Category Archives: Pokemon: The Origin of Species

Chapter 50: Comfort Zone Expansion

Leaf feels like a stranger as she enters the Vermilion Gym. Going to Pewter or Cerulean to watch Blue’s challenge matches was one thing, but it feels different entering one to participate in anything. She suddenly feels expected to know certain things or behave a certain way.

Red seems similarly uncomfortable at first, but warms up to the classes much faster. It isn’t until the personal fitness training class that she starts to have fun, running with Raff through an obstacle course like it’s just another day at the park, but with more interesting games to play. The newly evolved ivysaur has seemingly boundless energy, and has taken to his nickname without confusion. She had to explain it to Blue: Red understood right away, of course. She looks forward to when the pink bud on his back blooms in full and he comes into his name, but is happy to enjoy this intermediate form for as long as it lasts.

By the time they have their class on coordination and working with others, Leaf can see why Blue recommended she and Red attend. Neither of them get Objections in their first team building exercises, but by the end of it she does want to look into different gym cultures and policies to find out what the effects on the members and badge holders are, how the Leaders come to their philosophies, everything.

“I’m thinking of asking Blue if I can write the article on gyms after all,” she admits to Red between classes.

“Stay strong. Think of the pokemon that still need you to write about their well-being.”

She gives him the side eye. “Are you going to stop eating them if I write about it?”

He grins. “I might, if you write a sufficiently persuasive argument.”

Leaf tamps down her frustration at his flippancy. She knows he’s just trying to motivate her, and appreciates his support despite him not actually agreeing with her, but if she can’t even get her friends to take her ideas seriously, it’s hard to summon the motivation to get others to.

Still, maybe if she can demonstrate objective value from the perspective, like not scaring off abra, it’ll help. “I’ve been meaning to ask, the whole sensing what your pokemon feel… has it changed how you view them at all?”

Red shrugs. “A little? I mean, it makes it easy to remember that they’re living creatures that feel pleasure and pain, but at the same time their experiences aren’t as complex as ours. And my original point still stands: however tragic their deaths are, the ripple effects are still smaller.”

Leaf considers asking him to find some family of pokemon in the wild and see how they feel if one of their family members are taken away… but then considers whether that would change her mind, if it turns out the pokemon barely notice, or are sad for a while then get over it. More realistically, what if it differs by specie? Would that mean it’s okay to eat magikarp but not pidgey? Or pidgey but not miltank?

“A half measure is still better than nothing,” she finally says.

“That’s something I wanted to explore eventually too,” Red says as they approach the next class. “Mostly to see if there’s some correlation between pokemon who are easier to tame or grow attached to their trainer.”

They reach the group of trainers just as their instructor finishes setting up a poster board, his movements slow and lazy. Falling into line with the other students doesn’t feel strange any more either, and she knows that the clothes they provided is part of that, a way to make her feel intrinsic equality with her classmates, despite never stepping foot in a gym class before while others have multiple badges.

Their teacher is a tall, thin man with long curly dark hair and eyes that look baggy from lack of sleep. The impression is reinforced by the bored monotone in which he says, “Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to Tier Threat Assessment. My name is Leo Danton, and I work as the primary coordinator between Vermilion Gym and CoRRNet.”

He vaguely gestures to the billboard to his side, which depicts a map of some generic cityscape and the outlying suburbs, then the countryside around that. “Who here can draw a circle around a Tier 1 threat?”

Hands go up, and an older trainer walks over the marker dangling from the side of the paper to draw a circle around the city.

“Good. Where else could you draw one?”

The trainer pauses a moment, then carefully draws a circle between the suburbs to the west of the city and the edge of the map, where the road presumably leads to another town or city.

“And another?”

This time he draws one around the eastern suburbs.

“That’s enough. What made you choose those locations?”

“They’re somewhat constrained,” the trainer replies. “A Tier 1 threat is supposed to be localized, so… it puts an area at risk, but just that area.”

“And so you had to draw the boundaries somewhere, and conceptual boundaries like ‘city’ and ‘wilderness between towns’ made sense,” Trainer Danton says, somehow making it a question despite the lack of inflection.

“Ah, yeah. Basically.”

Their instructor nods and holds a hand out for the marker back, and the student returns to the group as Danton taps the poster board sheet with it. “Do pokemon know how to read maps?”

There’s silence for a moment, then everyone shakes their heads or says no.

“So what stops a Tier 1 threat from being, say, here,” he circles an area that captures part of the city and its nearby suburbs with his finger. “Or here?” He circles an area at the edge of the city that captures part of the suburb and part of the forests to the south of the city.

The class is silent for a moment, until Red raises his hand. “Habitat might? If the pokemon are rampaging in the forest, they might not leave the forest… or if they’re city dwelling pokemon, like the grimer and muk that overflowed Celadon’s sewers, they would be mostly concentrated in the city.”

Danton scratches the back of his neck, eyes up. “Not a bad answer. But while it’s true that even stampeding taurus will mostly stick to open fields rather than running through a nearby forest or into a city, towns can still be vulnerable, and other pokemon are less restricted. So what’s a Tier 2 threat? Anyone want to draw it?”

Leaf raises a cautious hand, picturing a circle with some arrows drawn away from it, but the instructor calls on someone else, who instead draws a growing outward spiral from the northern wilderness into the areas around it and the suburbs to the south, then even wider until the spiral goes to the edges of the pages and into the city itself. “It threatens all the nearby areas,” the trainer explains. “Either because it’s highly mobile, or because it’s a spreading threat that is likely to kick off other pokemon rampages or panics or migrations.”

“A textbook answer,” Trainer Danton says, and then seems to catch the wary look on the student’s face and says, “But correct.” He holds a hand out for the marker, and waits for the student to return to the class before looking them over. “Boundaries don’t exist in the real world. They’re all made up by us, concepts that only have meaning because we assign them. A lake can appear to be a boundary to a land dwelling pokemon, but some can swim. A mountain can slow them down, but others can dig through it. And then of course there are flying pokemon, who go where they will, or ghost pokemon, who, if their behavior isn’t as random as it appears, at least follow rules too obscure for us to easily predict.”

The class is quiet, and their instructor scratches at his neck a moment. “With that in mind, most people will call Tier 1 threats those that are confined to a certain location, even if the boundaries are fuzzy. Tier 2 threats, on the other hand, will spread from one location to another if left unchecked. Is that clear?” The class nods. “It shouldn’t be, unless you’ve all been working in this longer than I have. You, what’s the maximum flight distance of a pidgeotto without rest?” he asks an older trainer to the right of Leaf.

“Ah. Um.” The trainer’s surprise fades as their brow furrows. “Well, a flock can travel from one end of the region to the other in a day, and… Kanto is, ah, 200 kilometers across? So, at least that.” The trainer appears about to say something further, but then stays silent, gaze down.

The instructor waits a moment for him to continue, then says, “Good.” The trainer looks up with a surprised smile, and the instructor nods. “About the level of answer I expected.”

The trainer’s smile slips, but Danton is already pacing in front of the class, deadpan voice once again speaking with some force despite the monotone. “Estimates like that happen all the time in the field, even among professionals. Not everyone’s a Professor, and even they probably can’t remember all the relevant facts for any pokemon in any situation in the thirty seconds to a minute that trainers usually have to assess an incident and report its threat level. Tier 3 are fairly obvious, they’re events that are not just large and dangerous, but inherently mobile. Something that will spread destruction on a massive scale if not stopped or slowed down in some way.” He draws a line sideways near one edge of the map, then parallels it on the other edge, and begins to shade in the space between them before drawing a line in a particular direction. “Most of you are thinking of the Stormbringers, and that’s not an accident. The system was designed with them at the unambiguous top.” He snorts. “Naively, as it turned out. But that kind of threat is big and flashy and simple to diagnose. Sometimes an incident that looks like a Tier 1 ends up being a Tier 2, while other times a Tier 1 threat is misidentified as a Tier 2. Who can tell me why that’s a problem?”

The class is quiet. Leaf considers how people might bring the wrong pokemon to the situation, but Red raises his hand before she does. “Because the threat assessment helps make sure we don’t overcommit on Tier 1 events, or not commit enough on Tier 2.”

“Another textbook answer. But right. Rangers keep track of these things, to determine if events were accurately called or not. Anyone wanna guess how often they’re mislabeled?” Red’s hand is the only one to go up. After a moment the instructor says, “Anyone besides the Ranger’s kid?” Some people chuckle. “Nothing personal, Verres, but I want a guess, not someone who might have been told or looked it up.”

Red lowers his hand, and Leaf is glad to see he’s smiling slightly. “Why don’t we all guess, then? Write it down first? People are more likely to internalize being wrong if they make a concrete commitment first.”

Their instructor scratches his neck a moment, then shrugs. “Makes sense. Alright everyone, take out your phones or whatever you have on you to write out a pair of numbers. First, some basics. Let’s say there are 100 incidents reported as Tier 1 or 2 in a year in Kanto. How many of that 100 would you each say is Tier 1 or Tier 2?”

The class is quiet for a moment, probably trying to remember, as Leaf is, the last yearly breakdown of pokemon incidents she’d read. Was it something like twice as many Tier 1? That feels right.

Another trainer raises their hand first. “Maybe 70 Tier 1 and 30 Tier 2?”

“Close.” He turns to the poster board and begins writing. “Last year we had 44 events that were later estimated as Tier 1, and 25 that were Tier 2, so scaling that up to a hypothetical 100 events brings us to about—”

64 to 36, Leaf finishes in her head before the instructor writes it, already considering the next step. Of those 64 Tier 1, how many were reported as Tier 2? And of those 36 Tier 2, how many were reported as Tier 1? It’s a two pronged problem, since the end result would depend on the balance of the errors. If people were really good at estimating Tier 1 but bad at recognizing Tier 2, they might report something like 45 and 55, but if they’re bad at both, they might end up reporting 64 and 36, but all of the Tier 2 are reported as Tier 1. Or the opposite occurs.

Sure enough, Trainer Danton then says, “Okay, so write down how many of each do you believe were reported. You have a minute.”

Leaf thinks over the relevant factors. Red has talked about optimism bias enough, and she’s noticed it enough in her own estimations, that Leaf is inclined to list Tier 2 threats as underreported, and puts 70 and 30. Then she considers that once someone is in a scary situation, they might be more likely to panic, so Tier 2s might be overreported instead, and switches things back to 60 and 40.

Then she considers events she witnessed recently, and wonders who ended up reporting them first. Trainers? Experienced ones, if the Mt. Moon case, but maybe not in Viridian. Or were the Rangers there able to get the word out first? It would take a rather wide set of knowledge to accurately determine the risks involved in so many different scenarios. If newer trainers do some of the reporting, that might skew the numbers in both directions… but the question remains, which is skewed more? If anything, Tier 2 threats probably need more information to accurately diagnose…

She realizes that she should be thinking of these as percentages instead. If considering how accurate people are at estimating Tier 1 events specifically, there is some portion of false positive Tier 1s reported that are actually Tier 2, and false negative Tier 2s reported that are actually Tier 1…

She’s still working a few minutes later the instructor speaks up. “Okay, whatever you guys have now is good enough. Anyone confident in their answer?”

Most stay silent. Red looks like he wants to say something more and more as the seconds tick by, and as soon as Leaf finishes rechecking her math, she raises her hand.

“I think something like 45% of reported Tier 2 events are actually Tier 1s, and 25% of reported Tier 1 are actually Tier 2,” Leaf says after being called on. “Meaning we end up with 51 reported Tier 1 and 49 reported Tier 2, while in actuality there are 64 Tier 1 and only 36 Tier 2.”

There’s another moment of silence as everyone absorbs this, and Leaf feels her cheeks flushing as she realizes she may have taken the question more seriously than she was supposed to.

But the instructor just cocks his head, brow slightly raised. “Pretty close, among the general population. You came about it the right way, but Rangers are more accurate on average, though still likely to overreport Tier 2 relative to Tier 1. That’s how we end up with 33% of reported Tier 2 that are actually Tier 1, and 21% of reported Tier 1 that are actually Tier 2.” He turns looks over the rest of the class. “Anyone find that surprising? Had much more reported as Tier 1?” Most of the class raises their hands. “Who had more Tier 2?” Trainer Danton watches hands fall and rise.

He scratches his neck. “Both Rangers and trainers on average tend to overestimate how much danger they’re facing, but it’s worth keeping in mind different reasons for the error. When a trainer thinks a Tier 1 is a Tier 2, it’s likely because they’re scared. When they don’t realize that the Tier 1 they reported is actually a Tier 2, it’s likely because of simple ignorance of the pokemon or area and how badly things can spiral out of control, how far the damage can spread. Rangers probably have a different motivation, like them being the ones on the front lines, when deciding how many reinforcements to call in. Regardless of which direction you were off by, remember not to make the same mistakes when you’re the one making the call or hearing others do so.” Red’s hand has been inching up, then going back down, for the last minute or so, as different questions are asked. Leaf suppresses a smile as her friend tries to estimate when a natural break in the lesson will occur for him to ask his question. The instructor may be taking pity on him when he finally says, “Yes, Verres?”

“I wanted to ask, is there an official rubric to decide what level of threat an incident is? I’ve never seen one, but if Rangers can make ultimate determinations after the fact…”

“You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” The instructor sighs. “It’s been discussed before, but none have had enough agreement to be endorsed officially, and the Powers That Be seem to think an inaccurate one would do more harm than letting trainers make their own decisions on the spot, with all the context and data available to them. The determinations the Rangers make are done by committee, and by necessity would likely include information those on the ground who first call them in aren’t always privy to.”

Red is frowning. “But there has to be some basic guidelines, at least?”

“If there wasn’t these classes would be a lot shorter. First let’s test how well you all do without them. Split into groups, and I’ll give you some scenarios.”

Red and Leaf immediately step closer together, and let the inertia of the others forming groups draw them into one of them. Once there are five groups with roughly even numbers, and everyone has introduced themselves, Trainer Danton takes a timer out, looks back and forth between them, then clicks it on.

“An earthquake dislodges the pokemon from Diglett Cave. They burrow under the ground in every direction, coming up at random places to create potholes in Vermilion’s outer suburban roads, shredding electrical lines and dislodging plumbing. They even cause small quakes that erode at housing foundations. Is this a Tier 1 event, or Tier 2?”

Leaf turns to her group. Their member with the most Objections is a young woman named Bretta with curly brown hair and glasses, and she looks thoughtful for a moment, then starts listing things rapidly.

“They’re moving in every direction, so may not be contained. Their quakes may set other pokemon off, causing additional rampages. I’m going with Tier 2. Objections?”

Red raises his hand. “Diglett rarely stray from their territory for long, even if threatened. The key to a Tier 2 should be whether trainer intervention is necessary to prevent a spread, not the size of the initial spread itself.”

“What about the other pokemon being displaced?” another trainer says.

“That’s an if, not a guarantee,” Leaf replies. “I don’t know the pokemon in this area that well, but are there any others that are likely to cause a chain reaction?”

“The forests around the city are full of pokemon that might rampage,” Bretta says again.

“We should default to Tier 1 if we’re not sure,” Red says. “They’re almost twice as common, so unless we have strong evidence that it’s a Tier 2, it’s safer to guess 1.”

“We don’t know if the instructor is following that probability with his examples though,” Leaf points out. “He might give us an equal amount of each, or split them the other way around.”

“Ten seconds left,” another trainer points out, watching her phone.

“Right, executive decision, Tier 2,” the group leader says. “Last chance for Objections.” She eyes the two trainers with a couple tokens.

“I still say Tier 1,” Red says, frowning slightly. “For the rec-”

“Time.” Trainer Danton lowers his stop watch and says, “Group leaders who voted Tier 2, raise your hands.” Three of the five groups do. “Congratulations, you just over committed and left the area’s trainers unprepared for the next nearby disaster. Anyone wanna offer your rationale?” He listens as they offer their reasons, points out how they’re not applicable, then restarts the timer. “Next, a storm surge hits the docks, flooding the closest districts and filling them with tentacool, chinchou, shellder, and others. Figure out a response in 30 seconds.”

This one is a bit easier to label a Tier 1, since eventually the storm would die down and the waters recede, putting no other areas of the city or beyond it in danger. Someone raises the possibility that there’s something non-obvious they’re missing, but time is called before they can discuss it and they end up going with Tier 1, which is correct.

“Next, a particularly long spring leads to local combee hives aggressively expanding. 2 minutes to decide.”

This one seems more obviously a Tier 2 to Leaf, but after a brief discussion, Bretta suggests Tier 1. “It’s not like they’ll go into nearby cities or mountains, if there aren’t enough flowers there.”

“They might try to though,” Leaf objects. “And they could upset the local populations there and cause a chain reaction that might spread further.”

This starts an argument about the likelihood of that, which Leaf only half listens to. Her argument was actually born from a different realization, that the harm caused to the other pokemon would be massive even if no other humans are affected. She knows that’s not the point of the Tier system, though, so she kept it to herself. Still, even if this is determined to be a Tier 1 attack, she’s pretty sure she would label it Tier 2 if she saw it in the wild, and she’s not sure if that should bother her or not. She knows she shouldn’t intentionally use the wrong criterion, but she can’t help but care about what she cares about.

Red raises a hand eventually, causing people to quiet and look at him.

“We have forty seconds,” he says. “Whether it’s a long term problem is less important than whether they need to be stopped before they spread into other areas in the first place. Leaf is right, the risk of a chain reaction is too big. I vote Tier 2.”

“Come on, combee causing a Tier 2?” Bretta says. “The Viridian Fire wasn’t even labeled that.”

“Well it should have been,” Red says. “I think whoever made that initial call got it wrong, they thought it was just a fire from some riled up pikachu. The extent of the rampage was the real threat.”

“And the other pokemon that started panicking too, or took advantage of the chaos,” Leaf adds, thinking of the shiftry that attacked Blue. “Viridian was lucky, because it had two gyms on either side of it. If things weren’t addressed as well, the carnage could easily have continued to spread.”

“Fifteen seconds left,” someone notes. “I’m with them, Tier 2.”

The others around the circle agree, and the group leader frowns. “Anyone got an Objection to gamble on it?”

No one speaks up, and Leaf feels frustrated for the first time at not having one. “I don’t need you to give me one, but if 2 is wrong, I’ll admit it was my idea publicly,” Leaf says.

“Time,” the instructor calls just then. “Who got Tier 2, raise your hands.” Leaf looks at Bretta, who keeps her hand down, looking vindicated until the instructor then says, “Good job. The rest of you just doubled the casualties by not committing enough.”

“Hang on,” Bretta says. “Why is this a Tier 2 but the diglett one wasn’t? They could have riled up other pokemon and spread the rampage further too.”

“Their disturbance would have been confined to the ground, and very few pokemon would be driven to rampage from that,” Danton says. “Observations of diglett movements in the past have shown minimal effect on displacement of other species.” He turns to the group at large, scratching his neck. “Don’t feel bad if you get these wrong. That’s what the class is for.” His tone is still so bland that it doesn’t come off as particularly reassuring, but he puts his timer away and flips to a new page on the board. “The basics to keep in mind in any incident are the following…”

Leaf starts writing as he lists them out:

1. What pokemon are involved?

2. How far can they travel?

3. What pokemon are in their travel zone?

4. How likely are they to fight vs flight?

5. How far can THEY travel?

6. And so on…

Leaf blinks as she finishes writing the last point, ellipses and all. As far as basic guidelines go, this isn’t much, but she understands the underlying idea: every situation will be different, so much so that accurately calling every event would require an encyclopedic knowledge of local pokemon and terrain. She hopes she never has to be the sole person making that call in Kanto, but resolves to spend half an hour every night studying the habitats around them in case she is.

“There are more specific general guidelines that each region’s Ranger Corp puts out. I suggest you all study them, but they’re still no replacement for familiarizing yourself with your surroundings. Yes, Verres?”

“Is the data of past incidents publicly available?” Red says. “I mean, after it’s been analyzed by the Rangers?”

“It is, and it can be a useful read too. A bit dry for most people. But remember that the analysis in them is reached after the facts are known. Unless you happen to be involved in the exact same kind of incident as one described there, it can be misleading to think it’ll prepare you for making those decisions yourself. Speaking of which…”

He turns to Bretta, voice and face as bland as ever when he says, “Those tokens you have, they don’t mean anything. When you leave this gym, people won’t remember how many you had. They’ll remember whether you accepted good ideas or held out for Objections. Just letting you know.”

He turns back to the class at large. “So the next step is to learn the most common types of pokemon attacks in a region, and how terrain can affect their chance of spreading…”

As Trainer Danton starts to list them, Leaf can’t help but notice Bretta out of the corner of her eye, face flushed and hands clenched as her jaw works. She can’t tell whether the older girl is holding in tears or anger, but eventually her hand jerks up and takes an Objection off her jacket before handing it to Leaf, not looking at her.

“I don’t…” Leaf whispers, then shakes her head. “Keep it.”

“Just take it,” Bretta hisses back.

“I’m not going to be here a lot, I don’t need—”

“I’ll take it,” Red whispers from her other side.

Bretta hesitates, and Leaf reaches out and takes the token before handing it to Red without comment. Bretta’s jaw stiffens, but she keeps her gaze on their instructor, and Leaf does the same, distracted as she tries to think of whether she should say something to the girl after class.

As soon as it ends, however, Bretta walks away, and Red is talking at her about statistics.

“What?” she asks after a moment as they walk toward the cafeteria. “Sorry, I was thinking about something else. Start over?”

“I think I finally get Bayesian probabilities,” Red says, voice excited. “Giovanni brings it up every so often—stop making that face, Leaf, regardless of what you think of him the blog is a good information source—and I only ever sort of got it, it was like holding onto water, I’d feel like I understood it one day but the next week I’d try applying it to something and forget the steps or misclassify the variables, but with determining the Tier of an incident it’s really obvious that we should be basing our judgement off of prior probabilities and adjusting them based on the specific instance’s evidence…”

It takes Leaf a moment to catch his train of thought, but as soon as she does her mind starts connecting what he’s saying with what she was doing in her calculations. “You’re talking about what you said earlier, bringing up how often Tier 1 or 2 is in general and weighing that in your decision of whether to judge a specific incident as Tier 1 or 2. So instead of saying ‘I’m 90% confident this is a Tier 2 incident,’ we’d first remember that only 36% of incidents in Kanto are Tier 2 and adjust downward in confidence.”

“Right! That’s why I wanted to know if Rangers have the figures by specific pokemon, because that would provide even more accurate prior probabilities to judge by. If you know that, of all incidents primarily involving beedrill8 out of 10 in the past have been Tier 2, then your prior should be 80% that one you encounter is Tier 2, and then you can adjust for whatever other factors you see that may make it a Tier 1 instead, like the swarm is between the coast and a mountain range.”

“Sure, or Tyranitar only having 2 Tier 1 incidents out of 17 over the last 10 years.” She remembers that number surprising her, as the hulking rock monsters tend to be slow and solitary creatures, however powerful. “That makes it fairly easy to default to Tier 2 unless there’s a really good reason to think it’s a Tier 1.”

“But the more important point isn’t about people deciding if an incident is Tier 1 or 2, it’s with the Rangers trying to decide whether to respond as if it’s a Tier 1 or Tier 2 when one gets called in, based on how often there are false Tier 1 or 2 called in!”

“But that’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Red gives her an odd look as they grab a pair of pre-loaded food trays. “Who taught you math?”

“My mom.” Leaf takes the container of cold cuts off hers and swaps it with an extra salad bowl from a different one, figuring some meat lover would be happy to take that one. “Why?”

“I think you don’t understand how much trouble most people have with it,” he says as they find a table. “Because that’s not obvious, I didn’t think to do it until after I realized how useful the prior would be in the first place.”

“But the Rangers are a professional organization, Red, there’s no way they don’t take that into account.”

“I hope you’re right, but I doubt it. As far as I know, Rangers don’t undergo any math classes during their training. Look, let’s say a non-Ranger reports a Tyranitar rampage as a Tier 1.” They sit down, and Red takes out his notebook. He tears a pair of sheets out and hands one to her with a pencil. “You’re the ranger in charge of deciding whether to treat it as a Tier 1, or send a full Tier 2 response. Try writing out your process for figuring out the chance it’s actually a Tier 1, I want to see if I can do it too.”

Leaf does so, eating one handed as she writes with the other. According to what Trainer Danton said…

P(T1): The probability of a Tier 1 Event overall is 64%.

And if 21% of reported Tier 1 events are actually Tier 2, then…

P(T1 | R1): 79% of Tier 1 reports are actual Tier 1 events.

While he already gave her the odds of a false Tier 2 report:

P(T1 | R2): 33% of Tier 2 reports are also actually Tier 1 events.

So, first she wants to find the probability of a Tier 1 Report in the first place. She writes out:

P(T1) = P(T1 | R1) * P(R1) + P(T1 | R2) * (1 – P(R1))

And takes her phone out to use its calculator as she starts plugging in numbers.

.64 = .79 * P(R1) + .33 * (1 – P(R1))

.64 = .79 P(R1) + .33 – .33 P(R1)

.31 = .79 P(R1) – .33 P(R1)

.31 = .46 P(R1)

P(R1) = .31 / .46 = .6739

So 67% of incidents are reported as Tier 1. Combining that with the probability of Tier 1 events, she can find the probability of a report being T1 whether the incident is T1 or T2.

P(R1 | T1) = P(T1 | R1) * P(R1) / P(T1) = 0.79 * 0.6739 / 0.64 = 0.8319

P(R1 | T2) = P(T2 | R1) * P(R1) / P(T2) = 0.21 * 0.6739 / 0.36 = 0.3931

Leaf feels tension in her shoulders and straightens so she’s not hunched over, hearing her mom’s lecturing voice in her head. She pauses to take a bite of an apple and glance at Red, wondering how far along he is. His brow is knitted with concentration, so she forgoes asking him and just goes to answering the final question:

Given that:

The probability of a Tyranitar Tier 1 Event, P(T1), is 2/17

The probability of a Tyraniter Tier 2 Event, P(T2), is 15/17

The probability of a Tier 1 Event being reported as Tier 1, P(R1 | T1), is 83%

The probability of a Tier 2 Event being reported as Tier 1, P(R1 | T2), is 39%

What is the chance a reported Tier 1 is actually a Tier 1, P(T1 | R1)?

P(T1 | R1) = P(R1 | T1) * P(T1) / (P(R1 | T1) * P(T1) + P(R1 | T2) * P(T2))

P(T1 | R1) = 0.83 * (2/17) / (0.83 * (2/17) + 0.39 * (15/17))

P(T1 | R1) = .0996 / (.0996 + .3441) = .221

For the final probability Leaf finishes, checks it over again, then puts the pencil down so she can focus on her food. “Okay, I’m done. What’d you get?”

After a minute, Red stops writing and looks up. “It’s 29% right? Rounding up.”

Leaf quickly checks her numbers again. “No, I got about 22%.”

Red buries his face in the crook of his arm on the table. “I had it for a minute there, I swear.”

Leaf covers her grin with her hand. “Hang on, let’s see what you did…” She takes his sheet and checks his final calculation just to make sure it’s not something simple, but sees a completely different setup:

2/17 Tyranitar are T1 = ~12%. If we have 100 Events with Tyranitar as main threat that means:

12 are Tier 1

88 are Tier 2

For every 100 Events reported as Tier 1

79 are actually Tier 1

21 are actually Tier 2

For every 100 Events reported as Tier 2

67 are actually Tier 2

33 are actually Tier 1

Group A: 8.52 Tyranitar are Tier 1 and Reported Tier 1

Group B: 3.48 Tyranitar are Tier 1 but Reported as Tier 2

Group C: 66.88 Tyranitar are Tier 2 and Reported as Tier 2

Group D: 21.12 Tyranitar are Tier 2 but reported as Tier 1.

Group A / (Group A+ Group D) = .2874

“Huh.” Leaf blinks. “I see what you were going for, but your probabilities are wrong.”

“What do you mean? Did I miscalculate them?”

“No, I mean you confused what the actual probabilities Trainer Danton gave us were. You just took the probability of a Tier 1 report being a Tier 1 event and treated it as the same thing as a Tier 1 event being reported as Tier 1. They’re not, that just tells you how many True Positive results there are. There are also False Positives and False Negatives for Tier 1 and Tier 2 events that change things.”

Red sighs. “I knew that, I just forgot to apply it. I may have mentioned math isn’t my strong suit.” He rallies after a moment. “But I’m going to get better at it. No more using that as an excuse. Today is already a day of expanding our comfort zones little by little, right?”

Leaf grins. “Right.”

“So what did you do instead?”

“I had to find the actual probability of Tier 1 reports first. Look, here…”

She shows him on her paper where she uses the formula P(T1) = P(T1 | R1) * P(R1) + P(T1 | R2) * (1 – P(R1)) to find P(R1).

“Once you have that, you can find what you really need to do what you were doing, the real rate of a given Tier 1 Event getting Tier 1 Report, or Tier 2, or the reverse.” She starts rewriting the given information, and underlines the key differences in what she found first:

The probability of a Tyranitar Tier 1 Event, P(T1), is 2/17

The probability of a Tyraniter Tier 2 Event, P(T2), is 15/17

The probability of a Tier 1 Event being reported as Tier 1, P(R1 | T1), is 83%

The probability of a Tier 2 Event being reported as Tier 1, P(R1 | T2), is 39%

“See how that’s different than “79% of Tier 1 reports are Tier 1 events?” she asks.

“I think so, yeah. Now I split them up into groups, right?”

“Right, if that helps you more than using the formula. Let’s also expand the number of events and be more precise…”

If there are 1000 Tyranitar events:

118 are Tier 1

882 are Tier 2

83% of the Tier 1 events will be reported as Tier 1, so:

Group A: 97.94 Tyranitar are Tier 1 and Reported Tier 1

Group B: 20.06 Tyranitar are Tier 1 but Reported as Tier 2

39% of Tier 2 events will be reported as Tier 1, so 61% will be:

Group C: 538.02 Tyranitar are Tier 2 and Reported as Tier 2

Group D: 343.98 Tyranitar are Tier 2 but reported as Tier 1.

After checking to make sure Group A and B add up to the 118 Tier 1 Tyranitar Events, and C and D add up to the 882 Tier 2 Events, she then finishes with:

Group A / (Group A+ Group D) = .2216

“Okay. I think I got it.” Red examines the numbers quietly for a moment. “Well, 22% isn’t that much higher than 12%. So it would still make sense to respond to a Tyranitar event as a Tier 2, even if it’s a little more likely to be a Tier 1 after someone reports it as one.”

“How many reports do Rangers usually get before they mount a response?” Leaf asks. “If the next few reports are also Tier 1, that would quickly bring the odds of it being at Tier 1 high enough that they should respond as if they’re accurate.”

Red shrugs. “They start mobilizing as soon as they get the report, but they continue to monitor the situation as that happens and adjust what they send as they coordinate with other Ranger outposts and nearby gyms. But they usually only get a handful of reports before everyone in the area knows about it and stops sending in new ones.”

“Huh. So they may not actually get a chance to update far enough for some really rare instances, if they were to second-guess the really rare events.” Something about that bothers Leaf, there should be a better solution…

“Let me try one with a different pokemon now,” Red says, grabbing a fresh sheet.

“Alright.” She hands him the pencil and watches him follow the steps she did. She’s in the middle of pointing out a difference when someone plops down on the bench to her left.

“Heyoo. This kid owe you money?”

Leaf looks up with a grin. “Aiko! What’s—oh.” She looks around with wide eyes as almost a dozen other trainers sit around them, Blue taking a seat next to Red.

“So?” Blue asks, as he digs into his food, mouth full. “H’wsha firsh deh?”

A teenager on Blue’s other side holds a napkin up to catch some of the food before it can spray across to Leaf and Aiko. “Swallow first, you small-town bumpkin. We’re civilized folk here.”

“Hi!” a girl to Leaf’s right says. “I’m Elaine. It’s great to meet you, I’m from Pewter, your article on the museum was awesome, are you writing another one?”

Leaf blinks. “Thanks! And hi, nice to meet you too, um, yeah I’m writing another, but not on Pewter—”

“Oh I figured, what’s it on?”

Blue finally swallows. “Hang on, I asked first.”

“Technically,” the boy to his right mutters.

“Hush, Glen. Spill, newbies. First day, how was it? Great, right?”

“Pretty great, yeah,” Leaf says, gaze lingering on Glen, who Red had said Blue was thinking of inviting with them on their journey. He’s kinda cute… “We were actually just talking about the latest class we took—”

“Red!” Blue exclaims, staring at his friend’s chest. “You got an Objection! Congratu-mph!”

Red’s hand shoves blindly up and covers Blue’s mouth. “Leaf gave it to me,” Red says, gaze still on his equations. “Now hush a minute, I need to get this right.”

“What’s with the math?” Aiko whispers to Leaf.

“Bayes’ Theorem,” Leaf says, still looking around at all the trainers, most of whom are watching them with interest.

“From Giovanni’s blog?” an older boy on Red’s other side asks. “Why are you—”

“Because literal lives may be at stake someday if I misjudge the severity of a Tier 1 or Tier 2 incident,” Red says as he finishes writing, then turns the paper toward Leaf and removes his other hand from Blue’s mouth.

Leaf studies the sheet. “You tried to shortcut the calculation of Group D, didn’t you?”

“Uh. Yeah. How did you know?”

“Your C and D add up to 100 instead of the frequency of Tier 2 events.”

Red curses and takes the sheet back to erase it while Blue shakes his head. “Literal lives at stake, and you shortcut.” Red tries to cover Blue’s mouth again, but he fends him off and turns to Leaf as their arms shove against each other. “Oh, I should introduce everyone… this is Glen, that’s Chron,” the boy to Red’s other side raises his hand. “Elaine introduced herself, and over there is Taro and his sister Chie…”

Most of them are eating and talking among themselves now, stopping as their names are mentioned to look up and smile at her. She tries to keep up with all the new names, ten in total, as her head spins from everyone talking over and under each other. Clearly this is what Red meant by the group Blue and Aiko had started hanging out with, but she didn’t realize it was this big.

“It’s nice to meet all of you,” she manages to say before Elaine starts asking questions about what she’s writing again, which Aiko interrupts by asking if she found a blog for her abra article, letting Leaf answer both at once.

“What about you, what have you been up to?” Leaf asks Aiko before she can get asked another series of questions. “Other than making the gym uniform look good, somehow.”

“Oh hush, you flatterer,” she says while taking Leaf’s untouched carrots and replacing them with her own shredded radish, which Leaf happily starts munching on. “I’ve been great, actually! My sandshrew evolved today, and I can say for sure as of this morning that we’re going ahead with the petting zoo/therapy idea! My dad and I finalized the business details with Psychic Tuke, we should start with a couple trial clients tomorrow!”

“That’s fantastic! And congrats on the sandslash.” Leaf wants to ask how her dad is doing, but isn’t sure how much private information Aiko has already shared with the others.

Red looked up from his paper upon hearing about the ranch, smiling wide. “We’ll be heading out on the cruise soon, but do you think we can go visit?”

Aiko beams at him. “You guys are always welcome.” She turns to the others. “The rest of you too, as long as you tell your friends and family.”

“If I’m going to be a walking billboard,” Glen says, “I demand payment in the form of petting cute pokemon.”

“Oh man, there are so many cute pokemon there,” Leaf says, grinning at him. “You should totally come with us.”

“And the billboard idea’s not bad,” Aiko says, examining him while tapping her chin.

“You’ve done it now,” Elaine says. “She’s got That Look. We’ll all be fitted with wearable boards by the end of the week.”

Blue snorts. “Not me. I can do some sign twirling though, if you want.”

“The wearable one would let you advertise while battling, though,” Leaf points out.

“No advertising during official League matches,” Elaine says. “You’re from Unova, right?”

Leaf blinks. “Yeah. I don’t watch the matches but I know trainers there wear company shirts and hats and bags all the time during recorded matches.”

“Well not here,” Blue says. “Because Kantonians aren’t sell-outs, right everyone?”

“Right!” the group shouts as one.

“I’m from Connacht,” Glen says. “I’m happy to sell out.”

“I’ll pay you five bucks to wear a shirt that says Connacht Sucks!” one of the other trainers from farther down the tables says. Leaf has already forgotten their name.

“Make it fifty!”

“Ten!”

“Fifty-five!”

“What?! Who taught you how to haggle?”

“My grandmother, and now it’s sixty for insulting her by implication!”

“Alright, time out!” Blue says, hands cutting the air to both sides. “This slight clearly has only one solution: duel at sundown.”

“Don’t let him boss you around like that,” Red says. “I like where the haggling’s going.”

“I’m curious if he’d actually take fifty now,” Chron says. “Also, you put the wrong denominator.” He points, and Red looks back down with a frown.

“The ship of fifty has sailed,” Glen declares, arms crossed.

“I’ll give you forty,” Aiko says, sounding completely serious. “To wear it around the city for two days.”

Glen hesitates.

“The ship of forty, apparently, is less decisive,” Blue says.

“And didn’t insult your grandmother’s haggling skills,” Aiko reminds him.

Leaf’s phone chimes, distracting her from the back and forth, and she lets the conversation flow around her as she takes it out to check if it’s anything important, enjoying the banter. She’s not used to big crowds of people, and would probably find it tiring if she had to deal with it all day, but she has to admit she can see the appeal.

Her slight smile fades as she sees who sent the email, and she quickly opens it, mind jumping between scenarios that would warrant him contacting her again, few of them good…

Hey Leaf. Your prediction came true: Zoey Palmer has been poking around. Reached out to me just today, asking a lot of the same questions you did in your last visit. I was honest, but didn’t mention anything beyond what she asked about, but she seemed suspicious of what Giovanni’s men are doing here. I’ll let you know if she reaches out again, but I’d be surprised if she doesn’t. Hope you’re close to cracking this thing.

Stay safe,

Ryback

“Leaf? Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Sorry, I’ve got to run.” Leaf sees the looks of curiosity and concern, and forces a smile.

“You’re not going to join us for Advanced Formations?” Aiko asks. “It’s one of the funnest classes!”

“Maybe another time. It was nice meeting all of you,” she says to the rest of them, then looks at Red and silently apologizes for leaving him alone. Their joint venture wasn’t as bad as they feared, however, and she thinks he’ll be fine. “Can I rely on you to make sure he learns that?” she asks Chron with a smile.

“Yes ma’am.” He salutes her, and it takes her a moment to realize he took her request seriously. What has Blue been doing to them? Or is it from my own fame?

“Thanks. Call you later,” Leaf says to Aiko, squeezing her shoulder in a quick hug, then heads out of the cafeteria.

She quickly goes to the Gym’s locker room to retrieve her things, then returns to the Trainer House, thoughts already on Ryback’s message and its implications as she bikes through the city. If Palmer is on the right track now, Leaf’s window of opportunity is shrinking. She needs to step up her game, which means finally pinning down her next step in the investigation of Yuuta’s death.

The Trainer House’s work room is quiet but for the clack of keys. It’s a bit crowded considering the time, but the various noises of the others doesn’t bother her. While Leaf has her own computer now, she’s found it easier to concentrate on work related things when she’s in a work related environment, and so her strategy for avoiding getting sucked into arguments online lately has been to put up as many barriers as possible for it. As long as she’s doing research on a public computer, and not logged into her own accounts, she doesn’t have to see all the notifications and messages that are no doubt piling up.

She thought of asking Professor Oak if he’s learned anything a few times over the past week, then realized if there’s something he’d wanted her to know he would have told her already. The next obvious choice was to ask Laura for help, but Leaf still isn’t sure that talking with another reporter wouldn’t violate the “agreement” she made with Giovanni, deceptive though he probably was when she made it.

So she started trying to answer the central question herself, the question Leader Giovanni implied was at the center of the mystery: who benefits from chaos in the dig site?

According to the Viridian Gym Leader, whatever had happened to Yuuta was an intentional act of sabotage for the dig or those connected to it. The strange thing is that the same could be said of Yuuta’s theft, so even if the person or people who killed him were not connected to him at all, there were still two attacks on the dig regardless of whether they were by the same people. She can untangle rivaling motivations later.

So the question she’d been investigating since leaving Cerulean was simple: Who benefits monetarily if the Mt. Moon dig falls apart?

Thankfully her investigation there did most of the legwork in answering that, and as it turned out once she put the data together, quite a lot of people would. The mountain, being a highly valuable pokemon habitat, had a lot of rules and regulations imposed on it that made it hard for most to do business there. This venture only worked because all three cities worked together to facilitate it, but that meant even more red tape, which made the costs go higher.

If it ends up working out, it will prove that projects like this are financially viable while still abiding by the uniquely high standards. Which means, Leaf both surmised and read others assert, those standards would likely be spread to any future digs that open on the mountain… or similar places. Which puts the organizations currently there who have already proven themselves capable in a much better position to take advantage of those later agreements.

Which means in a sense that any organization that tried to outbid the current ones working there, or couldn’t afford to, and even the private security company that competed with the “organizing gym” (the article didn’t specify which, but Ryback confirmed that it was Viridian’s), might all benefit if it falls apart. On top of that, fossil supplies that would see their prices undercut if such a major new source of fossils became available to certain groups but not others… but such zero-sum thinking would implicate far too many organizations, and besides, Leaf doesn’t think a rivalry between paleontologists would get so cutthroat as to warrant murder.

Well, most of the time. Maybe. It might if the monetary sums are large enough.

In any case the web of suspects is still too large, so she moved on to the next layer:

Who benefits politically if the Mt. Moon dig falls apart?

Environmental groups who were against the dig. Politicians who want to embarrass their city’s Leaders… something she wouldn’t have considered before her journey, but which seems at least plausible now. Would someone like Mayor Kitto stoop to murder just to make Brock look bad? Probably not, but there’s no way Leaf has the whole picture. The only way she would get to the bottom of this is by assuming that whoever killed Yuuta had motivations that make sense. If that’s not the case then she’ll have wasted a lot of time, but she has to narrow the possibility space somehow.

Once she starts investigating them she can start striking out the ones that are unsupported or too improbable, but until now she’s still been in the mode of generating hypotheses rather than trying to prove or disprove any of them yet.

Her last additions were adding Mayor Kitto to the list, as well as Tonio and Mangal, the mayors of Cerulean and Viridian, and it struck her that if it was someone Misty interacts with they would have to be very stupid or careful to plot against her. Unless of course they’re Dark…

This is where prejudice comes from you know. Still, Leaf checks to see if any of the mayors are Dark, which is surprisingly easy to find out. Apparently any time a politician runs for office there are tons of people wondering what psychics think of them, which leads to a lot of activity on forums where psychics claim this or that mental state that the politician had while they were giving speeches meant whatever the psychic then extrapolated it to mean. Since an actual mental connection needed to be formed to pick up thoughts, however, only those unwilling to give up anonymity would admit to such a breach in privacy laws, which means their assertions of what politicians said were always in doubt.

Leaf loses an hour to that fascinating rabbit hole before she stumbles on the answer to her question as a matter of course: some group fighting for equal rights insisting that Dark people shouldn’t be discriminated against quickly led her to the revelation that apparently Kanto doesn’t have anyone in public office that’s Dark, since, as Leaf’s own suspicions supported, the capability of hiding something made them inherently suspicious in an arena where one could at least usually rely on psychics weeding out the most blatantly dishonest or emotionally unstable.

That just makes Leaf wonder whether someone good enough at concealing their inner mental states, or who didn’t feel any sort of guilt for lying, might not slip through. But that’s a question for another day, and right now she has her answer: Mayor Tonio probably isn’t in on the attack, and neither is Mangal, if Giovanni uses psychics to monitor the people he talks to regularly, which Leaf has no reason to think he doesn’t, stupid sneaky snake that he is…

Anyway. That leaves just Kitto, who she puts on one side of the suspect list. She starts to fill it out with everyone else who has a political reason to want the dig site to fail, and then starts filling out the financial side of the list until she can plot them in a venn diagram.

When she finishes, she has a list of nine names or organizations in the middle, with both political and financial motives. The real culprit may be in the purely financial or political motivation side, or even someone she didn’t even think of with personal or complex motivations, but with what she knows now, these seem best to investigate first.

And as for who she’s investigating, well, every staff member at the dig shouldn’t take too long…

She’s still engrossed in that when her phone chimes with a message from Red. It isn’t until she sees the time that she realizes her stomach is sending unhappy signals to her and has been for a while. Rather than meet up with the others, however, and as tempting as it is, she sends an apology and heads downstairs to grab food from the cafeteria so she can keep working until bed.

She moves through the Trainer House without seeing it, in a state of flow that makes her steps feel light. The temptation to check the forums and emails pops up occasionally, but is quickly carried away by her drive to look into the next staff member, and the next, and the next, into the late hours of the night.


Days pass, and Leaf barely leaves the Trainer House other than to give her pokemon some exercise. She returns to the Gym a couple times for classes that Aiko, Blue, or Red insist she joins them for, and it’s always hard to leave once she’s there, but before long the investigation calls her back. It’ll be worth it, she tells herself as she turns down another dinner invitation with a pang. Getting to the bottom of this will be worth it…

It goes slowly but steadily, and little by little she puts together a shortlist of dig employees that have worked for or with some of the primary suspects, including big names like the Cinnabar Archeology Institute, the Silph Company, and Rand Tanaka, an excavation magnate who recently got into politics and became the mayor of Celadon City: apparently he’d tried to get his city in on the action at Mt. Moon, but was unable to.

Normally this many potential leads would excite Leaf, and there is some of that, but as the days pass that excitement is tempered by a growing suspicion. Throughout her investigation, what she’s found are not just people who have reason to sabotage the dig, but also some who have reason to strike at Giovanni as well. Throwing his political weight behind a decision that limits Silph expansion in Viridian, speaking out against Tanaka’s campaign… What was it he said, while trying to convince her not to publish? I’ve learned to recognize the actions of an enemy, and I’ve made plenty of enemies. Something like that.

Not all the companies and people on the list have obvious enmity with Giovanni, but he’s been a powerful figure in Kanto for so long that it seems he’s interacted enough with almost all of them at some point that searching for his name and theirs brings something up.

At the time Leaf just believed that Giovanni was saying what he could to convince her not to publish. Calculated, sure, but only for that obvious goal. Since her investigation is guided almost entirely by the information he revealed to her, however, she’s started to consider again what his goal in that conversation was. If he wanted to throw her off track, he could have lied to her. Maybe he did, though if so there’s enough truth laced into what he said that she can’t easily ignore it.

Instead, it seems more and more like what he said was exactly what she would need to hear that, not only would she not publish the story, but if she continued researching it anyway, she would know where to look…

Until Leaf had to finally wonder if the Gym Leader intentionally told her everything he did, not just to keep her quiet about what little she knew, but also to increase her chances of finding more. After all, he professed to be searching for the culprit himself. Would he not also benefit if she found them?

The strangest feeling began to grip her as she worked day to day, like she was being watched. Leaf resisted the urge to look around often, calling herself silly. But she couldn’t ignore the source of the feeling: the eerie idea that she’s just a puppet whose strings are being pulled.

Does it matter? Won’t you want to find out even if Giovanni set you up to? In a sense he might be doing you a favor at the same time, making use of you in a way. He did talk with you as if forming a business agreement: in fact he even offered to repay you for services rendered!

Leaf scowls at that particular inner voice, distrusting its appeal. One thing’s for certain: her excuse to not tell Laura about what she’s getting into doesn’t feel justified anymore. Even without going into specifics, she needs the advice: she feels like a tympole swimming in the shadow of something large and hungry, and while she’s not scared, exactly, she wants to know for sure if she’s imagining it or onto something.

After finishing the list, she closes down her work at the public computer room and moves to a more private work room where she takes her laptop out and, after weeks of wanting to, calls Red’s mom to tell her everything. It feels good to have an excuse anyway, since aside from what she’s been working on, she hasn’t had the chance to talk to her much since they arrived in Vermilion, and she’s curious to know what Mrs. Verres has been up to.

“Hi there, Leaf!”

“Hey Laura! How’s it going?”

“Wonderful, dear! Everything’s great. Just great. What have you kids been up to?””

Well, Laura certainly seems more cheerful than usual. Maybe it’s from not having spoken in a while, but it makes Leaf loath to bring up something more serious, so she happily launches into a summary of her past couple weeks, including her visits to the gym and how surprisingly enjoyable she found it. This leads into Laura explaining that she recently started going to the Celadon Gym to learn how to train her new tangela, which led to them comparing notes about the differences between the gym cultures. Leaf is a bit surprised to hear that Laura is suddenly interested in training pokemon, but she supposes that the grimer attack may have made her feel unsafe living without any.

Eventually the conversation topics start to wind down, and Leaf runs out of excuses not to bring up her main reason for calling. “By the way, I have something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.”

Laura chuckles. “I figured as much, with how busy you all must be from the abra sale. What’s up?”

“It’s actually not related to that. There’s something I never told you…”

Leaf haltingly explains her investigation at Mt. Moon, the visit with Giovanni, her agreement with him, the research she’s done since then, and what made her finally decide to break it, listing the names of her primary suspects and the workers at the dig that they’re connected to.

“I just feel like I’m suddenly really vulnerable, like it’s not my investigation at all any more. I don’t know if I’m being paranoid or not, but I just had to check and see what you think. Even if he prodded me into continuing the investigation, should I?” Leaf waits a moment, hand nervously moving her computer mouse to open and delete various emails, barely seeing them. “Mrs. Verres? You there?”

“Yes. Leaf, can I call you back?”

Leaf’s hand stops moving. Laura’s voice was… completely different. Flat, almost angry. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Something just came up. I’m sorry, I’ll call you later.”

“Is—” Leaf stops as the call disconnects, then stares at her phone. She knows that probably wasn’t directed at her… maybe Giovanni, for tricking Leaf? Unless she’s being honest and something came up, maybe she got an email or something just hit the news…

Leaf opens some Celadon city news sites and scrolls for anything that might have happened within the past few minutes, then the past hour, then anything from earlier in the day.

There’s nothing. Maybe it was something even earlier that Laura’s been looking into that she got an update on. Leaf keeps scrolling, barely paying attention at this point as she passes by stories on politicians speaking for or against new housing policies, progress on repairing the city’s sewage system, some weirdo in a mask who escaped police by jumping between rooftops, a notice about construction being done to Cycling Road…

When half an hour passes and Laura still doesn’t call back, Leaf texts Red.

Hey, is everything okay with your mom?

What do you mean? I think so? Why what happened?!

Woops. Leaf quickly types, Nothing, sorry! I just called her and she acted really cheerful, then suddenly became super serious and said she’d call me back. That was half an hour ago.

Don’t scare me like that. Maybe something came up for work.

Yeah. Sorry for bothering you.

Leaf puts her phone down and stares at the wall, mind wandering, but her phone chimes again after a moment.

What was she cheerful about?

I didn’t ask. I guess she was just having a good day. That’s why the shift took me by surprise.

Why did you say she “acted” cheerful then?

Leaf is taken aback a moment, and checks to see that yeah, she did write that. I didn’t mean anything by it. Just the word choice that came out while typing.

You sure? She might have been in the middle of something, and pretended everything was fine so you wouldn’t feel like you were imposing.

It would be quite a coincidence if she just happened to get interrupted when Leaf brought something so important up. It’s possible I guess.

It’s possible” is a polite way to say you don’t think so 😛 I can check in with her if you’re worried.

No no, that’s okay! I just wanted to make sure I didn’t interrupt something important that you might know about.

Ah. We haven’t really talked much since I got to the city. Quick call after the arrival interview, and that was about it. Sorry.

Leaf remembers her conversation with Red after the surprise visit on the road from Cerulean, and reminds herself to check in with him later about whether he and his mom are doing okay. The thought makes her think of her own mom, and she decides to write to her while she waits for Laura to call back.

No prob. Thanks anyway! How’re you doing with Bayes?

I think I’m close to mastering his secrets.

Really?!

I think I’m close to comprehending one of his secrets. Possibly. Gotta get to a training session though, let’s go over it later?

Sure! TTYL!

She puts the phone away and starts emails to her mom and grandpa. She writes to her grandpa fairly often, so his goes by quickly as she mentions funny things that happened recently or new tricks she taught her pokemon, but she never had that kind of relationship with her mom, so writing to her is slower. Eventually Red’s idea for her to return home briefly and register a teleportation spot there comes to mind, and she gratefully decides to end the email by bringing that up as a possibility she’s considering.

After both emails are written and sent and she still hasn’t heard from Laura, Leaf decides to just switch to one of her other projects. She still needs to finish the piece on what she did while catching abra, so she gets to work on that.

It’s engrossing enough putting herself back in the moment that she actually forgets she’s waiting for Laura’s call by the time the phone rings, Leaf sees with a shock that it’s already past seven. Then a wave of disappointment hits her when she sees an unknown number. She leans back in her chair as she answers it, despondent.

“Hello?”

“It’s me, Leaf.”

“Laura!” Leaf bolts up. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. Sorry I took so long.”

Leaf frowns. Despite her words, Laura’s voice is as serious as Leaf has ever heard her. “What happened?” What happened to your phone?

“Listen… Leaf, do you trust me?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then please, please don’t react the way I’m afraid you will to what I’m about to say. Please, trust that I have good reasons for it.”

Leaf’s heart pounds in her chest as she tries to imagine what’s coming and fails. “Okay. I’ll try.”

“You need to stop researching the murder of the Renegade.”

Leaf stares at the wall, face blank.

After a moment of thought, she continues to stare at the wall.

In that moment, a dozen ideas surface and then peter out, replaced by new ones.

I found something important

Dangerous

No she knew

Did she find it first?

Did I miss it?

Did she find it out today, after hanging up?

What was it?

Leaf’s blood runs cold as a new line of thought intertwines and brings up new possibilities.

Did Giovanni get to her first?

Threaten her?

Is she working with him?

Leaf, do you trust me?”

“Leaf?”

The girl blinks. Takes a breath. “I’m here. What’s wrong, Mrs. Verres? Why do I need to stop?”

“I can’t tell you. I’m sorry, but you should know why I can’t.”

Leaf closes her eyes and rests her forehead on one hand. Somehow, some way, she has to find the time in her schedule to train against psychic intrusion. It won’t help if she doesn’t know it’s coming, but it’s better than nothing. Right now what she can’t stop thinking of is all the opportunities she gave up at the gym, to spend time with the others, to work on this story… just to be told, again, to walk away from it. “Laura… the past few days… I just spent most of my week on this, and more time before that, I… can’t just give up on this, Laura, not without knowing why. I can’t.”

“I understand, honey. Believe me, I do. I just can’t tell you yet. I need you to promise to stop looking into it for… I was going to say two months, but realistically it may take longer.”

Anger starts to make Leaf’s head pound, anger at being given such an unarguable ultimatum after being asked if she trusted her. “You’re treating me like a child again. Don’t say you’re not, I know you are, it’s something dangerous and you said you wouldn’t-

Leaf. Please, listen to me.” With an internal wrench, Leaf realizes that Laura sounds on the verge of tears. That’s not fair, that’s what mom used to do, you can’t use that against me too… “Don’t tell Red this, I’m only telling you because I understand how you feel, because you deserve to know… I’ll tell him on my own, I promise, I was just waiting until I could… could give reassurances…”

“Reassurances about what? What happened?”

“Remember what I told you? About getting involved in political things?”

“I do. I also remember what you said after: that I was already risking my life every day.”

“I was stupid to say that. No, more naive than anything. I’ve had my eyes opened rather rudely to just how much, recently. The tangela I got, that I started training with…”

Leaf frowns at the topic shift, still impatient to hear what had happened, then puts it together, eyes widening. “Oh, Swords of Justice,” she whispers. “Someone attacked you? Who? When?”

There’s silence on the other end, enough of it that Leaf’s imagination supplies some truly frightening scenarios of Laura being mugged, or worse… Her skin runs cold as she physically flashes back to the seconds of terror and minutes of numb shock that came from her encounter with Yuuta, but then Laura says “Not exactly,” almost begrudgingly, and Leaf has a moment of sweet, sweeping relief, followed by gratitude that Mrs. Verres didn’t lie, as tempting as it must have been. “But I got the tangela because I was informed, under no uncertain terms, that I needed to be prepared to defend myself. And I thought I listened, but I was wrong. I got hit in a direction I wasn’t really expecting, and I should have been. Do you understand? I’ve been in this industry for years, but I still had to take a hit, had to get hurt, for that training and experience to kick in. You have neither of those things. Yes, you’re going out there and risking your life in your journey, but you’ve trained for that. You haven’t prepared for this, not really. Please tell me you understand that, it’s not about your age, Leaf, it’s about what you’re prepared for. Small flare ups like Pewter were a good way to get experience, but not this, you walking into it thinking you’re ready would be like me deciding to go to… to Victory Road, for me to go through the caves at the Plateau after having my one pokemon for all of a week!”

Leaf’s eyes are closed, forehead against one palm. “Give me a minute, please. I need to think about this.”

“Of course, hon. Take your time.” Laura sounds nervous and distraught, but Leaf can’t think about that right now, she can’t let her mom’s… she can’t let Laura’s emotional state influence her decisions…

“I’ll call you back, I just need some time… is this number…?”

“No, not mine. It’s a friend’s I know is secure. I’ll be here for a little while though.”

Leaf wants to know more about the friend with the secure line and the need for it at all, but she just says “Okay,” and hangs up. Then she packs her things up, goes to her dorm room, and lies on the bed, eyes closed to examine her motivation as best she can.

It doesn’t take long to realize that her thoughts are circling without use. She needs to talk to someone about this, but realizes she can’t. Her mom and grandpa and Professor Oak would agree with Laura, and she promised not to tell Red, and Aiko… after what she told Aiko, how could she possibly say that she’s considering letting this go because it’s too dangerous?

It’s not about your age, Leaf, it’s about what you’re prepared for!”

And a part of her understands that, understands it very well, because isn’t that why she called Laura in the first place? Why have a mentor if she won’t listen to her at the time when she really, truly needs guidance, and her mentor is so clearly adamant?

Because it would hurt, to give this up. Again. To let this go, again, to let Zoey win… I found something, who was it, which of the people at the dig killed him… I have to know…

Leaf’s eyes burn, but she takes deep breaths until it fades. I’m stuck in a role, she realizes. This is what Laura was afraid of. I’m in the role of the hotheaded child who thinks she knows better.

Knows better than Mrs. Verres? Who’s spent years in the field, been through so much more? What are the odds, of that? What’s the prior, that a 12 year old who just started in a vocation would have better instincts, better insights? What are the sheerly lopsided odds against it?

Leaf calls Laura back, fingers moving slowly. “I won’t pursue it,” Leaf says, the words feeling leaden as they emerge.

“Thank you, Leaf.” The relief in Mrs. Verres’s voice is palpable, and oddly makes Leaf feel a little better about it.

There’s no one else in the dorm at the moment, but Leaf keeps her voice low anyway. “But you have to promise me that you’ll tell me what you discovered. You said two months, and I won’t hold you to that exactly, but I can’t promise I won’t get impatient eventually.”

“I understand. I can also promise that when all of this comes to light, you’re going to get the whole story, and credit for helping expose it. And it wasn’t something small, Leaf, I had a lot of information with little to connect it, but what you told me… you have to keep building your name, in the meantime, get some protection through recognition, build contacts, get more experienced. That way when the fallout comes, you’re ready to handle it.”

“Mrs. Verres,” Leaf says, trying and failing to keep her voice calm. “You’re not helping me beat my curiosity down to a manageable level.”

“Oh! Sorry! Okay, I’ll stop talking now. Thank you again, Leaf. Really.”

Leaf grunts something that may conceivably be taken as a goodbye and then flops onto her bed face down with a sigh. She stays there for a few minutes and tries to convince herself she’s done the right thing.

Only a few minutes, however: she has to get to work, after all, so she’s ready for whatever’s coming.

Chapter 49: The Paradox of Choice

Red goes to meet Kanto’s “Mistress of Psychic Pokemon” at a cafe in the richer western portions of the city, where the buildings are all clean and gleaming, and there are noticeably fewer construction projects going on. As Red navigates the busy streets on his bike, he calls Psychic Ayane to get some quick advice for keeping secrets hidden when meeting with a powerful psychic. Bill’s human storage activity is the only real bit of information he has that he doesn’t want getting out… and not just because it’s not his secret to tell.

“Besides, you’re a smart kid. I don’t actually have to explain how hard I can make your life if you give me reason to, do I?”

Red curses as the phone goes to voicemail, and doesn’t bother leaving a message, simply switching to the next best thing.

“Hello, Red! How’s Vermilion City? Did your Research license arrive?”

“Hi Professor!” Red half shouts as he weaves through some pedestrian traffic and onto the bike lane in the road. “Yes, it’s awesome, but sorry, no time to chat, important question!”

“One moment.” There’s the sound of footsteps, then a door closing. “Go ahead, Red. What’s wrong?”

“I’m meeting Leader Sabrina in about ten minutes. Any advice would be highly appreciated!”

Professor Oak is silent for the time it takes for Red to ride back onto some sidewalk and cut across a shopping strip, then asks, “How much do you know about Sabrina?”

“Nothing, really. Saffron Gym Leader, powerful psychic despite her age… uh… I think that’s it.”

“Do you know how she became Leader?”

Red recalls something Blue said about it at some point. “She beat the last one there, right? When it was a Fighting Gym?”

“Yes. People believe it was easier for her than it might normally be, since her affinity for Psychics gave her a natural advantage against the previous Leader’s Fighting pokemon. This is obviously not the whole story.”

“Right,” Red says as he checks the map and turning onto the road that leads to the cafe. “Otherwise someone who’s good with Dark pokemon would just move in on her instead. I figured Gym Leaders would use their best pokemon, and a mix of Types, if being challenged for Leadership, wouldn’t they?”

“You’re right, though for most, their strongest pokemon will often be the type their Gym focuses on. However, the battle between Sabrina and Leader Kiyo had layers beneath the surface. Kiyo was an enormously skilled trainer, but not a particularly effective Leader. He was adequate at best in teaching his Gym members, and his grasp of wider strategy outside of individual pokemon battles was… lackluster. There were a number of incidents that made people question his capability to protect the city, but anyone who challenged him for Leadership was beaten. He became more and more draconian as people turned against him, and his gym lost members. In battles with challengers, his pokemon began to cripple and even kill their opponents on a somewhat regular basis, until people completely stopped attempting to supplant him, not wanting to risk their pokemon.”

Red’s eyes widen. A Leader may not be the best at everything, but a competent one would at least raise up other trainers who can advise them well. One that lets their ego get in the way, and then loses control of their temper like that, or worse does it intentionally… That’s the kinds of things villains in shows did, almost as bad as being a Renegade. “What happened?”

“There was something of a final exodus among his gym members, and over time, Saffron city and the outlying areas were hit with a number of pokemon attacks it was unable to contain. The neighboring cities and local Rangers did their best to pick up the slack, but it got to the point that people began asking when the League would intercede: I happen to know that Elite Bruno was preparing to challenge Kiyo, and step down from the Elite Four to take over Saffron Gym, when instead Sabrina, who was well known by that point for her powerful psychic abilities and devastating psychic pokemon, stepped in.”

“And beat him.”

“And destroyed him. I don’t use that word lightly, Red: it should not have happened. Sabrina was a powerful trainer with a handful of badges to her name, and she had type advantage for most of her team, but Leader Kiyo was a monstrous opponent. He wouldn’t have kept his position for so long otherwise. His defeat was so complete that there were suspicions, even amid the relief of the city and region, that the fight was fixed, or that he or his pokemon were sabotaged in some way.”

Red is so caught up in the story he forgets to check the map in time, and doesn’t realize until after he passes the place. He curses under his breath and skids to a stop, then turns his bike around, breathing hard. “And what do you think?”

“My best guess? Nothing so blatant. But by the end, Kiyo was a broken man, and I believe Sabrina knew when that point came. She did not arrive in the city before her challenge: she had been there for months, meeting with gym members and ex-gym members, organizing trainers in the city during nearby incidents, even opening her own classes, both for psychics and for training pokemon, within the city.”

“So she did bring about his downfall, in some purposeful way.”

“I doubt she gave him the alcohol that he allegedly took to bed every night, but… yes, that’s my belief. And I suspect she had advice and financial aid from some other Gym Leader, possibly multiple. Those in the nearby cities certainly had incentive to no longer carry the extra weight. Whoever was involved, it does seem that Sabrina worked purposefully to undermine Kiyo until only his most obstinate and incompetent supporters remained, his Gym all but collapsed around him. Her preliminary matches were painful to watch.”

Red sees the cafe, and quickly stops and dismounts a block away. “Okay. I appreciate the history lesson, but I’m still not sure what to take away from this. I don’t think I have anything she wants enough to turn my friends against me or drive me to drink, but in general, I should be aware that she’s manipulative?”

“A strong word, but perhaps fair. And I don’t want to give you the wrong impression: I have met her a handful of times, and believe her to be a good person, or I would suggest you not meet her at all. What she did to Kiyo, if she did it, was perhaps the best outcome for the city, and likely necessary for the region to avoid the embarrassment of requiring League intercession. I still do not know if the plan was hers, or someone else’s… I was in contact with the League fairly often then, and do not believe any of them assisted her.” Professor Oak sighs. “But regardless of all that, yes, most powerful psychics appear, ah, ‘socially strategic’ to some degree: I suppose it’s inevitable when you have so much more information than most do about those you interact with. So whatever Sabrina wants from you, be aware that she can be subtle, even if she offers something that seems fair in return.”

“Got it. Expect to get something out of this, but watch out for manipulation, or a long con,” Red says, heart pounding both from the quick ride and anxiety over the coming meeting. He takes his helmet off, then shucks his knee and arm pads into the box with the bike.

“She probably won’t try and corner you in any way, but if she makes you want to give it to her, you will be easier to deal with. As long as the exchange seems equitable, well and good. But I thought it was worth warning you, either way.”

“I understand. Thanks, Professor.” He checks the time and sees he has four minutes left. “I gotta go.”

“Good luck, Red.”

Red hangs up, and only then remembers that he didn’t ask for advice on keeping her out of his head.

It’s okay. I can do this. He closes his eyes, and takes a few deep breaths, ignoring the few pedestrians that pass by and letting himself calm down little by little. Eventually his pulse returns to a normal rate, thoughts clearing as he feels more centered.

So. While I now have to worry about getting manipulated, my first priority is still to avoid spilling Bill’s secret. What do I know about keeping thoughts secure?

Few psychics are powerful enough to actually pick up words or full ideas from others’ minds, rather than just emotional states… but Sabrina is one of them, by all accounts. Still, the target has to be thinking about whatever it is for her to pick it up, and now that Red knows how psychic powers work, he understands that she would be joining her mind with his, which he would notice.

Or at least, that’s the common understanding. Red doesn’t actually know what the limits of psychic powers are, the best research is spotty and inconsistent, which means he doesn’t know what Sabrina’s limits are. If she can pick up more than just surface thoughts without merging their minds, it’s not in her interest to make that common knowledge.

Which means Red will need something to distract more than just his surface thoughts. He takes out his supply list and searches through it for anything that can help him. Whatever it is, it would preferably be something subtle, so he can’t just blare music into his earphones when he wants to…

Red is scanning through the Ts and pauses when he sees thumbtacks between thermos and toiletries. He remembers looking around his room and trying to come up with some obscure use for anything he saw that didn’t have too much mass, but he can’t remember what he thought justified bringing thumbtacks. Putting sheets of paper up on trees to leave directions? Something like that.

Red considers taking one out and putting it in the end of his shoe, carefully angled so he can prod himself with it if needed. If the pain registers on his face or in his mind, he might be able to play it off as having an injury… but that would be a lie, and she would probably be able to detect that if nothing else…

Forget painful things, do something pleasant instead. Maybe if he buys some cookies when he goes inside…

Red’s watch beeps, and he sighs. Out of time, and any benefits from further thinking would be marginal compared to potentially irritating her by arriving late. He quickly takes out some moist toilettes to wipe the dried sweat from his face and neck, then straighten his collar and puts his hat on. He stares at his reflection in a curtained window to make sure he looks presentable, then puts everything away and walks to the cafe.

The interior is bright and clean, its walls lined with colorful booths and its front counter displaying all sorts of delicious pastries. Red sees some of the booths are in alcoves with curtains over them, and wonders if anyone is in them: if not, the place is empty save for the young man working the counter, an older man in a long coat and woolen hat, and the Gym Leader sitting across from him.

Sabrina is immediately recognizable, even dressed casually in a pink tank top and white pants, her dark hair sweeping down and out above her shoulders. It feels weird seeing a Leader in a cafe, fancy as it is, and he hesitates at the entrance of the sitting area, not wanting to interrupt. She glances at him and holds a finger up, and he nods and steps back toward the front counter, scanning their menu for something to use as a distraction.

Ah! Perfect…

A few minutes later his chocolate milkshake is ready, and the cashier refuses any payment, gesturing to the Gym Leader. Red turns to see Sabrina’s guest rising from his seat. He takes her hand and bows, muttering something, then leaves. Red waits until he’s out of the shop, then approaches again, feeling nervous butterflies in his stomach. He recognizes that he’s feeling a little star struck, like he was upon meeting Bill, then quickly takes a sip of his drink, letting the cold, overwhelming sweetness fill his mouth. Damn. That’s good milkshake. He’ll have to be careful not to finish it too quickly.

“Hello, Mr. Verres.” Sabrina inclines her head, stirring tea in a porcelain cup with a lotus on it. “Please join me.”

