Chapter 9: Delayed Gratification

Viridian City’s northern department store is a round building that functions as a one stop shopping mall, each of its four floors devoted to a different stratum of needs. The sign over the entryway informs that the top floor contains trainer supplies, the third protective gear, the second conventional goods, and the first food and services. Red, Leaf and Blue walk through the wide glass doors into an open and bustling indoor plaza, walls lined with service areas and shops of every kind. As they head for the escalators, Red’s eyes bounce from cafes and massage parlors for trainers to poffin bakeries and treatment spas for pokemon.

“I may have to stop here on our way out,” Leaf muses, and Red follows her gaze to see a sentret getting its tail brushed through a display window, while in the next a charmeleon has its claws filed.

He absently rubs the cool spheres at his waist as he eyes the prices. It would be nice to treat his pokemon, but… he only has about $220 of spending money. As nice as it would be to pamper them a bit, his pokemon are dependent on him to make smart financial decisions. If someone were to offer him an hour at the spa or or some extra medicine in case of emergencies, he knows what he’d choose for himself.

They reach the escalators and decide to head to the top floor first, then work their way back down. Red’s gaze continues to roam, passing over bright advertisements without a second glance. He sees a trainer with a bellsprout outside its ball step onto the escalator behind them, the plant’s long viney limbs wrapped around his shoulder and waist. Red smiles as the pokemon’s bulbous head swivels to take in everything around it, mimicking his trainer.

They switch elevators at the second and third floors, then reach the the fourth near its middle, surrounded by stalls and shelves full of pokeballs and medical equipment. Trainers fill the aisles, speaking with salesmen and comparing products. Advertisements and guideposts hang from the ceiling to direct customers, and Red scans them quickly. “Okay, so we need to-”

“Check it out, balls are on sale!” Blue approaches a glass display counter and crouches down to peer at the colorful variety of pokeballs inside. “Greatballs for just eighty bucks with a trainer card. And ten pokeballs gets you a free premier ball!”

“We don’t need more pokeballs yet-”

“Ooh look, free samples.” Leaf wanders over to a nutritionist sitting at a stall, the countertop covered in colored rows of pokemon vitamin supplements.

Red sets his jaw and resists the urge to follow either of them, turning resolutely in the direction of the audio training tools. It’s fairly easy to block the advertisements: after getting burned a few times by misleading ads as a kid, and making one particularly expensive impulse purchase he later regretted when he was nine, he grabbed some books on marketing and devoted a week to reading them.

Once he emerged from that roller coaster of fascination and horror, he walked into the living room and declared that if he ever became Champion of the Indigo League, all ads would be just be a name, an image, an intended purpose in ten words or less, and some sources for where more information could be found. Ever since then he’s taken the default position that all ads lie about everything, and reflexively ignores them until he has the chance to do independent research.

But it’s a bit harder ignoring so many cool toys once they’re all around him and in easy reach.

He catches himself slowing down by a shelf of laser pointers with a sign declaring “50% off!” and forces himself to walk past, only to realize a minute later that he’s unconsciously veering toward some targeting frisbees that promise to “improve pokemon accuracy by 63%!” The lasers are regular priced, they’re just usually marked up twice as much, he grimly reminds himself.And a 63% improvement means instead of landing two out of ten attacks, my pokemon will land three.

The biggest crowd by far is in the relatively open area where new pokedex models are on display and available to demo. Red is glad he’s spared that particular temptation. The Technique Machine aisle proves impossible to resist however, and he walks over to a console to see what’s available.

He waits for the trainer using one of the machines to finish browsing, then steps up to the free screen and types in “charmander.”

Toxic, Dig, Flame Charge, Fire Blast, Shadow Claw

Woah. Charmander can learn Shadow Claw? He checks the move’s information and confirms that yes, it’s a Ghost Type attack. He wonders how long some programmer slaved over that particular code.

