“I’m fine mom,” Red says. “Nope, not a scratch on me.” Technically it’s a bite mark.
Red stands in Viridian City’s southern pokemon center, using his phone to call home as he waits in line. Blue and Leaf are ahead of him, stepping forward as the nurse behind the counter gives the young man at the front of the line a receipt.
Red steps forward too, shifting his phone to his other ear so he can pull out his wallet.
“No, we got in ten minutes ago, maybe twenty, before it got dark,” he says. He turns to look out the front of the building’s glass walls, where the city lights illuminate the night.
“Good. How is your pokemon? Have you and Blue caught any new ones yet?”
“We did. I have a charmander and rattata, Blue has a squirtle and pidgey. Oh, and there’s a third person with us named Leaf. She’s the daughter of a professor from Unova.”
He can hear his mom’s smile over the phone. “I’m glad it’s not just you and Blue. Hopefully she’ll keep you two from fighting.”
Red makes a noncommittal sound and changes the subject as Leaf turns around at the sound of her name. “How about you, how was your day?”
“Just fine. I took a walk along the beach and had a meeting with the town council. Now I’m getting ready to meet Sam and Daisy for dinner.”
“Great! Tell them I said hi.” Red feels some relief that his mom won’t be spending his first night away alone.
“Just hi?” His mom’s voice is teasing. “Nothing else you want to say to Daisy?”
Red feels his cheeks flush, and tries to sound bored rather than whiny. “Mom, it’s been a year.” Why did he tell her that he liked Blue’s sister? “‘Hi’ will do, thanks.”
“Alright, alright, ‘hi’ it is. Anyway, I’ve got to go, sweetie. Give my love to Blue, and find a nice place to stay tonight. I love you Red.”
Red glances at his companions and turns casually to the side, voice lowering. “Love you too, mom, goodnight.” He ends the call and puts his phone away just as Blue steps up to the counter.
“Hello, new trainer?” the nurse says with a smile.
“Yeah, how did you know?” Blue unclips his pokeballs and puts them in the round indentations on the nurse’s tray.
“You’ve got the look. Young, a bit nervous, few pokemon. Mind if I see your ID?”
“Sure.” Blue takes out his wallet and hands her his trainer card.
“Thank you.” The nurse taps some keys on her computer. “Ah, Pallet Town. My sister lives there. And what is the nature of your pokemon’s injuries?”
“Nothing serious, just a couple wild encounters.”
“Are either of them poisoned or burned? Any untreated open wounds?”
“No, just some scrapes and bruises. My squirtle might be more tired than anything.”
The nurse types a bit more, then her computer spits out a receipt. “Alright, your pokemon will be ready within the hour. We’ll send you a message when you can pick them up.”
When it’s Red’s turn, he feels a bit anxious as he hands his pokemon over and explains to the nurse their various injuries. It’s strange how simply being ‘mine’ makes these pokemon mean so much to me, even the rattata. Something to do with the effort he’d put into acquiring her, maybe?
Red pulls his notebook out of his pack as he crosses the clean tiles to the bench Leaf and Blue are on. After sitting beside them, he opens it to a new page, dates it, then writes:
Observation: I’m feeling remarkably attached to my pokemon after such a short time with them.
Question 1: Is this usual?
Question 2: Does it affect my objectivity when regarding them in other ways?
Reminder 1: Look into research on-
“Hey Red, you hungry?”
He looks up at Leaf, blinking. Now that she mentions it, it’s hard to ignore his stomach’s complaints. All he’d had since breakfast were some snack bars on the road. “Yeah, starving.”
“We’ve got at least half an hour before our pokemon are ready,” Blue says. “Let’s go find some food.”
Red nods, and looks down at his notebook as the others get to their feet, trying to remember what he’d been writing.
-research on human connections with each other, with objects, and with pokemon.
Reminder 2: Survey others if possible, mark distinctions between pokemon gifted and pokemon caught.
Red frowns and puts the notebook away as he stands. It isn’t exactly what he’d wanted to write, but it’s enough to remind himself of his thought process later on.
The three leave the pokemon center and walk through the city. People on foot and bicycles throng the sidewalks, pooling at the ends of blocks to wait for lights to change before crossing streets. Every few minutes some large flying pokemon goes by overhead, its passengers’ legs dangling a dozen feet above the traffic, and occasionally people riding large pokemon pass them. Leaf points in delight as a flaming horse gallops by on the other side of the street, its rider seemingly unharmed by the pokemon’s fiery mane.
