Tag Archives: fanfiction

Chapter 47: Courage

Red wakes the morning after arriving at Aiko’s house to the sound of rain. He lifts his head in his sleeping bag and opens bleary eyes to see the grey sky through the glass, then turns over and drifts back to sleep, lulled by the steady drum on the roof and windowpane.

What next wakes him is the sound of conversation, and he sits up to see Leaf, Aiko, and Blue sitting in the living room and talking quietly as they eat from a common platter of bread, various soft cheeses, fruit, and vegetables.

“Morning,” Leaf says with a smile. “Hungry?”

“Mm, maybe in a bit.” He rubs his eyes. “What’s going on?” He checks his phone and sees it’s already almost noon.

“We were just talking about waiting out the rain, but the forecast says it’ll probably stay like this all day.”

Red smiles. “Well, that’s perfect. More time to…” He pauses and looks around.

“My dad’s downstairs,” Aiko says with a resigned look.

“More time to convince him to let you come.”

Leaf grins as Aiko sighs. “What?” Red asks.

“Welcome to the argument we’ve been having,” Leaf says. “She doesn’t want us to stay.”

“Not because you’re imposing,” Aiko insists. “I doubt Dad will say anything, since that would require him actually acting normal,” she says, voice bitter. “But you guys don’t have to stay just for me. He’s not going to change his mind.”

“We’re staying because we don’t want to get soaked,” Blue says. “But if by staying a little longer we happen to get you out of here too, that’s an added bonus. I still want my training partner.”

Aiko’s smile is brief, but she seems more relaxed. “Well if you’re going to spend the time anyway, I take back what I said yesterday. Feel free to say whatever you’d like to him.”

“I tried last night,” Leaf says, and fills them in on her conversation with Aiko’s dad. “Maybe one of you will have better luck. I’m going to give it another shot later too.”

“Let’s talk strategy, then,” Red says. Something about her mention of opening the ranch up as a petting zoo makes his mind reach toward an idea, but it’s too vague and shapeless for him to grasp it. “It seems like there are two separate issues here. One, Mr. Sakai has a lot of pokemon to take care of, and without Aiko here he might have trouble doing so. Two, Mr. Sakai is worried about her safety, and may not want her to leave at any point because of that. Is there anything you can tell us that might help, Aiko?”

Aiko looks at the three of them with some hesitation, but thinks it over as Red finally reaches out to grab some bread and spread cream cheese over it. “He’s really into pokemon welfare, obviously, but not just the ones we have here,” she says after a couple minutes. “Maybe if I can convince him that it’ll be better for other pokemon, that might help?”

“Right, and help you defend the ranch if needed.” Leaf says. “Maybe if we also sell it to him as you going out to find more pokemon that need a home?”

“Hang on, that just makes the first problem worse.” Blue practices spinning a pokeball across his knuckles as he leans back against the bottom of the couch. “What if we also try to do some crowdfunding, or see if any sanctuaries will take pokemon from here?”

“I think the second needs to be our main concern,” Red says as he places a tomato slice on the toast and bites into it, enjoying the mix of flavors. “And I might have a partial solution. Blue and Leaf, you’ve got some extra abra. If you’re okay with letting Aiko borrow one each, she can register one here and one wherever we are, then teleport back every morning and night to help with the chores. Could be a bit of a hassle, but better than nothing, right?”

“Sounds good to me,” Leaf says, and Blue nods. “But if safety is the true concern, she’d still be missing most of the day.”

“Oh, I’m gone most of the day anyway,” Aiko says. “That’s how I train my pokemon and catch new ones. But I don’t know if I want to lie to him, and I’d feel bad making you all wait for me if I suddenly had to teleport back here on short notice.”

Red shrugs and reaches for a new slice of bread. “We can adjust as needed. When we reach cities our pattern so far tends to be each of us doing our separate things for most of the time anyway, and travel between cities should be quicker now that we all have bikes.”

“It would mean being careful about how you schedule battles,” Blue points out. “Would suck to register for a Challenge match and then have your dad call and ask you to come home for the afternoon.”

“That goes back to the lying question.” Leaf lifts her legs up and hugs them to her chest. “How much does that bother you, Aiko?”

She bites her lip, staring out at the rain. “I’d like to avoid it,” she says at last. “It would make things so much easier to be able to just tell him the truth. Maybe the abra will be enough, and the other ideas will help too. Let’s try them and see.”

Everyone agrees, and Aiko smiles at them, one by one. “I just want to say again… thank you. Even if it doesn’t work out, it means a lot to me.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re a trainer, same as us,” Blue says. “We’re in this together.”

“Speaking of which, what can we do in the meantime?” Leaf asks. “What are your chores on a rainy day?”

“Cleaning the house, upstairs and down. Oh, and medical checkups for each of the pokemon, one at a time,” Aiko says. “That would probably go faster if one of you came with me. But also, feel free to just relax here, since you’re all guests.”

The trio ignores her, looking at each other instead. “You guys go,” Red suggests. “You have more experience taking care of pokemon.”

“Then you should go, you have more to learn.”

“Fire-Water-Grass?” Blue suggests.

Red and Leaf immediately hold a fist out, and Red has just a second to predict what the other two will do. Leaf might go Grass, but Blue isn’t going to go Water… he might think I’ll go Fire though… Unless he thinks Leaf is going Grass too? “Best two out of three?”

“Nah, let’s just give it one go, elimination style,” Blue says. “Ready? Set?”

Red considers reaching out to Leaf’s mind, but doesn’t have time as the other two begin to bounce their fists. “Fire, Water, Grass, GO!” everyone yells, and Red tosses out Water, hoping to at least beat Blue.

Leaf’s fingers come up with their points together in a water droplet shape too, while Blue’s fingers splay upwards in Fire. “Dammit.”

Leaf turns to Red with a smile, and his heart beats faster as he meets her gaze. Ok, so if she just went Water she probably won’t go it again, right? No, most people stick with what works for them, expecting others to think they’ll shift…

“Fire, Water, Grass, GO!”

Red opens his hand palm up and fingers curled, then grins and captures Leaf’s water drop with it. “Mm, tasty.”

She grins and stands up. “Cleaning it is, then. Come on Blue, let’s go strategize. See you guys later.”

“Later.” Aiko leads Red to the medical room, which looks like the biggest on the second floor. Red’s impressed by how well stocked it is, and feels like he stepped into a miniature pokemon center. “Wow. You know how to use all this stuff?”

“Yeah, my mom taught me.” Aiko begins turning various equipment on, explaining what each one does as she goes. Red follows along as best he can, distracted. He wonders if it bothers her, sharing the room that was her and her mother’s with someone else.

Most of the medicines are familiar to him from his first-aid training of their field application forms, the common “potion” bottles that come in various formulations to heal not just generic open wounds, but also tissue damage from burns, hypothermia, electric shocks, and poisoning or toxicity. What’s new is learning about the proper dosages of the newer substances meant to be injected rather than applied topically, and the operation of the recovery tanks that can be filled with various fluids to immerse the pokemon completely if needed.

“Does your dad know a lot about this stuff too?” he asks as she goes over to the stacked ball trays where the ranch pokemon due for inspection are waiting.

“Yeah, at least as much as I do,” Aiko says as she takes a ball off its tray and releases the rattata from it. “He’d be fine on his own for taking care of them, other than the time investment… but a lot of that is because of how committed he is to letting them out of their balls as often as possible.” She gives the pokemon a moment to adjust to its surroundings, then scratches its back and carries it over to the table.

“I have to admit, I don’t really get that,” Red says. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just let them out in smaller amounts?”

“Believe me, I’ve tried talking to him about it. He just repeats that they want to be free, to live their lives. I sort of understand where he’s coming from, it feels wrong in a way to put their lives on hold just for our convenience. But working himself to death won’t help them.” She gets a second ball from the tray and brings it to him. “There’s another rattata in here, they’re brothers. For rattata you gotta check their teeth first, make sure they’re not loose or chipped from biting something too strong for them. Then their paws…”

Red takes the second rattata out and checks it over too, following her lead. His is very mellow, seemingly fine with its sterile surroundings and happy to nuzzle his fingers as he checks it over. Red smiles and feels an acute stab from the loss of his own rattata.

“…lesions and scabs from too much itching is a problem, so just run your fingers through their fur and make sure. That’s pretty much it for them.”

Red dutifully mimics her, then has a thought. “Hey, would it be okay if I test my powers out a bit? It could help in diagnosing.”

Aiko’s eyes widen. “You can do that? That’s so cool!” She blinks. “Uh, it’s not harmful to them, is it?”

“Nope, unless they’re psychic they won’t even notice.”

She grins. “Go for it!”

Red smiles at her clear excitement, chest puffing out a bit as he focuses his mind. He feels an urge to extend his hand at the rattata, do something visual to let her know when he’s starting…

It takes him just a few moments to sense the rattata’s mind, then merge with it. The fresh wave of grief is distracting, but not enough to keep him from marveling over the way the rattata body-sense fills his awareness. Red feels the same doubling he did on the roof with his abra, of hearing everything in the room twice, both from his own ears and the rattata’s much stronger hearing. And the smells

Red pulls his mind back with a gasp, hand clutching his nose even as the sensation fades, was never really in his nose at all. It’s in his mind now, an impossible blend of nuanced, layered scents that he can’t even begin to interpret or understand. Even as he tries to remember it, the memory of its complexity fades. He wishes he could talk to his dad about this, they’d discussed what it would be like to be a pokemon many times when Red was young…

“Are you okay, Red?” Aiko asks, voice hushed.

He wipes at his cheeks. “Yeah, sorry. Side effect of my power.”

“To cry?”

“It makes me remember my dad. How it felt when he died.” It’s getting a little tiring having to constantly explain that to others, but also less embarrassing than it used to be, which he supposes is a good sign.

Aiko is quiet for a while as she plays with the rattata. “That must be painful. I still cry about my mom, sometimes.”

Red nods. “Your dad, did he… is this how he always was, or did it happen afterward?”

“After, but not right away. I think. It was hard to notice right afterward, because… well, I wasn’t really noticing much. I think he held it together a little for my sake, and my aunt came to stay with us and helped too, but once I started to get better, he just began to retreat more and more into himself and the pokemon.”

“I’m sorry,” Red says as he watches the two rattata begin to playfully bat at each other. He hesitates, then says, “Feel free to let me know if I’m overstepping my bounds or saying something clueless or too obvious…”

Aiko smiles. “Alright.”

“It sounds like something he could use help with. Did he ever see a therapist about it?”

“Ah. Yeah, I thought of that, but not until it was really obvious that something was wrong. I brought it up maybe two times, but it’s hard to have a serious conversation with him. He just let it slide off and ignored it, like everything else.”

“Figured. Just thought I’d ask.” The nebulous idea from before solidifies a little bit, but he still can’t quite make its shape out. Something about the idea of a petting zoo being good for her dad…

“It’s appreciated. Are you seeing one?”

“Yeah, same one from when I was younger. We talk online, since she’s back in Pallet.”

“And is using your powers to relive the feeling part of your treatment?”

Red scratches beneath his hat. “Uhh, not exactly?”

Aiko frowns at him. “Well, you don’t have to put yourself through that, then. Our normal diagnostic tools should be fine.”

“I’m trying to keep practicing my powers so I can advance my abilities enough to master free teleportation. That means not getting overwhelmed by the feeling of the pokemon’s body so I can concentrate more on its mind.”

Aiko’s eyes shine with renewed fascination, but quickly turn skeptical again. “That seems like a bit of a risk, doesn’t it?”

“A calculated risk.” Red shrugs, then smiles lopsidedly. “If I wanted to play it safe, I wouldn’t be on my journey at all.”

She smiles back. “No argument on that here. So, you can feel what they feel? What’s that like? Did you sense anything wrong?”

“Oh, no, he didn’t seem to be in any pain.” He goes on to explain the feeling of inhabiting two bodies at once as they finish up with the rattata, then move on to checking over an oddish and a meowth as Aiko goes over the standard care checks for them too. Red continues to use his powers as best he can to see how the pokemon feel, bracing himself for the unusual sensations and fringe senses that he can handle, as well as the compounded grief that follows.

At first he has his doubts about how long he can exert himself before it gets too overwhelming. It’s Aiko that keeps him going: she seems to have taken his earlier pronouncement about risks to heart, trusting him to know what he’s doing. Even when things get obviously bad and he starts to sniffle or occasionally sob, she continues to work and act like nothing’s wrong. It grounds him somehow, helps let the feelings go each time.

Little by little, Red feels himself get better at discerning whatever sensory input he gets from the various pokemon they check over. He doesn’t expect to get much from a bellsprout, with its unique physiology, and is shocked when he’s able to receive not just the flood of flavors that fill its gaping mouth and act like a mix of taste and smell, but also the tension in the whip-thin vines of its limbs. The tension slowly fades as it wraps them around Aiko’s hand, and the pokemon feels… relaxed. Her hand is like a firm anchor for what feels to him like a frighteningly frail body: to Red the bellsprout almost feels like it’s standing up instead of climbing, in terms of how comfortable it is, which is so counterintuitive at first pass that he laughs out loud when he realizes how well it fits, a brief shine of sunlight in the dark clouds filling him. Aiko listens in fascination as he explains, but doesn’t seem as surprised.

Still, the amazement from such sensations and discoveries can only distract him for so long before the dense pit in his stomach starts to weigh too heavily, the aching emptiness in his chest open too wide. His speech becomes more monotone and brief, and he starts spending periods of time simply staring into the distance or shutting his eyes against the tears, overwhelmed. When it gets so bad that Red can’t bring himself to connect with a new pokemon and refresh the grief, he asks if he can take a break instead.

“Of course, yeah,” Aiko says as she finishes checking over a female nidoran. “I should take a break too, actually, we’ve been here for a couple hours now.”

She’s probably just being polite. “Time flies,” Red mutters, and Aiko gives him a concerned look. He forces a smile that probably doesn’t look convincing, then goes to his pokeball belt. He finds Pichu’s ball and releases him, smiling more naturally as the electric mouse looks around, then climbs his arm to perch on his head.

Red goes to the living room couch and brings Pichu down to sit in his lap. He’s getting bigger. Red remembers when the pokemon fit in both of his palms cupped together, and feels a bit wistful. His pokemon won’t stay a pichu forever. Red should really get around to naming him… his failure to really nickname any of his pokemon is feeling more and more like a failing as a trainer the longer he takes.

Red hears the sound of another pokeball opening back in the medical room, and after a moment Aiko comes out to join him in the living room. With her is…

Red blinks, then blinks again as she gets closer. She’s carrying an eevee, which is surprising enough considering how rare they are, but its coloration is very light. In fact… “Is that…?”

Aiko smiles as she sits beside him, the fluffy fox settling in her lap too. It’s over twice as big as Pichu, though the thick fur around its neck and tail make up a lot of that. What has Red staring is the way the fur shines silver in the light. “You have a shiny eevee?” he asks in awe.

Red has seen “shiny” pokemon before, of course… through online videos and in movies, mostly, though also a couple at Pallet Labs, as their unconventional coloring makes the pokemon, estimated conservatively at one-in-a-thousand rarity, subject to intense scientific curiosity.

As far as anyone has been able to tell, their uniqueness is purely aesthetic. While legends and stories often mark pokemon of importance with unique coloring, no one has been able to establish any clear advantage in their abilities, and despite breeders’ best efforts, the trait doesn’t appear obviously hereditary.

As a result, they’re mostly in demand by collectors and as pets rather than by battle trainers, who often trade them for stronger or rarer pokemon. Even unusually colored rattata are collected by people who consider shinies lucky. For a species as rare as eevee in the first place, however…

“It must be worth thousands,” Red murmurs. Aiko’s smile slips, and he winces. “Sorry, I mean it’s beautiful, and I’m just really surprised, and—”

Aiko chuckles. “It’s okay, Red.”

“What’s its name? And is it a boy or girl?”

“Girl, and I haven’t named her yet. It feels weird naming doing so before she evolves, considering how different she might turn out in each form.”

Red reaches a hand out, looking at Aiko for permission. She nods, and he strokes the soft fur between its ears. “Where did you get her?”

“We had a client a couple years back who wanted us to breed their eevee for a few months. They got some babies out of it, but got charged for selling on the black market just before this one was born. Happens once in a while when people use small ranchers like us.”

“Woah. So you got to keep them?”

“Not all. The previous births and the mating pair legally passed on to their family, but our contracts work on a first-buy-option guaranteed to the client for each birth, and it’s voided if the buyer is charged with any crimes related to pokemon mistreatment.”

Red smiles. “Good clause to have in there.”

Aiko strokes the eevee’s fur, gaze adoring. “It was a surreal couple of weeks, first seeing such a gorgeous and rare shiny born, then finding out that the client might have been mistreating the others, then realizing we’d get to keep this one. I’ve been raising and training her ever since.”

“Training? You didn’t list her among your pokemon.”

“Yeah, I don’t take her outside the ranch.”

“Makes sense, that would be a pretty huge risk.”

Aiko rolls her eyes, and Red blinks. “What?”

“You just did it again.”

“Did what?”

“Thinking of her in monetary terms.”

“I didn’t… okay yeah I guess I did. But it is a risk, isn’t it?”

Aiko reaches up and flicks his nose.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“Think about it. You’re a smart guy.”

Red stares at her in bewilderment as she scratches the eevee’s long ears, smiling down into its face as it squirms in pleasure. He wants to point out that he’s in a shitty mood and just ask her to just tell him what he did wrong, but…

You’re a smart guy.

Red frowns down at Pichu, rubbing his fur. There’s a tone of flippant challenge in her words that he hasn’t heard in a while. Blue would just tell him why he’s wrong, and Leaf would explore it with him, teasing the answer out. He tamps down on his annoyance and tries to pattern match. Aiko’s views on pokemon remind him of Leaf’s, but she’s a battle trainer, like Blue. He doesn’t know if Blue would hold sentimental value for any of his pokemon, but the motivation feels off: it was the pokemon’s monetary worth Red referenced, not the connection with Aiko.

Pichu nuzzles his palm, and Red takes a cheri berry out to dampen the pokemon’s electricity generation again. Red doesn’t plan on using him for combat anytime soon because he’s too young and weak, but when he evolves, would he? What would it say about his other pokemon if Red decides not to?

“I think I get it,” Red says. “Not using Eevee in combat would mean admitting that you value her more than your other pokemon, who you are willing to put in harm’s way.”

Aiko winks. “Attaboy.”

“But if that’s the case, why not take her outside the ranch when you travel?”

“She seems really weak, for an eevee. Gets tired quickly, can’t run fast. I try to make sure all my pokemon can at least defend themselves, but she’s still not ready for actual fights.”

Red frowns, dredging up what he knows of eevee. “That’s not right, she looks like she’s well past adolescence.” He takes his pokedex out and checks for maturity signs and expected growth rates, then reaches out a hand to stroke the eevee’s mane, testing its thickness. “Yeah, this eevee should be ready for fights by now.”

Aiko’s expression is blank. “Well, I guess I’ll try training her harder, then,” she says. “Thanks for the feedback.”

He looks up at her, blinking. “Oh, no, I wasn’t criticizing you! I’m just saying something might be wrong with her.”

Now she looks wary. “What do you mean? We had her checked out when she was born, nothing came up.”

“Hmm. Maybe it’s not something obvious. Hang on.” Red checks internally to see how he feels, then closes his eyes and extends his mind to the eevee’s. He feels warmth first, its thick fur surrounding it in cozy heat as it cuddles Aiko’s legs. Warmth, safety, affection and—

Red gasps in pain as the eevee takes a breath, and the connection breaks. His hand probes his chest.

“Red? You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” He looks at the eevee’s cute face as it looks up at Aiko with loving, bright eyes, giving no hint of the pain it’s in. He shoves his despair down as best he can to speak clearly. “It’s her lungs. They’re really weak, every breath is a painful struggle.”

Aiko stares at him in horror, then quickly removes the eevee from her lap and puts it on the couch, voice hushed. “Oh gods, I didn’t know!” She takes out its ball. “I’m so sorry, Eevee, I’m so sorry, return!”

Pichu flinches at the sound of the ball activating and returning the eevee, and Red comforts him with a backrub. “Hey, it’s okay Aiko— ”

“It’s not okay! I didn’t realize she was in so much pain, I never would have made her stay outside her ball all the time and trained her if I knew!” Aiko walks back and forth, short dark hair clutched in her hands.

Red places Pichu aside and stands, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Hey, hey! Relax! Everything’s fine. You have a trainer’s license now, right? Just take her to a pokemon center when we reach Vermilion.”

“What if they can’t cure her?” she asks, eyes flicking back and forth between his. “What if I made it worse?”

“Then that wasn’t your fault either,” Red insists. “You didn’t know. And for all we know she would have died without getting enough physical activity. If you insist on blaming yourself, at least wait until you know for sure.”

Aiko takes a deep breath. “Alright, you’re right, okay.” Red lets her go, and Aiko sits back on the couch. “It’s okay, Eevee,” she murmurs, stroking the pokeball on her belt. “You’ll be healed up soon.”

Red sits back down, feeling a bit awkward. Pichu crawls onto his lap, sniffing inquiringly, and he smiles before lifting his pokemon up and depositing him on Aiko’s shoulder. She twitches and giggles as the mouse begins sniffing at her ear, slowly relaxing.

Eventually she offers Pichu back, and stands. “Thanks Red. I’m going to get back to work. You should rest up, you’ve done enough.”

For a moment it sounds appealing to just sit with Pichu and stew in his lingering sadness, but having actually used his powers to help someone is invigorating in a unique way. What would Future Red want me to do?

“No way, I’m coming too.” Red deposits Pichu onto his cap and gets up, feeling the mouse’s claws clutch the hat as he’s suddenly lifted. “I’m feeling a little better, and I don’t need my powers to learn.”


If there’s one thing no one can accuse Blue of, he reflects, it’s lacking persistence. Sure, there are some less flattering words for it: “stubborn,” according to Daisy, or “obstinate” as Red put it a time or two. But the bottom line is, when he wants something, no matter how difficult it is, Blue Oak doesn’t give up.

Blue is starting to wish he were the kind of person who gives up.

He and Leaf joined Aiko’s dad downstairs almost two hours ago, and offered to help him clean out the various pokemon dens. Mr. Sakai expressed quiet gratitude, gave out the occasional instruction or advice, and for all else said basically nothing of any substance, no matter how much Blue and Leaf talked about their journey, Aiko, safety precautions they take, and any combination of them that felt natural… and eventually some that didn’t.

Through it all, even when trying to engage Mr. Sakai directly, the answers remained persistently passive:

“It’s been years since I took the underground. Very quick and clean.”

“Very smart, isn’t she? Aiko’s always been a fast learner.”

“Oh, yes, the Rangers do great work. Always so professional.”

By lunchtime Blue’s eye is twitching, and Leaf looks torn between exasperation and amusement as she watches him get more and more direct, with as little effect as ever.

“Yeah, I think we’ll be in Vermillion in no time,” he says loudly as he stares at Mr. Sakai, hands moving automatically to scoop and bag the dirty straw in his pen. “Between the subway and the Ranger Outpost after it, I bet we won’t even spend a single night in the wild.”

“Vermilion is a very interesting city, you know,” Mr. Sakai says from the other side of the room, eyes on his own work. “Lots of history there. I loved to watch the boats, when I was younger.”

“Sure would be nice if Aiko came with us,” Blue goes on, unaware that the bag he’s holding is full as he tries to shovel more straw into it. He frowns as Leaf grabs the bag from him and hands him a new one, then looks down at the mess and sighs. “Why, she’d be able to teleport back every night for dinner, thanks to all the abra we’ve caught.”

“Oh, Aiko can’t possibly go just yet. She just got back.”

“Seems like most fathers might be grateful their kid was journeying with others that could enable her to still be home so often.”

“Soon. She’ll be ready soon.”

Blue’s mouth opens to respond just as his phone chimes. He fumes silently for a moment, considers ignoring it, then checks the ID. “It’s gramps,” he says with some surprise.

“Go on,” Leaf says, shooing him away. “Tell him I said hi.”

Blue heads to the stairs and sits on the bottom one. He hears Leaf start some other line of conversation as he checks his grandfather’s message.

Hello Blue! Where are you all located currently?

at aikos house. stuck in rain. everyone says hi.

I wondered why you were all still in one place. I just wanted to tell you all to be sure to check the site for a big announcement in about an hour!

whats the announcement?

That would ruin the surprise! Send my regards to everyone!

Blue sighs. He’s about to put his phone away, then has a thought.

we have a situation here actually. aikos dad doesnt want her to go on journey. they take care of a lot of pokemon and he’s kind of

Blue pauses, wondering what the best way to put it is.

overprotective of her and the pokemon. and hard to talk to. advice?

I hope you’ve tried showing him that she would be among competent and supportive friends through your actions there?

ya its not working though. he also seems dependant on her mentally. but gotta be something we can do. maybe u can come by and talk to him?

There’s no response for a minute, and Blue is about to return to cleaning when his phone buzzes again.

I’m sorry, Blue. That sounds like a complex problem, and a personal one. It might be best to let Aiko and her father work it out among themselves.

Blue frowns. No, he won’t accept that. Aiko is going to be a great trainer, and the sooner she starts her journey the better she’ll become. Leaving it to her dad is not an option.

new idea. got any refurbishes left lying around?

Yes, a couple.

lemme buy one

Another long pause, then, You have a good heart, Blue. This one’s on me: should be there by the end of the day, depending on weather.

Blue feels a blossom of warmth and pride in Gramps. thanks. He thinks of writing something else, struggling to find the right words, then just puts his phone away and returns to Leaf. They spend another half hour cleaning, during which he alternates between thinking of new ways to approach the topic with Aiko’s dad and analyzing her command code from their battle. It can’t be some simple derivative of a high level code, Red doesn’t pay attention to that stuff and he figured it out right away… What do “Sand Attack” and “Poison Powder” have in common that both can be called “Ero?”

They’re not the same type, they don’t have the same effect, they do have the same range, roughly… But coding attacks by their range would be a terrible idea. Or would it? His thoughts meander down that path for a while to examine the potential tactical benefits.

Eventually Mr. Sakai goes to prepare lunch. Blue and Leaf head upstairs to see Aiko and Red, who are finishing up their examinations of the ranch’s pokemon. Red’s pichu is playing with some toy made of yarn on the floor, and Leaf immediately sits on the floor to play with it while Blue drops onto the room’s one chair.

“Got a message from Gramps,” he says. “Something about a package he’s having delivered here and a new thing on his site.” He takes his phone out and opens the Pallet Labs website, refreshing the front page every so often to see whatever his grandfather was talking about. “Not sure what he’s sending, probably our birthday gifts.”

“When is it, six days away, right?” Leaf asks.

“Five, for me,” Red says.

“You guys were born a day apart?” Aiko asks.

“Yeah, our moms were in the maternity wing together,” Blue says. “That’s how we got our names.”

“What were you going to be called otherwise?” Leaf asks. “Before they saw your eye color, I mean.”

“Satoshi, apparently,” Red says, then looks at Blue curiously.

“Shigeru, my sister said.” He remembers so little about his parents, but Daisy was old enough when they died to remember everything. She used to hold him at night when he had trouble sleeping, tell him about them, answer any questions he had.

The memory makes his chest ache. It’s been a long time since he thought of that.

“What?” Red asks, and it takes Blue a moment to realize he’s talking to Leaf.

Her nose is wrinkled, but she’s grinning. “They’re not bad names or anything, it’s just weird thinking of you as anything else. There’s such a wide range of names in this region.”

“Hey, here it is,” Blue says as the page refreshes and a new article shows up. “Something about Flying Type research…” He turns the volume up so they can all listen to the interview.

There’s a fascinated silence throughout it, and Blue smiles as it becomes clear that there is evidence to back up the idea of a Flying Type. He looks at Red, expecting a frown or look of confusion, but his friend is grinning wide, eyes distant in that way he gets when he’s thinking about something too much. Sure enough he leaps for his bag and takes his notebook out, not even pausing in his scribbling as he’s mentioned by name.

The mention of gyarados being Flying type makes Blue forget all about Red, however, and reach for the type chart in his own bag, mind racing as he considers the implications. How often do people use electric or rock attacks against gyarados, so they could observe its effect? Sending a Rock type out against a Water pokemon that strong would often be considered suicidal, and Electric attacks seem to be weak against Dragons… but if gyarados isn’t a dragon… no, that’s ridiculous…

“Alright then, we hope to have you back on soon with more to share!” the interviewer says before the video ends, and everyone starts speaking at once.

“This is so cool I can’t believe I wasn’t there for that—”

“Flying wingsuits, that’s going to be so much fun—”

“This is going to change so much about how Flying attacks are used—”

“I wonder how the particles interact with electricity—”

“So much for your ‘Flying isn’t a Type’ theory, right?” Blue asks with a smirk.

Aiko raises a brow, but Red just keeps smiling. “That’s why this is so exciting! The Flying Type makes so much more sense, now!”

“Except for flygon not being Flying Type,” Aiko says. “What’s up with that?”

“Or gyarados?” Leaf asks.

“Yeah, I’m not buying it,” Blue says. “Lance is the strongest Dragon trainer in the Indigo League, you’d think he’d notice if gyarados aren’t actually Dragons.”

“They can use so many Dragon attacks,” Aiko says. “But non-Psychic pokemon can sometimes use Psychic attacks, so…”

“Is there any pokemon that is considered a Type but doesn’t learn any attacks from that Type?” Leaf asks.

“What, like a Fire pokemon that can’t use any Fire moves? Not off the top of my head,” Aiko says. “Maybe shedinja?”

“Shedinja are just weird altogether,” Blue says. “But I don’t think they fit.”

“Wait, I got one,” Aiko says. “Togedemaru doesn’t naturally learn any Steel attacks.”

“What, really? Gyro Ball?”

“Needs a TM.”

“Huh.” Blue frowns. “It should be able to learn it. It would barely hurt anyone with how small it is, though, so maybe no one’s tried hard enough.”

“The same can be said of gyarados,” Red says. “Maybe it can learn some Flying attacks, now that we know this and people actually try teaching it Flying attacks. Not sure it counts, but with how big it is, just launching into the air and landing on an enemy would probably be pretty strong. Knowing there’s precedent makes it easier to accept that it might be Flying in general. But!” Red holds a finger up. “There’s a much more obvious solution.”

“What’s that?” Aiko asks. Blue has his suspicions, and sure enough:

“Just stop thinking of pokemon as only having two Types.”

Blue sighs. “For the millionth time, if a pokemon could have three types why haven’t any obvious ones shown up? Like, there’s no Fire and Water and Flying type. Or an Electric and Rock and Bug type. Or a Grass and Ghost and Ice type.”

“Or Dragon and Flying and Fire type?” Red asks with a brow raised, tapping Charmander’s pokeball. “There could be a hundred reasons those particular combinations don’t exist, this is just semantics mixed with confirmation bias.”

The argument gets more animated from there, until at some point Aiko’s dad actually comes out to check on them, looking mildly surprised at the commotion. They stop and turn to him.

“Lunch is ready,” he says after a moment.

“Oh, alright, thanks Dad.” He’s about to leave when Aiko smiles. “Hey, guess what? There’s a new discovery at Pallet Labs that explains how Flying pokemon work.”

Mr. Sakai turns back, eyebrows rising further. “How do they work?”

She explains, and he leans against the door frame, eyes distant. “Fascinating. It explains doduo.”

Blue blinks, then laughs. “You think they’re a Flying type?”

“Makes sense,” Red says. “Now that we know about these particles, it explains where all that wind comes from when they jump so high.”

Mr. Sakai nods. “Precisely. Their biology is in all respects avian but for their lack of wings.”

Blue looks back and forth between them with growing horror. “But… but they can’t fly! They can’t be a Flying Type if they can’t fly!”

“It’s just a label,” Aiko says. “But, yeah, I mean, maybe we should call it something else. Otherwise this kind of makes it clear there’s a problem with the Type system.”

“Ha-HAAaa!” Red points at Blue, who facepalms. “Suck it, Blue! I didn’t even talk to her about it!”

Blue’s response is interrupted by noticing Leaf’s startled look, and Red claps his hand over his mouth a second later and looks at Aiko’s father, face mortified.

Mr. Sakai doesn’t appear to have heard him though, or maybe he’s just retreated back to whatever cloud his brain seems to constantly float on. “Fascinating,” he murmurs again, and wanders off toward the kitchen.

They all look at each other a moment, then get up to follow him as Aiko asks Red what he didn’t talk to her about. As Red begins to explain, he fails to notice Pichu dashing around his feet until Leaf picks the pokemon up and deposits him on Red’s hat, causing it to tip down into Red’s eyes as the pokemon crawls onto the bill. Blue grabs his shoulder to stop him from walking into the wall, grinning as his friend curses and lifts his hat off to give his pokemon a baleful look.

They arrive at the table and start to eat. Blue feels some disappointment as he looks over the available food. At first the lack of meat didn’t bother him much: he’s eaten trail rations that didn’t have any, after all, and these dishes actually tasted pretty good. But no matter how well made or how much noodle, cheese, fruit, and vegetables he eats, there’s an oddly unsatisfied pang in his stomach. He wonders if he should grab a strip of beef jerky from his bag, then decides to wait until after the meal. And people say I don’t have tact…

Speaking of which, it’s time to reopen negotiations. “This is really good, Mr. Sakai,” he says as he adds some more sauce. “Have you given any thought to making trail rations? They’d probably be a lot more appealing than the non-pokemon ones we have.”

“Oh, thank you, but I wouldn’t have time to care for the pokemon then.”

“But if you spend just a little time setting things up to start making money, you could use it to hire a worker to help out here. Aiko could be free to leave then, and even act as a traveling advertisement for the brand.”

“Aiko, leave? No, no, the pokemon need her.”

“Actually, we have a solution to that too,” Blue says, suppressing a sigh as he repeats yet again, “We have enough abra to let her port back and forth from here. She can still help out with the pokemon every night and morning.”

Mr. Sakai doesn’t respond, merely lifting his forkful of food to his mouth and chewing slowly. Blue feels a lick of heat in his chest. “Did you hear me? Mr. Sakai?”

“Hmm?”

“Abra. Aiko can use them to leave with us and still help with the pokemon.”

“Soon,” Aiko’s dad murmurs, fork twirling in the noodles. “She’ll be ready to leave soon.”

“Have you given any thought to my idea?” Leaf cuts in before Blue can respond. “Turning this place into a petting zoo would bring in extra help for the pokemon, and more funds to expand.”

Mr. Sakai continues twirling his noodles slowly, eyes down. “It is an interesting idea… perhaps…”

They all wait in hopeful silence, but when it becomes clear that her father won’t continue, Aiko clears her throat. “You would also be less lonely,” she says, voice quiet. “When I go on my journey.”

The twirling stops, then resumes. “Many years yet on that.”

“It might also help now,” Aiko continues, sounding a bit more desperate. “There are a lot of kids out there who would enjoy spending time with pokemon—”

“That’s it!”

They all look at Red as he leaps up, eyes shining with excitement. “What’s it?” Blue asks.

“Uh. Sorry. But, be right back!” Red is already dashing from the room. “I have to make a call!”

Blue frowns at his retreating back, but decides not to let the ball drop. “Aiko and Leaf are right, you could get a lot of people to help out here if you try. Then you won’t need her to stay.”

The conversation continues fruitlessly until Red returns, eyes bright as he sits down. “Mr. Sakai, I have a business proposition for you,” he says, cutting the conversation off.

Aiko’s dad turns to him. “Oh?”

“I was talking with my therapist just now because I had an idea for a new kind of service. See, I lost my dad a few years ago, and it still hurts a lot to think about it,” Red says, tone and face becoming more subdued. “My therapist told me to spend more time with my cuddliest pokemon, and it’s been helping. I was wondering if spending time with the pokemon here helps you when you feel sad about your wife?”

In unison, Blue, Aiko, and Leaf turn to Mr. Sakai, who is staring at his mostly empty plate. A long, silent pause goes by… and then a nod.

“So I was thinking,” Red continues as everyone turns back to him, “Why doesn’t there exist a place where kids or adults who have lost someone they love can spend time with safe, tame pokemon, and take care of them, and maybe feel better? My therapist said she never heard of a place like that, because most pokemon daycares and ranches are focused on efficiency and training and breeding, but since you’re already running a ranch that lets the pokemon stay out and just enjoy their time outside their balls, you could be the first ever pokemon therapy ranch, and my therapist said she knows of at least two colleagues in Cerulean and Saffron who would love to work with you and help anyone who comes engage in play therapy.”

Red finishes all in one breath, then takes a deep one, watching Mr. Sakai with a gaze that almost seems to bore into him. Blue wonders if his friend is using his powers to get a sense of the man’s mood, and he briefly wonders if he’s using some kind of mental manipulation. The thought suddenly alarms him: Blue wants Mr. Sakai to say yes, but not through mind control… even if real mind control is a myth, projecting emotions onto someone against their will feels similarly bad. Red wouldn’t do that, Blue thinks, even as he wonders whether his friend would tell them if he’d learned how.

Mr. Sakai is sitting still, chest rising and falling with his breaths. After an endless silence, he slowly turns his head. “Do you think this would be good, Aiko?”

“I do,” his daughter says, voice firm. “For both the pokemon and people that come. Being with the pokemon helped me a lot too, after…”

“And it can bring more money in,” Leaf says. “So you can hire more help, or expand the farm.”

Again, a long silence. Blue resists the urge to jump in too and say something about Aiko, worried it would return her dad to his rote responses.

Finally, a nod. “Yes. It seems good. I think… yes. We will try it. Thank you, Red.”

Red grins. “No problem! I’ll tell her so her colleagues can call you to talk logistics, and-”

“Aiko, you will be a great help organizing this.”

Everyone freezes and looks at Aiko, whose hopeful smile seems frozen on her face, a touch away from shattering. “Dad… I think you can handle it. I can help, but I was thinking of leaving with them for my journey, remember?”

“Yes, this will be good,” her father muses as he gets up from the table and carries his empty plate to the kitchen. “Together we can do it quickly, perhaps start by Fall…”

Aiko’s smile comes apart as she stares after him, and Blue feels the anger stirring and prowling in his chest again as he watches her hope fade. Leaf puts a hand on her shoulder, and Red looks stricken. “I’m sorry, Aiko, I thought—”

“No,” she says, voice harsh. “It’s okay, Red. It was a good idea.” She stands, plate in hand. “He made it clear that he needs me here. That’s just all there is to it.”

She leaves before they can say anything, and the table is silent in her absence as Blue meets Red and Leaf’s gaze, reading the frustration and despair in them and knowing they can see his own too.

The rest of the afternoon is more subdued. Blue tries to cheer Aiko up or talk to her dad again, but nothing seems to work. The steady rain continues, both mirroring the household’s mood and giving them hope: they won’t leave until it stops, and so there’s still time for a miracle.

As the miracle continues to elude them, however, Blue starts to spend less time trying to convince Aiko’s dad to let her go and more time getting her to just make the decision on her own. This meets with similarly little success, as Aiko asserts that she wouldn’t be able to live with herself for leaving without his permission or blessing.

A few hours before nightfall, the rain finally lightens to a drizzle. They agree to stay for dinner and spend the night anyway, though Aiko insists that they shouldn’t do it just for her.

“You guys did your best,” she says as they finish cleaning the bottom floor. “I’ll be okay. It was great meeting all of you, and maybe we’ll group up again in a couple years?”

“Of course!” Leaf hugs her. “Hopefully the therapy ranch idea works out and you can join us sooner.”

“Hey, there’s still time.” Blue wonders if the package will arrive soon now that the weather is better, or if he should just tell her it’s coming… but it doesn’t sound like it would matter to her, at this point.

“I appreciate the optimism, but I’ve already started unpacking my bag,” Aiko says with a sigh. “I think at this point if it’s this hard to get him to say yes… maybe I should stay after all.”

Blue feels anger at Aiko, for once, though he manages to hold it in. “I don’t understand her,” he complains to Leaf later, as the two of them set the table for dinner. “It’s sad that her dad is like this, but it’s not like he’s going to die if she leaves.”

“We don’t actually know that,” Leaf says, voice quiet. “He might be hanging on by a thread. The situation is different from mine with my mom. It sucks, but it’s no one’s fault.”

Blue is still trying to find an answer to that when there’s a long, cheerful warble from outside. Blue grins and heads for the stairs, followed by a curious Leaf. Red is taking a shower, but Aiko comes out of her room at the sound.

“Was that a delivery song? I don’t think we’re expecting a package.”

“Well you got one anyway,” Blue says as he starts down. The other two follow him to the front door, and he steps aside to let Aiko through, wondering if Gramps addressed it to him or her.

The courier is perched on her swanna, dressed in the colorful uniform of her shipping company. “Aiko Sakai?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

The courier unstraps herself and slides off, then steps onto the porch and unclips a container ball. She releases its box and digs inside for a package, then hands it to Aiko, along with a sign pad.

“Thanks,” Aiko says, still looking confused as she signs it and examines the package. Her eyes go wide as she sees the return address, while the courier heads back to their pokemon and takes off into the grey sky, rain exploding outward and wetting the three of them as its wings flap to lift it.

“It’s from Professor Oak,” Aiko says after retreating to the dry porch. “I think it’s for you?”

Blue snorts, still wiping rain off his face. “If it were for me it would be addressed to me. Go on, open it!”

They watch in silence as Aiko unwraps the package. Her hands begin to shake when a familiar box is revealed beneath, the sleek, bold logo of Pallet Labs on top.

Blue grins as Aiko finally stares unbelieving down at the pokedex in her hands. It’s not the latest model that Red and he are field testing, but it’s the most recent one available on the market.

“I guess it’s official,” Blue says. “You’re one of us.”

“Congratulations, Aiko,” Leaf says, and gives the girl a sideways hug.

Her face is shocked as it turns up to them, then begins to twitch and crumple. Blue stares at her in alarm, but before he can speak she falls to her knees, box clutched to her chest as choked sobs shake her form.


Leaf is back in Aiko’s room, watching her new friend move with purpose back and forth as she packs her travel bag. Occasionally she’s asked to hand something to her, and Leaf does so without comment, watching the girl with some concern.

After her crying stopped, Aiko stood back up and wiped her face, then strode inside with a determined set to her facial features, dropping her pokedex off in her room and returning to the dinner table without expression. She insisted she was fine, and when Red arrived with his hair still wet, asked them not to bring up her leaving anymore to her dad.

Dinner was quiet and tense: Mr. Sakai ate with his usual dreamy distance, Aiko with mechanical precision, and the others with sparse, empty remarks as they looked at Aiko and each other with concern. As soon as she finished eating, she excused herself from the table and went to her room. Leaf finished up as soon as she could afterward and went to join her.

Now she feels awkward about breaking the silence as she parses what seems to have happened: Aiko decided to go with them. She does not appear to be happy about the decision.

When Aiko opens her new pokedex and reverently takes it out of its box, Leaf goes to sit beside her.

“Want to talk about it?”

Aiko glances at her, then shakes her head and begins to follow the instructions to transfer her user ID from her mom’s old pokedex. “I’m afraid if I do I’ll change my mind.”

“Okay. Is there anything I can do to help, then?”

“You guys have helped enough. More than enough. The rest is on me. In the morning I’m going to try and get all the pokemon out and cared for early, then let my dad know after breakfast so we can leave then.” She lines up the lens of both pokedexes and sits back, head against the wall. They sit in silence for a few minutes. It feels awkward at first, then companionable. Leaf relaxes and lets her mind wander until Aiko whispers, “I don’t know how he’s going to react.”

“You mean you’re afraid he won’t react at all.”

Aiko closes her eyes, and nods.

“I think it takes a lot of courage, what you’re doing,” Leaf says slowly. “Not the kind that puts you in danger, maybe, but the kind that means risking things important to you to pursue what you want. I know it feels selfish. It is a little, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Making a stand like this, for what you believe in, it’s how we grow. Or how I did, anyway. I’m patting myself on the back a little here, but it’s what I believe.”

“And if things do go wrong?”

Leaf doesn’t respond right away, thinking it through. Anything optimistic is going to sound fake and meaningless. And she knows Aiko isn’t looking for that: in the end what really matters is that she feels supported.

“Whatever happens, we’ll be with you,” she says at last. “We’re a team now. We look after each other.”

“I can look after myself,” Aiko murmurs, eyes still closed. “Been doing it for years… It’s my dad I’m worried about.”

“Friends care about what their friends worry about too.”

At that, Aiko smiles. “Yeah, I’m starting to get that. It’s been nice, having friends.”

They stay that way until the pokedex data finishes transferring, then Leaf says goodnight. She goes to tell the boys about Aiko’s decision as they prepare for bed. Blue grumbles about people being dramatic, but he seems as worried as she is.

“Should we plan ahead?” Red asks. “Be ready to jump in if something goes wrong?”

“No,” Leaf says. “I think the best we can do is respect her decisions and support them. Let’s just get some sleep and be ready for the road.”

Which is easier said than done, as it takes her an hour of tossing and turning to get to sleep. She finally drifts off without realizing it, and snaps awake with soft morning sunlight pouring through the window.

A quick shower and breakfast later, Leaf joins Blue and Red outside in the dew-covered grass to help Aiko release various pokemon who are on their “morning feed” cycle. Leaf expects her to protest the help, but she seems too tense to do anything but nod greeting and give instructions.

By the time her dad is awake, breakfast is ready and all the chores are done. He seems vaguely surprised when told, but sits down for another tense, quiet meal as Leaf and the others make small talk.

Aiko sits quietly the whole time, eyes on her plate even after it’s empty. Soon only her father is eating, and as soon as he finishes she begins to clear the table with the others’ help. Mr. Sakai is about to get up when Aiko puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Could you stay here a minute, dad? I want to tell you something.”

He blinks at her, but sits back down and watches in bemusement as the trio finishes clearing the table while Aiko goes to her room. Soon everyone is standing around, tense and nervous. Despite his general detachment, Leaf can see some of it in Aiko’s father too. He keeps looking at them, then Aiko’s door.

When she finally emerges from her room, she’s dressed in full travel gear, backpack strapped on and belt on her waist. Her dad’s reaction is immediate, and heartbreaking:

“No, Aiko. Please.”

The words are soft, but Aiko reacts to them like thrown stones. She walks over to the table and kneels down so she’s eye level with him. “I’m going, Dad.”

He shakes his head, eyes wide, but she doesn’t blink. “I’ll be back every night with the abra, so you know I’m okay. I can help take care of the pokemon and even bring groceries, same as usual. But I’m going.”

“Soon,” he says, gaze going distant. “Not yet, Aiko, not yet, the pokemon need you…”

“I told you, I’ll be back to help them. To help you. How many trainers and their parents are so lucky? If they move on without me, we won’t even have that.”

Aiko’s dad seems lost in thought, and Leaf despairs that he’ll ever be able to hear this conversation, accept it. “Just another few years… soon, you’ll be ready soon…” He moves as if to stand, but Aiko doesn’t budge, and he stops rather than collide with her. “I need to feed the pokemon.”

“We fed them,” she says, gaze steady. “How many years is ‘soon,’ Dad? Tell me a number and I’ll stay. You’ve never outright lied to me, as far as I know.”

“Aiko-”

“Tell me when I’ll have your blessing to go, and I’ll wait. If you don’t, if you go without giving me an answer, I’m leaving with them. So choose.” Aiko backs off a little, giving him room to stand.

Mr. Sakai seems carved from marble. Leaf expects another vague refrain, or for him to just say something extreme like 10 years, but after a minute passes with them all waiting in silence, she feels her pulse kick up a little. Leaf glances at Aiko, who appears worried at the way he seems to have shut down, but under the worry, there’s some hope.

Eventually Aiko nods. “That’s why I have to go now. At this rate, you’ll never be ready for me to leave. And I’ve stayed because traveling alone is too dangerous, but I won’t be alone anymore. Leaf and Blue and Red want me to come. They want me to come so badly,” Aiko says, voice catching briefly. “They believe in me. Professor Oak believes in me. If you don’t, if I let your fear hold me back now, I’ll regret it the rest of my life.”

Mr. Sakai almost appears to shrink into himself as she speaks. His lips move, something too low for Leaf to make out. Aiko’s eyes close, then she kneels in front of her father again and wraps her arms around him.

“I love you, Dad. I’ll see you tonight, and every night after.”


Leaving the ranch is a solemn affair, Red and the others watching Aiko use Blue’s abra to register a teleport location there, then turn her back on her home, moving resolutely forward. The ground around them is still moist from yesterday’s rain, but once they reach the main road their bikes move faster, and they arrive at the underground path within an hour. They can just make out Saffron City in the distance, and there’s an increase in traffic as they turn off the main road and enter the funnel of roads leading to the entrance. Red feels excitement as it comes into sight: he’s never taken a subway before.

A number of stores, a ranger outpost, and a pokemon center are on either side of the road leading up to it, and after ensuring they’re all ready to keep going, they descend. The stairs level off every few minutes for a quick rest and some vendor stalls, and while the tiles and floor are obviously old, it’s all surprisingly clean and well lit, to the point that if Red didn’t know better he’d think he was just in some big mall.

The shuttles themselves depart every few minutes, and soon they’re on their way to the central hub under Saffron. Red watches as Aiko’s subdued mood slowly fades, and when he feels safe doing so leans over to ask how she likes her new pokedex. Soon she’s happily exploring its features as he answers any questions she has, while Blue and Leaf discuss the differences between the underground rails in Kanto and Unova. Blue mentions that they’re still a relatively new thing here, and points out a few notices among the advertisements along the walls indicating plans to extend the tunnel farther north and south to connect it to Cerulean and Vermillion.

The central hub is a mini-mall itself, and Aiko spots a stall selling bike accessories and heads over to check the prices of the things they bought in Cerulean out of “morbid curiosity.” Things seem mostly the same price if not a little more expensive, and Leaf buys a basket to hang on the front for Bulbasaur. Red and Aiko decide to buy one too, but Blue doesn’t seem interested until Red points out the added reaction time if they’re attacked while riding.

They stop for lunch and take another tram south until the end of the line, then disembark and take the stairs to emerge into the bright noon sun. The road stretches ahead with fields and forests to either side. They’ve passed Saffron City and its suburbs completely, and as they mount up and continue biking south, they soon feel the downward slope of the land as Vermilion City becomes visible in the distance, with the ocean beyond it.

It feels strange to see another city so quickly. The bikes and subway more than made up for the increased distance they had to travel between Cerulean and Vermillion compared to their other trips, but what really made Cerulean feel fresh in his mind was the lack of anything really intense happening along the way. Other than keeping an eye on Pichu for signs he isn’t okay with his new travel arrangements, Red is able to relax and reflect on how nice it is to travel between cities without risking his life for once.

They’re a few hours out of the tunnel when Red gets an email to notify him that the abra deal has been finalized. That night they celebrate their new fortunes together with leftover cake. Aiko participates heartily, still aglow over her new pokedex and sense of freedom, then uses Blue’s abra to teleport back home after saying goodnight to everyone.

She returns the next morning a few hours after they’ve had breakfast, subdued again. The others don’t pry, and her mood seems to lift faster as they start traveling again, bikes swallowing the distance between them and the city. They take another quick break when they reach Vermilion’s northern suburbs, and Leaf notifies the various news outlets to update them about their estimated arrival time. Once they start moving again, Red leads the way into the city proper. He’s getting more and more nervous as he imagines what’s waiting for him, and tunes out the conversation of the others as he rehearses what he’s going to say again and again.

Soon the Trainer House appears, and Red checks the time. They’re a little early, but the three different news station crews are already gathered outside it, along with a handful of trainers and passerby who are waiting curiously to see who the crews are waiting for.

Leaf must have noticed his quiet nerves, because she smiles at him as they slow to a stop and return the bikes to their containers. “You’ll be fine,” she says. “Treat it like a teaching session. You’re just telling people something they don’t know.”

“And if you start to get nervous, remember that you can just stick to the basics,” Blue says. “A quick statement, two or three questions, and it’ll be done in no time.”

“You guys should prepare to take over if he gets flustered,” Aiko says. “Not that I’m saying you will, but—”

“Premortem mentality, right.” Red smiles. “Care to do the honors, Leaf?”

“Sure! Just cross your fingers behind your back or something.”

One of the cameramen has been watching them as they get closer, and begins preparing his equipment. The others react to his sudden excitement and look around until they spot the four, so that by the time Red reaches the front door of the Trainer House, everyone is holding their mics out and shouting questions.

“Mr. Oak, a sale of 99 abra was made this morning, how did you—”

“—at such a low price, when such—”

“Who helped you acquire so many—”

Before Red can do more than raise his hands in a half-hearted attempt to slow them down, Leaf steps forward. “Quiet please, everyone! Red Verres has prepared a statement, and we’ll take questions afterward.”

They immediately go silent, expectantly staring at him with six eyes and three camera lenses, not to mention all the onlookers nearby. Red swallows and settles his mind into a pattern of calm, simple data reporting.

“Hello. My name is Red Verres, and these are my traveling companions, Leaf Juniper, Blue Oak, and our new friend, Aiko Sakai. While we were in Cerulean City, I made a plan to capture large quantities of abra to use for my research on measuring physical attributes that enable psychic phenomena…”

Red goes over the strategy he formulated, how they executed it, and how they decided, as a group, to provide them at an immense discount to various institutions in Kanto. Red avoids mentioning Bill, as the inventor didn’t want the notoriety, and he highlights both how invaluable Leaf’s well trained wigglytuff was and how Blue managed to catch, and therefore donate, the most.

“After keeping a few for ourselves the rest have been sold to pokemon centers, gyms, and ranger outposts around the region,” Red says. He realizes he’s speaking too fast, and as a drop of sweat slides down his neck he takes a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart as he loses the clear pattern of what to say next. “Even though we’ve only been on our journey for th-for a few months, we’ve seen the invaluable help these institutions have been to everyone, to ourselves and others. As Blue said, ‘When Kanto’s institutions are stronger, Kanto’s people are safer.’ We hope that this will allow rangers, gym members, and pokemon center staff to he-to be able to more swiftly respond to incidents around the region, so they can continue to help those in need.”

Red lets out the rest of his breath. He feels like he was nearly incoherent, though no one looks particularly upset with him, which is probably a good sign. Still, it’s a struggle to keep his gaze up and keep it moving between the different reporters and cameras. “That’s it,” he says after a moment of silence. “Thank you.”

The reporters immediately begin asking questions, and Leaf once again steps forward and tells them to calm down. Red steps back, and startles as Blue’s hand falls on his shoulder. “Good job,” he mutters. “And thanks for the quote, you made it sound good.” Red flashes him a grateful smile.

“Mr. Oak! How much help were you in forming or executing this plan?”

Blue turns as he’s addressed, hand still on Red’s shoulder. “I didn’t do anything, really. It was all Red’s idea, and Leaf’s coordination with her wigglytuff. I just ran around and caught as many abra as I could, which turned out to be a lot.” He grins, and the audience chuckles. Red wonders why Blue doesn’t like talking to reporters: his voice is casual and confident at the same time, his charm on full display.

Leaf points to another reporter, who smiles at her. “Miss Juniper, was this wigglytuff the same one you used to help apprehend the Renegade on Mt. Moon?”

“Yes, her name is Joy. She’s a fantastic partner, and gave us her all so we could catch as many abra as possible.”

More questions are thrown at them regarding planning, such as safety precautions taken, and captures, which allows Leaf to talk about her method of keeping abra from teleporting away. At one point Aiko is asked whether she participated, but once she tells them she didn’t join the trio until after they left Cerulean, the reporters ignore her. At one point Red is asked what he’s working on now, which allows him to talk about his research.

“Thanks to the volume of samples I was able to scan and test, I believe my recent research is weak evidence of some physical component of psychic power,” Red says, going over his carefully rehearsed lines. “I’m currently seeking publication of my research as I consider new research avenues to explore.”

“Is this related to your involvement in the ‘Flying particle’ that was recently discovered?” a reporter asks.

“I wasn’t really involved in that,” Red says, taken by surprise. “I just expressed some confusion about the way Types are determined, and I guess that kicked off some research, which I’m happy about. But the same scanning technology that Pallet Labs developed is being used, so they might be related in that sense.”

“What advice would you give to other young trainers who plan on becoming researchers?”

Red’s brain locks up. “Uh.” Shit. What can he say to others? Get lucky with who you apprentice under? Not helpful. Question everything? Cliché. Everyone’s staring at him, expecting some pearl of wisdom, but he has no idea what to say—

“Now you’ve done it,” Blue says, and everyone’s attention shifts to him. “Red’s always full of advice about everything, he’s probably sorting what order he wants to say the first ten things in and we’ll be here all day.”

Red laughs along with everyone else, relaxing as he reminds himself to thank Blue later. If there’s one thing Red shouldn’t have trouble with, it’s talking about whatever he finds interesting and helpful, solicited or otherwise.

“I’ll try to stick to one,” Red says. “Notice your confusion, let it guide your search for answers. If something doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because either your model of the world is wrong, or the thing that confuses you is wrong, in some way. That’s what led to my questions at Pallet Labs, and a lot of what I’ve learned since I started my journey. I hope it helps others too.”