Red sits across from her and meets her gaze for the first time. Despite knowing she’s somewhere in her mid-twenties, as soon as Red notices the unusual rose-quartz color of her eyes, he feels what he did with Psychic Narud: a sense of weight, of years layered on top of each other, that makes him suddenly feel like he’s in the presence of someone much older. Red shifts his gaze to her nose, wondering why he never felt something similar with Ayane or Ranna.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Leader. Thank you for the drink. How can I be of assistance?” He sips the milkshake again, letting the flavor fill his mouth and mind. He’s tempted to bring his mental shields up too, but decides against it: even if it would work on her, it would be too distracting to maintain, and she might even consider it rude.

“First, I’d like to congratulate you on your Researcher’s License,” Sabrina says. “I’m curious, do you intend to continue pursuing psychic phenomenon in particular?”

“Oh. Thank you. Uh, for now, yeah. I don’t want to limit myself, if something else comes up I might change tracks, but I think it’s worth pursuing at the moment.”

“May I ask why?”

Red wonders how much detail he should go into. “That’s kind of a long answer.”

“You’re worried I’ll be bored, despite me specifically seeking you out to speak with?” Sabrina sips from her cup, smiling slightly.

Red blinks, processing this. The gym leader seems very much at ease, and her gaze stays mostly on him without feeling oppressive, occasionally letting her gaze wander to her cup, or the window behind him. Red makes himself relax, settling into his seat and going through a quick calming technique.

“Good awareness and response time,” she says, taking him by surprise and causing him to become flustered. “Oh, and now I’ve ruined it. I apologize.”

“That’s okay,” he says automatically, and tries to concentrate on relaxing again. It’s a little harder, but as he breathes in and out, he lets his mind wander to his research until it calms. “Well, the short version is I want to discover the origin of pokemon species. Any deeper and more fundamental understanding of them will help with that, such as what makes them so different. We know that natural selection creates variation in species, but there are also pokemon that seem to spontaneously arise out of their environment. So did the pokemon we know already do the same, in ancient history? Or did they come about from biological changes over time?”

“Biological changes. You mean coming from the same ancestor, such as mew?” she muses, sipping her tea.

“I was thinking of even simpler life forms, but if mew existed, and was really the first pokemon, then yeah, learning about psychic pokemon might be important.”

“Then your interest in psychics is incidental to your interest in biology.”

“A little. The type system often seems incomplete or misleading, but psychic phenomena, and the related Dark type, are something we humans seem to share with pokemon, so it’s probably fundamental in a way that, say, studying Fire or Plant pokemon wouldn’t be.” Also discovering how psychic phenomenon works might help develop technology that mimics it and allow for Bill to make something that spurs better machine understanding of human values mmmmm chocolate…

“Yes, I see.” Sabrina’s gaze is distant, and Red ignores her as best he can, gulping down his milkshake until he suddenly feels the sharp pain of brain freeze. He grimaces and stops drinking, one hand rising to rub his forehead.

Sabrina chuckles. “I apologize if that was on my account. I don’t mean to make you nervous, and have no intention of trying to connect deeper with your mind. If your emotional mood itself is what you fear me sensing, then we can end the conversation. I hope you didn’t feel pressured into coming.”

“Oh, no,” Red says as he puts his cup aside, cheeks flushed. “I’m just… still new to interacting with other psychics.”

“Why do you not simply use your shield? Or was I misinformed about your having one?”

Red shifts. “Would you mind me asking first, how did you find out about that?”

She smiles. “The psychic community is rather interconnected, for all our layers and divisions. My Third asked me if I ever knew of someone who could shield their mind while sensing others probing it, and I told him I had not and asked why. He reported that someone had asked him the same question, and from there it wasn’t hard to discover that Psychic Ayane’s new student had apparently exhibited the ability. Am I to take the question as confirmation of it?”

Red nods. “Yeah, I can do it. Or I did with Ayane, anyway. The reason I’m not using it now is I don’t know if it’s rude or not.” He hesitates, then says, “Or to be honest if it would do any good against a psychic of your caliber.”

“An understandable fear. But such a breach should be felt even by someone with a regular shield, and if such a thing were to happen, you could simply throw your drink in my face and run.”

She says it so matter-of-fact that Red grins. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh? And what would you do, then, if a psychic were to force a merge?”

Red considers this a moment, then purposefully remembers what it felt like to be attacked by his Spinarak. But while the memory isn’t pleasant, there’s no sudden, sweeping reliving of it. Using that as a double edged defense wouldn’t work.

But there is something that still has that power over him, however much he’s gotten better at dealing with it.

“I’d probably try drowning them in grief,” he says, smile fading. “Assuming I could tell they were doing it at all.” It’s not like she has an incentive to tell him the truth if she can breach people’s shields without them knowing…

Sabrina sighs, the age behind her eyes becoming more pronounced. “I see you understand why many psychics’ lives can be… difficult.”

Red is lost for a moment, then realizes she probably picked up on his suspicion. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Trust is a valuable thing, and it is completely understandable that others would withhold it from those who have power over them. But without it, true and meaningful relationships are difficult… and so the suspicion and discomfort that psychics face throughout their lives, particularly powerful ones, can often be quite isolating. Even from one another.”

Sabrina’s face is still calm, but there’s something in her words that makes him feel how personal this topic is for her. Red wonders who she’s thinking of, and feels wretched for being so suspicious of her even as he knows he shouldn’t, that this too can simply be an additional manipulation. Red suddenly wonders if she’s the reason the cafe is so empty. Who would want to sit for tea in the same room as the most powerful psychic in the region? “I didn’t mean to…”

“I know.” Right, she can probably sense his remorse too. But then she smiles, and the sense of sitting across from someone far older than she appears fades. “Believe it or not, it doesn’t often bother me so much, anymore. Today was just a particularly hard day. My previous meeting dredged up some painful memories.”

“Oh.” Red doesn’t quite know what to say to that. The Gym Leader appears to be confiding in him, which is probably as good a way as any to make him feel more at ease and trusting. He decides to reach out as well. “I know what that’s like.” And he explains, as briefly as he can, his partition and the difficulties it had caused him.

Sabrina’s gaze is sympathetic, but also speculative. “I don’t envy you the experiences, but… I can’t help but wonder what role they’ve played in your particular expression of your powers.”

Red frowns. “Because of the partition? Seems a stretch, unless you have a bigger sample size to draw from?”

“There are other psychics with unique, or at least very rare, extra abilities,” she says. “Whether they had experiences similar to yours, I don’t know. But this partition you describe is the root of a psychic’s ability to shield their mind while still using their powers. Normally it is something a psychic develops. To have it develop on its own, before you learn to control your powers, is what intrigues me.”

“What do you mean? And what sorts of extra abilities?” Red takes out his notebook, which seems to amuse Sabrina, who lifts her cup and sips as she thinks.

“Let’s see. Sufficiently powerful psychics can project not just feelings, but static images and monotone words to others, but Elite Lucian of the Sinnoh region has the ability to share moving pictures and a full range of sounds, as well as physical sensations and tastes and smells, into another’s mind. As far as I’m aware he is unique in this. He likes to use it to entertain his nieces and nephews, projecting mental movies of books he reads for them. An old woman I met once in a faraway region could move incredibly small objects, such as grains of sand, with a dexterity that most others cannot come close to. I watched her make beautiful mandalas in moments with her mind, and though I’ve practiced ever since, for all my strength I cannot emulate her. And I have a student whose psychokinesis can even reach through glass, which should be impossible. Seeing him do so broke all our previous understandings of the limit of telekinetic powers.”

Red listens in rapt fascination, scribbling each down for future investigation. Psychokinesis that can go through solid objects? “Is it just glass, or can he move things through other materials too?”

“Just glass, for now,” she says. “For various complicated reasons, it is difficult for him to find time to participate in experiments, but rest assured that we hope to get to the bottom of it soon.”

Red feels a stab of longing, he would love to be part of that research, his mind is already racing with ideas to test such a unique power’s limits… “And you? Do you have any powers like that? Unique abilities?”

Sabrina is quiet a moment, then says, “In a sense. Perhaps it is just my imagination, but… at times I can see psychic phenomena.”

Red’s eyes widen. “What does it look like?”

“Light,” she says, voice soft. “Light in many colors, often colors I can’t name, radiating off of a psychic in proportion to how much power they use. It’s… beautiful.”

“That’s amazing! Can you look at mine, tell me how strong it is?” Hell, he’s been looking for a way to measure psychic strength all this time, but if she could see it…

She shakes her head, smiling. “Unfortunately I can’t do it at will. It comes and goes.”

“Oh.” Red can’t hide his disappointment, and he puts a question mark next to that one. Still, worth looking into later. “Well, some of these abilities seem more unique than others. Like, Lucian or the woman’s, they’re just normal psychic powers with an unusual level of power or precision, right? But moving things from the other side of glass… that’s what I’m more interested in. Finding phenomena that break ‘rules’ are the ones most likely to teach us something really new about the world. Do you think I can meet your student some time? Or get their name?”

Sabrina smiles. “Perhaps someday, but he’s rather secluded, and quite busy.”

“Ah.” Someone like Bill then, who appreciates their privacy. He quickly takes another sip of the shake, careful not to drink too much. “I get it. Well, it’s still good to know that sort of thing is possible at least.”

“Indeed. The more psychic powers are explored, the more the ‘rules’ we believed inviolate, few though they were, are proving more flexible instead. It’s why your research has been so interesting to many… and your power.”

“Well, I think that has a lot to do with who’s trying to come up with the rules, to be honest.” Red shrugs. “I wouldn’t put too much stock in the psychic community’s ability to create meaningful beliefs about how their powers really work.”

It takes two full seconds for Red to realize he just said that, out loud, to one of the leaders of that community, who no doubt contributed greatly to generating such beliefs.

The gaze the Gym Leader has fixed on him, one dark brow raised, is suddenly hard to ignore. “Oh? And you feel this way due to your few months of lessons and single experiment on psychic phenomena?”

Red swallows, trying to backtrack. “I mean… ah… it just all seems very… unscientific.”

“Hmm. Granted,” Sabrina says as she pours some more tea into her cup, and Red lets his breath out. “Most psychics aren’t scientifically oriented in the slightest, or seem positively allergic to such ways of thinking. But I have seen more researchers than you might credit, well-funded and highly motivated, attempt to unlock its secrets, and produce few results as well.”

Red thinks carefully before he responds, determined not to stick his foot back in his mouth. “Okay, I didn’t know about that,” he says at last. “If they’re really motivated to find stuff, and aren’t being held back by sacred or deeply ingrained beliefs that prevent them from thinking outside the box, then maybe making new discoveries about it will be harder than I thought. I’ll update in that direction, thanks for telling me.”

Sabrina looks amused. “You’re quite welcome. But you still mean to pursue it?”

“Well, sure. I mean, I’m going to be trying to understand my own powers as best I can anyway, along with pokemon. Ayane was a great teacher, and she seemed impressed by my progress. Maybe I can find out something new.”

“And what progress was that?” Sabrina doesn’t appear skeptical, more curious, but Red still feels nervous.

“Well. My shield isn’t the only thing that surprised her. Because of my partition, it’s hard for me to really use my powers for a significant amount of time. Or it was, anyway, I feel like it’s getting a bit easier. But still, my solution was to just try mimicking the mental state I experienced in her, then adjusting them as needed. And it seems to work pretty well.”

Sabrina’s curious look has sharpened into real interest now. “So in a way, it was your personal experiences and impairment that led to your unique shield.”

“Maybe? Earlier you said the partition was important to making a shield…”

“Partitioning one’s mind is how a psychic accomplishes many of their feats, such as selective amnesia, or shielding while still being free to project or merge with others. By arranging the ‘outer’ portion of your mind in the right pattern, you can keep your thoughts and feelings hidden while the rest of your mind engages in other activities.”

“But… the shielded portion isn’t responsive? Normally?”

“Correct. It is a separate part of your mind that remains inert so as not to reflect your hidden thoughts and feelings. To be able to sense something from it should defeat the purpose, but the way your powers developed, the partitioned mind seems particularly connected to yours regardless. My suspicion is that your partitioned mind is the conduit through which all your psychic abilities have been channeled. Your development of your powers has in truth been the development of a second partition, distinct from the one that has held in it the bulk of your grief, and so you have felt it less as that grief is shared more and more between them, and lessens on its own besides.”

Red considers this new metaphor, finding it plausible even as he has a sinking feeling. “Does that mean I’ll lose the ability to sense others while shielding, when the partition fades?”

Sabrina stirs sugar into her drink, face thoughtful. “Perhaps a new, intentional partition would retain the ability. If so then it should be teachable to others, and that is, in large part, why I asked to meet you.” She puts her cup down, then takes a consent sheet out of the bag beside her, voice becoming formal. “May I examine your ability, Psychic Red, and try to breach it?”

Red doesn’t have to consider this long: the conversation has put him much more at ease with her, as it was no doubt designed to do, and if in some way this would help contribute to the world’s understanding of psychic powers… he holds a hand out for it.

Sabrina watches him sign, then inclines her head as she takes it back and tucks it away. She shakes her dark hair back, hands rising to tie it up with a band from her wrist. “By your leave.”

Red turns to a fresh sheet near the back of his notebook and prepares to repeat the line-drawing he did with Ayane, wondering if Sabrina’s mind would feel significantly different than his teacher’s. He dutifully closes his eyes and concentrates on his breathing, slowly sinking into himself until his powers feel like a central part of him, prepared for use. He constructs his mental shield with deliberate slowness, wanting to make sure he gets it right, then says, “Okay, ready.”

There’s no sense of anything for a while, but eventually he recognizes the now familiar feeling of not being alone in his head, and starts drawing the line. He feels her mind slip around his, as expected, but instead of surrounding him or fading, the sensation changes. It becomes a sort of pattern imposed on his thoughts, like a drum beat that he has to tap his foot to, a rhyming couplet he keeps completing in his head.

Red’s closed eyelids tighten, and he begins to jaggedly run the pencil up and down as it keeps moving from one end of the sheet to the other, not thinking much anymore, simply trying to resist the urge to give in to the pattern as it focuses more and more, like he’s being swept away in some dance that he need only take the first steps to, and the rest will flow, he will flow, flow into the pattern and become it…

The careful hold he had over his shield falls apart, and Sabrina’s mind is suddenly there with his. He stiffens, feeling the sudden flood of grief… but then he merely feels happy, and excited, and curious, and—

she’s Projecting these feelings to keep the sadness away-

-then he’s alone in his head again, and he lifts the pencil away from the sheet and opens his eyes, staring at the Leader in wonder.

“What was that?” he asks, eyes wide.

“What did it feel like?” Sabrina asks, gaze lifting from the sheet of paper to meet his.

“Like… I was compelled into dropping my shield.” A word suddenly occurs to him, and his eyes widen. “Was that hypnotism?”

“Not far off. The mental shield works by arranging your thoughts in a certain pattern that is, for reasons we don’t fully understand, hard for psychic powers to recognize. By tricking the shielded mind into changing to a different pattern, particularly one I can recognize, it was made visible, and thus reachable, to my senses.”

“Is that hard to do?”

“I did not find it difficult, but perhaps others would.”

“Yeah, Psychic Ayane didn’t try anything like that. So I just have to think about a certain pattern and it will reveal hidden minds around me?”

“Most people cannot sense psychic minds probing for theirs while shielding. But with you—”

“I can sense your mind in the first place, so I’m getting it directly.” Red frowns. “Huh. My shield feels a whole lot less impressive, suddenly.”

“It’s a weakness, to be sure, but perhaps one you can train against. In the meantime, as long as others do not know how your shield works, it still holds an advantage.”

“Right. Wait, does that mean you just came up with that attack just now?”

Sabrina nods. “It seemed an idea worth testing.”

Well damn. And Red thought he came up with novel solutions quickly.

Then Red realizes that the advantage his shield possesses might vanish by the end of the day. “Er. Leader Sabrina… are you planning on telling others about my shield, or how you got through it?”

Sabrina’s eyes watch his, two chips of rosequartz. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t?”

Shit. “Well, it would make it a lot less useful.”

She shrugs a shoulder. “Then it is up to you to learn to defend yourself against it, if you can.”

“Ah. Right.”

Sabrina smiles, not unkindly. “You are a psychic now, Red. One of the ‘gifted,’ as others would say. It has ever been a race between offense and defense, among our kind, unregulated and vital to the continued development of our powers.”

Red sighs, then nods. “I need to hire another teacher soon, then. And figure out how to do that hypnotism thing, in case others learn my trick.” He glances at her, then away.

Sabrina’s smile widens. “You can ask.”

Red suddenly worries about thinking of Bill, which of course makes him think of Bill more, and quickly swallows a mouthful of his shake. “That was more than a surface impression,” he says after his senses are flooded with the sweet taste, trying not to sound accusatory.

“Our abilities do not work in a vacuum. When you are more used to sensing people’s moods and emotions, you will be able to guess their thoughts or desires more accurately in a way that appears to be true mind reading.”

Which is exactly what she would say even if she can actually read deeper. And now he’s back to being suspicious. But then why reveal the guess if she didn’t want him to suspect her?

Red takes a breath, then lets it out. This train of thought isn’t getting him anywhere, and he would still like to learn… “Can I inhabit your thoughts while you do it again?” Red asks.

“To be clear, you wish to merge with my mind as I repeat what I did so that you can try to mimic it, and thus become privy to my thoughts, as you were worried about me doing with you?”

Red tries not to fidget. “I know it’s presumptuous—”

Sabrina laughs. “Normally it would be. But, you indulged my interest, so I am happy to trade.” She closes her eyes, then says, “Begin.”

Red is surprised at her acquiescence for a moment, then suddenly more nervous than he can remember being in years. He feels simultaneously like he’s about to ask a girl to dance for the first time, while that girl is also a dancing master and judge and enormously important and influential figure besides.

Get a grip and just do it. It’s not like you’re about to pet a skarmory.

Somehow that thought is not helpful: he feels as though he’d rather be mauled by a skarmory than come off as an inept psychic to Sabrina, or worse, hurt her psychically in some way, laughable as that seems. But he notes the utter ridiculousness of that sentimentcalls himself a few pejorative names, and closes his eyes as he focuses on his breathing once again, before extending his mind outward.

He notices it immediately: the normal thrum a mind makes in the not-space between them is always distinct, once he focuses enough on how, but in this case the difference between someone walking by outside and Sabrina’s are like night and day. It’s not just because she’s psychic, he’s sure, he notices that as a separate quality: rather, the raindrops of Sabrina’s mind fall in a pattern that’s almost inhuman, its vibrations so distinct that as soon as he reaches out to enmesh with her and feel her thoughts and sensations, he’s swept up in the pattern.

a leaf spinning in the air, blowing in the wind, dancing gracefully from place to place, but looping in the same ways, forming a pattern of ideas—

For a while, Red simply lets himself follow it. He understands that it’s Projection, a simple and blatant sending out that brings back his metaphor of being about to dance with a girl. For that’s the metaphor that his mind latches onto, as his mind connects with Sabrina’s and follows the movement of her thoughts through eddies and whirls: a dance, one that the Leader gives herself to completely, an unabashed series of motions that she’s been immersed in since childhood.

And that thought is connected to others as her mind reflects his: a childhood that’s lonely, not understanding how different one is or why everyone treats her as other, only knowing in a uniquely intimate way that they do, even her non-psychic parents, and how those years of isolation make her relate to-

stillness so complete the ground below suddenly vanishes mid-step—

CRASH

Red blinks, finding himself on the floor and staring up dizzily as he reorients to where he is.

“Mr. Verres! Are you alright?”

Red looks around, taking a moment to come back to himself. “Fine…” He rolls onto his side out of his chair and gets up, checking for bruises. Just one on his shoulder. He smiles at Sabrina, who’s half out of her seat with concern. “I’m okay.” He turns to the barista, seeing the concern on their face even from across the room. “I’m fine!” Red realizes with detached interest that he didn’t feel the young man’s mind earlier, and wonders if he’s Dark, or a psychic who can shield his mind too.

He rights his chair, only noticing then that his chocolate shake fell over and is dripping off the other end of the table. Sabrina’s face is tight, and suddenly a flurry of napkins rises from the tables around them, descending like a flock of birds upon the mess to soak it up, the glass righting itself on the table.

“I’m terribly sorry about that, Mr. Verres.”

“What happened?” Red says as he slowly sits back down, eyes still on the moving napkins as they rise up, heavy with milkshake, to deposit themselves in his empty glass. It’s his first time seeing psychokinesis used outside of the basic lifting of objects that Ayane demonstrated in lessons, and it makes him feel both awed and frustrated at his own inability with it.

“I attempted to show you what a normal mental shield looked like, to see if you could mimic it. This closed my mind quite abruptly, which I imagine was a disorienting experience.”

“Yeah, it felt like… you know those dreams where you’re falling and abruptly wake with a start? Like that. But before…” Red smiles. “The hypnotic pattern thing, it was really cool. Like dancing with your thoughts.”

Sabrina’s eyebrows rise, and her consternation appears to fade a little. “I’m glad you got something out of it, at least.” She tilts her head. “Do you believe you can mimic it, now?”

“I’m not sure, but I can try if you’d like?”

“Please do, if you’re feeling up for it.”

So Red takes a breath and closes his eyes again, remembering what he sensed and locking down each part of it, bit by bit, until all that was left was the pattern. At first he tries mimicking the pattern she used, but it’s too difficult to remember properly without breaking, like knitting with cobwebs. He’s not sure if it’s his state of mind that’s off or if he just needs to experience it again to remember, but maybe it’s easier to try something more familiar to him… what if he follows a rhyme, some poem or couplet?

For some reason, the first thing the idea of forcefully concentrating on a rhyme brings to mind is something a classmate with a stutter used to repeat that stuck in Red’s head: Amidst the mists and coldest frosts, he thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.

Red frowns, eyes still closed as he tries to let his thoughts flow into a pattern, his own mental dance connecting one idea, one word, to the next to the next to the next, in effortless but repeating freeflow, the kind he experienced before. Just repeating the couplet isn’t enough, it becomes too rote, his mind wanders, he has to fully commit his thoughts to the pattern it makes, remove the words and let his ideas flow in that meter, and it’s hard, like lifting a door knocker that weighed a hundred pounds and trying to bang it at a particular rhythm (the metaphor coming to mind from his experience as a baby trying to lift a knocker while on his dad’s shoulder, to his general encouragement and laughter)…

…he THRUSTS his FISTS agAINST the POSTS and STILL inSISTS he SEES the GHOSTS…

Red wipes at his eyes, the grief finally rising to the point of distraction and breaking his concentration. He takes a moment to collect himself, and Sabrina says nothing as she finishes cleaning the spilled milkshake.

“Would you like another drink? On me, of course.”

“I’m okay, thanks.” Red looks around for a dry napkin to use, and one suddenly flutters over, causing him to smile as he plucks it out of the air and wipes his face. He would actually like something to drink, both for the sensation overload and to cheer himself up. Realizing that she probably picked up on that, he smiles. “Actually, maybe some masala chai?”

“Of course.”

By the time she returns with it, Red has enough presence of mind to feel awkward about a Gym Leader fetching him tea, even if she did inadvertently cause his first drink to spill. Just covering the milkshake that he bought wasn’t the same, but at least it gave him some time alone to recover, which he suspects was the real motivation anyway. “Thank you. So, did you feel anything? Was I doing it?”

“You were certainly doing something,” she says, and smiles as he snorts. “I think you managed to capture the mental state, the idea of what it means to form a mental pattern, but it will still take time and effort to replicate it, and psychic power to project it.”

“Oh yeah, it usually takes a lot of practice to get these right,” Red says, taking a drink and enjoying the warm mix of spices and flavors for a moment before he scalds his tongue a little, and begins to blow on it.

“It likely would from anyone else trying to learn it, so your shield still has value for a time at least. I am eager to see if it’s something others can learn. Perhaps your more valuable skill is in copying of mental states. If you haven’t tried teaching it to others, that must be the first thing you do.”

“You don’t think it’s a unique ability, then?”

“I hope it is not, and you should as well,” Sabrina says, sipping from her tea and watching him.

It takes Red a moment to get it. “If I can teach it, that means I have something valuable to offer other psychics.”

“Precisely.”

It takes Red another moment to put together the real reason for the meeting. “So… now that you’ve gone to such lengths to make sure I know the value of my ability, what do you want in exchange?” What she did is the opposite of what someone wishing to barter should do, and Red feels grateful for her transparency, as he knows he’s probably intended to. I guess this is what the Professor was talking about. It’s hard to call something manipulation if it’s just using your natural incentives and feelings… even watching for it, it can still get you.

Sabrina smiles. “Do you know why you can’t move someone’s arm with a mental connection? Why it would take direct psychokinesis?”

Red shakes his head, unsure of the relevance but curious.

“Because everyone’s body works differently, even among the same species. The broad strokes of our brains are similar, but when it comes to individually moving a single finger, the wiring is different. The best we can do is interpret the sensations of similar appendages and movements that we’ve experienced. But because all mental communication is symmetrical, a mirroring of mental states and thoughts and images and feelings, it is something that can be communicated on a level beyond conscious understanding, theoretically.”

Red considers the act of catching a pokeball. “Like learning something by muscle memory without really understanding the physics of it any better.”

“Precisely. Our brains are constantly calculating and making predictions at a bottom level, while simultaneously our mind, our attention, what we consider us, is observing and matching experiences against what our brain generates. Psychic abilities, in a way, allow the mind to pass information down to the brain in a different way, or allow the brain’s upper activities to be consciously applied to the basic, invisible level.

“But still, every mind works differently in subtle ways,” Sabrina continues. “I often think that the more minds a psychic meshes with, human or pokemon, particularly those with psychic powers themselves, the more agile and versatile their ability to interface with their powers, with their own brain in general, becomes. And so I value finding promising students, not just for their sake, but also my own.”

Red blinks, then blinks again. “You want me… as a student? Like, a personal student, or just a gym member?”

“I occasionally teach some of the more advanced classes at my gym, and tutor individuals, but that mostly relates to training Psychic pokemon. I mean one of my personal students, for the development of your psychic powers.”

“I… don’t have a lot of money,” he says, still reeling from the offer. After a moment he realizes, “Wait, that’s not true, I guess I have money now… sorry, I’m still getting used to that. Um. How much…?”

“We can discuss price later. And because you have a unique ability that I would like to learn as well, if it can be taught at all, I am willing to remove the fee of some lessons in exchange for what I would learn from you.”

“You want me to teach you?” he asks, flustered for a whole new reason.

Sabrina’s tone is patient. “Such lessons would mostly involve being able to observe your powers while you use them, and fully investigate how you use them, as I guide you through specific tasks.”

“Oh. Of course.” Red can feel heat in his cheeks.

“However, this is not an open offer yet. I still need to know if you understand your own powers enough to be ready for lessons as advanced as I would give.”

Red’s heart sinks. “I’ve only been really using my powers for a month, and I’m still dealing with the partition thing, and… I still can’t use telekinesis at all, so… probably not,” he finishes, voice quiet.

“I see.” Sabrina looks thoughtful. “Perhaps a few more months would be better, then. But you are the right age for students I begin teaching, so it’s not a matter of maturity or intelligence, but practice.”

“I can practice a lot,” Red quickly says. “I already practice once a day, at least!”

Sabrina blinks at him, then smiles. “And what else do you do once a day?”

“Well, I try to fit in some pokemon training every day, and I go over my personal notes, and keeping up with the latest research publications, and I’ve been trying to get some physical training in but I often forget…” Red trails off, feeling foolish. “Right.”

“It’s not impossible for someone to become a psychic and a trainer,” Sabrina says, voice kind. “But it is difficult and demanding. To try to fully dedicate yourself to your psychic abilities, and your pokemon training, and your research, and other projects… the phrase ‘fully dedicate’ quickly becomes meaningless.”

Red can’t help but feel disappointed, but he stifles the urge to argue that he can do more, try harder. He knows she’s right, but the opportunity to learn from Sabrina… he can’t pass that up, can he?

This is why we talked about goals, Red remembers. Do I value my development as a psychic more than I do my journey with Blue and Leaf? Or more than my research? I finally got my license, am I just going to put it aside now for who knows how many months or years?

“Would I have to come to Saffron Gym?” Red asks, some part of him still seeking a solution.

“If you would have a predictable schedule, it isn’t necessary,” Sabrina says. “I’ve registered teleportation sites all over Kanto, certainly in every city and town. But if you’re traveling, you would need to be capable of free teleportation and have a registered point in Saffron.”

“I can’t do free teleportation yet, but I have two abra,” Red says. It would mean unregistering Bill’s house though…

And you would need to be able to commit to appointments. Some exceptions can be made if an incident occurs, of course, but if you’re traveling between cities, your companions may have to wait for hours, or you would need to catch up to them another way. Generally speaking, most do choose to stay in Saffron, and if they’re also trainers, often become Gym members as well.”

Red gnaws his lower lip. “Is it okay if I have time to think about this?”

“Of course.” Sabrina says. “You may reach out when you have an answer. But try not to take too long: I may take other students in the meanwhile, and my time would become limited.”


Red spent the rest of his day in a bit of a daze, thoughts on the conversation and the choices ahead of him. He considers returning to the gym, then instead goes to the Trainer House to practice his psychic abilities, only trying his psychokinesis briefly before giving up on it again and focusing on sensing his partition. He still gets distracted occasionally by worries that he’s not trying hard enough, not making fast enough progress in that area as well.

Once night falls on the city, Red gratefully leaves to meet up with the others so they can celebrate the two birthdays and his Researcher license. His brain feels bruised, and he’s happy to occupy it with lighter things as the group travels to the Kalos district and checks out its various shops. They spend some time in the clothes stores to try out foreign fashions, then check out the video studio that offers them a ten second promo clip for each of them and one of their pokemon.

Red is too embarrassed at first, but after Leaf and Aiko appear to have so much fun trying out the various outfits and training their pokemon to pose properly, he and Blue decide to do one together, going completely over the top with a background animation of a fiery explosion on one side and a stormy sea on the other behind each of them, as Charmander and Maturin face off. They arrive in the lobby just in time to see Aiko’s clip show up, her and her Eevee dancing in a starlit sky, and then Leaf’s video of her doing a handstand with Bulbasaur holding itself up by its vines appears, which the others compliment her on until she blushes. Aiko and Leaf laugh at Red and Blue’s video, mimicking their poses as they leave and walking down the street in slow motion.

Eventually it’s time for Aiko to return home. She wishes them a happy birthday, congratulates Red again, and brings her abra out to teleport back to the ranch. After seeing her off, the trio continues through the district, focusing more on the restaurants now.

One of them seems to be advertising some kind of mid-meal pokemon battle entertainment. Leaf insists that they can go to it if Red and Blue want to, but Red knows it would ruin her appetite. He uses the exorbitant price as an excuse to turn it down anyway, and Blue remarks that the fights can’t be that good if they’re in the middle of a restaurant.

The night drags on as they pass one restaurant after another, unable to decide on anything among all the different, equally interesting choices available. Each suggests a different way to deal with it: Blue suggests just picking the next restaurant they come across, since they’ve all seemed pretty amazing, Leaf insists Blue or Red make the decision without consulting her, since it’s their night, and Red suggests listing their preferences and finding a preference that all of them share to use as their guide to choose.

Eventually Blue throws his hands up and says they can just go to different restaurants and get what they each want, which reminds Red that something which capitalizes on not having to make just one choice called buffets exist, and after a quick search on his phone they find one that offers a wide variety of Kalos dishes for a reasonable price. As an added plus it also happens to have small pens beside each table for their pokemon to eat in, as long as they’re well trained and not left unattended. After purchasing a table, the three release their starters into the pen, then take turns staying as the other two go back and forth from the buffet lines, each of them thoroughly sick of having to make choices and happy to just take everything they want.

Eventually, after multiple trips each, they’re all sitting together for an extended period, feeling absolutely stuffed. Blue lets out a sigh of contentment and tosses his last piece of seared magikarp to Maturin, turns to Red and says, “Well?”

Red doesn’t pretend to wonder what he’s asking about. “It was… interesting.”

Leaf looks between them. “What’d I miss?”

So Red launches into a brief recount of his conversation with Sabrina, including an even further summarized version of the story Professor Oak told him. By the end of it Leaf and Blue are staring at him in shock.

“You went to meet a psychic Gym Leader with a history of being manipulative? After what happened to me?” Leaf asks.

“You turned down Leader Sabrina as your psychic teacher?” Blue demands.

“I couldn’t have just walked away,” Red tells Leaf, then turns to Blue. “And being her student would mean giving up all this…” he trails off, doubt and uncertainty filling him again.

Blue rubs his chin. “There’s got to be a way to make it work. How long did she give you to change your mind?”

“Um. No specific time frame.”

“Try to figure something out before we leave Vermilion then,” Leaf says. “We’ve got the cruise convention coming up anyway, so it’s not like you could commit to anything before that.”

“Right.” Red didn’t consider that, and feels a little relieved that he can’t actually make a commitment for now.

That’s not really a justified motivation for indecision, Future Red complains. The actual factors aren’t likely going to change by then anyway, so you should still work on thinking of something now, even if you can’t make the commitment until later.

Sounds like a whole lot of your problem, Present Red replies. Tonight I’m supposed to be celebrating. He drowns out his future self’s response by having some more tasty garlic-cream potatoes. “Still,” he says, “As cool as it is to be noticed by someone like her, I wish I could turn that interest into a different kind of value.”

“I said something similar, earlier,” Leaf says. “About taking advantage of all this influence we have, even if we’re getting too many opportunities that we can’t take at the same time. Aiko made a pretty great suggestion, and I checked with the Coordinator schools to see if any would let me write an article for their sites. One agreed, so I’m typing up a piece on what I did with the abra, and hopefully afterward I can pitch a second article on deeper pokemon ethics themes. You should try something similar, Red.”

Red rubs his chin. “You mean, what, check if Sabrina’s Gym has a blog?”

“Or start your own,” Blue says.

Leaf nods. “You’ve got a spotlight on you: anything you put out that others can read, they will. The interest is going to fade if you let it, or if the things you write aren’t interesting, but if they are you can start building an audience. Whether you commit to being one of Sabrina’s students at some point or not, you could end up getting a different teacher if you become popular enough, or others find out about your unique abilities.”

Red is already considering what his first post would be. Perhaps a journal of sorts on his experiences with his powers, something that could formalize the concepts that are so frustratingly vague among psychic circles…

Red is grinning, fingers itching to get to writing. “That’s a great idea, Leaf, thanks!”

She smiles. “Just don’t spend too much time on it that you fall even farther behind on practicing with your powers, if that was a concern with Sabrina. It might be with other teachers too.”

“Right. I’ll try to slot it into my usual writing and review time.”

“Oh, and you should fill out your online profile,” Leaf says. “Yours barely has any info about yourself, you have followers now who probably want to learn more about you. It would help people know to give you credit for the things you discover.”

Red blinks. “Why would I have trouble with that?”

Leaf hesitates. “Try not to get mad, but… I mean, Blue and I were raised by Professors, from the outside a lot of people expect us to be the ones making most of the discoveries. I’ve been seeing people give us more credit than we deserve for the abra thing, even with the interview, and I think it’s because people don’t really know who you are, the way you think, how much time you spent on it.”

Red is frowning as she speaks, being more bothered by that than he thought he would be. “Ugh. Okay, I’ll flesh out my profile too.”

“Yesss,” Blue whispers, steepling his fingers together. “Join us, Red… join us… on the PR side!” he winces, then, one hand going down to rub his leg as Leaf glares at him.

“Are you trying to get him to change his mind?” she asks.

“It’s not public relations,” Red insists. “I’m just sharing the ideas I have and giving context for them, like how I learned things and what resources I use.”

Blue smirks. “Whatever, my point is you’ll be actively building a following and public image instead of just letting it develop on its own. That’s all I’ve ever been asking you to do, and it’s about time.”

Red refrains from insisting again that it won’t be like that. Mostly because he won’t know if it’s true until he has a chance to see if he actually feels some urge to shape his own narrative and persona in his public writing.

“Is it that bad, for you?” Leaf asks, clearly reading his hesitation.

“It’s… it just feels…” Red tries to put it into words. “It feels insincere. I don’t want to care what other people think of me.”

“But don’t you?” Leaf asks.

“No!” Red says reflexively, then says, “Well, a little, but only by people I respect too, like you guys, or Professor Oak, or Bill, or Sabrina…”

“So people who can do things for you,” Blue says.

“You can make anything sound cynical if you put it like that.”

“Well, I care what others think of me.” Leaf says, voice a bit too casual. “And I care what others think of you guys. I’m always aware that the things I say online may reflect on the two of you.”

That gives Red pause, and he takes a moment to find his true objection. “Doesn’t that ever… feel restrictive?”

“You’re not getting it,” Blue says. “It’s not about looking for people to like you, or even agree with you all the time. You’re looking for people to respect youand that means you’ll be doing things worth respecting. Like when I started helping out at pokemon centers, was that bad?”

“Well, no, but—”

“Or when I gave more abra to the centers and rangers?”

“Of course not—”

“So what’s the problem? I’m glad I started helping at Pokecenters, it taught me a lot and I’ve been able to help a lot of people.” Blue’s voice is rising, face hard. “If I also got respect for it, isn’t that something people should be respected for?”

Red feels himself getting on edge from Blue’s tone, but… there’s a note of confusion as something in him agrees with Blue. It stops him from responding to his friend’s anger, and instead he frowns down at his plate for a moment. “I didn’t realize it bothered you so much.”

Blue huffs out a breath, hands rising to grip the back of his chair. “It doesn’t bother me, it’s just such a… it’s such a…”

“A cliché,” Leaf says, and they both turn to her. “All those shows and movies where people talk about being popular like it’s a problem, like being popular isn’t important, when it obviously is.

And Red remembers, somehow he forgot, he didn’t really think about it: as Leaf said, both she and Blue have lived their whole lives raised by Professors. Some of the people with the highest status in their regions. They witnessed firsthand the doors that opened for them, and while they both want to step out from those shadows and make their own marks on the world, there’s no part of them that’s confused about the value of being respected by others, of having people who will listen when you speak, who will go out of their way to help you.

“Just look around.” Blue lets the chair go with one hand and starts raising fingers. “Gramps, Lance, Giovanni, hell, every Leader worth a damn… Doesn’t matter if you want to be a politician or a famous singer or whatever, being respected by a lot of people? It makes things easier. It opens opportunities, it gives you privileges that help you gain even more power.”

“Hold, please,” Red says, putting a hand up. “I need to process this.”

“Take your time,” Blue says, getting up. “I’m grabbing ice cream.”

Leaf grins. “Oo, yeah, the dessert buffet’s almost as big as the other foods. Want anything Red?”

He shakes his head, then takes his notebook out and starts jotting down bullet points as he thinks…

Is it okay to be driven by a desire to have others respect you? Why does it feel so… “slimy?” Is it just because of all the stories he’s absorbed over the years, all the narratives of heroes being humble and not seeking the limelight?

Or is it also because in his field, the ideal is that a person’s ideas change the world not through popularity, but their own merits? That’s a profession Blue didn’t list, being high status or low doesn’t help you discover new things about reality… a scientist can make a new discovery whether they’re in the public eye or some obscure research hobbyist… but he can’t deny that Blue’s right in pointing out that it’s easier to get the equipment, funding, and opportunities if you’re already popular and respected, not to mention easier to get others to pay attention to what you discover.

Red draws a box around those thoughts, then a line down to a new bullet point. Maybe there’s a deeper belief here, one that says something like “good actions are only good if they’re not done for self-gain?”

But the world is objectively a better place because Blue is the kind of person that wants to be respected. If Red could learn more, teach more people, and do the right thing more often because he wants to be the kind of person others respect, what’s the harm in that?

Red takes a deep breath and sinks deeper into himself as he tries to imagine the worst case outcomes.

The majority of people don’t always respect positive things, he thinks, remembering how people are so afraid to test human-pokeball interactions that they made it illegal to research it further. What if I get so attached to wanting status that I become afraid of doing the right thing?

Also, respect is fickle. I might have it today and lose it tomorrow because I didn’t do something people expected me to do, like condemn a politician loudly enough, even if I try to stay out of politics completely, or donate enough the next time I make a new catching technique because I need the money for something important.

Would he be worse off, in that case, than if he never gained their respect in the first place?

Possibly, he might not be expected to say anything if he’s not a public figure, if he just sticks to his research… he wants to be known for that.

But if his personal experiences can help others, shouldn’t he also share that too? Isn’t it okay to be known for that too? And if he sticks to just stuff he’s somewhat confident about, he won’t have to worry about getting drawn into unrelated things…

Or will he?

Red taps the page with his pencil a few times, then puts it down. The other two are still gone, and he tears a piece of pidgey meat into bits and tosses them underhanded toward Charmander, letting them sail up first so that his pokemon jumps for them. His pokemon’s growth has continued to increase his strength, allowing him to leap far higher than he used to. Once he proves he can leap as high as Red’s head, he stops tossing the meat so high as he starts to notice nearby patrons looking nervously at his pokemon’s flailing, fiery tail.

Soon the two are back and begin digging into some ice cream and cake. They brought a third bowl and place it in front of him too, just a tiny scoop of ice cream and a tiny slice of cake, and he grins. “Thanks guys,” he says, and enjoys the offerings.

“So?” Leaf asks.

“I think I’m mostly worried about being in the public eye,” he says slowly. “I don’t want to have to think about how much status something will get me, or how much I might lose if I say the wrong thing.”

“If it’s going to happen anyway, isn’t it better to think about it?” Blue says. “Instead of blundering around?”

“If I’m worrying about that stuff it feels intrinsically like changing who I am for the worse. Or at least, being put into uncomfortable positions more and more. But maybe that’s just me confusing something that is bad, as a judgement, for something that feels bad, physically. When I try to simulate myself being interviewed again, like when we got to town, I feel squeamish.”

“You know, being a Professor will mean having to be interviewed now and then,” Blue says in a dry voice before sucking some ice cream off his spoon.

“That’s different though, I’ll be talking about my research.”

“So just talk about your research,” Leaf says. “You can write about whatever you want: just be aware that you’ll be occasionally judged for it, and sometimes attacked for it. But that’s how you learn, right?” Her tone has changed, become contemplative as she gazes into the distance. “You give your perspective, and others point out why they disagree with you… and if there’s merit there, you engage… and if not, you ignore it…”

“Easier said than done,” Blue mutters. “Have you seen online discussion? What am I saying, of course you have.”

“I… think I just thought of a new thing to write about,” Leaf says, with a slow smile. “Standards of discourse. Rules to productive online conversation, or something like that. Not everyone will care obviously, but if even 5% of people start to follow it, and it some sites begin adopting parts of it… Gah, there’s so many things to write about!”

“Oh, speaking of!” Blue says. “You should totally come to the gym tomorrow, Leaf. Not for pokemon battling, for the other trainings! It’s great, isn’t it, Red?”

Red is still trying to untangle his feelings. “I didn’t go to the classes yet, remember?”

“Right, shit. Well great, both of you can go to them together! It’s really amazing what Surge is doing here, I think you could get a great article out of it, Leaf.”

She looks surprised. “Why don’t you write it then? Don’t you have a bunch of ideas for how the gym system could be improved?”

“Writing’s not really my thing.”

“You share training tips with your followers, don’t you?” Red asks.

“Well sure, but that’s not formal or anything.”

Red grins. “You know, being Champion might mean having to write formal stuff now and then…”

Blue frowns. “Also, I’ve got training to do.”

“What, and we don’t?” Red asks.

“That’s different,” Blue protests. “I’m going for a badge.”

“It sounds like you don’t think it’s that important.” Red turns to Leaf. “Does it sound like that to you?”

Leaf nods, face sad as she fends off one of Bulbasaur’s vines as it tries grabbing the cake from her plate. “Too bad. All those trainers, not aware of how awesome Vermilion Gym is…”

Blue glowers at them. “I’m telling you, I’ll mess it up. It would be better if one of you wrote it.”

“It’s okay, Blue. We’ll help you,” Leaf says. “Won’t we Red?”

“You bet,” Red says after a moment, realizing that Blue might be legitimately insecure about his writing. “It’ll be good for… what’s it called? Public…” He snaps his fingers and holds a finger up, frowning. “Public…”

Blue rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “I’ll think about it. But you’ll come, Leaf? You guys will like the classes here, I promise.”

Leaf considers a moment, then nods. “Sure, why not. I’m not against gyms overall, I would have gone to Cerulean’s water classes, but I didn’t have any aquatic pokemon.”

“Great! And speaking of which, try to catch some Water pokemon before we leave the city and I’ll train you guys with them. Who knows when we’ll be near a beach again, after we leave.”

“I’ll check which ones are available around here.” A vine reaches around her chair and tries to sneak in from below, Bulbasaur now standing at the very edge of his pen. Leaf slaps the appendage away without looking, and her pokemon starts to make pitiful sounds, causing her to turn to him. “No! It’s bad for you!”

Her pokemon quiets, but somehow manages to continue to look pleading.

Leaf manages to look stern for another second, then melts. “Fine, I’ll get you something you can have.” She gets up. “Make sure he doesn’t eat my cake.”

But Bulbasaur just watches along with Red and Blue as Leaf goes back to the buffet tables and takes a small portion from a bunch of different desserts. She brings them back and holds the tray out to Bulbasaur. “Watch this, I’ve been trying to teach him… Bulbasaur, take one. Take one.”

“Aw, Leaf,” Blue says. “Why you going to go and inflict that torture on your pokemon too?”

Her pokemon reaches its vines out hesitantly, swaying it above the plate for a while as if about to sweep them all off… then one vine delicately curls around a small piece of honeycake and brings it to its mouth.

“Good boy Bulbasaur!” Leaf puts the plate aside and crouches to vigorously rub his head and ears. “Very good! Very good boy!”

Red is grinning as he watches Bulbasaur gambol about in his pen, and then grow even more excited when she takes a second treat from the plate to hand to him as a reward. “Who’s my best boy? Who’s the bestest-”

Her words are cut off by a burst of light that suddenly fills the restaurant. Red shields his eyes, heart leaping into his throat. Is this… did it just….

When the light clears, Leaf is staring in shock at an ivysaur that looks enormously pleased with itself.

“Bulbasaur…” she breathes, eyes filling before she grabs her pokemon in a hug, ignoring the broad new leaves from his bulb that get shoved into her face. She laughs as four vines instead of his usual two wrap around her. “I guess it’s time to give you a new name.”

Someone starts to clap at a nearby table, and soon the whole restaurant is applauding. Leaf looks around in surprise, then smiles and bows before she sits, cheeks flushed and her pokemon on her lap, though he doesn’t quite fit.

“Congrats Leaf!” Red says. He looks at Charmander, who’s roughly as big as the average charmeleon, and resolves to help his partner evolve before they leave on the cruise convention. It’s going to be a busy week…

“The perfect end to the evening,” Blue declares, and gets up, plates in hand as he heads for the dessert table again. “Now we all have something to celebrate.”

Chapter 48: Popularity

Leaf expected a media response. Leaf wanted a media response. Leaf prepared for a media response.

Leaf did not prepare for a feeding frenzy.

Within a day at Vermilion, the amount of interview requests the group gets is more than she can handle on her own. Red is particularly sought after, but he’s got his own flood of mail from professional catchers and researchers. Even the company that made the speakers they used reaches out to see if he would appear in a commercial.

The look on Red’s face was still worth a chuckle a couple days later, when the offer is extended to her and Blue, who also refuses, though he at least looks conflicted about it. Leaf talks it over with Laura and decides to accept and donate the payment, as long as they grant her some creative control to ensure it’s more of an informational guide that just happens to feature their speakers. That takes some back and forth, but ultimately they reach an agreement she can feel good about.

Blue ignores most of the media storm, and focuses on his challenge to the new gym. He used some of his money to buy a competitive rhyhorn, and trains it with Aiko in secret while he beats the gym’s first test match without using any Ground pokemon. The two plan out an expedition into Diglett Cave for after Red and Leaf are on their voyage, and as soon as they put a post up on the Looking For Group forums, there’s an immediate swell of interest to join.

“I think you’ve got groupies,” Aiko observes as the four have lunch together, eyes on their Looking For Members entry. “The other Diglett Cave parties aren’t getting half the response.”

Blue snorts. “Maybe they’re there for you.”

“Oh, please, no one even remembers my name.”

“No, seriously. They might be curious about who the mysterious girl traveling with The Pallet Three is.”

“No one is calling us that,” Red says, deadpan. “Please tell me you made that up.”

“‘Oaklings’ is the one I see a lot,” Leaf says, and Red groans. “Which seems like evidence that they’re coming for you, Blue.”

Blue narrows his eyes, and Leaf is careful to keep her face perfectly innocent.

“It’s too bad your name isn’t Green,” Aiko says, still studying the page. “You guys could have been The Primaries.”

“Oooh, or The Additives,” Red says, perking up.

“Laaame.”

“The Trichromes?”

“A little better. Sounds like a gang though.”

Blue ignores them, looking at the LFG page now too. “They might just think we have a way to catch a ton of diglett. You happen to have something like that, Red?”

“Um. Just stomp around and wait? I was under the impression you can barely walk through the tunnel without tripping over them.”

“Sure, but too many and you can get overwhelmed. The trick is to only attract a few at a time.” Blue strokes his chin. “What we’d need is some kind of adjustable diglett magnet…”

Red looks at Blue as if not quite sure whether he’s making an Alolan diglett joke, or if he really expects Red to come up with something like that for regular diglett. “Magnet. Right. I’ll look into that.”

It strikes Leaf as strange at first how this of all things seems to be the biggest story of their adventure so far. It wasn’t like they saved anyone’s lives, or helped stop some pokemon rampage. It wasn’t a new pokemon discovery, or even some significant new understanding of one, though Red’s research is getting a fair bit of publicity too.

What really drives home the impact of what they did is seeing groups form online to try to get people together and hunt abra. Large speakers quickly sell out in Cerulean and Saffron city, and have to be transported into local stores from elsewhere. People start to form groups online to hunt abra together, and their price on the market begins to decline before many more even get listed.

The secondary effects start to manifest a few days later, once a sizeable amount of abra are made available. Not just for trainers who normally wouldn’t be able to afford an abra, but also breeders, who in turn offer a reduced rate to anyone that doesn’t intend to use the abra for combat and just cares about their teleporting ability. Even the Celadon City casinos, who regularly offer rare pokemon as rewards, lowers the rarity and effective price of their abra.

Soon a whole new industry pops up: some entrepreneuring spirit, no doubt predicting a jump in demand for teleportation spots, begins advertising deluxe facilities that trainers can set as their “traveling homes,” with everything in their room being transferred from place to place by staff. Leaf can see the attraction of it, and that’s when it really hits her: the three of them changed things in Kanto, possibly the world, permanently.

Red acts as though this is obvious. “Let’s say 10% of trainers with abra have their lives saved by them over the course of their journey. Maybe it’s less, but it also may easily be more. Even if the amount of abra owners merely doubles in the next year, we’ve altered the course of a generation.”

“But it’s more than that,” Aiko says. “This could be the last generation to grow up with teleportation being a luxury. Even after the first wave of easy to catch abra are done, the amount of breeding stock that will be introduced to nurseries and ranches might make an even bigger difference in the long run.”

“Which in turn will affect the bike industry, and various riding pokemon’s worth,” Blue says, then shrugs. “For non-Dark trainers, anyway. And since the abra can only teleport its trainer, the markets will probably shift toward pokemon that can carry multiple people.”

All these possibilities and more make it hard to decide what project to focus on next. Leaf originally planned on spending her pre-voyage time in Vermilion looking into the Mt. Moon incident further and trying to figure out what Giovanni’s investigation is working toward, but there’s so much else that draws her interest… a geothermal plant accident on Cinnabar that causes power outages on a third of the island, new announcements about exhibits in the Pewter Museum, and particularly some leaked hints about what would be on the S.S. Anne tech expo that has her excited all over again for the voyage.

And then there’s the individual responses and forum discussions. It was hard enough staying out of the controversy and negative comments that sprang up from her Pewter article, and most of those weren’t even targeting her. For every post or thread full of positive or neutral conversation topics she sees, there are a few comments that stick out at her like angry welts:

Why is everyone throwing a ticket parade for them? They sold the abra at half off and still made like a year’s salary in a day. That’s charity, now?”

I worked my ass off to catch abra for the past few months, and now the market crashing thanks to these rich kids using their parents’ secrets to make a splash.”

Does anyone actually believe that Red came up with this strategy? They obviously put him front and center because of the sob story, while the professors’ kids did the actual work.”

Anger and disgust makes Leaf’s stomach churn throughout the days, and she can only hope the other two remain too busy to pay attention to such conversations. She knows she should stop following it all, but she somehow just… can’t. The comments dance in her head whenever she tries to do something else, like look into the investigation at Mount Moon, her mind throwing up responses and refining what she wants to tell them until she feels compelled to do so.

The ecological impact of this is going to be massive. These young trainers don’t think things through.”

-“Hi there! Red checked with Professor Oak and the nearby Rangers before we launched the plan, and their only concerns were physical safety of trainers. It’s possible that new ecological impacts will be seen if it becomes widespread, but for now the Rangers have said that the change in wild abra populations should not upset any local ecologies.”

-“Sure the rangers said that, they knew they’d get a bunch of them cheap. Professor Oak is just another short-sighted scientist who cares more about his research than the environment!”

Some are just nonsensical or contradictory even by the same users:

Tried the strategy, only caught five abra. These kids are bullshitting us, they were clearly farming them for a while and didn’t want to tell anyone so they could cash in first.”

-“I’m sorry you only caught a few! It might be important where you attempted the strategy. We happened to be in a big open area, where did you try it?”

-“What so you could come grab them here too? You probably already emptied the area out!”

Soon she’s only dropping in where the comments aren’t openly hostile or suspicious to clarify something about her own contribution or explain what she did to keep the abra from running in more detail. Unfortunately once she makes an appearance in a thread, the activity increases tenfold, and while many comments are still positive, the negative ones start popping up too, and those are the ones that keep Leaf distracted day and night.

Leaf eventually realizes she’s abandoning her own projects and pursuits to keep up with the conversations full time. She starts sleeping less, until she practically has to drag herself out of bed in the mornings and the thought of opening her email or browsers fills her with anxious dread… but she does it anyway.

On their fourth morning in Vermilion she sits at breakfast with Red and Blue, barely eating and listening with some bitterness as they talk about their latest successes and plans. Red’s abra paper cleared peer review, and a combination of double birthday and Research License celebration is scheduled whenever his arrives.

“…both journals, but I wasn’t sure if the focus on pokemon discoveries or psychic phenomenon was better. It felt like picking sides,” Red says. “Did you finish vetting the interview requests, Leaf?”

She jerks out of a light doze at the sound of her name. “I forwarded all of the ones I’ve finished,” she says after replaying what she last heard.

“What about the one from Celadon?”

“I didn’t look at any last night.”

“Oh. It was sent a couple days ago, though…”

“Well I said I forwarded the ones I looked over,” Leaf snaps. “If you don’t have it then what does that tell you?”

Red stares at her, eyes wide, as Blue raises a brow, chewing on a mouth full of noodles. Leaf sighs and rubs her face. “I’m sorry, Red, I’m just tired. I guess I might have missed that one. I’ll look for it after breakfast.”

“It’s okay,” he says, and everyone eats quietly for a moment before he says, “If there’s something you want to talk about though, you can tell us.”

“Nope.” Leaf tries to focus on her food, but the thought occurs that Red might be using his powers on her. She feels herself getting angry, then realizes she’s being stupid. She puts her fork down and clasps her hands, which gets their attention. “Actually, there is something. I know I volunteered to be the group’s media liaison, but I think it might be more than a one person job at this point.” Especially if she keeps spending too much time on the message boards… “Sorry, I should have brought it up sooner.”

“Nah, it’s our fault,” Blue says. “We should have checked to make sure you were doing okay.”

“Want us to pool some money together and hire a secretary?” Red asks.

Leaf blinks. “Isn’t that a bit extreme? It’ll probably die down in a few days, maybe a week.” Especially if she can just stop paying so much attention to the forums…

Blue shrugs. “Not if we play our cards right. If any of you come up with some amazing new discoveries or techniques, keep it under wraps until the media coverage dies down then drop it for a new cycle.” He pops an egg slice into his mouth. “Unless it would save lives, of course.”

“Um.” Red raises his hand. “Don’t know how much you’re joking, but can I register opposition to having an official PR strategy? It feels fake. Worse, manipulative.”

“We’ve been over this,” Blue says. “You can ignore public perception if you want to be another Bill, but public perception won’t ignore you.”

Leaf sees something flash over Red’s face, some mix of anger and pain that’s there and gone before she can fully process it. Blue doesn’t seem to have noticed, and before Leaf can bring it up Red sighs and nods. “I can’t commit to anything, but I’ll run whatever comes up by you guys, at least. I don’t want to mess up your plans.”

Leaf feels herself nodding off again, until a text jolts her back awake. “Speaking of plans, Aiko’s on her way,” she says, and stands. “We’re going to take a walk around the city, if either of you want to join us.”

They pass, and Leaf goes to the roof to meet Aiko as she ports in. She looks as tired as Leaf feels, but smiles when she sees Leaf. “Hey, you.”

“Hey.” Leaf waits for her to withdraw her abra, then starts walking side by side to the elevator and down from the roof of the trainer house. Leaf brings Bulbasaur and Buneary out while Aiko summons her Eevee and Sandshrew. The former was just returned to her with a clean bill of health yesterday, some genetic disorder with its lungs requiring a few days of treatment to get fixed. Aiko looks overjoyed at her pokemon bounding around with Bulbasaur, and explains how just a minute of that would have tired the eevee out before.

“I’m glad they were able to heal her,” Leaf says as she tosses a treat straight up, grinning when Buneary hops over her to eat it. “Any evolution plans?”

“I think Espeon or Umbreon would be best,” Aiko says. She stomps her feet every so often to send directions to her Sandshrew when it wanders too far or starts investigating something rather than keep walking. “I don’t like the idea of forcing one on her, but I might put all the stones in a circle and see which way she walks. If I do that every day and she picks the same one consistently, that should trigger that evolution eventually.”

“Getting that many stones will be an adventure in itself.”

“Yeah,” Aiko says with a smile, folding her hands behind her head. “An adventure I thought was years away. I can’t wait to get started.”

The city unfolds around them as they head toward the docks to the south, Vermilion’s beating heart. Unlike Cerulean North, whose beaches and vibrant boardwalks made it feel like one big tourist attraction, Kanto’s major port has a more industrial feel to it, helped along by the many construction sites they pass. The girls pause to watch some machoke carry girders away from a massive container box, the skeleton of the new building rising up to about the same level as the moderately sized buildings around it.

“This city’s busy,” Aiko says.

“The layout’s weird too.” Leaf looks around, but can’t put her finger on it. “Let’s go somewhere high.”

They head for the skyscrapers in the distance. After passing a few only to realize how close they are to taller ones nearer the shore, they finally choose one that’s about eighty stories. They return their pokemon, then go up the elevator and onto the roof and summon Crimson and Spearow, who fly above them as they look out over the city, enjoying the thrill of being so high up. The wind whips at their hair and clothes as they go from the railing on one side to another and study the layout of the city.

This close to the coast they can see mostly ocean to the south and the west, the harbors teeming with vessels of all shapes and sizes. Leaf can just make out some of the bigger pokemon being ridden as well. She takes a moment to enjoy the smell of the sea as flying pokemon soar around the city, trainers on their backs. The walk helped wake her up, and the wind and view up here does the rest of the job.

“Lots of new construction,” Aiko says after a moment from beside her.

“Yeah.” Leaf looks around. “At least half the buildings look like they’re being worked on, but they look fine. Maybe they were just finished?” Leaf is itching to go back downstairs and start asking the city’s residents if they know something.

“Look how much space the pokemon centers all have around them, too.”

“Same with those factories.”

“They’re really spread out in the city… that can’t be efficient.”

“There must be some reason they’re built that way. Less risk of losing them all from an attack?” Leaf watches the traffic from the harbor a while longer. “I wonder what the city was like before container technology took off.”

“Oh, way busier. It was the biggest shipping port on the whole island, not just for Kanto. Now that shipping stuff isn’t as big a deal, its purpose is more civilian. I think the city must still be adapting to that.”

“Is this your first time here?”

“Yeah. Before the ranch we lived in Viridian, never came this far south of Saffron. Dad didn’t have much interest in traveling afterward.”

“How’s he doing, anyway?”

Aiko’s face is carefully neutral. “Fine. He’s mostly ignoring what’s happening, hasn’t brought up my leaving every day, or responded when I talk about the stuff I’ve been doing.”

“Oh.” Leaf senses some deeper worry there, but doesn’t want to poke at it. “What about Psychic Tuke?”

“So far I just showed him around the ranch and talked about the basics of what we can offer. Dad was as engaged as he gets while talking to him, which is promising. What about you, anything exciting coming up?”

“Too much. We’re getting dozens of emails a day from all sorts of people, and digging through them to find offers worth taking or opportunities is hard, there’s just so many choices, and wow as I’m saying all this it sounds like such a petty problem to have, I’m sorry.”

Aiko laughs. “No, you’re good. I’m glad I just have to focus on the gym right now, I don’t know how Blue is going to juggle his battles there with all the attention you guys are getting. Though I guess you’re helping out with that.”

“I think the conversation with the Professor and the others helped a lot. Without that we’d probably all feel overwhelmed not just by the volume but the choices themselves. I turned down the third Coordinator Academy that reached out to me today, and can’t help but feel like it’s a huge waste of goodwill and opportunity.”

“It sounds like one, yeah. Isn’t there anything else you can do with them that doesn’t require attending? Maybe offer to write a column on their site?”

“You think they’d go for that? Sounds like something they’d reserve for faculty, or at least alumni.”

Aiko shrugs. “What do you have to lose? You just need one of them to say yes. They want to know more about your unique relationship and bond with pokemon, right? You could be a voice against people eating pokemon.”

Leaf is nodding, the possibilities unfurling in her mind. “I could start with the abra catching, and if it gets a positive response… yeah, I think I can do that.” There’s a part of her, however, that worries about what responses she’ll get to such a post, and how much more time she’ll spend poring over them. Maybe she can make an anonymous account to respond to the comments with…

“I’d love to have enough influence to pull it off, if I could get around the whole media blitz.”

“What would you use it for?” Leaf asks, curious to know what drives the girl. “Are you on your journey for something in specific?”

“Besides trying to become Champion?”

“Is that all you care about though? I mean… I was surprised to find out you don’t eat pokemon either, since…”

“Since I battle with them?”

“I battle with them too.”

“You know what I mean. Or rather, I know what you meant. Why don’t you just ask it?”

Leaf puts her hand on her hat as the wind gusts, hair whipping around her. “I didn’t mean to offend—”

Aiko turns to her. “Do I sound offended?”

“A little, yeah.” That pisses the other girl off, and Leaf holds a hand up. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to start a fight.”

The girl rolls her eyes. “This isn’t a fight. I’m good at battling, and I care about pokemon. That’s all there is to it.”

“But… what do you want?” Leaf asks. “I mean, let’s say you got the fame and glory and skillset, somehow, of a pokemon master. Would you still want to become Champion?”

“The journey to becoming Champion is important. That’s how I get stronger, how I learn more about training my pokemon and catching others. But yeah, becoming a Champion would help in something.” Aiko is quiet for a minute, then smiles. “It’s weird, I just realized I’ve never told someone else.”

“Well, I won’t laugh if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ve only just figured out mine.”

“Which is?”

Leaf extends an arm out toward the city. “Being a voice others respect, listen to. Find ways to improve human and pokemon relations. Get people to stop eating them, hopefully.”

“That’s great. You should push for mandatory end-of-life care for trainer’s pokemon, too. Most just keep them in their balls when they’re not capable of fighting anymore, or release them into the wild, unprepared, which is just another death sentence.”

Leaf smiles. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot since visiting your ranch, yeah.”

“But getting people to stop eating pokemon… that would be amazing. Almost hard to imagine.”

“Sometimes it seems like a pipe dream, but Red and Blue are shooting for the moon too. So whatever yours is, you’re in good company.”

Aiko nods. “I want to be a Tracker.”

“Oh.” Discovering new pokemon isn’t a particularly strange job, unless… “You mean you want to hunt for mythical pokemon?”

“Yeah.”

“Which ones?”

“All of them. Mew, Shaymin, Manaphy… my mom used to tell me stories about them. It’s stupid, I know. But since I was a kid I wanted to go on my journey so I could get stronger, make friends, discover new species. I want to travel the world, and maybe… be one of those trainers from the stories, the ones who cleverly put the clues together and found Jirachi and got wishes granted, or saved some forest and encountered Celebi and traveled through time…”

Leaf watches Aiko’s flushed face, her gaze out over the city. “I think I get it.” Red and Blue would even more, I think.

Aiko shrugs. “Even if they’re all made up and I never find any of the myths, hunting down leads and discovering even a couple new species would be amazing. Can you imagine? Being the first person to see a new pokemon, figuring out what it can do, how it acts, what it likes and dislikes…”

Leaf smiles. “That would be cool, yeah. But you do believe in the myths, right?”

“Some, yeah.”

“Why? I’m not scoffing,” Leaf quickly says. “You just seem really determined.”

Aiko hesitates a moment longer, then simply says, “I saw one.”

Leaf stares. “Saw… which one? Saw as in, saw in person? When? Where?”

“Ho-Oh. A Johto legend.”

“The Guardian of the Skies,” Leaf recites, remembering the stories she read when researching her book. A golden flame that endlessly reincarnates, rekindling life even from ashes…

“Yeah. Over here there are stories of a fourth seasonal bird, the avatar of Spring, embodying the fire of renewed life and leaving a rainbow in its wake. I think they’re the same bird, and I saw it a few years ago.”

“How many is a few?”

Aiko’s face darkens. “I don’t really expect you to believe me, I know memories can be unreliable. Obviously I could have been wrong, but… it was three years ago, early April. I was out in a pen taking care of some pokemon. Out of nowhere all the pokemon around started freaking out. It was terrifying, and then… I felt it too. It was like the air was heavy. Like a storm was about to burst out over us at any moment. I know it sounds weird saying this, but I felt a storm, inside. It made my bones feel like they were thrumming. I even looked up in case stormclouds had somehow snuck up on me, but the sky was completely clear. Instead I saw the bird.”

Leaf listens in rapt silence, the described sensations so powerful that she shivers in the warm sunlight as Aiko continues. “It was like a prismatic jewel in the sky, a rainbow of colored lights reflecting off its feathers. It wasn’t huge, maybe a little bigger than a full grown pidgeot, but it felt enormous, like craning your head up at a tropius in a forest, or looking at the shadow of a wailord swimming under a rowboat in the ocean. The air shimmered around it, and as it passed over us the heat it gave off was like a second sun, burning my skin.”

Aiko’s runs out of breath, then takes a deep one. Her face isn’t flushed anymore, now it looks pale, and Leaf sees a tremor go through the other girl.

“Maybe it’s just my memory exaggerating, maybe the pokemon freaking out was a coincidence, maybe I just saw a shiny fearow and was suffering from heat stroke. But I don’t think I would have made up that feeling, the Pressure. It’s too strong. Even if I just read someone’s account of what it feels like facing one of the Stormbringers and forgot, I don’t think my imagination is good enough for that. I think I really saw it, and I want to prove that it exists.”

“You didn’t take a picture, I guess?” Leaf asks with a weak smile.

“I didn’t even think about it until after it was long gone and I’d finished calming all the pokemon down. Thinking at all, about anything, was hard. I tried drawing it, but the details are all confused in my head, and I’m not a great artist.”

“What will you do if you find it?”

Aiko is quiet for a long time as they both look over the city. Leaf doesn’t think she’ll answer at first, too embarrassed or still shaken by her memory, but when she sneaks a peak she sees the other girl smiling slightly, watching their birds fly around them.

“There are a lot of stories about the avatar of Spring and Johto’s golden Guardian of the Skies. While the Stormbringers wreak death and destruction, the stories say Ho-Oh heralds greatness and brings life. Some say anyone who the bird appears to is blessed, while others say its feathers—”

“Bring back the dead,” Leaf says, thinking of the discussion with Amy, Red, and Blue back in Viridian.

Aiko shrugs, still looking up at the sky. “I’m not fooling myself. Magic like that isn’t real. Celebi, if it exists, probably doesn’t actually travel in time. Jirachi can’t grant wishes.”

“But even still…”

Aiko nods. “Even still. If the bird itself actually does exist, maybe the part about seeing it and being ‘destined for greatness’ is true too.”

Leaf smiles. And if the other stories about it just happen to be true…

They watch the city together, dreaming of the future.


Blue’s first impression of Vermilion’s gym was that it’s rather small and plain. Not plain the way Pewter’s is, that monolith of granite is at least distinctive. From the outside Vermilion’s looked just like it did in media, camouflage green walls with its sign in big bold letters of electric yellow. The inside resembled an office building’s lobby however, and as he registered and signed up for his challenge matches, he noted that the gym members all wore the uniforms he saw in pictures and videos.

It wasn’t until he walked through the rest of the small building and out the back entrance that he found himself in the “real” gym… a sprawling campus of outdoor training zones, arenas, and various squat, unadorned buildings. Blue always thought the military mannerisms and clothes of Vermilion’s gym members were mostly theater: no doubt the Leader ran a tight ship, but he figured at its core it would be similar to other gyms.

That first day, as Blue walked across the campus to start his challenge matches, saw a formation of gym members jogging side by side with their pokemon, passed a line of trainers practicing their pokemon’s aim and timing against targets, and heard the cries of battle commands mixed with shouted orders, he knew he’d been wrong. And he began to believe that he came to the right place to learn how to be a leader.