The software in the machines are very specific programs designed to do two things: mundanely, they can train a pokemon to learn a specific behavior that they might normally be able to learn on their own, with enough maturity and training. The second, far rarer programs are those few that rewrite specific pokemon’s actual “code,” the data they’re saved as while in their pokeball, so that their physical bodies are safely altered to be capable of entirely new things. Even rarer are programs written well enough to apply the effects to any pokemon of that species, with all the variation they have, rather than a specific one the programmer wrote the code for. A coder that manages to make such a universal program is usually set for life, and a handful of programmers, like Bill Sonezaki of Kanto, have coded multiple such machines and gained prestige almost on par with that given to Professors.

He watches a demonstration video of a charmander attacking a pokedoll, its claws trailing purple mist. The mist doesn’t help with cutting the doll, as it’s not a physical augmentation: Ghost abilities attack the mind. But he can clearly see that charmander is capable of using it.

This. This would be a solid investment. With Shadow Claw, his charmander would have incredibly boosted coverage. He could stand a chance against rock pokemon, as charmander’s normal claws and fire wouldn’t do much good against their tough hides, and if he faces a Psychic or Ghost type, he could fight fire with fire, so to speak.

With a mix of excitement and dread, he checks the price and feels his heart sink. Five hundred dollars is relatively cheap, especially for something so cutting edge, but it’s still expensive for a one-time use. If it were a permanent copy of the software that he could reuse on other pokemon, that might be worth it…

Not that I could afford it either way. He returns to the homescreen and steps away for the next trainer, watching as a grim looking man in a trench coat navigates the screen with quick familiarity, makes his selection, then inserts an ultra ball after swiping his card through the machine. Red turns away and continues his search for the training whistles, trying not to dwell on his disappointment.

“Hey,” Blue says as he approaches from the side and falls into step with him. “Lot of stuff around here, huh?”

“Yeah. You buy anything?”

“Nah, not yet. I might call up gramps and ask him to release some of my savings, but then he’s going to want to know every single thing I spend it on. Man, I can’t wait till I’m fifteen.”

Red nods. “Tell me about it.” He’s not as well off as Blue, but his own bank account has a couple thousand in it. Unfortunately he still needs his mother’s permission to withdraw anything more than a hundred dollars a week, and his mother made clear that should be for emergencies. It’s an old grievance of his and Blue’s: 11 is old enough to go out in the world, but not old enough to make their own decisions about money, apparently.

On the other hand… He looks around at all the things he’d love to buy. Being in a store like this, he can see why some kids might need a bit of help with self control.

“Have you seen any shock suits around here?”

Red frowns. “I think that would be on the third floor. It’s more for protection than training.” Professor Faraday had created the first “shock suit” to help him safely study electric pokemon. By providing an easy path for electron flow around the wearer, modern Faraday suits can immunize someone to most electric attacks.

It’s one of the top items on Red’s wishlist, and being reminded of it doesn’t improve his mood. I need to get started on articles for my Researcher license so I can get some income. He files the thought away for later consideration. “You’re not going to buy one now, are you? The ones I saw online were priced at least at a thousand.”

“If Zapdos ends up coming south, I think it would be worth it. I’ll just tell gramps I want the money for a good bike.”

Red’s steps slow at the mention of Zapdos. “Right. I actually wanted to talk to you about that…” How could he stop Blue from going into the storm, short of tying him up? Better yet, how could he change Blue’s mind so he chooses not to himself? Red flips through his memory for ways in which people change their minds. Fear of consequences, appeal to authority, deceit… which is most likely to succeed?

Blue looks at him askance. “What about it?”

1) Fear of consequences. The dangers of the storm trio are hard to overstate, but confronting them is tied to too many of Blue’s central values, including his ego and desire to avenge the loss of his parents. Low chance of success.

2) Appeal to authority. Low chance of success. Blue’s value for autonomy is too high. Calling Professor Oak to intercede directly might work, but would likely sever friendship. Worth severing to possibly save his life? Maybe.

“I don’t know how prepared we are at the moment,” Red says. “There are some things I was hoping to have before facing one of the trio, like a Faraday suit of my own.”

