. He knew his dad wouldn’t break the licensing regulations, but he hadn’t given up on the loophole that allowed kids to use pokemon registered to their parents. He wanted a pokemon of his own so bad that just looking at his dad’s full belt made his fingers itch to touch the cold spheres.

“I don’t know that a budew or azurill would be of much use for keeping us safe.”

“I could get a riolu, or a tyrogue.”

Red’s dad shook his head, still grinning. “I’d rather not come home one day and find you with a cracked rib because your training got a bit out of hand. What else could we do?”

Red let it go while his dad was still in a good mood. “You could bring out another pokemon.” He knew his dad was more than capable of commanding two at once in combat.

Tom nodded, face serious again. “I could. Who would you suggest?”

“Kaze could fly around and let us know if something’s coming from the air. Nintai could go underground in case of tunneling pokemon.”

“In a forest?”

Red shrugs. “Kūfuku could use roots…”

His dad smiled and stood. He took out a pokeball and aimed it one handed at the ground far from the fire. “Kūfuku, kimi ni maneita!

The flash lit up the night for a split second, and then a victreebel was with them, its long vine immediately digging into the ground as it flexed its leaves and opened its wide mouth to the sky. Its eyes rolled to take in its surroundings, and it relaxed as it found itself at home. Tomio ran a hand over the plant pokemon’s bulbous body and dug a pokeblock out of his pocket with the other. He murmured a greeting as he dropped the pokeblock into its gaping mouth, then stood back.

“Kūfuku, ne wo orose,” he said, and his pokemon began extending roots through the soil.

Tomio sat back down and carefully placed the second stick of meat on a small plate before handing it to Red. “Why those pokemon?”

Red accepted the plate with thanks, and began blowing on a wing, belly rumbling. “Kage’s nose is strong enough to warn us of most things approaching, but there would be no scent if it comes from underground, or dives from above.”

“Good. So why did I bring out Kūfuku and not Kaze?”

Red hesitated. “Because there are no pokemon native to this area that dive to attack their foes,” he said, trying to sound confident.

“Was that a guess?”

“It… an informed guess. Yes.”

His father nodded. “A good guess.” Red relaxed. “Spearow and Fearow do, but they do not fly by night. So in total our risk-“

“Dad? There’s something else we could do.’

“Such as?”

“We could light other fires.”

Tomio’s hands paused while seasoning his food, face thoughtful. “As decoys.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think we should do that?”

“Not really.”

“Why not?”

“Because leaving unattended fires can be dangerous, even if we build them carefully.”

“So why bring it up?”

“Because it’s an option, even if a dangerous one. It could be worth the risk. If I were here alone I might do it.”

“A manageable risk, to reduce a risk you have no control over.”

“Right.”

“Good.” Red’s dad finished cooking his meal, then joined Red on his side of the firebed. He placed a hand on Red’s hair, then bent to kiss his head. “Yoku dekimashita, Red.”

Red leaned against his father’s side, eating his dinner and feeling warmed from the inside and out.

Remember, nothing is without risk, but risk is manageable. Risk is the balance between the danger of an action, and what the actor is capable of. A skilled trainer manages risks at all times and stays alive. A skilled and smart trainer thinks beyond the obvious risks of action, and find ways to do the impossible. Where such men and women go, legends bloom like flowers in their wake.”


As soon as Red gets over his shock, he whips his bag around one shoulder and scrambles for the zipper along the side. “Repel,” he hisses to Blue. “Now!” He pulls out the canister, pops the top, and sprays himself liberally, breathing deep to recover from the sprint through the woods and to keep himself from panicking.

The body is too far to see clearly through the grass and flowers, but the tallish figure and short hair makes it appear to be a young man. There are red blotches on his clothes, but not enough to tell if he’s dead. Red tries to hold onto that hope, though it makes him anxiously aware of every passing second the venom might be creeping through the man’s veins…

Risk = Magnitude of loss x Probability that loss will occur. M is death for all of us, and P is almost certain. So that’s bad.

“Shiiit,” Blue says, quietly but with feeling as he pants for breath and sprays himself with repel. “How long-”

“Less than a minute ago,” Leaf murmurs, barely audible over the buzzing. He offers his canister to her, but she shakes her head and holds up her own empty can. “I followed one of the beedrill here, and saw it… him… already lying there.”

Easiest variable to reduce is M, which means leveraging our pokemon’s safety. P needs to go down either way. What are our tools?

Blue already has his hand on a pokeball. “We need to watch their pattern, wait for an opening. Two of us can provide cover while the third goes to help him.”

Wait, Red mouths soundlessly as his mind races. Half a meter per second, sustained for up to 40 seconds-no good-which way is the wind blowing?

Leaf is nodding as Red sucks on a finger and holds it up. “A distraction. Red, you taught charmander smokescreen, it’s perfect to keep them away. Bulbasaur could use his sleep powder on any that get through.”

“You’ve trained him in sleep powder?” Blue asks her.

“Yeah, we caught a ledyba with it before I found this place.”

“Wait,” Red whispers as yet another beedrill join the swarm. Moderate wind to the west, won’t work. Spinarak isn’t trained, can’t use web, beedrill could dive through sleep powder and sting before being affected-

“Then I’ll start with Zephyr and whip the smoke into them. You and Bulbasaur-

Wait.

They both look at him.

“We need to wait. The nearest ranger outpost is kilometers away. They’ll be here in eight minutes at most from when you sent your alert, Leaf. This swarm is too big to handle on our own.”

Blue looks at him in disgust. “We can’t just sit here while they could be dying out there!”

“Keep your voice down,” Red says. “This isn’t a cartoon. Against six beedrill, we might stand a chance. At least we could try to get away if things go bad. Against nine, we would need to each personally take down three beedrill, which none of our pokemon are capable of. But even nine would be better odds than this. There are over a dozen beedrill out there-”

“I’m not saying we need to beat them all, but if we’re careful we can at least distract them long enough to check if that guy’s alive.”

Red shakes his head, still breathing hard from the run as he tries to put his thoughts in order. “My charmander’s smokescreen covers half a square meter per second, and double that vertically. It could hide one person moving slowly, but I wouldn’t be able to see anything from inside it, which means I wouldn’t be able to check for and treat wounds.” Red’s voice cracks, and he takes another deep breath to steady his voice, fists clenched against the ground. “Blowing the smoke into the field won’t work either, the wind will disperse it too quickly.”

“So we try to draw them a bit at a time,” Leaf says.

Blue shakes his head with a frown. “They attack in swarms. Pull one and you usually pull others. But we don’t have to hold them long, eight minutes-”

“Eight minutes with at least four on each of us,” Red says. “Maybe more. None of our pokemon can protect us from all of them, and we can’t outrun them. Zephyr and Crimson can handle at least a couple each, but unless you’re paying close attention you won’t be able to withdraw them at a safe time. And you won’t be paying attention, because the rest will be on you. The repel will mask our scent, but it’ll do nothing once they see us.”

“We could bring out all of our pokemon,” Blue says. “They can hold them off long enough to check-”

Red meets Blue’s gaze. “No bluster, Blue. No bragging. Think before you answer, because you’re gambling with your pokemons’ lives, and ours. Are you really that confident you could command four at once? Two you just caught?”

Blue’s eyes are dark and deep as the sea in a storm, no longer the sparkling blue of his grandfather’s. “Yes,” he says after at least ten seconds, which is still longer than Red had expected. “Maybe not the caterpie. He wouldn’t do much against them anyway, but the others, yeah. I’ve watched gramps. I’ve seen a hundred vids. I’ve practiced in VR sims. It wouldn’t be perfect, but I can do it.”

Red looks at Leaf. “You?”

She shrugs. “Bulbasaur and Crimson, probably.”

“So let’s say I try with Charmander and my rattata. We’re still outnumbered over two to one.”

“We took on bad odds with the rattata cluster.”

“We ran from that rattata cluster. Beedrill are faster, and won’t give up as easily. Not to mention the whole point is to help the guy out there, which we can’t do while all of us are focusing on the beedrill.”

“Squirtle can-” Blue whips his head around, and Red hears it a moment later: buzzing approaching from their side instead of the din in the field.

They all get to their feet, pokeballs in hand, but the three insects pass by them without slowing and join the others in the flower field. Up close, the pokemon’s forelimb stingers look wickedly sharp, their yellow and black bodies lean and deadly.

Red crouches down again, legs shaking at the near miss, and Leaf leans against the tree with a relieved sigh. Blue pounds a fist into the grass as the three join the rest of the swarm, along with yet another from the other side of the clearing, bringing the total upwards of twenty.

Red looks back at the man in the field, searching for any twitch or sign of life. “There’s too many. Fighting on mostly instinct and outnumbered, our pokemon will die. We probably would too. If we know that guy out there is alive, maybe it would be worth the risk, but…” Red’s distantly aware that his legs are still trembling, as are his arms. He forces his gaze away from the… body. “It’s not. You understand? It’s not worth the risk. We’d most likely just get ourselves and our pokemon killed for nothing. That’s not what responsible trainers do. We need to be ready to assist the rangers when they arrive. If there are only a couple they might need our help, but until then we need to-” His voice breaks, and he closes his eyes as they start to burn. Something, there has to be something we can do… “-stay safe. Whoever’s out there… is probably already d-dead…” Like dad, dead even though he understood the risks, dead because at the end of the day he chose to put himself at risk to protect others, I’m sorry dad, I can’t…

There’s a hand on his shoulder. Left hand, right shoulder, Leaf. A moment later Blue’s is on his left, and together they wait, the air filled with the buzzing of the swarm.

Bulbasaur can send powder up and have Zephyr blow it into field: should get some of them, but the rest will notice us… we can try to lure some here and set up a smokescreen to keep the rest from following, taking them out a few at a time, but if any go around the smokescreen we’ll be overwhelmed… Squirtle can draw their attention and stay in her shell to stay safe, but Blue has to be nearby to give commands…

Nothing. There’s nothing they can do. Red takes another minute to finish internalizing that, then takes a deep breath and raises his head, feeling a bit more in control of himself. He wipes at his face, then nods his thanks to the other two and stands. “Be on the lookout for the rangers, they’ll probably be coming from the east across the clearing.”

“Let’s circle around then,” Leaf says, and leads the way through the trees. Red follows Blue after her and tries to keep an eye on the beedrill. A few leave the swarm as they walk, but to the northwest. Red quickly takes out his phone and draws a cone on his map in that direction, estimating where their hive might be so he can avoid it in the future. He can look up foraging ranges to make a better estimation later.

Thankfully the repel seems to be keeping them safe while the beedrill are busy. Red watches another one finish drinking its fill of nectar before flying off for home, its lower limbs coated in pollen. He wonders if the person in the field had been resting there when the swarm arrived, or if they had been foolish enough to try to capture a beedrill while they were foraging. Perhaps only one had been here at first, and the others had taken him by surprise. Either way, where’s his pokemon? As far as Red can tell, the body is alone.

They reach the eastern side of the clearing a few minutes before the Rangers appear through the trees. As Red had guessed there’s two of them, an investigative pair comprised of a senior riding a meganium and a junior on the back of an ursaring. Red doesn’t recognize either of them, and for a moment he feels homesick for the familiar, competent presence of the Rangers around Pallet Town. Then the two are dismounting and withdrawing their pokemon, and Red takes a step forward.

“Sitrep, one civ down, possibly trainer, surrounded by fifteen to twenty passive beedrill. Aid is one charmander, squirtle, bulbasaur, two rattata, two pidgey. Trained suppression skills are smokescreen and sleep powder.” He doesn’t mention their new captures: even if he considered them reliable, the Rangers wouldn’t.

The junior Ranger’s brow rises, but the senior doesn’t blink as he sizes the three up. His eyes linger a moment on Red’s clothes: the red and white of his jacket and black of his shirt makes him match the Ranger uniform color scheme. “You were right to alert us. All three of you are willing to assist?” They confirm, and he nods. “Pokeball count?”

“I have six.” Red glances at the others.

“Five,” Leaf says, while Blue holds up five fingers.

“Good. I’m Ranger Akio, this is Ranger Metis. Please stand by while we assess the situation.”

Red barely steps aside in time to avoid being shoved as they pass. The two Rangers stand at the edge of the clearing and begin to confer in low voices. Red’s gas mask is strong enough to mute the repel he used on himself, but the strength of the Rangers’ repellent still goes through his air filters. Their uniforms are smudged and stained by what seems like a rough few days in the woods, and they stand with the steady confidence of professionals.

The knot of tension in Red’s chest has eased somewhat seeing them. The authorities are here now, and he can relax a bit. The three trainers wait together quietly, ready to act on the Ranger’s command.

But after a couple minutes pass, Red feels his impatience begin to return. He realizes he’s rocking back and forth on his heels, and reminds himself that he’s the one that insisted on waiting for their judgement and assistance.

Blue eventually begins to pace, both hands spinning pokeballs and swapping them with those at his belt with a speed and skill that’s mesmerizing to watch. Red tears his gaze away and sees Leaf watching the Rangers as they murmur to each other, the senior pointing at the far end of the field. She seems more patient than he and Blue, though there’s a crease between her brow.

“So. A ledyba, huh?”

Leaf glances at him.

He smiles crookedly and shrugs. “I could use some distraction, and you seem pretty calm.”

She lets out a breath of amusement through her nose and nods, turning away from the field. “Wish I felt calmer. Yeah, I got the ledyba about half an hour in. It was caught in a spinarak web. I couldn’t get a lock on it, so I had bulbasaur prep some sleep powder, then cut it out with razor leaves.”

“Razor leaves too, huh? You’ve been busy.”

She smiles. “What about you?”

“I got a spinarak, actually. Wonder if you stole its dinner.”

“Wow. Spinarak’s a nice catch.”

“Yeah, ledyba too. Lots of support and impairment.”

She nods, and then they’re silent again. The quiet is filled with the distant buzzing of the swarm and the mutters of the Rangers. Red’s knee continues to ache, and he bends down a bit to rub it gently. After a moment he straightens with a sigh. “Want to know how big an ass I am?” he asks quietly. “There’s someone lying out there either dying or dead, and I feel slighted because I’m not being included in the discussion on how to help them.”

“I know. I feel like my mom sent me out of the room so she could discuss ‘adult things.’ What do you think is taking so long?”

“Their main priority is protecting people, but they’re also guardians of wild pokemon and the environment. Since we don’t know if that guy’s alive, my guess is they’re trying to minimize collateral damage. Something heavy handed could have repercussions that harm a lot of others.”

“Like what?”

“Beedrill keep a lot of the plants in the forest spreading, and cull a lot of pokemon that move into their turf. This looks like a big chunk of a colony: if they’re all taken out, it could be enough to shift the ecology of this part of the forest in ways that are hard to predict.” Talking helps calm Red’s impatience, and he lets out a breath, stretching his arms behind his head. “Or if it’s part of a huge colony, the rest might go on a feeding frenzy to make up their losses. They might even migrate as a swarm. If the Rangers have a couple fully evolved fire pokemon, they could burn all the beedrill up in seconds, but that would be a last resort. Coming up with safe alternatives is harder.”

“Well, I’m happy to help however I can. But being kept out of discussing a plan that will involve my pokemon feels shitty.”

“Yeah. It’s probably because of how young we are. If we had a badge or two to flash around-”

“It’s insulting, is what it is,” Blue says, not keeping his voice as low as theirs. “Treating us like civs. If they knew who we are…”

Red rolls his eyes, though he’s smiling. “Who we are? That pretty generous of you.”

Leaf laughs. “Yeah, I don’t think ‘Juniper’ carries much weight around here.”

“You might be surprised,” Red says. “Your grandfather is pretty well respected, and some people even know of your mom’s work.”

“By ‘some people,’ he means the eggheads at the lab,” Blue says to Leaf.

“Bit of a biased reference pool, then.”

“Still,” Red says. “Unless these guys knew my dad, being the son of a Ranger and journalist doesn’t inspire much awe.”

Blue frowns at him. “Hey, you may not be an Oak by blood, but gramps doesn’t send just anyone out in the world with his babies. And no, I’m not talking about me,” he says as Leaf opens her mouth, and she covers her grin with a hand.

Red shrugs. “I think others would just call it nepotism.”

“Ahh, that’s crap.” Blue hooks an arm around Red’s neck. “Give it a few years and I bet ‘Verres’ will be a household Kanto name.”

Red flushes a bit at the unexpected compliment, trying to think of a reply when Blue knocks his hat off and begins grinding his knuckles in his hair. “After all, someone’s going to have to write my biography, ya know? Who better than the kid who watched the legend begin?”

Red curses and grabs for his hat, which leaves him defenseless to the noogie. Leaf leans against a nearby tree as she tries to muffle her giggles, and Blue spins in place so Red’s punches only graze his ribs.

Suddenly Leaf stands straight, face serious. The boys disengage and turn to see the Rangers approaching. Ranger Metis is frowning at them, but Akio merely watches impassively as they straighten their clothing and stand at attention. “We have a plan. Are you still interested in assisting?”

Red’s cheeks are hot as he nods along with the others. “Sorry sir, just nerves.” If you don’t want to seem like a feckless kid, stop acting like one. “We’re ready. What do you need us to do?”


Even through his mask filters, the air is cloyingly sweet.

Red breathes through his mouth as he watches the meganium’s petals flap up and down, wafting more and more of its sweet scent into the air. They had separated the group, with Akio and Blue to the southeast of the clearing while Red, Leaf and Metis stay on the eastern side. Red can’t see Ranger Akio’s expression from this far, but sitting on the pokemon’s back, so close to the petals, the smell must be overwhelming. He’s probably used to it by now.

Blue on the other hand clearly isn’t, and even from a distance Red can see that his friend’s face is a grimace of disgust. He stands ready though, pokeball in one hand and flute in the other. After another few moments, when the scent feels tangible as cotton candy against Red’s tongue, Akio gives Blue the signal.

“Zephyr, go!” Blue’s pokeball flashes mid-air, and Zephyr swoops out, taking a moment to orient itself in the unfamiliar trees. Blue catches his pokeball with one hand and sticks his flute between his lips with the other, then points and blows a quick pair of notes.

The bird comes up behind Blue and hovers in the air as it begins to flap, small body bounding up and down mid air with every powerful sweep of its wings. Stronger and stronger gusts blow into the clearing, and it doesn’t take long for the beedrill to stop foraging and turn as one toward the source of the scent.

The buzzing of the field reaches a frenzied pitch, and Red feels a thrill of fear in his guts as the swarm suddenly dives toward Akio and his meganium. Blue has already withdrawn Zephyr and is running toward Red, Leaf and Metis.

Ranger Akio waits to ensure the trainer is clear, then slaps his pokemon’s side with a “Ha!”

The meganium leaps into the trees, swiftly disappearing through the foliage on its four powerful legs. Plant pokemon are not particularly known for speed, but meganium is one of the faster among them, and just barely outspeeds the average beedrill. The Ranger’s is no doubt also trained to be quick, and as long as their luck holds out, Akio should be able to keep the majority of the swarm focused on him until they’re far enough to cut the scent trail.

Meanwhile, Metis has already bounded off into the field with his ursaring. They decided not to stay in the clearing, even with the added risk of moving the body, incase any beedrill return or don’t follow Ranger Akio.

As indeed some haven’t. Red watches from the treeline as the powerful ursine swats a beedrill out of the air when it dives at him. The bug hits the ground and stays down, stunned or too hurt to fly again, but there are another four on the outskirts that suddenly turn their focus on Ranger Metis. Red tears his gaze away to crouch beside Charmander.

“Ok buddy, just like we practiced. Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen.”

Charmander’s head snaps up to Red, then he shivers a bit, eyes closing. A thick, heavy smog begins to pour from his tail, spreading and rising under the tree branch like a curtain between the field and the rest of the forest.

“Good job. Good boy,” he says, stroking his pokemon’s smooth head. “More, smokescreen.” He looks at the field as the smoke rises around him, starting to obscure his vision. Faster, faster…

The last thing he sees is Ranger Metis carefully placing the body on the ursaring’s back before hopping back on and running toward him, the four beedrill in pursuit.

Then the smoke is everywhere, and Red can only crouch still so he doesn’t get barreled over. Ursaring aren’t nearly as fast as meganium, and the beedrill would swiftly close the distance. His heart hammers in his throat as he waits, keeping his hand on charmander so he knows where he is.

A few moments later the ursaring dashes through the smoke to Red’s right, a dark mass of furred muscle that takes some of the smoke with it. Then two beedrill zoom over him, more smoke dislodged in their wake. He hears the two beyond the smokescreen veer off, and says “Charmander, stop.” He picks his pokemon up and walks back through the smoke until it clears.

When it does, he sees the two beedrill lying on the grass a dozen feet away. They’d flown straight into the cloud of sleep powder that bulbasaur is raining down from a branch in a nearby tree. Leaf is beside him with a small bucket that they’d filled with sleep spores beforehand.

“All clear!” he says. “The other two turned back.” Red puts charmander down and waits, listening for any newly approaching buzz as the smoke slowly fades. He hears Leaf withdraw bulbasaur, and by the time she gets down from the tree, the smoke is diffuse enough for them to see the field again. The remaining two beedrill return to drinking nectar, taking no mind of them. A newcomer has already joined them, and the one that had been knocked down by the ursaring slowly rises back into the air.

Red lets a breath out and turns to see Blue jogging over, Zephyr on his shoulder. “Nice job. That was perfect timing with that powder, Leaf.”

“Thanks. You guys did great too.”

Red shrugs. He’d performed a simple task with minimal risk. Leaf approaches the unconscious beedrill warily and dumps her bucket of powder onto them. Then the three trainers go to Ranger Metis, who’s crouched beside the body.

Everyone is silent, an air of tension making the forest seem oddly quiet and still. Or maybe that’s just the much quieter buzz of the remaining beedrill.

The body lies limp, mouth slightly parted and eyes closed. The Ranger has two fingers pressed to the young man’s neck, face impassive as he waits for a pulse. Impassive, but not indifferent: it’s an expression of control Red has seen on his father’s face. An expression of enduring.

The trainer’s wounds are hard to make out clearly. The back of his blue jacket is caked with blood where it pooled, but since he’s lying on it again it’s easy to look elsewhere. There are punctures along his torso, though it’s hard tell how many due to the spread of blood. Lacerations run along one arm and up his neck and jaw, leaving the rest of his face relatively unblemished. Red can see the Ranger’s potion and antidote bottles sitting on the grass, the droplets of their spray still glistening on the visible wounds. Their hypercoagulant properties have stopped any blood flow, but no new skin is growing over the wounds.

“Revive capsule?” Leaf says, voice hollow.

Ranger Metis shakes his head, once. “No swallow reflex.” He removes his fingers. “He’s gone. Lost too much blood, and the venom…”

A horrible weight is slowly pressing in Red’s stomach as he looks at the young man’s face. Blonde, with a round chin and a few days of beard growth. In death he looks barely older than Red. “How long…”

“Hard to tell without taking a temperature reading. He’s not stiff yet, so probably no more than a few hours.” Ranger Metis lets out a breath and rises, leaning against his ursaring’s neck and scratching its ear as he turns his face away.

Blue mutters something that gets lost in his face mask and stomps off, while Leaf walks to a nearby tree and sinks to the ground with her back against it, eyes closed.

Red continues to stand where he is, staring at the young man’s face. He’s dimly aware of his pulse speeding up, breath becoming faster and more shallow. He wants to ask if there’s any chance they could have saved him, if acting sooner would have helped… but he already knows there’s no answer. The trainer might have bled out before Leaf found him, or he might have died a few minutes after. Past that, it’s unlikely he’d have survived such blood loss.

This isn’t my fault. I can’t blame myself for making the right choice. He repeats it to himself as the world grows a bit fuzzy around the edges, distantly aware that he’s close to hyperventilating in his mask. He tears it off and takes deep breaths, willing himself to calm down. Not my fault. Not my fault…

The ursaring makes a chuffing noise and sits, Metis still rubbing its head. Now that Red notices the pokemon’s proximity, its size is intimidating. He meets its solid brown eyes and sees none of the razor focus of Trainer Donovan’s skarmory. Instead, the ursaring’s gaze is the very definition of neutral. It simply watches him, waiting. If he leaves it alone, it’ll leave him alone. If he attacks, it’ll snap his neck with one swipe. Things could go one way or the other, and the ursaring simply doesn’t care.

It looks away from him, gaze moving over the body, then off into the trees as its jaw gapes in a yawn. Unimpressed. Despite everything, Red’s lips twitch briefly with the ghost of a smile. The ursaring’s utter disinterest is grounding, in a way, and his breathing begins to even out. For the vast majority of the world and its inhabitants, life will go on. In the grand scheme of things, the web of tragedy and heartbreaks that will spread from this death are relatively minimal.