The questions start to branch out into the choice to disclose the methodology and commit to a wholesale, which Red is happy to let the others handle, until:

“Mr. Verres, what influenced your decision to offer the abra to the Rangers?”

Red looks up, taken by surprise at the question. “It seemed to be the right thing to do. Abra are a great resource for any organization—”

“But surely you could have sold them at market price, and furthered your research?” The reporter insists.

“I… yes, that’s true. But even at half price we’ve made a good sum.” Red feels uncomfortable with how that came out, and rushes to add, “I wanted to ensure that others benefited from my discovery.”

Leaf steps forward and points to another reporter, and Red relaxes until they look right back at him. “Mr. Verres, your father was a ranger, correct? Ranger Tomio Verres?”

An unexpected lash of pain goes through Red, who stares at the reporter for a moment, realizing too late that this is what the other reporter was hoping he would bring up himself. “Yes. He was.”

“How much did that influence your decision to sell to them?”

Everyone’s watching him as he feels the pain and emptiness grow, far stronger and faster than it usually does these days without him using his powers. Alarm bells start ringing as he remembers Psychic Narud’s warning that weakening his partition could make him more susceptible to the emotions locked behind it overall; Red thought that just meant the general depression that he fell under over the past few weeks. Instead it’s starting to feel like he’s going to have a full meltdown on camera.

Red notices Leaf glancing down at his hands, and his fingers twitch, about to signal her to take over… but what would she even say?

He breathes deep and holds it, about to use shining-mirror-in-a-dim-house to cut off all emotions, then stops himself at the last moment. He can do this.

“A lot,” he says, voice quiet. The microphones are extended further, and he swallows and clears his throat. “A lot. My father was the bravest man… I ever knew, growing up. But I’ve had the privilege of meeting… a number of other Rangers since then, and they showed me that it’s,” he pauses to take another breath, “an organization full of brave men and women, and I hope that I can—”

His voice catches. Pressure is forming behind his eyes, the sun is too hot and everyone’s staring at him as he falls apart, as he—

Blue puts his hand back on Red’s shoulder. Red breathes deep again, and doesn’t brush the tear away as it trails down his cheek. “I hope… to do his memory proud. By helping other rangers… support each other… and get home safe.”

There’s a moment of silence, the reporters all staring, the audience quiet. The only sound is the occasional car along the road. Red feels himself regain control, little by little, but he still feels shaky, and when Leaf takes the opportunity to step forward and thank them for their questions, Red doesn’t resist as Blue guides him inside the Trainer House by the shoulder. He hears scattered applause start up by those watching as he passes by them. When it catches on and fills the air, he wipes at his face and lifts his head a bit higher, letting the sound in, letting it fill another small portion of the hole inside him, at least for now.

Chapter 46: Interlude VII – Connections

Laura’s return trip to Celadon is quick and pleasant. After saying goodnight to Daisy and watching her fly away from the rooftop of her building, Laura takes a moment to look out over the city’s night life. It’s only been a couple months since she moved to Celadon, but she already feels right at home again. She knows she’ll eventually miss the peace and neighborly atmosphere of Pallet Town, but for now it’s nice to be back where every day something new and exciting happens, for those with the interest to hunt it down and interview it.

It isn’t until she makes her way down toward her apartment that her mind drifts back to her conversation with Red, and a chord of guilt, anger, and sadness twists through her.

I was unfair to him.

He shouldn’t have lied to me.

I should have raised him better.

Tom would have known what to say…

Her mood continues to darken until she reaches her front door and finds a sheet of paper folded and taped to it. Grateful for the distraction, she removes it and reads:

Don’t scream.

Laura stares, ice water trickling down her spine, then spins around, expecting a masked man with dark gloves to reach for her—

Nothing. She frantically looks around the hallway, heart hammering, then reads the note again.

Some prank or joke? Maybe a viral marketing campaign. She checks the other doors for notes taped to them, but sees nothing. They might have already removed theirs…

Laura weighs how silly she would feel calling the police for nothing against her vested interest in her personal safety, and compromises with knocking on a neighbor’s door.

“Hi! Sorry to bother you, but I got this note on my door,” Laura says, flashing it at the curious man. “You wouldn’t have happened to get one too, would you?”

His look of bafflement is answer enough, even before he says no. “Want me to check out your apartment with you?” he asks.

“Oh, no, I’m sure it’s nothing.” And she doesn’t want to get him killed if it is. “But would you mind calling the police if I don’t come back and knock again in like, two minutes?”

He smiles uncertainly. “You got it.”

“Thanks so much.” She goes to her door and, in full view of the man still standing at his doorway, unlocks it and slooowly pushes it open.

Nothing jumps out at her. She turns the light on, then pokes her head inside and looks around. Everything seems fine. She exchanges a nervous smile with the man, then goes in and does a thorough search of the apartment.

Everything seems in its proper place. Her heart rate is just about back to normal when she thinks to check under the bed and through the glass door to the balcony, but those are fine too.

She goes back into the hall to flash her neighbor a thumbs-up. He returns it and closes his door, and she lets out her breath as she does the same. Exciting as that was, she hopes it doesn’t keep her up: she finds flying exhausting, even as a passenger. She removes her shoes and gets a glass of water in the kitchen just in time to see the balcony door open and a figure dressed all in black walk into the living room.

Laura is too surprised to squeak, let alone scream. Her grip on the glass loosens enough to drop it, and the figure darts forward two steps and crouches, arm extended to catch it.

“Who… how…”

“Thank you for not screaming,” a heavily synthesized voice says, and Laura registers the mask covering the invader’s face. There’s a portion for their mouth and nose that seems like a high tech gas mask, while dark cloth with some slits covers the rest of their face and a hood covers their hair. “I apologize for startling you.”

Laura steps back, hand pressing against the wall as her galloping heart finally stops choking the breath out of her. She sucks in a deep one, and asks the first thing that comes to mind:

“How did you get inside? I… I checked the balcony.”

“I saw you coming and hung from the one above you.” The figure puts the glass down on her table, then sits on the couch. “Please join me. We have much to talk about.”

Laura stares. Then, slowly, she crosses her arms and glares at the intruder. “What are you, joking? You leave a cryptic note on the door, come in here uninvited, with your creepy mask and voice, and just expect me to sit down and talk? You’re lucky I didn’t just call the police.”

“I would have left if you had.”

“I should just call them now!”

“I would rather you didn’t. As I said, we have much—”

“—to talk about, yeah.” Laura stares at the figure through narrowed eyes. “This isn’t my first cloak and dagger meeting, you know, I just expect more sense. ‘Don’t scream?’ That’s the best you could come up with?”

The figure on the couch stiffens slightly, and Laura isn’t sure if they’re embarrassed or indignant. “I am not used to giving warnings before approaching someone. I wanted to avoid alarming you.”

Laura rolls her eyes. “I do have an email address, you know.”

The figure is silent a moment, and when it speaks again, Laura can detect a trace of wryness or amusement even through the heavy filter. “I snuck into your balcony while wearing a mask and disguising my voice, and you think I would have sent you an email alerting you of the meeting ahead of time?”

Point. “Well, let’s start with the reason for your paranoia, then.” Laura goes to the kitchen and begins making some tea, in part because this promises to be a longer night than she expected, but primarily just to have something to keep her busy and calm her nerves. She reminds herself that if the intruder is here to hurt her they easily could have without warning. Besides, if any part of their paranoia is justified, whatever they’re here for must be something big. “You’re here to talk about a story, I’m guessing. First off, why me? I’m not involved in anything hot enough for this spy movie crap.” Unless I’m waaay off about the Kajima scandal’s significance…

“No, it is not related to anything you are currently investigating, but those investigations and articles, combined with how long you’ve been out of the business, made it easy to ensure you’re not ethically compromised. That combined with the quality of your work makes me believe you would do the right thing with this investigation.”

Laura leans back against the counter as she examines the figure on the couch. Their body gives the impression of being lean beneath the bulky dark cloth, and before sitting they stood almost as tall as Laura, who’s 5’7″. Something about the shape of the shoulders and hips made her think “female,” but beyond that, age and ethnicity are totally concealed. She tries to think of anyone she knows that matches the figure’s stature and body type. “Have we met before?”

“No.”

As if she’d answer anything else with such heavy attempts at disguise. “Then sorry, but I call bullshit. You didn’t just pick me out because I’m some shining beacon of journalistic integrity. There are at least five others I could name who have shown their independence at least as much as I have, and are more experienced to boot. What are you really after?”

The figure is silent for a moment, and eventually says, “You’re correct, there is another thing. You have a relationship with one of the most powerful figures in Kanto. I suspect you may need the support and resources that affords you, if you pursue this investigation.”

Laura’s eyes narrow. Taking some personal risks is part of the job, but she doesn’t want to bring any trouble onto Sam. She takes the time to finish making the tea before answering, thoughts racing.

Eventually she sits across from the figure and places two cups of tea on the table. She doesn’t expect the other person to drink it, but it seems the polite thing to do, even if she’s worried about poison or whatever. “So let’s get something straight. If you’re just using me to get help from Professor Oak, it’s not going to be that simple. I’ll tell him whatever I deem fit, and ask of him only what I think is safe for him. Got it? You want me as a journalist, you’ve got me, assuming whatever you have is real. But if you want me as a friend of the professor, you’re better off trying with someone else.”

“It’s you I want, Mrs. Verres.”

“Okay. So what’s so important that you couldn’t risk an email with some basic information for me to dig into on my own?”

The figure reaches into a pocket and pulls out a flash drive, placing it on the table. “This has information on the Silph Company’s communications and dealings, from a number of highly placed members. After reading your investigative work and articles on corporate corruption and influence, I believe you will be motivated to reveal their true criminal acts.”

Laura stares at the flash drive, stomach churning with sudden excitement, and then dread. Her fingers itch to pick it up, and she tightens them around her mug. “Where did you get this?”

The figure is silent a moment. “That’s not relevant.”

“It is to me. Are you a whistleblower? Someone in the power structure? If not, if any of this was obtained illegally…” She thinks of the conversation she had with Red just a few hours ago, about moral compromises.

“I’m not asking you to publish this information,” the figure says. “I’m asking you to use it to look in the right places. Or as leverage, if you need to.”

“Why? What do you get out of this?”

“I want to stop their abuses of power. But recent events have convinced me that I may not be able to do it on my own. I need your help.”

“That doesn’t really answer my question. You could be from a competing company, or an ex-employee with a chip on your shoulder. I need to know who I’m working with, why I should trust anything on there as legitimate.”

“I won’t reveal my identity. Not yet. But I have confidence you can verify enough of the information to decide for yourself what to trust. I have more information of my own, but it is not verifiable. It’s up to you to reveal them to the world. The password on it is ‘purple Laura six Silph left.’ Try to memorize it rather than write it down.”

Laura imagines six of herself dressed in purple standing on the roof of Silph’s megamart with their left hand raised. “Done.”

“Good.”

The figure stands, and Laura holds up a hand. “Hold on. If we’re going to do this, I need a way to contact you. You breaking into my apartment as you please won’t work for me.” She’s pretty sure the intruder means her no harm, but even still, wondering if a masked figure is waiting for her every night she comes home would be hell on her peace of mind.

“Then I’ll find you somewhere else. I have business outside the city, and won’t return for another week at least. We can speak more then.”

Laura frowns, ready to say that isn’t good enough, but the figure is already headed out the way they came in. “Hey! Use the front door!” She doesn’t really expect to be listened to, and sure enough they ignore her and disappear over the side of the balcony. Laura stares after them for a moment, wondering… then turns back to the flash drive sitting patiently on her table.

It could be a trap of some kind. Have a virus on it, ready to install a keylogger or something. She’d have to get it thoroughly checked out first…

Her fingers twitch, and she abruptly stands and goes to the balcony to lock it, then goes to the kitchen and puts the tea cups in the fridge.

Tomorrow. She’ll deal with all this tomorrow.

With one last glance at the flash drive on the table, she flees for her bedroom. Even without drinking any of the tea, it takes almost an hour of tossing and turning for sleep to claim her.


The next day she walks through Celadon with what feels like a hot coal in her pocket. She woke without a shred of sleepiness, getting up and out of bed in seconds so she could get to work. Forty minutes later she reaches the apartment of one of her most trusted associates, and one of the few that’s both in Celadon and available to meet on such short notice.

She knocks on his door, then waves to the camera set above it. Dominick opens the door a minute later.

“Morning, Dom.”

“Morning,” he grunts, closing the door behind her. His apartment’s living room and attached kitchen is full of container boxes, most sealed but some open to reveal their various contents, everything from clothing to kitchenware. “Coffee?”

“Had tea, thanks.”

He nods, then heads for the hallway in the back of the room. She follows and steps around the clutter as best she can. Dominick Bailey was a Celadon police officer years ago, part of the city’s cyber crimes division. She met him while they were both working on the same investigation from opposite sides, and agreed to help each other out. Dom retired before she left the city, but still did some freelance work for the department, and other clients who needed computer help of the right kind. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Y’r fine.” The ex-CPO is getting on in years now, hair and beard grey and deep creases around his eyes, but he’s still broad shouldered, and fit enough to lift what looks like a heavy box of electronics with one hand so she can pass through the hall easier. “Sorry f’r the mess.”

“Not so bad this time around,” she teases, which only makes him grunt again. Dom moves around a lot, seemingly on a whim. Most of the time it’s within the city, but even still he does it often enough that at some point he just stopped unpacking all his things beyond removing them from their container balls. The only room that looks more or less habitable is the one his computer desk is in, and she sits on one of the boxes that still has its cover on as he settles into the chair in front of his many monitors. She takes the flash drive out of her pocket and hands it to him.

“Where’d you get it?” he asks as he plugs it into an older looking computer that’s connected to nothing but a separate monitor, mouse and keyboard.

“Masked stranger came in through my window last night and gave it to me,” she says, voice bland.

Dom grunts. “Need a better lock? I’ve got something, could help.”

“No, I think I’ll be okay, thanks.”

“Encrypted,” he says, and hands her the keyboard.

She types the password in, and he takes it back and begins monitoring some programs to ensure the flash drive doesn’t contain anything but basic text files. “Think you’ll need an extra hand on this one?”

Laura considers it. The figure hadn’t explicitly told her not to share the information with anyone, and she’d already said she would tell Professor Oak whatever she deemed fit. “Not sure yet, I’ll have to take a look through it first. But if it’s as big as it was made out to be, probably. At the very least I might hire you on as a filter, if that’s okay.”

Dom grunts assent, eyes on his monitor. Laura hires a number of “filters” to do some of the more tedious research work involved in her job. It took a few weeks for Laura to build up her network again, made up of both people she used to work with and new ones. Most are private detectives that can do preliminary investigations into major crimes and legal conflicts that come up in the city, then email her with summaries so she can look them over. All have worked as cops or journalists in the past, and have an eye for what would make a good or impactful story. The rest are like Dom, proficient in more specialized fields of detective work.

“Some audio files too, but looks clean,” Dom finally says, and goes to remove it.

“Wait. Make a copy.”

“Sure?”

“Yeah. If something happens to me…”

He eyes her. “The masked stranger. Wasn’t a joke?”

She shakes her head, staring at the flash drive. Now that her suspicions of the visitor are a bit alleviated, the reality of the encounter settles in. “I’ll spend most of the night looking through this stuff, see what’s on it. Maybe send you a few things to follow up on, if you can spare a couple hours tomorrow?”

He grunts, then gets up and leaves. Laura has a moment to wonder if she should follow him, then he’s back and hands her a small box that’s heavier than she expects. “What’s this?”

“Iron latch for the balcony door, and stun baton.” She digs for her wallet and he waves her off. “Happy birthday.”

She smiles and decides to add a bonus to his retainer. “Thanks, Dom.”


The rest of the day is spent on various errands related to her ongoing work: a couple quick interviews, a visit to her old news station to finalize some freelance work, and a walk by the Contamination Zone where the grimer attack’s effects are still being cleaned up. She ignores the flash drive in her pocket as best she can through it all, but afterward instead of going grocery shopping as planned she just picks up fast food on the way home, eager to begin her search.

When she does however, it quickly becomes clear that she badly misunderstood the nature of the task ahead. She expected to have to dig through hundreds of benign files to find the good stuff, and there do appear to be hundreds of those on the flash drive… but they’re meticulously named and organized by event, so that all she has to do is click the folder named “Bribery of Public Officials” and be treated to a number of subfolders specifying names and dates and containing all the relevant information, along with links back to the directories that contain the rest of the data they were found in.

After returning to the top level folders and scanning their names, Laura’s breath catches.

Murder.

She double clicks it and finds another dozen files, each with names, dates, or both. She clicks the first one and finds…

Almost nothing. She clicks through faster, skimming a few text files with notes, some emails taken from Silph employees that might hint and allude to involvement in crimes, but don’t confirm anything.

Laura lets her breath out. This is why her informant brought all this to Laura: to fill in these gaps. This is why they said she might need powerful resources and allies in her corner, when all is said and done.

No, finding something to send to Dom isn’t going to be an issue. Deciding what to send him among all the various avenues to explore is. This will almost certainly be more than a two person job… which means she’ll need to secure some funding.

Laura gets up and begins to pace her room, then goes out onto the balcony. She reminds herself to install the lock before she goes to bed, then stares out over the city and considers what her first move should be. Eventually she decides to investigate any breaches in Silph security, assuming they’d let any news of it slip out. Her visitor said that the information came from high up employees, so she should also look into any that were recently let go and might have an axe to grind.

All this assuming of course that the intruder themself isn’t a Silph employee whistle-blowing on illegal activity. Much easier to get into some colleague’s offices and copy their hard drives and emails over the space of a year or two. They may reveal themselves to Laura the next time they meet, but they also might not, and in the meantime…

Laura takes her phone out to make a call, then stops and curses herself for being an idiot, putting it away.

She was distracted when the intruder first came. Thrown off her stride both by the celebration she came from and the sudden fear of the note on the door. But now she has no excuse, and while it’s been years since she was involved in a story that might be this big, she has to get over being rusty fast.

She turns around and looks at her apartment, which was so easily invaded despite being so high up. Even if she takes the intruder on faith, there’s no reason to think someone else couldn’t do the same thing.

Her phone was with her that night, so she knows it’s safe, but everything else…

She leaves her apartment and walks around the block as she makes a series of calls, the first of which is to schedule a full sweep of her apartment for surveillance equipment and the second to install extra locks on her balcony and front door. She’d return Dom’s, but happily borrow his stun baton.

Next would come checking with her various contacts for anyone interested in looking into the various claims on the flash drive so she can get independent confirmation of some. Speaking of which, she should tell her various filters to stand by for a new task.

Laura looks over each of the new stories they’ve sent her, occasionally flagging some to read later, then lets them know that she won’t need any more for the immediate future and would have other work for them instead.

As for where she’d get the money for hiring everyone…

She calls her old boss at the Celadon Broadcasting Network, who answers after a couple rings. “Hey Peter, got a minute? Or are you already tucked in for the night?”

“It’s almost ten, so naturally I’m still at the office. As you should well know.”

“I didn’t want to assume. What if you achieved a healthy work-life balance while I was gone?”

He snorts. “If you spot one of those let me know, we can run it in the new pokemon discovery section. What’s up, Laura?”

“I have a story.”

“You have a story? Not you think you have a story, or you have the beginnings of a story?”

“I’ve got multiple stories, actually. Big ones.”

There’s silence on the other end of the line, and when Peter speaks again he sounds worried. “What’s happened? There’s nothing on the other networks. Is this about the Flying Type discovery?”

“The what?”

“Jeez Laura, where you been? It was all over the news today.”

“Didn’t see it, was too busy working on this.”

“Well, it must be good then. Whatcha got?”

“I can’t talk details yet. I just need an open retainer and a safe port.”

“An open retainer? If you have multiple stories already…”

“Some are going to be ready to go sooner than others, but I’m going to need a lot of manpower in verifying how deep the real story is.”

“Shit. Aaah, shit.” Despite his words, she can finally hear the thread of excitement in Peter’s voice as it hits home. “Is it a whistleblower? A collaborative work? Private or government?”

“I really can’t say yet. Is that a yes?”

There’s another pause. “I’m interested, sure. And I understand the need for secrecy… but Laura, I don’t know if I can get you an open retainer without more. We have history, but you’re still freelance. I’d have to run it by the others, and Leo is probably going to want at least one article by the end of the week.”

Laura frowns. “This is delicate, Peter. Putting something up that soon could compromise the real story.”

“I understand, but anything more than that will take some extra promises from you on article count. Maybe there’s another solution. You come in on it, limited contract, and I can offer you some interns to do the grunt work.”

“No, I need my people on this.” Laura paces back and forth in front of a bakery, the smells tempting her to go inside and grab a pastry. She forces herself to keep walking and escape the distraction as she tries to think of a realistic time frame for something substantive. “What about two weeks? Do you think you can swing that?”

“With a cap, sure. Maybe I can swing for dropping it if you come back in officially?”

Laura curses under her breath. She enjoyed her time there well enough, when she was still starting her career, but all the oversight and rules and meetings… she’s not ready to give up her independence just yet. Maybe she can make it work with two weeks if she dips into her savings a bit… though she’d really rather not have to do that.

Then you’re still not taking this seriously,” Red said, eyes unflinching in the lamp light.

Laura rubs her forehead. “Two weeks with a cap,” she agrees. “But something high, Peter, I’m using professionals.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Let you know tomorrow.”

She thanks him and says goodnight, then continues walking around the city to let the nightlife wash over her as she plans her next steps out. Eventually she stops to grab some food, and skims the news for a mention of the news Peter mentioned.

It’s not hard to find, topping most of the web and news aggregators. Her brow rises in particular at the name of the person credited beneath the headline: Dr. Madi, one of Red’s supervisors when he worked at the lab.

She clicks the article, then plays the video of the press release as she eats. Pallet Town’s one news station has three different rooms they like to use for filming interviews: this one is their smallest and coziest, with warm dark colors that compliment Dr. Madi’s friendly, open face.

Interviewing him is one of Laura’s old neighbors and friends, Miho. “We’re here with Dr. Madi of Pallet Labs, whose team has discovered a new particle they call the ‘key’ to understanding pokemon flight. So, what does this mean in layman’s terms, Dr. Madi? Is the dream of human flight about to be realized?”

Dr. Madi adjusts his rimless glasses and smiles. “I’ll leave that to the engineers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this leads to wingsuits that can generate and maintain lift, for a time at least. What we discovered is basically a type of… particle isn’t the right word for it, but it’s close enough, a type of particle that creates a minor burst of force when it collides with others in a vacuous enough space. The result of this in our relatively open, gaseous atmosphere is that it creates a cascading wave of pressure, which pushes the air around it outward up to a particular distance, creating lift and causing winds of high speeds.”

Laura is already messaging Red to ask if he’s seen this as the reporter nods along, then asks, “And this is the particle that all flying pokemon put out when they flap their wings?”

“Well, that’s the interesting part,” Dr. Madi says, becoming more animated. “Not all pokemon that fly seem to emit this particle, and of those that do, not all do so in the same way. In fact, this whole line of investigation was sparked when one of our interns, a young researcher currently on his pokemon journey named Red Verres, began questioning the very nature of what it means to be a ‘Flying’ pokemon.” Laura grins wide, typing faster as a swell of pride goes through her. “Recent advances in pokedex scanning technology have allowed us to better isolate the root of that mystery. Mechanically it always seemed obvious that a pokemon’s ability to fly justified the label, but the actual physics of it were mysterious, since wingspan, shape, and muscle mass appeared to have little correlation with how much wind force the pokemon could put out. It’s been a constant source of frustration for everyone from scientists to inventors.”

“Can you give some examples?”

“Sure, if you look at humanity’s first attempts at flying machines, you see that it took contraptions with much wider wingspans than almost any pokemon to lift an equivalent weight,” Dr. Madi says, spreading his arms wide out and flapping them. “We created dozens of artificial wing designs, and none were capable of the strong gusts that even a small pidgey can create, let alone the twisters and hurricane force winds of a pidgeot. Humans ultimately learned to fly in different ways, but this particle is the explanation for what we were missing by trying to mimic pokemon.”

“And now that mystery is solved, once and for all.”

“Well, now we at least know we’re started on the right path, at least. There’s still a lot of work to do to fully understand the particle’s properties and effects.”

“You said that not all pokemon that fly emit this particle. Such as?”

“I think flygon and carnivine surprised everyone the most. A lot of people lost money on those bets,” he says with a rueful chuckle.

Miho seems genuinely surprised, shifting Laura’s opinion that this was a rehearsed piece. “Flygon isn’t a Flying Type?”

“If we decide to define the type by the emission of these particles to achieve flight, then no.”

“Then how does it fly?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” He grins. “Now come on, ask me the other side of it.”

Miho grins back. “Alright, since you seem so eager to tell us, what pokemon most surprised you by having it?”

“Do you want to guess?”

“Oh, gosh. Umm, tropius? But no, that makes sense now, doesn’t it? Tell us!”

“Gyarados.”

Miho’s mouth drops open. “No.”

“Oh yes.”

“How? From where?”

“That took a lot of figuring out, I don’t mind telling you. Ultimately some trainers and coordinators far braver than I am discovered that the scales on the gyarados underbellies can emit the particle in bursts, which is how they can launch their massive bodies through the air with such force when breaching water.”

“But… does this mean gyarados aren’t Dragon Types, then?”

Dr. Madi smiles and pushes his glasses up his nose. “I’m afraid that’s outside my area of expertise, so I’ll leave it to the battle trainers to debate. We’re still in the early stages of understanding everything we can about this particle, and the various ways it might react to different substances and energies may shed more light on what it means for the battle scene, not to mention a better understanding of Flying pokemon abilities and weaknesses.”

“Well, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we’re all interested in the results of that. Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Madi.”

“You’re quite welcome, and thanks to my team at Pallet Labs. A lot of people worked very hard on this, and like always with new discoveries, it’s an exciting time for everyone.”

“Alright then, we hope to have you back on soon with more to share!”

Laura’s phone buzzes as she gets a message from Red.

Yeah, I saw it! Was pretty surprised, I had no idea they were working on that. And the namedrop was nice, particularly since it sets up my announcement about the abra and my research on the psychic particle, since both were discovered through Professor Oak’s new dex tech.

Laura smiles. Yes, that does sound like something Sam would orchestrate. Are you all in Saffron yet, or have you passed it?

Actually we’re still north of it. We spent the night at Aiko’s house and it’s been raining like crazy here since this morning, so we decided to spend another night.

Huh. She wouldn’t have expected rain to stop the kids from traveling, especially since they should be so close to the underground tunnel. Maybe they’re enjoying their time with Aiko’s family.

Well take care hon, looking forward to seeing your press release!

Thanks, love you.

Laura smiles, feeling a warmth inside that has nothing to do with the delicious soup. Despite how hurt and angry she still feels at him, Laura wants to apologize for being so hard on Red soon. Not yet though. Some stewing would be good for him. Love you too, she types back.

Laura puts the phone away so she can focus on enjoying her meal, only to have it chime again a minute later. She briefly resists the urge to check it, then takes it out to look at the screen. It’s Dom.

Night cleared up. Want apartment sweep now or morning?

Laura catches the waitress’s attention and asks for her main course to go.


With her apartment declared secure from eavesdropping, Laura wakes early the next morning to talk with her various research aids, then prioritize her workflow. As soon as she gets the official go-ahead from Peter in the afternoon, she starts delegating tasks and sketching out various article frameworks based on the illegal acts contained in the flash drive, trying to pick the ones with the most publicly verifiable evidence and most isolated incidents. The last thing she wants to do is hint at a larger conspiracy that would make Silph lock down and start a cover up.

Unfortunately there’s little of that worth publishing in its own right. Some unethical business practices aren’t going to help Peter get authorizing for the extent of funding she really wants. She needs something meaty to justify that this is more than she can handle on her own.

For now she lets her filters take a pass down individual lines of inquiry and focuses on the broad patterns herself. After a few hours it becomes clear that the majority of the information comes from or concerns Fuchsia city. If her informant works for Silph, they’re probably stationed there. What’s more, the least recent information is from Fuchsia: once Laura starts focusing on the most recent conversations and business details, then cross referencing them to locations, she sees almost every major city in Kanto has had data extracted from it over the past two months.

She orders lunch to her apartment, eating on her balcony to give her eyes a rest from the computer monitors. This is more information than a single whistleblower should have access to, unless they’ve somehow compromised Silph’s entire security network. It’s possible her informant is in fact a hacker, but if so they would probably feel more comfortable with an encrypted message than with climbing onto her balcony to meet in person.

Speaking of which… how many people would be capable of something like that and also work for a corporation like Silph? Maybe they’re a professional security hacker that was hired by Silph and found incriminating information, or a rival company…

Laura reminds herself that verification of the data on the flash drives is more important right now than anything else. Still, she can hardly ask Silph HQ to confirm details of illegal or unethical practices: even if they answered honestly, it would tip her hand.

But there are other ways of getting or confirming information, when you have some to start with. Laura considers all the personal information she has available from the flash drive, and tries to weigh the good of what she’s trying to accomplish against the ethics of what she’s contemplating. If she were still working for the CBN officially, she would need approval by senior editors and managers, and have stringent controls placed around her. Right now she’s free of all that, but that means the liability is all on her too… and the ethical dilemma.

Laura thinks of the murders in Fuchsia that are alleged by the mysterious stranger’s information to have been ordered by Silph. If even half of all of this is true, the company has some deep rot that goes pretty high up. By the standards of ethical practice, some deceptive practices should be justified in uncovering it.

Not that it makes her feel much better. Laura takes a deep breath, then calls Dom. “Hey. I need a way to spoof my phone ID. Mind if I head over?”

Two hours later she has a list of directory names, numbers, and titles in front of her, along with some key excerpts from the flash drive files. She twirls a pen between her fingers nervously as the phone rings, connecting her to a Silph finances office in Cerulean.

“Hello, this is Maddie.”

“Hi, Maddie, this is Elsa over in Celadon,” Laura says, pitching her voice higher and with just the right mix of cheer and exasperation. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve got a problem with the accounts on this end and was hoping you could clarify the details of a pay order?”

“Oh, of course. Elsa, did you say? I’m sorry but could you tell me whose office you’re in?”

“Mr. Hishida. I got lent over to help check the accounts before next month’s audit. I’ve got to finish this by Monday, and it would save a lot of time if I could double check this with you.”

“Sure, of course.” Laura hears the hesitation in their voice, and then… “Do you mind if I just check with Mr. Hishida first?”

“Not at all! He’s in a meeting at the moment, why don’t I try to figure it out on my own and if I can’t by the time he’s back, I’ll tell him to call you?”

“That would be great, thanks. Good luck!”

“Thank you!” Laura closes the call and scratches off the top entry on her list, then goes to the next one. And the next one. And the next, until:

“Sure, no problem! What’s the transaction number?”

Laura quickly checks to make sure she has the right number for the office she called. This one was in the Pewter branch… “OT-733-1489-6-25.”

“Alright, just give me one second… okay, and the date on that was?” Laura confirms the date, and even the account it came from. “Yeah, that was authorized by Mrs. Rhee.”

Laura stares at the name on the file: Mrs. Rhee. Here it is. Not just independent verification of the information on the flash drives, but potentially damning evidence of criminal activity.

“Thanks so much, have a great day!” Laura ends the call, then rereads the files on the money transfer. A few of the documents in the chain are tenuous, but they lead to a politician with clear conflicts of interest. If she can find a few more and shore up the connections, this could lead to a solid story that justifies more investigation, but not in the direction of the really scary skeletons in Silph’s closet that might put them on high alert.

Payments to known violent criminals. Coverups of crimes by those in the company. And something more… She frowns at the jumble of files that her informant clearly wasn’t able to connect to any specific crime. Laura minimizes them and focuses on the money transfers again. She’ll just have to trust her people to untangle that mess.

She goes back to her list and starts calling the next one.


It takes her a week and a half to fact check, write, and publish the article. Laura gives Silph Company a heads up to the allegations so they have an opportunity to respond, but they decline to comment. The very day it comes out, Laura comes home after an evening meeting with Peter for expanded funding to see a note taped to the front of her door. She feels her pulse speed up as irritation and wariness makes her walk faster. Did all her new locks really do nothing to stop the masked stranger? And they said they would find another place to contact her…

Laura quickly snatches the paper off the door and reads it:

“Balcony.”

Laura blinks, then opens her door and walks to the balcony, which is still securely locked. She can see the stranger standing out there and smiles. Good to know she didn’t waste her money on the security upgrades. Though maybe they’re just being considerate… If the intruder didn’t place the note on the door from the inside, did that mean they were walking through the halls in that disguise? Maybe I should put a camera in the hallway.

Laura puts her things away and turns the voice recording app on for her phone, then slips it into her pocket and opens the balcony door to invite her informant inside.

“What was that?” they say upon entering, heavy voice modulation not disguising their anger.

“Hello to you too,” Laura says, closing it behind them. “What was what?”

“That article. It was totally useless, just some shitty white collar crimes, and worse, now they might be aware of a leak! What were you thinking?”

Laura frowns as she watches them gesticulate and pace around her living room. Despite their clear agitation, they suddenly seem less imposing, somehow. Laura wonders for the first time how old they are.

“I’m sorry, which of us is the journalist here?” she asks at last.

The figure stops and turns to her. “What?”

“You came to me because you trusted me to do what needs to be done. If you wanted to be involved in the planning, you should have stuck around and talked it out instead of playing up the ‘mysterious stranger’ angle.”

“I came to you because I wanted the real crimes revealed! People are getting killed, and you waste almost two weeks on some bureaucrats being bribed?”

Laura crosses her arms. “Do you want to let me talk or not?”

Her informant is quiet a moment, then goes to the couch and sits. “Explain.”

Laura rolls her eyes and sits across from her, then goes over her restraints and plans. “This is the best way forward,” she insists. “It’ll take time to get all the evidence on the bigger crimes anyway, and whatever defense they try to mount against the white collar allegations might shake other things free.”

“You’re underestimating them. They won’t just go on the defensive, this is going to prompt a retaliation.”

“Legally I’m in the clear, I just came back from making sure of—”

Her informant is shaking their head before Laura even finishes. “Listen to me. You don’t know these people. Whoever’s calling the shots in the organization on this stuff, they’re not acting like a businessman, they’re acting like a strategist in an active war. I’ve spent months trying to stay ahead, and I’m not even their primary enemy, though they may be aware of me now. Do you have pokemon?”

Laura blinks at the sudden change of topic. “No, I’m not a trainer.”

“Get some. You’re going to need to get serious about self-defense now that you’ve revealed yourself so early.”

A dozen thoughts go through Laura’s head, but none of them attempt to minimize what she just heard. Her informant may be paranoid, but there’s enough on the flash drive to make them have reason to be, even without Laura knowing what they’ve been through to get it.

“I told you, I’m not a trainer. If Silph is actually going to send hit men after me, my best way to stay safe is to be informed and cautious. I’ve already upgraded my security, as you may have noticed.”

“They’ll just wait until you leave.”

“If you’re this worried, why didn’t you tell me all this earlier?”

“I didn’t want to scare you off.” Is that a note of peevishness in the electronic, synthesized voice? They really are new to this, Laura realizes. “Will you continue? Or are you still not taking this seriously?”

“I am, and I will,” Laura says. “But I think it’s time for you to be more honest with me. Who are you? How did you get all this information? I’ve had my apartment swept for listening devices already, we’re safe to talk here.”

Her informant stands. “I can’t. Not now, especially not with you at risk like this.”

“You’re leaving again? Can you go out the front door this time, at least? I’ll check to make sure the coast is clear and you can take the mask off in the stairway. Otherwise someone might see you climbing around out there.”

“They won’t. Besides, I don’t know how fast Silph will move, but the usual ways into your apartment will probably be watched soon if they’re not already.”

Laura stands too, feeling frustrated. “So that’s it, you just came to berate me and not give any more information or help?”

“I gave you both. It’s up to you to take them seriously, or not. I’ll be back to check on you soon.”

“What happened to us meeting elsewhere?” Laura asks in exasperation as her informant heads for the balcony again.

“Too risky, now,” the masked figure says before stepping through the balcony door. “The safest way to not be anticipated is to not have a plan.”


Laura goes through the next day in a state of heightened awareness that has her stressed out by midday and exhausted by nightfall. She refuses to let her life be dictated by fear and stay inside all day, but in taking her informant seriously she can’t help but crane her neck around as she runs errands through the city. Is that woman the same one that she saw at the cafe? The man sitting across from her on the subway, is he only pretending to read, or is he making note of where she exits? How many eyes are watching her as she returns home?

Some tension leaves her as she carefully opens her door and checks the tape she placed over the hinge and signed her name over, which is thankfully uncreased. Laura unpacks her new purchases, which includes a pokeball. Contained inside is her very first pokemon, a tangela.

A strange mix of feelings go through her as she holds its ball up, getting used to its weight. The last time she held a pokeball, it was one of Tom’s as he took her out to practice with them. She never had the passion or interest in becoming a trainer, but knowing the basics was important for safety or emergencies, and her husband always practiced what he preached about the value of being prepared.

She’s glad for those lessons now, even if she’s a little rusty. It would be nice to use his pokemon again, who she would at least be familiar with, but as a ranger his pokemon were all taken for reassignment to others after his death. Just another sacrifice asked of those in the force. Before today it always seemed a justified one.

Laura shakes her head and clips the ball to her new belt. No, it’s still better that Kage and the rest had gone on to help keep others safe over the past few years. It just means she’ll have to spend a little more time practicing with her tangela. Besides, Tom barely had any pokemon suited for civilian self defense the way her new pokemon is, with its plethora of non-lethal abilities.

She puts the belt on so she can get used to it there, then goes to her computer to relax, catch up on emails, and check for the latest results from her filters.

Research altering and funding false studies on effects of Silph products…

Two murders that might be connected, in both cases pokemon were stolen from the houses…

Bribery of investigators or witnesses of crimes…

Relocation and concealment of people…

Laura sits up, attention sharpening. She clicks the subject line to read the full report.

Verified payments to housing and living expenses for people with no apparent link to company. Only aware of a few so far, the earliest of which starts about seven years ago. Maybe off-payroll workers, but info for who they are, what they do, or how they were hired seem purposefully avoided. All have little to no contact with others in Silph outside of R&D, and these communications are only mentioned in passing, no detailed logs or emails in the flash drive. Might be more info hidden somewhere, will keep looking. Not sure what it’s all about, but seems sketchy. Let me know if I should stop.

Laura types out her answer with a sense of excitement that she knows is premature. Ever since her conversation with Professor Oak the night Red left home, she’s had few leads on the missing researchers he mentioned. Finding out as much as she could about Dr. Fuji was her first step, and looking for patterns in the other missing researchers was time consuming work that she nevertheless spent a few hours a week returning to. It was quickly clear that he was right, there were dozens of scientists and engineers who had quietly slipped out of the public eye around the globe, but the why and where to was still a mystery.

That Silph might be behind it all on top of everything else seems too good to be true, but assuming these people are off the grid, how many secret conspiracies involving missing researchers can there be? Well, okay, probably a few… Still, while without mention of contact with R&D this would just be a curiosity, with it she feels justified in forwarding the email to Sam. She adds some context of what it’s referring to, cluing him in on what’s been going on lately.

He answers within an hour, and sends her the link to some “cyber detectives” that will apparently work on this particular task for free. Laura’s brow rises. She wasn’t aware that he had so many connections in hacker circles, but it would be useful to have them as an extra resource, especially to work off of data her more traditional private detectives find.

Meanwhile, she checks the various locations where people are being housed. Mostly rural areas, apparently, the first of which is currently in Lavender Town.

Laura reaches out to one of her people in Saffron to ask if they would mind taking a quick vacation to the east. It might teach them nothing, but getting a visual of whoever is living at the house in Lavender could help string more clues together.

Something begins to bother her as she writes the email, like an itch in her mind. It feels like she’s forgetting something, but before she can devote attention to it…

Knock knock knock.

Laura glances at the door in surprise, then finishes typing her email out, sends it, and puts her computer to sleep to go check who it is. A quick look through the peephole reveals a nondescript man in a black suit, and after checking to ensure her stun baton is at hand beside the door, Laura opens it. “Hello, can I help you?”

“Laura Verres?”

“Yes?”

“Mr. Silph humbly requests to speak with you.”

Laura stares at the man, heart suddenly thudding in her chest. “Right now? I’m rather busy at the moment, I’m afraid I can’t go anywhere.”

The man turns to the side, and Kazue Silph, president of the largest trainer supply company in the tri-region area, steps into view. The old man looks smaller in person than he does on television, but no frailer. His bearing is as confident and lively as Professor Oak’s, despite being at least ten years Sam’s senior, any stoop in his shoulders or back hidden by a perfectly tailored suit.

Not an ostentatious one, however. Laura has learned enough over the years to judge, interviewing people in everything from off-the-rack generic two-pieces, to designer, custom fit three-pieces, to those made of ridiculously expensive patented fabric blends.

The president of Silph Co. wears a plain tan two-piece suit, with a red bowtie. Fitted, no doubt, but with what looks like a basic fabric and simple buttons rather than the flashy ones many rich favor.

He’s also wearing a bowler hat, which he removes to reveal a balding crown of white hair. “Good evening, Mrs. Verres. I was hoping we could speak on some rather pressing matters.”

“On the record, or off?” she asks, hoping her face shows none of her shock or apprehension.

He smiles. It’s a good one, warming even his pale blue eyes. “Off, if you’d please.”

Laura only takes a few moments more to come to her decision. Whatever he wants to talk about, it’s better to know than not know. She steps back from her doorway, but he puts his hat back on. “Why don’t we go to the roof?”

“Of course. Let me just get my jacket.” She closes the door, then makes sure her phone is set to record before putting her jacket on, sticking her stun baton in a sleeve, and stepping into the hall. There’s another man in a suit standing outside, keeping his gaze on the hallway.

“Excuse me a moment,” she says, and goes to one of the neighbor’s doors, a student with a pet purrloin that Laura has cared for in the past while its owner was out of town.

Laura knocks, and when the young woman opens her door, Laura smiles in relief. “Hey Danni, would you mind watching my apartment for a moment?”

Her neighbor’s brow rises. “Sure. Got some food cooking?”

“Just have to step out for a bit.” She moves out of the way to let her neighbor enter the hall, and only catches her shocked expression in her periphery, watching Mr. Silph instead. The president is still smiling, but with a wry edge now, eyes meeting Laura’s as Danni stammers some greeting and throws Laura a confused look before disappearing into her apartment.

“Ready to go, now?” he asks once her door closes.

“Right this way,” she says and leads him and his retinue to the roof. The night isn’t really chilly, but she tightens the jacket around her middle anyway as they step away from the landing and teleportation areas and toward the railing at the edge. The president’s bodyguards stay a distance away, which she appreciates. She still feels like her pulse is a galloping rapidash in her throat as she waits for him to speak first.

They look out over the city together, watching as a huge noctowl and its rider soar down toward another building’s rooftop, wings flapping as it passes over theirs. Laura imagines she can see the concussive particles billowing outward as her hair and clothes stir. “I take it you’re not here to set the record straight on my article?” she says at last, impatience winning out. She doesn’t know what a billionaire’s time is worth, but she has work to get back to.

“Not officially, with this being off the record and all, but our statement about those allegations will be ready tomorrow. I don’t mind giving you a small scoop and letting you know that we’ll be conducting thorough internal investigations to get to the bottom of such troubling charges.”

Laura nods. And to see where the leaks are coming from, no doubt. “You’re here about my gardening column, then.”

He chuckles. “You must think me a very dangerous man, Mrs. Verres.”

“What makes you say that?” she asks after a moment, trying not to let her wariness show.

He leans forward slightly, arms resting on the railing. “Your request of your neighbor was smoothly done, but entirely too cautious for a simple meeting with a businessman, however unethical you believe my employees may have acted. To say nothing of what’s likely distorting the shape of your jacket sleeve.”

Laura’s heart hammers faster as she realizes that he’s right. She might as well have held up a big flashing sign telling him how much wider her suspicions run than the simple accusations in the article. “I’m sorry, Mr. Silph, I didn’t think of how that would appear. I’m afraid I’m paranoid by nature, and after living in Pallet Town for so long, returning to the city has been a change I’m still getting used to. I meant no offense.”

“Of course. A woman on her own must look after herself.”

His demeanor is still affable, and she does a mental sidestep, imagining she’s in an interview so that she can more easily match it. “Remarks like that, which can be both reassuring and threatening, don’t help,” she says with a wry smile.

Mr. Silph chuckles. “You’re quite right. I apologize, I’m not here to threaten you, far from it. I’m here to warn you.”

“Still not helping.”

“Oh, not from me. From the source or sources of your information.”

“I’m sorry? I don’t know what you mean,” Laura says after waiting a second and knitting her brow together in confusion. She feels sweat on her neck and resists the urge to wipe it off.

“You do,” he says with steady assurance. “I won’t waste both of our time explaining how I know that you do. There are forces outside of your knowledge at work here. The information they’ve fed you that led to that article no doubt seemed genuine, and perhaps it was. If so I owe you and them some thanks, for identifying bad actors in my company. But I built said company out of nothing over the course of my life, and there are plenty of people who would love to see it torn down, taken over, or split into smaller, more easily manipulated parts, stifling its innovation and potential. I won’t let that happen.”

Laura is silent. He’s wrong if he thinks Laura’s informant wanted her to publish that article… or rather, that’s not the impression she got from their second meeting. Maybe that was just an act: it wouldn’t be particularly hard, with the voice filter and mask, to convincingly pretend to be upset about something.

“But you are just a pawn in this, I understand that,” he continues. “It is not your fault that you have been deceived, and so I’m offering you an opportunity to reveal the criminal who has attacked my employees, stolen our data, and, possibly, inserted misinformation to tie our resources and attention up in legal matters.”

“Mr. Silph, if there’s been some crimes committed against your company I would be happy to talk about and report on them,” Laura says, ignoring for now the implication that her informant is a violent vigilante. “I hope you don’t believe I’m on some personal vendetta against you or your company. I can’t reveal my sources, of course, but I assure you I did my best to fact check what I’ve written, and stand behind it, given what I currently know. If there’s some bigger picture that I missed, or some of it is in fact false, I’d be happy to write a retraction and set the record straight.”

“I appreciate that, Mrs. Verres, but there’s nothing a public article on these actions would accomplish that would benefit me on net, or you can be assured that they would already have been written and published. As I said, I’m simply here to warn you that you are consorting with a dangerous criminal, or an organization of them, one of whom has already ruined innocent lives to pursue her mission.”

Her? “And what is that mission?” Laura turns to regard Mr. Silph fully. “If your company has been targeted by some criminal, that doesn’t mean there’s a connection with my story. What if they’re working independently?”

“That’s not your concern,” he says, voice gentle. “All that should matter now is that you assist police in apprehending whoever contacted you or provided you with the information you used. If you reveal whatever information you have now, I can assure you I will regard you as a tool, unwittingly used, and do my best to ensure you do not take any legal blame.”

Laura shakes her head. “You know I can’t reveal sources, on general principle.”

“I know no such thing,” he protests. “If you believe your sources innocent of any wrongdoing, your silence is commendable, but surely you have a different policy for being subpoenaed to testify against a proven criminal.”

“Or charged with aiding and abetting said criminal?” It’s remarkable how calm she feels now that she understands the general shape of the conversation and his goals.

“It’s certainly possible,” he says with a grave expression. “I would hope it does not come to that, however.” He does sound genuinely upset at the prospect, for what that’s worth.

Not much, on reflection. Shit. Shit shit shit, what did that masked maniac get her into? Have they really attacked Silph employees? And would she really be surprised if they did, considering their penchant for wearing disguises and climbing buildings?

“In a situation like that,” Laura says slowly, “I’m afraid I would still have to insist that I can’t be of any help, and hope the judge and jury believe me, even if you don’t, Mr. Silph. But I’ll certainly keep this conversation in mind, if I am at some point contacted by such a person.”

He turns to assess her quietly in the rooftop lights. After a moment he nods.

“I suppose that’s the best I can ask for. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Verres. I do hope our next meeting is under more pleasant circumstances.”

He takes his leave, but Laura stays on the roof a while longer, replaying and digesting their conversation again and again before remembering that she left her neighbor watching the apartment. She returns to it and thanks Danni for her help, then sits on her couch and tries to think past the suspicions and worries gnawing at her mind.

Despite trying to look into the ways the data was gathered, Laura is still unclear about who her informer is. Mr. Silph confirmed that they’re female, assuming his suspicion is correct. Maybe young, probably lives in Fuchsia, definitely highly skilled in physical, and possibly digital, infiltration… Laura never saw any pokeballs on her during their two meetings, but they might have been hidden inside her dark and bulky vest. But if Silph is right, he’s certainly been keeping things close to the chest himself: there haven’t been any news articles of attacks on Silph employees. Laura just doesn’t know enough, and she finds herself getting more and more angry at her informer for keeping her in the dark.

She’s also getting more and more nervous. There’s a feeling of something being off that keeps her on the edge of her seat, wanting to stand and pace or run through the apartment checking for someone who isn’t there. If she didn’t know that her apartment was bug free she’d think someone was listening in on her—

Laura suddenly goes rigid. How had it felt, when Red was using his powers on her?

Like someone standing in the room with you, who you can’t see…

Laura doesn’t quite feel like that, it’s not nearly so strong… but whether it’s her imagination or her limited psychic abilities warning her of a mental intrusion, she knows that something is wrong.

She tries to control her breathing and think. What set her paranoia off? It started with her second meeting with her informer last night, carried on through this whole day… in a sense Mr. Silph’s visit should have confirmed to her that something outside of her control was coming, that’s what it feels like, it feels like something is coming—!

Laura jumps to her feet and runs to her computer, heart pounding painfully in her chest as she grabs the flash drive, throws it to the floor, and smashes it with her heel. She keeps stomping on it until it’s a broken mess of plastic and silicon, then gets a plastic bag and scoops the pile into it, tying it off and going to her door.

She rests her forehead against the wood, listening. All is quiet. She can distantly hear the sounds of the city through her balcony door, and the bark of some growlithe or poochyena in the apartment a story above her.

She opens her door slightly, then looks out the hall. After checking both ways, she slips outside and locks it, then hurries down the stairs, pausing at each floor to glance down to the next. She’s not sure what she expects, exactly… Silph’s bodyguards in the stairwell, maybe, or police staking out the entrance to her building.

She sees neither, but walks through the city with the same lingering sensation of something being off. She wishes she’d paid more attention when the feeling started, so she could compare how it felt before to now: as it is, it’s too hard to recognize if she’s still sensing someone else in her mind, if that’s actually what she felt in the first place.

After she walks two blocks, ducking into stores with more than one entrance and leaving through others, she waits until she can walk through a crowd that’s passing by a garbage bin and quickly pours some of the broken flash drive into it. She doesn’t pause, just continuing to walk from one place to another and taking whatever opportunities she could to pour the rest of the bag’s contents out.

By the time she returns home she feels… better. Not much, but a little. She still feels like something is coming, but she feels much less unprepared now that she’s done something.

Laura takes the elevator up and enters her apartment, some more tension leaving as everything seems the way she left it. She does a quick check through the apartment again to make sure, then goes to her computer and sends off some more emails, including a recount of what happened to Peter so he has the heads up for a potential legal response from Silph.

Her contact from Saffron says he’s happy to take a trip to Lavender in a week or so, and after she sends confirmation and his payment, she finally turns the computer off and goes to bed for another night of tossing and turning.

The sense of unease lingers all the while, keeping her in a fitful doze as her clock ticks ever upward into the morning hours, and the other side of her bed feels as empty as it’s ever been.


BANG BANG BANG

Laura is awake and up in an instant, reaching for her hanging pokeball belt as her mind jolts her out of some nightmare and into a waking one.

Police! Open up!”

Laura freezes then looks at the clock. It’s eight thirty in the morning, and the police are at her door, and she has no idea why, and every idea why.

BANG BANG BANG

Laura jumps at the violent sound, hearing her door shake in its frame. “Just a minute!” she yells, throwing a robe on and hating the way her legs tremble as she goes to the door. It feels like she can’t get a full breath in as she presses her eye to the peephole, and it takes her a few tries to say, “Can I see some ID?”

The uniformed officer holds his badge up, and her hands quickly go to unlock her door. The Celadon police enter in force, five men and two women in full tactical gear, each with a pokemon on their shoulder or at their feet: two oddish, a spearow, a whismur, a growlithe, and she doesn’t see the rest as they all spread out and begin checking the apartment, and shouting out all-clears.

Laura turns back to a third woman, who has a bellsprout wrapped tight around her shoulders and neck, a warrant in one hand, and a pair of handcuffs in the other. Laura almost brings her hands behind her back reflexively, recognizing at the last second what a bad idea that would be and halting the motion. “Please,” she says, voice soft so that it doesn’t shake. “What is this? Why are you here?”

“Just an investigation, ma’am,” the officer says. “You’re not under arrest. This is to search the apartment and seize any potential evidence of criminal collaboration. I just need you to stay outside and detained for now.”

Laura wants to argue, but the look on the officer’s face makes her simply hold her wrists out. The metal closing around them feels surreal, and she waits in the hallway with the officer, leaning against the wall and trying to listen for what the police are doing inside her apartment. She hears doors opening in the hall as curious neighbors poke their heads out and are told to stay inside. Laura closes her eyes, leans her head back, and breathes, trying to combat the feeling of lightheadedness that’s accompanying the unreality of the situation. Fainting now would be embarrassing.

She keeps reminding herself that she’s safe. She hasn’t committed any crimes… unless the destruction of the flash drive would be considered obstruction of justice, but how could it be if she wasn’t even aware of an investigation when she did it? Oh Arceus, what if there were some pieces she missed in the rug? No, even then there’s no reason for her to be charged with anything, how would the police even know there was a flash drive? Unless they’ve somehow already gotten to Dom?

It feels like she’s in the hallway for perhaps ten minutes before she starts hearing the sounds of pokeballs opening. “What’s going on?” she asks the officer beside her in a whisper. She wants to talk louder, but she still feels short of breath.

“Assuming they didn’t find any other incriminating evidence, your computer, notes, and phone are likely being confiscated,” she says, keeping her gaze roaming the hallway.

Laura feels the words like a cold punch to the stomach. “Confiscated, for what? For how long? I need them to work.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t say. They may be returned to you in a few weeks, they may take longer.”

“Who accused me of this? Mr. Silph shows up at my apartment last night threatening legal action, and now you guys show up to bully me? Is that how it works?”

“I don’t know anything about that, ma’am.”

Stop talking, Laura. She takes a deep breath, letting it out shakily. “I want to speak with my lawyer. His number is in my phone.”

The officer steps over to the doorway and knocks on it. “Bring her phone,” she tells one of the others who looks over.

Laura is handed her phone and a piece of paper and pencil. “Go ahead and write out any numbers you need.”

She glares at the officer, who stares blandly back. After a moment she looks through her phone and copies out the numbers for her lawyer, Peter, and Dom. Red’s she has memorized. After a moment she also copies out Sam’s. The handcuffs clink and rattle as she writes, then hands her phone back, watching it get carried away with an empty feeling in her chest.

Soon the officers begin filing out. “Thank you for your patience, ma’am. You’ll be contacted by the department soon. Please don’t leave the region in the next few weeks without informing us first.”

“That’s it?”

“For now, yes. We understand that you may not have been aware of who you were getting information from, but while the investigation and search for them is ongoing, you’re advised to call us immediately if you come into contact with them.”

Laura is uncuffed and handed a receipt for all the things that were taken. She checks her apartment to confirm that only those things are missing, feeling another, softer punch to the gut when she sees so many things moved out of place and disorganized, and her computer desk sitting empty. She wants to object that she doesn’t have time to check and make sure that none of her other things are missing, but she has a feeling they would wait patiently if she insists on looking through her closet and jewelry cabinet, and she just wants all this to be over so she can get to the next step. She signs it and watches them leave, rubbing at her wrists.

Laura hears a doorway open and turns to see Danni staring at her in apprehension. “Is everything okay, Mrs. Verres?”

“It’s fine, Danni,” she says, trying to smile. “Just a misunderstanding.”

“Okay. Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thank you, hon.” Laura closes the door and goes to sit on her bed, staring blankly at the wall. It wasn’t too long ago that she warned Leaf about the perils of writing stories involving powerful people. She can repeat to herself as often as she wants that she’s innocent and won’t be charged with anything, let alone convicted… but looking around at her trashed apartment makes her innocence feel like a paper shield. Just being shocked awake like this, her home invaded, handcuffed, and having her things taken without warning, told she can’t leave the region, and overall treated like a criminal… it hurts.

It hurts.

Laura’s face works, lip trembling. She covers her eyes with her hands, and her shoulders shake, once, twice. After a minute she rubs her face and gets up to make some tea.