Blue scratches his neck, looking uncomfortable. “Yeah, I was thinking it over. Look, I think I can take out enough money to cover two suits without gramps noticing right away. Don’t worry about paying me back, I know you’re good for it.”

3) Deceit. I could pretend to be sick at a critical moment, and force Blue to choose between competing values. Better yet, actually injure myself at just the right moment. Even better yet, call Daisy and collaborate a convincing deception for Blue to return home. If discovered though, this would definitely sever friendship. Also would prefer not to injure myself badly enough to warrant serious medical attention. Moderate chance of success, but risky. Reserve for last resort.

4) Competing values….

Red nods. “Thanks, I might take you up on that. But I think there’s a cheaper alternative.”

“What is it?”

“I’ll show you when we head down to the third floor. For now I want to find these whistles before my wallet burns a hole through my pocket.”

They begin to hear the sound of flutes and whistles over the general noise of the store, and find a wall of various handheld instruments a minute later. Leaf is already there, examining a pendant ocarina with four holes on the outer side and two on the inner. A middle aged woman in store attendant uniform is standing beside her and demonstrating the proper way to hold it. Around her neck hangs an assortment of different whistles and flutes from the wall. Leaf spies Red and Blue approaching and waves them over.

“Hey guys! Come listen. She’s explaining how to choose the right instrument.” Leaf turns to the woman. “They’re interested in getting one too.”

The saleswoman smiles and turns to include them in her demonstration. “As I was telling your friend here, a whistle is a good choice for training pokemon that are expected to range out from you, like flying types. But it’s harder than just training them to follow a verbal command. Each action you want them to perform has to be linked to a particular, short tone or tune, and that means which instrument you choose is very important.”

The attendant finds the plain whistle in the jumble around her neck and demonstrates with a pair of quick notes. “See? Just two basic commands, and anything more than that will take a brief melody.” She waits for another attendant nearby to stop blowing on a long flute before she gives three short blows. “So you’ll need one of those for each action. With something like the ocarina, each note can be tied to a command, and then a melody can be its own.” She puts the pendant ocarina to her lips and blows each note once, then a number of quick combinations, and finally a brief melody.

“So why doesn’t everyone get an ocarina?” Red asks. “Other than the price.” He sees on the wall that the plain whistles are just five bucks, while the ocarina is thirty.

She smiles. “The ocarina takes quite a bit more dedication. It has more range and options, but you have to be willing to learn and memorize each one. Also it takes two hands, which some trainers find cumbersome.”

Meaning mostly battle trainers. Having your hands free to swap pokemon at a moment’s notice is a big deal, especially in the fast paced world of competitive battles.

Blue is clearly thinking the same thing, because he heads over to the plain whistles and begins to sort through them.

“I think I’ll take an ocarina,” Leaf says, and goes to the wall to examine the different styles available.

Red turns to the attendant. “So if we plan on traveling and training our pokemon together, should we worry about confusing them with our whistles?”

The woman smiles. “Getting three different instruments would certainly help avoid that.”

“Right. So… any suggestions? Something between the two in complexity is fine, but I don’t mind using both hands if I have to.”

Her necklace rattles as she sorts through it. “How’s this? Bamboo flute. A good amount of variety, and you can use one or two hands for increased range. And it has a very unique sound.” She gives it a trill.

Red goes over to the wall and examines one of the long wooden flutes. “I like it, but do you have something a bit more durable? And a bit smaller.”

“Certainly.” She leads him to another section, and within a few minutes Red decides on a one handed silver flute, with four holes on top and one on the bottom for his thumb. Blue goes with a similar one with a higher pitch, both of which only costs ten dollars, and the three trainers purchase their instruments, which Blue carries in a small shopping bag. After thanking the attendant, they head for the escalators.

“You guys should grab some vitamin samples before we go down,” Leaf says. “I tried to get some for you, but he wouldn’t let me.”