As soon as he thinks that, an echo of soul-cracking despair makes Red shudder, and he sways on his feet. Minimal. Right. He suddenly wants to call his mother. Hear her voice. He forces himself to remember the ursaring’s indifference, and after a moment the ache numbs a bit.

Ranger Metis finishes drawing comfort from his pokemon and steps away to withdraw it. He clips its pokeball to his belt slowly, then turns to consider the body, face once again a mask. “I’m going to identify him and record his death, then make preparations to transport him. There’s no need for you to be around for all that.” He turns to Red, and the other two as they approach again. “You did well. As thanks, please capture those two beedrill before they awaken. Then I suggest you find a safe place to camp. It will be dark soon.”

“If it’s alright,” Leaf says, “I would like to know who he was.”

Metis looks at her a moment. “Knowing will make it harder.”

“I want to know too,” Blue says, and Red nods. We owe him that much, at least.

Metis meets each of their gazes. His face softens a bit, and he turns away. “Alright. On the condition that you will keep it to yourselves until after we’ve had a chance to inform his family.”

They agree, and watch as Metis respectfully begins to pat the young man’s pockets down. He finds the wallet in his jacket, and extracts it to pull out the Trainer ID.

“Luke Koyama, Age 26. Home, Cremini Town. License issued March 3rd, 1492.”

There’s a moment of quiet as Ranger Metis puts the ID back. Red’s eyes are drawn to Luke’s pokeball belt, where four balls rest. “Was there a pokemon or pokeball out there with him?”

Metis pauses. “No. Not that I saw. I’ll double check before the swarm gets back. Now go catch those beedrill before they wake.”

Blue turns away, and Red and Leaf follow. They approach the sleeping pokemon without getting too close. One of them is still as stone, but the other’s wings are slowly flexing.

Each of the beedrill is about as tall as Red, their forelimb blades as long as his arms. The idea of applying human morality to barely sentient beings should be silly, but beedrill had always struck Red as an evil species, vicious in a way even the most commonly feared ghost and dark type pokemon are often not. No sense getting mad at a pokemon for acting in its nature, his father had told him once, but he can’t help but study their blades, trying to spot any signs of blood…

“You guys take them,” Blue says just as Red opens his mouth. “You took bigger risks.”

Leaf frowns at him. “What? You practically bathed in that beedrill bait. I was scared stiff thinking half of them would go after you.”

“Zephyr blew most of it away, and the beedrill knew the meganium was the source. If a few more had gone after you and Red-”

“I don’t want one.”

They both look at him. He shrugs a shoulder, keeping his gaze on the one starting to wake. “I don’t want one. They don’t really interest me, from a research perspective. So you guys should take them.” He walks away before they can reply, staring out in the direction Ranger Akio had gone.

You’re being irrational, Future Red mutters in the more distant recesses of his mind.

There are two of them and three of us. If someone has to go without, it might as well be me.

Rationalize it all you want, but you took us out of the running for purely emotional reasons. It feels good to you now, but I might need a beedrill someday.

So catch one then. They’re not rare.

Would that have made a difference? What if you come across a dragonair that had killed someone? Excuse me, that might have killed someone.

Is it so bad to not want a pokemon that might have killed a person?

The point of catching pokemon is to stop them from killing people. One of the points, anyway.

There are a pair of flashes and twin explosions of sound behind Red that light up the forest briefly. He looks up, noticing for the first time how dark it’s getting. Well, it’s moot now.

You’ll have to deal with it again eventually.

Technically, you will. Then you might not find it so easy to cast judgement.

His prospective mental voice grumbles a bit, but quiets down. Blue and Leaf approach, and Red turns to them.

“We’re not counting these as part of our catches,” Blue says. “So you’re still only one behind us.”

Red blinks at him, then smiles. The expression feels odd, but good. “Right. Thanks.”

“Not that you’ll be able to catch us before we get to Pewter anyway.” Leaf winks.

Red’s smile widens. “We’ll see about that. I woke up pretty late today: I might catch another three tonight while you guys are sleeping.”

Blue’s about to respond when Red spies a flash of color in the trees. “Akio’s back!”

They turn to see the Ranger approaching from the northeast riding an arcanine. Blue makes an appreciative sound at the sight of the majestic pokemon. Red wonders how far Ranger Akio had run before switching mounts.

After checking with Ranger Metis, Akio dismounts and examines the body for himself before approaching the trainers. The older man is sweating slightly, but otherwise seems fine. All trace of the meganium’s sweet scent are replaced by the hot fumes of the arcanine’s fur.

“It’s good to see you’re all alright. Thank you for your help here today.”

“No prob,” Blue says. “Just doing our duty.”

Ranger Akio’s smile is brief, but genuine. If he’s bothered by Luke’s death, he doesn’t show it. Perhaps he’d already taken it as a given. “Yes. Today you three repaid the trust the public has placed in you, and all trainers. If you don’t mind, I’d like your names, so when we return Mr. Koyama and his pokemon to his family they know who else to thank.” He nods at Leaf. “Yours we have from the ticket you made, Miss Juniper.” He looks at the other two expectantly.

“Red Verres.”

“Blue Oak.”

Ranger Akio’s brow twitches briefly at Blue’s surname. “A pleasure to meet you. May your travels be swift and safe.” He salutes them, one arm crossed behind his back and the other across his waist as he bows slightly.

Red and the others return it, then gather their things. Leaf cleans her bucket out carefully before collapsing it and putting it back in her bag, and Red puts his gas mask back on. Before leaving, Red approaches the Rangers.

“Could you do me a favor? I’m very curious to know what happened out here today,” Red says. “How Luke was killed. What he was doing in the field. I know it’s not likely we’ll get any answers, but…”

Ranger Metis glances at his superior, who studies Red for a moment. “It doesn’t do to obsess over these things. Trust me, I know. Sometimes mistakes are made. Accidents happen. People die. The why isn’t always known, or even helpful.”

Red doesn’t agree with that last bit, but he merely says, “I understand. I don’t intend to dwell on it. I just meant, if you do learn anything, I would appreciate knowing. I think it would help me put it out of my mind.”

Ranger Akio nods. “If we learn anything, I’ll pass it along. You have my word.”

Red salutes him again, bowing deep. “Arigatō, Akio-san.” Red rejoins Blue and Leaf, and, looking back at Luke Koyama one more time in the darkening twilight, leaves the buzz of the remaining beedrill behind.

Chapter 10: Avoidance

In general, travel through Viridian Forest is safe in groups. While the more territorial or aggressive pokemon like weedle or mankey might choose fight over flight, lone pokemon that are willing to face down three humans, even adolescents, are the exception rather than the rule. It’s the primary reason people are encouraged to travel in groups, but it does pose an issue for trainers who are actively seeking out new pokemon.

Red, Blue and Leaf quickly conclude that sticking to the main road through the forest wouldn’t let them encounter many pokemon, while tromping through the forest together would only scare most off. Knowing how foolhardy it would be to go off in separate directions, they compromise with a variation of the tactic Rangers use to sweep an area.

Red checks the map on his phone as he walks through the underbrush. The screen shows an aerial view of the forest overlaid with a grid. The two dots representing Blue and Leaf’s phones form a rough triangle with his own, all within a hundred meters of each other. If someone goes too far from the other two, the phones would alert everyone. In the meantime they have enough personal space to find and catch pokemon without fighting over each one they see, and are still within safe distance of each other for emergencies.

Red smiles and puts his phone away, mentally patting himself on the back. They’ve only been in the forest for half an hour, and have at most another full hour of daylight left. After approximating their distance traveled so far with how much forest is left to the north before Pewter City, Red is confident his “competition” will keep them busy for at least a couple days. Hopefully that’ll be long enough to miss the storm if it continues south, but worst case scenario, Zapdos attacks after they arrive when at least one of them has a full belt of pokemon. And if any help requests pop up nearby meanwhile, it might take even longer before they get to Pewter, giving them an excuse to miss it entirely without bruising Blue’s ego.

Not that he doesn’t intend to try and win their little competition, of course. There are a number of pokemon in the area he wants, and a free dinner is a free dinner.

Red breathes in the earthy smell of the forest, mostly filtered by his gas mask. He’d put it on as soon as they split up, and has an empty pokeball ready in one hand so he can try for a quick capture if he spots a wild pokemon. But even walking alone, he’s big enough to scare away most pokemon in the area. Poking his head in every bush or tree trunk looking for those that are hiding is a great way to get a cloud of poison or stinger to the face, and while his mask will protect him from the former, he doesn’t want to test the latter.

Which leaves using his pokemon to flush wild ones out. He wants to keep charmander fresh, so he puts away his empty ball and unclips his rattata’s to summon it for the first time. “Rattata, go,” he says with a toss, then puts his wrist together to catch the ball on its recoil.

It sails forward into a relatively clear patch of grass and disgorges his rattata in a flash of light before rocketing back toward Red. Realizing in a split second that he threw it with a downward arc, he reaches above his head and snatches it out of the air with both hands cupped together.

“Yes!” Red pumps his fist up with a grin, then looks around. Unfortunately (or fortunately), no one had been around to see it.

No one except his rattata, who seems surprised at the outburst. She stands on her hindlegs and peers around the forest, nose twitching in the air.

Red approaches and kneels to scratch the fur along her back. “Hey there little lady. Nice to see you again,” he says, wanting her to get used to his voice in the real world. He puts her ball away and takes out some dried berries and nuts for her to eat.

His rattata’s whiskers twitch over his cupped palm, then her front paws begin scooping the food into her mouth, munching quickly at each mouthful before grabbing more. Standing on her hindlegs she’s as tall as his knee, and when she finishes feeding she drops back down to all fours and rubs against his ankle.

He plays with her a bit, letting her get the scent of his hands and scratching her white belly. He tries to stroke her tail, and smiles as she squirms, then twists it away from his hand. “Okay, no tail touching. Got it.”

Red finds some rocks and hefts them to ensure they weigh a solid amount. Once he has a dozen in his pocket, he begins walking forward again with one in each hand. His rattata follows at his heels, occasionally running to the sides or ahead briefly to sniff at some moss or munch on a fallen acorn.

Red stops when they near a particularly large clump of bushes, turning one of the stones over and over between his fingers. He doesn’t want to go rooting through the bushes for pokemon, and he doesn’t want his rattata to stick her nose into potential danger either…

“Rattata, ready,” he says, and the rodent dashes in front of him, planting its feet and staring forward, long tail curled up above it. Feeling his pulse begin to speed up, he prepares himself for a fight, then cocks his arm back and throws the rock into the bushes.

The round stone swishes through the leaves and rustles some branches as it hits something with a dull thud. Red waits, body tense, not blinking as the bush sits still… silent…

Eventually he realizes his lungs ache, and lets out his breath. “Rattata, follow,” he says, and they continue onward.

The next bush is smaller than the last, and when he throws the rock it sails straight through it. Red waits with his heart in his throat, but nothing emerges, and he walks on, checking every group of bushes big or dense enough to hide a pokemon.

On his fifth throw, a pidgey flies out of the bush with a startled flap of its wings. Red is aiming an empty pokeball at it before it’s out of sight, but it’s already too far for the lens to get a lock. He frowns as it flies up and away through the tree branches. Rattata hisses at a feather that floats down at them before pouncing on it, and Red laughs, frustration draining away.

He tries another two bushes with no result. Just as he’s about to throw at the third one, his phone chimes, causing him to jump and drop his rock. Blushing furiously, he takes his phone out and checks the screen.

3 to 2. Have I mentioned how much I love tentacool soup?

Red returns his phone to his pocket without replying. He’s dying to know what pokemon Blue had caught, and how, but that’s why Blue hadn’t mentioned it, and asking would just waste more time.

Throwing rocks into bushes and hoping a pokemon would pop out and fight his rattata may be the safest way to go, but it could take hours, and the daylight’s fading. It’s time to put some of his riskier ideas to the test.

He needs a flying pokemon, but hoothoot and noctowl won’t be up and about until it’s full dark. He could try to find one’s roost, but that would involve a lot of tree climbing, and without a flying pokemon of his own he’d be at a major disadvantage if he angers one.

Against anything but other flyers though, his charmander gives him a huge advantage over the local flora and fauna. One on one, the fire lizard could take down practically any pokemon in the forest, as most are bug or plant types.

But being the strongest thing around isn’t going to attract contenders. He needs to seem like the weakest.

Red takes his pokedex out and opens its audio folders. In them are recorded the cries of every pokemon ever captured and studied, most with a number of different entries: anger, playfulness, fear, challenge, affection, and pain.

It’s the last one that interests him at the moment.

In every ecology, there exists a food chain. It’s rarely a straightforward line, but rather a shifting mess of predators and prey. Viridian Forest has over a dozen species of pokemon with almost three dozen different forms that have lived amongst each other for thousands of generations, each filling different niches in the environment and adapting to one-another’s strengths and weaknesses.

Caterpie are without doubt the weakest pokemon in the forest. The only thing that keeps their species going is their incredibly short juvenile period, usually lasting no more than a few days before they “evolve” into metapods, which themselves only take a week or two before metamorphing again into butterfree.

In any other environment, a pokemon like butterfree might stay near the bottom of the food chain. It has no sharp claws or mandibles, and its poisonous spores are slow acting. Encountering any predator should spell a quick doom.

Or it would, if not for a peculiar adaptation.

As far as official classifications go, there are no “psychic bugs” on record. It’s theorized that none are intelligent enough for the true breadth of mental powers psychics are capable of. And psychics do have a harder time defending themselves against bug pokemon, lending some merit to the idea that their minds are too simple, or just too different, for psychics to interact with the way they normally would.

Nevertheless, some bug pokemon like butterfree and venomoth seem capable of low intensity bursts of psychic energy to ward off predators, disorienting them long enough for an escape. There’s debate in academic circles whether it’s a truly psychic attack, or some low frequency sound or vibration the bugs use that just have similar effects; trainers with psychic and dark minds can’t seem to come to a consensus, which leads Red to think that the answer might be both. The bottom line is that butterfree are able to stay near the top of the food chain, despite not actually being a predator to any other pokemon. Even spinarak and ariados, with their own mental attacks, can’t keep butterfree in their webs. As a result, butterfree populations introduced to new habitats can quickly explode in number.

Which is where hoothoot and noctowl come in. Another non-psychic pokemon with rudimentary psychic powers, their mental defenses are strong enough to resist butterfree’s disorienting attacks, allowing them to swoop in for a kill. Lacking the weaknesses of the more powerfully psychic birds like xatu, noctowl are the perfect predator to butterfree.

Unfortunately, it’s still light out, which means playing the distress sounds of an injured butterfree isn’t likely to bring any noctowl or hoothoot to him. But if there’s one pokemon that will catch the attention of any nearby predators, it’s caterpie.

Red goes to the tenth entry in the pokedex and turns the volume all the way up. He briefly considers switching Rattata out for Charmander, but the rodent is much faster than the fire lizard, and if some predators come charging out of the trees at him, he’s going to need Rattata’s speed to intercept them.

Red checks to make sure Rattata is at attention, then wipes his sweating palms on his jeans before he holds the pokedex up and presses the button.

A pained, warbling cry fills the quiet forest air. It only lasts couple few seconds, and then the hushed rustle of leaves returns. Rattata whips its head around, nose twitching as it tries to locate the source of the sound, and Red stands tensely still, ears straining for the sound of wings or rustling underbrush to alert him of incoming pokemon.

After a few seconds pass, Red presses the button again. When nothing approaches, he begins to press it repeatedly, waiting two to five seconds between repetitions as he starts walking forward. His rattata follows, still looking puzzled as she tries to see or smell the injured caterpie she hears.

His arms begin to get tired holding the pokedex above his head, so he lowers it to chest level with the speakers pointed outward, occasionally shifting its direction. Red’s spine feels like a coiled spring, and he keeps one eye on the forest around him while the other watches the ground for roots or stones to ensure he doesn’t trip in the dense underbru-

A line of silk shoots down and nabs the pokedex, tugging it out of Red’s grasp. For a second he simply gapes upward as it floats away to a tree branch above. Then he throws himself at the tree with a cry of horror, scrambling up the rough bark. “Rattata, climb!”

He lifts himself onto the lowest branch before checking to confirm that his pokemon is following, then looks up. There! Now Red can make out the spinarak hanging from the underside of the branch, drawing the pokedex up with its forelimbs.

Including the width of its six legs, the green and black arachnoid is as wide as Red’s torso, half again as big as his rattata. It finishes pulling up the pokedex, but seems confused by what’s clearly not a caterpie. Red’s veins fill with ice as the pokemon scuttles onto the top of the branch and away, pokedex still attached by some string hanging from the end of its abdomen. The slim red device tips this way and that under the branch, and Red begins to climb to the next branch up. Don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall…

To say his pokedex prototype is priceless would be a bit of an overstatement, but to Red it might as well be. Even older models that act as little more than indexes cost hundreds of dollars, and Red’s is by far the most valuable thing he’s ever owned. Part of what had made Red work so hard the past year was the sacred trust Professor Oak would be putting in him: the only other person he’d given his personally designed, off-the-market software to was his grandson. Breaking it would be bad enough, but if the spinarak gets away and someone else finds it…

Red pulls himself onto the second branch and stands, legs only shaking a little. The third is another head above him, almost parallel to his own. He takes out an empty pokeball and points its lens up at what he can see of the bug pokemon. He waits for the ping with his heart in his throat, but the line of sight isn’t clear enough.

“Shit!” Rattata climbs up the trunk beside him, claws still hooked in the bark, and Red points to the retreating spinarak. “Rattata, Bite!”

Rattata follows the direction of his finger and gives a high pitched growl before leaping onto the branch and giving chase. Red places his feet carefully and follows on his own, feeling the whole thing bend and sway beneath him as he watches her attack. The spinarak turns just before she reaches it, and rears onto its hind legs, hissing and aiming the stinger on its forehead to break her charge.

Rattata stops herself short of being impaled, head darting in for a nip here and there. Spinarak retreats with its hind legs to avoid the bites while its forward claws draw blood along rattata’s forehead and stomach. All the while, the pokedex bobs and spins on the end of its string under the branch, out of Red’s reach.

Red grits his teeth as his rattata squeals in pain. Rattata’s greatest strength is her speed: on the narrow branch, the spinarak has home advantage that completely nullifies her maneuverability. Red pulls out his remaining stones and tries to chuck some at the bug. He nearly loses his balance on the third attempt, and his shots all go too high or bounce off the branch. Heart hammering, Red watches helplessly as Rattata over commits and gets stung, only managing a light bite in response.

I need to even the playing field. The only way he can think to do that is to get them off the branch. Just gotta avoid landing on my head. Or my neck. Or my back. “Fuck it,” Red whispers. “Time for heroics.” He shucks off his backpack and lets it fall before he bounces on the branch once, twice, then jumps to the one above, hands reaching.

His fingers scramble at the bark, digging in as his body hangs six meters off the ground. He feels the whole thing bend with his weight, and for a moment thinks it’s going to crack. That would be one way to do it. The wood holds though, and he begins to pull himself toward the pokemon, arms burning and breath coming in short pants. His eyes are fixed on his pokedex, bobbing closer with every hand. Come on… three more… two… there… He reaches out with one hand, fingers on his other screaming with his whole weight as he snatches the pokedex.

As soon as he has it in his grip and pulls, the spinarak scuttles under the branch, following it down as the webbing stretches. It points its stinger at his hand and dashes at him. Red gives a heroic yelp and lets go. “Rattata, down!”

He only has a heartbeat of weightlessness to curl protectively around the pokedex and lift his head before he hits the grass. He’d turned onto his side a bit while falling, and a knobby root sends a bolt of pain up his knee. When he looks up, he sees the pokedex is still attached by its damn string, now stretched long and thin. Red instinctively rolls just as the spinarak leaps down at him.

Completely unfazed by its fall, it dashes for him again, stinger forward. Red holds the pokedex tight as he whips his arm up and spins his whole body, using his uninjured knee as a pivot the way Hamato had.

The spinarak is lifted into the air, and finally releases the web rather than smash into the tree. It lands on its feet and leaps for Red again just as his rattata falls on it in a clawing, squealing fury.

Red forces himself to his feet and stuffs the pokedex in his pocket as he shouts, “Rattata, Quick Attack!”

His pokemon immediately disengages, then dashes in for a bite, running past the spinarak before it can retaliate. She’s breathing hard and bleeding from a number of wounds, but now so is the bug, its green and black abdomen leaking pale fluid.

“Quick Attack! Quick Attack!”

Rattata dashes at the arachnoid again and again, taking a quick nip out of it with each pass. The spinarak occasionally tries to leap at it, but Rattata is too fast on the open grass, juking from side to side before speeding in for another bite.

But Red can see his pokemon getting slower from the blood loss and poison. The time between attacks grows longer, and her exhaustion is palpable as she tumbles over the grass after a close dodge. The spinarak curls its abdomen and shoots a string of web at Rattata as she scrambles to her feet.

Red already has Charmander’s pokeball in one hand and Rattata’s in the other. He points it at her and yells “Rattata, return!” Quick as a blink, a red beam shoots out and reverts his pokemon to a glowing mass that’s sucked back into the open pokeball. The web is left behind, and Red feels a surge of relief. Rattata would be safe in her ball, wounds suspended until he could treat her. “Charmand-”

The spinarak leaps for him. Red rolls to the side, dropping Rattata’s pokeball as he tries to clip it back to his belt. He throws Charmander’s ball haphazardly as he comes up hard against a tree. “Charmander, go!”

The ball explodes with light and sound before shooting back into some bushes to Red’s side. He doesn’t spare it a glance, eyes on the fire lizard as it takes a bewildered moment to look around and orient itself to its new surroundings.

“Charmander, battle!”

Charmander snaps into a combat stance and focuses on the only other pokemon present. The spinarak’s forward charge slows. Maybe it thinks the rattata is still around somewhere, or maybe it’s the open flame at the tip of Charmander’s tail, but the spinarak begins to back away, its abdomen rising to shoot web at the branches above.

“Charmander, Scratch!” He doesn’t dare use ember: bugs are easily killed or crippled by fire, and now that he has his pokedex back, his priority is to capture it.

The spinarak is forced to leap aside as the lizard claws at it, arching its back and raising its body upright above its head, hissing. The black dots and stripe on its abdomen look like a frowning fa-

Freezing, empty night, no light or warmth, not cold but simple absence of heat, a vacuum of sensation or sound that unhinges his mind-

Red gasps, pain radiating from his chest. He’s lying face down in the grass, nose pressed against his breath mask with no memory of when he’d fallen. Was I poisoned? He can’t recall being stung, but a wave of nausea almost makes him hurl when he tries to remember the last thing he’d seen. Red raises his head and spots Charmander weaving erratically toward spinarak, as if he can’t get his balance right. Instead of pressing the advantage, the spinarak turns and begins to scuttle away.

“No… you… don’t,” Red wheezes. He forces himself up and pulls an empty ball from his pocket, holding it outstretched and bracing it on his uninjured knee. The max distance a pokeball beam will work is roughly ten meters, and the bug is almost out of range when he hears the ping of its lock. Heart in his throat, he throws…

…and misses, the ball bouncing on the grass to the right of the spinarak.

“Charmander, Scratch!”

The fire lizard leaps forward, stumbling onto all fours as he tries to recover from whatever had happened. His first claw attack misses, but his flaming tail keeps the spinarak from retaliating so he can get another attack in. This time his claws rake the spinarak’s body, drawing more clear ichor. The arachnoid hisses and jabs its stinger forward, barely missing as charmander jumps away.

Tossing dignity aside, Red crawls forward until he can aim another pokeball, focusing it on the spinarak as it rears up and shoots web at Charmander, sticking his legs together.

Just as it turns to run again, Red throws. The ball nails the spinarak in the thorax, and it vanishes with a flash.

Red collapses back onto his stomach. He still feels queasy, and takes deep breaths until his stomach settles a bit. Charmander struggles to free its legs from the webbing, then curls its tail around to burn the stuff off. Afterward he approaches Red with a chirp and curls up beside him, tail flame warming Red’s arm to just the edge of comfort. He checks to make sure Charmander isn’t injured, then reaches out to rub his smooth head. “Good boy, Charmander. You did great.”

His mask is beginning to hurt as it’s pressed against his face, and he flips himself onto his back with a sigh. After a minute he feels a bit more grounded, but he still can’t think of what had happened without intense discomfort. He groans in frustration, removing his face mask and pressing his palms to his eyes. It’s like there’s a part of his brain that’s broken, a memory scooped out to leave a raw wound that he keeps brushing up against.

