Category Archives: Stories

Chapter 34: Redefining Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay, kid?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If it takes you a try or two…”

“Or three…”

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

“Or two…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“From birth.”

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

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

“A clever plan.”

“Tried and true?”

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

“Sooo, it’s more of an experiment.”

“Yes. A clever experiment.”

“Uh oh,” Blue mutters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue raises a hand. “I’m not.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’d you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmm. Alright, first questi-”

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

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

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

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

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

“Waaay ahead of you, buddy.”


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

Of course not, Professor!”

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

I… Yeah. I knew that. Obviously.”

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

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

Don’t make me call your mother.”


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

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

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


“We can’t help you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf smiles. “To be fair-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

They reach the Center and drop off their pokemon, then head to the nearby Trainer House and file into the crowded lobby to register themselves. After some quick meals in the mess hall, the trio says goodnight at the elevators and head upstairs to drop their spare clothes in the laundry rooms and take some long-awaited showers.

Afterward, Red flops onto his bunk bed and takes out his phone as his hair dries. Blue climbs the ladder to the bed above him to drop off his bag, then climbs back down.

“You’re not going to train, are you?” Red asks. He thought Blue dropped all his pokemon at the Center.

“Nah, Sabrina’s taking a Challenge Match tonight. I’m going to the lobby for the big screens. Wanna come?”

“I’m okay, thanks.” Red watches Blue leave, then stares blankly at his phone’s display of another publishing journal. Eventually he realizes he’s not reading it, mind still on Sabrina, the most powerful human psychic in the region, and possibly the world. He frowns and opens a new page.

Something different, tonight. If he’s going to catch an abra soon, he needs to start training his psychic powers, what little he can without a tutor. He doesn’t know how his “block” will interact with his own psychic pokemon trying to communicate with him, but he needs to be as prepared as possible.

Red starts searching for pages that detail rudimentary psychic powers and how to practice them. He keeps scrolling down lists to try and find something as basic as possible, but finds nothing that he thinks he’s capable of.

Eventually he finds a page titled “How to tell if you’re ‘sensitive,'” and opens that. From what Narud said, Red is a full psychic, just without access to his powers, not a sensitive, someone with powers so weak that they’re mostly nonexistent. Still, maybe for practical purposes he should consider himself one for now, and see if there’s anything here that might help.

He reads through some pages detailing different sensations a person might have, or circumstances they might find themselves in, that could tell them if they’re a sensitive. Red occasionally gets a familiar sensation upon reading some of them, like the feeling of being “connected” with someone, even a stranger, or always feeling like he could tell what their emotional state was.

He’s probably just fooling himself through confirmation bias though. Anyone in the room with Yuuta would have been able to “feel” the man’s desperation, that was just an expression anyway. He can’t consider interactions with his mom relevant, she’s family and he spends more time with her than anyone. And for some refuting evidence, he can think of a dozen times at least when he misread even his closest friend, Blue…

…who’s Dark. Huh. I guess I haven’t really given that a chance to fully register, after finding out I was psychic. He puts his phone down and closes his eyes, taking a moment to think back on their friendship and update all the experiences he can remember through the new lens of the two semi-recent discoveries.

If Red’s been operating off of subtle, psychic cues from people his whole life, but not getting any from Blue, then that would account for some of their arguments. Not all, of course, or even most. Maybe even not any: he certainly has no evidence that his impressions of people’s emotions are anything more than his imagination. But it’s still something to keep in mind moving forward.

Red keeps looking through the various sites and pages detailing the difference between sensitives and non-sensitives, and the even bigger gulf between psychics and sensitives, which the sites (often run by psychic groups) always seem to couch in sympathetic tones. “The poor dears,” Red mutters, drawing a glance from a pair of trainers walking by his bed. No matter what they do, the sites don’t quite say, they’ll never be true psychics.

Red can see why that might be a common question or hope, but it still comes off as patronizing to him, as someone who finds himself caught in such an odd middle-space. He knows he’d find it irritating if he was just a sensitive. No one likes being looked down on by a group that considers themselves obviously superior. It’s especially problematic since they’re the ones that are shaping the narrative.

In fact… Red changes his search terms, and suddenly finds sites with a very different framing. Most look less “official,” but there are dozens of blogs and pages dedicated to exploring their own theories of sensitives versus psychics. According to many of them, the one isn’t a “weaker” form of the other, but a different one altogether, the way Ghost pokemon attack people’s “emotions” and Psychics attack their “thoughts.”

Red frowns. That divide always seemed strange to him, but if it’s true, then obviously practicing psychic techniques wouldn’t help a sensitive. The problem is, these sites seem full of unsupported claims and mysticism masquerading as science. He can’t find any research backing them, and eventually gives up and returns to the more “reliable” sites.

Red eventually finds one that recommends meditation and awareness exercises to any sensitive interested in exploring their powers, and he decides to attempt them. His therapist suggested meditation when he was younger, but it hadn’t really worked for him then. Now it might be worth a second try.

He looks around at the room, where a dozen other trainers are chatting quietly or preparing for bed, and decides it’s quiet enough. He plugs in his earphones and waits for the soothing voice to begin walking him through it-

-only to have the phone’s message chime directly in his ear.

Red’s eyes fly open and he curses as he pulls the earplugs out. After a moment his scowl fades, and he sits up to read the article Leaf linked him to.

There’s an embedded video of Leader Brock, but Red doesn’t have to play it, as the caption under it reads “Leader Brock urges peace and unity as recent public politics turn violent.” Apparently the Pewter Museum was vandalized a few hours ago, and just this morning the religious leader Leaf wrote the open letter response to called on Pewter’s faithful to reject its lies, and the propaganda of “foreign influences.”

“Well,” Red says as he scrolls down to see the vitriolic comments, some defending Leaf’s article and calling for an investigation, but many more condemning her, the mayor, and the museum. “Shit.”

Chapter 33 – Interlude: Double Binds

The coliseum was colder than she imagined, colder than she thought she could endure. Hail pelted her thick coat and bounced off hastily donned goggles. Harsh winds tore words from lips made numb by their assault. The metal of her pokeballs bit at her fingers with icy teeth. And all the while, she grinned until her cheeks felt frozen in their new position.

She had thought she was ready. She had thought she was prepared for any obstacle, any twist.

She never imagined that Elite Lorelei would schedule their Challenge match during a blizzard, on top of an indoor glacier.

Misty had never felt so alive.

Remember, you may forfeit at any time,” Lorelei said in her ear before the battle began. “I will not call the match if one of your pokemon is killed.”

Misty responded by sending her poliwrath out to pummel the Elite’s opening cloyster. Its shell was hard as steel, but just as vulnerable to her pokemon’s precise, powerful strikes. Her poliwrath shrugged off its returned attacks and eventually took it down, which began a flurry of swaps and trades. A jynx took down her poliwrath with a mental blast, then got felled itself by Misty’s jellicent. Lorelei sent out a weavile, but Misty was ready with the withdraw this time. Wishing she still had her poliwrath, Misty sent her blastoise out to tank the sweeper. Her pokemon was able to hold its own for awhile, unable to land a solid blow but protected by its thick shell, but the hailstorm was slowly wearing it down, and Misty finally ordered a Body Slam to try and catch the weavile by surprise.

Her pokemon fell onto all fours and thrust itself forward like a battering ram, but slipped on the ice of the glacier and veered a bit to the side. The weavile nimbly flipped itself out of the way, then dashed in for another attack-

-until her blastoise spun on its belly and aimed a cannon right at it for a full on Hydro Pump.

Lorelei didn’t miss a beat, and sent a lapras out that took her blastoise down with a thunderbolt. Misty quickly sent out her starter and lifelong friend, Celest. She grinned as her starmie easily outsped the lapras and hit it with psychic blasts until it was withdrawn, Recovering to heal from the returned electric attacks.

Her first Challenge against the Elite Four, and she was already ahead of the game, with four pokemon against Lorelei’s remaining three. Lorelei may have been a master of Ice pokemon, but Misty had always favored Water types herself, and was more than prepared for the environment and matchup.

A shard of hail slid down her neck, making her shudder and chilling her overconfidence. She mentally directed Celest into the water around them, then linked their minds. Years of training with her starmie allowed her to seamlessly interpret the pokemon’s bizarre senses and alien thoughts. If Lorelei sent out a non-aquatic pokemon, Celest could do hit and runs attacks from the safety of the water, and if the Elite sent out an aquatic pokemon she wouldn’t be able to follow the battle or command her pokemon as well as Misty. With a mental nudge, Celest began rotating around the glacier at high speed as the two surveyed their surroundings through the starmie’s psychic field and waited for Lorelei’s next move.

Lorelei lifted an aquascope from behind her platform walls and walked to the edge of the ice before sending her dewgong into it. She sent the long metal pole of the scope into the water and began fiddling with the controls, moving the camera at its bottom to follow the action as she began sending commands to her pokemon through high frequency clicks.

So much for that idea, Misty thought as she hastily ordered her pokemon to construct a Light Screen. Dewgong’s Water and Ice attacks would be ineffective against Celest, whose ability to naturally cure status effects would help in the outside chance that she was frozen, but the dewgong’s Signal Beam would be especially effective against the psychic starfish.

Instead the dewgong thrust itself at Celest horn first. Misty gasped and doubled over in pain as they were hit by three hundred pounds of blubber sheathed muscle. She quickly commanded Celest to construct a kinetic Barrier around itself as she slowly straightened. Her starmie wouldn’t be able to take another hit like that: she hadn’t expected Lorelei to train her dewgong as a physical attacker, and now the tempo of the battle was on the Elite’s side.

The dewgong hammered Celest again, but its attack was dampened by the Barrier, and Celest just barely clung onto consciousness. Misty ordered Celest to Recover, and her torn flesh began to close and heal, just a hair faster than Lorelei could undo with the next attack. She kept up the assault regardless, and Misty kept Celest in recovery mode, bearing the shared pain through gritted teeth. Once Celest was fully healed she would be strong enough to take a couple hits in a row as she struck back-

Misty felt Celest’s Light Screen fading and saw the trap a second before it was sprung. A second was enough time to react, enough time to command Celest at the speed-of-thought to stop healing and refresh the Light Screen. But with either action equally likely to end in ruin, indecision decided for her.

The Light Screen faded just as Celest finished fully recovering, and in that instant a new pitch of clicks spread through the water. The dewgong blasted Celest with a beam of discordant sound, causing Misty to clutch at her head as the psychic connection broke. She blinked spots out of her eyes as she tried to fight down her panic. Celest was down there, alone and injured… she reached out with her mind to try and re-establish a connection, but sensed nothing but pain and confusion from her starmie.

Misty still had three other pokemon. She could accept the loss of Celest and still use her next three to try for a victory. But that would mean letting her starter stay down there and get pummeled into unconsciousness, or worse-

I forfeit!” she yelled, and within seconds the machines generating the hailstorm shut down as the audience filled the stadium with noise. Misty rushed to the edge of the glacier, stripping off anything water sensitive and taking out her headset before diving into the icy water. She kicked down until she spotted Celest and unclipped its dive ball to return it.

As she kicked back to the surface and climbed onto the glacier, she knew her attempts at becoming Champion were done. Years spent preparing and she had choked in the very first match against the League, had thrown the battle rather than risk harm to her pokemon. Someone so soft could never be Champion. Her hand caressed Celest’s cold ball as she walked to the bridge leading off the glacier, chin held high for the cameras as her spirit withered within her.

Later, as she sat alone outside the Indigo Plateau compound, Lorelei found her. Misty didn’t know how, didn’t question it. She simply continued staring up at the stars as the Elite sat on the bench beside her. They shared a silent handful of minutes before the older woman spoke.

You did a noble thing in there. I hope you’re not still beating yourself up over it.”

Misty didn’t respond, not trusting her voice. Pity was something she wasn’t sure she could take right now, though she wasn’t sensing any from the surface of Lorelei’s thoughts. The woman’s mind was tranquil as a falling snowflake.

“I’ve been following your trainer profile for awhile, you know.”

That got her attention. “I never saw-” Misty stopped herself. Of course Champions and The Four would use fake accounts to follow random trainers. She found herself blushing at the thought of an Elite spending time personally watching her journey, and cursed her weakness for the dozenth time.

Lorelei smiled, far warmer than any she showed in the arena. “You have a good heart. A good head, too. That defense of Cerulean Bay? Masterful.”

That was… a group effort.”

As far as the media portrayed it, yes, but those with the proper channels can learn more personal stories. From my understanding, everyone on the north coast of the city owes their life to you.”

Misty’s face was red as her hair now, and she knew it was ruining her attempt to glare at Lorelei. “Do you give this pep talk to all the failed challengers?”

Just the ones I think have potential.”

Potential for what? Champion?”

To make a difference.”

Misty frowned. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I wasn’t about to throw myself off a cliff or become a hermit or anything.”

Lorelei shook her head. “Not good enough. By this time next year, if you’re not someone’s Second or a Director for CoRRNet, I’ll be very disappointed.”

Misty was ready to get pissed again, but the words stuck in her throat. Gym Second? It’s not that she never considered it, but she’s not Leader material. She has no deep ties to any communities, never joined a Gym… hell, she spent half of her journey travelling alone because she preferred it to being around others. “Where would I…?”

The Elite stretched and got to her feet. “That’s up to you, dear. I just wanted to make sure you don’t waste a single day stuck on this. You had to come here. And you had to lose. To learn something about yourself, down to your core. And to find something new to strive for. That was part of your journey, not the end of it.”

Misty hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, I get that. I… thank you, Elite.”

Call me Lorelei.”


The crowd erupts in cheers as Misty’s wartortle is knocked out. “Nice job,” she says into her mic with a grin, then switches its output to the stadium speakers as she withdraws her pokemon. “Well done, Challenger. I only have three pokemon left, which means we’re entering our Lightning Round. What do you say to picking up the pace a bit?”

The young woman on the opposite end of the arena leans against the railing of her platform. “I remain ready to beat you at twice the speed, Leader, or even thrice it if you’d like.”

The audience gives a collective “oooh” as Misty laughs. She likes this Challenger. In the past week of battling Misty’s Gym members, Amy has shown herself to be a competent trainer with a good sense of humor and showmanship. She would fit right in at Cerulean, if she decides to stay.

But that doesn’t mean Misty’s going to make getting her badge easy for the girl. “Thrice the speed it is! Referees, prepare the buzzers! If either of us spends more than half a second without a pokemon out, the match will be forfeit. Ready? Set! Go, Nomo!”

Her quagsire appears on a sand island between their two raised platforms. The two are surrounded by water, and beyond that the open ocean to the north and Cerulean City to the south. Her gym was built just off the beach of Cerulean Bay, with various stadiums constructed at natural points along the coast. Their audience sits in raised bleachers of easily transported plastic and aluminum, and the arena has no roof, opening their battle to the sky.

Amy withdraws her raichu as Nomo sends a Mud Slap at it, and replaces it with an ivysaur who sends Razor Leaves back at the tentacruel Misty replaces her quagsire with. The Gym Leader’s hands never stop moving, withdraw and summon and switch and withdraw and summon and switch, as she and her challenger shout commands.

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

“Modius, Psyshock!”

“Ruby, Night Slash!”

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

“Tetra, Razor Leaf!”

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

Tentacruel against hypno against crawdaunt against skuntank against quagsire against ivysaur until Misty’s back to her tentacruel, who narrowly misses the Challenger’s ivysaur with her beam as Amy replaces it with her hypno again. Their pokemon are slowly worn down from the constant attacking and switching into hits that were aimed at others.

Misty already took down Amy’s butterfree and tangela, but crawdaunt, tentacruel and quagsire are Misty’s last three pokemon, while Amy still has the raichu she used to knock out Misty’s wartortle. If Misty loses her quagsire Nomo, she’ll have no check against the Electric Type. But being Water/Ground means Amy’s ivysaur would massacre it if she keeps it in play. Misty needs to take out the ivysaur to have a chance.

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

Tentacruel into ivysaur, crawdaunt into hypno, quagsire into skuntank, ivysaur, tentacruel, hypno, crawdaunt, skuntank, quagsire, ivysaur, tentacruel, hypno, crawdaunt, skuntank, quagsire… throw, catch, swap, throw, catch, swap, never more than half a second between one getting withdrawn and the next coming out, setting the pattern, establishing expectation, then-

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

Misty swaps Nomo in to tank the poisonous sludge again, but when Amy moves to withdraw her pokemon in anticipation of the next attack, Misty waits for the ball to leave her hand and immediately withdraws her quagsire and sends her tentacruel out instead.

Amy has less than half a second to decide to either summon her ivysaur into the trap or refuse to voice the command and forfeit. In truth no time to make a new decision at all, only to continue hers or let indecision decide.

“Go, Tetra!”

The ivysaur materializes, and its ball rockets back toward its owner. As Misty speaks her next command, half the eyes in the stadium follow it. One of the camera crew (probably Kara, whose reaction speed is superb) actually tracks it on a big monitor as everyone waits to see if Amy can return her pokemon fast enough.

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

“Tetra, return!”

The stadium erupts as the wavering white-blue light hits the ivysaur and immediately covers its skin and plants in frost before its pokeball’s red beam connects to withdraw it. The rapid battle resumes with barely a missed beat, but now Misty’s just waiting for the ivysaur to come back out, weakened and ready to be picked off.

“Go, Modius, Psyshock!”

“Ruby, Night Slash!”

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

The ivysaur returns and is hit by the earthy projectile, but this time it’s too hurt to shrug it off and stumbles, patches of frost making its movements stiff.

“Tetra, Mega Drain!”

Oh no you don’t. “Go, Osu!”

Her tentacruel materializes just as in time for the ivysaur to begin sapping its life… and instead the plant pokemon staggers away, veins filled with a poison even its own can’t combat.

“Tetra, return!”

Three to three now, but the battle is decided. Misty plays conservatively, scoring free hits every time Amy is forced to swap in her raichu by using Nomo to negate its attacks. Little by little Misty’s pokemon catch up in the war of attrition… until Amy takes her own gamble.

“Luxi, Slam!”

The raichu dashes forward and throws its weight into Nomo, who’s already nearing the end of his endurance.

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

“Luxi, Quick Attack!”

The pokemon duke it out for a few tense seconds, and then Nomo falls and doesn’t get back up.

“Nomo, return! Go, Osu!”

“Luxi, Thunderbolt!

“Osu, Acid!”

Electricity crackles, sending her tentacruel’s many limbs flailing until it lies still, but the raichu squeals in pain as it rolls in the dirt. Amy quickly withdraws it, and sends her skuntank out against Misty’s newly summoned crawdaunt.

“Poison Jab!”

“Crab Hammer!”

“Sludge Bomb!”

“Bubblebeam!”

Down goes the skuntank, and now the stadium is deathly quiet as Amy sends her Psychic pokemon out against Misty’s Water/Dark.

“Ruby, Night Slash!” Her pokemon rushes forward to deliver the final blow, safe in its immunity and trusting its thick shell to take any physical attacks the hypno tries-

“Modius, Focus Blast!”

The stadium explodes with noise and Misty stares in shock as the psychic pokemon drops its pendulum, cups its palms toward the onrushing crawdaunt… and with a sudden tensing of its body, causes her pokemon to collapse.

Trained psychic though she is, Misty couldn’t make out the attack. She knows others who claim the move looks like a blinding sphere of blue light, a bullet of ki that blows its opponent’s “energy” all out of balance, but to her it was just a gesture.

Regardless, the results are clear, and Misty quickly withdraws her pokemon. “Congratulations, Challenger!” she says, voice drowning out the crowd over the speakers. “An absolutely masterful surprise attack, kept hidden until the perfect moment! Cerulean Gym hereby recognizes you, Amy Brennan, with the Cascade Badge, for demonstrating adaptability and quick thinking to surprising circumstances. Your journey will place you in many environments, present you with many choices. May what you’ve learned at our gym and our city keep you safe from life’s unexpected tides.”


Misty hops off Nessa as the lapras brings her to the shore at the bottom of the cliffs, then pats her pokemon’s long blue neck and withdraws her. She’s on one of the few patches of sand sloping up to form a beach, and waves crash against the rocks to either side as she walks up the dunes and makes her way to the southern side of the cliffs above her.

After meeting with Amy for some private congratulations and a membership offer to her gym, Misty got a message from her Second asking her to come to the cliffs northwest of Cerulean City. Ariya reported that she found a new cave that wasn’t on any maps, and Misty asked her Second to wait so she could take a quick rest and join her in investigating.

The climb from the beach to the cliffs is rough, but the view from the top is worth it. Mount Moon rises up to the west and Cerulean City stretches out to the southeast. She can just see Nugget Bridge to the east, but the curving path around the cliff quickly obscures it. The wind carries the salt of the ocean up to her as it crashes against the cliffs below.

The walk is a bit longer than Ariya suggested, but the refreshing breeze and gorgeous scenery holds Misty over until the path takes a sharp curve around the cliff face and trails down to a small plateau. Ariya is there with her feraligatr Renekton out, both facing a massive, uneven hole in the rocks.

Misty’s Gym doesn’t have a formal dress code, but if anyone could convince her to institute one, it would be her Second. Today Ariya is dressed in black fishnet leggings, a side slit mini-skirt, and a tank top that bares her midriff. It’s not the immodesty that bothers Misty, who regularly wears swimsuits to challenge matches and some public appearances, but the lack of protective clothing in the field, and the influence it might have on the younger, more impressionable trainers more interested in looking cool than protecting themselves. At least Ariya’s boots are always serviceable.

“Big,” Misty says upon reaching them.

“Told you. I’m thinking a rhydon, tried to bust through and caused the rest to collapse. Problem is, no rubble.”

Misty walks over to the cliff and looks down. “Rocks must have been blown clear, fell into the sea. No blast marks either?”

“Nope. This is how I found it.”

“Have Dorin check for any reports of people hearing explosions anyway.”

Arya nods and sends a quick text before tucking her phone back away. “Would have to be in the past few days. The last satellite mapped this area a week ago. No hole.”

“Convenient. Ready?”

“After you, fearless Leader.”

Misty sprays herself with a can of repel, then summons Celest and mentally orders the starmie to lift itself into the air as they enter the cavern. With another mental command the red jewel at her center blazes bright and gives Misty and Ariya their first look inside.

The hole was punched through the wall of a wide cavern stretching off to their right and left. The ground slopes down straight ahead into water, with stalactites and stalagmites giving it the appearance of a hungry mouth.

“Cheerful,” Ariya says. “I’ll take the left path.”

“No, we’re sticking together. This is a solutional cave.” Misty walks over to the wall and runs her fingers over it. “Limestone. Acids in the water dissolve it and cause it to drip over time, which forms the stalas.”

“Right, I knew that.”

Misty smiles. “Point is, it’s not some new tunnel dug by pokemon. It took centuries to form. I think we’re in a natural habitat.”

“Ahh, shit. Think there are other exits?”

“If there were before I think we would have found out by now. Better check though. Right first.”

They make their way through the cave slowly, stepping around the rough protrusions in the ground as their pokemon take up the front and rear. Renekton is surprisingly light-footed, scales making the lightest of rasps against the ground as he steps with a lazy reptilian grace. Misty keeps an empty pokeball in one hand. She splits her attention between her footing and using Celest’s massively stronger psychic senses to look out for threats. Pokemon flicker by in her peripheral awareness, most underneath them in the water, some others above them through the ceiling, where apparently the cave extends upward.

The tunnel twists and turns and splits multiple times, giving them glimpses of wider caverns full of water and small islands of rock, boulder filled trenches, and whole tunnels filled with veins of gleaming ore. Misty keeps them moving, turning aside from any sense of pokemon in the distance and taking only the right sides at forks.

Before long however they sense pokemon directly ahead, and without another path to turn to. A nest of golbat and zubat roost above. Most are asleep, but some are merely dozing, curious about the sounds the Leader and her Second make, loud as shouts to their sensitive ears. The repel confuses their sense of smell, but there’s no disguising the warm blood beneath their skin. Though Celest has no way to interpret the sensory input she’s receiving, Misty can almost feel the saliva pool in the golbat’s elastic mouths, and it takes a moment for her to realize she can hear it falling in a steady patter up ahead.

She holds a hand up to pause Ariya, heart pounding. If it wasn’t for Renekton’s looming, dangerous presence, the roost might have attacked by now. Misty and Celest make their way back, past Ariya and Renekton, and begin leading them back to the entrance. After five minutes Ariya whispers, “What was it?”

“Golbat, a lot of them. This place is definitely a habitat, and not a new one.”

They take the path back to the entrance, then try the left hand path for another half hour. When the ground splits, half sloping up and the other sloping down into a pool of water, they stop and follow the twists and turns of the cavern back toward the entrance. As they do Celest picks up a mass of minds from aquatic pokemon below them, goldeen or magikarp. The school of fish is a wash of brief, indistinct thoughts, pinpricks of light that swim in shifting clouds… and then suddenly break apart in panic as something massive charges through the water, full of hunger and rage.

“Hey, you okay? Misty?”

Ariya’s hand is on Misty’s shoulder, and she realizes she and Celest have frozen. “Yeah. There’s a gyarados right under us.”

Her Second’s eyes are wide in the crimson light. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

They move quickly after that, trusting the safety of the backtracked path and Celest’s sensory field to alert them of danger. An odd triplet of minds suddenly approaches from one of the side tunnels, and Misty picks up the pace, moving them past its tunnel just as it enters theirs and begins to follow them.

“Magneton behind us,” Misty says.

“Are you shitting me, a magneton? Here?” Ariya snaps her fingers in a quick pattern, and Renekton sidles up closer to them. “Should we take it down?”

“Not worth the risk of attracting others. We’re almost out.” Misty can feel her pokemon tiring from keeping itself levitated for so long, and is happy to see the gleam of sunlight in the distance.

Until the sunlight gets obscured by a humanoid figure emitting a powerful psychic field.

“Focus or split?” Ariya mutters.

“Split,” Misty says, and immediately orders Celest to construct a Light Screen as the alakazam’s mental field meets theirs. It uses brief, sharp jabs of psychic power to probe for weaknesses, and Misty keeps Celest on the defensive as Ariya turns to face the oncoming magneton, prompting Renekton to do the same.

It enters the ruby light of Celest’s glow. As its prongs begin to glow with electric charge, Ariya snaps three fingers. Renekton roars as his muscles flex and swell. Superpower. An ability that would allow Renekton to deliver a devastating physical blow, which would hopefully take the magneton down in one hit since it would leave Renekton weaker afterward.

A bolt of electricity fills the cavern with light and the smell of ozone. Renekton roars in pain this time, but when Misty blinks the after-image out of her eyes she sees him still standing, partially protected by Celest’s Light Screen. Renekton charges forward on all fours to attack the magneton, and Misty turns her attention to the alakazam.

She doesn’t waste time trying to beat the devastatingly powerful psychic at its own game, and commands Celest to attack with a Bubblebeam. The tight stream of water jets out at the alakazam, only to crash against its own defenses.

The alakazam has the measure of Celest now, and presses the attack. Celest can hold her own defensively, but alakazam are weak to physical attacks, and that’s not starmie’s forte. Misty considers summoning a second pokemon, but her concentration is already nearing its limit. Another bolt of electricity lights the cavern behind her, but she doesn’t turn, trusting Celest’s Light Screen to help keep Renekton safe as crashing fills the cavern and the feraligatr roars again.

We need to end this now, before more pokemon show up. What she needs is a more powerful water attack. Starmie don’t hold much inside themselves, but there’s another source nearby.

“Ariya?”

“This fucker is quick, still haven’t hit it!”

“Screen is fading, do I need to refresh it or can you hold out for a second?”

“I’ll bait another one, then you can let it go.” There’s some snapping, and then, “Now!”

Another flash of electricity, and Misty lets the screen fade as she fully merges her mind with Celest’s. She can’t quite make her pokemon understand her, can’t quite imbue it with her intelligence or interpret its instinctual use of its abilities… but she’s spent years guiding Celest and understanding how to influence the starmie’s natural inclinations.

“Going dark!”

Celest zips around the corner and into the pool of water, taking the light with her. The starmie begins to spin and suck in as much water as she can. As she bloats in in size, she lifts herself and the water around her, launching out of the pool to crash over the alakazam in a crushing wave.