Red and Blue exchange looks, then shrug and head for the stall. There’s a bit of a crowd when they get there, and Red has time to read the ad on the screen above it. The sound is mostly muted by the crowd, but he can pick up the energetic narration. “Is your rapidash more of a slowpoke? Machamp getting seismically tossed? Want your kingler’s carapace to be as strong as steelix? Carbos, protein, iron, we have it all right here! Poffins and berries aren’t enough: four out of five professors agree, your pokemon can’t reach their full potential without the right dietary supplements!”

Blue snorts. “Bet the fifth was gramps.”

Red grins. “Yeah, and I’d love to know who the other four are.”

They move up in the line, and the young nutritionist smiles as they approach. “Hello again, I see you brought your friends! Excellent! What kind of pokemon do you two-”

“I’ll take protein please,” Red says.

“Same.”

The nutritionist blinks, but reaches beneath the counter and hands over two red packets. “Certainly, there you are. Now, if you’re looking for some-”

“Nope, I’m good, thanks a lot.” Red turns to the escalator and begins to head down to the third floor. He and Blue are soon joined by Leaf, who’s looking at him in surprise. “What?”

“Nothing, I just wasn’t expecting you to be so… abrupt. You could have at least heard him out.”

“Why? I don’t have money to spare, and there were more people in line behind us.” Red tucks the packet of protein into one of the side pockets of his bag. “Besides, I’ve already researched his products, and wouldn’t believe any new studies he cites without looking into them myself first anyway.”

“You don’t believe in nutrition supplements?”

“Let’s just say I’m skeptical of some of their claims,” Red says. “I got protein because it has some substantial research backing its effectiveness in muscle growth. As for things like iron ‘boosting toughness,’ or hardening skin or shells… the results are still inconclusive. Some tests show slight measurable gains, others don’t. And that’s not even getting to some of the other stuff they sell.”

Leaf looks at Blue. “You’re in the same boat I take it?”

Blue shrugs. “Some of the top trainers swear by certain vitamins, while others say they’re not necessary. I haven’t seen any proof myself yet, but as far as I’ve heard they can’t hurt, and free is free.”

“Huh. My mom never really talked about them, either for or against.” Leaf shrugs. “She tends to ignore anything outside the scope of her research.”

Blue laughs. “I think that comes with the fancy title. One time gramps spent a month at the lab without coming home for more than a meal and a shower a day. When I told him there’d been a new appointment to the Elite Four, he barely heard me.”

Red opens his mouth, then closes it. He always loved his parents for who they were, but being raised by a pokemon professor had always seemed like the closest thing to a perfect childhood he could imagine. He’s used to Blue’s grouching about Professor Oak, and just assumed it’s due to his lack of interest in science and research. But Leaf’s voice held a similar tinge of wistfulness that stops Red short, and he pulls out his notepad and reminds himself to re-evaluate whether he’s experiencing a negative focusing effect when he gets the chance.

“Hey,” Blue says. “If you’re analyzing me, you have to tell me why. That’s the rule.”

“I’m not.”

Leaf looks between them, then glances at the notepad. “You guys have a rule for that?”

Blue glowers at Red. “We do.”

“Can I have the same rule?”

Red smiles. “Yeah, that’s fair. But I’m not analyzing either of you. Just reflecting on that whole ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ saying.”

They reach the third floor and step off the escalator, and Leaf returns Red’s smile. “I was mostly joking. You deserve your privacy. There’s little enough of it, traveling together like we are.”

Blue snorts. “Yeah, you say that now. It’ll drive you mad soon enough, you wait. Him scribbling in that notebook every other day, looking at you like a pokemon that learned a new trick.” Blue’s voice goes lower as he talks, eyes widening in horror. “Eventually you start thinking over every word you say, wondering what might set him off next… your nights are filled with thoughts of a notebook, its pages dissecting your every thought and action, and you dream of waking up in a lab cage, Red dressed in a white coat and staring down at you, scribbling, scribbling, scribbling…”

Red and Leaf laugh. “It’s really not a big deal,” Red says. “I’ll tell you about it later, promise. Just need to get my thoughts in order. In the meantime, I need to grab a gas mask. You guys should get a couple too.”