Unfortunately, by their fifth day in Vermilion he still hasn’t been able to schedule a meeting with the Unovan gym leader. After the first challenge battle, a straightforward fight against a pikachu and a mareep that seemed insultingly easy considering his two badges, he wasn’t able to request another until the following week. Until then, he’s been… “training.”

Blue stands at attention with the other new challengers in a field, eyes on the gym teacher in front of them. None of them are wearing the full uniform of the gym members, but they were each provided shirts and pants in various green and khaki colors. Just putting it on made Blue feel like he was part of something new, made his spine stiffen as he fell into formation with the others at the assigned time and place.

The first few days were spent learning basic presentation, then the importance of physical conditioning (AKA, lots and lots of running and some obstacle courses), then a few standard commands to position groups of pokemon in strategically useful ways. Today they finally have their first combat related lesson. Blue looks around, wondering where Aiko is… then spots her jogging toward them, already short hair tied back. Blue smiles at her, and she flashes one back before joining the rear line just as the instructor finishes unpacking some supplies and standing an easel up.

“Morning trainers, and welcome to Positioning 101,” the instructor says in a lazy drawl. The Gym’s Third, Sabra, is a tall young woman with dark skin, a buzz cut, and a perpetually half-lidded gaze. “This being your first official lesson, I’m going to introduce you to something you may have seen others carrying around.”

She opens a box full of plain wooden disks with the Thunder Badge symbol on them and a pin in the back. “These are your ‘Objections.’ Used to just be called ‘tokens’ when I started, but someone began calling them Objections and it stuck. Raise your hands with fingers out for each badge you have.”

Blue raises two fingers into the air. Most others raise at least one finger, while the majority show between two and four. An older woman with short greying hair is the only one with seven fingers up. Blue vaguely recognizes her from a battle match against Erica. Lin, that was her name. Had a crazy-strong slowking and heracross.

“Keep em up.” Sabra begins tossing Objections to each of them for their badge counts. The trainers quickly space themselves out to give themselves more room to catch, many beginning to smile or laugh as they grab the flying discs with one hand as the other keeps holding their fingers in the air. She leaves Lin for last, then holds seven discs up with a raised brow. Lin smiles and lowers her hands, palms out and fingers curled. The trainers back away from her as the instructor begins to fling discs in every direction, and Lin’s hands dart left, right, up and down, grabbing every one. The class applauds, and Sabra smiles.

“Alright, form up again. I want you all to pin those to the front of your uniforms, rows of four. Pay attention to who’s got how many, because as of this moment, while you’re on the Gym grounds, those with more than you are your superiors. Any group activities, they give the orders. Any strategy decisions, they have final say. Understood?”

Blue nods along with the others, brow creased. This feels like a predictable and limiting way to assign rank, but he trusts there’s more coming.

“Any dispute you have with someone else with an equal or higher rank than you can be settled by wagering a token,” Sabra continues. “Your superior gives an order you disagree with, you can put up a token to express that disagreement. They can then choose to take it and try your idea instead: if it works, you get yours back plus one of theirs. If not, they keep it. For two with equal rank, either can offer a token.”

Someone raises a hand, and Sabra nods to them. “What if neither does?”

“Then what are they arguing for? Not putting your money where your mouth is should make it clear you’re not worth listening to. If the deadlock continues, their punishment is their continued dysfunction as a unit.”

Someone without badges raises their hand, then asks, “What if someone doesn’t have any, or runs out?”

“Then they’d better hope their arguments are convincing on their own. You all can feel free to hand someone a token at any time if you’re impressed by them, or want to make a sociopolitical statement.”

“How many tokens do you have?” someone else asks.

The group chuckles, and Sabra smiles. “Infinity minus two. Any other questions about the Objections?”

“Is there a way to earn more, outside of wagers?” Aiko asks.

“We used to hand some out in classes if a student did something impressive, but eventually felt it was messing with the dynamic. In case it’s not clear, these tokens are just meant to physically represent a natural dynamic between people: trust. Trust in thinking, in experience, in leading ability, whatever. And trust doesn’t come from on high. Trainers are warriors, not soldiers. Outside of gyms or the Ranger Corps, trainers don’t have formal ranks or a chain of command: when we choose to follow someone, to listen to them in a crisis, it’s based on their accomplishments or how well they can convince us their idea is the right one. And the more they prove themselves the more trust they have. So while you’re in this gym, we’re going to make you as aware as we can of how you’re assigning your trust to others, and what it takes to earn some.”

Blue realizes he’s grinning and tones it down to a smile. He’s going to have to push Red to take a few classes here: he thinks his friend would enjoy this system. Hell he’d probably try to implement it among their group.

“So. You’ve got your Objections. Let’s see how you use them.”

Sabra marks an X on the poster board. “This is a dragonite. Fully grown, and mean. Rampaging in this direction.” She draws an arrow down, then some circles. “About to reach a town. You and your classmates are the only trainers around. Your objective is to prevent it from reaching the town if possible, and minimize civilian loss if not. Now. What’s the first question you’ve got to answer about any engagement?”

The class is still and silent. Blue listens to the distant yells and chants of trainers and other instructors, trying to think as a drop of sweat slides down his neck and the sun beats down on them. First he’d want to know what pokemon the others with him have. Next the terrain, anywhere they can surprise the dragonite from…

A gangly redhead raises his hand, one of the two five badge trainers. “How strong it is.”

“Good. What else?”

“What pokemon my allies have,” Blue offers, and the rest of the class begins pitching in ideas.

“How much time we have.”

“What are the objectives?”

“Has anyone fought a dragonite before?”

Their instructor nods along with each suggestion, then writes three words out:

Intel. Resources. Terrain.

“All good answers. More than anything else, you have to know what your enemy is capable of, what resources are at your disposal, and where you’ll be fighting. Any strategy you try to devise without one of these three things is going to be weak to the point of uselessness. So, you know your enemy, roughly. Here’s your terrain.” She draws some grass tufts and hills, then a forest to the side. “Now split into groups of… seven? Eight, and figure out a plan. You, there, you two here, you go with them. Reconvene in ten with a plan, as detailed as you can get it, and we’ll do a breakdown and judgement then.”

Blue is glad he’s not paired with Lin: little chance of getting an Objection from that veteran. He scans his group mates as they walk a distance away from the others and form a circle. One with one badge, two with no badges, one with two besides himself, two with three and the gangly guy with five, who speaks first.

“Hey everyone, I’m Cal. The only pokemon I have that can take some hits from a dragonite are a scizor and a golem.” He looks to the trainer on his right.

“Hi. Jen. I’ve got an ursaring that might take a few attacks. Other than that, a raichu or hypno to hit it from afar.”

“Glen. Got a snorlax to slow it down.”

Everyone perks up at that, and Blue whistles. Getting a snorlax by his third badge is either impressive or really lucky. “How old?” he asks.

“About twenty years.”

Not much grown, then. And snorlax aren’t all as physically tough as most people give them credit for, though they can shrug off most special attacks like no one’s business. “Any useful attackers?”

Glen gives him a skeptical look, but says, “A fearow that can harass it for a bit.”

Blue nods and lets it go. Cal seemed about to say something to Blue, then just nods at the next person in the circle, the other trainer with two badges.

“Lani. I’ve got a dewgong.” Everyone murmurs appreciation at that, Ice attacks being the only thing that can reliably take a Dragonite down fast. “Won’t have much mobility, but it can get some solid hits in if you can give it cover.”

“Blue. My strongest attacker is double resisted, so a wartortle with Ice Beam may be the only thing I can offer. The rest of my pokemon would really just be there to distract and harass.”

The two trainers with no badges look at each other. They appear related, and Blue guesses they’re on their journey together. “Chie and Taro,” the girl says for both of them. “I don’t know what we have that could do much. A jigglypuff to try to put it to sleep, a koffing to make some smoke and distract it… nothing that can really take a hit or do much damage.”

“Same here,” the boy with one badge says. “I only have a meowth, oddish, poliwag, and pidgey. I don’t think it would even notice them. Oh, I’m Vincent.”

“Okay,” Cal says. “So. We’ve got a golem and snorlax to tank it, scizor and dewgong to take it down. We can have… Jen? Jen, as flex. Maybe start with raichu or hypno, then put ursaring in if we need him. I guess I should ask, anyone else here feel confident dual battling? Okay, I think that’s our best bet then. We hit it hard with everything we’ve got and take it down before it has time to knock out our tanks. The three of you, try to keep your pokemon safe, but get a hit in when you can. Preferably with any status conditions.”

The others nod, but Blue is frowning as he tries to think of a better plan. There’s got to be something better the less useful trainers can do than just try to distract it and hope for the best: a dragonite in a rampage isn’t going to be slowed down by anything but a critical hit to an eye or wing.

“Any Objections?” Cal looks around. “Okay, so positioning. Those woods provide us cover, if we’ve got time we should check an area for wild pokemon then camp it until the dragonite is moving past. If we can engage inside it we’ll have extra cover, and the farther we fight from the town the safer it’ll be.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t all be in one place,” Blue says. “If it’s full grown it probably knows hyper beam. We should spread, minimize the risk of all being hit by one.”

“We won’t be able to coordinate as easily,” Cal says.

“So delegate. Trainers with melee pokemon will have to be closer anyway. Choose a lieutenant to call the shots for the ranged attackers.”

“Which would be who, you?” Glen asks.

“Whoever has the most experience among them, so Jen, probably.”

She looks surprised. “Yeah, I guess I can do that.”

“Hang on, I’m still not sold on splitting up in the first place,” Cal says.

Blue remembers his objection to splitting up back when Red suggested it in Viridian forest, and fights down his impatience. “Well, what are your problems with it?”

“It’s just trading one risk for another. I’d rather keep everyone together.”

Well, that’s helpfully vague. Blue decides not to press it and come off as insubordinate. “Okay, let’s go over positioning then?”

Taro frowns. “I thought we just did. In the woods, right?”

“He means of our pokemon,” Lani says. “I think.”

“Yeah. The instructor said to go into as much detail as possible. I figured we should try and go over where they are in relation to each other and ourselves.”

Cal shrugs. “Sure. So we’ll set up our tanks on the side where the dewgong is and keep it from getting past us to hit it, while you guys harass it from behind and try to get it to turn around.”

“If you set up in front of me it’ll be harder to hit the dragonite without friendly fire,” Lani says.

“And the rest of us will have to try and aim around you, from a distance.” Jen says. “Not great.”

“It’s the only way to prevent it from just going straight at the ranged,” Cal says.

Lani shakes her head, then kneels and plows a finger through the dirt to outline the forest, town, and path of the dragonite. “Dragonite are fast. I think it’s better to put some of the tanks on either side to avoid getting hit by our ranged, and to box it in. If we come at it all from one side, it could just flee and attack the town from the other.”

“Maybe,” Blue says. “But it’s not trying to attack the town. That’s just the direction it’s rampaging. If we hit it from one side it should turn to us.”

“Why not draw it away then?” Glen asks. “The objective was just to not let it reach town.”

“That seems like a technicality,” Jen says. “I’m not sure Sabra will accept it.”

“Agreed,” Cal says. “Besides, a rampaging dragonite is dangerous: pointing it in a different direction just puts others at risk.”

Blue considers as they argue, trying to imagine himself in the situation. It’s not hard to come up with strategies he would use to fight the dragonite if he was on his own, with access to the others’ pokemon, but even with a dewgong, golem, and scizor, he would be worried about his odds.

Being able to fight all together means they should win, even if they get sloppy, but they still want to win clean. No casualties, no risks. If they know the dragonite will stay engaged on them, it might be best to engage in a battle of endurance of sorts.

“We shouldn’t try to distract it,” Blue says, interrupting a discussion of the lower level trainers taking turns. “I think I have a better idea. We should set up a field medical line for you four.”

“No one listed any healing pokemon. Does anyone have them?” Cal asks.

“Even without any, we have potions, ether, and revives. If we’re not going to be useful in the fight anyway, even using your second and third choice pokemon is probably a better idea, if it means someone else is there to get your primaries back in shape. Switch your pokeballs to open access, and when one of your pokemon is hurt, withdraw and toss it to us. We can summon it, heal it, and throw it back while you keep battling with your others.”

The circle is quiet as they consider this, and Blue listens to the other two groups conversing as he looks from face to face. Some look doubtful, but the others…

“It also lets us split up, but not too far,” Jen says. “Melee, ranged, and medical forming a triangle point between them.”

Finally Cal nods. “Okay, yeah. That makes sense to me. Anyone else got an objection?”

No one does, and they spend the rest of the time discussing positioning. When Sabra calls time, they approach and go over everyone’s plans. The first team uses hit and run tactics to keep the dragonite distracted while Lin’s slowking attempts to overwhelm it mentally from a distance. The strategy seems simple on the surface, but they’d come up with a number of clever tactics to use as needed, which caused Sabra to nod approvingly and declare their plan a likely success. Lin hands an objection to one of the trainers in her group, who smiles wide and attaches it to their shirt.

The second team’s plan does indeed try to simply drive the dragonite away from the town, as Glen suggested. Sabra doesn’t seem to have a problem with the concept, focusing her criticisms specifically for their use of kiting tactics.

“Remember to take the temperament of the wild pokemon into account when trying to confront it. If this dragonite is looking for a fight, it may not be driven off by seeing the ground in front of it set ablaze or get rocks thrown at it. The only things known to reliably deter a dragonite once its blood is up has been a powerful enough blizzard. Sorry, but your plan probably wouldn’t work.”

A trainer from that group with three Objections unpins one and hands it to their group’s leader with a slight frown. Sabra turns to Blue’s group, and Cal describes the plan. The instructor makes a thoughtful noise after he finishes. “Dedicating non-combatants to battlefield recovery is standard procedure for this gym. Do any of you know gym members, or read our forum?”

His group shakes their heads, a few of them glancing at him. Blue is as surprised as they are, and widens his eyes to exaggerate his innocence. It’s satisfying to know that he was able to come up with a gym-approved strategy on his own, and he wants to make sure people don’t think he “cheated.”

“Well, I’d say your plan should succeed as well. More casualties than the first group’s, probably, but they have stronger pokemon up front. Well done.” She waits to see if any objections are handed over. A few people glance between Cal and Blue, but Blue never offered an Objection: Cal had adopted his plan without him needing to. “So, this was your first taste of working in groups. Next we’re going to practice maneuvers that allow easy propagation of orders among group members.”

She flips the page on the poster board and starts writing out Priority 0, Priority 1, Priority 2…

“At the very least, you should have an understood shorthand for priorities for any group you’re a part of, large or small. Rangers use an increasing priority list, so we’ve adopted theirs as standard procedure. For those of you who don’t know how this works, it’s fairly straightforward: Priority 0 is considered the basic default behavior of everyone acting in the best interest of themselves and those around them, with their own understanding of events. Priority 1 supersedes it if issued, as the implication is that there is something more important that needs to be coordinated on and attended to, even if it does not appear obvious to every trainer why. Once a Priority 1 has been established, a Priority 2 will be issued if some new concern appears that supersedes 1. Once it is handled, 1 is considered still in effect: if the situation changes and Priority 1 is no longer important, then further orders should be labeled as the new Priority 1. Any questions so far?”

The group stays silent. Blue’s mind is already racing ahead as he tries to think through how the priorities are determined by each ranking officer. “Are the first few of these common knowledge before an encounter?”

“Generally yes, if they have time to prepare, any Ranger squad worth their uniform will have at least two or three Priorities already in place, so people know the initial goals. They would then add new ones if needed.”

The gangly boy, Glen, raises his hand. “What if you set two priorities already, then something new comes up that’s between them? Would you say something like Priority 2.5?”

“That’s exactly right. It’s a system that allows potentially infinite on-the-fly accommodation of new circumstances. While it could get awkward to continue fracturing orders, realistically I’ve never seen anything more than a 2.25 or 1.75.”

Aiko pokes her hand up. “What if a priority shifts position? Do you rearrange all of them?”

“No. If there are four priorities and Priority 1 becomes the new most important one, you would say ‘Priority 1 upgrade to 5,’ and after that refer to it as 5. The exception to this is Priority 0, which despite being below 1, is also partially outside the hierarchy. At any point, if the leader calls for Priority 0, they mean forget all the previous Priorities and do what you can to keep yourselves safe and act as you see fit. Sometimes, if things get FUBAR enough, it’s basically a way to say ‘every man for themselves.’ For this reason it’s sometimes called Priority Alpha.”

Someone mutters something, and Sabra raises a brow at them. “Got something to say?” The young man shakes his head. “Come on Trainer, spit it out. We’re all here to learn.”

“I was just saying that this seems unnecessarily confusing.”

She smiles. “A common comment. Who else agrees that this system is too complicated?”

A few people raise their hands, then a few more, until a little over half of the participants have their hands raised. Blue keeps his down: on the off chance she singles someone out to offer something better, he’d rather wait until he has one.

“Well it’s your lucky day, because trying to come up with a better system is your next assignment,” she tells the class at large, causing Blue to smile. “Keep in mind what this system does well, and what it does poorly, and how you’d want to improve it without losing its strengths. If you come up with something novel, who knows, we might even adopt it officially and send it to the Rangers. Same groups as before, fifteen minutes. Go on.”

Blue congregates with the others again, all of whom were more or less still together. They discuss the system’s strengths and weaknesses, then try to come up with things that address its strengths while ignoring its weaknesses. This results in people mostly just discussing what they like or dislike in the original system again, and Blue remembers too late that he should have suggested everyone think on their own for a few minutes. Cal gets everyone back on track by reminding them that they’re supposed to be actively trying to come up with new ideas, and Jen takes out some pen and paper, using it to write out what they come up with and list pros and cons.

Blue remembers doing something similar when they were Goal Factoring, and suggests trying to draw things out that way. He’s not sure if it’s meant for something like this, but the others seem interested. He guides Jen in the process, and at the very least writing them down helps the conversation avoid going in circles. They isolate each strength, then try to come up with a plan that captures it, then go down the list of strengths to see if they apply too before seeing if it avoids the weaknesses. Glen argues that they should check for avoiding negatives first, so they try that for a while, but end up spending most of their time debating over what an acceptable amount of “complexity” is.

They run out of time before really fleshing out a system, but Sabra doesn’t seem upset, and the other two groups fared similarly. “It wasn’t a lot of time, so I would have been surprised if anyone came up with something stellar, but at least you have an idea of what goes into trying to make something like this.” A bell rings across the campus, and Sabra begins taking down the poster board. “If you can come up with something on your own that you think beats the default, shoot me or another of the instructors a message any time. We’re always looking to improve our systems. Class dismissed.”

As the group begins disbanding, he heads over to Aiko. “That was pretty fun.”

She grins. “Yeah, way more interesting than just another training drill. Did you sign up for anything else today?”

Blue checks the schedule on his phone. “Terrain assessment 101, after lunch. You?”

“Same. Let’s see if we can get Red and Leaf to join us.” Aiko glances past him, and Blue turns to see Glen walking toward them.

“Hey, Blue. It was good working with you.”

“Hey, thanks.” Blue struggles to remember something specific Glen contributed that he can mention, and just settles on, “Same to you.”

“I was wondering, why didn’t you ask for an Objection from Cal? It was your idea we went with in the end.”

Blue considers his answer. One of the first lessons in Nobunaga’s journey to win the respect of others was his willingness to make use of all resources at his disposal, including his soldiers’ every skill and scrap of knowledge. People saw that, and respected it, and wanted to follow him because they knew he would hear them out and make full use of their potential, so that even if his goals or methods were often brutal or seemed extreme, they still believed he had given it and any objections they had full consideration.

“The objections are for when a leader disagrees with someone under them,” Blue says at last. “Cal heard our ideas out, thought them over, then decided on mine. He did what a good leader should do.”

“Huh. Makes sense. You’re a pretty chill guy.”

Aiko snorts, ignoring the look Blue shoots her. “Didn’t expect that?” she asks.

“Not really.”

“I know the feeling. I thought the rich kid of a world famous Professor would be full of himself, but Blue hides it well.” She gives him a fond look and rubs his hair. “One of the reasons I joined up with them.”

Blue’s face is flushed as he tries to come up with something to say, but Glen nods. “Well, I think you deserve recognition for it, even if Cal accepted your idea. I’ve never really been much for coming up with plans, so…” He unpins an Objection and hands it to Blue.

Blue stares at the offered wooden disk. “You don’t have to do that.”

“My choice, right? Sabra said.”

Blue hesitates a moment longer, then takes the disk. A “sociopolitical statement,” she said? “Thanks.” It’s not the same as earning one through someone accepting his plan, but… in some ways it’s better. Blue pins it to his shirt, then smiles at Glen. “Hey, want to grab lunch with us?”

Glen looks surprised and smiles back. “Yeah, sounds fun. Lead the way.”


Red lies in bed with Pichu on his stomach and admires his glossy new Researcher License, basking in the sense of contentment that fills him.

Three months since he set out on his journey. In some ways not much time, but he’s gone through so much that he feels like a completely different person than the Red who spent his days doing menial lab work or preparing for his journey with Blue. Now that the first step of his journey is complete, it feels like it was almost too easy… an idea that he imagines Past Red staring at in disbelief, then holding up a single sore-from-typing finger.

The peer review process had Red worried, but the data from his pokedex registrations were clear, as were his notes. He knows replication trials are being attempted already, particularly because of the new ability to acquire large amounts of abra for research. He looks forward to seeing their results, but his nervousness has mostly faded.

The past few days have been relaxing, in an odd way. Without his research to work on he spent most of his time practicing his psychic abilities and training his pokemon in the Trainer House rooms. Blue recently became insistent that Red come to the Gym and try some classes out, and Red surprised himself by not rejecting it out of hand. Why not take advantage of the gym’s facilities, if he’s training his pokemon anyway? He has an electric pokemon, after all.

So after Red finishes admiring his license, he goes to the gym and signs up for their next beginner’s classes, including one that particularly focuses on trainers that have electric pokemon. Blue said their more advanced classes helped him a lot with Ion, and that he thinks his shinx is close to evolving. Maybe Pichu is too.

Meanwhile, he puts his name down for a double battle, wanting to get more familiar with instructing two pokemon at once. Watching Blue and Aiko’s battle on the road gave him an idea that he’s been practicing since arriving at Vermilion, and he wants to try it out.

It takes a while for the matchmaker to find another badgeless trainer that’s interested in the same format, and Red uses the time training Cerulean. The abra will be getting a name change soon, since their voyage is in about a week: Red wants to make sure she’s registered to the city in case he gets super sea sick or the boat is hijacked by pirates or sunk by a gyarados. Meanwhile, Cerulean’s mind is becoming more and more familiar to Red, who can almost feel through his pokemon’s psychic senses now. It’s particularly odd sending an impulse to use a psychokinetic burst, since the sensation is one that he’s been trying to do with his own powers for over a month now, and continues to utterly fail at.

Indiscriminate bursts of force seem to be Cerulean’s limit at first, but as Red becomes more comfortable in her head, he begins practicing with lifting small objects, first by inhabiting her senses as she levitates berries to eat, then by instructing her to catch the ones he tosses to her. Her senses are incredibly sharp, all except taste… though that might just be him not appreciating the berries on the same level she is.

Twenty minutes later he’s able to reliably instruct her to catch and hover berries mid-air. Best of all, he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by his grief. It’s there, a steady tide that saps his will and distracts him, but a short rest now and then seem to fully recover him, and the cumulative build up, if there is any, is slow.

Red reminds himself not to be too optimistic, but it feels like he’s finally developing his emotional endurance, or weakening the emotions behind his partition, or something. Maybe it’s just because he’s in such a great mood after getting his Researcher license, but either way, Red finds himself humming as he withdraws Cerulean to bring out Spinarak for some web shooting practice.

He’s in the middle of unclipping Spinarak’s ball when the door opens and a pair of trainers appear, along with—

“Blue?”

“Red!” His friend grins as he follows the two in, all three dressed in similar clothing. Blue has four wooden circles pinned to his chest for some reason. “You came!”

“I… yeah, I signed up for some classes. Thought I’d do a practice match while I wait. What are you doing here?” He realizes he’s being rude and looks at the other two. “Hey, I’m Red Verres.”

“We know,” the two trainers say at the same time, and Red realizes they’re brother and sister, probably twins. “I’m Chie, this is Taro. We saw you on the news.”

“We just finished our second class together,” Blue says. “The first was yesterday. They’re from Pallet Town too!”

Red’s brow shoots up. “Really? I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you…”

The boy, Taro, grins. “We moved to Lavender Town a couple years ago, started our journey a few months back. Haven’t gone far from the city yet, just toward the eastern coast and back, and to the north a bit.”

“So you wanted a double battle?” Chie asks, eyeing him warily. “Just you? But you don’t have any badges, right?”

“Yeah, but don’t let that fool you, he’s been in some scrapes.” Blue goes over to the wall and leans against it, arms folded. “This I gotta see. You two have no idea how long I’ve been trying to get Red into trainer battles.”

Red feels his cheeks flush as he tries to think of some defense, deny the unspoken charge that he’s a… ugh… battle trainer, now, just because he’s at a gym and signing up for trainer battles…

“Well, we’re happy to test ourselves against anyone that travels with Blue,” Taro says, and his sister smiles and nods, unclipping a pokeball.

…but he doesn’t want to insult them, and besides, he is here to become a better trainer first and foremost.

“So did you want to fight one of us using two of our pokemon at a time, or both of us using one each?” Chie asks.

“Um. I guess both of you together would be harder for me? So maybe individually—”

“No,” Blue says. “Red, two individual trainers will be better preparation for fighting wild pokemon. Taro, Chie, you guys should practice your coordination.”

“Sure!”

“You got it!”

Red blinks at the determination the two suddenly show. “Uh. Okay, sure.” He unclips two balls, wondering what’s gotten into them. “So, I’ve got four pokemon to fight with.”

“We’ll use two each then,” Taro says.

“First knockout?” Chie asks.

“Nah, all four,” Taro replies.

“Too risky, maybe two tops.”

“It’ll be fine, just don’t—”

“Three knockouts,” Blue says. “Or three blood. Whichever comes first. Either side that can’t fight with two pokemon is assumed done, as the other opponent can just get around them and attack the trainer while their pokemon is fighting. Ready?”

“Okay!”

“Ready!”

Red blinks again, then grins. “Sir, yes sir!” Whatever Blue’s doing in this gym, he’s not going to throw a wrench in it.

“Set… go!”

“Go, Charmander! Go, Oddish!”

“Go, Mankey!”

“Go, Drowzee!”

Red takes a moment to analyze his opponents, ensuring that his strategy is still sound, then-

“Hold First Ten!”

Three words that both his pokemon immediately respond to, Charmander tossing a smokescreen out from the end of his tail while Oddish spews Sleep Powder at the mankey, since drowzee tend to be very hard to put to sleep. Blue quickly pulls his gas mask off his backpack and tugs it on, but the trainers are too focused on the battle to worry about themselves.

“Mankey, Chop right!”

“Drowzee, Confusion right!”

“Charmander dodge!”

Charmander tries, but stumbles as the drowzee extends its arms and begins to sway. The mankey avoids the spores as it dashes forward, but thankfully it dove straight through the smokescreen to attack, and comes out just to Charmander’s left.

“Base!” Red yells.

“Chop!”

“Hypnotize Left!”

Charmander whips an ember at the mankey, who screeches in pain as it dives forward and delivers a blow to the fire lizard’s neck that sends it tumbling to the side. A moment later the Stun Spore Oddish sent out envelops the mankey, who begins twitching, its movements becoming jerky and erratic.

A moment later Red’s oddish keels over, and both he and Taro withdraw their pokemon together. Red watches Charmander get to his feet with relief as he sends out Whismur.

The smokescreen is fading as Taro summons a krabby, and Red grins, pulse kicking up. Excellent: two slow pokemon. “Down Two!” he yells, feeling a blaze of excitement as his pokemon snap to attention.

“Dodge!” Taro and Chie yell together, clearly unsure of what’s coming. But the krabby isn’t targeted at all, while the drowzee is too slow to avoid the burst of sound that Whismur sends at the drowzee, or Charmander flicking embers at it in rapid succession.

“Bubblebeam!” Taro yells as Chie withdraws her drowzee to send out a koffing. But Charmander didn’t pause after sending the embers out, instead immediately running toward the drowzee so that the bubbles pop harmlessly against the ground in its wake.

“Whismur, Supersonic Nine,” Red says, and his pokemon sends a new frequency of sound at the krabby. Charmander, meanwhile, is still executing his previous command, and Red watches in satisfaction as the fire lizard leaps at the koffing, claws extended.

“Sludge!”

“Bubblebeam!”

The krabby slams its claws on the ground instead, while Charmander takes a ball of poison to the face as it leaps toward the koffing, claws extended.

The koffing reels in the air as the fire lizard latches on, its extra weight bringing it down until the koffing inhales deep and rockets upward. Charmander falls, and Red’s heart is in his throat as he aims his pokeball and nabs him with the beam before he hits the ground. A surge of adrenaline makes him grin as he clips the ball and reaches for a new one as blood patters to the floor beneath the koffing, and Chie returns her pokemon too.

“Match end!” Blue yells, making everyone go still. He goes to the fan controls at the side and turns them on, causing them to whir to life overhead and suck up all the remaining gases and smoke. Red and Taro withdraw their remaining pokemon as Blue pulls his mask off. “Red wins, three knockouts to two. Nice job everyone.”

The excitement and adrenaline of the match is joined by elation. Not only was the first live test of his strategy a success, but he beat two trainers at once with it!

“What were those commands?” Taro asks as he clips his krabby’s ball to his belt and runs a hand through his hair. “You barely gave any!”

“I was wondering about that too,” Blue says. “Is this what you’ve been practicing all week?”

“Yeah. I got the idea after your battle with Aiko. Have you figured out her code yet?”

Blue shuts down the fans, other hand rubbing his hair. “No, but now that you mention it…” Blue’s gaze is distant. “You were using simple commands to convey strategies for working together. Strategies that work when they’re fighting alone too? Aiko’s commands further a goal each pokemon she puts out…”

The twins are frowning, but Red grins. “Right. As long as the pokemon have some move that you can fit into a general strategy, you can carry the same command over and even link multiple pokemon to the same general goal, all with one obscure command.”

“And the opponent has to guess what you linked to which command,” Blue says, a mix of consternation and excitement in his tone. “You came up with all this by watching Aiko fight once?”

“Well, she did most of the work, I just built on the framework she provided. The hardest part was getting each pokemon to link a second command to their attacks.”

“Ero,” Blue mutters. “Erosion. And Ero 2 to cycle into a second stage of the strategy.”

“Wait,” Chie says. “I think I get it. Okay, so ‘Hold’ was the strategy, and you used attacks that would lower our accuracy or put us to sleep to do it, but what about the other words? Why both ‘First’ and the numbers?”

Red smiles and tilts his hat up to scratch behind his head. “I dunno, what were they?” He’s enjoying this, he realizes. Enjoying it the way he enjoyed the battle, something he never used to think he would. But testing his ideas in the field against other, thinking opponents… there’s something thrilling about it that’s even stronger than watching Blue’s Challenge matches, something more personal in the examination of the strategies and tactics used against other thinking opponents.

“There’s no way you recorded ten custom commands in both your charmander and oddish,” Blue says after a moment, and Red watches his face as his friend slowly gets it. “Those weren’t linked to the attacks themselves at all, were they?” He smiles, and turns to the twins. “I got it. How about you two? Figure it out if you can, then we’ll go over what you did in the battle.”

Taro and Chie glance at each other, then begin to talk quietly. Blue saunters over and holds a fist up, grinning. “Congrats on the win. We’ll get you some badges yet.”

“Let’s not go crazy.” But Red’s smiling as he bumps knuckles with him. “But thanks. My license came today too.”

“Nice! Double congrats. Guess it’s finally time to celebrate turning twelve for real, with an accomplishment like that.”

“Hey, you’re not doing so bad either,” Red says, glancing at the twins. “When did you get minions?”

Blue grins. “Privileges of rank and status. I’ll whip them into fighting shape so your rematch is more of a challenge. In return I can probably get them to do my laundry or something.”

Red laughs. “Try not to get used to it, unless you plan on having them join us too.”

“Would that be so bad?”

Red blinks, then studies Blue, who looks serious now. “I guess not,” he says slowly. “If it’s okay with Leaf and Aiko, it’s fine with me. Have they already asked?”

“Not them, no, but this other trainer, Glen, has been hinting about it. He’s got three badges, is old and strong enough to travel on his own, and he’s good at listening and following orders while still being creative in accomplishing them.”

“I… didn’t realize those were attributes we were looking for,” Red says, feeling odd. He always knew Blue one day planned to lead others… the whole of Indigo, eventually. Red just didn’t expect him to be working to make it a reality so soon.

“Hey, you’re the one that comes up with most of the smart ideas,” Blue says, cuffing his arm. “As long as you’re around to advise me, they can be both of our minions.”

Red shakes his head, smiling. “For PR purposes, I insist any minions I make use of be referred to as ‘research assistants.'”

“Now you’re getting it.”

They watch the two confer a bit longer, then Blue takes out his phone. “Gonna tell the others your license came so they can plan for the party tonight. Preference on restaurant?”

“There’s a Kalos district down by the southern pier that had some interesting looking places.” Red takes out his own phone to look up restaurants and notices he has new emails. He opens the app and skims them for anything important, eyes snagging at a particular sender: Sabrina Natsume, Gym Leader of Saffron and the strongest psychic in Kanto, received a couple hours ago.

Red quickly taps it and reads:

Hello, Mr. Verres. Congratulations on your recent research and accomplishments. I found the hypothesis suggested intriguing, and look forward to any future discoveries you uncover.

I’ve also learned that you are a Gifted with a particular gift. I will be visiting Vermilion on some business today, and would be interested in meeting with you to discuss your unique abilities and research. If you’re available, please meet me at the below address at 4:30 PM.

Red checks the time and sees that it’s almost 4, then plugs the location into his map to see how far it is, mind racing. Did Ayane reach out to Sabrina specifically, or did her asking around about his shield travel up the psychic community’s grapevine? Hell, considering the community, it might not have even been explicitly mentioned by her, but rather bounced from thought to thought.

About a twenty minute bike ride. He can make it, if he wants to…

Red lowers his phone, letting it sink in that one of the top five psychics worldwide wants to meet with him. Nervous? Me? No sir, no ma’am, nothing to be nervous about here…

Just as a precaution, he closes his eyes and considers everything he knows and feels in case there’s something he doesn’t want anyone else to find out. Sure, he has his mental shield, but trusting that would be foolish without knowing the extent of Sabrina’s abilities, which he’s not sure anyone can claim. Anything about my family? Friends? Have I broken any laws? Any new research opportunities? Secrets I’m keeping for others?

Shit. There’s one of those.

“You okay, Red?”

“Uh huh. I think I’m going to have to skip the classes I registered for though.” He replies to let her know he’ll meet her.

“Aw man, how come? You—”

“Sabrina wants to meet me in thirty minutes.”

Blue’s eyes widen, then he grins. “Leader Sabrina? Well what are you waiting for, go, go! I’ll let them know you can’t make the classes and sign you up for them tomorrow.”

“Thanks.” Red gets his bag. The twins are watching him with surprise. “Sorry, gotta go.”

“Is it direction?”

“What? Oh, my code.”

“Don’t tell them, Red!” Blue says. “It’s an advantage until they figure it out.”

Red shakes his head, smiling. “Yeah, they’re directions,” he tells the twins. “More precise than usual targeting, and faster.”

“Good idea!”

“Thanks for the battle!”

“Spoilsport!” from Blue. “Battle trainers don’t reveal their secrets!”

“You too,” Red tells the twins. “And I’m not a battle trainer,” he yells to Blue as he heads out the door. “I’m a Researcher!”

Chapter 47: Courage

Red wakes the morning after arriving at Aiko’s house to the sound of rain. He lifts his head in his sleeping bag and opens bleary eyes to see the grey sky through the glass, then turns over and drifts back to sleep, lulled by the steady drum on the roof and windowpane.

What next wakes him is the sound of conversation, and he sits up to see Leaf, Aiko, and Blue sitting in the living room and talking quietly as they eat from a common platter of bread, various soft cheeses, fruit, and vegetables.

“Morning,” Leaf says with a smile. “Hungry?”

“Mm, maybe in a bit.” He rubs his eyes. “What’s going on?” He checks his phone and sees it’s already almost noon.

“We were just talking about waiting out the rain, but the forecast says it’ll probably stay like this all day.”

Red smiles. “Well, that’s perfect. More time to…” He pauses and looks around.

“My dad’s downstairs,” Aiko says with a resigned look.

“More time to convince him to let you come.”

Leaf grins as Aiko sighs. “What?” Red asks.

“Welcome to the argument we’ve been having,” Leaf says. “She doesn’t want us to stay.”

“Not because you’re imposing,” Aiko insists. “I doubt Dad will say anything, since that would require him actually acting normal,” she says, voice bitter. “But you guys don’t have to stay just for me. He’s not going to change his mind.”

“We’re staying because we don’t want to get soaked,” Blue says. “But if by staying a little longer we happen to get you out of here too, that’s an added bonus. I still want my training partner.”

Aiko’s smile is brief, but she seems more relaxed. “Well if you’re going to spend the time anyway, I take back what I said yesterday. Feel free to say whatever you’d like to him.”

“I tried last night,” Leaf says, and fills them in on her conversation with Aiko’s dad. “Maybe one of you will have better luck. I’m going to give it another shot later too.”

“Let’s talk strategy, then,” Red says. Something about her mention of opening the ranch up as a petting zoo makes his mind reach toward an idea, but it’s too vague and shapeless for him to grasp it. “It seems like there are two separate issues here. One, Mr. Sakai has a lot of pokemon to take care of, and without Aiko here he might have trouble doing so. Two, Mr. Sakai is worried about her safety, and may not want her to leave at any point because of that. Is there anything you can tell us that might help, Aiko?”

Aiko looks at the three of them with some hesitation, but thinks it over as Red finally reaches out to grab some bread and spread cream cheese over it. “He’s really into pokemon welfare, obviously, but not just the ones we have here,” she says after a couple minutes. “Maybe if I can convince him that it’ll be better for other pokemon, that might help?”

“Right, and help you defend the ranch if needed.” Leaf says. “Maybe if we also sell it to him as you going out to find more pokemon that need a home?”

“Hang on, that just makes the first problem worse.” Blue practices spinning a pokeball across his knuckles as he leans back against the bottom of the couch. “What if we also try to do some crowdfunding, or see if any sanctuaries will take pokemon from here?”

“I think the second needs to be our main concern,” Red says as he places a tomato slice on the toast and bites into it, enjoying the mix of flavors. “And I might have a partial solution. Blue and Leaf, you’ve got some extra abra. If you’re okay with letting Aiko borrow one each, she can register one here and one wherever we are, then teleport back every morning and night to help with the chores. Could be a bit of a hassle, but better than nothing, right?”

“Sounds good to me,” Leaf says, and Blue nods. “But if safety is the true concern, she’d still be missing most of the day.”

“Oh, I’m gone most of the day anyway,” Aiko says. “That’s how I train my pokemon and catch new ones. But I don’t know if I want to lie to him, and I’d feel bad making you all wait for me if I suddenly had to teleport back here on short notice.”

Red shrugs and reaches for a new slice of bread. “We can adjust as needed. When we reach cities our pattern so far tends to be each of us doing our separate things for most of the time anyway, and travel between cities should be quicker now that we all have bikes.”

“It would mean being careful about how you schedule battles,” Blue points out. “Would suck to register for a Challenge match and then have your dad call and ask you to come home for the afternoon.”

“That goes back to the lying question.” Leaf lifts her legs up and hugs them to her chest. “How much does that bother you, Aiko?”

She bites her lip, staring out at the rain. “I’d like to avoid it,” she says at last. “It would make things so much easier to be able to just tell him the truth. Maybe the abra will be enough, and the other ideas will help too. Let’s try them and see.”

Everyone agrees, and Aiko smiles at them, one by one. “I just want to say again… thank you. Even if it doesn’t work out, it means a lot to me.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re a trainer, same as us,” Blue says. “We’re in this together.”

“Speaking of which, what can we do in the meantime?” Leaf asks. “What are your chores on a rainy day?”

“Cleaning the house, upstairs and down. Oh, and medical checkups for each of the pokemon, one at a time,” Aiko says. “That would probably go faster if one of you came with me. But also, feel free to just relax here, since you’re all guests.”

The trio ignores her, looking at each other instead. “You guys go,” Red suggests. “You have more experience taking care of pokemon.”

“Then you should go, you have more to learn.”

“Fire-Water-Grass?” Blue suggests.

Red and Leaf immediately hold a fist out, and Red has just a second to predict what the other two will do. Leaf might go Grass, but Blue isn’t going to go Water… he might think I’ll go Fire though… Unless he thinks Leaf is going Grass too? “Best two out of three?”

“Nah, let’s just give it one go, elimination style,” Blue says. “Ready? Set?”

Red considers reaching out to Leaf’s mind, but doesn’t have time as the other two begin to bounce their fists. “Fire, Water, Grass, GO!” everyone yells, and Red tosses out Water, hoping to at least beat Blue.

Leaf’s fingers come up with their points together in a water droplet shape too, while Blue’s fingers splay upwards in Fire. “Dammit.”

Leaf turns to Red with a smile, and his heart beats faster as he meets her gaze. Ok, so if she just went Water she probably won’t go it again, right? No, most people stick with what works for them, expecting others to think they’ll shift…

“Fire, Water, Grass, GO!”

Red opens his hand palm up and fingers curled, then grins and captures Leaf’s water drop with it. “Mm, tasty.”

She grins and stands up. “Cleaning it is, then. Come on Blue, let’s go strategize. See you guys later.”

“Later.” Aiko leads Red to the medical room, which looks like the biggest on the second floor. Red’s impressed by how well stocked it is, and feels like he stepped into a miniature pokemon center. “Wow. You know how to use all this stuff?”

“Yeah, my mom taught me.” Aiko begins turning various equipment on, explaining what each one does as she goes. Red follows along as best he can, distracted. He wonders if it bothers her, sharing the room that was her and her mother’s with someone else.

Most of the medicines are familiar to him from his first-aid training of their field application forms, the common “potion” bottles that come in various formulations to heal not just generic open wounds, but also tissue damage from burns, hypothermia, electric shocks, and poisoning or toxicity. What’s new is learning about the proper dosages of the newer substances meant to be injected rather than applied topically, and the operation of the recovery tanks that can be filled with various fluids to immerse the pokemon completely if needed.

“Does your dad know a lot about this stuff too?” he asks as she goes over to the stacked ball trays where the ranch pokemon due for inspection are waiting.

“Yeah, at least as much as I do,” Aiko says as she takes a ball off its tray and releases the rattata from it. “He’d be fine on his own for taking care of them, other than the time investment… but a lot of that is because of how committed he is to letting them out of their balls as often as possible.” She gives the pokemon a moment to adjust to its surroundings, then scratches its back and carries it over to the table.

“I have to admit, I don’t really get that,” Red says. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just let them out in smaller amounts?”

“Believe me, I’ve tried talking to him about it. He just repeats that they want to be free, to live their lives. I sort of understand where he’s coming from, it feels wrong in a way to put their lives on hold just for our convenience. But working himself to death won’t help them.” She gets a second ball from the tray and brings it to him. “There’s another rattata in here, they’re brothers. For rattata you gotta check their teeth first, make sure they’re not loose or chipped from biting something too strong for them. Then their paws…”

Red takes the second rattata out and checks it over too, following her lead. His is very mellow, seemingly fine with its sterile surroundings and happy to nuzzle his fingers as he checks it over. Red smiles and feels an acute stab from the loss of his own rattata.

“…lesions and scabs from too much itching is a problem, so just run your fingers through their fur and make sure. That’s pretty much it for them.”

Red dutifully mimics her, then has a thought. “Hey, would it be okay if I test my powers out a bit? It could help in diagnosing.”

Aiko’s eyes widen. “You can do that? That’s so cool!” She blinks. “Uh, it’s not harmful to them, is it?”

“Nope, unless they’re psychic they won’t even notice.”

She grins. “Go for it!”

Red smiles at her clear excitement, chest puffing out a bit as he focuses his mind. He feels an urge to extend his hand at the rattata, do something visual to let her know when he’s starting…

It takes him just a few moments to sense the rattata’s mind, then merge with it. The fresh wave of grief is distracting, but not enough to keep him from marveling over the way the rattata body-sense fills his awareness. Red feels the same doubling he did on the roof with his abra, of hearing everything in the room twice, both from his own ears and the rattata’s much stronger hearing. And the smells

Red pulls his mind back with a gasp, hand clutching his nose even as the sensation fades, was never really in his nose at all. It’s in his mind now, an impossible blend of nuanced, layered scents that he can’t even begin to interpret or understand. Even as he tries to remember it, the memory of its complexity fades. He wishes he could talk to his dad about this, they’d discussed what it would be like to be a pokemon many times when Red was young…

“Are you okay, Red?” Aiko asks, voice hushed.

He wipes at his cheeks. “Yeah, sorry. Side effect of my power.”

“To cry?”

“It makes me remember my dad. How it felt when he died.” It’s getting a little tiring having to constantly explain that to others, but also less embarrassing than it used to be, which he supposes is a good sign.

Aiko is quiet for a while as she plays with the rattata. “That must be painful. I still cry about my mom, sometimes.”

Red nods. “Your dad, did he… is this how he always was, or did it happen afterward?”

“After, but not right away. I think. It was hard to notice right afterward, because… well, I wasn’t really noticing much. I think he held it together a little for my sake, and my aunt came to stay with us and helped too, but once I started to get better, he just began to retreat more and more into himself and the pokemon.”

“I’m sorry,” Red says as he watches the two rattata begin to playfully bat at each other. He hesitates, then says, “Feel free to let me know if I’m overstepping my bounds or saying something clueless or too obvious…”

Aiko smiles. “Alright.”

“It sounds like something he could use help with. Did he ever see a therapist about it?”

“Ah. Yeah, I thought of that, but not until it was really obvious that something was wrong. I brought it up maybe two times, but it’s hard to have a serious conversation with him. He just let it slide off and ignored it, like everything else.”

“Figured. Just thought I’d ask.” The nebulous idea from before solidifies a little bit, but he still can’t quite make its shape out. Something about the idea of a petting zoo being good for her dad…

“It’s appreciated. Are you seeing one?”

“Yeah, same one from when I was younger. We talk online, since she’s back in Pallet.”

“And is using your powers to relive the feeling part of your treatment?”

Red scratches beneath his hat. “Uhh, not exactly?”

Aiko frowns at him. “Well, you don’t have to put yourself through that, then. Our normal diagnostic tools should be fine.”

“I’m trying to keep practicing my powers so I can advance my abilities enough to master free teleportation. That means not getting overwhelmed by the feeling of the pokemon’s body so I can concentrate more on its mind.”

Aiko’s eyes shine with renewed fascination, but quickly turn skeptical again. “That seems like a bit of a risk, doesn’t it?”

“A calculated risk.” Red shrugs, then smiles lopsidedly. “If I wanted to play it safe, I wouldn’t be on my journey at all.”

She smiles back. “No argument on that here. So, you can feel what they feel? What’s that like? Did you sense anything wrong?”

“Oh, no, he didn’t seem to be in any pain.” He goes on to explain the feeling of inhabiting two bodies at once as they finish up with the rattata, then move on to checking over an oddish and a meowth as Aiko goes over the standard care checks for them too. Red continues to use his powers as best he can to see how the pokemon feel, bracing himself for the unusual sensations and fringe senses that he can handle, as well as the compounded grief that follows.

At first he has his doubts about how long he can exert himself before it gets too overwhelming. It’s Aiko that keeps him going: she seems to have taken his earlier pronouncement about risks to heart, trusting him to know what he’s doing. Even when things get obviously bad and he starts to sniffle or occasionally sob, she continues to work and act like nothing’s wrong. It grounds him somehow, helps let the feelings go each time.

Little by little, Red feels himself get better at discerning whatever sensory input he gets from the various pokemon they check over. He doesn’t expect to get much from a bellsprout, with its unique physiology, and is shocked when he’s able to receive not just the flood of flavors that fill its gaping mouth and act like a mix of taste and smell, but also the tension in the whip-thin vines of its limbs. The tension slowly fades as it wraps them around Aiko’s hand, and the pokemon feels… relaxed. Her hand is like a firm anchor for what feels to him like a frighteningly frail body: to Red the bellsprout almost feels like it’s standing up instead of climbing, in terms of how comfortable it is, which is so counterintuitive at first pass that he laughs out loud when he realizes how well it fits, a brief shine of sunlight in the dark clouds filling him. Aiko listens in fascination as he explains, but doesn’t seem as surprised.

Still, the amazement from such sensations and discoveries can only distract him for so long before the dense pit in his stomach starts to weigh too heavily, the aching emptiness in his chest open too wide. His speech becomes more monotone and brief, and he starts spending periods of time simply staring into the distance or shutting his eyes against the tears, overwhelmed. When it gets so bad that Red can’t bring himself to connect with a new pokemon and refresh the grief, he asks if he can take a break instead.

“Of course, yeah,” Aiko says as she finishes checking over a female nidoran. “I should take a break too, actually, we’ve been here for a couple hours now.”

She’s probably just being polite. “Time flies,” Red mutters, and Aiko gives him a concerned look. He forces a smile that probably doesn’t look convincing, then goes to his pokeball belt. He finds Pichu’s ball and releases him, smiling more naturally as the electric mouse looks around, then climbs his arm to perch on his head.

Red goes to the living room couch and brings Pichu down to sit in his lap. He’s getting bigger. Red remembers when the pokemon fit in both of his palms cupped together, and feels a bit wistful. His pokemon won’t stay a pichu forever. Red should really get around to naming him… his failure to really nickname any of his pokemon is feeling more and more like a failing as a trainer the longer he takes.

Red hears the sound of another pokeball opening back in the medical room, and after a moment Aiko comes out to join him in the living room. With her is…

Red blinks, then blinks again as she gets closer. She’s carrying an eevee, which is surprising enough considering how rare they are, but its coloration is very light. In fact… “Is that…?”

Aiko smiles as she sits beside him, the fluffy fox settling in her lap too. It’s over twice as big as Pichu, though the thick fur around its neck and tail make up a lot of that. What has Red staring is the way the fur shines silver in the light. “You have a shiny eevee?” he asks in awe.

Red has seen “shiny” pokemon before, of course… through online videos and in movies, mostly, though also a couple at Pallet Labs, as their unconventional coloring makes the pokemon, estimated conservatively at one-in-a-thousand rarity, subject to intense scientific curiosity.

As far as anyone has been able to tell, their uniqueness is purely aesthetic. While legends and stories often mark pokemon of importance with unique coloring, no one has been able to establish any clear advantage in their abilities, and despite breeders’ best efforts, the trait doesn’t appear obviously hereditary.

As a result, they’re mostly in demand by collectors and as pets rather than by battle trainers, who often trade them for stronger or rarer pokemon. Even unusually colored rattata are collected by people who consider shinies lucky. For a species as rare as eevee in the first place, however…

“It must be worth thousands,” Red murmurs. Aiko’s smile slips, and he winces. “Sorry, I mean it’s beautiful, and I’m just really surprised, and—”

Aiko chuckles. “It’s okay, Red.”

“What’s its name? And is it a boy or girl?”

“Girl, and I haven’t named her yet. It feels weird naming doing so before she evolves, considering how different she might turn out in each form.”

Red reaches a hand out, looking at Aiko for permission. She nods, and he strokes the soft fur between its ears. “Where did you get her?”

“We had a client a couple years back who wanted us to breed their eevee for a few months. They got some babies out of it, but got charged for selling on the black market just before this one was born. Happens once in a while when people use small ranchers like us.”

“Woah. So you got to keep them?”

“Not all. The previous births and the mating pair legally passed on to their family, but our contracts work on a first-buy-option guaranteed to the client for each birth, and it’s voided if the buyer is charged with any crimes related to pokemon mistreatment.”

Red smiles. “Good clause to have in there.”

Aiko strokes the eevee’s fur, gaze adoring. “It was a surreal couple of weeks, first seeing such a gorgeous and rare shiny born, then finding out that the client might have been mistreating the others, then realizing we’d get to keep this one. I’ve been raising and training her ever since.”

“Training? You didn’t list her among your pokemon.”

“Yeah, I don’t take her outside the ranch.”

“Makes sense, that would be a pretty huge risk.”

Aiko rolls her eyes, and Red blinks. “What?”

“You just did it again.”

“Did what?”

“Thinking of her in monetary terms.”

“I didn’t… okay yeah I guess I did. But it is a risk, isn’t it?”

Aiko reaches up and flicks his nose.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“Think about it. You’re a smart guy.”

Red stares at her in bewilderment as she scratches the eevee’s long ears, smiling down into its face as it squirms in pleasure. He wants to point out that he’s in a shitty mood and just ask her to just tell him what he did wrong, but…

You’re a smart guy.

Red frowns down at Pichu, rubbing his fur. There’s a tone of flippant challenge in her words that he hasn’t heard in a while. Blue would just tell him why he’s wrong, and Leaf would explore it with him, teasing the answer out. He tamps down on his annoyance and tries to pattern match. Aiko’s views on pokemon remind him of Leaf’s, but she’s a battle trainer, like Blue. He doesn’t know if Blue would hold sentimental value for any of his pokemon, but the motivation feels off: it was the pokemon’s monetary worth Red referenced, not the connection with Aiko.

Pichu nuzzles his palm, and Red takes a cheri berry out to dampen the pokemon’s electricity generation again. Red doesn’t plan on using him for combat anytime soon because he’s too young and weak, but when he evolves, would he? What would it say about his other pokemon if Red decides not to?

“I think I get it,” Red says. “Not using Eevee in combat would mean admitting that you value her more than your other pokemon, who you are willing to put in harm’s way.”

Aiko winks. “Attaboy.”

“But if that’s the case, why not take her outside the ranch when you travel?”

“She seems really weak, for an eevee. Gets tired quickly, can’t run fast. I try to make sure all my pokemon can at least defend themselves, but she’s still not ready for actual fights.”

Red frowns, dredging up what he knows of eevee. “That’s not right, she looks like she’s well past adolescence.” He takes his pokedex out and checks for maturity signs and expected growth rates, then reaches out a hand to stroke the eevee’s mane, testing its thickness. “Yeah, this eevee should be ready for fights by now.”

Aiko’s expression is blank. “Well, I guess I’ll try training her harder, then,” she says. “Thanks for the feedback.”

He looks up at her, blinking. “Oh, no, I wasn’t criticizing you! I’m just saying something might be wrong with her.”

Now she looks wary. “What do you mean? We had her checked out when she was born, nothing came up.”

“Hmm. Maybe it’s not something obvious. Hang on.” Red checks internally to see how he feels, then closes his eyes and extends his mind to the eevee’s. He feels warmth first, its thick fur surrounding it in cozy heat as it cuddles Aiko’s legs. Warmth, safety, affection and—

Red gasps in pain as the eevee takes a breath, and the connection breaks. His hand probes his chest.

“Red? You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” He looks at the eevee’s cute face as it looks up at Aiko with loving, bright eyes, giving no hint of the pain it’s in. He shoves his despair down as best he can to speak clearly. “It’s her lungs. They’re really weak, every breath is a painful struggle.”

Aiko stares at him in horror, then quickly removes the eevee from her lap and puts it on the couch, voice hushed. “Oh gods, I didn’t know!” She takes out its ball. “I’m so sorry, Eevee, I’m so sorry, return!”

Pichu flinches at the sound of the ball activating and returning the eevee, and Red comforts him with a backrub. “Hey, it’s okay Aiko— ”

“It’s not okay! I didn’t realize she was in so much pain, I never would have made her stay outside her ball all the time and trained her if I knew!” Aiko walks back and forth, short dark hair clutched in her hands.

Red places Pichu aside and stands, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Hey, hey! Relax! Everything’s fine. You have a trainer’s license now, right? Just take her to a pokemon center when we reach Vermilion.”

“What if they can’t cure her?” she asks, eyes flicking back and forth between his. “What if I made it worse?”

“Then that wasn’t your fault either,” Red insists. “You didn’t know. And for all we know she would have died without getting enough physical activity. If you insist on blaming yourself, at least wait until you know for sure.”

Aiko takes a deep breath. “Alright, you’re right, okay.” Red lets her go, and Aiko sits back on the couch. “It’s okay, Eevee,” she murmurs, stroking the pokeball on her belt. “You’ll be healed up soon.”

Red sits back down, feeling a bit awkward. Pichu crawls onto his lap, sniffing inquiringly, and he smiles before lifting his pokemon up and depositing him on Aiko’s shoulder. She twitches and giggles as the mouse begins sniffing at her ear, slowly relaxing.

Eventually she offers Pichu back, and stands. “Thanks Red. I’m going to get back to work. You should rest up, you’ve done enough.”

For a moment it sounds appealing to just sit with Pichu and stew in his lingering sadness, but having actually used his powers to help someone is invigorating in a unique way. What would Future Red want me to do?

“No way, I’m coming too.” Red deposits Pichu onto his cap and gets up, feeling the mouse’s claws clutch the hat as he’s suddenly lifted. “I’m feeling a little better, and I don’t need my powers to learn.”


If there’s one thing no one can accuse Blue of, he reflects, it’s lacking persistence. Sure, there are some less flattering words for it: “stubborn,” according to Daisy, or “obstinate” as Red put it a time or two. But the bottom line is, when he wants something, no matter how difficult it is, Blue Oak doesn’t give up.

Blue is starting to wish he were the kind of person who gives up.

He and Leaf joined Aiko’s dad downstairs almost two hours ago, and offered to help him clean out the various pokemon dens. Mr. Sakai expressed quiet gratitude, gave out the occasional instruction or advice, and for all else said basically nothing of any substance, no matter how much Blue and Leaf talked about their journey, Aiko, safety precautions they take, and any combination of them that felt natural… and eventually some that didn’t.

Through it all, even when trying to engage Mr. Sakai directly, the answers remained persistently passive:

“It’s been years since I took the underground. Very quick and clean.”

“Very smart, isn’t she? Aiko’s always been a fast learner.”

“Oh, yes, the Rangers do great work. Always so professional.”

By lunchtime Blue’s eye is twitching, and Leaf looks torn between exasperation and amusement as she watches him get more and more direct, with as little effect as ever.

“Yeah, I think we’ll be in Vermillion in no time,” he says loudly as he stares at Mr. Sakai, hands moving automatically to scoop and bag the dirty straw in his pen. “Between the subway and the Ranger Outpost after it, I bet we won’t even spend a single night in the wild.”

“Vermilion is a very interesting city, you know,” Mr. Sakai says from the other side of the room, eyes on his own work. “Lots of history there. I loved to watch the boats, when I was younger.”

“Sure would be nice if Aiko came with us,” Blue goes on, unaware that the bag he’s holding is full as he tries to shovel more straw into it. He frowns as Leaf grabs the bag from him and hands him a new one, then looks down at the mess and sighs. “Why, she’d be able to teleport back every night for dinner, thanks to all the abra we’ve caught.”

“Oh, Aiko can’t possibly go just yet. She just got back.”

“Seems like most fathers might be grateful their kid was journeying with others that could enable her to still be home so often.”

“Soon. She’ll be ready soon.”

Blue’s mouth opens to respond just as his phone chimes. He fumes silently for a moment, considers ignoring it, then checks the ID. “It’s gramps,” he says with some surprise.

“Go on,” Leaf says, shooing him away. “Tell him I said hi.”

Blue heads to the stairs and sits on the bottom one. He hears Leaf start some other line of conversation as he checks his grandfather’s message.

Hello Blue! Where are you all located currently?

at aikos house. stuck in rain. everyone says hi.

I wondered why you were all still in one place. I just wanted to tell you all to be sure to check the site for a big announcement in about an hour!

whats the announcement?

That would ruin the surprise! Send my regards to everyone!

Blue sighs. He’s about to put his phone away, then has a thought.

we have a situation here actually. aikos dad doesnt want her to go on journey. they take care of a lot of pokemon and he’s kind of

Blue pauses, wondering what the best way to put it is.

overprotective of her and the pokemon. and hard to talk to. advice?

I hope you’ve tried showing him that she would be among competent and supportive friends through your actions there?

ya its not working though. he also seems dependant on her mentally. but gotta be something we can do. maybe u can come by and talk to him?

There’s no response for a minute, and Blue is about to return to cleaning when his phone buzzes again.

I’m sorry, Blue. That sounds like a complex problem, and a personal one. It might be best to let Aiko and her father work it out among themselves.

Blue frowns. No, he won’t accept that. Aiko is going to be a great trainer, and the sooner she starts her journey the better she’ll become. Leaving it to her dad is not an option.

new idea. got any refurbishes left lying around?

Yes, a couple.

lemme buy one

Another long pause, then, You have a good heart, Blue. This one’s on me: should be there by the end of the day, depending on weather.

Blue feels a blossom of warmth and pride in Gramps. thanks. He thinks of writing something else, struggling to find the right words, then just puts his phone away and returns to Leaf. They spend another half hour cleaning, during which he alternates between thinking of new ways to approach the topic with Aiko’s dad and analyzing her command code from their battle. It can’t be some simple derivative of a high level code, Red doesn’t pay attention to that stuff and he figured it out right away… What do “Sand Attack” and “Poison Powder” have in common that both can be called “Ero?”

They’re not the same type, they don’t have the same effect, they do have the same range, roughly… But coding attacks by their range would be a terrible idea. Or would it? His thoughts meander down that path for a while to examine the potential tactical benefits.

Eventually Mr. Sakai goes to prepare lunch. Blue and Leaf head upstairs to see Aiko and Red, who are finishing up their examinations of the ranch’s pokemon. Red’s pichu is playing with some toy made of yarn on the floor, and Leaf immediately sits on the floor to play with it while Blue drops onto the room’s one chair.

“Got a message from Gramps,” he says. “Something about a package he’s having delivered here and a new thing on his site.” He takes his phone out and opens the Pallet Labs website, refreshing the front page every so often to see whatever his grandfather was talking about. “Not sure what he’s sending, probably our birthday gifts.”

“When is it, six days away, right?” Leaf asks.

“Five, for me,” Red says.

“You guys were born a day apart?” Aiko asks.

“Yeah, our moms were in the maternity wing together,” Blue says. “That’s how we got our names.”

“What were you going to be called otherwise?” Leaf asks. “Before they saw your eye color, I mean.”

“Satoshi, apparently,” Red says, then looks at Blue curiously.

“Shigeru, my sister said.” He remembers so little about his parents, but Daisy was old enough when they died to remember everything. She used to hold him at night when he had trouble sleeping, tell him about them, answer any questions he had.

The memory makes his chest ache. It’s been a long time since he thought of that.

“What?” Red asks, and it takes Blue a moment to realize he’s talking to Leaf.

Her nose is wrinkled, but she’s grinning. “They’re not bad names or anything, it’s just weird thinking of you as anything else. There’s such a wide range of names in this region.”

“Hey, here it is,” Blue says as the page refreshes and a new article shows up. “Something about Flying Type research…” He turns the volume up so they can all listen to the interview.

There’s a fascinated silence throughout it, and Blue smiles as it becomes clear that there is evidence to back up the idea of a Flying Type. He looks at Red, expecting a frown or look of confusion, but his friend is grinning wide, eyes distant in that way he gets when he’s thinking about something too much. Sure enough he leaps for his bag and takes his notebook out, not even pausing in his scribbling as he’s mentioned by name.

The mention of gyarados being Flying type makes Blue forget all about Red, however, and reach for the type chart in his own bag, mind racing as he considers the implications. How often do people use electric or rock attacks against gyarados, so they could observe its effect? Sending a Rock type out against a Water pokemon that strong would often be considered suicidal, and Electric attacks seem to be weak against Dragons… but if gyarados isn’t a dragon… no, that’s ridiculous…

“Alright then, we hope to have you back on soon with more to share!” the interviewer says before the video ends, and everyone starts speaking at once.

“This is so cool I can’t believe I wasn’t there for that—”

“Flying wingsuits, that’s going to be so much fun—”

“This is going to change so much about how Flying attacks are used—”

“I wonder how the particles interact with electricity—”

“So much for your ‘Flying isn’t a Type’ theory, right?” Blue asks with a smirk.

Aiko raises a brow, but Red just keeps smiling. “That’s why this is so exciting! The Flying Type makes so much more sense, now!”

“Except for flygon not being Flying Type,” Aiko says. “What’s up with that?”

“Or gyarados?” Leaf asks.

“Yeah, I’m not buying it,” Blue says. “Lance is the strongest Dragon trainer in the Indigo League, you’d think he’d notice if gyarados aren’t actually Dragons.”

“They can use so many Dragon attacks,” Aiko says. “But non-Psychic pokemon can sometimes use Psychic attacks, so…”

“Is there any pokemon that is considered a Type but doesn’t learn any attacks from that Type?” Leaf asks.

“What, like a Fire pokemon that can’t use any Fire moves? Not off the top of my head,” Aiko says. “Maybe shedinja?”

“Shedinja are just weird altogether,” Blue says. “But I don’t think they fit.”

“Wait, I got one,” Aiko says. “Togedemaru doesn’t naturally learn any Steel attacks.”

“What, really? Gyro Ball?”

“Needs a TM.”

“Huh.” Blue frowns. “It should be able to learn it. It would barely hurt anyone with how small it is, though, so maybe no one’s tried hard enough.”

“The same can be said of gyarados,” Red says. “Maybe it can learn some Flying attacks, now that we know this and people actually try teaching it Flying attacks. Not sure it counts, but with how big it is, just launching into the air and landing on an enemy would probably be pretty strong. Knowing there’s precedent makes it easier to accept that it might be Flying in general. But!” Red holds a finger up. “There’s a much more obvious solution.”

“What’s that?” Aiko asks. Blue has his suspicions, and sure enough:

“Just stop thinking of pokemon as only having two Types.”

Blue sighs. “For the millionth time, if a pokemon could have three types why haven’t any obvious ones shown up? Like, there’s no Fire and Water and Flying type. Or an Electric and Rock and Bug type. Or a Grass and Ghost and Ice type.”

“Or Dragon and Flying and Fire type?” Red asks with a brow raised, tapping Charmander’s pokeball. “There could be a hundred reasons those particular combinations don’t exist, this is just semantics mixed with confirmation bias.”

The argument gets more animated from there, until at some point Aiko’s dad actually comes out to check on them, looking mildly surprised at the commotion. They stop and turn to him.

“Lunch is ready,” he says after a moment.

“Oh, alright, thanks Dad.” He’s about to leave when Aiko smiles. “Hey, guess what? There’s a new discovery at Pallet Labs that explains how Flying pokemon work.”

Mr. Sakai turns back, eyebrows rising further. “How do they work?”

She explains, and he leans against the door frame, eyes distant. “Fascinating. It explains doduo.”

Blue blinks, then laughs. “You think they’re a Flying type?”

“Makes sense,” Red says. “Now that we know about these particles, it explains where all that wind comes from when they jump so high.”

Mr. Sakai nods. “Precisely. Their biology is in all respects avian but for their lack of wings.”

Blue looks back and forth between them with growing horror. “But… but they can’t fly! They can’t be a Flying Type if they can’t fly!”

“It’s just a label,” Aiko says. “But, yeah, I mean, maybe we should call it something else. Otherwise this kind of makes it clear there’s a problem with the Type system.”

“Ha-HAAaa!” Red points at Blue, who facepalms. “Suck it, Blue! I didn’t even talk to her about it!”

Blue’s response is interrupted by noticing Leaf’s startled look, and Red claps his hand over his mouth a second later and looks at Aiko’s father, face mortified.

Mr. Sakai doesn’t appear to have heard him though, or maybe he’s just retreated back to whatever cloud his brain seems to constantly float on. “Fascinating,” he murmurs again, and wanders off toward the kitchen.

They all look at each other a moment, then get up to follow him as Aiko asks Red what he didn’t talk to her about. As Red begins to explain, he fails to notice Pichu dashing around his feet until Leaf picks the pokemon up and deposits him on Red’s hat, causing it to tip down into Red’s eyes as the pokemon crawls onto the bill. Blue grabs his shoulder to stop him from walking into the wall, grinning as his friend curses and lifts his hat off to give his pokemon a baleful look.

They arrive at the table and start to eat. Blue feels some disappointment as he looks over the available food. At first the lack of meat didn’t bother him much: he’s eaten trail rations that didn’t have any, after all, and these dishes actually tasted pretty good. But no matter how well made or how much noodle, cheese, fruit, and vegetables he eats, there’s an oddly unsatisfied pang in his stomach. He wonders if he should grab a strip of beef jerky from his bag, then decides to wait until after the meal. And people say I don’t have tact…

Speaking of which, it’s time to reopen negotiations. “This is really good, Mr. Sakai,” he says as he adds some more sauce. “Have you given any thought to making trail rations? They’d probably be a lot more appealing than the non-pokemon ones we have.”

“Oh, thank you, but I wouldn’t have time to care for the pokemon then.”

“But if you spend just a little time setting things up to start making money, you could use it to hire a worker to help out here. Aiko could be free to leave then, and even act as a traveling advertisement for the brand.”

“Aiko, leave? No, no, the pokemon need her.”

“Actually, we have a solution to that too,” Blue says, suppressing a sigh as he repeats yet again, “We have enough abra to let her port back and forth from here. She can still help out with the pokemon every night and morning.”

