Chapter 7: Optimism Bias

The Training House’s practice rooms are far fancier than the one at the Pallet Labs. Red passes by room after empty room, each different than the last. He’s curious to know if anyone else is up this late, and eventually finds one that’s occupied. He stops in front of the glass door to watch.

A young woman with long auburn hair is using a pair of flags to direct her butterfree, running around it to stay in its line of sight as it performs various aerial maneuvers. Training pokemon to respond to nonverbal cues has its advantages and disadvantages, and is largely a practice of competitive trainers: wild pokemon aren’t likely to get tipped off by shouted orders, after all. Red watches as the woman twirls her left flag once, and the butterfree releases a cloud of green powder. The trainer leaps safely out of the way as the butterfree flaps its wings, a gust of wind blowing the powder forward to envelop a wooden pokedoll shaped like a sandslash.

Red moves on, examining each room until he finds one with the symbols of a fan and fire over it. He enters the long rectangular room, its acoustics changing as the door slides back closed. Fire extinguishers are placed at each corner, and the floor and walls are made of a light grey, pitted stone. Looking up, he sees the sprinkler system and air vents ready to respond to any emergencies.

This should do nicely.

Red takes out his pokedex, and a clicker from his pack. Part of the training process is to associate a behavior with a conditioned reinforcer, the way Leaf had with the pokepuffs. Instead of having to use pokepuffs all the time though, Red wants to try out a feature of the pokedex. He quickly navigates to the right screen, then says, “Pokedex, establish audio reinforcement.”

Acknowledged. Record audio reinforcement when light turns green, then press Done.”

Red smiles. The voice of the pokedex is Daisy’s: it’s somewhat disguised by a digital filter, but the cadence of certain words gives it away to those that know her.

As soon the light beside the screen turns green, Red uses his clicker, emitting a sharp, loud click-clak upon press and depress of the button. Then he taps Done on the pokedex screen.

Audio reinforcement confirmed.” It repeats the sound.

“Save.”

Audio reinforcement saved. Upload virtual training?”

“Yes.” Red puts the clicker away and unclips Charmander’s pokeball, aligning the lens with the pokedex’s. “Upload.”

Uploading… upload complete. Please wait four minutes and seventeen seconds for virtual regimen to integrate. Remember to periodically reinforce association in tangible space before hands-on training.”

Red makes a note of the time, then reclips the pokeball and repeats the process with his rattata. Setting up a basic positive reinforcement like this should make it much easier to train his pokemon: the sound of the click will be so associated with a reward, that just hearing it will trigger a release of dopamine.

And he’s going to need all the help he can get. While looking up a charmander’s basic techniques in the pokedex, one in particular had drawn his attention:

Smokescreen: When threatened by large foes, charmander can alter the fuel for their tail flame to produce copious amounts of thick smog. While mild exposure is not toxic, this smoke irritates eyes and sinuses and helps charmander stay hidden. Charmander are especially prone to emitting smoke if threatened at night, when their tail flame makes it particularly hard to hide.

Training such a specific automatic response in bright lights won’t be easy, but the potential benefits are enormous. Smoke could be used to not just hide in and avoid attacks, but also to coordinate ambushes, herd wild pokemon, even set and limit zones of control on a battlefield.

As he waits for Charmander’s virtual training to be done, Red takes out his notebook and scribbles down thoughts on cooperative tactics to try out with the others. Blue or Leaf’s pidgey could use gusts to send smoke in the direction needed, the way that trainer’s butterfree had with its poison powder. The smoke would block Squirtle’s line of sight if used carelessly, but Bulbasaur could use his vines to drag enemies into it. They could even use it to switch pokemon without the opponent being aware…

Red eventually checks the time, gives it another thirty seconds just to be safe, then puts his notebook away and unclips Charmander’s pokeball. He cocks his arm back, then throws it, voice echoing as he says, “Charmander, go!”

The ball reaches the open space in the middle of the room and releases his pokemon in a flash before flying back. Red reaches for it, but the angle of the throw was a bit off, and he has to jump to try and catch it when it returns at an upward angle. He knocks it upward, then tries to catch it as it falls, fingers closing a fraction of a second too late. The ball bounces off his palm and across the floor with a metal ding, ding, dinnnnggggg…

Charmander watches the ball roll by, then ignores it as it halts at the wall. He chirps and approaches as Red kneels down to pick the pokeball up, and Red rubs the lizard’s warm, leathery head.