“Rapidash,” Red says. “Their hair glows like fire, but they can keep it from combusting into actual flames if trained to be ridden.”
Leaf turns her neck to watch it disappear around a corner. “So pretty…”
Blue snorts, and Leaf turns back and punches his arm. “Keep laughing after I catch one,” she says cheerfully. “The sound of hooves will be the last thing you ever hear.”
“Ha. You’ll have to get through Squirtle first.”
Red and Blue have both been to Viridian City before a few times, but it’s all new to Leaf, so they point out some of the more famous landmarks as they walk.
“There’s a supermarket that way that’s second biggest in Kanto. A lot of people stop by on their way to the Indigo Plateau, they sell everything a trainer might need.”
“See that big building near the center of the city? That’s the Trainer House, we’ll head there after our pokemon are taken care of.”
“There’s a huge lake over that way, but fishing in it’s usually prohibited.”
“Hey,” Leaf says as they reach an outdoor cafe and sit at a table. “What’s the Gym in this city?”
“The Earth Gym.”
“That’s Leader Giovanni’s, right? What’s he like?”
Blue grins. “Oh man, Giovanni is awesome. He was twelve when he became Leader, and he’s held the Gym for decades. He’s like fifty-something now.”
“He’s really philanthropic too,” Red adds. “Gives away millions to subsidize trainer activities and fund pokemon research.”
“Oh wow! Are you guys planning on challenging him?”
“Can’t,” Red says with a sigh. “He’s out of town, I checked yesterday. Won’t be back until next week.”
“We can still go to the gym and do some training,” Blue says. “Though I’d like to get to the forest by tomorrow if we can.”
Leaf nods. “If we have time, then?”
They agree, and a waitress comes by to take their order. Red sees a woman at another table, eating her steak and occasionally dropping bits of meat to the side for her growlithe to eat. He takes his notebook back out as they wait for their food.
“What’s that? Journal?” Leaf asks.
“Sort of. I like to write out my thoughts at the end of the day, helps keep track of questions I’ve had, remind myself to look into answering them or reflect on them in the future when I know more.”
“Did you just think of something?”
“Yeah,” he says, flipping back to the latest page and writing as he talks. “How do you guys feel about your pokemon so far?”
“Pretty good,” Blue says. “Haven’t had a chance to check out the pidgey, but seemed like a fighter. And my squirtle is great.”
Leaf nods. “Same, looking forward to getting to know Crimson and my rattata, but I couldn’t be happier with Bulbasaur. He’s everything I’d hoped my first pokemon would be… smart, versatile, tough.”
“Do you feel a… scratch that, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your ‘bond’ with your pokemon so far? One being you barely feel anything for them, ten being they matter to you as much as close friends or family.”
Blue shrugs. “I guess Squirtle a seven, the pidgey a four or five.”
“Bulbasaur a nine,” Leaf says slowly. “Rattata a… four, I guess? And Crimson a six, though that may be because of the nickname.”
“What about the process of capturing it?”
“Yeah, that definitely plays a part. In the struggle I feel like I got to know it a bit, and it’s got spirit, that’s for sure.”
Red doesn’t comment on her reasoning, just writing his questions down as well as their answers, trying to get a feel for what a good survey on this topic might look like. Gathering qualitative data is more important than quantitative for now, to help understand things well enough to begin formulating hypotheses. “So those numbers, four at the lowest, nine at the highest. Do they seem in any way odd to you guys?”
Leaf looks curious. “Not really. What do you mean?”
“Well, we don’t get so attached to other people we just meet. Why are we all so attached to our pokemon already?”
“People talk about the bond between trainers and pokemon all the time,” Blue says. “This is what they mean. Humans and pokemon, we’re meant to work together like this. That’s why it feels so natural.”
Red looks at Leaf. “You feel that way too? Like it’s just that simple that you catch a pokemon and feel attached to them?”
Leaf shrugs. “I’ve been around my mom’s pokemon all my life, and I love them all… well most of them, she has this minccino that’s totally spoiled. But there’s definitely something special about having my own.”