Mr. Sakai doesn’t respond, merely lifting his forkful of food to his mouth and chewing slowly. Blue feels a lick of heat in his chest. “Did you hear me? Mr. Sakai?”

“Hmm?”

“Abra. Aiko can use them to leave with us and still help with the pokemon.”

“Soon,” Aiko’s dad murmurs, fork twirling in the noodles. “She’ll be ready to leave soon.”

“Have you given any thought to my idea?” Leaf cuts in before Blue can respond. “Turning this place into a petting zoo would bring in extra help for the pokemon, and more funds to expand.”

Mr. Sakai continues twirling his noodles slowly, eyes down. “It is an interesting idea… perhaps…”

They all wait in hopeful silence, but when it becomes clear that her father won’t continue, Aiko clears her throat. “You would also be less lonely,” she says, voice quiet. “When I go on my journey.”

The twirling stops, then resumes. “Many years yet on that.”

“It might also help now,” Aiko continues, sounding a bit more desperate. “There are a lot of kids out there who would enjoy spending time with pokemon—”

“That’s it!”

They all look at Red as he leaps up, eyes shining with excitement. “What’s it?” Blue asks.

“Uh. Sorry. But, be right back!” Red is already dashing from the room. “I have to make a call!”

Blue frowns at his retreating back, but decides not to let the ball drop. “Aiko and Leaf are right, you could get a lot of people to help out here if you try. Then you won’t need her to stay.”

The conversation continues fruitlessly until Red returns, eyes bright as he sits down. “Mr. Sakai, I have a business proposition for you,” he says, cutting the conversation off.

Aiko’s dad turns to him. “Oh?”

“I was talking with my therapist just now because I had an idea for a new kind of service. See, I lost my dad a few years ago, and it still hurts a lot to think about it,” Red says, tone and face becoming more subdued. “My therapist told me to spend more time with my cuddliest pokemon, and it’s been helping. I was wondering if spending time with the pokemon here helps you when you feel sad about your wife?”

In unison, Blue, Aiko, and Leaf turn to Mr. Sakai, who is staring at his mostly empty plate. A long, silent pause goes by… and then a nod.

“So I was thinking,” Red continues as everyone turns back to him, “Why doesn’t there exist a place where kids or adults who have lost someone they love can spend time with safe, tame pokemon, and take care of them, and maybe feel better? My therapist said she never heard of a place like that, because most pokemon daycares and ranches are focused on efficiency and training and breeding, but since you’re already running a ranch that lets the pokemon stay out and just enjoy their time outside their balls, you could be the first ever pokemon therapy ranch, and my therapist said she knows of at least two colleagues in Cerulean and Saffron who would love to work with you and help anyone who comes engage in play therapy.”

Red finishes all in one breath, then takes a deep one, watching Mr. Sakai with a gaze that almost seems to bore into him. Blue wonders if his friend is using his powers to get a sense of the man’s mood, and he briefly wonders if he’s using some kind of mental manipulation. The thought suddenly alarms him: Blue wants Mr. Sakai to say yes, but not through mind control… even if real mind control is a myth, projecting emotions onto someone against their will feels similarly bad. Red wouldn’t do that, Blue thinks, even as he wonders whether his friend would tell them if he’d learned how.

Mr. Sakai is sitting still, chest rising and falling with his breaths. After an endless silence, he slowly turns his head. “Do you think this would be good, Aiko?”

“I do,” his daughter says, voice firm. “For both the pokemon and people that come. Being with the pokemon helped me a lot too, after…”

“And it can bring more money in,” Leaf says. “So you can hire more help, or expand the farm.”

Again, a long silence. Blue resists the urge to jump in too and say something about Aiko, worried it would return her dad to his rote responses.

Finally, a nod. “Yes. It seems good. I think… yes. We will try it. Thank you, Red.”

Red grins. “No problem! I’ll tell her so her colleagues can call you to talk logistics, and-”

“Aiko, you will be a great help organizing this.”

Everyone freezes and looks at Aiko, whose hopeful smile seems frozen on her face, a touch away from shattering. “Dad… I think you can handle it. I can help, but I was thinking of leaving with them for my journey, remember?”

“Yes, this will be good,” her father muses as he gets up from the table and carries his empty plate to the kitchen. “Together we can do it quickly, perhaps start by Fall…”

Aiko’s smile comes apart as she stares after him, and Blue feels the anger stirring and prowling in his chest again as he watches her hope fade. Leaf puts a hand on her shoulder, and Red looks stricken. “I’m sorry, Aiko, I thought—”

“No,” she says, voice harsh. “It’s okay, Red. It was a good idea.” She stands, plate in hand. “He made it clear that he needs me here. That’s just all there is to it.”

She leaves before they can say anything, and the table is silent in her absence as Blue meets Red and Leaf’s gaze, reading the frustration and despair in them and knowing they can see his own too.

The rest of the afternoon is more subdued. Blue tries to cheer Aiko up or talk to her dad again, but nothing seems to work. The steady rain continues, both mirroring the household’s mood and giving them hope: they won’t leave until it stops, and so there’s still time for a miracle.

As the miracle continues to elude them, however, Blue starts to spend less time trying to convince Aiko’s dad to let her go and more time getting her to just make the decision on her own. This meets with similarly little success, as Aiko asserts that she wouldn’t be able to live with herself for leaving without his permission or blessing.

A few hours before nightfall, the rain finally lightens to a drizzle. They agree to stay for dinner and spend the night anyway, though Aiko insists that they shouldn’t do it just for her.

“You guys did your best,” she says as they finish cleaning the bottom floor. “I’ll be okay. It was great meeting all of you, and maybe we’ll group up again in a couple years?”

“Of course!” Leaf hugs her. “Hopefully the therapy ranch idea works out and you can join us sooner.”

“Hey, there’s still time.” Blue wonders if the package will arrive soon now that the weather is better, or if he should just tell her it’s coming… but it doesn’t sound like it would matter to her, at this point.

“I appreciate the optimism, but I’ve already started unpacking my bag,” Aiko says with a sigh. “I think at this point if it’s this hard to get him to say yes… maybe I should stay after all.”

Blue feels anger at Aiko, for once, though he manages to hold it in. “I don’t understand her,” he complains to Leaf later, as the two of them set the table for dinner. “It’s sad that her dad is like this, but it’s not like he’s going to die if she leaves.”

“We don’t actually know that,” Leaf says, voice quiet. “He might be hanging on by a thread. The situation is different from mine with my mom. It sucks, but it’s no one’s fault.”

Blue is still trying to find an answer to that when there’s a long, cheerful warble from outside. Blue grins and heads for the stairs, followed by a curious Leaf. Red is taking a shower, but Aiko comes out of her room at the sound.

“Was that a delivery song? I don’t think we’re expecting a package.”

“Well you got one anyway,” Blue says as he starts down. The other two follow him to the front door, and he steps aside to let Aiko through, wondering if Gramps addressed it to him or her.

The courier is perched on her swanna, dressed in the colorful uniform of her shipping company. “Aiko Sakai?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

The courier unstraps herself and slides off, then steps onto the porch and unclips a container ball. She releases its box and digs inside for a package, then hands it to Aiko, along with a sign pad.

“Thanks,” Aiko says, still looking confused as she signs it and examines the package. Her eyes go wide as she sees the return address, while the courier heads back to their pokemon and takes off into the grey sky, rain exploding outward and wetting the three of them as its wings flap to lift it.

“It’s from Professor Oak,” Aiko says after retreating to the dry porch. “I think it’s for you?”

Blue snorts, still wiping rain off his face. “If it were for me it would be addressed to me. Go on, open it!”

They watch in silence as Aiko unwraps the package. Her hands begin to shake when a familiar box is revealed beneath, the sleek, bold logo of Pallet Labs on top.

Blue grins as Aiko finally stares unbelieving down at the pokedex in her hands. It’s not the latest model that Red and he are field testing, but it’s the most recent one available on the market.

“I guess it’s official,” Blue says. “You’re one of us.”

“Congratulations, Aiko,” Leaf says, and gives the girl a sideways hug.

Her face is shocked as it turns up to them, then begins to twitch and crumple. Blue stares at her in alarm, but before he can speak she falls to her knees, box clutched to her chest as choked sobs shake her form.


Leaf is back in Aiko’s room, watching her new friend move with purpose back and forth as she packs her travel bag. Occasionally she’s asked to hand something to her, and Leaf does so without comment, watching the girl with some concern.

After her crying stopped, Aiko stood back up and wiped her face, then strode inside with a determined set to her facial features, dropping her pokedex off in her room and returning to the dinner table without expression. She insisted she was fine, and when Red arrived with his hair still wet, asked them not to bring up her leaving anymore to her dad.

Dinner was quiet and tense: Mr. Sakai ate with his usual dreamy distance, Aiko with mechanical precision, and the others with sparse, empty remarks as they looked at Aiko and each other with concern. As soon as she finished eating, she excused herself from the table and went to her room. Leaf finished up as soon as she could afterward and went to join her.

Now she feels awkward about breaking the silence as she parses what seems to have happened: Aiko decided to go with them. She does not appear to be happy about the decision.

When Aiko opens her new pokedex and reverently takes it out of its box, Leaf goes to sit beside her.

“Want to talk about it?”

Aiko glances at her, then shakes her head and begins to follow the instructions to transfer her user ID from her mom’s old pokedex. “I’m afraid if I do I’ll change my mind.”

“Okay. Is there anything I can do to help, then?”

“You guys have helped enough. More than enough. The rest is on me. In the morning I’m going to try and get all the pokemon out and cared for early, then let my dad know after breakfast so we can leave then.” She lines up the lens of both pokedexes and sits back, head against the wall. They sit in silence for a few minutes. It feels awkward at first, then companionable. Leaf relaxes and lets her mind wander until Aiko whispers, “I don’t know how he’s going to react.”

“You mean you’re afraid he won’t react at all.”

Aiko closes her eyes, and nods.

“I think it takes a lot of courage, what you’re doing,” Leaf says slowly. “Not the kind that puts you in danger, maybe, but the kind that means risking things important to you to pursue what you want. I know it feels selfish. It is a little, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Making a stand like this, for what you believe in, it’s how we grow. Or how I did, anyway. I’m patting myself on the back a little here, but it’s what I believe.”

“And if things do go wrong?”

Leaf doesn’t respond right away, thinking it through. Anything optimistic is going to sound fake and meaningless. And she knows Aiko isn’t looking for that: in the end what really matters is that she feels supported.

“Whatever happens, we’ll be with you,” she says at last. “We’re a team now. We look after each other.”

“I can look after myself,” Aiko murmurs, eyes still closed. “Been doing it for years… It’s my dad I’m worried about.”

“Friends care about what their friends worry about too.”

At that, Aiko smiles. “Yeah, I’m starting to get that. It’s been nice, having friends.”

They stay that way until the pokedex data finishes transferring, then Leaf says goodnight. She goes to tell the boys about Aiko’s decision as they prepare for bed. Blue grumbles about people being dramatic, but he seems as worried as she is.

“Should we plan ahead?” Red asks. “Be ready to jump in if something goes wrong?”

“No,” Leaf says. “I think the best we can do is respect her decisions and support them. Let’s just get some sleep and be ready for the road.”

Which is easier said than done, as it takes her an hour of tossing and turning to get to sleep. She finally drifts off without realizing it, and snaps awake with soft morning sunlight pouring through the window.

A quick shower and breakfast later, Leaf joins Blue and Red outside in the dew-covered grass to help Aiko release various pokemon who are on their “morning feed” cycle. Leaf expects her to protest the help, but she seems too tense to do anything but nod greeting and give instructions.

By the time her dad is awake, breakfast is ready and all the chores are done. He seems vaguely surprised when told, but sits down for another tense, quiet meal as Leaf and the others make small talk.

Aiko sits quietly the whole time, eyes on her plate even after it’s empty. Soon only her father is eating, and as soon as he finishes she begins to clear the table with the others’ help. Mr. Sakai is about to get up when Aiko puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Could you stay here a minute, dad? I want to tell you something.”

He blinks at her, but sits back down and watches in bemusement as the trio finishes clearing the table while Aiko goes to her room. Soon everyone is standing around, tense and nervous. Despite his general detachment, Leaf can see some of it in Aiko’s father too. He keeps looking at them, then Aiko’s door.

When she finally emerges from her room, she’s dressed in full travel gear, backpack strapped on and belt on her waist. Her dad’s reaction is immediate, and heartbreaking:

“No, Aiko. Please.”

The words are soft, but Aiko reacts to them like thrown stones. She walks over to the table and kneels down so she’s eye level with him. “I’m going, Dad.”

He shakes his head, eyes wide, but she doesn’t blink. “I’ll be back every night with the abra, so you know I’m okay. I can help take care of the pokemon and even bring groceries, same as usual. But I’m going.”

“Soon,” he says, gaze going distant. “Not yet, Aiko, not yet, the pokemon need you…”

“I told you, I’ll be back to help them. To help you. How many trainers and their parents are so lucky? If they move on without me, we won’t even have that.”

Aiko’s dad seems lost in thought, and Leaf despairs that he’ll ever be able to hear this conversation, accept it. “Just another few years… soon, you’ll be ready soon…” He moves as if to stand, but Aiko doesn’t budge, and he stops rather than collide with her. “I need to feed the pokemon.”

“We fed them,” she says, gaze steady. “How many years is ‘soon,’ Dad? Tell me a number and I’ll stay. You’ve never outright lied to me, as far as I know.”

“Aiko-”

“Tell me when I’ll have your blessing to go, and I’ll wait. If you don’t, if you go without giving me an answer, I’m leaving with them. So choose.” Aiko backs off a little, giving him room to stand.

Mr. Sakai seems carved from marble. Leaf expects another vague refrain, or for him to just say something extreme like 10 years, but after a minute passes with them all waiting in silence, she feels her pulse kick up a little. Leaf glances at Aiko, who appears worried at the way he seems to have shut down, but under the worry, there’s some hope.

Eventually Aiko nods. “That’s why I have to go now. At this rate, you’ll never be ready for me to leave. And I’ve stayed because traveling alone is too dangerous, but I won’t be alone anymore. Leaf and Blue and Red want me to come. They want me to come so badly,” Aiko says, voice catching briefly. “They believe in me. Professor Oak believes in me. If you don’t, if I let your fear hold me back now, I’ll regret it the rest of my life.”

Mr. Sakai almost appears to shrink into himself as she speaks. His lips move, something too low for Leaf to make out. Aiko’s eyes close, then she kneels in front of her father again and wraps her arms around him.

“I love you, Dad. I’ll see you tonight, and every night after.”


Leaving the ranch is a solemn affair, Red and the others watching Aiko use Blue’s abra to register a teleport location there, then turn her back on her home, moving resolutely forward. The ground around them is still moist from yesterday’s rain, but once they reach the main road their bikes move faster, and they arrive at the underground path within an hour. They can just make out Saffron City in the distance, and there’s an increase in traffic as they turn off the main road and enter the funnel of roads leading to the entrance. Red feels excitement as it comes into sight: he’s never taken a subway before.

A number of stores, a ranger outpost, and a pokemon center are on either side of the road leading up to it, and after ensuring they’re all ready to keep going, they descend. The stairs level off every few minutes for a quick rest and some vendor stalls, and while the tiles and floor are obviously old, it’s all surprisingly clean and well lit, to the point that if Red didn’t know better he’d think he was just in some big mall.

The shuttles themselves depart every few minutes, and soon they’re on their way to the central hub under Saffron. Red watches as Aiko’s subdued mood slowly fades, and when he feels safe doing so leans over to ask how she likes her new pokedex. Soon she’s happily exploring its features as he answers any questions she has, while Blue and Leaf discuss the differences between the underground rails in Kanto and Unova. Blue mentions that they’re still a relatively new thing here, and points out a few notices among the advertisements along the walls indicating plans to extend the tunnel farther north and south to connect it to Cerulean and Vermillion.

The central hub is a mini-mall itself, and Aiko spots a stall selling bike accessories and heads over to check the prices of the things they bought in Cerulean out of “morbid curiosity.” Things seem mostly the same price if not a little more expensive, and Leaf buys a basket to hang on the front for Bulbasaur. Red and Aiko decide to buy one too, but Blue doesn’t seem interested until Red points out the added reaction time if they’re attacked while riding.

They stop for lunch and take another tram south until the end of the line, then disembark and take the stairs to emerge into the bright noon sun. The road stretches ahead with fields and forests to either side. They’ve passed Saffron City and its suburbs completely, and as they mount up and continue biking south, they soon feel the downward slope of the land as Vermilion City becomes visible in the distance, with the ocean beyond it.

It feels strange to see another city so quickly. The bikes and subway more than made up for the increased distance they had to travel between Cerulean and Vermillion compared to their other trips, but what really made Cerulean feel fresh in his mind was the lack of anything really intense happening along the way. Other than keeping an eye on Pichu for signs he isn’t okay with his new travel arrangements, Red is able to relax and reflect on how nice it is to travel between cities without risking his life for once.

They’re a few hours out of the tunnel when Red gets an email to notify him that the abra deal has been finalized. That night they celebrate their new fortunes together with leftover cake. Aiko participates heartily, still aglow over her new pokedex and sense of freedom, then uses Blue’s abra to teleport back home after saying goodnight to everyone.

She returns the next morning a few hours after they’ve had breakfast, subdued again. The others don’t pry, and her mood seems to lift faster as they start traveling again, bikes swallowing the distance between them and the city. They take another quick break when they reach Vermilion’s northern suburbs, and Leaf notifies the various news outlets to update them about their estimated arrival time. Once they start moving again, Red leads the way into the city proper. He’s getting more and more nervous as he imagines what’s waiting for him, and tunes out the conversation of the others as he rehearses what he’s going to say again and again.

Soon the Trainer House appears, and Red checks the time. They’re a little early, but the three different news station crews are already gathered outside it, along with a handful of trainers and passerby who are waiting curiously to see who the crews are waiting for.

Leaf must have noticed his quiet nerves, because she smiles at him as they slow to a stop and return the bikes to their containers. “You’ll be fine,” she says. “Treat it like a teaching session. You’re just telling people something they don’t know.”

“And if you start to get nervous, remember that you can just stick to the basics,” Blue says. “A quick statement, two or three questions, and it’ll be done in no time.”

“You guys should prepare to take over if he gets flustered,” Aiko says. “Not that I’m saying you will, but—”

“Premortem mentality, right.” Red smiles. “Care to do the honors, Leaf?”

“Sure! Just cross your fingers behind your back or something.”

One of the cameramen has been watching them as they get closer, and begins preparing his equipment. The others react to his sudden excitement and look around until they spot the four, so that by the time Red reaches the front door of the Trainer House, everyone is holding their mics out and shouting questions.

“Mr. Oak, a sale of 99 abra was made this morning, how did you—”

“—at such a low price, when such—”

“Who helped you acquire so many—”

Before Red can do more than raise his hands in a half-hearted attempt to slow them down, Leaf steps forward. “Quiet please, everyone! Red Verres has prepared a statement, and we’ll take questions afterward.”

They immediately go silent, expectantly staring at him with six eyes and three camera lenses, not to mention all the onlookers nearby. Red swallows and settles his mind into a pattern of calm, simple data reporting.

“Hello. My name is Red Verres, and these are my traveling companions, Leaf Juniper, Blue Oak, and our new friend, Aiko Sakai. While we were in Cerulean City, I made a plan to capture large quantities of abra to use for my research on measuring physical attributes that enable psychic phenomena…”

Red goes over the strategy he formulated, how they executed it, and how they decided, as a group, to provide them at an immense discount to various institutions in Kanto. Red avoids mentioning Bill, as the inventor didn’t want the notoriety, and he highlights both how invaluable Leaf’s well trained wigglytuff was and how Blue managed to catch, and therefore donate, the most.

“After keeping a few for ourselves the rest have been sold to pokemon centers, gyms, and ranger outposts around the region,” Red says. He realizes he’s speaking too fast, and as a drop of sweat slides down his neck he takes a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart as he loses the clear pattern of what to say next. “Even though we’ve only been on our journey for th-for a few months, we’ve seen the invaluable help these institutions have been to everyone, to ourselves and others. As Blue said, ‘When Kanto’s institutions are stronger, Kanto’s people are safer.’ We hope that this will allow rangers, gym members, and pokemon center staff to he-to be able to more swiftly respond to incidents around the region, so they can continue to help those in need.”

Red lets out the rest of his breath. He feels like he was nearly incoherent, though no one looks particularly upset with him, which is probably a good sign. Still, it’s a struggle to keep his gaze up and keep it moving between the different reporters and cameras. “That’s it,” he says after a moment of silence. “Thank you.”

The reporters immediately begin asking questions, and Leaf once again steps forward and tells them to calm down. Red steps back, and startles as Blue’s hand falls on his shoulder. “Good job,” he mutters. “And thanks for the quote, you made it sound good.” Red flashes him a grateful smile.

“Mr. Oak! How much help were you in forming or executing this plan?”

Blue turns as he’s addressed, hand still on Red’s shoulder. “I didn’t do anything, really. It was all Red’s idea, and Leaf’s coordination with her wigglytuff. I just ran around and caught as many abra as I could, which turned out to be a lot.” He grins, and the audience chuckles. Red wonders why Blue doesn’t like talking to reporters: his voice is casual and confident at the same time, his charm on full display.

Leaf points to another reporter, who smiles at her. “Miss Juniper, was this wigglytuff the same one you used to help apprehend the Renegade on Mt. Moon?”

“Yes, her name is Joy. She’s a fantastic partner, and gave us her all so we could catch as many abra as possible.”

More questions are thrown at them regarding planning, such as safety precautions taken, and captures, which allows Leaf to talk about her method of keeping abra from teleporting away. At one point Aiko is asked whether she participated, but once she tells them she didn’t join the trio until after they left Cerulean, the reporters ignore her. At one point Red is asked what he’s working on now, which allows him to talk about his research.

“Thanks to the volume of samples I was able to scan and test, I believe my recent research is weak evidence of some physical component of psychic power,” Red says, going over his carefully rehearsed lines. “I’m currently seeking publication of my research as I consider new research avenues to explore.”

“Is this related to your involvement in the ‘Flying particle’ that was recently discovered?” a reporter asks.

“I wasn’t really involved in that,” Red says, taken by surprise. “I just expressed some confusion about the way Types are determined, and I guess that kicked off some research, which I’m happy about. But the same scanning technology that Pallet Labs developed is being used, so they might be related in that sense.”

“What advice would you give to other young trainers who plan on becoming researchers?”

Red’s brain locks up. “Uh.” Shit. What can he say to others? Get lucky with who you apprentice under? Not helpful. Question everything? Cliché. Everyone’s staring at him, expecting some pearl of wisdom, but he has no idea what to say—

“Now you’ve done it,” Blue says, and everyone’s attention shifts to him. “Red’s always full of advice about everything, he’s probably sorting what order he wants to say the first ten things in and we’ll be here all day.”

Red laughs along with everyone else, relaxing as he reminds himself to thank Blue later. If there’s one thing Red shouldn’t have trouble with, it’s talking about whatever he finds interesting and helpful, solicited or otherwise.

“I’ll try to stick to one,” Red says. “Notice your confusion, let it guide your search for answers. If something doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because either your model of the world is wrong, or the thing that confuses you is wrong, in some way. That’s what led to my questions at Pallet Labs, and a lot of what I’ve learned since I started my journey. I hope it helps others too.”

The questions start to branch out into the choice to disclose the methodology and commit to a wholesale, which Red is happy to let the others handle, until:

“Mr. Verres, what influenced your decision to offer the abra to the Rangers?”

Red looks up, taken by surprise at the question. “It seemed to be the right thing to do. Abra are a great resource for any organization—”

“But surely you could have sold them at market price, and furthered your research?” The reporter insists.

“I… yes, that’s true. But even at half price we’ve made a good sum.” Red feels uncomfortable with how that came out, and rushes to add, “I wanted to ensure that others benefited from my discovery.”

Leaf steps forward and points to another reporter, and Red relaxes until they look right back at him. “Mr. Verres, your father was a ranger, correct? Ranger Tomio Verres?”

An unexpected lash of pain goes through Red, who stares at the reporter for a moment, realizing too late that this is what the other reporter was hoping he would bring up himself. “Yes. He was.”

“How much did that influence your decision to sell to them?”

Everyone’s watching him as he feels the pain and emptiness grow, far stronger and faster than it usually does these days without him using his powers. Alarm bells start ringing as he remembers Psychic Narud’s warning that weakening his partition could make him more susceptible to the emotions locked behind it overall; Red thought that just meant the general depression that he fell under over the past few weeks. Instead it’s starting to feel like he’s going to have a full meltdown on camera.

Red notices Leaf glancing down at his hands, and his fingers twitch, about to signal her to take over… but what would she even say?

He breathes deep and holds it, about to use shining-mirror-in-a-dim-house to cut off all emotions, then stops himself at the last moment. He can do this.

“A lot,” he says, voice quiet. The microphones are extended further, and he swallows and clears his throat. “A lot. My father was the bravest man… I ever knew, growing up. But I’ve had the privilege of meeting… a number of other Rangers since then, and they showed me that it’s,” he pauses to take another breath, “an organization full of brave men and women, and I hope that I can—”

His voice catches. Pressure is forming behind his eyes, the sun is too hot and everyone’s staring at him as he falls apart, as he—

Blue puts his hand back on Red’s shoulder. Red breathes deep again, and doesn’t brush the tear away as it trails down his cheek. “I hope… to do his memory proud. By helping other rangers… support each other… and get home safe.”

There’s a moment of silence, the reporters all staring, the audience quiet. The only sound is the occasional car along the road. Red feels himself regain control, little by little, but he still feels shaky, and when Leaf takes the opportunity to step forward and thank them for their questions, Red doesn’t resist as Blue guides him inside the Trainer House by the shoulder. He hears scattered applause start up by those watching as he passes by them. When it catches on and fills the air, he wipes at his face and lifts his head a bit higher, letting the sound in, letting it fill another small portion of the hole inside him, at least for now.

Chapter 46: Interlude VII – Connections

Laura’s return trip to Celadon is quick and pleasant. After saying goodnight to Daisy and watching her fly away from the rooftop of her building, Laura takes a moment to look out over the city’s night life. It’s only been a couple months since she moved to Celadon, but she already feels right at home again. She knows she’ll eventually miss the peace and neighborly atmosphere of Pallet Town, but for now it’s nice to be back where every day something new and exciting happens, for those with the interest to hunt it down and interview it.

It isn’t until she makes her way down toward her apartment that her mind drifts back to her conversation with Red, and a chord of guilt, anger, and sadness twists through her.

I was unfair to him.

He shouldn’t have lied to me.

I should have raised him better.

Tom would have known what to say…

Her mood continues to darken until she reaches her front door and finds a sheet of paper folded and taped to it. Grateful for the distraction, she removes it and reads:

Don’t scream.

Laura stares, ice water trickling down her spine, then spins around, expecting a masked man with dark gloves to reach for her—

Nothing. She frantically looks around the hallway, heart hammering, then reads the note again.

Some prank or joke? Maybe a viral marketing campaign. She checks the other doors for notes taped to them, but sees nothing. They might have already removed theirs…

Laura weighs how silly she would feel calling the police for nothing against her vested interest in her personal safety, and compromises with knocking on a neighbor’s door.

“Hi! Sorry to bother you, but I got this note on my door,” Laura says, flashing it at the curious man. “You wouldn’t have happened to get one too, would you?”

His look of bafflement is answer enough, even before he says no. “Want me to check out your apartment with you?” he asks.

“Oh, no, I’m sure it’s nothing.” And she doesn’t want to get him killed if it is. “But would you mind calling the police if I don’t come back and knock again in like, two minutes?”

He smiles uncertainly. “You got it.”

“Thanks so much.” She goes to her door and, in full view of the man still standing at his doorway, unlocks it and slooowly pushes it open.

Nothing jumps out at her. She turns the light on, then pokes her head inside and looks around. Everything seems fine. She exchanges a nervous smile with the man, then goes in and does a thorough search of the apartment.

Everything seems in its proper place. Her heart rate is just about back to normal when she thinks to check under the bed and through the glass door to the balcony, but those are fine too.

She goes back into the hall to flash her neighbor a thumbs-up. He returns it and closes his door, and she lets out her breath as she does the same. Exciting as that was, she hopes it doesn’t keep her up: she finds flying exhausting, even as a passenger. She removes her shoes and gets a glass of water in the kitchen just in time to see the balcony door open and a figure dressed all in black walk into the living room.

Laura is too surprised to squeak, let alone scream. Her grip on the glass loosens enough to drop it, and the figure darts forward two steps and crouches, arm extended to catch it.

“Who… how…”

“Thank you for not screaming,” a heavily synthesized voice says, and Laura registers the mask covering the invader’s face. There’s a portion for their mouth and nose that seems like a high tech gas mask, while dark cloth with some slits covers the rest of their face and a hood covers their hair. “I apologize for startling you.”

Laura steps back, hand pressing against the wall as her galloping heart finally stops choking the breath out of her. She sucks in a deep one, and asks the first thing that comes to mind:

“How did you get inside? I… I checked the balcony.”

“I saw you coming and hung from the one above you.” The figure puts the glass down on her table, then sits on the couch. “Please join me. We have much to talk about.”

Laura stares. Then, slowly, she crosses her arms and glares at the intruder. “What are you, joking? You leave a cryptic note on the door, come in here uninvited, with your creepy mask and voice, and just expect me to sit down and talk? You’re lucky I didn’t just call the police.”

“I would have left if you had.”

“I should just call them now!”

“I would rather you didn’t. As I said, we have much—”

“—to talk about, yeah.” Laura stares at the figure through narrowed eyes. “This isn’t my first cloak and dagger meeting, you know, I just expect more sense. ‘Don’t scream?’ That’s the best you could come up with?”

The figure on the couch stiffens slightly, and Laura isn’t sure if they’re embarrassed or indignant. “I am not used to giving warnings before approaching someone. I wanted to avoid alarming you.”

Laura rolls her eyes. “I do have an email address, you know.”

The figure is silent a moment, and when it speaks again, Laura can detect a trace of wryness or amusement even through the heavy filter. “I snuck into your balcony while wearing a mask and disguising my voice, and you think I would have sent you an email alerting you of the meeting ahead of time?”

Point. “Well, let’s start with the reason for your paranoia, then.” Laura goes to the kitchen and begins making some tea, in part because this promises to be a longer night than she expected, but primarily just to have something to keep her busy and calm her nerves. She reminds herself that if the intruder is here to hurt her they easily could have without warning. Besides, if any part of their paranoia is justified, whatever they’re here for must be something big. “You’re here to talk about a story, I’m guessing. First off, why me? I’m not involved in anything hot enough for this spy movie crap.” Unless I’m waaay off about the Kajima scandal’s significance…

“No, it is not related to anything you are currently investigating, but those investigations and articles, combined with how long you’ve been out of the business, made it easy to ensure you’re not ethically compromised. That combined with the quality of your work makes me believe you would do the right thing with this investigation.”

Laura leans back against the counter as she examines the figure on the couch. Their body gives the impression of being lean beneath the bulky dark cloth, and before sitting they stood almost as tall as Laura, who’s 5’7″. Something about the shape of the shoulders and hips made her think “female,” but beyond that, age and ethnicity are totally concealed. She tries to think of anyone she knows that matches the figure’s stature and body type. “Have we met before?”

“No.”

As if she’d answer anything else with such heavy attempts at disguise. “Then sorry, but I call bullshit. You didn’t just pick me out because I’m some shining beacon of journalistic integrity. There are at least five others I could name who have shown their independence at least as much as I have, and are more experienced to boot. What are you really after?”

The figure is silent for a moment, and eventually says, “You’re correct, there is another thing. You have a relationship with one of the most powerful figures in Kanto. I suspect you may need the support and resources that affords you, if you pursue this investigation.”

Laura’s eyes narrow. Taking some personal risks is part of the job, but she doesn’t want to bring any trouble onto Sam. She takes the time to finish making the tea before answering, thoughts racing.

Eventually she sits across from the figure and places two cups of tea on the table. She doesn’t expect the other person to drink it, but it seems the polite thing to do, even if she’s worried about poison or whatever. “So let’s get something straight. If you’re just using me to get help from Professor Oak, it’s not going to be that simple. I’ll tell him whatever I deem fit, and ask of him only what I think is safe for him. Got it? You want me as a journalist, you’ve got me, assuming whatever you have is real. But if you want me as a friend of the professor, you’re better off trying with someone else.”

“It’s you I want, Mrs. Verres.”

“Okay. So what’s so important that you couldn’t risk an email with some basic information for me to dig into on my own?”

The figure reaches into a pocket and pulls out a flash drive, placing it on the table. “This has information on the Silph Company’s communications and dealings, from a number of highly placed members. After reading your investigative work and articles on corporate corruption and influence, I believe you will be motivated to reveal their true criminal acts.”

Laura stares at the flash drive, stomach churning with sudden excitement, and then dread. Her fingers itch to pick it up, and she tightens them around her mug. “Where did you get this?”

The figure is silent a moment. “That’s not relevant.”

“It is to me. Are you a whistleblower? Someone in the power structure? If not, if any of this was obtained illegally…” She thinks of the conversation she had with Red just a few hours ago, about moral compromises.

“I’m not asking you to publish this information,” the figure says. “I’m asking you to use it to look in the right places. Or as leverage, if you need to.”

“Why? What do you get out of this?”

“I want to stop their abuses of power. But recent events have convinced me that I may not be able to do it on my own. I need your help.”

“That doesn’t really answer my question. You could be from a competing company, or an ex-employee with a chip on your shoulder. I need to know who I’m working with, why I should trust anything on there as legitimate.”

“I won’t reveal my identity. Not yet. But I have confidence you can verify enough of the information to decide for yourself what to trust. I have more information of my own, but it is not verifiable. It’s up to you to reveal them to the world. The password on it is ‘purple Laura six Silph left.’ Capital L and S, six is spelled out. Try to memorize it rather than write it down.”

Laura imagines six of herself dressed in purple standing on the roof of Silph’s megamart with their left hand raised. “Done.”

“Good.”

The figure stands, and Laura holds up a hand. “Hold on. If we’re going to do this, I need a way to contact you. You breaking into my apartment as you please won’t work for me.” She’s pretty sure the intruder means her no harm, but even still, wondering if a masked figure is waiting for her every night she comes home would be hell on her peace of mind.

“Then I’ll find you somewhere else. I have business outside the city, and won’t return for another week at least. We can speak more then.”

Laura frowns, ready to say that isn’t good enough, but the figure is already headed out the way they came in. “Hey! Use the front door!” She doesn’t really expect to be listened to, and sure enough they ignore her and disappear over the side of the balcony. Laura stares after them for a moment, wondering… then turns back to the flash drive sitting patiently on her table.

It could be a trap of some kind. Have a virus on it, ready to install a keylogger or something. She’d have to get it thoroughly checked out first…

Her fingers twitch, and she abruptly stands and goes to the balcony to lock it, then goes to the kitchen and puts the tea cups in the fridge.

Tomorrow. She’ll deal with all this tomorrow.

With one last glance at the flash drive on the table, she flees for her bedroom. Even without drinking any of the tea, it takes almost an hour of tossing and turning for sleep to claim her.


The next day she walks through Celadon with what feels like a hot coal in her pocket. She woke without a shred of sleepiness, getting up and out of bed in seconds so she could get to work. Forty minutes later she reaches the apartment of one of her most trusted associates, and one of the few that’s both in Celadon and available to meet on such short notice.

She knocks on his door, then waves to the camera set above it. Dominick opens the door a minute later.

“Morning, Dom.”

“Morning,” he grunts, closing the door behind her. His apartment’s living room and attached kitchen is full of container boxes, most sealed but some open to reveal their various contents, everything from clothing to kitchenware. “Coffee?”

“Had tea, thanks.”

He nods, then heads for the hallway in the back of the room. She follows and steps around the clutter as best she can. Dominick Bailey was a Celadon police officer years ago, part of the city’s cyber crimes division. She met him while they were both working on the same investigation from opposite sides, and agreed to help each other out. Dom retired before she left the city, but still did some freelance work for the department, and other clients who needed computer help of the right kind. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Y’r fine.” The ex-CPO is getting on in years now, hair and beard grey and deep creases around his eyes, but he’s still broad shouldered, and fit enough to lift what looks like a heavy box of electronics with one hand so she can pass through the hall easier. “Sorry f’r the mess.”

“Not so bad this time around,” she teases, which only makes him grunt again. Dom moves around a lot, seemingly on a whim. Most of the time it’s within the city, but even still he does it often enough that at some point he just stopped unpacking all his things beyond removing them from their container balls. The only room that looks more or less habitable is the one his computer desk is in, and she sits on one of the boxes that still has its cover on as he settles into the chair in front of his many monitors. She takes the flash drive out of her pocket and hands it to him.

“Where’d you get it?” he asks as he plugs it into an older looking computer that’s connected to nothing but a separate monitor, mouse and keyboard.

“Masked stranger came in through my window last night and gave it to me,” she says, voice bland.

Dom grunts. “Need a better lock? I’ve got something, could help.”

“No, I think I’ll be okay, thanks.”

“Encrypted,” he says, and hands her the keyboard.

She types the password in, and he takes it back and begins monitoring some programs to ensure the flash drive doesn’t contain anything but basic text files. “Think you’ll need an extra hand on this one?”

Laura considers it. The figure hadn’t explicitly told her not to share the information with anyone, and she’d already said she would tell Professor Oak whatever she deemed fit. “Not sure yet, I’ll have to take a look through it first. But if it’s as big as it was made out to be, probably. At the very least I might hire you on as a filter, if that’s okay.”

Dom grunts assent, eyes on his monitor. Laura hires a number of “filters” to do some of the more tedious research work involved in her job. It took a few weeks for Laura to build up her network again, made up of both people she used to work with and new ones. Most are private detectives that can do preliminary investigations into major crimes and legal conflicts that come up in the city, then email her with summaries so she can look them over. All have worked as cops or journalists in the past, and have an eye for what would make a good or impactful story. The rest are like Dom, proficient in more specialized fields of detective work.

“Some audio files too, but looks clean,” Dom finally says, and goes to remove it.

“Wait. Make a copy.”

“Sure?”

“Yeah. If something happens to me…”

He eyes her. “The masked stranger. Wasn’t a joke?”

She shakes her head, staring at the flash drive. Now that her suspicions of the visitor are a bit alleviated, the reality of the encounter settles in. “I’ll spend most of the night looking through this stuff, see what’s on it. Maybe send you a few things to follow up on, if you can spare a couple hours tomorrow?”

He grunts, then gets up and leaves. Laura has a moment to wonder if she should follow him, then he’s back and hands her a small box that’s heavier than she expects. “What’s this?”

“Iron latch for the balcony door, and stun baton.” She digs for her wallet and he waves her off. “Happy birthday.”

She smiles and decides to add a bonus to his retainer. “Thanks, Dom.”


The rest of the day is spent on various errands related to her ongoing work: a couple quick interviews, a visit to her old news station to finalize some freelance work, and a walk by the Contamination Zone where the grimer attack’s effects are still being cleaned up. She ignores the flash drive in her pocket as best she can through it all, but afterward instead of going grocery shopping as planned she just picks up fast food on the way home, eager to begin her search.

When she does however, it quickly becomes clear that she badly misunderstood the nature of the task ahead. She expected to have to dig through hundreds of benign files to find the good stuff, and there do appear to be hundreds of those on the flash drive… but they’re meticulously named and organized by event, so that all she has to do is click the folder named “Bribery of Public Officials” and be treated to a number of subfolders specifying names and dates and containing all the relevant information, along with links back to the directories that contain the rest of the data they were found in.

After returning to the top level folders and scanning their names, Laura’s breath catches.

Murder.

She double clicks it and finds another dozen files, each with names, dates, or both. She clicks the first one and finds…

Almost nothing. She clicks through faster, skimming a few text files with notes, some emails taken from Silph employees that might hint and allude to involvement in crimes, but don’t confirm anything.

Laura lets her breath out. This is why her informant brought all this to Laura: to fill in these gaps. This is why they said she might need powerful resources and allies in her corner, when all is said and done.

No, finding something to send to Dom isn’t going to be an issue. Deciding what to send him among all the various avenues to explore is. This will almost certainly be more than a two person job… which means she’ll need to secure some funding.

Laura gets up and begins to pace her room, then goes out onto the balcony. She reminds herself to install the lock before she goes to bed, then stares out over the city and considers what her first move should be. Eventually she decides to investigate any breaches in Silph security, assuming they’d let any news of it slip out. Her visitor said that the information came from high up employees, so she should also look into any that were recently let go and might have an axe to grind.

All this assuming of course that the intruder themself isn’t a Silph employee whistle-blowing on illegal activity. Much easier to get into some colleague’s offices and copy their hard drives and emails over the space of a year or two. They may reveal themselves to Laura the next time they meet, but they also might not, and in the meantime…

Laura takes her phone out to make a call, then stops and curses herself for being an idiot, putting it away.

She was distracted when the intruder first came. Thrown off her stride both by the celebration she came from and the sudden fear of the note on the door. But now she has no excuse, and while it’s been years since she was involved in a story that might be this big, she has to get over being rusty fast.

She turns around and looks at her apartment, which was so easily invaded despite being so high up. Even if she takes the intruder on faith, there’s no reason to think someone else couldn’t do the same thing.

Her phone was with her that night, so she knows it’s safe, but everything else…

She leaves her apartment and walks around the block as she makes a series of calls, the first of which is to schedule a full sweep of her apartment for surveillance equipment and the second to install extra locks on her balcony and front door. She’d return Dom’s, but happily borrow his stun baton.

Next would come checking with her various contacts for anyone interested in looking into the various claims on the flash drive so she can get independent confirmation of some. Speaking of which, she should tell her various filters to stand by for a new task.

Laura looks over each of the new stories they’ve sent her, occasionally flagging some to read later, then lets them know that she won’t need any more for the immediate future and would have other work for them instead.

As for where she’d get the money for hiring everyone…

She calls her old boss at the Celadon Broadcasting Network, who answers after a couple rings. “Hey Peter, got a minute? Or are you already tucked in for the night?”

“It’s almost ten, so naturally I’m still at the office. As you should well know.”

“I didn’t want to assume. What if you achieved a healthy work-life balance while I was gone?”

He snorts. “If you spot one of those let me know, we can run it in the new pokemon discovery section. What’s up, Laura?”

“I have a story.”

“You have a story? Not you think you have a story, or you have the beginnings of a story?”

“I’ve got multiple stories, actually. Big ones.”

There’s silence on the other end of the line, and when Peter speaks again he sounds worried. “What’s happened? There’s nothing on the other networks. Is this about the Flying Type discovery?”

“The what?”

“Jeez Laura, where you been? It was all over the news today.”

“Didn’t see it, was too busy working on this.”

“Well, it must be good then. Whatcha got?”

“I can’t talk details yet. I just need an open retainer and a safe port.”

“An open retainer? If you have multiple stories already…”

“Some are going to be ready to go sooner than others, but I’m going to need a lot of manpower in verifying how deep the real story is.”

“Shit. Aaah, shit.” Despite his words, she can finally hear the thread of excitement in Peter’s voice as it hits home. “Is it a whistleblower? A collaborative work? Private or government?”

“I really can’t say yet. Is that a yes?”

There’s another pause. “I’m interested, sure. And I understand the need for secrecy… but Laura, I don’t know if I can get you an open retainer without more. We have history, but you’re still freelance. I’d have to run it by the others, and Leo is probably going to want at least one article by the end of the week.”

Laura frowns. “This is delicate, Peter. Putting something up that soon could compromise the real story.”

“I understand, but anything more than that will take some extra promises from you on article count. Maybe there’s another solution. You come in on it, limited contract, and I can offer you some interns to do the grunt work.”

“No, I need my people on this.” Laura paces back and forth in front of a bakery, the smells tempting her to go inside and grab a pastry. She forces herself to keep walking and escape the distraction as she tries to think of a realistic time frame for something substantive. “What about two weeks? Do you think you can swing that?”

“With a cap, sure. Maybe I can swing for dropping it if you come back in officially?”

Laura curses under her breath. She enjoyed her time there well enough, when she was still starting her career, but all the oversight and rules and meetings… she’s not ready to give up her independence just yet. Maybe she can make it work with two weeks if she dips into her savings a bit… though she’d really rather not have to do that.

Then you’re still not taking this seriously,” Red said, eyes unflinching in the lamp light.

Laura rubs her forehead. “Two weeks with a cap,” she agrees. “But something high, Peter, I’m using professionals.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Let you know tomorrow.”

She thanks him and says goodnight, then continues walking around the city to let the nightlife wash over her as she plans her next steps out. Eventually she stops to grab some food, and skims the news for a mention of the news Peter mentioned.

It’s not hard to find, topping most of the web and news aggregators. Her brow rises in particular at the name of the person credited beneath the headline: Dr. Madi, one of Red’s supervisors when he worked at the lab.

She clicks the article, then plays the video of the press release as she eats. Pallet Town’s one news station has three different rooms they like to use for filming interviews: this one is their smallest and coziest, with warm dark colors that compliment Dr. Madi’s friendly, open face.

Interviewing him is one of Laura’s old neighbors and friends, Miho. “We’re here with Dr. Madi of Pallet Labs, whose team has discovered a new particle they call the ‘key’ to understanding pokemon flight. So, what does this mean in layman’s terms, Dr. Madi? Is the dream of human flight about to be realized?”

Dr. Madi adjusts his rimless glasses and smiles. “I’ll leave that to the engineers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this leads to wingsuits that can generate and maintain lift, for a time at least. What we discovered is basically a type of… particle isn’t the right word for it, but it’s close enough, a type of particle that creates a minor burst of force when it collides with others in a vacuous enough space. The result of this in our relatively open, gaseous atmosphere is that it creates a cascading wave of pressure, which pushes the air around it outward up to a particular distance, creating lift and causing winds of high speeds.”

Laura is already messaging Red to ask if he’s seen this as the reporter nods along, then asks, “And this is the particle that all flying pokemon put out when they flap their wings?”

“Well, that’s the interesting part,” Dr. Madi says, becoming more animated. “Not all pokemon that fly seem to emit this particle, and of those that do, not all do so in the same way. In fact, this whole line of investigation was sparked when one of our interns, a young researcher currently on his pokemon journey named Red Verres, began questioning the very nature of what it means to be a ‘Flying’ pokemon.” Laura grins wide, typing faster as a swell of pride goes through her. “Recent advances in pokedex scanning technology have allowed us to better isolate the root of that mystery. Mechanically it always seemed obvious that a pokemon’s ability to fly justified the label, but the actual physics of it were mysterious, since wingspan, shape, and muscle mass appeared to have little correlation with how much wind force the pokemon could put out. It’s been a constant source of frustration for everyone from scientists to inventors.”

“Can you give some examples?”

“Sure, if you look at humanity’s first attempts at flying machines, you see that it took contraptions with much wider wingspans than almost any pokemon to lift an equivalent weight,” Dr. Madi says, spreading his arms wide out and flapping them. “We created dozens of artificial wing designs, and none were capable of the strong gusts that even a small pidgey can create, let alone the twisters and hurricane force winds of a pidgeot. Humans ultimately learned to fly in different ways, but this particle is the explanation for what we were missing by trying to mimic pokemon.”

“And now that mystery is solved, once and for all.”

“Well, now we at least know we’re started on the right path, at least. There’s still a lot of work to do to fully understand the particle’s properties and effects.”

“You said that not all pokemon that fly emit this particle. Such as?”

“I think flygon and carnivine surprised everyone the most. A lot of people lost money on those bets,” he says with a rueful chuckle.

Miho seems genuinely surprised, shifting Laura’s opinion that this was a rehearsed piece. “Flygon isn’t a Flying Type?”

“If we decide to define the type by the emission of these particles to achieve flight, then no.”

“Then how does it fly?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” He grins. “Now come on, ask me the other side of it.”

Miho grins back. “Alright, since you seem so eager to tell us, what pokemon most surprised you by having it?”

“Do you want to guess?”

“Oh, gosh. Umm, tropius? But no, that makes sense now, doesn’t it? Tell us!”

“Gyarados.”

Miho’s mouth drops open. “No.”

“Oh yes.”

“How? From where?”

“That took a lot of figuring out, I don’t mind telling you. Ultimately some trainers and coordinators far braver than I am discovered that the scales on the gyarados underbellies can emit the particle in bursts, which is how they can launch their massive bodies through the air with such force when breaching water.”

“But… does this mean gyarados aren’t Dragon Types, then?”

Dr. Madi smiles and pushes his glasses up his nose. “I’m afraid that’s outside my area of expertise, so I’ll leave it to the battle trainers to debate. We’re still in the early stages of understanding everything we can about this particle, and the various ways it might react to different substances and energies may shed more light on what it means for the battle scene, not to mention a better understanding of Flying pokemon abilities and weaknesses.”

“Well, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we’re all interested in the results of that. Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Madi.”

“You’re quite welcome, and thanks to my team at Pallet Labs. A lot of people worked very hard on this, and like always with new discoveries, it’s an exciting time for everyone.”

“Alright then, we hope to have you back on soon with more to share!”

Laura’s phone buzzes as she gets a message from Red.

Yeah, I saw it! Was pretty surprised, I had no idea they were working on that. And the namedrop was nice, particularly since it sets up my announcement about the abra and my research on the psychic particle, since both were discovered through Professor Oak’s new dex tech.

Laura smiles. Yes, that does sound like something Sam would orchestrate. Are you all in Saffron yet, or have you passed it?

Actually we’re still north of it. We spent the night at Aiko’s house and it’s been raining like crazy here since this morning, so we decided to spend another night.

Huh. She wouldn’t have expected rain to stop the kids from traveling, especially since they should be so close to the underground tunnel. Maybe they’re enjoying their time with Aiko’s family.

Well take care hon, looking forward to seeing your press release!

Thanks, love you.

Laura smiles, feeling a warmth inside that has nothing to do with the delicious soup. Despite how hurt and angry she still feels at him, Laura wants to apologize for being so hard on Red soon. Not yet though. Some stewing would be good for him. Love you too, she types back.

Laura puts the phone away so she can focus on enjoying her meal, only to have it chime again a minute later. She briefly resists the urge to check it, then takes it out to look at the screen. It’s Dom.

Night cleared up. Want apartment sweep now or morning?

Laura catches the waitress’s attention and asks for her main course to go.


With her apartment declared secure from eavesdropping, Laura wakes early the next morning to talk with her various research aids, then prioritize her workflow. As soon as she gets the official go-ahead from Peter in the afternoon, she starts delegating tasks and sketching out various article frameworks based on the illegal acts contained in the flash drive, trying to pick the ones with the most publicly verifiable evidence and most isolated incidents. The last thing she wants to do is hint at a larger conspiracy that would make Silph lock down and start a cover up.

Unfortunately there’s little of that worth publishing in its own right. Some unethical business practices aren’t going to help Peter get authorizing for the extent of funding she really wants. She needs something meaty to justify that this is more than she can handle on her own.

For now she lets her filters take a pass down individual lines of inquiry and focuses on the broad patterns herself. After a few hours it becomes clear that the majority of the information comes from or concerns Fuchsia city. If her informant works for Silph, they’re probably stationed there. What’s more, the least recent information is from Fuchsia: once Laura starts focusing on the most recent conversations and business details, then cross referencing them to locations, she sees almost every major city in Kanto has had data extracted from it over the past two months.

She orders lunch to her apartment, eating on her balcony to give her eyes a rest from the computer monitors. This is more information than a single whistleblower should have access to, unless they’ve somehow compromised Silph’s entire security network. It’s possible her informant is in fact a hacker, but if so they would probably feel more comfortable with an encrypted message than with climbing onto her balcony to meet in person.

Speaking of which… how many people would be capable of something like that and also work for a corporation like Silph? Maybe they’re a professional security hacker that was hired by Silph and found incriminating information, or a rival company…

Laura reminds herself that verification of the data on the flash drives is more important right now than anything else. Still, she can hardly ask Silph HQ to confirm details of illegal or unethical practices: even if they answered honestly, it would tip her hand.

But there are other ways of getting or confirming information, when you have some to start with. Laura considers all the personal information she has available from the flash drive, and tries to weigh the good of what she’s trying to accomplish against the ethics of what she’s contemplating. If she were still working for the CBN officially, she would need approval by senior editors and managers, and have stringent controls placed around her. Right now she’s free of all that, but that means the liability is all on her too… and the ethical dilemma.

Laura thinks of the murders in Fuchsia that are alleged by the mysterious stranger’s information to have been ordered by Silph. If even half of all of this is true, the company has some deep rot that goes pretty high up. By the standards of ethical practice, some deceptive practices should be justified in uncovering it.

Not that it makes her feel much better. Laura takes a deep breath, then calls Dom. “Hey. I need a way to spoof my phone ID. Mind if I head over?”

Two hours later she has a list of directory names, numbers, and titles in front of her, along with some key excerpts from the flash drive files. She twirls a pen between her fingers nervously as the phone rings, connecting her to a Silph finances office in Cerulean.

“Hello, this is Maddie.”

“Hi, Maddie, this is Elsa over in Celadon,” Laura says, pitching her voice higher and with just the right mix of cheer and exasperation. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve got a problem with the accounts on this end and was hoping you could clarify the details of a pay order?”

“Oh, of course. Elsa, did you say? I’m sorry but could you tell me whose office you’re in?”

“Mr. Hishida. I got lent over to help check the accounts before next month’s audit. I’ve got to finish this by Monday, and it would save a lot of time if I could double check this with you.”

“Sure, of course.” Laura hears the hesitation in their voice, and then… “Do you mind if I just check with Mr. Hishida first?”

“Not at all! He’s in a meeting at the moment, why don’t I try to figure it out on my own and if I can’t by the time he’s back, I’ll tell him to call you?”

“That would be great, thanks. Good luck!”

“Thank you!” Laura closes the call and scratches off the top entry on her list, then goes to the next one. And the next one. And the next, until:

“Sure, no problem! What’s the transaction number?”

Laura quickly checks to make sure she has the right number for the office she called. This one was in the Pewter branch… “OT-733-1489-6-25.”

“Alright, just give me one second… okay, and the date on that was?” Laura confirms the date, and even the account it came from. “Yeah, that was authorized by Mrs. Rhee.”

Laura stares at the name on the file: Mrs. Rhee. Here it is. Not just independent verification of the information on the flash drives, but potentially damning evidence of criminal activity.

“Thanks so much, have a great day!” Laura ends the call, then rereads the files on the money transfer. A few of the documents in the chain are tenuous, but they lead to a politician with clear conflicts of interest. If she can find a few more and shore up the connections, this could lead to a solid story that justifies more investigation, but not in the direction of the really scary skeletons in Silph’s closet that might put them on high alert.

Payments to known violent criminals. Coverups of crimes by those in the company. And something more… She frowns at the jumble of files that her informant clearly wasn’t able to connect to any specific crime. Laura minimizes them and focuses on the money transfers again. She’ll just have to trust her people to untangle that mess.

She goes back to her list and starts calling the next one.


It takes her a week and a half to fact check, write, and publish the article. Laura gives Silph Company a heads up to the allegations so they have an opportunity to respond, but they decline to comment. The very day it comes out, Laura comes home after an evening meeting with Peter for expanded funding to see a note taped to the front of her door. She feels her pulse speed up as irritation and wariness makes her walk faster. Did all her new locks really do nothing to stop the masked stranger? And they said they would find another place to contact her…

Laura quickly snatches the paper off the door and reads it:

“Balcony.”

Laura blinks, then opens her door and walks to the balcony, which is still securely locked. She can see the stranger standing out there and smiles. Good to know she didn’t waste her money on the security upgrades. Though maybe they’re just being considerate… If the intruder didn’t place the note on the door from the inside, did that mean they were walking through the halls in that disguise? Maybe I should put a camera in the hallway.

Laura puts her things away and turns the voice recording app on for her phone, then slips it into her pocket and opens the balcony door to invite her informant inside.

“What was that?” they say upon entering, heavy voice modulation not disguising their anger.

“Hello to you too,” Laura says, closing it behind them. “What was what?”

“That article. It was totally useless, just some shitty white collar crimes, and worse, now they might be aware of a leak! What were you thinking?”

Laura frowns as she watches them gesticulate and pace around her living room. Despite their clear agitation, they suddenly seem less imposing, somehow. Laura wonders for the first time how old they are.

“I’m sorry, which of us is the journalist here?” she asks at last.

The figure stops and turns to her. “What?”

“You came to me because you trusted me to do what needs to be done. If you wanted to be involved in the planning, you should have stuck around and talked it out instead of playing up the ‘mysterious stranger’ angle.”

“I came to you because I wanted the real crimes revealed! People are getting killed, and you waste almost two weeks on some bureaucrats being bribed?”

Laura crosses her arms. “Do you want to let me talk or not?”

Her informant is quiet a moment, then goes to the couch and sits. “Explain.”

Laura rolls her eyes and sits across from her, then goes over her restraints and plans. “This is the best way forward,” she insists. “It’ll take time to get all the evidence on the bigger crimes anyway, and whatever defense they try to mount against the white collar allegations might shake other things free.”

“You’re underestimating them. They won’t just go on the defensive, this is going to prompt a retaliation.”

“Legally I’m in the clear, I just came back from making sure of—”

Her informant is shaking their head before Laura even finishes. “Listen to me. You don’t know these people. Whoever’s calling the shots in the organization on this stuff, they’re not acting like a businessman, they’re acting like a strategist in an active war. I’ve spent months trying to stay ahead, and I’m not even their primary enemy, though they may be aware of me now. Do you have pokemon?”

Laura blinks at the sudden change of topic. “No, I’m not a trainer.”

“Get some. You’re going to need to get serious about self-defense now that you’ve revealed yourself so early.”

A dozen thoughts go through Laura’s head, but none of them attempt to minimize what she just heard. Her informant may be paranoid, but there’s enough on the flash drive to make them have reason to be, even without Laura knowing what they’ve been through to get it.

“I told you, I’m not a trainer. If Silph is actually going to send hit men after me, my best way to stay safe is to be informed and cautious. I’ve already upgraded my security, as you may have noticed.”

“They’ll just wait until you leave.”

“If you’re this worried, why didn’t you tell me all this earlier?”

“I didn’t want to scare you off.” Is that a note of peevishness in the electronic, synthesized voice? They really are new to this, Laura realizes. “Will you continue? Or are you still not taking this seriously?”

“I am, and I will,” Laura says. “But I think it’s time for you to be more honest with me. Who are you? How did you get all this information? I’ve had my apartment swept for listening devices already, we’re safe to talk here.”

Her informant stands. “I can’t. Not now, especially not with you at risk like this.”

“You’re leaving again? Can you go out the front door this time, at least? I’ll check to make sure the coast is clear and you can take the mask off in the stairway. Otherwise someone might see you climbing around out there.”

“They won’t. Besides, I don’t know how fast Silph will move, but the usual ways into your apartment will probably be watched soon if they’re not already.”

Laura stands too, feeling frustrated. “So that’s it, you just came to berate me and not give any more information or help?”

“I gave you both. It’s up to you to take them seriously, or not. I’ll be back to check on you soon.”

“What happened to us meeting elsewhere?” Laura asks in exasperation as her informant heads for the balcony again.

“Too risky, now,” the masked figure says before stepping through the balcony door. “The safest way to not be anticipated is to not have a plan.”


Laura goes through the next day in a state of heightened awareness that has her stressed out by midday and exhausted by nightfall. She refuses to let her life be dictated by fear and stay inside all day, but in taking her informant seriously she can’t help but crane her neck around as she runs errands through the city. Is that woman the same one that she saw at the cafe? The man sitting across from her on the subway, is he only pretending to read, or is he making note of where she exits? How many eyes are watching her as she returns home?

Some tension leaves her as she carefully opens her door and checks the tape she placed over the hinge and signed her name over, which is thankfully uncreased. Laura unpacks her new purchases, which includes a pokeball. Contained inside is her very first pokemon, a tangela.

A strange mix of feelings go through her as she holds its ball up, getting used to its weight. The last time she held a pokeball, it was one of Tom’s as he took her out to practice with them. She never had the passion or interest in becoming a trainer, but knowing the basics was important for safety or emergencies, and her husband always practiced what he preached about the value of being prepared.

She’s glad for those lessons now, even if she’s a little rusty. It would be nice to use his pokemon again, who she would at least be familiar with, but as a ranger his pokemon were all taken for reassignment to others after his death. Just another sacrifice asked of those in the force. Before today it always seemed a justified one.

Laura shakes her head and clips the ball to her new belt. No, it’s still better that Kage and the rest had gone on to help keep others safe over the past few years. It just means she’ll have to spend a little more time practicing with her tangela. Besides, Tom barely had any pokemon suited for civilian self defense the way her new pokemon is, with its plethora of non-lethal abilities.

She puts the belt on so she can get used to it there, then goes to her computer to relax, catch up on emails, and check for the latest results from her filters.

Research altering and funding false studies on effects of Silph products…

Two murders that might be connected, in both cases pokemon were stolen from the houses…

Bribery of investigators or witnesses of crimes…

Relocation and concealment of people…

Laura sits up, attention sharpening. She clicks the subject line to read the full report.

Verified payments to housing and living expenses for people with no apparent link to company. Only aware of a few so far, the earliest of which starts about seven years ago. Maybe off-payroll workers, but info for who they are, what they do, or how they were hired seem purposefully avoided. All have little to no contact with others in Silph outside of R&D, and these communications are only mentioned in passing, no detailed logs or emails in the flash drive. Might be more info hidden somewhere, will keep looking. Not sure what it’s all about, but seems sketchy. Let me know if I should stop.

Laura types out her answer with a sense of excitement that she knows is premature. Ever since her conversation with Professor Oak the night Red left home, she’s had few leads on the missing researchers he mentioned. Finding out as much as she could about Dr. Fuji was her first step, and looking for patterns in the other missing researchers was time consuming work that she nevertheless spent a few hours a week returning to. It was quickly clear that he was right, there were dozens of scientists and engineers who had quietly slipped out of the public eye around the globe, but the why and where to was still a mystery.

That Silph might be behind it all on top of everything else seems too good to be true, but assuming these people are off the grid, how many secret conspiracies involving missing researchers can there be? Well, okay, probably a few… Still, while without mention of contact with R&D this would just be a curiosity, with it she feels justified in forwarding the email to Sam. She adds some context of what it’s referring to, cluing him in on what’s been going on lately.

He answers within an hour, and sends her the link to some “cyber detectives” that will apparently work on this particular task for free. Laura’s brow rises. She wasn’t aware that he had so many connections in hacker circles, but it would be useful to have them as an extra resource, especially to work off of data her more traditional private detectives find.

Meanwhile, she checks the various locations where people are being housed. Mostly rural areas, apparently, the first of which is currently in Lavender Town.

Laura reaches out to one of her people in Saffron to ask if they would mind taking a quick vacation to the east. It might teach them nothing, but getting a visual of whoever is living at the house in Lavender could help string more clues together.

Something begins to bother her as she writes the email, like an itch in her mind. It feels like she’s forgetting something, but before she can devote attention to it…

Knock knock knock.

Laura glances at the door in surprise, then finishes typing her email out, sends it, and puts her computer to sleep to go check who it is. A quick look through the peephole reveals a nondescript man in a black suit, and after checking to ensure her stun baton is at hand beside the door, Laura opens it. “Hello, can I help you?”

“Laura Verres?”

“Yes?”

“Mr. Silph humbly requests to speak with you.”

Laura stares at the man, heart suddenly thudding in her chest. “Right now? I’m rather busy at the moment, I’m afraid I can’t go anywhere.”

The man turns to the side, and Kazue Silph, president of the largest trainer supply company in the tri-region area, steps into view. The old man looks smaller in person than he does on television, but no frailer. His bearing is as confident and lively as Professor Oak’s, despite being at least ten years Sam’s senior, any stoop in his shoulders or back hidden by a perfectly tailored suit.

Not an ostentatious one, however. Laura has learned enough over the years to judge, interviewing people in everything from off-the-rack generic two-pieces, to designer, custom fit three-pieces, to those made of ridiculously expensive patented fabric blends.

The president of Silph Co. wears a plain tan two-piece suit, with a red bowtie. Fitted, no doubt, but with what looks like a basic fabric and simple buttons rather than the flashy ones many rich favor.

He’s also wearing a bowler hat, which he removes to reveal a balding crown of white hair. “Good evening, Mrs. Verres. I was hoping we could speak on some rather pressing matters.”

“On the record, or off?” she asks, hoping her face shows none of her shock or apprehension.

He smiles. It’s a good one, warming even his pale blue eyes. “Off, if you’d please.”

Laura only takes a few moments more to come to her decision. Whatever he wants to talk about, it’s better to know than not know. She steps back from her doorway, but he puts his hat back on. “Why don’t we go to the roof?”

“Of course. Let me just get my jacket.” She closes the door, then makes sure her phone is set to record before putting her jacket on, sticking her stun baton in a sleeve, and stepping into the hall. There’s another man in a suit standing outside, keeping his gaze on the hallway.

“Excuse me a moment,” she says, and goes to one of the neighbor’s doors, a student with a pet purrloin that Laura has cared for in the past while its owner was out of town.

Laura knocks, and when the young woman opens her door, Laura smiles in relief. “Hey Danni, would you mind watching my apartment for a moment?”

Her neighbor’s brow rises. “Sure. Got some food cooking?”

“Just have to step out for a bit.” She moves out of the way to let her neighbor enter the hall, and only catches her shocked expression in her periphery, watching Mr. Silph instead. The president is still smiling, but with a wry edge now, eyes meeting Laura’s as Danni stammers some greeting and throws Laura a confused look before disappearing into her apartment.

“Ready to go, now?” he asks once her door closes.

“Right this way,” she says and leads him and his retinue to the roof. The night isn’t really chilly, but she tightens the jacket around her middle anyway as they step away from the landing and teleportation areas and toward the railing at the edge. The president’s bodyguards stay a distance away, which she appreciates. She still feels like her pulse is a galloping rapidash in her throat as she waits for him to speak first.

They look out over the city together, watching as a huge noctowl and its rider soar down toward another building’s rooftop, wings flapping as it passes over theirs. Laura imagines she can see the concussive particles billowing outward as her hair and clothes stir. “I take it you’re not here to set the record straight on my article?” she says at last, impatience winning out. She doesn’t know what a billionaire’s time is worth, but she has work to get back to.

“Not officially, with this being off the record and all, but our statement about those allegations will be ready tomorrow. I don’t mind giving you a small scoop and letting you know that we’ll be conducting thorough internal investigations to get to the bottom of such troubling charges.”

Laura nods. And to see where the leaks are coming from, no doubt. “You’re here about my gardening column, then.”

He chuckles. “You must think me a very dangerous man, Mrs. Verres.”

“What makes you say that?” she asks after a moment, trying not to let her wariness show.

He leans forward slightly, arms resting on the railing. “Your request of your neighbor was smoothly done, but entirely too cautious for a simple meeting with a businessman, however unethical you believe my employees may have acted. To say nothing of what’s likely distorting the shape of your jacket sleeve.”

Laura’s heart hammers faster as she realizes that he’s right. She might as well have held up a big flashing sign telling him how much wider her suspicions run than the simple accusations in the article. “I’m sorry, Mr. Silph, I didn’t think of how that would appear. I’m afraid I’m paranoid by nature, and after living in Pallet Town for so long, returning to the city has been a change I’m still getting used to. I meant no offense.”

“Of course. A woman on her own must look after herself.”

His demeanor is still affable, and she does a mental sidestep, imagining she’s in an interview so that she can more easily match it. “Remarks like that, which can be both reassuring and threatening, don’t help,” she says with a wry smile.

Mr. Silph chuckles. “You’re quite right. I apologize, I’m not here to threaten you, far from it. I’m here to warn you.”

“Still not helping.”

“Oh, not from me. From the source or sources of your information.”

“I’m sorry? I don’t know what you mean,” Laura says after waiting a second and knitting her brow together in confusion. She feels sweat on her neck and resists the urge to wipe it off.

“You do,” he says with steady assurance. “I won’t waste both of our time explaining how I know that you do. There are forces outside of your knowledge at work here. The information they’ve fed you that led to that article no doubt seemed genuine, and perhaps it was. If so I owe you and them some thanks, for identifying bad actors in my company. But I built said company out of nothing over the course of my life, and there are plenty of people who would love to see it torn down, taken over, or split into smaller, more easily manipulated parts, stifling its innovation and potential. I won’t let that happen.”

Laura is silent. He’s wrong if he thinks Laura’s informant wanted her to publish that article… or rather, that’s not the impression she got from their second meeting. Maybe that was just an act: it wouldn’t be particularly hard, with the voice filter and mask, to convincingly pretend to be upset about something.

“But you are just a pawn in this, I understand that,” he continues. “It is not your fault that you have been deceived, and so I’m offering you an opportunity to reveal the criminal who has attacked my employees, stolen our data, and, possibly, inserted misinformation to tie our resources and attention up in legal matters.”

“Mr. Silph, if there’s been some crimes committed against your company I would be happy to talk about and report on them,” Laura says, ignoring for now the implication that her informant is a violent vigilante. “I hope you don’t believe I’m on some personal vendetta against you or your company. I can’t reveal my sources, of course, but I assure you I did my best to fact check what I’ve written, and stand behind it, given what I currently know. If there’s some bigger picture that I missed, or some of it is in fact false, I’d be happy to write a retraction and set the record straight.”