“Hey there buddy. We’re going to try and learn something new tonight, okay?”

Charmander looks up at him and chirps again. Red smiles, wishing for a moment he could communicate with his pokemon intelligently. When he was younger he and Blue used to watch cartoons where the pokemon could talk to each other, and understood human speech directly, even if most couldn’t duplicate it.

It was amusing enough, if obviously for young kids: as he got older it became clear that the premise wasn’t particularly well thought out. Leaf’s perspective would have a lot more weight behind it, in Red’s mind, if pokemon were sapient enough for complex communication. Putting them in pokeballs would be a lot more morally ambiguous, for one thing, and for another if pokemon were sapient, working out a peaceful coexistence would be much more attainable without resorting to hunting and capturing them.

Barring such an idealistic fantasy though, it sure would be useful to have some latent psychic powers manifest right about now.

Red meets Charmander’s gaze directly and concentrates. Raise your left arm. Raise your left arm Charmander. He imagines the sensation of raising his arm, willing Charmander to pick up on it through the mysterious bond that everyone romanticizes.

Charmander’s gaze is locked in his, whole body completely still. Raise your arm, come on, raise your arm. Red’s own arm twitches as he focuses so hard on the muscle-memory, feeling lost in the depths of his pokemon’s gaze. Raise your arm, come on, just a little…

Charmander blinks slowly… then wags his tail a bit and chirps, rubbing against Red’s palm.

“Worth a shot,” Red mutters, and stands. He’d just make do the old fashioned way.

Red had never met a psychic, but whatever advantage their powers might grant them, the beauty of pokemon training, from its ancient, crude form to the refined science it is today, is that it’s accessible to everyone. If it were something that only certain people could do, humanity would never have thrived in such a dangerous world. Society would have been stuck in feudal dynamics, where the majority were ruled by the whims of those few who could control the monsters in the wild and keep the rest of them safe.

Now, science and technology have leveled the playing field. Some people still have natural advantages over others, but in today’s world, anyone can learn the methodology, refine their skills, and harness the power of their own pokemon.

Professor Oak raised a dozen of his own pokemon by Red’s age, and by developing the pokedex, revolutionized the relationship between practical knowledge and cutting edge research, allowing both scientists and trainers to share information and help each other day to day. Elite Agatha was the first trainer who didn’t keep their mysterious affinity with Ghost-type pokemon secretive, and she opened a school at the age of thirteen to help teach others how to deal with and train them, even without psychic powers. And Leader Giovanni rose to the head of his Gym when he was just a few years older than Red, and used his position and status to help set up society’s trainer programs, so everyone has a chance to make their own way.

Limited only by of their intelligence, imagination, and will, people and their pokemon are capable of extraordinary things together.

And if they’re smart and dedicated enough, even a child can change the world.

Red tugs the bill of his cap securely down. Time to get started.

He takes out a pokepuff and unwraps it, then takes his clicker back out. Watching Charmander, he points at a section of the stone ground and says “Ember!”

As soon as Charmander whips his tail around and releases some oil, Red presses the button, and the distinct click-clak is heard, echoing in the room.

His pokemon’s attention sharpens, and Red feeds him a bit of pokepuff. “Good boy.” After Charmander finishes, Red does it again, and again. Each time he feeds Charmander some puff, it reinforces the association between the click and a reward, tying the two together so that just hearing the click is enough to signal satisfaction and pleasure.

After the puff is all gone, Red goes to the end of the room and opens a closet in the wall. Inside are a number of training supplies, and he lifts out a large rhydon pokedoll with both arms. It’s made of the same flame retardant foam as the one from that morning’s training, and weighs about as much as his backpack. He brings it over to the left side of the door and sets it down in front of Charmander, who immediately becomes alert. Red steps behind his pokemon as Charmander’s tail blazes, and the fire lizard watches the sudden threat warily, claws extended.

Red gets an arcanine pokedoll and puts it to the right side of the door, using his body to hide it from Charmander as he walks past him. When he puts it down, Charmander suddenly chirps in alarm, and Red jumps back as his pokemon rushes forward to defend him, flicking some fire at the new threat.

“Stop!” Charmander goes still, and Red immediately clicks again. Red’s pokemon growls at the two large simulacrum, but stays his fire. “Good job Charmander. Now, Smokescreen. Smokscreen, Charmander.” Red’s finger hovers over the clicker button, waiting… waiting… “Smokescreen. Smokescreen. Smokescreen.”