The spinarak had hit Charmander with something, and Red, standing behind him, had been evidently hit much harder. It can only be a mental attack of some kind, but spinaraks aren’t usually capable of more than minor emotional manipulation, the type usually classified as Ghost attacks…

Chill fingers brush his spine. He’d never experienced a Psychic attack before, but he’d also never experienced a Ghost attack. He doesn’t know which it had been… but the fact that it was so strong pointed to two possibilities. Either his mind is incredibly vulnerable to all forms of Psychic attack, or… he’s psychic himself, and the attack had been a Ghost one that turned his own mental powers against him.

But I’m not a psychic. He underwent the tests last year. They aren’t 100% accurate, a lot of psychics’ powers only manifest when they encounter others, but he tried all the practice techniques he could find just in case he was one of the rare few. What kid doesn’t dream of having special powers?

But now the thought of enduring things like… that… again makes Red reconsider the various advantages of even mild psychic abilities.

His thoughts are interrupted by his phone ringing, and he suddenly realizes he’s been holding still for awhile. Had he dropped behind the others’ positions? He takes his phone out and sees that Blue’s calling him.

“Hello?”

“Red! Chasing a caterpie right at you! Cut it off!” Blue sounds like he’s running.

Red blinks, then scrambles to his feet, ignoring the cry of protest from his knee. “What?! From where?” He looks around and realizes his pokemon are all scattered. He pulls his mask back on and hobbles forward to grab Rattata’s ball.

“Northeast! I’ll be on you in ten seconds! Catchers keepers, but just stop it from getting away!”

Blue hangs up, and Red stuffs his phone away and runs over to grab his new spinarak, attaching it to his belt and cursing his weakness. He’d wasted time he could have used to register his spinarak or heal Rattata. But a caterpie shouldn’t be hard to deal with, and all he has to do is stop it from running.

“Charmander, battle!” The lizard was watching him curiously as he dashed about, and now drops back into an aggressive stance. Shit, where’s his ball? It went somewhere in those bushes…

He hears Blue before he sees him, crashing through the underbrush like a stampeding tauros. Once he runs out from between some foliage, Red spots the caterpie bounding ahead of him. About as thick as blue’s leg and half as long, its green segmented body blends in with the grass and leaves around it, whole body scrunching up to propel itself forward in a leap. It hops from grass to tree to bush. When it spots Red and Charmander waiting for it ahead, it aims its body straight up and flings itself up to a tree branch, sticky feet allowing it to start climbing.

“Not again,” Red mutters as he runs forward to meet Blue at the base of the tree. “Where’s Zephyr?”

“I was afraid he’d eat it,” Blue pants. “Can you send up your rattata?”

“She’s hurt.” Red looks at Charmander and hesitates for just a moment. “Get Squirtle out, I don’t want to start a forest fire. Charmander, Ember!” He points just ahead of the caterpie as Blue summons the water turtle.

Charmander looks up, then drops onto all fours. His tail relaxes downward before flicking sharply up, and the glob of fire hits the tree just in front of caterpie. It immediately curls up and shies away from the heat, falling to the grass.

Red and Blue have their pokeballs out and ready, both pinging almost simultaneously. The balls collide mid-air and bounce away from each other, and Red sees Blue’s hand move in a blur, already replacing Squirtle’s ball and grabbing another empty one. Red is still aiming his second when Blue’s new ball locks, and a moment later the caterpie’s gone in a flash.

“Squirtle, Water Gun!” A jet of water splatters against the branch and puts out the fire. Blue rubs the turtle’s shell, then withdraws her.

Red does the same with Charmander after retrieving his ball from the bushes, trying not to feel disappointed as they gather up the pokeballs that missed. “Nice catch.”

Blue smirks and bows in the foreign style their generation uses mockingly, one arm across his stomach and the other to the side with one heel planted forward. “Thanks for the assist. That’s four to two now.” Blue takes out his pokedex and registers his new caterpie, beginning its virtual training.

“Four to three, actually,” Red says as he does the same with his new pokemon.

“Oh right, you said Rattata’s hurt. Whatcha get?”

“Spinarak.”

“Shit, that’s a good one. I got a shroomish.”

“With Squirtle?”

“Yeah, she’s pretty drained. It kept running through bushes so Zephyr couldn’t grab it, and I couldn’t get a clear throw. Got scratched to hell chasing it.”

“Tell me about it. This damn bug nearly made me break my neck…”

They exchange stories as they heal up their pokemon. Red doesn’t mention the mental attack, still not quite sure what to make of it. It would sound like bragging if he emphasizes the possibility that he’s psychic. And what if he’s wrong? He would just sound weak. I need to do some research first. He considers writing a note to remind himself, then realizes he’s not likely to forget the event. He shudders slightly just thinking about it.

Red looks over his medical supplies once he finishes spraying Rattata’s wounds with some antivenom and a healing potion. He has six more potions, three more antidotes, and two each of paralyze and burn heals. Red watches Blue spray a bit of his own anti-burn medicine on his new caterpie, while Red uses one of his potions to heal his spinarak’s wounds.

It’s hard to look at the arachnoid’s green and black abdomen, expecting another burst of mental torment at any second. But nothing happens, and Red strokes his new pokemon tentatively after feeding it some berries. After he withdraws it, he checks the pokedex entry:

Spinarak is a patient hunter that can wait motionlessly for several days for unsuspecting prey. Even juvenile specimen can spin webbing as strong as iron, and adults have been known to spin strands five times as strong as an equal weight of steel. The patterns on their backs are used to project some forms of mental attacks in an outward cone, and the venom in its forehead stinger can melt flesh into a nutrient-rich soup within their cocoons.

His seems to fall within the averages for weight and size. Red begins to look for more details on their mental attacks when his phone chimes. A moment later, both his and Blue’s phones chime at the same time.

They look at each other and say “Leaf!” before pulling their phones out. Red flushes as he realizes he’d forgotten to tell her that they’d stopped moving. It had been just Blue and him for so long that he’d forgotten… if she was hurt because of their negligence…

Come quick as you can!” had been the second message. The first had been a CoRRNet alert… with Leaf as the author.

“This way!” Red takes off through the trees quick as he dares, keeping one eye on his phone’s map and the other on the ground for roots or ditches. The wilderness training he’d gone through, first in class as a kid and then with Blue over the past year, had taught him how dangerous running through forests can be, especially with low light, and he tries desperately not to twist his ankle as he hurries to Leaf’s location, the pain from his knee getting worse with every step. Leaf didn’t press her panic button, taking the time to write out a ticket on CoRRNet instead, so what-

They find Leaf just before reaching a clearing. She’s crouched around the side of a tree, and puts her finger over her lips as soon as she turns and sees them.

“Quiet. Look.” She points.

Still catching their breath, Red and Blue look past her. It takes a moment for Red to realize what he’s seeing.

The clearing is full of flowers. Above them, a swarm of at least a dozen beedrill fly from one to the other, collecting pollen.

And lying on the ground in the middle of the field is a body.

Chapter 9: Delayed Gratification

Viridian City’s northern department store is a round building that functions as a one stop shopping mall, each of its four floors devoted to a different stratum of needs. The sign over the entryway informs that the top floor contains trainer supplies, the third protective gear, the second conventional goods, and the first food and services. Red, Leaf and Blue walk through the wide glass doors into an open and bustling indoor plaza, walls lined with service areas and shops of every kind. As they head for the escalators, Red’s eyes bounce from cafes and massage parlors for trainers to poffin bakeries and treatment spas for pokemon.

“I may have to stop here on our way out,” Leaf muses, and Red follows her gaze to see a sentret getting its tail brushed through a display window, while in the next a charmeleon has its claws filed.

He absently rubs the cool spheres at his waist as he eyes the prices. It would be nice to treat his pokemon, but… he only has about $220 of spending money. As nice as it would be to pamper them a bit, his pokemon are dependent on him to make smart financial decisions. If someone were to offer him an hour at the spa or or some extra medicine in case of emergencies, he knows what he’d choose for himself.

They reach the escalators and decide to head to the top floor first, then work their way back down. Red’s gaze continues to roam, passing over bright advertisements without a second glance. He sees a trainer with a bellsprout outside its ball step onto the escalator behind them, the plant’s long viney limbs wrapped around his shoulder and waist. Red smiles as the pokemon’s bulbous head swivels to take in everything around it, mimicking his trainer.

They switch elevators at the second and third floors, then reach the the fourth near its middle, surrounded by stalls and shelves full of pokeballs and medical equipment. Trainers fill the aisles, speaking with salesmen and comparing products. Advertisements and guideposts hang from the ceiling to direct customers, and Red scans them quickly. “Okay, so we need to-”

“Check it out, balls are on sale!” Blue approaches a glass display counter and crouches down to peer at the colorful variety of pokeballs inside. “Greatballs for just eighty bucks with a trainer card. And ten pokeballs gets you a free premier ball!”

“We don’t need more pokeballs yet-”

“Ooh look, free samples.” Leaf wanders over to a nutritionist sitting at a stall, the countertop covered in colored rows of pokemon vitamin supplements.

Red sets his jaw and resists the urge to follow either of them, turning resolutely in the direction of the audio training tools. It’s fairly easy to block the advertisements: after getting burned a few times by misleading ads as a kid, and making one particularly expensive impulse purchase he later regretted when he was nine, he grabbed some books on marketing and devoted a week to reading them.

Once he emerged from that roller coaster of fascination and horror, he walked into the living room and declared that if he ever became Champion of the Indigo League, all ads would be just be a name, an image, an intended purpose in ten words or less, and some sources for where more information could be found. Ever since then he’s taken the default position that all ads lie about everything, and reflexively ignores them until he has the chance to do independent research.

But it’s a bit harder ignoring so many cool toys once they’re all around him and in easy reach.

He catches himself slowing down by a shelf of laser pointers with a sign declaring “50% off!” and forces himself to walk past, only to realize a minute later that he’s unconsciously veering toward some targeting frisbees that promise to “improve pokemon accuracy by 63%!” The lasers are regular priced, they’re just usually marked up twice as much, he grimly reminds himself.And a 63% improvement means instead of landing two out of ten attacks, my pokemon will land three.

The biggest crowd by far is in the relatively open area where new pokedex models are on display and available to demo. Red is glad he’s spared that particular temptation. The Technique Machine aisle proves impossible to resist however, and he walks over to a console to see what’s available.

He waits for the trainer using one of the machines to finish browsing, then steps up to the free screen and types in “charmander.”

Toxic, Dig, Flame Charge, Fire Blast, Shadow Claw

Woah. Charmander can learn Shadow Claw? He checks the move’s information and confirms that yes, it’s a Ghost Type attack. He wonders how long some programmer slaved over that particular code.

The software in the machines are very specific programs designed to do two things: mundanely, they can train a pokemon to learn a specific behavior that they might normally be able to learn on their own, with enough maturity and training. The second, far rarer programs are those few that rewrite specific pokemon’s actual “code,” the data they’re saved as while in their pokeball, so that their physical bodies are safely altered to be capable of entirely new things. Even rarer are programs written well enough to apply the effects to any pokemon of that species, with all the variation they have, rather than a specific one the programmer wrote the code for. A coder that manages to make such a universal program is usually set for life, and a handful of programmers, like Bill Sonezaki of Kanto, have coded multiple such machines and gained prestige almost on par with that given to Professors.

He watches a demonstration video of a charmander attacking a pokedoll, its claws trailing purple mist. The mist doesn’t help with cutting the doll, as it’s not a physical augmentation: Ghost abilities attack the mind. But he can clearly see that charmander is capable of using it.

This. This would be a solid investment. With Shadow Claw, his charmander would have incredibly boosted coverage. He could stand a chance against rock pokemon, as charmander’s normal claws and fire wouldn’t do much good against their tough hides, and if he faces a Psychic or Ghost type, he could fight fire with fire, so to speak.

With a mix of excitement and dread, he checks the price and feels his heart sink. Five hundred dollars is relatively cheap, especially for something so cutting edge, but it’s still expensive for a one-time use. If it were a permanent copy of the software that he could reuse on other pokemon, that might be worth it…

Not that I could afford it either way. He returns to the homescreen and steps away for the next trainer, watching as a grim looking man in a trench coat navigates the screen with quick familiarity, makes his selection, then inserts an ultra ball after swiping his card through the machine. Red turns away and continues his search for the training whistles, trying not to dwell on his disappointment.

“Hey,” Blue says as he approaches from the side and falls into step with him. “Lot of stuff around here, huh?”

“Yeah. You buy anything?”

“Nah, not yet. I might call up gramps and ask him to release some of my savings, but then he’s going to want to know every single thing I spend it on. Man, I can’t wait till I’m fifteen.”

Red nods. “Tell me about it.” He’s not as well off as Blue, but his own bank account has a couple thousand in it. Unfortunately he still needs his mother’s permission to withdraw anything more than a hundred dollars a week, and his mother made clear that should be for emergencies. It’s an old grievance of his and Blue’s: 11 is old enough to go out in the world, but not old enough to make their own decisions about money, apparently.

On the other hand… He looks around at all the things he’d love to buy. Being in a store like this, he can see why some kids might need a bit of help with self control.

“Have you seen any shock suits around here?”

Red frowns. “I think that would be on the third floor. It’s more for protection than training.” Professor Faraday had created the first “shock suit” to help him safely study electric pokemon. By providing an easy path for electron flow around the wearer, modern Faraday suits can immunize someone to most electric attacks.

It’s one of the top items on Red’s wishlist, and being reminded of it doesn’t improve his mood. I need to get started on articles for my Researcher license so I can get some income. He files the thought away for later consideration. “You’re not going to buy one now, are you? The ones I saw online were priced at least at a thousand.”

“If Zapdos ends up coming south, I think it would be worth it. I’ll just tell gramps I want the money for a good bike.”

Red’s steps slow at the mention of Zapdos. “Right. I actually wanted to talk to you about that…” How could he stop Blue from going into the storm, short of tying him up? Better yet, how could he change Blue’s mind so he chooses not to himself? Red flips through his memory for ways in which people change their minds. Fear of consequences, appeal to authority, deceit… which is most likely to succeed?

Blue looks at him askance. “What about it?”

1) Fear of consequences. The dangers of the storm trio are hard to overstate, but confronting them is tied to too many of Blue’s central values, including his ego and desire to avenge the loss of his parents. Low chance of success.

2) Appeal to authority. Low chance of success. Blue’s value for autonomy is too high. Calling Professor Oak to intercede directly might work, but would likely sever friendship. Worth severing to possibly save his life? Maybe.

“I don’t know how prepared we are at the moment,” Red says. “There are some things I was hoping to have before facing one of the trio, like a Faraday suit of my own.”

Blue scratches his neck, looking uncomfortable. “Yeah, I was thinking it over. Look, I think I can take out enough money to cover two suits without gramps noticing right away. Don’t worry about paying me back, I know you’re good for it.”

3) Deceit. I could pretend to be sick at a critical moment, and force Blue to choose between competing values. Better yet, actually injure myself at just the right moment. Even better yet, call Daisy and collaborate a convincing deception for Blue to return home. If discovered though, this would definitely sever friendship. Also would prefer not to injure myself badly enough to warrant serious medical attention. Moderate chance of success, but risky. Reserve for last resort.

4) Competing values….

Red nods. “Thanks, I might take you up on that. But I think there’s a cheaper alternative.”

“What is it?”

“I’ll show you when we head down to the third floor. For now I want to find these whistles before my wallet burns a hole through my pocket.”

They begin to hear the sound of flutes and whistles over the general noise of the store, and find a wall of various handheld instruments a minute later. Leaf is already there, examining a pendant ocarina with four holes on the outer side and two on the inner. A middle aged woman in store attendant uniform is standing beside her and demonstrating the proper way to hold it. Around her neck hangs an assortment of different whistles and flutes from the wall. Leaf spies Red and Blue approaching and waves them over.

“Hey guys! Come listen. She’s explaining how to choose the right instrument.” Leaf turns to the woman. “They’re interested in getting one too.”

The saleswoman smiles and turns to include them in her demonstration. “As I was telling your friend here, a whistle is a good choice for training pokemon that are expected to range out from you, like flying types. But it’s harder than just training them to follow a verbal command. Each action you want them to perform has to be linked to a particular, short tone or tune, and that means which instrument you choose is very important.”

The attendant finds the plain whistle in the jumble around her neck and demonstrates with a pair of quick notes. “See? Just two basic commands, and anything more than that will take a brief melody.” She waits for another attendant nearby to stop blowing on a long flute before she gives three short blows. “So you’ll need one of those for each action. With something like the ocarina, each note can be tied to a command, and then a melody can be its own.” She puts the pendant ocarina to her lips and blows each note once, then a number of quick combinations, and finally a brief melody.

“So why doesn’t everyone get an ocarina?” Red asks. “Other than the price.” He sees on the wall that the plain whistles are just five bucks, while the ocarina is thirty.

She smiles. “The ocarina takes quite a bit more dedication. It has more range and options, but you have to be willing to learn and memorize each one. Also it takes two hands, which some trainers find cumbersome.”

Meaning mostly battle trainers. Having your hands free to swap pokemon at a moment’s notice is a big deal, especially in the fast paced world of competitive battles.

Blue is clearly thinking the same thing, because he heads over to the plain whistles and begins to sort through them.

“I think I’ll take an ocarina,” Leaf says, and goes to the wall to examine the different styles available.

Red turns to the attendant. “So if we plan on traveling and training our pokemon together, should we worry about confusing them with our whistles?”

The woman smiles. “Getting three different instruments would certainly help avoid that.”

“Right. So… any suggestions? Something between the two in complexity is fine, but I don’t mind using both hands if I have to.”

Her necklace rattles as she sorts through it. “How’s this? Bamboo flute. A good amount of variety, and you can use one or two hands for increased range. And it has a very unique sound.” She gives it a trill.

Red goes over to the wall and examines one of the long wooden flutes. “I like it, but do you have something a bit more durable? And a bit smaller.”

“Certainly.” She leads him to another section, and within a few minutes Red decides on a one handed silver flute, with four holes on top and one on the bottom for his thumb. Blue goes with a similar one with a higher pitch, both of which only costs ten dollars, and the three trainers purchase their instruments, which Blue carries in a small shopping bag. After thanking the attendant, they head for the escalators.

“You guys should grab some vitamin samples before we go down,” Leaf says. “I tried to get some for you, but he wouldn’t let me.”

Red and Blue exchange looks, then shrug and head for the stall. There’s a bit of a crowd when they get there, and Red has time to read the ad on the screen above it. The sound is mostly muted by the crowd, but he can pick up the energetic narration. “Is your rapidash more of a slowpoke? Machamp getting seismically tossed? Want your kingler’s carapace to be as strong as steelix? Carbos, protein, iron, we have it all right here! Poffins and berries aren’t enough: four out of five professors agree, your pokemon can’t reach their full potential without the right dietary supplements!”

Blue snorts. “Bet the fifth was gramps.”

Red grins. “Yeah, and I’d love to know who the other four are.”

They move up in the line, and the young nutritionist smiles as they approach. “Hello again, I see you brought your friends! Excellent! What kind of pokemon do you two-”

“I’ll take protein please,” Red says.

“Same.”

The nutritionist blinks, but reaches beneath the counter and hands over two red packets. “Certainly, there you are. Now, if you’re looking for some-”

“Nope, I’m good, thanks a lot.” Red turns to the escalator and begins to head down to the third floor. He and Blue are soon joined by Leaf, who’s looking at him in surprise. “What?”

“Nothing, I just wasn’t expecting you to be so… abrupt. You could have at least heard him out.”

“Why? I don’t have money to spare, and there were more people in line behind us.” Red tucks the packet of protein into one of the side pockets of his bag. “Besides, I’ve already researched his products, and wouldn’t believe any new studies he cites without looking into them myself first anyway.”

“You don’t believe in nutrition supplements?”

“Let’s just say I’m skeptical of some of their claims,” Red says. “I got protein because it has some substantial research backing its effectiveness in muscle growth. As for things like iron ‘boosting toughness,’ or hardening skin or shells… the results are still inconclusive. Some tests show slight measurable gains, others don’t. And that’s not even getting to some of the other stuff they sell.”

Leaf looks at Blue. “You’re in the same boat I take it?”

Blue shrugs. “Some of the top trainers swear by certain vitamins, while others say they’re not necessary. I haven’t seen any proof myself yet, but as far as I’ve heard they can’t hurt, and free is free.”

“Huh. My mom never really talked about them, either for or against.” Leaf shrugs. “She tends to ignore anything outside the scope of her research.”

Blue laughs. “I think that comes with the fancy title. One time gramps spent a month at the lab without coming home for more than a meal and a shower a day. When I told him there’d been a new appointment to the Elite Four, he barely heard me.”

Red opens his mouth, then closes it. He always loved his parents for who they were, but being raised by a pokemon professor had always seemed like the closest thing to a perfect childhood he could imagine. He’s used to Blue’s grouching about Professor Oak, and just assumed it’s due to his lack of interest in science and research. But Leaf’s voice held a similar tinge of wistfulness that stops Red short, and he pulls out his notepad and reminds himself to re-evaluate whether he’s experiencing a negative focusing effect when he gets the chance.

“Hey,” Blue says. “If you’re analyzing me, you have to tell me why. That’s the rule.”

“I’m not.”

Leaf looks between them, then glances at the notepad. “You guys have a rule for that?”

Blue glowers at Red. “We do.”

“Can I have the same rule?”

Red smiles. “Yeah, that’s fair. But I’m not analyzing either of you. Just reflecting on that whole ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ saying.”

They reach the third floor and step off the escalator, and Leaf returns Red’s smile. “I was mostly joking. You deserve your privacy. There’s little enough of it, traveling together like we are.”

Blue snorts. “Yeah, you say that now. It’ll drive you mad soon enough, you wait. Him scribbling in that notebook every other day, looking at you like a pokemon that learned a new trick.” Blue’s voice goes lower as he talks, eyes widening in horror. “Eventually you start thinking over every word you say, wondering what might set him off next… your nights are filled with thoughts of a notebook, its pages dissecting your every thought and action, and you dream of waking up in a lab cage, Red dressed in a white coat and staring down at you, scribbling, scribbling, scribbling…”

Red and Leaf laugh. “It’s really not a big deal,” Red says. “I’ll tell you about it later, promise. Just need to get my thoughts in order. In the meantime, I need to grab a gas mask. You guys should get a couple too.”

They find the right section fairly quickly, but after a few minutes of browsing Red doesn’t find a mask like the one he used in the trainer house practice rooms. He finds an ordering terminal and begins browsing its catalog while Blue and Leaf try on various masks and headgear.

He calls them over when he finds it. “Here, this is the one the trainer house used. It protects your whole face without distorting your vision or voice much.” He goes to the product page and swipes his trainer card. “Just forty bucks too. You guys want one?”

“Yeah, I’ll get one.” Leaf smiles. “I’ve been looking at new moves for Bulbasaur, and it could be handy for protection against powders or spores.”

Blue nods “Me too. There are butterfree and shroomish in the forest that can knock a guy out in one breath.”

Red shifts the quantity to three and presses accept. The machine hums, and after a few moments three of the dozen hand-sized slots beneath the screen light up. Red reaches into two and withdraws the Containers from them, handing one to Leaf while Blue takes his own.

They aim the silver balls at the floor and release the grey boxes inside in a triplet of flashes. Red opens his and takes out the gas mask, freshly sent over from the store’s warehouse. He closes the box, then withdraws it into the Container before returning the sphere into its nook as Blue does the same beside him.

Leaf carefully adjusts the ball in its nook so its lens is properly aligned before straightening. “Checkout’s over there, right?”

“Hang on, there are a couple more things I want here.”

Red follows the signs that have a lightning bolt on them until he’s surrounded by trainers trying out shoes with non-conductive soles. He steps carefully past all the boxes and scans the shelves, reluctantly drawing his gaze from the corner where Faraday suits are being sold as he walks from one aisle to another.

“Aha.” Red goes to a shelf of copper rods about twice as thick as his thumb and as long as his arm. He counts out four and turns to the others. “We should each have at least one. I’m getting two.”

“Do you think these will be necessary?” Leaf asks, taking hers and experimentally pulling on the rod. It extends to the full length of her arm-span without reaching its limit, and she collapses it back to its compact size.

Blue nods. “If we’re going to be risking the storm, we’ll need something like this sooner than later.” He looks over his and frowns, clearly skeptical. “That said, I’d feel much safer in a shock suit. You sure these will be good enough? Don’t they only work if you stand near them?”