They find the right section fairly quickly, but after a few minutes of browsing Red doesn’t find a mask like the one he used in the trainer house practice rooms. He finds an ordering terminal and begins browsing its catalog while Blue and Leaf try on various masks and headgear.

He calls them over when he finds it. “Here, this is the one the trainer house used. It protects your whole face without distorting your vision or voice much.” He goes to the product page and swipes his trainer card. “Just forty bucks too. You guys want one?”

“Yeah, I’ll get one.” Leaf smiles. “I’ve been looking at new moves for Bulbasaur, and it could be handy for protection against powders or spores.”

Blue nods “Me too. There are butterfree and shroomish in the forest that can knock a guy out in one breath.”

Red shifts the quantity to three and presses accept. The machine hums, and after a few moments three of the dozen hand-sized slots beneath the screen light up. Red reaches into two and withdraws the Containers from them, handing one to Leaf while Blue takes his own.

They aim the silver balls at the floor and release the grey boxes inside in a triplet of flashes. Red opens his and takes out the gas mask, freshly sent over from the store’s warehouse. He closes the box, then withdraws it into the Container before returning the sphere into its nook as Blue does the same beside him.

Leaf carefully adjusts the ball in its nook so its lens is properly aligned before straightening. “Checkout’s over there, right?”

“Hang on, there are a couple more things I want here.”

Red follows the signs that have a lightning bolt on them until he’s surrounded by trainers trying out shoes with non-conductive soles. He steps carefully past all the boxes and scans the shelves, reluctantly drawing his gaze from the corner where Faraday suits are being sold as he walks from one aisle to another.

“Aha.” Red goes to a shelf of copper rods about twice as thick as his thumb and as long as his arm. He counts out four and turns to the others. “We should each have at least one. I’m getting two.”

“Do you think these will be necessary?” Leaf asks, taking hers and experimentally pulling on the rod. It extends to the full length of her arm-span without reaching its limit, and she collapses it back to its compact size.

Blue nods. “If we’re going to be risking the storm, we’ll need something like this sooner than later.” He looks over his and frowns, clearly skeptical. “That said, I’d feel much safer in a shock suit. You sure these will be good enough? Don’t they only work if you stand near them?”

“Well, ‘near’ is relative. A true bolt of lightning will be caught within sixty meters, and redirected to the earth. From that point, the ground current might travel about twenty meters, maybe a bit more. Speaking of which,” Red turns to Leaf. “You should pick up new shoes if yours aren’t rubber-soled.”

She hesitates, then nods and goes to the shoe section. Red checks the maximum size of the rods. “Three and a half meters… Should be enough.” He turns to Blue. “You can get a Faraday suit if you want, but I’d rather neither of us spend that much money if it’s not necessary. This will do fine for me.”

Blue looks at him for a moment, then back at the rod. “Sixty meters huh?”

“Yep.”

Red surreptitiously pulls out his phone and opens CoRRNet as Blue examines the lightning rod. His friend’s shoulders are straight, and his eyes gleam with anticipation as he extends it fully and tests its weight. Red goes to his alert settings and adjusts the threshold. By default it’s set to only alert him of Tier 1 or higher threats near his location, but it can also alert him of any nearby tickets or requests that pop up. Now it’ll be easy for Red to keep an eye out for any opportunities for heroism as they travel north. If he can delay their journey long enough, the storm might pass before they get near Pewter City. But if not, Red might still be able to distract Blue with requests for aid that will surely pop up with the storm’s arrival, even at its outskirts.

4) Competing values. If the storm comes south, I’ll force Blue to choose between rushing headlong into it and another value. If he has to make a choice between helping someone in need or taking a shot at one of the birds, he’ll make the right choice.

Red puts his phone away and watches Blue test out the quickest ways to get the lightning rod to full length. From a thousand games and conversations the two had shared over the years, Red knows that as hot as his friend burns for revenge against the storm gods, at his core the role he sees for himself is that of an emerging hero, willing and able to help those that need him. That Red sees himself the same way is one of the core bonds of their friendship.