No smoke comes. “Any second now Charmander,” Red mutters, and his pokemon’s head twitches. Red chides himself for confusing him, and wonders how long he should wait. He wants the behavior to be associated with the word, but just repeating “smokescreen” over and over is feeling a bit foolish.

Red studies Charmander’s aggressive stance. “Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen.” Charmander twitches, as if ready to act… but does nothing, still watching the threats and growling.

Ah. Red grins. His pokemon is too brave to be scared.

Red slowly steps backward so Charmander doesn’t notice him leaving. When he reaches the closet, he turns and grabs a third pokedoll, this one is a wide, round graveler. He places it behind Charmander, so that the fire lizard is surrounded by arcanine, graveler, and rhydon simulacrum. His pokemon is too fixated on the first two threats to realize that he’s been surrounded, but once Red steps up beside him, Charmander repositions himself and sees it in his peripheral vision.

Charmander chirps in alarm, then turns frantically, first one way then the other, attempting to keep all the threats in sight. When he realizes he can’t, aggression turns to fear.

Red watches the fire lizard curl inward and begin to tremble, and feels a pang in his chest. He’s about to reassure his pokemon that everything’s okay… but Charmander needs to feel threatened to emit the smoke. Red crouches beside him and begins to tremble as well, breathing quickly so that his heart speeds up. “Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen. Smokescreen, smokescreen, smokescreen…”

Charmander continues to tremble, eyes darting around at the large figures looming over them. When he glances at Red again and sees his trainer curled up beside him, he begins trembling harder… and, with Red still repeating “Smokescreen,” it happens. The fire at the end of his tail becomes a bit dimmer, and black smoke begins to billow out.

The second he sees it, Red presses the clicker. Charmander’s head rises, and Red rubs his head. “Good boy!” He coughs as the smoke continues to come out, thick and heavy. It quickly blankets the area and makes it hard to see.

“Charmander, stop!” Charmander goes still, but the smoke keeps coming out. Uh oh.

Red picks Charmander up and walks around, trailing the oily smoke from Charmander’s tail. He says “Stop,” every few seconds, checking to see if Charmander’s tail stops emitting smoke. Even outside of the main cloud, Red’s nose wrinkles when he inhales. He can see how the acrid stench would work as a deterrent, and suddenly realizes his clothing is going to need a thorough washing.

Eventually the pokedoll are almost completely obscured, and when Red says “Stop!” again, the smoke suddenly cuts off. Red presses the clicker. “Good job Charmander.” His eyes water, and he resists the urge to rub at them, peering around in the thick smoke. That was fast.

Red walks over to the fan controls and puts Charmander down. The thick smog combined with his watering eyes makes it hard to see, and Red feels along the wall with his eyes closed, navigating for the right button by memory. One, two… three… four!

The fans rev to life and begin sucking up the smog. Red’s clothing and hair whips about, and Charmander gives an alarmed Rawr! as his protective cover is quickly drawn away.

Charmander tenses as he watches the three pokedolls slowly come back into view. Red puts his finger over the clicker button, waiting. “Charmander, smokescreen. Smokescreen. Smokescre-” Click-clak! “Good boy!” Red watches the smog rise, thin and long as the fans immediately suck it away. How long can he keep that up? “Stop, Charmander.” Charmander glances at him, but then turns back to the pokedoll, growling quietly. Red wonders if the sound of the fans distracting, and turns them back off.

Unfortunately that just causes the smoke to quickly obscures Charmander again. Red curses quietly. He needs to be able to tell the moment Charmander feels safe enough to stop producing the smoke, so he can reinforce him stopping.

And now the smog is completely surrounding him. Shit. Red crouches down and picks Charmander back up with one arm, the lizard’s smooth hide warm to the touch. His pokemon startles, and pain suddenly lances through Red’s side and arm. The lizard’s claws have sunk in, mostly stopped by his clothes’ armor mesh, but the tips still piercing through. “OW! Ow, ow… it’s okay Charmander, it’s just me… ow…”

Red walks gingerly forward, ignoring the pain as best he keeps the smoke cloud behind them, glancing back and saying “Stop” occasionally to see if Charmander complies. Charmander’s tail stops emitting the smoke shortly after they’re past the pokedolls, and Red clicks. “Good boy…” He looks back to see an obscuring cloud of black smoke filling the rest of the room once again.