She sets about putting things back in place and getting dressed as it brews, then drinks a cup and heads out. She feels like people are watching her even though no one is in the halls. It’s a different sort of feeling than the night before though. That sense of impending doom is completely gone, ironically enough. Instead she just has a much more solid lump of worry in her stomach, a worry of things seen rather than unseen. She walks with her shoulders in an unconscious hunch, feeling utterly exposed and vulnerable, despite the new pokeball at her belt. It can’t protect her from the law, if the law has become corrupt.

She goes to the nearest electronic store and buys a new phone, wasting a precious hour going through the tedious paperwork for having “lost” hers so they can deactivate it and connect her new one. As soon as it’s powered up and synced, she checks the contacts to make sure she doesn’t need the numbers on the paper she wrote out, then tears it up and tosses it in two separate trash cans on the way home after buying a laptop too. She can only hope these won’t get seized in a couple days too.

Along the way she calls her lawyer and Peter, both of whom express surprise, sympathy, and words of encouragement: “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride,” from her lawyer, meant to make her feel better about being over the hardest part, and “We’ll get that old bastard” from Peter, meant to make her smile. Both did, briefly.

She considers calling Red and Sam, but doesn’t want to bother them about it yet. Just the thought of telling Red makes her feel a little sick. If it all blows over soon, she’d rather not worry him at all, especially since he’s leaving on his cruise in a few days.

She gets home and sets her new computer up, every minor annoyance of the experience amplified by her impatience to get back to work. At least they left her mouse and keyboard so she didn’t have to buy new ones of those. The expenses from all this are already adding to her stress, but the inconveniences are what’s most irritating. It takes another hour for her to set up the new computer and connect her various emails and social media accounts again.

Meanwhile she calls Dom to ensure that he’s okay. She tells him what happened without mentioning the flash drive. He grunts a few times in response, and she knows he understands. There are new emails waiting for her when she finishes, and she spends the rest of the day trying to pick up the pieces of her investigations and side projects as best she can without the files on her computer, or her notebooks. She has an automatic backup for digital files, but it’s only scheduled to do so every week, and the past few days of work is gone. It’s hard not to be bitter about failing to plan ahead better, despite her action with the flash drive. If only she’d backed up her files too…

She feels a sudden disquiet as she remembers that the police will see much of the information she was working on. If they’re in Silph’s pocket, which she’d like to assume they’re not but knows she has to be ready for, it would mean the element of surprise is gone for many of the other articles she was planning on putting out. That new realization hurts nearly as bad as losing the computer did, and she takes a few minutes of angry pacing to vent her frustration as a new cup of tea brews, night falling over the city outside.

She’s still working to weave together the threads of her various non-Silph related projects when she hears a knock on her balcony door.

Laura bolts up and dashes to the living room, where she sees the informer on her balcony. Ice water floods her veins as she stares. What’s she doing here, she just came a couple nights ago!

She rushes to grab a piece of paper and scribbles a quick message on it, then goes to the balcony and holds the paper against the glass with one hand as she calls the police with the other.

“CPD, what’s your emergency?”

“Hello, there’s someone on my balcony!” Laura yells. “I think they’re trying to get in!”

The masked figure stares at the paper pressed against the glass, then turns and leaps over the balcony railing, falling down and out of sight.

Laura walks over to the kitchen as she gives the woman on the phone her address and puts the piece of paper in her sink, then lights a match and drops it on top. Some part of her feels regret that she’ll likely never know what the informant came to tell her. Whatever remains of the story, Laura will have to find it on her own.

She watches as the fire creeps over the paper and slowly turns its message to ash.

Silph knows about you, called you “her.” Police came and took computer/phone. Apartment may be watched.

Run.

Chapter 45: Goal Factoring

Once everyone gets over their surprise and has a chance to properly greet each other, Daisy brings out a container full of fold-out chairs and a picnic basket. The professor releases a couple of his pokemon to watch their surroundings, freeing the rest of them to bring theirs out for socializing. Blue’s shinx plays with Red’s pichu and Aiko’s oddish, while Daisy introduces her ivysaur to Leaf’s bulbasaur.

Food is served, two separate cakes are revealed, songs are sung, and only after Blue has started on his second piece does he lean back and fix Professor Oak with a pointed look.

“Okay Gramps, spill. What really brought you and Aunt Laura out here so early?”

“What about me?” Daisy asks. “Aren’t you going to ask what hidden scheme I’m running?”

“Nah, I’m pretty sure you wanted to personally congratulate me on my perfect gym run.”

“You just know me so well, bro.”

“Hey,” Professor Oak objects, looking between them. “Can’t I just be impatient to celebrate my grandson and pupil’s birthdays?”

“No,” Blue and Daisy say together.

“Well personally, I’m a little miffed,” Red’s mom says. “What if I’m the one with the secret motive for coming?”

The others chuckle, but Red’s feels a bit forced. Truth is, the thought crossed his mind that she had actually come to discuss something with him… and he’s not looking forward to it if he’s right.

“Well, now that I’m here I suppose there is something I wanted to speak with you all about…” Professor Oak’s tone slowly goes from jocular to serious, and the trainers’ smiles all fade by the time he speaks again. “This abra sale you’re coordinating is amazing, and I’m very proud of all of you, both for catching them and what you decided to do with them. But the attention you get from it is likely to change things for all three of you. Namely, you’re going to start getting headhunted.”

Red leans forward. “Has someone approached you about us already?” There are a dozen ways his carefully planned sales and Leaf’s coordination of the press release might have gotten leaked, and Red feels excitement stir at the idea that he might have gotten some offers, even if he doesn’t plan on taking them.

“No, nothing yet. But this might be our last chance to offer some guidance to the three of you.” Professor Oak turns to Aiko. “I’m sorry to make you feel left out, Miss Sakai, I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be here. But I’d be happy to talk about your own aspirations afterward, if you’d like.”

Aiko is already shaking her head, eyes wide. “No, I’m okay, thank you! I mean, I would love to, but… go ahead with whatever you were planning, please!”

He beams at her, then turns back to the trio. “Let’s start with you, Blue, because I expect you’re going to be the fastest. I don’t think anyone has a chance to persuade you to delay your gym circuit, but it’s still worth bringing up again now that the invitations are going to come pouring in. Would you turn down any gym’s recruitment offer?”

Red expects his friend to say yes right away, but Blue just frowns, leaning back in his chair and watching Aiko’s oddish follow the sparking tip of Ion’s tail as the shinx walks over to the other Plant Types. “Yeah. I don’t think that’s changed, or is likely to. Giovanni himself could offer me the Second position at Viridian, and I’d still think my journey is more important.”

“Good to know. So how about you, Leaf?”

“Me? I don’t really see why I might get anyone’s attention from this.”

Daisy smiles. “From what Red said, you got abra to not teleport away from you by just thinking positive thoughts. Is that true?”

Leaf blinks. “Yeah, sort of. It was a bit more complicated than that, but-”

“And are you going to mention that in the press release?”

“I wasn’t planning on it?”

“You should,” Red says. “Others are going to try hunting abra the same way, and some of them might be able to learn from what helped you.”

“Right. Yeah, okay.”

“Well then, expect some coordinator academies to extend an invitation,” Daisy says.

“What? But I’ve only been a trainer for a few months!”

“They’ve been known to scout new talent early, and get pretty competitive in trying to entice people. Think about it, because my guess is you’re going to have to soon.”

Red feels a hollowness in his chest as he considers the idea of Leaf leaving to train at an academy. He knows Blue well enough to be fairly sure he won’t join a gym, but… “You said you wanted to be a coordinator at some point, right?” Red asks, forcing himself to speak. “It would be a great start for you.”

“Yeah,” Leaf says, but she looks troubled, and Red feels a sudden panic.

“Not that I want you to go!” He blurts out. “I just meant that your relationship with pokemon is pretty unique. I think you’d make a great coordinator.”

Leaf smiles at him, and the tension in his chest eases. “As an alternative,” Laura says. “If you’re thinking of continuing a non-pokemon related career, I’d be happy to have you come work with me.”

Leaf turns to her with wide eyes. “Really?”

“Absolutely. I think you’ve shown that you can be a great journalist in time, and I’ve grown rather fond of you.” Red’s mom smiles. “Like Daisy said, think about it.”

“While she does so,” Professor Oak says, turning to Red. “I assume you still have the same objection to working for Pallet Labs?”

Red nods. “Yeah. I won’t pretend I’m not tempted, but I still want to make sure no one can say that I didn’t start my career on my own merits.”

“Well then, you should consider some of the lab invitations you’re going to get. They may not be as prestigious as Pallet, but I don’t want you to turn them down just for that. They’d have more flexibility than us, might even offer you your own small team and resources, and help you build more notability so that you can feel better about working with us in an official capacity whenever you’re ready for that.”

“Already? But…” He realizes he’s just repeating Leaf’s incredulity, and stops to consider. Is he underestimating how big a deal all this was? The part of him that he’s trying to train as the voice against Optimism Bias laughs, but if the professor is saying it…

Professor Oak seems to understand. “Think about it in financial terms. Even with selling the abra at a steep discount, you each made how much, $25,000?”

“About $30,000, for me,” Red admits. “More for Blue and Leaf.” Daisy whistles, and he’s aware of Aiko’s open-mouthed stare. He feels slightly uncomfortable admitting the size of their windfall in front of her, after learning how financially difficult her life has been, but admitting it out loud does put things into perspective.

“Quite a sum,” his mom says. “More money that you can freely spend than you’ve ever even had before. Any organization would be happy to have someone who could come up with ideas that profitable. Which means it’s about time for your financial emancipation, don’t you think?”

Red and Blue look at each other in surprise. “Aren’t you worried we’ll go on a shopping spree?” Red asks after a moment.

“Or blow it all gambling in Celadon?” Blue rubs his chin. “We are pretty close…”

“Last year, maybe.” Laura says. “If you had this much money to spend, say, three years ago, what would the three of you have bought with it?”

Red frowns. “Uh. A pokemon, probably, and maybe some candy and books.”

“A new computer,” Leaf says. “And an emolga or zorua. Maybe both.”

“A growlithe and dratini.”

“Would any of you regret those choices now?”

They look at each other, and after a moment shake their heads.

“That’s something we realized recently,” Laura says. “You’re all still young, but you’ve matured past that kind of oversight. And you’ve proven that you can earn your own money either way.”

She’s looking at Red in particular as she speaks. Part of him thinks it’s innocuous, but another part begins to grow worried again. Leaf is asking something about her mom, and Professor Oak assures her he’s spoken to her as well.

Afterward the professor begins talking to Aiko about her own history and goals. Red can tell the others are only listening with half an ear, having heard it before and being preoccupied with what they heard.

“Is it okay to say I feel conflicted?” Leaf asks, voice low.

“Yeah,” Red says. “At least, I know what you mean.”

Blue frowns at them. “You know you guys don’t have to stick around for me, right? I’ll be okay. I’ve got a new training partner anyway, assuming her dad isn’t a massive jerk.”

“I have other reasons for wanting to continue our journey,” Leaf says. “But I would miss the two of you a lot.”

Red nods. “Same. It would be great to keep the band together if we can. That said, we should make sure we’re actually making the right choices.”

“Do you guys know what goal factoring is?” Leaf asks. Red and Blue stare in confusion. “It’s a little like a pro and con list, but way better. I used to do them all the time, when I had trouble deciding what to try next. Mind if I borrow some paper, Red?”

“Sure.” He takes it out and tears out a sheet, then hands her his pencil. She scribbles on the paper, then turns it to show them.

“First you draw a circle, then write inside it the action you’re currently doing or planning to do. Then, you draw lines downward from it. At the end of each, draw another circle and write out the goals that action will fulfill for you. So I put Traveling as my action, and the goals I put are ‘Seeing more of Kanto,’ ‘Meeting new people,’ ‘Catching new pokemon,’ ‘Finding new stories to write,’ and ‘Spending time with Red and Blue.'”

“Aww, shucks, Leaf,” Blue says with a grin.

“Hang on, there’s more.” She writes more, then turns the page again. “On top you write out the negatives. ‘Dangerous’ is definitely one.” Red nods. He’s pretty sure his mom would be ecstatic if he decides that he’d rather study at a lab than continue his journey. “‘Expensive’ is another, though that reminds me to add a new positive: occasional riches, if Red figures out more genius catching techniques.”

Red feels his cheeks flush, and Blue claps him on the shoulder. “Speaking of which, start putting that brain to work on chansey so we can do the same thing when we reach the Safari Zone.”

“Uhhh. Yeah, I’ll look into it.” Red can’t tell if Blue is serious, but it’s flattering to think that he’d be able to catch dozens of one of the rarest pokemon in Kanto. Then he remembers that abra are among the top ten hardest to catch, and smiles. “Definitely.”

Leaf is still drawing and writing on the paper. “So we’ve got ‘Dangerous,’ ‘Expensive,’ and ‘Unpredictable.’ So, now that we’ve got our goals and negatives, let’s make sure we’re not missing any. First I’ll imagine something granted me a wish that achieved all of these for me. Is there any other reason I’d want to still do it?” She closes her eyes a minute, then opens them. “Turns out there is. I’d still want to get better as a trainer. To get stronger, so I can help others in future crises.”

She adds that to the bottom, then closes her eyes again briefly. “Okay, I think that’s it. Those are all the goals this action helps me achieve. Now, let me make sure I’m not missing any of the negatives by simulating myself going through it, day to day… Um… traveling in the wild isn’t always comfortable, but it’s not really that big an issue for me… I guess that’s it.”

Red hands a sheet to Blue, and takes out another pencil for him. Blue gives him a surprised look, but after a moment starts to copy Red as he draws the middle circle too.

“So, once I’ve got my goals and my negatives, I can start checking new actions against this one to see if they either fulfill all the same goals but have less negatives, or have the same amount of negatives but fulfill more goals. Alternatively, I can start searching for more actions that fulfill my goals, starting with focusing on my most important goal and listing actions that fulfill it. In this case, I’m going to compare going to a coordinator academy and learning from Laura against continuing my journey.” She focuses on the page and begins.

Red lists his own goals that the journey accomplishes: ‘Learning.’ ‘Help others.’ ‘Respect.’ ‘New pokemon.’ ‘Fun.’ ‘Friends’… By the time he finishes, Blue is already trying to match his goals against those that Join a Gym would grant him. Daisy has taken an interest in what they’re doing, and she smiles as she sees Red start matching up goals from Research at Lab, then stop at ‘Help others.’

“That’s a subjective thing, isn’t it?” she says. “Is it more meaningful to help others in person, with your pokemon, or do research that might help many more?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I think I’d still feel… unsatisfied, if I just stayed in a lab all day.” He’s thinking of the way his depression felt worse on the days he stayed in the Trainer House. “I can do research for a few weeks at a time in a city, but if I didn’t know I’d be leaving at some point to continue our journey I might go nuts. Maybe it’ll be different when I’m older, but…”

“Satisfaction is kind of important for this,” Leaf says. “But if that’s the only thing bothering you, you can also resolve to take up another action, one that uses less of your time, to capture any extra goals that are left over.”

“And research isn’t your only option,” Daisy says. “Capture companies are going to be flooding you with messages, and they’ll keep you on your feet and moving from place to place for sure.”

“Huh.” Red hadn’t considered that… getting jobs to catch specific pokemon, particularly rare or difficult ones, would be an interesting ongoing challenge…

“Yeah, I think I’m done,” Blue says. “Journeying is still the clear winner for me, as I figured.”

Leaf nods. “Same here. I appreciate the offer, Laura,” she tells Red’s mom, who is listening to their conversation now too. “But I’m enjoying travelling with Red and Blue too much, and finding new things to write about, and I think it’ll grow my following faster to mix new articles and helping people, which is another reason to stay on the move too.

“That’s quite alright, Leaf. Just know the offer is open whenever.” Laura looks at Red, then says, “Would you mind taking a walk with me, Red?”

Uh oh. “Sure.” He stands up and stuffs the goal factoring paper into his pocket, then picks up a lantern and places Pichu on his shoulder before leading his mom out of the camplight. They walk for about a minute into the peaceful night, staying well away from the tall grass on either side of the road. Red waits for his mom to drop the hammer, but when she remains silent, he takes a deep breath. “So what’s up?”

His mom looks at him with a slight frown. “I wanted to make sure you’re okay, Red. I’ve been trying not to pry, after you told me what you were going through in Cerulean, but… are you alright, really?”

Red blinks, then feels both a flood of relief, and a twang of renewed guilt. Right. That. “I’m fine, Mom, yeah. My teacher, Ayane, she helped me get a handle on things.”

“Oh, I’m so glad, hon,” his mother says, voice soft. She gives him a brief hug, then begins walking again. “Was it… bad?”

Red flashes back to the field they caught the abra in, the sucking, empty hole in his chest, and shudders. “For a little bit. But like I said, I learned to manage things. And I feel… better, now. Like, even better than I did before, sometimes? I’m not sure, it’s hard to tell. And I still have down moments. But Pichu helps with that,” he says, giving his pokemon an affectionate rub on his head. “And so do my lessons.”

“What’s it like, being a psychic?” she asks. “I remember how disappointed you were when you failed the test. Is it all you hoped for?”

Red smiles ruefully. “It’s pretty amazing. Like… I don’t know, getting a hearing implant must be, for someone born deaf. But it’s a lot of hard work too, and I still can’t do a lot of things I thought I’d be able to. I can’t even lift a stupid rock.”

She smiles. “It was strange, hearing that you were psychic all this time without us knowing. I used to wonder, you know, about myself. I failed all the tests, but every so often I would feel something, when I was younger and in crowds…”

Red blinks. “What, really? How come you never mentioned this before!”

Laura laughs. “It was just a random thought, Red. Most people have them.”

“Well, hang on, we might be able to test it. Maybe you’re like me, and just haven’t realized it!” He stops walking and closes his eyes. “Just hold on a moment…”

Red slips into a trance within a few moments, shoving the rising sadness into the back of his awareness so he can focus on the minds he feels, a small group of them gathered in the distance, a small one right next to him, and beside it the stronger ripples of his mother’s thoughts.

“Okay… do you feel anything?” he asks, voice calm and slow between deep breaths.

“I… no? What would it feel like?” His mother sounds curious and a bit flustered. “I appreciate you trying, Red, but-”

“Wait, wait, I think I have to… ” What was it he read about sensitives? They don’t have enough power to do much of anything, but they could sense other psychics that enmeshed with them. “Okay, I’m going to try connecting our minds for just a few seconds. It will only give me a brief look at your mood, and shouldn’t hurt at all. Is that okay?”

“Yes. Go ahead.”

Red cautiously enmeshes his mind with his mother’s until he starts to feel cautious worry anticipation hurtdisappointmentanger

“Oh!”

Red’s eyes snap open to see his mother staring at him in wonder. “You know, I think I felt something! It was… very strange, and very faint. Maybe I imagined it…”

Red stares at her quietly for a moment. His heart is still hammering from the sensation of deep, complex anger that was under his mother’s thoughts. It was hard to untangle it from the other emotions, but he’s pretty sure he felt it… yet she doesn’t seem angry at all, to him. Was it unconscious, perhaps? No, he’s not strong enough to pick up emotions that subtle.

“We can try again,” he says, and takes a deep breath as a particularly sharp stab of grief makes him wonder what his dad would say if he were here to also learn of his son’s abilities. “We should have done this first, actually…” He holds out his hand. “Squeeze when you think you feel something, relax when it goes away.”

“Alright.”

Her hand is warm and soft in his, and he takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, preparing to feel those emotions again… maybe he misinterpreted them…

anticipation apprehension wonder

Her hand squeezes his, and he’s filled with her amazement. He holds onto the enmeshment as long as he can before the grief starts to overwhelm even that, then lets it go. She releases his hand less than a second later.

“I felt it, Red,” she says, voice soft. “It was… so strange, like… someone standing in a room with you, but who you can’t see…”

Red kneels down and pretends to tighten his shoelace, wiping at his eyes and hoping she doesn’t notice. Thankfully she seems too amazed by the revelation.

Pichu nuzzles Red’s neck, and Red rubs his pokemon’s fuzzy body briefly before standing up again and forcing a smile. In truth he’s happy and excited for her, but it’s hard to feel anything positive right now. “I know, it’s pretty cool.” He starts walking again, and after a moment she follows.

“Does this mean I…?”

“I don’t know. You’re probably just a psychic sensitive. But it might be worth checking out, if you have some time and money to spare for a session with a professional. If you swing by Cerulean you can see my sensei, Psychic Ayane. She was very professional, and one of the nicer psychics I met.”

His mother’s expression changes, and Red feels a sudden premonition that has nothing to do with his powers. Whatever was bothering her, he just reminded her of it…

“How much did she charge?” Laura asks.

“What do you mean? You insisted on splitting the bills, just double that.”

His mother stops walking. “Red. Please don’t treat me like an idiot. What you asked for was a pittance.”

He turns to her, stomach leaden. “Mom, I-”

“The clefairy I bought you, do you have it?”

Red flushes. He was sure of his decision at the time, despite his guilt, and he’s still sure of it now, but being confronted with it is still painful. He briefly considers stalling, saying it’s in storage and buying one when he gets to town, but discards the idea. “No.”

“You sold it.”

“Yes.”

“The clefairy I bought for you-”

“-with my money-”

“-that I monitored for you, that you promised me you wouldn’t sell. You promised, Red.”

Red feels the urge to protest that he didn’t actually use that word, but he doesn’t remember if he did or not. That’s a bad sign, and he realizes that the truth is he just doesn’t want to admit to being the kind of person who breaks a promise to his mother. Not just admit it to her, admit it to himself. It doesn’t fit the image of himself as someone who keeps his promises.

But, clearly, he’s not. Whether he used the word promise or not—no, he did use that word, she wouldn’t have agreed otherwise, he has to accept that rather than let his mind keep trying to weasel around it—he convinced her to act in his interest through a commitment, then broke that commitment. He needs to face that, change if he doesn’t like it… or admit that it’s who he is, and decide if he can live with it.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” There’s not just disappointment in her voice, but anger, as he sensed. “Are you actually sorry? Will you buy a clefairy again, to show your remorse? I know you have a lot more money now, but the inflated price will offset that.”

Red feels his own angry response bubble up, and with an effort manages to suppress it, breathing deep and focusing on the sensation of air rushing out. “If it will make you happier, I’ll do it. But I did it at the time because it was necessary. Mom, I’m out here risking my life to make a difference in the world. Some of the things I’ve seen, the stuff I learned… ” He thinks of the forest, lying crippled and surrounded by electricity, and of Bill, the genius’s certainty of coming calamity. “This isn’t a game to me. If I don’t take advantages where I find them, I could die.”

Her eyes narrow. “You’re telling me that? Me?

“You’re right, I shouldn’t have to!” He’s keeping his voice low, but can’t help the heat that’s filled it. “I told you not to hold me to Dad’s standard, and this is why! If this is the kind of thing he wouldn’t have done… m-maybe he…” Red can’t finish, tears sliding down his face before he covers it with both hands and turns away. Pichu crawls around the back of Red’s neck and up to his head to perch on the top of his bill. He wipes his eyes and stifles a sob, looking up and to see his pokemon peering at him upside down. Red’s lips twitch upward, and he takes a deep breath.

His mom reaches around to hug him from behind, and he sinks into her for a moment until he gets control of himself again. When he feels a bit better, he steps away, and she lets him. “I’m sorry… using my powers makes me, uh, leaky.”

“It’s alright.” His mother sighs. “I know what you did wasn’t that bad, Red. I still love you and care about you. I know life is hard, and yours will be harder than most, with what you’re doing and trying to accomplish. But I think small moral compromises lead to bigger ones, and I was hoping you could keep from them for at least a little while longer. Or maybe for when it was something really important, and not just extra spending money.”

Red turns to her. “That’s not fair. I used that money for my research. I couldn’t afford it and the psychic lessons at the same time, not unless I wanted to empty your bank account too.”

“I would have preferred you did.”

“Then you’re still not taking this seriously.” He shakes his head, feeling hollow and angry and sad. “You said in Pewter that you just wanted me to be safe. I’m doing the best I can. I’m sorry I used you, Mom. I won’t do it again.”

“That’s part of the reason I’m emancipating your finances,” she says. “So you won’t feel the need to. But it’s not just that you hurt my feelings in using me, Red. I lost my trust in you. I don’t know how or when I’ll get it back.” She runs a hand over her face. “I suppose some part of me still thought of you as a child. And it’s not fair of me to make that your problem, but… at least now we’re on the same page.”

She turns toward the camp and starts to head back. Red stares after her a moment, then follows before she can leave the lamplight.


Blue eats his third slice of cake slowly, enjoying the murmur of conversation around him. Red and his mom came back a while ago and were quiet for a bit, causing Blue to wonder if he should ask his friend about it after they left. Red livens up eventually, however, and Blue is satisfied that it probably wasn’t too serious.

Gramps, Aunt Laura, Red, and Leaf are discussing their upcoming trip on the SS Anne to see if there’s anything she should keep an eye out to write about, and Daisy is asking Aiko about her solo training habits. Eventually Gramps seems to notice Blue sitting quietly on his own, and excuses himself to lift his chair and sit beside him.

“How are you, Blue? It’s been a while since we talked.”

“Pretty great. Don’t think I’ll be joining a gym though.”

“I thought not. It’s good to know that your conviction has remained as strong as ever.”

Blue smirks. “Did you think I’d give up by now?”

“Give up completely? No. But there was always a chance you weren’t as good as you thought you were, and would decide on a longer path.”

Gramps has a mischievous look in his eye, and Blue chuckles. “Pewter was a wake-up call, I’ll tell you that.”

“How are you really, then? Under the surface.”

Blue chews slowly, then puts the plate down on his lap, voice lowering. “I was told that I was disheartening some people, in Cerulean. Making them give up on their dreams.”

“Ah. Yes.”

That’s all he says. Just that. Blue glances at the professor, who’s watching the pokemon play with a slight smile on his face. After a moment Blue speaks up again. “It made me worried. I know it sounds like a joke, but what if I’m too good? What if I do more harm excelling and dissuading others from reaching their potential?”

“It’s a distinct possibility. What will you do about it?”

Blue frowns slightly. “I was kind of hoping you’d have some advice.”

The professor chuckles. “I can’t see the future, Blue. You’re trying to do something that’s never been done before, and so you have no map to guide your way. That said, have you started reading Nobunaga’s Ambition?”

“Ah, no,” he says, ducking his head. “I got really distracted right after you gave it to me, training to beat Brock, and it just kind of slipped my mind.”

“It’s alright, it probably held little relevance to you before. But maybe now it will.”

“I’ll try to read some before we reach Vermilion. If you have any advice, though…”

Gramps sighs and leans back in his chair, hands behind his head. “Not much, I’m afraid. I’ve done a lot of things… trained pokemon, became a Champion, started a family, researched pokemon, became a Professor, started a lab, dabbled in politics… I run Pallet Labs, but I’m not a leader of men and women, just their boss. I’ve never had to win their loyalty: they gave it to me from what I’ve accomplished, from my legend. If I was discouraging others along the way, it never registered to me as a problem.”

Blue listens in quiet fascination. Gramps is often humble, but it’s the kind of humble that only amplifies his accomplishments. He admits ignorance often, but always with a zeal that makes it clear he’s motivated, not discouraged. This is the first time he can remember the professor speaking about himself in such a clearly limiting way… though he did include quite a long list of achievements first, of course.

“I guess I’m really on my own, then,” Blue murmurs. It’s a strange feeling. He imagined himself walking a tightwire before, with a different failure on either side, but he recognizes now that he always felt a hand on his shoulder to help balance him one way or the other. Without it, he feels himself wobble.

“While I appreciate your sense of finality in my personal inability to contribute, just because I can’t offer you any wisdom on this particular topic doesn’t mean no one can.”

Blue looks up at him. “Who else should I ask?”

Gramps cocks an eyebrow, smiling slightly. “What exactly do you think I suggested you joining a Gym for, Blue?”

“You… think I should be a Gym Leader first?”

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt to develop some skills in that area before you try and achieve it at a region-wide level.”

Blue frowns. “I guess I didn’t think of it that way. I’ll add it to my goal thingy.” He sees the professor’s curious look and waves it off. “Couldn’t I just talk to a Leader about it instead though?”

“Sure, if you think the advice will substitute for experience.”

“At least a little, yeah. I’ll figure out the rest on my own. I’ve already started trying to be more supportive with a couple trainers, like Aiko, and I think it’s working.”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“Who should I ask? Brock? I got along pretty well with him, I think. Or Giovanni, he’s in charge of so many projects—”

“No,” the professor says.

Blue stares. His grandpa’s face is placid, but there was a note of iron in that word.

“Oookay,” Blue says. “Gonna tell me what that’s about? Is it because of what he did to Leaf?”

The professor smiles slightly. “Leader Giovanni is a very talented man, in many ways. Perhaps none more so than in binding people together, and drawing them toward a cause guided by his will. In a way he would be a perfect mentor for your goal… but in another I think he would be disastrous for you to emulate.”

Blue sits up. This is the first time he’s ever heard his grandfather speak a bad word about the Viridian Leader. “What’s up, Gramps? I thought you and he got along great.”

“We’ve collaborated many times,” Professor Oak says, speaking slowly. “I would be surprised if a man such as he has anyone he truly gets along with.”

“But he’s good at working with others?”

“I said he is good at binding people together. It’s not quite the same thing.”

“Come on Gramps, you gotta give me more than that. It sounds like you’ve got a juicy story on him. Spill.”

The professor grins wryly. “I wish I did. There’s nothing singular he’s done that I can tell you to make you understand… it’s more of a pattern I’ve glimpsed. I guess my best sense of the man is that if Giovanni Sakaki was capable of guiding you to be exactly who you wish to be, he would have become that person himself already.”

Blue absorbs this quietly, debating whether he should try and get more out of him. In the end he decides against it… maybe Daisy will know, and if not he can try asking again later. “So who, then?”

“Well, you are heading to Vermilion. Leader Surge was a lieutenant in the Unovan military before he came to our shores and took his gym by storm, if you’ll excuse the pun. He can be… odd, at times, but his instincts and experiences in this area are probably better than mine.”

Blue nods. “Okay, I’ll check with him then, if I can. Thanks Gramps.”

“Of course, Blue.”

“Gramps?”

“Yes?”

“How do you think I’m doing? Really, I mean?”

His grandpa smiles and goes quiet for a moment, and Blue is happy to let him. There’s some apprehension in him, some idea that the professor will say something he didn’t realize, or point out some story about himself he missed. As he waits, he takes out some pokepuffs and begins to feed them to Ion, watching the shinx leap up and catch them out of the air. Soon Red’s pichu comes to compete for them, causing Red to look over and smile at his pokemon before returning to his conversation.

Eventually Gramps says, “I’ll be honest, Blue, I think you’re doing pretty fantastic,” and Blue feels a rush of relief.

“Yeah? I’ve made some mistakes…” Rather than dwell over his loss to Brock, he thinks back to the way he acted in the forest at first, and how Maturin hurt Mary’s totodile.

Blue blinks as his grandpa puts a hand on his shoulder. “Absolutely. But everyone does. Your two gym victories were both entertaining and skillful, without being so perfect that people might mutter about them being staged. Your various adventures along your journey have gained you a wide following, and the way you’ve comported yourself has shown that you’re not just a strong trainer, but one who will put himself at risk to do the right thing.”

The professor is smiling at him, the full, warm smile that only he seems to to be able to beam straight into Blue’s heart. “I’m proud of you, Blue. Your parents would be too.” He squeezes Blue’s shoulder, then lets his hand fall.

Blue turns to their pokemon as he tosses out another piece of pokepuff. There’s a lump in his throat, but eventually he’s able to speak past it, voice low. “Thanks, Gramps.”

The two watch the pokemon play on the grass as the others chatter and laugh, and the stars wheel overhead.


Red lies in his bedroll, hands behind his head and staring up at the sky. He just finished his watch, but he’s not tired in the least. His mind keeps going over the conversation with his mother, her tone, her expression. He could have handled all that better.

He still agrees with everything he said though, so maybe he should stop agonizing over it and focus on something else. He watches Leaf set up for her watch and is reminded of the goal factoring sheet. He takes it out and examines it once again.

Is the journey really the best use of his time and effort? Or does he just feel that way because he doesn’t want to leave Leaf and Blue? Should he keep putting himself at risk and potentially making morally compromised choices just to maximize his chances? He doesn’t want to become a recluse like Bill, but there’s probably a middle ground.

“Having trouble sleeping?” Leaf whispers.

Red looks up to find her watching him. “Yeah.”

“Everything okay with you and your mom?”

“Not… really.” He sighs and lowers the page to his chest as he explains what happened.

Leaf is quiet for a moment after he finishes, then simply says, “That sucks.”

“Yeah. This is the first time in years I’ve felt like I disappointed her. About something that matters, you know? And I did it deliberately, too. I feel like an asshole, but also like I’d do the same thing again, so what does that say about me?”

“That you’re sorry that your different goals hurt others. Which isn’t a bad thing. Beats the alternative, at least.”

Red snorts. “I guess. I’m just not sure how to make it up to her, you know?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Right, how are you and your mom doing these days?”

“We’re okay. A bit better, and she said it’s water under the bridge, but I can tell she’s still upset with me. Or disappointed. Or something. I missed her tonight, for a crazy moment I thought maybe she’d show up too, but she’s really busy, and it’s so far…”

Red feels a stab of sympathy. “Been homesick?”

“Sometimes. I don’t want to go back though. Not just because of my pride after fighting for so long to come here, I’m really enjoying our journey. And your mom has been a great help. Her offer was really sweet.”

“Yeah, she’s like that,” Red murmurs, feeling guilty again.

“Don’t worry, Red. I doubt you said anything half as bad as the stuff I said to my mom, and she forgave me eventually.”

“It’s less about what I said and more about how I not only did something she found immoral, but made her complicit in it.”

“Hmm. Yeah, that is worse.”

Red gives a crooked grin. “Thanks, Leaf.”

“Still, falling out with your parents now and then is part of growing up. As long as you show her you’re not going to become a Renegade or something, I’m sure she’ll forgive you. She loves you too much to hold a grudge.”

“Thanks, Leaf,” he says again, quieter this time.

They sit in silence for a while as Red’s mind drifts to Leaf’s fights with her mother. Should he ask about their relationship more? Or would Leaf rather he not? “When we get to Vermilion,” he eventually says, “after the cruise, you should find a ride back to Unova and set an abra teleport there. Then you can come back and go visit whenever you want.”

“You think so? It’s a long flight…”

“For sure! We won’t mind waiting around. At least I wouldn’t, and I’m sure Blue and Aiko won’t either.”

“Thanks, Red. I’ll think about it.” He can hear her smile. “Now get some sleep.”

“Yes ma’am.” He closes his eyes and centers himself on his breathing, focusing his mind on the calming sensations until he drifts off.


Leaf wakes Blue for his watch, then lies down and relaxes. Guard duty always makes her shoulders stiff, and she considers getting a sofa chair to carry around in a container just for watches, though it would be harder to look behind her if she does.

She sees in her periphery as Blue sits down for his watch and takes a book out, and notices her confusion. After about thirty minutes of not being able to sleep, she decides to interrupt him. “Hey Blue.”

He looks up. “Yeah?”

“What did you say to me that day on the mountain, when the graveler self-destructed?”

“Uhh… I think it was ‘we should be dead?’ Why?”

Leaf smiles. “Just checking to make sure you’re really you.”

“What?”

“Never mind, private joke. Whatcha reading?”

“Oh. Remember the book Gramps gave me, in Pewter? Thought I’d finally get around to reading it.”

“Ah. What’s it about?”

“Nobunaga’s rise to power. Oh, you might not know… he was the warlord that started the unification of the continent, way back in the dark ages. He and his men went from region to region, beating the other warlords and either retaming their pokemon or getting their men to join his cause. Wasn’t the nicest guy, though. I think Gramps wants me to learn about leadership, the good and the bad kinds.”

“Or maybe the effective and the dangerous kinds?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“I think you’ll be the effective kind.”

She’s staring up at the sky, but she can sense his surprise. “Of course I will. What in particular makes you think so, though?”

Leaf smiles. “You care about it so much. You’re not just after a goal, you want to make sure you’re on the right path to that goal. You care about the process. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. But I think that’s the important thing… caring about the process enough to let it guide you to what you want, rather than let your goals override everything else.”

“Is that related to goal factoring?”

“Probably not. I’m kinda tired, so I’m mostly just thinking out loud,” she says, hearing the drowsiness in her own voice. “I’m thinking more about science I guess, or journalism. If you want to discover things or cause a sensation, you might not be as careful as you should be in doing things right. But I think the process of goal factoring is important too, even if you don’t end up changing your current actions or behavior.”

“Yeah. How was your talk with Daisy, by the way? Think you’ll go try and get your coordinator license? Or work with Aunt Laura?”

“Not anytime soon. There’s still so much of your region I want to see, so many people to meet… I’ve got to learn more about them…” Leaf thinks of all the people she met at the museum and dig site, and the angry words she left Zoey Palmer with. “Get better at talking to them…”

“Well, I think you’ll be effective at that too. Changed my mind on a few things, since we started out. Not even Red’s had so good a track record with that.”

Leaf smiles, eyes slipping closed. “You just know him… too well… too personal… thanks though…”

“If you say so. Get some sleep, huh?”

“Yes ma’am,” Leaf echoes, and is out before she can hear his confused response.


The next day they’re woken by early morning traffic along the road, and by the time the sun finishes revealing the fields around them they’re back on the move. The ride goes quietly at first, everyone besides Blue still waking up after their late night. He doesn’t mind the silence, thoughts still on his conversation with Gramps. It was good to see him and Daisy again. Blue has enjoyed the journey so far, but he realizes he missed them a little, a thread of homesickness he barely recognized corded through his past couple months.

By their first rest stop everyone has woken enough to have sporadic conversations, and after eating, Leaf brings her pineco out for some basic training. Red follows suit, but when Blue spots Aiko sitting and watching, her own pineco not yet registered or conditioned, he walks over to her instead of joining them.

“So, fancy a battle?”

She smiles and stands. “You’re on. What kind?”

“I’m going to use just my wartortle so I can practice tighter control and less lethal attacks. You can use whatever pokemon you think you’ll need to win.” The same challenge he gave Red a couple days ago should give him a better measure of her training competence.

She runs her hands over her pokeballs, face contemplative. “Okay. I’ll take my oddish, sandshrew, and raticate.”

“Sandshrew, huh? Okay, show me what you’ve got.” They move away from the others. “Go, Maturin!”

“Go, Oddish!”

“Bai!”

“Ero!”

“Dodge!” Blue yells instinctively, with no idea what to expect from the custom command. A cloud of purple spores puff out and envelops Maturin a moment after her Ice Beam hits, the wartortle unable to get away on time. Blue’s battle calm keeps his surprise from disrupting his concentration, but he feels a stab of gratitude that oddish can’t learn Leech Seed. 60… 59… 58…

Aiko withdraws her frost-covered pokemon. “Go, Sandshrew! Ero!”

What? “Bubble!”

“Ero” turns out to be Sand Attack, which at least cures him of the confusion in expecting a Sandshrew to know Poison Powder. Using the same word for two different pokemon to use two different moves… He thinks of his sister’s recent discovery with clefairy, and wonders if some changes in intonation are at the root of her code.

He shoves the thoughts aside for later consideration so he can focus on the battle. 53… 52… 51… Her sandshrew’s cloud of dust makes it hard to aim the explosive bubbles, and Blue is proud of his pokemon for simply shooting them in a wide spray, but another cone of sand completely obscures her a moment later, making any aim impossible.

“Tackle!”

“Ero 2!”

What?! Blue runs around the dust cloud to get a clear view of his pokemon as she dashes out of it, only to see the sandshrew dive into the ground.

“Withdraw!” 45… 44… 43…

Maturin sinks into her shell just as the sandshrew bursts out of the ground beneath her and knocks her away. “G-Bubble!” He almost used a water gun, but he’s determined to stick to weak attacks, as promised.

“Ero 2!” Aiko says again, and her sandshrew dives back down, but not before one of the bubbles hits his back.

“Withdraw!” Shit, was I approaching 40 or 30? Start at 35… 34… 33… “Bubble!”

Maturin sticks her head out and spits some bubbles out just as the sandshrew emerges again, and this time it takes the attack head on as it knocks Maturin away. The bubbles send it bouncing along the ground across the battle area and closer to Red and Leaf, who quickly withdraw their pineco and back away to make room.

“Sorry!” Aiko shouts as she runs over to her pokemon and withdraws it. “Go, Sneaker!”

About 20 seconds. Maturin emerges from her shell, pale blue ears and tail drooping as she breathes hard, one hand rubbing at her face. “Gaw!”

“Fast!”

The raticate leaps forward in a burst of movement, hitting Maturin before more than a tiny spurt of water shoots out. Blue watches within his calm as his pokemon is gashed, her return attack dealing insubstantial damage, and with about fifteen seconds left he makes a snap decision.

“Maturin, return!”

Aiko’s next command dies on her lips as she stares in surprise, then blinks and straightens out of a battle crouch, her raticate’s ball in one hand. “I won?”

“You won.” Blue smiles, then turns in surprise as Red and Leaf start applauding as they walk over.

“Nice job, Aiko!”

“That was brilliant,” Red says. “I tried something similar in Cerulean and screwed it all up.”

Aiko grins. “Thanks, but I think he let me win.”

Red snorts. “I don’t think Blue could do that if his life depended on it.”

“He withdrew his wartortle too early,” Aiko insists.

All eyes turn to Blue, who has brought Maturin back out to treat her wounds and give her an antidote. “I just figured that the risk was too great. In a wild battle I might have kept her out longer, but I would have fought more aggressively in that case anyway. As it is, you won fair and square.” He pats Maturin’s shell, then feeds her some berries and lets her take a long drink from his water bottle, other hand petting her downy ears. “More than that, you did really well. I learned a lot from that.” He smiles at her.

Aiko maintains a skeptical look for a moment, then returns his smile and begins summoning her own pokemon to heal them, blushing slightly. “Well, it was fun. Next time go all out, okay?”

“You got it.” He turns to Leaf, wondering if he should comment on her watching a live fight. From what he gathered she could barely watch his battle against Brock, and he doesn’t even know if she watched his fight with Misty. Before he can though, she’s already asking Aiko about her attack code, and he groans.

“Leaf… you don’t ask a battle trainer that. It’s like asking someone the password to their email. Worse, you’re robbing me of the chance to decipher it myself!”

“Oh, I think I got that part,” Red says. “I guess I shouldn’t say it out loud, huh?”

Blue scowls at him. “No, even if you’re wrong.” Which he probably is. Red barely spent any time watching fights, no way he would-

“Whisper it to me?” Aiko asks curiously, and Red agrees. Aiko finishes defrosting her oddish, then withdraws it and stands so Red can cup his hands around her ear. After a moment, Aiko grins and nods. “You got it!”

What. Blue shakes his head. He was distracted during the battle. He’ll get it after he has a chance to think it over. “Let’s get back on the road?”

They agree, Leaf asking Aiko about her training methods as they mount up. Blue tunes them out, thinking over the commands she used. His first guess was intonation, but then she added a 2 to one of them… not that that rules it out… He wants to check if that’s it, but he should make sure first, if Red got it in one try.

The rest of the day passes swiftly as they continue travelling south. They stop for lunch by a small grove where other travelers have sat to rest. Another traveler comes by and offers to sell or trade a farfetch’d, which visibly upsets Leaf once it becomes clear that it hasn’t been properly registered or vetted. He eventually moves on when nobody seems interested at the prices he requests, and the party leaves shortly after.

The sun is already well into its downward swing when a CoRRNet alarm goes off from someone’s phone, just as Blue was about to suggest another rest break. Red skids to a stop and checks it, but the incident point is far to the northeast of them, just inside the range he set for notifications.

“What is it?” Blue asks. “Tier 1?”

“No, some pokemon got loose at a ranch, going into other ones nearby. About two hours ride back the way we came, though.” He looks up. “Kinda far, isn’t it?”

“A couple hours isn’t bad,” Blue says, ignoring the ache in his rear and lower back. “We might still be able to help.”

“My house is actually really close,” Aiko says. “Another twenty minutes. I was hoping to get there by tonight, so I can talk to my dad about all this.”

“Do you think he’ll be okay with us spending the night?” Leaf asks.

“Oh, sure! I mentioned that I’d be bringing guests.”

“No way we’re making it there and back by dark,” Red says. “And we’ll be tired when we reach the incident, so whatever might still need doing, we won’t be at our best.”

Blue frowns. “You guys go on ahead, then. I’ll meet you there.”

“What? Split the party? You were the one against that in Viridian.”

“We were young and green then. Besides, I’m sure others will be there to help, so I won’t be alone.”

“What about the ride back down?”

“Aiko was planning on traveling this way alone, weren’t you?”

She hesitates. “Yes, but not while it’s dark.”

“It’s just a couple hours. I’ll be fine.”

Leaf shakes her head. “It made sense to split up in Viridian, but we don’t have to here. If you really want to go, Blue, I’ll go with you.”

“Same,” Red says.

Aiko bites her lip. “If this is what you guys would have done without me, I don’t want to stop you. I’ll come too.”

Blue smiles and turns his bike northward, feeling renewed by their confidence in him. Before he pushes his bike forward, however, he stops himself. The expressions they wore, the tone of their voices, they were determined, not confident or energized. With one foot on the pedal, he turns back to the others. “You guys all think it’s a bad idea?” They shrug and nod. “But you’ll go if I do?”

“Of course,” Leaf says, looking at him as though he’s speaking a foreign language. “We’re a team.”

“But not because you want to. Just so I don’t get hurt?”

“Well, yeah,” Red says. “What’s wrong, Blue?”

Shit. Dragging them along out of concern for his safety, forcing them to make a choice they’re against, that’s not what a leader does. He wants them to go because they realize it’s the right thing to do, that a little discomfort and danger is worth helping others. He has to inspire them, make them want to follow him.

He takes a deep breath… then lets it out, unsure of how to start. Everything that comes to mind just sounds too grand and epic for what’s not even a Tier 1 threat. Also they’ve got a two hour ride ahead of them to reach it, which means a lot of time for any enthusiasm they have to fade. They’ll probably stay determined though. Maybe if he just starts riding he’ll think of something…

The silence has gone on a bit too long, and he distantly notices Leaf, Red and Aiko glancing at each other and him, a little worried. Red takes off his helmet and scratches at his hair, while Aiko bends down to adjust her kneepad. They’re all waiting for him to say something or go, but he doesn’t want to leave without knowing what he’s doing and why. If learning to be a leader is his goal, there’s definitely more to it than just picking an action and getting others to follow you.

“Could you guys just go over why you don’t think we should go again?” Blue asks.

“Um. We’re all tired, and will be more tired when we get there, thus putting ourselves at extra risk and maybe even putting more strain on others there who will have to help us?” Red says.

“I’ve never responded to an incident before,” Aiko admits. “A small thing like this is probably a good place to start, but like Red said, I’m not really at my best, and I wanted to make sure my dad was okay with my journey sooner rather than later.”

Leaf is leaning on her handlebars, gazing down at the grass. “It does bother me that there are people there who might need our help,” she says after a moment. “But we should trust that others who are better positioned can handle it. If it was a bigger incident I’d agree, but it’ll be dark soon, and if everything is over by the time we get there we’ll either have to travel at night to reach Aiko’s house or spend it outdoors again. It’s not a huge burden, but I find myself against it all the same.”

Blue sighs. He can’t really think of any good responses to that besides just repeating that they could help others, and maybe even get some more fame out of it. But he doesn’t really care about that right now: developing his leadership skills is what matters. Learning what makes a good decision different from a bad one.

What would Captain Uda from Power Force Ten do, in this situation?

“Red,” Blue says, testing out the tone of command. “Give me an assessment of our choices that doesn’t have our safety as a consideration.”

His friend gets it right away, as Blue knew he would. A silence ensues as he thinks, fiddling with his helmet. Eventually he puts it on and says, “If we discount our safety and our comfort, I think that the opportunity cost should also be considered. We’ll be more tired and sore tomorrow if we go. What if another incident occurs right near us farther south? So the question is, do we extend ourselves for a sure thing, or preserve our strength. Rational beliefs are based on probabilities, not possibilities, but right now I don’t know what the odds of encountering another incident tomorrow are. It’s low, but so far in our journey we’ve only ever gone toward incidents when they were nearby or in our path. That’s worked out well for us, so I’d say let’s stick to that.”

Blue nods and turns to Leaf. “Do you think we’ll be able to live with ourselves if something really bad happens and we chose against it just to spend a night indoors?”

Leaf gives this careful consideration as well, tucking her hair behind her ear as she wobbles her bike slowly back and forth between her legs. “I think if that happens, we’ll regret not going and update our actions in the future,” Leaf says. “But that’s as it should be. I don’t think it would cause trauma.”

Aiko looks wary before he even turns to her. “I don’t really know what you guys are doing,” she admits. “So I’m not sure how much help I can be.”

Blue grins. “Actually, you’re kind of the most important one. I’m going to be blunt: would you respect me more if I say we go forward, at this point, or head back? Not would you be happier, I mean which action would you find more fitting for me as the grandson of Professor Oak.” He thinks he knows, now, he feels the shape of it…

Her eyes narrow, and like the others, she takes a moment to think. “I think my respect for you would increase if we go and everything turns out good, but would decrease if we go and things turn out poorly. But if we don’t go… I think I would respect you whether we find out we could have helped or not, because you made an informed decision and changed your mind based on what your team wanted.”

“My thoughts exactly.” He turns his bike back around. “Thanks for the feedback everyone. You’ve convinced me.” He kicks down at his pedals and leads them onward to Aiko’s house… until she bikes ahead to actually guide them off the main road to it, anyway.


Leaf’s first impression of Aiko’s house has nothing to do with the house itself, but rather the fields of open space around it where various domesticated pokemon live in carefully fenced off areas. The side road they follow winds through these in a circuitous route, giving them plenty of time to see the variety of pokemon within. Aside from all the normal, grass, and bug types, Leaf spots a few rarer ones she can identify, like drowzee, machop, and pikachu.

“You and your dad watch all of these alone?” Leaf asks, amazed.

“We hire help sometimes,” Aiko says. “But for the most part, yeah.” The other girl seems nervous, and as her house comes closer and closer, slows her bike to a stop and turns to the others.

“Um. My dad can be a little strange. Just… try to let me do most of the talking, if you can?”

“Sure,” Red says. By now Leaf can read his expression well enough to know he’s holding back his curiosity.

“Of course,” Leaf says.

“You got it.”

Aiko looks at them, then nods and leads them the rest of the way. The house looks nice, two stories of reinforced stone with a door to each side. That seems odd at first, until they store their bikes and gear and step inside to find a house with no indoor walls. None on the ground floor, anyway: other than a few pillars the whole thing is wide open, with various nurseries set up for young pokemon.

“Aww, look at all the littles!” Leaf says with a wide grin as she steps toward a small pen holding two budew and an azurill. “Hi! Hi there cuties!”

After a moment she remembers herself and looks back at the others with embarrassment, but they’re too busy being impressed by the house as well. Aiko is smiling slightly at their expressions, but after a moment she starts toward the stairs. “Daaad! I’m home! This way guys.”

They follow her up the stairs and into a much more traditional looking house, with a small kitchen and living room area and some bedrooms. A thin man in a loose button up shirt and khakis stands with a baby meowth in the crook of his arm being fed from a bottle.

“Hello,” he says, and bows slightly before peering at the group from behind wide glasses. “Pleased to meet you all. Won’t you have a seat? This one’s almost done.”

Leaf resists the urge to coo over the tiny kitten, its forehead coin no bigger than her pinkie nail. Instead she goes to the couch with the others, except for Aiko, who heads over to the kitchen.

“You guys want anything to eat or drink?”

“I’ll serve dinner in about an hour,” Mr. Sakai says.

“I’m okay,” Leaf says, and the boys agree. Aiko pours herself some juice and comes to sit in one of the chairs beside them while her dad goes off somewhere with the meowth.

“You guys have a serious operation going here,” Red says, voice low. “How much time do the pokemon spend out of their balls?”

“Most of it,” she says. “We only cycle them out for bed. I’ll go help him feed everyone before we eat, then return them to their balls after, before it gets dark.”

Leaf’s mouth drops open. “There were over a dozen pens out there, some with three or four pokemon! How does your dad manage it all when you’re not here?”

Aiko shrugs as she sips from her glass. “He doesn’t really do much else,” she mutters, gaze averted.

Leaf blinks and aborts her next question. A glance at the boys makes it clear they’ve picked up on her discomfort too, and the group sits in silence while they wait for her dad to rejoin them.

When he does return, he still has the baby meowth in the crook of his arm. No, the milk bottle is refilled, it must be a different one. He sits in another of the chairs. “Hello again. I’m Sho, Aiko’s father. Welcome to our home.”

Aiko said to let her do the talking, but greetings were probably okay. “Thank you for having us,” Leaf says after they introduce themselves.

Red nods. “Your house is really interesting. Did you buy it like this, or renovate?”

“Dad renovated,” Aiko says. “To make more room for others.”

“There’s never enough space,” Mr. Sakai murmurs. His speaking voice in general is low, but Leaf barely made this last line out. “So many in need…”

“So, Dad,” Aiko says. “There’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Yes, dear?” he asks, gaze on the meowth.

Leaf sees Aiko’s nervousness through her relaxed posture, a kind of forced stillness. “I told you that Leaf, Blue, and Red all rode down here with me from Cerulean. They-”

“Yes, how was your trip?” he asks. “Did you enjoy the city?”

Aiko hesitates, then nods. “It was lots of fun. And I’m happy with the bicycle, thank you. That’s where I met them, buying the bike-”

“She usually takes public transportation,” he says to the three without making eye contact with any of them. “I think she’s old enough for a bike now though, don’t you?”

Aiko’s fingers tighten around her glass. “Dad, they invited me to travel with them.”

Mr. Sakai is silent. His gaze is distant, staring off between them all. After a moment Leaf realizes she’s holding her breath.

“No,” he says at last, in that same quiet tone. He shifts the kitten on his arm. “No, it’s too dangerous. When you’re older. You’ll stay here, learn more…”

“Dad. I won’t be traveling alone. I can go with them. We’ll keep each other safe.”

“The pokemon need you. It’s not safe. Maybe when you’re older.”

“They traveled to here from Pallet Town, Dad, they’re strong, we can-”

“Pallet Town?” He turns to them again. “It’s a lovely place. I used to enjoy visiting the beaches with my family, when we lived in Viridian.”

After a moment Blue speaks up. “Yeah, the beach is a lot of fun.” He glances at Aiko, whose cheeks are flushed.

“I fought Leader Misty,” Aiko says, glass trembling in her hands. “I won. Look.” She shows him her Cascade Badge. “I’m a good trainer, I can take care of myself-”

Her father stands. “This one’s done. I should prepare dinner. Please, enjoy your stay.” He pulls the bottle away from the meowth and carries it to the room.

Leaf doesn’t know what her expression looks like, but she imagines Red and Blue’s are a good enough reflection of it. Aiko, meanwhile, has a carefully blank face, her fingers so tight around her glass of juice Leaf suddenly worries she’ll shatter it.

“It’s okay,” Aiko says, voice hollow. “I’ll talk him around, maybe after dinner…”

“What’s wrong with him?” Blue asks.

“Blue!” Red whispers. “Not cool.”

“What? It’s like he barely heard her.”

“We’re guests here-”

“No, it’s alright.” Aiko puts her glass down (Leaf lets out a breath of relief) and curls up in her chair, legs drawn to her chest. “That’s just how he is. He decides something and it’s so. He doesn’t listen to anything that disagrees, doesn’t even acknowledge it. But he doesn’t get mad, no matter what I say or do in return. He just… goes on acting like it’s decided. It’s like fighting with air.”

Aiko rubs at her face, and Leaf is about to act on a sudden impulse to get up and hug her when she stands instead. “Please excuse me. I should start feeding the pokemon. Please make yourselves at home.”

Leaf and the others watch her go, then sit quietly for a moment. Blue’s arms are crossed, brow furrowed. Red looks puzzled, but also sorrowful. “What is it, Red?”

“He’s just… really sad,” he says. “I could feel it even without merging with his mind. The feel of him is just… quiet. Slow drips. Sad.” He shakes his head. “Sorry, it’s hard to describe.”

“Damn selfish of him, I say,” Blue says, voice bitter. “She’s a good trainer, and he’s trying to keep her here because he’s afraid. She should just leave, she has her license. I’ll pay her Trainer House fees and cover her food…”

“That’s good of you Blue, but I think that kind of falling out with her dad would be pretty distracting.” Red glances at her.

Leaf nods. “If there’s any other way…” She stands. “I’m going to go talk to her, maybe help out with the pokemon.” Leaf heads for the direction Aiko went in, leaving them to debate further.

She finds Aiko in what must be her room, listlessly lining her new pineco ball lenses up with a really old pokedex model that’s as thick as a book. Leaf knocks on the open door. “Mind if I come in?”