“Well, ‘near’ is relative. A true bolt of lightning will be caught within sixty meters, and redirected to the earth. From that point, the ground current might travel about twenty meters, maybe a bit more. Speaking of which,” Red turns to Leaf. “You should pick up new shoes if yours aren’t rubber-soled.”

She hesitates, then nods and goes to the shoe section. Red checks the maximum size of the rods. “Three and a half meters… Should be enough.” He turns to Blue. “You can get a Faraday suit if you want, but I’d rather neither of us spend that much money if it’s not necessary. This will do fine for me.”

Blue looks at him for a moment, then back at the rod. “Sixty meters huh?”

“Yep.”

Red surreptitiously pulls out his phone and opens CoRRNet as Blue examines the lightning rod. His friend’s shoulders are straight, and his eyes gleam with anticipation as he extends it fully and tests its weight. Red goes to his alert settings and adjusts the threshold. By default it’s set to only alert him of Tier 1 or higher threats near his location, but it can also alert him of any nearby tickets or requests that pop up. Now it’ll be easy for Red to keep an eye out for any opportunities for heroism as they travel north. If he can delay their journey long enough, the storm might pass before they get near Pewter City. But if not, Red might still be able to distract Blue with requests for aid that will surely pop up with the storm’s arrival, even at its outskirts.

4) Competing values. If the storm comes south, I’ll force Blue to choose between rushing headlong into it and another value. If he has to make a choice between helping someone in need or taking a shot at one of the birds, he’ll make the right choice.

Red puts his phone away and watches Blue test out the quickest ways to get the lightning rod to full length. From a thousand games and conversations the two had shared over the years, Red knows that as hot as his friend burns for revenge against the storm gods, at his core the role he sees for himself is that of an emerging hero, willing and able to help those that need him. That Red sees himself the same way is one of the core bonds of their friendship.

Blue grins as he refolds the lightning rod. “Yeah, this’ll work. With your book smarts and my trainer skills, we’ll have all three birds down by the end of the year. Come on, let’s go help Leaf find a good pair of shoes.”

He’ll make the right choice…


By the time the three leave the department store, the sun has begun its western descent. Once out on the sidewalk, Leaf dons her last new purchase, a white sunhat with a pink band above the rim and in a half-circle above the front. She tugs its edges until it shades her eyes and ears, and smiles.

Blue takes their various instruments out of the shopping bag and passes them out before slipping his own whistle around his neck. Leaf puts her ocarina pendant on and gives each of its notes a test, running through a brief melody. The sharp sounds make passerby turn, and a flock of pidgey take off from a nearby light pole.

Red watches them go as he takes his hat off and slips his own flute on, tucking it into his shirt. His new gas mask is strapped to the outside of his pack for easy access, and his lightning rods are braced along the roof and floor of the inside of his bag: he can feel their upper tips against his spine. He’d had trouble fitting them in at first, and finally resigned himself to using his Container to free up room. For all his planning for the trip, “free space” hadn’t been something he thought he’d need this soon. Now that all his extra clothes are in the silver sphere tucked into one of the bag’s pockets, it feels uncomfortably light.

In total he’d spent about fifty-five dollars, bringing him down to $165. Having to use his only Container is what bothers him most at the moment. Unlike pokeballs, they’re not subsidized by the Department for the Advancement of Trainer Efficacy, and cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars on up depending on how much mass they could store. His own is the lowest model, capable of holding a bit over fifty pounds, not including the light metal box the Container is keyed to. It had his sleeping bag and a collapsible tent in it, but now it holds most of what was in his bag. He left everything that he might need at a moment’s notice out of it, like first aid supplies and snacks.

Leaf tucks her ocarina in her blouse. “How long before we’re out of the city? I want to start training Crimson with this!”

“We’re in the northern suburbs now,” Red says. “Shouldn’t take long.”

“Are you gonna pick up a flier soon too?”

“He wants a noctowl,” Blue says, already fiddling with his pokedex as they begin to head north.

“Neat. Why a noctowl?”

“Well for one thing, their night vision is incredible, and they’re almost completely silent while flying. For another, they’re one of the smartest birds in Kanto or Johto.”

Leaf smiles. “Very practical of you.” Red blinks, but before he can comment at her tone Leaf takes out her own pokedex. “Any thoughts on a good set of commands?”

“I’ve been looking some up,” Blue says. “There are a bunch of recommendations, but that lady was right: the more complex commands you want to give, the more you need to practice and memorize.”

“We’d better start then.” Red takes his small flute out, absently stepping around a lightpost in the sidewalk as he examines it. “Let’s go over the basics. Up, down, left, right. That’s four notes. A return command, that’s five. A ‘hover,’ for those pokemon that can do it…”

“Hang on,” Blue says. “Too complex. Pokemon are smart enough to know how to fly on their own. I’m going to stick with diving, climbing, and hovering for movement, and use the rest for attacks.”

“Well, I’ve got the options,” Leaf says, indicating her pendant. “I don’t need to micromanage them every moment, but if I need them to go a specific direction I like having the option.”

They debate and discuss the optimal ways to train their pokemon as they walk, researching and testing their instruments. Within an hour they’re surrounded by more trees than houses, and the road begins to split in different directions. They stay on the main path north as it winds between small neighborhoods and the occasional mom and pop stores.

Eventually Blue and Leaf take turns registering various whistle commands with their pokedex, then downloading them to their pidgey’s pokeballs. After letting the sound recognition programs run, they summon Zephyr and Crimson to fly around them, occasionally using their whistles to try instructions. At one point Crimson lands on Leaf’s shoulder, and Red notes the ruddy feathers along its wing tips. He’s about to point it out to Leaf, then realizes it must be the basis for the name. He feels a flush of embarrassment, and is glad he didn’t voice his assumption that it was a reference to him.

“I can’t wait till they’re big enough to fly on,” Leaf says with a smile as she watches Crimson take off again and soar up to a tree to peck at some fruit.

“Yeah, we should reach Vermillion City before then.”

“What’s in Vermillion city?”

“Well, I don’t know how they do it in Unova, but here in Kanto they don’t just hand the Fly program out to anyone,” Blue says.

“What, you mean it’s regulated?”

Red nods. “It gives bird pokemon an incredible boost in endurance and strength, but it’s not magic, and a lot of people don’t seem to get that.”

Blue scowls. “So all of us have to prove we’re not idiots just because some moron uses it on a golbat that’s barely bigger than they are and plummets off a roof.”

“Ugh. Did that really happen?”

“Yep.”

Leaf makes a disgusted face. “So how do we prove we’re not idiots?”

“Vermillion Gym Leader Surge,” Blue says. “You might have heard of him Leaf, he’s from Unova.”

“Really? Neat. No, I never heard of him. Does he use any birds from Unova?”

“Surge runs an electric gym actually. There’s no Flying gym in Kanto.”

Leaf raises a brow, and Red grins, shrugging. “We don’t make the rules.”

The sun continues to set, and the woods on either side of the road begin to grow thick as they enter the outer edges of Viridian Forest. They pass a school nestled in a clearing off the side of the road, and a few minutes later see a crowd of six or seven year olds in the distance. Blue and Leaf call their pokemon back, and withdraw them into their balls. When they get closer, they see the kids are gathered around an old man. A woman in a teacher’s uniform stands by, supervising the field trip and quieting the kids to let the old man talk over their shouted questions and excited chattering.

“Alright now, settle down, settle down,” the old man says, and the kids grow mostly quiet. “Who here can tell me the most important part of catching pokemon?”

“Keep it still!”

“Summon your pokemon!”

“Knock it out!”

“Stay a safe distance!”

“That’s right!” The old man says. “First and foremost, you want to stay a safe distance from the pokemon. That means knowing what a certain pokemon is capable of. If you encounter a pokemon that you’ve never seen before, you have to be extra careful! Don’t assume that just because it’s big that it’ll move slow, or because it’s small it has short reach. Watch carefully.”

The three trainers slow to a stop nearby as the old man walks into the woods. Red looks past him into the foliage and notices a weedle sitting on a bush and munching on its leaves, bright yellow and pink body a warning to any that come near. As the old man approaches, the weedle perks up, its segmented body going rigid as an exclamation point, long and thick as the old man’s forearm.

“Now, the standard pokeball has a lock-on range of about nine meters, and these little bugs can easily jump that. They pack some fearful poison in that stinger, so catching one can be a bit risky. But as long as you know how to read their body language…” He takes a careful step forward, then one to the side, watching the weedle as the stinger on its forehead sways to follow him. “See how it’s bunching itself up? One more ought to do it…”

The old man steps forward, and the weedle shoots forward like a loosed arrow. Red feels his pulse surge, and the watching kids cry out as the old man staggers to the side. The weedle curls midair and flips, so that it lands on the other side still facing him.

Red’s hand is on charmander’s pokeball and Leaf is already stepping forward with her arm cocked back, but when the old man turns they see he’s grinning.

“Caught my sleeve there,” he says, eyes on the arthropod as he holds his arm up to show the tear in his shirt. “Come on little guy, you can do better than that.” He steps forward, some of the children crying out in warning as the weedle bunches itself up and leaps at him again, quick as a blink.

The veteran ducks and spins with the speed of a man half his age, calmly turning to keep the weedle in his vision. It goes at him again and again, but never comes closer than a hand-breadth.

As Red watches the grizzled instructor turn and sidestep every leap, he feels himself slowly relax, a grin spreading over his face. The old man has clearly done this many times to perfect such showmanship, and the crowd of students cheers and claps, Red, Leaf and Blue joining in. In all the many field exercises he went on when he was younger to teach his class about catching pokemon, none of the instructors were as big of a showman as this guy.

The old man turns to face the weedle again, and holds a hand up to quiet the cheers. “Now, see the way it’s arching its body like that rather than leaping at me again? It sees I’m too quick for it, so it’s going to try and even the playing field a bit. That brings us to the second most important thing: speed. You gotta slow the pokemon down, or even better yet, keep it still! Whether you knock it out first or immobilize it some other way, you can’t catch a pokemon that’s moving too fast for your ball to lock onto it, let alone hit it with a throw.”

“We could’ve gotten those pidgey if they hadn’t kept blowing the balls away,” Blue mutters to Red, who shushes him.

The old man spreads his fingers wide and crouches, waiting. When the weedle shoots a string of sticky silk at him, he snatches it out of the air.

The weedle immediately leaps forward, using the connecting string to home in on the old trainer. But the veteran rotates on his heel with his arm straight out, swinging the weedle in an arc and bashing it against a tree trunk beside him. The pokemon falls to the ground and releases the string, stunned.

The old man bows at the renewed cheers, then holds up his hand again to quiet them, three fingers up. “Third, make sure the area is clear of other pokemon. The ball can get confused if the capture area is crowded, and it won’t open if it’s not positive it’ll draw in the right one.” He takes his pokeball out, lens pointed at the weedle. “Gotta let it hold on the pokemon for a bit, and when it’s ready…” There’s a ping as the pokeball locks onto its target. “It’ll let you know. Cock your arm back, take aim, and release just as the ball is leaving your fingertips… like so!” The old man throws the ball, hitting the weedle dead on. The pokeball bounces to the side, and opens mid-spin to capture the pokemon in a flash.

The ball rolls on the grass before coming to a standstill. The old man retrieves the ball as his audience claps and cheers. He approaches the road again and notices the three trainers standing behind the crowd. “Well hello there! Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The kids and teacher all turn in surprise. “It certainly is,” Leaf says with a smile. “That was fantastic!” Red nods agreement.

“Why thank you kindly! You’re trainers then, are ya?” He eyes the pokeballs at their waists.

“That’s right,” Blue says, and spins Zephyr’s pokeball on his finger. “We caught these ourselves.”

“Coooool,” one of the kids says, watching the ball, and Blue smirks as the class begins to murmur excitedly, many asking to see their pokemon.

Red covers his grin with one hand. Just a few years ago, it would have been he and Blue staring in awe as “grown up” trainers walked by. When he notices one of the boys watching him in particular though, he feels his own shoulders square a bit, back straightening.

“Hey, not bad!” The old man gives his new weedle’s ball a spin, then sends it across the back of his hand by flexing his knuckles. The kids ooooh and ahhh, and Blue palms his ball to watch closely as the old trainer dances the still spinning ball from the back of one hand over to the other before turning his hand and catching it out of the air. “We’re gonna look for a spinarak next. Feel free to stick around, maybe you’ll pick up a thing or two!” He winks.

Red’s response is cut off by Blue. “We’d love to, but we’re trying to make the forest by nightfall.”

Leaf nods. “I wouldn’t mind getting a weedle of my own!”

Red hesitates, then nods. “Maybe another time.”

“Anytime you’re in the area, just come pay me a visit. Name’s Hamato.”

They introduce themselves, bow, and wave goodbye as they continue on their way. Leaf and Blue remark on how amazing the veteran trainer had been, while Red is mostly silent. That had been a perfect opportunity to spend the rest of the day without going any further north.

“You alright Red?”

He looks at Blue and nods. “Just wondering how long it might take to catch one of every pokemon in here.”

Leaf looks speculative. “For each of us? Or in total?”

“How about a friendly wager? First person to reach six pokemon, without any duplicates, is treated to dinner by whoever’s last.”

“Sounds like free food,” Leaf says. “You guys are one behind me.”

Red grins. “Is that a bet, then?”

Blue smirks. “You’re on.”

They pick up their pace, each pulling out their own pokedex. Within moments they’re so engrossed in their study of nearby pokemon habits that they barely notice when they pass the sign marking the border to Viridian Forest.

Chapter 8: Priorities

When Red next wakes, he feels much better rested. His phone shows almost eleven, and a text from half an hour ago tells him Blue and Leaf are waiting in the common room.

Red takes his time showering, then heads to the laundry room to pick up his clothes from last night. The small holes in his shirt are barely noticeable without any blood around them, and the smell is completely gone. He packs them back in his bag, then goes downstairs.

The common room isn’t as crowded as it had been the night before, and he quickly spots Leaf and Blue seated across each other in a square of couches with a table between them. Bulbasaur sits in a potted plant beside Leaf with his eyes closed, and Leaf rubs between his ears.

“Jerk,” Red says, taking his hat off Blue’s head and sniffing it experimentally before putting it over his damp hair. He’d taken it off during the break in training the night before, and it hadn’t absorbed the smell of Charmander’s smoke nearly as much as the rest of his clothes had.

“There you are,” Leaf says with a smile. “Have trouble sleeping last night?”

Red sighs and flops down on a third couch. “You could say that. Is this food for me?”

“Yep.” Blue nudges the plastic box across the table with his foot.

“Thanks.” Red opens it and chows down on the cold noodles and strips of beef. “Sorry I couldn’t join you guys.”

“So what kept you up?”

Red swallows his mouthful, picking his words carefully. “In my attempts to mitigate optimism bias, I fell prey to the planning fallacy.”

Leaf raises a brow. “Oh, yeah,” she says. “I hate it when that happens.”

Blue snorts. “I’m pretty sure it’s nerd for ‘I screwed up.'”

So Red summarizes his night as he eats. His friends seem particularly interested in how the smoke works, and Red passes his notes to Leaf as Blue takes out his pokedex and looks up a video of it in action.

“The pokedex really is an amazing tool for training,” Leaf says. “I spent some time virtually training my pokemon last night to reinforce their target priorities, so it’s even easier for them to recognize friendly pokemon like Charmander or Squirtle if there are other pokemon around.”

Blue scratches his neck. “Are you going to work on training your rattata and pidgey too, or focus on Bulbasaur for now?”

“I want to at least get comfortable with all of them.”

“What about you, Blue?” Red asks.

“YouBlue.” Leaf giggles. “Hey, what’s new, Blue? Say it isn’t true, Blue! What’s your favorite hue, Blue?”

Blue ignores her. “Well, I’ve had a few ideas for what my core team is going to be…”

“I know you always wanted a pidgeot on it.”

Blue nods. “Which is why I’ve already started working with Zephyr.”

“Zephyr? Oh. When did you name him?”

“This morning.” Blue grins. “Leaf and I did some practice maneuvers on the roof, and he flew circles around Crimson.”

Leaf rolls her eyes. “Circle. Singular. He flew one circle around Crimson, and it wasn’t even during a race.”

“Technically still happened. I’m counting it.”

Red finishes eating as they argue, and spies a trash can to throw the box out. On the way back to his seat, he sees Amy sitting across the lobby on her own. Today she’s wearing jeans, a sleeveless blue vest over a white shirt, and a white cap. When he waves to her, she waves back, then walks over to their couches and sits on the one across from him. “Heya Red.”

“Hi Amy.” The other two are looking at her curiously. “These are my friends, Leaf and Blue. I met Amy last night in the training rooms.”

Amy smiles. “Nice to meet you all.”

“You’re a battle trainer!” Blue says, spying the red Volcano Badge on her hat. “Are you here to challenge Leader Giovanni?”

“I actually already have the Earth Badge.” She turns over the left side of her jacket, where a cluster of colorful medals gleam. “It was my third.” Red leans forward and sees the small green badge, along with the Marsh, Rainbow and Cascade Badges.

Blue’s eyes light up as he examines them. “Nice. What are you in town for then?”

“I came up from Cinnibar to meet my brother. He just got his last badge and is about to head to the Indigo Plateau.”

“That’s awesome! How old is he? What was his last badge? Does he plan to go to Johto? Do you-”

“Breathe, Blue,” Leaf says. “I’m sure she didn’t come over here to answer endless questions.”

Amy smiles. “It’s fine, really. Twenty-seven, Thunder Badge, and not yet. He wants to try his hand at the League first while he waits for me to catch up.”

“Are you heading up to get the Boulder Badge after, then?” Blue asks.

“The Boulder Gym is in Pewter City, north of Viridian Forest,” Red explains to Leaf.

“I know, I’ve been reading the map.” She smiles at Amy. “I’m from Unova. We’re heading to Pewter City too, if you want some travel company.”

Amy looks between them. “You guys didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”

Red gets a sinking feeling, and takes his phone out to check CoRRNet as Amy says, “A sudden storm developed in the Pewter Mountains. It’s far to the north as of this morning but the whole city is on high alert. I’m going to hold off until we know for sure where it’s headed.”

Leaf looks around in the quiet that follows, studying their tense expressions. “Is it one of them?” she asks, voice low. “What kind of storm is it?” Her fingers lie still on Bulbasaur’s head, and after a moment he shifts a bit, eyes slipping halfway open. He growls quietly, and she resumes rubbing between his ears.

“Lightning,” Red says, reading the report, which warns citizens in the area to check back every few hours to keep track of its movements. “Low precipitation, still a single cell… but a single cell that’s been going for two days now.” It goes on to call for experienced trainers to gather in Pewter and Cerulean in case of attack. Red’s stomach clenches, and he looks at Blue, who’s watching him. So soon… We’re not ready!

“A storm that small lasting that long is definitely not natural,” Amy says. “Which means Zapdos is active again. I’m thinking of taking a detour to Vermillion City until he blows himself out. I suggest you guys hang around here for a bit, wait to see where it moves to.”

Blue is leaning back against the couch, arms crossed. He looks at Red and nods, and Red takes a breath before nodding back. “No,” Blue says. “We’re going.”

Amy blinks. “Going… to Pewter?” She looks from Blue to Red’s determined faces, and her expression hardens. “I take it back Red, you are dewy-eyed. Maybe even stupid. What do you think you’re going to accomplish, other than getting yourselves or your pokemon killed?”

Red opens his mouth to respond, but Blue cuts him off. “What do you care? Run off if you want to; the real trainers will be there with us to defend the city.”

Leaf’s eyes widen, and Red winces. “What he means is-”

“He said what he meant,” Amy says, voice level as she meets Blue’s gaze. “Who do you think you are, kid? You’ve had your pokemon, what, a day or two, and you think that makes you a trainer? Have you ever experienced what the storm gods can do? I have. Watching vids on the net and fantasizing about catching one doesn’t give you a clue of what it’s like.”

Blue drops his gaze to his splayed legs. “My parents were killed when Moltres flew over Fuchsia. I’m not going so I can try and catch Zapdos. I’m going so I can help protect the people there.”

Red listens to the other sounds in the lobby in the quiet that follows. One of the people working at the front desk is chattering on the phone, and some trainers across the room are spread out around a flatscreen watching a subtitled movie, its volume on low. There’s a loud flapping to his side, and he turns to see a spearow with a hood over its eyes perched on a trainer’s gauntleted arm as he walks toward the elevators.

Leaf is watching Blue sadly, and Amy’s expression is a bit softer, though her brow is still furrowed.

When it’s clear Blue won’t say anything else, Red clears his throat. “We made a promise, when we were younger. Swore that we’d do whatever we could against the trio, once we have our own pokemon.” He turns to Leaf. “You don’t have to come. It’s not your fight, and it’s not your region. We can meet up again after the danger’s past.”

Leaf bites her lip. “As great a chapter as it would make for my book, I’m not exactly eager to rush into a storm caused by a legendary. We have our own trio in Unova, and I still have nightmares about the time Tornadus swept through Accumula Town. If mom found out I ran headlong into a Tier 3 threat the first week I got here, she’d tear up my trainer license herself.”

Red feels a stab of guilt at that. Be careful, Red… He shies away from the thought of what his death would do to his mother. More visceral than that, fear coils in his belly as he remembers the death and destruction the storm birds, or “storm gods” as some still call them, can bring.

Fear that he knows his father had probably faced down dozens of times, against one of the trio or lesser threats. Can he hold himself to a lower standard?

But it’s too soon! We were supposed to have more time to prepare than this. Surely it’s safer, saner, to steer clear for now, and get more experience and pokemon…

Red studies the set of Blue’s jaw, the way he glares down, arms crossed. As things stand, Blue will go with or without him. And despite what he said about his motives, Red knows Blue would try to kill the storm birds if he has the chance. I need to review my options for changing his mind.

He tables the thought for later. Even if they end up going, he can still keep his word to his mom, and take rational precautions. “We’re not going to run headlong into it,” Red says. “There are things we can do besides try to drive off Zapdos ourselves. Even if it’s just to help with the evacuation, or those who get injured.”

Blue nods. “We’re not stupid. I wouldn’t send Squirtle or Zephyr out in the middle of a lightning storm, and we don’t have any ground pokemon between us. There are still other things we can do though, especially if we catch some new pokemon on the way.”

Leaf twists her hair around a finger, then lets it go and takes a deep breath and nods. “I’m okay with using CoRRNet to help with any periphery tasks they need help with.”

“That’s the idea,” Red says. “My dad was a Ranger, and he always talked about the need for more trainers in the area. Most local pokemon go to ground and wait the storms out, but some can go wild and attack anyone in the area.”

Amy frowns, but says, “Well, that’s a bit more sensible. Just remember that the storms move faster than normal weather. You could be dealing with some minor threat one minute, and be at the heart of it all the next. And then there’s the Pressure…”

“We’ll be careful,” Red says.

Amy taps her foot a bit, seems about to say something, then nods and settles back in her seat. “Alright. As long as you’re aware of the risks, which it seems you are. Sorry I called you stupid.”

Red smiles. “No harm done.”

Blue notices Red and Leaf looking at him after a moment, and frowns. “Yeah, no harm done. And… sorry I implied you’re not a real trainer.”

Amy shrugs. “You’ll get it once you’ve experienced it as a trainer yourself. It takes a lot out of you and your pokemon, wears on you psychologically. Go every time and you’ll get strung out, start jumping at shadows and making dangerous mistakes.”

“The Leaders show up whenever they can,” Blue says, though not accusingly.

She smiles. “Yeah, well, that’s part of what makes them Leaders.”

“When was your last encounter with one?” Leaf asks, taking out her phone fiddling with it. “And do you mind if I record this?”

“Uh… no I guess not. It was a few months ago. Articuno flew by Lavender near the end of winter, nearly buried the town in a blizzard before it was driven off. My brother and I got severe hypothermia, and he lost a couple toes to frostbite where his boot was cut open by some ice.”

“Do the birds come yearly?”

“Yeah, each one is seasonal,” Red says, and Leaf turns the recording end of the phone to him. “The exact days vary, but Articuno usually becomes active in the winter, Zapdos in the summer, and Moltres in the fall. This is really early for Zapdos. They’ve been spotted flying around at other times, but they don’t bring the storms. Or maybe it’s better to say the storms aren’t around to attract them: there’s a lot of controversy over how the two interact.”

Leaf nods. “Same with our Forces of Nature and their elements. So no fourth bird for spring?”