Red sighs and puts Charmander down, wincing as the lizard’s claws exit his flesh. He can feel blood trickling down his skin from the pinpricks. Charmander looks at the bloodstains on his sleeve and makes a low crooning sound, stepping closer and licking at one.

“Ow, hey, it’s okay. My fault for making you so scared.” The smoke is still spreading toward them, and Red coughs as the foul taste fills his throat. He unclips Charmander’s pokeball and points it at him. “R-return,” he croaks. Charmander is hit by the beam, then vanishes in a flash of light.

Red reclips the pokeball and returns to the controls, holding his breath and closing his eyes along the way as he keeps a hand against the wall. Would help if this place was voice activated, he grumbles to himself as he turns the fans back on. Red takes a deep breath as the air clears for the second time, and a sudden dizziness makes him sink down to the floor.

Somewhat alarmed, Red takes off his pack and lifts his shirt to examine his injuries, wondering if he’s bleeding more than he’d realized. The wounds don’t look so bad though: he’s probably just losing his second wind. Red relaxes and digs out a potion from his bag to disinfect and coagulate the wounds. Some paper towels serve to wipe up the blood, and once he feels the tender scabs already forming beneath his fingers he puts his shirt back on.

The steady hum of the fans provide a soothing ambiance. Red rests his head against the cool wall as he takes deep breaths of clean air and considers the training so far.

The next step is to test and see if the click and command would get Charmander to produce smoke in reaction to a less obvious threat. If so, he would reinforce that, and then wean him off the threats altogether until he responds to just to the command and click, and finally just the command alone. He has to work on the “Stop” command too: maybe such an internal activity isn’t so easy for Charmander to stop on command, or maybe it takes a few seconds for the smoke to stop being produced even after Charmander responds to the command. A delay like that would make it much harder to judge the progress of the training…

“Hey, you alright?”

Red snaps out of a light doze to see the auburn haired girl standing in the doorway. He hadn’t heard it open over the fans. “Hi. Yeah, I’m fine, thanks. Just tired.”

“Ah, okay. I was walking by and just saw a sprawled pair of legs.”

Red smiles. “Taking a quick rest. All finished with your pokemon?”

“Yeah, we’re headed to bed. Long day tomorrow.” She notices the spots of blood on his shirt. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Positive. Just scared my pokemon a bit, that’s all: he didn’t mean it.”

She nods. “We’ve all been there. It’s something of a rite of passage, and happens all the time when teaching something new. Just be glad it wasn’t more serious.”

Red remembers the ease with which she dodged away from her pokemon’s attack, and wonders how often she’d been too slow. “What about you, were you teaching your butterfree something new, or just practicing?”

There’s the briefest of pauses before she says “Just practicing,” and Red feels a stab of annoyance. Some of the biggest arguments he’d gotten into with Blue had been about competitive trainer’s habit of secrecy. Most are loathe to share the methodology behind the amazing feats their pokemon perform, each unique insight or training strategy they reveal being one less advantage against potential rivals. It’s partly why they’re often looked down on by other trainers, especially academics, and why Gym Leaders are so respected in contrast for opening their doors to teach what helped them become so skilled.

“Sorry, that was rude of me,” Red says into the awkward silence. He rubs his eyes, still irritated from the smog. “Like I said, I’m a bit tired.”

She steps into the room and leans against the door as it closes. “It’s alright. Even at one in the morning it’s silly to expect complete privacy in a place with glass doors.”

“Ah shit, it’s already that late?” Red checks the time himself to see how far off she’s rounding from, and sees it’s 1:14 AM.

“You have an early morning too?”

“That was the plan.”

“Better head back up then.”

He considers it. Postponing the training until tomorrow probably wouldn’t hurt: they’re likely to spend most of it in the city anyway…

Eventually he shakes his head. “I want to finish up first.”

She raises a brow and folds her hands behind her back, resting against them. “Something big going on tomorrow?”

“Not really.”

“Why the rush then?”

Red considers the question a moment. “If I said ‘optimism bias,’ would you understand what that meant?”

“Not really,” she says. “I mean I know what optimism is, and I know what a bias is…”

Red scratches his hair beneath his hat, then takes it off and turns it between his hands as he organizes his thoughts. “Okay well, basically, studies in psychology have shown that people tend to be overly optimistic about things involving themselves.”