Aiko rubs at her cheeks, then shrugs.

Leaf enters the girl’s room and looks around. It’s nice, filled with books and electronics, half of them opened and with their silicon guts spilled out in carefully separate piles. Posters of various pokemon adorn the walls, all done in a particular impressionist style, with overlapping swirls of color that almost seem to spread into the pastel walls around them.

“Aiko, are you alright?”

The girl looks up, eyes red. “What do you think? He’s not going to let me go, I know it. I said I’d convince him, but… I don’t know how. And I don’t want to leave him alone without his blessing, without knowing he’ll be okay… ever since Mom he’s been…”

“Sad,” Leaf whispers, and sits on the bed beside the girl to hug her against her side. Aiko nods against her shoulder. “I understand. We all do. Red’s dad was a ranger, he’s still not over it. Blue lost both his parents. It’s what drives him so hard, I think. My mom and I fought like crazy before I came to Kanto, because she wanted me to stay in Unova where I’d be ‘safer.'”

“What did you do?”

“I made it clear that I’m a person, not a pokemon she can keep in a ball. That respect only lasts if it’s earned, and that if she wouldn’t let me prove to her that I was ready to make my own choices, I would lose respect for her and myself, and she’d never be able to get it back.”

Aiko shifts to stare at her. “You said that to your mom?”

Leaf shrugs, cheeks flushing. “I’m paraphrasing a little. It wasn’t really that polite.”

“But you’re so…”

“Charming?” Leaf grins, and Aiko giggles.

“But still, I’m surprised that worked.”

“Oh, it didn’t really change her mind. She was sure I’d realize how wrong I was at some point and forgive her. Maybe she’s right. But she let me go when she realized I was prepared to find my own way with or without her help.”

Aiko nods slowly. “I don’t know if that’ll work for my dad. He… I know he wants me to be safe, but I think he’d be lonely too.”

“Would he be able to handle all this work on his own?” Leaf asks. “I have to admit I don’t really blame him for being a bit worried about that, but he should just take less clients in that case.”

Aiko looks away. “That… won’t really work.”

“Why not?” Leaf blinks. “Wait… are these not…?”

“Only about half,” Aiko says. “The rest are babies that weren’t wanted or retired pokemon that don’t have a home. Dad’s been slowly filling the pens out, and he doesn’t want them to go into the wild where they might be killed, and he doesn’t want to sell them to trainers who might not take care of them.”

“Oh, Aiko…” Leaf has to take a moment to compose herself. She’d wondered about the incongruity between Aiko’s attitude and the seeming abundance of work her family has, and thought her dad was just a miser or wouldn’t let her access her funds. The reality is just… too sad. “That’s really good of him.”

“Yeah. But it leaves him little time or space for customers, and… it’s like all he does. I wouldn’t mind it so much, and I admire him for it, but…”

“You don’t want to be bound by it too. That’s understandable.”

Aiko wipes at her eyes again and gently pulls away. Leaf lets her. “I’m sorry for dumping all this on you. I guess I knew it was too good to be true, going with you guys. You’re all so cool, and it was amazing to meet the Professor. I just…” She sighs and shakes her head. “Anyway. I should go feed the pokemon. Thanks for listening.”

“Anytime.” Leaf stands. “Mind if I lend you a hand?”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I know. But I’d like to.”

Aiko smiles. “Thank you, Leaf. For everything.”


The work goes quickly, though Leaf keeps stopping to play with various pokemon. They’ve all been tamed at some point, so it’s like one big petting zoo. Red and Blue come out to help after a while, and the four of them make a circuit around the pens while Aiko’s dad prepares dinner.

Even half expecting it, Leaf is delighted to see that the meal is largely pokemon-free. There’s a side of steamed goldeen that seems set aside particularly for the three guests, though she doesn’t take any and makes sure to compliment Aiko’s dad on the tastiness of the loaded mashed potatoes and mushroom stuffed artichoke. She hadn’t expected to meet anyone else with her diet in Kanto, though she can’t remember if Aiko ate any meals with pokemon in them during their trip. Maybe she only maintains this diet while at home.

Mr. Sakai is quiet during dinner, though he answers pleasantly enough when Leaf or the others try to engage him in conversation. They just don’t go anywhere, as he doesn’t seem particularly present, mentally, instead lost in his thoughts. Aiko seems too miserable to join in, though she does liven up when her father asks in what sounds like surprise if she really met Professor Oak.

“Oh, yes! He was very kind, and asked about my life and plans. I told him about our house, and the pokemon we take care of. He said he might visit some day.”

“That would be something. He’s a brilliant man, your grandfather,” Mr. Sakai says to Blue, though that’s only evident from his words, since he’s looking down at his food.

“Thank you. He showed a lot of faith in your daughter’s skills and future.”

Aiko shoots him a look of mixed gratitude and resignation, but Blue just watches her father, who’s silent for a moment, and then:

“I met him once, you know,” Mr. Sakai says. “In Cerulean, this was, years ago. Brilliant man. Taught me a lot about pokemon, when I was starting out…”

And so it goes. After dinner they go around and help return all the pokemon to their balls, then Red and Blue prepare to bed down in the living room while Aiko shows Leaf to her room. It feels a bit unfair to have a guest room to herself, but she enjoys the shower and offers it to the other two when she’s done. While they take turns with it, she finds Aiko in her room again, checking on the progress of her pineco’s registration.

“Takes a while, huh?” Leaf asks.

“Yeah. I’m going to let the other one run overnight.”

“Aiko, would you mind if I talk to your father alone? I know you told us not to, but what have you got to lose, really?”

“Leaf… I appreciate it, I do. But you guys have done enough for me. I didn’t bring you here so you could convince him, I just hoped he’d see for himself that I’d be okay.”

“Would you let me try anyway? I have an idea, and I would hate to leave without you and not know if it could have worked. I won’t say anything that gets you in trouble.”

Aiko smiles. “I don’t know what you could possibly say that would do that, but… okay, sure. Why not.”

“Cool. Should I just knock on his door?”

“Yeah, he should be up.”

Leaf goes and does so. There’s a pause, and then the door opens to reveal Mr. Sakai in striped pajamas, blinking at her from behind his wide glasses.

“Yes?”

“Hello, Mr. Sakai. Would you mind if I spoke with you in private?”

There’s a pause that she’s getting used to, and then, “Of course.” He opens the door wider, and she enters.

The room is spartan, with a bed, dresser, writing desk, and crib that contains the meowth kittens. Leaf spends a moment cooing over them. “What are their names?”

“None yet,” he says, sitting on his bed. “Bad luck, at this age. Not all of them make it.”

Leaf remembers Red and Blue telling her about Kanto superstitions. “They’re adorable. Did one of the pokemon outside have them, or…?”

“Yes. I’ll have to move some of the pokemon around to make room in their mother’s pen for them. I’m not sure how yet. Some of the other pokemon may stay in their balls more.”

He’s more cogent now, talking about his pokemon. Leaf hoped that would be the case. She sits in the chair by the desk. “That would be terrible, having less time outside…”

“Yes. It’s a tragedy, so many of them locked away… not existing, for hours at a time.”

Leaf is glad she left her pokemon belt in her room. “Is that why you don’t sell some of the pokemon to trainers?”

Mr. Sakai doesn’t ask how she knows that. “Too risky. Dangerous, and they’d spend most of their time in their balls. It’s not fair to them.”

Leaf tries to keep a running tally of his concerns in mind. She remembers Laura telling her about how understanding others’ values is integral to convincing them to change their minds, and knows that understanding their goals works the same way.

“What about others? Some older folk looking for company…”

“No, no. They die, and leave them behind again. Some can’t care for them well.”

“Kids, then, looking for pets?”

“Same. And they grow older, become trainers, use them to fight. Or sell them to buy one with better training.”

Leaf nods. “You care about the pokemon a lot, don’t you?”

“Yes. So many of them need help, a safe place to stay…”

“Your wife cared about them too?”

A tear drips down Mr. Sakai’s face. Leaf stares in horror, about to apologize, when he says, “Yes.” For a moment he looks at her, really looks at her, then looks away again. “Like you.”

Leaf nods, not trusting herself to speak. Did he mean because she didn’t eat pokemon either? For all he knows she just doesn’t like fish, but he seems certain.

“But you’re a trainer.”

“I am. To help them. Learn from them. Find ways to save them, if I can.”

“You can’t. Not all of them.”

“No,” Leaf whispers, remembering Red’s hoothoot and the pokemon on the mountain that attacked them. “Not all of them.”

“It’s not safe.”

“It’s never safe, Mr. Sakai. If an incident occurs around here, some rampage or attack, who will keep all the pokemon here safe? If girls like your daughter don’t become trainers, humans and pokemon will just keep fighting and killing each other.”

He’s quiet at that, then says, “It’s very peaceful, here. Aiko’s a good girl. She helps, cares for the pokemon. She should stay, learn more…”

Leaf almost sighs. “What do you want, Mr. Sakai? For her to be safe? She’s not. Aiko is secretly training already. She’s surviving on a pittance because she can’t ask you for help. If she doesn’t have your support, she’ll just leave some day without it.”

“She’s a good girl. When she’s older, she’ll be ready.”

Leaf tries to think of something else to say, but she finds herself wanting to get angry, say something that would hurt him, get a rise out of him the way she did with her mom. Instead she stands, heart leaden. “Think about it, Mr. Sakai. We’ll keep your daughter safe, if she comes with us. If she doesn’t, I’m worried she’ll get hurt on her own.”

He doesn’t answer, gaze on the kittens in the crib. Leaf gives him a minute, but when he still doesn’t say anything, not even one of his usual refrains, she heads for the door.

“Oh,” she says, turning back with her hand on the doorknob. “You should consider advertising as a petting zoo. Let kids come and play with the pokemon under supervision. Might help you pay for more space, they’ll get more attention, and the kids can learn more about the pokemon. Grow to care about them more.” Leaf smiles. “Just a thought.”

She leaves him there in his silence and goes to bed, unable to face Aiko’s disappointment, or her own.

Chapter 44: Premortem

“Okay,” Red says as he takes out his notebook. “From the top… bags, phones, and wallets?”

“Check,” Leaf says cheerfully. Blue echoes her, with decidedly less cheer.

Red ensures he has his for what’s probably the third time, then puts a checkmark. “Restocked rations?”

“Check.”

“Clean clothes?”

“Check.”

“Pouch of pokeballs?”

Leaf giggles. “Check.”

“Energized electronics?”

Blue makes a sound of disgust and leans over to peer at the notebook. “You didn’t actually write them all like that, did you?”

Red shows him the page with a grin. “It helps keep things memorable even when I’m not looking at it.”

“Twenty-six parts! Red, we don’t need a specific reminder for whether our clothes fit ‘comfy!'”

“Oh, right.” Red stops walking and kneels down to adjust his shoe and tighten the laces. “This has been bothering me since we left, but I was ignoring it. See, it was handy.”

“Well we’re not—” Blue stops as he sees Leaf pause to adjust her backpack straps, then shakes his head and keeps walking without them… but a few steps later he adjusts one of his straps too.

Red winks at Leaf, then checks off 17 and goes back up to 4 as he catches up. “Crammed canteens?” Blue groans and walks faster. “Checklists save lives, Blue. Giovanni just blogged about it a couple days ago. So, crammed canteens?”

“My ‘canteens’ are full, yes. I refilled them last night.”

“Great!”

The trio makes their way through Cerulean North’s streets, the sidewalks still mostly empty as the sun continues to climb past the horizon. Pichu sits on Red’s shoulder, napping in the soft morning light, while Bulbasaur dutifully follows Leaf, only wandering off occasionally to examine a light post or mailbox with his vines. Eventually they find a bus that takes them to Cerulean South, and Red finishes his checklist on their way before he tucks it back in his bag, content that they’re as prepared for the road as they can be.

Cerulean South is much less touristy than North: its storefronts are less flashy, the busses are filled with kids and adults on their way to school or work, and it has far more residential streets. They pass each of these by, one bus stop at a time, until they finally reach the last stop, far into the southern suburbs. They get off the bus and follow Blue’s GPS toward a nearby pokemon center and Trainer House, there to welcome any travelers coming north.

To the side of the Trainer House is their destination: a bike shop. A bell chimes overhead as the three enter and find themselves surrounded by a colorful variety of bikes in all shapes and sizes.

“Good morning,” an older man with a woolen cap and half-specs says. “How can I help you today?”

Red spots a sign that says POKEMON MUST REMAIN IN THEIR BALLS WHILE IN STORE THANK YOU and pops the collar of his jacket to hide Pichu, who’s currently cuddled up behind his neck. “Hi!” Leaf says. “We’re trainers, so we’re looking for—”

“-all terrain bikes, got ya, got ya.” The man sidles around the counter, eyes bright with the prospect of three purchases. “Got a number of models right here.” He walks to a line of bikes near the far wall, where Blue is already looking some over.

“These are a bit pricey,” he says. “Last bike I had was like, a hundred bucks at most?”

“Well, sure, that’s fine if you’re just riding around your neighborhood or city. Take a cheap thing like that on the road and it’ll last you till Saffron before breaking down. These are top of the line models, each made for hard travel.” The salesman puts a hand on one of the bike seats. “Comfortable too. You’re planning on riding for hours at a time, right? That can make for a mighty sore behind.”

Red presses his fingers into the seat, testing the cushion, then goes over to another one. He feels a bit of a difference, but he has no idea how that difference translates over hours of riding. He hasn’t ridden a bike in years, and was so busy recently he never managed to fit in any time to research prices.

The bell above the door rings, and Red turns to see a young girl about their age enter the shop. Her black hair is cut short, falling just beneath her jaw, and she has an angular, impish face that takes in the room all at once, then goes over to a set of bikes near the counter and studies them thoughtfully. She’s wearing a full pokeball belt and a protective jacket zipped up the front, with a traveler’s pack slung over her shoulder. Red wonders if she’s leaving the city too.

“A comfortable seat shouldn’t make a huge difference in the cost of the bike,” Blue points out.

“If you’re looking for affordable, I understand, of course.” The store owner’s tone remains cheerful as he pats the handlebars of one of the sleeker and more expensive-looking bikes. “Just remember, your life may depend on this piece of equipment one day. In other areas you can afford to be prudent, but surely not this one.”

“What!” Leaf says upon spotting the price tag. “$10,000?! For a bike?”

The man straightens to his not-inconsiderable full height. “As I said, ma’am, these aren’t bicycles for just heading down to the store. That, in particular, is a competitive mountain bike used by top athletes, and able to achieve high speeds over rugged terrain. It’s not even our most expensive model.”

Leaf stares at him through this explanation. “I can buy a ponyta to ride for half the price. And it shoots fire out of its mouth.”

Red covers his grin as the man frowns. Before he can respond, the girl who walked in says, “Hey, I’m ready to purchase. Mind unlocking this one?”

“Of course. Just a moment, please,” he tells the three of them, and goes over to the newcomer. “Find everything okay? Have you had a chance to look around? I can answer any questions you might—”

“No thanks,” the girl says. “This is the one I want.”

He nods and bends down to unlock the bike. “As you say.”

“Hey.” Leaf walks over. “What made you choose that bike, if you don’t mind my asking?”

The girl glances at Leaf’s pokeball belt. “I’m just looking for the best deal.”

“Right, but how did you decide that? We’re not really sure ourselves.” Leaf gestures to Red and Blue, who’ve come by to join her. The store owner frowns at this, but continues undoing the restraints on the bike before taking it over to the register.

The girl’s gaze lingers on Blue, probably recognizing him. She shrugs. “I looked at all the ones in my price range and found the least expensive bike with the majority of the features and specs compared to those above it. The value of each dollar spent above this one starts to drop off pretty sharp.”

“There is a premium for getting the best of the best,” the man agrees. “But I’d say this is still only an average bike.”

She shrugs again. “An average bike for a way below average cost seems like a good deal to me. In any case, it’s what I can afford. If you guys have more cash, check out those two. They’re a bit better, for about a hundred extra.”

Blue examines the bikes she pointed to, then puts his hands on a silver one. “Alright, I think I’ll take this one,” he tells the shop owner, then looks back at the girl. “Thanks.”

“Make it two, please,” Leaf says, standing beside a bronze one.

Red checks the prices out and considers his options. He’s low on funds again, but when the abra sales finalize he’ll have more money than ever. Of course, it’s money he’ll have plenty of other uses for… and besides, he has the ability to teleport now. As soon as he masters free teleportation, he’ll just pay someone to fly him to every major city, and travel will be much easier.

That said, he doesn’t know how long that will take, and he’s worried about slowing the other two down in the meantime. “Is there much of a speed difference for these?” Red asks the girl.

“Nah, not really. Both have three gears, main difference is some better shock absorption and a more sturdy frame.”

The store owner seemed irritated by the cross-talk at first, but now he smiles as he finishes unlocking the bikes for Blue and Leaf. “Well, you certainly know your stuff. You work with bikes, miss?”

“No, I just did some studying up. Big purchase and all.” She glances at the trio, and Red fights the urge to defend his lack of preparation.

“I’ll take the same one she’s getting,” Red says. He looks at the bikes and picks out a dark green one.

“Alrighty.” The man unlocks the last one, then goes around the counter. “Can I interest you all in a cyclist starter pack?” He points to some container balls along the counter, placed above a glass display with a bunch of items under it. “Extra $140, comes with knee and elbow pads, helmet, basic repair and maintenance gear, and an extra tire. I’ll even throw in a watch: nothing fancy, but it can set alarms and do countdowns and whatnot. Comes with the container too, of course, which holds an extra large box with room for your bikes.”

The trio immediately turns to the girl. She blushes, but nods. “Yeah, that’s a good deal.”

“I’ll take one, then,” Red says, and the others agree. The store owner tells them to pick out their helmets and pads while he rings everything up, looking much more cheerful. Red goes over to the wall of gear and stares at the variety of colors and styles available.

“Come on,” Blue says as he steps up beside him. “You know what we have to do.”

Red puts on a theatrical sigh as he watches Blue pick out a blue helmet and pads. “Do we, though?”

“You guys do,” Leaf says, picking out some bronze ones. “Mine are matching my bike.”

“See? She’s breaking the pattern.”

“Hey, some leaves look bronzeish, in the fall,” she says.

“Well, fire can burn green, depending on what’s being burned.” Red picks up the dark green helmet and takes his hat off to test the size.

“Hmm.” Leaf absently adjusts his jawstrap, then looks him over. “It looks okay. You know, I never actually asked, what’s your favorite color? I feel bad for assuming, but…”

Red smiles. “Yeah, okay, it’s red.”

“Well, there you go then. Besides, they’ll make your eyes even more striking.”

Red is glad she turns away before his blush becomes evident, and after a moment he puts the green away and takes the red helmet and pads. He sees her grin out of the corner of his eyes, and goes to join Blue and the girl, who already have their purchases. Hers are black, which matches her jacket and hair.

They all finish buying their gear and thank the clerk, then go outside to put everything into the storage containers and put their pads on. Red feels Pichu shift restlessly at all the movement, and carefully transfers the napping pokemon onto the ground, where he wakes and stretches, looking curiously up at Red as he returns the pokemon to its ball, “Thanks for the advice,” Red says, sitting to take his shoes off and slipping the knee pads on. He takes care to ensure the shoes are fit snug again when he puts them back on.

“No problem,” she says after the others echo him. “Happy all my research was able to help others too.”

“You caught us on a bad day, normally we’re more prepared than this,” Blue says. “You leaving the city too?”

“Yeah, heading south.”

“Same here,” Leaf says. “We should travel together, if it’s okay with your companions.”

The girl looks down, then lifts her chin a bit, as if bracing herself. “I’m on my own, actually.”

Red blinks, and studies the girl’s face again. He tries to re-estimate her age, maybe put her up to 13 or 14, but surely no more than that. Blue’s brow is raised too, and he exchanges a look with Red, who can tell that he’s also curious to know why someone as young as them is on their trainer journey alone.

The girl finishes putting her shoes back on and straps her helmet on, then sits on her bike and begins adjusting the seat and handles. She doesn’t elaborate, and the silence continues through everyone else doing the same. “Well,” Leaf says as she finishes getting her seat to the right height. “You’re all the more welcome to join us then, if you want.”

The girl looks at her, expression guarded. “Really?” She glances at Red and Blue. “Would that be okay?”

“Sure,” Blue says, and Red nods. “Safer for everyone.”

She smiles, and bows from the waist. “I’d love to. I’m Aiko Sakai. Nice to meet you all.”


They make introductions as they go, pedaling slowly at first down the main straight out of town to get used to their bikes. Aiko knew who Blue was, of course, and not just because of his name: she unzipped her jacket while riding and lifted it to the side to reveal a Cascade Badge.

“Nice!” Blue grins. “When did you get it?”

“Last night. I saw you a few times at the gym, but we never fought.”

“I thought you looked familiar. Sorry I missed your battle, I’ll have to check it out.”

“It was just my first badge, so I know she went easy on me. Not sure it was even recorded.”

“Hey, don’t downplay it. Was last night your first try? Then your gym record is better than mine so far.”

Red smiles as he listens to them talk shop. It’s strange hearing Blue be so supportive, but then, Red never really watched him interact with other battle trainers, so he doesn’t know if it’s common for him, or part of the other changes he’s observed in his friend lately.

The suburbs begin to thin out until the horizon opens ahead of them at last, revealing fields of green as far as the eye can see. Red feels a tremor of the old excitement again, the urge to run forward to the next adventure, even tempered by his experiences and fears. He wonders if he’ll ever lose it completely, and a small, quiet part of him knows he likely will, and pre-mourns its eventual loss even as he lets the sensation fill him, pedaling faster.

The others are at least as eager, and soon their bikes are flying over the winding road, eating miles until the outlying fields shift to ranch land, similar to the ones owned by Pallet Labs, but much bigger: acres of fenced off cultivated habitats, everything from tree groves to small lakes to artificial rugged mountainous terrain for rock and fire types.

But the majority are simple open grasslands where caretakers, trainers, and breeders watch, feed, play with, and train a wide variety of pokemon. At one point they spot a herd of ponyta running alongside a rapidash, and slow down as a group to watch their fiery manes and tails stream behind them. The rancher riding the rapidash waves to them, and they wave back.

“That’s Jona,” Aiko says. “He’s good with Fire types, so he regularly takes them into the mixed habitats.”

“You know him?” Leaf asks.

“I was raised around here. My dad works for one of the nurseries that rent ranching land.”

“You grew up on a pokemon ranch? Did you help take care of them?”

“Some of the younger ones, yeah.”

“Damn, really?” Blue says. “I was only allowed to interact with gramps’ pokemon. He wouldn’t even let me near the lab’s pokemon unless it was with supervision for a school assignment.”

Leaf nods. “Same, my mom and grandpa specially trained some of their pokemon for me to interact with, but that was it. All that early exposure must have given you a leg-up when you started your journey.”

Aiko seems about to say something, but then just shrugs and begins pedaling faster again. The trio speed up to match her, and Red catches the look of confusion between Blue and Leaf.

The land around them continues to change as they go further south, buildings spaced out farther apart as some of the ranch plots grow incredibly large, and not visibly occupied. The grass grows tall in many of these, and the group is careful to stick to the roads that keep some distance from any pokemon that might be wandering by. Before they left the Trainer House they discussed the pokemon found wild here, mostly pidgey, bellsprout and meowth, and agreed that rather than hunting for rarer pokemon in the area, their time would be better spent reaching Vermillion faster.

The one exception is pineco, which Blue was adamant about catching. They’re sometimes found in trees along the route, so every so often as they ride, Blue swerves to check under branches of any trees they pass by. So far he hasn’t had any luck, which leads to them riding for a few hours without incident.

Red is happy with the peaceful journey, but he can tell Blue is getting restless. He eventually steers closer to Red as they pass by a particularly wide open field. “Hey, this area looks totally unused,” he says, voice raised into a half-shout to be heard over the sound of their wheels and the wind. “Think we should try the abra trick here?”

“Abra trick?” Aiko shouts back.

Blue looks chagrined for a second, but Red sees no harm in explaining, since the sales will be finalized by the time they reach Vermillion, with the press waiting for a statement.

So he goes over what the three of them did while in Cerulean, then says, “We can’t do it here though, too big a risk of pokemon being driven into nearby fields! Besides, I’d want at least a day to scope out the area, like last time!”

Aiko seems excited. It’s hard to tell while they’re biking, and he doesn’t exactly know her that well. But then she asks what made him think of the technique, and Red is happy to go over the research and planning, though his throat is starting to hurt from all the yelling.

“Did you ever come up with something like that before?”

“Sort of!” Red says. “I’ve been trying to incorporate sound since we started our journey!” The near loss of his pokedex when his spinarak mistook it for a caterpie and nearly carried it away through the trees makes him shudder. “It has its risks, but it also saved Leaf and I during the Viridian Fire!”

“You guys were there too?”

“Oh, yeah, Blue actually went and helped stop the fire. I mostly just broke my arm and used my pokedex to scare off a couple dozen pikachu!”

She stares at him for a moment, keeping her bike straight without looking. “You chased off a horde of pikachu with just your pokedex?!”

“It sounds a lot more impressive than it was! I was mostly just terrified!”

“I was there!” Leaf yells back from ahead of them. “It was terrifying, but also impressive!”

Aiko laughs. “Forget taking care of pokemon, I wanna know what you grew up doing!”

“Uhh. Not much?” Red thinks. “I mean my dad was a Ranger, and he taught me a lot! Also I worked in Pallet Labs—”

“What! You worked with Professor Oak, and you’re jealous that I grew up in a nursery?” She shakes her head. “He’s one of my idols, I would kill to have a ten minute conversation with him!”

That can be arranged, Red thinks, but holds back from saying. Maybe better to surprise her, after making sure he can actually get it to happen. “I mostly worked with others in the lab, but yeah, I’ve been pretty lucky,” he says. “The pokedex software he gave me is amazing though! Without it I wouldn’t have started my research!”

“That’s awesome!”

“What about you, what model ‘dex do you have?”

Aiko doesn’t respond, staring ahead as she rides, and Red wonders if she didn’t hear him. Or maybe her throat is tired too. It’s the second or third time she’s gone quiet at odd moments in conversation, but Red tries not to read too much into it, because he knows if he does he’ll be tempted to use his powers. Instead he just enjoys the wind on his face, the physical exertion (though he’s about ready for a rest), and the variety of natural smells surrounding him. After spending a long time in a city Red always feels like he’s rediscovering his sense of smell.

Speaking of which…

“Do you guys smell that?”

They look around until they spot the source of the sweet, sugary scent: a lone tree off to the side of the road up ahead, not in any of the enclosures. As the wind pushes its branches toward them, the smell becomes stronger. Blue veers toward it, and they follow until they can hear the buzzing, each of them drawing up hard to avoid getting any closer.

“Combee hive,” Aiko says, breathing hard and wiping sweat from her eye. She points to the big yellow structure attached to the tree, each side of it riddled with triple-hexagon openings. “In their harvesting phase, seems like.”

Blue takes out some binoculars. “Yep. There are a few of them around it. More inside I bet… and… pineco! Five or six of them, near the bottom branches. Must be safe for them here, with the hive nearby.”

“Blue, maybe we should keep looking,” Red says. “There’s got to be some pineco around that we can catch without the risk of pissing off a vespiquen, not to mention all those combee.”

“Oh come on, there are four of us. Zephyr and Crimson can take care of the vespiquen, and between Charmander and…” He pauses and looks at Aiko. “Sorry, I just realized I don’t know what pokemon you have.”

“Against these, my best bet would be my spearow.” She examines the tree critically. “I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot, if I could get a pineco too—”

“Of course!”

“-but we shouldn’t hurt them. Hives help pollinate the area, and combee are peaceful creatures. It’s not their fault we want the pineco next to them.”

Leaf smiles. “Plus one to all that.”

“So we need to do it without hurting them,” Blue says without missing a beat. “No problem, we’ve got a bunch of non-lethal options.”

Red and Leaf look at each other. “Does using my charmander to fill the hive with smoke count as harming them?”

Aiko holds a hand out and teeters it side to side. “Depends what’s being burned to create the smoke. It might not be poisonous, but it could cause them to take the hive apart and relocate if they think there’s a fire coming.”

“I’ll keep it as an emergency measure then. Maybe a sleep powder and gust?” he suggests. “Or we could use Joy. How’s their hearing?” He asks Aiko. “Leaf has a wigglytuff.”

“Not great, and their buzzing would interfere unless you got super close.”

“I think I have a better idea.” Leaf slings her bag off one shoulder and around her side, unzipping a pocket and taking a container ball out.

Inside its box she reveals the jar of combee honey that Professor Oak gave her. “The genuine article, and high potency according to your grandpa. If I smear some on a rock and throw it far off, they might all go for it. That way we don’t have to risk fighting any of them.”

“Brilliant!” Blue lowers his bike’s kickstand and climbs off it, then puts his bag down and cracks his knuckles. “Okay, so we’ll get our fliers out, Leaf will set the bait and throw it as hard as she can, then—”

“Hang on, why not just ride away with it?” Red asks. “Like the ranger in Viridian. And unlike him you can just drop the bait if they get close.”

Leaf frowns. “Maybe. What’s their top speed?”

Aiko is about to respond when Blue says, “They’re about as fast as skarmory and honchkrow.”

“…Which means what, in terms of actual speed?” Red asks. Blue shrugs, and Red smiles. “Super useful, thanks.”

“Their max is about 3 kilometers per minute,” Aiko says. “And they turn almost instantly.”

Red blinks, then takes out his ‘dex to check. “Huh. She’s right.”

Leaf whistles as she looks up at the combees, who are still flying slowly around in a lazy swarm. “That’s fast. Faster than me on a bike, in any case.”

“They can’t sustain it long, but yeah, it’s pretty much all they have, combat-wise,” Aiko says. “Their attacks are individually very weak, so they rely on a swarm to take care of any predators. As long as they can strike first all at once, they stand a chance. Otherwise they need to just overwhelm you with numbers, or have their vespiquen join and direct them. They communicate mostly by scent, so other odors can confuse or distract them. Most won’t go farther than about 8 kilometers from their hive, so any bait we use would be a bit short lived. They often lock the segments of their bodies together to face bigger opponents, and can drag them out of the air by sheer weight if needed.”

“Wow,” Blue says. “You swallow your pokedex or something? You sound like a bigger nerd than him.” He jerks a thumb at Red.

She looks away. “I just read a lot.”

“Don’t worry, that was actually mostly a compliment coming from him,” Red assures her.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Blue smiles. “It’s good to meet other competent trainers. So what about the vespiquen? I know it’s powerful, way stronger than a beedrill even without its hive to back it up, but not its nesting habits.”

“It’s at the center of the hive with a small reserve of female combee that stay with it at all times, and won’t come out unless it believes it’s under threat. All the other combee leaving won’t be enough to make it expose itself.”

“So, the bait idea could work,” Blue says. “We just need to get it farther, faster. Pidgeotto are quicker than skarmory, barely. I can tie the bait to Zephyr and fly it around in circles.”

There’s a pause as everyone considers this. “Yeah, that should work,” Aiko says. “Get some distance before you set the bait though, they’ll be on you almost immediately.”

“Right. So you three go up—”

“Uh,” Red raises his hand. “I have bad luck with trees.”

Blue rolls his eyes. “What, you’ll never climb a tree again?”

“You say that like it’s going to come up a lot.”

“What if there’s a super rare pokemon for you to research in one?”

“I’ll work on it, but now might not be the time to—”

“Don’t worry, I can do it.” Aiko has already dismounted and taken her bag off. “You each want one?”

“I’ll go too,” Leaf says. “We can be done in half the time.”

“Don’t take any risks for mine,” Red says. “If there are extra in easy reach great, if not just get back down. I’ll be ready with Charmander if we need the smoke.”

Blue summons Zephyr. “Alright, let’s do it.”

“Hang on.” Red takes his bag off and lays it on the ground, then drops into lotus position. “Let’s not rush. They’re not going anywhere, and no one’s life is in danger. Five minutes of thinking about any problems with the plan, no conversation. If we can’t come up with a better plan or have no other changes to suggest, we go forward. Agreed?”

Leaf sits, legs folded beneath her. “Agreed.” Blue remains standing, but nods.

Aiko looks at the three of them as they think silently, and blinks. Eventually a slow smile spreads over her face. “Do you read Giovanni’s blog, by any chance?”

Red grins. “Yes! You too?”

“What self-respecting trainer doesn’t?”

Red coughs and looks at Blue, who folds his arms. “Hey, I’ve read a few!”

“And I’m not from Kanto, so that’s my excuse,” Leaf says. “I did read a couple after meeting him though.”

Aiko’s mouth drops open. “You met Leader Giovanni?”

Leaf grimaces. “It’s not… whatever you’re thinking. Ask me about it later. Anyway, what about his blog?”

“Oh, it’s just that he made a post about this yesterday. Isn’t that what you’re doing, a premortem?”

“Damn, I didn’t get a chance to read yesterday’s yet actually,” Red admits. “The last one I read was about the—”

“-checklists?”

“Yes!”

“Wasn’t it good?”

So good! I had no idea he was the one that pushed to make checklists mandatory in hospitals—”

“Oh sweet Arceus there are two of them now,” Blue puts his hands over his face.

“He’s just upset because I made a checklist for our trip,” Red explains, which makes Aiko laugh. “Anyway, premortems?”

“Right, yeah. So a postmortem is when you look at something that’s dead and examine how it died, right? Premortems are a way of visualizing a task before you begin and focusing on what could go wrong. No, sorry, not just what could go wrong: imagine things have gone wrong and then figure out why. The psychologist who came up with the term suggested it for teams that might normally have trouble with groupthink or have other reasons to avoid mentioning problems. Giovanni gave a bunch of examples where trainers would benefit from it too.”

“Huh. Okay, so what else do we do?”

“Everyone visualizes that the plan has gone wrong, then writes down reasons why. Then we take turns listing what we thought of, and change our plans accordingly.”

For once Leaf beats Red to taking out a notebook, and she tears a sheet out and hands it to each of them, along with extra pencils. Blue joins them on the ground so he can press the paper against his leg to write on it. “Okay. Five minutes, right?”

Red sets a timer on his new watch. “Five minutes, starting… now.” Red centers his breathing first, then closes his eyes and pictures the plan from start to finish. He flags a concern immediately in putting honey on something for Zephyr to fly around with, so he opens his eyes to write that down and keeps thinking. They get to the tree, Red sets up beneath it, the two climb up… the pineco are passive, when hanging, and if they can lock on and catch them without too much noise or vibration to the tree they should be easy to get without a fight.

No, stop thinking of how things can go right, focus on what goes wrong. The plan has already failed, totally. What probably happened to cause that?

The first thing that comes to mind is the honey dripping as it’s whipped about in the air and falling on Blue, so that the combee converge on him. In that case Red would trigger a smokescreen while Blue gets whatever the honey sticks to off and runs. After they abort they can reassess.

So how to stop that? An umbrella at least prevents it from getting somewhere he can’t easily wipe it off. Is there any container the honey could be in that would keep it from falling out, while still letting it emit its scent? There’s nothing Red is carrying that would do that, but maybe the others have something.

Next, the tree. Aiko says the vespiquen won’t come out unless the hive itself is threatened, but assuming she’s wrong, or them climbing the tree shakes the hive enough for her to come out, again, smokescreen and run for it. Alternatively, the three of them can stand and fight. If they capture it fast enough the swarm might not have time to identify them as a threat and attack, though he’s pretty sure Leaf and Aiko would be upset by that outcome.

Last, the pineco. If the tree vibrates enough with them climbing it to wake them up, the two should have their pidgey and spearow on standby to defend them. Pineco can’t do much when threatened, but they are capable of blowing themselves up if they think they’re going to die, so in either case a quick capture or a quick escape is best.

Eventually his watch vibrates, and Red opens his eyes and resets it. “Everyone ready? Who wants to go first?”


“Ready… set… now!” Leaf uncaps the honey, and Aiko dips the sponge into it, then lifts it out and dangles it to the side by the rope tied around it as Leaf caps the honey and puts it away.

“Ice Beam!” Maturin shoots a freezing ray at the sponge, crystallizing the viscous liquid being absorbed into it before any can drip off onto the towel they prepared. They’re downwind of the tree and Red doesn’t know how fast scent travels, but it sounds like the buzzing of the combee is already louder.

Blue lifts his flute to his lips with one hand and his umbrella with the other, then sends a piercing note through it, followed by a few more. Zephyr takes off, clutching the length of rope in his talon so that it yanks the frozen sponge into the air.

When he gets high enough another series of notes causes him to bank in the air toward the tree in a looping circle. It’s not just Red’s imagination now, the combee are louder, and they’re moving. More of them pour out of the hive and zip toward Zephyr as he wings past, and soon there’s a whole swarm of them chasing the pidgeotto around in the sky.

Red waits until no more come out of the hive, then yells “Go!” and dashes with Leaf and Aiko to the base of the tree, where he brings Charmander out and waits beneath the hive as the girls carefully start climbing, with Bulbasaur and Aiko’s venonat, Winter, stationed below. Red keeps his eyes on the massive hive, breath audible in his facemask as he watches for the slightest sign of the vespiquen. He feels the urge to use his powers and see if he can get a sense of her mood, perhaps even an early warning of whether she’s coming out… but he forces himself to remember what happened with Maturin, and quickly dismisses the idea. He’s never tried connecting with a Bug type’s mind before, and even if he didn’t know they were infamously harder for psychics to read, now is not the time to try out experimental psychic abilities.

The fact that the urge came to mind is worrying in itself, though. He’s been tempted to use his powers more and more as his control has improved, and he’s starting to wonder if it’s simple curiosity or something else. Are psychic powers addictive, in some way? Beyond the normal addictive qualities of any new experience or power trip?

Not the time to think about this. He focuses on the task at hand, glancing occasionally to the others to check their progress. Leaf and Aiko reach the bottom branches and successfully capture a couple pineco, the pokeballs dropping to the grass. Red quickly grabs them and clips them to his belt, which he emptied except for Charmander’s ball. Leaf tests the branch above her, but it’s too thin for her to climb up without the whole thing shaking. As she looks for another path up, Aiko nabs a third pineco, drops it too, then goes for a higher branch.

Red claps his palms once, causing her to look down. He makes an X with his hands, and points to Leaf, who has found another branch with two more on it. He flashes six fingers, then makes a ring with his thumb and forefinger.

She nods and starts climbing down just as Leaf finishes catching the two and lowers herself to join them.

Behind them, Blue’s notes have changed pace, causing them all to turn and look. The swarm isn’t following Zephyr anymore: they’re all buzzing around something on the ground.

Uh oh. Either some honey melted and fell, or, more likely since all the combee are there, the sponge fell. They quickly withdraw their pokemon, and after Leaf grabs the sixth ball that Red didn’t have space for, they run for the bikes.

Blue already brought Zephyr down beside him, and as soon as he sees them run for the bikes, he heads for them too, commanding Zephyr to follow. Leaf and Aiko bring out their pidgey and spearow to follow too, and Red has a moment to miss his own spearow again. How do I still not have a flyer! He glances at all the combee flying nearby, but keeps running. They’re not particularly useful or interesting to him, and it’s not worth going near the swarm.

They all make it to their bikes, grab their bags, and mount up. The cloud of combee is dispersing in all directions, and a few come toward them.

“Gust!” Leaf and Blue both yell, and Zephyr and Crimson send bursts of air out that knock the combee away, sending them flying off in other directions. Within moments the four pedal away as fast as they can, and soon they leave the buzzing behind completely.

By the time they stop for a rest, everyone is tired and sweaty and more than happy to sit on the grass beside the road, or in Red’s case, flop onto it and gasp like a fish. He spent little time in Cerulean doing physical training compared to the other two, and he makes a mental note to not make the same mistake in Vermillion. He’d make a physical note, but his arms are stiff and he’s too tired.

“Nice job, everyone,” Blue says after he catches his breath. Zephyr has landed beside him, and Blue feeds him some berries before withdrawing the pidgeotto. “How many did we get?”

“Six,” Red says. He rolls onto his stomach and unclips the five pineco and puts them in a pile along with the one Leaf carried, while the girls feed and withdraw their own pokemon. “How are we dividing them? One for Blue and I, two for Leaf and Aiko?” He takes an empty ball out of his pouch and offers it to Leaf.

“One is fine for me,” she says as she takes the ball.

“I’ll take two, then,” Blue says, and hands a ball to Leaf and Aiko. “You okay with that?”

“Sure, I’ll sell my extra.” Aiko says.

They all start registering their pokemon… all but Aiko, who just admires the two pokeballs in her hands. Red catches her glancing at the trio’s dexes, but she stops after she sees him noticing.

Before he can ask about it, Blue finishes and puts the ball away, then brings Maturin out. He points to his face and says “Soak!” Red rolls away in time to avoid getting splashed by the gush of water that hits Blue’s face.

“Gross,” Aiko says, but she’s smiling. “You know that’s not pure water, right?”

Blue shakes his head, sending droplets all over and causing the others to cry out in disgust. “Whatever it is, it doesn’t stick like sweat does, so it’s a step up.”

Leaf shakes her head and brings Bulbasaur out too, feeding him a pokepuff. “Hundreds of virtual hours spent training pokemon to learn the difference between attacks they can use on humans and those they can’t, just so you can get a quick bath in the field.”

“Why not just use your water bottles?” Red takes out Pichu and Charmander’s balls and summons both so they can enjoy some time in the wild. Charmander sniffs along the ground and crawls off, tail held high, while Pichu goes over to Leaf, who smiles and splits off a piece of pokepuff for him as well.

“Too cold. Besides, Mr. ‘Crammed Canteens’ wants me to waste drinking water now?”

“You’re right. Hey Leaf, what alliterates with ‘washcloths?'”

“Don’t you dare,” Blue warns a grinning Leaf, who sticks her tongue out at him and mouths “wet” after Blue turns his back. “I don’t know what the fuss is about, Maturin will replenish her water soon enough.”

“Yeah, and if we’re attacked meanwhile and she runs out of water, we can die happy that at least your face isn’t sticky.”

Aiko’s giggles cut off Blue’s response. She holds a hand up to cover her mouth. “Sorry, it’s just… you guys are strange.” She watches them care for their pokemon for a bit, then summons a sandshrew and takes a snack bar out, breaking pieces off for it.

“Nice get,” Blue says. “Catch it near Mt. Moon?”

“Yeah, on the eastern slopes.”

“I wanted one for Surge, but never encountered any.”

“Who are you going to use for your Challenge then?”

“Still deciding on my lineup. Maturin helped me get the last two badges, but she’ll have to be benched for this round. What about you? Who’s your starter, anyway?”

Aiko doesn’t respond right away. She’s looking down at her sandshrew with a small frown, and Red’s about to say something when she sighs and unclips another ball. “Go, Sneaker!”

A small raticate appears. It looks around in alarm at all the pokemon, then relaxes when Aiko opens her palm and offers it a handful of berries. “Say hi, Sneaker.” She runs her fingers through its fur as it eats. “I caught him a few years ago, as a rattata.”

“Oh. Neat.” Blue’s face is carefully expressionless, but Red can guess his thoughts.

Leaf’s the one to ask the question. “If you don’t mind telling us, how old are you, Aiko?”

“Thirteen.”

“So… you’re about our age. You started your journey when you were… what, ten?”

“No.” She’s quiet again, stroking her sandshrew, then speaks without looking up, “Actually, I’m not on a journey. I’ve been training my pokemon for a few years, but mostly around home. I got my Trainer License just last week.”

The three stare at her as she continues to feed and play with her pokemon. The wind blows her hair against her face, and when she tucks it behind her ear Red can see the slight flush in her cheeks.

“So that’s why you’re traveling alone?”

“Yes. The farthest from home I’ve been are the areas around Cerulean and Saffron. My dad thinks I was in Cerulean to visit my aunt. I was, but she didn’t know what I was up to most days.” She looks up at them. “Neither of them knows I have a license now. He wouldn’t let me get one when I was young enough to need permission, so I saved up money for pokeballs and potions and trained whatever I caught in secret. The money for this bike was my birthday present from both of them, and I spent so much time researching so I could get a good price and still have some left over for trainer supplies. I would have bought a used one, but I think he’d notice.”

The trio listens in silence. “Why doesn’t your dad want you to be a trainer?” Red asks quietly.

“My mom was killed in a pokemon attack a few years ago, and he thinks I’m too young to do it alone. Wants me to wait until I’m older, since I don’t know any other kids who are ready for their journeys.”

“So… you don’t have a pokedex? How do you train your new captures?”

“My mom’s old dex. It’s at home. I learned to reprogram it.”

Red winces. Pokedex technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the years… even if her mom’s pokedex is just ten years old, it would be considered ancient by today’s standards. Each pokemon’s virtual training would take, what, three hours to transfer to their ball? Maybe more? “That sounds tedious,” Red says as Pichu climbs up his arm and settles in her familiar spot around his neck.

“I can’t believe you’ve been training for years on your own,” Blue says. “That’s really… well, reckless for one thing.”

Aiko’s head snaps up. “Easy for you to say! Your grandfather is Professor Oak, you were just handed a rare and powerful starter and have two friends you can travel with—”

“It’s also really brave,” Blue says, smiling.

She blinks, then lowers her head so that her hair swings forward and hides her eyes. “I’m sorry. You’ve all been nice to me, and I’m just struggling with some jealousy. It’s not your fault.”

“Why not come with us?” Everyone turns to Leaf, who shrugs. “I mean, I haven’t asked Red or Blue about it yet obviously, but it would be okay with me. You seem smart and competent and nice enough. And like Blue said, the more the safer.”

Aiko stares at Leaf like she’s a pokemon that learned to talk, then slowly turns to Red and Blue, eyes wide.

Blue smiles. “I guess I did say that. What do you think, Red?”

Aiko looks at Red alone now, and the intensity of her gaze is unsettling. It’s just full of such… hope. He feels like saying no would crush her, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a decision that should be made lightly or under pressure.

“Give me a minute?”

“I’ll give you an hour!” Aiko says, then dips her head again, biting her lip. “I mean, yeah, take your time.”

Red nods seriously, and closes his eyes again. It’s not a plan, exactly, but he still visualizes his agreement going wrong somehow. Despite liking Aiko so far, he imagines himself a couple months from now regretting the decision. Why?

She could be a thief. We don’t even know if it’s her real name, she might grab our stuff tonight and just run. She could be a bad trainer. Maybe she gets one of us hurt, or our pokemon get killed trying to help cover for her.

He feels like he’s not going deep enough. It feels wrong somehow, trying to imagine why you might regret befriending someone, but he slips his mind deeper into the free-flow of thoughts and lets himself consider everything he just learned about her. Her dad doesn’t want her to be a trainer, maybe she’s concealing something from us. She’s poor, maybe she can’t afford the same tools or gear as us and we’ll keep having to buy her things to not feel guilty. She admitted to being jealous, it might get worse over time and cause arguments and bitterness.

There are a lot of potential negatives, but they’re all just that: potential. He can’t really plan around them the way he could the results of the pineco plan premortem. At best he can be more aware of them in case they pop up and address them quickly if they do.

Because the benefits really seem to outweigh the negatives. A fourth companion means a safer team, through her extra pokemon and a new complement of skills. She seems to be smart and intellectual, like him, care about not harming pokemon, like Leaf, and is going for badges, like Blue. Red briefly wonders if she’s too perfect, but he can’t imagine why someone who knows the three that well would want to mess with them. To steal Professor Oak’s pokedex software, maybe? Best to keep an extra eye on his tonight just in case.

But beyond that, she said she grew up nearby, and she should get her dad’s permission before leaving with them anyway, so he can put some of that paranoia to rest if he really needs to. Red checks the list of pros and potential cons against each other again, then opens his eyes. Blue and Leaf are waiting with an air of curious patience that Aiko is failing miserably to imitate. If she’s a spy, she’s either very good or very bad.

“I vote yes.”

Aiko lets her breath out, grinning from ear to ear, until Blue says, “Then I have just two questions for you, to get my vote.”

“Yes?” she asks, back to nervously twisting her fingers together.

Blue’s gaze fixes unwavering on hers. “Two of us here have made a very solemn promise: to fight against the Stormbringers, if ever they attack somewhere near enough for us to reach. You don’t have to join us, but I have to know if you’re okay with that. Don’t just say yes: whatever we’re doing, we drop it and go. You may have to wait a long time for us to come back. We might not come back. Understand?”

Aiko’s nervousness seems to have faded, and to her credit she appears to be giving the question serious consideration. Finally, she nods. “I think so. And yeah, I’m okay with that.”

“Good. Then my second question is this: will you have trainer battles with me?”

Aiko blinks. Blue asked the question with the same intensity he did the previous one. “I… right now?”

“I mean at all.”

“Of course! How else will we get better?”

Blue grins, all seriousness dropping away. “Okay, you’re in.”

Aiko takes a moment to react, but when she does it’s to simply bow until her forehead touches the grass.


The first night out, everyone jokes about how excited they are to be roughing it again, without the luxuries of beds or showers, but they make better time than expected, and as the sun begins to set they’re almost halfway to Saffron City. Aiko says her house is on a ranch near the express tunnel that goes under Saffron city, and they should reach it tomorrow.

“Do you think your dad will be okay with you coming with us?” Leaf asks as they set up camp.

“I’ve been tempted to message or call him about it, but I think it’ll be better to ask in person.” It’s clear that she’s nervous, but she does her best to hide it as she brings her sleeping bag out of its container and sets a lamp up beside it. “I can take first shift, if you guys are tired. Or last shift. Or one of the middle ones. Whatever.”

Red smiles. “Relax, we’re probably not going to sleep right away. And it’s appreciated, but don’t feel like you have to constantly try to please us, you know?”

“Besides, sleeping less than three hours is kind of a waste anyway, right?” Leaf says.

“Is it three hours or two?” Blue asks.

“Either way, having two people get middle shifts sounds terrible. Might as well let one person get a full night’s sleep and alternate.”

Red lets them talk it out as he sits on his bedroll and begins meditating. He cycles through his mental states quickly and practices fighting down the surges of sadness that envelop him. It’s hard, so he switches to sensing nearby minds to distract himself and make sure there aren’t any pokemon nearby or underground.

He senses nothing but Leaf and Aiko’s minds, and realizes that this is the first time he has tried his powers in a place that’s guaranteed to have no others around to distract him. He smiles as he concentrates on nothing but their two steady-stream-of-raindrop-impressions on his mind, grief momentarily forgotten. He doesn’t extend his mind out to feel what they’re feeling, but it’s strange how even without doing so he can tell the two apart. Aiko’s is… quicker? No, more energetic. No that’s not the word, it’s frenetic compared to Leaf’s calm…

Red maintains the sensory field as long as he can without tearing up, then drops it and tunes back into the conversation. Aiko is talking about how she usually sleeps at Ranger Outposts while traveling alone. Leaf describes some of those they’ve visited while Red takes the rock Psychic Ayane gave him out and puts it in his palm.

Round, solid, slightly rough. Lift.

They start describing their various catches, and Aiko mentions that besides her raticate, venonat, spearow and sandshrew, she also has an oddish and krabby.

Feel the texture, the weight, the wholeness of it… slip between… and lift.

“I think I’ll sell one of the pineco, but the other I’m definitely keeping. They make amazing tanks and trap setters.”

Blue lets out a breath. “You have no idea how nice it is to be traveling with someone that speaks my language. Yes, I’m going to teach mine to trap the shit out of the battlefield, and as long as I take out any fire types they have…”

Feel the rock. BECOME the rock. LIFT THE GODDAMN ROCK.

“Is there an advantage to using two?” Leaf asks.

“Might sell one too, after I check which is stronger, but I might also keep both and train them differently. It’ll work well for faking others out too, when people know my teams well enough and expect one. I’ll have to be careful with nicknames…”

Okay, change of tactics. Do not try to lift the rock. Instead realize the truth: there IS no rock.

“Red?” Leaf asks.

“Hm?” He opens his eyes to find them looking at him. “Sorry, what?”

“Oh you’re practicing,” Leaf says. “I thought you dozed off, sorry, go back to it.”

He sighs and drops the rock. “Nah it’s fine. What’d I miss?”

(“Practicing what?” Aiko whispers to Blue.)

“I was just asking if you’ve decided on any nicknames for your pokemon yet.”

(“He’s psychic, trying to lift the rock.”)

“Ah, no. Not really. I mean, technically I’ve named my abra—”

(“Oh! Cool! But don’t they practice by bending spoons?”)

“That’s great!” Leaf grins. “What did you name them?”

“My sensei said I’m not advanced enough for spoons yet,” he tells a surprised Aiko. “They’re for practicing moving parts of things you’re not directly touching.” He turns to Leaf with an embarrassed smile. “Uhh, I named one Bill and the other Cerulean.”

(“Did he use his powers to tell what we’re talking about?”)

Leaf covers her eyes with one hand. “Red, you can’t name your pokemon after the locations they teleport to! That’s not a nickname, that’s just labeling!”

(“No, you’re just whispering really loud.”)

“Look, I’m trying okay? I don’t really…” He trails off as he hears something. “What was—”

Blue leaps to his feet, followed quickly by the others as everyone summons their starters, eyes scanning the darkness around them. Leaf’s head snaps up as her hand swaps Bulbasaur out. “It’s wings! Above us!”

Blue and Aiko also swap their pokemon out while Red grabs the lantern and puts it in the middle of the camp. “Everyone back to back, four points!”

They set up around the lantern with Charmander, Zephyr, Crimson and Aiko’s spearow at the ready, the light no longer ruining their night vision as they scan the starry sky. There are clouds over the moon, but still there’s enough light for them to spot the pokemon winging down toward them.

“There are two, and they’re big,” Blue murmurs, and Red feels his pulse redouble in speed. “I’ll send Zephyr up when they-”

“Hellooooo the camp!”

Red blinks. He knows that voice…

Blue curses and rubs his eyes, withdrawing Zephyr with his other hand. “Gramps! You scared the shit out of us! Why!”

Relieved laughter escapes Leaf as she returns Crimson too, and Red smiles at Aiko’s shocked expression. “It’s okay, we know them.”

“‘Gramps?’ As in…?”

With a few final, mighty whumps of displaced air, the pidgeot lands in the grass just outside the lamplight. From its back slides Professor Oak, in all his lab-coated glory, and a moment later a second massive bird lands behind it, which Red recognizes as Daisy’s swellow by its bright white and red breast.

“Oh, come on, you can’t expect me to miss your birthday just because you’re out wandering the world!”

“It’s not until next week!”

“Yeah, but where’s the surprise if I came then? Hello Red, hello Leaf!”

“Hello professor,” they chorus. “How did you find—ah, the pokedexes, right?”

“Yep. And who might this be?”

Red smiles and turns to the dumbfounded Aiko. “Professor Oak, this is Aiko, a new friend of ours. Aiko, I believe you said something about killing to talk with your ‘idol?’ At least now that won’t be necessary.” He sees Daisy dismount from her swellow, and then… help someone else down? Oh. Red suddenly realizes what’s about to happen and flushes slightly. They’re only a few days apart, after all…

“It’s… such an honor, Professor,” Aiko stammers as she bows low.

“Hiya kids!” Daisy says as she walks into the lamplight, followed by—

“Laura!” Leaf rushes forward to hug her.

Red’s mom looks surprised but pleased as she returns the hug. “Hello, Leaf. It’s good to see you again.” She looks up at Red. “Hi hon. Happy early birthday surprise!”

Chapter 42: Making Do

Leaf holds her instrument to her lips and watches the sky. All she can see above is Crimson, doing slow circles of a defensive perimeter around her. Together, trainer and pidgey wait for the threat to reveal itself.

Wait, and watch, and listen.

The sun is warm. The wind is cool. Around them is a stretch of empty beach, and the only sounds are the gentle crash of the waves and the flap of Crimson’s wings.

When the attack comes, it does so without warning: a blast of water that knocks over one of the pokedolls along the beach to her left as she faces the water.

Leaf immediately blows on her whistle, sending Crimson down in a dive at another pokedoll on her right. As soon as he knocks it over, her next command sends Crimson to her left side to strike another doll there, farther away, but a burst of water topples it, and Leaf send Crimson back to her right to knock over the fourth. As she does so, she starts running to her left, eye on the upright pokedoll farther in the distance. She looks back and sees Crimson knock over his target, then blows a tune to bring him racing up behind her, and out toward the new target.

The next pokedoll grows closer in the distance, and she points a finger out and blows on her whistle. Crimson dives at it, but before he can reach, another burst of water shoots out from the waves and hits it.

Leaf curses and turns on her heel, blowing a retreat to Crimson and running even harder back the way she came. She passes by the original dolls and sees the last one in the distance. She must have gotten here first–a quick pair of notes on her flute and Crimson dives at it again.

This time the burst of water comes from farther back, and it doesn’t reach the doll until Crimson hits it. Leaf grins and turns toward the water, and a moment later Blue emerges, one hand on Maturin’s shell until he reaches the shallow part and begins to walk. The newly evolved wartortle follows him, long white tail swishing behind her as she squirts another shot of water at the already downed doll.