“There may have been, once,” Red says. “There are legends of a fourth god that flies in spring, with rainbow or golden plumage. It didn’t cause storms in its wake, so if it’s still around, it’s hard to notice. It might even be entirely mythical, people just trying to fill the pattern of the seasons with a made up pokemon. The stories say its feathers had rejuvenating powers, and could even restore life to the dead, so mythologically it fits the spring theme pretty well.”

Blue snorts. “Maybe it was real at some point, and someone knocked it out of the sky to steal all its feathers.”

“In any case, spring is a nice breather,” Amy says. “Most years it’s not a big deal: they fly around the wilderness, and everyone stays on high alert in case they wander near any towns or populated areas. A bit stressful, but you get used to it. Last year we only had to deal with Moltres getting too close to some farms: Zapdos just circled the mountains for a few weeks, and Articuno turned some uninhabited island into a glacier all winter.”

As they continue to discuss the last few years of the storm trio’s activity, Red closes the CoRRNet announcement and sees an update on his ticket from yesterday. A ranger had closed it, with the comment “Rattata nest found and relocated farther from path. Pallet-Viridian Route secure.” A small bubble of pride warms him. However minor, it’s good to know that they made a difference, and that their experience helped keep others safe.

He does a search for open tickets in the area and spots a few. Most are flagged for Rangers, others for any experienced trainers in the area. Nothing in the city at the moment that requires the help of newbies.

“We boring you, Red?”

“Hm?” Red looks up to see Leaf smiling at him. She doesn’t have her phone out anymore, and he belatedly realizes that he hasn’t heard any conversation for the past few seconds.

“Nah, he probably just had a thought and completely forgot we existed,” Blue says, stretching his arms behind his head. “He does that.”

Red’s cheeks flush, and he closes CoRRNet and puts his phone away. “Sorry, did I miss a question?”

“I asked if you still want to go to the Earth Gym, or if you’d rather head up to Viridian right away.”

“Actually, I want to do some shopping, if that’s alright with you guys.”

“I thought you were trying to conserve your cash?”

“I was. I did my best to pack everything that might be useful, and thought it was enough. But last night’s training drove home how woefully unprepared I am. I’d rather have the gear I need now, like my own gas mask.”

“If you guys are headed north soon, there’s a supply store on the way-” Amy’s phone chimes, and she takes it out. “Excuse me.”

“See that?” Blue says to Red. “Manners.”

Red frowns at him as Leaf covers her grin. “You’re one to talk.”

“Hello? Hey! Yeah, I’m at the trainer house. Are you… cool, I’ll come out now. See you in a bit!”

She ends the call and stands. “My brother’s here. You guys want to meet him?”

“Sure,” Blue says as they all get to their feet.

“This way,” she says, heading for the elevators. “He doesn’t like landing at street level.”

Leaf returns Bulbasaur to his ball in a flash of light, and they go to the roof. The noise of the city washes over them as soon as they step out into the sunlight, a bit muted by their elevation. Other buildings rise up around them, most much higher than the trainer house, though not as wide. Some trainers fly by now and again riding their pokemon, but Amy gazes upward, her eyes shaded against the sun as she searches.

Red studies the landing platform that takes up a third of the roof, marked off by divisions for multiple pokemon to land at once. Another third of the roof is divided into dozens of squares the size of a small closet, designated as a safe spot for psychic trainers who have keyed the trainer house as their pokemon’s “home” to teleport in.

Not for the first time, Red finds himself watching the teleporting zone, hoping to spot someone pop into existence with their pokemon. There was a similar area in Pallet Town that he used to spend hours watching when he was younger, hoping to see someone pop into existence. His dad had come home that way once, and Red had stayed up as late as he could to greet him, only to succumb to sleep a half hour before he arrived.

Even in a major city like this, the teleportations are rare enough that he knows he probably won’t see anyone. Most people train their pokemon to warp directly to a pokemon center, which Red finds a bit pointless: one of the greatest benefits of pokeball technology is that they can freeze their pokemon at any level of injury and get them to a pokemon center without worry. First teleport priority would probably be the nearest hospital. Second would be home for when I want to visit Pallet, third maybe the Celadon City Department Store-

“There he is! Hey Donny!

A distant screech answers her yell, and they turn to follow Amy’s gaze as she waves her arms. Above the tallest building, sunlight flashes off something metallic. For a moment Red thinks a hang glider is swooping down at them, until he sees the red frills and a thrill goes through him.

The skarmory pulls out of its dive when it’s level with the roof top, and sails over the edge and onto one of the runways. Its legs kick as it touches down, bouncing it back up a few times with its wings flared until it finally slows to a stop.

The trainer on its back unbuckles himself from the leather harness and hops down. Amy jogs forward to meet him, and Red and Blue exchange amazed grins as they run forward to join her. By the time they cross the roof to the end of his runway, Amy’s brother has fed his pokemon something from a pouch at his waist and is stroking its neck.

“Hey bro!” Amy tackle hugs the other blonde, who’s a head taller and easily spins her around. He’s dressed in a thick leather aviator jacket and pants, loose buckles hanging from his belt where it had attached to skarmory’s harness.

“Hey sis.” He puts her down and pushes a pair of goggles to his forehead to reveal eyes as light as Professor Oak’s. “You didn’t mention you had a welcome party waiting.”

“These are some newbies I met. Red, Blue, Leaf, this is my brother Donovan and his skarmory, Tita. How’s it going girl?” She runs her nails over the metallic bird’s fin, which causes it to preen, its plate-like feathers lifting and falling in a ripple that sounds like a quick rain of coins.

They exchange greetings. Leaf admires the skarmory and says “Your pokemon is so beautiful! I didn’t know there were skarmory in this region.”

“There usually aren’t,” Blue says. “Did you trade her from someone in Johto?” Red had expected Blue to bombard the competitive trainer with questions, but so far he’s showing remarkable restraint.

“Nah, I took a trip down to the Sevii Islands a couple years ago and found her there.”

Red smiles. “Her nickname, Tita. That’s short for titanium, right?”

Amy looks smug. “Yep. Guess whose idea that was?” She sticks two thumbs at herself, and her brother grabs her wrists and tries to point them at himself.

Red sees Blue and Leaf’s bemused looks and says, “The metal that skarmory are coated in is a titanium alloy. It’s incredibly light for its strength, and the only type found naturally.”

“Neeeeerd,” Blue mutters until Leaf elbows him.

“Would it be alright if I pet her?” Leaf asks.

“Sure, let’s see if she’s in a good mood first.” He tugs on the thin chain around his neck and pulls a whistle out the front of his jacket. Watching his skarmory, he blows a few sharp whistles, then a low warble.

Red doesn’t notice any particular response from Tita, but apparently Donovan reads something from his pokemon, because after a moment he takes the whistle out and says, “Okay, we should be good. Approach slowly from her side and keep your hands free of the area around her wings: they’re very sharp. Also, be sure to stroke from front to back. Ladies first?”

Leaf grins and steps forward, hands carefully held up. Tita notices her when she’s a few steps away, and the pokemon’s attention sharpens, whole body going still. Leaf pauses while Donovan soothes Tita until the skarmory seems calm again, then continues forward until she can run her hand tentatively down the bird’s side.

“Oh!” she gasps. “It’s so… not soft, exactly, but… not hard either. Strong, but yielding.”

After another few moments she steps away, and Blue goes next. Tita shuffles from foot to foot, but allows herself to be stroked without complaint. Donovan watches his pokemon carefully, whistle held up near his lips as he instructs, “Just there… right. You can explore a bit, but no sudden movements. A few more seconds… okay, now slowly step back.”

When it’s Red’s turn to approach, a knot of tension forms in his stomach, and he hesitates. His eyes dart to the razor sharp edges of skarmory’s wings, talon and beak, imagination painting a far too vivid picture of what it would look like tearing through his body.

Donovan wouldn’t let us approach if he wasn’t sure of his training. He tries to step forward, feet doing an awkward half-shuffle. His instincts ignore rational argument and continue to insist that he get as far away from the metallic death machine as he can.

Only a few seconds have passed, and the others are beginning to glance at him curiously. The shame propels him another half-step forward, but no further. This is mutiny! he yells at his jelly legs.

Then the thin iris of the skarmory’s eye meets his, and Red sees an assessment in its alien gaze. Is he a friend, a foe… or possibly food?

Red takes a deep breath, and focuses on his thought process. What are my priorities, and how do my actions align with them?

Priority one: Learn as much as possible about pokemon so I can become a Professor, which also helps-

Priority two: Become an effective trainer, so that I can –

Priority three: Protect the public, benefits of which includes –

Priority four: Gain respect among tribe members and wider community, which helps-

Priority five: Get funding and support to discover the origin of pokemon species.

This paralysis hinders all of the above priorities. So what is its purpose?

To protect the self, loss of which also hinders all of the above.

Exaggeration: The life as a trainer requires far more dangerous risks than this. How can I expect to help Blue against the storm birds if I can’t even do this?

Irrelevant: Possibility of future justified risk doesn’t excuse present recklessness.

Strawman: Present risk is not reckless, and is justified by mitigating future risk through contribution to priorities one and two. What purpose, value, or priority does this fear serve?

Another couple seconds have passed, and a drop of sweat creeps down the back of Red’s neck as he continues to meet the skarmory’s gaze. Some pokemon flies near the building, but doesn’t land on the roof with them.

None. It just is, the simple consequence of acknowledging reality. If someone as capable as dad could die, so can I, and far more easily.

Red lets out his breath. Dad wasn’t ignorant of reality. He knew the risks. And if he could overcome his fear, so can I, or I might as well go home now.

Red takes a step forward. The next is easier, but on the third the armored bird shifts at bit. Red stops, sweat breaking out all over his body. Donovan strokes Tita’s beak, and when she calms down again, Red forces himself to take another step, wiping his clammy hands on his pants. He’s acutely aware that the others are watching him, but as long as he keeps moving forward, he doesn’t have to feel ashamed of the fluttering in his belly.

Once he’s close enough to touch the skarmory, he stops and looks at Donovan. The trainer studies his pokemon briefly, then nods at him. Red slowly reaches out a hand and rests it on the skarmory’s thigh… and sudden wonder blows his fear away.

What looks like a smooth metal body is in fact thousands of small metallic feathers. Each is incredibly fine, but their combined overlapping strength gives the pokemon its incredible physical durability.

“Make a stroking motion, so she knows you’re friendly,” Donovan says, and Red does so, amazed by the distant feel of the warm body beneath the cool metal coating. He’s never felt anything like it.

“Is it alright if I look closer?” Red asks.

“Sure, give me a sec.” Donovan snaps his fingers in front of Tita. The skarmory fixes her attention on her trainer, then the bright blue pokepuff he pulls out of a pocket in his jacket. “Okay, go ahead,” he tells Red, keeping his gaze on his pokemon.

Red crouches forward and examines the glossy coat from an inch away. From here, he can just barely make out that the ripples of distortion on the pokemon’s metal coat, which he’d originally taken to be lines of impurity, are actually super thin divisions where the scale-like feathers overlap.

“Got a few more seconds,” Donovan says. Red nods, and after a few more strokes, steps away from the pokemon. Some of his nervousness returns now that he’s no longer touching it, and he backs away until he’s with Leaf and Blue again.

He braces himself for some comment by the others, but Blue just claps him on the back, and Leaf smiles at him. “Pretty awesome, huh?”

“Definitely.” Red turns to Donovan and Amy. “Thank you very much.” That seems inadequate, so he puts his hands to his sides and bows from the waist, at about a thirty degree angle. “It was an honor to be able to interact with your pokemon, Donovan-san.”

Blue bows beside him, and after a surprised look Leaf mimics them. Globalization had faded much of each region’s unique culture in the times of Red’s grandparents and great grandparents, homogenizing everything from names to language to currency, but children are still taught the basic historical etiquette.

The older trainers look amused, but Donovan returns the bow after a moment. “It was my pleasure.” He gives Tita one more scratch along her neck, then steps back and returns her to her pokeball in a flash of light. “So what’s the story with you three? From around here?”

They tell him where they’re from as they walk back to the roof access and take the elevator down. Once in the common room, Red notices a bigger crowd than there had been earlier. Most of them seem gathered near the entrance.

“What’s up?” Blue asks one of the trainers nearby.

“Someone said Reza Salur is on his way here.”

Reza’s here?” Blue stands on his toes and cranes his neck to look over the crowd.

“Ah, shit,” Donovan says with a rueful grin. “I was hoping he’d get bogged down in Cerulean a while longer.”

Red scratches beneath his cap. “Why is that name familiar?”

Blue gives him a flat look. “Do you ever listen when I talk?”

“Depends. Is he a battle trainer you admire, or did he actually do something important?” Red looks at Amy and Donovan. “No offense.”

Amy grins. “None taken.”

Blue rolls his eyes. “He’s the dragon trainer that single-handedly stopped a kangaskhan herd from flattening Rifu Village last year.”

Red frowns. “Rings a faint bell.”

“You know him?” Leaf asks Donovan.

“Yeah, a bit. We met for the first time a couple years back in the Saffron Gym. It was his third badge, my second. Since then we’ve been keeping tabs on each other’s progress. He-”

The front door opens, and a young man with dark skin and a black jacket walks in. He seems surprised for a moment by the number of people near the entrance, but quickly continues forward to the front desk. His hair is worn long, and swept to hang over the left side of his face.

“Younger than I expected,” Amy says.

Donovan nods. “He’s about your age.”

When he finishes checking in, Reza makes his way through the common room, gaze on the elevators ahead as he ignores the looks and whispers of those around him. Once Reza is past the crowd and fully in sight, Red sees the heavy scars that run along his left jaw and cheek, partially obscured by hair.

Donovan gives a casual salute with two fingers. The dragon trainer glances at him, then smiles in wry amusement and nods back. As he passes, Red notices the conspicuous lack of an ear under his hair, and wonders how far the scarring goes.

“So he’s challenging the League too?” Red asks once he passes.

“Yep. Part of me wants to see how good he is for myself, but I won’t complain if he gets knocked out before that. Fighting dragons is never fun.”

“Nor training them, from the looks of it,” Leaf says, and Red nods. As I’ll find out for myself, someday. His thumb rubs the roof of Charmander’s pokeball.

The crowd is beginning to disperse, and the group makes their way through to the front desk to check out. When it’s his turn, Red swipes his trainer card, then pays four dollars, plus another two for the use of the training room.

“Thank you for staying,” the receptionist says. “We hope to see you again soon!” Red thanks him and joins the others outside.

“Well, I’m starving,” Donovan announces once they’re outside. “How does seafood sound to you, Ames?”

“Right behind you.” She turns to them. “Care to join us?”

“I already ate.” Red looks at the others, “What do you guys think?”

“We should probably get going,” Blue says. “I want to get to Viridian Forest today.”

Leaf nods. “It was great to meet the two of you!”

Amy smiles. “It was. I hope you enjoy your time in Kanto, Leaf.”

“Thanks, I’m loving it so far!”

Blue turns to Donovan. “Good luck in the league. I’ll keep an eye out for you.”

They say their farewells and part. Red’s a bit disappointed that Amy won’t be traveling with them, but his excitement to be back on the move quickly dominates his mood as they walk up the street and head north.

“Okay, so there’s a few stores on the way that have what I need,” he says as he checks online. “Is there anything you guys want to pick up too?”

“Wouldn’t mind getting a whistle and chain,” Blue says.

Leaf looks up at the summer sun as it beat down on them. “And I’d like to find a nice hat.”

“Hat, whistle, gas mask…” Red types with his thumbs, watching stores fade from the map until two are left. “Got one.” He puts his phone away, already thinking of what else he’d like to buy. “The closest is on the northern edge of the city though. Do we want to leave just yet?”

Leaf checks the time. “Well, I’m glad we met Amy and Donovan, but we’re behind schedule.”

“Yeah, I’d like to get to the forest before dark,” Blue says. ” What do you say, master fallacy planner? Think we can make it?”

Red shrugs. “Sure, as long as no more than three moderately interesting or disrupting unexpected things happen along the way.”

Blue smiles. “Those odds aren’t so bad.”

Just then, an exeggutor runs out from a restaurant ahead of them, a food held in each of its numerous mouths. Cars honk as it dashes across the street, and someone in a suit runs after it, pokeball in hand as he tries to get a lock on his pokemon. The two are followed by a pair of angry restaurant staff, and the trainers watch them all run by, then look at each other.

Blue steps to the edge of the sidewalk and holds up a hand at one of the stopped cabs. “Taxi!”

Chapter 7: Optimism Bias

The Training House’s practice rooms are far fancier than the one at the Pallet Labs. Red passes by room after empty room, each different than the last. He’s curious to know if anyone else is up this late, and eventually finds one that’s occupied. He stops in front of the glass door to watch.

A young woman with long auburn hair is using a pair of flags to direct her butterfree, running around it to stay in its line of sight as it performs various aerial maneuvers. Training pokemon to respond to nonverbal cues has its advantages and disadvantages, and is largely a practice of competitive trainers: wild pokemon aren’t likely to get tipped off by shouted orders, after all. Red watches as the woman twirls her left flag once, and the butterfree releases a cloud of green powder. The trainer leaps safely out of the way as the butterfree flaps its wings, a gust of wind blowing the powder forward to envelop a wooden pokedoll shaped like a sandslash.

Red moves on, examining each room until he finds one with the symbols of a fan and fire over it. He enters the long rectangular room, its acoustics changing as the door slides back closed. Fire extinguishers are placed at each corner, and the floor and walls are made of a light grey, pitted stone. Looking up, he sees the sprinkler system and air vents ready to respond to any emergencies.

This should do nicely.

Red takes out his pokedex, and a clicker from his pack. Part of the training process is to associate a behavior with a conditioned reinforcer, the way Leaf had with the pokepuffs. Instead of having to use pokepuffs all the time though, Red wants to try out a feature of the pokedex. He quickly navigates to the right screen, then says, “Pokedex, establish audio reinforcement.”

Acknowledged. Record audio reinforcement when light turns green, then press Done.”

Red smiles. The voice of the pokedex is Daisy’s: it’s somewhat disguised by a digital filter, but the cadence of certain words gives it away to those that know her.

As soon the light beside the screen turns green, Red uses his clicker, emitting a sharp, loud click-clak upon press and depress of the button. Then he taps Done on the pokedex screen.

Audio reinforcement confirmed.” It repeats the sound.

“Save.”

Audio reinforcement saved. Upload virtual training?”

“Yes.” Red puts the clicker away and unclips Charmander’s pokeball, aligning the lens with the pokedex’s. “Upload.”

Uploading… upload complete. Please wait four minutes and seventeen seconds for virtual regimen to integrate. Remember to periodically reinforce association in tangible space before hands-on training.”

Red makes a note of the time, then reclips the pokeball and repeats the process with his rattata. Setting up a basic positive reinforcement like this should make it much easier to train his pokemon: the sound of the click will be so associated with a reward, that just hearing it will trigger a release of dopamine.

And he’s going to need all the help he can get. While looking up a charmander’s basic techniques in the pokedex, one in particular had drawn his attention:

Smokescreen: When threatened by large foes, charmander can alter the fuel for their tail flame to produce copious amounts of thick smog. While mild exposure is not toxic, this smoke irritates eyes and sinuses and helps charmander stay hidden. Charmander are especially prone to emitting smoke if threatened at night, when their tail flame makes it particularly hard to hide.

Training such a specific automatic response in bright lights won’t be easy, but the potential benefits are enormous. Smoke could be used to not just hide in and avoid attacks, but also to coordinate ambushes, herd wild pokemon, even set and limit zones of control on a battlefield.

As he waits for Charmander’s virtual training to be done, Red takes out his notebook and scribbles down thoughts on cooperative tactics to try out with the others. Blue or Leaf’s pidgey could use gusts to send smoke in the direction needed, the way that trainer’s butterfree had with its poison powder. The smoke would block Squirtle’s line of sight if used carelessly, but Bulbasaur could use his vines to drag enemies into it. They could even use it to switch pokemon without the opponent being aware…

Red eventually checks the time, gives it another thirty seconds just to be safe, then puts his notebook away and unclips Charmander’s pokeball. He cocks his arm back, then throws it, voice echoing as he says, “Charmander, go!”

The ball reaches the open space in the middle of the room and releases his pokemon in a flash before flying back. Red reaches for it, but the angle of the throw was a bit off, and he has to jump to try and catch it when it returns at an upward angle. He knocks it upward, then tries to catch it as it falls, fingers closing a fraction of a second too late. The ball bounces off his palm and across the floor with a metal ding, ding, dinnnnggggg…

Charmander watches the ball roll by, then ignores it as it halts at the wall. He chirps and approaches as Red kneels down to pick the pokeball up, and Red rubs the lizard’s warm, leathery head.

“Hey there buddy. We’re going to try and learn something new tonight, okay?”

Charmander looks up at him and chirps again. Red smiles, wishing for a moment he could communicate with his pokemon intelligently. When he was younger he and Blue used to watch cartoons where the pokemon could talk to each other, and understood human speech directly, even if most couldn’t duplicate it.

It was amusing enough, if obviously for young kids: as he got older it became clear that the premise wasn’t particularly well thought out. Leaf’s perspective would have a lot more weight behind it, in Red’s mind, if pokemon were sapient enough for complex communication. Putting them in pokeballs would be a lot more morally ambiguous, for one thing, and for another if pokemon were sapient, working out a peaceful coexistence would be much more attainable without resorting to hunting and capturing them.

Barring such an idealistic fantasy though, it sure would be useful to have some latent psychic powers manifest right about now.

Red meets Charmander’s gaze directly and concentrates. Raise your left arm. Raise your left arm Charmander. He imagines the sensation of raising his arm, willing Charmander to pick up on it through the mysterious bond that everyone romanticizes.

Charmander’s gaze is locked in his, whole body completely still. Raise your arm, come on, raise your arm. Red’s own arm twitches as he focuses so hard on the muscle-memory, feeling lost in the depths of his pokemon’s gaze. Raise your arm, come on, just a little…

Charmander blinks slowly… then wags his tail a bit and chirps, rubbing against Red’s palm.

“Worth a shot,” Red mutters, and stands. He’d just make do the old fashioned way.

Red had never met a psychic, but whatever advantage their powers might grant them, the beauty of pokemon training, from its ancient, crude form to the refined science it is today, is that it’s accessible to everyone. If it were something that only certain people could do, humanity would never have thrived in such a dangerous world. Society would have been stuck in feudal dynamics, where the majority were ruled by the whims of those few who could control the monsters in the wild and keep the rest of them safe.

Now, science and technology have leveled the playing field. Some people still have natural advantages over others, but in today’s world, anyone can learn the methodology, refine their skills, and harness the power of their own pokemon.

Professor Oak raised a dozen of his own pokemon by Red’s age, and by developing the pokedex, revolutionized the relationship between practical knowledge and cutting edge research, allowing both scientists and trainers to share information and help each other day to day. Elite Agatha was the first trainer who didn’t keep their mysterious affinity with Ghost-type pokemon secretive, and she opened a school at the age of thirteen to help teach others how to deal with and train them, even without psychic powers. And Leader Giovanni rose to the head of his Gym when he was just a year older than Red, and used his position and status to help set up society’s trainer programs, so everyone has a chance to make their own way.

Limited only by of their intelligence, imagination, and will, people and their pokemon are capable of extraordinary things together.

And if they’re smart and dedicated enough, even a child can change the world.

Red tugs the bill of his cap securely down. Time to get started.

He takes out a pokepuff and unwraps it, then takes his clicker back out. Watching Charmander, he points at a section of the stone ground and says “Ember!”

As soon as Charmander whips his tail around and releases some oil, Red presses the button, and the distinct click-clak is heard, echoing in the room.

His pokemon’s attention sharpens, and Red feeds him a bit of pokepuff. “Good boy.” After Charmander finishes, Red does it again, and again. Each time he feeds Charmander some puff, it reinforces the association between the click and a reward, tying the two together so that just hearing the click is enough to signal satisfaction and pleasure.

After the puff is all gone, Red goes to the end of the room and opens a closet in the wall. Inside are a number of training supplies, and he lifts out a large rhydon pokedoll with both arms. It’s made of the same flame retardant foam as the one from that morning’s training, and weighs about as much as his backpack. He brings it over to the left side of the door and sets it down in front of Charmander, who immediately becomes alert. Red steps behind his pokemon as Charmander’s tail blazes, and the fire lizard watches the sudden threat warily, claws extended.

Red gets an arcanine pokedoll and puts it to the right side of the door, using his body to hide it from Charmander as he walks past him. When he puts it down, Charmander suddenly chirps in alarm, and Red jumps back as his pokemon rushes forward to defend him, flicking some fire at the new threat.