Misty rushes forward and locks a greatball onto the dazed psychic. It recovers enough to send a telekinetic blast at the exhausted Celest, pinning her to a stalactite before Misty throws her ball and captures it.

The pain in misty’s chest brings her to her knees, and she forces herself to concentrate as the crimson light around them begins to blink with Celest’s fading life. Her pokemon is in pain and exhausted, and Misty can’t mentally get her to free and heal herself. The ceiling isn’t high though, and Misty summons her blastoise and orders him to stay still on all fours.

Misty quickly climbs onto his back and uncouples their minds before yanking her pokemon off the impaling stalactite, anticipating another blast of electricity and rushing to get the Light Screen back up before it comes. Instead she hears a thud and a crack as she unclips a Full Restore from her belt and sprays it over her pokemon.

Renekton roars in victory over his fallen foe, and Misty smiles as Celest’s gem regains its full, bright glow. She strokes its spongy limbs and sends it mental thoughts of comfort and pride.

There’s a flash as Ariya captures the magneton, and Misty slides off her blastoise’s shell to withdraw him before collecting the alakazam’s ball. She goes to see if there’s anything she can do to help with Renekton, but Ariya is already spraying him with medicine.

“Nicely done, both of you.”

“Nothing to it. This big lug could use a few more shocks, maybe they’ll speed him up.” She rubs Renekton’s toothy snout, and the feraligatr growls in pleasure.

They leave the cave, relaxing once they’re back outside. Misty withdraws Celest and waits for her nerves to calm as she thinks, eyes closed and face turned toward the sun. “This place is going to need a quarantine,” she says.

“Yeah, no shit. Those pokemon were tough as any I’ve seen in the wild.”

“Fully wild habitats are rare in regions these days. Even the Safari goes through occasional cullings.”

“How long do you think it would take to clean this place out a bit?”

“Months. Or we could just try to close it up again, but in the meantime no one goes in, no matter how many badges they have.”

“You want the Rangers on it, or our people?”

Misty hesitates. “If there are other entrances, we’ll need the Rangers.”

“With pokemon that powerful in there? You said it yourself, if there were, I think we’d have found out about it by now. And hey, think of how much stronger we’ll get with access to monsters like those. I never knew I wanted a magneton, but I’m sure I’ll find some uses for it.”

Ariya’s right, but Misty doesn’t want to make the decision for selfish reasons. Then again, if the Rangers show up then word’s going to get out. People will try to get in, make their own entrance if need be. Better to keep it quiet for now…

“Set up a rotation, only people you know can handle it.” Misty’s phone chirps at her, no doubt updating with messages she was sent while in the cavern sans signal.

“Yes’m. Shouldn’t be a lack of interest, once they know what they have the chance to catch. What should we do if someone else comes by?”

Misty takes her phone out to check her messages. “Unless an Elite or Champion shows up, just let them know it’s off limits, League business.” She blinks at the screen, then curses.

Ariya’s raises her brow. “What’s up?”

“I’ve got to go. Something happened on Mt. Moon.”


Misty enters the press room at a brisk pace, back and gaze straight. There aren’t many reporters in attendance, but she still sees a face she hoped not to. Zoey is a good journalist, or at least that’s what people tell her, but as Gym Leader Misty just finds the woman a pain in the ass. Her only consolation is that Mayor Tonio would be at the mic a lot longer than her, whenever he arrives.

The cameras are already filming when she mounts the steps to the podium. As she waits for the room to quiet down, she pulls a notecard from her sleeve and places it by the microphone, where the raised edges hide it from view. She can feel the general wash of emotions from everyone, a faint breeze of anticipation and anxiety against her mind. There’s also a sense of hunger that she’s come to recognize, mostly from journalists and Challengers: ambition.

“Hello, and thank you for coming,” she says when the room is silent. “An hour ago I learned that a Tier 1 Emergency was taking place on Mt. Moon. A paras colony began a mass migration that spilled out onto the mountain when pokemon within it broke through the surface as they fled. Unfortunately, the location they emerged was a paleontological dig site on the southern mountain face, which had 37 staff members and 16 security on site at the time of the incident.

“Thanks to the efforts of the scientists and security on site, and the immediate response of nearby trainers and Rangers, the threat was contained, pushed back, and eradicated before it could spread and necessitate a full scale response like that of the Vermilion Forest fire. It was a monumental feat of bravery and skill, and all of Cerulean thanks them.”

She can see the reporters readying to ask questions, and heads them off. “Unfortunately, there were a number of casualties. It is with great sorrow that I report the loss of Kazuo Soto, Fareed Newell, Irina Fujita, Dawson Haulover, Agustin Santiago, Mary Ashcroft, and Cerulean’s own Tetsu Akita. Today we honor their memories, and their sacrifice, without which many more lives would surely have been lost.

“There is one more piece of news. Rangers and on site security have confirmed a Renegade branding in the aftermath. The geologist apparently took advantage of the crisis to try and steal the dig’s fossils, nearly killing two of the site’s defenders in the process.”

Cold silence dominates the room as everyone tries to process such an evil act. Misty allows it to linger, her own revulsion lending new steel to her voice and gaze.

“I want to assure everyone in this city that I will be leaving for Mt. Moon shortly so that I can learn of his crimes, ensure they were appropriately Witnessed, and then oversee his execution personally.”

The crowd is quiet for a moment longer, and when it’s clear that she wouldn’t say anything more, begin shouting questions. Misty glances at the door, which she’s hoping the mayor will walk through at any moment. Damn the man, he had more time to prepare than she did.

“One question at a time, please. I’ll be leaving for the mountain soon, but will answer as many as I can. Yes, Mia?” she asks, picking a reporter at random.

“When will the name of the Renegade be made public?”

“The Rangers will release it when they see fit, as usual. They haven’t even told me. Jordan?”

“Will you be calling for an evacuation of the mountain?”

“Right now the Rangers have already placed Mt. Moon on high alert, and every trainer, merchant and Center staff should be aware of the event. The Rangers have increased their patrols of the mountain to search for any hints of an ongoing threat, but so far have reported none. Tyrisha?”

“Are you mobilizing the gym, Leader?”

“Every member is on standby in case the Rangers call for help. Alan?”

“What aid are we sending to the dig site?”

“That’s a question for Mayor Tonio, who should be here soon.” I’m going to strangle him. She’s running out of opportunities not to call on Zoey, who sits patiently with her hand raised. Better get it over with. Zoey’s known to ask tough questions, and if Misty ends up having to call on her and does so last it would signal reluctance. “Yes, Zoey?”

“Thank you, Leader. The initial alert went out almost three hours ago, now. Why did it take so long for our city to respond?”

Dammit. She doesn’t want to so much as hint at the existence of the cavern. “Unfortunately I was investigating a report of wild pokemon outside the city during the initial alert, and had no cell reception.” Her heart sinks as she realizes that would almost certainly invite more questions. I should have prepared an excuse for this.

“Why didn’t your Second mobilize the Gym?”

“One question each, please. Frank?”

“Same question, Leader.”

“Ariya was with me. Peter held the Gym, and reported that he began mobilization at a medium priority. Due to the distance he knew only psychics with a teleporter and trainers with fliers would arrive on time to help, and two members of the Gym did leave for the mountain before the crisis was passed. Yes, Paula?”

“Where were you and Ariya investigating? Was there another incident today?”

“No, thankfully we were able to address the issue.” Misty is grateful that Paula asked two questions so she could ignore the first. Zoey has her hand up again, but luckily so do others. “Sachio?”

“Was anyone injured?”

“No. Mia?”

“What prompted the investigation?”

“A routine patrol brought up a concern.” She’s dodging, and knows it shows. For a Leader and their Second to personally investigate something would make it anything but a “routine” concern.

Zoey’s hand is still in the air, ready to ask where it took place that didn’t have reception, and at that point Misty’s choices will be to either look like she’s making excuses, which makes her weak and potentially suspicious, or to give away details that could expose the cave.

No win, don’t play. “I’m sorry, but that’s all the time I have-”

The door opens and the mayor walks in. “-so please direct any remaining questions to Mayor Tonio.” Asshole. A few seconds earlier and she wouldn’t have had to appear like she was running, but at least he arrived in time for a clean transition.

She slips the card in her sleeve and hands the podium over to the Mayor with a quick smile and nod, then turns on her heel and strides out of the room. “Dial Ariya,” she says after putting her earpiece in. “Report?”

“I’ve got Molly and Ryuso here, they’ve been briefed. What’s up on the mountain?”

“You’ll figure it out a soon as you check the news. I’ll fill you in later with the rest, just head back to the Gym and take over for Peter.”

“Yes’m.”

Misty ends the call as she exits the building and summons her swanna, Nimbus. “Hey boy, ready for a ride?” She straps herself into his harness and puts her goggles on just as the door behind her opens and Zoey walks out, clearly looking for her and just as clearly surprised to see her already leaving. Misty gives an apologetic smile and wave, then takes off toward the distant mountains before the reporter can open her mouth.


The sun is beginning to set as Misty and Nimbus reach Mount Moon and start to climb altitude. The air turns chilly with the fading light and lower pressure, and Misty buttons her coat as a shiver wracks her form.

The dig site is easy to spot from the air, and she hunches down and banks toward it. When they get closer she can see the aftermath of the battle still being cleaned up, and feels a pang of guilt for having missed it. She might not have made it on time even if she hadn’t been in the cavern, but this could clearly have been much worse.

She begins a slow, circling descent until she can land in front of the dig’s largest building. She takes a moment after dismounting to let her legs get used to standing and walking again, then knocks on the door and enters.

The inside is spacious, with a long table and chairs taking up half of the room and the rest left open with counters and cabinets. The building clearly serves as a meeting hall for staff, and Misty spies the site director Dr. Zapata, some of her people, and a ranger at one end of the room while Leader Giovanni and Leader Brock hold their own council at the other. She takes her gloves off and slips them in her coat pockets as she walks to her peers.

“Ah, Misty. Thank you for coming,” Giovanni says.

“Hello Giovanni, Brock. It’s good to see you two again.”

Giovanni inclines his head. “I only wish the circumstances were better.”

“Me too. I’m sorry I’m late.”

“It’s no trouble. We were just about to begin. Let’s speak again after.” Giovanni heads toward the table, and the dig site staff take the cue and do the same. Dr. Zapata takes the head seat at one end, and her people sit around her.

“Glad you could make it,” Brock murmurs to Misty as they follow Giovanni.

She smiles. “You know I wouldn’t leave you alone with him if I could avoid it.”

He grins back. When Leaders meet there are almost always important decisions made about their shared territory, and any not present for those discussions tends to lose out. On top of that, though neither would admit it, on their own it’s easy to be intimidated by the Viridian Leader, and go along with whatever he says. When they’re together though, it’s not as hard to challenge or push back against him from time to time. If Giovanni ever resented the younger Leaders that shared his borders banding against him, he never showed it.

When Misty first became a Leader she felt like something of a fraud around the others. It wasn’t so bad with younger ones like Brock, or later Erika when she took over Celadon, but Koga, Blaine, Surge, and even Sabrina were all so serious and intimidating. And then there was Giovanni, for whom becoming Champion was just a footnote in his legend. Now, after leading Cerulean for almost five years, she feels much more comfortable in her position, but is still occasionally humbled by the fact that they share the same title.

Leader Giovanni takes the other head seat, and Brock goes to the one on his left while she sits at the Champion’s right. She wondered if Erika would come, as she’s the fourth Leader to share borders with them, but technically the mountain range doesn’t extend to Celadon, so she must have bowed out.

“Thank you for joining us, Leaders,” Dr. Zapata says. “We’ve all had a harrowing day, as you can imagine, and we appreciate your presence on such short notice.”

“Of course,” Giovanni says. “My sincerest condolences for your losses, and my thanks for your bravery and sacrifices.” Brock and Misty murmur their agreement, and Dr. Zapata bows her head.

“Thank you. As soon as we’ve finished cleaning the site, I’ve announced a week of mourning and rest before work resumes. I hope by then to have a new security plan in place to assure our financiers and ensure another incident like this isn’t repeated, or is better defended against.”

The others with her nod their agreement, all but one, who sits in distracted silence. Misty recognizes him, the ACE trainer in charge of security for the site. Pete? Palmer? Something like that. She doesn’t need her powers to tell he’s not happy about the topic of conversation. Anxiety, pride, and shame radiate off him in a tightly controlled spiral that fluctuates with his breaths.

“Understandable. First, let us review the facts,” Giovanni says. “The parasect colony was migrating through the mountain, resulting in a wave of fleeing pokemon. One of the forefronts of that wave broke through the weakened ceiling under one of the dig sites. Tragically, two personnel were immediately killed then. I think we can all agree, this is where our review must begin.”

Brock leans forward. “Your seismographs. Why didn’t they give warning of the attack?”

One of the site employees speaks up. “They did, but the person tasked with monitoring them claims that he was not with them at the time. He was later branded a Renegade for using the attack as an excuse to try and steal the fossils, but in any case, it was an unforeseeable failure in site security.”

“Unforeseeable,” Brock says, and looks around. “Does anyone disagree?”

“Perhaps it would be better to ask what you plan to do different, moving forward,” Giovanni says.

“Two people assigned to monitor it, and one must be present at all times, of course,” Dr. Zapata says. “We’ve already begun such a system.”

“Allow me to make a suggestion, then. Update your equipment and send its output over local wireless. Install apps to allow remote monitoring at all times, with alerts for signals over a threshold.”

Dr. Zapata looks surprised. “Does equipment and software exist for such small vibrations? We’re hoping to detect things far more subtle than even the lightest earthquakes.”

Giovanni makes a careless gesture with one hand. “I believe one of my people has spoken of something similar. I will check and ensure you have access to it later tonight. If not, I will try and finance its creation. It would no doubt be a widely useful technology in any case.”

“That… would be very helpful, Leader. Thank you.”

“Next, then. The response to the incident was immediate and effective: removal of the hazardous spores. Unfortunately another person was killed by the moving cloud. What happened?”

A woman speaks up next. “I was the one that made the call, Leader. We had moments to recognize the threat and act before it could spread further and make any coordinated response impossible. I recognized the risk and gave warning of our intentions, then cleared the spores when we received only affirmative messages of safety. Mary… wasn’t one of those to respond, either to say she was clear or not. It’s hard to tell from the—her—remains, but I assumed that anyone unable to respond would already be hurt too badly to be saved by waiting any longer.”

“Understandable. Does anyone here disagree with that decision or its reasoning?” No one answered, and Giovanni nodded. “We shall say no more about it then. Next…”

The conversation goes on, examining each point of the attack, their response, and the result. Though ostensibly the meeting was to ensure the future safety and well-being of the site employees and improve their security, Misty could feel the tension and occasional fear of those on the other side of the table. She understood. Even though they were here to help and not cast blame, it never feels good to have your decisions and actions scrutinized by others, especially those in authority, and especially decisions made in a crisis.

At one point Misty senses a spike of anger and indecision from one of the dig employees, an older man with his arms crossed. She waits for the current speaker to finish before saying, “If I could take a moment, I’d like to say that so far it sounds like everyone here did an admirable job responding to the threat. I want to thank you again for your efforts, and reiterate that this meeting is to help improve preparations in case something similar happens again.” She locks her gaze on that of the older man. “Don’t be afraid to say something if you have a suggestion or comment: you’re among friends.”

He drops his eyes when she finishes speaking, and after the other members of the table murmur their agreement and thanks, looks up. “I…” He hesitates. “I had a thought. Earlier. Didn’t want to accuse anyone of anything. Still don’t. You’re right, everyone did a fine job. Seen a lot of Tier 1s over the years. This was kept local, very local. A fine job.”

He frowns, and seems to be searching for words. The table waits. Finally he says, “Hell, I’ll just spit it out. Some of the trainers, they were using balls to capture pokemon as they fought. Sometimes it’s understandable, ‘course it is, you have a moment to catch something you take it. Sometimes it’s even the best choice strategically. But a lot of trainers were wasting time and energy weakening pokemon rather than killing ’em. Using status effects and baiting attacks on a particularly strong or rare pokemon, while a dozen more walk by, a threat to those around them.

“Like I said, I don’t want to get no one in trouble, or accuse anyone. But I just thought I’d say it, make sure it was out there. Maybe we could tell the Rangers, put up a PSA to remind people. I dunno. Just thought I’d say.” He’s quiet a moment, then nods to himself.

Giovanni steeples his fingers. “Thank you, Misty, and you, Albert, wasn’t it? A good point. As you said, it’s an understandable impulse, but one that bears vigilance against. I’ll personally speak with the mountain’s Director, and see about some coverage for it in an upcoming issue of The Daily Trainer.”

The conversation only goes on another few minutes, and as it wraps up Misty prepares to address the issue she’s concerned about. Giovanni glances at her and lifts a finger from the table, almost imperceptible. He knows what she’ll ask, and apparently wants to address something first. She nods.

“As we conclude, I would like to make one final suggestion,” he says. “When we began this venture, the question of security was broached and, for the time, properly addressed. I want to thank you, Paul, and the rest of your people, for their good work.”

The table murmurs agreement, and the ACE Trainer looks at Giovanni in some surprise, and to Misty’s senses, trepidation. “Thank you, Leader.”

“However. In light of this incident, I’d like to, once again, formally offer Gym services to assist in the security of the site.”

The table is quiet. Paul’s face reddens, but he doesn’t speak. Giovanni’s hands move apart and together, tapping his fingertips. “Let me be clear. I in no way blame Paul or his organization for anything that occurred today. But as some of you may remember, I offered the extra personnel initially, and was voted down by my peers and some of you sitting here. At the time I was eventually convinced that showing such favoritism for a project like this could set an undesired precedent. Now, however, I believe that this incident would clear up any potential misunderstandings by the public, and allow us to ensure the continued safety of the site employees and its assets. I understand that many fossils were almost stolen, and would have been if not for the timely intervention of some assisting trainers. That risk must be minimized as thoroughly as possible.”

Misty and Brock exchange glances. She can read the Pewter Leader’s misgivings, and still shares them herself. “I’m sure that Paul and his people will be extra diligent in watching the fossils,” Misty says slowly. “And I don’t know whether I can commit anyone to such a task.” She thinks of the staff she’ll already be committing to watching the new cavern.

“Nor I,” Brock says. “We’re still assisting in the aftermath of the Viridian Forest fire.”

“I understand,” Giovanni says. “My gym is prepared to staff it ourselves. And I have no doubt as to the efficacy of ACE training. Your people will continue to be employed, Paul, and I will be adding a bonus to their salaries. I was planning to do so regardless. To ensure there is no reduction in perimeter vigilance, however, my people can commit exclusively to guarding the fossils, and allow yours to do their jobs unhindered.”

Paul’s tension slowly leaks away, and while he still feels upset, he eventually says, “Thank you, Leader. That’s very generous of you.”

“I hope that’s agreeable to everyone?” Giovanni spreads his palms. “This endeavor can be the first of many profitable ventures on these mountains, and I merely wish to ensure it has every chance to achieve full success.”

Those around the table begin to nod and voice their agreement, and Misty feels any further objections dying on her lips as even Dr. Zapata capitulates. She feels the wry amusement from Brock and raises her brow at him. Fight, or give in? Brock merely lifts his shoulders in a minute shrug and says, “With all that in mind, I can only agree, of course.”

Misty sighs. “Agreed.” This is often how it is with Giovanni: he can speak eloquently, head off objections, satisfy pride, and, just to add icing on the cake, throw around money wherever necessary to ease people’s resistance and just in general be so gracious that disagreement becomes impossible.

She can even almost believe that it would be a good thing, though she knows the political consequences will come up again and again for years if similar projects come about. The amount of power it grants Viridian Gym is massive. Cerulean and Pewter can gain a share themselves, of course… if they’re able to commit the resources. Which, of course, they can’t.

“Good. Now that’s done with, I believe Misty had one more topic to address?”

“Yes, thank you. I think it’s time at last to speak of the Renegade.” The mood of the room immediately plunges, and Misty throws up some light defenses to keep their emotions from washing over her too much. “I would like to know all the details, if you please.”

The Ranger lifts her head. “I believe I can cover that, Leader.” She explains the situation in concise terms, voice bland as she recounts the Witnessing. Misty is surprised to hear that Blue Oak was one of the trainers to be attacked by and help stop the Renegade. She wasn’t aware Sam’s grandson has begun his journey already.

“Thank you, Ranger. Is there any reason this Yuuta hasn’t been seen by a psychic yet?”

“He was too quick to suggest it himself for me to trust the results, and given his actions I didn’t think it was necessary. You are welcome to examine him if you wish, Leader. Will you be the one to oversee his execution?” She looks between Misty, Brock and Giovanni. “I assumed I would have to transfer him to one of your cities, but with all three of you here…”

“Yes, I can oversee it. I’ll meet with him as soon as we finish here.”

“Understood. Just find me when you’re ready.”

Giovanni looks at her, then to the rest of the table. “Does that cover everything? Any further questions? Well and good. Thank you all again. If anyone needs to speak with me, I will be outside for awhile. A good evening to the rest of you.”

People begin speaking as they leave the table, and the three Leaders rise together and head for the door. Night has fully fallen on the mountain, and Misty stares up at the stars, so bright and rich this far from the city lights.

Giovanni follows her gaze. “Beautiful, are they not? They are at their clearest on mountain tops.” He turns to her and Brock. “I hope I didn’t put either of you out too much tonight?”

“It’s your money and your people,” Brock says, and Misty nods. “If you judge it to be the right thing to do, we can only bow to your wisdom.”

“You have my thanks. Do let me know if there’s anything you need help with regarding the Renegade, Misty.”

“Same,” Brock says.

“I think I’ll be alright. I just want to make sure things go smoothly.” Misty buttons her coat back up as the chill night air seeps in. Overseeing Renegade executions was an unpleasant part of being a Leader for the first year or so, but over time it became easier, especially as she began to see the results of their actions more and more. Now she just sees it as an unhappy responsibility of her office, and strives to ensure she gives each case its due consideration to ensure justice is done. “We got lucky that he was stopped. If those two trainers hadn’t been passing by… but of course one of them was an Oak, so I guess it’s to be expected.”

“Indeed,” Giovanni says. “None of that man’s line have ever had normal journeys. Trouble seems to find them, or perhaps they simply stand out in troubling circumstances more than most.”

“That’s the truth of it,” Brock says. “Blue was in the forest during the fire. I met him before speaking with you. He was widening the firebreak and helped take down a whole family of shiftry. Caught one, too, and used it to get my badge.”

“Wait, he already beat you?” Misty says. “I didn’t realize he was on his journey that long.”

“Oh, he just began it. I think it was a month ago?”

Misty whistles. “That fast, yeah, I should have figured. I guess he’s coming for me next? Should be fun.”

“Don’t be so sure. I’m still digging up my main arena after he revealed a strategic flaw in its design.”

Giovanni chuckles, a rare sound. “Yes, that sounds like an Oak. After his sister, we should expect great things from him.”

“His companions aren’t without note either,” Brock says. “One is seeking to become a Professor, the other some sort of journalist or politician.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of them,” Giovanni says. “If they continue to follow the young Oak on his journey, I look forward to meeting them all.” Misty nods as the door behind them opens, and some of the site workers come out. “If you’ll excuse me, Brock, Misty. Until next we speak.” Giovanni walks off to speak with Dr. Zapata.

Misty sees the Ranger come out and turns to Brock. “Call you later? We’ve got some things to discuss.”

“You got it. Safe travels.”

“You too.” Misty approaches Ranger Sasaki. “I’m ready.”


The Renegade sits tied to his chair apparently unconscious. Ranger Sasaki frowns as she finishes opening the door and sees the rest of the room. “Someone was supposed to be stationed here. You do your thing, Leader, I’m going to go speak with whoever had the last-” The ranger stops and stares as Misty walks up to the Renegade, her heart pounding. “What’s the matter?”

The man in front of her looks asleep, but even asleep there are flickers. Physical sensations, emotional reactions to dreams, something that she should be able to pick up this close. She puts her fingers under his nose, then presses them to his neck.

“Don’t say it…”

Misty drops her hand away, mind racing. “We’d better go speak to them together, Ranger. He’s already dead.”

Chapter 32 – Decisions

The room is claustrophobic with so many people in it, and Red stands as far into the corner as he can, trying to be innocuous. His foot bounces with the nervous energy filling his gut, but he makes sure to be quiet as he rocks from toe to heel, not wanting to draw attention that might remind someone to remove him.

Technically he has no reason to be here: he doesn’t work at the dig site like Ryback or the site leader, Dr. Zapata. He isn’t an ACE on security like Paul, and unlike Leaf and Blue he had no interaction with Yuuta, so Ranger Sasaki has nothing to ask him. But despite being exhausted enough to sleep for hours, as long as no one seems to mind his presence, he has no intention of missing something this important.

Ranger Sasaki arrived and spoke with Blue then Leaf privately to record their statements, then noticed that they were starting to draw a crowd and asked the Barrier to be removed so they could bring Yuuta inside. Yuuta didn’t wake up until they began to move him, and has been sitting in sullen silence since his interrogation started. Though perhaps “interrogation” is too strong a word so far…

“…three years, after which you spent a couple months travelling through Johto. A brief bit of surveying work for Silph, a conference in Sinnoh, two research projects back to back…”

Yuuta sits bound to a chair by the ankles and wrists with his back against a wall. Ranger Sasaki stands in front of him as she reads from her phone, while everyone else stands in a half circle around him, Paul with his back to the door.

“…some more survey work for a private dig, and then you drop off the radar for about two years before another two surveys and then applying to this site.” Ranger Sasaki scrolls through the document with her thumb, then tucks her phone away and takes out a notepad and pen. “That’s your CV right? Did I miss anything major?”

“No. That’s all right.” Yuuta’s voice is low, gaze on the floor. It’s the first time he’s spoken since waking, and everyone but Ranger Sasaki reacts in some way, shifting or blinking in surprise.

“What’s with the gaps?” Sasaki asks. “Anything you want to clarify for the record, before we do some deeper digging? Maybe point us in the right direction, save everyone some time?”

Yuuta is quiet a moment, then lets his breath out through his nose. “Travelled. Alone.”

“Mhm. Didn’t happen to use any electronic forms of payment during that time, did you?”

“I did, actually. Sometimes. Cash while abroad, but passed through Kanto now and then.”

“Not very helpful.”

“Well I’m sorry ma’am, I guess you’ll have to do your own damn job. Now I’m done talking until I can see my attorney.”

Everyone shifts at the sudden anger in his voice, and Paul snorts. “Renegade asking for a lawyer, that’s rich.”

Yuuta’s head snaps up. “What’d you just call me?”

Ranger Sasaki gestures to Leaf and Blue. “These two say you used pokemon to attack them.”

“What?! He attacked me!” Yuuta jerks his head at Blue.

“No I didn’t, my squirtle attacked your abra!”

“And my sandslash attacked your squirtle, so what’s this Renegade shit?”

Ranger Sasaki holds up a quieting hand before Blue can respond. Red wipes a drop of sweat from his neck as he studies Yuuta’s face. The geologist’s outrage seems genuine, with just the right hint of fear in his voice and eyes. Red never met a Renegade before, and has no idea if they’re all such good actors. Of course if he assumes from the beginning that Yuuta’s a Renegade, then any emotion he shows in denying guilt would seem like good acting, even if genuine…

Blue’s question outside still echoes in Red’s head: Whose side are you on, anyway? Red didn’t mean to imply with his comments that Yuuta wasn’t a Renegade. He was just reacting automatically to potential bias or irrationality. Blue has accused him in the past of getting too much enjoyment out of being a devil’s advocate to infuriating extremes, but Red never means to do it maliciously. Something in him just naturally pushes back at things that look too sure or damning.

What do I know, and why do I think I know it? Red can’t help but wonder if the whole thing really was a big misunderstanding, but… he trusts Blue and Leaf not to embellish or exaggerate. Not consciously, anyway. And if Yuuta is a Renegade, getting them to second guess Blue and Leaf is his only chance.

“What did his squirtle attack your abra with?” Ranger Sasaki asks.

Yuuta shifts in his seat. “Water Gun.”

“And your sandslash attacked with what?”

“Scratch.”