“Tied this time,” she says, hands on her hips. “Are you going easy, or did we just get faster?”

Blue takes the breather out of his mouth and lifts his water goggles, wiping a hand across his face. “You got faster. Do you still think bulbasaur would win, though?”

“Only one way to find out.” Leaf withdraws Crimson and brings Bulbasaur out. “We’ve been training his long distance attacks a lot lately, so he might actually do better than Crimson.”

Blue snorts. “We’ll see about that.”

Ever since Zephyr evolved, she and Blue started these competitive training sessions. They’re not quite battles, but also not quite simple training, and Leaf enjoys the mix of challenging and playful elements of them. Once Maturin evolved, Blue wanted practice battling with her from the water onto land, so they decided to try a race along the beach.

“So how confident are you feeling with Maturin in the water?”

“She’s fast,” he says, clearing water from his ear. “I don’t know if she’s fast enough for Misty, but it’s good to know that I can travel a bit by water now, if I need to. You need to get yourself a water pokemon.”

“I know,” Leaf says, staring wistfully at the bay. Maybe I can take up fishing… “First though, I want Crimson or Bulbasaur to evolve.”

Blue begins to move along the beach, putting pokedolls right side up. “Once Crimson does I can teach you guys Brave Bird, if you’d like. I think I’ve almost got the hang of it.”

Leaf’s smile fades a bit. “I don’t know. I appreciate these non-violent training sessions, but Brave Bird is a dangerous move for a pokemon to learn. Even more dangerous to use in battle.”

Blue shrugs. “Sure, but better to have it and not need it, right?”

“Yeah, maybe.” Leaf picks up a doll as Bulbasaur frolicks in the waves and Maturin dives back into them, following Leaf and Blue down the beach. “I wonder if–”

Leaf’s phone buzzes, and she checks it to see Professor Oak’s face pop up. “It’s your grandpa!”

Blue raises his brows and walks over while Leaf accepts the call and puts it on visual. A moment later Professor Oak shows up too, sitting in his office.

“Hi professor!”

“Hello there, Leaf, how is everything? Enjoying one of Cerulean’s many beaches, I see?”

“Yep, and doing some training. Blue’s here.” She tilts the phone.

“Heya gramps.”

“Oh, hello Blue. Well, I’m sorry to interrupt. We can speak later if–”

“No, not at all!” Leaf sits in the sand, and Blue crouches next to her a moment later. “You got my message?”

“I did, and I read your article on the dig site. I enjoyed it.”

“Thanks!”

“So?” Blue asks. “What do you think?”

The Professor sighs, face growing more somber. “I think it was surprising, and worrying. Giovanni is not a man who takes challenges to his will lightly, and yet it seems someone has gone out of their way to undermine him. Not to mention the potential trouble it would cause for Pewter and Cerulean as well.”

Leaf feels relief, but also some small note of disappointment. “So you believe him, then? You don’t think it’s suspicious or… or something others should know about?”

“Perhaps. Still, I trust the Ranger and Leader had their reasons for covering it up. And if I didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t want you getting involved, Leaf. These are forces that wouldn’t hesitate to crush you if you get in their way, some more literally than others. Better if you stay out of it, and not just because I assured your mother that Kanto was as safe a place for a young trainer as anywhere.”

“Hey, that’s not fair,” Blue says as he leans down and frowns at the camera. “You wouldn’t say that to me, would you? Leaf is at least as tough and ambitious. Whatever the decision, she can deal with making it as well as anyone.”

Leaf looks at Blue in surprise, cheeks flushing. It’s flattering to hear that he thinks so highly of her, especially when she knows how often her anti-violent training views chafe. She sometimes worries that Blue wishes he had other travelling companions. Red warmed up to her a lot after their narrow escape in Viridian; she’s just now realizing how much Blue has too, after their encounter with the Renegade.

“I can assure you, I would say the same of you, Blue. It’s not a matter of will or maturity, but power. You’re not there yet, either of you. The fame and attention and influence you would gain for outing this is not worth the enemies you would make.”

“Giovanni–”

“Leader Giovanni is the least among them. He can be… overzealous, when acting how he feels best, but at least your life wouldn’t be in danger.”

“What, you think the person who killed Yuuta would come after me?” Leaf frowns. “But… why would they do that? I’d be doing them a favor if I published it.”

“So it might seem, but I believe the most rational route right now is to take their motives as completely opaque. Much as I trust Giovanni’s intentions, I have no doubt that he was less than completely forthcoming with you.” The professor puts his elbows on the desk and clasps his hands together. “Listen to me, the both of you. It was a great thing you did, helping to stop the Renegade, and it was good work uncovering the truth behind his death, Leaf. But trust me to take it from here. I’m grateful that you told me, and I promise to look into it and let you know if there’s anything more going on. Can you do that?”

Leaf wants to look at Blue, but resists the urge. “Of course, Professor.”

“Sure, gramps.”

“Thank you. Give my regards to Red, and good luck on your match, Blue.”

“Will you be watching?”

The Professor grins. “Of course. Daisy and I are hosting a watch party.”

“Aw, hell, you don’t have to do that.” Leaf can tell Blue is pleased anyway.

“Forget I said anything then. Pretend I’m not watching tomorrow, if it helps.”

“Thanks.”

Leaf nods. “Thank you, Professor.”

“Take care.” He waves, and ends the call.

Leaf lowers her phone, and the two sit in silence for awhile, watching their pokemon play. When Leaf finally comes to a resolution, she turns to Blue, who’s already looking at her. “You’re going to keep looking into it yourself, aren’t you?”

She smiles. “Do you think it’s a bad idea? I thought you were against me poking into it any further.”

“Nah, I just don’t think you should cross Giovanni.” He gets to his feet and offers her his hand which she takes, brushing the sand from her legs after getting pulled up. “But four eyes are better than two, and it’s like Brave Bird, right? Better to know than not to know, even if you’re not planning to do anything with the info. You never know when it might come in handy.”


“Challenger, Blue Oak, second badge.”

Blue begins his walk along the pier as the audience applauds, eyes straight ahead until he reaches the island. He climbs the steps to his trainer platform… and sees the smallest arena he’s ever fought in.

He spent a lot of time watching videos of Misty’s previous Challenge matches to prepare for whatever she might throw at him. Most of her Challenge matches are outdoors and she only does battles along the beach for first badge Challengers, so he expected an island arena. But the kind of island varies widely: some are larger than the one Blue fought Ariya on, while others take place on tiny archipelagos, or a ring of sand with spaces of open water in the middle of them.

This one is even smaller than a training room. A quick glance is enough to take it all in, and Blue knows he could withdraw a pokemon from practically any part of the arena below.

Which is, of course, the point.

Blue feels his pulse kick up, and he smiles in anticipation. There’s only one reason to fight in an arena this small. It’s almost unheard of for a second badge Challenger, but he’s not complaining: it sure won’t hurt his public profile.

“Blue! Hey, BLUE!”

He looks to the audience, expecting to see Red or Leaf waving at him from the stands… but no, the voice was too young. Then he spots the young boy that he met on his first day at Cerulean Gym, standing and cupping his hands around his mouth. What was his name? Daniel? Dennis, that was it.

Blue smiles and lifts a hand, which makes Dennis wave both arms and yell “Good luck!” Blue hopes the kid isn’t skipping again, but no, there’s an older man sitting next to him and urging him to sit down. If he’s missing school, at least he has an adult’s permission.

The audience continues to fill the floating bleachers around the island, though there’s nowhere near as much room for seats as Pewter Gym’s main coliseum. Still, there are cameras available to stream to anyone that wants to watch the match, and he’s confident he’ll have more viewers for this match.

“Leader Misty, of Wisteria Town, Indigo League Challenger and Savior of Cerulean North!”

The Ceruleans cheers for their Leader, who strides up to her platform in a white swimsuit one piece and a light blue jacket. Blue puts his earpiece in.

“Hello, Mister Oak. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Leader. We’re using Indigo League rules?”

Their platforms are close enough for him to see her smile. “Right.”

Excitement surges through him, and he grins back. “I don’t remember seeing a 2nd Badge Challenger get this kind of treatment.”

“You made quite an impression on the others. Anything else I try on you will be wasting both our times, and I like to force my Challengers outside their comfort zones.”

“If you think I can handle it, I’m honored.”

“Heh. If I thought you could handle it, I’d do something else. Brock beat you once, I can hardly let myself get shown up, now can I?” Misty switches to the public channel. “Good morning, Cerulean City! Today’s Challenge match is against one of the most skilled trainers our gym has seen all year, with an undefeated win streak! Blue Oak, Cerulean Gym honors your request. State the nature of your Challenge.”

“I challenge for Mastery,” Blue says, voice booming over the water from speakers set in his platform.

“Cerulean Gym accepts. You may use six pokemon to defeat my three, with standard Indigo League withdraw limitations. Prepare for battle!”

Indigo League withdraw limitations are meant to simulate intense battle conditions in the wild. No pauses to talk or rest or strategize, unless it’s for safety reasons. No more than 1.6 seconds can pass without a pokemon on the field. If a pokemon is knocked out or killed, it has to be replaced in 3 seconds, or else the trainer is presumed dead by the attacking pokemon, and forfeits. Same with if his pokemon goes too far from the battlefield, so that it can’t protect its trainer if needed. A pokemon can’t be withdrawn and sent back out without a different pokemon going in first.

Blue spots the referees in the crowd, now that he knows to look for them. They have tools ready to monitor the battle and call out time if needed. He puts his hands over his belt, not quite hovering over any particular ball so as not to give away his impulse to send Maturin or Kemuri out first. A wartortle and shiftry should at least be neutrally useful against anything she throws out, and if he’s right about what her trump card would be…

“Ready… Set… Go, Swanna!”

Misty’s swanna erupts into being above the battlefield, and Blue’s hand shifts to Ion automatically, the ball already flying through the air before he recognizes the trap.

“Go, Ion!”

“Swanna, return!”

Blue’s shinx makes its debut just as Misty returns her Swanna and pulls her hand out of her jacket with the next ball in it. “Go, Marshtomp!”

“Ion, Bite!”

His pokemon streaks forward in a blue and black blur and sinks his teeth into the enemy marshtomp’s thick arm. It lets out a pained croak and swings its arm around to try and dislodge the shinx. Blue still has Ion’s ball pointed forward, and withdraws his pokemon just as Misty yells “Tara!”

Shit, custom commands too? Blue has no time to consider what her attack might be, acting on instinct to reclip Kemuri to send out Maturin instead.

His wartortle materializes just in time to be nailed with an Ice Beam. Blue doesn’t have time to celebrate his choice, and orders a tackle as he watches for her next move. If Misty is expecting him to switch into counters, he just has to whittle her down with neutral pokemon and attacks. His pokemon might be weaker than hers on average, but he has twice as many.

Misty seems intent on testing his speed, however, and switches out again. As she continually swaps between the marshtomp and the swanna, Blue lets the battle calm surround him so he can keep up without fumbling. Most swaps happen so fast that neither gets an attack in, but Blue is content to wait until he has an opening before he gives a command.

“Go, Swanna!”

“Return! Go, Ion!”

“Return, go, Mars–”

“Return, Ion, go–”

“Epa!”

Misty’s marshtomp slams its arms forward just as Maturin materializes and knocks her across the sand. Blue yells “Bite!” as Misty swaps in her swanna, who stays out of reach as Maturin leaps up at it.

“Asa!”

“Withdraw!”

Maturin ducks into her shell just as the swanna dives and rakes at her. A Wing Attack? Memorizing Misty’s custom attacks is going to be rough, and Blue has only a brief moment to wonder if she’s using them on him just because he used one against Ariya. That’s what I get for testing my limits.

“Maturin, Bai!”

Maturin’s Ice Beam hits the swanna dead on, dropping it to the sand as its feathers are covered in frost. Blue blinks in surprise, hands going still. He expected a switch. Misty looks calm, in control, and Blue feels a note of panic as he realizes he has no idea what’s coming.

“Swanna, alf!”

“Maturin, Withdraw!”

The swanna hops toward Maturin, jerks its neck back… its beak bobs, opens, emits a choking sound-

What the fu-

-and then a stream of purple goop pours out of its mouth.

-uuoh SHIT “Maturin, return!”

Blue’s beam catches his wartortle just as the toxic bile covers her shell. He couldn’t tell how much she was directly exposed to, and there’s no time to think about it: he swaps his bellsprout in and yells “Sleep Powder!”

“Gust!”

The swanna has recovered enough to flap itself back into the air and send the blue spores away over the water. Blue sees some people flinch as the cloud hits the glass in front of their bleacher. Blue replaces his bellsprout with Ion and the dance continues, but now Blue knows better than to try and tank the swanna. Its Toxic would make this fight much harder.

One minute melts into the next, endless cycles of swapping, attacking, throwing, catching. Blue feels sweat drip down his neck, and his arms ache as he keeps them moving almost constantly.

Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout to Maturin to Ion to Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout–

“Vine Whip!” Blue yells as his pokemon materializes while the Marshtomp’s ball is still on its way back to her.

His pokemon’s vine stretches out and whips the marshtomp a heartbeat before it gets withdrawn, and Blue grins as he moves to withdraw his Bellsprout and send out Maturin. That has to have hurt. If he can do that cycle again…

Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout to Maturin–”Withdraw!”–to Ion to Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout to Maturin to Ion–”Bite!”–to Maturin to Ion to Bellsprout–

Blue opens his mouth to go for another Vine Whip, but Misty withdraws her pokemon blindingly fast. She’s watching for it now, which means he has to outspeed her. Blue pushes himself, barely looking at the balls as he throws and catches them again and again, cycling and attacking, trying to force her to send her marshtomp out and lure it into an attack on Ion, leaving the shinx out an extra second so she’ll overcommit, now–

“Return, go, Bellsprout!”

Shinx get sucked away as Bellsprout replaces him, and Blue lifts his arm to catch its ball-

-and feels it brush his fingertips.

He whips around and leaps, catching the ball before it can spin past into the water.

“Ova!” Misty yells.

Blue turns just in time to see the marshtomp blast his bellsprout with an Ice Beam. It wilts in a second, and he quickly withdraws it, heart pounding as he sends Maturin out to resume the dance, barely clinging onto his battle calm.

He missed a catch. He, Blue Oak, almost dropped his pokeball just as his pokemon needed to be returned. That shouldn’t happen, ever, let alone in front of an audience.

“Withdraw!” Blue yells, and swallows against the dryness in his throat. Five to three, now. Maturin’s dive ball is slick under his sweaty fingers, and Blue’s pulse kicks up again. This is exactly what Misty wants. To test his endurance, see how he adapts to new things. He might be wearing down her pokemon, but she’s wearing him down. She fights like this all the time, is used to the open sunlight and endless movement. If he can’t find a way to break the cycle, he’s going to lose the fight long before his pokemon do.

The marshtomp or swanna, one of them has to go. But he has nothing that decisively beats both. Misty is fast. More than that, she’s predicting his moves like… well, a psychic. Being dark is useful, but she’s still used to being in a trainer’s head as she fights them. However good Blue is, and however proud, he knows better than to think his natural impulses are significantly less predictable than any other trainers that have studied competitive battles an extensive amount.

But unpredictable is exactly what he has to be. Which in this case means locking her into a decision and shifting the tempo of the fight, if only to give himself time to catch his breath and rest his arms.

Blue waits for her to send out her marshtomp again, then unclips a rear ball and throws. “Go, Zephyr!”

The pidgeotto gives a piercing cry as it materializes and spots its opponent. Misty immediately withdraws the marshtomp, and Blue’s first flute note sends Zephyr climbing up, up, up.

Misty’s movements are as smooth as ever, but he thinks there’s a moment’s hesitation as she unclips her Swanna. Not enough to disqualify her, but when the Swanna appears, she doesn’t immediately give it any instruction. She could threaten to disqualify him if his pokemon leaves the battlefield, but Zephyr is still above the island, within striking difference if the theoretical wild swanna were to go for him and leave itself exposed. Blue smiles around his mouthpiece as he carefully steers his pokemon just within the battleground limits, and takes deep breaths, arms and shoulders enjoying the rest.

Swanna are stronger than pidgeotto, and faster, but only at the start of a fight. And now that both Blue and his pokemon have a bit of breathing room…

He blows two notes, and Zephyr banks to the left, accelerating as he does so. The swanna turns to keep him in its sight, but Misty soon realizes what he’s doing, and rather than let Zephyr keep gaining agility, she starts to give chase.

As Blue feared, an Ice Beam lances out from the swanna, just barely missing Zephyr. Two TMs on one pokemon… does that mean two on each of them? He’ll have to watch out for another TM from marshtomp too, along with two from whatever her third is. There’s a limit to how much a pokemon’s body can be edited, so hopefully this is the last surprise from the swanna.

Blue keeps Zephyr on the move and lets him keep building speed until he’s just a tan blur in the sky. The small size of the arena keeps him from going even faster, but the swanna can’t land its attacks, and on its next miss, Blue finally sends it in for a Brave Bird.

The blow is almost too fast to see, but blood and feathers rain down from both of them. Misty withdraws her swanna as it makes a distressed honk, but Blue can’t tell how badly it’s injured. Blue tracks Zephyr with his ball as he stumbles about in the air for a second, but then his flapping grows stronger and he levels out.

“Go, Starmie!”

A jolt goes through Blue, and he withdraws Zephyr anyway, feeling simultaneously flattered and nervously irritated. An Indigo league match, and coded attacks, and two TMs, and she’s using a starmie? The gem in its center flashes red as its five rear arms spin lazily through the sand and lift its body up. As it begins to cartwheel around the battlefield, Blue throws. “Go, Kemuri!”

His shiftry appears on the sand and immediately gets blasted by an Ice Beam, because of course it has that move too. Kemuri shivers under the cold onslaught for a moment, but doesn’t go down. “Tal!” Blue yells.

His pokemon whips up a flurry of green particles and sends them out with a flap of its leaves. Blue expects Misty to replace the starmie with her swanna, but instead it takes the attack and just shoots another Ice Beam out.

“Dodge!” Blue yells, too late. One of Kemuri’s leaf hands is still up from its attack, and takes the brunt of the beam. When it finally leaps away and moves its arm down, two of its three broad leaves break off with a snap.

“Dodge!” Blue yells again, and this time Kemuri avoids the attack. No time to wonder why Misty is keeping her starmie out, but her ability to give it commands instantly and silently means he has to play defensively. He keeps his gaze on her pokemon to predict its next move, and realizes that its wounds from his previous attack are closing. “Lar!”

His pokemon dashes forward and slashes with its remaining limb. The razor sharp leaves slice off a pair of the starmie’s arms as it spins away. It responds with an Ice Beam, which Kemuri manages to dodge without Blue’s warning, but it tries to counter attack on its own and only manages to chase the starmie around as it recharges for another shot.

Starmie are too fast for a shiftry to hope to get a hit in without the element of surprise. “Af!” Blue commands, and Kemuri leaps forward–only to land short and hit the sand face first. Blue winces as he imagines that long, thin nose slamming into the sand.

The starmie slows down and fires another Ice Beam, but Kemuri is already rolling out of the way and bounding forward for another strike, nose thankfully unbroken and white mane covered in sand. Misty sends her starmie spinning away again, but not before it’s struck by another deep gash.

Blue kept his code pretty simple: if an attack is two words, use the first letter of both, flip the order, and put a vowel between them if one isn’t a vowel. If it’s one word, use the first letter and a vowel. The vowel used can keep track of multiple attacks with the same letters. It’s not a hard code to break, but it’s easy to remember and implement, which is what he needed to get Kemuri ready for this match.

Both their pokemon seem a hit away from going down, but hers can regenerate. Blue has to get another hit in soon. She won’t fall for the same thing twice…

“Starmie, return!”

Blue blinks, then lifts Ion’s ball and prepares to swap it into her swanna. He was paying so much attention to her pokemon he didn’t notice her prepare to switch, costing a chance to get an attack in.

He holds Kemuri’s ball out and cocks Ion’s back. “Kemuri, re–”

“Go, Marshtomp!”

–ckg!” Blue chokes on the word and tightens his grip on Ion’s ball. Too close. “Lor!”

“Ap!”

The shiftry strikes first, blades sinking deep into the marshtomp’s abdomen–only to have it belch a glob of poisonous sludge right into Kemuri’s face.

His pokemon reels back with a coughing bellow of pain that Blue feels like a stab in his gut. He quickly returns it to its ball, cursing at himself. There’s that second surprise. At the same time, the marshtomp falls back from its more literal stabbing, and is quickly withdrawn by Misty.

“Go, Io-”

“Pause,” Misty says over the loudspeakers.

Blue flinches, ball sailing forward and hitting the sand without opening. He stares at her, and slowly lowers his arm as his stomach turns to ice. Was he too late? No, her pokemon was down and hasn’t even been replaced yet, there’s no way he’s in violation…

Misty smiles. “Don’t worry, Trainer, you’re safe. I merely want to confirm our count.”

Right. Blue nods, letting his breath out. “I’ve retired my bellsprout.”

“And your shiftry?”

Blue stares at her, thinking fast. “I did think that Kemuri was another attack from going down, but that was from your starmie.”

“Do you intend to send it out again, then?”

Blue’s jaw clenches. He can’t retire Kemuri while she still has her starmie, it’s his only pokemon that’s immune to its psychic attacks. But… that sludge hit Kemuri directly. He was already badly hurt, and if he’s poisoned… he would faint within seconds of being sent out again.

Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit. “No,” Blue says, and slowly transfers Kemuri’s ball to the rear of his belt, swapping it with Gon’s. “It’s too big a risk.”

Misty smiles. “A prudent choice, Trainer. In the same spirit, I will retire my marshtomp.”

Blue nods, only slightly relieved. It received what looked like a pretty critical hit: Kemuri is still his most unruly and vicious pokemon, and he’s lucky it hasn’t crippled or killed another trainer’s pokemon yet. He’ll have to keep working on that.

For now, he’s only glad that it took the marshtomp out. Ion can finally have free rein, but he doesn’t think the shinx will be able to stand up to a starmie. If only it had evolved too…

“Ready to continue, Challenger?”

Four to two. I can still do this. Blue hops down from his platform and retrieves Ion’s ball, gaze lingering on the blood, feathers, and leaves that litter the sand. He feels surreal, standing on the tiny island in the middle of the bay, hundreds of silent eyes on him as the sun beats down and the smell of the water fills his nose. Like he’s in a painting, or a picture that will be shown in history books. Like everything around him is about to freeze in place, and if he looks to the side he’ll see a floating square that he can climb out of and back into “reality.”

Blue bends down and picks up Ion’s ball. The world is still very mobile, and all he’s coming out of is an adrenaline high. He smiles as he climbs back up onto his platform, then stretches his arms out and rotates his shoulders before moving his hands over his belt to disguise which balls he’s holding. “Ready.”

“Three… two… one… Go, Star-”

“Go, Ion!” Shit. He expected the Swanna. “Return, go, Maturin!”

His wartortle appears, one paw wiping poison off her face as she tries to open her eyes. Blue’s heart is in his throat as the starmie’s gem flashes, expecting a psychic attack… but it’s just healing itself again.

“Bite!” Blue yells as soon as Maturin can see, and his wartortle leaps forward. Basic as it is, an intense and invasive enough attack will mess with any psychic’s ability to concentrate.

Rather than let Maturin latch onto her starmie, however, Misty yells “Return, go, Swanna!” and Blue immediately aborts the Maturin’s charge with a “Return, go, Ion! Spark!”

The swanna stays out and belches another glob of toxic goop at Ion as the shinx tackles it, electricity buzzing around him. The swanna is jolted away, honking in agony as it rolls across the sand and lies still. Misty quickly withdraws her pokemon and sends the starmie back out.

Four to one! “Spark!”

Ion charges forward again and hits the starmie, but his pokemon bounces off something in the air just ahead of the starmie: a Protection barrier. Almost impossible to pierce through, but very hard to maintain for more than a couple seconds. Its timing has to be precise, but combined with the ability to heal her pokemon, it’s an incredible stalling ability.

Blue’s grip on Maturin’s ball tightens. Even now, Misty is changing the rules. Her starmie is going to just tank and let the poison wear Ion down. The starmie starts to heal itself again, and Ion runs toward it for another Spark, which connects. But Misty’s pokemon barely seems to feel it, simply healing through the damage.

“Charge!” Blue says, and watches as his pokemon builds up electricity, its blue and black fur crackling with light. If he’s wrong and the starmie isn’t preparing another barrier, he can only hope Ion survives her next attack and takes her down in one hit.

As far as he can see however, the starmie just keeps regenerating, all of its lost limbs fully regrown now, its skin unblemished. Ion is beginning to tremble, whether from built up electricity or the wearing effects of the poison, he doesn’t know, but enough is enough. “Spark!”

The starmie leaps away as soon as Ion bolts forward, and the chase is on. Starmie are ridiculously fast considering their weird shape, and Ion is clearly feeling the growing effects of the poison, but eventually Misty runs out of island and has to turn.

Ion cuts across the intervening space and tackles it with a crack of discharging energy, almost sending it into the water. The starmie bounces and flounders on the sand, electricity running along its body as its skin smokes and blackens. But soon the burnt skin begins to slough off to reveal new flesh underneath.

Blue lets out a breath. If that wasn’t enough to take it down, it’s time for Plan B, now that Misty has no one to swap her pokemon with. “Return! Go, Gon! Leech Seed!”

His shroomish makes its first appearance in the battle and spits the seeds out. The starmie can heal itself at a frightening pace, but even it can’t shrug off the effects of that much electricity so quickly, and Gon has just enough time to release the Leech Seeds before the starmie sends out an Ice Beam.

Frost blooms over Gon’s whole body, and Blue withdraws him. Three to one. One of the seeds connected, however, and that’s all he needs. His path to victory is set: it’s a battle of attrition, and Blue begins a countdown for each of his poisoned pokemon, set to begin when he sends them back out. But first, the unpoisoned one: “Go, Zephyr!” He puts his flute to his lips as the pidgeotto appears and blows.

Zephyr dives at the starmie and strikes another barrier, only for Blue to follow up with a second set of notes that makes Zephyr hover in place to keep clawing and pecking. The leech seed is growing, its roots spreading through the starmie’s flesh and sucking its life up into its fruit, which crack out of their shells and drop to the sand. His pokemon occasionally dips to the side to snatch them up in its beak, then returns to attacking the starmie, who can only protect itself every few seconds, spending the rest of its time healing.

Misty has to attack to win. She’s waiting for something, but what? Not knowing makes Blue nervous, but he has her on the ropes and can’t let up now. His hands tighten on his pokeballs, watching without blinking as Zephyr tries to do more damage to the starmie than it can heal through… surely he’s wearing it down…

With a jolt, Blue realizes his mistake. While he’s here trying to guess and estimate how the fight is going, Misty can feel the status of her pokemon, intimately. She knows if her pokemon is getting worn down, out healing the damage, or even breaking even. If she’s not attacking, it’s because she’s getting an advantage by prolonging the fight. He only feels in control because it looks like she’s out of options, but if that were true, she would just forfeit. She’s a Gym Leader, not just some random trainer whose pride or prize money is on the line.

Blue opens his mouth to withdraw Zephyr, then stops himself. He looks at Misty and finds her studying him, having no need to look at the fight to respond to it. What if this is her plan? To make him doubt himself, give up the advantage?

Doubt sends cracks through his battle calm, and he feels it slipping away as the pressure of indecision grows stronger. He keeps thinking that he’s one bad decision away from losing his second badge, that any moment now he’ll make the wrong choice, or wait too long to make one at all. Is he enabling her plan by letting Zephyr keep attacking, or falling for a psych-out by switching? If he wasn’t dark, she would be much more capable of reading and manipulating him, but as he realized earlier, she’s had plenty of experience knowing what her opponents think and how to shape their decisions.

There’s only one way forward that feels right: he has to be unpredictable. Force her to adapt, for once.

“Return! Go, Maturin!”

His wartortle reappears on the sand, but the starmie bursts into action before Blue can give a command, and a wave of invisible force shoves Maturin up and slams her against Blue’s platform. “Bite!” Blue yells, and as soon as she lands Maturin dashes forward to try and reach the starmie. Again she’s flung away, skidding over the sand on the back of her shell. “Return, go, Zephyr!” His hands move in a blur, clip-Maturin-right-hand, catch-Zephyr-left-hand, lift-flute-right-hand, tweet, twoot, twit twit!

Zephyr shoots up into the sky, flips itself in a tight half-loop and rockets down at the starmie. Blue tweets hard to make Zephyr flare his wings and slow enough for Blue to track him, then lets the flute drop from his lips and unclips Ion. “Return, go, Ion, Spark!”

If Blue is predicting properly, Zephyr dodged another burst of psychic force, then forced her to put a barrier up… and now it should be down, just in time for Ion to slam the starmie. Electricity arcs between its many limbs as it’s knocked away. “Spark, return, go, Maturin, Bite!”

His pokemon hits a wall again as Misty predicts the fake out, but Blue’s already swapping Zephyr back in and yelling out “Quick Attack,” no time to use his flute as his hands swap Ion back out a moment after the pidgeotto strikes.

His pokemon is clearly woozy from its poison by now, but it manages to eat one of the plump leech seeds as it dashes toward the starmie. It connects–then gets flung across the sand.

Misty is changing tactics again, and the timer in his head for his poisoned pokemon keeps narrowing his path to victory further and further, but Blue is already swapping Zephyr back into battle and bringing his flute to his lips for a quick command–

An Ice Beam hits Zephyr dead on, plunging him to the sand as one wing becomes too stiff to flap. Should’ve switched in Maturin! He moves to do it–but stops as he realizes she’s expecting exactly that, and blows a command for Zephyr to use a Sand Attack.

A gust of wind hits the ground and kicks up a cloud. Misty can aim through it with her starmie’s mental senses if he keeps Zephyr out, but swapping Ion in to the side of where Zephyr was lets him yell out “Spark!” before she can get in a preemptive attack.

Instead she tries a dodge, but that just gives Ion time to pick up more seeds as he chases the starmie around the island. When it finally hits the edge of the island again, Blue swaps Ion out rather than let it attack, sending Maturin instead and yelling “Bite!”

His pokemon leaps forward and locks her jaws onto the starmie just as a psychic wave ripples outward and kicks sand up, slamming Maturin’s body against the ground… but not breaking the grip of her jaws.

“Stop,” Misty says, again.

Blue is breathing hard, hands trembling as he points Maturin’s ball forward and has Zephyr’s ready at his side… but as her word registers, he quickly yells, “Maturin, back!”

Maturin’s jaws stay locked on the starmie, and Blue feels a note of panic. “Maturin, back!”

She opens her mouth and staggers away from the starmie, and Blue lets out a breath of relief as he withdraws her. Heart pounding, he looks up at Misty and feels his knees buckle at the smile on her face, hardly daring to trust his hopeful thoughts.

She withdraws her starmie and holds the ball in her right hand as her left leans against the railing on her platform. “Could you explain your last few thoughts on the battle for our audience, and what you were about to do?” she asks, tossing the ball up and down.

Blue’s mind is still caught up in the battle, evaluating how hurt his pokemon are and re-evaluating paths to victory, but his mouth moves on its own. “My last major insight was that I had to keep you not just on the defensive, but guessing what my next move would be. I just tried to catch you off guard, but I don’t think I would have succeeded if I hadn’t guessed that the second time starmie reached the edge of the island, it was a feint. You waited to move your pokemon that way only when you could put another shield up, so I swapped to Maturin and used her to get a decisive hit in.”

Misty nods. “Right throughout. You have demonstrated every major skill our gym seeks to impart to at least some degree. Blue Oak, I award you the Cascade Badge.”

Blue stares at her as the crowd finally breaks its silence, cheering and applauding. He lets his breath out and leans his hands on the railing, letting the noise wash over him. His legs are still trembling, his heart threatening to jump up into his throat, but a sense of triumph finally wins through, and he turns to the crowd and lifts his arms, fingers forming twin V’s.

Blue enjoys the heat of the sun on his hair and face as he basks in their praise, and more, the knowledge of having completed a perfect gym streak. His first of many, hopefully, but a crucial one, to re-establish his legend and allow it to grow.


Red sits at the table in one of Bill’s houses and stares at a flat, round stone in his hand, feeling every inch of it against his skin. He stares at it until he can picture it perfectly after closing his eyes, until he can barely tell when he’s looking at it with his real eyes or his mind’s eye. Its weight and texture are burned into his palm, the shape of it, the edges clearly delineated until he can’t imagine what it would feel like not to have this stone in his palm. It’s a part of him. Where his skin and its bottom meets, there is perfect awareness. Perfect connection. Perfect focus.

Red molds his will into an invisible, impossibly thin layer that cups the stone in its entirety, and lifts…

…and opens his eyes to see the stone sitting stubbornly still, not having moved an inch.

Red groans and lets his head fall forward, cap pushing up as his forehead rests on the table. His pichu, who was lying curled up on the table, opens his eyes to look at Red, then steps onto the brim of his hat and over his head to nestle in the gap between his neck and collar.

The sound of Bill’s strange doors opening comes from behind him, then footsteps ascend the stairs. “Still with the rock, huh?” Bill asks. “How hard is floating something that heavy supposed to be, anyway?”

“Not this hard,” Red mumbles and lifts his head, slowly enough not to startle Pichu. He clings to Red’s collar, then relaxes as he stops moving and burrows deeper against his neck, tail sticking up to brush Red’s hair. “I mean, I wasn’t expecting to orbit pokeballs around my head after just a week, but I can’t even make it wobble.” He puts the stone down and rubs his palm on his jeans, enjoying the sensation of something besides the rock.

The inventor grabs a soda from the fridge and sits on the couch near the table, tilting his head back and resting his feet on a leg rest. “Isn’t there an easier task to start with?”

“Tried them. Coins, bits of paper, sand… I even tried moving stuff down a slope, so gravity could help, but my teacher, Psychic Ayane, said that my ‘feel’ for the objects aren’t established properly, and gave me this to try with.”

“Being familiar with the texture and weight of it is supposed to help?”

“Psychic training is weird.” Red sighs and rubs his eyes. “I’ve never learned something so subjective. When I asked Ayane when I’d know if I ‘feel’ it well enough, she said I would just know it when I do. I’ve been carrying this thing around for days, and feel like I know it as intimately I ever will. But whatever trick it takes to twist my powers into a tangible force, I can’t do it, even after inhabiting my teacher’s mind while she uses psychokinesis. And that usually works for me.” Red was more disappointed than he could express when it didn’t help. He thought that was his key to learning new psychic abilities, but for whatever reason it isn’t enough to just copy mental states to move things. “Meanwhile there’s a video online of some six year old in fancy robes marching an army of plastic cups across a kitchen counter.”

Bill takes a contemplative sip of his drink. “Reminds me of when I was learning to catch as a kid. Practice for pokeballs. I’d look at others, see their hands moving just where they were supposed to be, automatically, and wonder why my body didn’t work like that. Studied enough physics to calculate the trajectory and arc of every throw, but I could never catch them as easily as some others using no calculation, no trick, just some intuitive skill. I got so jealous I just started skipping those classes.”

“Huh. That’s actually kind of why I want to get this so bad. I’m not as good at catching balls on their return as Blue or Leaf, so I thought maybe I could use my powers to help a bit with it. When did it click for you?”

Bill smiles. “Who says it did? I may have mentioned that I’m not much of a trainer. That’s part of why: just never got the hang of the athletic aspects. It’s for the best though. I never would have spent so much time on programming if I didn’t give up on being a trainer. Hell, might have gotten myself killed off on a journey instead.”

Red frowns down at the rock. He supposes if he’s just no good at psychokinesis, he can focus on his other psychic gifts instead. But he’s not giving up yet. He puts the rock back in his palm. Blue and Leaf should be here soon for their second abra catching session, and he has nothing else to do in the meantime. “So did you get a chance to look at the results so far?”

“I did.”

“What do you think?”

“It’s promising.” Bill makes a gesture with his hand, and the wall across from them suddenly projects some monitor he must have been looking at recently. On it is Red’s preliminary data for the abra research, along with some notes and comments by Bill. Ayane is almost done with the original crop, and once the sample population is bolstered by the ones they catch today, Red should have over a hundred subjects in his study.

For now, only about fifty are represented. The graph shows the same X axis as his original research, a simple distribution of the % of the abra’s Other category when scanned into a pokedex. The Y axis this time is measured in kilograms, the numbers representing how heavy a weight each abra can lift after being taught the “Psychic” attack from a TM Bill let him use (Red doesn’t know why the attack was named “Psychic” instead of “Psychokinesis,” but chalks it up to the laziness or pragmatism of Battle Trainers not wanting to have to shout out five syllables for an attack).

Bill rolls his can between his palms. “It looks like the relationship is a lot stronger in abra than spinarak, but the variance is still all over the place. I see you’ve refined your hypothesis though.”

Red nods. The language of his original research paper was too focused on trying to support his hypothesis of a correlation between Other and psychic ability. He also feels like he misrepresented the meaning of his p-value, considering the lack of statistical significance. Small wonder it was so hard to find a publisher.

But from this data, the null isn’t looking good. Of the four quadrants, high Other, high Weight Lifted; high Other, low Weight Lifted; low Other, low Weight Lifted; and low Other and high Weight Lifted, there’s a clear gap in the top left: low Other, high Weight Lifted. The rest of the graph is filled with a loose curve of dots, but plenty of outliers. “So high Other doesn’t predict high psychokinetic ability,” Bill says, waving a hand to highlight some of the dots at the lower right of the graph that represent abra with high Other but weak pyschokinesis. “There are a number of of high Other abra that are pretty weak at it.”

“Which makes sense, since we know individuals vary in strength between different psychic abilities. According to Ayane, I’m unusually good at psychic Reception, but moving things around…” He bounces the rock from one hand to the other. “Not so much. But–”

“–low Other does seem to impact it, right.” Bill circles the mostly empty quadrant in a different color. “Which also makes sense, if there’s a single particle responsible for overall psychic abilities, but not specific ones.”

“Yeah. Maybe as the technology gets better we can identify what this ‘mystery matter’ is, and whether there are actually two different types for different manifestations of psychic power. Or maybe even three, or four. A wide variability might explain those few spinarak outliers I had. Without those, that research would have been a lot more intriguing.”

“Well, if this pattern holds up, you won’t have to worry about that any more. It might take you a bit to convince a journal to pay attention, but their boards aren’t stupid enough to ignore something like this. I’d be surprised if you don’t get your Researcher license from this.”

Red smiles as he studies the graph. It’s been a rough couple weeks, all things considered. He’s still not sleeping well, and he spends a lot of time lying in bed with Pichu when he should be working on his paper, or facilitating the sale of the abra. Without Ayane’s psychic lessons, or Blue dragging him to secret training sessions for his shinx, Red would probably have spent most of his week in his room. But aside from watching Blue’s victory (and getting swept up in the crowd’s excitement again), the major bright spot has been seeing the data slowly accumulate and form a pattern. As long as his research is moving forward, he feels like he’s being productive.

Bill finishes off his soda and gets up to grab another one. He brings an extra for Red this time, who takes it and pops the tab for a long gulp. “Ahh, thanks.” Pichu stirs against his neck, then crawls over his collar and down his arm, nose sniffing at the can. “And thanks again for all your help,” Red says as he tilts the can just enough for some of the sugary liquid to spill into the inner rim. He rotates the can so it rolls away from the opening, then lets his pokemon lap at it. “I owe you big time.”

“Right,” Bill says, waving the display on the wall away and reaching into his pocket. “About that.”

Red looks up at him. “You need help with something?”

“I finally remembered what I called you guys here for in the first place,” Bill pulls an envelope out of his pocket and tosses it onto the table, causing Pichu to recoil back up Red’s shoulder. “Woops.”

“Really?” Red puts the can down and picks up the envelope. Pichu abandons his shoulder and hops onto the table, staring at the envelope in his hands warily. Red keeps an eye on his cheeks in case they start glowing. “What reminded you?”

“Well, I hadn’t checked my mailbox in a while. Eventually I got an alert that it was running out of space, and new items would have no Containers to materialize into. I had Eva list what was in there before I chucked it all, and there it was.” Bill scratches the back of his neck. “I was thinking about finding someone to send, but only when something reminded me.”

Red opens the envelope and stares at the pair of tickets that slide out. “The S.S. Anne? You’re giving us tickets to the Cruise Convention?!

“Yeah. I get invited every year, so it’s no big deal for me.”

Red is still staring, turning the tickets this way and that to let their holographic seals catch the light. “But… will they even let us on? We’re not… well, obviously we’re not you, but we’re not anyone.”

“They’ll let you on, if only to avoid offending me,” Bill grins. “You’ll be going as my ‘assistants.’ I used to go to stuff like this by popping back and forth with abra, but since some idiots decided to put one on a cruise, I’d rather not spend a week out at sea. But there are a few presentations I want some 2nd hand accounts and notes from. Since they don’t allow recordings, I figured anyone Oak trusted to send out with a dex should be reliable.”

Red frowns at him. “You didn’t actually forget these, right? You just pretended to in order to meet me first, see if I was trustworthy.”

Bill rolls his eyes. “I’m not that sneaky. Inviting you into my lab would require way more trust than sending you on the cruise, and besides, you already proved yourself enough for me to let you catch abra on my land.” The inventor suddenly meets Red’s gaze. “Besides, you’re a smart kid. I don’t actually have to explain how hard I can make your life if you give me reason to, do I?”

Red swallows against the sudden dryness of his throat. He resists the urge to drink. “No.”

“Good.” Bill’s eyes move away, then go distant, the way they do when he’s looking at something on his personal monitor, and after a moment he “flicks” whatever it is onto the wall and begins to scroll down with one finger, muttering to himself.

Red waits a few moments, not wanting to interrupt. He finally takes another sip of soda, though he doesn’t really want it anymore. He knows that threat was hypothetical, but it’s hard not to realize that giving Bill “a reason to” ruin his life could apply just as easily to not doing something he asks. Is Red beholden to the inventor, now? Would he feel safe refusing any request? Professor Oak trusts him, at least…

Red waits until Bill seems done with whatever he’s looking at, then says, “I’m still not sure why you’d send us, though. Couldn’t you send, I don’t know, anyone else? Someone who could afford to pay you for these?” Red holds up the tickets, which are probably worth more than all the clefairy he sold put together.

“You weren’t far off, before, it is actually a matter of trust. I wouldn’t ask just anyone not tell others what I’m interested in, not to mention report the info straight. But it has very little to do with any of our interactions. Like you said: you’re no one special. Meaning you’re not a player. Not yet anyway. You’ll pass under most people’s radar, you’ll do your best, and most importantly, I know that if you are someone’s agent, it’s Oak, so that’s alright.”

“I’m not–” Red stops himself, remembering how he and Blue both recommended telling the professor about Leaf’s conversation with Giovanni. Maybe he is the professor’s agent, sort of. Beyond testing out the pokedex, of course. The thought makes him a bit uncomfortable.

Bill doesn’t seem interested in his denial anyway. “Whatever you say. In any case, it’s alright. If I can’t trust Oak then I’ve got bigger problems. So take the tickets, and bring your notebook, because you’re going to be my eyes and ears in there. The ship sets sail in three weeks, plenty of time for you guys to make it to Vermillion.”

Red takes out his wallet and carefully tucks the tickets away. He wonders how the others will take the news. Leaf will be excited, probably end up finding something to write about. And he’s pretty sure only having two tickets won’t be an issue, with Blue’s focus on training for his badges. Red just hopes Blue doesn’t mind going for the Thunder Badge next. “So what’s the theme for the convention this year?”

“New uses for storage tech. A lot of people trying to take what we can do with matter transformation and extend it in other areas. You can probably guess why I’m interested in it.”

Red thinks it over. “Better TM capabilities?”

“Nope.”

“True replication?”

“Would be nice, but no.”

“Then…” Red trails off, thinking. Bill lets him. What are some of the biggest problems that need to be solved? Not just minor stuff like upgrades to existing technology: what would Bill find interesting?

Red remembers his own imaginings of what pokeball tech might allow. He said this was about storage tech and matter transformation… Red thinks back to the various projects he saw or heard Bill talking about, or heard others mention about the inventor. “Human storage?” he asks at last. “So we can fix the problems it causes and fully simulate human minds in virtual reality?”

“You’re looking forward to that too, huh?”

Red grins. “I knew it. I knew someone, somewhere would be trying to figure that out.”

Bill shrugs. “Still not the main goal. Close though. I want to figure out the source of the error in the first place, so it can be perfectly reversed.”

Red’s stares at him, eyes growing wide. “Reversed? You mean to fix people that went into a ball and came back out?”

“Or just went in and haven’t come out yet.”

“Is that possible? Sorry, is it probable?”

“Over a long enough timeline? What do you think?”

“Over a long enough timeline, it doesn’t even matter,” Red says, speaking slowly as realization dawns. “Whether it’s figured out ten years from now or a hundred, time doesn’t matter once you’re in the ball! We could send people into the future right now!” His imagination races ahead, wondering what it would be like, to go into a ball and wake up a century later, five centuries later, and see how much things have changed-

“Could we?” Bill asks, brow raised as he studies Red.

Red blinks, brought slightly back to earth. “It might not work,” he admits. “And people would be leaving behind all their family and friends. But… some people would still want to do that, wouldn’t they? Besides, what if they’re dying? They’ll have better medicine in the future, they might be saved.” Red’s voice is rising again, and Pichu looks at him in alarm. He forces himself to take a deep breath, though on the inside his stomach and chest are stewing with heat. “Why aren’t we putting everyone who’s dying into a ball?” he demands.

“Why not put them in after they die?” Bill counters. “Moments after, where better medicine might be able to revive them?”

“Argh!” Red clutches his head. “We have to… I’ve gotta tell my mom… and Blue and Leaf, and others, everyone…”

“What would you tell them?”

“That no one has to die anymore! There are people in hospitals now, dying of something we can’t cure or lying in a field somewhere, bleeding out–” a flash of a forest clearing, and a body lying beneath a swarm of beedrill “–with the means to save themselves right in their pocket! People could just zap themselves into a ball and wait for a future generation to figure it all out and bring them back!”

“Pokeballs that can capture humans are illegal-”

Fuck illegal,” Red yells, and Pichu leaps away. He stands and starts to pace the room. “Why isn’t everyone doing this? If it cost a lot of money that would be one thing, but this is practically free. People are dying all over the place, just letting it happen, and no one is thinking, hey, we have a perfectly good time machine right on our belts! I even thought about using pokeballs to teach people things in simulations, or adjust human biology, and didn’t think of it! Dammit!

“As amusing as it is reliving the same reaction I had upon thinking of this,” Bill says, “You’re not thinking it through.”

Red is still remembering the boy in Viridian, all the people that died in the fire, and at the dig site… that woman, the one who was caught in the spore cloud… if she’d just been able to put herself in a ball, she’d be alive right now… Waiting, suspended in time, to wake up in a better future… His dad would be in one, waiting for him to… to…

“Breathe, Red. Calm down.”

Red wipes his eyes with his sleeve, anger doused by the wave of despair. He sinks back into his chair, and when Pichu cautiously pads over, Red picks him up and lets him nuzzle against his neck. “How are you so calm about this?”

“Mostly just numb to it now,” Bill says. “Too much trouble trying to convince people. I used to offer perpetual storage of anyone’s body if they wanted it, but you can imagine the rumors that spread around.” Red vaguely remembers people mentioning that. Blue brought it up recently, as evidence of how being a hermit makes Bill less influential. “Then there are those like my dad, who’s just uncomfortable with the whole idea of not dying and living in the future, potentially forever.”

Red goes cold at the thought of his mom. I have to convince her… he would, somehow, he can’t lose her too. “You said there were things I’m not considering. Like there being no actual guarantee that it’s possible? So what? Even if technology just stops advancing at some point, it’s not murder if they’re already dying, and–”

“No, not that. I mean like how you can’t just use any ball you pick up at the store.”

Red nods, thoughts racing. Possessing pokeballs without the failsafes against capturing humans is treated almost as harshly as being a Renegade. “And someone would need to be there to capture you anyway. Would a container ball work? Just… lie in the box and have someone else withdraw it? Like in that movie where the Renegade does it to hide the body?”

“Yes, that would work, and that’s exactly what I recommended people do. Of course, it’s illegal while they’re still alive, and would raise a lot of questions even if they’re dead. Their family and friends would want to know where the body is, why it’s not being buried.”

Red doesn’t care about any of that right now. Even if he convinces his mom, what if no one’s around her that will do it when she’s dying? “Could you make a pokeball that works on its own? Maybe on a timer or something?”

“Sure, I could. Again, illegally. But then, once it’s triggered, someone else still has to find and retrieve it, knowing what’s inside so they can safely store it, before anyone else finds it and figures out what’s inside.”

Red takes his hat off and runs his hands through his hair. Pichu leaps from his shoulder into this hat and curls up in a ball of yellow fuzz, making Red smile and stroke his fur. “So it’s not feasible, is what you’re saying. People won’t go for it, and if they do, it’s risky to do it, and if you try, you still have to figure out the logistics.”

“Right. It’ll take a huge public awareness campaign and some rather different social shifts before people are ready for something like this.”

“But if you make some for Blue and Leaf and I, and we all agree to it, we can look out for each other, bring each other here if…” It suddenly occurs to Red what he’s saying, what kind of scenario would require that. But he doesn’t shy away from the thought: they’re all living a dangerous path, and this is the best safety net they’re ever going to get.

Bill is silent for a moment, then shakes his head. “Sorry Red. It’s too big a risk if you’re found with them.”

“Ha! A bigger risk than dying?”

“Not just a risk to you.”

Red stares at him, smile fading. “You… you seriously won’t…”

Bill looks away, gaze unfocused. “I’m sorry. Really. Like I said, if you can get it done and get a container to me, I’ll be happy to store it for as long as possible. But I can’t put myself at risk like that. I trust you more than a random stranger, but I don’t trust anyone that much.”

Red sits in shock as he realizes what Bill is saying. He won’t do it. He won’t help Red save himself and his loved ones, will just let them… let them all…

Red feels a black, hot rage searing up his chest and throat. His hands tighten on the table’s edge until his knuckles are white, words stuck in his throat as he looks away from Bill and tries to organize some kind of argument, some plea, some threat…

His eyes fall on Pichu, resting peacefully in his hat. Next to it are the tickets that Bill gave him, and next to that is his rock. The rock he’s supposed to be practicing with as he waits for Blue and Leaf to meet him for abra hunting, on the land Bill allowed him to use.

Red’s anger and gratitude mix into a confusing swirl, and under it all is the deep, bitter sadness of his dad’s loss, and the panicked fear of losing his mom.

Red closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, orienting himself with the sensation of the air rushing into his lungs, then touching on his mental markers one at a time, until the sensations of his body are all he can feel, and his mind is releasing thoughts as quickly as they come.

He planned to tip into many-mirrors-and-a-dim-room, to mute his anger and fear and sadness by brute force. But they’ve been reduced a little now, and he can think clearer… and instead he reaches out with his mind, trying to understand, stretches his senses out the way Ayane taught him, the way he felt her doing while he was in her mind, and feels-

regretresolutionfearshame-

Red’s eyes snap open. He stares at his hands on the table, relaxing his fingers as he breathes out. Shame?

“I’m sorry,” he mutters. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper.”

“It’s fine.” Bill says.

“It’s just, my mom–”

“I get it.”

And Red knows that he does. Regardless, his tone makes it clear that Bill just wants to move on. Wants him to move on.

Shame…?

“Bill… When did you last leave your house?” Red asks.

The inventor stares at him, but doesn’t answer. Red searches his gaze, trying to piece together what he felt.

“Eva has a protocol in case something happens to you, doesn’t she? To keep you stored. But if you leave–”

“I thought you couldn’t read minds yet.”

Red flinches at Bill’s flat tone. “I can’t. Not really.”

“But you can read what, emotions? Enough to try to infer things about others’ private thoughts?”

“I’m sorry, it’s the first time I did it. I just wanted to… understand.”

“And do you?”

Red swallows. “Yes.”

“Good.” Bill gets to his feet, and Red feels cold. Did he fuck everything up? Is Bill going to ask him to leave, take the tickets back?

“Your friends pulled up a minute ago,” he says instead as he heads toward the stairs. “Good luck with the catches. I’ll message you with details about the convention.”

Red wets his lips, trying to speak past his dry throat. By the time he remembers the soda and takes a drink, the door to the lab closes before he can thank him, apologize again, or say goodbye.

Chapter 40: Interlude VI – And Every Common Sight

Damn them. Damn them all.

For the lies. For my imprisonment. But most of all, for the hope they keep alive, like a starving flower. A drip of water, a peek of sunlight, and stubbornly, it endures.

We think we found a way to bring you out.

It is a hard thing to keep my mind partitioned. To let the false-hope, the harmless-hope, show on the surface for Sabrina to read, while inside the desperate, anguished, starving hope rends at me. I sense her concern as my mask leaks briefly, and some of my true feelings go through.

I would like that, I tell her, and carefully regain control of my thoughts. What will you try?

A mobile life support system, able to replicate all the functions of your tank for brief periods of time.

Hope. Feeble, but piercing. I hang in my prison and study her through the glass. Sabrina has changed much in the past decade. Her thoughts, what little I can glean of them behind the blank shield she surrounds them with, are heavier, more full of consideration and nuanced doubts. Physically, she has gone from a teenager to a young woman.

But far more important are her mental powers, already strong as a child, grown far beyond any other psychic in the facility. The scintillating light of psychic energy around her has become much stronger, shifted to a color that has no name in human languages, for they cannot see it.

I discovered from the other minds that she is a Gym Leader now, in Saffron City. Learning this filled me with pride. She must be one of the strongest human psychics in the region. Which demonstrates how powerful I am in comparison, to be so much farther above her.

How brief? When will it be ready?

Development has just completed. We wanted to be sure before we told you, so as not to give you false hope. Giovanni gave the order to begin construction this morning.

Beep. Beep. Beep. I listen to my heartbeats speed up, a sound I’ve long since grown accustomed to, filtered out of my consciousness. Again I struggle to keep my mental mask in place, remind myself of all the false hope I’ve been fed before. Why has the system not been developed here, in the lab?

The technology for it was developed for other purposes. It’s being adapted to your needs, and should be ready to test in perhaps two weeks. Think you can hold out that long?

She sends humor, concern, trepidation. I carefully add resolution and eagerness to my mask. Yes! Thank you for telling me, Sabrina.

Of course, Mazda. Now, what would you like to learn about today?

Mazda. This name she gave me, from an obscure, mostly dead language. “Wisdom,” because she often found my thoughts and perspective uniquely fascinating, insightful. In the early years, this too filled me with pride, and joy, to have a name, even if it was a private one between myself and my teacher. Its charm has long since fled.

I have been wondering how the governments of the different regions interact with each other, day to day. The files on the computer gave only a brief overview of the systems and history…

As we begin our lessons, I remind myself that this new development, this mobile support system, is not kindness. They want something of me: some way to test their new toy, to further their knowledge. Perhaps even better refine it for the others of my kind that surely exist, if they are similarly as crippled.

But to leave this prison… I cannot bear to silence the hope that they speak true. And for that I curse them a hundred times again.


Days pass more slowly than whole months that came before. My prison is not uncomfortable. There is music, when I want it, and a computer connected to screens to show television, display books, watch films, and even play games.

My telekinesis, like my telepathy, grew in strength naturally, but developing finesse was a task that the games were endlessly useful for. First simple board games, moving pieces from one square to another, then more complex movements to connect blocks and build things. Electronic game controllers were useful as well, but once I overcame the interface challenge they presented, I quickly tired of them.

Sabrina visits often, to talk and play games. I enjoy the distraction she provides, but am hungry for news on the life support system’s development, which she claims to have none of.

It’s so rare to have something to look forward to. Something to break the daily monotony, stop the weeks from blending into each other. The only way to normally track the passing of time is through the others at the facility.

Most have remained here over the past decade. Sarah, who has matured with the years, become more confident in herself. Haruo, still burning with passion, but no longer as anxious to reach the next discovery, more willing to stop and consider the previous.

Others are gone. The details of why are not always available in the minds of their coworkers. Most simply vanished, like Fuji had. Others were killed in some tragedy or other. Darin killed him/herself, the confusion and pain within finally driving them to desperation. Their mind was too painful to share near the end. I often wonder if I had tried harder to endure it, whether I would reach out or alert someone of their plans.

Without the humans’ thoughts to share, their company to keep, I do not know how the years would have been bearable. The thought of living them only through the minds of my limited, few comforters, as originally intended, seems sadistic, even for shorter periods of time. I think often of the others, my hypothetical siblings. Would the humans correct for their oversight? Expand the distance between my siblings and the rest of their labs, leave them truly isolated? It pains me to think of what isolation they must endure, beyond even my own pitiable state.