“Like what?”

“Like this training I was doing. Part of optimism bias is something called the ‘planning fallacy.’ Experiments show people usually underestimate the time and cost involved in a task they need to complete, and assume the best results.”

She smiles. “I’m a bit guilty of that myself.”

“We all are. Optimism bias affects more than just things we plan for: we also underestimate how dangerous life can be for ourselves. I walked here with a couple friends from Pallet Town yesterday, and within a few hours we were attacked by a large group of rattata.”

The girl’s eyes widen a bit. “How large?”

“Eight, I think.”

She whistles. “Good thing there were three of you.”

“Yeah. We knew that sort of thing could happen, even on the main roads where most dangerous pokemon have been cleared away or chased off. But it was still a shock to experience it, even as our training kicked in.”

“You didn’t use any repellant?”

“We didn’t think we’d need to. The odds of something dangerous happening our first day out just seemed so unlikely. But if someone had asked me whether someone else might have a dangerous encounter their first day of traveling, I’d say it doesn’t matter if it’s their first day or their hundredth, the statistics are the statistics.”

The young woman is quiet for a moment. One hand absently tucks some hair behind her ear as it’s displaced by the overhead fans. “What about Tier 3 threats? People worry about those all the time, even though the odds of them dying to one are really low compared to some more common dangers.”

Red nods. “There are some exceptions, mostly because of heuristics that fool our pattern seeking minds. We don’t tend to hear about every person that dies on the road because it happens fairly often, all things considered, and are quiet tragedies. Region-wide news rarely cover them, unless something unique was involved. But because Tier 3 threats are so rare and visually stunning, and so many people die all at once…”

“Yeah. It makes a big impression.”

“Right. And that’s doubled by the huge media exposure they get. In general, we just don’t consider ourselves subject to the same statistical probabilities everyone else is. If asked, we’d probably never say something so egotistical, but by and large, we get worried about things that likely won’t harm us, and it takes careful attention and diligence to consider what likely will.”

She looks thoughtful. “And we spend millions to try and stop Tier 3 threats…”

“It’s crazy. We could be spending that money to hire more rangers, get regular patrols for major roads. It would probably save more lives per dollar spent.” He sees her cover her mouth as she yawns, which sets off his own, jaw cracking. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to start soapboxing. I tend to talk a lot when I’m tired.”

She’s looking at him with a slight frown. “How old are you, anyway?”

“I’ll be twelve next month.”

“Just started training?”

He nods. “Got my first pokemon yesterday.”

“Yesterday? You don’t sound like most newbies.”

“Less stupid, I hope?”

She smiles. “Less dewy eyed. Stupid’s a bit harder to judge, but exhausting yourself to get a bit of extra training in isn’t particularly smart.”

Red grins. “Future Me might be irritated at Present Me for not getting enough sleep, but he can sleep in if he really needs to. I’d rather Future Me be a bit tired and irritated, even with the potential negatives that entails, than risk him being as unprepared for a dangerous situation as Past Me was.”

“Do you always refer to your future and past selves as different people?”

“Out loud? Only when I’m-”

“Tired,” they say together, and laugh.

Red stretches his arms, then covers a yawn and forces himself to his feet before exhaustion overtakes him completely. “Whatever tomorrow brings, I want to be ready for it, and once I’ve thought of a way to be, I can’t just ignore it. Leaving an optimization task unfinished is like leaving a splinter in my toe. It might not bother me constantly, but every time I’m reminded it’ll be just as frustrating as the first time, and if I’m in a situation where I need to run, I’ll really regret not just taking it out when I could.”

She watches him thoughtfully as he gets a crick out of his neck. “Well, I guess I’ll reserve judgement until we see how well that works for you.” She smiles and extends a hand. “I’m Amy.”

He shakes it. “Red. Nice to meet you.”

“You too. Good luck with the training, and hope you get some sleep eventually.”

He smiles. “Me too. Have a good night!”

She waves and closes the door behind her. Red turns off the fans, and the sudden silence is almost tangible.

First things first. Red goes to the supply closet and digs past the remaining pokedoll to examine the other supplies. Rope, target posters, water canisters for a spray, a firesuit…There. Red pulls a gas mask from its hook and straps it onto his face.