Red finishes writing, then taps his pencil against the notebook a moment. “What about the other pokemon we saw today?”
“What about them?”
“Have you thought about them at all since? Do you think about the other rattata that we fought, or that third pidgey that got away?”
The other two are silent for a bit, then Blue shrugs. “Not really.”
“Why, have you been thinking of them?” Leaf asks.
“Every so often I wonder about my rattata. If she was a mother whose children now lost her.”
Blue rolls his eyes, and Leaf gives him an irritated look before turning to Red with a sympathetic expression. “That makes sense. Do you feel bad about it?”
“I don’t, actually,” he says, surprising himself with the realization even as he sees their brows rise. “I mean in an abstract way, sure, but I’m not about to go back and release her. And I’m a bit curious as to why. I care about my rattata, but not the ones I didn’t catch, even the ones affected by its capture. Is that odd?”
“Not at all,” Blue says. “Why would you care about the other pokemon? One of them bit you! And another scratched up my arm, not to mention the way they hurt our pokemon.”
Leaf opens her mouth to respond, but just then their food arrives. Red’s stomach growls, and he begins eating his sandwich.
“Like this food,” Red says, covering his mouth after a bit of bread flies out. “Woop, sorry.” He swallows. “I don’t really care about the pidgey whose meat I’m eating. But if I had a pidgey, and it was killed for its meat, I’d probably be upset. Is that hypocritical of me?”
Blue looks too interested in his food to respond, but Leaf finishes chewing and says “I’m not sure. There are others who think so though. You’re talking about the relationship between people and pokemon, the way we use pokemon for our own benefit. There’s a group of activists in Unova who talk about it all the time. Used to be smaller, but now they’ve even got members in the government.”
“Really? What do they want?”
“Oh, lots of things. Stricter requirements for trainer licensing, better treatment of wild pokemon, an end to pokemon testing-”
Red snorts. “What, would they rather we test on humans instead?”
Leaf meets his gaze. “When it’s to benefit humans? Is that so strange?”
“It’s idiotic,” he says. Her eyes narrow, and he rushes on. “I’m sorry, but it is. We would never have developed half the medicines we have today without pokemon testing, there’s just no way to replicate human test subjects quickly or reliably enough, even ignoring the moral issues of experimenting on them-”
“But it’s not a moral issue when we raise pokemon just to test out new chemicals that might hurt or kill them?”
Feeling like he’s just digging a deeper hole, Red looks to Blue for help, but his friend is merely watching with amusement as he eats. “Of course it is, but isn’t it also a moral imperative to develop medicines that’ll save as many people as we can? How do you balance the lives of a relatively few pokemon against all the people and other pokemon we help by doing so?”
“You’d probably feel different if you were one of the test subjects. Or if they wanted to use your charmander.”
“No,” he says adamantly. “I wouldn’t.”
Leaf stares at him. Even Blue looks surprised. “You really mean that?”
“I try to be self aware enough to keep from holding hypocritical beliefs. I don’t want to lose my charmander, even after just a day with him. It would be really sad, maybe heart breaking if I had him for a long while. But if for some reason there was an experiment that had to use my charmander, instead of one in the wild, to help people, or even other pokemon…”
“People you don’t even know?” Blue asks.
Red tries to find the words, frowning at the woman and her growlithe at the other table. “Look, it’s… see that woman there? Say her growlithe died. Who would be affected by it?”
“She would, and her family, if they’re close to her pokemon.”
“Right. For how long?”
Leaf raises a brow. “That… depends. I was really sad for a couple months after my mom’s purrloin died. She was too, but I took it much harder, because I was young. There are a lot of factors that go into it.”
“Okay, but around a couple months for both of you. Did you by chance get another one?”
“Yeah, she brought another one home a few months after the first died.”
“And that helped.”
Leaf nods. “That helped.”
“Have you ever lost a person? Your dad, maybe?”
Leaf notices Blue go still, and looks back at Red with some hesitation. “He doesn’t live with us anymore, but no, I’ve never lost a person.”
“Well take it from me: you’re sad for more than just a few months. And not just you: your family, your friends, everyone’s affected by the loss and its effect on you. For years. It’s… there’s like a crack in your life that doesn’t ever really go away.”