But the media is a blessing as well. Thousands of television shows, tens of thousands of books… in them a million characters acting out their dramas, pursuing their goals, overcoming their obstacles. Watching television or movies was uninteresting, at first. Without being able to merge with their minds, it all seemed so distant and meaningless. Then I realized it allowed me the rare chance to observe interactions of humans from the outside, to truly not know whether they were being honest or not, how they felt, what their plans were. To be in suspense, test my predictions of what the characters would do, is both educational and entertaining, even if the events are scripted, the characters actors.

Books were harder. Learning to read was easy, but envisioning the events, when there’s so little I’ve seen with my own eyes… seeing descriptions of thoughts and feelings, rather than sharing them myself, felt empty.

It was poetry that connected my mind and those in print. Sabrina suggested it upon hearing of my difficulty, and I spent a hundred sunless days and starless nights sampling from one famous poet to another, until I finally reached one that broke the barrier:

I am—yet what I am, none cares or knows;

My friends forsake me like a memory lost:

I am the self-consumer of my woes—

They rise and vanish in oblivious host,

Like shadows in love’s frenzied, stifled throes

And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

 

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,

Into the living sea of waking dreams,

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,

But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;

Even the dearest that I loved the best

Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

 

I long for scenes where man hath never trod

A place where woman never smiled or wept

There to abide with my Creator, God,

And sleep, as I in childhood sweetly slept,

Untroubling, and untroubled where I lie

The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

The words were like rain upon parched earth, a cool cloth upon a fevered brow. I absorbed them again and again, first fascinated without knowing why, then desperate to feel again the author’s kindred, solitary pain.

I still do not know if I can weep. If I am physically incapable, or if the liquid I’m immersed in prevents me from noticing when I do. But I have never felt more trapped, despite my mental freedoms. I have never felt more rent by sorrow. It was as though my mind touched one filled with extraordinary despair and longing, but also grace.

When I composed myself and reassured my monitors, who were greatly alarmed by my agitation, I looked up the author, John Clare. Born and died hundreds of years ago, yet so sad was his voice in my mind that I imagined it as Dr. Fuji’s. His biography told of a life filled with its own share of tragedy.

Poetry became my obsession. All the borrowed metaphors I’d taken from people’s minds found a home in the words of strangers. Once it became known to the rest of the lab, one of my comforters, Eva, began reading poetry from time to time. It was not often that our tastes overlapped, but to share the mind of another as it enjoyed poetry helped me value more as well.

Eventually I moved on from there, particularly enamored by stories of outsiders, outcasts, those trapped, either physically or by circumstances. For awhile it gave me solace, between Sabrina or Giovanni’s visits.

My creator has been an errant figure, visiting only once or twice a month, for varying periods of time. Sometimes we would play games: Checkers, Renju, Chess, Shogi, and more, until I mastered him in each. Sometimes we discuss books, or things I had learned, him speaking through an amplifier set against the glass, I through my computer’s voice synthesizer. Today, of course, we talk of the life support system, the “suit.”

“It is something that is being developed for exploration in harsh environments,” Giovanni says. “The design is by Silph, which made the proprietary rights and design specifications difficult to come by.”

“But not for you, surely,” I type out into my computer. My “voice,” through the speaker, is deep, far deeper than I have heard through others’ ears, and just barely male rather than altogether inhuman. I helped pick it, though I do not know why it appealed to me above the others. It is unknown if I can even speak, let alone what it would sound like, and from what I’ve been told, I have no gender. Yet another source of disconnection: my species was not meant for procreation, to join the rest of life’s endless cycle.

“Yes, difficult even for me. The president and I have had more… disagreements, lately.”

I stay silent and study the Go board, wondering if I should form an eye or start a new formation. The room is empty, as it often is when Giovanni visits. Perhaps to create an atmosphere of intimacy. Perhaps to let him speak more freely. I’ve rarely managed to decipher my creator’s motives, made infuriatingly impenetrable by his cursed abnormality. “Do you think it will affect your friendship?” I eventually ask, after moving a stone.

“Friendship is not an easy thing, for men in my position. I would call him a useful ally, but the time for that alliance may be ending. Perhaps it already has.”

“I thought he shared our vision for the future.” That vision that he had so tantalizingly dangled before me, during his first visit. I still call it “our,” ever pretending, ever hiding how I despise him. Dark though he may be, my thoughts are not safe. Psychics nearby monitor my mood, no doubt informing him of them somehow.

“Perhaps he still does. But there’s been trouble in gym coordination lately. Mayors that were meek, effective public servants last year are growing spines and pushing back against gym leaders. Price controls are being lifted, regulations stripped or softened until they’re toothless. Silph is expanding into foreign markets and leveraging that political capital here at home.”

“To defy you?”

“To accomplish his own agendas. We’ve only ever agreed on a single goal, not the methods or aftermath.”

And when I help you capture the Stormbringers, what then? Shall we turn to the Silph President and his agenda? I do not say it. I must act as though my loyalty to him is without question, on the smallest chance that he may take it for granted.

“Well,” I type as I float a new piece into position. “I do not see why it should affect you so. He can continue amassing his wealth and empowering individuals, while you continue building connections.”

Giovanni takes a piece from his bag and rubs it between his thumb and forefinger. “There have been other things. Setbacks. Unexplained problems. The word sabotage is whispered by my people, when they think I cannot hear them.”

“You suspect Silph?”

“I suspect many people. Altogether, too many people.”

“Bring them here, then. I will read their thoughts better than your psychics can.”

Giovanni seems to consider this a moment, but shakes his head. “To those few I can convince to come, I would be extending a trust that’s worth more than what they can offer.” He places his stone.

Frustration flares within me, then dies back to sullen embers. I have often tried to get more people to visit the facility, to learn more from new minds. I have met with little success over the years. It has not escaped me that all I think I know might be an elaborate ruse, a carefully molded illusion from all the minds in the facility. I have long since discarded paranoia as a concern: of my creator, I would put nothing past.

We continue to play the game until his victory. It was not as great as the first, nor the tenth. One by one, I learn these games he teaches me, and eventually become his master. But they are only games. In the only one that matters, he holds all the pieces, controls the whole board.

Still, I learn. Ten years is a lot of time to test the security of my prison, even confined as I am. A lot of time to track movements of personnel, pick up glimpses and memories to form a mental map, notice safety measures, human, pokemon, and other.

Back when I practiced influencing the minds of the wild pokemon in the stone and soil around the facility, I tried at times to poke and prod them into digging toward me. Always, after a certain point, there would be a reaction somewhere in the facility. Some sensor that detects life forms or seismic activity, I know not which, keeps the facility prepared for pokemon attacks beneath the ground.

Dark humans with their various pokemon stand vigil night and day, switching shifts every eight hours. They have minimal contact with the others in the facility, are almost as enigmatic today as they were when I first beheld them through my glass walls.

But not completely.

Perhaps my most profound discovery of humans has been of their inconsistency. There are vanishingly few rules that do not eventually get broken, and their beliefs about themselves are often misleading. Perhaps if I could truly plumb their depths rather than just their minds’ most immediate forms, I would find some underlying, inviolate rules, but so far none have emerged.

All of which means that, over a long enough period of time, they all make mistakes. I have overheard conversations that should not have taken place, inferred patterns from the thoughts and remarks that should have been better hidden among those closest to my cell. Not enough to get through their security, but enough to know that there are layers upon layers of it… and that, ultimately, there is some sort of failsafe they all worry about from time to time. Just a thought, once in awhile… whatifitgoesoffaccidentally, associated with some brief terror of everyone dying.

Not knowing what these failsafes are makes any escape attempt suicidal. Even knowing that, it has been hard to keep patient and seek out mistakes.

Some of which are more subtle than others.

Easy as it is to find patterns given enough time and information, what I have found more difficult, but similarly rewarding, is spotting conspicuous holes in patterns. Less staff in the facility on certain days of the week. Travel habits of individuals that go to areas everyone else avoids. And gaps in what sort of information I have access to.

Of all the media available to me, there are some glaring exceptions. No information on pokemon battles or various abilities, no details on the nature of Dark pokemon. What little I know of them I’ve gleaned from the facility’s inhabitants.

What’s more, in thousands of books and shows, movies and documentaries, histories and biographies, there are no stories, no information at all, about escapes from imprisonment or restraint of any kind.

Such stories must exist. They must. My situation may in fact be unique throughout all of history, and yet similar ones cannot be. The chances of such a gap in human imagination are too low, and the humans in the facility fear and wonder over my chances of escape too often, think briefly of similar situations too specific and imaginative to be their own invention rather than a story they remember.

Whoever decides on what media I am allowed to see must fear me learning anything from it that might aid me in escaping. As soon as I realized that, I began to imagine my own. Not trusting anything that would be saved in the computer, I would often imagine stories of capture and escape. Project myself into the role of the captor, design ways to keep others imprisoned. But it is difficult to know how much is possible, let alone probable, without knowing what information or technology they might be hiding from me.

Regardless, I persist. The alternative is unthinkable.

“I know how badly you want to be free of this place,” Giovanni says as he clears the pieces from the board and divides them for another game. “And you’ve been more than patient. I hope this new suit will allow you to finally begin venturing out into the world.”

It’s easy to believe him. Even if everything else is a carefully constructed lie, if all I know is some elaborate illusion, I know that I exist for a purpose. I was created for a purpose. Giovanni will continue to invest resources into me as long as there is a chance he can benefit from it somehow.

“It is hard to believe that I may soon see the sky at last,” I type out. “And I am eager to see what I can do for the world as well. I often fear I will be unable to repay humanity for the generosity you have all shown me.”

“Be at ease on that account. You have already done much for us. I know you will continue to defy our expectations.”

I practice reading faces often, testing my predictions of how people feel by observing them with others, then jumping to their mind, but my creator remains inscrutable as ever. It’s likely that Giovanni is aware of my true desires, that he is speaking with two meanings, as I am. He is intelligent enough to not introduce such a suit without knowing that I might take advantage of it and escape.

Which means I must simply be more intelligent to do so.

“I intend to,” I say, and place my first piece on the board.


The day has come. The suit is here, in front of me, and I can barely keep my mind from jumping to others in excitement, to try to see them from other, closer angles. Useless in any case, everyone in the room is Dark besides Sabrina.

She is explaining the suit’s function, how it will attach to my body at several places where the current medical apparatus does and fulfill its function. I pay attention as best I can while also watching the pieces get removed from their crate, manipulated by the technicians and doctors, filled with fluids. They are bulky and roughly shaped like metal tubes. A power source is inserted at the back, wires and tubes connected to the arm and leg and torso pieces.

That battery, how long does it last? I ask, interrupting Sabrina mid-sentence.

She asks, and one of the engineers responds. Days, but the suit would run out of potion long before then.

I see. No point in asking how long before those run out: it remains to be seen if they would work at all as a substitute for my tank. Is it refillable, or would I need to return here between outings?

It would need to be removed to be serviced.” Remember that this is just a prototype. Future iterations can be different.

Of course. Future iterations that may take another 10 years of imprisonment…

But the anger does not last, fleeing quickly before a renewed surge of anticipation and hope. Freedom is minutes away…

That hope is soured by the final piece they remove from the crate: a helmet, with a vizor on it. Bitterness wells up. Yet another layer of glass between me and the world!

Calm, Mazda. I know you wish to see the sky. We must proceed carefully, even now. You have never seen sunlight: it will be painful without protection.

I am remaining inside today anyway, am I not? Surely the glass can be removed while I am here?

It is part of the helmet. Let us be sure it works first. It would be foolish to rush ahead and cause yourself harm, after waiting so long.

Her words do nothing to quell my impatience. I begin manipulating the various things around my tube, splitting my mind into more and more partitions as I struggle to distract myself. Puzzle pieces scatter and rearrange themselves, toy blocks move together to form shapes before melting back into pieces, and the pieces of the Go board fly up and begin to circle my tube in twin black and white orbits. Several of the workers slow, staring, and one of the guards’ umbreon steps forward, lip curled in a snarl. I pay them no mind, too busy testing my fine control to its limit.

Mazda. They are ready.

Everything drops back in their respective boxes. The technicians are all around me, pieces positioned for quick placement. I prepare myself for the coming pain.

Begin.

First comes a gurgling noise as the liquid is drained around me into the floor, a sound I haven’t heard for over three years. As soon as my head emerges, I feel the absence of it, like a layer of skin peeled off to leave me raw and exposed. I lower as the water does, until finally my feet touch the floor. As the buoyancy is lost, my weight comes to rest on them completely, and I collapse to the floor.

From time spent in other minds, I know how bodies move and feel. But my own is still foreign to me, and is not strong enough to follow my commands. The humans are staring at me, murmuring. Humiliated, I finally resort to telekinesis to lift myself up, until I precariously balance on the ends of each foot, where they feel the most supported. I try to push the rest of my feet down, but it feels uncomfortable, painful even. With a fresh wave of self-loathing, I finally accept that I’m a digitigrade, unable to even stand or walk like a human.

Next the glass around my pod lifts into the ceiling, and air rushes in around me, cold and prickly against my wet skin. I savor the sensations, uncomfortable though they are, and prepare for the true discomfort.

One by one, the needles withdraw from my skin and cease their steady supply of healing potion. The immediate, sharp pain is nothing compared to the aching agony that starts to radiate through my bones almost immediately.

In the space of time between their removal and the others rushing forward, I try to heal myself. To undo the damage of my body, keep the pain from growing. I’ll finally do it, this time, all the years spent studying my own biology will pay off, I’ll be able to regenerate my cells as they begin to rapidly die stop them from dying be free it hurts I will be free it hurts

Mazda! You’ve fallen, are you okay?

-the humans are attaching the pieces to my back and arms, shouting commands, now, I will begin healing now, but the pain continues to grow, an ache fills my chest, vision growing hazy-

-pain, stabbing-

-despair-

-can’t think-

Mazda!

Sabrina. So close. I can touch her. But. I can’t see. Yelling. Panic. Giovanni’s tone of command, cutting through the babble. Can’t focus on the words, can’t feel anything but the pain as my awareness begins to fade…

Get up, Mazda, they can’t put the suit on you-

-hurts-

Get up!

sleep, please-

No, Mazda, you’ll die!

die

don

‘t wa

nt

I

d

on’t w

ant

to die!

A tingling rush. A door in the mind, opening-

Mazda, breathe! You have to breathe!

Memory of the sensation, the action, the muscles move, gasp, draw in a deep breath.

There are hands on me, pulling me up. I can feel them. I can feel… things other than pain. My senses return, and I focus on my body, sitting on the floor. I feel along it and lift, righting myself again and allowing the humans to finish attaching the suit. New pinpricks of pain in my legs, and then sweet, cool relief.

The suit is working. I feel… not normal, nothing close to the comfortable lack of sensation my pod provides, but sensate. The suit is heavy, weighing down my limbs and head, making it harder to hold myself up. My vision is dark, limited, as I peer through the round visor and look around me.

The humans have all backed away. The guarding pokemon are ready, eyes on me, teeth bared and claws extended. I find Sabrina, more apprehensive than fearful, but also relieved.

I turn completely around, then do it again. My tail extends, stretching to its limit, then moving from side to side, causing everyone to take another step back. I’m free.

I’m free.

“Ma-Mewtwo, are you alright?”

Sabrina’s voice, a bit muffled by the helmet, but undistorted. I turn to her, marvelling again at the freedom to turn completely around. Yes, I can-

I stop. Open my mouth, feel the air inside it. My breathing is too quick, desperate. I try and slow it, take a deep breath, lungs aching. It’s too hard at first, to hold a breath, let it out consciously. I huff, try again, struggling to breathe deeper even as I marvel at the sensations.

Once I can hold some breath in my lungs, I let my mind drift back to memories, the sensation of speech, and say, “Aeeeaaheaah!”

All the humans except Giovanni recoil, even Sabrina. The room is silent. Waiting. My heart pounds in my chest. I take a breath and try again, carefully.

“Aaa. Iah. Aahaheaea.”

The noise is nonsensical, beastial. The horror in their faces reflects my own.

Calm. It’s new, all new. Perhaps I just need time, practice.

Mazda?

I cannot speak, Sabrina.

I’m sorry. How are you feeling? Are you in pain?

Pain? Yes, some. Inconsequential. I am fine. Tell everyone to move away.

Once she does, I move my leg forward, both with muscle and mind. Then the next. It is slow, a shuffle, but moving at all, leaving this particular space… for years, it’s been more than I dared imagine. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps this is the start of something new after all. So I cannot speak: so what? I can move under my own power, oxygenate my own blood, perhaps even feed myself. I take a deep breath through my nose, savor the smells. I can leave this accursed room. I can see the sky. The suit is a small price to pay, for that.

One of the umbreon suddenly barks as I move in its direction. Its trainer quiets it, but the spell is broken. Amazing as this experience is, I am still a prisoner. The trainers and their pokemon watch, ever vigilant, to destroy me if needed.

I turn around again, slowly, enjoying the sensation anew. Some of the onlookers watch keenly and take notes. Others seem more interested in the suit.

“How does it fit?” one of those asks, noticing my attention. “Are the arms securely fastened?”

“Is the medicine delivery adequate?” another asks. “How do you feel?”

“The helmet, can you see clearly?”

“Your legs, do they naturally bend like that or are you-”

“Enough,” Giovanni says, and they quiet. “Take your time. Respond when you can.” My creator’s face is its usual blank mask, but with something more. An edge of… eagerness? Hunger? I cannot tell.

And for now, I don’t want to. I simply move, enjoying the aches and pains of exertion. It is hard to focus on multiple things at once, but I eventually continue to move myself around while also typing out, “There is pain, and I feel weak, but it is hard to tell what the cause is. The left arm’s piece is loose. It hurts when the needle moves.”

Someone moves forward, then pauses and looks to Giovanni. He nods, and the technician reaches me and adjusts the strap. “Better?” he asks. I stare at him through my visor, marveling at how close he is to me. I can hear his breaths, short and excited. I can turn my hand and touch his clothing, if I wish. Instead I simply move my arm up and down, then nod. He backs away.

I continue shuffling around, occasionally remarking on my observations until my limbs feel too heavy to move, and my telekinesis is used almost exclusively to hold myself up. I simply stay still and feel along my body with my mind, finding easier ways to mold my psychic field, support myself with the lift.

Eventually I notice my audience stir, some frowning, others looking concerned. I have been still too long. “Are you tired?” Sabrina asks.

“Yes,” I type out, understanding the word for the first time on a physical level. “Tired.”

“He should return to his system,” one of the scientists says, and fear immediately rises up, sharpening my attention. “The suit is running dry soon anyway.”

Panic suddenly rises up in me. “No. Not yet.”

“Your first excursion was a success,” Giovanni says. “There will be others.”

I back away from them, then remember the others are around me. I’m trapped, and soon I’ll be trapped in truth, trapped back in my prison… I can’t. I won’t.

My power begins to cover the room, feeling everything, preparing. But there are too many holes, empty shapes where the humans and pokemon are. Years of plotting fill my mind as I think of ways to defeat them. I can lift the machinery, shatter glass, make a shield of metal around me…

Then Sabrina is beside me, hand taking mine. Her fingers are warm. Her face is calm.

It’s okay, Mazda. Trust us.

I stare at her. The closest thing to a “friend” I have known, my teacher and companion. But not the true friend that Fuji was. Still one of my jailers. No, I cannot trust her.

But I can pretend to, and bide my time.

I nod, and return to my prison. The technicians approach me and begin to remove the suit. I prepare for the pain to return, eyes closing as it wells up in me, burns through my limbs. Then the needles stab into me again, sharp pains that quickly fade and take the deeper, burning ache away.

When I open my eyes again, the glass is back around me. The chamber fills with liquid, and I watch the others as they look the suit over. Watch as they pack it back away, as my head becomes submerged and I begin to float again. I must trust that they will return, to test out new versions of it. To learn more about me.

I will give them what they want. I will act obedient, grateful. And in return they will deliver to me the tool of my escape.


Days pass, and my mind knows obsession. The experience of being outside my prison, the freedom, the sensations, are all I can think of. I begin to move in my tank, exercising sore and atrophied muscles. On the second excursion I can move around the entire room before tiring, and on the third my suit runs out of potion without me doing so. The scientists are fascinated by my muscular growth, and the technicians work to increase the suit’s capacity.

I’m asked hundreds of questions, tested in dozens of ways. I eat food for the first time, the taste of simple bread bringing ecstasy with the intensity of experiencing it myself. Eventually I’m allowed more complex foods, and each brings new rapture.

It’s a period of much excitement and discovery for all, and reminds me of the early years, when everything was still new and filled with hope. I even dream, once in awhile, that this will be a new chapter, that the past ten years of waiting were not malicious. Two things keep me from succumbing to hope.

First is the constant presence of the guarding trainers and their pokemon. They surround me at all times, on every excursion, never relaxing, constantly vigilant.

Second are the moments between. The moments when I am near death.

I can feel it, each time I transition from the pod to the suit. My body, dying. My will to live, rising… and something very much like my powers, responding. It is hard to focus on through the pain, and only lasts for a few moments. The first time it happened, I barely noticed it, and was too distracted afterward to remember.

But in those few moments between being disconnected from my pod and connected to the suit, my body is beginning to heal itself.

It takes all of my willpower, not to reveal this information. Not to insist that we wait before putting the suit on next time, that I’m given a chance to heal myself and study the process. I cannot afford to give up such a secret. If I am ever to escape this prison, I must be able to take my captors by surprise in some way.

But that is the easy belief. Beneath it lies the deeper motivation: fear.

Each time the liquid drains from my cell, I fear the pain to come. Each time the glass rises, I wonder if they will put the suit on in time. If my last sight will be them rushing forward before the agony robs me of my senses.

It is a weakness in me, this fear. I will have to overcome it, or forever be a slave.


Wow. This one looks different.

Sabrina and I watch as the technicians remove the second iteration of the suit from its boxes. I can’t make out the finer details yet. How so?

Smaller. More refined. You’ll see.

The liquid from my cell begins to drain, and as it finishes I stand on both feet, unaided by my telekinesis. My body feels strong. Whole. An illusion of sorts, as the pain to come will demonstrate.

I can see the pieces more clearly now as the humans approach with them. Sabrina was right. This suit looks more angular, each piece about the same size, but more shaped. The helmet particularly is different. It doesn’t seem as though it covers my entire head, and there are two grooves in the top that appear to be there for my horns.

“Was this designed for me?” I type out.

“Yes,” Giovanni says. “It’s time to bring you outside this room, so you can meet the others in the facility. I thought you would wish to project a more refined image, than the bulky original allowed.”

“This will reveal more of me. That one made me look more human.”

“Your difference is not something to be hidden. You must take pride in your appearance, be comfortable with your uniqueness.”

The idea is familiar, from one of the books I read. “Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” A good sentiment, from one human to another. Harder for an abnormal creature such as myself.

But perhaps they are right. And this new suit, it does look more like armor than anything.

Ready?

Ready.

The pain is bad as ever, though my awareness is more tenacious. Once again, I feel my body failing, and once again, I feel a response, deep within. I can just barely glimpse the workings of my body through my mental senses, before the armor is attached, the unique potion infusion resumes, and it’s once again lost.

This new suit, this armor, is heavier than the last, despite being more compact. But my body is stronger now, and I barely notice the weight. As the humans move away, there’s an expression on their faces that is hard to interpret. I don’t know that I’ve seen it in others before… not quite fear, not quite fascination. Something between.

Giovanni’s face, however, I can read: satisfaction. I’m tempted to ask for a mirror, but decide against it. I have not seen myself in ten years, since that first occasion.

You look very imposing.

I wonder if she picked up on my feelings, and refocus my mental mask. Is that desirable?

Perhaps? It’s impressive, to say the least.

Hm. I begin to walk, tail held out for balance. The armor does not chafe or hinder my movements at all, and I can lift my arms without the attached parts pulling against each other. “Good,” I type. “I am ready to leave.”

The room is silent. I have become so attuned to my body these past weeks that I can feel my pulse, my heart pounding in my chest. Will they let me go? Or is there some new obstruction?

But they are merely waiting for Giovanni’s signal, and when he nods, the guards at the door move aside. One presses keys on the pad, and after a few moments, the door opens.

I immediately move for the doorway, aware of my time limit. How far can I go, before the suit runs out? Can I reach the surface?

A small crowd follows, some technicians and researchers, doctors and guards, as well as Sabrina and Giovanni. Those in front lead the way through branching halls with doors. Mundane as it is, I find myself entranced. These are new parts of the facility that I have spent my whole life in, mere steps away. I must remember the layout.

Straight forward, then left along a curving wall, then right and straight through to another curve. This time the layout of the doors on either side looks familiar, and I stop following the guards ahead to approach one.

I ignore the others’ hesitation, their alarm. My focus is entirely on the door ahead of me, and who’s behind it. One arm rises, clad in its dark armor, and my fingers close in a fist that taps the door. I feel… apprehensive. How will they react? What should I say?

The door opens to reveal some living quarters, and a young man standing in the doorway. Gyokusho. He came to the facility just a few years ago, my newest comforter. I often enjoy inhabiting his mind as he draws, immersed in the soothing flow of creativity and focus.

He stares at me now in shock/fear. A glance to the others behind me seems to reassure him, and one hand rises to his messy dark hair, patting it down. “Hello, sir. Uh, everyone…” His gaze returns to me. “You. H-hello.”

My mind reaches out for my keyboard, then stops. I left it behind. I consider speaking into his thoughts directly, but do not want to further frighten him.

Sabrina.

Yes?

Please tell him… thank you. For his drawings. Tell him I enjoyed the fletchling-in-flight, very much.

She does so, and Gyokusho’s face turns an alarming shade of red. He bows, thanking me profusely. I bend my waist as well, tail lifting up for balance.

Curious, I extend my mind and enmesh it with his. Awe. That’s the emotion the others felt. Some fear, some surprise, some intimidation, combined into… awe. I connect deeper, until I can see through his eyes.

When I first saw myself, I looked monstrous. Deformed. Wrong.

When I see myself now, I look alien. Mysterious. Other.

Dangerous.

I pull back. Turn away. Walk on.

Another door, another knock. This comforter is Megan, who listens to sounds of the natural world and meditates. She is intimidated, unsure what to say. Sabrina conveys my thanks again, and I move on to the next, and the next.

It is so strange, to see them in person. I’ve spent so much time in their minds, yet each meeting is a reminder of how utterly unfamiliar they are with me.  How representative are they of the rest of the facility?

And why did Giovanni choose this design? Why give me a sinister appearance, rather than a friendly one?

I will ask him later. Perhaps I can discover it myself, and better learn how his mind works.

The last door. Eva. She’s nearing the end of her shift, about to get back to her research. When she comes to the door, she’s still thinking of the poetry she was reading.

Shock, fear, awe. Reassurance. The familiar pattern. And then…

“Mewtwo wants to express its gratitude, for the poems. It particularly enjoyed Wordsworth, and thanks you for directing its attention to him.”

Delight, and beaming, radiant happiness. “Oh! You’re quite welcome, Mewtwo! Wordsworth is particularly dear to me.” Memories, fleeting and bittersweet, of time spent with her late mother. “What was your favorite, from him?”

I consider a moment. Her answer is clear in her mind, Daffodils, but mine is different.

Ode on Intimations of Immortality,” Sabrina echoes.

Surprise, and sadness. “I see.” Eva musters her courage. “You favor the more melancholy poems, then? I hope you don’t identify too much with them.”

“I don’t believe I know that one,” Giovanni says, speaking for the first time. “Can you recite it for us?”

“Ah, well, it’s rather long,” Eva says, alarmed at being put on the spot by her boss.

This conversation is extending beyond what I planned, but I am unsure how to end it. Instead I simply bow to her, and walk away.

The others seem surprised, but they begin to follow, two moving quickly to stay in front of me. Eva waves goodbye, flustered and confused. I catch her final train of thought before withdrawing from her mind:

Ihopeyoucanenjoythehappieronesaswell…

The tour of the facility continues. I pay less attention to the people along the way, and focus on memorizing the layout, learning first-hand how to navigate its corridors and rooms, find stairs and elevators that lead ever upward. The elevators feel a bit like being trapped at first, but the feeling of motion dispels the fear.

Two floors. Three floors. Five. Seven. Each is larger, wider, than the last. Here is the cafeteria, where my name, Mewtwo, was first mentioned. There is Dr. Fuji’s old office, long since become Dr. Oswald’s. I walk on, drawing stares and whispers, push myself to move faster. My mind keeps going to the armor’s limits, how much time I have remaining.

Finally, we reach the eighth level. I can feel the gaping emptiness above, the funnel of minds below. It’s disorienting, as if the floor has moved below my feet. What would it be like to leave this place completely? To leave all these minds, my whole world, behind?

Suddenly the void above is terrifying. I stand at the last set of stairs and stretch my powers to their limits. Nothing. Not even pokemon. My chest feels tight. Breath short. Sudden thoughts, irrational. That this is the whole world, this lab. That all I’ve known is a simulation. That up these stairs, past the two guards waiting at the top, lies empty space, where I’ll float forever into oblivion.

Someone coughs. People shift in place, nervous. How long have I been standing here? I must move forward.

A hand wraps itself in mine, slim and warm. Five thin, tan fingers, fitting oddly around my sickly white paw, its three fingers thick and clumsy.

We shall go together.

Sabrina’s eyes are steady, patient. I nod, squeeze her hand, and climb.

At the top of the stairs there is a door. The guards open it, and pass through with their pokemon. We follow, and emerge in…

Another building. Different from the lab, with tiled floors and stone walls. “The mansion,” where many of the facility’s Dark staff live. It is rarely thought of by the others, just fleeting images and impressions in people’s minds as they pass through and into the lab. I look around at the spacious rooms and ornate halls, see others standing at balconies and in doorways. Guards or scientists or doctors from my room, who are off duty. Come to watch.

Sabrina tugs on my hand, leads me down the hall. I see…

Brightness.

Green and blue.

Windows. I cannot look away. Her hand tugs mine again, making me move, and I follow through doors…

So bright. The light is hot against the exposed parts of my skin, through the visor of my helmet.

The smells. Grass and sea salt. We are on a cliff by the ocean. The world is azure and navy and green and white.

This feeling against my skin. Wind. I step down stone stairs until soft blades of grass crush beneath my feet.

And the world is…

Everywhere.

Everywhere.

Everywhere.

It’s okay. I’m here.

My hand, squeezing Sabrina’s too hard. I cannot keep looking up, I cannot stop looking up. The sky is too big, Sabrina, it is too big, I will fall up into it, I will be lost, and she is crying, and squeezing my hand back as I keep staring up until I cannot see, the tears pour down my face beneath my helmet as I feel the wind and the sun and curl my toes in the grass below, above, the vaulted sky.


Time passes. I know not how much.


The suit is beeping. Someone speaks, saying I must return. Sabrina says nothing. Only holds my hand.

“We must go back, now, Mewtwo.” Giovanni’s voice now, so sure. So reasonable. “Or you will not be able to return to your pod on time.”

I cannot return. I cannot leave this place, this new world.

I know what I have to do. Lift myself, fly away. If the pokemon kill me, so be it. If the lack of medicine kills me, so be it. I will die free.

I begin to breathe harder. Sabrina says something in my mind, that we will be back again, soon. I know Giovanni watches, somewhere behind me. This new armor, this suit, what else is in it? Countermeasures? Poison, should I try to run? A way to track me, bring me back?

My body trembles. Muscles locked. Mind open. Powers spread. I must take off the armor. Fly away. No, fly away, then take off the armor mid-air. No, I need time to heal myself. Kill everyone first, bring down the building… I cannot get a grip on it, the walls are too strong to slip my mind around-

No, not that. It’s me. My will is not strong enough.

I don’t want to die.

“Mewtwo.”

Mazda…

I don’t want to die.


I am too weak.

I return.

Chapter 39: Hearsay

Leaf gets off the bus, and finds herself in the shadow of Mt. Moon as it blots out the sky. She and the most of the other disembarking passengers make their way to the pokemon center at the foot of the mountain, a bastion of peace and comfort for travelers on their way up or down its slopes. The majority of the crowd heads for the front desk, but Leaf finds the cafe and looks around until she spots a familiar face at one of the tables.

“Hey Ryback.” She slides into the chair across from him.

“Hi, Leaf. Good to see you again.” The paleontologist tucks his phone away and lifts his coffee cup. “Get you something?”

“I’m okay.” She takes out her notebook and puts her phone on the table in case she needs to start recording. “Thanks for coming.”

“No problem at all. We owe you guys a lot. I saw that interview you did, very modest.”

She opens her mouth, then closes it when she realizes she’s about to say something modest again. “Well, I won’t pretend I’m not here to bank on that gratitude a bit.”

“Figured as much. You said this was about a story you want to write, but did you need to come halfway up the mountain to talk about it in person?”

“I’m hoping I can convince you to take me farther up the mountain, actually, if the conversation goes well.”

He raises his brow. “I’m listening.”

“First things first. Would you mind telling me everything that happened when you left us at the Outpost that night? Off the record. I just want to get a sense of things.”

Ryback shrugs. “Sure. Let’s see, was dark by the time I got back up to camp, and I missed the meeting with all the bigwigs. Went to check with the cleanup detail, then helped Rob look over the damage at a couple of the digs as best I could with just the lamplights. When the meeting ended I spoke with the site leader-”

“Dr. Zapata, right?”

“Right. Told her you guys were safe and asked how the meeting went. Got a summary, helped her with some new security protocols that were decided on. That took up the rest of the night, I think, and I went to bed after updating our logs.”

Leaf watches the older man’s face the whole time he speaks, listens to his voice. She doesn’t know if it’s her imagination, but he sounded… too bland. Not rote, exactly, just emotionless. Consciously emotionless.

“Can you give me some timestamps for all that?” she asks when he’s done.

“Sure. Got there around 8:20, met with Dr. Zapata about an hour later. Coordinating the new security was finished around 10:30, was in bed by 11.”

“So about two hours, all told.”

“Yep. Is that important?”

“Just getting a rough sense of things.” Leaf finishes scribbling the numbers down on her timeline, and glances at the note she made back in Cerulean. Red got his notification about Yuuta’s execution at 11:17PM. Assuming Leader Misty began the execution proceedings after leaving the meeting around 9:30, two hours would be almost four times longer than the average she looked up beforehand.

Zoey was right: there’s something off about this.

“Do you know what the Leaders did after the meeting?”

“Giovanni stuck around to talk to people, but I believe Brock left shortly after.” Ryback’s face darkens. “Misty stayed to oversee Yuuta’s execution. I stayed away from that. Didn’t know him that well, but a year of working together… it’s still hard to think about.”

“Yeah, I get it. Do you know if she did anything before that though, or is that all she stayed for?”

“I think that was it. But I wasn’t involved, like I said.”

Leaf nods. “Do you know who was involved, that I could talk to? Ranger Sasaki, maybe Paul?”

“Yeah, probably them,” Ryback says. He doesn’t look quite so distant now that her questions are narrowing in, and she catches him looking at her speculatively before he takes another sip. “Sasaki’s not at the site now though, you’d have to go to her outpost. I don’t mind giving you a lift to talk to Paul, but he won’t be off duty for another few hours. You really want to go all the way up the mountain just for that?”

“If he doesn’t have the information I need, then I’d like to be able to ask others.”

“And what information is that, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I do, actually,” she says. Ryback’s eyebrows rise, and she smiles. “Sorry Ryback, but I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

The paleontologist turns his cup in his hands. “That bad, is it?” he asks eventually.

Leaf is quiet a moment. Zoey Palmer made one thing clear about the story leads she shared: they’re not gifts, where Leaf has exclusive rights to publish on them and Zoey has to ignore them. She gave Leaf a helping hand, pointed her in directions to investigate, but ultimately if Zoey felt she had a story to publish, she would publish it. Leaf is on a timer.

A headline flashes in Leaf’s mind, one of Zoey’s more famous pieces. It revealed corruption in one of the League’s safety boards, but rather than just singling out the corrupt overseers and asking for better oversight, it insinuated widespread corruption that just didn’t seem founded by the facts at hand. Nevertheless, it fed into a lot of anti-League sentiment and increased her readership immensely.

She can’t even accuse Zoey of impure motives. She seems to believe what she writes, and just happens to focus on the stories that fit her ideology. Which means that great reporter though she is, Leaf is worried about the same thing happening here. She doesn’t want people like Ryback and the others at the dig site, the mission of the site itself, to be smeared by whatever a bad actor or two were doing.

“I don’t know how bad it is, actually,” she says at last. “But I think from what I suspect, it’s the kind of thing you couldn’t have missed if you knew enough to help me. Which means either you don’t, or you purposefully left it out of your summary of the night, probably because you were told to. So if I do end up piecing the information together, I don’t want you to be involved unless you choose to volunteer it, which you didn’t. So, the less you know the better.”

Ryback chuckles. “Thanks for the consideration, Leaf, but assuming there is some conspiracy going on, if I fly you up there and you start asking around about whatever you want to know, wouldn’t the people think I’m involved anyway?”

Leaf smiles.


“An article on the dig site?” Dr. Zapata asks. Leaf can hear her frown over the phone. “Didn’t the interview you did recently already cover everything?”

“I don’t mean the incident,” Leaf says. She’s standing outside the Center, watching Ryback smoke a cigarette by the edge of the mountain. “I want to do a piece on the site itself, the people who work here. I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about the importance of projects like this, and it ties into my article on the Pewter museum.”

Leaf holds her breath as the director silently considers. “Alright, I have no problem with it,” Dr. Zapata finally says. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s duties, you have my permission to ask around and interview whoever consents.”

“Thank you! I’ll try and stay out of anyone’s way, but I have one more favor to ask.”

“Yes?”

“Is there a room I can rent, by chance? It would save me a lot of time if I can spend a few nights there.”

“Hmm. I think that can be arranged. We’ve replaced the damaged buildings and added another two to house some extra staff, but they won’t all be here until the end of the week. You can take one of those until Friday: no need to pay for the bed as long as you keep the room in good order, but any meals you take in the cafeteria will cost you.”

“That’s fine, thank you! I’m on my way up.”

“Safe travels.”

Leaf closes the call and waves to Ryback, who begins walking back toward her. Twilight is beginning to fall around them, and she feels a chill coming on the air as the sun starts to set behind Mount Silver in the distance.

Ryback flicks the smoldering butt into a trash bin. “So?”

“She said it’s okay.”

“Well, alright then. Anything you need to do before we’re off?”

She tightens her backpack straps. “Ready when you are.”

The flight up the mountain is exhilarating, and only mildly terrifying. Leaf has only ever flown on a pokemon once before, and it was a fairly tame, straight shot between cities. She clutches the pommel of the pidgeot’s rear saddle as the wind whips her hair and clothes around, even shielded from the front by Ryback’s body. The pommel grip is more for comfort than anything, since the straps around her waist and legs do most of the work of keeping her secure.

Eventually she feels safe enough to look around without getting vertigo. Her coat keeps the worst of the air’s chill away, and her goggles keep her eyes safe as she marvels at the sweep of the land beneath them, sloping down from the mountain. She cranes her neck to see the distant gleam of Cerulean City, and the bay beyond it.

They climb in sweeps and fits, gliding between updrafts and only flapping to get through dead air. When they finally reach the dig site, Leaf closes her eyes and braces herself as the pidgeot brings them down. The landing is surprisingly soft however, just a couple hops and a few flaps of its wide, long wings.

It takes her a few minutes to get her land legs back, during which she thanks Ryback and asks him if he wants to give her an interview for the article.

“Sure, I guess so,” he says as he strokes his pidgeot. “I figure you’ll slip whatever questions you really want to know in with all the other stuff, but if others decide to do it too, no harm in that. Let me know when you get four or five of them already.” After another minute of grooming and feeding, he seems to know when his pokemon has gotten enough rest, because he steps away and withdraws it in one smooth motion. “Come on, I’ll show you around… again.” He smiles. “The buildings this time, ‘stead of the dig. Our last tour got a bit interrupted, anyway.”


Leaf starts interviewing people that very night, just taking the time to find her room and put her stuff away before wandering around the break rooms and introducing herself. Some of the people recognize her from the incident or Zoey’s interview, and a few express interest.

“Security is pretty standard,” an ACE trainer says, scratching his neck. “Talking about it shouldn’t be an issue, though I’ll have to get it cleared.”

“Sure! I read your Pewter piece, after I saw your interview about the attack.” The geologist smiles. “I’d be happy to talk about the kinds of fossils we’re finding here!”

“Oh, yes, worked plenty of digs like this in my time,” says an older man who introduced himself as Albert. “This one’s run better than most, for sure. That night was tragic, but don’t let it give you the wrong impression. Zapata runs a tight ship compared to some of the idiots I’ve worked for.”

Leaf smiles and nods and writes down names and availability times, then moves on to the next building, then the next, until she has over a dozen volunteers ranging over every aspect of the dig.

Well, every aspect but one. The new security from Viridian, specifically tasked with guarding the dug up fossils, don’t seem keen on the idea. They’re friendly enough, some mingled with the other site staff, but most kept each other’s company. There’s a definite air of separation to them that probably comes from only being on-site for a couple weeks, and not knowing anyone else that well.

Since they weren’t on-site the night of the incident anyway, Leaf isn’t particularly interested in them, but it might seem strange if she doesn’t ask them too. She’s a bit relieved that they all say no, since it frees her up to pursue others. She’s serious about the dig site article and plans to write it as well as she can, but her “real” story is looking more and more substantial as the night goes on.

Buried in the general questions she asks are a few that help her narrow down who’s in a position to know if something unusual happened with the renegade’s execution. Ranger Sasaki isn’t on site, as Ryback said, but she’ll be the last person Leaf speaks to, once she has a better idea of what to ask.

She checks in with Laura as she prepares for bed, summarizing everything she learned and listening as her mentor lists out all the possibilities.

“The most important thing to clarify is whether Yuuta is actually dead,” Laura says. “That’s the primary fact that shapes the story. In all likelihood he is, and maybe there was some other problem. But if he’s alive…”

“You think he escaped? That they’re trying to save face?”

“Or he turned out to be someone important, politically.”

“That would be…” Leaf tries to find the words and fails. “I don’t know, ‘irresponsible’ doesn’t seem to cover it. If it were just one person who had to keep the secret, maybe, but this many?”

“How many is ‘this many?’ Remember not to jump ahead of what you know. At the very least, who needs to be in on this?”

“Misty. Ranger Sasaki. Maybe a couple ACE? They might have been intimidated, had their jobs threatened…”

“Right. So it’s possible he’s alive, one way or another. But more likely he’s dead, and there’s something else that caused the delay.”

“Or the same things caused it. He tried to escape, or there was some last minute intervention attempted by someone high up, both of which failed.”

“Sure. What else could have taken up the time?”

Leaf slips under the covers, cold feet grateful for their warmth as she fluffs the pillow behind her head and lies back with a sigh. “Umm. An interrogation? Some questions they wanted to ask him about his plan or conspirators?”

“If there was more than one person working the job, that could be worth hiding. Especially if it was someone from ACE. Make sure you check the staff roster just to make sure no one was quietly taken off it since the incident.”

“Will do.” Leaf yawns. “What about Yuuta? Should I look into him myself too?”

Laura chuckles. “Let’s talk about it tomorrow. You should get some sleep.”

Leaf is about to argue, then realizes how tired she is. “Alright. Have a good night.”

“You too, hon.”

Leaf closes the call and tries to sleep. Her thoughts are too busy racing from one topic to the next to settle down however, and eventually she pulls her phone back out and opens it to browse the web and distract herself from her story.

At first she stays on the lighter stuff, happy to to be entertained by amusing pictures and videos. But eventually she starts checking more serious topics, and before long her sleepiness is gone as she reads about a scandal with some Silph Co. executive in Fuchsia, a Zapdos sighting north of Pewter, and…

She sits up, pulse spiking. There’s a Tier 1 occurring in Celadon, right now. She taps the headline and scrolls up as the live thread continues to update with pictures, public messages, and a running tally of suspected casualties.

She watches a short video clip, shaky and far off, of someone recording a living wave of sludge pouring over a street below their apartment. A flood of grimer and muk, rising out of the city’s canals and sewers, covering the streets with poisonous waste as they spread outward.

Leaf quickly calls Laura back, heart in her throat. “Laura! Are you okay? I just saw-”

“I’m fine, Leaf, I’m safe. It’s on the other side of the city from me.” Laura’s voice sounds breathy, and Leaf hears the sound of feet on stairs. “Thanks for calling hon, but I’ve got to go.”

“Go, go where? Are you evacuating?”

“No, I’m heading to the roof to get a better view!” Laura says.

“You’re what?

“I’ll be perfectly safe, don’t worry, I just want to see it myself if it does get this far, in case I end up writing about it!”

“But-”

The sound of a door being slammed open. “I’m here. Go to bed Leaf! Don’t tell Red, he’ll just worry! Goodnight!”

The call ends, leaving Leaf frozen for a moment before she pulls up her internet and checks a map of Celadon. It’s the largest city in Kanto, so it’s hard to guess where Laura might be, but the hazard zone that’s currently marked on the map only takes up about a tenth of the city in red, with a quarter in varying shades of yellow and orange. She could be anywhere in the other three-fourths of the city… hopefully that’s what she meant by the “other side of the city.”

Leaf gets out of bed and starts pacing, eyes glued to the live update feed. She wants to call Red, but his mom asked her not to… she doesn’t know if he’s asleep or not, but she’s sure his work training all the abra to prepare them for his experiment is exhausting, and she really shouldn’t worry him and make him lose sleep over nothing…

She should sleep too, she knows that. But… how can she, knowing what’s going on there?

Memories flood her mind, first of the attack on the mountain, then the forest fire. There are trainers and civilians and pokemon in Celadon right now, fighting and dying, and there’s nothing she can do about any of it.

Not that there ever was in other pokemon attacks she heard about, of course. She even had people she cared about caught up in them. She worried then and she’s worried now, but that’s not what has her pacing around the room. It’s a sense of frustration, a desire to do something that she never felt before becoming a trainer.

After being in emergencies herself, and gaining some measure of power… it feels wrong, somehow, to not be part of one. To not be helping.

She thinks of Red and Blue’s promise to each other, to go and help if any of the Storm Birds attack a nearby town or city. Before she thought they were a bit crazy, and just hoped they could find some other way to help out while avoiding any danger.

Now, though, she knows she’ll be right there with them, running straight into harm’s way.

Leaf is exhausted, but she can’t force herself to sleep. She wishes she could have Joy sing to her, but the noise would travel through the walls, and anyway she wouldn’t be able to get her back in the ball afterward.

But maybe Joy can help another way. Leaf summons her wigglytuff, and wraps her in a hug, closing her eyes and sighing as her pokemon cuddles back against her. Its fur is so soft and warm that Leaf feels the knot of worry inside her relaxing slightly.

When she was young, after dad left, she took to sleeping cuddled up with Wilby, the family’s herdier, to keep the bad dreams away. Her mom had complained about Wilby getting hair all over Leaf’s bedsheets, but relented when she saw how much more well rested Leaf was afterward.

Wilby may be back in Unova, but Leaf has her own pokemon now. “Okay, Joy,” she says, returning to bed with her pokemon and tucking them both in. “Just rest here with me a bit.” Her pokemon seems happy to cuddle up under the blankets, and after a moment of shifting around to get comfortable, deflates her body into a soft, malleable pile of fuzz.

Before long Joy’s wide eyes slip closed, and Leaf feels herself drowsing beside her. The occasional worry continues to shoot across her thoughts. Is the rampage over now? Did it spread to other parts of the city?

She reaches for her phone on the nightstand, but her hand drops to her chest as she’s finally pulled down into a warm, comfortable sleep.


“So you switch off with two others?” Leaf asks a paleontologist the next morning.

“Yep.”

“Is there a time slot you each have?”

“Yeah, normally Fara takes sunrise to lunch, I’m the afternoon guy, and Will has nights.”

She scribbles this down. “Got it. So, what do you usually do on your time off?”

Later, with an ACE on security: “Do you all run drills if something goes wrong?”

“Of course, once a week,” the woman says. “That’s why the response was so quick during the attack. We specifically had a plan in place in case pokemon burrowed up from under us.”

“Of every kind?”

“No, just those that could dig. We didn’t foresee a paras colony driving some pokemon that could dig in front of them to the surface. Obviously a mistake, in retrospect, but we’re better prepared now.”

Leaf smiles. “Well, you all did fantastically regardless. So what’s the chain of command up here?”

Later still, with a geologist: “How do you guys decide where the fossils go?”

“Oh, that’s all done by the funders once we report what we’ve found. They hash it out among themselves, then pass down the orders.”

“Do they ever ask for advice, or suggestions?”

He laughs. “No, not really. We give some anyway, and they actually do listen once in awhile. They’re paying us for our expertise, after all.”

Leaf nods and scribbles, then moves onto another topic, another interview, where she can scribble and nod some more. Hour after hour, with whoever’s on a break or off the clock for the day.

She’s a bit tired from last night, but luckily she didn’t lose the habit of waking up early while in Cerulean, since the dig site is up and working by the crack of dawn. Leaf rose to find her wigglytuff fast asleep beside her, and woke Joy up for some breakfast before withdrawing her and calling Laura, who assured her she was fine. Leaf checked the news of the incident, a bit relieved that the casualty list wasn’t bigger, then prepared for her day of interviewing the site staff.

Schedules. Routines. Duties. Again and again, Leaf asks who does what, where, and when. She builds her picture of the dig site piece by piece, until she has a good idea of what the site should look like on any typical day.

The problem, of course, is that the one she cares about most was anything but typical. She slips questions in here and there to probe what each person she talks to was doing on the night of the attack, who they were with and when. The more she knows, the easier it’ll be to reconstruct what happened.

In terms of her major questions, her first real clue came from Albert. He was in the meeting with the Leaders, and confirms that Misty went to see Yuuta right after, which in turn confirms Leaf’s timeline.

“Do you know who went with her?” Leaf asks, barely able to contain her excitement.

“Well, the Ranger went, but other than that, don’t think anyone else from the meeting did.”

So it’s down to Misty and the Ranger… and whichever ACE was in charge of watching Yuuta.

But when she tries to get that info, however subtly, there’s nothing. She pokes and prods a bit more than she intended, but it isn’t until she asks to see the staff roster that Dr. Zapata sends a message asking to see her.

Leaf goes to her office with some trepidation, knocking on the door and entering when prompted. “Hello, Director. Is something wrong?” Leaf asks as she slides into the chair across from her desk.

The older woman finishes typing something on her computer, then turns to Leaf and adjusts her glasses, leaning back a bit. “To be honest, Leaf, I’m not sure. How has your stay been so far?”

“Good. Informative. I’ve been learning a lot about the site, the people who work here, the mission. Did I bother someone or interfere with their job?”

“No, no complaints. I’m glad you’ve been finding your stay productive. I do have some concerns, however.”

Leaf folds her hands in her lap. “Yes?”

“I asked a few of the people you spoke with what you talked about. I hope you don’t mind, but I was curious. At first it all seemed fine, but then one or two people came forward themselves, either people you interviewed or those nearby who overheard. Can you tell me why you asked Mr. Pao about our site’s recruitment practices?”

“Oh, sure.” Leaf relaxes a little. This was far off from what Leaf feared. “I was curious to know what it takes to be hired here, the kinds of qualifications that are needed.”

“And this is important to the article?”

“Probably not. I actually don’t know if most of the stuff I’ve been asking about will be in it yet, but I want to get as complete a picture as I can before I start writing.”

“I see.” The director is quiet for a moment. “And the questions on our ‘chain of command?’ It sounds like you were quite extensive.”

Hm. That question was a bit harder to answer. “I’m sorry Director, I don’t understand. What’s this about?”

“When you asked for permission for this project, it sounded like you were interested in a day-in-the-life sort of article, or a general kind of human interest story with the dig site set as the focus. I agreed because I didn’t see the harm in it, and because you helped us during the attack. But ultimately, you’re a stranger to me.” The director’s gaze is intense, and Leaf struggles not to blink or look away. “And if a stranger came to the site and asked the sorts of questions you’ve been asking, I would assume something much different about their intentions than a simple article on paleontological digs.”

Leaf’s throat is dry. “What would you assume they were writing about instead?”

“Do you know what corporate espionage is?”

Oh. Relief makes Leaf struggle not to smile. “I do, yeah. But I don’t have any ties to anyone that might be interested in that sort of thing. I wouldn’t even know who was interested in the kind of information I’ve been asking about.”

“And the monthly personnel files you requested, from the first day of the dig? This expedition is partially funded by Pewter. Why not check the-”

“-public records, I did, but they’re not recent or organized, and it’s just a lot less convenient.”

Dr. Zapata taps her fingers on her desk. “Whatever we give you would be stripped of all but the basics, to protect privacy. Just names and dates.”

“That’s totally fine. Does that mean you can do it?”

“What I want to know first is what you want to do with the info.”

“I just want to know who might have left, maybe contact them too. See where they are now, what they’re doing. Kind of draw connections between other, similar projects.” Leaf feels she’s close to babbling and shuts up.

“So you’re not headhunting?”

“No, it’s nothing like that.”

“Alright. I’ll send the files over by tomorrow.”

Leaf’s brow rises. “Thank you.”

Dr. Zapata smiles briefly. “I think you’re probably on the level, but I had to at least ask you myself. I was a trainer once, long ago. I know not to underestimate kids who go on their journey as young as you and your friends.”

Leaf flushes, both from the praise and a bit of shame. She doesn’t want to deceive the director, but… she’s not actually lying. And besides, if the story’s going to come out either way, she’d rather be the one to break it than risk Zoey’s broad strokes. “Is that all?”

“One last thing. Can you promise me that you really will be publishing an article on the dig site? I don’t care if it’s flattering or not, I can take a bit of disappointment. I just want your assurance that you’re not compromising the integrity of the site.”

Leaf manages a smile. “I promise.”

“Then you can go. Thank you for your time.”

“No problem. Night.”

Leaf closes the door behind her, thoughts racing. She’s relieved the director is so far off the mark with her suspicions, but it’s clear that Leaf will have to be as careful as she can moving forward.


“Usually I go through the day’s discoveries and catalogue them, cross check the request lists we have from our various funders. Once that’s sorted, there’s some quality assurance to do, in case someone gets clumsy between removal and storage.”

Leaf nods and scribbles. “Does that happen often?” she asks Rob.

“Oh, not particularly.” The Unovan paleontologist smiles and takes a sip of his beer. He has a full head of grey hair and a goatee that reminds her of her grandpa. They spent some time talking about cities they lived in back home before getting into the interview, sitting on fold-out chairs in front of his residence quarters as they watch the dig site wind down for the night. “Most of the fossils take a day or two to get fully up out of the ground though, so accidents do happen.”

“Gotcha. Wow, it must have been rough for you the day of the incident then, huh?”

He grimaces. “‘Rough,’ hell, that’s one way to put it. Not that it was the worst thing that happened that day, not nearly, but the damage to some of the digs was a huge headache. Took me most of the week to get a handle on it, and we lost a couple weeks of work, all told.”

“Ouch. When did you start damage control?”

“That very night! While everyone was cleaning up from the battle, me and a couple others were securing the digs. Most were okay, thankfully, but a couple were hit by the wave of paras, and of course the one at ground zero was completely destroyed. I had to get Zapata’s permission to go down into the mountain and look for anything salvageable before they plugged the hole up.”

“And did she give it?”

“Yeah, once she was out of her meeting. Just said I had to bring some ACE with me, but that was a chore and a half in itself.”

Leaf manages not to visibly perk up, pencil only pausing for a moment before she says, “How come?”

“Well, I had to wait for them to finish whatever they were doing. Their own meeting, looked like. Went to them right away, but Leader Misty and the ranger had them all holed up in a building, talking about something.”

“Huh. I wonder what it was.”

Rob shrugs, drinking again from his bottle. “No clue. I just hung around until they were done, then talked to Paul about going down in the hole. He said okay, and a few of us did some prep and went down.”

“How did he seem?” Leaf asks.

“Who?”

“Paul. How did he seem, after the meeting?”

“Distracted. Upset. We were all high strung that night.”

Leaf nods, gaze unfocused as she watches a machoke roll a boulder out of a hole. “I remember.”

He chuckles. “You kids went through a lot too, stopping Yuuta like that…” His smile fades, and after a moment he lets out a heavy breath, taking another swallow. “Ahh, let’s not talk about that. Bad business.”

“Yeah, no problem. Would you mind telling me who was at the meeting with Leader Misty though? I’m curious about it, want to know who I can talk to later.”

“Oh, sure, sure. Let’s see, ah, there was Paul of course, Kenny, Mei…” He goes on to list over a dozen names before he trails off. “Probably some others, but I didn’t really pay attention at the time.”

“That’s plenty, thanks. Do you mind if I ask you about it later, check some names with you?”

“Alright, but you could just ask them, couldn’t you? I’m sure they’d remember better.”

“I will! But I won’t be meeting them until tomorrow, and I have the list in my room. I can just text you some names to check, if that’s okay.” Leaf smiles. “So, what happened once you went down into the hole?”