“Stop!” Charmander goes still, and Red immediately clicks again. Red’s pokemon growls at the two large simulacrum, but stays his fire. “Good job Charmander. Now, Smokescreen. Smokscreen, Charmander.” Red’s finger hovers over the clicker button, waiting… waiting… “Smokescreen. Smokescreen. Smokescreen.”

No smoke comes. “Any second now Charmander,” Red mutters, and his pokemon’s head twitches. Red chides himself for confusing him, and wonders how long he should wait. He wants the behavior to be associated with the word, but just repeating “smokescreen” over and over is feeling a bit foolish.

Red studies Charmander’s aggressive stance. “Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen.” Charmander twitches, as if ready to act… but does nothing, still watching the threats and growling.

Ah. Red grins. His pokemon is too brave to be scared.

Red slowly steps backward so Charmander doesn’t notice him leaving. When he reaches the closet, he turns and grabs a third pokedoll, this one is a wide, round graveler. He places it behind Charmander, so that the fire lizard is surrounded by arcanine, graveler, and rhydon simulacrum. His pokemon is too fixated on the first two threats to realize that he’s been surrounded, but once Red steps up beside him, Charmander repositions himself and sees it in his peripheral vision.

Charmander chirps in alarm, then turns frantically, first one way then the other, attempting to keep all the threats in sight. When he realizes he can’t, aggression turns to fear.

Red watches the fire lizard curl inward and begin to tremble, and feels a pang in his chest. He’s about to reassure his pokemon that everything’s okay… but Charmander needs to feel threatened to emit the smoke. Red crouches beside him and begins to tremble as well, breathing quickly so that his heart speeds up. “Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen. Smokescreen, smokescreen, smokescreen…”

Charmander continues to tremble, eyes darting around at the large figures looming over them. When he glances at Red again and sees his trainer curled up beside him, he begins trembling harder… and, with Red still repeating “Smokescreen,” it happens. The fire at the end of his tail becomes a bit dimmer, and black smoke begins to billow out.

The second he sees it, Red presses the clicker. Charmander’s head rises, and Red rubs his head. “Good boy!” He coughs as the smoke continues to come out, thick and heavy. It quickly blankets the area and makes it hard to see.

“Charmander, stop!” Charmander goes still, but the smoke keeps coming out. Uh oh.

Red picks Charmander up and walks around, trailing the oily smoke from Charmander’s tail. He says “Stop,” every few seconds, checking to see if Charmander’s tail stops emitting smoke. Even outside of the main cloud, Red’s nose wrinkles when he inhales. He can see how the acrid stench would work as a deterrent, and suddenly realizes his clothing is going to need a thorough washing.

Eventually the pokedoll are almost completely obscured, and when Red says “Stop!” again, the smoke suddenly cuts off. Red presses the clicker. “Good job Charmander.” His eyes water, and he resists the urge to rub at them, peering around in the thick smoke. That was fast.

Red walks over to the fan controls and puts Charmander down. The thick smog combined with his watering eyes makes it hard to see, and Red feels along the wall with his eyes closed, navigating for the right button by memory. One, two… three… four!

The fans rev to life and begin sucking up the smog. Red’s clothing and hair whips about, and Charmander gives an alarmed Rawr! as his protective cover is quickly drawn away.

Charmander tenses as he watches the three pokedolls slowly come back into view. Red puts his finger over the clicker button, waiting. “Charmander, smokescreen. Smokescreen. Smokescre-” Click-clak! “Good boy!” Red watches the smog rise, thin and long as the fans immediately suck it away. How long can he keep that up? “Stop, Charmander.” Charmander glances at him, but then turns back to the pokedoll, growling quietly. Red wonders if the sound of the fans distracting, and turns them back off.

Unfortunately that just causes the smoke to quickly obscures Charmander again. Red curses quietly. He needs to be able to tell the moment Charmander feels safe enough to stop producing the smoke, so he can reinforce him stopping.

And now the smog is completely surrounding him. Shit. Red crouches down and picks Charmander back up with one arm, the lizard’s smooth hide warm to the touch. His pokemon startles, and pain suddenly lances through Red’s side and arm. The lizard’s claws have sunk in, mostly stopped by his clothes’ armor mesh, but the tips still piercing through. “OW! Ow, ow… it’s okay Charmander, it’s just me… ow…”

Red walks gingerly forward, ignoring the pain as best he keeps the smoke cloud behind them, glancing back and saying “Stop” occasionally to see if Charmander complies. Charmander’s tail stops emitting the smoke shortly after they’re past the pokedolls, and Red clicks. “Good boy…” He looks back to see an obscuring cloud of black smoke filling the rest of the room once again.

Red sighs and puts Charmander down, wincing as the lizard’s claws exit his flesh. He can feel blood trickling down his skin from the pinpricks. Charmander looks at the bloodstains on his sleeve and makes a low crooning sound, stepping closer and licking at one.

“Ow, hey, it’s okay. My fault for making you so scared.” The smoke is still spreading toward them, and Red coughs as the foul taste fills his throat. He unclips Charmander’s pokeball and points it at him. “R-return,” he croaks. Charmander is hit by the beam, then vanishes in a flash of light.

Red reclips the pokeball and returns to the controls, holding his breath and closing his eyes along the way as he keeps a hand against the wall. Would help if this place was voice activated, he grumbles to himself as he turns the fans back on. Red takes a deep breath as the air clears for the second time, and a sudden dizziness makes him sink down to the floor.

Somewhat alarmed, Red takes off his pack and lifts his shirt to examine his injuries, wondering if he’s bleeding more than he’d realized. The wounds don’t look so bad though: he’s probably just losing his second wind. Red relaxes and digs out a potion from his bag to disinfect and coagulate the wounds. Some paper towels serve to wipe up the blood, and once he feels the tender scabs already forming beneath his fingers he puts his shirt back on.

The steady hum of the fans provide a soothing ambiance. Red rests his head against the cool wall as he takes deep breaths of clean air and considers the training so far.

The next step is to test and see if the click and command would get Charmander to produce smoke in reaction to a less obvious threat. If so, he would reinforce that, and then wean him off the threats altogether until he responds to just to the command and click, and finally just the command alone. He has to work on the “Stop” command too: maybe such an internal activity isn’t so easy for Charmander to stop on command, or maybe it takes a few seconds for the smoke to stop being produced even after Charmander responds to the command. A delay like that would make it much harder to judge the progress of the training…

“Hey, you alright?”

Red snaps out of a light doze to see the auburn haired girl standing in the doorway. He hadn’t heard it open over the fans. “Hi. Yeah, I’m fine, thanks. Just tired.”

“Ah, okay. I was walking by and just saw a sprawled pair of legs.”

Red smiles. “Taking a quick rest. All finished with your pokemon?”

“Yeah, we’re headed to bed. Long day tomorrow.” She notices the spots of blood on his shirt. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Positive. Just scared my pokemon a bit, that’s all: he didn’t mean it.”

She nods. “We’ve all been there. It’s something of a rite of passage, and happens all the time when teaching something new. Just be glad it wasn’t more serious.”

Red remembers the ease with which she dodged away from her pokemon’s attack, and wonders how often she’d been too slow. “What about you, were you teaching your butterfree something new, or just practicing?”

There’s the briefest of pauses before she says “Just practicing,” and Red feels a stab of annoyance. Some of the biggest arguments he’d gotten into with Blue had been about competitive trainer’s habit of secrecy. Most are loathe to share the methodology behind the amazing feats their pokemon perform, each unique insight or training strategy they reveal being one less advantage against potential rivals. It’s partly why they’re often looked down on by other trainers, especially academics, and why Gym Leaders are so respected in contrast for opening their doors to teach what helped them become so skilled.

“Sorry, that was rude of me,” Red says into the awkward silence. He rubs his eyes, still irritated from the smog. “Like I said, I’m a bit tired.”

She steps into the room and leans against the door as it closes. “It’s alright. Even at one in the morning it’s silly to expect complete privacy in a place with glass doors.”

“Ah shit, it’s already that late?” Red checks the time himself to see how far off she’s rounding from, and sees it’s 1:14 AM.

“You have an early morning too?”

“That was the plan.”

“Better head back up then.”

He considers it. Postponing the training until tomorrow probably wouldn’t hurt: they’re likely to spend most of it in the city anyway…

Eventually he shakes his head. “I want to finish up first.”

She raises a brow and folds her hands behind her back, resting against them. “Something big going on tomorrow?”

“Not really.”

“Why the rush then?”

Red considers the question a moment. “If I said ‘optimism bias,’ would you understand what that meant?”

“Not really,” she says. “I mean I know what optimism is, and I know what a bias is…”

Red scratches his hair beneath his hat, then takes it off and turns it between his hands as he organizes his thoughts. “Okay well, basically, studies in psychology have shown that people tend to be overly optimistic about things involving themselves.”

“Like what?”

“Like this training I was doing. Part of optimism bias is something called the ‘planning fallacy.’ Experiments show people usually underestimate the time and cost involved in a task they need to complete, and assume the best results.”

She smiles. “I’m a bit guilty of that myself.”

“We all are. Optimism bias affects more than just things we plan for: we also underestimate how dangerous life can be for ourselves. I walked here with a couple friends from Pallet Town yesterday, and within a few hours we were attacked by a large group of rattata.”

The girl’s eyes widen a bit. “How large?”

“Eight, I think.”

She whistles. “Good thing there were three of you.”

“Yeah. We knew that sort of thing could happen, even on the main roads where most dangerous pokemon have been cleared away or chased off. But it was still a shock to experience it, even as our training kicked in.”

“You didn’t use any repellant?”

“We didn’t think we’d need to. The odds of something dangerous happening our first day out just seemed so unlikely. But if someone had asked me whether someone else might have a dangerous encounter their first day of traveling, I’d say it doesn’t matter if it’s their first day or their hundredth, the statistics are the statistics.”

The young woman is quiet for a moment. One hand absently tucks some hair behind her ear as it’s displaced by the overhead fans. “What about Tier 3 threats? People worry about those all the time, even though the odds of them dying to one are really low compared to some more common dangers.”

Red nods. “There are some exceptions, mostly because of heuristics that fool our pattern seeking minds. We don’t tend to hear about every person that dies on the road because it happens fairly often, all things considered, and are quiet tragedies. Region-wide news rarely cover them, unless something unique was involved. But because Tier 3 threats are so rare and visually stunning, and so many people die all at once…”

“Yeah. It makes a big impression.”

“Right. And that’s doubled by the huge media exposure they get. In general, we just don’t consider ourselves subject to the same statistical probabilities everyone else is. If asked, we’d probably never say something so egotistical, but by and large, we get worried about things that likely won’t harm us, and it takes careful attention and diligence to consider what likely will.”

She looks thoughtful. “And we spend millions to try and stop Tier 3 threats…”

“It’s crazy. We could be spending that money to hire more rangers, get regular patrols for major roads. It would probably save more lives per dollar spent.” He sees her cover her mouth as she yawns, which sets off his own, jaw cracking. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to start soapboxing. I tend to talk a lot when I’m tired.”

She’s looking at him with a slight frown. “How old are you, anyway?”

“I’ll be twelve next month.”

“Just started training?”

He nods. “Got my first pokemon yesterday.”

“Yesterday? You don’t sound like most newbies.”

“Less stupid, I hope?”

She smiles. “Less dewy eyed. Stupid’s a bit harder to judge, but exhausting yourself to get a bit of extra training in isn’t particularly smart.”

Red grins. “Future Me might be irritated at Present Me for not getting enough sleep, but he can sleep in if he really needs to. I’d rather Future Me be a bit tired and irritated, even with the potential negatives that entails, than risk him being as unprepared for a dangerous situation as Past Me was.”

“Do you always refer to your future and past selves as different people?”

“Out loud? Only when I’m-”

“Tired,” they say together, and laugh.

Red stretches his arms, then covers a yawn and forces himself to his feet before exhaustion overtakes him completely. “Whatever tomorrow brings, I want to be ready for it, and once I’ve thought of a way to be, I can’t just ignore it. Leaving an optimization task unfinished is like leaving a splinter in my toe. It might not bother me constantly, but every time I’m reminded it’ll be just as frustrating as the first time, and if I’m in a situation where I need to run, I’ll really regret not just taking it out when I could.”

She watches him thoughtfully as he gets a crick out of his neck. “Well, I guess I’ll reserve judgement until we see how well that works for you.” She smiles and extends a hand. “I’m Amy.”

He shakes it. “Red. Nice to meet you.”

“You too. Good luck with the training, and hope you get some sleep eventually.”

He smiles. “Me too. Have a good night!”

She waves and closes the door behind her. Red turns off the fans, and the sudden silence is almost tangible.

First things first. Red goes to the supply closet and digs past the remaining pokedoll to examine the other supplies. Rope, target posters, water canisters for a spray, a firesuit…There. Red pulls a gas mask from its hook and straps it onto his face.

It’s a clear plastic cover that seals everything from his forehead to his chin, and cleanses the air through filters on the sides. He breathes experimentally through it a few times, then takes it off so it dangles from his neck. He’d considered putting it on before, but didn’t want anything that might distort his voice and make it harder for Charmander to recognize commands. Now that he knows just how irritating the smog is though, it’s clearly the lesser of two evils: choking and coughing don’t make his speech particularly clear either.

Unfortunately that’s about all that’s useful in here. Red puts two of the pokedolls back in the closet, then leaves the training room to examine the others.

The door to the right of his has a symbol of a fist above it, and he enters out of curiosity. The walls are heavily padded, and the floor is a soft mat: firm beneath the feet, but absorbent to reduce injury from falls. He goes to the supply closet and sees the more intricate pokedoll that swivel when struck to deliver a counter blow, as well as punching bags, fighting gloves, helmets, and body padding.

Red returns to the hallway and keeps searching, checking each new type of room to see what they’re like. One has a swimming pool in it, another a soft dirt floor. Occasionally he finds something in their supply rooms that might be handy for training his charmander or rattata, but for the moment there’s nothing that suits his needs.

Frustrated, he goes to the end of the training rooms and follows the directory to the help desk. A blond guy that looks to be in his mid twenties is sitting with his feet propped up, watching a screen. Red glances at it and sees an ongoing Indigo League match. Considering the time it’s probably a recording, but the blond seems riveted.

The battling trainers are swapping pokemon so fast that it’s hard to follow what happens: a rapidash charges at a pincer, which is replaced by a feraligatr. The rapidash is withdrawn before a blast of water can hit it, and a blink later there’s an umbreon in its place that shrugs off the deluge before it sends a pulse of darkness back. Feraligatr gets swapped for a hitmonlee that dashes through the darkness unfazed and leaps forward, foot outstretched. Umbreon vanishes in another flash of light just as hitmonlee jumps, and a pidgeot soars safely out of the hitmonlee’s way, then dives as it lands and rakes it with its talons.

“Excuse me,” Red says during the battle’s lull as hitmonlee is withdrawn, a point awarded to the pidgeot’s trainer.

The young man grunts, eyes on the screen.

“I need a mirror. Is there one available?”

“Bathroom,” the blond says, and points without looking.

Red stifles his annoyance. “I mean for training.”

“Training supplies are in the closets.” An ampharos appears to deal with the pidgeot, bulbs glowing with electric charge. Before it can get a bolt off the flying type is withdrawn, the flash overlapping with the replacement pokemon being sent out. By the time its ball rockets back to be caught by its trainer, she has already clipped pidgeot’s pokeball to her belt and replaced it with yet another. Regulations vary between regions, but the Indigo League allows no more than 1.6 seconds to pass without having a pokemon on the field: this trainer had just swapped pokemon and prepared a third in less than half that. Red remembers being awestruck the first time he saw the speed at which professional competitive trainers battle, making split second decisions one after the other while trying to predict two steps ahead of their opponents. Differences of philosophy aside, his admiration hasn’t faded much since.

“I know that, but there aren’t any in them,” Red says, tearing his gaze from the screen.

“Sorry.” The receptionist takes a drink from his soda can. As far as Red can tell, he still hasn’t so much as glanced at him.

Red feels his exhaustion fading as his blood pressure rises. He takes a deep breath, then lets it out. The cheap desk placard says “Mitchell,” and he puts on his most friendly, but forceful voice. “Can you pause that for a moment please, Mitchell?”

Mitchell sighs and stops the recording before turning to him at last, boredom giving way to irritation. “What do you want kid? I told you, the supplies are in the closets.”

“Sorry, I’m a little tired, and this is my first time at a Trainer House.” Making enemies isn’t going to help him, and he doesn’t have time to waste if he wants to get any sleep tonight. “What match was that? It looked pretty intense.”

After a moment Mitchell’s frown softens a bit, and he glances at the screen. “That was Alicorn’s last Summer Qualifiers from earlier tonight. She’s headed to Johto next week.”

Red vaguely remembers Blue mentioning an “Alicorn” once or twice. Something about her ability to adapt strategies on the fly and respond to new information… Red props his elbows on the counter. “Cool. I heard she has a great meta game.”

Mitchell nods. “Definitely top percent material. You see her match against Blaine last month?”

“No, I guess I missed that one.”

“Oh man, that was intense. You gotta check that out.”

“Noted.” Red glances around at the cluttered desk. “So you work here all night?”

“When I draw the short straw.”

“Must be boring.”

“Eh. Some nights go quicker than others.” Mitchell scratches the stubble on his jaw. “So what were you looking for again?”

“I need something that will let me see my pokemon without him seeing me.”

“Hmm. We’ve got observation rooms with a one way mirror.”

“I’d prefer being in the same room. Maybe a mirror and something to attach it to the ceiling?”

“Ah. Well I don’t think we have anything like that. What do you need it for?”

Red sighs. “I’m training my charmander to put up a smokescreen on command, but they need to be afraid to do it. I want to trigger it in different ways so he’s used to responding to it during emotions other than feelings of helplessness, so was thinking of hiding behind a pokedoll, throwing charmander’s ball to the other side of it, then shaking the doll and yelling to surprise him into emitting the smoke, which I’d then reinforce. But I can’t see him if I’m behind the pokedoll, so I won’t know when to reinforce his behavior, and if I pop my head out to look he’ll see me. So I figure I’ll stick a mirror on the roof and use that, since he’s not likely to look up.” Red sees Mitchell’s skeptical look. “What? You don’t think it will work?”

“Well, work or not, it’s pretty much the most convoluted way to go about it that I can imagine. Why does it matter if he sees you?”

“He’s really protective. I think if he sees me behind the pokedoll he’ll just think I’m in danger and attack.” Red shrugs. “I guess I’ll test it just to be sure, since I can’t get a mirror. Thanks anyway.”

“Well hold on there, you won’t need the mirror if you’ve got someone else to do the shaking.”

Red blinks as Mitchell gets up and walks around the counter, placing a “Be right back” sign up. “Are you volunteering?”

“Sure, my butt’s getting sore anyway.”

“Hey, thanks!”

“No prob. Shouldn’t take long.”

Red frowns. “Actually, that’s what I thought, but there’s an aspect of optimism bias called the planning fallacy-”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mitchell says, already heading toward the training rooms. “Come on, let’s go scare the smoke out of your pokemon.”

Red sighs and follows. Mitchell is clearly looking for an excuse to do something more exciting than sit at his desk, but Red doesn’t want to get the guy in trouble. It’ll be easier with help, he reasons. Another hour at most. Hour and a half, maybe…


Red feels for his pokeball pouch, drawing another sphere out and enlarging it. There, just ahead between the trees… now! He throws, the ball missing by an inch as the mythical pokemon makes a sharp turn. He gasps in exasperation and exhaustion, pumping his legs harder to keep up as the mysterious creature pulls further ahead. He can’t let it get away, such a rare find has to be studied… he reaches for another ball and throws it, hitting a tree trunk. He tries to run faster, arms pumping at his sides as he leaps over fallen logs and ducks between thorny bushes-

“Hey snorlax, you getting up anytime today?”

Red opens his eyes a crack, momentarily nauseous from disorientation. He shifts his head to squint over his shoulder at Blue’s silhouette. His skull feels like it’s full of cotton, and his thoughts crawl over each word one by one until he can comprehend them all together. “Mphre… time…?”

“Almost eight.”

It takes Red a full second to subtract four from eight to calculate how long he slept. He groans and rolls back over, pulling the blanket over his head.

“Hey! They’re about to serve breakfast in the mess. You don’t want any?”

A quick check with his hierarchy of needs pyramid confirms that “sleep” is etched much larger than “food” at the moment. “Mbbe later,” Red mutters, already drifting off back into his dream. The pokemon is so close he can almost make it out… four legged, and blue… or is it purple?

“Suit yourself. Guess I’ll just borrow this hat if you’re not using it.”

Alarm blows Red’s dream to fragments. He cranes his head over his shoulder again to see Blue walking out with his red and white cap on.

Red’s hierarchy pyramid pops up again, with HAT now overlaid at an angle across every level.

“Ngh!” Red tries to roll out of bed and only succeeds in turning over, his arm making a weak throwing gesture to capture the thieving demon as he walks toward the door. “…back,” Red wheezes, searching blearily around the bed for a pokeball.

“I’ll save a plate for you!”

Exhaustion overcomes his outrage, and Red’s eyelids slip back down, arm trailing over the edge of the bed as he drifts away, his last conscious thought: Dammit, Past Red…

Chapter 6: Interlude – The First Night

Laura Verres ends the call with her son and puts her phone away, gaze distant and a slight furrow in her brow. After a moment the oven chimes, and she goes to extract the roast fearow she’d prepared. Some final garnishing, a light sheen of sauce, and she puts it on a serving platter. She lifts the plate carefully and places the whole thing in the bottom half of a dull metal box. After closing and latching the lid, she stands back and takes a Container from her pocket.

Resembling a plain grey pokeball but with more buttons and a small display screen on top, the Container takes a moment to scan the box as she points the lens at it. When the ball makes a ding sound, she lightly tosses it underhand. It approaches the box containing the roasted fearow, opens and draws in the whole thing, contents and all. The Container falls to the table with a metal clink, and begins to roll toward the edge.

She stops it before it falls and heads upstairs to change, absently tucking the ball in a nook near the front door along the way.

If she doesn’t let herself dwell on it, she can almost imagine that Red is just over at a friend’s house, or out camping with Blue. Less than a day, and the house already feels abandoned. Sounds seem to echo in the silence, the walls hollow and fragile. She knows it’s all in her mind, but she can’t help feeling like a caretaker, getting ready to cover the furniture, draw the curtains, and lock the door on her way out.

When Red had originally approached her about becoming a trainer, it had taken all her willpower to smile and be encouraging. She was so relieved to see his excitement about becoming a pokemon professor… so relieved to see him excited about anything. After Tom’s death, a listless depression had kept him lying in bed all day, reading book after book or simply staring at the ceiling.

Laura was willing to endure anything to keep him from returning to such despair. Tom had lived his life following his passions and doing what he felt was right, even if it was dangerous. She couldn’t let her fears stop Red from finding his own calling in life.

And now that he doesn’t need her at home, she can return to hers.

Once she’s ready, she goes back downstairs and puts the sphere containing the roast fearow into her purse, along with a canister of pokemon repellant. It’s a ten minute walk to the Oaks’ residence, and the breeze is cool as it comes from the bay to the south, tugging at her hair and dress. She passes a handful of neighbors along the way, most walking their pokemon.

“Hello Laura.” She turns to see Mrs. Kiri out with her raticate. The old pokemon’s fur is more gray than gold, and Laura smiles as he sniffs at her familiar scent and rubs against her ankles.

“Hello Ana, hello Swift.” She crouches down to scratch behind the veteran’s notched ear. Not so swift as he once was, Ana’s raticate is a town champion, having fought off a number of particularly vicious wild pokemon over the years. The rodent’s eyes slip half-closed, and he stretches beneath her touch.

“Going for a walk?” Ana asks.

“Off for dinner with the Oaks, actually.”

“Splendid. Tell them I say hi, and thank Daisy again for me would you? Swift’s leg is barely troubling him anymore.”

“I will. Have a good night!”

“You too.” The veteran trainer walks past, and a moment later her pokemon scurries after her, barely favoring the hind leg that had almost been bitten off by a nidorino. Laura watches them fade into the dark, then walks on, enjoying the night air. Though she’d grown up in Celadon, she rarely misses the crowds and excitement of cities anymore. A few years in Pallet and she’d grown to love the quiet nights and star filled skies of the small town. Adapting back to city life would take some getting used to.