The girl from Unova is quiet for a bit as she chews her food. Eventually she says “I think I get it. You’re saying that as sad as a pokemon’s death might be, a person’s death… ripples outward more, and is much more affecting.”
“Yeah. That’s about right.” Red focuses on his sandwich, ignoring the ache in his chest with long practice, shoving the crippling, bitter despair back into the mental vault he’d built for it.
“I… can’t really argue with that without seeming untactful,” she says slowly. “But I think some people would take their pokemon’s loss as hard as another person’s.”
Red shrugs. “I’m not going to deny that. But that’s still one relationship severed. Most people have multiple. That’s why for me, no pokemon’s life could ever be as important as a person’s. Even if the pokemon is mine, and the person is a complete stranger.”
“What if they’re a dick?” Blue says.
Red frowns at him. “They probably still have friends, family, someone cares about them.”
“What if they’re a murderer? What if they’re a serial killing psycho?”
“That’s… a different story…” Seeing Blue’s triumphant smile, Red sighs. “Okay, I’ll amend a bit: to me, most of the time, no pokemon’s life is as important as a random person’s, statistically speaking, since most people aren’t psychopathic murderers.”
Leaf watches Red for a bit, then nods slightly. “I believe you believe that. But I think you might feel differently once you’ve really bonded, spent a few months or years with your pokemon.”
Red opens his mouth, then reconsiders and takes a drink. Eventually he shrugs. “Yeah, maybe. And if so, I might reconsider my view of pokemon testing. But I don’t think it’s likely.”
There’s silence at the table as they eat for a bit, watching the occasional pokemon walk by beside or ridden by their trainer. A pidgeot lands at a store across the street, and its rider slide off its back, the car-sized bird disappearing in a flash of light as its trainer withdraws it.
After the atmosphere at the table seems a bit lighter, Blue speaks. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re both nuts.” He takes a swig of his mixed fruit juice. “Obviously we need to keep developing better medicine and technology, but I wouldn’t give up my pokemon for it. Let gramps and the other white coats catch their own rattata to test on.”
“Well,” Leaf says as she sprinkles some salt on her tomato slices. “Most people seem to agree with you. The group I was talking about doesn’t have a lot of support in Unova, and I’ve never heard much of similar sentiments in other regions.”
“Can’t imagine why,” Blue says as he leans back, chair tipped to balance on its hind legs as he munches on a riceball. He rests one foot on the table’s edge, ignoring or oblivious of the dirty look their server gives him as she passes by. “Start giving in to little changes, and who knows what else they’ll want?”
“Last I heard before I left, they were talking about restricting the use of pokeballs and outright banning all pokemon trainer battles.”
Blue practically chokes on his food, eyes wide as his chair slams forward. “Wh-what?” He coughs up some rice and reaches for his drink. “What are they-chkugh-nuts?”
Red thumps on Blue’s back as Leaf shrugs. “Lots of people think so, but I’m not one of them. I think pokemon battling for sport is cruel, especially outside of regulated tournaments. They’re living creatures, they have feelings, and making them fight when it’s not necessary is callous.”
Blue frowns at her, taking a drink to clear his throat. “Tournaments have so many rules that pokemon rarely get seriously injured. Besides, you’re not going to prepare your pokemon for a real fight if you always stop as soon as they get a little hurt. Would you rather them die against some wild pokemon because they weren’t prepared?”
Red watches them continue to argue, considering their points as he eats. He has to admit he agrees with Blue more than Leaf, though that might just be a cultural bias of his, as apparently a number of people think differently in Unova. He drinks some soda, then interjects, “Why do they want to restrict pokeball use?”
Leaf turns to him. “They say it’s cruel to keep them imprisoned. Stunts their minds, makes them too subservient, hard to reintegrate into the wild if they’re released.”
“Makes sense. But you use them anyway?”
Leaf nods. “I don’t think the stasis of the balls is harmful in and of itself, and it even helps them live longer, in a sense, to better match our lifespans. Besides, training pokemon the old-fashioned way isn’t always realistic or safe, especially when you plan on traveling and acquiring a lot of them.”
“Still, it seems to benefit people at the expense of pokemon. Doesn’t that go against the beliefs of that group you’re talking about?”
“I agree with them generally, but not all their specifics or methods.” She shrugs. “I just think there’s a better way to go about things than we are now.”
“I think a lot of people can agree to that, at least.”