“I appreciate that, Mrs. Verres, but there’s nothing a public article on these actions would accomplish that would benefit me on net, or you can be assured that they would already have been written and published. As I said, I’m simply here to warn you that you are consorting with a dangerous criminal, or an organization of them, one of whom has already ruined innocent lives to pursue her mission.”

Her? “And what is that mission?” Laura turns to regard Mr. Silph fully. “If your company has been targeted by some criminal, that doesn’t mean there’s a connection with my story. What if they’re working independently?”

“That’s not your concern,” he says, voice gentle. “All that should matter now is that you assist police in apprehending whoever contacted you or provided you with the information you used. If you reveal whatever information you have now, I can assure you I will regard you as a tool, unwittingly used, and do my best to ensure you do not take any legal blame.”

Laura shakes her head. “You know I can’t reveal sources, on general principle.”

“I know no such thing,” he protests. “If you believe your sources innocent of any wrongdoing, your silence is commendable, but surely you have a different policy for being subpoenaed to testify against a proven criminal.”

“Or charged with aiding and abetting said criminal?” It’s remarkable how calm she feels now that she understands the general shape of the conversation and his goals.

“It’s certainly possible,” he says with a grave expression. “I would hope it does not come to that, however.” He does sound genuinely upset at the prospect, for what that’s worth.

Not much, on reflection. Shit. Shit shit shit, what did that masked maniac get her into? Have they really attacked Silph employees? And would she really be surprised if they did, considering their penchant for wearing disguises and climbing buildings?

“In a situation like that,” Laura says slowly, “I’m afraid I would still have to insist that I can’t be of any help, and hope the judge and jury believe me, even if you don’t, Mr. Silph. But I’ll certainly keep this conversation in mind, if I am at some point contacted by such a person.”

He turns to assess her quietly in the rooftop lights. After a moment he nods.

“I suppose that’s the best I can ask for. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Verres. I do hope our next meeting is under more pleasant circumstances.”

He takes his leave, but Laura stays on the roof a while longer, replaying and digesting their conversation again and again before remembering that she left her neighbor watching the apartment. She returns to it and thanks Danni for her help, then sits on her couch and tries to think past the suspicions and worries gnawing at her mind.

Despite trying to look into the ways the data was gathered, Laura is still unclear about who her informer is. Mr. Silph confirmed that they’re female, assuming his suspicion is correct. Maybe young, probably lives in Fuchsia, definitely highly skilled in physical, and possibly digital, infiltration… Laura never saw any pokeballs on her during their two meetings, but they might have been hidden inside her dark and bulky vest. But if Silph is right, he’s certainly been keeping things close to the chest himself: there haven’t been any news articles of attacks on Silph employees. Laura just doesn’t know enough, and she finds herself getting more and more angry at her informer for keeping her in the dark.

She’s also getting more and more nervous. There’s a feeling of something being off that keeps her on the edge of her seat, wanting to stand and pace or run through the apartment checking for someone who isn’t there. If she didn’t know that her apartment was bug free she’d think someone was listening in on her—

Laura suddenly goes rigid. How had it felt, when Red was using his powers on her?

Like someone standing in the room with you, who you can’t see…

Laura doesn’t quite feel like that, it’s not nearly so strong… but whether it’s her imagination or her limited psychic abilities warning her of a mental intrusion, she knows that something is wrong.

She tries to control her breathing and think. What set her paranoia off? It started with her second meeting with her informer last night, carried on through this whole day… in a sense Mr. Silph’s visit should have confirmed to her that something outside of her control was coming, that’s what it feels like, it feels like something is coming—!

Laura jumps to her feet and runs to her computer, heart pounding painfully in her chest as she grabs the flash drive, throws it to the floor, and smashes it with her heel. She keeps stomping on it until it’s a broken mess of plastic and silicon, then gets a plastic bag and scoops the pile into it, tying it off and going to her door.

She rests her forehead against the wood, listening. All is quiet. She can distantly hear the sounds of the city through her balcony door, and the bark of some growlithe or poochyena in the apartment a story above her.

She opens her door slightly, then looks out the hall. After checking both ways, she slips outside and locks it, then hurries down the stairs, pausing at each floor to glance down to the next. She’s not sure what she expects, exactly… Silph’s bodyguards in the stairwell, maybe, or police staking out the entrance to her building.

She sees neither, but walks through the city with the same lingering sensation of something being off. She wishes she’d paid more attention when the feeling started, so she could compare how it felt before to now: as it is, it’s too hard to recognize if she’s still sensing someone else in her mind, if that’s actually what she felt in the first place.

After she walks two blocks, ducking into stores with more than one entrance and leaving through others, she waits until she can walk through a crowd that’s passing by a garbage bin and quickly pours some of the broken flash drive into it. She doesn’t pause, just continuing to walk from one place to another and taking whatever opportunities she could to pour the rest of the bag’s contents out.

By the time she returns home she feels… better. Not much, but a little. She still feels like something is coming, but she feels much less unprepared now that she’s done something.

Laura takes the elevator up and enters her apartment, some more tension leaving as everything seems the way she left it. She does a quick check through the apartment again to make sure, then goes to her computer and sends off some more emails, including a recount of what happened to Peter so he has the heads up for a potential legal response from Silph.

Her contact from Saffron says he’s happy to take a trip to Lavender in a week or so, and after she sends confirmation and his payment, she finally turns the computer off and goes to bed for another night of tossing and turning.

The sense of unease lingers all the while, keeping her in a fitful doze as her clock ticks ever upward into the morning hours, and the other side of her bed feels as empty as it’s ever been.


BANG BANG BANG

Laura is awake and up in an instant, reaching for her hanging pokeball belt as her mind jolts her out of some nightmare and into a waking one.

Police! Open up!”

Laura freezes then looks at the clock. It’s eight thirty in the morning, and the police are at her door, and she has no idea why, and every idea why.

BANG BANG BANG

Laura jumps at the violent sound, hearing her door shake in its frame. “Just a minute!” she yells, throwing a robe on and hating the way her legs tremble as she goes to the door. It feels like she can’t get a full breath in as she presses her eye to the peephole, and it takes her a few tries to say, “Can I see some ID?”

The uniformed officer holds his badge up, and her hands quickly go to unlock her door. The Celadon police enter in force, five men and two women in full tactical gear, each with a pokemon on their shoulder or at their feet: two oddish, a spearow, a whismur, a growlithe, and she doesn’t see the rest as they all spread out and begin checking the apartment, and shouting out all-clears.

Laura turns back to a third woman, who has a bellsprout wrapped tight around her shoulders and neck, a warrant in one hand, and a pair of handcuffs in the other. Laura almost brings her hands behind her back reflexively, recognizing at the last second what a bad idea that would be and halting the motion. “Please,” she says, voice soft so that it doesn’t shake. “What is this? Why are you here?”

“Just an investigation, ma’am,” the officer says. “You’re not under arrest. This is to search the apartment and seize any potential evidence of criminal collaboration. I just need you to stay outside and detained for now.”

Laura wants to argue, but the look on the officer’s face makes her simply hold her wrists out. The metal closing around them feels surreal, and she waits in the hallway with the officer, leaning against the wall and trying to listen for what the police are doing inside her apartment. She hears doors opening in the hall as curious neighbors poke their heads out and are told to stay inside. Laura closes her eyes, leans her head back, and breathes, trying to combat the feeling of lightheadedness that’s accompanying the unreality of the situation. Fainting now would be embarrassing.

She keeps reminding herself that she’s safe. She hasn’t committed any crimes… unless the destruction of the flash drive would be considered obstruction of justice, but how could it be if she wasn’t even aware of an investigation when she did it? Oh Arceus, what if there were some pieces she missed in the rug? No, even then there’s no reason for her to be charged with anything, how would the police even know there was a flash drive? Unless they’ve somehow already gotten to Dom?

It feels like she’s in the hallway for perhaps ten minutes before she starts hearing the sounds of pokeballs opening. “What’s going on?” she asks the officer beside her in a whisper. She wants to talk louder, but she still feels short of breath.

“Assuming they didn’t find any other incriminating evidence, your computer, notes, and phone are likely being confiscated,” she says, keeping her gaze roaming the hallway.

Laura feels the words like a cold punch to the stomach. “Confiscated, for what? For how long? I need them to work.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t say. They may be returned to you in a few weeks, they may take longer.”

“Who accused me of this? Mr. Silph shows up at my apartment last night threatening legal action, and now you guys show up to bully me? Is that how it works?”

“I don’t know anything about that, ma’am.”

Stop talking, Laura. She takes a deep breath, letting it out shakily. “I want to speak with my lawyer. His number is in my phone.”

The officer steps over to the doorway and knocks on it. “Bring her phone,” she tells one of the others who looks over.

Laura is handed her phone and a piece of paper and pencil. “Go ahead and write out any numbers you need.”

She glares at the officer, who stares blandly back. After a moment she looks through her phone and copies out the numbers for her lawyer, Peter, and Dom. Red’s she has memorized. After a moment she also copies out Sam’s. The handcuffs clink and rattle as she writes, then hands her phone back, watching it get carried away with an empty feeling in her chest.

Soon the officers begin filing out. “Thank you for your patience, ma’am. You’ll be contacted by the department soon. Please don’t leave the region in the next few weeks without informing us first.”

“That’s it?”

“For now, yes. We understand that you may not have been aware of who you were getting information from, but while the investigation and search for them is ongoing, you’re advised to call us immediately if you come into contact with them.”

Laura is uncuffed and handed a receipt for all the things that were taken. She checks her apartment to confirm that only those things are missing, feeling another, softer punch to the gut when she sees so many things moved out of place and disorganized, and her computer desk sitting empty. She wants to object that she doesn’t have time to check and make sure that none of her other things are missing, but she has a feeling they would wait patiently if she insists on looking through her closet and jewelry cabinet, and she just wants all this to be over so she can get to the next step. She signs it and watches them leave, rubbing at her wrists.

Laura hears a doorway open and turns to see Danni staring at her in apprehension. “Is everything okay, Mrs. Verres?”

“It’s fine, Danni,” she says, trying to smile. “Just a misunderstanding.”

“Okay. Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thank you, hon.” Laura closes the door and goes to sit on her bed, staring blankly at the wall. It wasn’t too long ago that she warned Leaf about the perils of writing stories involving powerful people. She can repeat to herself as often as she wants that she’s innocent and won’t be charged with anything, let alone convicted… but looking around at her trashed apartment makes her innocence feel like a paper shield. Just being shocked awake like this, her home invaded, handcuffed, and having her things taken without warning, told she can’t leave the region, and overall treated like a criminal… it hurts.

It hurts.

Laura’s face works, lip trembling. She covers her eyes with her hands, and her shoulders shake, once, twice. After a minute she rubs her face and gets up to make some tea.

She sets about putting things back in place and getting dressed as it brews, then drinks a cup and heads out. She feels like people are watching her even though no one is in the halls. It’s a different sort of feeling than the night before though. That sense of impending doom is completely gone, ironically enough. Instead she just has a much more solid lump of worry in her stomach, a worry of things seen rather than unseen. She walks with her shoulders in an unconscious hunch, feeling utterly exposed and vulnerable, despite the new pokeball at her belt. It can’t protect her from the law, if the law has become corrupt.

She goes to the nearest electronic store and buys a new phone, wasting a precious hour going through the tedious paperwork for having “lost” hers so they can deactivate it and connect her new one. As soon as it’s powered up and synced, she checks the contacts to make sure she doesn’t need the numbers on the paper she wrote out, then tears it up and tosses it in two separate trash cans on the way home after buying a laptop too. She can only hope these won’t get seized in a couple days too.

Along the way she calls her lawyer and Peter, both of whom express surprise, sympathy, and words of encouragement: “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride,” from her lawyer, meant to make her feel better about being over the hardest part, and “We’ll get that old bastard” from Peter, meant to make her smile. Both did, briefly.

She considers calling Red and Sam, but doesn’t want to bother them about it yet. Just the thought of telling Red makes her feel a little sick. If it all blows over soon, she’d rather not worry him at all, especially since he’s leaving on his cruise in a few days.

She gets home and sets her new computer up, every minor annoyance of the experience amplified by her impatience to get back to work. At least they left her mouse and keyboard so she didn’t have to buy new ones of those. The expenses from all this are already adding to her stress, but the inconveniences are what’s most irritating. It takes another hour for her to set up the new computer and connect her various emails and social media accounts again.

Meanwhile she calls Dom to ensure that he’s okay. She tells him what happened without mentioning the flash drive. He grunts a few times in response, and she knows he understands. There are new emails waiting for her when she finishes, and she spends the rest of the day trying to pick up the pieces of her investigations and side projects as best she can without the files on her computer, or her notebooks. She has an automatic backup for digital files, but it’s only scheduled to do so every week, and the past few days of work is gone. It’s hard not to be bitter about failing to plan ahead better, despite her action with the flash drive. If only she’d backed up her files too…

She feels a sudden disquiet as she remembers that the police will see much of the information she was working on. If they’re in Silph’s pocket, which she’d like to assume they’re not but knows she has to be ready for, it would mean the element of surprise is gone for many of the other articles she was planning on putting out. That new realization hurts nearly as bad as losing the computer did, and she takes a few minutes of angry pacing to vent her frustration as a new cup of tea brews, night falling over the city outside.

She’s still working to weave together the threads of her various non-Silph related projects when she hears a knock on her balcony door.

Laura bolts up and dashes to the living room, where she sees the informer on her balcony. Ice water floods her veins as she stares. What’s she doing here, she just came a couple nights ago!

She rushes to grab a piece of paper and scribbles a quick message on it, then goes to the balcony and holds the paper against the glass with one hand as she calls the police with the other.

“CPD, what’s your emergency?”

“Hello, there’s someone on my balcony!” Laura yells. “I think they’re trying to get in!”

The masked figure stares at the paper pressed against the glass, then turns and leaps over the balcony railing, falling down and out of sight.

Laura walks over to the kitchen as she gives the woman on the phone her address and puts the piece of paper in her sink, then lights a match and drops it on top. Some part of her feels regret that she’ll likely never know what the informant came to tell her. Whatever remains of the story, Laura will have to find it on her own.

She watches as the fire creeps over the paper and slowly turns its message to ash.

Silph knows about you, called you “her.” Police came and took computer/phone. Apartment may be watched.

Run.

Chapter 45: Goal Factoring

Once everyone gets over their surprise and has a chance to properly greet each other, Daisy brings out a container full of fold-out chairs and a picnic basket. The professor releases a couple of his pokemon to watch their surroundings, freeing the rest of them to bring theirs out for socializing. Blue’s shinx plays with Red’s pichu and Aiko’s oddish, while Daisy introduces her ivysaur to Leaf’s bulbasaur.

Food is served, two separate cakes are revealed, songs are sung, and only after Blue has started on his second piece does he lean back and fix Professor Oak with a pointed look.

“Okay Gramps, spill. What really brought you and Aunt Laura out here so early?”

“What about me?” Daisy asks. “Aren’t you going to ask what hidden scheme I’m running?”

“Nah, I’m pretty sure you wanted to personally congratulate me on my perfect gym run.”

“You just know me so well, bro.”

“Hey,” Professor Oak objects, looking between them. “Can’t I just be impatient to celebrate my grandson and pupil’s birthdays?”

“No,” Blue and Daisy say together.

“Well personally, I’m a little miffed,” Red’s mom says. “What if I’m the one with the secret motive for coming?”

The others chuckle, but Red’s feels a bit forced. Truth is, the thought crossed his mind that she had actually come to discuss something with him… and he’s not looking forward to it if he’s right.

“Well, now that I’m here I suppose there is something I wanted to speak with you all about…” Professor Oak’s tone slowly goes from jocular to serious, and the trainers’ smiles all fade by the time he speaks again. “This abra sale you’re coordinating is amazing, and I’m very proud of all of you, both for catching them and what you decided to do with them. But the attention you get from it is likely to change things for all three of you. Namely, you’re going to start getting headhunted.”

Red leans forward. “Has someone approached you about us already?” There are a dozen ways his carefully planned sales and Leaf’s coordination of the press release might have gotten leaked, and Red feels excitement stir at the idea that he might have gotten some offers, even if he doesn’t plan on taking them.

“No, nothing yet. But this might be our last chance to offer some guidance to the three of you.” Professor Oak turns to Aiko. “I’m sorry to make you feel left out, Miss Sakai, I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be here. But I’d be happy to talk about your own aspirations afterward, if you’d like.”

Aiko is already shaking her head, eyes wide. “No, I’m okay, thank you! I mean, I would love to, but… go ahead with whatever you were planning, please!”

He beams at her, then turns back to the trio. “Let’s start with you, Blue, because I expect you’re going to be the fastest. I don’t think anyone has a chance to persuade you to delay your gym circuit, but it’s still worth bringing up again now that the invitations are going to come pouring in. Would you turn down any gym’s recruitment offer?”

Red expects his friend to say yes right away, but Blue just frowns, leaning back in his chair and watching Aiko’s oddish follow the sparking tip of Ion’s tail as the shinx walks over to the other Plant Types. “Yeah. I don’t think that’s changed, or is likely to. Giovanni himself could offer me the Second position at Viridian, and I’d still think my journey is more important.”

“Good to know. So how about you, Leaf?”

“Me? I don’t really see why I might get anyone’s attention from this.”

Daisy smiles. “From what Red said, you got abra to not teleport away from you by just thinking positive thoughts. Is that true?”

Leaf blinks. “Yeah, sort of. It was a bit more complicated than that, but-”

“And are you going to mention that in the press release?”

“I wasn’t planning on it?”

“You should,” Red says. “Others are going to try hunting abra the same way, and some of them might be able to learn from what helped you.”

“Right. Yeah, okay.”

“Well then, expect some coordinator academies to extend an invitation,” Daisy says.

“What? But I’ve only been a trainer for a few months!”

“They’ve been known to scout new talent early, and get pretty competitive in trying to entice people. Think about it, because my guess is you’re going to have to soon.”

Red feels a hollowness in his chest as he considers the idea of Leaf leaving to train at an academy. He knows Blue well enough to be fairly sure he won’t join a gym, but… “You said you wanted to be a coordinator at some point, right?” Red asks, forcing himself to speak. “It would be a great start for you.”

“Yeah,” Leaf says, but she looks troubled, and Red feels a sudden panic.

“Not that I want you to go!” He blurts out. “I just meant that your relationship with pokemon is pretty unique. I think you’d make a great coordinator.”

Leaf smiles at him, and the tension in his chest eases. “As an alternative,” Laura says. “If you’re thinking of continuing a non-pokemon related career, I’d be happy to have you come work with me.”

Leaf turns to her with wide eyes. “Really?”

“Absolutely. I think you’ve shown that you can be a great journalist in time, and I’ve grown rather fond of you.” Red’s mom smiles. “Like Daisy said, think about it.”

“While she does so,” Professor Oak says, turning to Red. “I assume you still have the same objection to working for Pallet Labs?”

Red nods. “Yeah. I won’t pretend I’m not tempted, but I still want to make sure no one can say that I didn’t start my career on my own merits.”

“Well then, you should consider some of the lab invitations you’re going to get. They may not be as prestigious as Pallet, but I don’t want you to turn them down just for that. They’d have more flexibility than us, might even offer you your own small team and resources, and help you build more notability so that you can feel better about working with us in an official capacity whenever you’re ready for that.”

“Already? But…” He realizes he’s just repeating Leaf’s incredulity, and stops to consider. Is he underestimating how big a deal all this was? The part of him that he’s trying to train as the voice against Optimism Bias laughs, but if the professor is saying it…

Professor Oak seems to understand. “Think about it in financial terms. Even with selling the abra at a steep discount, you each made how much, $25,000?”

“About $30,000, for me,” Red admits. “More for Blue and Leaf.” Daisy whistles, and he’s aware of Aiko’s open-mouthed stare. He feels slightly uncomfortable admitting the size of their windfall in front of her, after learning how financially difficult her life has been, but admitting it out loud does put things into perspective.

“Quite a sum,” his mom says. “More money that you can freely spend than you’ve ever even had before. Any organization would be happy to have someone who could come up with ideas that profitable. Which means it’s about time for your financial emancipation, don’t you think?”

Red and Blue look at each other in surprise. “Aren’t you worried we’ll go on a shopping spree?” Red asks after a moment.

“Or blow it all gambling in Celadon?” Blue rubs his chin. “We are pretty close…”

“Last year, maybe.” Laura says. “If you had this much money to spend, say, three years ago, what would the three of you have bought with it?”

Red frowns. “Uh. A pokemon, probably, and maybe some candy and books.”

“A new computer,” Leaf says. “And an emolga or zorua. Maybe both.”

“A growlithe and dratini.”

“Would any of you regret those choices now?”

They look at each other, and after a moment shake their heads.

“That’s something we realized recently,” Laura says. “You’re all still young, but you’ve matured past that kind of oversight. And you’ve proven that you can earn your own money either way.”

She’s looking at Red in particular as she speaks. Part of him thinks it’s innocuous, but another part begins to grow worried again. Leaf is asking something about her mom, and Professor Oak assures her he’s spoken to her as well.

Afterward the professor begins talking to Aiko about her own history and goals. Red can tell the others are only listening with half an ear, having heard it before and being preoccupied with what they heard.

“Is it okay to say I feel conflicted?” Leaf asks, voice low.

“Yeah,” Red says. “At least, I know what you mean.”

Blue frowns at them. “You know you guys don’t have to stick around for me, right? I’ll be okay. I’ve got a new training partner anyway, assuming her dad isn’t a massive jerk.”

“I have other reasons for wanting to continue our journey,” Leaf says. “But I would miss the two of you a lot.”

Red nods. “Same. It would be great to keep the band together if we can. That said, we should make sure we’re actually making the right choices.”

“Do you guys know what goal factoring is?” Leaf asks. Red and Blue stare in confusion. “It’s a little like a pro and con list, but way better. I used to do them all the time, when I had trouble deciding what to try next. Mind if I borrow some paper, Red?”

“Sure.” He takes it out and tears out a sheet, then hands her his pencil. She scribbles on the paper, then turns it to show them.

“First you draw a circle, then write inside it the action you’re currently doing or planning to do. Then, you draw lines downward from it. At the end of each, draw another circle and write out the goals that action will fulfill for you. So I put Traveling as my action, and the goals I put are ‘Seeing more of Kanto,’ ‘Meeting new people,’ ‘Catching new pokemon,’ ‘Finding new stories to write,’ and ‘Spending time with Red and Blue.'”

“Aww, shucks, Leaf,” Blue says with a grin.

“Hang on, there’s more.” She writes more, then turns the page again. “On top you write out the negatives. ‘Dangerous’ is definitely one.” Red nods. He’s pretty sure his mom would be ecstatic if he decides that he’d rather study at a lab than continue his journey. “‘Expensive’ is another, though that reminds me to add a new positive: occasional riches, if Red figures out more genius catching techniques.”

Red feels his cheeks flush, and Blue claps him on the shoulder. “Speaking of which, start putting that brain to work on chansey so we can do the same thing when we reach the Safari Zone.”

“Uhhh. Yeah, I’ll look into it.” Red can’t tell if Blue is serious, but it’s flattering to think that he’d be able to catch dozens of one of the rarest pokemon in Kanto. Then he remembers that abra are among the top ten hardest to catch, and smiles. “Definitely.”

Leaf is still drawing and writing on the paper. “So we’ve got ‘Dangerous,’ ‘Expensive,’ and ‘Unpredictable.’ So, now that we’ve got our goals and negatives, let’s make sure we’re not missing any. First I’ll imagine something granted me a wish that achieved all of these for me. Is there any other reason I’d want to still do it?” She closes her eyes a minute, then opens them. “Turns out there is. I’d still want to get better as a trainer. To get stronger, so I can help others in future crises.”

She adds that to the bottom, then closes her eyes again briefly. “Okay, I think that’s it. Those are all the goals this action helps me achieve. Now, let me make sure I’m not missing any of the negatives by simulating myself going through it, day to day… Um… traveling in the wild isn’t always comfortable, but it’s not really that big an issue for me… I guess that’s it.”

Red hands a sheet to Blue, and takes out another pencil for him. Blue gives him a surprised look, but after a moment starts to copy Red as he draws the middle circle too.

“So, once I’ve got my goals and my negatives, I can start checking new actions against this one to see if they either fulfill all the same goals but have less negatives, or have the same amount of negatives but fulfill more goals. Alternatively, I can start searching for more actions that fulfill my goals, starting with focusing on my most important goal and listing actions that fulfill it. In this case, I’m going to compare going to a coordinator academy and learning from Laura against continuing my journey.” She focuses on the page and begins.

Red lists his own goals that the journey accomplishes: ‘Learning.’ ‘Help others.’ ‘Respect.’ ‘New pokemon.’ ‘Fun.’ ‘Friends’… By the time he finishes, Blue is already trying to match his goals against those that Join a Gym would grant him. Daisy has taken an interest in what they’re doing, and she smiles as she sees Red start matching up goals from Research at Lab, then stop at ‘Help others.’

“That’s a subjective thing, isn’t it?” she says. “Is it more meaningful to help others in person, with your pokemon, or do research that might help many more?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I think I’d still feel… unsatisfied, if I just stayed in a lab all day.” He’s thinking of the way his depression felt worse on the days he stayed in the Trainer House. “I can do research for a few weeks at a time in a city, but if I didn’t know I’d be leaving at some point to continue our journey I might go nuts. Maybe it’ll be different when I’m older, but…”

“Satisfaction is kind of important for this,” Leaf says. “But if that’s the only thing bothering you, you can also resolve to take up another action, one that uses less of your time, to capture any extra goals that are left over.”

“And research isn’t your only option,” Daisy says. “Capture companies are going to be flooding you with messages, and they’ll keep you on your feet and moving from place to place for sure.”

“Huh.” Red hadn’t considered that… getting jobs to catch specific pokemon, particularly rare or difficult ones, would be an interesting ongoing challenge…

“Yeah, I think I’m done,” Blue says. “Journeying is still the clear winner for me, as I figured.”

Leaf nods. “Same here. I appreciate the offer, Laura,” she tells Red’s mom, who is listening to their conversation now too. “But I’m enjoying travelling with Red and Blue too much, and finding new things to write about, and I think it’ll grow my following faster to mix new articles and helping people, which is another reason to stay on the move too.

“That’s quite alright, Leaf. Just know the offer is open whenever.” Laura looks at Red, then says, “Would you mind taking a walk with me, Red?”

Uh oh. “Sure.” He stands up and stuffs the goal factoring paper into his pocket, then picks up a lantern and places Pichu on his shoulder before leading his mom out of the camplight. They walk for about a minute into the peaceful night, staying well away from the tall grass on either side of the road. Red waits for his mom to drop the hammer, but when she remains silent, he takes a deep breath. “So what’s up?”

His mom looks at him with a slight frown. “I wanted to make sure you’re okay, Red. I’ve been trying not to pry, after you told me what you were going through in Cerulean, but… are you alright, really?”

Red blinks, then feels both a flood of relief, and a twang of renewed guilt. Right. That. “I’m fine, Mom, yeah. My teacher, Ayane, she helped me get a handle on things.”

“Oh, I’m so glad, hon,” his mother says, voice soft. She gives him a brief hug, then begins walking again. “Was it… bad?”

Red flashes back to the field they caught the abra in, the sucking, empty hole in his chest, and shudders. “For a little bit. But like I said, I learned to manage things. And I feel… better, now. Like, even better than I did before, sometimes? I’m not sure, it’s hard to tell. And I still have down moments. But Pichu helps with that,” he says, giving his pokemon an affectionate rub on his head. “And so do my lessons.”

“What’s it like, being a psychic?” she asks. “I remember how disappointed you were when you failed the test. Is it all you hoped for?”

Red smiles ruefully. “It’s pretty amazing. Like… I don’t know, getting a hearing implant must be, for someone born deaf. But it’s a lot of hard work too, and I still can’t do a lot of things I thought I’d be able to. I can’t even lift a stupid rock.”

She smiles. “It was strange, hearing that you were psychic all this time without us knowing. I used to wonder, you know, about myself. I failed all the tests, but every so often I would feel something, when I was younger and in crowds…”

Red blinks. “What, really? How come you never mentioned this before!”

Laura laughs. “It was just a random thought, Red. Most people have them.”

“Well, hang on, we might be able to test it. Maybe you’re like me, and just haven’t realized it!” He stops walking and closes his eyes. “Just hold on a moment…”

Red slips into a trance within a few moments, shoving the rising sadness into the back of his awareness so he can focus on the minds he feels, a small group of them gathered in the distance, a small one right next to him, and beside it the stronger ripples of his mother’s thoughts.

“Okay… do you feel anything?” he asks, voice calm and slow between deep breaths.

“I… no? What would it feel like?” His mother sounds curious and a bit flustered. “I appreciate you trying, Red, but-”

“Wait, wait, I think I have to… ” What was it he read about sensitives? They don’t have enough power to do much of anything, but they could sense other psychics that enmeshed with them. “Okay, I’m going to try connecting our minds for just a few seconds. It will only give me a brief look at your mood, and shouldn’t hurt at all. Is that okay?”

“Yes. Go ahead.”

Red cautiously enmeshes his mind with his mother’s until he starts to feel cautious worry anticipation hurtdisappointmentanger

“Oh!”

Red’s eyes snap open to see his mother staring at him in wonder. “You know, I think I felt something! It was… very strange, and very faint. Maybe I imagined it…”

Red stares at her quietly for a moment. His heart is still hammering from the sensation of deep, complex anger that was under his mother’s thoughts. It was hard to untangle it from the other emotions, but he’s pretty sure he felt it… yet she doesn’t seem angry at all, to him. Was it unconscious, perhaps? No, he’s not strong enough to pick up emotions that subtle.

“We can try again,” he says, and takes a deep breath as a particularly sharp stab of grief makes him wonder what his dad would say if he were here to also learn of his son’s abilities. “We should have done this first, actually…” He holds out his hand. “Squeeze when you think you feel something, relax when it goes away.”

“Alright.”

Her hand is warm and soft in his, and he takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, preparing to feel those emotions again… maybe he misinterpreted them…

anticipation apprehension wonder

Her hand squeezes his, and he’s filled with her amazement. He holds onto the enmeshment as long as he can before the grief starts to overwhelm even that, then lets it go. She releases his hand less than a second later.

“I felt it, Red,” she says, voice soft. “It was… so strange, like… someone standing in a room with you, but who you can’t see…”

Red kneels down and pretends to tighten his shoelace, wiping at his eyes and hoping she doesn’t notice. Thankfully she seems too amazed by the revelation.

Pichu nuzzles Red’s neck, and Red rubs his pokemon’s fuzzy body briefly before standing up again and forcing a smile. In truth he’s happy and excited for her, but it’s hard to feel anything positive right now. “I know, it’s pretty cool.” He starts walking again, and after a moment she follows.

“Does this mean I…?”

“I don’t know. You’re probably just a psychic sensitive. But it might be worth checking out, if you have some time and money to spare for a session with a professional. If you swing by Cerulean you can see my sensei, Psychic Ayane. She was very professional, and one of the nicer psychics I met.”

His mother’s expression changes, and Red feels a sudden premonition that has nothing to do with his powers. Whatever was bothering her, he just reminded her of it…

“How much did she charge?” Laura asks.

“What do you mean? You insisted on splitting the bills, just double that.”

His mother stops walking. “Red. Please don’t treat me like an idiot. What you asked for was a pittance.”

He turns to her, stomach leaden. “Mom, I-”

“The clefairy I bought you, do you have it?”

Red flushes. He was sure of his decision at the time, despite his guilt, and he’s still sure of it now, but being confronted with it is still painful. He briefly considers stalling, saying it’s in storage and buying one when he gets to town, but discards the idea. “No.”

“You sold it.”

“Yes.”

“The clefairy I bought for you-”

“-with my money-”

“-that I monitored for you, that you promised me you wouldn’t sell. You promised, Red.”

Red feels the urge to protest that he didn’t actually use that word, but he doesn’t remember if he did or not. That’s a bad sign, and he realizes that the truth is he just doesn’t want to admit to being the kind of person who breaks a promise to his mother. Not just admit it to her, admit it to himself. It doesn’t fit the image of himself as someone who keeps his promises.

But, clearly, he’s not. Whether he used the word promise or not—no, he did use that word, she wouldn’t have agreed otherwise, he has to accept that rather than let his mind keep trying to weasel around it—he convinced her to act in his interest through a commitment, then broke that commitment. He needs to face that, change if he doesn’t like it… or admit that it’s who he is, and decide if he can live with it.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” There’s not just disappointment in her voice, but anger, as he sensed. “Are you actually sorry? Will you buy a clefairy again, to show your remorse? I know you have a lot more money now, but the inflated price will offset that.”

Red feels his own angry response bubble up, and with an effort manages to suppress it, breathing deep and focusing on the sensation of air rushing out. “If it will make you happier, I’ll do it. But I did it at the time because it was necessary. Mom, I’m out here risking my life to make a difference in the world. Some of the things I’ve seen, the stuff I learned… ” He thinks of the forest, lying crippled and surrounded by electricity, and of Bill, the genius’s certainty of coming calamity. “This isn’t a game to me. If I don’t take advantages where I find them, I could die.”

Her eyes narrow. “You’re telling me that? Me?

“You’re right, I shouldn’t have to!” He’s keeping his voice low, but can’t help the heat that’s filled it. “I told you not to hold me to Dad’s standard, and this is why! If this is the kind of thing he wouldn’t have done… m-maybe he…” Red can’t finish, tears sliding down his face before he covers it with both hands and turns away. Pichu crawls around the back of Red’s neck and up to his head to perch on the top of his bill. He wipes his eyes and stifles a sob, looking up and to see his pokemon peering at him upside down. Red’s lips twitch upward, and he takes a deep breath.

His mom reaches around to hug him from behind, and he sinks into her for a moment until he gets control of himself again. When he feels a bit better, he steps away, and she lets him. “I’m sorry… using my powers makes me, uh, leaky.”

“It’s alright.” His mother sighs. “I know what you did wasn’t that bad, Red. I still love you and care about you. I know life is hard, and yours will be harder than most, with what you’re doing and trying to accomplish. But I think small moral compromises lead to bigger ones, and I was hoping you could keep from them for at least a little while longer. Or maybe for when it was something really important, and not just extra spending money.”

Red turns to her. “That’s not fair. I used that money for my research. I couldn’t afford it and the psychic lessons at the same time, not unless I wanted to empty your bank account too.”

“I would have preferred you did.”

“Then you’re still not taking this seriously.” He shakes his head, feeling hollow and angry and sad. “You said in Pewter that you just wanted me to be safe. I’m doing the best I can. I’m sorry I used you, Mom. I won’t do it again.”

“That’s part of the reason I’m emancipating your finances,” she says. “So you won’t feel the need to. But it’s not just that you hurt my feelings in using me, Red. I lost my trust in you. I don’t know how or when I’ll get it back.” She runs a hand over her face. “I suppose some part of me still thought of you as a child. And it’s not fair of me to make that your problem, but… at least now we’re on the same page.”

She turns toward the camp and starts to head back. Red stares after her a moment, then follows before she can leave the lamplight.


Blue eats his third slice of cake slowly, enjoying the murmur of conversation around him. Red and his mom came back a while ago and were quiet for a bit, causing Blue to wonder if he should ask his friend about it after they left. Red livens up eventually, however, and Blue is satisfied that it probably wasn’t too serious.

Gramps, Aunt Laura, Red, and Leaf are discussing their upcoming trip on the SS Anne to see if there’s anything she should keep an eye out to write about, and Daisy is asking Aiko about her solo training habits. Eventually Gramps seems to notice Blue sitting quietly on his own, and excuses himself to lift his chair and sit beside him.

“How are you, Blue? It’s been a while since we talked.”

“Pretty great. Don’t think I’ll be joining a gym though.”

“I thought not. It’s good to know that your conviction has remained as strong as ever.”

Blue smirks. “Did you think I’d give up by now?”

“Give up completely? No. But there was always a chance you weren’t as good as you thought you were, and would decide on a longer path.”

Gramps has a mischievous look in his eye, and Blue chuckles. “Pewter was a wake-up call, I’ll tell you that.”

“How are you really, then? Under the surface.”

Blue chews slowly, then puts the plate down on his lap, voice lowering. “I was told that I was disheartening some people, in Cerulean. Making them give up on their dreams.”

“Ah. Yes.”

That’s all he says. Just that. Blue glances at the professor, who’s watching the pokemon play with a slight smile on his face. After a moment Blue speaks up again. “It made me worried. I know it sounds like a joke, but what if I’m too good? What if I do more harm excelling and dissuading others from reaching their potential?”

“It’s a distinct possibility. What will you do about it?”

Blue frowns slightly. “I was kind of hoping you’d have some advice.”

The professor chuckles. “I can’t see the future, Blue. You’re trying to do something that’s never been done before, and so you have no map to guide your way. That said, have you started reading Nobunaga’s Ambition?”

“Ah, no,” he says, ducking his head. “I got really distracted right after you gave it to me, training to beat Brock, and it just kind of slipped my mind.”

“It’s alright, it probably held little relevance to you before. But maybe now it will.”

“I’ll try to read some before we reach Vermilion. If you have any advice, though…”

Gramps sighs and leans back in his chair, hands behind his head. “Not much, I’m afraid. I’ve done a lot of things… trained pokemon, became a Champion, started a family, researched pokemon, became a Professor, started a lab, dabbled in politics… I run Pallet Labs, but I’m not a leader of men and women, just their boss. I’ve never had to win their loyalty: they gave it to me from what I’ve accomplished, from my legend. If I was discouraging others along the way, it never registered to me as a problem.”

Blue listens in quiet fascination. Gramps is often humble, but it’s the kind of humble that only amplifies his accomplishments. He admits ignorance often, but always with a zeal that makes it clear he’s motivated, not discouraged. This is the first time he can remember the professor speaking about himself in such a clearly limiting way… though he did include quite a long list of achievements first, of course.

“I guess I’m really on my own, then,” Blue murmurs. It’s a strange feeling. He imagined himself walking a tightwire before, with a different failure on either side, but he recognizes now that he always felt a hand on his shoulder to help balance him one way or the other. Without it, he feels himself wobble.

“While I appreciate your sense of finality in my personal inability to contribute, just because I can’t offer you any wisdom on this particular topic doesn’t mean no one can.”

Blue looks up at him. “Who else should I ask?”

Gramps cocks an eyebrow, smiling slightly. “What exactly do you think I suggested you joining a Gym for, Blue?”

“You… think I should be a Gym Leader first?”

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt to develop some skills in that area before you try and achieve it at a region-wide level.”

Blue frowns. “I guess I didn’t think of it that way. I’ll add it to my goal thingy.” He sees the professor’s curious look and waves it off. “Couldn’t I just talk to a Leader about it instead though?”

“Sure, if you think the advice will substitute for experience.”

“At least a little, yeah. I’ll figure out the rest on my own. I’ve already started trying to be more supportive with a couple trainers, like Aiko, and I think it’s working.”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“Who should I ask? Brock? I got along pretty well with him, I think. Or Giovanni, he’s in charge of so many projects—”

“No,” the professor says.

Blue stares. His grandpa’s face is placid, but there was a note of iron in that word.

“Oookay,” Blue says. “Gonna tell me what that’s about? Is it because of what he did to Leaf?”

The professor smiles slightly. “Leader Giovanni is a very talented man, in many ways. Perhaps none more so than in binding people together, and drawing them toward a cause guided by his will. In a way he would be a perfect mentor for your goal… but in another I think he would be disastrous for you to emulate.”

Blue sits up. This is the first time he’s ever heard his grandfather speak a bad word about the Viridian Leader. “What’s up, Gramps? I thought you and he got along great.”

“We’ve collaborated many times,” Professor Oak says, speaking slowly. “I would be surprised if a man such as he has anyone he truly gets along with.”

“But he’s good at working with others?”

“I said he is good at binding people together. It’s not quite the same thing.”

“Come on Gramps, you gotta give me more than that. It sounds like you’ve got a juicy story on him. Spill.”

The professor grins wryly. “I wish I did. There’s nothing singular he’s done that I can tell you to make you understand… it’s more of a pattern I’ve glimpsed. I guess my best sense of the man is that if Giovanni Sakaki was capable of guiding you to be exactly who you wish to be, he would have become that person himself already.”

Blue absorbs this quietly, debating whether he should try and get more out of him. In the end he decides against it… maybe Daisy will know, and if not he can try asking again later. “So who, then?”

“Well, you are heading to Vermilion. Leader Surge was a lieutenant in the Unovan military before he came to our shores and took his gym by storm, if you’ll excuse the pun. He can be… odd, at times, but his instincts and experiences in this area are probably better than mine.”

Blue nods. “Okay, I’ll check with him then, if I can. Thanks Gramps.”

“Of course, Blue.”

“Gramps?”

“Yes?”

“How do you think I’m doing? Really, I mean?”

His grandpa smiles and goes quiet for a moment, and Blue is happy to let him. There’s some apprehension in him, some idea that the professor will say something he didn’t realize, or point out some story about himself he missed. As he waits, he takes out some pokepuffs and begins to feed them to Ion, watching the shinx leap up and catch them out of the air. Soon Red’s pichu comes to compete for them, causing Red to look over and smile at his pokemon before returning to his conversation.

Eventually Gramps says, “I’ll be honest, Blue, I think you’re doing pretty fantastic,” and Blue feels a rush of relief.

“Yeah? I’ve made some mistakes…” Rather than dwell over his loss to Brock, he thinks back to the way he acted in the forest at first, and how Maturin hurt Mary’s totodile.

Blue blinks as his grandpa puts a hand on his shoulder. “Absolutely. But everyone does. Your two gym victories were both entertaining and skillful, without being so perfect that people might mutter about them being staged. Your various adventures along your journey have gained you a wide following, and the way you’ve comported yourself has shown that you’re not just a strong trainer, but one who will put himself at risk to do the right thing.”

The professor is smiling at him, the full, warm smile that only he seems to to be able to beam straight into Blue’s heart. “I’m proud of you, Blue. Your parents would be too.” He squeezes Blue’s shoulder, then lets his hand fall.

Blue turns to their pokemon as he tosses out another piece of pokepuff. There’s a lump in his throat, but eventually he’s able to speak past it, voice low. “Thanks, Gramps.”

The two watch the pokemon play on the grass as the others chatter and laugh, and the stars wheel overhead.


Red lies in his bedroll, hands behind his head and staring up at the sky. He just finished his watch, but he’s not tired in the least. His mind keeps going over the conversation with his mother, her tone, her expression. He could have handled all that better.

He still agrees with everything he said though, so maybe he should stop agonizing over it and focus on something else. He watches Leaf set up for her watch and is reminded of the goal factoring sheet. He takes it out and examines it once again.

Is the journey really the best use of his time and effort? Or does he just feel that way because he doesn’t want to leave Leaf and Blue? Should he keep putting himself at risk and potentially making morally compromised choices just to maximize his chances? He doesn’t want to become a recluse like Bill, but there’s probably a middle ground.

“Having trouble sleeping?” Leaf whispers.

Red looks up to find her watching him. “Yeah.”

“Everything okay with you and your mom?”

“Not… really.” He sighs and lowers the page to his chest as he explains what happened.

Leaf is quiet for a moment after he finishes, then simply says, “That sucks.”

“Yeah. This is the first time in years I’ve felt like I disappointed her. About something that matters, you know? And I did it deliberately, too. I feel like an asshole, but also like I’d do the same thing again, so what does that say about me?”

“That you’re sorry that your different goals hurt others. Which isn’t a bad thing. Beats the alternative, at least.”

Red snorts. “I guess. I’m just not sure how to make it up to her, you know?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Right, how are you and your mom doing these days?”

“We’re okay. A bit better, and she said it’s water under the bridge, but I can tell she’s still upset with me. Or disappointed. Or something. I missed her tonight, for a crazy moment I thought maybe she’d show up too, but she’s really busy, and it’s so far…”

Red feels a stab of sympathy. “Been homesick?”

“Sometimes. I don’t want to go back though. Not just because of my pride after fighting for so long to come here, I’m really enjoying our journey. And your mom has been a great help. Her offer was really sweet.”

“Yeah, she’s like that,” Red murmurs, feeling guilty again.

“Don’t worry, Red. I doubt you said anything half as bad as the stuff I said to my mom, and she forgave me eventually.”

“It’s less about what I said and more about how I not only did something she found immoral, but made her complicit in it.”

“Hmm. Yeah, that is worse.”

Red gives a crooked grin. “Thanks, Leaf.”

“Still, falling out with your parents now and then is part of growing up. As long as you show her you’re not going to become a Renegade or something, I’m sure she’ll forgive you. She loves you too much to hold a grudge.”

“Thanks, Leaf,” he says again, quieter this time.

They sit in silence for a while as Red’s mind drifts to Leaf’s fights with her mother. Should he ask about their relationship more? Or would Leaf rather he not? “When we get to Vermilion,” he eventually says, “after the cruise, you should find a ride back to Unova and set an abra teleport there. Then you can come back and go visit whenever you want.”

“You think so? It’s a long flight…”

“For sure! We won’t mind waiting around. At least I wouldn’t, and I’m sure Blue and Aiko won’t either.”

“Thanks, Red. I’ll think about it.” He can hear her smile. “Now get some sleep.”

“Yes ma’am.” He closes his eyes and centers himself on his breathing, focusing his mind on the calming sensations until he drifts off.


Leaf wakes Blue for his watch, then lies down and relaxes. Guard duty always makes her shoulders stiff, and she considers getting a sofa chair to carry around in a container just for watches, though it would be harder to look behind her if she does.

She sees in her periphery as Blue sits down for his watch and takes a book out, and notices her confusion. After about thirty minutes of not being able to sleep, she decides to interrupt him. “Hey Blue.”

He looks up. “Yeah?”

“What did you say to me that day on the mountain, when the graveler self-destructed?”

“Uhh… I think it was ‘we should be dead?’ Why?”

Leaf smiles. “Just checking to make sure you’re really you.”

“What?”

“Never mind, private joke. Whatcha reading?”

“Oh. Remember the book Gramps gave me, in Pewter? Thought I’d finally get around to reading it.”

“Ah. What’s it about?”

“Nobunaga’s rise to power. Oh, you might not know… he was the warlord that started the unification of the continent, way back in the dark ages. He and his men went from region to region, beating the other warlords and either retaming their pokemon or getting their men to join his cause. Wasn’t the nicest guy, though. I think Gramps wants me to learn about leadership, the good and the bad kinds.”

“Or maybe the effective and the dangerous kinds?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“I think you’ll be the effective kind.”

She’s staring up at the sky, but she can sense his surprise. “Of course I will. What in particular makes you think so, though?”

Leaf smiles. “You care about it so much. You’re not just after a goal, you want to make sure you’re on the right path to that goal. You care about the process. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. But I think that’s the important thing… caring about the process enough to let it guide you to what you want, rather than let your goals override everything else.”

“Is that related to goal factoring?”

“Probably not. I’m kinda tired, so I’m mostly just thinking out loud,” she says, hearing the drowsiness in her own voice. “I’m thinking more about science I guess, or journalism. If you want to discover things or cause a sensation, you might not be as careful as you should be in doing things right. But I think the process of goal factoring is important too, even if you don’t end up changing your current actions or behavior.”

“Yeah. How was your talk with Daisy, by the way? Think you’ll go try and get your coordinator license? Or work with Aunt Laura?”

“Not anytime soon. There’s still so much of your region I want to see, so many people to meet… I’ve got to learn more about them…” Leaf thinks of all the people she met at the museum and dig site, and the angry words she left Zoey Palmer with. “Get better at talking to them…”

“Well, I think you’ll be effective at that too. Changed my mind on a few things, since we started out. Not even Red’s had so good a track record with that.”

Leaf smiles, eyes slipping closed. “You just know him… too well… too personal… thanks though…”

“If you say so. Get some sleep, huh?”

“Yes ma’am,” Leaf echoes, and is out before she can hear his confused response.


The next day they’re woken by early morning traffic along the road, and by the time the sun finishes revealing the fields around them they’re back on the move. The ride goes quietly at first, everyone besides Blue still waking up after their late night. He doesn’t mind the silence, thoughts still on his conversation with Gramps. It was good to see him and Daisy again. Blue has enjoyed the journey so far, but he realizes he missed them a little, a thread of homesickness he barely recognized corded through his past couple months.

By their first rest stop everyone has woken enough to have sporadic conversations, and after eating, Leaf brings her pineco out for some basic training. Red follows suit, but when Blue spots Aiko sitting and watching, her own pineco not yet registered or conditioned, he walks over to her instead of joining them.

“So, fancy a battle?”

She smiles and stands. “You’re on. What kind?”

“I’m going to use just my wartortle so I can practice tighter control and less lethal attacks. You can use whatever pokemon you think you’ll need to win.” The same challenge he gave Red a couple days ago should give him a better measure of her training competence.

She runs her hands over her pokeballs, face contemplative. “Okay. I’ll take my oddish, sandshrew, and raticate.”

“Sandshrew, huh? Okay, show me what you’ve got.” They move away from the others. “Go, Maturin!”

“Go, Oddish!”

“Bai!”

“Ero!”

“Dodge!” Blue yells instinctively, with no idea what to expect from the custom command. A cloud of purple spores puff out and envelops Maturin a moment after her Ice Beam hits, the wartortle unable to get away on time. Blue’s battle calm keeps his surprise from disrupting his concentration, but he feels a stab of gratitude that oddish can’t learn Leech Seed. 60… 59… 58…

Aiko withdraws her frost-covered pokemon. “Go, Sandshrew! Ero!”

What? “Bubble!”

“Ero” turns out to be Sand Attack, which at least cures him of the confusion in expecting a Sandshrew to know Poison Powder. Using the same word for two different pokemon to use two different moves… He thinks of his sister’s recent discovery with clefairy, and wonders if some changes in intonation are at the root of her code.

He shoves the thoughts aside for later consideration so he can focus on the battle. 53… 52… 51… Her sandshrew’s cloud of dust makes it hard to aim the explosive bubbles, and Blue is proud of his pokemon for simply shooting them in a wide spray, but another cone of sand completely obscures her a moment later, making any aim impossible.

“Tackle!”

“Ero 2!”

What?! Blue runs around the dust cloud to get a clear view of his pokemon as she dashes out of it, only to see the sandshrew dive into the ground.

“Withdraw!” 45… 44… 43…

Maturin sinks into her shell just as the sandshrew bursts out of the ground beneath her and knocks her away. “G-Bubble!” He almost used a water gun, but he’s determined to stick to weak attacks, as promised.

“Ero 2!” Aiko says again, and her sandshrew dives back down, but not before one of the bubbles hits his back.

“Withdraw!” Shit, was I approaching 40 or 30? Start at 35… 34… 33… “Bubble!”

Maturin sticks her head out and spits some bubbles out just as the sandshrew emerges again, and this time it takes the attack head on as it knocks Maturin away. The bubbles send it bouncing along the ground across the battle area and closer to Red and Leaf, who quickly withdraw their pineco and back away to make room.

“Sorry!” Aiko shouts as she runs over to her pokemon and withdraws it. “Go, Sneaker!”

About 20 seconds. Maturin emerges from her shell, pale blue ears and tail drooping as she breathes hard, one hand rubbing at her face. “Gaw!”

“Fast!”

The raticate leaps forward in a burst of movement, hitting Maturin before more than a tiny spurt of water shoots out. Blue watches within his calm as his pokemon is gashed, her return attack dealing insubstantial damage, and with about fifteen seconds left he makes a snap decision.

“Maturin, return!”

Aiko’s next command dies on her lips as she stares in surprise, then blinks and straightens out of a battle crouch, her raticate’s ball in one hand. “I won?”

“You won.” Blue smiles, then turns in surprise as Red and Leaf start applauding as they walk over.

“Nice job, Aiko!”

“That was brilliant,” Red says. “I tried something similar in Cerulean and screwed it all up.”

Aiko grins. “Thanks, but I think he let me win.”

Red snorts. “I don’t think Blue could do that if his life depended on it.”

“He withdrew his wartortle too early,” Aiko insists.

All eyes turn to Blue, who has brought Maturin back out to treat her wounds and give her an antidote. “I just figured that the risk was too great. In a wild battle I might have kept her out longer, but I would have fought more aggressively in that case anyway. As it is, you won fair and square.” He pats Maturin’s shell, then feeds her some berries and lets her take a long drink from his water bottle, other hand petting her downy ears. “More than that, you did really well. I learned a lot from that.” He smiles at her.

Aiko maintains a skeptical look for a moment, then returns his smile and begins summoning her own pokemon to heal them, blushing slightly. “Well, it was fun. Next time go all out, okay?”

“You got it.” He turns to Leaf, wondering if he should comment on her watching a live fight. From what he gathered she could barely watch his battle against Brock, and he doesn’t even know if she watched his fight with Misty. Before he can though, she’s already asking Aiko about her attack code, and he groans.

“Leaf… you don’t ask a battle trainer that. It’s like asking someone the password to their email. Worse, you’re robbing me of the chance to decipher it myself!”

“Oh, I think I got that part,” Red says. “I guess I shouldn’t say it out loud, huh?”

Blue scowls at him. “No, even if you’re wrong.” Which he probably is. Red barely spent any time watching fights, no way he would-

“Whisper it to me?” Aiko asks curiously, and Red agrees. Aiko finishes defrosting her oddish, then withdraws it and stands so Red can cup his hands around her ear. After a moment, Aiko grins and nods. “You got it!”

What. Blue shakes his head. He was distracted during the battle. He’ll get it after he has a chance to think it over. “Let’s get back on the road?”

They agree, Leaf asking Aiko about her training methods as they mount up. Blue tunes them out, thinking over the commands she used. His first guess was intonation, but then she added a 2 to one of them… not that that rules it out… He wants to check if that’s it, but he should make sure first, if Red got it in one try.

The rest of the day passes swiftly as they continue travelling south. They stop for lunch by a small grove where other travelers have sat to rest. Another traveler comes by and offers to sell or trade a farfetch’d, which visibly upsets Leaf once it becomes clear that it hasn’t been properly registered or vetted. He eventually moves on when nobody seems interested at the prices he requests, and the party leaves shortly after.

The sun is already well into its downward swing when a CoRRNet alarm goes off from someone’s phone, just as Blue was about to suggest another rest break. Red skids to a stop and checks it, but the incident point is far to the northeast of them, just inside the range he set for notifications.

“What is it?” Blue asks. “Tier 1?”

“No, some pokemon got loose at a ranch, going into other ones nearby. About two hours ride back the way we came, though.” He looks up. “Kinda far, isn’t it?”

“A couple hours isn’t bad,” Blue says, ignoring the ache in his rear and lower back. “We might still be able to help.”

“My house is actually really close,” Aiko says. “Another twenty minutes. I was hoping to get there by tonight, so I can talk to my dad about all this.”

“Do you think he’ll be okay with us spending the night?” Leaf asks.

“Oh, sure! I mentioned that I’d be bringing guests.”

“No way we’re making it there and back by dark,” Red says. “And we’ll be tired when we reach the incident, so whatever might still need doing, we won’t be at our best.”

Blue frowns. “You guys go on ahead, then. I’ll meet you there.”

“What? Split the party? You were the one against that in Viridian.”

“We were young and green then. Besides, I’m sure others will be there to help, so I won’t be alone.”

“What about the ride back down?”

“Aiko was planning on traveling this way alone, weren’t you?”

She hesitates. “Yes, but not while it’s dark.”

“It’s just a couple hours. I’ll be fine.”

Leaf shakes her head. “It made sense to split up in Viridian, but we don’t have to here. If you really want to go, Blue, I’ll go with you.”

“Same,” Red says.

Aiko bites her lip. “If this is what you guys would have done without me, I don’t want to stop you. I’ll come too.”

Blue smiles and turns his bike northward, feeling renewed by their confidence in him. Before he pushes his bike forward, however, he stops himself. The expressions they wore, the tone of their voices, they were determined, not confident or energized. With one foot on the pedal, he turns back to the others. “You guys all think it’s a bad idea?” They shrug and nod. “But you’ll go if I do?”

“Of course,” Leaf says, looking at him as though he’s speaking a foreign language. “We’re a team.”

“But not because you want to. Just so I don’t get hurt?”

“Well, yeah,” Red says. “What’s wrong, Blue?”

Shit. Dragging them along out of concern for his safety, forcing them to make a choice they’re against, that’s not what a leader does. He wants them to go because they realize it’s the right thing to do, that a little discomfort and danger is worth helping others. He has to inspire them, make them want to follow him.

He takes a deep breath… then lets it out, unsure of how to start. Everything that comes to mind just sounds too grand and epic for what’s not even a Tier 1 threat. Also they’ve got a two hour ride ahead of them to reach it, which means a lot of time for any enthusiasm they have to fade. They’ll probably stay determined though. Maybe if he just starts riding he’ll think of something…

The silence has gone on a bit too long, and he distantly notices Leaf, Red and Aiko glancing at each other and him, a little worried. Red takes off his helmet and scratches at his hair, while Aiko bends down to adjust her kneepad. They’re all waiting for him to say something or go, but he doesn’t want to leave without knowing what he’s doing and why. If learning to be a leader is his goal, there’s definitely more to it than just picking an action and getting others to follow you.

“Could you guys just go over why you don’t think we should go again?” Blue asks.

“Um. We’re all tired, and will be more tired when we get there, thus putting ourselves at extra risk and maybe even putting more strain on others there who will have to help us?” Red says.

“I’ve never responded to an incident before,” Aiko admits. “A small thing like this is probably a good place to start, but like Red said, I’m not really at my best, and I wanted to make sure my dad was okay with my journey sooner rather than later.”

Leaf is leaning on her handlebars, gazing down at the grass. “It does bother me that there are people there who might need our help,” she says after a moment. “But we should trust that others who are better positioned can handle it. If it was a bigger incident I’d agree, but it’ll be dark soon, and if everything is over by the time we get there we’ll either have to travel at night to reach Aiko’s house or spend it outdoors again. It’s not a huge burden, but I find myself against it all the same.”

Blue sighs. He can’t really think of any good responses to that besides just repeating that they could help others, and maybe even get some more fame out of it. But he doesn’t really care about that right now: developing his leadership skills is what matters. Learning what makes a good decision different from a bad one.

What would Captain Uda from Power Force Ten do, in this situation?

“Red,” Blue says, testing out the tone of command. “Give me an assessment of our choices that doesn’t have our safety as a consideration.”

His friend gets it right away, as Blue knew he would. A silence ensues as he thinks, fiddling with his helmet. Eventually he puts it on and says, “If we discount our safety and our comfort, I think that the opportunity cost should also be considered. We’ll be more tired and sore tomorrow if we go. What if another incident occurs right near us farther south? So the question is, do we extend ourselves for a sure thing, or preserve our strength. Rational beliefs are based on probabilities, not possibilities, but right now I don’t know what the odds of encountering another incident tomorrow are. It’s low, but so far in our journey we’ve only ever gone toward incidents when they were nearby or in our path. That’s worked out well for us, so I’d say let’s stick to that.”

Blue nods and turns to Leaf. “Do you think we’ll be able to live with ourselves if something really bad happens and we chose against it just to spend a night indoors?”

Leaf gives this careful consideration as well, tucking her hair behind her ear as she wobbles her bike slowly back and forth between her legs. “I think if that happens, we’ll regret not going and update our actions in the future,” Leaf says. “But that’s as it should be. I don’t think it would cause trauma.”

Aiko looks wary before he even turns to her. “I don’t really know what you guys are doing,” she admits. “So I’m not sure how much help I can be.”

Blue grins. “Actually, you’re kind of the most important one. I’m going to be blunt: would you respect me more if I say we go forward, at this point, or head back? Not would you be happier, I mean which action would you find more fitting for me as the grandson of Professor Oak.” He thinks he knows, now, he feels the shape of it…

Her eyes narrow, and like the others, she takes a moment to think. “I think my respect for you would increase if we go and everything turns out good, but would decrease if we go and things turn out poorly. But if we don’t go… I think I would respect you whether we find out we could have helped or not, because you made an informed decision and changed your mind based on what your team wanted.”

“My thoughts exactly.” He turns his bike back around. “Thanks for the feedback everyone. You’ve convinced me.” He kicks down at his pedals and leads them onward to Aiko’s house… until she bikes ahead to actually guide them off the main road to it, anyway.


Leaf’s first impression of Aiko’s house has nothing to do with the house itself, but rather the fields of open space around it where various domesticated pokemon live in carefully fenced off areas. The side road they follow winds through these in a circuitous route, giving them plenty of time to see the variety of pokemon within. Aside from all the normal, grass, and bug types, Leaf spots a few rarer ones she can identify, like drowzee, machop, and pikachu.

“You and your dad watch all of these alone?” Leaf asks, amazed.

“We hire help sometimes,” Aiko says. “But for the most part, yeah.” The other girl seems nervous, and as her house comes closer and closer, slows her bike to a stop and turns to the others.

“Um. My dad can be a little strange. Just… try to let me do most of the talking, if you can?”

“Sure,” Red says. By now Leaf can read his expression well enough to know he’s holding back his curiosity.

“Of course,” Leaf says.

“You got it.”

Aiko looks at them, then nods and leads them the rest of the way. The house looks nice, two stories of reinforced stone with a door to each side. That seems odd at first, until they store their bikes and gear and step inside to find a house with no indoor walls. None on the ground floor, anyway: other than a few pillars the whole thing is wide open, with various nurseries set up for young pokemon.

“Aww, look at all the littles!” Leaf says with a wide grin as she steps toward a small pen holding two budew and an azurill. “Hi! Hi there cuties!”

After a moment she remembers herself and looks back at the others with embarrassment, but they’re too busy being impressed by the house as well. Aiko is smiling slightly at their expressions, but after a moment she starts toward the stairs. “Daaad! I’m home! This way guys.”

They follow her up the stairs and into a much more traditional looking house, with a small kitchen and living room area and some bedrooms. A thin man in a loose button up shirt and khakis stands with a baby meowth in the crook of his arm being fed from a bottle.

“Hello,” he says, and bows slightly before peering at the group from behind wide glasses. “Pleased to meet you all. Won’t you have a seat? This one’s almost done.”

Leaf resists the urge to coo over the tiny kitten, its forehead coin no bigger than her pinkie nail. Instead she goes to the couch with the others, except for Aiko, who heads over to the kitchen.

“You guys want anything to eat or drink?”

“I’ll serve dinner in about an hour,” Mr. Sakai says.

“I’m okay,” Leaf says, and the boys agree. Aiko pours herself some juice and comes to sit in one of the chairs beside them while her dad goes off somewhere with the meowth.

“You guys have a serious operation going here,” Red says, voice low. “How much time do the pokemon spend out of their balls?”

“Most of it,” she says. “We only cycle them out for bed. I’ll go help him feed everyone before we eat, then return them to their balls after, before it gets dark.”

Leaf’s mouth drops open. “There were over a dozen pens out there, some with three or four pokemon! How does your dad manage it all when you’re not here?”

Aiko shrugs as she sips from her glass. “He doesn’t really do much else,” she mutters, gaze averted.

Leaf blinks and aborts her next question. A glance at the boys makes it clear they’ve picked up on her discomfort too, and the group sits in silence while they wait for her dad to rejoin them.

When he does return, he still has the baby meowth in the crook of his arm. No, the milk bottle is refilled, it must be a different one. He sits in another of the chairs. “Hello again. I’m Sho, Aiko’s father. Welcome to our home.”

Aiko said to let her do the talking, but greetings were probably okay. “Thank you for having us,” Leaf says after they introduce themselves.

Red nods. “Your house is really interesting. Did you buy it like this, or renovate?”

“Dad renovated,” Aiko says. “To make more room for others.”

“There’s never enough space,” Mr. Sakai murmurs. His speaking voice in general is low, but Leaf barely made this last line out. “So many in need…”

“So, Dad,” Aiko says. “There’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Yes, dear?” he asks, gaze on the meowth.

Leaf sees Aiko’s nervousness through her relaxed posture, a kind of forced stillness. “I told you that Leaf, Blue, and Red all rode down here with me from Cerulean. They-”

“Yes, how was your trip?” he asks. “Did you enjoy the city?”

Aiko hesitates, then nods. “It was lots of fun. And I’m happy with the bicycle, thank you. That’s where I met them, buying the bike-”

“She usually takes public transportation,” he says to the three without making eye contact with any of them. “I think she’s old enough for a bike now though, don’t you?”

Aiko’s fingers tighten around her glass. “Dad, they invited me to travel with them.”

Mr. Sakai is silent. His gaze is distant, staring off between them all. After a moment Leaf realizes she’s holding her breath.

“No,” he says at last, in that same quiet tone. He shifts the kitten on his arm. “No, it’s too dangerous. When you’re older. You’ll stay here, learn more…”

“Dad. I won’t be traveling alone. I can go with them. We’ll keep each other safe.”

“The pokemon need you. It’s not safe. Maybe when you’re older.”

“They traveled to here from Pallet Town, Dad, they’re strong, we can-”

“Pallet Town?” He turns to them again. “It’s a lovely place. I used to enjoy visiting the beaches with my family, when we lived in Viridian.”

After a moment Blue speaks up. “Yeah, the beach is a lot of fun.” He glances at Aiko, whose cheeks are flushed.

“I fought Leader Misty,” Aiko says, glass trembling in her hands. “I won. Look.” She shows him her Cascade Badge. “I’m a good trainer, I can take care of myself-”

Her father stands. “This one’s done. I should prepare dinner. Please, enjoy your stay.” He pulls the bottle away from the meowth and carries it to the room.

Leaf doesn’t know what her expression looks like, but she imagines Red and Blue’s are a good enough reflection of it. Aiko, meanwhile, has a carefully blank face, her fingers so tight around her glass of juice Leaf suddenly worries she’ll shatter it.

“It’s okay,” Aiko says, voice hollow. “I’ll talk him around, maybe after dinner…”

“What’s wrong with him?” Blue asks.

“Blue!” Red whispers. “Not cool.”

“What? It’s like he barely heard her.”

“We’re guests here-”

“No, it’s alright.” Aiko puts her glass down (Leaf lets out a breath of relief) and curls up in her chair, legs drawn to her chest. “That’s just how he is. He decides something and it’s so. He doesn’t listen to anything that disagrees, doesn’t even acknowledge it. But he doesn’t get mad, no matter what I say or do in return. He just… goes on acting like it’s decided. It’s like fighting with air.”

Aiko rubs at her face, and Leaf is about to act on a sudden impulse to get up and hug her when she stands instead. “Please excuse me. I should start feeding the pokemon. Please make yourselves at home.”

Leaf and the others watch her go, then sit quietly for a moment. Blue’s arms are crossed, brow furrowed. Red looks puzzled, but also sorrowful. “What is it, Red?”

“He’s just… really sad,” he says. “I could feel it even without merging with his mind. The feel of him is just… quiet. Slow drips. Sad.” He shakes his head. “Sorry, it’s hard to describe.”

“Damn selfish of him, I say,” Blue says, voice bitter. “She’s a good trainer, and he’s trying to keep her here because he’s afraid. She should just leave, she has her license. I’ll pay her Trainer House fees and cover her food…”

“That’s good of you Blue, but I think that kind of falling out with her dad would be pretty distracting.” Red glances at her.

Leaf nods. “If there’s any other way…” She stands. “I’m going to go talk to her, maybe help out with the pokemon.” Leaf heads for the direction Aiko went in, leaving them to debate further.

She finds Aiko in what must be her room, listlessly lining her new pineco ball lenses up with a really old pokedex model that’s as thick as a book. Leaf knocks on the open door. “Mind if I come in?”

Aiko rubs at her cheeks, then shrugs.

Leaf enters the girl’s room and looks around. It’s nice, filled with books and electronics, half of them opened and with their silicon guts spilled out in carefully separate piles. Posters of various pokemon adorn the walls, all done in a particular impressionist style, with overlapping swirls of color that almost seem to spread into the pastel walls around them.

“Aiko, are you alright?”

The girl looks up, eyes red. “What do you think? He’s not going to let me go, I know it. I said I’d convince him, but… I don’t know how. And I don’t want to leave him alone without his blessing, without knowing he’ll be okay… ever since Mom he’s been…”

“Sad,” Leaf whispers, and sits on the bed beside the girl to hug her against her side. Aiko nods against her shoulder. “I understand. We all do. Red’s dad was a ranger, he’s still not over it. Blue lost both his parents. It’s what drives him so hard, I think. My mom and I fought like crazy before I came to Kanto, because she wanted me to stay in Unova where I’d be ‘safer.'”

“What did you do?”

“I made it clear that I’m a person, not a pokemon she can keep in a ball. That respect only lasts if it’s earned, and that if she wouldn’t let me prove to her that I was ready to make my own choices, I would lose respect for her and myself, and she’d never be able to get it back.”

Aiko shifts to stare at her. “You said that to your mom?”

Leaf shrugs, cheeks flushing. “I’m paraphrasing a little. It wasn’t really that polite.”

“But you’re so…”

“Charming?” Leaf grins, and Aiko giggles.

“But still, I’m surprised that worked.”

“Oh, it didn’t really change her mind. She was sure I’d realize how wrong I was at some point and forgive her. Maybe she’s right. But she let me go when she realized I was prepared to find my own way with or without her help.”

Aiko nods slowly. “I don’t know if that’ll work for my dad. He… I know he wants me to be safe, but I think he’d be lonely too.”

“Would he be able to handle all this work on his own?” Leaf asks. “I have to admit I don’t really blame him for being a bit worried about that, but he should just take less clients in that case.”