Laura had been a writer and journalist before marrying. She still occasionally writes editorial pieces for the local paper, but it’s not the same as the in-depth reporting she used to do. Forming relationships with people at all levels in society, learning how to ask the right questions, find the important, hidden stories… It had been an exciting life, shining a light on corruption or an aspect of the human experience few considered.

And it’s how she met Tom. The Celadon Herald was doing a story on the Rangers, a deeper look into the kinds of men and women who dedicated their lives to patrolling the wilds and defending others. Each of them had been passionate and brave, but Tom had a quiet intensity to him that was hard to forget.

Laura waits at an intersection for a car to pass, then crosses the street, glancing at the pokemon lab in the distance. Its lights are mostly off, but it still stands out as the heart of the town. She would miss Pallet and her friends here, but she knows she’ll come back some day.

She arrives at the Oak residence, a simple two story house much like her own. Far less ostentatious than one might expect of the eminent pokemon expert in Kanto, but Laura knows that Sam would spend most nights at the lab if not for his granddaughter. She rings the bell, and the professor opens it a moment later.

“Laura, come on in!”

She smiles. “Hi Sam.” She hugs the man who has been like a second father to her, then follows him toward the dining room. She and Marian Oak had been inseparable since they were children. The loss of his daughter and son-in-law a year after Blue’s birth had been a shared tragedy, and years later he and his grandchildren had been there for her and Red when Tom had died.

Blue’s older sister enters from the kitchen carrying some salad. “Hello, Daisy.”

“Hey Aunt Laura!” Daisy puts the bowl to the table. “You’re just in time, everything’s ready. Got the main course?”

“I do.” She takes out the Container and aims it at an empty area of the dining room floor. She braces her arm, then presses a button on the side. The silver sphere scans the space in front of it, then opens with an explosion of light and sound that ends with the box lying on the floor.

Daisy takes the top off, and breathes deep as the scent fills the room. “Mm. Smells delicious!” She lifts the plate and puts it on the table, steam still rising from the cooked meat. “Everyone hungry?”

The next few minutes are spent enthusiastically digging in, punctuated by the occasional compliment of a dish. Once everyone has finished their first serving and begins to slow down, Laura turns to Daisy. “Ana says hello, and thanks again.”

Daisy smiles. “Swift’s recovering alright?”

“I saw him on the way here. He looked great.”

“I’m glad. I’ve been putting off new clients to get Moonlight ready for the contest in a couple months, but I had to make an exception in his case.”

“Oh? How’s she doing?”

“I’ll bring her out and show you after we eat!”

Sam’s voice is proud as he spoons more rice onto his plate. “I think they’re going to reach Master Rank this year.”

Daisy snorts. “Maybe if you bribe the judges.”

“Daisy! I would never abuse my long and deep friendship with the heads of the Pokemon Coordinator Contest to-”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t try that innocent tone with me: I still remember when you just had a ‘friendly chat’ with Leader Erika on the week of my birthday, and what a surprise, she happens to be in town that day!”

“It’s hardly surprising if one of my old students wants to visit me now and again.”

“And the time when we went to Saffron for Blue’s birthday, where you chose the one hotel and room that the President of Silph happened to be staying next door to…”

“Well if you’re going to turn every coincidental-”

And the time I got sick for a week and couldn’t go to school, and who should come to teach me at home but Mistress Agatha of the Elite Four

Laura is grinning as Sam raises an indignant chin. “Surely a loving grandfather can speak of his worries and troubles to-”

“My point,” Daisy says, spearing a chunk of fearow with her fork. “Is that you seem to know just about everyone somehow, and if I ever find out that you’ve used your influence to give me an unfair advantage in the region-wide contest to test my skills as a pokemon coordinator, thus cheating me out of a fair assessment and cheating everyone else in the contest of theirs, I’ll wait till you’re sleeping one night and mail all your pokemon to Professor Elm. Pass the rice please.”

The professor hmphs, but passes the bowl with a slight smile. “Bring home even third place and people will come all the way from Johto to learn under you.”

Grandpa-

“So, Laura!” Sam says, turning to her. “I’ve noticed pokedex registrations from Red, Blue and Leaf. It looks like all their preparation is paying off. Have you heard from them?”

“Yes, less than an hour ago. They’re doing fine, arrived in Viridian with at least one new pokemon each.”

“Fantastic.”

Daisy is watching Laura. “How are you holding up?”

Laura takes a drink, then puts on a smile. “Not bad. I’m thinking of going back to work, actually.”

Sam raises a brow. “Really? Is Tom’s pension…”

“No, that’s all fine. It’s for me, mostly.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” Daisy says. “I always enjoy reading your articles. Is there something specific you want to write about?”

“A number of things, actually. I’ve never really stopped wanting to write about current events, I’ve just had a more limited ability to investigate them.”

“What do you think you’ll start with?”

“Something easy, I think. Maybe a look into those recent accusations of sexual harassment by employees at Silph.”

Daisy grins. “Oh yeah, no big deal, just going to start off by taking on the biggest company in Kanto.”

Laura scrapes the last bit of food from her plate. “Maybe I’ll throw in some pieces on gardening,” she says, and Daisy laughs. “In all seriousness though, it’s been hard to listen and watch what’s been going on in the region at times, and not do or say something about it.”

Daisy nods. “We’re pretty isolated here.”

“Not for long,” Sam says.

“What do you mean?”

Laura sips from her glass. “The town council is already thinking of incorporation, and after that it’s just a hop and a skip till we’re a proper city, with our own mayor and gym and everything.”

Daisy absorbs this for a moment. “That would be quite a big change…”

“That’s an understatement,” the professor says. He stands and begins clearing the table once it’s evident everyone is done eating. “You were only five when we first moved here, so you might not remember how different it is today compared to back then, but it’s barely recognizable as the same place. Incorporation would be an even bigger shift.”

“Is it because of the lab?”

“It’s been pulling people and money here for over a decade now, and there’s no sign that will stop anytime soon.”

Daisy and Laura join him in bringing things to the kitchen, and they carry the conversation to the kitchen, where Daisy begins to make some tea as Sam washes the dishes. Laura is waved off when she tries to help, so she and Daisy move to the living room. Daisy turns on the news, and the low volume and sound of running water in the kitchen are a soothing ambiance in the background as they talk.

-reflect the noticeable drop in prices. Center administrators cite increased efficiency, mostly from the recently implemented standardized practices. When polled, over 80% support expanding the trainer subsidies. Licensing officials have yet to comment-“

“Is our center in that 80%?” Laura asks.

Daisy sighs as she pours them two cups of tea. “Some are, but not enough. Too few trainers pass through Pallet, and enough neighbors grumble about the tax as it is.”

“Until it’s their pokemon that’s hurt.”

-reported that a swarm of tentacool have been spotted near Cinnabar Island, estimated to pass by the end of the week. Travelers should be aware that such swarms can move at surprising speeds, and are advised to use naval transport to and from the island until the danger is past.”

The screen shows a “cloud” of small red spheres bobbing in the ocean, each pair belonging to a separate poisonous jellyfish. Laura feels an involuntary shudder of revulsion. “So many…”

Daisy makes a face. “Hope they don’t come up here and ruin our beach. The surfing contest is next week”

Mental images of some trainer and their pokemon caught in such a massive swarm makes Laura feel sick. Soon she’s seeing Red or Blue’s face in every scenario. She turns away from the television. “Weren’t you going to show me what Moonlight can do now?”

“Oh, right!” Daisy goes to the cubby by the door and brings back a great ball, its blue lid marked with a white sphere between its red ridges. With a hard throw, the ball zips through the air, appearing for a moment as though it will crash through a window: then it flies over the empty space of the living room, and discharges a clefairy onto the carpet.

Daisy catches the ball as it rockets back at her. “Hey there Moonlight! Come say hi to Aunt Laura!”

The pink, shy pokemon makes a light trilling sound, and flutters her small wings as she hops toward them, cuddling into Daisy’s arms. The teen brings her pokemon to Laura, who rubs the fluff of hair between the clefairy’s ears.

-continues to enjoy its lowest crime rate since Leader Koga became head of the gym. Koga has commended the local police for their efforts, deflecting any implications that he might be partially responsible-“

Daisy strokes the pokemon’s tail, then smiles at Laura. “Remember that big debate grandpa was in last year, where the professors were all arguing theories on how the ‘Metronome’ ability works?”

“Vaguely. My main takeaway was that we still don’t quite understand how certain pokemon like clefairy get their energy. Wasn’t there something about the variation in their powers?”

“Right. Instead of just being able to manipulate electricity or temperature, clefairy, who don’t normally seem to be capable of such things, have been observed in rare circumstances displaying wildly different powers. People used to think it depended on the clefairy, but over years of consistent study they observed the same clefairy running the gamut of different abilities.”

“But it’s still completely random as far as we can tell?”

Daisy smiles. “Not completely. I think I’ve figured out how to influence what power they exhibit.”

Laura blinks. “How?”

“Come outside, I’ll show you. It’s about time for our practice session anyway.”

They leave their tea, and Daisy stops at the kitchen to grab a couple water bottles before they go out. Moonlight sings a brief, sweet melody, and flutters from Daisy’s arms into the wide grassy yard in front of the Oak residence. She begins an odd, hopping dance in a circle while gazing up at the moon.

“So most trainers, if they have a pokemon like clefairy, use the command ‘Metronome’ to try and trigger their mysterious powers. If the pokemon is trained well, they’ll go through the motions, but it’s a total gamble: no matter how well trained, it seems to do nothing as often as not, and even if it does something, there’s no way to prevent it from, say, shooting a bolt of lightning at a ground pokemon, or bathing a rock pokemon in fire.”

As Daisy talks, she begins to mimic Moonlight’s movements. Soon the pokemon and human are synchronized, hopping up and down from one foot to the other, fingers raised upward.

Laura grins, covering her mouth to hide it. Daisy looks utterly ridiculous, but the teen seems unselfconscious, completely absorbed in bonding with her pokemon. While not all pokemon coordinators are as good at battling as trainers, they do seem to have a better affinity on average with pokemon’s moods and behavior, which helps them enormously in the medical or training fields.

Once Laura is sure she won’t start giggling, she uncovers her mouth. “Is this what influences it? The dancing?”

“No, I’m just getting her in the mood… any second now…”

Moonlight starts to sing. Her voice is low, but haunting, the high, sweet tune carrying through the still night air.

And once she has the hang of the melody, Daisy begins to sing too.

Laura sucks in a breath, staring. She had heard Daisy sing before, but never like this. The teenager must have been practicing intensely: her tone and pitch are carefully controlled to match the pokemon’s, the two harmonizing beautifully.

And it doesn’t settle there: soon the melody shifts, Moonlight always leading at first. Daisy barely misses a note each time however, and eventually she begins the first shift herself, and the pokemon follows her, the two weaving a song of simple joy and hope and longing.

For what is surely only a couple minutes, but feels far longer, Laura merely watches and listens as the pokemon and human show the depth of their bond beneath the stars and moon. She feels as though she’s witnessing something primal and ancient, even as it’s new and incredible to her.

Abruptly, Daisy lowers one arm and points into the darkness. For the first time, a word enters the melody, and that word is “Met-ro-nome.” Each syllable seems carefully, delicately pronounced, so that it fits the music.

And in response, the clefairy’s arms begin to sway back and forth, and facing the direction her trainer is pointing, Moonlight opens her mouth wide… and emits a howling gale of wind.

When it dies down, the song is still going, and Daisy says it again, with the same deliberate focus: “Met-ro-nome.”

Moonlight completes its revolution in the small circle she and her trainer form, and then turns again and sways her fingers back and forth through the air. For a brief moment, nothing happens, and then, on the clefairy’s next hop, the ground suddenly bucks, and a cone of rock juts outward from the ground beneath the pokemon.

Again, the song continues, and again the word: “Met-ro-nome.”

The gust of wind returns, making the grass rustle and tear free.

Daisy has been maintaining the same song for almost a minute now, face glistening with sweat. A few seconds later: “Metr-ro-nome.”

A bolt of electricity briefly illuminates Moonlight and arcs off into the sky where Daisy is pointing.

Again: “Metr-ro-nome.” Nothing seems to happen.

Still the song, and again: “Metr-ro-nome.” The leaves of grass around Moonlight abruptly begins to grow, one inch, two, three inches, flowers blooming among them.

A few seconds of singing, and again: “Metr-ro-nome.” The gust of wind returns.

And again: “Metr-ro-nome.” For the second time in a row, the wind.

Suddenly Daisy’s dancing slows, and in the space of a blink Moonlight’s does too. The song continues for a few seconds more, dwindles, then peters off, both pokemon and human seeming to end near the same instant and coming to a standstill.

Daisy drops to the ground, and Moonlight falls back, her curling, fluffy tail lying limp. Both are breathing hard, eyes closed as they recover.

It takes Laura a moment to recover as well, and when she does she breaks into applause. “Oh Daisy! That was incredible! You too Moonlight, my goodness… how long have you been hiding such an amazing talent? You could be stars!”

Daisy smiles, voice a bit weak. “Thanks Aunt Laura.” She opens one of the water bottles, then helps Moonlight drink some before taking a swallow herself. “It took me a year to even match Moonlight’s melody. But did you see? She did it! Four times out of seven, the same ability! That’s got to be a record, and twice in a row at the end? I’ve been trying to get her to do that for a month! I’ve never heard of a clefairy doing that before, and neither has grandpa.”

Laura speaks slowly. “It’s the tone, isn’t it? The tone you pronounce the command in, how much emphasis on which syllables…”

Daisy nods. “In the wild, pokemon like clefairy and togepi only exhibit these surprising and random abilities on rare occasions, always while waving their arms and singing. Not always the same song, but not always completely different either. To an untrained ear, there seemed to be no correlation, and most people think that the arm waving is what’s important. Maybe it still is in its own way, I’m not sure.”

“But you found a tone that’s linked to a specific power,” Laura marvels. “Even more, you can duplicate it!” Her wonder is renewed by the significance of what she just saw. She can’t wait to tell Red, and again feels the pang of his absence. It takes her by surprise, and she realizes she had been completely absorbed in the music and dance, the first thing to have completely taken her mind off Red’s leaving all day.

Daisy breathes deep and takes a long drink from the second water bottle before letting Moonlight finish it off. The pokemon is looking somewhat recovered, and Daisy gets to her feet. “I’m sure others have considered it, but as far as I know no one’s practiced and experimented long enough to isolate one. Most trainers can get their pokemon to link the command with the action of swaying and singing, but volume, pitch, emphasis and lengths of which syllables and consonants… it’s hard to control so exactly, and the possibilities are endless. The slightest change seems to bring about a wholly different power.”

“Have you tried using a recording device?”

Daisy grins. “First thing grandpa rushed off to grab as soon as we thought of it. Didn’t work, which almost made me give up then and there. But it seems like we need to build up to it every time, get in sync enough to get it just right. Even when we record it in the middle of the song, it doesn’t come out the same when we play it. Grandpa says something about the sound is different, but we haven’t had time to consult with an acoustics expert yet. Maybe we’ll figure it out after the competition.”

Laura nods. “I’m sure you will. Either way, it’s still pretty amazing.” She grins, feeling a burst of pride for her oldest friend’s daughter, overriding even the sadness that Marian isn’t around to see what kind of woman Daisy is growing up to be. Eyes stinging with sudden moisture, Laura folds the teen into a hug, one hand brushing at her eyes. “Congratulations, Daisy.”

“Aunt Laura, I’m all sweaty!”

“I couldn’t care less. I think Sam’s right, with an act like that, I can’t imagine any other coordinator getting a higher score in August. You’ll reach Master Rank for sure.”

Daisy hugs her back, voice a bit embarrassed, but determined. “Well, we’ll be trying our hardest, in any case.” She picks her pokemon up, and they head back toward the house. Laura wonders briefly what the Oaks are going to do about the spike of rock sticking out of their lawn, and whether the back yard is full of similar oddities.

When they enter the house, Laura is prepared to call out to Sam about how amazing his granddaughter is when she sees the professor standing behind a chair in the living room, staring at the television. The words die in her throat at the grim set of Sam’s face. She turns to the television, a cold shiver racing up her spine.

“What happened grandpa?”

“Shh!”

-unexpected at this time of year. The low precipitation supercell is sweeping northward, and Rangers insist that it’s too early to tell if this is a precursor to an attack. Nevertheless, CoRRNet representatives stress that everyone should periodically review their city’s evacuation and defensive procedures as a matter of course. The most recent standard response protocols can be found online, at-“

The tension in the room is palpable, and Moonlight makes a low trilling noise. “Where was it?” Laura asks, stomach cramping slightly with fear.

Sam pours himself a cup of tea, still watching the television until the news anchor shifts to another story. He finally sits down, face troubled. “Near Pewter.”

Fingers of ice brush her racing heart. Her hands grip the back of the couch, knuckles white. “Sam… that’s where Red and Blue are traveling, they’re going north after Viridian-”

“Don’t worry, Laura. The storm is headed for the mountains, and they’ll have plenty of warning if it changes direction.”

Her pulse begins to slow back down, and she lets out a low breath. Daisy is quiet, still staring at the screen. Thinking of her parents, no doubt.

The loss of Marian Oak and her husband James had almost broken the Verres household, resulting in the biggest fight she and Tom ever had. He refused to quit his position as a Ranger when she asked him to, insisting that tragedies like that were exactly why he was needed. His passion for helping people had always been one of the major reasons she loved him, but at that moment grief and fear had been stronger than love. All she could think of was that she would lose him. That Red would have to grow up without his father, like Blue and Daisy and so many others.

She had never wished so hard to be wrong about something. In the end, the universe took no mind.

“So, did I hear singing outside?” Sam says, breaking her dark thoughts. He’s watching his granddaughter, who still has a faraway look in her eyes.

“Yes,” Laura says, forcing some cheer into her voice. “Daisy showed me something remarkable.”

“Hm?” Daisy blinks at them and seems to come back to herself. “Oh! I was showing Aunt Laura…” She smiles and sits down with Moonlight in her lap. “You missed it grandpa, Moonlight did the wind gust twice in a row!”

“That’s great!” Sam grins, and the dark mood recedes from the room a bit. He pours a new cup of tea for Daisy and Laura and hands it to them. “Tell me all about it.”

Laura sits down as she and Daisy explain what had happened. The rush of cheer they had brought inside doesn’t completely return, and each of them glances at the television perhaps a bit more often than they normally would, but the news remains relatively mundane for the rest of the night, and their conversation eventually shifts on to other, similarly lighthearted things.

The three talk late into the night until silences and yawns begin to lengthen the switches between topics. It’s almost midnight by the time the second pot of tea is cool, and Laura decides to head home before she falls asleep here. It’s tempting to sleep in a house with other people in it, but she wants to spend the night at home, if for no other reason than to prove to herself that it’s not a big deal. She’ll have to get used to it soon enough.

“Thanks for everything, Sam, Daisy,” she says as the teen retrieves her serving plate and places it back in its box. Laura withdraws it back into the Container and tucks the silver sphere away before putting on her shoes and coat.

“Goodnight aunty,” Daisy says, hugging her. “Feel free to come by anytime if you get lonely.”

Laura smiles and kisses her hair. “I will.”

Sam waits by the door, his pokeball belt on. “I’m going to walk her home, Daisy. Be back soon.” Laura gives Moonlight a farewell rub, then follows him out the door.

The town is dark and still, most inhabitants long since gone to bed. Laura wonders if Red is asleep. She can almost feel the empty echoes from her house, waiting for her, the way it had seemed after Tom’s death, when Red was little more than a ghost in his room. Tom had often been gone for weeks at a time on duty, but even when she’d felt his absence like a physical ache, he’d never been more than a phone call away. Now she can’t even call him to talk about their day, to just hear his voice. At least she can still call Red in the morning.

“Laura, when do you plan on leaving?”

She looks at the professor. “Not for a couple weeks at least. I need to get my affairs in order and talk to some people, maybe find an apartment, depending on what I end up doing.”

Sam nods, and is quiet again for awhile. When he speaks again his voice is low, almost as if he doesn’t want to be heard, though there’s no one around. “I don’t mean to impose, but I have a favor to ask.”

“Don’t be silly. What is it?”

“In the course of your investigations, whatever they may be and wherever they may take you, would you mind terribly keeping an ear out for any mention of a Dr. Fuji?”

Laura blinks in surprise. She wasn’t expecting something like that. “Of course. Is he a medical doctor?” She reaches absently for her notepad before remembering that she isn’t carrying one, hasn’t for years.

“Yes, among other things. He was—is—a biologist who specialized in genetics, and an old friend of mine.”

“Did something happen to him?”

Sam sighs. “I don’t know. We kept in touch until about twelve years ago, when his responses began to slow. I tried contacting him numerous times during a particularly large stretch of silence. His eventual reply was rather curt: some new project, the specifics of which he never mentioned.

“It was the last I or anyone I know heard from him. I resigned myself to thinking he’d simply… faded away. Withdrawn. He lost his daughter, almost fifteen years ago. Shortly afterward his wife left him. It made him more absorbed by his work than ever, and I guess I just assumed he finally ran out of whatever kept him going. I tried to get in contact with him, help if I could, but no one seemed to know where he went.”

Laura is silent as they walk. “What changed?” she finally asks.

“A rumor. Not even that. A suspicion, grown from disconnected bits of information noticed over the years. Random remarks in online forums. Old news reports. Offhand comments. Whispers in the dark.”

“Whispers of what?”

“Other scientists and engineers from every region who similarly faded from the public, most within the same span of years. I don’t know if anyone else made such a connection, or if it’s mere coincidence. There are enough conspiracy theorists on the net to make me think I’m being paranoid.”

Laura shakes her head. “Maybe. Maybe not. You can’t really know without looking, and it’s hard to look without knowing what you’re looking for. What are your theories?”

“Hardly anything as substantial as a ‘theory.’ Not even a hypothesis, I’m afraid.”

Laura smiles. “What are your best completely unscientific guesses?”

Sam raises a hand, fingers moving to tick off each one. “First, some top secret government or company research project. Perhaps they’re all alive and well, and merely in deep seclusion. Many seemed to be those who had few tethers to keep them in public life.”

“Sounds reasonable. We know there are a number of projects that have been hidden from the public eye, and not all for questionable reasons.”

“Perhaps not, though Fuji’s studies tended toward pokemon research. Assuming that’s what the project is about, the name ‘Oak’ was apparently not fit to be included.”

Laura chuckles. “I always knew you’d get around to developing an ego some day.”

Sam smiles slightly. “My second guess is foreign interests have been poaching them for their own purposes, and none of their absences are related at all. I may simply be falling to confirmation bias, and forgetting all the data that doesn’t fit the pattern I’ve already formed in my head.”

“That second part should be fairly easy to figure out, with some research.”

He nods. “I’ve done some looking, but far from extensive. And the third possibility I’ve seriously contemplated is perhaps the most frightening, the thought which makes me wish to be wrong, dismiss my suspicions as crackpot.”

Laura frowns. “I know you love being wrong, but not without good reason.”

“I want to be wrong, Laura, because if I’m right it would mean my friend is very likely dead or imprisoned, as are all the others who faded so similarly.”

“How?”

“An organization. One that operates between regions, could identify and hire, kidnap or coerce multiple researchers and technicians into secret work that they have no intention of allowing the public to be aware of.”

Laura doesn’t laugh. She’s never known Sam to joke about something like this, nor would he bring it up if he were really as unsure as he claims. The night suddenly seems chiller than it had a moment before. She draws her coat a bit tighter around her as they approach the path to her house, and begin walking up toward the light hanging over her door.

When they reach it Laura turns to face Sam. His salt and pepper hair is somewhat disheveled, a bit like the perpetual mess of his grandson’s, and his blue eyes and face are lined from a long and exciting life. Even without his lab coat, Professor Oak still looks every inch the deeply kind, extraordinarily intelligent man she’d known since childhood.

“I know,” Sam says in the silence. “I’m being a paranoid fool. It’s almost a relief to hear how ridiculous it sounds out loud.”

When she meets his gaze, the usual spark of boundless curiosity and enthusiasm isn’t there. Despite his words, his expression holds no levity, and Laura realizes he is offering her an out. Playing down his beliefs and self-deprecating, so she can dismiss his suspicions as overly imaginative without offending.

But he doesn’t believe they are. He’s as serious as she’s ever seen him, through tragedies shared time and again.

“I’ll keep an ear to the ground,” Laura says at last. “If I can manage it, I’ll keep both.”

Chapter 5: Personhood Theory

“I’m fine mom,” Red says. “Nope, not a scratch on me.” Technically it’s a bite mark.