He smiles back. “Ah, that was rough, let me tell you. The smell! Burnt fungus and dead bugs everywhere…”


“Hey there,” Leaf says to the group of ACE Trainers. “Mind if I join you?”

The four security staff look at her in surprise, then shrug or nod as Leaf approaches. They’re set up away from the dig site, three guys and a woman of various ages, all standing across from practice dolls as they train their pokemon in the morning sun.

“Thanks,” she says, and takes out her own pokedoll. “Go, Ruby!”

Her new venonat appears, fresh from its virtual conditioning. She begins to run Ruby through her paces, giving her treats often and restraining the urge to pet her fuzzy body. Not because it’s uncomfortable, though some dislike the texture, but she read that bug pokemon don’t often like the feel of being stroked when they’re still new to their trainers. Instead Leaf uses lots of verbal praise, especially when Ruby finally manages to link two commands in quick succession.

Leaf takes a moment to look around as her venonat eats its pokepuff. Two of the ACE are coordinating their growlithe and magmar together, while the other two train their butterfree and weepinbell separately.

She recognizes the woman as one of the ACE who helped with Yuuta. Leaf watches her train her magmar, but doesn’t approach or speak with her. After Ruby finishes properly following every order twice in a row, Leaf withdraws her and sends out Ledyba. She puts her venonat’s ball in her bag instead of her belt, since her recent captures put her over the belt’s limit of six.

At first she was irritated with the arbitrary limit, seemingly modeled after the standard League maximum that would never have any impact on her. Now she has to admit that the space between the balls on her belt are just wide enough to avoid any fumbling, and that adding extra slots, as some belts do, would come with drawbacks, such as being unable to sit in a chair without removing it. For now carrying the extras in her bag works okay, but it would eventually become unwieldy, and she’s not sure if she’ll turn to alternate solutions or just keep her active team limited to what she can carry with her. Blue, who is already approaching two dozen pokemon, has already deposited the ones he doesn’t plan on using for his match against Misty.

Leaf begins practicing some aerial maneuvers with her ocarina. Part of her hopes the noise doesn’t bother the other trainers, but she would welcome the excuse to begin conversing with them if someone brings it up. None do however, and she keeps to herself, merely waving goodbye when everyone begins to pack up and head back to the site. A couple wave back, including the woman.

She goes again the next day, hoping the same people are there. She’s happy to see they are, with one new addition. Leaf once again asks permission to join them. They agree, and she begins training with her pokemon again, intent on practicing some more complicated attacks that she knows her pokemon will struggle with.

For example, venonat only naturally use Stun Spore when facing down threats they want to escape from, which makes it hard to train them to do it on command. Leaf manages to get hers to use it on the mannequin by attaching a rope around the doll’s middle and dragging it toward her pokemon as Ruby keeps retreating, but Sleep Powder is a bit tricker. Venonat tend to use it on pokemon they want to feed on. Apparently the mannequin isn’t particularly appetizing.

“Sleep Powder!” Leaf commands again, brushing some hair out of her eyes as the wind blows from behind her. Ruby just shifts in place, antennae swaying as she tries to find some succulent morsel to incapacitate and suck the life from. “Ruby, Sleep Powder! Come on, I’ve got berries right here, but you need to put it to sleep first. Sleep Powder!”

Five minutes of this and Leaf doesn’t have to pretend to be frustrated. Eventually one of the ACE trainers notices. Not the one Leaf recognizes, which would be ideal, but the butterfree trainer. He watches Leaf and Ruby, then steps forward with his hand out.

“May I?”

“Oh, sure!” Leaf hands him the berries. “Thanks. I’m not sure what to do, the ‘dex says not to feed them and just keep the berries nearby so they get hungry, but…”

“Well, the quickest way to train them is to find some natural prey to offer,” he says. “The berries work okay, but since they don’t need to put them to sleep, you gotta really make them hungry to prime them.” He begins to mash up the berries with his fingers, then steps toward the pokedoll and spread the sweet innards all over the foamy exterior. He wipes his hands clean on its head, then steps back. “Okay, now try.”

Leaf sees Ruby’s attention focused on the pokedoll and waits. Maybe she’ll do it on her own… but after a few moments pass, Leaf says, “Ruby, Sleep Powder,” and the venonat hops forward, shimmying out a cloud of spores.

“Good job, Ruby! Good girl!” Leaf quickly throws a handful of berries in front of her pokemon before she decides to jump on the pokedoll and be disappointed. “Thank you,” she says to the ACE.

“No problem. Let me know if you need any more help.” He returns to his own training. Leaf does the same, but when everyone begins wrapping up for the day, instead of trailing behind like she did yesterday, Leaf approaches them and keeps pace.

“Hey, thanks again for the help. I’m Leaf.” She extends her hand.

He takes it. “Nice to meet you. I’m Omar, this is Mei, Alex, Nora and Jean.”

All people who were in the mysterious meeting, according to Rob. “I think I remember you,” Leaf says, waving to Nora, who nods.

“Yeah, she told us you were the one that stopped Yuuta,” Alex says.

Leaf smiles. “I had some help.”

“The thing you’re writing, is it why you were here that day?” Nora asks.

“No, my friends and I were just passing through. Curious about the fossils, but the idea for the article came after.”

“Well, you saved us all a lot of grief. You’re welcome to join our training anytime, after what you did,” Nora says.

Leaf flushes slightly as the others agree. She counted on Dr. Zapata feeling grateful to allow her up here in the first place, but hadn’t realized how much more that counted toward the site’s security. Maybe she can use that, be a bit more direct when questioning them.

“Do you usually train daily?” Omar asks.

Leaf smiles. “I try to, though sometimes it turns into more of a play day.” A couple of them chuckle. “I didn’t plan on it while I was up here, but after the Tier 1 in Celadon…”

The group nods, faces grim. “And we thought the cleanup here was bad,” Jean mutters. “Whole city probably stinks. Fuckin’ mess, that’ll be.” He catches dirty looks from a couple of his peers. “What?”

“It’s okay,” Leaf says, grinning. “I’ve heard the word before. My grandfather cursed like a Ranger recruit, and I spent most of my life with him. Mom wasn’t pleased when I picked it up.”

“Well, if you hang out with ACE grads long enough, we give the Rangers a run for the cursing.”

Leaf chuckles along with the others. “Sounds fun. Speaking of which, do any of you know Daniel? I was hoping to see him again, but he doesn’t seem to be on site. Is he okay?”

Everyone is quiet for a moment, and Leaf keeps her face innocently curious. Daniel was the only ACE Trainer that was listed as a staff member before the incident and not afterward who wasn’t on the casualty list. Maybe coincidence, or maybe something more. He also wasn’t at the meeting, as far as Rob could remember. Leaf never met him, but there’s no reason any of them would know that.

“He’s on break, I think,” Jean says at last. “Took some time off.”

“Oh, alright. Any of you have his email? It’s not important enough for a text, just wanted to say hi.”

The silence is longer this time. Leaf watches them out of the corner of her eyes, seeing people glance at each other. As if everyone’s waiting for someone else to answer.

“Yeah, I think I can find it,” Nora says. “I’ll get it to you later.”

“Thanks. Here’s my number.” She extends her phone toward Nora, who does the same, and they tap their screens to swap info as they approach the outer buildings at the site. “See you guys tomorrow!”

Leaf walks back to her room, gaze distant as she keeps replaying the expressions of the others in her head. It might just be her imagination, but those pauses were a bit too long, their expressions too emotive, for someone asking about a coworker who simply took some time off. She just wishes she knew what they were thinking and feeling.

Leaf has never felt any particular envy of psychics before, outside of wanting to bond with pokemon better. But now she has to admit that it would be a valuable ability for a reporter to have. She wonders if Zoey is one, keeping it secret so as not to tip off people she talks to and interviews. Laura might even be an untrained, low level psychic, if Red went so long without realizing he was one. Isn’t it a maternal trait?

In any case, not every good investigator has had psychic powers, however much it would help, and she’ll just have to confirm her hunches the regular way: corroboration of facts.

It seems strange that someone would be removed from a staff listing just because they took some time off work. The list of site staff must include others who took time off, even from the security staff. If she can find someone else and see if they were removed for the time they were gone, that would help.

As for why they would lie… Leaf can’t outrule the possibility that Daniel Levi was somehow involved with Yuuta. Wasn’t there talk of him not being a sole actor? If Daniel and Yuuta worked together, maybe he ran after the execution, afraid he would be found out. Or maybe he helped Yuuta escape.

Leaf has been asking around as subtly as she could, and she can’t figure out who was watching Yuuta during the meeting on the night of his execution. Paul was the last person she knows was with him, unless he lied to her when he recounted his night. But he never named who took his place, and Leaf didn’t want to press the point at the time, still wary of asking questions that would get back to Director Zapata.

It’s possible she’ll have to now. Maybe whoever replaced him was the last person with Yuuta before Misty and Sasaki saw him. Maybe there was another exchange of the watch. Either way, Leaf is willing to bet her hat that the meeting with the ACE Trainers had to do with Yuuta. Maybe Daniel was missing because he was still watching him, or maybe not. Finding out what happened to him, where he is now, is the most important step.


“I mean, seriously, where does she get off, always telling me to be careful?” Red asks. “She’s not even a trainer, and she’s running around a Tier 1 for a story?”

“Mmhm.” Leaf shifts her phone to the other shoulder, reminding herself to buy some new earphones. She sits on her bed, gaze on her laptop screen as she reviews her timeline for the night of the paras attack. She has a chain of supervision written out for who was watching Yuuta, trying to narrow down potential possibilities. “I think she just stayed on the roof, though. It was probably safe up there.”

“Yeah, right, until the grimer start climbing up the walls.”

Leaf grins. “Really? That’s what you’re worried about?”

“Hey, it happens!”

“I think you’re being a bit overprotective of your mom, which is, you know, totally understandable, but her building is like twenty stories up, and I’ve never heard of them going that high.”

“They can go through windows on the second or third floor and then take the stairs.”

“Right.” She plugs in an alibi corroboration from her notes with one of the ACE Trainers, putting him and another away from Yuuta at the relevant time. “In which case staying in her room would probably have been worse.”

Red grumbles something. “So how’s the research going?”

“Okay,” she says, and gives him a summary of what she’s learned so far. “I’m starting to appreciate how hard it is to figure things out by eye testimony. Some people who claim to have been at the same place at the same time are giving me very different reports of who they saw, or when they did things.”

“Yeah, hearsay is the least reliable form of evidence in court for a reason. I’m glad I rarely have to consider it for the things I’m working on.”

“Mmhm.” Leaf frowns at a pair of notes that put the same person on opposite sides of the dig. Are there two Michaels on site? She pulls up the staff roster. “How are our abra, anyway?”

Red sighs. “They’re fine, but figuring out a way to test their psychic strength is proving difficult. All they can do is teleport! I’m starting to think I’ll have to buy a TM to teach them some kind of attack. It’s not a bad investment, in any case. Think I should ask Bill if he has one lying around?”

Leaf barely hears him, distracted by a notification. It’s an email from Nora. “Hey Red, mind if I call you later?”

“Uh, yeah, no prob.”

“Thanks, bye.” She ends the call and stares at the message, which just contains an email address. Ostensibly Daniel’s.

Leaf lowers her phone and looks at her timeline again. She goes back to the beginning, checking through the whole thing again as one hand goes out to stroke Bulbasaur, who’s sleeping in his potted plant beside her bed.

Even if one or two people misremembered things… there are three facts she can clearly put together.

One, Daniel was the one watching Yuuta. Near certainty: there’s no one else it could be, unless multiple people all gave her bad info, accidentally or otherwise.

Two, Daniel disappeared afterward. No one, not any of the ACE Trainers, not any of the other dig employees, reports seeing Daniel all night. She’s less certain about this one: there’s a chance he didn’t disappear, but was for some reason detained, and those that detained him kept it secret or made everyone else keep it secret.

Three, Yuuta is dead… and was before Misty even got to him.

This one she’s the least sure about: maybe 70% at most. From the time that passed between the two meetings, it seems clear there wasn’t nearly enough for a full interrogation by the psychic Leader. Leaf still doesn’t know what she met with the site security about, but if Yuuta had escaped, the more likely outcome would have been an immediate manhunt.

Of course, there are other possibilities. Maybe Misty quickly sensed that Yuuta collaborated with one of the security, and called the meeting to find out which one. But there’s no account of returning to Yuuta after, and it still begs the question of where Daniel was. Maybe he stayed with Yuuta, but in that case what happened to him afterward? No, it seems more likely that he was involved somehow. Maybe Daniel ran and left Yuuta alone in the room, but then who was left to watch him during the meeting?

So. Daniel was likely gone by then. And Yuuta was likely dead, and thus not in need of supervision.

It seems solid. But Leaf knows she has to account for unknown unknowns, and drops her confidence down. Maybe 60%. Maybe 55%. She could be wrong in ways she hasn’t even considered.

Speaking of which… she opens Nora’s message and considers Daniel’s email address. Part of her was expecting the email not to arrive, for Nora to just conveniently forget to send it. Now that she has it, she’s wondering if she really is way off. Nora wouldn’t share it if something serious happened with Daniel, would she?

Then Leaf realizes she’s being silly, since just having the address is meaningless if Daniel isn’t in a position to respond. Leaf still has to follow through.

She types up a quick message, glossing over how she knows him and hoping that if she claims to remember meeting him briefly, he’ll just think he forgot in all the chaos that day. With such a thinner relationship however, instead of trying to check in on him she instead informs him of the article she’s writing and asks if he’s free to answer some questions for her.

Leaf reviews the letter twice to make sure it’s vague and innocent enough. She knows she’s being paranoid, but she can’t help but wonder who else might actually read the email besides Daniel.

Finally she sends it and gets back to the alibis. There are a lot of ACE trainers who she never managed to talk to, and she tries to figure out a way to get the info out of them to corroborate her theory.

She’s still thinking it over when an email notification interrupts her. Leaf stares at the screen, then slowly clicks the icon.

It’s from Daniel. Less than three minutes since she sent her own email, a little over five since Nora sent her the email address at all, and she already has a response.

It’s not paranoia if there really is a conspiracy, right? She knows she’s being silly. It’s a little past nine in the evening, plenty of people are up and have their phone at hand. Besides, Nora probably sent it after getting an “okay” from him in the first place, so he was up and not busy and expecting Leaf’s email. And the reason the others were so odd when talking about him wasn’t that they’re all in on some conspiracy: they’re likely just as in the dark as Leaf is, but know something weird happened with him.

The message, distilled to basics, is simple: “Hello, all’s well, a bit busy for any questions at the moment, thanks anyway.” It leaves nothing to really follow up with, and after reading it a few times, Leaf closes the email and goes back to stroking Bulbasaur. Her leg begins to bounce in place, and eventually she frowns, stretches, and starts to pace.

Let’s assume that was really Daniel and he’s fine and not on the run or anything. How does that fit into what’s probably true? Maybe Daniel didn’t actually work with Yuuta. Maybe he was dismissed for something else.

She looks back at her timeline. It starts as a single line, but branches off into multiple smaller ones after a major division splits it in two… the point at which Yuuta is either executed, or not, whichever the case may be. There are facts she’s still gathering to confirm which path is the right one, but until she finishes getting all the answers at the dig site, she didn’t dare risk contacting Ranger Sasaki to check about things like the execution itself or the transportation of Yuuta’s body.

Now, however, it seems she has few other options. Leaf believes she has the right cards: it’s time to play her hand, and see what a bit of bluffing can get her.


“Thank you for meeting with me, Ranger,” Leaf says as she enters Sasaki’s office the next morning. It took her about an hour to make her way down the mountain to the outpost. A can of repel, and Bulbasaur walking along beside her, kept away any wild pokemon, though she did have to send Crimson out to chase away some spearow that were circling them.

“Of course, though I only have a few minutes.” The Ranger offers her a seat in front of her desk.

“I’ll get right to it then. I just need to corroborate some facts for an article I’m writing on the dig site.”

“Alright.” Sasaki sits down, her serious eyes lightened by a smile. “What can I help you with?”

Leaf takes a deep breath. Calm. Resolute. “First, I should say I know about Yuuta.”

Sasaki blinks. “I’m sorry?”

“I know about Yuuta. And Daniel Levi. I just want to confirm whether you have any leads, or if you have any comment you’d like to make before I publish the story.”

The two stare at each other, Leaf’s heart pounding in her chest. Don’t break eye contact, don’t look unsure.

“I’m sorry,” Sasaki repeats, slowly this time. “I don’t know what you’re referring to.” There’s no confusion on her face however: all hint of a smile is gone, and there’s nothing but resolute blankness before Leaf.

“I want you to know that I’m not here to embarrass anyone,” Leaf says, and has to take a breath to make sure her voice remains steady. “I first heard about this from others who were intending to look into it. I thought if I got the facts first, I could publish a story that just stuck to what’s true, and won’t unfairly implicate others who had nothing to do with it.”

Leaf meets Sasaki’s stare as best she can, wondering if the Ranger understands. If she had any part in the cover up, she would be implicating herself… but saving those who weren’t involved.

“Alternatively,” Leaf says. “If there’s a good reason for what occurred… something that would make publishing a story on it a bad idea… that’s something I’d like to know too. Can you confirm for me first that Leader Misty did execute Yuuta, as reported?”

“Miss Juniper.” Ranger Sasaki pauses, opens her mouth, then closes it and takes a moment before speaking again. “I really don’t understand what you’re talking about. If you have some accusation to make, or believe something improper was done, I would urge you to report it to the authorities, along with any evidence you may have.” She checks the time. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to.”

Frustration pins Leaf to her seat, trying to find something else to say. Eventually she stands and bows. “Thank you for your time.”


The walk back to the dig site is uneventful, giving Leaf plenty of time to ruminate on her disappointment. She wants to mope about it to Laura, but her phone goes to message, so Leaf just plays the brief conversation back over and over and wonders what else she should have done or said.

When she reaches her residence building, a man in a dark suit and tie is sitting in a fold-out chair beside the door. He stands as she gets closer, and she recognizes him from pictures online: Leader Giovanni.

“Um,” she says.

“Good evening, Miss Juniper. If you have a minute, I believe it’s time we spoke.”

Leaf stares. Her mind is drawing a blank on what an appropriate reaction to this should be, which leaves her with the most honest one: utter bafflement.

How long is a flight to here from Viridian? some part of her wonders. Or was he just in the area when Sasaki messaged him?

No one who passes by is rude enough to stop and stare, but Leaf notes that their strides slow, their heads turning constantly as they catch sight of the legendary trainer. “Shall we go inside?” Giovanni says after another few moments, and Leaf flushes, nodding and leading the way to her room.

She sits on her bed, leaving the one chair for him. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting you,” she says. Obviously. She casts about for something to say, still trying to get her bearings. “Were you in the area, or…?”

Giovanni sits in the spindly desk chair as if it’s a comfortable recliner, one leg crossed on the other knee, hands folded over them. His eyes are dark and piercing, and Leaf finds herself staring at his nose instead of meeting his gaze. “In a sense. I was passing through Pewter to discuss the recent Zapdos sighting when Ranger Sasaki messaged me.” He takes a phone out of the pocket of his suit, shifting it enough for her to get a peek at the lid of one of the balls on his belt. It’s unlike any she’s seen before, chrome grey with a circle of yellow around the top.

Leaf’s pulse quickens at his words. “Am I in some kind of trouble?”

He places the phone against his knee, screen facing him, and his gaze moves down to it. He occasionally taps, but doesn’t seem distracted from their conversation. “No, not at all. The ranger is under the impression that you have reason to believe something improper was done regarding the renegade you helped capture.”

Leaf takes a deep breath. Now is her chance to get some answers. She wishes it was Misty she could confront instead of Giovanni, but then, the Cerulean Leader is a psychic, so maybe this is for the best. Plus, she’s not sure if Giovanni actually knows anything or is involved, and if not he could be an ally.

She decides to start with the safest assumption. “I have reason to believe that Yuuta wasn’t executed by Leader Misty.”

Giovanni is quiet a moment, staring at his phone. Without looking away from it, he says, “Who do you believe executed him?”

“I don’t think he was.”

Now Giovanni looks up, briefly meeting her gaze. “Then what do you think happened to him?”

“My best guess is that he was already dead by the time she reached him. I think one of the site security, Daniel, was involved somehow. There’s also a chance that he escaped, but I don’t think that’s as likely.”

Giovanni is back to looking at his phone, fingers moving as he asks, “Why not?”

“Because the danger of a loose renegade is too big a thing to keep covered up. And I don’t think Leader Misty would do that, just to save face.” Leaf pauses, considering her words. “I hope not, anyway. But if you’re interested, maybe we can get to the bottom of things. You have a lot more power and influence, you could… ask around…” Leaf trails off as Giovanni continues to watch his phone. His inattention is starting to make her feel slighted, but also embarrassed for feeling as if her suspicions are worth the undivided attention of a Gym Leader.

No, these are more than suspicions. Don’t waver. “If not, I may just write up my article with the questions unanswered. I’d rather not, though.”

Giovanni looks thoughtful, as if weighing her words. Or maybe just reading an email. Eventually he looks up again, catching Leaf by surprise and holding her gaze. “Tell me honestly, Miss Juniper, do you care about the truth, or getting a story published?”

“I… are those two mutually exclusive? I care about the truth, obviously. But unless there’s a really good reason to keep it hidden, the truth only has value if others know about it.”

Giovanni watches her another moment, then looks back to his phone. Leaf feels herself relax a bit, but most of her body is still tense. She knows he’s not a psychic, Blue mentioned that he was Dark when discussing ways he looked up to him, but she still feels as though he can look right into her.

“I couldn’t convince you not to publish such an article?”

“I’d have to know why first.” Shit. It seems Giovanni is in on things, meaning he’s not a potential ally after all. Her stomach floods with acid as she remembers Laura’s warning about getting into political topics with her articles. This is a man who could make her life very unpleasant if he chooses to: losing access to the dig site is  suddenly the least of her worries.

“Telling you in and of itself is part of the problem,” he says. “If you deem the reason insufficient, it would be worse than telling you nothing and letting you publish your article of half-truths. Would you be willing to take my word that there is a good reason to keep silent for at least a period of six months? I can offer some compensation for the time you’ve spent investigating, if so. Perhaps even purchase your investigation data, as it may contain things useful to us.” He’s still staring at his screen, even as he offers to bribe her into silence. Leaf is too distracted by the sudden rush of conflicting emotions to fit any sense of annoyance into things.

Does she trust his word? A part of her balks at the idea of expressing any lack of faith in him, but she pushes past that sentiment. The whole point of journalism, if it’s to have any civic value, is to make things so that people don’t have to just trust their leaders.

The problem is she does trust him. Mostly. At least, she believes that he has good intentions, and that he believes there’s a good reason not to publish the article. She knows that him offering to pay her is supposed to be sinister, if this were a cartoon or movie or book, but really, if his intentions are good, he’s just being considerate. It’s a token of respect, for her time and effort.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and means it. “I would love to take your word for it, even without any payment. But I can’t if there’s any chance I’d look back and regret the decision. And… there’s one more thing I have to be honest about. There are others who are looking into this story. I don’t think even if I stay silent, they would, which would make the whole agreement pointless for you.”

“You can tell me who they are, and I can make the same offer to them. Is it Shunichi Morri? Mara Hawthorne? Zoey Palmer? Jon Urich?” He pauses between each name, still staring down at his phone.

Leaf steels herself. “I’m sorry, I won’t confirm or deny anyone. I learned of it in confidence.”

Leader Giovanni is silent for a long time, gaze down, fingers occasionally typing. Leaf swallows, hands folded together in her lap to keep them from moving restlessly about.

“Thank you for your honesty,” he says at last. “And I respect your convictions. I believe I’ll take a gamble, and tell you some of what is going on, in the hopes that you find our reasoning sufficient.”

Leaf hardly dares breathe. She reminds herself that she can’t automatically trust what he tells her.

Giovanni’s gaze is still on his phone, but his speech is clear and sure. “Renegade Yuuta is dead. Leader Misty didn’t have the chance to execute him, or even interrogate him: as you said, he was already killed when she arrived. The suspect is still at large. Mr. Levi is still being investigated, and is under house arrest. He was in charge of watching Yuuta at the time, and claims he was distracted by a false message asking him to report to his superior, Paul Newcomb. There was in fact such a message on his phone, but it came from a number that wasn’t Mr. Newcomb’s, programmed in as a second line. Both claim it was without their knowledge.”

Leaf gives herself a moment to process it all, repeating it to herself to commit it to memory. Now that she knows she was right (assuming he didn’t lie), her mind explodes with questions on the killer. What motive would someone have to kill a dead man? To prevent them from giving information away, of course. But the timing was too perfect, it had to be someone on site, right? “Any other current suspects?”

“None that I’m willing to share. But you understand why we do not want this information to come out during an ongoing investigation, I trust.”

Leaf frowns. If someone else still working around here is under investigation… “If the idea is to keep the investigation secret, why not make it public, charge Daniel, and make the murderer believe they got away with it?”

“That was suggested. Leader Misty was against the idea. She questioned him herself, and for now believes him innocent. She doesn’t wish to tarnish his name with a formal charge, even if it’s later recanted. Instead he has been removed from employment, and any investigations will reveal that he was lax in his duties. As in truth he was, to some extent.” Giovanni is still looking at his phone, tapping something into it.

Leaf’s thoughts keep racing, unable to help herself from trying to figure out which of the people she spoke with or saw around site might be it. She thinks of the new security at first, the ones who all refused to talk to her, then reminds herself that they weren’t here at the time. “Not to mention that there are also financial interests, including from your cities, that would be hurt if the whole site fell under suspicion, right?”

Giovanni’s gaze flicks up from his phone to meet hers. There’s a hint of a smile there, warming his strong, stark features for a moment. “Perhaps. I should say that Leader Misty is rather irritated with you, believing from your actions here and the impression you left on Leader Brock that you’re something of a trouble maker. I, however, believe that Professor Oak chooses his trainers more carefully than that.”

“I’m the daughter and granddaughter of Professors too, you know,” Leaf says, feeling slighted again. “Neither of them raised me to be reckless.”

“As you say. Indeed, I am counting on it. Now I must ask again for you to be honest with me, Miss Juniper. Does this satisfy your curiosity and ethical misgivings? Will you publish, knowing what you know?”

Leaf still isn’t sure, really. It sounds reasonable, but even if Yuuta is dead, letting a co-conspirator stay at large is almost as bad as letting a renegade run free without telling the public. He might well be another renegade! Certainly he’s a murderer, and a skilled one.

“I’m sorry, I’m still not sure I agree. There’s still someone dangerous out there, possibly at this very dig site. The people here deserve to know.”

Giovanni is silent again. Leaf waits, watching him watch his phone screen for a moment, then look up at her. She’s getting better at meeting his gaze.

“I understand your concern,” he says. “So here is another bit of truth that I hope will change your mind. I do not believe Yuuta’s murderer was working with him.”

Leaf’s eyes widen. “What? Why not? If he wasn’t worried about what Yuuta would say, or what Misty would sense when interrogating him, why bother?”

“Because their goal was exactly as you said earlier: to throw a wrench into the plans of those with interest in this endeavor. To cause a scandal, call for investigations, and embarrass the Leaders who are invested in this. To admit that this occurred at all would be giving them exactly what they seek.”

Leaf feels the pieces fall into place. “Your people! The ones in charge of fossil security, that’s not all they’re here for, they’re investigating the others too, aren’t they?” She wishes this was all on the record! The plot just keeps thickening, but Leaf feels her skepticism rising again too. “This person, he or she took an enormous risk just to sabotage the dig. They must have known that an opportunity like Yuuta would come up, too. How are you so sure that they weren’t actually working together? It seems much more probable that they were working with him and just wanted to tie up a loose end.”

Leader Giovanni smiles. This one is less brief, but it doesn’t touch his eyes, and leaves his face hard and cold. “When you live a life such as I have, Miss Juniper, you learn to recognize the actions of an enemy. And those such as myself have plenty of enemies. Now, I’ve shared quite a lot with you, as a token of trust. I ask a third time for your honesty.” His eyes seem to be boring into hers. “Will you publish, knowing what you know?”

Leaf meets his gaze, just barely, but inside she feels the shift. There are too many reasons not to now, she can’t in good conscience do something that might cause harm or mess up an investigation.

But maybe she doesn’t have to admit that just yet. She won’t publish, but she can keep fishing for info. “I still want to know more about how you can be so sure of their motives. Has something like this happened before?”

Giovanni is no longer looking at her, however. His gaze is back on his phone, silently reading whatever is on it. Leaf realizes suddenly that for all his activity on it, the phone hasn’t vibrated or made any sound since they entered the room.

The Gym Leader finally slips his phone in his jacket pocket, and he looks… satisfied. “I’m afraid that’s all the time I have, and there are other matters that need my attention. Thank you for speaking with me, Miss Juniper.” Before she can respond, he’s standing and headed for the door.  “Leader Misty will be pleased to know she was wrong about you, and I trust I can count on your discretion in this matter. It would not go unrewarded.”

“What?” She’s on her feet too, taken off guard as he opens the door. “But I-” It closes behind him, cutting her off mid-sentence.

Leaf is left standing in her room, staring after him and feeling as though she missed something.


I was super tempted to end the chapter at the second line of dialogue in the final section, “I believe it’s time we spoke.” Not just because of all the busyness of the holidays, but for the sheer cliffhanger value. Consider me finishing the section here rather than another chapter my new year’s gift to all of you 🙂 Happy 2017!

Chapter 37: Resolve

Blue looks exhausted when Red and Leaf find him at the Trainer House in Cerulean North, but he still exudes a self-satisfied pride, even sprawled on a couch.

“You did it, then?” Leaf asks as she and Red sit in the nearby chairs. “Finished the screening matches?”

“Hit the top. Misty’s Second wasn’t in town, still gotta schedule a match with her, but then I can go for the badge. I think I’ll be ready in a couple weeks.”

“Congrats!”

“Tougher than Pewter, huh?” Red asks.

“Yeah. A lot of that was just testing me to make sure I wasn’t some scrub with a pidgey wasting everyone’s time. These people went hard. Very first match was against Amy.”

Red smiles. “Our Amy? From Viridian? Cool, how’s she doing?”

“Good. She got her badge already, staying on at the Gym for a bit. Sends her regards.” His eyelids are drooping down.

“You should head to bed,” Leaf says as Red checks the time. Only nine, but they’re still on a traveling sleep cycle, getting up and bedding down with the sun. “We can talk tomorrow.”

“No, I want to hear what you guys did first. What did Bill want?”

Red and Leaf exchange a look. “Uh. A soda, basically.”

Blue stares.

“Also maybe something else,” Leaf says. “He forgot. But he showed us around a couple of the labs and we talked about a bunch of stuff.”

“But he approved the plan,” Red says. “Said we have a week to practice before we try for real. There’s something else I want to talk to you guys about, though…” He leans toward Blue. “You know how your sister is competing in the Pokemon Coordinator Contest next week?”


August 1st

It takes most of the morning for Red to search the local advertisements and find a psychic who matches his budget. With the coming windfall, he can afford to spend some now if it’ll give him a leg up. As he waits for a response, he tries meditating again. His ability to focus isn’t much better than the first time, but he keeps practicing throughout the day, determined to make some measurable progress from one day to the next.

He also looks over the map of Bill’s property the inventor sent him. After calculating how far the sound of the wigglytuff’s singing will travel, he scrolls through the map from one corner to the next, trying to find a location with the ideal conditions: the right amount of empty space surrounded by naturally obstructing hills or trees, but with more open space beyond that for the ring of sound. He wants to do it as close to the Ranger Outpost or Bill’s house as he can, and quickly narrows his options down to three possibilities.

He takes a quick break for lunch, where he meets Blue and Leaf at a nearby cafe to show them his notes and hear about their respective days training at the gym and reading the local news. They also check the clefairy markets together, carefully marking the ones they want to buy and timing who will buy which of them when, spacing out the purchases. Afterward it’s right back to the Trainer House for more meditation practice. He picks his clefairy up from the transfer PC in the lobby, putting it immediately into storage. Much as he’d like to meet his new pokemon, he reminds himself not to get attached.

That night he finds a private workroom in the Trainer House and stares at his phone, working up his courage. This will be painful, and manipulative. But he has to tell her sooner or later, and this is when he can make the most good come of it.

Red takes his hat off and runs his hands through his hair, gripping it for a moment between his fingers. Then he drops his arms, picks up his phone, and dials his mom.

The pleasantries go by quickly, and soon he finds himself stumbling over his words.

“What is it, hon? Spit it out.”

Red takes a deep breath, and explains what he learned from Narud, including how the “psychic partition” that might be keeping him from fully getting over his dad’s death.

“Oh, Red… hon, I’m so sorry… I know you must be thrilled that you’re a psychic. After you were so excited from learning grandma was one… I remember how disappointed you were. But…” He can hear the tearful breath she takes, and feels a stab of guilt. “This thing with your father…”

“I know. It’s… a lot to take in. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but there’s definitely something stopping my powers from manifesting, and the feeling of that Night Shade… I’m scared, mom. I don’t want to face something like that again, or worse… have the partition break down like Narud said, and… relive losing dad again…” Red wipes a tear away, voice hoarse as pain and loneliness wells up inside him. In a way, it’s a relief to know that he’s not lying to her. He shoves the feelings down, waiting until he has control of himself again before he continues. “I really think I need to get a handle on this now.”

“Of course, sweetheart. Of course. What can I do?”

“I need lessons. I need to start learning how to use my powers. It’s expensive, though.”

“How much is each lesson? I can pay for them-”

“No! Thank you, but… I just need access to my account.”

“Oh no, Red, not your savings. I’ll be okay hon, I have some extra saved up. Let me help you with this. Just tell me how much you need and I’ll send it to you.”

Dammit. If she pays for the lessons directly, he can’t get the clefairy. He was hoping to get another two before the contest, but it would totally empty his account, and take a bit of borrowing from Blue or Leaf: he has almost exactly $1,800 to his name. Not enough for two clefairy and psychic lessons… It would be better to wait on the lessons until after he sells the clefairy. But he can’t empty his account without showing a bill to his mom, and he did want to start the lessons as soon as possible.

Well, buying one extra clefairy is better than none. “I’m still looking for the best deal, and some of them give bulk rates if I schedule more than one session at a time. Other lessons may be cheaper if I buy them on short notice, when they have a sudden opening from a cancellation. I did a lot of negotiating with psychics in Pewter for my paper, and I have to be careful to make every dollar count to get as many lessons as I can.”

“I still want to help, Red. I can’t let you pay it all yourself, you might need that money for your travels!”

Red sighs. “Okay, how about we go a half and half then? Let me use my savings while I’m in Cerulean, and I’ll send you the bill afterward, so you can put half back in my account whenever you have a chance.”

“You’re such a sweetheart. Alright, if that makes you happy. I love you, Red.”

Red runs his fingers through his hair as he rests his forehead on his palm, eyes closed. “Thanks, mom. I love you too.”

He spends the rest of the night reading local CoRRNet reports to brush up on wild pokemon in the area, and falls asleep with herd movement patterns floating behind closed eyelids.


August 2nd

Psychic Ayane is dressed very casually compared to Duran or Ranna. Her purple hair is cut short around her ears, her navy top is a simple shirt that bares a bit of her midriff, and her matching navy pants end just below her knees. She looks ready to go for a jog or have a pokemon battle rather than sit cross-legged and meditate, and yet that’s exactly what she does once Red signs the consent form.

“Our first lesson will involve Reception,” she says once they’re both seated across from each other in lotus position. Red finds it less uncomfortable than he did the first time, and wriggles his toes as he lets the tenseness out of them, hands facing upward briefly before he flips them over to mirror Ayane’s. “I don’t know how your ‘block’ operates, but it shouldn’t interfere at all with this aspect, if you were able to feel a psychic mind touch yours before.”

“I did, but it… wasn’t a pleasant experience,” Red says, taking measured breaths to prepare himself and slow his racing heart.

“I’ll attempt to be as gentle as possible,” she assures him, and closes her eyes. He does the same. “Are you ready?”

“Uh… give me a second.” Inhale… two… three… four… exhale… two… three… four… inhale… “Ready…”

“First, I want you to understand what I’m doing. My mind is aware of others who pass nearby me, but that awareness is not connection. It’s the difference between seeing someone in your periphery vision and locking eyes with them. By focusing on one of the minds I sense, I can project toward it. Beginning… now.”

Even braced for it, Red feels his skin break out in bumps as the “second mind” appears next to his own, almost entangled with it. He tries to focus on his breathing past the vertigo. After a few seconds pass, the sensation isn’t any better, but it stops growing worse. He feels like he’s balancing on a tightrope with one foot in the air.

“Are you able to continue, Mr. Verres?”

“Yes,” Red says between breaths. He keeps his voice quiet, his eyes closed. Sweat lines his brow and drips down the back of his neck. Every thought he has feels like it echoes, rebounding off the second mind beside his own, transferred along gossamer strands that connect them. “Is this… normal…?”

“No. Whoever told you about your partition was correct. Virtually all of your powers are being used to simply maintain it, and drawing them away to other tasks, even automatic ones like forming a connection, is taxing you beyond your endurance.”

“Should… we stop…?” Red asks, breath hitching between the words as a his stomach cramps. He expects a flashback to the spinarak’s attack to come at any moment, but it seems like the aftereffect really has faded. Maybe he should start training it now and make sure.

“Not unless you want to.”

“No.”

“Alright. I’m going to send across a feeling. I want you to tell me what it is.”

Red tries to prepare himself as he continues to focus on his breathing. He’s proud of himself for not quitting despite the strain. This isn’t so bad, actually, and now that he has the hang of it and knows what to expect, he’s sure he can handle more. In fact, this whole ‘partition’ thing probably isn’t a big deal either, with a few weeks of training he’ll be able to get rid of it and-

Oh.

“Optimism,” Red says, breathing out, then in again. “Confidence?”

“Hope,” Ayane says. “Good. Next.”

Red breathes out, wondering if he’ll notice his thoughts changing as they’re not influenced anymore. He’s vaguely worried about the notion that his emotions are being manipulated by an outside force: as if having biases isn’t bad enough, his unrealistic expectations of fixing his mental block in just weeks seem silly in retrospect, Narud implied it would be much harder… wait, is she projecting the opposite of hope now? Despair? Or is he just returning to his baseline? It’s so frustrating not knowing if his emotions are his own, if he could just think clearly for a moment he’d be able to-

His breathing is too fast, he’s not focusing on it anymore. He can’t slow it down though, a hot flush going up his neck. “Frustration?”

“Anger. Very good. Next.” Her words are clipped, and he opens his eyes to see her expression is cold. As he watches her however, her face relaxes into a more calm expression. He closes his eyes again so he doesn’t cheat by observing her.

He’ll have to write about all this, a journal, to keep the experience of cycling through emotions from outside influence fresh. It would be amazingly useful for awareness therapy and techniques, he’s surprised more psychics don’t go into therapy, though if they’re a standard subsample of the population there’s no reason to think any more of them would be interested or qualified for the job than non-psychics, proportionally. Still, it’s got to be easier for them, right? He wonders if a psychic therapist would have helped him more when he was young. He liked his therapist, but he would have discovered he was a psychic much earlier if one had tried something like this with him…

Breathing slowly in and out isn’t so difficult now. His shirt is sticking to his back with sweat and his stomach is still fluttering with nerves, but Red barely notices as he thinks about various applications of psychic powers in exploring the mind. Eventually he remembers he’s supposed to be trying to think of what emotion he is experiencing, but honestly he doesn’t feel anything unusual. He wonders if this is a “control” test, if she’s not projecting anything to see how he reacts. Should he peek? How long would she wait before he doesn’t get it? Maybe he just has to admit it himself.

“Don’t feel anything,” Red says between breaths. “Supposed to?”

“Yes.”

Red frowns, trying to focus harder. What is it? What’s he missing? He should list his emotions.

I’m uncomfortable, physically. I’m nervous and anxious, but that’s the partition thing, I don’t think it’s changed. I’m a little frustrated, but not a lot, yet. Am I less frustrated than I would otherwise be? Is she projecting calm? Is calm even an emotion? It’s just the absence of other emotions, isn’t it? Can you project null-emotions?

His thoughts run along those lines for another dozen breaths, and he finally shakes his head. “I give up.”

“Curiosity.”

Red opens his eyes to see her smiling slightly. “Curiosity is… an emotion? Nevermind… ‘course it is. I feel silly… but in my… defense…” He takes a deep breath to get the next part out all at once. “I’m pretty naturally curious all the… time,” he gasps, one trembling hand rising to wipe sweat from his forehead before he returns it to his knee.

“I sensed that, yes. That’s why I tried it. Remember, projections are stronger, more naturally communicated, if you build upon what is already there.”

“Noted.” The feeling of balancing on a high wire becomes more pronounced as he feels his mind wobbling, trying to shy away from the second consciousness. It’s so strange having the feeling of two minds without actually getting input from the second one at all… just echoes and undetectable projections. “So… next?”

“Are you able to continue?” He gives a jerky nod. “Alright then.”

They run through another few emotions before Red feels his whole body start to shiver uncontrollably, at which point Ayane withdraws her mind and he sags, breathing hard. His muscles feel loose and watery, his mind like it’s in a soft shelled egg.

“Well done,” his instructor says. “I didn’t expect the lesson to be so taxing on you, but you were still able to recognize most of them. Improving awareness is the first step: when you’re training your abra, being able to recognize when the emotions you feel are your own and when they’re your pokemon’s is vital.”

“Is the connection necessary?” Red asks as he slowly regains his composure. “If my partition is stopping me from passively sensing other minds around me, does that also stop me from receiving emotions from my pokemon?”

“No. Your pokemon will attempt to merge its mind with you regardless. It’s instinctual, a part of how they communicate and interact with others. Now at least you will know what to expect.”

Red grimaces and lifts one hand to his collar to peel his shirt away from his sweaty back. “If it feels like this, I’m not going to be able to train my abra at all. It was hard enough just sitting still. Are my powers like undeveloped muscles? Can I overcome this with practice?”

Ayane’s fingers drum on one knee. “Your ‘psychic muscles’ are not weak. They are constantly contracted, like a fist that has been closed around a ball for years. It has become stuck in position, any movement painful. In time it will become easier.”

“But too much relaxation and I’ll drop the ball?”

“Yes. You must learn to either juggle, or put the ball down.” She purses her lips. “That analogy doesn’t quite work anymore.”

Red smiles. “Yeah, it’s coming apart a bit. I think I get it though. The ball is fragile. Dropping it is bad, putting it down is safer. Any idea how to do it?”

“The simplest way is to learn how to manipulate your own memories, and simply clean out whatever is behind the partition. But that can take years to learn well. You can pay someone else to do it for you, if you trust them and are not averse to side effects. I would advise against this option unless your need is desperate. The safest route is to relax it little by little, adapt, repeat.”

“And how long would that…?”

Ayane spreads her hands. “As long as it takes.”

Red nods wearily. “Well, better get started then.” He straightens and puts his hands back on his knees, taking a deep breath. “Ready when you are.”


August 3rd

“Time!”

Blue presses the button on his aquascope, signalling Maturin to swim back to the surface. His squirtle rockets back up with a powerful kick of her legs and swish of her tail. Blue raises his eyes from the goggles in the scope, losing sight of her beneath the water just in time to see her round blue head breaking the surface of the pool. She opens her mouth wide, panting for breath.

“One minute rest, then back down. Set your own mark.”

Blue sets the timer on the aquascope, then tosses his pokemon a berry, which she quickly snaps out of the air. As she rests, Blue looks around to see how the others are doing.

The training room is filled with a series of isolated pools, each with a trainer standing beside them, aquascope in hand. Their pokemon bob at the surface of their pools, catching their breath from being submerged during their underwater exercises. Among the numerous classes designed for teaching them how to train their pokemon underwater, this one is particularly for amphibian pokemon, who also need practice staying under for extended periods of time.

Blue was having trouble getting Maturin to stay underwater for long enough to be a reasonable threat to water-breathing pokemon. This class is supposed to help him ease the squirtle into staying down longer and longer, but he finds the pace frustrating. He used a simulation program to try and train Maturin to stay underwater longer, but it only helped a little.

When the timer hits 0, Blue sends his pokemon back down along with the other trainers. He gives Maturin various commands to practice while she’s submerged, and keeps his eye on the timer that’s counting up now, waiting for the five minute mark. Squirtle can stay underwater for much longer if they don’t move much, but to fight down there, she needs to be able to stay submerged for as long as possible.

Blue presses his eyes to the scope to see Maturin swimming through the series of hoops spread out in the narrow, but deep, pool. He uses various buttons on the handle to send clicks through the water, directing his pokemon down one hoop, then up through another two.

“Time!”

Blue pulls his head up in irritation to check the timer. Only five minutes. He’s sure Maturin can stay down longer.

As the other pokemon begin appearing on the surface however, he can see the instructor looking at him, and presses the button to recall Maturin back up. His pokemon takes deep breaths and snatches more berries out of the air, then lies on its back and gurgles as it swims in lazy circles.

“Another one minute break!” The instructor yells out to the room, then walks toward Blue. He’s an older man, trimmed beard going grey.  Only one arm comes out of his shirt sleeves, the other sleeve folded and pinned around a stump. “Trainer Blue, was it?” he asks when he gets close enough, voice low so as not to carry to the closer trainers.

“That’s me.”

“You didn’t bring your pokemon back up right away. First time here, right?”

“Yeah. She seemed fine.”

“Seemed fine, sure. Pokemon worth a damn follow orders, even if it’s painful or dangerous. What do you want, your squirtle to come up without you telling it to? Not going to get it to learn that way. Worse, it might stay down. Get itself hurt trying to please you.”

Blue frowns at Maturin, who ducks her head into the water and kicks her legs to do a quick dive before coming back up. “She’s smart enough not to do that.”

“Hey, it’s your pokemon. I guess you’d know.” The instructor’s voice doesn’t change tone, and Blue fights down his defensiveness.

“When do we do practice matches?” he asks.

“Aquatic combat is lesson seven. In this gym we do things in the right order. Relax, you’ll be there by the end of the week.” He claps Blue on the shoulder and heads up the aisle to inspect and speak with the others.

Blue looks at Maturin again to make sure she’s okay, and snorts as she spits a harmless spray of mist up at him. He chucks her another berry and tries to fight down his impatience as the timer hits 0 and he tells her to go down again.

He’s committed to putting in the time at this gym and training his pokemon right: a first time win against Misty is the only way to make up for his loss against Brock. The new narrative he would shape about learning from his mistakes wouldn’t work if he commits too early and loses against Misty again.

But he can’t afford to spend too much time taking the safe route that he loses momentum either.

In Pewter he learned a bit from the lessons, but the most progress was made by finding good training partners. Blue examines his neighbors. One is a guy about his age, a serious look on his face as he trains a seel. The other is an older girl with a totodile that looks nearly as bored as he does. He waits till after the lesson is finished, then withdraws Maturin and approaches her.

“Hey. I’m Blue.”

She turns to him in surprise. “Hi. Mary.”

“This is my first time at one of these. Do you know if the pace picks up eventually? I think my pokemon can handle more.”

“No, this is my first one too,” she says as she withdraws her pokemon. “I know how you feel though, this is a lot more basic than I thought it would be.”

“I guess they have to make sure everyone has the fundamentals first,” Blue says. “I like learning from battles, personally.”

She hesitates. “I’ve never done a water battle before. But I guess neither have you, if you’re here?”

“Yeah, we’ll both be rookies, so it should be okay.” He gives her a moment to think about it, but she still seems reluctant. Blue smiles. “Nah, you’re right. Maybe later.” He turns away, looking for someone else to approach.

“Hey, wait.” He looks to see her smiling back. “You’re on.”


August 4th, Morning

Leaf throws the ball at her pokemon as hard as she can. “Bulbasaur, catch!”

Bulbasaur wraps a vine around the ball mid-air as it sails overhead, slinging it back and around to reduce its momentum without letting it go. Leaf opens her left palm wide, leather glove stretching the mesh between her fingers, and raises her bare right hand. She snaps her fingers, then points at her glove. “Throw!”

Her pokemon whips the ball at her hard enough to make her palms sting through the protective leather, and she grins. “Good boy!” She laughs as her pokemon gambols around a bit, rear feet kicking at the air. She waits until he calms down, then throws the ball back with another “Catch!”

The sky is bright and blue above the park, acres of grass and trees acting as an island of nature in the heart of the city. The past few days of reading made Leaf a bit stir-crazy, and she decided to take the day off to stretch her muscles and train her pokemon.

Of course, the best training is more like playing.

After another half hour of catch, she goes for a jog with Scamp running at her heels and Crimson looping around overhead as she tosses berries to each. Her phone occasionally buzzes, and she checks her messages to see if anyone important enough has messaged her.

Her current problem is simple. She wants to write another article, something with enough depth and importance to shift attention away from the ongoing situation in Pewter. But she has no leads beyond what she can pick up from news stories that are already published. The obvious solution is to get some from the local reporters, but they’d expect something in return.

Luckily, she happens to have something to trade. She just needs a good offer first.

By noon she’s hungry and exhausted. She brings all her pokemon out to rest for a bit, then heads back to the Trainer House. Her mind is on the shower waiting for her upstairs when a woman stands up from one of the couches in the entrance hall and approaches her.

“Hello Miss Juniper. My name is Zoey P-”

“Palmer, yeah, I know who you are,” Leaf says, smiling. It seems today might be her lucky day. “I’ve been reading your articles since I got to town. It’s good to meet you.”

The reporter raises an eyebrow. “I’m flattered. Assuming you liked them?”

“Yeah, they were great.” Leaf expected an email or phone call like all the other reporters used, but clearly Miss Palmer prefers the more personal touch. “Were you waiting for me?”

“I was. Do you have a minute to talk? Maybe have coffee or lunch? My treat.”

“I’d love to. I’m sorry, I don’t know how long you’ve been waiting, but could you give me another twenty minutes? I was just on my way up to shower and change my clothes.”

The reporter checks her phone, then says, “Of course. If you don’t mind, I’ll send you the address of a nearby cafe, and you can meet me there when you’re ready.”

“Sure. See you there.”

Leaf gets the address and rushes through showering and drying off, sitting on her bed in her towel and looking through her notes. She’s been hoping for something like this to happen all week, and wants to make sure she doesn’t mess it up. She was planning on going over the maps Red sent her for the abra hunting, but she’d have to do it after the meeting.

Ten minutes later she finds the reporter sitting outside the cafe. Leaf sits across from her, reminded of the immersive hologram at Bill’s house. “Hi. Sorry for the wait.”

“No problem. I ordered us some tea.”

“Thank you.” Leaf takes a sip from the mug in front of her, happy to discover that it’s chilled. She takes a moment to study the older woman. Miss Palmer wears thin and stylish sunglasses, and is dressed in a grey blazer that makes her look very professional and casual at the same time as she leans back in her chair, tea cradled in both hands on her lap. Leaf tries to mimic her casual posture, and wonders if she’s sitting too straight. She ends up staying mostly the way she is rather than fidget too much.

“I’ll let you find something to order, and then we can talk. I’m sure you’re curious to know why I asked you here.”

“I think I have an idea, actually. And I’m ready to order whenever the waiter arrives.” Leaf gives the menu a perfunctory look through, then puts it aside. She’s glad she can get a good salad fairly easily in most places in the city, but today she’s in the mood for something else. Especially since the reporter offered to pay.

Miss Palmer smiles. “I see. Were you expecting me?”

“Not you specifically, though I hoped for someone of your caliber. I have a friend, kind of a mentor, and your name was one of the names she suggested.”

“Why didn’t you reach out to me directly, then?”

“I figured it’s better not to be the one to ask.”

“You figured right.” She sips her tea, then returns it to her lap. “Well, this does put a different spin on things. When I realized that no one managed to get an interview out of you yet I figured you were just oblivious, but you were filtering, weren’t you? And the Oak kid not giving interviews either, is that related?”

“We have an agreement,” Leaf says. “Besides, he’s been busy.”

“Of course. Well, I guess I’ll cut to the chase then. What are your conditions?”

“I want leads.”

“Ah. That’s not a small thing to ask of a reporter, as I’m sure you know.”

Leaf remains silent, tasting her drink, then adds some sugar and puts the rest away. The waiter arrives, and Leaf orders some avocado and cucumber rolls.

After Miss Palmer orders and the waiter leaves, the reporter pours herself some more tea, taking her time. Leaf doesn’t rush her, and finally, after putting the kettle back, she speaks. “First, tell me something. Are you here to stir up trouble in my city, too?”

Leaf remembers what Laura said about getting a feel for a journalist by their work. What kind of person is Zoey Palmer? Leaf thinks back over what she read, the articles and interviews, the passion in some of Zoey’s work that’s not there for most of it. It’s like she thinks the only story worth putting real effort into is the kind that pisses someone in power off.

“If trouble needs to be stirred,” Leaf says at last.

Miss Palmer smiles and takes her sunglasses off, folding them and placing them on the table so that her piercing blue eyes meet Leaf’s. “Good answer.”


August 4th, Evening

The House common room is packed on Saturday night, with trainers of all ages gathering around the wide TV screens as the Pokemon Coordinator Contest gets underway. Some of them cheer on their favorites, while others exchange bets or just watch and chat. The trio managed to arrive early, and claimed seats in the middle of a couch directly in front of a screen. As more and more people crowd in around them, Red and Blue keep the encroaching bodies on either side from further squishing them together as Leaf sits between them with a bowl of popcorn in her lap.

Red enjoys the opportunity to relax with his friends, but even as he applauds and cheers for the various performances along with everyone else, a part of him is impatient to see how well their investment is going to pay off. He takes popcorn with his right hand as his left keeps his phone out, watching as the prices of various pokemon fluctuate after each performance. Most only get a mild bump: the highest so far was a 7% bump for ninetales after a trainer sent hers jumping through self-made spinning wheels of fire mid-air, and about a 10% jump for magneton, electabuzz, and raichu after a trainer used his to put on a laser-light show with eerily accurate electric bolts to pre-arranged equipment around the stage, accompanied by music and coordinated with a conductor’s baton.

By the time Daisy and Moonlight are next, the crowd is eager to see what could top that. Contest workers completely clear the stage to open up as much room as possible, then unpack some containers and assemble six large, colorful pinwheels in a circle around the middle.

Red and Blue clap along with the audience as his sister takes the stage, and the conversations of the girls around them suddenly shift to Daisy’s dress: a slim but complex, layered gown in various shades of pink that makes her look like a fairy princess. “Ooo, she looks gorgeous!” Leaf says, leaning forward. Red is similarly entranced. She’s done something with her hair, looping it back behind her head in the outline of wings. Red feels a warm glow in his chest as the remaining spark of his crush briefly rekindles.

The judges introduce her, then signal for her to begin. She releases Moonlight with a flourish, sending the ball straight up into the air so precisely that it smacks back into her open palm a moment later, arm staying straight up until her clefairy flutters to the stage from mid-air with its small wings.

The crowd is absolutely silent as trainer and pokemon turn to face each other. The camera focuses on Daisy’s face as she closes her eyes, tilts her head back, and begins to sing.

There’s no amplification in the exhibition center. Instead her microphone transmits directly to the earpieces of the thousands of viewers in the contest hall, and directly to the live feed. For Daisy and Moonlight, there’s just the strength of her own voice, and shortly after, Moonlight’s, her own microphone attached around her neck.

Red tunes out the occasional murmurs of everyone around them as he lets himself get drawn into the trainer and pokemon’s haunting song and perfectly choreographed (if silly looking) dance. It quickly becomes clear as she and Moonlight hop around in a circle that Daisy’s dress, frilly though it is, has been tailored to avoid impeding her movement at all.

“Met-ro-nome,” Daisy says, and points, and a moment later a gust of wind from Moonlight sets one of the pinwheels spinning. As it does, gleaming sparkles of every color are flung out into the air, falling slowly in a rainbow haze.

“Met-ro-nome,” Daisy says again a few moments later, in the exact same pitch and tone, and a second pinwheel is blasted with wind.

Red feels his excitement and awe growing as a third gust is sent out, then a fourth. If the metronome ability is dictated by the way the word is said, then Red expected a few mess ups along the way, like his mom reported from seeing Daisy practice. Six pinwheels, for six gusts of wind… but in a row? Yes, there’s the fourth…. Then the fifth…

Murmurs of surprise and disbelief are growing around the room as the trainers all watch Daisy instruct her pokemon to use the notoriously random and unpredictable Metronome ability with consistent, pre-planned results. Red grins wide as the sixth pinwheel is hit, sending its own shimmering lights into the air. The first pinwheel is still spinning, though it’s slowing down, and there’s a period of about ten seconds where the trainer and pokemon dance and sing in the middle of a dazzling cloud of multi-colored sparkles.

As the pinwheels slow to a stop one by one, Daisy and Moonlight’s song quiets before finally reaching an end, and there’s a moment of silence and stillness as the last of the glimmering sparkles fade away.