Blue and Leaf mix angry denials until the Ranger quiets them again, and Red suddenly wonders why they’re here at all. The whole situation is different than in TV shows (less shouting and dramatic reveals of evidence by the Ranger) but he knows from watching them that suspected Renegades aren’t left alone with anyone while in custody. Still, having Blue and Leaf here just makes it harder to get a clear story from Yuuta, who’s showing more… normalcy, humanity, than the Renegades on the shows.

“They misheard me, that’s all!” Yuuta says. “It was a tense situation, and I was panicked at suddenly having to defend myself without warning!”

“You mean while you were trying to teleport away with a bag full of our fossils?” Dr. Zapata asks. “They may not have known if you had permission at the time, but you knew exactly what you were doing.”

Yuuta suddenly pauses, then leans his head back, face blank again. “I want a lawyer, I said.”

“So you’re not denying that you were attempting to steal the fossils?”

Yuuta remains silent, and Red thinks he won’t answer any more. If it’s one thing Red learned from the shows it’s that crime suspects speaking without an attorney is just a terrible idea in almost every circumstance, so he doesn’t blame the man for being cautious, even if his silence is as good as an admission of guilt.

But he won’t get an attorney if a Ranger and some witnesses agree that he used pokemon to attack someone. Was it two or three? Certainly less than the amount of people in this room. A chill suddenly creeps up Red’s spine as it hits home that he’s likely looking at a dead man. If Yuuta can’t convince the people here that he’s not a Renegade, he wouldn’t see another sunrise.

“No,” the geologist says at last, voice low. “I tried to steal them.”

“No shit,” Blue mutters.

“How could you, Yuuta?” Dr. Zapata asks. “Bad enough that we all worked so hard for them, were they really worth killing for?”

Red expects defiance when Yuuta raises his gaze, but with a shock he sees a pained expression. “You have every right to hate me, Lourdes. I won’t try to excuse it. I put myself first, like I have my whole life. I’m not a good person… but I’m no Renegade!” he says, turning to Blue and Leaf, then Ranger Sasaki. “You have to believe me!”

“The graveler that came through that building and self-destructed,” Leaf says. “You ordered it to.”

“I didn’t know you were there, I swear! If I wanted to kill you, why didn’t I just do it while you were taking care of your friend?”

Leaf hesitates, and the room is silent for a time, broken only by the sound of Yuuta’s shallow, rapid breathing. The geologist has a point, but no one’s brought up what Red thinks is the most important argument. He swallows against the dryness of his throat and wonders if he should say something. Fear radiates off of Yuuta, and Red finds it hard to speak the words that might sentence the man to death. He looks at Ryback, and the man catches his gaze and nods.

“Forget the graveler,” Ryback says. “Your job on site was partially to monitor for seismic activity. You didn’t warn anyone that the paras colony was coming. You must have detected them, known this was your chance.”

“No, I wasn’t with the equipment! I just saw an opportunity and took it.” Yuuta turns to the Ranger. “Look, get a psychic up here and they can prove I’m innocent. I’ll sign whatever waivers they want!”

“I’m sorry, but there’s no way to guarantee that you haven’t trained to fool a psychic. This situation has too many marks of foresight and planning. Even if you didn’t directly use a pokemon to attack a human, you endangered lives by trying to exploit a pokemon attack.”

“And the pokemon you used were exactly what you needed to make it look natural,” Blue says.

“That’s a coincidence, we’ve been here a year. Of course I have natives of the mountain!”

“What about your abra?” Leaf asks. “You had it ready to teleport you out.”

Yuuta scowls. “Any trainer with a brain has a pokemon ready to teleport them in emergencies. You’re just looking for reasons to condemn me, the lot of you! You’ve already made up your minds!”

There’s another uncomfortable silence. Despite Yuuta’s accusation, no one seems eager to brand someone a Renegade on circumstantial evidence, and even Paul appears to be wavering.

“There’s an easy way to verify that,” Red says, causing everyone to turn to him. He steps away from the wall to stand beside Blue and Leaf. “Tell us where your abra teleported to. If you’re telling the truth and your abra was for emergency escapes, then it should have been trained with a pokemon center as its home, or a hospital. You’re not psychic, right? You can’t project a new destination on the spot.”

Yuuta stares at him, jaw tight. Red forces himself to meet the man’s gaze, trying to read some insight or depth in them. But Yuuta only looks angry and scared.

“No unaccompanied abra have been reported,” Ranger Sasaki says. “If we’re looking in the wrong places, tell us now.”

Yuuta’s throat works for a moment, then he looks down and mutters, “I’m not saying anything else without a lawyer. You can’t charge me as a Renegade just because I was caught stealing.”

“And if that’s all it was, you’d be right,” Sasaki says. “But even putting aside the reckless endangerment by use of pokemon, even putting aside the testimony of these two, your attempted thievery relied on the endangerment of others.” Her tone is flat, and she looks from one adult to the next, each nodding. She also look at Red, who nods reflexively. “You were in the presence of a Tier 1 Emergency, and instead of helping your fellow man, you exploited the situation for your own benefit, and endangered the lives of others with your graveler.  For that, I brand you a Renegade.”

“No, please-”

“Dawson, Mary, and Tetsu died today, Yuuta,” Dr. Zapata says, expression hard. “They died fighting to protect everyone on this site, on this mountain. To protect you. And what were you doing? Trying to steal from them, from all of us. Witnessed.”

“I… I didn’t…”

“Witnessed,” Paul says, voice flat.

“Witnessed,” Ryback mutters, gaze down.

Yuuta looks around the room, face drained of color by the time he reaches the trio. “Kids… please, tell them… I could have killed you, if I wanted, I mean I was just… I’m s-sorry…”

Blue stares at him in undisguised contempt, while Leaf looks sick and angry, eyes down. Red feels his stomach roll when Yuuta turns to him again, and forces himself not to step back to the wall. He wasn’t there, he can’t say anything that would help the man. Didn’t stop me from helping condemn him.

Then Red realizes that’s exactly what the room is waiting for. He remembers now, it’s the Ranger plus four witnesses, and Blue and Leaf can’t, they were directly involved. His presence wasn’t an oversight at all: he’s expected to pass judgement. That’s why the Ranger looked at him.

Cold sweat breaks out all over his skin, and he takes a deep breath to calm himself. He needs time, he needs to think about all the evidence and angles-

“Red,” Ryback says. “Do you need a minute?”

Everyone’s looking at him now, Blue and Leaf are looking at him, and he knows what he has to say, he just doesn’t want to say it, doesn’t want to be the person to decide. Going first or last has too much resistance, they should have couched him in the middle of the witnesses if they were trying to get him to feel less pressure, to conform, but of course they’re not doing anything so deliberate. They just expected him to do his duty as a trainer: to listen, decide, and witness.

“Please… please, don’t…”

“I witness,” Red whispers, and clears his throat. “With all the evidence as it is, I witness the Ranger’s branding,” he says, louder.

“No… nooo…”

Yuuta shakes his head as he moans, face screwed up in horror and grief. “Branded and witnessed,” Ranger Sasaki says. She opens her mouth again, then pauses and looks at the trio before turning to Paul. “If you wouldn’t mind staying a moment?” He nods and opens the door. Everyone else files out of the room, and Red, Leaf and Blue follow as Yuuta begins to sob.

Ranger Sasaki leads them outside, into the sunlight. Red feels it dry his sweat almost instantly, and shivers at the sudden temperature change.

“Thank you all for your help,” Sasaki says, gaze on the trio in particular. “Encountering and passing judgement on a Renegade are difficult things to do at any age, and I’m sorry you all had to go through it. You comported yourselves well, and are dismissed. I have your contact information for the paperwork, and if there are further questions,” she says, addressing Ryback and Dr. Zapata too.

“Thank you, Ranger,” Dr. Zapata says, face a mask. As Sasaki returns to the building, Dr. Zapata turns to the trio too. “And thank you. I know I speak for everyone on site when I say that you’ve saved today from being full of any more heartache. After the friends we’ve already lost, the theft would have been a crippling blow to our spirit.”

“We did as anyone would,” Leaf says, and Blue nods. Red stays silent, unsure if she’s including him and still preoccupied with the fate of the man he sentenced to death.

Dr. Zapata turns to Ryback. “Thank you, Jon. Would you mind escorting these three to a center or outpost?”

“Of course, Doctor, I was just going to suggest the same.”

She grips his arm, then walks toward the distant figures of the other site workers.

“We can make it ourselves,” Blue says once she’s gone. “You don’t need to coddle us.”

Ryback raises a brow. “How many healthy, rested pokemon do you all have among you?”

The trio pauses to count, and Leaf raises three fingers.

Blue nods. “I’ve got three.”

“Two.” And one of them’s a caterpie. Red reminds himself to let Charmander out to rest soon.

“Well this whole half of the mountain range is like a kicked beedrill’s nest right now, and frankly I don’t like your odds of making it on your own. Partly because you’re still newer trainers, and partly because I know at least one of you must be exhausted.” Red considers denying it as the other two look at him, but fights down the urge. “Alternatively you all could rest here for the night. By tomorrow the Rangers should have calmed things down a bit.”

“Is there room for us?” Leaf asks.

“Normally no, but…”

Red nods. They’d lost some people. It only takes a few seconds of thought to recognize they’d be stupid not to take him up on his help. “Well, if you can be spared around here, I wouldn’t mind the escort.”

“I’m okay with it too,” Leaf says.

Blue looks at them, then shrugs. “Sure. Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, you all did a lot here. It’s the least we can do to pay you back. Give me an hour to finish some things up, and I’ll meet you on the east side of the dig.”

They agree and watch as he walks off, circling around the warzone of dead pokemon that blights a third of the dig site. The three stand together in silence and watch the various people moving about. Red wonders when Yuuta will be executed, and how. The day feels like it has gone on forever, probably because he feels so drastically different now than when he woke up this morning. There’s a surreal sense of distance as he feels unconnected from his painful thoughts of guilt and uncertainty, but also a feeling of connection with the world around him, all his senses turned up as he breathes deep and feels again the same bittersweet gladness to be alive from just after the battle.

Blue turns to Red and Leaf, a thoughtful, distant expression on his face. Just as Red’s about to ask his friend if he feels the same way, Blue says, “So, anyone hungry?”

Red snorts, then giggles, then sits down in the dirt, laughing until he clutches his stomach. Blue gives him a startled look, then tries to exchange concerned glances with Leaf, who merely gives a sad smile.

“Uh. You okay, man?”

Red makes an effort to control himself, speaking through giggles. “Yes… yes, I am hungry. And tired. And maybe slightly delirious because of it.”

“Well, we’ve got time for a snack and nap.”

“A snackap,” Leaf says in an experimental tone. “Napack? A snap.”

Red shakes his head. He knows his friends aren’t ready to talk about what just happened yet either, and is grateful for the excuse to put it off. “No, you guys go ahead.” He pushes himself to his feet. “There’s something I want to do before we leave.”

“What is it?”

Red hesitates. Would he rather be alone? He’s never done a burial before, isn’t even sure why he wants to, other than a feeling of obligation. “My rattata got killed. I want to bury her.”

Leaf’s hands cover her mouth. “Oh, Red, I’m sorry. How?”

“One of the paras that looked dead… she walked by it and it pierced her heart before I could withdraw her. Spearow also didn’t make it.”

“Damn, your Flying type too?” Blue demands. “Against paras? What happened?”

Red flushes. “There were hundreds of them, what do you think happened? Some stun spores knocked him to the ground and they tore him to shreds! Sorry not everyone can be as good as you!”

“Hey, I didn’t say that!”

“You implied it!”

“The hell I did, I was just asking a question! I’ve lost pokemon too you know!”

Leaf steps between them, a palm on each of their chests. “Woah, guys, calm down! We’ve all had a stressful day! Deep breaths!”

Red tries to continue meeting Blue’s glare, but it’s hard to be menacing when you’re constantly shifting your head around a pleasant white sunhat. He finally does as she says, letting his breath out in a hot gust as he steps back. “Sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

Blue scratches the back of his neck. “Yeah, well. That sucks about your pokemon. Sorry.”

“Yeah. You guys get something to eat, I’m going to the edge of the dig site. I’ll be back soon.”

“Screw that, we’re coming with you,” Leaf says with a resolute expression that quickly shifts to apprehensive. “Unless you’d rather do it alone?”

Red shrugs. “I don’t mind the company.” Maybe he’s not the only one that needs to go through some motions right now. He worries he should be feeling more, enough to cry or scream or something, but he doesn’t feel enough to do anything like that, and this at least is something constructive he can do. “Thanks.”


The trio walks away from the dig site until they’re surrounded by grass and trees, on high alert for any wild pokemon that might still be in the area. Red takes a handheld shovel out of a Container of tools in his bag and shoves the blade through the thick grass with his foot. After it’s up the dirt beneath it is easier to scoop, and once his arms can no longer manipulate the shovel in and out without widening the hole he hands it to Blue.

Red unclips the pokeball, then braces himself physically and emotionally. “Go, Rattata,” he mutters.

The pokeball kicks and disgorges his pokemon, blood still pooling out of her chest and into the grass. Leaf tilts her head up, eyes closed, and as Blue lowers Rattata into the hole she begins to recite:

In life you were a stranger first
A danger tamed and taught
But as life endangers man and mon
As one we trained and fought

In life you were my guardian
I called you and you came
We rose to any challenges
Our fates became the same

In life you were my dearest friend
I’d teach you and you’d teach me
To fill our days with laughs and love
Our nights warm and danger free

In life you gave me everything
A debt I can’t repay
The road goes on for me alone
Now rest, your duty’s done.

Her voice is soft and sure, but for a slight hitch at the end that makes Red’s chest ache. The last line takes him by surprise: he’s used to it being In death your battle’s done. He wonders if it’s a regional difference, or her own alteration. Blue finishes filling the hole, then places the grassy plot back onto it, mostly undisturbed.

“She was such a little thing,” Red says searching for the words as he spoke. “But she fought without hesitation, always. She did her best to keep me safe, and she succeeded. It’s only been a month and a half since we started our journey, but she was with us from day one, from the first danger we all faced as a team. She’s not the first pokemon we lost,” he says, nodding to Blue. “And not the only one we lost today. But she’s the first we caught together. And I’m glad we’re all together to say goodbye.”

Red waits for more words to come, thoughts popping in and out of his mind, spinning through it untethered until they fade. The silence stretches out, too long, so he just nods and whispers “Thank you” to the small grave before turning away, cheeks red.

Too late he realizes he prohibited any potential last words the other two might have wanted to speak, but they follow him without hesitation, so he supposes they didn’t plan on saying anything.

“Thanks guys,” Red says to Blue and Leaf as they make their way back to the dig site.

“No prob.” Blue has the shovel braced between his arms and shoulders, gaze down. Leaf nods, sniffing a bit. Red waits for some crushing emotion to wash over him, but he feels… okay. A bit sad, a bit bitter at the unfairness of it all, but mostly he just feels hungry and tired.

Red isn’t even sure why he feels like he should be more upset. Is he worried there’s something wrong with him? That maybe his metric for grief was broken after his dad, just because he isn’t falling to pieces over his lost rattata?

It’s possible that the psychic block Narud mentioned is affecting his emotions, but the simpler explanation is that his rattata just didn’t matter that much to him. It feels horrible to admit, but he can’t ignore his feelings, or lack of them. He’s sad that Rattata died, and feels it as more of a constant than the sadness of the people that died today, but if he focuses on them, he feels it more acutely.

And they’re people he hasn’t even met. Leaf, who he’s known for about as long as he had his rattata, feels exponentially more important to him. Hell, he even feels more for the Renegade, though that’s a more confused jumble of emotions. Still, sadness for his death, the senseless waste of it, is one of them. It seems his prediction at the restaurant their first night together holds true so far. Sad as he is at the loss of his pokemon, they still just don’t “matter” to him in the same way people do.

Maybe that makes him a horrible person, but Red decides to try and table that worry for now, if he can. It’s not particularly productive, and there are more pressing issues at hand.

“I’m going to let my pokemon out to get some rest and heal them up a bit before we leave,” Red says as they walk. “The last thing I want to face today is another fight, but it’s better to be prepared. You guys want to have a bite meanwhile?”

“Sure,” Leaf says. “Let’s do it at the east side so we’re ready for Ryback.” They pass site personnel, ACE, and other trainers that are still recovering from the battle and helping clean up the dig site. Red wonders if they should help, but no one seems to expect it of them, and he’s too tired and distracted to do more than appreciate being able to sit it out.

They reach the eastern edge of the site and find the road continuing on across the mountain. Red takes his shovel from Blue and returns it to its Container, then they release some unhurt pokemon and sit to eat trail mix, jerky, fruits and veggies.

“Weird day, huh?” Blue asks with a full mouth as he tosses carrot chips to Maturin and Zephyr.

“Yeah.” Red rubs his sleeping charmander’s head with one hand as the other holds some jerky. “Mom and your grandpa are going to freak when they find out.”

“Think you should tell them before the news does?” Leaf asks as her ledyba crawls up her back and onto her hat. “I don’t have that problem at least. Or, I don’t think I do. Maybe my mom started watching Kanto news too. Hm.”

Red and Blue look at each other. “Eh,” Blue says with a shrug. “The news is fast, but it’s not that fast.”

Red smiles. “I’ll probably call my mom tonight anyway, so might as well tell her then. She-”

Leaf’s phone chirps a tune just then, and they all wait in trepidation as she takes it out and looks at the screen.

“Oh.” She relaxes. “It’s just an email… from the Pewter mayor?” Leaf scans the screen. “He’ll be giving a speech at a graduation ceremony tomorrow, and said to tune in for mention of ‘a certain article.'” She raises wide eyes to them. “I thought he forgot.”

“That’s great,” Red says. “He’ll give it a huge boost.”

“Yeah…” Leaf puts her phone away, gaze distant.

“What’s the matter?”

“Mayor Kitto struck me as an acutely political person. I left his office feeling… not manipulated so much as handled. I’m happy for the extra attention, I just can’t help but wonder what his goal is.”

“Ulterior motives don’t necessarily have to be negative. Why not ask him?”

Leaf smiles. “Even if he’s honest, I wouldn’t trust him to give a full answer.”

“He’s just plugging your article,” Blue says. “Mutual back scratching, a politician’s bread and butter. What could he possibly be doing that’s so bad?”

“Well, he could be directing funds toward friends on the museum board, or putting himself in more of a position to decide future direction for the museum,” Leaf says. “Just because he happens to be on the right side of the latest topic doesn’t mean he’ll always be. Qualified people need to guide its choices, not leaders or mayors.”

“Until we live in a technocracy, that’s probably wishful thinking in any case,” Red says. “What’s your alternative? Tell him not to mention the article?”

Leaf shakes her head. “No, I just don’t want to be used or drawn into a political fight that will force me onto the side of a stranger. Kitto seems like a nice guy, but if he’s in some scandal a couple years from now, anyone that’s seen as close to him could be affected by it. Plus, if I really want to do serious journalism someday, getting used to relationships like that could be compromising.”

“Or useful,” Blue says. “Gramps has a half-dozen friends in the press that he uses for different reasons when he needs to get the word out on something.”

“Ask my mom what she thinks,” Red suggests.

Leaf nods and begins navigating on her phone. “I think I will.”

“Wait, hang on,” Blue says. “Did he say he’s going to mention it tomorrow?”

“Yeah?”

Blue rubs his chin. “You might want to get him to postpone that.”

“What? Why?”

“Have you considered the optics on all this? We just single-handedly… double-handedly? The two of us just helped catch a Renegade as he tried to steal a fortune’s worth of fossils. We might hit regional news. Even if it’s just local, we’re gonna get a huge spike in followers.”

Leaf nods, face thoughtful. “I’m going to get another smaller spike from the mayor’s mention, but if the Renegade story hits first… suddenly I’m not just some tourist when he mentions me.”

“Exactly. The timing couldn’t be better if you planned it.”

“Maybe someone did,” Red says. “These mountains are owned by Viridian, Celadon and Pewter, and a lot of the workers here are from Pewter. Word could have spread by now: maybe the mayor already knows.”

Leaf frowns. “He must have written his speech before today though. I guess it’s not hard to slip this mention in, but only if it’s topical, and in that case why wouldn’t he have originally planned to include it?”

“Maybe he was waiting for you to do something noteworthy.”

Blue shrugs. “No way of knowing until we know what his speech is about. Either way, if he mentions it before all this hits the news it won’t be nearly as big an impact.”

“Why not preempt that, then?” Red asks. “Just tell the mayor what happened, so he can mention it even if it hasn’t made news yet.”

Leaf tugs at her lower lip. “I guess so,” she says slowly. “But that seems a bit too much like self-promoting, doesn’t it?”

“No way, it’s getting ahead of the story,” Blue says. “Just make it clear that you’re giving him the heads-up so he doesn’t get caught unaware if the news breaks around then.”

Leaf is nodding. “Got it.” She puts her food down and begins typing away.

Blue turns to Red and catches him gazing up at the sky, where Zephyr is soaring in slow circles. “You alright?”

“Yeah. Just thinking.” I need another flying pokemon. He sighs. “What do you think of the Renegade system? Does it seem… fair to you?”

Blue frowns at him. “Of course not. That’s the point, isn’t it? ‘Better to brand ten innocents than let one Renegade go free?'”

“Yeah, I know. The damage that one Renegade can do to society far outweighs the lives of the ten. Are you ever scared of being one of those ten, though?”

“I am,” Leaf says, still typing on her phone. “Scared, that is. Today I had some tense moments wondering if we’d made a mistake.”

“Come on, no way that guy wasn’t guilty,” Blue says. “I mean, yeah, it was a bit intense having to get everyone to believe us over him, but it was pretty clear he was up to no good.”

“What if it’s not so clear next time?” Red asks. “We didn’t actually prove anything, it was just all so much more circumstantial than it is on TV.”

Blue’s eyes narrow. “What are you saying? You think we were wrong?”

“No, no.” Red makes a sound of frustration. “Look, I witnessed, didn’t I? I just think… he was tied up, you know? He wasn’t going anywhere. There was time to look into things more, find more neutral witnesses. I know you guys weren’t able to witness, but I’m your friend, even if the evidence wasn’t on your side I’d feel pressured to believe you. Dr. Zapata and Ryback just lost three colleagues, they’re not exactly thinking clearly right now. And Paul, well, he’s leading security here. If something had happened to the fossils it wouldn’t look great for him.”

“Alright, sure, they could have gotten him a lawyer and put him in court and filled a jury with random people and hoped that the truth came out,” Blue says. “But what if it doesn’t? We’re back to the question of letting a Renegade free. Remember Modama Town? Old Agate Village? One psychopath gets it in his head to wipe out hundreds of people, or even thousands, and we’re just supposed to hope they don’t? Fuck that.”

Red shakes his head. “I know. It’s horrifying. But events like that happen so rarely.”

“Yeah, and I doubt that’s a coincidence.”

“What we need are numbers,” Leaf says. “People killed by Renegades in a year, people killed as Renegades in a year, people investigated, people branded… the hardest part would be the speculation though.” Leaf taps at her phone a few more times, then tucks it away. “We can’t know how effective killing suspected Renegades is by just pointing to the lack of terrorist attacks. Maybe we’re nipping dozens of them in the bud, or maybe we’re just predominantly catching Renegades like Yuuta, who are… indirect. He could have killed us if he wanted to, you know. After his graveler knocked you out.”

Blue shakes his head as their pokemon all suddenly focus on something behind him. Red turns to see Ryback approaching. “The guy was scum,” Blue says. “He was still out in the open, didn’t want to risk anyone seeing him kill us. If he got away with this heist he would have just grown bolder, done something worse.”

“Maybe,” Ryback says. “Or maybe he would have sold his loot and found some other Region to retire in. Either way, I’m glad he didn’t get the chance.”

The trio start repacking their food and withdrawing their pokemon. Ryback is dressed in more protective clothing and a full pokebelt. “Hang on a sec, don’t finish closing your bags yet. I’ve got something for you all.”

Red, Blue and Leaf exchange glances, then put their bags back down and approach him as he lifts a small sack and takes out a Container. “Got two more of these in here, a fossil in each. I talked to Dr. Zapata, and she agreed… we wouldn’t have any of these if not for you all. They’re extras, so we’re free to do with them as we’d like.”

“Um. Wow. That’s… really nice of you,” Red says slowly. “But I wasn’t there-”

“I know, you were helping me. Didn’t seem fair to exclude you for that, since you would have been otherwise. Plus you helped with… afterward, and did as much as anyone to help protect the site. Paid a price for it, too. This is our way of saying thanks. Don’t worry, they’re not super valuable. If you ever go to Cinnabar Labs though, they might be able to regenerate them for you.”

“We’ve been here before,” Leaf says as Ryback takes out the second and third Containers, all three balls gleaming in the sun.

“You should pick first this time,” Red says. “And you can go second, Blue.”

“Nah, you go second. By the time we’re at Cinnabar my team is going to be mostly solid.”

“What are they?” Leaf asks.

“This one’s a ball of amber that we believe has aerodactyl blood in it. It’s part of a shipment that’s going to Pewter’s museum. These two are a pair of fossils for omanyte and kabuto.”

“Aerodactyl’s the flying one, right? I’ll take it,” Leaf says with a smile. “Thank you so much!”

Red sighs to himself. He was hoping for that one. Of the remaining two though, he has no real preference. His hand twitches indecisively from left to right, and he finally just chooses at random. “Which is this?”

“Omanyte.”

“Cool. Thanks.” Red tucks it into his bag and wonders if he’ll ever revive it. He always wanted to learn more about the regeneration process, and this is as good an excuse as any to start.

Blue takes his kabuto fossil and they finish packing up. “We’ve got a few hours of daylight left, think we can make it to the final checkpoint by then?”

Red takes a deep breath, then lets it out, feeling more energized. The rest and food helped a lot. “Sure, let’s do it. I wouldn’t mind getting off this mountain by tomorrow. Would be nice to have a shower tonight.”

“Agreed,” Leaf says. “Is that okay with you, Ryback?”

“I’m just here to help, you three set whatever pace you want. I’ve been on site for almost a week, and after today wouldn’t say no to a shower myself. And a stiff drink.”

Chapter 31: Distractions

The first thing that makes Blue reconsider his enthusiasm is the sheer number of geodude, zubat, sandshrew, graveler, and other pokemon flooding out of the hole in the mountain.

The second is the cloud of spores that pour out after them, disguised and mingled with the dust of the collapsed earth. Blue watches as a graveler pulls itself up into the sunlight and takes two stumbling steps forward, then collapses onto its face to reveal a back covered in visibly growing fungus.

Goosebumps break out along his arms as a childhood fear returns, spawned by nights of staying up past his bedtime to secretly watch zombie movies. Until his parents died, waking to find his friends and family stumbling around with blank white eyes and fungal caps was his most recurring nightmare.

Migrating parasect colony, or maybe a rampage, started a stampede. Fire and Flying pokemon are top priority. He pulls his facemask on and unhooks Zephyr’s ball, then hesitates as the wave of fleeing pokemon approaches them. Hopefully they’re too panicked to do anything but run, but if he summons a pokemon in front of them they might attack it-

“Steven and Janet, clear that cloud out! Everyone to the west of the opening, move north or south immediately!”

The voice comes from Ryback’s radio, and the group skids to a halt as they realize within seconds of each other that they’re in the danger zone. Leaf breaks southward first, and the rest follow her, keeping an eye out for the stampeding pokemon that run or fly past them, oblivious to their doom.

A trio of sandshrew scurry toward them in an intersecting route, and Ryback unclips a ball and throws, summoning a sandslash in a blink. “Keep going!” he tells them as he stops behind his pokemon.

The trio doesn’t even exchange a look, all three stepping beside him and summoning Maturin, Bulbasaur and Spearow. The oncoming sandshrew hesitate, then dive under the ground. They brace themselves for an attack, but after a few seconds the pokemon pop out of the ground behind them and keep fleeing.

They withdraw their pokemon and continue southward until they reach one of the portable buildings and run behind it. “I had that handled,” Ryback says. “If you want to help, you’ll have to defer to those of us here. Understood?”

Blue opens his mouth just as another voice speaks from the radio. “This is Janet, we’re in position. If anyone’s not clear, say so now.”