Blue grins as he refolds the lightning rod. “Yeah, this’ll work. With your book smarts and my trainer skills, we’ll have all three birds down by the end of the year. Come on, let’s go help Leaf find a good pair of shoes.”

He’ll make the right choice…


By the time the three leave the department store, the sun has begun its western descent. Once out on the sidewalk, Leaf dons her last new purchase, a white sunhat with a pink band above the rim and in a half-circle above the front. She tugs its edges until it shades her eyes and ears, and smiles.

Blue takes their various instruments out of the shopping bag and passes them out before slipping his own whistle around his neck. Leaf puts her ocarina pendant on and gives each of its notes a test, running through a brief melody. The sharp sounds make passerby turn, and a flock of pidgey take off from a nearby light pole.

Red watches them go as he takes his hat off and slips his own flute on, tucking it into his shirt. His new gas mask is strapped to the outside of his pack for easy access, and his lightning rods are braced along the roof and floor of the inside of his bag: he can feel their upper tips against his spine. He’d had trouble fitting them in at first, and finally resigned himself to using his Container to free up room. For all his planning for the trip, “free space” hadn’t been something he thought he’d need this soon. Now that all his extra clothes are in the silver sphere tucked into one of the bag’s pockets, it feels uncomfortably light.

In total he’d spent about fifty-five dollars, bringing him down to $165. Having to use his only Container is what bothers him most at the moment. Unlike pokeballs, they’re not subsidized by the Department for the Advancement of Trainer Efficacy, and cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars on up depending on how much mass they could store. His own is the lowest model, capable of holding a bit over fifty pounds, not including the light metal box the Container is keyed to. It had his sleeping bag and a collapsible tent in it, but now it holds most of what was in his bag. He left everything that he might need at a moment’s notice out of it, like first aid supplies and snacks.

Leaf tucks her ocarina in her blouse. “How long before we’re out of the city? I want to start training Crimson with this!”

“We’re in the northern suburbs now,” Red says. “Shouldn’t take long.”

“Are you gonna pick up a flier soon too?”

“He wants a noctowl,” Blue says, already fiddling with his pokedex as they begin to head north.

“Neat. Why a noctowl?”

“Well for one thing, their night vision is incredible, and they’re almost completely silent while flying. For another, they’re one of the smartest birds in Kanto or Johto.”

Leaf smiles. “Very practical of you.” Red blinks, but before he can comment at her tone Leaf takes out her own pokedex. “Any thoughts on a good set of commands?”

“I’ve been looking some up,” Blue says. “There are a bunch of recommendations, but that lady was right: the more complex commands you want to give, the more you need to practice and memorize.”

“We’d better start then.” Red takes his small flute out, absently stepping around a lightpost in the sidewalk as he examines it. “Let’s go over the basics. Up, down, left, right. That’s four notes. A return command, that’s five. A ‘hover,’ for those pokemon that can do it…”

“Hang on,” Blue says. “Too complex. Pokemon are smart enough to know how to fly on their own. I’m going to stick with diving, climbing, and hovering for movement, and use the rest for attacks.”

“Well, I’ve got the options,” Leaf says, indicating her pendant. “I don’t need to micromanage them every moment, but if I need them to go a specific direction I like having the option.”

They debate and discuss the optimal ways to train their pokemon as they walk, researching and testing their instruments. Within an hour they’re surrounded by more trees than houses, and the road begins to split in different directions. They stay on the main path north as it winds between small neighborhoods and the occasional mom and pop stores.

Eventually Blue and Leaf take turns registering various whistle commands with their pokedex, then downloading them to their pidgey’s pokeballs. After letting the sound recognition programs run, they summon Zephyr and Crimson to fly around them, occasionally using their whistles to try instructions. At one point Crimson lands on Leaf’s shoulder, and Red notes the ruddy feathers along its wing tips. He’s about to point it out to Leaf, then realizes it must be the basis for the name. He feels a flush of embarrassment, and is glad he didn’t voice his assumption that it was a reference to him.