“Yeah. They’ve been getting more radical the more people support them, but there’s still disagreement from within too.”
Red nods, still feeling a bit uncomfortable about inadvertently insulting her earlier. “Thanks for bringing it up, by the way. Professor Oak’s specialty is pokemon-human interactions, and I find the whole topic interesting. That Unova group is something for me to look into later.”
Leaf smiles. “No problem. What you were talking about reminded me of it anyway. It’s funny, I actually thought of them when I met you this morning: their leader Ghetsis also has red eyes.”
“Is that rare in Unova too?”
“Yeah, I’ve only seen a couple people with them.”
Blue stabs a mushroom with his fork and points it at Leaf. “So why are you a trainer?” He pops it in his mouth. “Red wants to be a professor, and I’m going to be the next Kanto Champion. What made you come here?”
“Well, I want to be a Coordinator someday, but I’m planning on doing a lot of traveling. I want to go to different regions and write a book on pokemon origin stories.”
“Like what Red wants to find out?” Blue asks.
“Not really,” Red and Leaf both say together. They exchange a smile, and Red gestures for her to go ahead. “From what Red said, he’s more interested in their biological origins, like my mom and grandpa.” Red nods. “I’m more interested in the mythology. The stories every region has about pokemon, particularly those venerated or worshiped specifically in the culture. I find it really fascinating the ways different regions view pokemon, and the relationship between humans and pokemon.”
“Well, it’s good to have you along,” Blue says.
“And you came to the right place,” Red adds. “Kanto’s a pretty superstitious place.”
Blue snorts. “Compared to what?”
“Heh. Fair enough.”
Leaf looks back and forth between them with obvious interest. “Why, what are some things people here believe?”
As Blue brings up some common myths and superstitions held by the region, Red is thinking over everything Leaf had said. He’d never paid much attention to the politics of other regions before, and he occasionally scribbles some thoughts in his notebook as he eats.
Will his view of pokemon as inferior to people ever change? He doesn’t think it’s likely. The entire basis for pokemon-human interactions stems from the basic need for people to defend themselves from them: it’s hard to see the species as having equal value when you’re willing to kill and capture them to defend yourself. Red’s father was a Ranger, someone who dedicated his life to helping keep people safe from wild pokemon. He was killed in the line of duty when some scyther had attacked a farm.
Red had wanted to be a Ranger too when he was younger, but that ambition had cooled in the grief that followed, and his internship with Professor Oak had opened up a new road. Still, it’s a sobering reminder that had humanity not domesticated pokemon, they would be at the mercy of them the way they are other forces of nature, like hurricanes or earthquakes.
Most people living in cities don’t need such a protection day-to-day, but they do rely on others to handle the occasional major threats, like a rampaging tyranitar, or a migrating beedrill swarm. And while trainers put themselves in danger to stop such threats, it’s really the pokemon that are shouldering the most risk. The media likes to romanticize the partnership and brave sacrifice of those pokemon, but those who raise pokemon as pets and companions must be aware that it’s not entirely a conscious sacrifice: ultimately, many pokemon are used as tools, living weapons.
Not that people shouldn’t still treat pokemon well, when possible. Red can’t abide pokemon abuse, and part of a trainer’s responsibility is to improve human-pokemon relations, learning more about how the two species can benefit each other. While many, like Blue, see that as secondary to the opportunities and prestige it imparts, to Red it’s at the core.
Ultimately though, what interests him most is why people feel the way they do, think the way they do, about pokemon, about everything. He’s not quite sure if he’s right to feel intrinsically superior to pokemon, and he makes a special note on his thoughts of the subject for future reflection.
“No! Do you really?” Leaf giggles into her hands.
Red looks up. “What?”
Blue is smirking. “I don’t, but yeah, a lot of people in Pallet swear by it.” He turns to Red. “I’m telling her about the shadow check.”
Red groans. “So much wasted milk. I haven’t once heard of someone actually finding a Dark pokemon hiding in shadows by splashing milk in them, but every sunset you’ll see some people tossing milk into the east side of their house. I think it’s become more of a good luck thing now, but it’s still pretty dumb.”
Leaf gets her laughter under control. “Oh, I have to see this tomorrow,” she says with a grin as she picks her fork back up. “I’m going to have my eyes peeled for milk-splashers.”