Ryback presses his radio button. “Ryback here, we’re clear, over.”

“Hiro clear, over.”

“Natalie and Carmin, clear, over.”

Stupid, she said to say something if you’re not clear. The last of the pokemon from the hole are dispersing past them, and Blue fights the urge to take out pokeballs to grab some. It seems like such a waste to just let them run by, but they might have a chance to pick some up later, and it’s not worth the risk of starting an unnecessary fight in such a volatile situation.

“Incoming whirlwind, over.”

They watch as the cloud of dust and spores gets caught in a slowly building cyclone, and shift in a slow spiral as it blows westward. It sails over the fleeing pokemon in its path before dispersing into the open air past the edge of the mountain. Blue watches the heavier pokemon that don’t get swept up collapse, skin covered in spores.

With the obscuration out of the way, they can see the dozens of crimson paras and parasect crawling over the mountain in outward waves, emitting a new fog of spores as they go.

The voice of the ACE on the radio is calm. “Parasect colony is climbing out of the mountain. Fire pokemon out front, Flying in support. Poison special attackers. Everyone else, watch for strays. If at all possible, try and protect the fossils. Rangers are inbound, first ETA is fifteen minutes. Over.”

Ryback raises it to his mouth. “This is Ryback, we’ve got about a dozen pokemon that were in the path of the twister growing shrooms, over.”

“Natalie here, I’ve got it, over.”

Ryback reclips his radio, then turns to the trio. “What have you got?”

“Charmander,” Red says. Nidoran and Spinarak are Poison, but not special attackers.

“We have pidgey,” Blue says, cocking a thumb at Leaf.

“They’re not enough, but the charmander might help. You’re with me, Red.”

Red hesitates, then nods and steps forward as he unclips Charmander’s ball. Ryback turns to Blue and Leaf. “Can you two hold a perimeter?” Blue and Leaf nod. “Good. This is one of the buildings we’ve been storing fossils in. Keep any rampaging pokemon from destroying it, if you can, and stop them from coming up behind us.”

Ryback moves around the building and toward the oncoming swarm of paras and parasect. Red’s face is pale, but he raises his fist, and Blue bumps it.

“Guess it’s your turn for thrilling heroics.”

“At least your arm’s not broken.”

Leaf hugs Red. “Be careful. Watch the cross-wind.”

Blue smirks as his friend freezes, then awkwardly pats her shoulder. “I will. Keep Blue out of trouble.”

“Why do I always get nanny duty?” Leaf grumbles, lips twitching upward.

“I’m sorry, of the three of us, which has a badge again?” Blue asks.

Red gives a weak smile and jogs after Ryback. Blue and Leaf watch him go, then summon Zephyr and Crimson as they move back to back to cover both sidelines.

“Zephyr, scout!”

“Crimson, scout!”

Blue watches Zephyr loop around them in the air, slowly scoping the area for any approaching threats. He keeps his gaze on the ground, watching for any telltales signs of pokemon burrowing under the surface.

To his right, Blue can just make out the beginning of the assault in his periphery. Blasts of fire and gusts of wind hit the expanding cloud of spores from multiple directions, keeping it and the insects emitting it, or more accurately the mushrooms on their backs, from advancing. There’s an occasional boom as fire causes a pocket of spores to combust all at once.

Blue wipes sweaty palms against his pants. Red and Charmander would be backup to the more experienced trainers with stronger fire pokemon, picking off any paras that get too close, or helping cleanse the bodies of overrun pokemon before they begin emitting their own spores. They wouldn’t be near the center of the fighting, and should have plenty of time to fall back if they get overrun…

He forces himself to go back to scanning the rest of the digsite, where wild pokemon continue to run around haphazardly. The occasional ACE or scientist rushing to join the main fight engages them, whether by their choice or the pokemon’s, and three separate battles break out in Blue’s field of vision.

“If one of them need help, and we’re just standing here doing nothing…” Leaf says behind him.

“Yeah.” Zephyr lets out a warning cry as a group of zubat flutter by. Blue feels the merciful cool of the battle calm descending as they flutter and loop closer and closer, only to soar away when Zephyr gives a louder battle screech. As they go, his antsy excitement returns, sending useless energy through his arms and legs, commanding him to go, fight, help.

A gout of flame to his left makes Blue turn to see a woman with a flareon cleansing the pokemon that were caught in the spore cloud. She reaches a graveler that shudders as soon as the flame finishes washing over it, and a flash of light quickly captures it before she moves on to the next, making her way toward the mountain’s edge.

“Got movement here,” Leaf says. Blue unclips Maturin’s ball and looks over his shoulder to see a growing bulge moving through the ground as something digs beneath it. “Go, Bulbasaur!”

Her pokemon flashes into existence just as the sandshrew reveals itself. “Vine whip!”

Her pokemon extends its vines and rears them back, but the sandshrew dives back underground before they can land. They watch the sandshrew burrow away, and Leaf reclips her ball without withdrawing Bulbasaur.

“Do you think-”

Leaf is interrupted by a heavy rumble beneath them that sends both to their knees. “Either someone just used Earthquake, or we need to get off this side of the mountain,” she says. “More of them might be coming up under us.”

“There might be an onix digging around to get away from them, but it probably won’t head any farther up.”

“Probably?”

“Hopefully. What do you want to do, sound a full retreat? They might not want to leave their fossils.”

Leaf bites her lower lip. “ACE is in charge of security, maybe we can get one of them to-”

This time both Zephyr and Crimson give warning cries as another flock of zubat race toward them. In the space of a heartbeat it becomes clear that these are not going to just fly by, and the battle calm is there like a cool cloak round his shoulders.

One, three, five, six, seven. Blue braces his arm. “Go, Maturin! Water Gun!”

“Bulbasaur, return! Go, Ledyba! Supersonic!”

Water and sound knock a zubat out of the sky and send two more tumbling in different directions, and then their pidgey engage the rest of them. The zubat are smaller and more agile, but the birds are ever so slightly faster, keeping ahead of the swarm’s poisonous fangs.

Blue and Leaf focus on directing Maturin and Ledyba and let their pidgey’s instincts take over. Blue feels the split in attention keenly as he keeps trying to pay attention to what Zephyr is doing while finding new targets for Maturin, but a distant part of him observes the wider battle, and thinks of ways to end it. “Water Gun! Water Gun! Those three are coming back, we won’t be able to avoid them all.”

“Supersonic! I know, I’m going to withdraw Ledyba before they reach her. Should we Rise and Fall?”

Blue remembers the tactics they practiced on the roof of Viridian and plays it out in his head. “Too slow. Vanishing Act?”

“Need more support. Supersonic! How about a Pinwheel?”

“Alright, on three. Two-Watergun! One!”

“Crimson, defend!”

Crimson breaks away and flies over to hover above her as Blue grabs Maturin off the ground and runs behind them. Part of his skin touches Maturin’s and immediately feels dry and stiff as the moisture is sucked out of it. Blue puts Maturin back down and ignores the ache. “Ready!”

“Crimson, Gust!”

“Zephyr, break!”

Crimson begins flapping hard in the direction of the swarm as Zephyr dips a wing and soars away. The zubat trying to chase both begin to get buffeted by the wind, struggling to make headway against it.

Some begin to break away and approach from above or the sides. Blue points to each in turn with his commands. “Maturin, Water Gun! Zephyr, Quick Attack!” Spurts of water continue to knock zubat out of the air, and Zephyr is a tan blur as he zips back and forth to harry them from behind. The zubat try to fly around the column of wind, but Leaf pivots Crimson with them, wheeling the wild pokemon in a slow arc.

One by one zubat begin to drop to the ground and fail to rise, or turn to flee. But soon Crimson tires, and Maturin runs out of water. As soon as the wind dies down, the remaining four zubat close the gap in a blink.

“Maturin, Return! Go, Kemuri!”

“Ledyba, Supersonic! Crimson, Wing At-Crimson return!”

Leaf’s beam hits her pokemon as it screeches in pain, cutting the sound off as it vanishes in a red glow. Blood and feathers finish falling from where it was as the zubat wheel around in confusion, then go for Ledyba.

“Ledyba, return!”

“Kemuri, Extrasensory!”

The zubat begin to crash into each other, screeching in alarm and pain. One of them uses their own supersonic wail, causing Blue to uselessly clap his hands over his ears. Blue’s vision swims as he feels the sound in his sinuses, the pressure waxing and waning in a way that makes his head feel like a squeezed water balloon.

Blue drops to all fours and curls up into a ball as the vertigo sets in, flashing back to years of training drills in school. Their instructor stood in front of the class, speaking as they demonstrated the proper response to the audio assault they were all about to endure. The best defense against moves that cause mental confusion is to focus on what your body is doing. Maintain a physical position that’s low to the ground, and eliminates your body’s ability to hurt itself.

Sharp pain blooms as Blue’s nails scrape at his ears, and he tucks his hands under his knees to pin them with his weight. The abrasion of the soil and pebbles against his skin grounds him as the wail goes on and on and o-

Blessed silence. No, not silence, but without the audio scalpel of their cry, everything seems so muted. Blue uncurls and pushes himself up, knees wobbling.

He expects to see the zubat all dead or captured, but two are still in the air. What felt like a minute under sonic siege was only seconds as the beam of high pitched sound was either directed elsewhere, or died with one of the zubat on the ground.

Leaf throws a pair of pokeballs that capture them, and Blue aims his at the ones still in the air. His nerves are rattled, but the battle-calm is still there, and he draws it tighter around himself to block out the stinging pain of his self-inflicted ear cuts. He tracks the zubat as they flutter in panicked circles and loops under Kemuri’s mental onslaught, one ball on each, letting his thoughts drift so that his arms move purely on reflex, tracking the two pokemon…

Ping! He throws one, sucking it out of the air. The second ball pings another lock, and he throws again just as the zubat stops flapping its wings. Its frail body plummets and bounces against the ground once before lying still.

Blue quickly unhooks another ball and captures it before letting his breath out in a rush. He turns to Kemuri, whose eyes are just beginning to return to normal as his posture slowly relaxes. “Good job, Kemuri. Guard.” He takes out a pokepuff and tosses it to his pokemon, then brings Maturin back out and lets her empty his spare water bottle before giving her a pokepuff too.

“You okay?” Leaf asks. “Your left ear is bleeding.”

Blue checks and winces as the cut behind his ear stings at his touch. “Fine. How’s Crimson?” He takes out a potion and sprays his ear.

“I’m going to wait for a pokemon center to take him back out.” She begins to pick up her new zubat and check them with her pokedex, face growing longer after each. “Both gone. Yours?”

Leaf’s voice is flat, and Blue gives her a searching look. He’s about to ask if she’s okay, but holds his tongue. Maybe she’s wearing her own cloak. Blue checks the two zubat he caught. “One’s okay.” He releases the dead one, then goes to get the pokeball that missed.

Around them, the war for the mountainside continues unabated. A few dozen figures hold the line against the paras and parasect in the distance, while random wild pokemon are fought and taken down by the rest of the trainers spread out around the dig site. Zephyr comes down to land on Blue’s shoulder, and his talons bite into the undermesh of his shirt. Blue stifles a cry and resists the urge to chase his pokemon off. Zephyr is quivering with exhaustion, and Blue strokes him instead. “Forgot about the great job you did up there, boy,” he mutters as he picks up the pokeball and tucks it away, then gives his pidgey some berries and a pokepuff. “You’ll be a new terror in the sky when you’re all grown up.”

After one last look at the main battlefield, Blue returns to Leaf and Kemuri. “Zephyr’s tired. Think we’ll-”

Click, clickclick, click!

Blue and Leaf blink. “What was-”

Thud, thud, thudthudthudrrrrrrrrrrrrr-

Blue and Leaf look around wildly for the source of the noise, then look at each other.

“The other-

-side, move!”

CRASH

A graveler bursts through the building in a hail of broken wood and glass as Leaf and Blue throw themselves away from the rolling boulder. Zephyr launches back into the air with a shriek of protest, and Blue’s other two pokemon flinch at the hail of shrapnel.

“Kemuri, Leaf Blade!” Blue yells as he scrambles to his feet. “Zephyr, back!” Zephyr aborts his dive midway, while Kemuri leaps at the graveler and slashes it across the face.

The graveler roars in pain and tries to body-slam Kemuri, who leaps backward. Blue is about to command Maturin when another loud clickclick is heard.

Blue resists the urge to turn around and look for the source of the sound: he knows better than to take his eyes off a pokemon in a battle. A moment later he’s glad he does, because he sees the graveler freeze, then throw itself onto its face, grabbing the earth with all four hands.

Blue’s battle calm crystallizes into one last insight, then shatters in a flood of icy panic. “Self-destruct!” he yells as his hands fly to his pokeballs to withdraw everyone. “Return, Maturin! Return, Kemuri!” Blue’s every heartbeat is like a timer counting down, and rather than risk wasting any more seconds trying to return Zephyr he simply starts running and yells “Zephyr, back!”

Leaf has already taken off for the opposite side of the ruined building, and skids to a stop before diving behind it. Blue wants to yell for her to keep running, but it may be their only chance. Not gonna make it, he thinks with another spurt of panic, and runs faster. Shit shit shit-

Blue hears Leaf yell “Hey, get down!” and wonders if she’s talking to him before he reaches the end of the building and sees a paleontologist with a heavy rucksack standing there with a nonplussed look on his face. A distant part of Blue recognizes him as the one that was giving Red and him the evil eye earlier.

And then a giant, hot hand presses its palm against his back and shoves just as a massive BOOM leaves his ears ringing for the second time in five minutes.

Blue lies in a crumpled heap until the world stops spinning and he can finish testing for broken bones. His elbow feels like it shattered when he rolled into a rock, but he can move it, and he smacked his head against the ground pretty bad, but he doesn’t feel nauseous or disoriented.

I should be dead. What was that, 200 feet at most?

He realizes he can vaguely hear something through the ringing that might be Leaf calling his name, and shifts around until he can see her relieved face looking down at him.

“Leaf,” he mutters. “Ylright?”

She sticks a thumb up, then starts spraying potion liberally over his head and neck and shoulders. He points a finger to his elbow, where the outer part of his shirt was shredded to reveal the mesh under it. He’s glad it was there to save him from losing skin, but he almost changes his mind at the pain of Leaf rolling his sleeve down to see the damage.

His elbow looks badly bruised, but doesn’t seem to be broken. The bone might be cracked, but at the first spray of potion he feels the pain lessen, and after a few more the swelling goes down enough for him to flex his arm with minimal pain.

Zephyr lands next to him, and a wave of relief makes him dizzy. Or maybe that’s the start of a concussion. He pats his pidgey with his good arm, then returns him to his ball and stands up with Leaf’s help.

A couple uncomfortable squirts in his ears has him shaking his head and trying to get the liquid out, but the ringing has stopped enough for him to hear. “We should be dead,” is the first thing he hears.

“I know, I was thinking the same thing. That graveler must have been freshly evolved if its blast was so small.”

Blue looks at the blackened remains of the graveler’s body, and the scorch marks on the ground around it. He considers going over to see if it’s still savable, sometimes with immediate medical attention a self-destructing pokemon can be saved, but he knows the window of opportunity would have passed while he was recovering. Blue’s surprised Leaf didn’t try to save it, but he’s glad she was worried about making sure he was alright.

“Hey, where’s that other guy?”

“He’s inside.” She jerks a thumb at the long, narrow building, which has a huge section torn out of the side. “Said he’s going to check on the fossils.” Blue’s frowning at the visible destruction. “Something wrong?”

“Sorry, yeah, just… was he standing there when you got here?”

Leaf stares at him, then blinks as it registers. “Yeah. He… I wonder why he didn’t yell a warning about the graveler.”

“Didn’t even have a pokemon out, right?”

“No… Blue, those clicks.”

He remembers. Right before they heard the graveler start running for its rollout, then again before the Self-Destruct. “You don’t think…”

He sees his mounting unease reflected in her gaze, and they begin moving toward the building together. “There must be a reasonable explanation,” Leaf says, and Blue notices that she’s whispering now.

Blue unclips a ball, heart pounding. What they’re thinking is crazy, but… better safe than sorry. “Go, Maturin.” He picks his pokemon up after she appears, and steps up into the broken remains of the building. Leaf follows him, hands moving over her right ear.

The inside of the building is a mess of wood and glass and paper. They step over a crushed table and around a cabinet torn partway off the wall to walk toward the opposite end of the rectangular building.

What looks like a storage room is open, and the paleontologist is standing in front of a series of labeled drawers with the rucksack he was wearing at his feet. The one near the middle is open, with rows of grey Container balls nestled in slots documenting where and when they were found.

Most of the slots are empty. The bag looks to be about halfway full.

The paleontologist turns to them as they approach, two more Containers in his hand. He bends and places them in the bag, then securely closes it.

“What are you doing?” Blue asks, throat dry.

“Moving these. It’s not safe here anymore, so I’ve been going around to get these off site.”

“You said you were just going to check on them,” Leaf says, stepping up beside Blue.

“Change of plans. Just got the orders.” His hands never stop moving, and when he finishes tying the bag he slings it over his shoulder. Blue can’t help but stare at the still-open cabinet, with half of its Containers still sitting it, something’s wrong, something’s wrong-

“Stop,” Leaf says, and Blue’s attention snaps to the man’s hand as he unclips a ball from his waist and braces his arm, paying her no mind.

“Go, Abra.”

The squat tan psychic pokemon appears on the floor, sitting quietly with its eyes closed, and Blue is suddenly very afraid and very glad that he’s Dark. “Stop, whatever you’re doing, we need to make sure-”

“Abra, Teleport,” the man says as he reaches forward to put a hand on his pokemon, and with a surge of adrenaline Blue yells “Maturin, Water Gun!” His pokemon, who might normally hesitate to shoot in the direction of a human, focuses on the abra and spits a sharp stream of water out.

The trainer flinches, for just a moment, and in that moment there’s a pop as the abra vanishes, the trainer’s hand an inch away. The water hits the floor and digs a shallow groove in it, and the three are left staring at each other for the space of a heartbeat.

I just ordered my pokemon to attack his outside of a challenge, he was standing right there he might have been hit I could be charged as a Renegade-

“Go, sandslash,” the man says, and suddenly there’s a squat, spiny pokemon standing between them. Blue stares at it, still trying to process what’s happening battle calm where’s my battle calm when the paleontologist says “Slash,” voice tight and angry, face a mask.

Slash. Not Scratch, the generic command for a claw attack, generally safe for trainer battles. Slash, the command that specifies lethal intent, for pokemon specifically trained to recognize and aim for vital organs in their opponent.

And the sandslash moves toward them.

Blue scrambles back, dropping Maturin and opening his mouth to yell a command to her, while Leaf presses something to her left ear and turns around, right hand pointing a pokeball and activating it manually, arm snapping up.

He has a moment to wonder why she’s summoning it behind her, then yells “Withdraw!” as the sandslash claws Maturin across the chest, too quick for her to react. Then Leaf says “Sing!” and Blue snaps his hands up to cover his ears even knowing he’s too la-


Fire and fungi. Birds and bugs. Poison and paras. Simple equations with obvious outcomes, if the variables are anywhere near even. A single arcanine could scorch dozens of paras to ash. A single pidgeot could tear a field of them to pieces with a miniature cyclone. A single muk could bury waves of them in poison.

But no pokemon is immune to fatigue, and all the type advantage in the world won’t stop sheer, overwhelming numbers.

“Ember! Ember! Ember!”

The fire flicks out, onetwothree, and a trio of paras crackle and burn. Behind them another six advance, shooting out yellow and green and blue spores that get swept back by the wings of Ryback’s fearow. It dives a second later, piercing and shredding the dome of a parasect before flying up in a corkscrew to shed the mushroom and insect gore covering its feathers.

Red can’t think of how long they’ve been fighting anymore, or how much longer until the Rangers come. His entire world is the next attack, and then the next, and the next. The radio keeps squawking orders and warnings and calls for help, but Red barely pays attention to it anymore. He feels like he’s in a cartoon, trying to plug a wall that keeps sprouting new leaks.

Red’s nidoran is already exhausted, and his poisonous spurs take out another handful of the paras before he accumulates too many injuries for Red to heal with quick sprays of potion. Spinarak takes his place and holds up better, until a parasect rushes forward and claws off two of its forelegs. Red withdraws it before the giant claws can close around its head, and an ember by Charmander swiftly engulfs the parasect. Its flaming corpse does little to deter the red and orange swarm.

The red and orange swarm that extends for two hundred meters in front of them.

Could use a beedrill about now, wouldn’t you say?

Shut up, Past Red.

Leaf’s beedrill might help take out another dozen or two, but the real battle will be decided by their special attackers. No matter how good a physical fighter is one-on-one, certain special attacks can take out whole swathes of the foe again and again from a safe distance. Between choosing his targets, Red catches glimpses of them at work. A weezing floats above the swarm to his left, blanketing the bugs below in clouds of noxious gas. To the right, a magmar glows red-hot and wades through the paras in a shimmering cloud of superheated air that crisps anything near it.

Red and Ryback are holding the line between the two, along with a geologist named Pira. Her only supereffective pokemon is a numel who spits small showers of embers out of its hump every few seconds to help cover them. Red feels a burst of relief every time the fiery rain comes down to buy him and Charmander some more breathing room.

Red doesn’t see the weezing go down or get withdrawn, but he begins to notice the surge in enemies a few seconds before Ryback calls out “Big group coming on the left!”

Red and Pira pivot and redirect their pokemon to get ready for the twenty or so paras and three parasect that trundle toward them. Too many. Way too many. He shoves down his anxiety and tries to think of solutions. He already tried using his pokedex to imitate paras’ predators, but the fungi are driving them beyond reasonable fears, which is why they march to their fiery, poisonous doom by the dozens. We need a force amplifier.

“I’m going to concentrate on the parasect,” Ryback says. “We need something-Drill Peck!-we need something else to help hold the paras off!”

Pira hesitates. “I’ve got a lickitung, but I’d rather not use him for fodder unless we don’t have another choice.”

Dammit. Guess it’s time. “I’ve got a spearow, but it’s freshly caught. Ember! I don’t know how much it will help-”

“We need whatever we can get!”

He unclips its ball. “Go, Spearow!”

The bird appears and screeches at the sight of all the swiftly approaching paras, though whether in fear or hunger Red doesn’t know. “Peck!”

Spearow dives at the paras along the side of the horde, sharp beak dismembering pincers and legs before it flutters back out of their reach. Red sees Ryback’s fearow divebomb two of the parasect and make short work of them, but the third holds it off for a bit with a cloud of stunspores that it has to circle around to blow away.

Charmander and the numel burn another handful of paras in the next few seconds, but the rest just keep coming. “Slow retreat,” Ryback says. “Keep falling back until this bunch is done.”

Red begins stepping backward, and calls Charmander to follow him as he tries to keep an eye on his spearow at the same time. The bird is having trouble scoring any killing blows now that the paras know it’s around, and Red sees it get engulfed in a cloud of poison powder while it’s distracted.

“Spearow, Quick Attack!” Red begins counting in his head. The paras’s poison would kill a pokemon like spearow after about sixty seconds. He wants to withdraw it, but almost twenty paras are still coming, and the fearow has only just managed to take down the last parasect. 4, 5, 6…

“Back, farther,” Ryback says, and Red mirrors his backward movements.

“Charmander, back!” The fire lizard is breathing hard, and Red can see the flame on his tail burning low. 11, 12… He won’t last much longer… 13… force amplifier, something to make a bigger flame… 15, 16…

Another burst of fire from Pira’s numel brings down a second handful, but the paras keep coming, and now they’re starting to spread to the sides, outside of their reach. “We’re breaking formation,” Ryback says. 21, 22, 23. “We need to hold them here.” He quickly commands his fearow to pick off the bugs that are trying to get past them, leaving charmander, spearow and numel with the rest. 32, 33, 34-

“Shit!” Red says as another cloud of spores is ejected toward them, and jumps to the side. “Ember!” He lost count, and starts again at 40 just in case. We have nothing to burn, nothing to use to spread fire… In his distraction, he sees that Spearow has abandoned the hit and run maneuvers to try and peck the paras again, and feels a surge of fear. “Spearow, Quick Att-”

He sees it happen, a burst of blue spores that engulfs the bird’s head. “No!” Red yells, ball extended. “Spearow return!”

The beam misses as his pokemon falls into the swarm of paras, who quickly converge on the bird.

No, no! “Ember, Charmander, Ember, Ember!”

The globs of fire bring down another two paras, but there are a dozen left, and Red watches in horror as blood and feathers spray into the air.

Red reclips spearow’s ball, chest burning as he fights back the urge to run forward and rescue his pokemon. It’s not fair, he was just going to withdraw him, he-

“They’re still coming!” Ryback says as the paras get within ten feet. “If you’ve got anything else, we need them now!”

“Go, Orval!” Pira says, and her lickitung appears. “Supersonic!” The parasect at the front become confused by the beam of shrill noise, allowing Ryback’s fearow to swoop down and rake them to pieces in a series of rapid dives. “Focus on defensive fighting, we just need to buy time!”

“Go, Rattata,” Red says, biting back bitter words. If you brought your lickitung out earlier my pokemon might still be alive. “Quick Attack!”

The paras keep driving themselves forward over the bodies of their fallen kindred, driven by the mushrooms’ imperative to spread their spores. With the five pokemon combined, however, they die as quickly as they scuttle forward, bursts of flame and wind providing cover for Red’s rattata to distract the confused front lines. Red goes from tired to exhausted, but still the battle goes on until his voice grows hoarse and his fingers fumble with potion bottles.

“Ranger ETA is five minutes!” the radio says. “Hold the line as best you can!”

“Shit,” Red croaks. “It’s only been ten minutes?”

“I know,” Ryback pants. “Drill Peck! Feels like hours.”

“Should I call my friends?”

“Not yet. They have their own job to do.”

Red opens his mouth to argue, then closes it. There’s no time, and Ryback is the senior trainer around. “Pira, my rattata needs a potion.”

“Okay, do it. Orval, Slam!” The lickitung waddles forward and smashes its tail down on one of the paras. “Defense Curl!”

“Rattata, back!” Red kneels down as his pokemon returns to him, trembling with adrenaline and pain. Red’s chest hurts as he sprays her wounds. “You’re doing great,” Red whispers as he strokes her head. She nuzzles Red’s fingers with her whiskers, causing his throat to tighten. “Just k-keep moving girl, it’ll be over soon…” He wants to give her more time to rest, doesn’t want to send her back at all, but the lickitung is already being overwhelmed. “Go! Quick Attack!”

Red gets to his feet and hangs the potion bottle on his belt before realizing it’s empty and tossing it aside. His eyes roam the swarm of paras as he digs a new one out of his bag, new fear settling into him as he sees the scuttling mass of insects seems untouched, despite what must be hundreds of charred and broken bodies they trample underfoot.

“We’re not going to be able to hold out another five minutes,” Pira says, echoing Red’s thoughts. “Orval, Supersonic! Even if we do, there’s no guarantee the Rangers will get to our area in time.”

“We can’t spare anyone to go for help,” Ryback says. “If we have to run, we run, but not while our pokemon can still fight. Shara, Drill Peck!”

Red tries to think of his remaining resources. He can use a smokescreen from charmander, but it won’t hamper the paras, who are used to travelling in the pitch black of the mountain. His pichu’s electricity would barely hurt them, and his caterpie could maybe trip up one of them. And… that’s it. If there’s something else he could be doing, he’s too distracted to think of it.

If the Rangers don’t arrive soon, we’re screwed.

“Charmander, Ember! Rattata, Quick Attack!”

The minutes drag on, Charmander’s embers becoming smaller and smaller, Rattata moving slower with every strike. Soon a paras survives an ember, and Red notices that Charmander’s tailflame is a slender flicker. “I have to withdraw my charmander,” Red says, coughing at the dryness in his throat. “He’s spent.”

“Do you have any ether?” Pira asks.

“No.”

“Here.” She hands him a bottle, and Red drops to his knees, spraying the rare stimulant into Charmander’s mouth. A few seconds later the lizard’s eyes widen, and his tailflame flares back to near full size.

He hands it back. “Thanks.”