“I can’t wait till they’re big enough to fly on,” Leaf says with a smile as she watches Crimson take off again and soar up to a tree to peck at some fruit.

“Yeah, we should reach Vermillion City before then.”

“What’s in Vermillion city?”

“Well, I don’t know how they do it in Unova, but here in Kanto they don’t just hand the Fly program out to anyone,” Blue says.

“What, you mean it’s regulated?”

Red nods. “It gives bird pokemon an incredible boost in endurance and strength, but it’s not magic, and a lot of people don’t seem to get that.”

Blue scowls. “So all of us have to prove we’re not idiots just because some moron uses it on a golbat that’s barely bigger than they are and plummets off a roof.”

“Ugh. Did that really happen?”

“Yep.”

Leaf makes a disgusted face. “So how do we prove we’re not idiots?”

“Vermillion Gym Leader Surge,” Blue says. “You might have heard of him Leaf, he’s from Unova.”

“Really? Neat. No, I never heard of him. Does he use any birds from Unova?”

“Surge runs an electric gym actually. There’s no Flying gym in Kanto.”

Leaf raises a brow, and Red grins, shrugging. “We don’t make the rules.”

The sun continues to set, and the woods on either side of the road begin to grow thick as they enter the outer edges of Viridian Forest. They pass a school nestled in a clearing off the side of the road, and a few minutes later see a crowd of six or seven year olds in the distance. Blue and Leaf call their pokemon back, and withdraw them into their balls. When they get closer, they see the kids are gathered around an old man. A woman in a teacher’s uniform stands by, supervising the field trip and quieting the kids to let the old man talk over their shouted questions and excited chattering.

“Alright now, settle down, settle down,” the old man says, and the kids grow mostly quiet. “Who here can tell me the most important part of catching pokemon?”

“Keep it still!”

“Summon your pokemon!”

“Knock it out!”

“Stay a safe distance!”

“That’s right!” The old man says. “First and foremost, you want to stay a safe distance from the pokemon. That means knowing what a certain pokemon is capable of. If you encounter a pokemon that you’ve never seen before, you have to be extra careful! Don’t assume that just because it’s big that it’ll move slow, or because it’s small it has short reach. Watch carefully.”

The three trainers slow to a stop nearby as the old man walks into the woods. Red looks past him into the foliage and notices a weedle sitting on a bush and munching on its leaves, bright yellow and pink body a warning to any that come near. As the old man approaches, the weedle perks up, its segmented body going rigid as an exclamation point, long and thick as the old man’s forearm.

“Now, the standard pokeball has a lock-on range of about nine meters, and these little bugs can easily jump that. They pack some fearful poison in that stinger, so catching one can be a bit risky. But as long as you know how to read their body language…” He takes a careful step forward, then one to the side, watching the weedle as the stinger on its forehead sways to follow him. “See how it’s bunching itself up? One more ought to do it…”

The old man steps forward, and the weedle shoots forward like a loosed arrow. Red feels his pulse surge, and the watching kids cry out as the old man staggers to the side. The weedle curls midair and flips, so that it lands on the other side still facing him.

Red’s hand is on charmander’s pokeball and Leaf is already stepping forward with her arm cocked back, but when the old man turns they see he’s grinning.

“Caught my sleeve there,” he says, eyes on the arthropod as he holds his arm up to show the tear in his shirt. “Come on little guy, you can do better than that.” He steps forward, some of the children crying out in warning as the weedle bunches itself up and leaps at him again, quick as a blink.

The veteran ducks and spins with the speed of a man half his age, calmly turning to keep the weedle in his vision. It goes at him again and again, but never comes closer than a hand-breadth.

As Red watches the grizzled instructor turn and sidestep every leap, he feels himself slowly relax, a grin spreading over his face. The old man has clearly done this many times to perfect such showmanship, and the crowd of students cheers and claps, Red, Leaf and Blue joining in. In all the many field exercises he went on when he was younger to teach his class about catching pokemon, none of the instructors were as big of a showman as this guy.