It’s a clear plastic cover that seals everything from his forehead to his chin, and cleanses the air through filters on the sides. He breathes experimentally through it a few times, then takes it off so it dangles from his neck. He’d considered putting it on before, but didn’t want anything that might distort his voice and make it harder for Charmander to recognize commands. Now that he knows just how irritating the smog is though, it’s clearly the lesser of two evils: choking and coughing don’t make his speech particularly clear either.

Unfortunately that’s about all that’s useful in here. Red puts two of the pokedolls back in the closet, then leaves the training room to examine the others.

The door to the right of his has a symbol of a fist above it, and he enters out of curiosity. The walls are heavily padded, and the floor is a soft mat: firm beneath the feet, but absorbent to reduce injury from falls. He goes to the supply closet and sees the more intricate pokedoll that swivel when struck to deliver a counter blow, as well as punching bags, fighting gloves, helmets, and body padding.

Red returns to the hallway and keeps searching, checking each new type of room to see what they’re like. One has a swimming pool in it, another a soft dirt floor. Occasionally he finds something in their supply rooms that might be handy for training his charmander or rattata, but for the moment there’s nothing that suits his needs.

Frustrated, he goes to the end of the training rooms and follows the directory to the help desk. A blond guy that looks to be in his mid twenties is sitting with his feet propped up, watching a screen. Red glances at it and sees an ongoing Indigo League match. Considering the time it’s probably a recording, but the blond seems riveted.

The battling trainers are swapping pokemon so fast that it’s hard to follow what happens: a rapidash charges at a pincer, which is replaced by a feraligatr. The rapidash is withdrawn before a blast of water can hit it, and a blink later there’s an umbreon in its place that shrugs off the deluge before it sends a pulse of darkness back. Feraligatr gets swapped for a hitmonlee that dashes through the darkness unfazed and leaps forward, foot outstretched. Umbreon vanishes in another flash of light just as hitmonlee jumps, and a pidgeot soars safely out of the hitmonlee’s way, then dives as it lands and rakes it with its talons.

“Excuse me,” Red says during the battle’s lull as hitmonlee is withdrawn, a point awarded to the pidgeot’s trainer.

The young man grunts, eyes on the screen.

“I need a mirror. Is there one available?”

“Bathroom,” the blond says, and points without looking.

Red stifles his annoyance. “I mean for training.”

“Training supplies are in the closets.” An ampharos appears to deal with the pidgeot, bulbs glowing with electric charge. Before it can get a bolt off the flying type is withdrawn, the flash overlapping with the replacement pokemon being sent out. By the time its ball rockets back to be caught by its trainer, she has already clipped pidgeot’s pokeball to her belt and replaced it with yet another. Regulations vary between regions, but the Indigo League allows no more than 1.6 seconds to pass without having a pokemon on the field: this trainer had just swapped pokemon and prepared a third in less than half that. Red remembers being awestruck the first time he saw the speed at which professional competitive trainers battle, making split second decisions one after the other while trying to predict two steps ahead of their opponents. Differences of philosophy aside, his admiration hasn’t faded much since.

“I know that, but there aren’t any in them,” Red says, tearing his gaze from the screen.

“Sorry.” The receptionist takes a drink from his soda can. As far as Red can tell, he still hasn’t so much as glanced at him.

Red feels his exhaustion fading as his blood pressure rises. He takes a deep breath, then lets it out. The cheap desk placard says “Mitchell,” and he puts on his most friendly, but forceful voice. “Can you pause that for a moment please, Mitchell?”

Mitchell sighs and stops the recording before turning to him at last, boredom giving way to irritation. “What do you want kid? I told you, the supplies are in the closets.”

“Sorry, I’m a little tired, and this is my first time at a Trainer House.” Making enemies isn’t going to help him, and he doesn’t have time to waste if he wants to get any sleep tonight. “What match was that? It looked pretty intense.”

After a moment Mitchell’s frown softens a bit, and he glances at the screen. “That was Alicorn’s last Summer Qualifiers from earlier tonight. She’s headed to Johto next week.”

Red vaguely remembers Blue mentioning an “Alicorn” once or twice. Something about her ability to adapt strategies on the fly and respond to new information… Red props his elbows on the counter. “Cool. I heard she has a great meta game.”

Mitchell nods. “Definitely top percent material. You see her match against Blaine last month?”

“No, I guess I missed that one.”