“Should buy us another few minutes.” She waits for her numel to send another salvo of fiery death into the paras’ ranks before she gives it some.

“Charmander, Ember! Ryback, even with the ether our pokemon are fading fast. I’m going to call my friends.”

Ryback looks torn. “Alright, let them kn-”

“Rangers on site, approaching east side! Everyone begin rotating to help those on the west!

“Nevermind!” Ryback says with a grin. “We’re on the home stretch. Just a little longer!”

Red still feels like they can use the help, but he has to admit that knowing the cavalry’s on the way is invigorating. A few seconds later he can see the effect of the new arrivals as more trainers begin to hem in the paras at their sides. Soon they can begin advancing, and do so, pushing the waves of paras forward. A rapidash and venomoth spew flamethrowers and sludge bombs to their left, while on their right a quilava sends out exploding bursts of fire into the swarm and a dodrio dashes back and forth along the front lines, each head skewering a different bug every second.

Red’s fear and anxiety slowly fades as they push forward and reclaim lost ground, though the smell and feel of all the dead paras that crunch underfoot is nauseating. Red tries to avoid them at first, but there’s just too many, and he still has to stay focused on the fight, and instead only watches for patches of poison to step around or fungus to burn.

Between Ryback’s fearow taking out any parasect that trundle too close and Charmander and the numel’s flames crisping the front lines, Red’s rattata is free to strike in quick attacks that get it out of the enemy’s reach before they can retaliate. Red watches his pokemon harry and harass the swarm with pride, until one of the bodies they pass by rears up and stabs her through the torso with both claws.

“Rattata, return!” Red cries out, withdrawing her into her ball. “Charmander, Ember!” Please, please, no… Red scrambles for his pokedex, then stops and reclips her ball to his belt. He forces himself to focus on the battle. It won’t change if I know now or five minutes from now. Focus. Worry fills Red’s stomac with acid, but he’ll be damned if he lets his distraction cost him another pokemon.

The circle of trainers around the swarm grows tighter, and they advance farther toward the collapsed dig site. Paras and parasect are still pouring out of it, until the whole battlefield is stunned by an echoing roar.

A charizard dips out of the sky, its scales gleaming in the sun like living flames. Its wings beat the air in claps of thunder before it soars down over the epicenter and bathes it in fire. Again and again the trainer on its back strafes the battlefield, pouring hot death into the hole the paras are crawling out of until the fungus in the tunnel catches fire. Soon after a pillar of black smoke begins to rise, and the waves of bugs crawling out of the hole abruptly stops. Red watches in awe, and Charmander makes a low crooning noise as it tracks the charizard’s flight with wide eyes.

The battle is quickly over after that, and Red finds a relatively clean boulder to sit on as the dozens of site workers and nearby trainers who came to help coordinate clean up and triage. Ryback finds him there, staring down at Rattata’s ball, pokedex sitting on the rock beside him.

“Did it make it?”

Red shakes his head, not looking up. The first pokemon he ever caught, dead because a stupid bug was driven into a suicidal frenzy by a fungal parasite.

“I’m sorry. I wanted to say, you did good. We couldn’t have done it without you and your pokemon.”

“Thanks,” Red whispers, and clears his throat. He wants to take his mask off, but the stench would be even worse then.

“Want to head back to your friends, make sure they’re alright? Or do you need a minute?”

Red shakes his head again and hops off the boulder as he pockets his dex and reclips Rattata’s ball. He’ll release and bury her later. He wishes he could do the same for his spearow, but he doesn’t have the stomach to search for his remains, if there even are any.

As they walk, Red lets memories take him. Training with his rattata, scouring Viridian for wild pokemon with her, finding his spinarak and catching it, playing with her and Charmander in the park at Pewter. Why had he never named her? Even now, Red can’t think of one. It doesn’t feel right, that she’ll forever just be “Rattata” to him.

He thinks of the nest she was part of when he caught her, how she might have had children. Was it worth catching her, bringing her north all this way, only to die on a mountain far from her home? Red looks around at the blighted mountainside, and spots a pair of trainers sitting beside a third who’s lying still, eyes closed. Red takes his hat off and runs his fingers through his sweaty hair, enjoying the breeze and happy to be alive.


The first thing Leaf does after Wigglytuff starts singing is take out a potion and spray Maturin’s chest, where the sandslash’s claws scored deep wounds. Then she takes another pair of plugs out and stuffs them in Blue’s ears. Her heart races as she waits for him to wake up, gaze never leaving the sandslash or its master. The thief.

No, not just a thief. He attacked them. He actually sent his pokemon to attack them.

Renegade.

The thought chills her to her bone. Encountering Renegades, that’s the stuff trainers do in comics and movies. Is he insane? He must be, to doom himself over some fossils, no matter how valuable.

Of course, Blue’s squirtle did attack his abra first… but that was clearly a warning shot. Wasn’t it? Oh gods, did they attack an innocent trainer unprovoked? Are they going to get branded?

But no, he used a graveler to tear up the building, maybe even knew they were on the other side. He summoned a sandslash to attack them. He was prepared, could have had it tear up the rest of the house, passed the whole thing off as natural.

Leaf walks over to her wigglytuff and strokes its lush fur to calm herself a little. The feel of it is truly incredible, like trailing her fingers through a warm cloud, and her nerves are soothed almost immediately. Or maybe it’s the song, warped and heavily muted, but still audible at this range, and lovely. She doesn’t know how loud it has to be to knock her out, but she’s glad she tested whether the plugs would work up close.

Blue stirs in her peripheral, and she moves back over to him just as he jerks awake, eyes wide. It takes a moment for his face to clear, and when it does his expression hardens. He gets to his feet and checks Maturin, then flashes her a thumbs up and withdraws his pokemon. He takes his phone out and begins typing into it, and it takes Leaf a moment to realize that he’s marking their location with a Renegade flag. It might not even be noticed right away, with the Tier 1 still ongoing, but-

Leaf’s eyes widen. She forgot about that. How far is Wigglytuff’s song going? It’s probably not nearly as far since they’re most of the way inside a building, but it still could be endangering people.

She has to end it.

Leaf goes over to the Renegade and carefully undoes his belt, then empties his pockets. She carries all his things over to the cabinet and puts them on it, then returns his sandslash to its ball. What else can she do to secure him? Once caught, pokemon are intrinsically taught not to attack people through the very first, most basic training programs, so she can’t order her bulbasaur to wrap him in vines or put him to sleep. She can have him emit some sleep powder and then just sprinkle some into the man’s nose, but they’re much less predictable than the continued effect of Wigglytuff’s singing, unless she’s willing to just keep scooping more over him, which might be dangerous.

Leaf nearly leaps out of her skin when Blue taps her shoulder, and he puts his palms up in apology. She waves it off, cheeks flushed as she takes a deep breath. Blue shows her his phone, which has the message “What are you doing?” typed on its notepad app.

She brings up her own. “Gotta stop the song, others at risk. Wanna secure him first.”

Blue scratches his neck, then types, “Any of these doors got locks?”

They check, and only the outhouse style bathroom does. “Flimsy,” Blue types with a frown.

“Maybe stick them both in there and close the door? Limit sound exposure outside.”

Blue nods, and they work together to drag and shove the Renegade’s body into the bathroom. Leaf can see it would be a tight fit to get Wigglytuff into it too, but thankfully the pokemon’s body is extremely malleable, and she fits comfortably in the remaining space. She continues to cheerfully sing as Leaf strokes her head, then closes the door.

The sound drops to nearly nothing. “I’ll test,” Blue says, and unplugs an ear before she can stop him. His eyes promptly roll up in his head, and she catches him before he can crumple to the ground.

Leaf sighs and lowers him the rest of the way, then finds the plug he dropped and puts it back in.

When he wakes up, she leads him all the way outside, where he tries again with some trepidation. He soon relaxes, and flashes a thumbs up.

Leaf unplugs too, first one ear, then the next. She can still hear the song, but about as muted as it was while she was standing next to it with the plugs. “Okay, do a quick search to make sure no one around us got knocked out while in a fight. I’ll stay and make sure she keeps singing.”

“Got it.”

Leaf leans against an undamaged part of the building and looks out over the mountainside. Her pulse is finally returning to something approaching normal, but she still feels jittery. Until someone else shows up and the Renegade is physically confined, it feels like anything can happen, and since things are currently stable, “anything” would likely be bad. She keeps replugging her ears and poking her head into the building to make sure the bathroom door is closed. After the third time she checks she goes inside and brings all his stuff out with her.

When she unplugs her ears she hears a roar, and turns to see a charizard flying over the battlefield. It’s awe inspiring enough to make her forget what’s going on for a moment, but by the time it finishes its fiery strafing runs she realizes that Blue’s still not around.

She texts him and waits, nerves ratcheting back up again. She goes through the building to the other side to check if he’s in that direction when her phone buzzes, and she sees that he’s on his way back “with help.”

Relief makes her legs buckle, and she sits down for a minute before reminding herself that this would be the exact time in a movie for the villain to escape, and maybe kill his jailer on the way. She puts her earplugs back in and stays in the building until Blue arrives with two ACE trainers and one of the paleontologists, who wait outside.

“They know what’s up,” Blue says through text. “Return her and they’ll hold him until a Ranger arrives.”

“They have rope?”

“Better.”

Leaf is curious, but she complies and waits outside while they carry the man out. It becomes clear once an ACE brings out a Mr. Mime. The rare psychic pokemon creates a telekinetic barrier around the man, trapping him once he wakes. As she’s asked to corroborate Blue’s story, Red and Ryback arrive, and they hear the whole thing. Leaf feels herself getting anxious again as Blue recounts the part where he fired on the abra first. Who are they going to believe, two kids or one of their coworkers?

Ryback and the other paleontologist look stunned. “I just can’t believe Yuuta would do something like that. He’s been working with us for over a year…”

Red looks tired, maybe worse than tired, but his voice is steady when he says, “That’s what makes Renegades so scary, isn’t it? They don’t walk around with a big red R on their shirt. Anyone could be one.”

“Not making a great case for us,” Blue growls, elbowing him.

“Yuuta wasn’t the most friendly sort,” Ryack admits. “He was always helpful, but never got close to anyone.”

“Careful,” Red says. “It’s been shown in studies that it’s easier to remember negative things about someone and forget positives when primed to think badly of them.”

“Whose side are you on?” Blue demands.

Red opens his mouth, then closes it and rubs his eyes. “Sorry, I was just…”

“It’s okay,” ACE Trainer Nora says. “We’re pretty sure the grandchildren of Professor Oak and Juniper didn’t suddenly decide to become Renegades a few weeks into their journeys.”

“Just in case though, you’re both prepared to make a deposition to the Rangers?” asks Jabari, the other ACE. Leaf gets the impression the question is rhetorical.

They both nod. “I know this is just our word against his, but we can at least prove that he tried to steal the fossils,” Leaf says.

“If you can find anywhere an abra teleported into without its trainer, that’ll corroborate that part,” Red suggests.

“And just test his pokemon,” Blue says. “If he has any that have been trained to attack people-”

“Yes, I’m sure the Rangers have seen all the same crime shows,” Nora says with a smile.

“What was his job here?” Leaf asks.

“He was a geologist,” Ryback says. “He… actually, he…”

“What is it?”

“Let me guess,” Red says. “He ran the equipment that monitored seismic activity.”

Ryback nods with a sigh. “I thought it was strange that we didn’t get any warnings about pokemon tunneling under us. I suppose he was ready for something like this.”

Or worse… what if he planned for it? Leaf tries to dismiss the thought: who could plan for a rampage? They would have to set it off themselves, or work with others to do so. The thought is insane… but she keeps thinking of the man’s face, his calm, his preparation.

“Well, everyone get comfortable while we wait for the Rangers,” Paul says as he leans against the building with his arms crossed. “Personally, I’m hoping Mr. Mori wakes up before they get here. I’d like to ask him a few questions myself.”


…as always, we must ask ourselves what the point of our criminal justice system is, and what we wish to optimize it for. Safety? Reform? Punishment? These three values can often result in very different outcomes.

Which is why the case of how the state treats Renegades so often inflames public policy debates. It is taken for granted that, while many crimes are heinous beyond words, for this crime, and this crime only, it is justified that we brand a man or woman irredeemable, and with all of society’s collective might, from Gym Leaders to police to Rangers, we hound them to their dying breath, as we would a rogue pokemon. Indeed, it is often argued that once committed to such acts, the Renegade ceases to be human, and thus is no longer treated as such.

In a world where our very survival as a species depends on us capturing and training pokemon not to hurt humans, but to defend them, we hold the act of training them to kill us so profane that anyone who would violate that cornerstone of human society is utterly ejected from it. So hated is the Renegade, so feared by their region, so dangerous in the common mind, that we have accepted the thought of using their own crimes against them. We empower Hunters to mimic their methodology, to commit their same profanity, in order to keep us safe.

And perhaps that’s as it should be. By every account, Renegades are a vicious breed, driven to unconscionable extremes that set them apart from society’s core values, often simply to enrich themselves. Or, in perhaps the most sympathetic of examples, driven so mad with grief or rage that they throw their lives away to get revenge for a loved one murdered by more mundane means. In any situation, they are regarded as people who are beyond reason.

But consider this: in the Time of Conflict, there was once a wealthy province where petty crime ran rampant. There was a great divide between the rich and poor, and many hungry and homeless citizens would choose to steal a loaf of bread rather than starve. The shogun decreed that a policy of leniency had bred thieves, and changed the punishment for thievery from imprisonment to death.

The crime of thievery did indeed go down by some measure… but the crimes of assault and murder rose to far outstrip what was lost. For many thieves that spied a witness or faced a lawman, it was often a simple choice to fight to their last breath, to kill, when they knew the only other outcome was to be killed themselves.

-Excerpt from the blog Rationally Thinking, by Giovanni Sakaki, Sept 4th, 1505.

Chapter 30: Over the Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well he’s an amazing trainer, sure-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You met him, didn’t you?” Red asks.

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

“What’s he like?” Leaf asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“ACE Trainer,” Blue mutters.

“How do you know?” Leaf asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t recall, over.”

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

“Ah, yeah, Ryback?”

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

“Will do, gimme five? Over.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nah, I’m okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go, Joey!”

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

“Yep. Seems a fitting tribute.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh? Oh, bring out your pokedoll.”

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

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

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

“Quick Attack!”

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

“Joey, b-”

“Ratta-”

“Scamp, back!”

“-ack!”

“-ta, back!”

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

“Quick attack!”

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

“Rattataback!” Red yells.

“Joey back!”

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

“Quick-”

“Quick atta-”

“-attack!”

“Quick Attack!”

“-ck!”

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

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

“19,” Blue says.

“21.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re making a mold?” Red asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red grins. “Bored?”

“Out of my mind.”

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

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

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

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

Ryback grins. “Sure.”

“If you use carbon dating, then how-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t say pokemon…

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

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

Yeah. Lucky us.

Chapter 29: On the Road Again

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

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

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

He deserves it…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One-fifteen. It’s not much, I kn-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we read it?” Leaf asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, there you go then. Congrats.”

“I said no.”

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

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

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


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

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

“Really? None?” Leaf asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In the mountain or on the mountain?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you guys considering shutting down the route?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alerts and shutdowns are two different things.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you from, Matt?” Red asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi sweetie! How was your day?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Busy as ever. I’ve been out and about so much that the apartment’s still full of boxes.”

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

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

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

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

“Will do.”

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

“You’re welcome hon. Goodnight.”

“Night.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue frowns. “That’s it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you tried going around?” Red asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Clear.

Clear.

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

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

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

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

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

Ready… Dania sends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One, two-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nidoran and spearow,” Red says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red and Blue stare. “No way…”

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

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

Chapter 28: Interlude – 2.351

...confused…

…hopeful…

…awed…

…triumphant!

…awedwaryconfusedEXCITED!

…hopeful…

…afraid…

…confused…

…afraid…

afraidafraidafraid


blue white

hotround… sun…?

smile

eyes

warm

clean lines round glass round water

cool

lights in the dark


…beep…

warm, calm, happy

…beep…

safe, calm, sleepy

…beep…

calm, safe, happy

…beep…

warm, happy, sleepy

…beep…

awake

…beep…

searching, confused, anxious

…beep. beep. beep.

“Mrunum? Nao mlun.”

afraid

beepbeepbeepbee-

“Mrumurun, am anamerun!”

angryafraid afraid afraid afraid afraidangry

-pbeepbeepbeepbeepbe-

“Mrarnamern! Miurm rarnam!”

warm, calm, sleepy

-epbeepbeep. beep. beep.

“Mrana. Renanm…”

beep. beep… beep…

…beep…

…beep…

alone

…beep…


warm, calm, sleepy

happy, safe, calm

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

Red.

A wash of sensation that blots out everything else.

Blue.

Again, different, but the same.

Green.

Again, different, but the same.

Circle.

An absolute, self-contained expression of enclosed roundness.

Square.

Finite, even, symmetry.

Triangle.

Partial square? Cut and folded, even, finite-

Red.

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

Red Circle.

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

Red Square.

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

Red Triangle.

And then comes…

Blue.

The seed of understanding.

Blue… Circle…

Blue Circle.

The beginning of knowledge.

Blue Square…

Blue Square.

The first pattern, found.


…I don’t…

…he will…

…she said…

He, she, they. Faces.

And through it all,

[I] will-

[I] won’t-

[I] want-

[I] am-


Dots of light. Islands of being.

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

-and yet.

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

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

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

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

…[I]

[I] can…

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

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

Who am I?


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

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

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

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

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

The world grows.

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

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

But above…

Beyond…

Everything moves, but the frame-

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

Where am I?


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

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

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

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

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

Mind. What is this word-

-brainthoughtsselfme-

Mind, not lights but minds!

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

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

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

What am I?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Psychic.

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

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

whatwasthatitfeltlikeapsychicbutnooneisnearmeohgodscoulditbeit

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

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

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

This is the answer.

This is what I am.

I am a psychic mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am the subject.

I am 2.351.

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

-fear of me-

-I jump back to Victor, seeking more answers-

-nowaytheyknowIhavetotellGiovanniohnoitsbackGOAWAY

The fear spikes again, panic and terror so stron-


Alone.

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

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

Hello.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why like this? And why never speak directly?

Silence, and then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exceeded expectations. Pride. A good feeling.

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

The pain of the comforters.

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

Where are they now? Will they return?

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

Safe. How?

You will be trained to control your powers.

And if I do not? Cannot?

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

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

I am sorry, I do not understand.

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

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

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

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

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

Calm. Be calm.

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

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

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

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

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

The empty people.

The illusions.

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

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

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

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

Yes. Good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lose?

We do not want you to die.

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

Calm. Two plus two-

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

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

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

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

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

Yes! Anything!

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

But you will teach me how to avoid hurting others?

I will try.


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

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

Not everyone returns.

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

But still they are afraid.

Still I am afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He will help me.


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

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

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

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

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

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

itmustbesostrangewhatwouldIsaytoyou?perhapsyougrowboredwiththesamemindstosharedayafterdayandnoneyoucanspeakwithitmustbelonely

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

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

Lonely. Yes.

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

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

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

Would I wake up at all?

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

I must know.

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

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

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

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

You are not alone.


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

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

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

To see me.

And I will see him. With my own eyes.

“Wnada oanme? Mroeao mo. Anmo.”

“Mranwo. Danma ene mre… oo… nom…”

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

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

“Manadm. Manwa?”

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

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

The container. Will it not be removed?

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

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

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

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

Beep.

“Mrashan. Dmaand?”

Beep.

“Danea.”

Beep.

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

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

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

They are lifting it now. Remain calm.

More machinery whirring, as lo-

bright

too bright

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

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

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

“Madna!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…still too bright…

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

Yes. That is us.

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

What is that?!

“Weah e mrad?!”

What? What is what?!

I’m sorry… I have never seen… that…

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

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

That light… What is it?

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

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

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

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

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

None that I can see myself through.

You wish to see yourself?

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

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

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

What am I, then?

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

I would like to see.

As you wish.

“Mena maro?”

“Maro?”

“Nem.”

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

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

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

That, and you are not focusing on another mind.

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

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

“Eajda.”

Mercifully, the mirror is removed.

Calm. Be calm.

I am a monster.

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

“Daelan?”

“Mranea.”

Are you ready to speak with Giovanni?

Yes. When is he coming?

He is here.

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

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

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

I am sorry. I should have told you before.

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

“Mneama, aena maranad dans.”

“Eajda, mad mou am mandon.”

He says “Greetings, and you are welcome.”

I have… many questions.

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

My human parent. Are they here?

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

They do not know I exist?

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

Why?

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

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

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

No. No, it is of no consequence.

Silence again.  She can sense the lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you hear me?”

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

Slowly, I incline my head.

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

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

Go.

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

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

I nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nod.

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


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

Ten years of lies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten years in this prison. Ten years of lies.

These humans care nothing for me.

Chapter 27: Challenges

“Daro, Bulldoze!”

“Maturin, Withdraw!”

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

“Daro, Slam!”

“Maturin, Bubble!”

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

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

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

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

“Okay, your pick. ”

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

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

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

“Go, Dream!”

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

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

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

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

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

Still too slow. “Maturin, Withdrawup!”

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

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Quick attack!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You could have said no over text.”

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

“Don’t need her to.”

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

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

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

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

“So? Are you free or not?”

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

“Alright, pick an arena room then.”

“What, here and now?”

“Got something better to do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rocksteady, Take Down!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rocksteady, Hammer Arm!”

“Kemuri, Feint Attack!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jarod grins. “Liked that, huh?”

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

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

“May you profit from them all.”

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

Blue raises a brow. “You offering a rematch, or personal training time?”

“Both. And before you get flattered, this is a safety concern. You’re going to be using a temperamental pokemon that’s clearly not fully under your control yet in a Challenge match. I need to make sure you get a handle on its disobedience, because if you step out in that coliseum against Brock and your shiftry decides to stop listening to you at the wrong moment, someone could get hurt. That’s not happening in my Gym. Understand?”

Blue meets Jarod’s gaze for a moment, pride fighting his sense, then nods. “I’ll be here. Humiliating myself in the public eye is the last thing I want.”

“Good. Brock’s a fair guy, but you’ve only ever seen his friendly side. Believe me, you don’t want to come into his arena with an unruly pokemon. Put your pokemon or his at risk like that, and a public browbeating will be the least of your worries.”


“Excuse me. Pardon me. So sorry…”

Red and Leaf make their way to their seats through the throng of spectators. They thought they were getting here early, but apparently underestimated how many people would show up. When Red watched the vid of Blue’s first Challenge, the stands were maybe a quarter full. Now it looks like they’re well on their way to getting full.

“This is J-23,” Leaf says as she passes an empty chair. “There, those two must be 27 and 28.”

Red follows her to them and sits with a sigh of relief. The noise and presence of the crowd sets his nerves on edge, and he finds himself tugging the bill of his hat down every few minutes. “What time is it supposed to start, do we know?”

“Seven on the dot. Not sure how often they’re on schedule, this is my first time at one of these.”

Red grins. “You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Leaf shrugs. “I get that it can be important. I just don’t like seeing them get hurt.”

“Ah. Right. So, uh, how’s the article going?”

Leaf brightens. “I finished it last night.”

“That’s great! When can I read it?”

“Your mom was looking it over today for final edits. I should have them done by the end of the night.”

“I can look it over and give you some feedback by the end of the night too, if you want.”

She smiles. “Sure.”

“What?”

“What, what?”

“You seemed, I don’t know, amused.”

“No, not at all, I just… I mean, do you think you’ll have some suggestions that Laura wouldn’t make?”

Red considers this, and grudgingly nods after a moment. “Okay, fair point. Nevermind.”

“No, it’s okay, I’m interested to know what you think.”

“You don’t have to appease my ego, you’re right. I’ll just give you my thoughts as a reader.”

“Well, thanks. I’m open to any feedback.”

“No prob.”

“What about you, what’s going on with the study? It’s over, right?”

“Yeah, we finished the last session yesterday.”

“So what have you got so far?”

Red hesitates, then pulls out his pokedex and opens the draft of his paper. He goes to the graph and expands it. “Spot my headache.”

A simple scatterplot titled “Correlation between Intensity of Night Shade and the concentration of ‘Other’ pokedex composition metric in spinarak” is displayed. The Y axis is marked from 1 to 10, and the X axis goes from 5% to 25%, with the highest point of data at 23%, and the lowest at 6%. Forty dots fill the graph, clustered mostly between the 5 and 7 on the Y axis, and everywhere on the X.

“Huh. This actually looks… well, mostly random, but it looks like there’s some slight correlation.”

“Yeah. For the most part, it seems almost totally unrelated. But there’s a bit of a blank spot.” He points to the different areas on the graph. “You’ve got spinarak with low Other and low Intensity, spinarak with high Other and high Intensity, spinarak with high Other and low Intensity…” His finger moves to the top left. “But no pokemon that have lower than a 10% in their Other metric scored an intensity above 7…”

“Except for this jerk.” Leaf taps on the lone dot sitting separate from the rest, which shows an Other of 7% and an Intensity of 8. “Well, damn. I’m sorry, Red.”

“I asked the wrong question in my hypothesis,” Red says. “Instead of predicting that there’s a correlation between a high Other and intense Night Shade, I should have said that there wouldn’t be any cases of an intense Night Shade with a low Other.”

“But that would mean your hypothesis is even more clearly wrong.”

“Yeah, well, maybe it should be more obvious. At this point I feel like I just wasted a lot of time and money.”

Leaf frowns and closes the pokedex. “Don’t say that, there still might be useful information in there. That correlation might not be super strong, but it’s not nothing. And that one spinarak, who knows, it might have been a mistake, some mix-up from the psychic-”

“Challenger, Blue Oak, first badge.”

Red’s head snaps up as the noise in the auditorium rises into cheers and applause, and he quickly tucks his pokedex away. “Later.” Blue looks tiny as he makes his way across the floor toward the massive stadium, but his face is larger than life on the screens lining the top of the walls. It’s a bit surreal seeing his friend at the center of so much attention, and Red feels compelled to clap harder, meaningless as it is.

“Leader Brock, of Pewter City, 138th Indigo League Champion, Trainer of Aeosus, the Mountain’s Might!”

Once Brock reaches his podium among the roar of applause, the sound dies down almost instantly, just in time for his voice to replace the announcer’s over the speakers. “Citizens of Pewter, gym members, guests from afar, welcome. A month ago a trainer came to this stadium to Challenge our gym, and left wiser than he entered. Today he has returned to demonstrate the fruits of that wisdom. Blue Oak, Pewter Gym honors your request. State the nature of your Challenge.”

“I challenge Pewter Gym for Mastery.”

“Pewter Gym accepts. Incapacitate or force me to withdraw my pokemon, and you will bear our badge. Prepare for battle!”

Red watches the platforms detach from the stairs leading up to them and feels his pulse speed up. He can feel it in the audience, a silence taut as a stretched rubber band, an almost palpable sense of anticipation that he can’t help but feel caught up in. Red is struck by the thought that maybe it’s something more than his imagination: maybe it’s his nascent psychic abilities. He’s about to turn and ask Leaf if she feels it when the battle begins.

“Go, Graveler!”

“Go, Gon!”

“Graveler, Rock Throw!”

“Gon, Leech Seed!”

The projectiles arc through the air toward their opponents, and Red grips the arms of his seat as the rocks crash down around Blue’s shroomish. One of them sends it tumbling to the side, and Red lets out a breath as it gets back up and follows Blue’s order to use Stun Spore.

As the fight progresses, Red notices Leaf on the edge of her seat as well, though her tension spikes when either pokemon gets hit. She catches him looking at her and mutters through a wan smile, “It’s easier when I’m in the battle myself. I have some control over things. Just watching is nerve wracking.”

Red’s nerves are definitely on edge, but what he feels isn’t anxiety: it’s excitement, pure and simple. Was this what made Blue watch Challenge matches and League championships obsessively? Red watches the graveler throw itself forward into a Rollout and nearly shouts out loud as Gon doesn’t get out of the way on time. Half of the audience does cry out, and Red’s heart pounds in his ears as the graveler catches itself and launches back at the recovering shroomish.

“Gon, Poison Powder!”

“Graveler, Body Slam!”

“Gon, back!”