Aiko looks away. “That… won’t really work.”

“Why not?” Leaf blinks. “Wait… are these not…?”

“Only about half,” Aiko says. “The rest are babies that weren’t wanted or retired pokemon that don’t have a home. Dad’s been slowly filling the pens out, and he doesn’t want them to go into the wild where they might be killed, and he doesn’t want to sell them to trainers who might not take care of them.”

“Oh, Aiko…” Leaf has to take a moment to compose herself. She’d wondered about the incongruity between Aiko’s attitude and the seeming abundance of work her family has, and thought her dad was just a miser or wouldn’t let her access her funds. The reality is just… too sad. “That’s really good of him.”

“Yeah. But it leaves him little time or space for customers, and… it’s like all he does. I wouldn’t mind it so much, and I admire him for it, but…”

“You don’t want to be bound by it too. That’s understandable.”

Aiko wipes at her eyes again and gently pulls away. Leaf lets her. “I’m sorry for dumping all this on you. I guess I knew it was too good to be true, going with you guys. You’re all so cool, and it was amazing to meet the Professor. I just…” She sighs and shakes her head. “Anyway. I should go feed the pokemon. Thanks for listening.”

“Anytime.” Leaf stands. “Mind if I lend you a hand?”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I know. But I’d like to.”

Aiko smiles. “Thank you, Leaf. For everything.”


The work goes quickly, though Leaf keeps stopping to play with various pokemon. They’ve all been tamed at some point, so it’s like one big petting zoo. Red and Blue come out to help after a while, and the four of them make a circuit around the pens while Aiko’s dad prepares dinner.

Even half expecting it, Leaf is delighted to see that the meal is largely pokemon-free. There’s a side of steamed goldeen that seems set aside particularly for the three guests, though she doesn’t take any and makes sure to compliment Aiko’s dad on the tastiness of the loaded mashed potatoes and mushroom stuffed artichoke. She hadn’t expected to meet anyone else with her diet in Kanto, though she can’t remember if Aiko ate any meals with pokemon in them during their trip. Maybe she only maintains this diet while at home.

Mr. Sakai is quiet during dinner, though he answers pleasantly enough when Leaf or the others try to engage him in conversation. They just don’t go anywhere, as he doesn’t seem particularly present, mentally, instead lost in his thoughts. Aiko seems too miserable to join in, though she does liven up when her father asks in what sounds like surprise if she really met Professor Oak.

“Oh, yes! He was very kind, and asked about my life and plans. I told him about our house, and the pokemon we take care of. He said he might visit some day.”

“That would be something. He’s a brilliant man, your grandfather,” Mr. Sakai says to Blue, though that’s only evident from his words, since he’s looking down at his food.

“Thank you. He showed a lot of faith in your daughter’s skills and future.”

Aiko shoots him a look of mixed gratitude and resignation, but Blue just watches her father, who’s silent for a moment, and then:

“I met him once, you know,” Mr. Sakai says. “In Cerulean, this was, years ago. Brilliant man. Taught me a lot about pokemon, when I was starting out…”

And so it goes. After dinner they go around and help return all the pokemon to their balls, then Red and Blue prepare to bed down in the living room while Aiko shows Leaf to her room. It feels a bit unfair to have a guest room to herself, but she enjoys the shower and offers it to the other two when she’s done. While they take turns with it, she finds Aiko in her room again, checking on the progress of her pineco’s registration.

“Takes a while, huh?” Leaf asks.

“Yeah. I’m going to let the other one run overnight.”

“Aiko, would you mind if I talk to your father alone? I know you told us not to, but what have you got to lose, really?”

“Leaf… I appreciate it, I do. But you guys have done enough for me. I didn’t bring you here so you could convince him, I just hoped he’d see for himself that I’d be okay.”

“Would you let me try anyway? I have an idea, and I would hate to leave without you and not know if it could have worked. I won’t say anything that gets you in trouble.”

Aiko smiles. “I don’t know what you could possibly say that would do that, but… okay, sure. Why not.”

“Cool. Should I just knock on his door?”

“Yeah, he should be up.”

Leaf goes and does so. There’s a pause, and then the door opens to reveal Mr. Sakai in striped pajamas, blinking at her from behind his wide glasses.

“Yes?”

“Hello, Mr. Sakai. Would you mind if I spoke with you in private?”

There’s a pause that she’s getting used to, and then, “Of course.” He opens the door wider, and she enters.

The room is spartan, with a bed, dresser, writing desk, and crib that contains the meowth kittens. Leaf spends a moment cooing over them. “What are their names?”

“None yet,” he says, sitting on his bed. “Bad luck, at this age. Not all of them make it.”

Leaf remembers Red and Blue telling her about Kanto superstitions. “They’re adorable. Did one of the pokemon outside have them, or…?”

“Yes. I’ll have to move some of the pokemon around to make room in their mother’s pen for them. I’m not sure how yet. Some of the other pokemon may stay in their balls more.”

He’s more cogent now, talking about his pokemon. Leaf hoped that would be the case. She sits in the chair by the desk. “That would be terrible, having less time outside…”

“Yes. It’s a tragedy, so many of them locked away… not existing, for hours at a time.”

Leaf is glad she left her pokemon belt in her room. “Is that why you don’t sell some of the pokemon to trainers?”

Mr. Sakai doesn’t ask how she knows that. “Too risky. Dangerous, and they’d spend most of their time in their balls. It’s not fair to them.”

Leaf tries to keep a running tally of his concerns in mind. She remembers Laura telling her about how understanding others’ values is integral to convincing them to change their minds, and knows that understanding their goals works the same way.

“What about others? Some older folk looking for company…”

“No, no. They die, and leave them behind again. Some can’t care for them well.”

“Kids, then, looking for pets?”

“Same. And they grow older, become trainers, use them to fight. Or sell them to buy one with better training.”

Leaf nods. “You care about the pokemon a lot, don’t you?”

“Yes. So many of them need help, a safe place to stay…”

“Your wife cared about them too?”

A tear drips down Mr. Sakai’s face. Leaf stares in horror, about to apologize, when he says, “Yes.” For a moment he looks at her, really looks at her, then looks away again. “Like you.”

Leaf nods, not trusting herself to speak. Did he mean because she didn’t eat pokemon either? For all he knows she just doesn’t like fish, but he seems certain.

“But you’re a trainer.”

“I am. To help them. Learn from them. Find ways to save them, if I can.”

“You can’t. Not all of them.”

“No,” Leaf whispers, remembering Red’s hoothoot and the pokemon on the mountain that attacked them. “Not all of them.”

“It’s not safe.”

“It’s never safe, Mr. Sakai. If an incident occurs around here, some rampage or attack, who will keep all the pokemon here safe? If girls like your daughter don’t become trainers, humans and pokemon will just keep fighting and killing each other.”

He’s quiet at that, then says, “It’s very peaceful, here. Aiko’s a good girl. She helps, cares for the pokemon. She should stay, learn more…”

Leaf almost sighs. “What do you want, Mr. Sakai? For her to be safe? She’s not. Aiko is secretly training already. She’s surviving on a pittance because she can’t ask you for help. If she doesn’t have your support, she’ll just leave some day without it.”

“She’s a good girl. When she’s older, she’ll be ready.”

Leaf tries to think of something else to say, but she finds herself wanting to get angry, say something that would hurt him, get a rise out of him the way she did with her mom. Instead she stands, heart leaden. “Think about it, Mr. Sakai. We’ll keep your daughter safe, if she comes with us. If she doesn’t, I’m worried she’ll get hurt on her own.”

He doesn’t answer, gaze on the kittens in the crib. Leaf gives him a minute, but when he still doesn’t say anything, not even one of his usual refrains, she heads for the door.

“Oh,” she says, turning back with her hand on the doorknob. “You should consider advertising as a petting zoo. Let kids come and play with the pokemon under supervision. Might help you pay for more space, they’ll get more attention, and the kids can learn more about the pokemon. Grow to care about them more.” Leaf smiles. “Just a thought.”

She leaves him there in his silence and goes to bed, unable to face Aiko’s disappointment, or her own.

Chapter 44: Premortem

“Okay,” Red says as he takes out his notebook. “From the top… bags, phones, and wallets?”

“Check,” Leaf says cheerfully. Blue echoes her, with decidedly less cheer.

Red ensures he has his for what’s probably the third time, then puts a checkmark. “Restocked rations?”

“Check.”

“Clean clothes?”

“Check.”

“Pouch of pokeballs?”

Leaf giggles. “Check.”

“Energized electronics?”

Blue makes a sound of disgust and leans over to peer at the notebook. “You didn’t actually write them all like that, did you?”

Red shows him the page with a grin. “It helps keep things memorable even when I’m not looking at it.”

“Twenty-six parts! Red, we don’t need a specific reminder for whether our clothes fit ‘comfy!'”

“Oh, right.” Red stops walking and kneels down to adjust his shoe and tighten the laces. “This has been bothering me since we left, but I was ignoring it. See, it was handy.”

“Well we’re not—” Blue stops as he sees Leaf pause to adjust her backpack straps, then shakes his head and keeps walking without them… but a few steps later he adjusts one of his straps too.

Red winks at Leaf, then checks off 17 and goes back up to 4 as he catches up. “Crammed canteens?” Blue groans and walks faster. “Checklists save lives, Blue. Giovanni just blogged about it a couple days ago. So, crammed canteens?”

“My ‘canteens’ are full, yes. I refilled them last night.”

“Great!”

The trio makes their way through Cerulean North’s streets, the sidewalks still mostly empty as the sun continues to climb past the horizon. Pichu sits on Red’s shoulder, napping in the soft morning light, while Bulbasaur dutifully follows Leaf, only wandering off occasionally to examine a light post or mailbox with his vines. Eventually they find a bus that takes them to Cerulean South, and Red finishes his checklist on their way before he tucks it back in his bag, content that they’re as prepared for the road as they can be.

Cerulean South is much less touristy than North: its storefronts are less flashy, the busses are filled with kids and adults on their way to school or work, and it has far more residential streets. They pass each of these by, one bus stop at a time, until they finally reach the last stop, far into the southern suburbs. They get off the bus and follow Blue’s GPS toward a nearby pokemon center and Trainer House, there to welcome any travelers coming north.

To the side of the Trainer House is their destination: a bike shop. A bell chimes overhead as the three enter and find themselves surrounded by a colorful variety of bikes in all shapes and sizes.

“Good morning,” an older man with a woolen cap and half-specs says. “How can I help you today?”

Red spots a sign that says POKEMON MUST REMAIN IN THEIR BALLS WHILE IN STORE THANK YOU and pops the collar of his jacket to hide Pichu, who’s currently cuddled up behind his neck. “Hi!” Leaf says. “We’re trainers, so we’re looking for—”

“-all terrain bikes, got ya, got ya.” The man sidles around the counter, eyes bright with the prospect of three purchases. “Got a number of models right here.” He walks to a line of bikes near the far wall, where Blue is already looking some over.

“These are a bit pricey,” he says. “Last bike I had was like, a hundred bucks at most?”

“Well, sure, that’s fine if you’re just riding around your neighborhood or city. Take a cheap thing like that on the road and it’ll last you till Saffron before breaking down. These are top of the line models, each made for hard travel.” The salesman puts a hand on one of the bike seats. “Comfortable too. You’re planning on riding for hours at a time, right? That can make for a mighty sore behind.”

Red presses his fingers into the seat, testing the cushion, then goes over to another one. He feels a bit of a difference, but he has no idea how that difference translates over hours of riding. He hasn’t ridden a bike in years, and was so busy recently he never managed to fit in any time to research prices.

The bell above the door rings, and Red turns to see a young girl about their age enter the shop. Her black hair is cut short, falling just beneath her jaw, and she has an angular, impish face that takes in the room all at once, then goes over to a set of bikes near the counter and studies them thoughtfully. She’s wearing a full pokeball belt and a protective jacket zipped up the front, with a traveler’s pack slung over her shoulder. Red wonders if she’s leaving the city too.

“A comfortable seat shouldn’t make a huge difference in the cost of the bike,” Blue points out.

“If you’re looking for affordable, I understand, of course.” The store owner’s tone remains cheerful as he pats the handlebars of one of the sleeker and more expensive-looking bikes. “Just remember, your life may depend on this piece of equipment one day. In other areas you can afford to be prudent, but surely not this one.”

“What!” Leaf says upon spotting the price tag. “$10,000?! For a bike?”

The man straightens to his not-inconsiderable full height. “As I said, ma’am, these aren’t bicycles for just heading down to the store. That, in particular, is a competitive mountain bike used by top athletes, and able to achieve high speeds over rugged terrain. It’s not even our most expensive model.”

Leaf stares at him through this explanation. “I can buy a ponyta to ride for half the price. And it shoots fire out of its mouth.”

Red covers his grin as the man frowns. Before he can respond, the girl who walked in says, “Hey, I’m ready to purchase. Mind unlocking this one?”

“Of course. Just a moment, please,” he tells the three of them, and goes over to the newcomer. “Find everything okay? Have you had a chance to look around? I can answer any questions you might—”

“No thanks,” the girl says. “This is the one I want.”

He nods and bends down to unlock the bike. “As you say.”

“Hey.” Leaf walks over. “What made you choose that bike, if you don’t mind my asking?”

The girl glances at Leaf’s pokeball belt. “I’m just looking for the best deal.”

“Right, but how did you decide that? We’re not really sure ourselves.” Leaf gestures to Red and Blue, who’ve come by to join her. The store owner frowns at this, but continues undoing the restraints on the bike before taking it over to the register.

The girl’s gaze lingers on Blue, probably recognizing him. She shrugs. “I looked at all the ones in my price range and found the least expensive bike with the majority of the features and specs compared to those above it. The value of each dollar spent above this one starts to drop off pretty sharp.”

“There is a premium for getting the best of the best,” the man agrees. “But I’d say this is still only an average bike.”

She shrugs again. “An average bike for a way below average cost seems like a good deal to me. In any case, it’s what I can afford. If you guys have more cash, check out those two. They’re a bit better, for about a hundred extra.”

Blue examines the bikes she pointed to, then puts his hands on a silver one. “Alright, I think I’ll take this one,” he tells the shop owner, then looks back at the girl. “Thanks.”

“Make it two, please,” Leaf says, standing beside a bronze one.

Red checks the prices out and considers his options. He’s low on funds again, but when the abra sales finalize he’ll have more money than ever. Of course, it’s money he’ll have plenty of other uses for… and besides, he has the ability to teleport now. As soon as he masters free teleportation, he’ll just pay someone to fly him to every major city, and travel will be much easier.

That said, he doesn’t know how long that will take, and he’s worried about slowing the other two down in the meantime. “Is there much of a speed difference for these?” Red asks the girl.

“Nah, not really. Both have three gears, main difference is some better shock absorption and a more sturdy frame.”

The store owner seemed irritated by the cross-talk at first, but now he smiles as he finishes unlocking the bikes for Blue and Leaf. “Well, you certainly know your stuff. You work with bikes, miss?”

“No, I just did some studying up. Big purchase and all.” She glances at the trio, and Red fights the urge to defend his lack of preparation.

“I’ll take the same one she’s getting,” Red says. He looks at the bikes and picks out a dark green one.

“Alrighty.” The man unlocks the last one, then goes around the counter. “Can I interest you all in a cyclist starter pack?” He points to some container balls along the counter, placed above a glass display with a bunch of items under it. “Extra $140, comes with knee and elbow pads, helmet, basic repair and maintenance gear, and an extra tire. I’ll even throw in a watch: nothing fancy, but it can set alarms and do countdowns and whatnot. Comes with the container too, of course, which holds an extra large box with room for your bikes.”

The trio immediately turns to the girl. She blushes, but nods. “Yeah, that’s a good deal.”

“I’ll take one, then,” Red says, and the others agree. The store owner tells them to pick out their helmets and pads while he rings everything up, looking much more cheerful. Red goes over to the wall of gear and stares at the variety of colors and styles available.

“Come on,” Blue says as he steps up beside him. “You know what we have to do.”

Red puts on a theatrical sigh as he watches Blue pick out a blue helmet and pads. “Do we, though?”

“You guys do,” Leaf says, picking out some bronze ones. “Mine are matching my bike.”

“See? She’s breaking the pattern.”

“Hey, some leaves look bronzeish, in the fall,” she says.

“Well, fire can burn green, depending on what’s being burned.” Red picks up the dark green helmet and takes his hat off to test the size.

“Hmm.” Leaf absently adjusts his jawstrap, then looks him over. “It looks okay. You know, I never actually asked, what’s your favorite color? I feel bad for assuming, but…”

Red smiles. “Yeah, okay, it’s red.”

“Well, there you go then. Besides, they’ll make your eyes even more striking.”

Red is glad she turns away before his blush becomes evident, and after a moment he puts the green away and takes the red helmet and pads. He sees her grin out of the corner of his eyes, and goes to join Blue and the girl, who already have their purchases. Hers are black, which matches her jacket and hair.

They all finish buying their gear and thank the clerk, then go outside to put everything into the storage containers and put their pads on. Red feels Pichu shift restlessly at all the movement, and carefully transfers the napping pokemon onto the ground, where he wakes and stretches, looking curiously up at Red as he returns the pokemon to its ball, “Thanks for the advice,” Red says, sitting to take his shoes off and slipping the knee pads on. He takes care to ensure the shoes are fit snug again when he puts them back on.

“No problem,” she says after the others echo him. “Happy all my research was able to help others too.”

“You caught us on a bad day, normally we’re more prepared than this,” Blue says. “You leaving the city too?”

“Yeah, heading south.”

“Same here,” Leaf says. “We should travel together, if it’s okay with your companions.”

The girl looks down, then lifts her chin a bit, as if bracing herself. “I’m on my own, actually.”

Red blinks, and studies the girl’s face again. He tries to re-estimate her age, maybe put her up to 13 or 14, but surely no more than that. Blue’s brow is raised too, and he exchanges a look with Red, who can tell that he’s also curious to know why someone as young as them is on their trainer journey alone.

The girl finishes putting her shoes back on and straps her helmet on, then sits on her bike and begins adjusting the seat and handles. She doesn’t elaborate, and the silence continues through everyone else doing the same. “Well,” Leaf says as she finishes getting her seat to the right height. “You’re all the more welcome to join us then, if you want.”

The girl looks at her, expression guarded. “Really?” She glances at Red and Blue. “Would that be okay?”

“Sure,” Blue says, and Red nods. “Safer for everyone.”

She smiles, and bows from the waist. “I’d love to. I’m Aiko Sakai. Nice to meet you all.”


They make introductions as they go, pedaling slowly at first down the main straight out of town to get used to their bikes. Aiko knew who Blue was, of course, and not just because of his name: she unzipped her jacket while riding and lifted it to the side to reveal a Cascade Badge.

“Nice!” Blue grins. “When did you get it?”

“Last night. I saw you a few times at the gym, but we never fought.”

“I thought you looked familiar. Sorry I missed your battle, I’ll have to check it out.”

“It was just my first badge, so I know she went easy on me. Not sure it was even recorded.”

“Hey, don’t downplay it. Was last night your first try? Then your gym record is better than mine so far.”

Red smiles as he listens to them talk shop. It’s strange hearing Blue be so supportive, but then, Red never really watched him interact with other battle trainers, so he doesn’t know if it’s common for him, or part of the other changes he’s observed in his friend lately.

The suburbs begin to thin out until the horizon opens ahead of them at last, revealing fields of green as far as the eye can see. Red feels a tremor of the old excitement again, the urge to run forward to the next adventure, even tempered by his experiences and fears. He wonders if he’ll ever lose it completely, and a small, quiet part of him knows he likely will, and pre-mourns its eventual loss even as he lets the sensation fill him, pedaling faster.

The others are at least as eager, and soon their bikes are flying over the winding road, eating miles until the outlying fields shift to ranch land, similar to the ones owned by Pallet Labs, but much bigger: acres of fenced off cultivated habitats, everything from tree groves to small lakes to artificial rugged mountainous terrain for rock and fire types.

But the majority are simple open grasslands where caretakers, trainers, and breeders watch, feed, play with, and train a wide variety of pokemon. At one point they spot a herd of ponyta running alongside a rapidash, and slow down as a group to watch their fiery manes and tails stream behind them. The rancher riding the rapidash waves to them, and they wave back.

“That’s Jona,” Aiko says. “He’s good with Fire types, so he regularly takes them into the mixed habitats.”

“You know him?” Leaf asks.

“I was raised around here. My dad works for one of the nurseries that rent ranching land.”

“You grew up on a pokemon ranch? Did you help take care of them?”

“Some of the younger ones, yeah.”

“Damn, really?” Blue says. “I was only allowed to interact with gramps’ pokemon. He wouldn’t even let me near the lab’s pokemon unless it was with supervision for a school assignment.”

Leaf nods. “Same, my mom and grandpa specially trained some of their pokemon for me to interact with, but that was it. All that early exposure must have given you a leg-up when you started your journey.”

Aiko seems about to say something, but then just shrugs and begins pedaling faster again. The trio speed up to match her, and Red catches the look of confusion between Blue and Leaf.

The land around them continues to change as they go further south, buildings spaced out farther apart as some of the ranch plots grow incredibly large, and not visibly occupied. The grass grows tall in many of these, and the group is careful to stick to the roads that keep some distance from any pokemon that might be wandering by. Before they left the Trainer House they discussed the pokemon found wild here, mostly pidgey, bellsprout and meowth, and agreed that rather than hunting for rarer pokemon in the area, their time would be better spent reaching Vermillion faster.

The one exception is pineco, which Blue was adamant about catching. They’re sometimes found in trees along the route, so every so often as they ride, Blue swerves to check under branches of any trees they pass by. So far he hasn’t had any luck, which leads to them riding for a few hours without incident.

Red is happy with the peaceful journey, but he can tell Blue is getting restless. He eventually steers closer to Red as they pass by a particularly wide open field. “Hey, this area looks totally unused,” he says, voice raised into a half-shout to be heard over the sound of their wheels and the wind. “Think we should try the abra trick here?”

“Abra trick?” Aiko shouts back.

Blue looks chagrined for a second, but Red sees no harm in explaining, since the sales will be finalized by the time they reach Vermillion, with the press waiting for a statement.

So he goes over what the three of them did while in Cerulean, then says, “We can’t do it here though, too big a risk of pokemon being driven into nearby fields! Besides, I’d want at least a day to scope out the area, like last time!”

Aiko seems excited. It’s hard to tell while they’re biking, and he doesn’t exactly know her that well. But then she asks what made him think of the technique, and Red is happy to go over the research and planning, though his throat is starting to hurt from all the yelling.

“Did you ever come up with something like that before?”

“Sort of!” Red says. “I’ve been trying to incorporate sound since we started our journey!” The near loss of his pokedex when his spinarak mistook it for a caterpie and nearly carried it away through the trees makes him shudder. “It has its risks, but it also saved Leaf and I during the Viridian Fire!”

“You guys were there too?”

“Oh, yeah, Blue actually went and helped stop the fire. I mostly just broke my arm and used my pokedex to scare off a couple dozen pikachu!”

She stares at him for a moment, keeping her bike straight without looking. “You chased off a horde of pikachu with just your pokedex?!”

“It sounds a lot more impressive than it was! I was mostly just terrified!”

“I was there!” Leaf yells back from ahead of them. “It was terrifying, but also impressive!”

Aiko laughs. “Forget taking care of pokemon, I wanna know what you grew up doing!”

“Uhh. Not much?” Red thinks. “I mean my dad was a Ranger, and he taught me a lot! Also I worked in Pallet Labs—”

“What! You worked with Professor Oak, and you’re jealous that I grew up in a nursery?” She shakes her head. “He’s one of my idols, I would kill to have a ten minute conversation with him!”

That can be arranged, Red thinks, but holds back from saying. Maybe better to surprise her, after making sure he can actually get it to happen. “I mostly worked with others in the lab, but yeah, I’ve been pretty lucky,” he says. “The pokedex software he gave me is amazing though! Without it I wouldn’t have started my research!”

“That’s awesome!”

“What about you, what model ‘dex do you have?”

Aiko doesn’t respond, staring ahead as she rides, and Red wonders if she didn’t hear him. Or maybe her throat is tired too. It’s the second or third time she’s gone quiet at odd moments in conversation, but Red tries not to read too much into it, because he knows if he does he’ll be tempted to use his powers. Instead he just enjoys the wind on his face, the physical exertion (though he’s about ready for a rest), and the variety of natural smells surrounding him. After spending a long time in a city Red always feels like he’s rediscovering his sense of smell.

Speaking of which…

“Do you guys smell that?”

They look around until they spot the source of the sweet, sugary scent: a lone tree off to the side of the road up ahead, not in any of the enclosures. As the wind pushes its branches toward them, the smell becomes stronger. Blue veers toward it, and they follow until they can hear the buzzing, each of them drawing up hard to avoid getting any closer.

“Combee hive,” Aiko says, breathing hard and wiping sweat from her eye. She points to the big yellow structure attached to the tree, each side of it riddled with triple-hexagon openings. “In their harvesting phase, seems like.”

Blue takes out some binoculars. “Yep. There are a few of them around it. More inside I bet… and… pineco! Five or six of them, near the bottom branches. Must be safe for them here, with the hive nearby.”

“Blue, maybe we should keep looking,” Red says. “There’s got to be some pineco around that we can catch without the risk of pissing off a vespiquen, not to mention all those combee.”

“Oh come on, there are four of us. Zephyr and Crimson can take care of the vespiquen, and between Charmander and…” He pauses and looks at Aiko. “Sorry, I just realized I don’t know what pokemon you have.”

“Against these, my best bet would be my spearow.” She examines the tree critically. “I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot, if I could get a pineco too—”

“Of course!”

“-but we shouldn’t hurt them. Hives help pollinate the area, and combee are peaceful creatures. It’s not their fault we want the pineco next to them.”

Leaf smiles. “Plus one to all that.”

“So we need to do it without hurting them,” Blue says without missing a beat. “No problem, we’ve got a bunch of non-lethal options.”

Red and Leaf look at each other. “Does using my charmander to fill the hive with smoke count as harming them?”

Aiko holds a hand out and teeters it side to side. “Depends what’s being burned to create the smoke. It might not be poisonous, but it could cause them to take the hive apart and relocate if they think there’s a fire coming.”

“I’ll keep it as an emergency measure then. Maybe a sleep powder and gust?” he suggests. “Or we could use Joy. How’s their hearing?” He asks Aiko. “Leaf has a wigglytuff.”

“Not great, and their buzzing would interfere unless you got super close.”

“I think I have a better idea.” Leaf slings her bag off one shoulder and around her side, unzipping a pocket and taking a container ball out.

Inside its box she reveals the jar of combee honey that Professor Oak gave her. “The genuine article, and high potency according to your grandpa. If I smear some on a rock and throw it far off, they might all go for it. That way we don’t have to risk fighting any of them.”

“Brilliant!” Blue lowers his bike’s kickstand and climbs off it, then puts his bag down and cracks his knuckles. “Okay, so we’ll get our fliers out, Leaf will set the bait and throw it as hard as she can, then—”

“Hang on, why not just ride away with it?” Red asks. “Like the ranger in Viridian. And unlike him you can just drop the bait if they get close.”

Leaf frowns. “Maybe. What’s their top speed?”

Aiko is about to respond when Blue says, “They’re about as fast as skarmory and honchkrow.”

“…Which means what, in terms of actual speed?” Red asks. Blue shrugs, and Red smiles. “Super useful, thanks.”

“Their max is about 3 kilometers per minute,” Aiko says. “And they turn almost instantly.”

Red blinks, then takes out his ‘dex to check. “Huh. She’s right.”

Leaf whistles as she looks up at the combees, who are still flying slowly around in a lazy swarm. “That’s fast. Faster than me on a bike, in any case.”

“They can’t sustain it long, but yeah, it’s pretty much all they have, combat-wise,” Aiko says. “Their attacks are individually very weak, so they rely on a swarm to take care of any predators. As long as they can strike first all at once, they stand a chance. Otherwise they need to just overwhelm you with numbers, or have their vespiquen join and direct them. They communicate mostly by scent, so other odors can confuse or distract them. Most won’t go farther than about 8 kilometers from their hive, so any bait we use would be a bit short lived. They often lock the segments of their bodies together to face bigger opponents, and can drag them out of the air by sheer weight if needed.”

“Wow,” Blue says. “You swallow your pokedex or something? You sound like a bigger nerd than him.” He jerks a thumb at Red.

She looks away. “I just read a lot.”

“Don’t worry, that was actually mostly a compliment coming from him,” Red assures her.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Blue smiles. “It’s good to meet other competent trainers. So what about the vespiquen? I know it’s powerful, way stronger than a beedrill even without its hive to back it up, but not its nesting habits.”

“It’s at the center of the hive with a small reserve of female combee that stay with it at all times, and won’t come out unless it believes it’s under threat. All the other combee leaving won’t be enough to make it expose itself.”

“So, the bait idea could work,” Blue says. “We just need to get it farther, faster. Pidgeotto are quicker than skarmory, barely. I can tie the bait to Zephyr and fly it around in circles.”

There’s a pause as everyone considers this. “Yeah, that should work,” Aiko says. “Get some distance before you set the bait though, they’ll be on you almost immediately.”

“Right. So you three go up—”

“Uh,” Red raises his hand. “I have bad luck with trees.”

Blue rolls his eyes. “What, you’ll never climb a tree again?”

“You say that like it’s going to come up a lot.”

“What if there’s a super rare pokemon for you to research in one?”

“I’ll work on it, but now might not be the time to—”

“Don’t worry, I can do it.” Aiko has already dismounted and taken her bag off. “You each want one?”

“I’ll go too,” Leaf says. “We can be done in half the time.”

“Don’t take any risks for mine,” Red says. “If there are extra in easy reach great, if not just get back down. I’ll be ready with Charmander if we need the smoke.”

Blue summons Zephyr. “Alright, let’s do it.”

“Hang on.” Red takes his bag off and lays it on the ground, then drops into lotus position. “Let’s not rush. They’re not going anywhere, and no one’s life is in danger. Five minutes of thinking about any problems with the plan, no conversation. If we can’t come up with a better plan or have no other changes to suggest, we go forward. Agreed?”

Leaf sits, legs folded beneath her. “Agreed.” Blue remains standing, but nods.

Aiko looks at the three of them as they think silently, and blinks. Eventually a slow smile spreads over her face. “Do you read Giovanni’s blog, by any chance?”

Red grins. “Yes! You too?”

“What self-respecting trainer doesn’t?”

Red coughs and looks at Blue, who folds his arms. “Hey, I’ve read a few!”

“And I’m not from Kanto, so that’s my excuse,” Leaf says. “I did read a couple after meeting him though.”

Aiko’s mouth drops open. “You met Leader Giovanni?”

Leaf grimaces. “It’s not… whatever you’re thinking. Ask me about it later. Anyway, what about his blog?”

“Oh, it’s just that he made a post about this yesterday. Isn’t that what you’re doing, a premortem?”

“Damn, I didn’t get a chance to read yesterday’s yet actually,” Red admits. “The last one I read was about the—”

“-checklists?”

“Yes!”

“Wasn’t it good?”

So good! I had no idea he was the one that pushed to make checklists mandatory in hospitals—”

“Oh sweet Arceus there are two of them now,” Blue puts his hands over his face.

“He’s just upset because I made a checklist for our trip,” Red explains, which makes Aiko laugh. “Anyway, premortems?”

“Right, yeah. So a postmortem is when you look at something that’s dead and examine how it died, right? Premortems are a way of visualizing a task before you begin and focusing on what could go wrong. No, sorry, not just what could go wrong: imagine things have gone wrong and then figure out why. The psychologist who came up with the term suggested it for teams that might normally have trouble with groupthink or have other reasons to avoid mentioning problems. Giovanni gave a bunch of examples where trainers would benefit from it too.”

“Huh. Okay, so what else do we do?”

“Everyone visualizes that the plan has gone wrong, then writes down reasons why. Then we take turns listing what we thought of, and change our plans accordingly.”

For once Leaf beats Red to taking out a notebook, and she tears a sheet out and hands it to each of them, along with extra pencils. Blue joins them on the ground so he can press the paper against his leg to write on it. “Okay. Five minutes, right?”

Red sets a timer on his new watch. “Five minutes, starting… now.” Red centers his breathing first, then closes his eyes and pictures the plan from start to finish. He flags a concern immediately in putting honey on something for Zephyr to fly around with, so he opens his eyes to write that down and keeps thinking. They get to the tree, Red sets up beneath it, the two climb up… the pineco are passive, when hanging, and if they can lock on and catch them without too much noise or vibration to the tree they should be easy to get without a fight.

No, stop thinking of how things can go right, focus on what goes wrong. The plan has already failed, totally. What probably happened to cause that?

The first thing that comes to mind is the honey dripping as it’s whipped about in the air and falling on Blue, so that the combee converge on him. In that case Red would trigger a smokescreen while Blue gets whatever the honey sticks to off and runs. After they abort they can reassess.

So how to stop that? An umbrella at least prevents it from getting somewhere he can’t easily wipe it off. Is there any container the honey could be in that would keep it from falling out, while still letting it emit its scent? There’s nothing Red is carrying that would do that, but maybe the others have something.

Next, the tree. Aiko says the vespiquen won’t come out unless the hive itself is threatened, but assuming she’s wrong, or them climbing the tree shakes the hive enough for her to come out, again, smokescreen and run for it. Alternatively, the three of them can stand and fight. If they capture it fast enough the swarm might not have time to identify them as a threat and attack, though he’s pretty sure Leaf and Aiko would be upset by that outcome.

Last, the pineco. If the tree vibrates enough with them climbing it to wake them up, the two should have their pidgey and spearow on standby to defend them. Pineco can’t do much when threatened, but they are capable of blowing themselves up if they think they’re going to die, so in either case a quick capture or a quick escape is best.

Eventually his watch vibrates, and Red opens his eyes and resets it. “Everyone ready? Who wants to go first?”


“Ready… set… now!” Leaf uncaps the honey, and Aiko dips the sponge into it, then lifts it out and dangles it to the side by the rope tied around it as Leaf caps the honey and puts it away.

“Ice Beam!” Maturin shoots a freezing ray at the sponge, crystallizing the viscous liquid being absorbed into it before any can drip off onto the towel they prepared. They’re downwind of the tree and Red doesn’t know how fast scent travels, but it sounds like the buzzing of the combee is already louder.

Blue lifts his flute to his lips with one hand and his umbrella with the other, then sends a piercing note through it, followed by a few more. Zephyr takes off, clutching the length of rope in his talon so that it yanks the frozen sponge into the air.

When he gets high enough another series of notes causes him to bank in the air toward the tree in a looping circle. It’s not just Red’s imagination now, the combee are louder, and they’re moving. More of them pour out of the hive and zip toward Zephyr as he wings past, and soon there’s a whole swarm of them chasing the pidgeotto around in the sky.

Red waits until no more come out of the hive, then yells “Go!” and dashes with Leaf and Aiko to the base of the tree, where he brings Charmander out and waits beneath the hive as the girls carefully start climbing, with Bulbasaur and Aiko’s venonat, Winter, stationed below. Red keeps his eyes on the massive hive, breath audible in his facemask as he watches for the slightest sign of the vespiquen. He feels the urge to use his powers and see if he can get a sense of her mood, perhaps even an early warning of whether she’s coming out… but he forces himself to remember what happened with Maturin, and quickly dismisses the idea. He’s never tried connecting with a Bug type’s mind before, and even if he didn’t know they were infamously harder for psychics to read, now is not the time to try out experimental psychic abilities.

The fact that the urge came to mind is worrying in itself, though. He’s been tempted to use his powers more and more as his control has improved, and he’s starting to wonder if it’s simple curiosity or something else. Are psychic powers addictive, in some way? Beyond the normal addictive qualities of any new experience or power trip?

Not the time to think about this. He focuses on the task at hand, glancing occasionally to the others to check their progress. Leaf and Aiko reach the bottom branches and successfully capture a couple pineco, the pokeballs dropping to the grass. Red quickly grabs them and clips them to his belt, which he emptied except for Charmander’s ball. Leaf tests the branch above her, but it’s too thin for her to climb up without the whole thing shaking. As she looks for another path up, Aiko nabs a third pineco, drops it too, then goes for a higher branch.

Red claps his palms once, causing her to look down. He makes an X with his hands, and points to Leaf, who has found another branch with two more on it. He flashes six fingers, then makes a ring with his thumb and forefinger.

She nods and starts climbing down just as Leaf finishes catching the two and lowers herself to join them.

Behind them, Blue’s notes have changed pace, causing them all to turn and look. The swarm isn’t following Zephyr anymore: they’re all buzzing around something on the ground.

Uh oh. Either some honey melted and fell, or, more likely since all the combee are there, the sponge fell. They quickly withdraw their pokemon, and after Leaf grabs the sixth ball that Red didn’t have space for, they run for the bikes.

Blue already brought Zephyr down beside him, and as soon as he sees them run for the bikes, he heads for them too, commanding Zephyr to follow. Leaf and Aiko bring out their pidgey and spearow to follow too, and Red has a moment to miss his own spearow again. How do I still not have a flyer! He glances at all the combee flying nearby, but keeps running. They’re not particularly useful or interesting to him, and it’s not worth going near the swarm.

They all make it to their bikes, grab their bags, and mount up. The cloud of combee is dispersing in all directions, and a few come toward them.

“Gust!” Leaf and Blue both yell, and Zephyr and Crimson send bursts of air out that knock the combee away, sending them flying off in other directions. Within moments the four pedal away as fast as they can, and soon they leave the buzzing behind completely.

By the time they stop for a rest, everyone is tired and sweaty and more than happy to sit on the grass beside the road, or in Red’s case, flop onto it and gasp like a fish. He spent little time in Cerulean doing physical training compared to the other two, and he makes a mental note to not make the same mistake in Vermillion. He’d make a physical note, but his arms are stiff and he’s too tired.

“Nice job, everyone,” Blue says after he catches his breath. Zephyr has landed beside him, and Blue feeds him some berries before withdrawing the pidgeotto. “How many did we get?”

“Six,” Red says. He rolls onto his stomach and unclips the five pineco and puts them in a pile along with the one Leaf carried, while the girls feed and withdraw their own pokemon. “How are we dividing them? One for Blue and I, two for Leaf and Aiko?” He takes an empty ball out of his pouch and offers it to Leaf.

“One is fine for me,” she says as she takes the ball.

“I’ll take two, then,” Blue says, and hands a ball to Leaf and Aiko. “You okay with that?”

“Sure, I’ll sell my extra.” Aiko says.

They all start registering their pokemon… all but Aiko, who just admires the two pokeballs in her hands. Red catches her glancing at the trio’s dexes, but she stops after she sees him noticing.

Before he can ask about it, Blue finishes and puts the ball away, then brings Maturin out. He points to his face and says “Soak!” Red rolls away in time to avoid getting splashed by the gush of water that hits Blue’s face.

“Gross,” Aiko says, but she’s smiling. “You know that’s not pure water, right?”

Blue shakes his head, sending droplets all over and causing the others to cry out in disgust. “Whatever it is, it doesn’t stick like sweat does, so it’s a step up.”

Leaf shakes her head and brings Bulbasaur out too, feeding him a pokepuff. “Hundreds of virtual hours spent training pokemon to learn the difference between attacks they can use on humans and those they can’t, just so you can get a quick bath in the field.”

“Why not just use your water bottles?” Red takes out Pichu and Charmander’s balls and summons both so they can enjoy some time in the wild. Charmander sniffs along the ground and crawls off, tail held high, while Pichu goes over to Leaf, who smiles and splits off a piece of pokepuff for him as well.

“Too cold. Besides, Mr. ‘Crammed Canteens’ wants me to waste drinking water now?”

“You’re right. Hey Leaf, what alliterates with ‘washcloths?'”

“Don’t you dare,” Blue warns a grinning Leaf, who sticks her tongue out at him and mouths “wet” after Blue turns his back. “I don’t know what the fuss is about, Maturin will replenish her water soon enough.”

“Yeah, and if we’re attacked meanwhile and she runs out of water, we can die happy that at least your face isn’t sticky.”

Aiko’s giggles cut off Blue’s response. She holds a hand up to cover her mouth. “Sorry, it’s just… you guys are strange.” She watches them care for their pokemon for a bit, then summons a sandshrew and takes a snack bar out, breaking pieces off for it.

“Nice get,” Blue says. “Catch it near Mt. Moon?”

“Yeah, on the eastern slopes.”

“I wanted one for Surge, but never encountered any.”

“Who are you going to use for your Challenge then?”

“Still deciding on my lineup. Maturin helped me get the last two badges, but she’ll have to be benched for this round. What about you? Who’s your starter, anyway?”

Aiko doesn’t respond right away. She’s looking down at her sandshrew with a small frown, and Red’s about to say something when she sighs and unclips another ball. “Go, Sneaker!”

A small raticate appears. It looks around in alarm at all the pokemon, then relaxes when Aiko opens her palm and offers it a handful of berries. “Say hi, Sneaker.” She runs her fingers through its fur as it eats. “I caught him a few years ago, as a rattata.”

“Oh. Neat.” Blue’s face is carefully expressionless, but Red can guess his thoughts.

Leaf’s the one to ask the question. “If you don’t mind telling us, how old are you, Aiko?”

“Thirteen.”

“So… you’re about our age. You started your journey when you were… what, ten?”

“No.” She’s quiet again, stroking her sandshrew, then speaks without looking up, “Actually, I’m not on a journey. I’ve been training my pokemon for a few years, but mostly around home. I got my Trainer License just last week.”

The three stare at her as she continues to feed and play with her pokemon. The wind blows her hair against her face, and when she tucks it behind her ear Red can see the slight flush in her cheeks.

“So that’s why you’re traveling alone?”

“Yes. The farthest from home I’ve been are the areas around Cerulean and Saffron. My dad thinks I was in Cerulean to visit my aunt. I was, but she didn’t know what I was up to most days.” She looks up at them. “Neither of them knows I have a license now. He wouldn’t let me get one when I was young enough to need permission, so I saved up money for pokeballs and potions and trained whatever I caught in secret. The money for this bike was my birthday present from both of them, and I spent so much time researching so I could get a good price and still have some left over for trainer supplies. I would have bought a used one, but I think he’d notice.”

The trio listens in silence. “Why doesn’t your dad want you to be a trainer?” Red asks quietly.

“My mom was killed in a pokemon attack a few years ago, and he thinks I’m too young to do it alone. Wants me to wait until I’m older, since I don’t know any other kids who are ready for their journeys.”

“So… you don’t have a pokedex? How do you train your new captures?”

“My mom’s old dex. It’s at home. I learned to reprogram it.”

Red winces. Pokedex technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the years… even if her mom’s pokedex is just ten years old, it would be considered ancient by today’s standards. Each pokemon’s virtual training would take, what, three hours to transfer to their ball? Maybe more? “That sounds tedious,” Red says as Pichu climbs up his arm and settles in her familiar spot around his neck.

“I can’t believe you’ve been training for years on your own,” Blue says. “That’s really… well, reckless for one thing.”

Aiko’s head snaps up. “Easy for you to say! Your grandfather is Professor Oak, you were just handed a rare and powerful starter and have two friends you can travel with—”

“It’s also really brave,” Blue says, smiling.

She blinks, then lowers her head so that her hair swings forward and hides her eyes. “I’m sorry. You’ve all been nice to me, and I’m just struggling with some jealousy. It’s not your fault.”

“Why not come with us?” Everyone turns to Leaf, who shrugs. “I mean, I haven’t asked Red or Blue about it yet obviously, but it would be okay with me. You seem smart and competent and nice enough. And like Blue said, the more the safer.”

Aiko stares at Leaf like she’s a pokemon that learned to talk, then slowly turns to Red and Blue, eyes wide.

Blue smiles. “I guess I did say that. What do you think, Red?”

Aiko looks at Red alone now, and the intensity of her gaze is unsettling. It’s just full of such… hope. He feels like saying no would crush her, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a decision that should be made lightly or under pressure.

“Give me a minute?”

“I’ll give you an hour!” Aiko says, then dips her head again, biting her lip. “I mean, yeah, take your time.”

Red nods seriously, and closes his eyes again. It’s not a plan, exactly, but he still visualizes his agreement going wrong somehow. Despite liking Aiko so far, he imagines himself a couple months from now regretting the decision. Why?

She could be a thief. We don’t even know if it’s her real name, she might grab our stuff tonight and just run. She could be a bad trainer. Maybe she gets one of us hurt, or our pokemon get killed trying to help cover for her.

He feels like he’s not going deep enough. It feels wrong somehow, trying to imagine why you might regret befriending someone, but he slips his mind deeper into the free-flow of thoughts and lets himself consider everything he just learned about her. Her dad doesn’t want her to be a trainer, maybe she’s concealing something from us. She’s poor, maybe she can’t afford the same tools or gear as us and we’ll keep having to buy her things to not feel guilty. She admitted to being jealous, it might get worse over time and cause arguments and bitterness.

There are a lot of potential negatives, but they’re all just that: potential. He can’t really plan around them the way he could the results of the pineco plan premortem. At best he can be more aware of them in case they pop up and address them quickly if they do.

Because the benefits really seem to outweigh the negatives. A fourth companion means a safer team, through her extra pokemon and a new complement of skills. She seems to be smart and intellectual, like him, care about not harming pokemon, like Leaf, and is going for badges, like Blue. Red briefly wonders if she’s too perfect, but he can’t imagine why someone who knows the three that well would want to mess with them. To steal Professor Oak’s pokedex software, maybe? Best to keep an extra eye on his tonight just in case.

But beyond that, she said she grew up nearby, and she should get her dad’s permission before leaving with them anyway, so he can put some of that paranoia to rest if he really needs to. Red checks the list of pros and potential cons against each other again, then opens his eyes. Blue and Leaf are waiting with an air of curious patience that Aiko is failing miserably to imitate. If she’s a spy, she’s either very good or very bad.

“I vote yes.”

Aiko lets her breath out, grinning from ear to ear, until Blue says, “Then I have just two questions for you, to get my vote.”

“Yes?” she asks, back to nervously twisting her fingers together.

Blue’s gaze fixes unwavering on hers. “Two of us here have made a very solemn promise: to fight against the Stormbringers, if ever they attack somewhere near enough for us to reach. You don’t have to join us, but I have to know if you’re okay with that. Don’t just say yes: whatever we’re doing, we drop it and go. You may have to wait a long time for us to come back. We might not come back. Understand?”

Aiko’s nervousness seems to have faded, and to her credit she appears to be giving the question serious consideration. Finally, she nods. “I think so. And yeah, I’m okay with that.”

“Good. Then my second question is this: will you have trainer battles with me?”

Aiko blinks. Blue asked the question with the same intensity he did the previous one. “I… right now?”

“I mean at all.”

“Of course! How else will we get better?”

Blue grins, all seriousness dropping away. “Okay, you’re in.”

Aiko takes a moment to react, but when she does it’s to simply bow until her forehead touches the grass.


The first night out, everyone jokes about how excited they are to be roughing it again, without the luxuries of beds or showers, but they make better time than expected, and as the sun begins to set they’re almost halfway to Saffron City. Aiko says her house is on a ranch near the express tunnel that goes under Saffron city, and they should reach it tomorrow.

“Do you think your dad will be okay with you coming with us?” Leaf asks as they set up camp.

“I’ve been tempted to message or call him about it, but I think it’ll be better to ask in person.” It’s clear that she’s nervous, but she does her best to hide it as she brings her sleeping bag out of its container and sets a lamp up beside it. “I can take first shift, if you guys are tired. Or last shift. Or one of the middle ones. Whatever.”

Red smiles. “Relax, we’re probably not going to sleep right away. And it’s appreciated, but don’t feel like you have to constantly try to please us, you know?”

“Besides, sleeping less than three hours is kind of a waste anyway, right?” Leaf says.

“Is it three hours or two?” Blue asks.

“Either way, having two people get middle shifts sounds terrible. Might as well let one person get a full night’s sleep and alternate.”

Red lets them talk it out as he sits on his bedroll and begins meditating. He cycles through his mental states quickly and practices fighting down the surges of sadness that envelop him. It’s hard, so he switches to sensing nearby minds to distract himself and make sure there aren’t any pokemon nearby or underground.

He senses nothing but Leaf and Aiko’s minds, and realizes that this is the first time he has tried his powers in a place that’s guaranteed to have no others around to distract him. He smiles as he concentrates on nothing but their two steady-stream-of-raindrop-impressions on his mind, grief momentarily forgotten. He doesn’t extend his mind out to feel what they’re feeling, but it’s strange how even without doing so he can tell the two apart. Aiko’s is… quicker? No, more energetic. No that’s not the word, it’s frenetic compared to Leaf’s calm…

Red maintains the sensory field as long as he can without tearing up, then drops it and tunes back into the conversation. Aiko is talking about how she usually sleeps at Ranger Outposts while traveling alone. Leaf describes some of those they’ve visited while Red takes the rock Psychic Ayane gave him out and puts it in his palm.

Round, solid, slightly rough. Lift.

They start describing their various catches, and Aiko mentions that besides her raticate, venonat, spearow and sandshrew, she also has an oddish and krabby.

Feel the texture, the weight, the wholeness of it… slip between… and lift.

“I think I’ll sell one of the pineco, but the other I’m definitely keeping. They make amazing tanks and trap setters.”

Blue lets out a breath. “You have no idea how nice it is to be traveling with someone that speaks my language. Yes, I’m going to teach mine to trap the shit out of the battlefield, and as long as I take out any fire types they have…”

Feel the rock. BECOME the rock. LIFT THE GODDAMN ROCK.

“Is there an advantage to using two?” Leaf asks.

“Might sell one too, after I check which is stronger, but I might also keep both and train them differently. It’ll work well for faking others out too, when people know my teams well enough and expect one. I’ll have to be careful with nicknames…”

Okay, change of tactics. Do not try to lift the rock. Instead realize the truth: there IS no rock.

“Red?” Leaf asks.

“Hm?” He opens his eyes to find them looking at him. “Sorry, what?”

“Oh you’re practicing,” Leaf says. “I thought you dozed off, sorry, go back to it.”

He sighs and drops the rock. “Nah it’s fine. What’d I miss?”

(“Practicing what?” Aiko whispers to Blue.)

“I was just asking if you’ve decided on any nicknames for your pokemon yet.”

(“He’s psychic, trying to lift the rock.”)

“Ah, no. Not really. I mean, technically I’ve named my abra—”

(“Oh! Cool! But don’t they practice by bending spoons?”)

“That’s great!” Leaf grins. “What did you name them?”

“My sensei said I’m not advanced enough for spoons yet,” he tells a surprised Aiko. “They’re for practicing moving parts of things you’re not directly touching.” He turns to Leaf with an embarrassed smile. “Uhh, I named one Bill and the other Cerulean.”

(“Did he use his powers to tell what we’re talking about?”)

Leaf covers her eyes with one hand. “Red, you can’t name your pokemon after the locations they teleport to! That’s not a nickname, that’s just labeling!”

(“No, you’re just whispering really loud.”)

“Look, I’m trying okay? I don’t really…” He trails off as he hears something. “What was—”

Blue leaps to his feet, followed quickly by the others as everyone summons their starters, eyes scanning the darkness around them. Leaf’s head snaps up as her hand swaps Bulbasaur out. “It’s wings! Above us!”

Blue and Aiko also swap their pokemon out while Red grabs the lantern and puts it in the middle of the camp. “Everyone back to back, four points!”

They set up around the lantern with Charmander, Zephyr, Crimson and Aiko’s spearow at the ready, the light no longer ruining their night vision as they scan the starry sky. There are clouds over the moon, but still there’s enough light for them to spot the pokemon winging down toward them.

“There are two, and they’re big,” Blue murmurs, and Red feels his pulse redouble in speed. “I’ll send Zephyr up when they-”

“Hellooooo the camp!”

Red blinks. He knows that voice…

Blue curses and rubs his eyes, withdrawing Zephyr with his other hand. “Gramps! You scared the shit out of us! Why!”

Relieved laughter escapes Leaf as she returns Crimson too, and Red smiles at Aiko’s shocked expression. “It’s okay, we know them.”

“‘Gramps?’ As in…?”

With a few final, mighty whumps of displaced air, the pidgeot lands in the grass just outside the lamplight. From its back slides Professor Oak, in all his lab-coated glory, and a moment later a second massive bird lands behind it, which Red recognizes as Daisy’s swellow by its bright white and red breast.

“Oh, come on, you can’t expect me to miss your birthday just because you’re out wandering the world!”

“It’s not until next week!”

“Yeah, but where’s the surprise if I came then? Hello Red, hello Leaf!”

“Hello professor,” they chorus. “How did you find—ah, the pokedexes, right?”

“Yep. And who might this be?”

Red smiles and turns to the dumbfounded Aiko. “Professor Oak, this is Aiko, a new friend of ours. Aiko, I believe you said something about killing to talk with your ‘idol?’ At least now that won’t be necessary.” He sees Daisy dismount from her swellow, and then… help someone else down? Oh. Red suddenly realizes what’s about to happen and flushes slightly. They’re only a few days apart, after all…

“It’s… such an honor, Professor,” Aiko stammers as she bows low.

“Hiya kids!” Daisy says as she walks into the lamplight, followed by—

“Laura!” Leaf rushes forward to hug her.

Red’s mom looks surprised but pleased as she returns the hug. “Hello, Leaf. It’s good to see you again.” She looks up at Red. “Hi hon. Happy early birthday surprise!”

Chapter 43: Risk and Reward

The second abra hunt went off without a hitch, much to Red’s relief. Blue was frustrated with the smaller haul, but Leaf pointed out that even after moving to a new location, the population of abra in the area was largely depleted. On the plus side, they managed to catch more pokemon while clearing the field ahead of time: an oddish and whismur for Red, a buneary for Blue, and another venonat for Leaf, which she traded to Blue for his buneary.

Their final count ended up higher than Red predicted: 13 abra for Red, 14 for Leaf and 16 for Blue, giving them a grand total of 32, 38 and 47 when combined with the first expedition.

“This means 31 sold wholesale from each of us, after I keep one, right?” Red says as he scans each abra into his pokedex. He has a roll of blank white stickers next to him, and puts one on each ball after jotting down a number so he can pair them with the ones in his notebook, where he records who caught them and each one’s Other metric.

“Seems unfair for you to just keep one,” Leaf says. “Since it was your idea and all. Make it an even 30 each?”

Red hesitates, tempted. Even after their sales depress the market, each abra would still be worth hundreds. “I guess 90 makes as good a headline as 93…”

“You know what makes a better one?” Blue says. “99. I’ll throw in an extra 3 of mine into each of ours. Still leaves me with 8 to sell, which is going to take a while anyway.”

Red’s eyebrows shoot up. “Huh. That’s unusually generous of you.”

Leaf kicks him below the table. “That’s really good of you, Blue!”

Blue smiles and shrugs, hands on the back of his head in a way that lifts his jacket a bit, exposing the two badges pinned to his shirt. “Yeah, I’ve been in a good mood lately, for some reason.”

Red rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling too. “Thanks, Blue. In that case, you should be the one to speak during the press release.”

“What? No way, it was your idea. You do it.”

Red stares. “No, seriously, who are you and what did you do with Blue?”

“He’s right, Red, you deserve the spotlight on this.”

“But you guys both need the fame for your goals more than I do. This research and the recognition for the method is enough for me.”

“Nah, I’ll pass,” Blue says. “I don’t like talking to reporters anyway.” He looks at Leaf. “No offense.”

“Keep calling me a real reporter, and I’ll forgive any offense. But you’ll have to get over that at some point, you know.”

Blue grins. “Sure. Just not now, while I can keep having you two to talk to them for me.” He turns to Red. “This one’s all you, bud.”

Red looks back and forth between them. “You guys decided this already without me, didn’t you?”

Leaf smiles. “We’re both the children of Professors, and we got a huge bump from the Renegade thing, even though you did more to actually defend Mt. Moon. This was your brainchild, Red. Take center stage for it.”

Red tries to think of something to say. Just take it, Future Red says. Our job will be hard enough as it is. “Thanks, guys. Speaking of media attention though, there’s something else that might boost me. What’s your plan for the next badge, Blue?”

Blue raises a brow. “I figured I’d head down and get Sabrina’s. Why?”

“Weeell…” He pulls the envelope with the tickets out of his pocket. “How do you feel about going a bit farther south…?”


Blue spends his last day in Cerulean saying goodbye to the various Gym members and instructors he trained with. He enjoyed his time here more than the month he spent in Pewter, though that was probably because he didn’t feel under as much pressure this time around. Mary congratulates him on his badge win, and bemoans having to find a new training partner for her totodile: it’s gotten big, and would soon evolve to be a match for Maturin again. Blue assures her that she’ll probably get her badge soon anyway, and lets her know that if she chooses to head to Vermillion next he’d be happy to train together again. The two part on good terms, which he’s glad of.

He spends his lunch at the gym’s cafeteria with Amy, who just finished teaching a class. “Where are you headed next?” she asks.

“Thunder Badge.”

She whistles. “With a wartortle and pidgeotto as two of your strongest?”

“Wasn’t my first choice, but I think I can swing it. My shiftry will take point, and if my shinx can evolve I’ll have two resistant pokemon. All I need then is to visit Diglett Cave and grab a couple and I should have a solid core.”

Amy rolls her eyes. “Everyone who challenges Surge stops by Diglett Cave first, so I hope you have a better plan than that. I haven’t fought him yet, but Donovan says he was tougher than Brock.”

Blue smiles. “I’m actually planning on evolving my shroomish by then too. I’ve seen how fast his pokemon are, so I’ll have some surprises in store for him.”

She snorts. “Well, you beat Misty in half the time I did, so I’ll try to reserve my skepticism.”

“Appreciated. How’s Donovan doing at the plateau? Last I saw he was still working his way through Victory Road. He’s what, six wins up?”

“Yeah, he’s feeling pretty confident, but Reza hasn’t lost a single match there yet, so he’s pushing himself to train harder.”

Blue nods. Rivalries are rarely advertised on trainer feeds, but if he were Donovan he’d feel pretty nervous about going up against the famous dragon tamer. “Well, tell him I say hi. How long are you going to stay in Cerulean?”

“I was originally planning to move on after I got my badge, but… this city really speaks to me. Something about it makes me reluctant to leave.”

Blue raises his brow. “Are you thinking of staying for good, then?” A lot of trainers give up on their League aspirations somewhere along the way, but Blue didn’t think Amy was the type.

“You know, I’m not sure,” She shakes her head and gives a little laugh. “To be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit disheartened since you arrived.”

Blue looks up from his food. “Me? Why?”

She leans forward, elbows on the table as her fork twirls in her noodles. “Your run through the Pewter matches was impressive, but you were clearly not a normal first badge challenger, and Brock slapped you down before you beat him. But then you came to Cerulean and hit the ground running, not only beating every single challenger, but doing it twice as fast as I did. You beat Misty with three pokemon left!”

More like two, Zephyr wasn’t really in any condition to go back out, but Blue’s been congratulated on it before, and he’s not about to correct the record himself. He just shrugs. “So?”

“When I first met you in Viridian, you seemed like a hothead. Of course I expected you to be a good trainer, raised by the Professor and all, but you’re more than good. And honestly, it’s a bit demoralizing. This is what, your third month on your journey?”

“Two and a half, really,” Blue says.

Amy rolls her eyes and spreads her hands, fork held loosely in one. “You see? It’s ridiculous. For now, I’m a better trainer than you. For now, my pokemon are stronger. But what about in another two and a half months? My brother has a shot at being Champion, and I thought I could catch up to him and beat him someday, but if we keep going at our current rates you’ll get there before I do! So why even bother?”

Blue feels… strange. Any other time, having his skill acknowledged like this would make him feel good. But this outcome is one that he doesn’t want, never even thought was possible. Amy’s a good trainer. She has to keep going, to reach her full potential.

He tries to find words to reassure her, and finds himself doing something he’s not used to: playing down his accomplishments. “Look, you can’t go by just badges. I have two already because Pewter and Cerulean are so close to each other. And I’ve been kind of lucky, my traveling partners… they’re great, they’ve helped me a lot—”

Kind of lucky isn’t how I’d describe someone who started with the resources and upbringing of an Oak,” she says, smiling. Blue feels indignation at that, but her next words distract him completely. “But you’re more than that. If I didn’t know you better I’d believe the rumors that you’re using pre-trained pokemon.”

What? That’s bullshit, I nev—”

“I know Blue, calm down. I said if I didn’t know better, right?”

Blue relaxes, still frowning. He makes an effort to smooth his features as he realizes that some others are glancing at their table. “Is that what people are saying?”

She shrugs. “A few, but no one I know that’s fought or taught you. Take it as a compliment. Besides, that thing on the mountain took serious guts, so it’s clear to anyone with eyes that you’re something special. But that’s the problem. When there are trainers like you going for Champion, a lot of others realize that we’re probably not going to make it.”

Something like horror makes Blue’s skin run cold. “‘Others?’ You mean you’re not the only one thinking of giving up?”

“Relatively speaking, if some 9 year old you met today started their journey tomorrow and beat you next week, would you still go for Champion?”

Blue thinks of his fan, Dennis. Would he be upset if the kid turned out to be some super-prodigy, a new Giovanni who smashes Blue’s accomplishments to pieces? “Of course it would bother me, but I wouldn’t give up! If anything I’d work twice as hard. Besides, you must have known… I mean, not you specifically, but you all, we all, trainers in general, we can’t all become Champion. That’s not the point.” This isn’t supposed to be happening, he’s supposed to be inspiring people. “We still have to push ourselves as far as we can, get stronger, learn about ourselves, and do what we can to help others, where we can. Even if we don’t become Champion, there are still other things we can accomplish, other dreams to fulfill.”

“Sure, and I’m not saying I’m giving up on that, necessarily. But when part of the motivation is that dream of reaching the top, it does take the wind out of the sails a bit, seeing the gap between ourselves and some others going for it.”

Blue stares at his food, heart thudding. Leading Indigo into a new era means more to him than just becoming Champion. To do it, he needs people to believe in him, but he also needs them to be stronger, bolder. He needs them to push themselves to their limits, not give up and accept mediocrity just because they won’t be the best there ever was, but because they want something better for themselves, and are willing to fight for it.

How can he do both at once? It has to be possible, right?

Or is his dream just that, and he’ll find himself alone at the top, with no one to lead?

“Don’t stay, Amy.”

She’s quiet for a moment, and he looks up to see her studying him curiously. “Why not?”

He chews noodles to give himself time to find the words, and finally swallows. “You’re a good trainer. A great trainer. You can go farther than this. If you like Cerulean so much, at least challenge the League, then come back. Become its new Second, or even Leader.”

Her eyes narrow, though the edge of her lip curves slightly. “I appreciate the compliment, but I’ve never seen you this complimentary. Why is it so important to you? And don’t tell me I’m just that good, my ego is pretty solid despite what I said earlier.”

“I just… I’d be sad, if I knew that my dream caused you to give up on yours.”

“Well, that’s sweet, but—” Amy suddenly stops, cheeks coloring. “Oh…”

Blue blinks, then glances over his shoulder in case she’s looking at someone behind him. “Are you okay?” he asks before he lifts the last of his noodles to his mouth.

“Blue… I’m flattered, really, but—”

Blue chokes, and quickly coughs the trapped noodles out of his throat before washing them down with some water. “I didn’t mean—anyone, I don’t want anyone to give up on—”

“It’s just, you’re only eleven, and I’m not thinking—”

“—their dreams, I’m turning twelve next week, but that’s not—”

“—of romance now, but you’re a cute kid—”

Panic rises as Blue tries not to raise his voice. “—what I meant, I just want you to be strong!”

Oh,” she says again, and he relaxes until she leans forward and whispers, “Is pokemon battling your love language?”

Blue stands. “Welp, gotta go!” He checks the time without seeing it. “Thanks for all the help, hope to see you around!”

Amy is grinning. “You too, Blue. And don’t worry; I won’t stay long.”

Blue pauses. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. I figure I’ll wait until my poliwhirl evolves, then head to Pewter at least, see if I can get the Boulder Badge in less time than you did.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.”

“And next time we meet, I won’t have to hold back.”

He grins. “I’m counting on it. If I’m going to become Champion, I want to fight everyone I encounter for real at least once, to know for sure that I can beat them at their best.”

“It’s a date.” Amy winks, then laughs as he sputters something, throws some money on the table, and flees.


“Here’s the last five.” Psychic Ayane hands Red a trainer belt with all but the last slot filled. “That’s it, right? You haven’t gone and caught more today?”

Red grins. “Nope, that’s it.” He places the belt aside for later storage. “Thanks again for all your help.” Ayane worked overtime over the past couple days to test all the new abra they caught. Red taps an amount out on his banking app and transfers it over to her. He’s down to his last hundred dollars from the clefairy sales; he’ll have to watch his money again until they can finalize the abra deals.

Ayane’s phone chimes in her pocket to let her know the transfer went through, and she bows. “You’re quite welcome. I’ve never participated in research before, and wiping my memory of specific events so often was an interesting experience. When will I get to hear how it turned out?”

“Hopefully soon. If the newest data matches the rest, I should finish writing my paper today. Then it’s just a matter of getting a journal to look at it.”

“Well, I look forward to finding out what it was all about, and how you got so many abra.” She looks at Red for a beat, as if hoping that he’ll reveal it now that the experiment is over.

Red smiles. “You’ll find out the answer to that second part even sooner, if all goes well.”

“Really?” Ayane perks up, then her face falls. “Ah, you mean you’re going to announce it in some way.” She sighs. “I suppose some secrets are too good to keep.”

“Would you keep it to yourself, if it was yours?” Red asks, curious.

“It’s hard to say. My current goals don’t really require large amounts of money, but perhaps my priorities would shift if I had realistic access to it. In any case.” She settles into the chair and smoothes the creases in her pants. “What would you like our final lesson to be about? Still struggling with the stone?”

“Yes, but I’ve got something else in mind.”

“Teleportation.”

Red smiles. “I guess it doesn’t take a psychic to figure that out.”

“I’ve been expecting it ever since you caught the initial batch of abra.”

The basic method of using a pokemon to teleport is simple: just use the command “Register Teleport” when your pokemon is where you want them to go, then whenever you’re somewhere else, touch the pokemon and say “Teleport.” But a psychic is capable of “true” teleportation, or “free” teleportation: linking their mind with their pokemon’s and returning to any location they’ve been to with the pokemon before. Some even claim that strong enough psychics can go with their pokemon to places only they have been to, but if so none have made themselves available for testing.

It’s the most useful practical advantage that nearly every psychic is capable of, and Red has been imagining the uses he could have for it ever since he discovered his gift. “So, can you teach me in the time we have?”

“Not fully, but I can give you the basics, so that you can work on developing it along your journey.” She gets to her feet. “Let’s go to the roof. We can use these for practice.” She gestures to the five abra she brought, and he slings the extra belt over his shoulder before following her out the door and toward the elevators.

“As you’ve probably picked up from various TV shows and movies, teleportation has to be done outside,” she says along the way. “Do you know why?”

“I used to think it had to do with walls. That teleporting needs open space to move through, however quickly or invisibly, and walls or a roof might interfere with that. But what I read about it recently seemed to say that the pokemon wouldn’t be able to even register an area that’s indoors as a teleport site in the first place.”

Ayane nods. “Incidentally, both appear to be true. If you register a teleportation site in an open field, and someone builds a house there afterward, or even a shack, the pokemon won’t go.”

“What about putting up just walls with no roof? Or three walls and a roof?”

“Still no.”

Red frowns. “That doesn’t—”

“—make sense,” she finishes with him, and they both smile as they enter the elevator. “I wonder, my precocious pupil, whether you will ever experience enough surprises that you stop expecting the world to ‘make sense.'”

“Oh, I don’t say it because I’m upset with the world. It’s just my way of signalling confusion. So, does the direction matter? Like if I build three walls, but leave the shack open to the east, then ask an abra to teleport there from due east, would that work?”

“I don’t recall that experiment being done. But a pokemon can teleport from inside a building, so surely it cannot be a case of being simply unable to pass through walls?”

“Hm. Good point. Still, worth trying to make sure.”

They reach the roof, which is occupied by a pair of trainers flying a noctowl and a fearow around in some kind of maneuver test. Red feels a stab of envy and grief. He still doesn’t have a flying pokemon, and the reminder of his lost hoothoot threatens to open a crack of grief in him.

He focuses instead on early afternoon sunshine warming his skin, and closes his eyes to take a deep breath, then another. Ayane quietly waits for him to orient himself back into a more cheerful mental state. When he opens his eyes, mood placid again, Ayane is smiling. “You’ve come a long way, Red.”

Red bows. “I had a great teacher. And it was just a mild one, this time.”

“Two things to be thankful for, then.” She leads him to the teleport landing zone and they find an LED pad with a blue circle on it. “Go ahead and scan your trainer ID.” Red does so, and the circle turns into a red X. “Now, summon an abra onto the pad, and prepare yourself for the connection.”

Red takes an abra from the belt over his shoulder, then puts the belt down on the roof. He’s about to brace his arm, then decides he can use the accuracy and catching practice.

But first, he purposefully stretches his mind into the false-state of mental connection that brings his partition down. It’s not nearly as strong as it used to be, so the sudden flood of grief and loneliness and fear doesn’t provide as sharp a contrast. He focuses on his breathing again, imagining himself on the stone in the river, with the sun and wind against his face. The water is dark and violent, washing up against his legs as the memories of his father and the finality of death makes his heart pound and tears threaten.