Eventually they finish eating and pay their bill. On the way back to the Pokemon Center, Blue’s phone chimes a message to let him know his pokemon are ready, and by the time they reach it Leaf and Red’s had done the same.
The line is small, and when he reaches the front Red hands his receipt over and accepts his pokeballs back with a smile. “Everything’s okay?”
The nurse smiles back, handing him a summary of his pokemon’s status. “They’re in good health. A minor concussion was corrected in your rattata, and charmander’s wounds were fully healed.”
“You’re quite welcome. Your pokeballs have also been recharged, and are in good working order. Have a good night.”
“You too.” Red steps away and waits for the other two to get their pokemon back too. He checks his charmander in the meantime through the pokedex, and is relieved to see him looking fully recovered from his wounds, without even any visible scarring. He clips Charmander back to his belt and sees Leaf approaching. “All good?”
“Yep. They put Bulbsasaur under some sunlamps, and said his bulb has fully regrown its damage.”
“Nice.” They wait for Blue, then head toward the entrance and they walk out into the night again.
The three make their way through the city toward the Trainer House, a lodging facility that caters specifically to trainers and their pokemon. Fifteen stories tall and wide enough to take up a city block, it’s easy to find, a massive red-brick building with solar panel foliage trimming, each artificial “leaf” hanging limp and dormant until morning.
The entrance hall and lobby are as different from the Pokemon Center’s as fire and water. A deep rug of earthy tones rather than stark white tiles, amorphous couches and chairs scattered about rather than set in orderly rows, wooden tables instead of glass. Teenagers are draped over the various furniture, watching televisions or eating snacks, some with their pokemon beside them. Potted plants litter the room, bug and plant pokemon resting in their soil and among their roots and leaves. A few adult trainers move about, most heading toward or coming from the elevators and doors around the room’s perimeter.
Red leads the way toward the reception desk, where they pass their trainer cards over and receive room assignments for the night. Red looks over the lobby, excitement and exhaustion warring in him.
“Normally it’d be great to meet all these trainers and see their pokemon,” Leaf says slowly, echoing his thoughts. “But I’m kind of tired.”
“There’s always tomorrow,” Red says, and Blue yawns in punctuation.
“I’m in 1321, West,” Leaf says, looking at her room assignment. “What about you guys?”
“1208,” Blue says, and Red holds his up to show the same. “East.”
Leaf smiles and tucks some hair behind her ear. “Well, I guess I’ll see you guys in the morning for breakfast then.”
They say goodnight, and make their way to the elevators on opposite sides of the lobby.
Red lies in bed, staring up at the bottom of Blue’s bunk. All around him are the sounds of a dozen other young boys around Red and Blue’s age, shifting or snoring in their sleep. A quick glance toward the clock above the door shows him it’s almost midnight.
Red sighs and shifts on the unfamiliar mattress, trying to find a more comfortable position. He hasn’t been able to sleep. His mind keeps going over everything that had happened on the first day of his journey… training with charmander, catching his rattata, helping Blue and Leaf catch pidgeys, their conversation during dinner. Every time he closes his eyes and tries to drift off, some new analysis or perspective of an event intrudes: how he should have acted, what he could have done differently.
The thought that has him in open-eyed wakefulness currently is that moment when he and Blue ran toward their pokemon after sending them ahead to help Leaf’s bulbasaur. He’d been about to order Charmander to Ember, but hadn’t because it was too risky with Bulbasaur so close, forcing him to rely on his less effective claws and teeth. A restriction like that is dangerous. They got lucky in avoiding serious injuries to Charmander or Bulbasaur, but that Red still hasn’t thought of a better action he could have taken in that circumstance is what’s making it hard to sleep.
I need to be more useful, he thinks. Charmander’s strong, but I can’t be so limited in how I use him that I’m relying on his fire. He-we-need more utility. More versatility in combat.
Red reaches under the bed and pulls his pokedex out of his pants. Bringing it under the covers so the light doesn’t wake anyone, he looks up some known techniques charmanders can learn. He wishes for the dozenth time he’d known what pokemon Professor Oak would have for them so he could have researched them in-depth beforehand.
After about twenty minutes of reading, Red closes the pokedex. He slips back into his shirt and pants, then gathers his things and tiptoes out the door to find the training rooms.