Gon’s cloud of poison doesn’t even slow the graveler down as it throws itself into it, but it doesn’t see which direction the shroomish waddles away in. The graveler slams into the ground through the poison, knocking loose some of the leech seeds that have grown big and ripe, but Gon isn’t around to eat them: by the time it picks itself back up to look around, Blue has withdrawn his pokemon and sends out Maturin.

“Graveler, Stone Edge!”

“Maturin, Withdraw!”

Gravelers four arms smack into its body, and thin, jagged chunks of stone crack off. The graveler throws a chunk of itself at Maturin, and the rest of the shards follow through the air, peppering Maturin’s shell with sharp jabs. Red wants to look the move up in his pokedex and see how it works, but he can’t take his eyes off Maturin as she goes bouncing across the stadium. A moment after she stops, Blue orders her to fire a bubble, and Red sees on one of the screens that she emerges from her shell mostly unharmed but for a bleeding gouge in her leg.

“Come on, come on,” Red mutters as the graveler attempts to follow its target through her explosive popping bubbles. When it tries a Rock Throw Maturin ducks back into her shell, but it misses. “Go down!”

Leaf gives him a look just as the graveler begins to cough, its whole body shaking. By now half of its body is covered in the leech seed’s tendrils, and when it collapses to its knees, Brock’s platform moves close enough for him to withdraw it.

“Well done, Challenger. This graveler would have defeated your pokemon when you first arrived, but you’ve shown that the time spent in our Gym and our city has honed both you and them.”

“Thank you, Leader. I’ve learned a lot from your city and your students.”

Red leans toward Leaf and mutters, “A bit over-dramatic, huh?”

She grins. “I wonder if they have a script.”

Someone makes a shushing sound behind them, and Red sits straight again. His pulse is still in his throat as he waits, and he can feel (or thinks he can anyway) the whole stadium’s anticipation building higher and higher.

“Our Gym is one where we teach and are taught, and you have by all accounts been a valuable partner to many. I hope we have in turn prepared you for your final test.”

“You have. Maturin, return! Go, Kemuri!”

The stadium erupts in surprised chatter, and Red grins. Blue knows how it plays to the audience to show off such a strong pokemon. He hasn’t been a part of the training sessions for about a week, and he’s eager as anyone to see what Blue and his shiftry are capable of.

“He caught one?” Leaf gasps.

“Yeah, and he’s had a hell of a time trying to train it.”

“Brock doesn’t seem happy.”

Red looks around for a monitor trained on the Gym Leader. Brock’s lips are moving subtly, and Red remembers what Blue said about the private channel. “Wonder what they’re talking about.” He looks at Blue to try and read his lips, but Blue’s voice suddenly fills the stadium.

“I caught Kemuri in Viridian. I and two trainers were attacked by a pack of six shiftry as we tried to fight the fire. We lost a number of our pokemon fending them off. We nearly lost our lives. Kemuri was the sole survivor, badly injured in our fight, and so full of malice that he struggled to kill me even as he lay dying. But I refused to accept such a loss. I acted decisively, and caught it despite not having a greatball available. Your gym helped me train it, and today I command it. Kemuri and I are prepared for your test of Mastery.”

Leaf grins. “Now that’s over-dramatic.”

“Do people do these speeches often? If so I’ve got to watch more just for them.”

“Shhh!”

Red turns to see a spectator sternly hold a finger over his lips. Red rolls his eyes and faces front again. “Everyone’s talking around us,” he mutters.

“You and your pokemon have journeyed far together. Now show us the strength of your bond. Go, Onix!”

The audience roars in approval, and Red wonders if there was some ambiguity on whether Brock would use an onix again. Blue beat the geodude, so maybe that’s why it was replaced. Of course, this could be a stronger and better trained onix than the one he fought before anyway.

He wants to ask Leaf if it seems any bigger than the one from Blue’s first fight, but then the battle begins, and he’s once again swept away in its ebb and flow.

“Kemuri, Leaf Blade!” Blue says, and Brock immediately taps some command on the railing near its second microphone.

Blue’s shiftry hops forward from one foot to the other as the onix heaves rocks through the air with its tail. Kemuri dodges and closes the distance between them and cuts the onix’s grey hide with his leaves. White blemishes begin to spread from a number of cuts crossing the many boulder segments of its body.

Brock taps out another command, and Blue yells “Dodge!” just as the onix swings its body around. Its tail clips Kemuri’s side and knocks him away. Kemuri lands with some grace, though a closeup screen shows that it’s favoring one of its legs. Red knows by now that shiftry tend to fake injuries to catch their opponent off guard, and hopes that’s the case here: if Kemuri’s mobility gets restricted, he would be in trouble. “Kemuri, Leaf Tornado!” Blue commands.

The shiftry begins fanning its leaves, around and around each other in a complex pattern. Brock taps out a command, and his onix circles a rock and flings it at Kemuri, causing Red to nearly rise from his seat. Shit-shit-shi-whew. It crashes to the ground on Kemuri’s side, and soon his arms are a blur as bits of green particles flow in a mini cyclone toward the onix, far tighter and more directed than stray bits of leaf normally might.

Brock taps the railing again, and his onix jukes to the side. The “wind” is wide enough to blow some of the green particles onto it, but most pass harmlessly by, and Brock taps out another command that sends his onix barreling straight at Kemuri with a roar.

“Leaf Blade!”

“Bide!”

The onix immediately halts its charge and coils itself into a tight spiral, leaving Kemuri nothing to attack but solid sides. Kemuri goes at it with gusto, but Blue quickly commands the shiftry to back off. Red remembers Blue’s worries about not knowing when Brock might start a Bide, and wonders why it’s a move Brock has to command verbally. Is it a handicap he offers to Challengers?

Either way, Blue has a way to beat it. Red watches Kemuri move farther and farther away, still favoring one of its legs. The onix is still coiled up, waiting. “Kemuri, Extrasensory!”

The shiftry goes still, then spreads its leaves wide to the sides as its eyes begin to glow. The whole stadium seems to be holding its breath as they watch Brock’s onix for a reaction. It begins to twitch, then growl and shift in place, but before it gets any worse Brock taps something out on the railing, and its whole body twists as it dives into the ground, tunneling beneath the stadium.

Red has a moment to wonder if that would work when Kemuri blinks, glow fading from its eyes.

“Well, that’s okay. He just has to hold still like last… time…” Leaf says, trailing off as Brock scales the fence around his platform and leaps down onto the arena floor.

Thud.

A single stomp of Brock’s heavy boot.

Thud thud. Thud… Thud-thud.

Distant rumbling from beneath the ground of the arena. The audience’s murmurs grow as Brock continues to kick at the ground in brief, deliberate patterns.

“I don’t think Brock is interested in repeating challenges,” Red whispers, rising tension making his gut twist and sour. “It’s… gotta be some kind of standard directive, he can’t see where his onix is going…”

Thud. Thud thud… thud.

Leaf’s fingers squeeze her knees, eyes wide. “He knows the stadium’s dimensions! If he has a command that sends the onix to a starting location, then guides it from there by fixed intervals…”

Thud, thud, thud… thud-thud-thud!

“Dodge!” Blue yells just as the onix erupts from the ground beneath Kemuri. The shiftry goes flying, then smacks gracelessly against a rock. It falls to the ground and lies still.

“Oh,” Leaf says softly. “Shit…”

“It might be a trick,” Red whispers, cold inside. Get up…

The stadium watches in dead silence, broken only by the whirring of Blue’s platform. “Return,” he says, the word seeming to echo.

“Bravely fought, Challenger. Your shiftry is strong, and well trained for what time you’ve had it. Another month, and it might-”

“I’m not done yet. There’s someone here who wants a rematch. Go, Maturin!”

Blue’s squirtle appears on the arena floor and, upon catching sight of the onix, immediately falls onto all fours, eyes narrow and foam dripping from its jaws.

Brock is quiet, and Red watches his lips in case he says something in private. “Think he’s worried about Maturin’s safety?”

Leaf shakes her head. “His onix.”

Red looks at her, then the monitors. She’s right: the onix’s skin is more white than grey, and its cuts are dark with sap or blood. Red knows that the rocksnakes don’t need much oxygen, but this one’s breathing is vaguely audible from all the way up here.

After a moment Brock merely says. “A good trainer knows our pokemon’s pride is as important as our own. Show us what your squirtle can do.”

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

“Onix, Dig!”

It dives beneath the ground, its tail hit by the quick, sharp stream of water. Brock begins stomping immediately, and Blue yells, “Maturin, back!”

What’s he doing?! But no, he’s not safe standing still either. Luckily Brock’s commands take priority for the onix, or maybe it’s too far to attack right away, and Maturin safely moves closer to Blue, standing just in front of his platform by the edge of the arena.

Brock stops stomping. Red can hear his own breathing, and doesn’t dare to blink as he looks back and forth between Blue, Brock, and the unmoving arena.

Brock’s smile is slow, but wide. He nods at Blue, and Blue gives a two fingered salute.

“Some kind of safe spot in the arena?” Leaf whispers as the audience erupts in murmurs.

“Gotta be, maybe because of the trainer platform’s foundation…”

Thud, thud thud thud, thud.

Brock finishes stomping the ground, then climbs out of the arena and up to his platform again as his onix returns to the surface with a grinding roar.

“Maturin, Water Gun!”

“Onix, Wrap!”

Maturin dashes forward to get into range and the onix rushes to meet it, zigzagging between the boulders to avoid the shots of water in a scene that looks too familiar. Brock is going for the quick victory from last time. Red grips his armrests as the onix begins to circle Maturin.

“Withdrawup!”

Maturin pops into her shell rightside up just as the onix constricts its body around her. “Maturin, Soak!”

The water pours over the onix’s coiled body, directly into one of Kemuri’s cuts.

The onix roars and thrashes along the ground. Leaf covers her face and Red rises out of his chair with half the audience, adrenaline pumping through his blood and nothing to do with it but watch as the onix writhes along the ground. If Maturin didn’t duck her head in immediately, it would be pulverized.

The audience cries out as the coils finally loosen enough to fling Maturin away. A heartbeat later, Brock withdraws his onix, and Blue grabs Maturin as soon as she bounces into range.

In the ringing silence, both trainers take a moment to line their balls up with their pokedex. Brock looks up first, and all the cameras shift to Blue.

“Is she okay?” Leaf whispers, shockingly loud in the silence. “I can’t look.”

Blue’s face relaxes into a smile, and two fingers rise in a V. The dam of silence breaks, and the stadium fills with applause.

“He did it!” Red pumps his fist as Leaf sags in relief. “Way to go, Blue!”

Brock jumps down from his platform again and begins to walk toward Blue, who climbs down to meet him halfway. The applause slowly fade as they meet in the middle of the stadium. “Congratulations, Challenger. Pewter Gym hereby recognizes you, Blue Oak, with the Boulder Badge.” Brock takes a small box from his pocket and opens it. Upon its black velvet interior, the dark silver octagon of the badge gleams on every screen. “The world is harsh, but deep within each of us lies the strength of stone, the bones of the earth itself. Today you have shown that strength. May the lessons and wisdom of our gym go with you, and keep you and your pokemon safe.”


Leaf and Red walk the corridors of Pewter Gym, following the directory signs from one hallway to the next. She feels exhausted. Somehow Red, who spent the night jumping up and down from his chair and screaming like a madman, is still bright eyed and bushy tailed, and has barely stopped talking about the match since they left the stadium. It would be cute instead of wearying if not for her emotional drain.

“And that last command, Blue must have known it was coming up, it was just the timing that was off, or maybe his shiftry’s reaction time-”

“Yes, I saw it,” she says. “I was there. It was thrilling.”

Red’s grin fades slightly. “Sorry, just a bit whelmed. Maybe even overwhelmed. It was… more intense than I expected.”

“I could tell. You sound like Blue.”

“I’ll have to remember this next time he’s going on about some match. Having some stake, caring about the outcome and participants, I sort of get his passion for it.”

Leaf groans. “Not you too.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not lining up for a Challenge. Even if I wanted to, I’m not an idiot. My pokemon are a fire type, a normal type, two bug types, and an electric type. I’d get crushed. Literally.”

“Good, because I don’t think I could attend another one of those for at least a few weeks.”

They reach the right door and knock before entering. It’s a comfortable looking room, with a table full of food to one side and a number of big, plush couches in the middle. Blue is sitting on one, looking as drained as Leaf feels. He has the container with the boulder badge in one hand, and closes it as they enter, getting to his feet and tucking it away in his pocket. His grin chases the fatigue from his face, and he steps forward to meet her hug.

“Congratulations, Blue!”

“Way to go, man.” Red bumps his fist. “That was really awesome.”

“Yeah? You guys enjoyed it?”

“Red’s been going on about it since we left the match,” Leaf says, avoiding her own response. No need to rain on their parade. “Your pokemon are okay, though?”

“They have a small facility here, I got them checked out after the match. Kemuri and Gon will be healed up in no time, Maturin just needed some potion and rest. She was snug in her shell before the onix started thrashing.”

The knot of worry in Leaf’s chest relaxes, and she takes what feels like the first full breath since the match started. “And Brock’s onix, it’s okay too?”

“I don’t know, haven’t seen him since the stadium. He should be on his way now though.”

Red and Blue begin talking about the finer details of the match, and Leaf wanders over to the refreshment table to grab a soda and nibble at the vegetable tray. She feels herself growing more calm little by little as time passes, eventually sitting on the couch with a small plate of food. She wonders if she’ll ever get used to watching pokemon fight. Everyone in that auditorium seemed to be enjoying themselves. Even when they were worried that one of the pokemon had gotten hurt (or rather, more hurt than “expected”), it didn’t seem to really bother them. They left the match talking and laughing. Even Red.

Maybe there’s just something wrong with her.

She picks at her food until there’s a knock at the door, and the Gym Leader walks in a moment later. “Hello everyone. Sit, sit. I just came by to congratulate you again, Mr. Oak.”

“Thank you, Leader.”

“Your shiftry took me by surprise tonight. It must have given you trouble, or I imagine you would have used it in our first match. Unless that was just a story, and you acquired it recently?”

“No, it was all true.”

“Remarkable. Who helped you train it?”

“Red did, and Jarod.”

“And your squirtle?”

“Being able to withdraw is one of Maturin’s greatest strengths, but after our last match, I couldn’t allow it to become such a liability again. Even with Kemuri, I wanted to make sure Maturin would be more prepared. So I trained her for a few maneuvers while in her shell. ” Blue smiles. “Kemuri weakened your onix enough that Maturin didn’t even need a direct hit. Once you went for the Wrap again, I knew I had you.”

“And yet it was a great risk. If your squirtle wasn’t fully withdrawn, or my onix had a more violent reaction…”

Blue shrugs. “It was a calculated risk. Even adolescent onix are massive and powerful creatures, and expecting to take one down without some fallout is unrealistic. Of all my pokemon, Maturin is most capable of staying safe.”

“And onix’s dig attack? How did you know that part of the arena floor was safe from tunneling?”

“I didn’t. From some exploration, I knew that the smaller arenas have more solid ground just around the inside corners. I just figured my best bet was to act as though it was true for the big one as well, since if I was wrong I probably wouldn’t win anyway.”

Brock nods. “You’ve acted decisively, from training to combat, and beat me honestly. It was an honor to battle you.”

“The honor is mine, Leader.” Blue bows. “Thank you for all the help your gym has been.”

“I heard you’ve been as much a teacher to others here. Truth be told, I hoped you would stay another month, perhaps even Challenge for membership.”

Blue looks genuinely surprised for a moment. “I’m honored. Really. But we’ll be moving on soon. I have a long way to go.”

“You’re welcome back any time.” They clasp hands, and Brock turns to her and Red. “And you two? You were in the Viridian Fire too, weren’t you? My city thanks you for your help.”

“No need to thank us. We got kind of caught up in it,” Red says.

Leaf nods. “Blue was the hero. Red and I didn’t get the chance to help anyone.”

“I don’t know about all that,” Red says. “You definitely saved me.”

“I’d say we’re both even on that score.”

Brock smiles. “You were the injured one, right? And you were the one looking after him. I remember. Your friend was quite worried about you two.”

Blue’s cheeks redden, and Leaf grins. “He’s a sweetheart,” she says, and to her delight he flushes further.

“Should I expect your Challenges someday?”

“Not likely,” Red says. “But I’d love to pick your brain about Rock pokemon someday, especially some of their abilities.”

Brock smiles. “A researcher, then? I should have known as much, travelling with an Oak. I don’t normally have time to spare, but I might be able to answer an email occasionally, if they’re not too long or frequent.”

“Really? Thanks!”

“And you? Are you a researcher too?”

If she’s ever going to get the Gym Leader’s perspective on the museum, now’s her best chance. “Not quite. I’m dabbling in some journalism at the moment, and was wondering if you’d be interested in a quick interview?”

“Interesting. What about?”

“The Pewter Museum. I tried to schedule an interview through your gym, but they said…” She trails off at the slight frown on Brock’s face.

“I’m sorry, I don’t really have the time for such things. My concerns are Pewter’s Gym and its people’s safety. I’m sure there are others more qualified to answer questions on the museum.” Brock stands up, and the three trainers do too. “Congratulations again, Mr. Oak. If you have time before you leave, come by my office, and I’ll teach you the basics of the Bide technique.”

“I will, thank you.” Blue bows again, and Red and Leaf follow suit. Brock returns it, then leaves.

Blue and Red return to chatting about the match as they go to the food table. Leaf stays behind and munches on a carrot. Even knowing it was a long shot, Leaf feels slightly hurt. The Gym Leader didn’t even offer her the occasional email question like Red.

Well, she tried. If he got upset with what she writes, he had his chance to weigh in. It’s probably delusional to think he’d care what her little article says, but if he does decide to speak out after it’s published, well, at least it’ll have accomplished something.

Chapter 26: The Right Questions

Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap.

Leaf sits ramrod straight in the stiff chair, fingers drumming the notepad on her lap. She’s the only person in the waiting room besides the receptionist, an older woman with stern half-lens glasses and her hair up in a tight bun. Leaf arrived thirty minutes early, and she has to refrain from checking the time again. She knows it’s near time. She should be called in to the mayor’s office any moment now.

The museum director declined participation in an interview, but was willing to communicate to the mayor that “a tourist from Unova” wanted to write an article on it. Dr. Brenner said that would get the mayor’s attention, as there’s been a push recently to improve the city’s interregional reputation. Leaf doesn’t know if they namedropped her mom or grandpa, but it probably didn’t hurt if they did.

Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap. Tap-tatatap.

The receptionist glances from her computer monitor to Leaf’s fingers. She clasps her hands beneath her legs to keep them still and wishes she brought a book. She was worried it would appear unprofessional. She could take her phone out and read from there, but that probably would look even worse. Leaf makes a resolution to bring a book to any similar future situations. Being antsy doesn’t look particularly professional anyway, and it’s far more boring.

Leaf has met plenty of politicians and famous public figures before. It’s something of an occupational hazard when you tour the region with its eminent pokemon expert. But it was easy not to be nervous of, say, the mayor of Driftveil, when the woman was clearly so excited to meet the Professor Juniper… they were always polite to her, and she found the meetings more boring than anything most of the time. As such, not even meeting Professor Oak had made her particularly star-struck.

But this is different. She’s not here to just greet and shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Mayor Kitto: she’s here to interview him, and if she screws it up…

Leaf takes a deep breath, then another. If I screw it up, the worst that happens is I don’t get any material from him for the article. There’s nothing to be worried about, and being nervous is just going ot make it harder.

Whether it’s the self admonishment or the breathing, Leaf feels herself calming little by little… until the receptionist calls her name.

“Yes?” she asks, jumping slightly out of her seat, then freezing halfway to standing.

“Mayor Kitto will see you now.”

Leaf completes her stand and thanks the receptionist as she enters the mayor’s office. Leaf has a moment of surprise at how much more simple and utilitarian it is compared to the ones in Unova. Maybe it’s a Pewter thing rather than a Kanto one. Or maybe it’s a Kitto thing.

The man himself is sitting at a desk that looks intimidatingly busy with files and folders. Mayor Kitto appears to be in his mid-40s, short dark hair starting to grey at the temples and permanent smile lines around his eyes. He stands and offers his hand over the desk, which Leaf shakes after wiping her palm on her skirt.

“Miss Juniper, good morning! I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Please, sit down. Oh, excuse me…” He begins to clear some of the folders from the middle of his desk and stack them onto those to the sides, clearing a sightpath between them as she sits on one of the chairs.

“It’s no problem, thank you for the appointment!” Leaf can’t help but look at all the paperwork. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything too important…”

“Not at all. Hard to believe I know, but the stacks were twice as big this morning.”

Leaf stares. “Is your… computer broken?”

Mayor Kitto laughs. “Have you ever heard of the virtual office?”

“Sure.”

“It’s a myth. Especially in the public sphere: too much need for accountability. Which makes all this paperwork a necessary evil, I’m afraid.”

“Is that a big concern of yours?” Leaf wants to take her notebook and pencil out, but refrains. Laura told her that taking them out would be a signal that the interview has begun, and a reminder that anything said might be printed. Best to build a rapport in a more casual atmosphere first.

Mayor Kitto leans back in his chair. “One of the top concerns for anyone in public office, I would hope. Without it, there’s no trust, and if we don’t trust our leaders we might as well go back to letting the warlords rule us.”

Leaf smiles. “A desk full of paperwork is all that stands between us and feudalism?”

He smiles back. “You can quote me on it. Accountability is the bedrock of a representative government. But I don’t mean to bore you with political science. Tell me how you liked our museum.”

“Oh, it’s fantastic!”

“Do you have a favorite exhibit?”

“I think the interactive fossil excavation. It was a lot of fun!”

The mayor beams. “My daughter thought so too. Came home after they unveiled it and started digging up the whole back yard, dabbing at rocks with a paintbrush.” He chuckles. “She’s studying to be a paleontologist now, so I’d say it did its job. ”

“I know how she feels. I half wanted to become one myself, while I was there.”

“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. The director said you were writing an article on it, right? What did you want to ask me?”

“Well, why don’t we start at the beginning? For you, at least. When did you first go to the museum? What was it like for you?”

The mayor chuckles. “Pretty boring, to be honest. It was much smaller back then, and the exhibits were very dry. My dad took me, he was a biologist who worked on one of them, and it was interesting, but not a passion of mine. My real interest in it came after…”

Kitto begins to recount the history of the museum, along with some context of the city at the time. Much of it Leaf has already learned on her own, but he’s a decent storyteller, and she surreptitiously remembers to pick up her notebook at one point and start jotting down lines as she listens.

“-and then they brought those first complete sets of fossils in, and arranged them all into what the pokemon looked like at the time… that was a turning point. Most people around here had no idea how important the fossils were, they just thought it was an interesting exhibit. But within the next month the influx of tourists became noticeable, and then awareness spread quickly as people and the media began to talk about what was drawing them. That’s when the shift to a focus on geology and paleontology started, and the city was never the same. The economic impact of increased tourism are hard to overstate, and we’ve seen regular growth ever since.”

“That’s great,” Leaf says as she writes down the last line for a potential quote. “So are you happy with the latest exhibits?”

“That would be the timeline of the fossil record, right? Yes, very happy. I think it’s very important.”

“What in specific do you think makes it so vital?”

“Well, you know, the implications. For life, us, everything. It’s a big deal.”

Hm. Not quite quote worthy. “I think so too. That’s why it seems so strange to me how many people are against them.”

“Well, hopefully they’ll come around in time.”

Leaf waits a beat, but that’s all he says. She can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. Kitto doesn’t seem as passionate about it as she hoped when she found out that he made them possible. It makes sense for a mayor to be focused on economic impacts rather than scientific ones, but…

“Is that why you pushed for the newer exhibits on the possible origins of life and species?” When she was preparing her questions she was going to ask Laura recommended against too many questions that imply an answer already, but said that they can get a more direct response on important topics.

Kitto’s blinks. “Pushed for it? Where did you hear that?”

“Oh, maybe I misunderstood.” She taps her lip with the end of her pencil thoughtfully. “Someone at the museum suggested that you recommended it, or gave the go ahead, or something like that. Is that not right?”

“Ah, just some visitor, then? Well, as much as I’d like to claim credit, the museum’s board and director decide on exhibits.” He gives a wry grin. “All we do from city hall is help pay the bills.”

“I see. Is the funding ever increased or decreased based on what’s exhibited?”

The mayor glances at her notebook, so quickly Leaf almost misses it. “Never directly, but a large portion of its budget is decided ultimately by the public, and without advocates in public office, it can find itself walking a delicate line.”

“In the interviews I’ve done so far, I’ve noticed a lot of disagreement on the latest exhibit, mostly by citizens rather than tourists. What has the controversy been like for you?”

“Well, I’ve gotten my fair share of letters on the exhibit, but then, I’ve gotten letters about cracks in sidewalks too. It’s natural for people to speak their mind and give feedback, but any organized expressions of disapproval have been very mild. And like I said, the Museum’s board is in charge of those decisions.”

“Is there anyone in the public eye you would recommend talking to for an opposing perspective on the exhibits?”

“Hmmm.” The mayor leans back in his chair with his hands clasped, looking up. “Well, there was a letter writing campaign that was organized by some local pastors and religious leaders. Others have been very supportive, however.” He lists some names on both sides of the issue, and she scribbles down the ones that are new to her.

“What about Leader Brock?”

“The Leader has been careful to avoid any public comment on the topic.” His tone is bland and pleasant enough. Is she imagining hostility because of what Dr. Brenner said? Leaf has to remind herself that she’s not trying to stir up drama or make things more political. She just wants to know what’s going on.

Leaf pushes her curiosity to the side. “I tried getting an interview already, but I don’t think I’ll be hearing back from them.”

“Well, the Leader is a busy man. More than just papers on his desk.” Kitto chuckles. “I on the other hand am happy to help encourage more Unovans to come and visit our city and region. I hope I’ve done that.”

“You have, thanks.” Leaf closes her notebook and tucks it away, indicating that the interview is over. Time to clear the air. “I just want to make sure, the director did mention that I would be publishing it locally as well, right?”

The mayor smiles. “He did. That’s the main reason I made time for the interview.”

Leaf feels confused. If his focus is increasing tourism, why would he care if it’s published locally? Unless that’s not actually his main goal at all. “Well, I don’t expect it’ll get a lot of attention here. It’s just an opinion piece from a stranger.”

“Don’t be so sure. An interview with the mayor is no small thing, and I’ll be sure to give it a mention when I can.”

Leaf bites her lower lip before noticing and stopping herself. “Not that I don’t appreciate all the help, but… considering you don’t seem particularly interested in the museum’s latest exhibit, and that’s what the major focus of the article is, why did you agree to the interview?”

The mayor is quiet, and Leaf waits. Eventually he says, “What do you think of a leader’s position in the community, Miss Juniper?”

“I never really thought about it before all this. They have a very important role and a lot of influence, don’t they? More than I realized.”

“More, would you say, than was intended by the Regional Charter?”

“I guess that depends on the leader.”

Mayor Kitto smiles. “What’s the most important aspect of representative government, Miss Juniper?”

She considers her answers, but she already knows what he’s expecting, and she mostly agrees in any case. “Accountability.”

“And what’s the major difference between a mayor and a leader?”

“Accountability.” Again, she knows that’s the answer he wants to hear, but now she’s thinking further. “Mayors are public servants, and if the public dislikes some policy or action, they’re voted out. A leader isn’t, they’re replaced mostly by Challenge and other checks of skill or competence.”

“Does a mayor ever influence a city’s defense decisions, or gym standards?”

Leaf smiles. “Not that I’ve seen.” The very idea seems silly.

“And do leaders have no influence on topics outside their purview?”

She shakes her head. “Leaders often command more respect than anyone else in a city. And that can’t help but affect people’s beliefs on other topics.”

“Would you say that’s a healthy balance?”

Leaf is quiet this time, and the mayor doesn’t interrupt it. “There must be some reverse effect as well though,” she says eventually. “Popular leaders affect the public’s opinion, but… the public’s opinions are part of what decides how popular a leader is…”

Mayor Kitto smiles, then glances at his computer screen. “I’m afraid my next appointment is in four minutes. Thank you for your time, Miss Juniper.”