But on the next exhale, he forces himself to think of Bill and his goals. People are out there, fighting for life. He breathes in deep again, the pain laced with anger at his own helplessness, and on the exhale he reminds himself of Ayane’s praise, of how much stronger he’s gotten. He inhales fear at leaving the city again and risking wild pokemon encounters, and on the exhale imagines Pichu on his shoulder, nuzzling his neck.

We’ll keep each other safe, he promises his pokemon, then Blue and Leaf, Professor Oak and his mom, the whole world. Together, we can work to keep everyone safe.

“Go, Abra!”

His pokemon appears about where he wants it, and he manages to catch the ball on its return. Its mind instantly connects with his, and the real partition falls as their minds enmesh, drawing all his psychic power in feeding him his pokemon’s mood and senses. Red gasps, and a tear rolls down his cheek. He feels the urge to retreat, to bring up his mental shield and disconnect, but forces himself to bear it, one breath at a time, going over his positive thoughts over and over, exhale after exhale, and focusing on just living in the moment, experiencing his senses, until he at least feels like things won’t get worse.

“Well done,” Ayane murmurs. “Now, slowly focus more on your abra’s senses, starting with its physical touch.”

Red does so, using that focus as the new distraction from his grief. He feels the warm sun on his skin, the cool wind blowing his hair and against his ears. He feels a drop of sweat going down his neck as he sits on the warm, smooth platform. Wait, he’s standing, the abra is sitting while the sweat goes down his neck. Or is it the abra’s neck?

A sudden rush of vertigo makes Red step back, then put both feet to the sides, steadying himself as he concentrates on nothing but the sensation of both their bodies. There’s an itch on his ear, and he lifts his hand up to scratch it before realizing that it’s the abra’s ear. The abra’s ears are also the ones feeling the wind on them, much more sharply than his. A moment later the abra raises its arm and scratches the itch, and Red feels vertigo again as they both lower their arms at the same time.

He wonders vaguely how all this feels for the abra. It’s probably more used to it, and for far more different minds and bodies, considering some of the other pokemon in its habitat. At least Red has arms and ears.

“Good, Red, very good. Now as I’m talking, stop focusing on touch and begin focusing on sound. Focus on my voice until you can hear it through both ears.” By the end of the sentence he’s listening in stereo, once from close by and again from a bit farther, the sound distorted and meaningless. That’s how abra hears human language, Red thinks, so fascinated that for a moment the swirl of dark emotions threatening to suck him in are totally muted. One of the trainers with the birds blows into their whistle, and he feels the abra’s ear flick up at the sharp sound, then its body twitch at the sound of the pidgeotto’s cry. He knows that if it were still wild, the abra would have teleported away.

“Alright, that’s enough for now. Withdraw your mind, then open your eyes.”

Red begins withdrawing on his next exhale, until he finally feels grounded in himself again. He opens his eyes, then wipes at them, the wind cold against the tear tracks on his face. He feels the grief and loneliness ease as the partition finally rebuilds.

“That was amazing,” he gasps, breathing hard at the usual post-psychic wobbliness in his mind. It’s just a shadow of what he felt when he first met Ayane however, and easily ignored as he smiles at his abra.

“So.” Ayane lowers herself to sit on the roof, legs crossed. “Tell me what you experienced.”

Red does the same, then goes into as much detail as he can as he takes a berry out of his pocket and tosses it to his abra, who snatches it out of the air with one claw and brings it to its snout. Ayane raises her brow when he describes the strength of the connection, and nods when he explains the sense of vertigo.

“Even given your proximity to the abra, your link is very thorough for your first time, as I suspected. But that physical confusion is why it takes so much practice to be a psychic trainer. You got very little of the abra’s thoughts or emotions, if any, because you were so grounded in your physical sensations, both as a method of concentration and to manage your particular… handicap. That also made it a bit easier to tune into its body. But you missed a lot of the experience as a result.”

“Really? Wow. To me it felt incredibly rich.”

She smiles. “Even the smallest of marvels is still a marvel. But tell me, did you feel the abra’s tail at all?”

Red blinks. He casts his memory back into the experience, to the feel of the warm rooftop under his—the abra’s—legs and rear. “No. Was it raised up?”

“No, it lay behind it, just as it does now. Why do you think you couldn’t feel it?”

“Because I don’t have a tail?”

“Because you don’t know what having a tail feels like. Your mind is not used to processing that stimuli. This is why a psychic trainer requires hundreds of hours of practice, just to begin to use their gift in battle. Your mind, your very brain itself, will change as a result of this process. The more time you spend in another pokemon’s mind, the more your brain will adapt to understanding stimuli unique to that pokemon.”

The hair on Red’s neck stands on end as he imagines his brain shifting and changing from what just happened. He knows he’s being silly, that it’s probably just growing extra cells and new connections. His hand rises to rub at the nape of his neck. “Does that have side effects?”

“Some. This is partially why learning Amnesia will also be an integral part of your psychic skill set.”

“Okay. Yeah.” Red lowers his hand and takes a deep breath. “So, what do I do next?”

“Your development of this skill will require prolonged immersion in the mind of the type of pokemon you’re training with. First focus on the physical sensations, one at a time, then coupled, and so on, until you can fully inhabit either body at will, and then both together.”

Red tries to imagine feeling two bodies at the same time. “And all the practice will prevent me from being overwhelmed by that, I take it?”

“Yes. It’s easier with pokemon that are smaller and have simpler bodies, and even easier the more similar their anatomy is to yours. But the true difficulty is in the lack of guideposts. Only you can know if you are fully joined, and you must be wary of assuming you are prematurely. For example, there are more than just the traditionally identified five senses. You must also learn to feel pressure, pain, balance, motion, hunger, temperature, and so on. The more you can naturally inhabit the senses you are familiar with, the more you will become aware of the senses you are not. This can be an incredibly powerful tool, as many pokemon experience the world in ways we do not, and borrowing their senses can often help you survive dangerous situations.”

Red is nearly giddy with excitement as he imagines the possibilities, but after a moment he remembers what they came up here for in the first place. “So, what does all this have to do with teleportation?”

“Merging with the body and feeling the senses is the first step. Once that occurs you will better be able to sense the pokemon’s moods and thoughts, and eventually even its psychic connections. When you can fully inhabit a pokemon’s mind as it registers a teleportation site, you will understand how to recall that experience. I believe this will be less difficult for you than others.”

Red nods. “It sounds right up my alley.”

Ayane smiles and tucks some hair behind her ear as the wind blows it. “I believe you will go far in this field, Red. More important than the particular strengths of your gift, your dedication and effort have been all a teacher could ask for. It has been a pleasure guiding you in the first steps of your journey.”

Red’s heart sinks as he realizes that his time must almost be up, and that this would be goodbye. He gets to his feet, and she does the same. “It’s been an honor learning from you, Ayane-sensei.” He bows. “I don’t know how I’m going to find someone to replace you.”

Ayane smiles and bows back. “I think you’ll manage. And if you ever pass through Saffron City, be sure to request a meeting with Leader Sabrina. If anyone in Kanto will know what to make of your unique mental shield, it’s she.”


Leaf spent most of her final day in Cerulean monitoring the comments on her new article, and occasionally responding to them or private messages. A pop-science website of middling fame offered her the most for it, and she’s happy with the reception it’s getting. Her following continues to grow, slowly but steadily, until she has about as many as the average 4-badge trainer.

It feels good having the article done and out there, so she can focus on the next thing. Laura was right, it’s better to move from one project to the next and follow what interests her. And luckily, she doesn’t even have to search for a new article idea: the S.S. Anne ticket is going to open a whole new world of topics for her to write on, and she can’t wait to start looking into them.

Still, Leaf can’t shake the lingering questions she has about the Renegade’s murder. While she lets Professor Oak look into it from his end, she figures there’s no harm in reaching out to Zoey and seeing if there’s anything else she learned. Leaf doesn’t want to get scooped, but maybe she can point Zoey in another direction and see if they can both get a story out of it, if it turns out to be something sinister after all.

Unfortunately, Leaf can’t seem to get in contact with the reporter. All her calls go unanswered, her messages unreturned. As the day goes on, Leaf sits on her bed and tries not to freak out. Maybe she’s really busy. Or irritated with Leaf and ignoring her. Or somewhere without internet access.

Not poisoned to death the way Yuuta, was, surely. That’s just her being paranoid, right?

But if she’s not being paranoid in believing that an unknown psychic dug around in her head, it seems sensible to be even more paranoid about what they might have gotten out of her. After confirming that Zoey hasn’t published anything or done any interviews in the past few days, Leaf finally tries checking in with the news sites and organizations Zoey most often works with, in case any of them know where she is or have heard from her recently.

When that doesn’t work, Leaf finally just finds her address from their correspondence and heads out of the Trainer House, summoning Bulbasaur to accompany her. The sun is starting to set, and she enjoys walking through the crowds of pedestrians and tourists going in and out of brightly lit stores as she makes her way through the city. She’ll have to remember to ask the others if they want to grab dinner together tonight, so they can all enjoy the city one last time before they hit the road. She passes an ice cream parlor with people sitting out front, and stops to get a cone of mint chocolate chip for herself and a cold poffin for Bulbasaur.

It’s all a pleasant distraction, but she keeps imagining what she’ll do if Zoey doesn’t answer her door, and what it might mean.

When she finally arrives at the apartment building, she types in Zoey’s apartment number and waits for her to pick up. The ringing eventually ends without answer however, and Leaf bites her lower lip, wondering what to do now. Bulbasaur wanders over to the glass door and tries to walk through it, only to bump his nose. He extends his vines and presses them against the glass, moving them up and around as if trying to find a way through, and Leaf withdraws her pokemon before he decides to start whipping it.

She takes her phone out and pretends to read something off the screen as she paces back and forth, waiting for someone to open the door. About five minutes later she spots someone coming out, and pivots to head toward the door so she can reach it just as they do. She keeps her eyes on her screen as they open it and holds the door open for them, then slips in and puts her phone away.

The lobby is clean and upscale, but not enough for a front desk, thankfully. She finds the elevators and rides up to Zoey’s floor, then finds her apartment in the maze of hallways. The indoor quiet after walking the streets is suddenly oppressive, and her steps slow as she approaches the door, heart thumping. She wishes she’d asked Red or Blue to come. Her hand itches to rest on Bulbasaur’s pokeball, but that’s silly, even if Zoey is lying dead in her apartment (Stop that, you’re being ridiculous) there’s no reason for there to still be any present danger.

Throat dry, Leaf lifts her arm and presses the doorbell. She looks left and right in the hallway, unable to keep herself from checking for any watching parties. Maybe there’s a camera in the light overhead.

The door stays closed. Leaf leans forward and presses her ear to it.

Silence.

Leaf presses the doorbell again, listening to it chime through the door. How long should she wait here? She can entertain herself on her phone for awhile, but she should be packing, preparing for their morning departure…

Hope has already fled by the time she presses the doorbell a third time, and she turns around and slides her back against the door, head resting against it. She takes her phone out and begins typing a message to Blue to let him know where she is when the door opens behind her, spilling her backward with a yelp.

Her body freezes as she stares upward in shock at… Zoey, who stares down at her with a face carved of stone.

“Miss Juniper. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Leaf is already scrambling to her feet as she stuffs her phone in her pocket. “Hi, Miss Palmer. I’m sorry for coming uninvited, I was worried about you.”

“Worried? I’m fine. Why would you be worried about me?”

Leaf stares at the reporter, who stands in her doorway in casual home attire. Zoey looks softer with her hair loose around her shoulders and no makeup on, but her eyes are as clear and focused as ever. There’s no sign of sickness or injury, she just looks… normal.

Leaf begins to feel very foolish.

“I just haven’t seen you around in awhile, that’s all.”

“I’ve been working. I just got back from Cerulean South this afternoon after looking into the home invasion there.”

“Ah. Good.” Leaf wants to ask her if she got her messages, then decides against it. Busy or not, the reporter could have responded if she wanted to. Clearly she didn’t, and Leaf just feels like she’s imposing now. All she wanted was to make sure Zoey was okay, and she’s done that. “Well, I’m heading out of town, so, I just thought I’d say goodbye. Have a good night.” Leaf raises a hand in a wave and turns away.

“I thought you were planning on writing something about the city?”

Leaf turns back. “I was, but the article on the dig site kind of took the place of that.” Leaf smiles. “It’s not exactly the eye-opening investigative piece I was hoping for, but I’m still grateful that your tip led me to a story. Now I’ve got a new opportunity in Vermillion, so I’m heading down there.”

Zoey studies Leaf, and something in her face shifts, the polite blankness leaving her features. Leaf fidgets, smile fading. She’s about to say goodbye again, when the reporter suddenly says. “You’re the reason my sources on the mountain have all dried up, aren’t you?”

Leaf’s head jerks back. “What?”

“That fluff piece on the dig site. You were looking into the tip on the Renegade and cluelessly bumbled around until someone important noticed. Potential leaks were cracked down on, my sources were all confronted or scared quiet, and now I’m out of a story.”

Shock slowly turns to simmering anger as the reporter’s accusation registers. “That’s not what happened.”

“Then what did happen?” Zoey leans against her doorframe. “You tell someone about who gave you the tip, so they could freeze me out?”

Leaf clenches her jaw shut before a response can come out, realizing at the last second that this kind of blunt accusation is an effective way to bully someone into spilling their secrets. “My investigation is still ongoing,” she says, words clipped, “and I didn’t tell anyone about you.” Though Giovanni may have figured it out, with that psychic…

Zoey doesn’t appear phased by her glare. “Well, seems you have it all in hand then. So what did you want with me?”

“I told you, to say goodbye. I don’t know why I bothered. See ya.”

“You said you were worried about me before,” Zoey says as Leaf turns away again. “Why? Did something happen? Were you threatened?”

Leaf should just start walking, she knows she should, but anger makes her look over her shoulder. “Why would someone threaten me? I was just cluelessly bumbling around.”

Zoey passes a hand over her eyes, fingers massaging her temples. “Look, I’m sorry I said that. I’ve had a frustrating week, and I blamed you. I can be a bitch when I lose a story I’ve spent a lot of time on.” Zoey steps back and holds the door open. “Come inside, let’s talk about it. Maybe we can work together to figure out what happened.”

Guilt rises to war with Leaf’s anger. Even if Giovanni didn’t explicitly figure out about Zoey from Leaf, her investigation did probably lead to the reporter losing her sources, through no fault of her own.

But the apology does little to soothe her pride, especially when she knows Zoey is just hungry to get back on the story again. “If your sources aren’t talking to you anymore, we don’t have anything to discuss. And I really do have to leave Cerulean. Thanks for the interview and tips.” Leaf forces herself to head for the elevators.

“Wait, Juniper! You’re in over your head! Leaf!”

Leaf rounds the corner without looking back.


Red’s last night in Cerulean feels bittersweet. Pewter had a relaxing calm to it, and a growing restlessness made leaving exciting, but Cerulean feels beautiful and vibrant and… safe.

Leaving that safety has extra impact. Where before he was eager to continue his journey, make new discoveries and catch new pokemon, it’s the dangers of the road that keep Red occupied now. The more he thinks about it, the more he thinks he was lucky to survive the fire in Viridian and the paras rampage on Mt. Moon. And surely someday his luck would run out. After his conversation with Bill, the chance at a real safeguard against death makes the fear of risking it that much worse.

As the anxiety rises however, he reminds himself of the second day of their journey, when he met Donovan’s skarmory on the rooftop. He was paralyzed by fear then, but his priorities helped him get past it. And those priorities haven’t changed: Learn about pokemon, become a good trainer, help people, gain fame/funds, so he could someday be a Professor with his own lab to help discover the origin of pokemon species.

And he’s on his way with each of them, made more progress than he would have imagined when he started out. But all that stops if he lets the knowledge of Bill’s potential solution to immortality make him fear death even more.

As he and Leaf decided after they met the reclusive inventor, the wide view should only motivate them to work harder.

Such are Red’s thoughts as he makes his final trip around the city with Blue and Leaf. They do some last minute shopping and enjoy a post-apocalyptic movie where some mythical pokemon awakens from the depths of the planet and sends an electromagnetic pulse through the atmosphere, shutting down all technology and returning humanity to the dark ages. Afterward they enjoy one last meal at their favorite teppanyaki grill, then head back to the Trainer House. Along the way, Red only half listens to Blue and Leaf argue over the movie protagonist’s decision to give up on people in outlying towns so he could focus on just saving those in his, and uses the rest of his attention to reach out with his psychic abilities to sense the minds of those they pass by.

Entering a meditative state and increasing his inner awareness is easy for him to do now, even while walking, but the sensation of the other minds is a confusing mess. He feels them in echoed reflections upon his own mental landscape, as if his mind is a core of “immediate” emotions with others only touching the edges and imprinting briefly on it. As soon as he identifies the abstract sensation, he tries metaphors out until he finds one that fits: his mind as a deep lake, with dark depths of depression lying mostly out of sight, buried for now under some happiness and companionship, and above them at the very top, a calm and curious surface. But that surface isn’t quite placid; dozens of rain drops plink down and send out ripples, rain drops of excitement, joy, annoyance, pleasure, worry, and more—

(—except raindrops isn’t right, raindrops are intermittent, these are continuous like thin streams, but they feel intermittent because my attention can’t hold them all at once and most of them are moving all around me)

—until over time he can isolate the feelings of Leaf, who’s consistent in clarity and strength. Her “stream” falls with more force than the other raindrops, and spreads its ripples farther and with more effect. Blue, of course, emits nothing that Red can detect, while the rest of his mind-lake is peppered chaotically by the drops of everyone around them, like small, quick rain clouds zipping overhead, a blur that he can barely distinguish from his own emotions when he—

“Red?”

Red blinks. They’re in the Trainer House lobby, between the elevators. He turns and sees Blue and Leaf staring at him. “Sorry,” he tells Leaf. “Zoned out a bit.”

She smiles. “Was just saying goodnight.”

“Right! Hope you sleep well, and see you tomorrow.”

“You too. Sweet dreams.” She waves and enters the elevator to the girls’ rooms.

A moment later the other elevator opens, and Blue and Red step in and head to their room. “I know we have an early morning, but I’m not really tired yet,” Blue says as he sits on his bed and starts to take off his shoes.

“Well, hang on, I’m actually not either. Wanna go downstairs and have a match first?”

Blue blinks. “What, really?” He grins. “You’re asking me to train for once?” He gets up, grabs his bag, and slings an arm around Red’s shoulder as he heads for the training rooms. “My dear Red, I thought you’d never ask. All our sessions are finally rubbing off, huh? You’ve been missing them?”

“Something like that,” Red says, struggling out from under Blue’s arm to grab his own bag. Another good reason to keep Pichu on my shoulder at all times: deterrence. “I just want to make sure I’m prepared for the road again. After what happened when we left Pewter…”

Blue nods. “Good plan. You’ve just barely managed to keep up while training our weaker pokemon, a couple weeks off and you’ll fall way behind.”

“I’ve been busy.”

Blue hits the elevator button, then raises his hands. “Not judging, just saying. I’ll be glad to have a consistent partner on the road. Even Leaf is coming around, I think.”

“Really? Should we invite her?”

“Nah, she still doesn’t want to do any actual combat. But maybe soon.”

They reach a standard battle room and go to either side of the arena sketched out on the floor. “Actual combat sounds good. I want some pokemon to evolve soon,” Red says, unhooking his starter’s ball. “So give me your best shot.”

Blue raises a brow. “You sure? Because my best shot is Kemuri or Maturin. Which is fine by me, since I need to practice reining them in better.”

“I’m sure. Make it Maturin.”

“Alright then. I’ll stick to her least damaging moves.”

“So, what’s a fair matchup for me, given that?”

Blue crosses his arms and cocks his head to the side. “Ask yourself that. Who do you think you can beat her with, if you use a minimum amount of pokemon?”

Red kneels down and opens his bag as he considers, taking out the extra pokemon that he doesn’t carry on his belt. He mentally goes over all he knows of Blue’s wartortle from their matches together and the battles he watched against Ariya and Misty. Maturin’s tough shell means his nidoran’s attacks would be less effective than he’d like, and she has Ice Beam, which means his bellsprout and his new oddish won’t last long in a straight fight. Pichu is fast enough to get at least one strong hit in, but is so frail that a single return attack would make Red fear for his safety even without a super effective attack.

Brute force could work. Just keep throwing attacks out until he wears Maturin down. But he’d rather win with a strategy in mind, and as he considers his spinarak and charmander, an idea comes to mind. Psychic and Ghost attacks work by strange rules: some need line of sight, others work like projectiles or area of effect attacks. Night Shade emits a mental attack in a cone, affecting anyone in its path… but while the spinarak displays the pattern on its back when it uses it, the pattern itself doesn’t have to be seen, nor does the spinarak have to see its target.

Another minute of thought, and Red looks up. “Oddish, Spinarak, Caterpie, Charmander.”

Blue looks at the ceiling and rubs his chin. Red waits for Blue to try and figure out his strategy, going over his own in his mind and trying not to let his nerves take over. He feels the urge to reach out with his mind the way he did at Bill’s, see if he could get an idea of Blue’s feelings, give him some clue as to what his plan is. He’ll have to get used to fighting that instinct, or he’ll accidentally do it at the wrong time and get someone else upset with him. Either that or get used to pretending not to know how others feel, like Ayane does. Lucky that Blue is Dark, really, so Red doesn’t have to worry about it with him.

“Okay, let’s do it,” Blue says. The two put their facemasks on, and Blue widens his stance, then unclips his diveball. “Ready? Set… Go, Maturin!”

“Go, Caterpie! String Shot!”

“Tackle!”

Maturin hits his caterpie and sends it bouncing across the floor, but it flips itself while in the air so that it’s still facing the wartortle when it lands. Long strands of sticky filament shoot out and latch onto the wartortle.

“Bubble!” Blue yells, and Maturin sends a stream of shimmering orbs out.

“String Shot!”

The bubbles reach his caterpie and explode, knocking it around and cutting off its attack. Red’s heart leaps into his throat as he watches his pokemon tumble and roll along the ground. He considers trying again, but doesn’t want to risk the bug any further.

“Caterpie, return! Go, Oddish!”

“Bai!”

“Dodge!”

His pokemon leaps away on its short legs, barely avoiding the ice beam that spreads a sheen of frost on the ground where it was standing. “I thought you were going easy! Poison Powder!”

“Bai, then Dodge! Going easy is one thing, surrendering is another!”

The beam of ice connects this time, and Red quickly withdraws his oddish, heart pounding as he watches Maturin try and avoid the cloud of spores that were sent out. The sticky string attaching it to the ground slows Maturin long enough for her to get coated however, and Red feels a small surge of hope. Time is on his side now.

“Go, Charmander! Smokescreen!”

“Bubble!”

“Dodge!”

Charmander flings a glob of black goo at Maturin, the projectile billowing smoke outward. About half a dozen large bubbles float toward him in return, and Charmander leaps and scurries around them, managing to avoid all but one. It touches his shoulder and gives an explosive pop, knocking him to the side and drenching him in a fine mist.

“Bubble!”

“Smokescreen!”

Again the bubbles are sent out, and again Charmander sticks a glob of sludge to Maturin. Charmander is hit by another bubble, and the resulting pop knocks him head over tail. Red begins to consider withdrawing him, but the wartortle is now the center of a haze of smoke. Her aim should be way off.

One more should do it. “Smokescreen!”

“Tackle!”

“Dodge!” Red yells, heart sinking as Maturin runs fast enough to emerge from the smoke and avoid the third glob. Charmander tries to run, but Maturin cuts him off with a full-body tackle that knocks him out of the arena’s lines and against the wall. Smoke begins to surround Maturin again, though she’s batting at the burning globs on her shell, knocking some of it away.

“Smokescreen!”

“Bubble!”

The black blob hits Maturin straight in the belly, and she coughs as the smoke billows up directly in her face. The bubbles go wide this time, and Blue yells “Tackle!” again.

“Dodge!”

Charmander easily evades the smoke covered wartortle, but Blue yells for another tackle and Red is forced to keep his pokemon moving. Smoke is starting to fill the room, and the fans overhead turn on automatically to suck it away.

Red watches their pokemon run around until Charmander has a solid lead, then risks another Smokescreen. But though it lands, Maturin’s return Bubble attack is so wide that Charmander is nearly hit again. Even with her sight obscured, Red can’t risk another Bubble landing, and he quickly extends Charmander’s ball.

“Return, Charmander! Go, Spinarak! Night Shade!”

“Gaw!”

Spinarak raises its abdomen, only to get blasted by a jet of water. “Night Shade!” Red calls out again, and this time Maturin misses. The stream of water abruptly cuts off as Maturin takes an unsteady step backward, then falls to all fours, shaking her head.

“Gaw!”

“Night Shade!”

The water misses again, and Red’s spinarak continues its mental assault. Red’s so caught up in the battle he almost misses Blue walking along the side of the arena so that he’s closer to his pokemon.

“Hey!” Red yells. “Stop, you’ll get caught up in the attack!”

Blue ignores him, face completely calm as he keeps moving until he’s directly behind his pokemon from Spinarak’s position, and Maturin is right between them. “Gaw!”

Maturin shoots water again, and this time it nails Spinarak directly, knocking Red’s pokemon back and to the side.

“Oh bullshit,” Red mutters. Did Blue just…? “Night Shade!”

“Gaw!”

Maturin shakes her head again, water dripping from her mouth as the mental attack hits her, and Red can see Blue flinch. But his Dark nature protects him (Sure, NOW he’s okay with being hit by it) and he steps to the side to line Maturin up between him and Spinarak’s new position again. “Gaw!”

Maturin shoots straight out, and though some of it strikes the ground in front of Spinarak, the rest hits Red’s pokemon again. His fists clench. I was right, he can aim her by his position. Still, the poison and mental attacks combined should be wearing Maturin down. He just has to wait a little longer. “Night Shade!”

“Gaw!”

The two pokemon continue to exchange attacks, and Blue keeps shifting his position to ensure that Maturin can aim through the smoke around her. She still occasionally shoots the water too high or low, but enough hit for Red to see his spinarak visibly weakening, its movements slowing down until it can barely raise its abdomen.

To make things worse, the same smoke that lowers Maturin’s accuracy makes it hard to judge its health. Blue is familiar with his pokemon and probably has an internal clock ticking down, but Red doesn’t know how quickly a wartortle will succumb to an oddish’s poison, or how many mental attacks it can take before it passes out.

He should have used an Ember attack or two with Charmander, tried to burn Maturin. As it is, he feels his hope dwindling. As always, Blue looks calm and sure, giving nothing away, and Red finds himself frustrated by the inability to check his mental state. He finally decides that his only hope is to try for Maturin’s.

Red ignores the battle for a moment, focuses on his breathing, and extends his psychic sense. He feels the echoes of minds through the walls and ceiling around them, but ignores everything but those in the same room. He focuses past the alien, unreadable noise of his spinarak and toward the mind just beyond it.

Weakness floods through Red, every breath painful as his stomach (no not the stomach something else) churns and jets water through his throat and out his mouth in a spray—

“Red!”

Red is on his hands and knees, vomit on the floor. He gives his head a brisk shake, then looks up to find Blue staring at him in shock as their pokemon continue battling.

Red fumbles for Spinarak’s ball and aims it forward. “Spinarak, return!”

“Maturin, stop!” Blue dashes toward him and unhooks an antidote from his belt. He sprays it into the smoke cloud around Maturin as he runs past, leaping around and over puddles of water and poisonous spores until he kneels beside Red. “You okay?”

Red leans back until he’s sitting on his haunches, breathing deep and grimacing at the taste in his mouth. “Fine,” he says, and clears his throat before spitting. “Water?”

“Sure, yeah.” Blue grabs Red’s canteen from his bag and brings it to him. He waits for Red to take a deep drink, then asks, “Is it your stomach? Think some of the meat was undercooked?”

“No, nothing like that,” Red says, laughing a little as he wipes at his eyes. His body feels completely fine, the borrowed sensations fading moments after he disconnected from Maturin. The only lingering effects are from his body’s reaction, and the usual upwelling of grief that he quickly confronts with his positive emotions and reminders, with some success. It helps having Blue beside him, obvious worry on his face. “I thought I was going to lose, so I tried sensing how hurt Maturin was.”

Blue looks at him with a mix of alarm and fascination. “You can do that now?”

“Not well, apparently. But yeah, it’s a new thing I’m practicing.”

“Red, you idiot! You poisoned her and hit her with half a dozen mental attacks!” Blue looks up to check on Maturin, who’s still somewhat obscured by the smoke cloud, but appears to be sitting down and resting now. “No wonder you threw up.”

“Actually, I think it was in sympathy with her Water Gun.” Red grimaces as he remembers the sensation of liquid traveling up his throat with powerful force, and his stomach heaves again. Thankfully it calms down after. “But yeah, there might have been some carry over from the rest too. Blue, she’s in pain. A lot. I think it was the poison, which you cured, but you should heal her more.” Red rubs his arms as he remembers the sensation of pain that radiated over her skin.

“She’s taken worse, but yeah, now that I know you’re not dying…” Blue stands and goes to his pokemon, spraying her with a full potion bottle and feeding her some berries as the last of the smoke fades away.

Red takes deep breaths until he feels normal again, mind lingering on the sensations he shared. It’s one thing to see how badly hurt pokemon get, and another to feel it… especially for effects that aren’t visible.

“Hey, so, how much longer were you going to keep Maturin out?” Red asks, getting to his feet and taking his pokemon out one at a time to heal them up. He brings Spinarak out first and sprays some potion on its bruised and cracked carapace. “Was I close to beating you?”

“Another twenty seconds, probably. Were you going to keep Spinarak out that long?”

Red considers it as he withdraws the bug. “I don’t know. I guess it depends on how many more times Maturin scored a hit. I’d like to think I’d have won if I stuck to it, but maybe not: I only tried using my g—the psychic thing because I was desperate.” Red almost called his powers his “gift,” a phrase that always struck him as pretentious before he started training with Ayane. It still seems that way now, but he’s clearly more used to it. Still, he’d rather not use the phrase in front of Blue. He doesn’t know how jealous his friend might still be, and would rather not risk rubbing it in.

“You know what your problem is?” Blue takes a spray and a towel from his bag and starts cleaning Maturin’s shell. “You don’t take enough risks. Your plan was good, but you had a lot of chances to lock that up earlier. If you kept your caterpie out for another String Shot, or let Charmander fire off a couple Embers—”

“Caterpie could have probably stayed out a bit longer,” Red admits as he sends his Charmander out. The fire lizard looks around frantically until it finds Maturin, but a quick command brings it out of battle mode. Once it’s relaxed, Red takes his towel out too and begins drying him off between a few sprays of potion. “But I was worried about Charmander. I regretted not attacking with him too, but I didn’t want to risk him getting hit with another Bubble. And he accomplished his objective anyway.”

“You’re focusing too much on your strategy. Tactics have to adapt in the middle of battle, and you need to grab every advantage you see. Let your pokemon fight as long as they can: that’s what potions and pokemon centers are for. I told you I was going easy anyway, remember?”

Red frowns at the idea of purposefully fighting his pokemon until they pass out, especially after feeling what Maturin did for just a few seconds. But Blue is right that Red would have probably won if he let his pokemon fight longer, and he needs to get used to letting his pokemon take the same risks they will in the wild. “You’re right. I guess I’m still a bit overcautious after losing Spearow and Rattata.”

“I get it. Losing my pokemon in Viridian sucked too. But you’re not doing them any favors by being soft on them during training.”

Red nods as he feeds Charmander. His pokemon is nearly as tall as his waist now, and Red smiles as the fire lizard butts its head against his thigh and nuzzles it. Red strokes the warm scales on his head, then withdraws him and brings Oddish out for a quick defrosting and healing, followed by Caterpie.

As soon as the bug sees Maturin again however, it bursts into light, causing Red to leap back in surprise and stare as his first pokemon evolves.

“Woah! ‘Grats on your first evo, Red! I mean, it’s a caterpie, they evolve if you blow on them hard enough, but still.”

Red grins, voice wry. “Thanks, Blue.” He watches the light fade to reveal his new metapod, its hard carapace gleaming in the overhead lights. After it seems to realize it’s not in battle, it waddles over to the berries he laid out, and Red kneels down to feed a few into the slot-like mouth on its front. “I guess I should go for a butterfree soon.” He wonders how close to evolving his other pokemon are, and feels a surge of confidence. He may have lost the battle, and the mid-battle psychic experiment didn’t go so well, but he still feels more prepared for leaving the city than he did before.

“Yeah, then you’ll finally have a flier,” Blue says as he withdraws Maturin and goes to the wall to hit the button marking the training room as in need of a clean up. “Sort of. I mean, it’s a butterfree—”

“Shut up, Blue.”


On the morning of their departure, Red wakes up extra early and grabs a cab out of Cerulean North. He spends the ride drinking tea to chase away his lingering sleepiness and looking over his paper for final edits. Ayane’s final batch of abra confirmed the trend, and the correlation is clear as ever.

At the lower bounds, no abra with an Other of less than 21% could lift more than 28 kg. The empty space in the top left quadrant extends rightward until Other climbs over 25%, and then data points begin to track upward to 28% and 34 kg, after which the dots become a seemingly random cloud. But in that empty space, the null hypothesis seems clearly defeated.

Which means there seems to be something in the abra that the pokedex doesn’t understand, the same thing it didn’t understand in the spinarak. And that something is probably related, at least a little, to the abra’s psychokinetic strength.

Red works his way down the document, fixing typos and doing some final edits while ignoring his car sickness as best he can. He also does his best to restrain the excitement coursing through him. He’s too used to disappointment to assume that this would be as big a deal as he thinks it will. But reserved optimism or not, the depression that’s weighed him down over the past two weeks is at its weakest when he considers the results. It’s nice to bask in that feeling, awhile.

When Red considers the potential implications of this research, he can’t help but feel a bit like a fraud. It was the Professor and the rest of Pallet Lab’s hard work that made this new pokedex, after all, and without it he never would have had the idea to try and measure his spinarak’s psychic ability. When he brought it up to Professor Oak, his mentor laughed.

And what, you think luck had no part of my career? If I had been born just a couple years earlier or later, someone else would have been the first trainer with all the new technology available to make the discoveries I did. But it still took a lot of work to make them, and then follow through with the rest of what made me a Professor.”

I still feel like I’m cheating. You’re the one who developed this pokedex, you and Dr. Madi and the rest of Pallet Labs.”

Red, you are part of Pallet Labs. Whatever you accomplish with what we taught and provided for you is an extension of our work. We paved the roads for those like you to have the opportunities you do, and make new discoveries. To be the next ones to teach us all something new.”

Red makes a final edit in his Conclusion, then sends it off to Dr. Madi to check over and leans his head back against the seat. He closes his eyes for the rest of the trip to let the mild nausea pass, smiling slightly. If everything goes well, anything Red has to teach will be soon outstripped by how much more there will be to learn. What the physical substance that correlates with psychic powers is, whether it’s the same between species, whether there’s a cutoff point between species labeled Psychic Type and those that merely have access to some psychic abilities… There will be a lot to study, and a lot of others besides him studying them. It won’t just be his project anymore, but a collaboration. One that Red will have to keep working hard in to stay at the forefront.

And as much attention as Red gets for it, he’ll always know who he has to thank… one of whom he also needs to apologize to.

The cab pulls up to Bill’s house, and Red thanks the driver, then tells them to go back without him. Red goes over to the front of one of Bill’s houses and stands in front of the door. He looks for the camera lens, then waves to it.

“Hey, Bill. I don’t know if you’re up or not this early, so I didn’t call ahead, but we’re heading south today and I just wanted to say goodbye. And to say thank you. You’ve been a lot of help to me, more than anyone but Professor Oak, and I appreciate it more than I can say.”

He takes a deep breath. “I also wanted to apologize. I’m still new at the whole psychic thing, but that’s no excuse for letting my emotions get the better of me. I’m sorry for violating your trust and privacy, and I hope I can make it up to you by going to the Cruise Convention. More than that, though, I wanted to offer you something in return.”

He unclips his abra’s ball, the strongest one he caught and thus one of those he’ll be keeping for himself. “I understand your reasons for what you said, and your offer to store others who are already suspended is really generous. So I’m going to set your house as a teleport point, just in case I need to get someone to you. I won’t pretend it’s not also in case something happens to me. But I’m also doing it so that if you ever need something, I can come to you right away.” Red smiles. “Even if it’s just to bring you a soda.”

Red wonders if Bill would say something if he’s awake. Red’s pretty sure the house records its surroundings, but whether it would tell Bill that he came by is a different story. He’ll send Bill a message after to let him know, but just in case…

“If you’re awake and okay with that, make the clefairy appear again. If not, the arbok.”

Red waits another few moments, tensely preparing his nervous system for a realistic arbok to suddenly appear beside him. Instead a clefairy appears pops up beside him instead, which makes him jump anyway.

Red grins at the clefairy, which disappears a moment later. He brings up his mental shield, then summons his abra in the grassy field by the house and says, “Register Teleport.” Then he returns it to its ball and brings out his other abra.

“Thanks again, Bill. Talk to you soon.”

He puts a hand on the smooth fur of its head and says “Teleport,” and with a wrenching, shuddering twist, the grassy fields and houses around him are replaced by the rooftop of the Trainer House. He feeds his abra a pokepuff, then withdraws it and heads down to collect his bag and meet Blue and Leaf.

Chapter 42: Making Do

Leaf holds her instrument to her lips and watches the sky. All she can see above is Crimson, doing slow circles of a defensive perimeter around her. Together, trainer and pidgey wait for the threat to reveal itself.

Wait, and watch, and listen.

The sun is warm. The wind is cool. Around them is a stretch of empty beach, and the only sounds are the gentle crash of the waves and the flap of Crimson’s wings.

When the attack comes, it does so without warning: a blast of water that knocks over one of the pokedolls along the beach to her left as she faces the water.

Leaf immediately blows on her whistle, sending Crimson down in a dive at another pokedoll on her right. As soon as he knocks it over, her next command sends Crimson to her left side to strike another doll there, farther away, but a burst of water topples it, and Leaf send Crimson back to her right to knock over the fourth. As she does so, she starts running to her left, eye on the upright pokedoll farther in the distance. She looks back and sees Crimson knock over his target, then blows a tune to bring him racing up behind her, and out toward the new target.

The next pokedoll grows closer in the distance, and she points a finger out and blows on her whistle. Crimson dives at it, but before he can reach, another burst of water shoots out from the waves and hits it.

Leaf curses and turns on her heel, blowing a retreat to Crimson and running even harder back the way she came. She passes by the original dolls and sees the last one in the distance. She must have gotten here first–a quick pair of notes on her flute and Crimson dives at it again.

This time the burst of water comes from farther back, and it doesn’t reach the doll until Crimson hits it. Leaf grins and turns toward the water, and a moment later Blue emerges, one hand on Maturin’s shell until he reaches the shallow part and begins to walk. The newly evolved wartortle follows him, long white tail swishing behind her as she squirts another shot of water at the already downed doll.

“Tied this time,” she says, hands on her hips. “Are you going easy, or did we just get faster?”

Blue takes the breather out of his mouth and lifts his water goggles, wiping a hand across his face. “You got faster. Do you still think bulbasaur would win, though?”

“Only one way to find out.” Leaf withdraws Crimson and brings Bulbasaur out. “We’ve been training his long distance attacks a lot lately, so he might actually do better than Crimson.”

Blue snorts. “We’ll see about that.”

Ever since Zephyr evolved, she and Blue started these competitive training sessions. They’re not quite battles, but also not quite simple training, and Leaf enjoys the mix of challenging and playful elements of them. Once Maturin evolved, Blue wanted practice battling with her from the water onto land, so they decided to try a race along the beach.

“So how confident are you feeling with Maturin in the water?”

“She’s fast,” he says, clearing water from his ear. “I don’t know if she’s fast enough for Misty, but it’s good to know that I can travel a bit by water now, if I need to. You need to get yourself a water pokemon.”

“I know,” Leaf says, staring wistfully at the bay. Maybe I can take up fishing… “First though, I want Crimson or Bulbasaur to evolve.”

Blue begins to move along the beach, putting pokedolls right side up. “Once Crimson does I can teach you guys Brave Bird, if you’d like. I think I’ve almost got the hang of it.”

Leaf’s smile fades a bit. “I don’t know. I appreciate these non-violent training sessions, but Brave Bird is a dangerous move for a pokemon to learn. Even more dangerous to use in battle.”

Blue shrugs. “Sure, but better to have it and not need it, right?”

“Yeah, maybe.” Leaf picks up a doll as Bulbasaur frolicks in the waves and Maturin dives back into them, following Leaf and Blue down the beach. “I wonder if–”

Leaf’s phone buzzes, and she checks it to see Professor Oak’s face pop up. “It’s your grandpa!”

Blue raises his brows and walks over while Leaf accepts the call and puts it on visual. A moment later Professor Oak shows up too, sitting in his office.

“Hi professor!”

“Hello there, Leaf, how is everything? Enjoying one of Cerulean’s many beaches, I see?”

“Yep, and doing some training. Blue’s here.” She tilts the phone.

“Heya gramps.”

“Oh, hello Blue. Well, I’m sorry to interrupt. We can speak later if–”

“No, not at all!” Leaf sits in the sand, and Blue crouches next to her a moment later. “You got my message?”

“I did, and I read your article on the dig site. I enjoyed it.”

“Thanks!”

“So?” Blue asks. “What do you think?”

The Professor sighs, face growing more somber. “I think it was surprising, and worrying. Giovanni is not a man who takes challenges to his will lightly, and yet it seems someone has gone out of their way to undermine him. Not to mention the potential trouble it would cause for Pewter and Cerulean as well.”

Leaf feels relief, but also some small note of disappointment. “So you believe him, then? You don’t think it’s suspicious or… or something others should know about?”

“Perhaps. Still, I trust the Ranger and Leader had their reasons for covering it up. And if I didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t want you getting involved, Leaf. These are forces that wouldn’t hesitate to crush you if you get in their way, some more literally than others. Better if you stay out of it, and not just because I assured your mother that Kanto was as safe a place for a young trainer as anywhere.”

“Hey, that’s not fair,” Blue says as he leans down and frowns at the camera. “You wouldn’t say that to me, would you? Leaf is at least as tough and ambitious. Whatever the decision, she can deal with making it as well as anyone.”

Leaf looks at Blue in surprise, cheeks flushing. It’s flattering to hear that he thinks so highly of her, especially when she knows how often her anti-violent training views chafe. She sometimes worries that Blue wishes he had other travelling companions. Red warmed up to her a lot after their narrow escape in Viridian; she’s just now realizing how much Blue has too, after their encounter with the Renegade.

“I can assure you, I would say the same of you, Blue. It’s not a matter of will or maturity, but power. You’re not there yet, either of you. The fame and attention and influence you would gain for outing this is not worth the enemies you would make.”

“Giovanni–”

“Leader Giovanni is the least among them. He can be… overzealous, when acting how he feels best, but at least your life wouldn’t be in danger.”

“What, you think the person who killed Yuuta would come after me?” Leaf frowns. “But… why would they do that? I’d be doing them a favor if I published it.”

“So it might seem, but I believe the most rational route right now is to take their motives as completely opaque. Much as I trust Giovanni’s intentions, I have no doubt that he was less than completely forthcoming with you.” The professor puts his elbows on the desk and clasps his hands together. “Listen to me, the both of you. It was a great thing you did, helping to stop the Renegade, and it was good work uncovering the truth behind his death, Leaf. But trust me to take it from here. I’m grateful that you told me, and I promise to look into it and let you know if there’s anything more going on. Can you do that?”

Leaf wants to look at Blue, but resists the urge. “Of course, Professor.”

“Sure, gramps.”

“Thank you. Give my regards to Red, and good luck on your match, Blue.”

“Will you be watching?”

The Professor grins. “Of course. Daisy and I are hosting a watch party.”

“Aw, hell, you don’t have to do that.” Leaf can tell Blue is pleased anyway.

“Forget I said anything then. Pretend I’m not watching tomorrow, if it helps.”

“Thanks.”

Leaf nods. “Thank you, Professor.”

“Take care.” He waves, and ends the call.

Leaf lowers her phone, and the two sit in silence for awhile, watching their pokemon play. When Leaf finally comes to a resolution, she turns to Blue, who’s already looking at her. “You’re going to keep looking into it yourself, aren’t you?”

She smiles. “Do you think it’s a bad idea? I thought you were against me poking into it any further.”

“Nah, I just don’t think you should cross Giovanni.” He gets to his feet and offers her his hand which she takes, brushing the sand from her legs after getting pulled up. “But four eyes are better than two, and it’s like Brave Bird, right? Better to know than not to know, even if you’re not planning to do anything with the info. You never know when it might come in handy.”


“Challenger, Blue Oak, second badge.”

Blue begins his walk along the pier as the audience applauds, eyes straight ahead until he reaches the island. He climbs the steps to his trainer platform… and sees the smallest arena he’s ever fought in.

He spent a lot of time watching videos of Misty’s previous Challenge matches to prepare for whatever she might throw at him. Most of her Challenge matches are outdoors and she only does battles along the beach for first badge Challengers, so he expected an island arena. But the kind of island varies widely: some are larger than the one Blue fought Ariya on, while others take place on tiny archipelagos, or a ring of sand with spaces of open water in the middle of them.

This one is even smaller than a training room. A quick glance is enough to take it all in, and Blue knows he could withdraw a pokemon from practically any part of the arena below.

Which is, of course, the point.

Blue feels his pulse kick up, and he smiles in anticipation. There’s only one reason to fight in an arena this small. It’s almost unheard of for a second badge Challenger, but he’s not complaining: it sure won’t hurt his public profile.

“Blue! Hey, BLUE!”

He looks to the audience, expecting to see Red or Leaf waving at him from the stands… but no, the voice was too young. Then he spots the young boy that he met on his first day at Cerulean Gym, standing and cupping his hands around his mouth. What was his name? Daniel? Dennis, that was it.

Blue smiles and lifts a hand, which makes Dennis wave both arms and yell “Good luck!” Blue hopes the kid isn’t skipping again, but no, there’s an older man sitting next to him and urging him to sit down. If he’s missing school, at least he has an adult’s permission.

The audience continues to fill the floating bleachers around the island, though there’s nowhere near as much room for seats as Pewter Gym’s main coliseum. Still, there are cameras available to stream to anyone that wants to watch the match, and he’s confident he’ll have more viewers for this match.

“Leader Misty, of Wisteria Town, Indigo League Challenger and Savior of Cerulean North!”

The Ceruleans cheers for their Leader, who strides up to her platform in a white swimsuit one piece and a light blue jacket. Blue puts his earpiece in.

“Hello, Mister Oak. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Leader. We’re using Indigo League rules?”

Their platforms are close enough for him to see her smile. “Right.”

Excitement surges through him, and he grins back. “I don’t remember seeing a 2nd Badge Challenger get this kind of treatment.”

“You made quite an impression on the others. Anything else I try on you will be wasting both our times, and I like to force my Challengers outside their comfort zones.”

“If you think I can handle it, I’m honored.”

“Heh. If I thought you could handle it, I’d do something else. Brock beat you once, I can hardly let myself get shown up, now can I?” Misty switches to the public channel. “Good morning, Cerulean City! Today’s Challenge match is against one of the most skilled trainers our gym has seen all year, with an undefeated win streak! Blue Oak, Cerulean Gym honors your request. State the nature of your Challenge.”

“I challenge for Mastery,” Blue says, voice booming over the water from speakers set in his platform.

“Cerulean Gym accepts. You may use six pokemon to defeat my three, with standard Indigo League withdraw limitations. Prepare for battle!”

Indigo League withdraw limitations are meant to simulate intense battle conditions in the wild. No pauses to talk or rest or strategize, unless it’s for safety reasons. No more than 1.6 seconds can pass without a pokemon on the field. If a pokemon is knocked out or killed, it has to be replaced in 3 seconds, or else the trainer is presumed dead by the attacking pokemon, and forfeits. Same with if his pokemon goes too far from the battlefield, so that it can’t protect its trainer if needed. A pokemon can’t be withdrawn and sent back out without a different pokemon going in first.

Blue spots the referees in the crowd, now that he knows to look for them. They have tools ready to monitor the battle and call out time if needed. He puts his hands over his belt, not quite hovering over any particular ball so as not to give away his impulse to send Maturin or Kemuri out first. A wartortle and shiftry should at least be neutrally useful against anything she throws out, and if he’s right about what her trump card would be…

“Ready… Set… Go, Swanna!”

Misty’s swanna erupts into being above the battlefield, and Blue’s hand shifts to Ion automatically, the ball already flying through the air before he recognizes the trap.

“Go, Ion!”

“Swanna, return!”

Blue’s shinx makes its debut just as Misty returns her Swanna and pulls her hand out of her jacket with the next ball in it. “Go, Marshtomp!”

“Ion, Bite!”

His pokemon streaks forward in a blue and black blur and sinks his teeth into the enemy marshtomp’s thick arm. It lets out a pained croak and swings its arm around to try and dislodge the shinx. Blue still has Ion’s ball pointed forward, and withdraws his pokemon just as Misty yells “Tara!”

Shit, custom commands too? Blue has no time to consider what her attack might be, acting on instinct to reclip Kemuri to send out Maturin instead.

His wartortle materializes just in time to be nailed with an Ice Beam. Blue doesn’t have time to celebrate his choice, and orders a tackle as he watches for her next move. If Misty is expecting him to switch into counters, he just has to whittle her down with neutral pokemon and attacks. His pokemon might be weaker than hers on average, but he has twice as many.

Misty seems intent on testing his speed, however, and switches out again. As she continually swaps between the marshtomp and the swanna, Blue lets the battle calm surround him so he can keep up without fumbling. Most swaps happen so fast that neither gets an attack in, but Blue is content to wait until he has an opening before he gives a command.

“Go, Swanna!”

“Return! Go, Ion!”

“Return, go, Mars–”

“Return, Ion, go–”

“Epa!”

Misty’s marshtomp slams its arms forward just as Maturin materializes and knocks her across the sand. Blue yells “Bite!” as Misty swaps in her swanna, who stays out of reach as Maturin leaps up at it.

“Asa!”

“Withdraw!”

Maturin ducks into her shell just as the swanna dives and rakes at her. A Wing Attack? Memorizing Misty’s custom attacks is going to be rough, and Blue has only a brief moment to wonder if she’s using them on him just because he used one against Ariya. That’s what I get for testing my limits.

“Maturin, Bai!”

Maturin’s Ice Beam hits the swanna dead on, dropping it to the sand as its feathers are covered in frost. Blue blinks in surprise, hands going still. He expected a switch. Misty looks calm, in control, and Blue feels a note of panic as he realizes he has no idea what’s coming.

“Swanna, alf!”

“Maturin, Withdraw!”

The swanna hops toward Maturin, jerks its neck back… its beak bobs, opens, emits a choking sound-

What the fu-

-and then a stream of purple goop pours out of its mouth.

-uuoh SHIT “Maturin, return!”

Blue’s beam catches his wartortle just as the toxic bile covers her shell. He couldn’t tell how much she was directly exposed to, and there’s no time to think about it: he swaps his bellsprout in and yells “Sleep Powder!”

“Gust!”

The swanna has recovered enough to flap itself back into the air and send the blue spores away over the water. Blue sees some people flinch as the cloud hits the glass in front of their bleacher. Blue replaces his bellsprout with Ion and the dance continues, but now Blue knows better than to try and tank the swanna. Its Toxic would make this fight much harder.

One minute melts into the next, endless cycles of swapping, attacking, throwing, catching. Blue feels sweat drip down his neck, and his arms ache as he keeps them moving almost constantly.

Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout to Maturin to Ion to Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout–

“Vine Whip!” Blue yells as his pokemon materializes while the Marshtomp’s ball is still on its way back to her.

His pokemon’s vine stretches out and whips the marshtomp a heartbeat before it gets withdrawn, and Blue grins as he moves to withdraw his Bellsprout and send out Maturin. That has to have hurt. If he can do that cycle again…

Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout to Maturin–”Withdraw!”–to Ion to Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout to Maturin to Ion–”Bite!”–to Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout–

Blue opens his mouth to go for another Vine Whip, but Misty withdraws her pokemon blindingly fast. She’s watching for it now, which means he has to outspeed her. Blue pushes himself, barely looking at the balls as he throws and catches them again and again, cycling and attacking, trying to force her to send her marshtomp out and lure it into an attack on Ion, leaving the shinx out an extra second so she’ll overcommit, now–

“Return, go, Bellsprout!”

Shinx get sucked away as Bellsprout replaces him, and Blue lifts his arm to catch its ball-

-and feels it brush his fingertips.

He whips around and leaps, catching the ball before it can spin past into the water.

“Ova!” Misty yells.

Blue turns just in time to see the marshtomp blast his bellsprout with an Ice Beam. It wilts in a second, and he quickly withdraws it, heart pounding as he sends Maturin out to resume the dance, barely clinging onto his battle calm.

He missed a catch. He, Blue Oak, almost dropped his pokeball just as his pokemon needed to be returned. That shouldn’t happen, ever, let alone in front of an audience.

“Withdraw!” Blue yells, and swallows against the dryness in his throat. Five to three, now. Maturin’s dive ball is slick under his sweaty fingers, and Blue’s pulse kicks up again. This is exactly what Misty wants. To test his endurance, see how he adapts to new things. He might be wearing down her pokemon, but she’s wearing him down. She fights like this all the time, is used to the open sunlight and endless movement. If he can’t find a way to break the cycle, he’s going to lose the fight long before his pokemon do.

The marshtomp or swanna, one of them has to go. But he has nothing that decisively beats both. Misty is fast. More than that, she’s predicting his moves like… well, a psychic. Being dark is useful, but she’s still used to being in a trainer’s head as she fights them. However good Blue is, and however proud, he knows better than to think his natural impulses are significantly less predictable than any other trainers that have studied competitive battles an extensive amount.

But unpredictable is exactly what he has to be. Which in this case means locking her into a decision and shifting the tempo of the fight, if only to give himself time to catch his breath and rest his arms.

Blue waits for her to send out her marshtomp again, then unclips a rear ball and throws. “Go, Zephyr!”

The pidgeotto gives a piercing cry as it materializes and spots its opponent. Misty immediately withdraws the marshtomp, and Blue’s first flute note sends Zephyr climbing up, up, up.

Misty’s movements are as smooth as ever, but he thinks there’s a moment’s hesitation as she unclips her Swanna. Not enough to disqualify her, but when the Swanna appears, she doesn’t immediately give it any instruction. She could threaten to disqualify him if his pokemon leaves the battlefield, but Zephyr is still above the island, within striking difference if the theoretical wild swanna were to go for him and leave itself exposed. Blue smiles around his mouthpiece as he carefully steers his pokemon just within the battleground limits, and takes deep breaths, arms and shoulders enjoying the rest.

Swanna are stronger than pidgeotto, and faster, but only at the start of a fight. And now that both Blue and his pokemon have a bit of breathing room…

He blows two notes, and Zephyr banks to the left, accelerating as he does so. The swanna turns to keep him in its sight, but Misty soon realizes what he’s doing, and rather than let Zephyr keep gaining agility, she starts to give chase.

As Blue feared, an Ice Beam lances out from the swanna, just barely missing Zephyr. Two TMs on one pokemon… does that mean two on each of them? He’ll have to watch out for another TM from marshtomp too, along with two from whatever her third is. There’s a limit to how much a pokemon’s body can be edited, so hopefully this is the last surprise from the swanna.

Blue keeps Zephyr on the move and lets him keep building speed until he’s just a tan blur in the sky. The small size of the arena keeps him from going even faster, but the swanna can’t land its attacks, and on its next miss, Blue finally sends it in for a Brave Bird.

The blow is almost too fast to see, but blood and feathers rain down from both of them. Misty withdraws her swanna as it makes a distressed honk, but Blue can’t tell how badly it’s injured. Blue tracks Zephyr with his ball as he stumbles about in the air for a second, but then his flapping grows stronger and he levels out.

“Go, Starmie!”

A jolt goes through Blue, and he withdraws Zephyr anyway, feeling simultaneously flattered and nervously irritated. An Indigo league match, and coded attacks, and two TMs, and she’s using a starmie? The gem in its center flashes red as its five rear arms spin lazily through the sand and lift its body up. As it begins to cartwheel around the battlefield, Blue throws. “Go, Kemuri!”

His shiftry appears on the sand and immediately gets blasted by an Ice Beam, because of course it has that move too. Kemuri shivers under the cold onslaught for a moment, but doesn’t go down. “Tal!” Blue yells.

His pokemon whips up a flurry of green particles and sends them out with a flap of its leaves. Blue expects Misty to replace the starmie with her swanna, but instead it takes the attack and just shoots another Ice Beam out.

“Dodge!” Blue yells, too late. One of Kemuri’s leaf hands is still up from its attack, and takes the brunt of the beam. When it finally leaps away and moves its arm down, two of its three broad leaves break off with a snap.

“Dodge!” Blue yells again, and this time Kemuri avoids the attack. No time to wonder why Misty is keeping her starmie out, but her ability to give it commands instantly and silently means he has to play defensively. He keeps his gaze on her pokemon to predict its next move, and realizes that its wounds from his previous attack are closing. “Lar!”

His pokemon dashes forward and slashes with its remaining limb. The razor sharp leaves slice off a pair of the starmie’s arms as it spins away. It responds with an Ice Beam, which Kemuri manages to dodge without Blue’s warning, but it tries to counter attack on its own and only manages to chase the starmie around as it recharges for another shot.

Starmie are too fast for a shiftry to hope to get a hit in without the element of surprise. “Af!” Blue commands, and Kemuri leaps forward–only to land short and hit the sand face first. Blue winces as he imagines that long, thin nose slamming into the sand.

The starmie slows down and fires another Ice Beam, but Kemuri is already rolling out of the way and bounding forward for another strike, nose thankfully unbroken and white mane covered in sand. Misty sends her starmie spinning away again, but not before it’s struck by another deep gash.

Blue kept his code pretty simple: if an attack is two words, use the first letter of both, flip the order, and put a vowel between them if one isn’t a vowel. If it’s one word, use the first letter and a vowel. The vowel used can keep track of multiple attacks with the same letters. It’s not a hard code to break, but it’s easy to remember and implement, which is what he needed to get Kemuri ready for this match.

Both their pokemon seem a hit away from going down, but hers can regenerate. Blue has to get another hit in soon. She won’t fall for the same thing twice…

“Starmie, return!”

Blue blinks, then lifts Ion’s ball and prepares to swap it into her swanna. He was paying so much attention to her pokemon he didn’t notice her prepare to switch, costing a chance to get an attack in.

He holds Kemuri’s ball out and cocks Ion’s back. “Kemuri, re–”

“Go, Marshtomp!”

–ckg!” Blue chokes on the word and tightens his grip on Ion’s ball. Too close. “Lor!”

“Ap!”

The shiftry strikes first, blades sinking deep into the marshtomp’s abdomen–only to have it belch a glob of poisonous sludge right into Kemuri’s face.

His pokemon reels back with a coughing bellow of pain that Blue feels like a stab in his gut. He quickly returns it to its ball, cursing at himself. There’s that second surprise. At the same time, the marshtomp falls back from its more literal stabbing, and is quickly withdrawn by Misty.

“Go, Io-”

“Pause,” Misty says over the loudspeakers.

Blue flinches, ball sailing forward and hitting the sand without opening. He stares at her, and slowly lowers his arm as his stomach turns to ice. Was he too late? No, her pokemon was down and hasn’t even been replaced yet, there’s no way he’s in violation…

Misty smiles. “Don’t worry, Trainer, you’re safe. I merely want to confirm our count.”

Right. Blue nods, letting his breath out. “I’ve retired my bellsprout.”

“And your shiftry?”

Blue stares at her, thinking fast. “I did think that Kemuri was another attack from going down, but that was from your starmie.”

“Do you intend to send it out again, then?”

Blue’s jaw clenches. He can’t retire Kemuri while she still has her starmie, it’s his only pokemon that’s immune to its psychic attacks. But… that sludge hit Kemuri directly. He was already badly hurt, and if he’s poisoned… he would faint within seconds of being sent out again.

Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit. “No,” Blue says, and slowly transfers Kemuri’s ball to the rear of his belt, swapping it with Gon’s. “It’s too big a risk.”

Misty smiles. “A prudent choice, Trainer. In the same spirit, I will retire my marshtomp.”

Blue nods, only slightly relieved. It received what looked like a pretty critical hit: Kemuri is still his most unruly and vicious pokemon, and he’s lucky it hasn’t crippled or killed another trainer’s pokemon yet. He’ll have to keep working on that.

For now, he’s only glad that it took the marshtomp out. Ion can finally have free rein, but he doesn’t think the shinx will be able to stand up to a starmie. If only it had evolved too…

“Ready to continue, Challenger?”

Four to two. I can still do this. Blue hops down from his platform and retrieves Ion’s ball, gaze lingering on the blood, feathers, and leaves that litter the sand. He feels surreal, standing on the tiny island in the middle of the bay, hundreds of silent eyes on him as the sun beats down and the smell of the water fills his nose. Like he’s in a painting, or a picture that will be shown in history books. Like everything around him is about to freeze in place, and if he looks to the side he’ll see a floating square that he can climb out of and back into “reality.”

Blue bends down and picks up Ion’s ball. The world is still very mobile, and all he’s coming out of is an adrenaline high. He smiles as he climbs back up onto his platform, then stretches his arms out and rotates his shoulders before moving his hands over his belt to disguise which balls he’s holding. “Ready.”

“Three… two… one… Go, Star-”

“Go, Ion!” Shit. He expected the Swanna. “Return, go, Maturin!”

His wartortle appears, one paw wiping poison off her face as she tries to open her eyes. Blue’s heart is in his throat as the starmie’s gem flashes, expecting a psychic attack… but it’s just healing itself again.

“Bite!” Blue yells as soon as Maturin can see, and his wartortle leaps forward. Basic as it is, an intense and invasive enough attack will mess with any psychic’s ability to concentrate.

Rather than let Maturin latch onto her starmie, however, Misty yells “Return, go, Swanna!” and Blue immediately aborts the Maturin’s charge with a “Return, go, Ion! Spark!”

The swanna stays out and belches another glob of toxic goop at Ion as the shinx tackles it, electricity buzzing around him. The swanna is jolted away, honking in agony as it rolls across the sand and lies still. Misty quickly withdraws her pokemon and sends the starmie back out.

Four to one! “Spark!”

Ion charges forward again and hits the starmie, but his pokemon bounces off something in the air just ahead of the starmie: a Protection barrier. Almost impossible to pierce through, but very hard to maintain for more than a couple seconds. Its timing has to be precise, but combined with the ability to heal her pokemon, it’s an incredible stalling ability.

Blue’s grip on Maturin’s ball tightens. Even now, Misty is changing the rules. Her starmie is going to just tank and let the poison wear Ion down. The starmie starts to heal itself again, and Ion runs toward it for another Spark, which connects. But Misty’s pokemon barely seems to feel it, simply healing through the damage.

“Charge!” Blue says, and watches as his pokemon builds up electricity, its blue and black fur crackling with light. If he’s wrong and the starmie isn’t preparing another barrier, he can only hope Ion survives her next attack and takes her down in one hit.

As far as he can see however, the starmie just keeps regenerating, all of its lost limbs fully regrown now, its skin unblemished. Ion is beginning to tremble, whether from built up electricity or the wearing effects of the poison, he doesn’t know, but enough is enough. “Spark!”

The starmie leaps away as soon as Ion bolts forward, and the chase is on. Starmie are ridiculously fast considering their weird shape, and Ion is clearly feeling the growing effects of the poison, but eventually Misty runs out of island and has to turn.

Ion cuts across the intervening space and tackles it with a crack of discharging energy, almost sending it into the water. The starmie bounces and flounders on the sand, electricity running along its body as its skin smokes and blackens. But soon the burnt skin begins to slough off to reveal new flesh underneath.

Blue lets out a breath. If that wasn’t enough to take it down, it’s time for Plan B, now that Misty has no one to swap her pokemon with. “Return! Go, Gon! Leech Seed!”

His shroomish makes its first appearance in the battle and spits the seeds out. The starmie can heal itself at a frightening pace, but even it can’t shrug off the effects of that much electricity so quickly, and Gon has just enough time to release the Leech Seeds before the starmie sends out an Ice Beam.

Frost blooms over Gon’s whole body, and Blue withdraws him. Three to one. One of the seeds connected, however, and that’s all he needs. His path to victory is set: it’s a battle of attrition, and Blue begins a countdown for each of his poisoned pokemon, set to begin when he sends them back out. But first, the unpoisoned one: “Go, Zephyr!” He puts his flute to his lips as the pidgeotto appears and blows.

Zephyr dives at the starmie and strikes another barrier, only for Blue to follow up with a second set of notes that makes Zephyr hover in place to keep clawing and pecking. The leech seed is growing, its roots spreading through the starmie’s flesh and sucking its life up into its fruit, which crack out of their shells and drop to the sand. His pokemon occasionally dips to the side to snatch them up in its beak, then returns to attacking the starmie, who can only protect itself every few seconds, spending the rest of its time healing.

Misty has to attack to win. She’s waiting for something, but what? Not knowing makes Blue nervous, but he has her on the ropes and can’t let up now. His hands tighten on his pokeballs, watching without blinking as Zephyr tries to do more damage to the starmie than it can heal through… surely he’s wearing it down…

With a jolt, Blue realizes his mistake. While he’s here trying to guess and estimate how the fight is going, Misty can feel the status of her pokemon, intimately. She knows if her pokemon is getting worn down, out healing the damage, or even breaking even. If she’s not attacking, it’s because she’s getting an advantage by prolonging the fight. He only feels in control because it looks like she’s out of options, but if that were true, she would just forfeit. She’s a Gym Leader, not just some random trainer whose pride or prize money is on the line.

Blue opens his mouth to withdraw Zephyr, then stops himself. He looks at Misty and finds her studying him, having no need to look at the fight to respond to it. What if this is her plan? To make him doubt himself, give up the advantage?

Doubt sends cracks through his battle calm, and he feels it slipping away as the pressure of indecision grows stronger. He keeps thinking that he’s one bad decision away from losing his second badge, that any moment now he’ll make the wrong choice, or wait too long to make one at all. Is he enabling her plan by letting Zephyr keep attacking, or falling for a psych-out by switching? If he wasn’t dark, she would be much more capable of reading and manipulating him, but as he realized earlier, she’s had plenty of experience knowing what her opponents think and how to shape their decisions.

There’s only one way forward that feels right: he has to be unpredictable. Force her to adapt, for once.

“Return! Go, Maturin!”

His wartortle reappears on the sand, but the starmie bursts into action before Blue can give a command, and a wave of invisible force shoves Maturin up and slams her against Blue’s platform. “Bite!” Blue yells, and as soon as she lands Maturin dashes forward to try and reach the starmie. Again she’s flung away, skidding over the sand on the back of her shell. “Return, go, Zephyr!” His hands move in a blur, clip-Maturin-right-hand, catch-Zephyr-left-hand, lift-flute-right-hand, tweet, twoot, twit twit!

Zephyr shoots up into the sky, flips itself in a tight half-loop and rockets down at the starmie. Blue tweets hard to make Zephyr flare his wings and slow enough for Blue to track him, then lets the flute drop from his lips and unclips Ion. “Return, go, Ion, Spark!”

If Blue is predicting properly, Zephyr dodged another burst of psychic force, then forced her to put a barrier up… and now it should be down, just in time for Ion to slam the starmie. Electricity arcs between its many limbs as it’s knocked away. “Spark, return, go, Maturin, Bite!”

His pokemon hits a wall again as Misty predicts the fake out, but Blue’s already swapping Zephyr back in and yelling out “Quick Attack,” no time to use his flute as his hands swap Ion back out a moment after the pidgeotto strikes.

His pokemon is clearly woozy from its poison by now, but it manages to eat one of the plump leech seeds as it dashes toward the starmie. It connects–then gets flung across the sand.

Misty is changing tactics again, and the timer in his head for his poisoned pokemon keeps narrowing his path to victory further and further, but Blue is already swapping Zephyr back into battle and bringing his flute to his lips for a quick command–

An Ice Beam hits Zephyr dead on, plunging him to the sand as one wing becomes too stiff to flap. Should’ve switched in Maturin! He moves to do it–but stops as he realizes she’s expecting exactly that, and blows a command for Zephyr to use a Sand Attack.

A gust of wind hits the ground and kicks up a cloud. Misty can aim through it with her starmie’s mental senses if he keeps Zephyr out, but swapping Ion in to the side of where Zephyr was lets him yell out “Spark!” before she can get in a preemptive attack.

Instead she tries a dodge, but that just gives Ion time to pick up more seeds as he chases the starmie around the island. When it finally hits the edge of the island again, Blue swaps Ion out rather than let it attack, sending Maturin instead and yelling “Bite!”

His pokemon leaps forward and locks her jaws onto the starmie just as a psychic wave ripples outward and kicks sand up, slamming Maturin’s body against the ground… but not breaking the grip of her jaws.

“Stop,” Misty says, again.

Blue is breathing hard, hands trembling as he points Maturin’s ball forward and has Zephyr’s ready at his side… but as her word registers, he quickly yells, “Maturin, back!”

Maturin’s jaws stay locked on the starmie, and Blue feels a note of panic. “Maturin, back!”