The old man turns to face the weedle again, and holds a hand up to quiet the cheers. “Now, see the way it’s arching its body like that rather than leaping at me again? It sees I’m too quick for it, so it’s going to try and even the playing field a bit. That brings us to the second most important thing: speed. You gotta slow the pokemon down, or even better yet, keep it still! Whether you knock it out first or immobilize it some other way, you can’t catch a pokemon that’s moving too fast for your ball to lock onto it, let alone hit it with a throw.”

“We could’ve gotten those pidgey if they hadn’t kept blowing the balls away,” Blue mutters to Red, who shushes him.

The old man spreads his fingers wide and crouches, waiting. When the weedle shoots a string of sticky silk at him, he snatches it out of the air.

The weedle immediately leaps forward, using the connecting string to home in on the old trainer. But the veteran rotates on his heel with his arm straight out, swinging the weedle in an arc and bashing it against a tree trunk beside him. The pokemon falls to the ground and releases the string, stunned.

The old man bows at the renewed cheers, then holds up his hand again to quiet them, three fingers up. “Third, make sure the area is clear of other pokemon. The ball can get confused if the capture area is crowded, and it won’t open if it’s not positive it’ll draw in the right one.” He takes his pokeball out, lens pointed at the weedle. “Gotta let it hold on the pokemon for a bit, and when it’s ready…” There’s a ping as the pokeball locks onto its target. “It’ll let you know. Cock your arm back, take aim, and release just as the ball is leaving your fingertips… like so!” The old man throws the ball, hitting the weedle dead on. The pokeball bounces to the side, and opens mid-spin to capture the pokemon in a flash.

The ball rolls on the grass before coming to a standstill. The old man retrieves the ball as his audience claps and cheers. He approaches the road again and notices the three trainers standing behind the crowd. “Well hello there! Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The kids and teacher all turn in surprise. “It certainly is,” Leaf says with a smile. “That was fantastic!” Red nods agreement.

“Why thank you kindly! You’re trainers then, are ya?” He eyes the pokeballs at their waists.

“That’s right,” Blue says, and spins Zephyr’s pokeball on his finger. “We caught these ourselves.”

“Coooool,” one of the kids says, watching the ball, and Blue smirks as the class begins to murmur excitedly, many asking to see their pokemon.

Red covers his grin with one hand. Just a few years ago, it would have been he and Blue staring in awe as “grown up” trainers walked by. When he notices one of the boys watching him in particular though, he feels his own shoulders square a bit, back straightening.

“Hey, not bad!” The old man gives his new weedle’s ball a spin, then sends it across the back of his hand by flexing his knuckles. The kids ooooh and ahhh, and Blue palms his ball to watch closely as the old trainer dances the still spinning ball from the back of one hand over to the other before turning his hand and catching it out of the air. “We’re gonna look for a spinarak next. Feel free to stick around, maybe you’ll pick up a thing or two!” He winks.

Red’s response is cut off by Blue. “We’d love to, but we’re trying to make the forest by nightfall.”

Leaf nods. “I wouldn’t mind getting a weedle of my own!”

Red hesitates, then nods. “Maybe another time.”

“Anytime you’re in the area, just come pay me a visit. Name’s Hamato.”

They introduce themselves, bow, and wave goodbye as they continue on their way. Leaf and Blue remark on how amazing the veteran trainer had been, while Red is mostly silent. That had been a perfect opportunity to spend the rest of the day without going any further north.

“You alright Red?”

He looks at Blue and nods. “Just wondering how long it might take to catch one of every pokemon in here.”

Leaf looks speculative. “For each of us? Or in total?”

“How about a friendly wager? First person to reach six pokemon, without any duplicates, is treated to dinner by whoever’s last.”

“Sounds like free food,” Leaf says. “You guys are one behind me.”

Red grins. “Is that a bet, then?”

Blue smirks. “You’re on.”

They pick up their pace, each pulling out their own pokedex. Within moments they’re so engrossed in their study of nearby pokemon habits that they barely notice when they pass the sign marking the border to Viridian Forest.

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