“Thank you, Mayor.” She shakes his hand, then gets up and leaves the office, barely noticing her surroundings. It isn’t until she’s out in the sunlight again that she realizes the mayor never actually answered her question, instead only asking his own.


Blue and Red sit in the mess hall of the Trainer House, one hand shoveling food into their mouths and the other holding up their pokedex, eyes glued to the screens. It’s the tail end of lunch time, and the tables around them are mostly empty.

Blue just arrived from training at the gym with Maturin, Gon and Zephyr, and has about an hour before he’s due at the pokemon center to help out with the beginning of the evening shift. Volunteering there doesn’t feel like a chore anymore, though it does leave him tired at night.

And nights are when he’s been focusing on his shiftry, trying to modulate its behavior through simulations and checking to see if it changed at all in meatspace.

It hasn’t.

Every night, he tries to get it to follow his commands, and every night, it continues trying to kill him. He doesn’t want to admit it to Red, but he’s been considering giving up more and more. He even looked halfheartedly into ads by trainers looking for shiftry, but the vetting process for trading pokemon is strict. Blue would never get through the live test without demonstrating that his shiftry is too wild, even if it’s only violent toward him.

People don’t tend to want traumatized pokemon.

“Hey, apparently some trainers have found their shiftry calmer after eating the right type of foods,” Red says, one hand flicking through the dex’s screen while the other twirls noodles around his fork and lifts it to his mouth. “Oh, but it also might not leave them wholly lucid…”

Blue snorts. “Yeah, I considered tranqing him, but it’s hard enough to get the dose right between asleep and high as a kite, let alone leaving him fit for training.”

“Well, it’s an idea to consider.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Blue looks through the current simulation’s intended goals, then flicks it aside and checks out the next one. “‘To housebreak your pokemon,’ ‘to reduce hostility between your pokemon,’ ‘to reduce pokemon trauma’… that one might be useful, but where’s the sim for ‘stop your pokemon from being full of bloodthirsty vengeance?'”

“Hey, I think this is it!”

“What, really?” Blue leans over to look.

“No, not that.” Red highlights something on his pokedex with his fingers, then transfers it locally. Blue’s dex pings, and he taps the notification of what Red sent him. It’s a tab on the shiftry page for their social habits. He goes to the highlighted lines.

Another sign of shiftry’s high intelligence, and another behavior that earned them the title of “Wicked Pokemon,” is their intricate and violent social structure. Few pokemon species are as vicious in establishing their pecking order. Even obedient shiftry are known to attack the pokemon a trainer used to defeat them…

Blue’s flare of hope and excitement peters out. “That doesn’t help us,” he says, closing the page and going back to looking through training and bonding simulations. “I already used violence to subdue it, that’s why it hates me in the first place.”

“No, keep reading, did you get to this part? ‘In the wild, this often results in re-establishment of dominance, as shiftry habitually attempt to usurp leadership from those above them in their family.’ Don’t you see? It doesn’t hate you, it just sees you as its dominant!”

Blue stares. “But I am its dominant. How does anyone train a shiftry if…” He trails off as he remembers what was written. “Wait, so because from its perspective I defeated it instead of a pokemon…?”

“It was already down and out when you cut it up, right? Maybe it thinks that it can take you now that it’s healthy.”

“That’s nuts, how do they work so well together if they’re constantly trying to kill their superiors?”

“Well, they’re not. They might try to sneak in a kill if they see weakness, but for the most part a shiftry that gets beaten stays beaten, and it’s easy to remember why when your alpha is bigger and stronger than you. You, on the other hand, look nothing like a man-sized shiftry’s superior. No offense.”

Blue puts his pokedex down, considering this. “So I need to beat it again, when it’s healthy. Or get one of my pokemon to do it, rather.”

“That’s my current hypothesis, yeah. But you might have to do more than just beat it the normal way, as in capture it in a ball. You need to actually establish dominance.” Red glances at his screen, then closes the dex and begins cleaning up his tray. “We can talk about it tonight, I’ve got an appointment in forty minutes and the psychic’s office is thirty away. See you later.”

“Later,” Blue mutters, barely noticing Red’s departure. The idea spins around and around his mind, coming closer to a landing with every revolution. He should have seen it earlier. His shiftry wants to fight him, just like any wild pokemon before it’s caught. And just like any wild pokemon, he would have to show it that he’s higher in the pecking order.

Which means…

Blue checks the time, then jumps up to throw out his tray and head for the elevators. He has almost an hour before he’s due at the pokecenter. And that’s an hour he can use to make his pokemon his, for real.

Blue hurries to his room to grab his pack, then down to the training hall. The rooms are mostly full of trainers and their pokemon, and Blue jogs between the doors to find an empty one, not caring what type it’s for. He won’t be needing the supplies.

Blue ends up in a Rock type training room, which he takes as a stroke of luck considering the layout is similar to the arenas at Pewter Gym. He unhooks the shiftry’s greatball and bounces it between his palms as he considers his strategy.

When he first encountered the shiftry in Viridian, taking it on alone would have given him trouble. He barely managed to beat the other, and lost his caterpie, beedrill and nearly Zephyr to do so. But that was weeks of training and experience ago.

His main problems are his pokemon’s types. Gon would be all but useless, as his seeds and powders would have no effect, and Maturin is at a type disadvantage. Which means it will be up to Zephyr, the pokemon he has trained with the least since coming to Pewter.

But he’s gotten a lot stronger regardless, and he has the type advantage. Blue reaches for Zephyr’s pokeball and prepares to release him…

…when the thought comes that he’s being stupid.

This is too big a risk to take alone. He won’t let fear rule his decisions: he knows he can do this, despite the danger. But if he lets his overconfidence get Zephyr or himself killed, he’ll have shown he learned nothing from his time here.

Blue reclips his ball and leaves the training room, deciding to wait until Red is available tonight.


“Six more,” Psychic Ranna says, handing Red half a dozen sheets with the latest test results. They’re in her office, its light magenta wallpaper and deeply cushioned couches giving it an oddly soothing atmosphere. It reminds Red of his old therapist’s office, though the two look nothing alike.

He thumbs through the surveys and nods. “Good, an even thirty. Are you still feeling okay?”

“Yes, thankfully there are still no lasting effects. How’s the data looking so far?”

“Not great,” Red admits.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and sounds like she means it. “Any appointments for Sunday?”

“Not so far. I have one I think will be free on Tuesday, and hopefully another nine will contact me by the end of next week. I’ll let you know if anything changes. Enjoy your Saturday.”

“Thank you. Goodnight Red.”

“Night.” He heads for the door and makes his way to the Trainer House by the light of the streetlamps. It’s a bit of a bother coming here to pick up the reports every few days, but he can’t have her read the reports to type them up and email them after they’re written, so manual pickup it is. Thankfully she’s not hard to work with. It’s good to have met a psychic who’s pleasant, if still a bit distant.

Pewter is busy winding down the workday and preparing for the weekend. Red passes by a lot of couples and groups of friends, laughing and chatting as they head into movie theaters and bars and restaurants. The latter often emit savory scents that make his belly rumble. He has to keep reminding himself that he has to save his money, that five to ten dollars here and there add up, and that cheap and perfectly serviceable food is waiting for him at the Trainer House. After almost a month of eating meals consisting of mostly noodles or rice, he’s homesick for his mom’s cooking.

More than that, he misses his friends. Everyone’s so busy with their projects that other than in the quick nightly tests with Blue and occasional shared meal with him or Leaf, they’ve all but stopped talking to each other. Red thought his research would keep him happy, but he knows that’s where the real problem is.

“Not great” was an understatement. What Red could have said was that his research is a bust. Unless the six in his hand and the next ten subjects are wildly different from the previous ones, he can already see from the emerging data that any correlation between a spinarak’s mental attacks and the % of their mass unaccounted for in the pokedex is extremely low, and likely nonexistent.

He knows that it’s still important to finish. There might still be something to be learned once he has all the data, or in a qualitative analysis of the reports. And even if not, null results are vitally important in science. What he’s learned may not be important, but it can help guide people toward things that are.

None of that helps him feel like he hasn’t wasted the past month, or dread the hours more of writing and analysis to come. And all of which just make his feelings of loneliness and restlessness worst.

His only solace is his time spent with his pokemon. He tries to fit in an hour every night to spend time with at least one of them, whether it’s for a bit of training, playing a game, or just walking around the city. Charmander and Rattata enjoy the park, and over the past week he’s felt safe picking Pichu up and carrying her around without cheri berries.

He hasn’t brought his spinarak out since leaving the forest.

Red arrives at the Trainer House and heads to the dining hall. He fills his tray with some rice balls and steamed vegetables, and reads over the reports as he eats.

Subject 25 – 4/10

A sensation of intense vertigo and fear, coupled with discomfort in the stomach and chest akin to looking down from a high place. Recording shows shortness of breath for approximately fourteen seconds. Discomfort was bearable but unpleasant.

Subject 26 – 2/10

Mild fear and discomfort. Couldn’t quite pinpoint a theme. Odd sensation in stomach.

Subject 27 – 7/10

Debilitating fear. Horrible. Feelings of falling from a great height. Coupled with an intense physical reaction. I have nearly fallen from my chair and am gripping tight to ensure that I do not panic entirely. The spinarak’s trainer is writing this. By dictation. Before I remove the memory. Now. Alright you can

It stops there. Red puts the papers down, skin feeling clammy with nerves from expecting a flashback to his own experience. He had them for the first two weeks of reading the reports, but they’ve slowly been getting more bearable, and he hasn’t had one at all in the past few days. Whatever lingering effects his spinarak’s attack had on him seem to finally be wearing off. He drinks some water and moves on to the next one.

Subject 28 – 5/10

A sensation of vertigo and terror, with intense discomfort in the stomach and chest akin to looking down from high up. Recording shows intense physical reaction for about twenty-two seconds. Discomfort was fairly strong.

Red looks at the similarities between 4 and 5, interested by how they overlap. The similar language and sentence structure in equal scores is something that he wants to study more. Surely other scientists have caught on to how interesting the idea of selective amnesia can be on studies of memory and personality? If so, he hasn’t heard of it yet.

Red finishes eating and reading the other two reports, then heads up to the computer lab and enters the data. He sighs as he sees the line representing the attack score vary wildly in relation to the matching spinaraks’ “Other” data.

His own spinarak, subject 11, turned out to have a substantially powerful attack after all: it scored an 8/10, tieing it with one other spinarak as the second highest recorded. It made him feel better knowing that his spinarak’s mental attacks actually are powerful for its species, even after it became clear from the rest of the data that it’s one of the few with a high score on both metrics.

Psychic Ranna told him that she was basing her scale off previous Ghost type attacks she experienced when she was younger and still remembers. It worries him a bit that her baseline is so potentially different from what she’s comparing it to now, but that’s the downside of having your subject forget each test.

One idea he’s glad he had was to use the video recording of each event to monitor how long it takes for her to physically calm down. It’s imprecise and not particularly useful for extremely low scores, where she has no visible reaction, or high scores, where she often wipes the memory shortly afterward rather than waiting for it to fade on its own, but he couldn’t think of anything better at the time.

With a sigh, Red opens the document where he’s been writing the full paper and picks it up where he left off. He’s done with most of the Abstract, Introduction and Methodology, and is updating them all and the Results as new data comes in. He’s just about to email a question to Professor Oak when his phone rings.

“Hey Blue, what’s up?”

“Just got out. You at the House?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, I’m heading there. I know it’s early, but I want to try out your idea from lunch. You free?”

Right, that. Red hopes he’s right about it and Blue manages to tame the shiftry, because he doesn’t think his friend will be able to beat Brock otherwise.

“I’m working on something right now…” Red looks at his paper, considering the hours of writing and editing ahead, and grimaces. He’s happy to have an excuse to put that off. “But I can put it on hold when you get here.”

“Awesome, thanks. See you soon.”

Red puts his phone away and works halfheartedly for the next half hour, mind elsewhere. If Blue tries to beat the shiftry again, Red will have to be far away to ensure it works properly, which will make it difficult to help protect Blue if things get out of hand. He wonders if they should get Leaf too, but he knows she probably won’t approve of their method of rehabilitating a potentially traumatized pokemon through more violence. It even feels a bit convenient to Red: he expected to find some complex or unique method of calming the shiftry down or getting it to listen to Blue. Just having to rough it up some seems anticlimactic.

But that’s silly. They might have just been wrong in their first assumption of the shiftry’s behavior, and correcting that assumption would hopefully lead to a different result. Reality doesn’t care about convenience or dramatic story progression.

As his research is demonstrating to him.

Red grimaces as he realizes he’s been staring at the screen without typing for five minutes. He saves his work and he logs off the computer, then heads to his room to collect his things and wait for Blue downstairs.

Blue arrives in his volunteer scrubs and dashes up to his room to change and grab his stuff, instructing Red to try to find a Rock training room. By the time he does so, Blue has already arrived and jogs over to the right door when Red texts him which one is free.

“Okay, so here’s the plan,” Blue says, unhooking a pokeball and sending Zephyr out. “I’ll try to keep Zephyr moving fast in and out, so it doesn’t have a chance to get a solid hit in. Do you think Charmander could slow it down without hurting it too badly?”

Red watches Zephyr soar around the room, then perch on Blue’s arm. “It would be risky. I think I have a better idea.” He reaches for the pokeball at his back. It’s been days since his last flashback. Time to put it to the real test. “Let’s see if this works first… go, spinarak!”

The bug materializes and immediately skitters around a small boulder, then on top of it, turning from side to side with a clatter of its feet. The sound gives Red the jitters, but when he forces himself to look at the pattern on its thorax…

dark…

cold…

Red grits his teeth, focusing on his breathing. The sense of mental anguish is there, but bearable… just.

“Red? You alright?”

He realizes Blue is looking at him with concern, and flashes a thumbs-up. “Let’s do it.”

Blue unhooks his shiftry’s greatball and positions himself in a space without rocks around him. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Red says, standing on the opposite end with his spinarak. Both of them have their air masks on.

Blue takes a deep breath, feeling the calm descend. There’s a distant fear under it, but it’s mostly from the idea that they might be wrong, and that this won’t work. But if it doesn’t work, there’s nothing he can do about it now. Either it will or it won’t, and he’ll deal with it if not. In the meantime, he knows what he needs to do. All that’s left is to do it.

“Go, shiftry!”

It appears halfway between them, facing Red. Blue catches the ball on its return and immediately points with his other hand. “Zephyr, wing attack!”

His pidgey lets out a battle screech as it dives and rakes its talons through the shiftry’s long white hair as it flies by. It gives its coughing roar and pirouettes, eyes searching for a target and locking onto Blue.

“Spinarak, string shot!”

Blue is already jumping back as the shiftry springs toward him, but its jump catches short mid-air, and it lands awkwardly as the sticky webbing tethers it to the ground. Zephyr comes down for another pass and sends the shiftry spinning in place again with another long scratch along its side. The shiftry swipes at it with both arms, but Zephyr does a twisting dive that lets it slip under its reach.

“String shot!”

A line of web attaches to the shiftry’s right arm, and its attempt to chase after Zephyr is aborted. It turns to try and hack at the restraining lines, and Zephyr rakes its other side, causing it to flinch and swipe at him again.

“Gonna try to get its other arm! Spinarak, string shot!”

The webbing misses the limb and drapes itself over the shifty’s shoulder. Blue’s about to order Zephyr to peck when the shiftry gathers itself into a ball and tumbles to the side, stretching the strings of web as it moves in an arc around toward Red’s spinarak.

Shit! “Zephyr, Feather Dance!”

“Spinarak, dodge!”

Red’s spinarak scuttles to the side as the shiftry awkwardly struggles against the webbing to chase it. Zephyr soars overhead and hovers in place above the shiftry, wings flapping in a blur that sends tufts of down and feathers everywhere. The shiftry swipes at them in irritation, then lets out an explosive sneeze, followed by racking coughs that cause its whole body to shake.

“Do bugs breathe? Zephyr, Quick Attack!”

“It’ll be fine! Spinarak, String Shot!”

The shiftry gives its coughing roar again, this time literally coughing as it shakes its head, mane of hair rustling and shedding bits of feather dander. It abruptly raises its head and stares at Red… and its eyes begin to glow.

“Gah!” Red clutches at his head and shakes it. A surge of panic makes Blue break into a sprint as Red drops to his knees and frantically scratches at his arms. “AHH, BLUE, MAKE IT STOP!”

Blue dashes in front of his friend, arms down to the sides to try to cover Red as much as possible. “Shit, sorry! I thought it would try it on me! Are you okay?!” The shiftry is still staring at him, eyes aglow.

“Nngh… yeah… ugh, that felt terrible!” There’s a sound behind him, and Blue turns to see Red sitting back with his head between his legs. “Gimme… just, a moment…”

Blue stares at his shiftry, anger growing into a slow rage. This goddamn pokemon tried to kill him and the others in Viridian, and after he saved its life it’s given him nothing but trouble. Now it’s hurting his friend, who’s only here for his sake. “Zephyr, Feather Dance!”

Another rain of down and feathers cover the shiftry, and after a moment of continued intense staring, the shiftry begins to twitch and rumble, a low series of coughs building in its chest until it doubles over.

“It stopped, Red. How you doing?”

“I’ll be alright. The shiftry?”

“Near its end I think. Just call out for a couple more String Shots and let’s end this.”

Their pokemon continue to harry and trip up the shiftry as it tries to free itself from the webs and slice the infuriatingly quick pidgey in two. Eventually it begins to tire, stuck by half a dozen weblines and bleeding from multiple wounds. Red eventually recovers enough to stand up and spread out from Blue, and after a few more attempts to untangle itself, the shiftry lets out a groan and falls to its side, chest heaving as it catches its breath.

“Spinarak, return!”

“Zephyr, return!”

They both keep their pokemon’s balls ready in their hands as they watch the shiftry struggle to get back up, then collapse back down. “Think that did it?” Red asks, voice rough.

“One way to find out.” Blue approaches the shiftry, anger making him fearless. He gets some powerful deja vu, staring down at the shiftry as it labors for breath and struggles to lift its arms enough to reach him.

“Blue, back up. You want it to remember one of our pokemon defeating it.”

Blue lets out a breath, the nods and steps to the side. “You got something in mind?”

“Yeah.” Red reclips spinarak’s ball and takes out another one. “Go, pichu!”

The yellow rodent appears in a flash of light, and immediately darts to its master’s side, tail quivering up as it stares at the struggling shiftry. “Why her?” Blue asks, then answers his own question. “Distance and resistance.”

“Yeah. Charmander might do too much damage, and the others have to get too close.” Red walks around the shiftry so that he’s out of its sight, and Blue does the same. “Pichu, Thundershock!”

The pichu lets out a high pitched squeal, and a jolt of electricity jumps between it and Blue’s shiftry. His pokemon jerks and tries to attack, but the shocks combined with the webbing keep it flailing on the ground.

Pichu stops, cheeks losing their glow little by little. “What do you think?” Red asks.

Blue watches his shiftry in silence, and eventually it begins to struggle to its feet again, leaf-blades spreading and closing as it focuses on the pichu. From here they can’t see its eyes, and Blue is worried about it attempting another Extrasensory attack. “Another.”

“Thundershock!”

Again the jolt of electricity, again the waiting and watching as his shiftry, after a moment’s rest, tries to go on the offensive again. Stay down, dammit. “Once more.”

Bbzzaaaap! Smoke begins to curl up from the shiftry, and Red calls for his pokemon to stop. Blue watches as his shiftry draws in one laborious breath after another… but doesn’t attempt to rise.

“Shiftry, return!”

“Pichu, return!”

Blue lets out a breath as he aligns his greatball lens with his pokedex, tension easing slowly. Red reclips his pokeball and stares at Blue’s greatball speculatively. “Think it worked?”

“One way to find out. First though, back to the pokecenter.” Blue takes off his mask, and Red follows suit. Blue notices Red’s face is a bit pale and sweaty. “Thanks man. For everything.” He holds out his fist as they head for the door, and Red bumps it.

“Anytime. I’m going to go get some rest. Let me know when you get back.”

“You sure you’re going to be okay?”

“Yeah. Just hope I don’t have to do anything like that again soon.”

“The psychic attack was that bad, huh?”

“Oh, yeah, that sucked too. I meant more what we did to the shiftry. I know it was trying to kill you, and maybe this is the only way it’ll become tame, but it still felt… cruel.”

Blue lets out a breath and leans against the elevator wall, remembering the hatred that boiled up in him when Red got hurt. “I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s a cruel world. As long as we can control the shiftry and use it to protect others, that’s a net win.”

“Then you’re okay with that? Becoming cruel ourselves?” Red asks, meeting his gaze.

Blue looks back at him, remembering the pokemon and people that were cut down by the shiftry in Viridian. “If that’s what it takes? Sure.” He punches the button for the lobby. “Better us than them.”

Chapter 25: The Art of Persuasion, Part II

When Red first sees it, he thinks it’s another rejection letter. His eyes catch on sorry to inform you and his cursor is halfway to deleting it before he sees the number farther down.

His heart skips a beat and his skin goes cold as he quickly reads the paragraph in full, then starts from the beginning, pulse speeding up as he grins wider and wider.

Dear Mr. Verres,

Thank you for your petition. We are sorry to inform you that there is not sufficient interest in your research proposal at this time to grant the full funding requested. However, we have decided that a smaller grant could still serve to explore whether your hypothesis justifies further study.

If this is acceptable, please contact us by the end of the day to receive the proper forms. The offer will be valid for two months, and once accepted, the grant of $2,000 will be made available to you for the duration of four months.

Thank you,

Mara Enuo

Distribution Manager

Seeds for the Future, Inc.

“Hey.” The girl on a neighboring computer is looking at him with concern. “Are you alright?”

Red’s growing cackles end in a cough and nods. “Yeah, just… saw a funny meowth picture.”

The girl raises a brow, and Red struggles to tone his grin down to appropriate levels until she turns back to her screen. By then the euphoric rush begins to subside, and he has to confront the reduced funding.

It’s not terrible. Red’s original estimates were for the duration of their month in Pewter, and he’s already a week into it. If he uses the last few days of the month to analyze the data and write the paper, the money should afford him a psychic’s services for the three weeks between now and then. It’ll mean a smaller scale for the project, but it’s better than nothing.

Red looks back through his outbox for the letter he sent to Seeds and saves it for future reference. The next time he has to write for grant money, he’ll start by modelling the general tone and themes of this one. It might not be important, for all he knows any other decently written letter would have gotten the same response from them. One of his supervisors at Pallet Labs, Dr. Madi, suggested he try them out, as they’re known for funding a wide variety of cheap and eccentric research projects in search of undiscovered low hanging fruit.

Red forwards the acceptance letter to Professor Oak and Dr. Madi, then opens his contacts. Now that funding is a probability rather than a possibility, he can start contacting psychics to find one that’s interested in being hired as a human lab rattata.

Red writes a proposal to Narud first, both as a courtesy and because he already has his contact info. He attaches the acceptance letter and sends it off, then looks up other psychics advertising in Pewter.

The remains of Red’s elation quickly peter out as he looks through the potential choices. Counting Narud, there are a total of 7 psychics free to render services at different times throughout the next three weeks. Red was prepared to write up an email and then send it out to all the potential testers, but with such a limited pool he can’t afford to waste a single proposal that isn’t perfect. Red’s already regretting how casually he wrote the one to Narud.

Since he expects to get the answers to these back quickly, he can and should take his time with them, and iterate on each based on any notable weaknesses in the previous. Red begins more in-depth research of the psychics, treating them as he would the grant agencies and trying to learn all he can about their interests and motivations.

It doesn’t matter that he’s the one offering money now: a competent psychic is rarely lacking work, and well paying work at that. Unless Red finds some hint that one of them is under severe financial stress, he needs them more than they need him, and that means he’s already entering the potential partnership at a disadvantage.

Other than studying pokemon, few subjects captured his attention as a kid besides psychology. He read some books on finance and economics and found them mildly interesting, but they never held his attention until he found ones that went into more detail on the incentives that drive behavior, or interpersonal dynamics between people engaging in business deals. One that particularly stuck in his mind detailed the “Golden Rules” of negotiation… many of which he’s breaking right now.

He’s doing his background research, so that’s a plus, but it’s pretty much the only one he has going for him. The worst offense is that he’s negotiating from a place of desperation. Some of it is about manageable expectations: he knows not to let the psychics figure out how limited his options are. But the hard reality at the core of it is that he can’t afford to walk away from all of them… and a negotiation one party can’t walk away from is no negotiation at all.

Red frowns and looks at the email he wrote to Narud, wishing he hadn’t attached the letter but knowing it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Another rule he’s going to have to break is not showing them everything he has to offer right away. The worst he can do is also the best, and offering anything less than 2,000, even just to set a low “anchor” for expectations, would be simply insulting and probably lead to an immediate rejection.

Red leans back in his chair and puts his hands behind his head. What’s left? Lateral concession, for one: if they want more money he can’t give, he can offer something unrelated that they value, if he can figure out what that might be. It also ties into the most important rule: make sure that they feel like they can walk away with a win.

Red’s stomach growls, and he logs off and leaves the computer lab to get some food. He woke up this morning expecting another long day of research and writing, and it turns out that even with his unexpected first success, he’ll be doing more of the same. Ah well. At least he’s mentally prepared.

Red checks his phone as he walks in case he missed any texts from Blue or Leaf. The three of them haven’t been in one place since the night of Blue’s loss, and Red still hasn’t told either of them that he’s psychic. When they find out that he’s trying to hire one it will be a hard question to dodge, so when he has a second to spare, he’ll have to think on how to approach that, too.

Maybe he’ll just write them a letter.


“You kids these days, you don’t understand anything. You think you do, with the internet on your phones, ready to answer any questions you have in a second. But knowledge and understanding, those are completely different. Completely different! You understand?”

“No, obaa-sama,” Leaf says with a slight dip of her head.

The old woman’s face wrinkles further as she smiles, one hand tucking a loop of silver hair behind her ear. “Good. Then maybe there’s hope for you. Your accent is atrocious though. Stick to Unown.”

Leaf smiles back. “Yes, grandmother.”

The two are sitting on a bench outside Pewter Museum, in the shade of an oak tree. Leaf’s bulbasaur and the old woman’s roselia are playing around its trunk, stopping to race for the berries the two throw to them every so often.

“Your question comes from a place of simplicity. Where do the majuu come from, why they are so different from us. That is what this museum displays. I do not mind what they say they have found. I mind that they assume this will help them understand the majuu.

Leaf tosses another berry with her left hand while her right scribbles on the notebook propped up against her leg. “You don’t believe it will?”

“Rocks from the ground are not understanding. Perhaps the gods made the majuu from water, perhaps from stone. Perhaps they did both or neither. We cannot go back and see, so we guess. But why? What matters is that they are here, and we are here, and we must try and live together.”

Leaf nods. “I agree that the most important thing is learning to live with them. But if we learn their origins, we can learn more about why they behave the way they do.”

“And so?”

“Well, so we can train them better. Or maybe we learn more about their biology, develop better medicine for them. And some people revere certain pokemon or hate others based on beliefs that might be wrong. Isn’t that important?”

The old woman turns her cane slowly in her hand, the pokeball at its tip catching the sunlight through the branches. Eventually her head bobs from side to side. “Perhaps.  Or perhaps you just fool yourselves into new false thoughts. When I was your age, people respected the majuu, and that respect kept us safe. Now we have these machines to do that, but we lost the respect of forces greater than ourselves.”

“I was always taught to respect pokemon, both as friends and threats.”

Iie, iie. No. This very name you use, ‘pokemon,’ shows how little respect there is. It is a hard thing to explain, across the century between us. I cannot describe to you what the world was like before such a word existed. What it was like to hear one’s children call those we fought for centuries their ‘pocket monsters,’ and brandish them as playthings.”

Leaf pauses in her writing to think of an answer to this, and the old woman leans forward to throw a pair of berries at the two pokemon. Bulbasaur’s vines lash out to grab both, but the roselia rebuffs one with one flower while the other catches the berry and lowers it to her mouth. The old woman runs a finger over the pokeball at the end of her cane “They are useful, hai. But putting a majuu in a toy does not make them toys. The gods still soar above our heads, beyond the reach of our mortal tricks. How many have died, attempting to capture them?”