“Oh man, that was intense. You gotta check that out.”

“Noted.” Red glances around at the cluttered desk. “So you work here all night?”

“When I draw the short straw.”

“Must be boring.”

“Eh. Some nights go quicker than others.” Mitchell scratches the stubble on his jaw. “So what were you looking for again?”

“I need something that will let me see my pokemon without him seeing me.”

“Hmm. We’ve got observation rooms with a one way mirror.”

“I’d prefer being in the same room. Maybe a mirror and something to attach it to the ceiling?”

“Ah. Well I don’t think we have anything like that. What do you need it for?”

Red sighs. “I’m training my charmander to put up a smokescreen on command, but they need to be afraid to do it. I want to trigger it in different ways so he’s used to responding to it during emotions other than feelings of helplessness, so was thinking of hiding behind a pokedoll, throwing charmander’s ball to the other side of it, then shaking the doll and yelling to surprise him into emitting the smoke, which I’d then reinforce. But I can’t see him if I’m behind the pokedoll, so I won’t know when to reinforce his behavior, and if I pop my head out to look he’ll see me. So I figure I’ll stick a mirror on the roof and use that, since he’s not likely to look up.” Red sees Mitchell’s skeptical look. “What? You don’t think it will work?”

“Well, work or not, it’s pretty much the most convoluted way to go about it that I can imagine. Why does it matter if he sees you?”

“He’s really protective. I think if he sees me behind the pokedoll he’ll just think I’m in danger and attack.” Red shrugs. “I guess I’ll test it just to be sure, since I can’t get a mirror. Thanks anyway.”

“Well hold on there, you won’t need the mirror if you’ve got someone else to do the shaking.”

Red blinks as Mitchell gets up and walks around the counter, placing a “Be right back” sign up. “Are you volunteering?”

“Sure, my butt’s getting sore anyway.”

“Hey, thanks!”

“No prob. Shouldn’t take long.”

Red frowns. “Actually, that’s what I thought, but there’s an aspect of optimism bias called the planning fallacy-”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mitchell says, already heading toward the training rooms. “Come on, let’s go scare the smoke out of your pokemon.”

Red sighs and follows. Mitchell is clearly looking for an excuse to do something more exciting than sit at his desk, but Red doesn’t want to get the guy in trouble. It’ll be easier with help, he reasons. Another hour at most. Hour and a half, maybe…


Red feels for his pokeball pouch, drawing another sphere out and enlarging it. There, just ahead between the trees… now! He throws, the ball missing by an inch as the mythical pokemon makes a sharp turn. He gasps in exasperation and exhaustion, pumping his legs harder to keep up as the mysterious creature pulls further ahead. He can’t let it get away, such a rare find has to be studied… he reaches for another ball and throws it, hitting a tree trunk. He tries to run faster, arms pumping at his sides as he leaps over fallen logs and ducks between thorny bushes-

“Hey snorlax, you getting up anytime today?”

Red opens his eyes a crack, momentarily nauseous from disorientation. He shifts his head to squint over his shoulder at Blue’s silhouette. His skull feels like it’s full of cotton, and his thoughts crawl over each word one by one until he can comprehend them all together. “Mphre… time…?”

“Almost eight.”

It takes Red a full second to subtract four from eight to calculate how long he slept. He groans and rolls back over, pulling the blanket over his head.

“Hey! They’re about to serve breakfast in the mess. You don’t want any?”

A quick check with his hierarchy of needs pyramid confirms that “sleep” is etched much larger than “food” at the moment. “Mbbe later,” Red mutters, already drifting off back into his dream. The pokemon is so close he can almost make it out… four legged, and blue… or is it purple?

“Suit yourself. Guess I’ll just borrow this hat if you’re not using it.”

Alarm blows Red’s dream to fragments. He cranes his head over his shoulder again to see Blue walking out with his red and white cap on.

Red’s hierarchy pyramid pops up again, with HAT now overlaid at an angle across every level.

“Ngh!” Red tries to roll out of bed and only succeeds in turning over, his arm making a weak throwing gesture to capture the thieving demon as he walks toward the door. “…back,” Red wheezes, searching blearily around the bed for a pokeball.

“I’ll save a plate for you!”

Exhaustion overcomes his outrage, and Red’s eyelids slip back down, arm trailing over the edge of the bed as he drifts away, his last conscious thought: Dammit, Past Red…

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