Red stands in Viridian City’s southern pokemon center, using his phone to call home as he waits in line. Blue and Leaf are ahead of him, stepping forward as the nurse behind the counter gives the young man at the front of the line a receipt.

Red steps forward too, shifting his phone to his other ear so he can pull out his wallet.

“No, we got in ten minutes ago, maybe twenty, before it got dark,” he says. He turns to look out the front of the building’s glass walls, where the city lights illuminate the night.

“Good. How is your pokemon? Have you and Blue caught any new ones yet?”

“We did. I have a charmander and rattata, Blue has a squirtle and pidgey. Oh, and there’s a third person with us named Leaf. She’s the daughter of a professor from Unova.”

He can hear his mom’s smile over the phone. “I’m glad it’s not just you and Blue. Hopefully she’ll keep you two from fighting.”

Red makes a noncommittal sound and changes the subject as Leaf turns around at the sound of her name. “How about you, how was your day?”

“Just fine. I took a walk along the beach and had a meeting with the town council. Now I’m getting ready to meet Sam and Daisy for dinner.”

“Great! Tell them I said hi.” Red feels some relief that his mom won’t be spending his first night away alone.

“Just hi?” His mom’s voice is teasing. “Nothing else you want to say to Daisy?”

Red feels his cheeks flush, and tries to sound bored rather than whiny. “Mom, it’s been a year.” Why did he tell her that he liked Blue’s sister? “‘Hi’ will do, thanks.”

“Alright, alright, ‘hi’ it is. Anyway, I’ve got to go, sweetie. Give my love to Blue, and find a nice place to stay tonight. I love you Red.”

Red glances at his companions and turns casually to the side, voice lowering. “Love you too, mom, goodnight.” He ends the call and puts his phone away just as Blue steps up to the counter.

“Hello, new trainer?” the nurse says with a smile.

“Yeah, how did you know?” Blue unclips his pokeballs and puts them in the round indentations on the nurse’s tray.

“You’ve got the look. Young, a bit nervous, few pokemon. Mind if I see your ID?”

“Sure.” Blue takes out his wallet and hands her his trainer card.

“Thank you.” The nurse taps some keys on her computer. “Ah, Pallet Town. My sister lives there. And what is the nature of your pokemon’s injuries?”

“Nothing serious, just a couple wild encounters.”

“Are either of them poisoned or burned? Any untreated open wounds?”

“No, just some scrapes and bruises. My squirtle might be more tired than anything.”

The nurse types a bit more, then her computer spits out a receipt. “Alright, your pokemon will be ready within the hour. We’ll send you a message when you can pick them up.”

When it’s Red’s turn, he feels a bit anxious as he hands his pokemon over and explains to the nurse their various injuries. It’s strange how simply being ‘mine’ makes these pokemon mean so much to me, even the rattata. Something to do with the effort he’d put into acquiring her, maybe?

Red pulls his notebook out of his pack as he crosses the clean tiles to the bench Leaf and Blue are on. After sitting beside them, he opens it to a new page, dates it, then writes:

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

Question 1: Is this usual?

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

Reminder 1: Look into research on-

“Hey Red, you hungry?”

He looks up at Leaf, blinking. Now that she mentions it, it’s hard to ignore his stomach’s complaints. All he’d had since breakfast were some snack bars on the road. “Yeah, starving.”

“We’ve got at least half an hour before our pokemon are ready,” Blue says. “Let’s go find some food.”

Red nods, and looks down at his notebook as the others get to their feet, trying to remember what he’d been writing.

-research on human connections with each other, with objects, and with pokemon.

Reminder 2: Survey others if possible, mark distinctions between pokemon gifted and pokemon caught.

Red frowns and puts the notebook away as he stands. It isn’t exactly what he’d wanted to write, but it’s enough to remind himself of his thought process later on.

The three leave the pokemon center and walk through the city. People on foot and bicycles throng the sidewalks, pooling at the ends of blocks to wait for lights to change before crossing streets. Every few minutes some large flying pokemon goes by overhead, its passengers’ legs dangling a dozen feet above the traffic, and occasionally people riding large pokemon pass them. Leaf points in delight as a flaming horse gallops by on the other side of the street, its rider seemingly unharmed by the pokemon’s fiery mane.

“What’s that?”

“Rapidash,” Red says. “Their hair glows like fire, but they can keep it from combusting into actual flames if trained to be ridden.”

Leaf turns her neck to watch it disappear around a corner. “So pretty…”

Blue snorts, and Leaf turns back and punches his arm. “Keep laughing after I catch one,” she says cheerfully. “The sound of hooves will be the last thing you ever hear.”

“Ha. You’ll have to get through Squirtle first.”

Red and Blue have both been to Viridian City before a few times, but it’s all new to Leaf, so they point out some of the more famous landmarks as they walk.

“There’s a supermarket that way that’s second biggest in Kanto. A lot of people stop by on their way to the Indigo Plateau, they sell everything a trainer might need.”

“See that big building near the center of the city? That’s the Trainer House, we’ll head there after our pokemon are taken care of.”

“There’s a huge lake over that way, but fishing in it’s usually prohibited.”

“Hey,” Leaf says as they reach an outdoor cafe and sit at a table. “What’s the Gym in this city?”

“The Earth Gym.”

“That’s Leader Giovanni’s, right? What’s he like?”

Blue grins. “Oh man, Giovanni is awesome. He was twelve when he became Leader, and he’s held the Gym for decades. He’s like fifty-something now.”

“He’s really philanthropic too,” Red adds. “Gives away millions to subsidize trainer activities and fund pokemon research.”

“Oh wow! Are you guys planning on challenging him?”

“Can’t,” Red says with a sigh. “He’s out of town, I checked yesterday. Won’t be back until next week.”

“We can still go to the gym and do some training,” Blue says. “Though I’d like to get to the forest by tomorrow if we can.”

Leaf nods. “If we have time, then?”

They agree, and a waitress comes by to take their order. Red sees a woman at another table, eating her steak and occasionally dropping bits of meat to the side for her growlithe to eat. He takes his notebook back out as they wait for their food.

“What’s that? Journal?” Leaf asks.

“Sort of. I like to write out my thoughts at the end of the day, helps keep track of questions I’ve had, remind myself to look into answering them or reflect on them in the future when I know more.”

“Did you just think of something?”

“Yeah,” he says, flipping back to the latest page and writing as he talks. “How do you guys feel about your pokemon so far?”

“Pretty good,” Blue says. “Haven’t had a chance to check out the pidgey, but seemed like a fighter. And my squirtle is great.”

Leaf nods. “Same, looking forward to getting to know Crimson and my rattata, but I couldn’t be happier with Bulbasaur. He’s everything I’d hoped my first pokemon would be… smart, versatile, tough.”

“Do you feel a… scratch that, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your ‘bond’ with your pokemon so far? One being you barely feel anything for them, ten being they matter to you as much as close friends or family.”

Blue shrugs. “I guess Squirtle a seven, the pidgey a four or five.”

“Bulbasaur a nine,” Leaf says slowly. “Rattata a… four, I guess? And Crimson a six, though that may be because of the nickname.”

“What about the process of capturing it?”

“Yeah, that definitely plays a part. In the struggle I feel like I got to know it a bit, and it’s got spirit, that’s for sure.”

Red doesn’t comment on her reasoning, just writing his questions down as well as their answers, trying to get a feel for what a good survey on this topic might look like. Gathering qualitative data is more important than quantitative for now, to help understand things well enough to begin formulating hypotheses. “So those numbers, four at the lowest, nine at the highest. Do they seem in any way odd to you guys?”

Leaf looks curious. “Not really. What do you mean?”

“Well, we don’t get so attached to other people we just meet. Why are we all so attached to our pokemon already?”

“People talk about the bond between trainers and pokemon all the time,” Blue says. “This is what they mean. Humans and pokemon, we’re meant to work together like this. That’s why it feels so natural.”

Red looks at Leaf. “You feel that way too? Like it’s just that simple that you catch a pokemon and feel attached to them?”

Leaf shrugs. “I’ve been around my mom’s pokemon all my life, and I love them all… well most of them, she has this minccino that’s totally spoiled. But there’s definitely something special about having my own.”

Red finishes writing, then taps his pencil against the notebook a moment. “What about the other pokemon we saw today?”

“What about them?”

“Have you thought about them at all since? Do you think about the other rattata that we fought, or that third pidgey that got away?”

The other two are silent for a bit, then Blue shrugs. “Not really.”

“Why, have you been thinking of them?” Leaf asks.

“Every so often I wonder about my rattata. If she was a mother whose children now lost her.”

Blue rolls his eyes, and Leaf gives him an irritated look before turning to Red with a sympathetic expression. “That makes sense. Do you feel bad about it?”

“I don’t, actually,” he says, surprising himself with the realization even as he sees their brows rise. “I mean in an abstract way, sure, but I’m not about to go back and release her. And I’m a bit curious as to why. I care about my rattata, but not the ones I didn’t catch, even the ones affected by its capture. Is that odd?”

“Not at all,” Blue says. “Why would you care about the other pokemon? One of them bit you! And another scratched up my arm, not to mention the way they hurt our pokemon.”

Leaf opens her mouth to respond, but just then their food arrives. Red’s stomach growls, and he begins eating his sandwich.

“Like this food,” Red says, covering his mouth after a bit of bread flies out. “Woop, sorry.” He swallows. “I don’t really care about the pidgey whose meat I’m eating. But if I had a pidgey, and it was killed for its meat, I’d probably be upset. Is that hypocritical of me?”

Blue looks too interested in his food to respond, but Leaf finishes chewing and says “I’m not sure. There are others who think so though. You’re talking about the relationship between people and pokemon, the way we use pokemon for our own benefit. There’s a group of activists in Unova who talk about it all the time. Used to be smaller, but now they’ve even got members in the government.”

“Really? What do they want?”

“Oh, lots of things. Stricter requirements for trainer licensing, better treatment of wild pokemon, an end to pokemon testing-”

Red snorts. “What, would they rather we test on humans instead?”

Leaf meets his gaze. “When it’s to benefit humans? Is that so strange?”

“It’s idiotic,” he says. Her eyes narrow, and he rushes on. “I’m sorry, but it is. We would never have developed half the medicines we have today without pokemon testing, there’s just no way to replicate human test subjects quickly or reliably enough, even ignoring the moral issues of experimenting on them-”

“But it’s not a moral issue when we raise pokemon just to test out new chemicals that might hurt or kill them?”

Feeling like he’s just digging a deeper hole, Red looks to Blue for help, but his friend is merely watching with amusement as he eats. “Of course it is, but isn’t it also a moral imperative to develop medicines that’ll save as many people as we can? How do you balance the lives of a relatively few pokemon against all the people and other pokemon we help by doing so?”

“You’d probably feel different if you were one of the test subjects. Or if they wanted to use your charmander.”

“No,” he says adamantly. “I wouldn’t.”

Leaf stares at him. Even Blue looks surprised. “You really mean that?”

“I try to be self aware enough to keep from holding hypocritical beliefs. I don’t want to lose my charmander, even after just a day with him. It would be really sad, maybe heart breaking if I had him for a long while. But if for some reason there was an experiment that had to use my charmander, instead of one in the wild, to help people, or even other pokemon…”

“People you don’t even know?” Blue asks.

Red tries to find the words, frowning at the woman and her growlithe at the other table. “Look, it’s… see that woman there? Say her growlithe died. Who would be affected by it?”

“She would, and her family, if they’re close to her pokemon.”

“Right. For how long?”

Leaf raises a brow. “That… depends. I was really sad for a couple months after my mom’s purrloin died. She was too, but I took it much harder, because I was young. There are a lot of factors that go into it.”

“Okay, but around a couple months for both of you. Did you by chance get another one?”

“Yeah, she brought another one home a few months after the first died.”

“And that helped.”

Leaf nods. “That helped.”

“Have you ever lost a person? Your dad, maybe?”

Leaf notices Blue go still, and looks back at Red with some hesitation. “He doesn’t live with us anymore, but no, I’ve never lost a person.”

“Well take it from me: you’re sad for more than just a few months. And not just you: your family, your friends, everyone’s affected by the loss and its effect on you. For years. It’s… there’s like a crack in your life that doesn’t ever really go away.”

The girl from Unova is quiet for a bit as she chews her food. Eventually she says “I think I get it. You’re saying that as sad as a pokemon’s death might be, a person’s death… ripples outward more, and is much more affecting.”

“Yeah. That’s about right.” Red focuses on his sandwich, ignoring the ache in his chest with long practice, shoving the crippling, bitter despair back into the mental vault he’d built for it.

“I… can’t really argue with that without seeming untactful,” she says slowly. “But I think some people would take their pokemon’s loss as hard as another person’s.”

Red shrugs. “I’m not going to deny that. But that’s still one relationship severed. Most people have multiple. That’s why for me, no pokemon’s life could ever be as important as a person’s. Even if the pokemon is mine, and the person is a complete stranger.”

“What if they’re a dick?” Blue says.

Red frowns at him. “They probably still have friends, family, someone cares about them.”

“What if they’re a murderer? What if they’re a serial killing psycho?”

“That’s… a different story…” Seeing Blue’s triumphant smile, Red sighs. “Okay, I’ll amend a bit: to me, most of the time, no pokemon’s life is as important as a random person’s, statistically speaking, since most people aren’t psychopathic murderers.”

Leaf watches Red for a bit, then nods slightly. “I believe you believe that. But I think you might feel differently once you’ve really bonded, spent a few months or years with your pokemon.”

Red opens his mouth, then reconsiders and takes a drink. Eventually he shrugs. “Yeah, maybe. And if so, I might reconsider my view of pokemon testing. But I don’t think it’s likely.”

There’s silence at the table as they eat for a bit, watching the occasional pokemon walk by beside or ridden by their trainer. A pidgeot lands at a store across the street, and its rider slide off its back, the car-sized bird disappearing in a flash of light as its trainer withdraws it.

After the atmosphere at the table seems a bit lighter, Blue speaks. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re both nuts.” He takes a swig of his mixed fruit juice. “Obviously we need to keep developing better medicine and technology, but I wouldn’t give up my pokemon for it. Let gramps and the other white coats catch their own rattata to test on.”

“Well,” Leaf says as she sprinkles some salt on her tomato slices. “Most people seem to agree with you. The group I was talking about doesn’t have a lot of support in Unova, and I’ve never heard much of similar sentiments in other regions.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Blue says as he leans back, chair tipped to balance on its hind legs as he munches on a riceball. He rests one foot on the table’s edge, ignoring or oblivious of the dirty look their server gives him as she passes by. “Start giving in to little changes, and who knows what else they’ll want?”

“Last I heard before I left, they were talking about restricting the use of pokeballs and outright banning all pokemon trainer battles.”

Blue practically chokes on his food, eyes wide as his chair slams forward. “Wh-what?” He coughs up some rice and reaches for his drink. “What are they-chkugh-nuts?”

Red thumps on Blue’s back as Leaf shrugs. “Lots of people think so, but I’m not one of them. I think pokemon battling for sport is cruel, especially outside of regulated tournaments. They’re living creatures, they have feelings, and making them fight when it’s not necessary is callous.”

Blue frowns at her, taking a drink to clear his throat. “Tournaments have so many rules that pokemon rarely get seriously injured. Besides, you’re not going to prepare your pokemon for a real fight if you always stop as soon as they get a little hurt. Would you rather them die against some wild pokemon because they weren’t prepared?”

Red watches them continue to argue, considering their points as he eats. He has to admit he agrees with Blue more than Leaf, though that might just be a cultural bias of his, as apparently a number of people think differently in Unova. He drinks some soda, then interjects, “Why do they want to restrict pokeball use?”

Leaf turns to him. “They say it’s cruel to keep them imprisoned. Stunts their minds, makes them too subservient, hard to reintegrate into the wild if they’re released.”

“Makes sense. But you use them anyway?”

Leaf nods. “I don’t think the stasis of the balls is harmful in and of itself, and it even helps them live longer, in a sense, to better match our lifespans. Besides, training pokemon the old-fashioned way isn’t always realistic or safe, especially when you plan on traveling and acquiring a lot of them.”

“Still, it seems to benefit people at the expense of pokemon. Doesn’t that go against the beliefs of that group you’re talking about?”

“I agree with them generally, but not all their specifics or methods.” She shrugs. “I just think there’s a better way to go about things than we are now.”

“I think a lot of people can agree to that, at least.”

“Yeah. They’ve been getting more radical the more people support them, but there’s still disagreement from within too.”

Red nods, still feeling a bit uncomfortable about inadvertently insulting her earlier. “Thanks for bringing it up, by the way. Professor Oak’s specialty is pokemon-human interactions, and I find the whole topic interesting. That Unova group is something for me to look into later.”

Leaf smiles. “No problem. What you were talking about reminded me of it anyway. It’s funny, I actually thought of them when I met you this morning: their leader Ghetsis also has red eyes.”

“Is that rare in Unova too?”

“Yeah, I’ve only seen a couple people with them.”

Blue stabs a mushroom with his fork and points it at Leaf. “So why are you a trainer?” He pops it in his mouth. “Red wants to be a professor, and I’m going to be the next Kanto Champion. What made you come here?”

“Well, I want to be a Coordinator someday, but I’m planning on doing a lot of traveling. I want to go to different regions and write a book on pokemon origin stories.”

“Like what Red wants to find out?” Blue asks.

“Not really,” Red and Leaf both say together. They exchange a smile, and Red gestures for her to go ahead. “From what Red said, he’s more interested in their biological origins, like my mom and grandpa.” Red nods. “I’m more interested in the mythology. The stories every region has about pokemon, particularly those venerated or worshiped specifically in the culture. I find it really fascinating the ways different regions view pokemon, and the relationship between humans and pokemon.”

“Well, it’s good to have you along,” Blue says.

“And you came to the right place,” Red adds. “Kanto’s a pretty superstitious place.”

Blue snorts. “Compared to what?”

“Johto?”

“Heh. Fair enough.”

Leaf looks back and forth between them with obvious interest. “Why, what are some things people here believe?”

As Blue brings up some common myths and superstitions held by the region, Red is thinking over everything Leaf had said. He’d never paid much attention to the politics of other regions before, and he occasionally scribbles some thoughts in his notebook as he eats.

Will his view of pokemon as inferior to people ever change? He doesn’t think it’s likely. The entire basis for pokemon-human interactions stems from the basic need for people to defend themselves from them: it’s hard to see the species as having equal value when you’re willing to kill and capture them to defend yourself. Red’s father was a Ranger, someone who dedicated his life to helping keep people safe from wild pokemon. He was killed in the line of duty when some scyther had attacked a farm.

Red had wanted to be a Ranger too when he was younger, but that ambition had cooled in the grief that followed, and his internship with Professor Oak had opened up a new road. Still, it’s a sobering reminder that had humanity not domesticated pokemon, they would be at the mercy of them the way they are other forces of nature, like hurricanes or earthquakes.

Most people living in cities don’t need such a protection day-to-day, but they do rely on others to handle the occasional major threats, like a rampaging tyranitar, or a migrating beedrill swarm. And while trainers put themselves in danger to stop such threats, it’s really the pokemon that are shouldering the most risk. The media likes to romanticize the partnership and brave sacrifice of those pokemon, but those who raise pokemon as pets and companions must be aware that it’s not entirely a conscious sacrifice: ultimately, many pokemon are used as tools, living weapons.

Not that people shouldn’t still treat pokemon well, when possible. Red can’t abide pokemon abuse, and part of a trainer’s responsibility is to improve human-pokemon relations, learning more about how the two species can benefit each other. While many, like Blue, see that as secondary to the opportunities and prestige it imparts, to Red it’s at the core.

Ultimately though, what interests him most is why people feel the way they do, think the way they do, about pokemon, about everything. He’s not quite sure if he’s right to feel intrinsically superior to pokemon, and he makes a special note on his thoughts of the subject for future reflection.

“No! Do you really?” Leaf giggles into her hands.

Red looks up. “What?”

Blue is smirking. “I don’t, but yeah, a lot of people in Pallet swear by it.” He turns to Red. “I’m telling her about the shadow check.”

Red groans. “So much wasted milk. I haven’t once heard of someone actually finding a Dark pokemon hiding in shadows by splashing milk in them, but every sunset you’ll see some people tossing milk into the east side of their house. I think it’s become more of a good luck thing now, but it’s still pretty dumb.”

Leaf gets her laughter under control. “Oh, I have to see this tomorrow,” she says with a grin as she picks her fork back up. “I’m going to have my eyes peeled for milk-splashers.”

Eventually they finish eating and pay their bill. On the way back to the Pokemon Center, Blue’s phone chimes a message to let him know his pokemon are ready, and by the time they reach it Leaf and Red’s had done the same.

The line is small, and when he reaches the front Red hands his receipt over and accepts his pokeballs back with a smile. “Everything’s okay?”

The nurse smiles back, handing him a summary of his pokemon’s status. “They’re in good health. A minor concussion was corrected in your rattata, and charmander’s wounds were fully healed.”

“Thank you!”

“You’re quite welcome. Your pokeballs have also been recharged, and are in good working order. Have a good night.”

“You too.” Red steps away and waits for the other two to get their pokemon back too. He checks his charmander in the meantime through the pokedex, and is relieved to see him looking fully recovered from his wounds, without even any visible scarring. He clips Charmander back to his belt and sees Leaf approaching. “All good?”

“Yep. They put Bulbsasaur under some sunlamps, and said his bulb has fully regrown its damage.”

“Nice.” They wait for Blue, then head toward the entrance and they walk out into the night again.

The three make their way through the city toward the Trainer House, a lodging facility that caters specifically to trainers and their pokemon. Fifteen stories tall and wide enough to take up a city block, it’s easy to find, a massive red-brick building with solar panel foliage trimming, each artificial “leaf” hanging limp and dormant until morning.

The entrance hall and lobby are as different from the Pokemon Center’s as fire and water. A deep rug of earthy tones rather than stark white tiles, amorphous couches and chairs scattered about rather than set in orderly rows, wooden tables instead of glass. Teenagers are draped over the various furniture, watching televisions or eating snacks, some with their pokemon beside them. Potted plants litter the room, bug and plant pokemon resting in their soil and among their roots and leaves. A few adult trainers move about, most heading toward or coming from the elevators and doors around the room’s perimeter.

Red leads the way toward the reception desk, where they pass their trainer cards over and receive room assignments for the night. Red looks over the lobby, excitement and exhaustion warring in him.

“Normally it’d be great to meet all these trainers and see their pokemon,” Leaf says slowly, echoing his thoughts. “But I’m kind of tired.”

“There’s always tomorrow,” Red says, and Blue yawns in punctuation.

“I’m in 1321, West,” Leaf says, looking at her room assignment. “What about you guys?”

“1208,” Blue says, and Red holds his up to show the same. “East.”

Leaf smiles and tucks some hair behind her ear. “Well, I guess I’ll see you guys in the morning for breakfast then.”

They say goodnight, and make their way to the elevators on opposite sides of the lobby.


Red lies in bed, staring up at the bottom of Blue’s bunk. All around him are the sounds of a dozen other young boys around Red and Blue’s age, shifting or snoring in their sleep. A quick glance toward the clock above the door shows him it’s almost midnight.

Red sighs and shifts on the unfamiliar mattress, trying to find a more comfortable position. He hasn’t been able to sleep. His mind keeps going over everything that had happened on the first day of his journey… training with charmander, catching his rattata, helping Blue and Leaf catch pidgeys, their conversation during dinner. Every time he closes his eyes and tries to drift off, some new analysis or perspective of an event intrudes: how he should have acted, what he could have done differently.

The thought that has him in open-eyed wakefulness currently is that moment when he and Blue ran toward their pokemon after sending them ahead to help Leaf’s bulbasaur. He’d been about to order Charmander to Ember, but hadn’t because it was too risky with Bulbasaur so close, forcing him to rely on his less effective claws and teeth. A restriction like that is dangerous. They got lucky in avoiding serious injuries to Charmander or Bulbasaur, but that Red still hasn’t thought of a better action he could have taken in that circumstance is what’s making it hard to sleep.

I need to be more useful, he thinks. Charmander’s strong, but I can’t be so limited in how I use him that I’m relying on his fire. He-we-need more utility. More versatility in combat.

Red reaches under the bed and pulls his pokedex out of his pants. Bringing it under the covers so the light doesn’t wake anyone, he looks up some known techniques charmanders can learn. He wishes for the dozenth time he’d known what pokemon Professor Oak would have for them so he could have researched them in-depth beforehand.

After about twenty minutes of reading, Red closes the pokedex. He slips back into his shirt and pants, then gathers his things and tiptoes out the door to find the training rooms.