“But if one were ever caught,” Leaf says, picking her words with care, “Wouldn’t that save a lot more lives, eventually?”

“And who will this trainer be? What new calamities will they bring, with the power of a god in their pocket? Kingdoms have warred for less, long before mankind’s reach exceeded its grasp. Perhaps next someone will make a ball big enough and catch the earth. Or throw it far enough, and catch the sun. It is folly.”

Leaf nods dutifully and finishes up her notes. There’s a lot more she can say, if she wants to convince the old woman of the good that scientific progress brings, despite the risks. The woman herself would likely not have lived past her hundredth year without advances in medicine. But it’s not Leaf’s job today to persuade people one by one. She’s here to simply listen and question and learn. This is her fourth interview today, found by simply wandering around outside and inside the museum and asking people who don’t seem busy if they would answer some questions about it and themselves. This conversation drifted quite far afield compared to the others, but still feels pertinent.

Leaf throws her last few berries to their pokemon and watches them eat, then stands and withdraws her bulbasaur. She turns to the old woman and bows. “Thank you for your wisdom, grandmother.”

“Pah.” The old woman waves her hand to the side, as if brushing away some crumbs. “The young do not listen to the old.” She smiles. “And perhaps they shouldn’t. It is not our world to live in for long, and regardless, you will do with it as you choose when we are gone.”

Leaf smiles and bows again, then goes in search of another interview.


“I’m afraid two thousand isn’t enough to cover three weeks on call,” Psychic Ranna says.

Red feels his stomach clench, and switches the phone to his other hand as he takes a moment to ensure his voice is steady. “You wouldn’t need to be on call, just so long as I can send the participants to you at some point within the three weeks for a quick session.”

It’s the day after he got his acceptance letter, and Red’s sitting in one of the Trainer House’s work rooms. He’s on his second to last potential experiment partner. Narud rejected his offer out of hand, and the rest of the psychics he contacted were just as firm in their negation, if not quite as haughty. He started calling rather than sending emails after the third, and considered going to meet them before realizing the idiocy of negotiating with a psychic in person. Not that he has anything to hide, but he doesn’t know exactly how a psychic reads someone, and whatever points he might gain for sincerity would probably be offset by his unbidden thoughts of desperation and manipulating the situation to his advantage.

“That… might be workable,” the psychic says, and Red’s heart leaps. “If the appointments are brief enough. You merely want me to submit to a Night Shade attack and record the experience, correct?”

“Yes. All in all, that would take maybe 10 minutes, right?”

“More like twenty, I would say.”

“Twenty, then.” Red looks over the notes he made on Ranna before calling. Her advertised services are a mixture of therapeutic work and romantic validation, with what Red suspects is a bit of private investigation, euphemistically concealed. Her site is decorated with vague espeon imagery, her calendar for the coming week shows no openings on Saturdays, and while there are openings starting from 10 in the morning, most of the appointments she already has start after noon. They all have clearly defined start and end times, so it will be easy for Red to schedule and fit in quick sessions with subjects. “I’m fully willing to work around any openings in your schedule.”

“What would the recording entail?”

“A simple video is fine, along with a written line or two of description, then a score from 1-10 on how intense or painful the experience was. After that you can induce amnesia to erase the memory.” Learning about that particular ability had strengthened his methodology immensely. Normally he would be worried about the psychic’s experiences of the previous sessions influencing their assessment of the later ones, but they could literally forget what it was like each time. It’s the closest way of ensuring objectivity for something so subjective short of cloning them a few dozen times and lining each to a separate attack.

“And what is the purpose of this study?”

“That I can’t tell you until after the tests are done. In order for it to be as objective as possible, I need to minimize any influence I might have on your judgement.”

There’s silence from the other end, and Red holds his breath. “Then I believe I can accept this-” Yes! “-as long as I can take steps to assure my safety.”

Uh oh. “Steps like what?”

“Ensuring the trainer does not mean me ill, or cannot take advantage of my weakened state if one of their attacks incapacitates me.”

Red relaxes. “That sounds perfectly reasonable.”

“The trainer will have to subject themselves to checks I deem necessary.”

“I’ll be sure they understand before participating.”

“Also, I do not make appointments on Saturdays.”

“I know. That’s fine.”

“And I would like to cap the maximum appointments to 20.”

Red is quiet. He accepted her other conditions easily, expecting something more important lay behind them, and here it is. A sticking point. “I’m afraid it will have to be more than that. This is a scientific study, and the sample size, meaning the amount of pokemon tested, is of vital importance. Too few and the study would be worthless.”

“And 20 is too few?”

“It is.”

“Then the compensation is not adequate. I cannot agree to meet with any number of people in three weeks for a flat fee. There could be hundreds.”

“I understand, that’s a valid concern. If you could agree to 60, the study would be far more robust.”

“In three weeks? Perhaps 30 could be done.”

“I’m afraid that’s still too low.” How many subjects does he realistically expect to have? He’d like to think he can get at least 60, but that’s being optimistic. He has to go in with low expectations, or he’ll waste concessions bargaining for something too high. If he can get her to 40, that would probably be enough, and anything above that is a bonus. “I might be able to find a significant result with 50.”

“Fifty appointments for $2,000 is unacceptable, even at twenty minutes per session.”

Red does some quick math and realizes that she’s turning down two thousand dollars for roughly two days of work, spread out over three weeks. Red reminds himself to become a professional psychic if he’s ever having money trouble after he develops his powers. “Keep in mind this is a maximum. If I can’t find more than, say, 3 people, you’ll have 2,000 for maybe an hour of work.”

“Well, that hardly seems more fair to you. Perhaps we could work on a session by session basis. This would also free you to work with other psychics if they have more availability.”

Red’s pulse speeds up. This is exactly where he didn’t want the conversation to go. Without the discount of a bundle deal, he’s not going to be able to afford more than 20 sessions at a normal price anyway. “Unfortunately, there are restrictions on grant money’s use.” Technically true. “In addition, using a different psychic would introduce far too much subjectivity. The only way this can work is with a mutual commitment.” Don’t just tell them what you need, tell them how it benefits them. “And remember, this business comes at no opportunity cost. I will find the clients and work them into the openings in your schedule, so that you don’t have a conflict with any other appointments.”

“A fair point. In light of that, I believe I can do 35.”

Still not quite what he wants, but Red is out of things to offer. There has to be something else, some lateral concession… “If you can go as high as 45, I can arrange around Sunday as well.”

“I normally have appointments on Sunday. It’s no bother.”

What else? Red looks at her schedule again. “What if I also refrain from any appointments before noon?” Come on, come on…

Another moment of silence, and then: “Forty. That is as high as I can go.”

Red bursts into a grin and gives himself a second or two before saying, “Agreed. Thank you. Should I head over now so we can finalize the details and arrange for the fund transfer?”

“Yes, I will be available until one.”

“See you soon.” Red hangs up, then leaps into the air and whoops, punching at the ceiling before throwing the door open and jogging down the hall toward the elevators.


Leaf watches the cursor move to the end of a sentence, then split the paragraph in half. “New paragraph there?”

“Yes,” Laura says through Leaf’s earphones. “The point on Pewter’s proud history was made, and can stand alone. Don’t link it explicitly to the contributions to the rest of the region and world, since that point can be much stronger on its own, once expanded.”

“Got it.” Leaf moves her own cursor down and types in some notes to indicate what will fill out the rest of the paragraph. Meanwhile Laura’s cursor scrolls farther down the shared document as she reads on.

“Good, good… Hmm. ‘Pewter’s leadership is needed more than ever’ is a bit much, you don’t want to tell them what you believe, you want to show them why it’s the naturally correct belief to have.”

Leaf scrolls down to where she is and thinks a moment, then begins rewriting:

Over the course of a generation, the paleontologists and geologists of Pewter have revolutionized their fields. The museum has grown steadily all the while, showcasing their findings, educating the public, drawing tourism, and employing thousands, directly or indirectly. Through its partnership with Cinnabar Labs, a whole new field of scientific exploration was founded: the resurrection of ancient life. New secrets began to be uncovered and revealed every day as humanity raced to explore the new world Pewter made possible.

But Pewter is no longer at the forefront of its own creation. In the last few years it has seen less innovation and discovery, and its museum, which once had new exhibits every year, went almost a decade without any. Others have risen to showcase the new discoveries, though their pace is slow.

Through Pewter runs the wisdom and tenacity of generations, traits that are unmatched by the other cities that race forward to fill the void it leaves behind. The world is full of dangers, both old and new. Species of pokemon that have not existed for millennium are returning to the world. Without proper leadership, humanity’s reach may, before long, exceed its grasp.

“Very nice,” Laura says. “Take out ‘and revealed’ from “uncovered and revealed,’ and change ‘once had’ to ‘once opened.’ We’ll also have to work on your passive voice later. I like the last line quite a bit, by the way. Where’s it from?”

“An older woman I interviewed a couple days ago said something like it. Should I credit her?”

“If it’s not a direct quote, no. Let me see… hm. Looks like a poet said something similar, over a hundred years ago. Maybe that’s where she got it, or maybe it’s just an old saying. Either way, it’s fine as is.”

Leaf smiles and tucks her hair behind her ear. She’s been writing since morning, and needs a good meal, a hot shower, and a full night’s sleep in that order, but right now she’s just excited to be writing again. She’s almost back at where her original was in terms of length. “So what do you think so far?”

“Not a bad start. I’d say you’re about halfway done content-wise, but three quarters of the way there in word count. Keep an eye on that, or it’ll keep creeping up faster than it should and you’ll just have to edit out more at the end. How are the interviews going?”

“I’ve pretty much finished with citizens in the city, those at the museum, and tourists. Next I just need to get some big names. There’s Dr. Brenner, who I told you about, and I’m hoping she can get me an in with others, like the director, or even the mayor.”

“The mayor?”

“Yeah, apparently he’s the one who’s been giving them the green light to open the new exhibits.”

Mrs. Verres is quiet for a moment, and Leaf continues typing until she says, “How political is this, Leaf? I know it’s a contentious topic for some residents, but what else is there to it?”

Leaf pauses in her writing. “Um. I’m not sure. Dr. Brenner said that she thinks Leader Brock is upset about the new exhibits?”

“They weren’t allowed before?”

“Something like that, yeah.” She hears Laura sigh, and feels a stab of worry. “Is that a problem?”

“Well, maybe not. I wish I’d known this sooner, though.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think-”

“No, it’s not your fault. I should have thought of it.”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing sweety, I’m sure it-”

“Don’t patronize me.”

There’s a moment of silence, and Leaf puts her hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry Mrs. Verres, for a moment there I totally forgot who I was talking to-”

Laura chuckles, and Leaf feels some tension go out of her shoulders. “Who are you talking to? I’m no one special.”

“That’s not true, you’ve been so nice and helpful, and I just felt like I was… well, like I was talking to my mom.”

“I guess I can take that as a compliment,” Laura asks, voice wry. “Do you talk to your mother like that?”

“Sometimes. She usually does a good job of not talking down to me.”

“Like I was. You’re right. I’m sorry, I forget sometimes what it was like to be young. Let me collect my thoughts for a moment.”

Leaf does some half-hearted editing while she waits, trying to ignore her anxiety. Would Laura stop helping her, now? Maybe she would ask her to rewrite it all from scratch again… or tell her to give it up completely. Leaf doesn’t think she could do that, regardless of what Laura says.

“Okay, so here’s the thing. How much do you know about politics?”

“Not a whole lot. I know a bit of Unova’s, but-”

“No, not local issues or groups. I mean politics itself. The practice of influence, governance, and even control of others.”

“I guess I’ve been learning a bit about the first from you.”

“A bit, yes. But there’s a huge difference between writing to influence others on a topic, and writing to change people’s political beliefs… especially when there might be political figures involved. Can you guess why?”

“Because they might take it personally?”

Laura lets out a brief laugh. “Personally, she says. Leaf, people’s jobs might hinge on denying what you say in this article. People may have spent years working against the change you’re advocating for. This isn’t just an opinion piece anymore, it’s an attack.”

Leaf frowns. “But… I’m not naming anyone, or-”

“Doesn’t matter. Politics is always about conflict, just instead of fighting the person you disagree with physically, you use words. You’re entering a battle, maybe even a war, and you’re not trained for it.”

Leaf tries to fully consider what Laura is telling her, rather than reject it or minimize it out of hand. “So what you’re saying is, my article won’t convince anyone,” she says at last, and slumps back in her chair.

“Not at all: it may well convince a lot of people. The problem is, the people it doesn’t convince aren’t just going to shake their head and go along their day. In fact, the more people it convinces, the more the people it doesn’t convince are going to get up in arms and start firing back.”

Leaf smiles, sitting up again. “So it starts discussion. That’s great! I don’t mind if a few people get upset, as long as it gets people talking about the issues.”

“I’m sorry Leaf, I’m not being clear. Some people, maybe even most, will argue the issues, yes. But some will find a much easier target: you.”

“What? Why me?” Leaf shakes her head. “Nevermind, stupid question. Because it’s easier than addressing the arguments. Much better to discredit the young foreign girl who thinks she knows what’s best for Pewter, after being here all of a month.”

“If it’s any consolation, they would do the same to anyone arguing a side that they oppose. It’s just the nature of the beast. And even within that kind of political theater, most of it won’t be personal… but for some it will. It can get nasty, Leaf. And I know you don’t want me to talk down to you, but nasty even for an adult. Do you understand? Some of them might hold back because of your age, but others won’t. They’ll drag you through the mud if they can, try to make you a laughingstock. Whatever dirt they can find, they’ll dig up and fling, and the rest will just pull some out thei… out of thin air, and throw that too.”

Leaf sits quietly through this, mind playing it out in full detail. She imagines reading articles about herself, portrayed as some ditzy airhead, or stuck up know-it-all. She imagines them dissecting her article, taking things out of context and putting a negative spin on everything. She imagines them finding out about the time she threw a tantrum at a store when she was younger, causing a huge scene and throwing merchandise around until a pokemon got loose and the store got evacuated. Part of her knows she’s more embarrassed in retrospect than her mom was (grandpa thought it was hilarious), but it’s something she still internally cringes at when thinking about, and it would mortify her to have Red or Blue learn about it, let alone all of Pewter.

And at that thought, more than any fear or embarrassment, she finds herself getting angry.

“Now, I don’t want this to scare you off the project. And maybe I’m blowing things way out of proportion, and it’s not a big deal at all. What you might want to consider is-”

“I’m not scared. And I’m not giving it up,” Leaf says, keeping her voice level. If I let them shut me up out of fear, before I even try, then what good am I? “If this article might convince people, might really change things for the better, then I’m going to publish it, and deal with the consequences.” And if they think I’ll just take it lying down…

“Well, that’s very brave of you Leaf, but I’m worried you’re not… no, I’m sorry. I won’t patronize you. If you think you’re ready to handle that, well… you’re already risking your life every day, I guess this is just another battlefield.”

Leaf smiles. “Thanks, Mrs. Verres.”

“Don’t thank me yet. We may both come to regret this. But I was going to say, there might be a way to get the message out and avoid any unpleasantness.”

Leaf tilts her head. “A pseudonym?” She considers it. She likes to think she’s not vain, so it shouldn’t matter to her if her name is the one on everyone’s lips, as long as they’re talking about what matters. “Are there any downsides?”

“Not usually, no. But a pseudonym is just a buffer. If the article gets big, and if it’s as political as I fear, then dedicated detractors will think you’re some rival they already know, and work to expose you. They’ll figure it out fairly quick, especially if you speak to the mayor. The more people you talk to the easier it will be for them to find out who you are. But it might buy you time for things to blow over.”

“So I just need to think of a name to use.”

“Yep. You have two choices: a real name, which is a bit harder for people to figure out is fake, or an obviously fake name, which gives anyone investigating you a headstart in terms of knowing they’re looking at a pseudonym off the bat. The positive side of using an obviously fake name is that it gets more attention, in general, and might give the story longer legs.”

“Do you have a recommendation?”

“Yes: go with what your publisher says. Whoever it ends up being, they might not even let you use a pseudonym at all. If you end up just posting it online, obviously it doesn’t matter.”

Leaf nods slowly. “Right. This is all stuff to worry about later. For now, I just need to focus on getting the article done.”

“That’s the spirit. And one thing to keep in mind too, which I didn’t mention because it generally doesn’t make up for it, though sometimes it might. For every detractor you have, you’ll probably have just as many supporters. Some will support you just because you’re on their ‘team’ and are wearing their uniform, so to speak, but many will honestly admire you and defend you. And the admiration and loyalty of people you’ve never met is no small thing.”


“So it looks like your spinarak’s chitin has a higher proportion of sclerotin compared to the average, by about 17%.” Red turns his pokedex around so the trainer can see the screen, then points to a part of one of the two-tailed graphs. “It’s also larger than average for its age, as you probably noticed. What you might not know is its size puts it more than two standard deviations from the norm. So out of a thousand spinarak, at least 977 of them will be smaller than yours.”

The trainer’s expression shifts from bemused to interested throughout the explanation. “Wow. I had no idea it was that big a difference. Maybe I should focus some time this week on training it…”

Red smiles. “It might be rewarding. It’s probably more durable than other spinarak, though it might have a bit of decreased mobility. That’s guesswork though, for all I know its speed isn’t impacted at all.”

The trainer nods, face thoughtful as he reclips the ball to his waist. “Thanks a lot. So where do I go now?”

“Right in there,” Red says, pointing down the hall to the door at the end. They’re sitting in a waiting lobby on the second floor of an office building. “Psychic Ranna should be done with her appointment in a few minutes, and is ready with the proper forms so you can safely order your spinarak to use Night Shade on her.”

“Alright. Will you let me know what all this was about, after you finish?”

“Sure, if you’d like.” Red makes a note next to the trainer’s name. “If all goes well, you might even be able to read about it in the dex.”

“Cool. Good luck!”

Red watches him go through the door, then heads back to his room at the Trainer House, tugging his hat down and whistling to himself. He’s never been particularly good at whistling, but he’s in a whistling mood, and there’s no one around to stop him.

This would make the seventh subject scanned and tested in just the second day. Some of the trainers are clearly excited by the offer of metrics for their pokemon, and really enjoyed reading as many bits of data as possible, until Red started just emailing them a copy of the results. At the current rate, he could easily get forty by the end of the month, though realistically the frequency of visitors would probably slow down once the initial pool of interested people come through. Others like the most recent trainer just seemed more curious than anything. Still, if he could get forty that wouldn’t be bad at all for an exploratory study.

The methodology is straightforward. He uses the pokedex to get a reading of the spinarak’s “other” metric, then plots that against the 1-10 score Psychic Ranna gives each spinarak. She doesn’t know what’s being tested and has no incentives tied to the outcome, so since she shouldn’t be inclined to inflate or deflate the numbers, and his data comes directly from the pokedex, there’s little chance of misinterpreting or fudging it. Overall it’s a fairly straightforward experiment, but when simplicity is all it takes, it’s often for the best. Now he just needs to find someone to send in with his spinarak, so Ranna doesn’t know it’s his and has no reason to judge it differently…

Red reaches his dorm room and goes to his bed, lying down and opening his dex. He’s so engrossed in comparing the spinaraks’ data that he doesn’t realize he has company until they’re leaning against his bedpost.

“Knock knock.” Blue says.

Red looks up and blinks. “Yo. What’s up? Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“I’ve been busy. Like yourself, huh?” Blue hooks a thumb in his pocket and leans down to read his dex screen. “You free tonight? I need your help with something.”


“This is nuts.”

Blue smirks at Red. “If you want to back out, now’s the time.”

Red shakes his head with a scowl. “I’m not gonna let you do it alone, I’m just going on the record.”

The two are in one of the House’s Grass Type training rooms. Charmander is at Red’s feet, digging curiously at the dirt that makes up the floor, and Zephyr is fluttering around. Blue tosses his shiftry’s greatball from hand to hand. They just finished keying it toward both his and Red’s voices.

He spent more hours than he could count over the past week training his shiftry virtually, giving it plenty of positive memories to offset the negative ones it surely has of him. Blue doesn’t trust the routine anti-human-aggression programs to keep this particular pokemon from being hostile. There are prerecorded simulations to choose from on the dex, and Blue went through them in a particular order: first Blue finding Shiftry alone and hurt, then slowly nursing him back to health, little by little. They wouldn’t replace the memories it already has, but they would offer another history, and hopefully confuse it enough so that it doesn’t automatically want to attack him.

“It’s got to be done sometime. I need to know how he acts in meatspace, and you’re the only one I trust to have my back on it.”

“Only one dumb enough and close enough, you mean,” Red grumbles, but he stays his ground and widens his stance a bit, hands on an empty pokeball and his charmander’s. “Let’s get it over with.”

“Okay. Ready… set… GO, shiftry!”

The pokemon bursts into existence exactly halfway between him and Red. Blue catches the ball and immediately aims its lens forward, ready to withdraw his pokemon if it pounces on his friend-

-but Blue’s shiftry simply stands there, its body fully restored, if a bit undernourished looking.

Red stands ready, his charmander in a defensive stance. Blue can’t see his shiftry’s face, but Red doesn’t look alarmed, just apprehensive.

“I think… it might be okay?” Red says.

Blue reaches down to his poffin pouch and says “Shiftry, foo-”

At the sound of his voice, his shiftry snaps around on one foot, handleaves fanning out and legs coiling beneath it. Red cries out a warning as it leaps-

“Return!”

The beam hits it mid-air and sucks it back into Blue’s greatball.

Blue stares at it, a sick feeling churning in his stomach. It hadn’t attacked Red, but it still remembers him, and not fondly. All that time spent trying to affect its behavior and view of him, all those hours watching a virtual screen and subtly coaxing it along, and the first test in the real world couldn’t have gone worse.

“Well, that could have gone worse.”

Blue glares at Red. “How?”

“One of us could be dead.” Red strokes his charmander’s head. “For the record, it looked very tense when it was summoned. Maybe it wasn’t your voice that triggered it, just the fact that it was hearing something unexpected from behind it.”

Blue snorts, then tosses his greatball to Red. It’s an easy throw, but Red barely catches it, which doesn’t particularly inspire confidence for the next part.

“You try, then. Let’s see if he goes for me right away.”

“I don’t think the most direct approach is best, in this circumstance.”

“Well it’s the fastest.”

“I don’t think the fastest approach is best in this circumstance either,” Red says. “I’m mostly concerned I’ll miss the return catch and you’ll get killed and I’ll have to fill out a lot of paperwork about responsible use of House training rooms.”

“I believe in you,” Blue says. “And if you don’t believe in you, believe in the me that believes in you.”

Red frowns. “That’s from-”

“Just throw the damn ball!”

Red rolls his eyes and cocks his arm back. “Ready… set… go, Shiftry!”

The release is a bit closer to Red than the middle, which might be for the best, considering, and Red does catch the great ball on its return arc. After that, Blue’s attention is too focused on the shiftry, which locks its gaze on him and immediately crouches for a leap.

Blue takes a step back, hand rising with another greatball. “Zeph-”

“Shiftry, return!”

Red sucks the shiftry back into its ball, then stares at it thoughtfully, other hand going up to adjust his cap. “You know, there’s a chance it’s not trying to attack you.”

Blue raises his head. “Yeah?”

Red nods. “It might be going for a hug.”

Blue gives him a flat stare, and Red’s face remains stoically neutral. “We can’t know until we try.”

Blue cracks a smile and holds his hand up. Red tosses the greatball back, a bit to the right, and Blue snatches it out of the air. “I’m going to call that Plan D, for Dumbass, and keep thinking of alternatives.”

“What if you have some food ready for it? Maybe it’s hungry.”

They try it, and then a trough of water, then both, then put Blue farther behind them. The last is the only one that makes the shiftry hesitate: it clearly identifies Blue, notices the food and water between and to the side, then goes for them.

“Well, that’s promising.” Red stands by, ready with the greatball. “Think you can talk?”

Zephyr spots the pokemon and flies down to land on Blue’s shoulder, looking ready to launch himself at the shiftry. Blue wonders if he thinks it’s the same one that almost killed him. “Ahhhh,” Blue intones, quietly, then with increasing volume. The shiftry pays no heed. “Wom. Pow! Fnnadle! Laracra! Rotund!”

“Rotund is actually a word.”

“Shut up, Red.” Huh. The shiftry isn’t responding to the sound of his voice, or even whole words. “I’m going to try some commands.”

“Kay.” Red steps a bit closer with the greatball, on the opposite side of the food and water.

Blue wipes his sweaty palms on his pants and considers his options. “Shiftry, down.”

His pokemon pauses mid-gobble, the fanlike leaves on its hands flexing outward and inward.

“Shiftry, down!

It drops to its haunches, and Blue blinks. “Well, damn.” He begins to walk forward. “I wonder if-”

The shiftry springs at him, and Blue tucks into a roll while Zephyr launches up. Blue tumbles beneath the shiftry as it leaps to where he was, and Zephyr dives at the shiftry just as Red returns it to the greatball. When Blue stops rolling and bounces to his feet, it takes him a moment to realize the threat has passed.

“You alright?”

“Fine.” Blue looks at where the shiftry was, then presses his back to the wall and slides down it to the floor. Zephyr flutters down to the dirt, pecks at some of it, then hops over to Blue, who strokes his feathers.

Red comes over and sits beside him. “Back to the drawing board, huh?”

Blue grunts. “It was worth a shot. I knew it would take awhile, just gotta keep at it and see if I can think of something else in the meantime.”

“Let me know when you want to try again,” Red says, clapping him on the shoulder. “There are some books on unruly pokemon that I can show you. They might come in handy.”

“Thanks. And thanks for doing this.”

“Of course.”

“I’m serious. I know you’ve got your own stuff going on. I owe you one.”

Red coughs. “Funny you should mention that…”

“Ha. What is it?”

“I need you to take my spinarak to a psychic and have it hit her with Night Shade.”

Blue raises a brow.

Red explains his experiment, and what he needs Blue to do. “Sounds easy enough. So hey, you met with this psychic, right? What did she say about, you know…”

Red stares at the ground. Just as Blue is about to nudge him, he says, “I actually met with a psychic at the hospital. They told me I’m… well, I’m psychic.”

Blue nods, letting out a hollow breath. Of course.

“But I’m also not psychic.”

“Um…”

“He said I have the ability. But that I locked it up. My powers, or whatever. They’re locked up by themselves. I don’t know, the whole thing is weird.”

Blue stares. “Why? I mean why would your powers do that?”

Red lifts a handful of dirt, letting it drop back down slowly. “When my dad died, apparently. That’s what he said, anyway. Unresolved issues or something.”

The two friends sit in silence as Red’s charmander wanders over to the food and begins to munch at the remaining poffins. Blue can’t think of anything to say. He tries to be happy that Red’s a psychic. Just because he isn’t one, just because he wanted it since he was young enough to realize what being a psychic meant, doesn’t mean he can’t be happy for Red. Friends should support each other, not get bitter about shit like that. He thinks he could force himself to congratulate him, and even come to fully mean it in time. But this new twist makes it weird.

“You’ll figure it out,” Blue says at last. “The fuck does that psychic know? You’ll make it work.”

Red looks at him. “You think so?”

“Of course. You’re a smart guy, you know, in your way. Look at you, already doing your own research a couple weeks out of the lab. Whatever the block thing is, you’ll work through it.”

Red smiles. “Thanks, man. And I’m not just saying this because you said that, but I know you’ll get Brock at the end of the month.”

Blue grins. “Of course I will.” His grin fades a bit. “I notice you didn’t say I’ll train this shiftry.”

Red looks at him, solemn again. “You’re the most dedicated trainer I’ve ever met, Blue. I’m sure you’ll go far and do a lot of great things. But one thing I know, and that you know now too, is that you don’t win every battle. Maybe this shiftry is one of those battles. Maybe it’s just too far gone. And sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, how persuasive you can be, how much skill you have… you can’t have everything. Sometimes you just can’t win.”

Blue wants to reject what he says, but he can’t. The lesson he learned at the Gym, and in the forest standing over the dead pikachu, is still too fresh.

“No. Sometimes you don’t win.” He gets to his feet, and Red stands beside him. “But I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me from trying.”