She opens her mouth and staggers away from the starmie, and Blue lets out a breath of relief as he withdraws her. Heart pounding, he looks up at Misty and feels his knees buckle at the smile on her face, hardly daring to trust his hopeful thoughts.

She withdraws her starmie and holds the ball in her right hand as her left leans against the railing on her platform. “Could you explain your last few thoughts on the battle for our audience, and what you were about to do?” she asks, tossing the ball up and down.

Blue’s mind is still caught up in the battle, evaluating how hurt his pokemon are and re-evaluating paths to victory, but his mouth moves on its own. “My last major insight was that I had to keep you not just on the defensive, but guessing what my next move would be. I just tried to catch you off guard, but I don’t think I would have succeeded if I hadn’t guessed that the second time starmie reached the edge of the island, it was a feint. You waited to move your pokemon that way only when you could put another shield up, so I swapped to Maturin and used her to get a decisive hit in.”

Misty nods. “Right throughout. You have demonstrated every major skill our gym seeks to impart to at least some degree. Blue Oak, I award you the Cascade Badge.”

Blue stares at her as the crowd finally breaks its silence, cheering and applauding. He lets his breath out and leans his hands on the railing, letting the noise wash over him. His legs are still trembling, his heart threatening to jump up into his throat, but a sense of triumph finally wins through, and he turns to the crowd and lifts his arms, fingers forming twin V’s.

Blue enjoys the heat of the sun on his hair and face as he basks in their praise, and more, the knowledge of having completed a perfect gym streak. His first of many, hopefully, but a crucial one, to re-establish his legend and allow it to grow.


Red sits at the table in one of Bill’s houses and stares at a flat, round stone in his hand, feeling every inch of it against his skin. He stares at it until he can picture it perfectly after closing his eyes, until he can barely tell when he’s looking at it with his real eyes or his mind’s eye. Its weight and texture are burned into his palm, the shape of it, the edges clearly delineated until he can’t imagine what it would feel like not to have this stone in his palm. It’s a part of him. Where his skin and its bottom meets, there is perfect awareness. Perfect connection. Perfect focus.

Red molds his will into an invisible, impossibly thin layer that cups the stone in its entirety, and lifts…

…and opens his eyes to see the stone sitting stubbornly still, not having moved an inch.

Red groans and lets his head fall forward, cap pushing up as his forehead rests on the table. His pichu, who was lying curled up on the table, opens his eyes to look at Red, then steps onto the brim of his hat and over his head to nestle in the gap between his neck and collar.

The sound of Bill’s strange doors opening comes from behind him, then footsteps ascend the stairs. “Still with the rock, huh?” Bill asks. “How hard is floating something that heavy supposed to be, anyway?”

“Not this hard,” Red mumbles and lifts his head, slowly enough not to startle Pichu. He clings to Red’s collar, then relaxes as he stops moving and burrows deeper against his neck, tail sticking up to brush Red’s hair. “I mean, I wasn’t expecting to orbit pokeballs around my head after just a week, but I can’t even make it wobble.” He puts the stone down and rubs his palm on his jeans, enjoying the sensation of something besides the rock.

The inventor grabs a soda from the fridge and sits on the couch near the table, tilting his head back and resting his feet on a leg rest. “Isn’t there an easier task to start with?”

“Tried them. Coins, bits of paper, sand… I even tried moving stuff down a slope, so gravity could help, but my teacher, Psychic Ayane, said that my ‘feel’ for the objects aren’t established properly, and gave me this to try with.”

“Being familiar with the texture and weight of it is supposed to help?”

“Psychic training is weird.” Red sighs and rubs his eyes. “I’ve never learned something so subjective. When I asked Ayane when I’d know if I ‘feel’ it well enough, she said I would just know it when I do. I’ve been carrying this thing around for days, and feel like I know it as intimately I ever will. But whatever trick it takes to twist my powers into a tangible force, I can’t do it, even after inhabiting my teacher’s mind while she uses psychokinesis. And that usually works for me.” Red was more disappointed than he could express when it didn’t help. He thought that was his key to learning new psychic abilities, but for whatever reason it isn’t enough to just copy mental states to move things. “Meanwhile there’s a video online of some six year old in fancy robes marching an army of plastic cups across a kitchen counter.”

Bill takes a contemplative sip of his drink. “Reminds me of when I was learning to catch as a kid. Practice for pokeballs. I’d look at others, see their hands moving just where they were supposed to be, automatically, and wonder why my body didn’t work like that. Studied enough physics to calculate the trajectory and arc of every throw, but I could never catch them as easily as some others using no calculation, no trick, just some intuitive skill. I got so jealous I just started skipping those classes.”

“Huh. That’s actually kind of why I want to get this so bad. I’m not as good at catching balls on their return as Blue or Leaf, so I thought maybe I could use my powers to help a bit with it. When did it click for you?”

Bill smiles. “Who says it did? I may have mentioned that I’m not much of a trainer. That’s part of why: just never got the hang of the athletic aspects. It’s for the best though. I never would have spent so much time on programming if I didn’t give up on being a trainer. Hell, might have gotten myself killed off on a journey instead.”

Red frowns down at the rock. He supposes if he’s just no good at psychokinesis, he can focus on his other psychic gifts instead. But he’s not giving up yet. He puts the rock back in his palm. Blue and Leaf should be here soon for their second abra catching session, and he has nothing else to do in the meantime. “So did you get a chance to look at the results so far?”

“I did.”

“What do you think?”

“It’s promising.” Bill makes a gesture with his hand, and the wall across from them suddenly projects some monitor he must have been looking at recently. On it is Red’s preliminary data for the abra research, along with some notes and comments by Bill. Ayane is almost done with the original crop, and once the sample population is bolstered by the ones they catch today, Red should have over a hundred subjects in his study.

For now, only about fifty are represented. The graph shows the same X axis as his original research, a simple distribution of the % of the abra’s Other category when scanned into a pokedex. The Y axis this time is measured in kilograms, the numbers representing how heavy a weight each abra can lift after being taught the “Psychic” attack from a TM Bill let him use (Red doesn’t know why the attack was named “Psychic” instead of “Psychokinesis,” but chalks it up to the laziness or pragmatism of Battle Trainers not wanting to have to shout out five syllables for an attack).

Bill rolls his can between his palms. “It looks like the relationship is a lot stronger in abra than spinarak, but the variance is still all over the place. I see you’ve refined your hypothesis though.”

Red nods. The language of his original research paper was too focused on trying to support his hypothesis of a correlation between Other and psychic ability. He also feels like he misrepresented the meaning of his p-value, considering the lack of statistical significance. Small wonder it was so hard to find a publisher.

But from this data, the null isn’t looking good. Of the four quadrants, high Other, high Weight Lifted; high Other, low Weight Lifted; low Other, low Weight Lifted; and low Other and high Weight Lifted, there’s a clear gap in the top left: low Other, high Weight Lifted. The rest of the graph is filled with a loose curve of dots, but plenty of outliers. “So high Other doesn’t predict high psychokinetic ability,” Bill says, waving a hand to highlight some of the dots at the lower right of the graph that represent abra with high Other but weak pyschokinesis. “There are a number of of high Other abra that are pretty weak at it.”

“Which makes sense, since we know individuals vary in strength between different psychic abilities. According to Ayane, I’m unusually good at psychic Reception, but moving things around…” He bounces the rock from one hand to the other. “Not so much. But–”

“–low Other does seem to impact it, right.” Bill circles the mostly empty quadrant in a different color. “Which also makes sense, if there’s a single particle responsible for overall psychic abilities, but not specific ones.”

“Yeah. Maybe as the technology gets better we can identify what this ‘mystery matter’ is, and whether there are actually two different types for different manifestations of psychic power. Or maybe even three, or four. A wide variability might explain those few spinarak outliers I had. Without those, that research would have been a lot more intriguing.”

“Well, if this pattern holds up, you won’t have to worry about that any more. It might take you a bit to convince a journal to pay attention, but their boards aren’t stupid enough to ignore something like this. I’d be surprised if you don’t get your Researcher license from this.”

Red smiles as he studies the graph. It’s been a rough couple weeks, all things considered. He’s still not sleeping well, and he spends a lot of time lying in bed with Pichu when he should be working on his paper, or facilitating the sale of the abra. Without Ayane’s psychic lessons, or Blue dragging him to secret training sessions for his shinx, Red would probably have spent most of his week in his room. But aside from watching Blue’s victory (and getting swept up in the crowd’s excitement again), the major bright spot has been seeing the data slowly accumulate and form a pattern. As long as his research is moving forward, he feels like he’s being productive.

Bill finishes off his soda and gets up to grab another one. He brings an extra for Red this time, who takes it and pops the tab for a long gulp. “Ahh, thanks.” Pichu stirs against his neck, then crawls over his collar and down his arm, nose sniffing at the can. “And thanks again for all your help,” Red says as he tilts the can just enough for some of the sugary liquid to spill into the inner rim. He rotates the can so it rolls away from the opening, then lets his pokemon lap at it. “I owe you big time.”

“Right,” Bill says, waving the display on the wall away and reaching into his pocket. “About that.”

Red looks up at him. “You need help with something?”

“I finally remembered what I called you guys here for in the first place,” Bill pulls an envelope out of his pocket and tosses it onto the table, causing Pichu to recoil back up Red’s shoulder. “Woops.”

“Really?” Red puts the can down and picks up the envelope. Pichu abandons his shoulder and hops onto the table, staring at the envelope in his hands warily. Red keeps an eye on his cheeks in case they start glowing. “What reminded you?”

“Well, I hadn’t checked my mailbox in a while. Eventually I got an alert that it was running out of space, and new items would have no Containers to materialize into. I had Eva list what was in there before I chucked it all, and there it was.” Bill scratches the back of his neck. “I was thinking about finding someone to send, but only when something reminded me.”

Red opens the envelope and stares at the pair of tickets that slide out. “The S.S. Anne? You’re giving us tickets to the Cruise Convention?!

“Yeah. I get invited every year, so it’s no big deal for me.”

Red is still staring, turning the tickets this way and that to let their holographic seals catch the light. “But… will they even let us on? We’re not… well, obviously we’re not you, but we’re not anyone.”

“They’ll let you on, if only to avoid offending me,” Bill grins. “You’ll be going as my ‘assistants.’ I used to go to stuff like this by popping back and forth with abra, but since some idiots decided to put one on a cruise, I’d rather not spend a week out at sea. But there are a few presentations I want some 2nd hand accounts and notes from. Since they don’t allow recordings, I figured anyone Oak trusted to send out with a dex should be reliable.”

Red frowns at him. “You didn’t actually forget these, right? You just pretended to in order to meet me first, see if I was trustworthy.”

Bill rolls his eyes. “I’m not that sneaky. Inviting you into my lab would require way more trust than sending you on the cruise, and besides, you already proved yourself enough for me to let you catch abra on my land.” The inventor suddenly meets Red’s gaze. “Besides, you’re a smart kid. I don’t actually have to explain how hard I can make your life if you give me reason to, do I?”

Red swallows against the sudden dryness of his throat. He resists the urge to drink. “No.”

“Good.” Bill’s eyes move away, then go distant, the way they do when he’s looking at something on his personal monitor, and after a moment he “flicks” whatever it is onto the wall and begins to scroll down with one finger, muttering to himself.

Red waits a few moments, not wanting to interrupt. He finally takes another sip of soda, though he doesn’t really want it anymore. He knows that threat was hypothetical, but it’s hard not to realize that giving Bill “a reason to” ruin his life could apply just as easily to not doing something he asks. Is Red beholden to the inventor, now? Would he feel safe refusing any request? Professor Oak trusts him, at least…

Red waits until Bill seems done with whatever he’s looking at, then says, “I’m still not sure why you’d send us, though. Couldn’t you send, I don’t know, anyone else? Someone who could afford to pay you for these?” Red holds up the tickets, which are probably worth more than all the clefairy he sold put together.

“You weren’t far off, before, it is actually a matter of trust. I wouldn’t ask just anyone not tell others what I’m interested in, not to mention report the info straight. But it has very little to do with any of our interactions. Like you said: you’re no one special. Meaning you’re not a player. Not yet anyway. You’ll pass under most people’s radar, you’ll do your best, and most importantly, I know that if you are someone’s agent, it’s Oak, so that’s alright.”

“I’m not–” Red stops himself, remembering how he and Blue both recommended telling the professor about Leaf’s conversation with Giovanni. Maybe he is the professor’s agent, sort of. Beyond testing out the pokedex, of course. The thought makes him a bit uncomfortable.

Bill doesn’t seem interested in his denial anyway. “Whatever you say. In any case, it’s alright. If I can’t trust Oak then I’ve got bigger problems. So take the tickets, and bring your notebook, because you’re going to be my eyes and ears in there. The ship sets sail in three weeks, plenty of time for you guys to make it to Vermillion.”

Red takes out his wallet and carefully tucks the tickets away. He wonders how the others will take the news. Leaf will be excited, probably end up finding something to write about. And he’s pretty sure only having two tickets won’t be an issue, with Blue’s focus on training for his badges. Red just hopes Blue doesn’t mind going for the Thunder Badge next. “So what’s the theme for the convention this year?”

“New uses for storage tech. A lot of people trying to take what we can do with matter transformation and extend it in other areas. You can probably guess why I’m interested in it.”

Red thinks it over. “Better TM capabilities?”

“Nope.”

“True replication?”

“Would be nice, but no.”

“Then…” Red trails off, thinking. Bill lets him. What are some of the biggest problems that need to be solved? Not just minor stuff like upgrades to existing technology: what would Bill find interesting?

Red remembers his own imaginings of what pokeball tech might allow. He said this was about storage tech and matter transformation… Red thinks back to the various projects he saw or heard Bill talking about, or heard others mention about the inventor. “Human storage?” he asks at last. “So we can fix the problems it causes and fully simulate human minds in virtual reality?”

“You’re looking forward to that too, huh?”

Red grins. “I knew it. I knew someone, somewhere would be trying to figure that out.”

Bill shrugs. “Still not the main goal. Close though. I want to figure out the source of the error in the first place, so it can be perfectly reversed.”

Red’s stares at him, eyes growing wide. “Reversed? You mean to fix people that went into a ball and came back out?”

“Or just went in and haven’t come out yet.”

“Is that possible? Sorry, is it probable?”

“Over a long enough timeline? What do you think?”

“Over a long enough timeline, it doesn’t even matter,” Red says, speaking slowly as realization dawns. “Whether it’s figured out ten years from now or a hundred, time doesn’t matter once you’re in the ball! We could send people into the future right now!” His imagination races ahead, wondering what it would be like, to go into a ball and wake up a century later, five centuries later, and see how much things have changed-

“Could we?” Bill asks, brow raised as he studies Red.

Red blinks, brought slightly back to earth. “It might not work,” he admits. “And people would be leaving behind all their family and friends. But… some people would still want to do that, wouldn’t they? Besides, what if they’re dying? They’ll have better medicine in the future, they might be saved.” Red’s voice is rising again, and Pichu looks at him in alarm. He forces himself to take a deep breath, though on the inside his stomach and chest are stewing with heat. “Why aren’t we putting everyone who’s dying into a ball?” he demands.

“Why not put them in after they die?” Bill counters. “Moments after, where better medicine might be able to revive them?”

“Argh!” Red clutches his head. “We have to… I’ve gotta tell my mom… and Blue and Leaf, and others, everyone…”

“What would you tell them?”

“That no one has to die anymore! There are people in hospitals now, dying of something we can’t cure or lying in a field somewhere, bleeding out–” a flash of a forest clearing, and a body lying beneath a swarm of beedrill “–with the means to save themselves right in their pocket! People could just zap themselves into a ball and wait for a future generation to figure it all out and bring them back!”

“Pokeballs that can capture humans are illegal-”

Fuck illegal,” Red yells, and Pichu leaps away. He stands and starts to pace the room. “Why isn’t everyone doing this? If it cost a lot of money that would be one thing, but this is practically free. People are dying all over the place, just letting it happen, and no one is thinking, hey, we have a perfectly good time machine right on our belts! I even thought about using pokeballs to teach people things in simulations, or adjust human biology, and didn’t think of it! Dammit!

“As amusing as it is reliving the same reaction I had upon thinking of this,” Bill says, “You’re not thinking it through.”

Red is still remembering the boy in Viridian, all the people that died in the fire, and at the dig site… that woman, the one who was caught in the spore cloud… if she’d just been able to put herself in a ball, she’d be alive right now… Waiting, suspended in time, to wake up in a better future… His dad would be in one, waiting for him to… to…

“Breathe, Red. Calm down.”

Red wipes his eyes with his sleeve, anger doused by the wave of despair. He sinks back into his chair, and when Pichu cautiously pads over, Red picks him up and lets him nuzzle against his neck. “How are you so calm about this?”

“Mostly just numb to it now,” Bill says. “Too much trouble trying to convince people. I used to offer perpetual storage of anyone’s body if they wanted it, but you can imagine the rumors that spread around.” Red vaguely remembers people mentioning that. Blue brought it up recently, as evidence of how being a hermit makes Bill less influential. “Then there are those like my dad, who’s just uncomfortable with the whole idea of not dying and living in the future, potentially forever.”

Red goes cold at the thought of his mom. I have to convince her… he would, somehow, he can’t lose her too. “You said there were things I’m not considering. Like there being no actual guarantee that it’s possible? So what? Even if technology just stops advancing at some point, it’s not murder if they’re already dying, and–”

“No, not that. I mean like how you can’t just use any ball you pick up at the store.”

Red nods, thoughts racing. Possessing pokeballs without the failsafes against capturing humans is treated almost as harshly as being a Renegade. “And someone would need to be there to capture you anyway. Would a container ball work? Just… lie in the box and have someone else withdraw it? Like in that movie where the Renegade does it to hide the body?”

“Yes, that would work, and that’s exactly what I recommended people do. Of course, it’s illegal while they’re still alive, and would raise a lot of questions even if they’re dead. Their family and friends would want to know where the body is, why it’s not being buried.”

Red doesn’t care about any of that right now. Even if he convinces his mom, what if no one’s around her that will do it when she’s dying? “Could you make a pokeball that works on its own? Maybe on a timer or something?”

“Sure, I could. Again, illegally. But then, once it’s triggered, someone else still has to find and retrieve it, knowing what’s inside so they can safely store it, before anyone else finds it and figures out what’s inside.”

Red takes his hat off and runs his hands through his hair. Pichu leaps from his shoulder into his hat and curls up in a ball of yellow fuzz, making Red smile and stroke his fur. “So it’s not feasible, is what you’re saying. People won’t go for it, and if they do, it’s risky to do it, and if you try, you still have to figure out the logistics.”

“Right. It’ll take a huge public awareness campaign and some rather different social shifts before people are ready for something like this.”

“But if you make some for Blue and Leaf and I, and we all agree to it, we can look out for each other, bring each other here if…” It suddenly occurs to Red what he’s saying, what kind of scenario would require that. But he doesn’t shy away from the thought: they’re all living a dangerous path, and this is the best safety net they’re ever going to get.

Bill is silent for a moment, then shakes his head. “Sorry Red. It’s too big a risk if you’re found with them.”

“Ha! A bigger risk than dying?”

“Not just a risk to you.”

Red stares at him, smile fading. “You… you seriously won’t…”

Bill looks away, gaze unfocused. “I’m sorry. Really. Like I said, if you can get it done and get a container to me, I’ll be happy to store it for as long as possible. But I can’t put myself at risk like that. I trust you more than a random stranger, but I don’t trust anyone that much.”

Red sits in shock as he realizes what Bill is saying. He won’t do it. He won’t help Red save himself and his loved ones, will just let them… let them all…

Red feels a black, hot rage searing up his chest and throat. His hands tighten on the table’s edge until his knuckles are white, words stuck in his throat as he looks away from Bill and tries to organize some kind of argument, some plea, some threat…

His eyes fall on Pichu, resting peacefully in his hat. Next to it are the tickets that Bill gave him, and next to that is his rock. The rock he’s supposed to be practicing with as he waits for Blue and Leaf to meet him for abra hunting, on the land Bill allowed him to use.

Red’s anger and gratitude mix into a confusing swirl, and under it all is the deep, bitter sadness of his dad’s loss, and the panicked fear of losing his mom.

Red closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, orienting himself with the sensation of the air rushing into his lungs, then touching on his mental markers one at a time, until the sensations of his body are all he can feel, and his mind is releasing thoughts as quickly as they come.

He planned to tip into many-mirrors-and-a-dim-room, to mute his anger and fear and sadness by brute force. But they’ve been reduced a little now, and he can think clearer… and instead he reaches out with his mind, trying to understand, stretches his senses out the way Ayane taught him, the way he felt her doing while he was in her mind, and feels-

regretresolutionfearshame-

Red’s eyes snap open. He stares at his hands on the table, relaxing his fingers as he breathes out. Shame?

“I’m sorry,” he mutters. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper.”

“It’s fine.” Bill says.

“It’s just, my mom–”

“I get it.”

And Red knows that he does. Regardless, his tone makes it clear that Bill just wants to move on. Wants him to move on.

Shame…?

“Bill… When did you last leave your house?” Red asks.

The inventor stares at him, but doesn’t answer. Red searches his gaze, trying to piece together what he felt.

“Eva has a protocol in case something happens to you, doesn’t she? To keep you stored. But if you leave–”

“I thought you couldn’t read minds yet.”

Red flinches at Bill’s flat tone. “I can’t. Not really.”

“But you can read what, emotions? Enough to try to infer things about others’ private thoughts?”

“I’m sorry, it’s the first time I did it. I just wanted to… understand.”

“And do you?”

Red swallows. “Yes.”

“Good.” Bill gets to his feet, and Red feels cold. Did he fuck everything up? Is Bill going to ask him to leave, take the tickets back?

“Your friends pulled up a minute ago,” he says instead as he heads toward the stairs. “Good luck with the catches. I’ll message you with details about the convention.”

Red wets his lips, trying to speak past his dry throat. By the time he remembers the soda and takes a drink, the door to the lab closes before he can thank him, apologize again, or say goodbye.

Chapter 41: Adaptability

“Mr. Verres! What’s wrong?”

Red gestures for Psychic Ayane to come inside the Trainer House workroom, and closes the door behind her. “Yeah, I guessed that you’d feel that.”

His teacher goes to the table, but doesn’t sit. She studies his face with concern. “I would be a poor psychic indeed if I missed the pit of despair and grief you seem to be stuck in. I sensed it before you even opened the door. I’m quite practiced at keeping my knowledge of people’s inner states to myself, but it’s all over your face as well.”

Red rubs his face with one hand and takes a deep breath. “Sorry to impose it onto you. I was hoping to get it under control before scheduling a session with you again, but today was… particularly bad.” He’s been able to be somewhat productive for the past few days, but last night he had another nightmare about the day he found out about his dad, and woke up feeling completely drained of energy. He managed to force himself to take a shower and eat some breakfast, but afterward just browsed the internet aimlessly while lying in bed.

“If you are not feeling up to a lesson today, please let me know, and we can reschedule.”

Red runs a hand through his hair, then tugs his hat down snug. “No, I think you’re the only one that can help me with this.”

“Me? What does-oh, Red! Don’t tell me you messed with your partition!”

The use of his first name combined with the tone his mother often uses makes Red briefly smile. “Not on purpose? It’s a long story.”

“Well.” She sits at the table, hands folded on top of each other. “Tell me, then.”

Red sits across from her before recounting the day they caught the abra. He debated whether or not to tell her about it, but even aside from the emotional fallout, he needs a psychic to help with the research. Ayane is qualified, and he likes her. It makes sense to see if she wants to come in on it. But first he needs to figure out what’s going on with him.

In any case, the only risk in revealing the story is the methodology getting out, so he skips over any details of how his plan worked. Thankfully she seems too busy shifting from worry to horror to intrigue to care, or she’s just not interested.

“A forced adherence of your common mental state… fascinating. And the abra didn’t react in any way? They didn’t just fail to connect, they ignored you completely?”

“Yeah. I was wondering if you could tell me what I actually did.”

“Certainly. Prepare your mind… I will begin contact in ten seconds.”

“Make it twenty?”

“Of course. Starting now.”

Red leans back and takes a deep breath before he begins to enter meticulously-reinforced-normal-state. He’s still trying to think of a better way to refer to it.

It’s easier to enter than it was the first time, in the field. He can better recognize when he has it more or less in place, even though it’s still the hardest mental state to “feel” with his fledgling psychic senses. He finishes with a few seconds to spare, and simply waits until Ayane reaches outward with her mind, beginning to entangle with his…

…only to have his mind slip from her grasp. Or, phase through it, maybe. Bounce off it, slippery and untouched. It’s hard to stick with any single description, since his mind is just coming up with analogies from his other senses to try and approximate what’s happening.

In any case, she doesn’t sense him, and it’s clear first from the crease between her eyebrows, then the way they shoot up, that she’s realized it. Eventually she opens her eyes, eyebrows still raised.

“Impressive, Mr. Verres. Very impressive. You have effectively created a mental shield, not just a blank mask, but an actual shield, without instruction on how. Very few with the Gift have done so, perhaps in part because of how young they often begin training. But it is still a great accomplishment.”

Red knows that would normally make him excited and proud, but any positive emotions he feels quickly drain back down the empty hole in his chest. Curiosity is all he has left, though even that feels a bit like a rote impulse. “Could you explain more what that means?”

“Certainly. A psychic’s mental shield is a simple enough thing: it prevents an established, mutual connection from another psychic mind. The psychic who is attempting to sense the shielded individual will not even know they have missed someone. It’s as if their mind is simply not there, like a Dark individual’s. But there are some exceptions to this cover. Can you guess what one is?”

Red thinks back to what he knows of psychics. He didn’t know that mental shields existed before, but what does that knowledge change about the world? Seek confusion. What no longer makes sense, now that-ah, right.

“Mental attacks can still affect a shielded mind, right?”

“Not all of them. Indiscriminate mental attacks, what might be considered ‘blunt force’ attacks, will still work. But the mental shield prevents ‘entanglement’ or joining of two minds, which is what allows detection and communication and many forms of manipulation.”

“And the shield does nothing against Ghost attacks.”

“Correct. They operate on a very different wavelength, so to speak, as do Dark mental attacks.”

“Got it. Well, I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I just wish I thought of it sooner. Every time their minds were able to enmesh with mine, my partition weakened and I got these floods of… of sorrow. Intense grief.”

“And this new state, it doesn’t cause the same side effects as the previous ones? The shakes, the nausea?”

Red blinks. “Huh. No, and none of the other states have lately. I didn’t even notice, with how bad I’ve been generally feeling anyway.”

“It’s possible this new state was only available to you through the weakening of your partition. As less and less of your powers are devoted to maintaining it, you’ve become accustomed to not having it so strongly reinforced.”

“But I haven’t,” Red says, fingers gripping the edge of the table. He makes an effort to relax them. “I’m not curling up into a ball and crying every five minutes, but I want to. I hate feeling like this again, this…” Empty. Alone. “I want the partition back.” I want to go back to not missing my dad this badly, this constantly, it hurts too much. His throat feels blocked, and he quickly enters many-mirrors-and-a-dim-room to cut the emotions off, just long enough to avoid tearing up.

Ayane watches him with a mix of alarm and compassion. She can obviously feel him enter the emotionless state, but if she disapproves, she keeps it to herself.

“Can you help me?” Red asks after regaining control of himself.

“I don’t know.”

“That sounds ominous.”

She doesn’t smile. “It’s hard to enter your mind now, full of grief as it is. It makes it difficult to not get swept in, to focus on the deeper levels of your mind. Perhaps if your shield is up, I can attempt to breach it and simply examine how your powers are being utilized. Is that alright?”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Not unless I choose it to be.”

“Still ominous.”

This time she does smile, briefly. Probably just humoring him. “The breaching itself usually results in a deeper reading beyond the most surface thoughts and emotions. An aggressive attacker would use projection abilities to distract or confuse you so that your defense is less robust, but without any of those it will be harmless. I only ask permission because if I do succeed, it could result in a deeper read than people are normally comfortable with, privacy-wise.”

He thinks it over for at least a solid minute, which she quietly gives him. What secrets does he have? Worst case scenario is what, she finds out how he did the abra thing? That he knew the clefairy prices would go up, maybe? All that’s protected by confidentiality, theoretically, and as long as he thinks of something else it shouldn’t come up.

Finally Red shrugs. “Sure. Give me another twenty.”

This time he feels the slipperygraspingbouncy attempt of her mind trying to connect with his for longer, but nothing really changes. It doesn’t even get harder to maintain, which he finds surprising. Eventually however the sensation feels more… complete. Like her mind is all around his, pressing in from every side. It still doesn’t connect to his, but it’s a rather disconcerting feeling.

Eventually she opens her eyes and relaxes. “I’m sorry, all I could sense is that it’s a clean shield. I can’t even sense what portion of your powers are going into maintaining it. I’ll have to think of something else.”

“Wait, so what was the difference between what you just did and what you originally did?”

“This was more thorough. When a psychic knows there is a shielded mind nearby, we can find it through careful search.”

“And that wouldn’t work on a Dark mind?”

“When you have developed your third eye you will better understand, but for now think of it like camouflage compared to invisibility, where viewing from another angle might reveal the trick for the former, but not the latter. In truth, it is more like invisibility versus intangibility.

“Which would mean that what you did now was like throwing flour or paint around and seeing my outline.”

She smiles. “That explanation works as well, though again, in truth the sensation is different from the analogy. A bit like poking at a missing tooth with your tongue.”

Something she said earlier was interesting to him. “That explains why it felt like your mind was all around mine, but you said that the searching mind won’t even realize it missed something normally, right? Does that mean you felt nothing when you reached out toward me?”

“Correct.”

Red shakes his head. “Man, psychic powers are so weird. I thought anything I felt from the other mind was the result of what that mind felt too.”

“What do you mean?”

“That strange feeling, of your mind slipping or bouncing off mine. It’s handy to know if someone is trying to touch their mind to mine, I guess, but it’s confusing my models of how psychic powers work that you don’t feel something too.”

Psychic Ayane stares at him. Red infers from her expression that he just said Something Significant.

“You felt something when I reached out with my mind?” she asks at last, speaking slowly.

“Yeah. Is that weird?”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing during a mental shield. Are you sure it wasn’t imagined, or some effect of your unusual shielding method?”

“No, it… hm.” He never tried entering the state without another psychic mind nearby: he mostly just practiced it while training the abras. “Okay, maybe. Let’s check.” Red stands and goes to the workroom’s table, then takes his notebook out and goes back to sitting on the floor. “So, I’m going to make a mark when I feel it. It should coincide to when you reach out, right?”

Ayane nods, a small crease between her brow again. Red takes the pencil out of the notebook’s spiral binding and opens to a fresh page. He concentrates on meticulously-reinforced-normal-state, pencil tip hovering over the paper. “Okay… ready when you are.”

He waits. And waits. He keeps his gaze on the paper, though in truth he barely sees it, focus inward to catch the sensation again. Red begins to wonder why it’s not happening when he realizes that she’s probably not actually trying. He smiles slightly. It’s always nice to meet others with a grasp of good methodology.

Finally, after staring at the paper and maintaining the mental state for what must be a couple minutes at least, he feels her mind brush his again before slipping/bouncing/whatevering off. He quickly draws a line on the paper, lifting his pencil back off the moment the sensation stops.

When he looks up at her, she’s staring at the page with wide eyes.

“Is this good, or bad?” he asks.

“This… I don’t know what this is.” She seems genuinely baffled, and Red feels some genuine interest kindle.

“Well, in the context of what you do know, what’s most confusing about this?” He flips to a new page and poises his pencil to take notes.

“Our Gift works through mutual entanglement,” she says slowly. “As you said. Some projection powers can differ, but to sense one-another first requires contact, intangible as it may be to our other senses. For you to feel my mind while I cannot feel yours is… I’ve never heard of such a thing. It confuses me, because I don’t understand how your shield is detecting my mind without sending any feedback for me to notice.”

Red finishes scribbling, then prods his chin with the eraser, thinking. “Okay, so what rules or laws would that break, that you assumed were absolute? Does anything change about the world, or… is there something that used to not make sense that now does?”

“I don’t… I have to think about it. But this is all aside from the main concern: your partition.”

Red’s mood immediately drops back down, and he sighs and puts his pencil down. “Right. That. So how do we fix it?”

“There are no easy paths. It’s possible that if you refrain from using any psychic abilities for a week or two, possibly more, it will eventually rebuild itself.”

Red stares at her. “Two weeks. No. That’s… I have to keep training my abra, to do research. I can’t just stop. Besides, that would just mean I go back to square one. I would effectively be giving up my ability to use my powers. What else?”

“We can shift the focus of our lessons, try and teach you the basics of memory and mood manipulation. Or…” She hesitates. “Perhaps this is not my place to suggest this, but another option is to deal with these emotions how someone normally might, without the Gift. I don’t know the source of your trauma, but it may be best resolved, if possible, rather than locked away.”

Red stares at the table. He wants to deny her words, get a quick fix that will help him sleep tonight, or at least get something to give him hope for tomorrow, or the day after. Something to end this constant, churning pain and emptiness soon, not next month or next year.

But he can’t rule out that she might be right. That it’s something he’ll just have to grow to live with, fight through… again.

Maybe it’s time to call his old therapist.

“I’ll think about it,” Red says. “We can talk it over again next lesson, along with my weird shield thing. In the meantime, let’s try those other options.”

“As you wish.”

“Oh, and one more thing. There’s some research I’m doing on the abra I caught, and I need a trained psychic to participate…”


Blue reaches the island stadium and immediately begins to explore the sandy dunes that make up the bulk of it, ignoring the trainer platforms for now. He tests the firmness of the ground, then begins to dig to make sure there isn’t concrete under it. Once water begins to fill his hole, he stops and scoops the sand back in, then goes to examine the dropoff at the edge, brushing wet sand off against his pants.

It’s the first outdoor stadium he’s fought in, now that he’s finally ready for his match against Misty’s Second. All around him, the water of Cerulean Bay rolls by in waves as the sun beats down. The terrain won’t be a problem for most of his pokemon, though he’d prefer a more solid surface for his shinx to run around on, if it comes to using Ion. He already trained Kemuri on the beach to ensure that the shiftry’s odd feet wouldn’t have trouble with sand.

Some spectators begin to arrive at the bleachers near the island, mostly others training at the gym who have sparred with him or are planning to challenge Ariya soon. Blue hasn’t lost an official match in Cerulean yet, and he’s glad to see the interest that’s generating for him. He knows his opponent is on her way, so he starts measuring out the dimensions of the sand dune. About eighteen meters across, and almost thirty meters long, with the edges tapering off to narrow strips before ending at the base of the trainer platforms. The platforms themselves stretch out over the sand a bit, the bottoms just within reach for him to pull himself up after he spots Ariya arriving from the pier.

By the time he finishes climbing up, she’s on the walkway leading to the small island. Misty’s Second is wearing dark clothing that doesn’t look particularly designed for swimming, which he takes as a sign that she doesn’t plan on engaging in a full battle below the water. He brought all his equipment just in case, but he’s far less prepared for a water battle. Thankfully Misty only sets those as Challenges for trainers with at least four badges.

Ariya, on the other hand, is far less predictable. The point of fighting one’s way up the ranks is to help the Gym try to find weaknesses and make sure that any challenger is prepared for the Leader. Brock’s Second threw Blue a curveball, and he expects Ariya will too.

That would apply to any Leader’s Second, however. Ariya particularly has a reputation for being a bit “wild,” especially considering her position of authority. If he expects a conventional battle, he’ll get blindsided.

Blue puts his earpiece in and turns it on as she mounts her platform and does the same.

“-hear me? Hello?”

“Hey, yeah I can hear you.”

“Cool. Nice to finally meet you, Youngster Oak. Heard good things.”

Blue smirks. Banter he can handle. “Thanks. I was actually in one of your amphibious classes a couple days ago.”

“Oh, yeah? Sorry, I tend to forget those things as soon as I finish them.”

Yeah right you forgot having the grandson of Professor Oak in your class. “I probably would too. I guess you have to do them?”

“Pretty much. One of a lower-case-L leader’s obligations. Just like busting an up-and-comer like you down a peg. Ready?”

“Yeah. What are the rules?”

“Pretty simple: three pokemon each. First to withdraw three loses.”

Blue is not reassured. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“Okay. Should I go first?”

“Nah, I’ll start.” She unhooks a ball from her belt and throws. A flash mid-air, and a swanna is suddenly circling the small island, sun gleaming off its bright white feathers.

Ariya catches its ball and reclips it, and Blue watches it circle, once, twice, three times, mind racing as he wonders how to best counter a Water/Flying type. He knows it must look like he’s frozen, maybe even panicked, to the audience. From deep in his battle calm however, the thought doesn’t compel him to action. He has to play this carefully.

“Well?” Ariya finally asks in his ear.

“You didn’t say anything about a time limit. You just said three withdraws, right?”

Blue can’t see the smirk, but he can hear it. “What are you, a rules lawyer now? Fine, you’ve got ten seconds to send a pokemon out now or you lose.”

Crap. Ok, options. Half his team won’t be able to fight, and he brought his shinx, pidgey, shroomish, one of his bellsprout, and of course Maturin and Kemuri. Swanna aren’t strong, but being a flyer helps them dominate Grass types like Gon or Kemuri by evading or blowing away most of their attacks. That same airborne advantage makes them especially weak against electric pokemon, but Blue still hasn’t used his shinx yet in any of his matches, and he’s not about to reveal it now, one battle away from Misty-

“Three… two…”

“Go, Maturin!”

Blue’s squirtle materializes crouched on all fours. It seems excited about the surroundings, but quickly locks its gaze on the flying swanna, and Blue yells, “Maturin, Water Gun!”

“Swanna, Wing Attack!”

Swanna swoops down and Maturin’s jet of water clips its wing, sending it into an awkward spin. Its feathers are highly water absorbent, but it still takes a moment for the bird to right itself.

“Maturin, Tackle, then Bite!”

“Swanna, Gust!”

His squirtle dashes forward across the sand and leaps just as the swanna orients itself and pumps its wings. The burst of air slams Maturin back down and kicks up an obscuring cloud, but Maturin leaps up out of it a moment later and slams into the swanna.

It squawks as it tumbles back, Maturin holding on tight and snapping at it. Her weight is making it hard for the swanna to keep its altitude until Ariya yells, “Swanna, Brave Bird!”

Blue’s breath catches. What?! “Maturin, Withdraw!”

The swanna tucks its wings in and dives. Maturin manages to tuck into her shell a moment before the swanna, with no target apparent, pulls up just above the ground and speeds forward in a blur. The squirtle is dragged along the sand for only a moment before tumbling away into the water.

The swanna speeds off over the waves before finally lifting upward. “Good call,” Ariya says. “Have you seen me do that maneuver before?”

“No, I just… didn’t know what to expect, so assumed the worst.” Blue watches Maturin crawl back onto land and lets out a sigh of relief. “How did you train it to do that?”

“Ask me again after the match, and maybe I’ll show you. Swanna, Air Slash!”

“Dodge!”

Maturin tries, but the focused blast of air moves too fast. Blue watches his pokemon flinch as the air hammers her into the ground and kicks up another spray of sand. “Tackle!”

Maturin rockets up at the swanna again, but it easily avoids the attack by climbing altitude. Ariya tries another Air Slash, but this time it’s far enough for Maturin to get out of the way.

Blue wipes sweaty palms on his pants. He put Maturin out so the swanna would be restricted to its air attacks, but squirtle don’t have many attacks that can effectively deal with a flier so resistant to water.

Or rather, they don’t normally. Blue sold some of his clefairy and bought a few TMs for his pokemon a couple days ago. He was hoping to keep them secret for Misty too, but right now it’s the best path to victory. Maybe he doesn’t have to show all his cards, though.

Blue waits for the swanna to get a little closer… a little closer…

“Swanna, Aerial Ace!”

“Maturin, Bubblebeam!”

A tight, thin stream of water filled with bubbles lances out and rakes the swanna’s wing as it dives. Each tiny bubble pops explosively, like the bigger ones from the Bubble attack, causing the swanna to flinch and stumble in the air.

It still strikes Maturin with the iconic one-two downward then upward maneuver, but it’s slowed enough by Maturin’s attack that she can bite its tail as it passes by, without Blue even having to tell her to. The swanna screeches in pain and begins to claw and buffet Maturin with its wings.

“Withdraw!”

“Wing Attack!”

Maturin ducks into her shell, beak still firmly clenched down, just like they practiced. The swanna grows more frantic, until finally it tears its tail feathers out in its attempt to escape.

Ariya’s withdrawal cuts off its cry of pain, and Blue hops down off his platform to check on Maturin as she cautiously pokes her head back out of her shell, then follows suit with the rest of her limbs and spits out the bloody feathers. He sees a few scratches on her face and arms, only one of them deep enough to drip blood. Blue crouches down and checks her shell, then rubs her belly. Her tail begins to wag, and some tension eases from his stomach. She’s okay for a bit more.

“Ready for the second?” Ariya asks.

“Yep.” He jogs back to his platform and climbs up. If this were a real match Ariya probably could have kept her swanna out and worn Maturin down, but he’ll take the win. Unless her next pick is something easy for a squirtle to counter, he’ll bring Maturin back after a few attacks. His shiftry should be able to handle almost any other Water type she uses…

“Go, Pelipper!”

Blue scowls as the second Water/Flying type is summoned. So much for that idea.

“Pelipper, Wing Attack!”

“Maturin, Ice Beam!”

“Dodge!” Ariya yells, too late. Maturin opens her mouth and emits a tight beam of light, invisible in the bright day except for the white plume of frost that forms in its wake and hits the pelipper in the chest.

The bird only suffers through a moment of the cold before it tips out of the way, but that’s near Maturin’s limit anyway. The Bubblebeam was one thing, but a squirtle’s body has to be more drastically altered by a TM to allow it to shoot freezing rays. It will never be as effective as one coming from a pokemon that can naturally learn it.

“Tackle!”

“Gust!”

Maturin leaps up, only to get slammed back to the ground by the burst of wind.

“Ice Beam!”

“Dodge!”

Blue waits until the pelipper’s flight path loops around. “Water Gun!”

“Wing Attack!”

“Bubblebeam!”

“Gust!”

“Ice Beam!”

“Dodge!”

The pelipper dives, stalls, banks, and dodges as Maturin swaps attack moment to moment, and Blue keeps the pressure going. “Water Gun! Bubblebeam! Water Gun! Ice Beam!”

Over and over, Maturin obediently switches on command, like their drills. Ariya’s attempts to take advantage of attacks that her pokemon can shrug off get cut short by Ice Beams, and eventually the pelipper begins to get hit by them rather than the other attacks while Maturin endures repeated gusts of wind and the occasional rake of talons.

Seven… Eight…

The next Ice Beam is visibly weaker, and Maturin is responding to Blue’s commands much slower than the pelipper is Ariya’s. The next gust of wind knocks the squirtle from her feet, and Blue finally points her dive ball forward. “Maturin, return!”

“Not bad, Oakseed,” Ariya says. “Need another minute to choose your next one?”

“Will you give it to me?”

“I’ll give you as long as you want. Pelipper, Roost!”

Shit. Blue watches her pokemon wing down to the sand and fold its feathers back as it begins to rest and heal itself. Blue’s fingers brush Kemuri’s ball, then move to Ion’s for the easy win. No, not yet… But that leaves him with one of his Grass types, or Zephyr. Would the pidgey fare better, bird to bird?

“Your squirtle is well trained.”

“Thanks.”

“That Ice Beam must’ve cost you.”

“Worth the price.” She’s trying to distract me. Or giving him a subtle hint? Or playing mind games. But if this pelipper knows an Ice attack Zephyr is just as screwed… Better to go in strong.

“What do you think of-”

“Go, Kemuri!”

“Pelipper, up!”

The shiftry has barely materialized before the pelipper leaps back into the air with an explosive clap of wings, sending sand flying to either side. “Pelipper, Gust!”

“Dodge!”

Kemuri leaps aside, avoiding most of the wind. It still spins him around, and the pelipper dives forward as Ariya yells “Wing Attack!”

“Feint Attack!”

Kemuri pivots on one foot and brings its leaves up in a diagonal slash that catches the pelipper along its side, even as it rakes Kemuri with its talons in a flyby.

It’s hard to tell which is more injured at first, but the pelipper is definitely bleeding. Blue expects Ariya to withdraw it. “Sky Drop!” she says instead.

For the second time in the match, Blue is too surprised to react for a moment. By the time he yells out a hasty “Dodge!” it’s too late for Kemuri to avoid the pelipper’s grasping talons.

Two flaps, three, four, and yes, the pelipper is lifting Kemuri up, up, up into the air. “Leaf Blade!” Blue yells up at Kemuri, but if it manages to hit the pelipper with its leaves, they must only be glancing cuts, because it just keeps going higher. Much higher than is safe… “You won’t actually drop it from there,” Blue says after a moment.

“Wanna bet?”

Blue folds his arms. “Yeah, actually.”

Ariya raises a whistle to her lips, and Blue feels a pit in his stomach. She’s been using verbal commands all along without needing to, a deliberate handicap against a challenger with just one badge… did he do something that made her escalate the challenge?

She blows two quick notes on the flute, then a quick series of notes, and Blue raises Kemuri’s ball in a near panic. He has to withdraw the shiftry before he hits the-

-water? The pelipper banks before releasing Blue’s pokemon, and the shiftry falls sideways, helplessly plunging into the bay beside the island.

“Bit of advice for you, Oaksprout. I don’t bluff.” Ariya blows another series of notes on her flute, and her pelipper dives back down to the island, landing for another Roost.

Blue stares at the spot his pokemon disappeared, then lets out his breath as the shiftry surfaces a moment later. He slowly drops the ball back to his belt as he watches his pokemon splash and flounder, but continue to float. The water isn’t particularly deep there, and the waves push Kemuri back toward the island so that even its inelegant thrashes allow it to safely wash ashore.

“Take your time, we’re not going anywhere.” Ariya leans against the railing on her platform, one arm propping up her head.

Blue grits his teeth and watches his pokemon shake itself dry and catch its breath. He takes a moment to do the same, and lets his battle calm surround him again. He’s not going to win this battle on brute force or a decisive blow. And while shiftry don’t naturally have the status effect moves of most grass types…

“Kemuri, po!”

Blue’s pokemon straightens, and Ariya’s pelipper launches up again on her order, but nothing happens. From this distance, Blue can’t make out the shiftry’s eyes, and knows that Ariya can’t either. But he’s confident that after hours of practicing his first custom command, his pokemon is carrying it out.

Ariya waits a bit longer to see if Kemuri will do something, then takes the initiative. A few quick notes, and the pelipper blows a gust of wind at the shiftry. It’s a bit off mark however, and kicks up a cloud of sand and water to the right of Blue’s pokemon. A second attempt is even less accurate, and by the time Ariya tries a new command that sends the pelipper hurtling forward with its claws outstretched, it’s clear that something’s not right with her pokemon.

Blue watches it wobble and dip erratically as it attacks, and for a moment it looks like his shiftry will simply stand there while it slams into him.

Instead, just a heartbeat away, the bird crashes into the island and tumbles across the sand, flapping its wings erratically and squawking in distress. Ariya stretches forward, one hand gripping the railing as the other extends a pokeball just far enough to withdraw her pokemon.

Blue hears scattered applause from the audience, sparsely populated and distant though they are. Ariya returns to the center of her platform and turns her mic back on. “Ugh. Stupid mental attacks. You have no idea how irritating they get when training with Misty.”

Blue makes an effort to stop smiling as he reminds himself not to get overconfident. She’s down to her last pokemon, but Kemuri’s pretty banged up, and he wouldn’t put it past Ariya to bring out yet another-

“Go, Mantine!”

Even half expecting it, Blue groans. The third Water/Flying pokemon soars gracefully above the waves, wide wings rising and falling lethargically as if swimming through the air. It occasionally dips beneath the surface, then reappears elsewhere in a spray of water.

Kemuri slowly circles in place, never letting the mantine leave his sight. Unfortunately its constant dips beneath the surface prevent him from maintaining another Extrasensory attack.

“Leaf Tornado!”

A whirl of small, sharp leaf bits begins to form between the shiftry’s rotating arms, but as he launches it at the mantine on its next surface, Ariya yells “Air Slash!” and the green cyclone is blown apart by the cutting line of air that splits the water’s surface.

Kemuri manages to dodge on time, but the mantine continues, sending blade after blade of air at the shiftry every time it surfaces. Sprays of water and sand kick up, obscuring Kemuri’s constantly dodging form as it acts without instruction. Blue watches, trying to think of something else to do. His shiftry is still his most unruly and independent pokemon, but it’s been doing well so far. He knows it can win if he just thinks of the right command.

But as the blasts of air keep coming, nothing comes to mind, and Kemuri is beginning to visibly tire. Some of the attacks start to hit him, glancing blows that have mostly spent their energy travelling so far, but still enough to contribute to wearing the shiftry down. Blue wipes his palms again and grips the railing, trying to see some pattern or weakness to exploit. As his pokemon is mostly acting on its own at the moment, he allows his eyes to unfocus so he can mostly ignore the moment to moment distraction in front of him and reach a decision.

Brock likes his gym to teach decisiveness, and Misty’s is well known for valuing and promoting adaptability, which is part of why the terrain and Ariya’s tactics are what they are. Challenges are meant to be hard, but not impossible. If Blue really doesn’t have an electric type, he should still be able to win.

And it’s not even that complicated a challenge. Any Grass attack Blue hits the Mantine with is going to hurt, but its Flying type helps it avoid most of them, and the terrain allows it to stay out of range and harass. Blue just needs to close the distance, despite the risk. The longer he just stays where he is, the more Kemuri will get worn down for nothing.

Blue tightens his grip on the railing. How far is the mantine from Kemuri, at most? 10 meters? A bit too much. But 8? That he could do.

All-or-nothing it is, then. He watches the mantine dip in and out of the water, circling the small island. It’s getting a bit slower too, the constant movement and attacking no doubt taxing it nearly as much as Kemuri. Ariya would probably call for it to rest soon, which it can do safely, unlike his shiftry.

The mantine leaps up on Blue’s right side, sends another slice of air out at Kemuri as it floats over the island in front of him, then dips back down on his left. Two more hops and it’ll pass by the center of the island… one more…

“Leaf Blade!” Blue yells, and vaults the railing to leap down from his platform.

Kemuri jumps forward, stops at the edge of the water with its legs bunched beneath it, and springs forward just as the mantine emerges again. His leaves stretch out, sharp tips aimed straight at its white underbelly as it turns mid-air… and flaps its fin to send another line of air out, splintering Kemuri’s left arm as the invisible blade sends him tumbling to the side and into the water.

Blue is already standing at the shore, greatball held out to withdraw Kemuri as soon as he flounders back to the surface. “Return!” The beam shoots out and sucks the shiftry into his ball. Blue watches the mantine surface again a couple times, watching for some sign of injury. Is there a dark line along its wingspan, or is he imagining it? Either way, it’s clearly still fit enough to continue the fight.

Blue returns to his platform as Ariya lets the applause from their audience die down before saying, “Nice try, but come ooon, Oakling. You’ve got one shot left. I know you have an Electric type on that belt somewhere, you wouldn’t come to Misty with just Grass in your arsenal. So whatcha got? Did you buy a mareep from Johto? Maybe nab a pikachu during that forest fire?”

Images flash before him, of a blood-stained bundle of yellow fur lying in the grass of a smoke filled forest. Blue feels heat spreading through his chest as his fingers brush the cool metal of Ion’s ball. The shinx would make short work of her mantine, but now that he knows her entire strategy was built around baiting his Electric Type out, he can’t give Misty that upper hand.

He climbs over the railing and turns, arm flinging a ball out. “Go, Zephyr!”

A flash and the smack of the ball returning to his palm, and Blue brings his flute up with the other hand, immediately blowing into it: Wing Attack!

Zephyr dives at the mantine and rakes it with his talons during its brief flight above the water. Ariya brings her own instrument up and gives a different command, but she has to wait until mantine is surfaced for each one, while Blue can constantly adjust his own pokemon’s position.

Left. Right. Attack. Climb. Right. Dive. Attack. Wait. Attack. Left. Attack.

Zephyr is a tan and brown streak, first harassing the mantine’s left side, then hitting it from above on its next surfacing, then circling around to dodge a Water Gun or climbing up to avoid an Air Slash.

Ariya finally abandons the water as her mantine bursts out of it and soars up over the island, turning over in mid-air, then rotating on every axis to keep Zephyr in its sights as it sends burst after burst of water out. Two of them connect, one after the other, and Blue sends Zephyr in a deep dive to avoid the next ones before using a Gust to deflect the third. Mantine switches to a maintained Bubblebeam, and Blue sends Zephyr below it, wings tipped into a wider and wider spiral. The mantine is forced to turn in mid-air and drill a continuous line in the sand as it chases the pidgey around and around, losing altitude and flying more erratically as it struggles to balance the various forces keeping it up and dragging it down.

Blue feels sweat trickle down his neck, eyes burning in a reminder to blink. He doesn’t know who will run out of stamina first, Zephyr or the mantine, but he’s spent hours training his pidgey for endurance, knowing that its battles might come down to just how long it could keep up hit-and-run attacks. When the mantine’s Bubblebeam finally ends, Blue blows a sharp note, sending Zephyr up in a sharp climb-

-which is immediately abandoned as soon as Ariya commands another attack, allowing Zephyr to dodge the jet of water and loop around the mantine’s broad wings to rake a pair of bloody lines across its belly.

It shudders in the air, and finally begins to glide downward, the closest thing to a dead drop it can manage. Ariya withdraws it as it coasts by, and Blue lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.

The spectators burst into applause again, and Blue is about to turn and hold up a victory sign when a bright light flashes in the air, causing a shocked silence.

Blue’s heart leaps into his throat, and he watches his first caught pokemon finally evolve with a wide grin. Zephyr is still flying, a looping, soaring ball of iridescent light that ends as abruptly as it began… leaving behind a pidgeotto, about as big as Zephyr had grown to be, but with wider wingspan, a full red crest, a smoother breast, and long red and yellow tail feathers.

The applause return, louder this time and mixed with cheers. Blue holds out his arm, and blows a note on his flute. Zephyr comes in for a landing, talons a bit sharper than before, and Blue strokes his back as the pidgeotto preens. He can’t seem to stop grinning.

“Nice job, Oak,” Ariya says. “That last command, you trained it with a feint?”

“Yeah. It’s one of my shiftry’s most useful maneuvers, so I figured I’d try to teach the others to do it too. Zephyr picked it up pretty easily. Maybe it’s got some murkrow in its lineage.”

“Well it was some damn nice flying, even without that. I don’t know if you really don’t have an electric pokemon or if you’re just so confident that you knew you wouldn’t need one, but I’m looking forward to your Challenge.” She gives a salute from her platform, and Blue returns it.

“So, if you were that impressed, how about that Brave Bird maneuver?” Even the basic version of the attack is an incredibly advanced technique, but if someone like Ariya with her own variation can teach him…

She laughs. “Yeah, I think you might be able to handle it. At the very least, it’ll be amusing watching you try to teach it to your pokemon.”


“Hello?”

“Hi Doctor Seward.”

“Hello… Red?”

“Yeah, it’s me. Sorry to bother you. Do you have a minute?”

“Of course, Red, how is everything? You’re on your journey now, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. Everything’s fine. With the journey, I mean.”

“I’m glad to hear it. And your mother?”

“She’s good. She’s in Celadon now.”

“I know. Say hi for me, when you can. What can I help you with, Red?

“I just… uh… I’ve been going through some stuff.”

“I surmised as much. Are you alright?”

“I’m… not really. It’s my dad.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah.”

“Did something happen to remind you of him?”

“A few things.”

“How bad is it?”

“…Pretty bad.”

“Scale?”

“Oh. Uh. I’d say I’m at a… a three. A four on good days.”

“I see. I’m sorry, Red. Where are you now?”

“Cerulean.”

“Grand city. I hope you’re enjoying it, at least a little. I have some colleagues there, if you want a referral?”

“I don’t think I’ll be here long. My friends and I will be on the move again soon.”

“Would you rather do a video feed then? I could make an opening, either early afternoon or evenings.”

“I think that might help, yeah. In the evening. Is tomorrow okay with you?”

“The day after. 7 o’clock?”

“Okay. Thanks a lot.”

“Of course. In the meantime, I have homework.”

“Heh. Right. Okay, what is it?”

“You have pokemon now, yes? Presumably a few.”

“Yeah, I have a full belt.”

“Congratulations. Which is your cuddliest?”

“My… what?”

“Your cuddliest. The one you can cuddle up with the best, safely.”

“I guess… um… my bellsprout is pretty safe, but it’s not exactly cuddly. My pichu I guess, now that it doesn’t randomly shoot sparks out anymore.”

“Yes, that’s rather important. Good. Now, I want you to spend some time just relaxing with it. Training is fine too, by all means be as physically active as you can manage, but I don’t want you lying in bed without a pokemon there beside you. Think you can do that?”

“Yeah, I think so. That’s a good idea.”

“I know it is. One more thing. Find something to do that’s related to your dad. I know you probably have a lot to be busy with, it doesn’t have to be a big project. Just do something you know would make him happy. Something that speaks to the loss, answers it back.”

“…”

“Is that alright?”

“Y-yeah. Yeah I… I can do that. Okay. Thanks.”

“Of course. Be well, Red. Talk to you soon.”


Red squints as he leaves the Trainer House for the first time in days. The sunlight makes his eyebrows ache, a familiar feeling from years ago when he spent whole weeks in his bedroom.

Like then, going outside after so long has a mixed effect. He can feel his spirits lift ever so slightly, but it also feels slightly false. Not to mention emotionally exhausting, like he’s trading off energy for the improved mood. Walking through the crowded city streets doesn’t help, but Leaf just arrived back in town and wants to grab lunch with him and Blue, so Red keeps his gaze down and puts one foot in front of the other rather than go back and crawl into bed.

His pichu is sitting on his shoulder, its paws gripping his collar tight as it looks around. One hand goes up to stroke its fur. He’s been spending as much time with it as he can since he spoke with Dr. Seward, and he’s happy to see how comfortable his timid little mouse seems out in public, compared to when Red first got him.

The city is as alive as ever around them, sidewalks crowded with people and pokemon going about their day. Red spots some tourists and remembers their first day in the city. It’s strange how soon a new place can feel familiar. He feels his pichu climb up onto the bill of his hat as a growlithe walks by, a small spark snapping from his cheeks as he watches it walk by. Red cups him in his palm and gives him a brief scolding before placing him back on his shoulder, where he presses his flat tail along the inside of Red’s shirt.

By the time he gets to the restaurant, he’s acclimated enough to being outside that his excitement to see his friends again beats out his emotional fatigue. After arriving at the restaurant and spotting Leaf and Blue at a table, he actually smiles. They haven’t all been in one place for over a week, since the day they caught the abra. He withdraws his pichu before heading inside.

“-so jealous, I need to train with Crimson more so he can keep up.”

“Gonna be hard if you never do practice battles. We can spar if you want, avoid any cutting attacks.”

Leaf opens her mouth to respond, then puts her menu down with a grin as she sees Red. “Heya! Good to see you again.”

“You too. Hey man.” He slides his chair in and holds a fist up.

Blue knocks his against it. “Hey man yourself, I’ve barely seen you more than Leaf lately. You finish up the abra research yet?”

Red feels a stab of guilt over his inactivity lately. He knows the others are impatient to sell the abra. “Uh. Not yet. My teacher agreed to help with it though, so. Should be ready soon.” He fiddles with his menu, not really hungry but wanting to change the topic. “So how was the trip back?”

“Fine, but never mind that,” Leaf says, leaning forward. “Now that you’re here I have something to tell you guys…”

Red and Blue both lean in as she explains what she learned on the mountain, and how it led to her meeting with Giovanni. She stops talking when the waiter arrives for their order, and continues when he’s out of earshot, lowering her voice further as she goes over their conversation.

Her story makes Red’s mind begin to race, and for the first time all day he feels fully awake. He’s a bit jealous that she actually met with the legendary Gym Leader, but finding out that someone killed Yuuta before he could be executed, and that the other Leaders are covering it up, brings back all his uncertainties over voting to execute the Renegade in the first place.

“…and he just left! I know he was busy doing other things, he probably had a meeting to get to somewhere, but it was still really abrupt. I think I might have given away that I changed my mind, somehow.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Blue says as he slurps from his soup bowl. “He probably just had a psychic nearby reading your mind and texting to him.”

Leaf stares at him, eyes growing wider and mouth dropping open, then buries her face in her hands and let out a muffled cry of frustration. “Of course that’s what he did, Arceus, I’m such an idiot!

“Hey,” Red says, mouth full of slimy seaweed salad. He takes a moment to swallow the tasty strands down. It’s nice having money to waste on luxury foods. “Let’s not jump to conclusions just because we have one plausible hypothesis. Do you really think he would do something like that?”

Blue snorts. “For someone so smart, you’re really naive sometimes. You don’t think people would use psychics to get an edge in social situations? Absolutely, if it works and they can afford it.”

Red frowns. “Cynicism isn’t knowledge. He’s a Gym Leader, not just some random guy.”

“So? That just means he has more responsibility and ambition. If he thinks it’s in the best interest of Viridian or Kanto-”

“But isn’t that illegal?” Leaf asks, face rising. “In Unova a psychic needs consent to affect someone’s mind.”

“Oh, that’s true here too,” Red says. “I have to sign a bunch of stuff for pretty much anything my teacher does with me. But just reading someone’s mood and surface thoughts doesn’t count. It’s a passive thing that we just… do.”

Leaf and Blue look at Red in surprise. “Not that I’m there yet, myself,” he adds. “I’d have to focus to read someone, and if they weren’t psychic I’d barely be able to tell who I was reading from. Anyway, forget the moral concern. Imagine if it gets out. No one would feel safe talking to him again.”

“Oh come on, it’s Giovanni Sakaki. Anyone who doesn’t already take precautions about that sort of thing isn’t in a position to not talk to him if he wants a meeting.”

“Well, I’m certainly not going to again,” Leaf says as she stabs at her salad. “And I’ll warn others who might not to either!”

“But will you publish the story?” Blue asks. “Seems like that’s all he was concerned with, and what he’d continue to care about. No offense.”

She bites her lip a moment, moving some almonds around in their bowl. “I want to, but… I don’t want to act out of spite. I mean, assuming he was being honest, the reasoning for not publishing hasn’t really changed, right? Regardless of what he did to me personally. What do you guys think?”

Red and Blue look at each other. “You should ask your-”

“I should ask-”

“-grandpa/gramps,” they finish, almost together.

Leaf’s lip twitches. “I thought about asking Laura, but since she’s another reporter, it would have felt too much like going back on what I said to Giovanni. Now that I know what he did though… now that I think I know what he did,” she amends when Red opens his mouth, “I care a lot less about that.”

“Maybe you should, still,” Blue says. “What he did, it’s all in the game. Once you get involved in important issues, not just politics but actual Leader duties and Renegade stuff, you’re in a different world.”

“And that makes it okay?” Leaf asks, brow furrowed.

He shrugs. “What he did sucks, don’t get me wrong. But it’s just the way the world works. Gramps made sure I understood that, when he first found out how ambitious I am. Leaders don’t just train people and defend against pokemon. They’re not heroes from cartoons. They have to deal with the stuff that holds society together, and sometimes that stuff is too serious for being nice and honest.”

“That logic can excuse a lot of shitty stuff,” Red says. “You sound like you’re saying to just trust Giovanni, but you called me naive earlier.”

Blue shakes his head. “Different kind of naive. Look, he didn’t actually do anything that hurt you, right? I’m just saying, as long as you play ball, Giovanni will keep it in mind. If you go back on it now, you might regret it.”

Leaf rolls her eyes. “Well that’s just an argument out of self-interest, and I don’t need help on that front. If I start to think that I’m really only doing it for myself, I might just publish the story to prove that idea wrong. I don’t want to do it for that reason either, so I need to take it out of the equation.”

“Then what’s left?” Red asks. “If you only really care about what the outcome of the story would be, like you said, none of the arguments against publishing have changed. Just your trust in Giovanni.”

“Which I’m saying shouldn’t impact your view of his motives,” Blue says. “Not on its own, anyway. Not unless you fully understand what’s at stake and what his options were.”

“Do you think he’ll mind you telling us, and asking Professor Oak?” Red asks.

“He said not to publish, he didn’t say not to talk about it. I never would have agreed to that, which he’d know if he was digging around in my head.” Leaf spears a cucumber slice and munches it, scowling. “Okay, let’s talk to the Professor.”

“To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he already knows,” Blue says. “But don’t worry, if he thinks it should be out there I’m pretty sure he won’t break the story ahead of you.”

“Ok, cool. I guess I’ll start on a draft of it, just in case, so I’m ready to go sooner if I need to. I’m almost done with the article on the dig site anyway.”

“Man, your following is going to shoot up like crazy if you do break a story like that,” Blue says as he leans his chair back, spoon tapping his lower lip. “Definitely more than the bump I’ll get from beating Misty.”

Red puts his foot on Blue’s chair leg beneath the table and pushes it down, jerking him forward in time to allow a waiter to pass behind him. Blue looks startled, then angry, but follows Red’s gaze and rolls his eyes before pointedly leaning his chair back again.

“Speaking of followings,” Red says. “I’ve been thinking about… some stuff lately. And I wanted to run something by you guys that might actually help with that.”

They both turn to him, and he takes a moment to remember the opening he rehearsed.

“So, I know we all have a lot of plans for the money we’ll make from the abra. And there’s a lot of good we want to do with that money. But, I thought that it might be worth considering how much good we can do with the abra too.”

He gives them a moment to say something, but other than a crease in Blue’s forehead and Leaf’s eyebrows going up, they let him continue. He takes a deep breath and feels a bit better about not remembering all of the next part.

“I was just thinking, abra aren’t just rare, you know? They’re not just good for battles. They’re also just useful, as natural teleporters. Not just to rich executives or politicians, but organizations like Gyms and hospitals and Rangers rely on them. Time saved travelling sometimes means lives saved.”

“You want to donate some of them?” Blue asks.

“That’s a great idea.” Leaf rubs her fork handle between her palms. “Maybe five each, to different organizations?”

“I actually had something different in mind,” Red says. “I want to sell them all wholesale, at half the market price.”

Leaf blinks, then slowly smiles. Blue stares.

“Obviously, I can only talk about my share. But I don’t want to undercut you guys. So I thought I’d let you know, work out the timing. And see if maybe you want to do the same.”

“All of them?” Blue asks. “Like… in one bunch? That’s-”

“A great publicity move,” Leaf says. “Not only do we get people buzzing about the charitable aspect, but we also show off that we managed to catch all these abra at once, which is much less notable if we carefully sell them off bit by bit.”

“And that’s a good thing?” Blue asks. “I thought the point was to keep it secret!”

“Shh,” Red cautions, and Blue frowns, looking around. “Look, I want to get as much benefit out of the catching strategy as we can, but eventually it will be noticed. And it should be. I want more people to have abra that need them, and that can’t happen even if we just go around farming abra all day. For one thing it’s inefficient, and for another we can’t actually spend months traveling around to do it. We don’t have easy transportation, or mass capture permits, or the safety to do it in other areas. The only reason this worked so well is that Bill let us use his property, remember?”

Blue’s frown softens through all this, becoming more thoughtful. “Okay, but still, selling the ones we have at a bargain seems dumb. We can do that for the next batch.”

“When’s that going to be? Selling all our abra off one by one will take weeks, if we want to get the most out of it. We’re leaving Cerulean when you get your badge, right? Unless you’re planning to lose, that means we’re going to be out of here soon, and won’t have access to Bill’s land. Which, by the way, we probably depleted quite a bit with our first haul.”

“I like the idea,” Leaf says. “I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to vetting 23 different people to sell abra to. If I sell them all to pokecenters, I know they’ll be in good hands.”

“And we save some money and time skipping evaluations,” Red points out. “Just basic health checks for each of them, rather than a notarized assessment, which I’m sure the buyers will be happy to cover. So it’s not quite as big a difference as it might first seem.”

“Aaaaargh, fine, fine,” Blue says, picking his spoon back up and pointing it at Red. “But I’m selling some of mine first.”

Red nods. “That’s fair. You have more than us, so the difference is bigger for you.”

“How about this,” Leaf says. “We do one more catching session before we leave Cerulean, then whoever has the least abra, we all agree to sell that many wholesale. I know you’re at a disadvantage Red, but-”

“No, that’s fine. I’m giving mine to the Rangers, so the more I can catch for them the better.”

“Awesome. This was a great idea.”

“You think so? I don’t want to pressure you guys…”

Blue grunts, then bobs his head left and right in some kind of weird nod-and-shake. “Nah, she’s right. It’s great optics for us, and exactly the kind of thing that would make gramps proud. Not to mention look good for him too, justify his trust in us. And most importantly, it makes Kanto stronger. The more people can get to incidents faster, the safer we’ll all be.”

Leaf nods, and smiles at Red, a warm, full smile that makes his stomach flutter. As they finish their meal, say goodbye, and go on about their day, Red finds his thoughts of his dad are less draining than they were, the tears that well up tinged more often with bittersweetness. Rather than endlessly recounting conversations he had with him, and all the conversations he never will again, he finds himself thinking of what he would say, if he were still around. And that he would be proud.

The emptiness in his chest is still there. The long nights, lying awake. The occasional crushing waves of grief. But as he works on his various projects over the next few days, including arranging the details for the sale to the Rangers, some of the pain eases.

Not a lot. But some.