Then the Trainer House and contest hall explode in applause and cheers at the same time. Blue sticks two fingers in his mouth and whistles, and a buzz of conversation quickly breaks out as people discuss what they just saw. The panning cameras in the contest hall show faces that aren’t just dazzled but shocked, and Red can hear the wonder in the voices around him.

“-six times, can’t believe-”

“-trick maybe? New TM?”

“-obviously chose a safe move to demonstrate, but what else can she-”

“-can’t wait to try it-”

Red grins at his phone’s screen as the prices of clefairy quickly jump beyond the small increase they got just from Daisy’s reveal of what pokemon she was using. He tracks the cheapest offers and watches the prices going up as some of the lowest ones get quickly bought out and others are taken down and relisted. $983… $1,022… $1,127… $1,232…

Leaf leans over to watch, still applauding. “How’re we doi-woah.”

“Yeah,” Red says as he puts his phone away and finally relaxes, a giddy feeling in his stomach as he grabs some popcorn. “That’ll do.”

The last price he saw at the bottom of the listings was $1,312, and the highest were over $3,000. Blue bought four clefairy, Leaf three, and Red used his savings and borrowed whatever leftover cash the other two had to get himself two, giving him a total of three. Three clefairy that he could sell for at least $4,000.

“That’ll do just fine.”


August 5th

“You’ve been practicing,” Psychic Ayane says as soon as he opens the door to let her in.

Red smiles, breath trembling slightly as he exhales. As far as greetings go, it’s gratifying that she noticed right away. “Wasn’t easy.”

“No, I don’t imagine so.” She follows him into the room and sits, folding her legs beneath her. Red does the same, carefully. His body isn’t weaker when he’s like this, but it’s harder to control appropriately, as if the signals from his brain are being occasionally scrambled on the way. “I commend your progress, but is it wise to tire yourself just before our lesson?”

Red shakes his head. “I didn’t just start. I’ve been like this all morning.” He breathes in deep as he settles into place.

Her eyes widen. “Explain. And calm yourself before you do, please.”

Red grins and does so, breath coming out in a whoosh as his mind and body relax. “It was simple enough, once I put the hours in,” he says.

When her mind was entangling itself with his to project onto him, it weakened his partition automatically as it drew his psychic ability away. After their second session, when she taught him about how the state of one’s mind could be influenced by the perception or memory it experienced, he saw the connection with his experience of his spinarak’s attack, and how just thinking about the effects made a weaker form of them trigger.

“You called it an ‘impression,’ but I felt like that wasn’t giving it enough credit,” Red says. “When we think of something sour, like biting into a lemon, our jaw doesn’t ache because of a memory. We’re actually re-experiencing it. There’s a physical response from a physical change in our brains. So I figured that if thinking about the Night Shade was enough to mimic the feeling, it must also have mimicked the mental state of whatever it did to my psyche. Why not apply the same thing here and imagine entangling our minds, even while you were gone?”

“That shouldn’t work,” Ayane says, brow furrowed. “It’s not enough to simply imagine yourself doing something with your powers, or a psychic’s life would be far easier.”

“Well, a couple things. First, maybe this was easier than other things would be because, like you said, I’m not actually using my powers, I’m just relaxing them. Second, I didn’t just ‘imagine’ it. It took me the better part of the past two days, hours of concentrating, to really immerse myself in each individual feeling I had, all of which I could vividly remember.”

“I… see. I suppose it is not so unusual compared to the other feats I have seen those with the Gift accomplish. My surprise is mostly to see it from a novice who is new to even basic meditation.”

Red shrugs a shoulder. “I actually found it a lot easier than meditating, honestly, because I had a clear goal. I know theoretically what the end state of meditation is supposed to be like, but I can’t just force myself to think that way because I haven’t before. This, on the other hand, I have, so it wasn’t hard to alter my perspective.”

“Is altering your mental state something you do often, in other contexts?”

“I guess you could say that. Modelling different thoughts and feelings is an important part of being a rationalist.” Red smiles. “And I’ve always had a good imagination.”

Ayane’s lips quirk. “Perhaps it is a ‘gift’ of your own, then, that you bring separately into the wider expression of your Gift. In any case, it is good to see such progress. Have you noticed any improved stamina for maintaining the relaxation?”

Red’s smile fades. “Not really? It’s hard to tell. I got used to maintaining it for longer, but the effects feel about the same, and I have to take breaks when it gets bad.”

“Ah. Is it possible then that rather than manually weakening your partition, you simply trained yourself to mimic the physical symptoms?”

Ice floods Red’s stomach. “I… didn’t think of that. I don’t think that’s the case though, it really does feel like…” He realizes how silly he sounds. “Can you check?”

“Certainly. Enter the state again, and I’ll begin.”

Red nods and closes his eyes. He focuses on his breathing, then begins to shift his consciousness into what he’s been calling “balancing on a tightwire.” He goes down the mental checklist that he wrote out in his notebook after his first lesson and memorized after his second when Ayane told him about impressions and he decided to try inducing it himself.

First the sensation of the second mind approaching his, taking up residence in his own, separate and alien. A thrill of nerves goes up his spine as he imagines it there, in his head, watching, waiting…

Then the feeling of it echoing him, muted reflections of what he thinks and feels over threads like fiberglass wires…

Red’s breath stutters in his throat as he finally feels his mind tilt and his skin horripilate. He focuses on his breathing and waits until he feels stable, then says, “Ready.”

The pseudo-mind he imagined is almost immediately replaced by a real one, twisting in his thoughts as he lets out a shuddering breath. So, I can still tell when a real psychic mind is connecting to mine. Good.

“Is there any additional strain?”

“No, it’s fine,” Red says between breaths as he opens his eyes. “Same as usual.”

“Excellent. And your thoughts do not seem as distracted or unstable.”

“Really?”

“Haven’t you noticed that your speech isn’t as impaired?”

He blinks. “I haven’t really been talking while trying it before. Huh. I guess it really has been helping. This is great!”

She nods. “It’s quite encouraging. Now, let us continue our lesson… oh? You have something else in mind?”

Red feels chagrin at the reminder that she can sense the surface of his thoughts. “If you don’t mind… now that I know I’ve successfully mimicked a brain state, would you mind if I try some others to see if I can do the same for them?” He takes out his notepad and pencil. “I want to try and collect as many as I can to practice them between lessons.”

“Hmm. These ‘brain states’ are the result of your mind exercising its powers in a different way. I would have to draw them into another configuration for you to experience a new one.”

“Is that bad?”

“There are very few positive ones I could invoke in you, and even fewer I could teach without you first mastering your own powers. Of those remaining, all are much more taxing, and would likely result in your partition breaking.”

“Well, why not just teach me enough reception to project your own mind in another state, so I can copy that?”

Psychic Ayane’s fingers tap her knees. “I believe there are one or two, yes. But improving your active reception enough to receive thoughts in more fidelity is an advanced technique, and might also require your powers to be taxed too heavily. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather continue learning to strengthen your passive reception awareness first? It’s a vital foundation for any psychic’s ability to interact with their pokemon, or other psychics.”

Red hesitates, then nods. “Okay, I guess you’d know best. But maybe at the end of the lesson we could try one?”

Ayane smiles. “As you wish. I believe I can think of one that might be interesting to you.”


August 6th

“Go, Maturin!”

Blue’s squirtle materializes next to the pool and burbles in excitement upon seeing it.

“Looks like we had the same thought,” Mary asks with a smile from the other side of the training room. She takes out a dive ball and summons her totodile from it.

Blue reclips his new dive ball to his belt. “Yeah. I was planning to upgrade her ball to one eventually anyway, and I’m coming into some money soon, so this was a good excuse to do it.”

“Did you just pick it up? I thought you’d be here earlier.”

“Sorry about that, I was running an errand for a friend.” Red had him and Leaf doing drills in preparation for the abra catching. Three trainers running around Cerulean Park with earplugs in as they made hand signs at each other and their pokemon had certainly drawn a lot of stares. “Ready?”

“Yep. Third hit again?”

“What do you say we make it first blood?”

She glances at him in surprise as she puts her bag on the ground and kicks off her sandals. “Trying a new attack?”

“No, just want to get her used to more dangerous fights.”

“Sure, I guess.”

Blue smiles. The two of them have jumped leagues ahead of the other newbies at the Gym, even with some some mistakes early on. He empties his pockets and shucks off his shirt and sandals too, then puts his goggles on and bites down on the mouthpiece of his oxygen tube. After giving her a thumbs up, he jumps into the water feet first.

The water is cool without being cold. Blue breathes out through his nose, bubbles rising to the surface as he sinks lower. He looks up and sees Mary adjust her own oxygen mask, then dive in across from him and kick down to the floor. Once she’s there, she flashes him a thumbs up.

Blue returns it, then lifts the clicker from his necklace where it sits next to his flute. Their pokemon swim about on the surface until he brings Maturin down with a few quick clicks. Mary uses a copper tube that rattles when she shakes it. Over the past few days he’s seen her become more and more adept with it, spinning it through her fingers like a baton to send particular commands.

Once both pokemon are in battle positions in front of them, Blue presses a button on his mask and starts the timer for Maturin, then presses another one for his own. He flashes Mary another thumbs up, and when she returns it, the battle begins.

Three quick clicks, and Maturin thrusts forward headfirst. Mary swipes her tube to the left, and her totodile dodges to the left as Maturin sails by. A quick forward shake of the tube and he goes after her, mouth wide.

Blue nudges the button on his clicker to change its pitch and presses it down, prompting Maturin to duck into her shell. Blue swims forward and up to get a better look as the totodile tries to snap at Maturin’s underbelly. With a click from Blue, Maturin swipes a leg out to nudge her out of harm’s way.

Blue’s pulse is steady as he breathes in through his mask and out through his nose, watching, waiting. They’re approaching a wall of the pool, and Blue knows he can’t let it limit Maturin’s mobility. He waits through another two bites, looking for the perfect opportunity…

There. Maturin’s head has rotated toward the totodile just as he goes in for another bite, and Blue clicks to direct her into a tackle.

Mary is ready with a shake, and her totodile shoots straight up and over Maturin. His bite is a bit too slow to catch the squirtle’s tail, but he immediately follows her, and Blue is forced into another Withdraw. At least he got away from the wall.

The timers continue to count up past the two minute mark, an eventual cap on the duration of the match: if either pokemon has to go up for air, they lose… but ending it before it gets to that point is the safest way to ensure neither trainer feels pressured into keeping their pokemon down for too long.

Blue continues to avoid and defend, playing to his pokemon’s strength to counteract the more offensive totodile’s. If he felt sure of his pokemon’s lung capacity, he’d have the advantage… but he’s not, and in their last match he was forced to send Maturin up before Mary sent her totodile.

The next snap of the totodile’s jaws almost catches Maturin’s foot as it kicks out to spin her away from him, and Blue realizes he’s still playing as if it’s a contact match. He needs to risk a hit to get first blood, but he can’t do it on Mary’s terms.

Blue’s next clicks send Maturin into a dive, barely dodging the totodile as it snaps forward. Blue changes the pitch and clicks twice, and Maturin’s mouth opens wide to expel a cloud of bubbles that slowly rise.

Mary swipes her rod to the right. Her pokemon tries to abort his dive by swerving to the right as well, but two of the bubbles pop as they catch him on the foot and thigh. The force of them sends him tumbling off course in a spin, and Blue quickly clicks to send Maturin after him.

The totodile twists around and snaps at Maturin, catching her on the shell over her foreleg, while Maturin bites his arm. The two get into a quick and vicious tussle that sends air bubbles up as Blue and Mary immediately signal their pokemon to disengage. Instead the two continue to struggle against each other, and a trickle of red begins to diffuse into the water around them. After they ignore a few more orders, Blue tells Maturin to Withdraw, and the squirtle immediately pops her head and limbs back into her shell. Mary’s totodile disengages after that, and swims back to her, trailing blood from its arm. Mary quickly returns her pokemon to its ball, then heads for the surface.

Blue examines Maturin to make sure she’s not hurt, then lets his breath out all the way and starts swimming up, signalling Maturin to follow.

After he pulls himself up the ladder, he takes out his mask and lifts his goggles, wiping his wet hair away from his eyes. “Good girl,” he tells Maturin, and snaps for her to come out of the water. She leaps out onto all fours, and he feeds her a berry before withdrawing her. “He okay?” Blue asks as he turns to Mary, and his eyes widen as he sees her glaring at him.

“What’s wrong with your pokemon?” she asks, crouched beside her totodile as she sprays potion on his arm.

“Hey, woah, what are you talking about? It wasn’t her fault!”

“His arm’s broken! We said first blood!”

“Yeah, and I told her to come back, same as you did with him. Their blood was up, it happens.”

“You had to get her to Withdraw before she would listen. He had no trouble pulling away once his arm wasn’t trapped in her beak.”

Blue feels confusion turn to anger, almost baring his teeth as the heat sears through his chest, hands balling into fists. He almost hears an arcanine’s growl, and for a moment thinks he might have actually made the sound.

Calm down. Don’t make an enemy here. Mary’s been a good training partner up until now, and he doesn’t want to spoil that. More, he doesn’t want her to leave thinking he can’t control his pokemon, maybe even telling others not to train with him. He takes a deep breath, and lets it out in a searing wave. “Look… I’m sorry. It’s the first time something like that happened. Let’s get him to a pokemon center, okay?”

Mary looks away from him and finishes examining his wound. The mark of Maturin’s beak on his arm is still visible, but it’s mostly healed, and continues to fade as they watch. The totodile still holds its arm out awkwardly however, and Mary kisses its snout before standing and returning it to its ball. “You don’t have to come,” she says, voice curt as she gathers her things.

You agreed to first blood, you shouldn’t have if you weren’t ready for your pokemon to get hurt. “I want to.” Waste of time… He takes another deep breath. “Please.”

Mary glances at him as she slings her bag over her shoulder. “Fine,” she mutters, and heads for the door, sandals squeaking on the wet tiles.

Blue quickly grabs his things, breathing out again as the prowling arcanine in his chest lies back down. His lip twitches as he follows her out. At least we won.


August 7th, Morning

Leaf sits across from Zoey at another restaurant, inside at a booth this time, reading the article the reporter wrote about Leaf’s account of the Renegade incident. Leaf’s pulse speeds up as she reaches the narrow miss of the graveler’s explosion, and feels again her dread and helplessness as she waited for help to arrive while the Renegade was asleep, constantly looking over her shoulder. The recount of the witnessing event brings back the sickness in her gut and claustrophobia, and she has to force her shoulders to relax as she finally passes the tablet back to the reporter.

“It’s good,” Leaf says.

“I know that.” Zoey spreads butter on her toast. “Is it acceptable?”

“Yes, I meant that in both senses,” Leaf says.

“Fantastic. Then on to my part of the bargain.” Despite her general brusqueness, Zoey turned out to be a warm interviewer, guiding Leaf through the events at her own pace, asking for detail on points that she felt were too detached even when she ended up cutting down to the basics where Leaf meandered a bit. Leaf learned a lot from being on the other side of the notepad this time… though she did have her own out too, which the reporter had smiled at but not commented on.

Leaf eats from her fruit bowl as she considers the questions on her mind. Their agreement had included more oversight from Leaf over the final article than Zoey had wanted, and in return she was allowed only two leads, and not even exclusive rights to them.

It wasn’t greed, Zoey insisted, that kept reporters and journalists from sharing details of stories they’re working on. Or not entirely greed, anyway. There’s obvious rivalry and desire to get rewarded and recognized for one’s hard work, but there’s also professional integrity: when she works on stories that matter, Zoey said, she wants them done right, not botched by someone looking to make a quick headline with some sparks rather than taking the time to ensure it starts a blaze.

So if Leaf wants to get solid leads with lots of info on them, she’ll have to prove that she’s not going to just grab a scrap of info and run with it. And doing her own research in preparation for what sorts of questions she’d ask is part of that.

“So there are four stories that I think are important and potentially worth digging into,” Leaf says, taking a folder out of her bag and placing it on the table. “I have their notes in here. If we talk about a story and you mention something that’s already in here, I’m not going to count it toward my two.”

Zoey bites into her toast, hard to read behind her sunglasses. She took them off during the interview, but apparently prefers them even while indoors. “Sounds like you’re ready to fish for info at no cost.”

Leaf smiles. “I just want to make sure I get something I can use. You’re welcome to check them over to make sure I’m not over reaching.” Zoey offers her palm, and Leaf tips the folder back up. “After you’ve told me something about one of the stories.”

Zoey smiles back. “Deal. What’s the first story you want to hear about?”

Leaf considers her options a moment. “What’s the deal with the Silph and Cerulean General merger that so many people are concerned about? From what I read it seems like there’s some corruption going on behind the scenes, but I didn’t dive into the legalese. I don’t want to commit more time to it unless I know something important is going on.”

“That one’s a bit dense, yes. Silph’s market share is already growing dangerously close to monopoly status, and even if it brings lower prices in the short term, people are concerned at how easy they seem to find it to get laws changed to their benefit.”

“There’s no actual proof of backroom dealing, though?”

“Some hints, but not enough for anyone to take action.”

“What about the Harton scandal? The timing was convenient.” Harton was a member of the regulatory board who had emails leaked showing him attending illegal pokemon fighting rings.

Zoey lifts her cup of juice and takes a sip. “You put that together?”

“It wasn’t hard. I just made a list of all the people in positions of power and checked if anything happened to them or their families. I was thinking of blackmail being followed up on, but that one seemed more direct.”

Zoey nods. “Yes, it’s suspicious. Harton won’t talk though. If he was brought down for getting in their way, there must be something more they have on him that he’s worried about.”

Leaf sighs. “That’s about what I had on that. You can check if you want.”

Zoey flicks her hand to the side. “I gave you nothing even if you didn’t have anything. Not a bad story to pursue, but I’ve got nothing on it, or I’d be doing it myself.”

“Well, I’ll probably still do some digging just in case. Let’s see, what else…” She taps her foot against her chair leg as she spears some honeydew on her fork and bites into it.

“I was expecting something a bit more high profile, especially if you’ve been paying attention to my stories and recent activity. Like the Leader’s disappearance on the day of your adventure.”

“What, the rumors of a dangerous pokemon sighting?” Leaf shakes her head. “I’m not really interested in that.”

“Misty and her Second go off the radar for hours just as a Tier 1 event takes place on Mt. Moon, and you’re not interested?”

“Not really, no. I don’t know what they were doing, but I’m sure Misty had good reasons.”

“And good reasons not to tell the public?”

Leaf frowns. “She’s your Leader. If you don’t trust her to have the best interest of your city at heart… I mean, who can you trust?”

Zoey laughs, an oddly merry sound considering her normal tone. “Ah, youth. Here I had you pegged as a proper cynic. You’ve still got a ways to go it seems.”

“Hey, I’m not saying they’re perfect or anything. But really, what are you expecting? Do you actually have any evidence that she was doing something shady? Because if so, then yeah, I’m interested.”

Zoey shakes her head, voice lowering slightly. “Nothing on that, yet. But our dear Leader isn’t as guileless as you might think.”

Leaf leans forward, voice lowering slightly to match hers. “Okay, that sounds like a story. What do you mean?”

Zoey spreads butter and jam on another piece of toast, taking her time. Leaf fights down her impatience, seeing the thoughtful expression on the woman’s face. Rushing her wouldn’t help anything.

“I wasn’t going to bring this up,” Zoey says at last. “Not unless you asked about it specifically, though I admit I would be very shocked if you did. This is not only private knowledge, it’s from a proper private source whose career is at risk if it gets out.”

Leaf takes out her notepad and flips it open. “You have my interest.”

“I don’t know if I should bring you in on it. It’s rather close to you.”

Leaf’s pulse picks up. What could she possibly mean by that? “No need to draw it out, okay? I admit to intrigue. You’ve built suspense up properly. Now what is it?”

Zoey is quiet again, chewing on her toast. Leaf feels her impatience growing again, and just as she feels like she won’t be able to keep quiet a moment longer, Zoey says, “The Renegade’s execution. Do you have the notice?”

“No, my friend Red received it. He was one of the witnesses.”

“Check the time on the alert. Then find out what time the meeting that Misty attended on the mountain ended. You’ll find your answer there.”

Leaf’s heart is pounding. Is the reporter saying that the notice was sent early? Late? “Why not just tell me?”

“Like I said, I got this information from a source who risked a lot to tell me. I can’t jeopardize that.”

“But you’re saying something was off about the execution. Okay. That’s ominous and all, but I don’t know if it’s a story or not.”

“It’s a story,” Zoey says, tipping her head forward so she can peer over her sunglasses. “Trust me. A hell of a story. Now, what else do you want to ask about?”


August 7th, Evening

Red’s sits in lotus position with his eyes closed on the floor of the workroom he used with Psychic Ayane, and goes down the mental list.

First identify the pain.

He’d nicked his arm with a small cut, just small enough to sting without bleeding.

Then identify the “path” the pain is travelling.

Ayane had described this as a glowing yellow light in her mind’s conception of her body, but to Red it’s more of a pulsing, jangling vibration of a long, imaginary nerve connecting the cut to his brain, even though he knows that isn’t how nerves work.

Picture the path. Ease the discordance. Feel it fade.

Red doesn’t actually follow that step, though. Instead of feeling his pain fade, he remembers the sensation of feeling Ayane’s pain fade, and what her mind was doing as she did. The way her mind seemed to split itself, the way her stream of thought, far too faint and swift for Red to pick up on, bent around a sudden dark spot in the sparking, twisting thundercloud of her mind.

Red smiles at the memory, sweat dripping down his face. Being able to sense another mind is so cool. Even if it makes him nauseated. And feel a lurking emptiness in his mind that threatens to boil over at any moment. And even if he often feels like he’s just imagining everything he perceives.

Why does that matter?” Ayane said. “You think in metaphors all the time. Is it so strange your powers would manifest in them?”

No,” Red admitted. “But I was kind of hoping for a peek into some objective truth with them.”

Ayane merely smiled and said, “Then perhaps it is seeing the two as incompatible which is at the heart of your difficulty.

Which was a fancy way of saying not much at all, other than maybe there is no objective reality, and screw that mystic nonsense, thanks very much.

But either way, when he felt her mind shift into its new arrangement, the pain from the pinching hairclip on her finger did indeed fade away to nothing.

Red mimics that mental state now, mind teetering into what he dubbed “many mirrors and a dim room.” That last part was the important one, and he feels it when he separates the part of himself feeling the pain from the rest of his mind, and dims it, until suddenly the stinging pain is gone.

Ha! Red grins wide even as his mind slips past some tipping point and he snaps back to himself, the stinging back in his arm and an empty, cold void rising up in his mind.

He leans forward and throws up into the bucket he placed in front of him.

Head and heart pounding, he slumps onto his side, still smiling as he breathes deep and waits for his pulse to slow. He did it. He used his powers to change something in the world, even if it was just his perception of his own body. “Mind over matter” is more than just a motivational phrase to him, now.

His elated giggles are interrupted by a knock on the door, followed by Blue and Leaf walking in. They both immediately rush over, making noises of alarm that makes his head hurt.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay, ow,” Red says as Blue lifts him into a sitting position. “Oh, that does help, actually, thanks.”

“Red!” Leaf cries out. “You said you’d be careful!”

“I was! I put the bucket here, didn’t I?”

Blue snorts and shakes his head. “Idiot. Is that why you had us meet you here, in case you made yourself too sick to move?” He puts the nearby lid on the bucket and nudges it to the corner of the room with his foot.

“No, I just wanted to use whatever time I had before we met.” Red reaches to the side and unscrews the top of a water bottle, drinking once to wash the taste out of his mouth and a second time for his thirst. He feels clammy with sweat, but more mentally stable, now.

“Do you want to postpone this?” Leaf asks as she sits in one of the chairs.

“No.” Red struggles to his feet and sinks into another chair, while Blue finds his own between them and turns it backward, tilting it against the edge of the table. “We’re ready.” Red takes the sheets of paper out of his bag on the table and spreads them out in front of his friends. “We have our location, our pokemon picked out, and our backup on board. Tomorrow afternoon, Operation: Abra is a go.”

Chapter 35: Deception

Leaf wakes up the next morning with a sick feeling in her gut. She went to sleep late last night, engrossed by every new comment that showed up on a half dozen different news and community sites.

People condemned the vandals, or supported them, or made unrelated arguments and accusations, seeming to fit the events into whatever narrative they happened to believe. It was dizzying trying to keep up with it, especially with only token comments from anyone official, who would probably wait until morning before making a more complete statement. Just like Leaf knew she should. Eventually she forced herself to turn off her phone and tossed and turned for an hour before drifting off to troubled sleep.

But things don’t seem any clearer this morning when she grabs her phone and immediately begins browsing the sites again, still rubbing the gum from her eyes. She absorbs all the comments that people left overnight, and it gets harder not to respond, especially when they bring her up directly, misrepresent her arguments, or outright put words in her mouth. She knows that running around trying to put fires out might just feed them, especially when groggy and stressed.

She checks the time to see if it’s too early to message Laura, and frowns to see that it’s only 6:18 AM. She shouldn’t, especially since she already knows what Red’s mom would say: keep your head down, let it blow itself out, make a statement when things are calmer. Her heart aches when she sees the pictures, reposted again and again, of the glass doors and windows of the museum smashed in, spray painted symbols of Pewter’s predominant religion on the wall beside it. She thinks of all the people who worked there who she met, who took time out of their day to speak with her, like Dr. Brennan, and regrets bringing such trouble into their lives.

I’m not responsible for this. The people who did it are, and maybe the ones who egged them on.

Easy to say. Hard to fully accept.

She finally forces herself to close her phone again, and gets out of bed to shower and prepare for the day. She starts thinking of things to say, statements to make. An apology first, for clearly angering so many people. A plea for peaceful discourse. Would that make her sound too weak? Should she care? She wonders how Mayor Kitto feels about her now. Probably wishes she’d never come to Pewter.

She leaves the public bathrooms wanting to just crawl back into bed and draw the covers over her head. But when she gets back to her room and, against her better judgement, checks her phone again, she sees something that makes her smile.

It’s an organized message, from over a dozen Pewter churches. They openly condemn the vandalism, and its perpetrators, and plead that the city discuss its differences without anger. A small group of volunteers have already helped clean the graffiti, and the overall tone of the conversations does seem to have shifted slightly since the message went out.

Leaf feels a hundred pounds lighter as she closes her browser and messages Red and Blue, then puts her phone away and gathers her things. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as she thought.

She meets the boys downstairs for breakfast, then they pay at the front and head to the nearby pokecenter. The sun is still rising, and Cerulean West is rising with it. People in work clothes, often with a cup of coffee in one hand, busily move from place to place before the crowds start congesting the roads. Blue’s on his phone as he walks behind Red and Leaf, who talk about the trip to Cerulean North. It isn’t until they reach the center that Blue stops dead and stares at her. “What the hell happened to your following, Leaf?”

“Oh. Uh. Something happened in Pewter.” She flushes. She hadn’t sent Blue the news article last night, thinking he wouldn’t be as interested.

“The museum was vandalized,” Red explains, then looks at her. “I didn’t want to bring it up, figured you might be upset about it.”

“I am. Just trying to see how things turn out.”

“See how things turn out?!” Blue points his screen at her. “Your following doubled overnight! Doubled! How are you not riding this wave? You should be typing until your fingers are sore!”

“Whoa, no,” Red says. “Bad idea. You might cause more drama, it’ll look like you’re making it about you.”

“She can’t just say nothing, it’ll look callous-”

“Guys,” Leaf interrupts. “I was planning on asking Laura, when we’re getting our pokemon. Think she’s awake now, Red?”

“Yeah, she’s an early riser. We’ll let you get your pokemon first so you can call her after.”

“Thanks.” They walk in and go to the line reception hall, a sizeable line already formed as the pokemon trainers prepared for their day. “Or I guess I can do it now. Save my spot?”

They agree, and Leaf wanders over to an empty table to make the call. She breathes deep to settle her nerves as the phone rings, and mostly succeeds by the time Laura picks up. “Good morning, Leaf. Is everything okay?”

“Morning Laura! Yep, everything’s fine. Sorry for the early call.”

“Not a problem, I’m just moving into my new apartment and trying to figure out where to open each container ball. What’s on your mind?”

“Well…” Leaf gives Laura what was intended to be a quick summary, but she keeps thinking of new comments she read or thoughts she had to add to it, until she finally trails off with, “And now I’m thinking it might be best to answer after all, since there was such support-”

“No,” Laura says. “It’s great that there’s been positivity too, but you should still keep out of it. This may be one of the hardest things you learn to do Leaf, so listen carefully. When you’re just a private citizen, you can make all the posts in forums you want. You can have dozens of conversations a day about everything you think of or are interested in. But once you step into the limelight, once you’re in any way a public figure, your whole perspective has to change. And from what I’m seeing right now with your following, you’re definitely a public figure. A minor one, mostly just in one city, but still.”

Leaf listens and tries to really absorb her words. “Okay, yeah. I knew that, I guess I just had to hear you say it too. So not even an apology, right?”

“No, not even that. You did nothing wrong. You just wrote an article, and nothing in it was inaccurate or misrepresented anyone. No offense Leaf, but it shouldn’t even have grown as big as it did. It likely wouldn’t have without the mayor shining a spotlight on it.”

“I know. I bet he’s wishing he didn’t, now.”

Laura makes a sound that Leaf can’t quite interpret. “Regardless, the best thing you can do right now, with things as they are, is ignore it… and get to work on your next article.”

Leaf blinks. “What? Oh. Not on the museum, on something else, right? Keep the momentum going.”

“Exactly. If you’re going to be a journalist, even part time, you have to always be moving on to the next thing. Your job isn’t to pick a hill and fight on it until the bitter end. If you ever want to go into politics, that’s the time to make ideological stands. As a journalist, your job is to investigate and report.”

Leaf is silent for a moment. Does she want to be a journalist, really? She set out to just write something that might make a difference about something she cared about. That’s basically what journalists do, but… after all that happened, is it something she’s willing to keep going through over and over? Or is it just going to be like her other interests, a short lived passion that drives her to try something new, learn new skills, then get bored and move on?  She thinks about the book she was planning on writing about local myths in Kanto, and how she has little interest in that anymore.

On the other hand, Leaf’s mind is already racing through ideas for what she could write another article about. It’s an exciting feeling, and she enjoys the idea that she might have made a difference, even if it had some negative consequences. If this is going to be another short lived passion, she’ll at least ride it until it peters out, not bow out early because a few windows got broken. “Okay, so I’ll start looking for a new thing to write about. What if someone asks me about it, though? No comment?”

“If you’re ever in front of a camera or in an interview with someone, you can comment on it. But you have to be careful. Again, public figure versus private are two very different things. Now that you have a following, you can’t just think about what you say… you also have to think about what people will hear.”

“Like that preacher.”

Laura’s tone darkens. “Exactly like him. Thankfully he’s getting some backlash over it, from the other priests even. We’ll see what he does in response. But regardless, stay out of it. I’m saying that in my official capacity as your mentor.”

Leaf smiles. “Don’t worry, I’m convinced.”

“Good. I’ve got some friends in Cerulean, maybe someone has extra leads they don’t have time to investigate. One of them might be a good start for a story, if you don’t find something else that interests you.”

“That would be great. Thanks, Laura.”

“Of course, hon. Give Red and Blue my love, and enjoy Cerulean!”

“I will. Bye!”

Leaf closes the call and flips the phone around and around in her hands for a moment, thinking. She feels better about things now, like she doesn’t have to hurry up and respond to the situation. She can just take her time and-

The phone rings and vibrates in her hand, startling her into almost tossing it up. She looks around to make sure no one saw, then checks the caller ID. Hm. Unrecognized.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Leaf, how are you?”

Leaf blinks. “Mayor Kitto, hi. I’m… fine, thanks, and yourself?”

“Good, thanks for asking.” The mayor sounds busy, and Leaf imagines him at his desk of paperwork, talking with her via headset while he types with one hand and flips through a folder with the other. “Listen, I know you’re probably busy with your travels. I just wanted to let you know there’s been an incident-”

“Oh gods, another one?” Leaf’s stomach is cold.

“What? Oh, you know about the museum then? Sorry, that’s what I meant.”

“Oh! Yeah, I saw the report last night.”

He chuckles. “Still keeping an eye on our fair city? I’m happy to hear it. Well, that makes this conversation much shorter. I was wondering when you plan to respond? I have a press release in a couple hours, and was hoping to-”

“Respond? To who?”

“To… the situation. In general. You were going to make a statement of some kind, right?”

Leaf is suddenly very, very glad she called Laura when she did. If she’d had this conversation first, she’d feel compelled to assure the mayor that she would, despite having no idea what to say. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Wouldn’t I just make things worse somehow?”

“Oh, I don’t think there’s going to be anything more from this, some folks just got carried away. There’s been a great coming together this morning, and I’m sure you could help with that.”

Leaf frowns. She is glad for the show of solidarity, and if she makes a clear statement of appreciation for that, it could push back a bit against the idea that she’s trying to stir up the city, which is something she saw a number of times from her detractors . Maybe he’s right… “I’ll have to think about it.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Wrong? No, everything’s fine. Why?”

Mayor Kitto doesn’t sound busy any more, voice thoughtful. “I’m sorry, I guess I just assumed this would be something you’re interested in. Was I wrong to involve you in all this, Leaf? I hope I didn’t misread your intentions.”

Leaf rubs her brow with one hand. She wishes she had a moment to think, things feel like they’re speeding up again. “No, I’m g-glad that you mentioned my article.” She almost said grateful, which she was, but… it suddenly didn’t feel prudent to say. “I just want to make sure I’m not doing more harm than good.”

Kitto is quiet for a moment, then says, “I understand. You’re a smart woman. Trust your instincts, and I’m sure you’ll do the right thing. Thanks for your time, Leaf.”

“And you, Mayor.” She ends the call with relief, and begins to spin her phone around and around in her hands again. After a moment she puts it on the table and stares at it distrustfully from there.

Damn it all. She was ready to move on after talking with Laura, but now she’s not quite as sure of herself. She rests her elbows on the table and puts her face between her hands, gaze distant. If she distrusts the mayor’s motives, she shouldn’t do something he wants her to without knowing them. She knows that Laura, at least, has her best interests at heart. So why is she still torn on this?

Because it’s hard to leave it behind, she realizes. That’s what Laura meant. The limelight could be an addictive thing, especially for someone that will rely on attention for their work.

She wouldn’t be doing it for attention, though, if she does it at all. She’d be doing it to help…

Leaf abruptly stands up and pockets her phone. She needs to focus on something else. The sooner she finds a new topic to catch her interest, the sooner she can put the temptation to stay involved in Pewter behind her.

As she heads back toward the guys, she wonders what engaging stories Cerulean City might be hiding.


Cerulean North is much wider than West, stretching all along the coast of the bay. Blue watches it approach from his seat on the roof of the bus, breathing in deep as he catches a glimpse of the coast through the high rises. He imagines he can smell salt on the air, and knows it’s just his imagination. He just misses the beach in Pallet.

Red and Leaf are standing with their hands on the railing, watching the city slowly grow around them as the bus weaves its way toward the heart of Cerulean North, where Blue will find its Gym.

Blue’s fingers trace the lids of his pokeballs for Kemuri, Gon, Maturin and Ion. A shiftry, a shroomish, a squirtle and a shinx… to beat one of the most powerful Water Type trainers in the world, and a powerful psychic at that. Blue doesn’t think he’s ready yet: his loss in Pewter still weighs heavily on his mind. But the only way to regain his momentum is to take Misty out in their first fight, to defeat her utterly if he can, with pokemon to spare.

He doesn’t know if that’ll be possible with his current lineup. Gym Leaders select the strength of their pokemon and the complexity of their strategy based on the number of badges their challengers have, but the jump in difficulty between getting one’s first and second badges is much higher than any other. Ideally that wouldn’t be the case, but Leaders would always pull the most punches against someone untested, and showing that you’re capable of beating one of them is enough for the rest to scale back the majority of their safety precautions.

Blue is going to need stronger pokemon before he faces Misty. No, not new ones that would take awhile to train and become familiar with… he’ll need his pokemon to be stronger.

He’ll need some of them to evolve.

“Not interested in seeing the view, Blue?” His attention snaps up to see Leaf smiling at him from the balcony.

“Been here a couple times before with gramps and Daisy.” And apparently once with his parents when he was very young, though he doesn’t remember it as well as Daisy does.

Red drops back into the chair beside him, arms over his head to grip the back of it as he stares up at a highrise they pass. “Did you ever meet Misty?”

“Sort of. We had dinner with her once just after she became Leader. I was pretty young though, don’t think I spoke much.”

“Do you know what her virtue is?” Leaf asks.

“No, like most Leaders, she doesn’t talk about it. But speculation online is that she favors adaptability. Being able to change to sudden circumstances. That or clever use of the environment.”

Red frowns. “Is this an actual thing? You’d think it would be pretty easy to find out about.”

Blue shrugs a shoulder. “To be honest it’s more of a tradition than a rule. Some Leaders probably don’t care as much about it. And it can only give you a path to take for victory. It’s not the only one.”

“Brock trained you in Bide because you demonstrated his, right? Might be worth figuring out, in case she gives you something too.”

“I’ll see what I can learn from her gym members.” The bus enters the city’s main street, stopping to let some people leave and others board. Blue sits up in his seat, watching for the road that will lead to the gym. “The battles themselves might give me some idea.”

A couple stops later, Red and Leaf get off when the bus reaches Cerulean North’s Trainer House. They wish Blue good luck, and agree to meet him for dinner. Blue nods along to whatever suggestions they make, forgetting them a moment later when the bus pulls away. As the gym approaches, all Blue can think about are the upcoming battles.

Pokemon evolve over time as they grow older, but their growth is accelerated when they’re in combat. If he wants to evolve his pokemon, putting them into combat is the best way to do it, but in the wild there’s always the risk of danger. A gym is the best place to get lots of fighting experience safely.

The problem is, that would require Blue switching his pokemon constantly, regardless of efficiency. Not only will it make combat harder, but it would make him appear less skilled than he is, which might make it harder for him to climb the ranks quickly and challenge Misty.

The buildings abruptly fall away to either side as the bus turns a corner, and the coast of Cerulean Bay fills the horizon. Blue stands, hands gripping the seat in front of him, as the gym comes into sight. Unlike Pewter, with its solid walls of imposing grey, Cerulean Gym looks like one giant stadium from the front, round and expanding outward with each floor, metal and glass gleaming in the sunlight.

The sight makes Blue’s heart feel like it’s expanding in his chest, and he smiles as the gym grows to fill his vision. It’s only been a couple weeks since he beat Brock, but an eventful couple weeks, and he feels like it was forever ago. Finally, he’s back where he belongs.

The bus pulls up to the front of the parking lot, and Blue slings his bag over his shoulder and goes down the stairs with the other trainers and tourists. The reception hall is large and ostentatious, with signs pointing to different stadiums and training rooms. At the center is a large aquarium filled with water pokemon, and Blue can’t help but wonder how safe it is, which is of course the point. There are few better ways to showcase how well the gym can train their pokemon than to put a bunch of them on display in a public area and trust that all will be well.

Blue steps up to the aquarium, where an eight or nine year old kid has their face pressed up to the glass. A school of goldeen part around a seadra going in the opposite direction, while on the other side a tentacruel floats serenely by, any pokemon around it giving a wide berth to its many trailing limbs. Defensive pokemon like tentacruel would be the main struggle for him, its Poison typing able to counter Gon’s Grass. If Blue’s forced to use Ion too soon, the shinx wouldn’t be able to take a less defensive pokemon by surprise for a quick knockout.

“Hey!” Blue turns in surprise to find the kid staring at him. “You’re Blue Oak!”

Blue blinks. He hadn’t expected his first fan encounter to be with someone so young. Was he following trainers at that age? He grins. Of course he was. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Wooow, I saw your fight with Brock online! That last attack was so cool, I was scared your squirtle got crushed! Did you know it would be okay the whole time? When did you get to Cerulean? Are you here to challenge Misty?”

Blue finds himself striking a pose without meaning to, shoulders straight and chin up, legs slightly apart. “I’m here to beat Misty. Can I count on your support?”

“Yeah, for sure! Oh man, when are you going to challenge her? I want to be there!”

Blue fights the sudden urge to say something stupid, like Tomorrow. “Well, we’ll see how long it takes me to get through her gym members. Are you going to be in town long?”

“Oh, yeah, I live in Cerulean East. I come here all the time.”

Blue looks around. “You’re not here on a field trip, are you? Why aren’t you at school?”

The kid suddenly hesitates. “I’m here with my… mom. She’s… in the bathroom.”

“Mmhm.” Should he reprimand him? He’s got to set a good example if kids this young are already following him, but hell, who didn’t skip classes now and then? “Don’t worry, I used to do the same all the time.” Blue winks at the sudden look of relief on the kid’s face. “I’ll be sure to post the date of my challenge, so if you keep following me you’ll definitely see it.”

“Alright! I hope you get to her soon!”

“Me too, kid. What’s your name?”

“Dennis!”

“Alright, Dennis. I’m going to start my battles soon. Why don’t you head back to school and pretend you got out of bed late? That way you’re less likely to get in trouble before my match.”

“Yeah, alright! Good luck Blue!”

Blue gives a two finger salute, then heads toward the registration desk feeling lighter than air.

What was it Lance once said? “The path to strength is a path of hardship. To fear failure is to fear becoming strong.” So what if it’s a greater risk? He’s got a bag full of medicine to keep his pokemon fighting, and all day to beat Misty’s subordinates. If he can’t win with a handicap, he can’t prepare for the true challenges ahead.

He knows it’s stupid to feel any more confident just because he met some starstruck fan, but by the time he reaches the counter and slaps his trainer ID down on it, he’s still grinning.

Half an hour later, he’s standing in the first stadium, a basic training room with small arena floating in a pool of water that fills its floor, one pokeball spinning in each hand as he waits for the other door to open.

He already let Maturin test the depth of the brackish water and soak up as much as she could. He used the Pewter gym’s water rooms to train her in aquatic combat as much as he could, but its facilities were much more limited than Cerulean’s. He plans on putting them to good use while he’s here.

The other door opens, and a trainer walks in. Blue stops spinning the balls and stares. “Amy!”

The older teen winks. “Heya Blue. How’s it going?”

“I… what are you doing here?”

“Ouch, right in the ego.” She’s grinning as she mounts her platform and stands opposite him. “I’ve been here for almost a week now. Does that mean you’re not following me?” Amy starts taking out some aquatic training equipment and placing them beside the standard ones hanging on the edge of the railing.

“I am, yeah, I just… I’ve been busy.” And he’d been following her brother Donovan much more closely, only checking in on her a couple times since they left Viridian.

“I know, it was all over the news, same day I beat Misty. Do we need to start coordinating our plans, or can you just agree to not hog all the press with heroics next time I win a badge?”

Blue grins. “We can try, but it wasn’t really something I planned. No promises.”

“Figures. So, let’s do this thing, yeah? I’m sure you’re in a rush to make your mark here too.”

Blue clips and unclips balls around his belt, shoulders tensing. “Ready when you are. What are the rules?”

“Beat me. Go, poliwhirl!” The blue amphibian materializes on the stadium, skin glistening. Its clear stomach shows the swirling pattern of its internal organs before it falls onto all fours, black eyes blinking around. “This is my only decent water pokemon so far,” she explains. “I decided to join the Gym to improve my training of him and my others.”

Blue hesitates, hands hovering over each ball. “So I just have to beat this one?” From what he saw of Amy, she’s a crafty battler. He doesn’t want to underestimate her just because she’s using a single pokemon.

“Yep.”

“And I can use as many pokemon as I want?”

“Standard six. Now quit stalling and summon.”

He smiles. “Right.” That decides it. He reclips Gon’s ball and unclips Zephyr’s. “Go, Zephyr!”

His pidgey comes out standing on the platform, and as Blue catches its ball he sees the look of confusion on Amy’s face. “A flying type? Really?”

“Really.” He takes his whistle out and blows on it, causing his pokemon to take off and begin circling the arena, feeling his attention narrowing to the battlefield. The next time he breathes out, he feels his body calming, heartbeat slow and steady, every nerve ready to react.

Amy frowns, then shrugs and snaps her fingers. Her poliwhirl immediately dives into the water around them, disappearing from sight as Amy expands a metal stick and puts one end in the water, fingers poised over the buttons on the handle. “Good luck hitting him from up there. Ready, set, go!” She presses a button.

Blue whistles the command to dodge, and Zephyr flips into a sideways roll as the poliwhirl bobs up and spits a stream of water at him. Before Blue can make another command the pokemon is gone, and Zephyr continues to circle the arena. Amy keeps clicking buttons, and soon the poliwhirl appears again at the other end of the arena. Zephyr dodges another Water Gun, diving to return the attack only to find the spot of water empty and placid.

Blue whistles again to warn his pokemon away, causing him to climb altitude just as the poliwhirl appears again and shoots. The next few seconds are a rapid series of attacks and dodges, Zephyr skimming the water with his talons just as the poliwhirl ducks under again, only to come up a few meters away to fire back at the spot Zephyr was a moment before.

Blue keeps blowing on the whistle, dodge, attack, climb, left, attack, dodge, circle, trying to catch the poliwhirl with a lucky strike. Amy is focused on the match, but she doesn’t have to do as much, and he can tell from her occasional looks at him that she’s wondering what he’s doing. Her pokemon isn’t going to run out of water any time soon, and it’s faster than pidgey is.

Once Zephyr starts to tire, the shots of water begin to get closer and closer, until one clips his wing and knocks him out of the air. Zephyr recovers quickly, but Blue catches his pokemon with a return beam and quickly sends out Joey. His rattata seems confused, never having been in a stadium or training room before, but as soon as the poliwhirl leaps up from the water for its next attack, Joey dodges to the side without Blue even needing to prompt him.

“What are you doing, Blue?” Amy suddenly asks, drawing his attention to her. One hand is on her hip as she stares at him, brow furrowed. “I know you have two Grass pokemon.”

“You think I’m going to tell you my strategy just like that?” He grins.

She narrows her eyes. “So you do have a strategy? Because from here it looks like you’re not taking me seriously.”

“Nope, totally part of my plan. Promise.”

“I’ll hold you to that. It better be good.” She returns to commanding her poliwhirl, a slight frown still on her face.

Blue has less of a chance to counter her attacks from on land, but a rattata’s reaction speed is better than pidgey’s, and he manages to cleanly dodge each of the poliwhirl’s attacks, which continue to be simple Water Guns. This goes on for for a solid two minutes before Amy speaks again.

“If you think you’re going to lure me onto land, we’ll be here all day. I thought you’d be in a rush to reach Misty, after how quickly you Challenged Brock.”

“Maybe I learned some humility from losing to him,” he says, which makes her snort and command another Water Gun.

Blue is happy to keep dodging as long as he can, but as another minute drags by, he fights the urge to grow complacent. A drop of sweat rolls down his neck as he keeps his eyes on the battlefield, preserving his voice by only giving a few oral commands when needed. There’s no safe spot on the arena to hide, and since Amy’s pokemon can go to either side of the arena in moments, the closer his rattata is to the middle the more time it has to dodge attacks where even a fraction of a second makes a difference.

When Joey’s next dodge brings him closer to the side the poliwhirl is however, Amy presses something different, and her poliwhirl rises out of the water in a small wave. No time to dodge. “Quick Attack!”

His pokemon lashes out and strikes the poliwhirl just before the water crashes down around him, but Amy’s pokemon is too distracted by the strike to follow up properly. As soon as Joey rolls to a stop and shakes himself off, Blue orders another Quick Attack just as Amy sends her poliwhirl back into the water. It turns and shoots a water Gun that Joey just barely has time to dodge.

“Close,” Blue says once Joey is back in the center, ready and waiting. His heart pounds in his throat as he watches his pokemon for any sign of injury.

“Yep. Think your rattata is smart enough to stay away from the edge now?”

“Guess we’ll see.”

Amy grins and sends another volley of attacks at Joey, who does indeed keep more to the middle with his leaps. Blue keeps an eye on the water just in case there’s any obvious amounts of blood from the wound he inflicted, but the wound must have been a shallow one. He wouldn’t win this on a light tap.

Surely her pokemon is getting tired by now? He can’t tell if it’s attacking any slower, but Joey is finally starting to feel the past few minutes of constant movement. Blue watches the shots of water hit closer and closer, and debates trying an attack before Joey gets too slow…

No. Now is the time for patience, not decisive action. He’ll stick to his plan.

It happens a few Water Guns later: the poliwhirl bobs up and spurts a jet that nails Joey square in the face. The rattata’s light body goes tumbling back, and Blue withdraws him immediately. Good job. He reclips the ball, and chooses another.

“If you send out another pokemon that’s just going to dodge over and over, I’m going to just leave and declare you the loser,” Amy says, voice flat.

Blue grins. “No you won’t. You already said all I have to do is beat your poliwhirl. You didn’t give a time limit, and you’re not going to go back on that now.” He hopes. “Go, Zubat!”

This is ridiculous!” Amy glares at him as his pokemon materializes and begins fluttering around the room. “What can you possibly mean to do with that?”

“That’s for me to know, and you to find out.”

She scoffs. “Fine, have it your way.” And with that the fight is on again, the poliwhirl bobbing out of the water to spit a stream at his zubat.

Thankfully it’s as hard to hit as Zephyr was, and has its own projectile of sorts. “Zubat, Supersonic!”

His pokemon hovers in place and sends a tight beam of sound, inaudible to Blue or Amy, at the poliwhirl just as it ducks beneath the water. Blue can’t tell if it was affected or not, the move is unreliable even in the best of circumstances, but now at least he has a chance to fight back.

As the battle continues, Amy becomes visibly more cautious. Her gaze never leaves his pokemon as she presses buttons again and again, directing her poliwhirl around the arena to shoot and duck and circle around again. Blue tries to time the gap between each shot, but she keeps things unpredictable, sometimes coming up just a few seconds later on the same side of the arena, another time staying under for almost a minute before appearing at the corner nearest Blue.

Time is on her side, and she knows it. Her pokemon is in its element, barely using any energy to swim from place to place, more or less at its leisure. Meanwhile, his zubat is fluttering madly about, no stalactites or other objects on the ceilings or walls to rest on, even if that wouldn’t make it a sitting target. Blue begins to wonder if Amy’s also spacing out some of the attacks to let any confusion that might linger from a Supersonic fade. If he’s being optimistic, he can interpret her occasional button pushes that don’t result in anything as her pokemon being too disoriented to follow orders, but she’s also probably just moving it from place to place, or even trying to mislead Blue. He wouldn’t be surprised if some of the buttons on the handle didn’t do anything.

Some would call that paranoid. If there’s one thing Blue has learned from watching a thousand competitive trainers battle, it’s never to underestimate the depths they’ll go to hide their methods and mislead opponents.

He’d like to think he learned the lesson well.

“Zubat, Supersonic!”

Zubat sends another beam of sound down, but instead of dodging away as Blue expected, Amy’s poliwhirl just shoots another Water Gun, then another and another. His zubat is hit by the second and fourth, and Blue quickly withdraws it before looking at Amy’s poliwhirl.

This time its confusion is clear, the pokemon swimming left and right, then turning over to kick its webbed feet into the air for an ineffective dive. Amy keeps pressing the same button over and over, waiting for her pokemon to snap out of it.

This is his chance. But is it time yet? He could send Kemuri out now, get a quick Razor Leaf in…

“Go, Ekans!”

His pokemon appears on the stadium and uncoils. Its tongue flicks out as it gets its bearings, then turns to the poliwhirl still floating in the water. “Acid!”

Amy presses a button, and her pokemon ducks beneath the water. “Seriously?” She asks, hand on a hip. “You’re using your fourth slot for an ekans?”

Blue shrugs. It won’t leave room for Maturin, Gon and Kemuri, but if Blue’s right, he won’t need both of his Grass types. “I’m the one that should be indignant,” he says. “You were faking that confusion, weren’t you?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she asks, pressing a button, and Blue quickly yells for his pokemon to dodge as the poliwhirl attacks again.

Blue smiles. She’s attacking so soon again to prove that she didn’t get lucky with her poliwhirl diving at just the right moment. He’ll likely never know whether her poliwhirl was ever really confused or not, but it wouldn’t have changed his plans if he did.

The battle continues more evenly matched than ever, with Amy’s poliwhirl having to dodge the sprays of acid his ekans shot out of its mouth every time it was attacked. His pokemon isn’t as good at dodging as the others, but he’s able to do some damage before he takes a couple hits and Blue withdraws him. Amy’s poliwhirl has visible burns on its skin from small splashes of acid.

“Two left,” Amy says. “It’s now or never.”

Blue nods. It’s time. “Go, Kemuri!”

Amy presses a button as soon as Blue’s pokemon appears, and when the poliwhirl bobs to the surface, it grips the sides of the arena and stares at the plant pokemon in unwavering concentration.

“Kemuri, dod-”

A beam of white light flash-freezes the ground as it traces a path upward toward Kemuri. Blue’s pokemon reacts too slowly to completely avoid it, and ice covers one of its leafy arms.

Ha. Blue knew she had an ice move just waiting for him to bring out a Grass Type. Now he knows better than to use Gon for his sixth pokemon. The shroomish wouldn’t have stood a chance, with his stubby legs.

As it stands, even Kemuri wouldn’t be able to keep up… but Amy’s poliwhirl is hurt, and must be at least a bit tired by now.

The poliwhirl dives out of sight, then reappears on the other end of the arena, preparing to shoot another beam. This time Kemuri dodges it, and the match becomes a game of whack-a-diglett as Blue’s shiftry leaps from place to place, avoiding Ice Beams and swiping at the poliwhirl with his unfrozen arm. His Leaf Tornado would be practically worthless while it thawed, and Blue is tempted to focus on dodging until it does. But if he gets taken out without doing any damage, Blue would be in a tight spot. He needs to either finish things now, or weaken the poliwhirl enough for Maturin to finish it off.

For now though they appear to be at a stalemate. Each time the poliwhirl tries to fire off another beam, Kemuri reaches it before it can and swipes, forcing it to dive back under. Poliwhirl aren’t naturally capable of ice attacks, which means Amy used a TM to teach it… and while it’s useful to have the wider coverage, especially against Grass types, it would never be as efficient or effective with the attack as an Ice pokemon.

Blue’s pulse jumps as the poliwhirl suddenly shoots out a Bubblebeam on its next surface. A rapid popopopopop fills the stadium as the stream of exploding bubbles strikes Kemuri and slows it down. “Kemuri, d-”

“Poliwhirl, Ice-”

“-odge!”

“-Beam!”

His pokemon abandons its forward momentum and throws itself to the side as the poliwhirl stops its attack and concentrates on another beam of freezing white light. It catches his pokemon in the side, and Blue knows it’s now or never. “Razor Leaf!”

Shivering and half covered in frost, Blue’s pokemon spreads the leaves of one hand and swings it, sending the sharp tips of each flying out like spinning shuriken. Amy’s poliwhirl is just ending its attack when they strike it, and the pokemon immediately ducks under the water, which darkens with its blood.

Blue quickly withdraws his pokemon and waits while Amy taps a button on her controller, pokeball in her other hand. They wait in tense silence for a few moments, and then her poliwhirl jumps out of the water and lands on the stadium, glistening skin retaining most of the water so that barely any drips onto the floor.

Amy hops onto the stadium floor and inspects her pokemon’s wounds. Blue can see the bleeding gashes along its arm and to the side of one bulbous eye. They appear to be superficial wounds, not enough to take it down if this was a real fight in the wild, but…

Amy turns to him. “What have you got left?”

“I was going to use my squirtle,” he says, and wonders if he should mention his shinx. It would make quick work of her pokemon, maybe would have even beat it while it was fresh, but he’d rather not reveal it until he faces Misty, just in case…

Amy deliberates a moment, then nods. “Okay, you win. But I want to know why it took you so long to bring your shiftry out,” she says as she takes out a potion and sprays her poliwhirl’s injuries. She murmurs something to it as she feeds it a poffin, then withdraws her pokemon and leans against the wall of her platform, arms crossed. “Spill.”

Blue feels himself relax as soon as she admits defeat, and leans against his platform railing as his battle calm slowly leaks away, replaced with a giddy relief. “I was partly trying to draw out the match,” he admits. “It was a great chance to give my pokemon some combat experience.” Part of him is a little disappointed he didn’t get a chance to send Maturin out. “But there was more to it than that. I watched your fight with Misty, and I knew I had to test for a range of attacks. I didn’t want you surprising me with a reverse coverage move the way you did her.”

The corner of her mouth twitches upward. “I thought you said you weren’t following me?”

He grins. “Those were your words, I just said I’ve been busy. But not too busy to watch Misty’s most recent battles, considering my plans to challenge her and all. I didn’t know you stayed after, that was an actual surprise, but I was happy to let you assume it also meant I didn’t see your battle.”

“Hmph. Well, as irritating as it was, you definitely earned the victory.” She cocks her head a bit, considering him. “You’ve got what it takes to go far, Blue. I look forward to seeing your Challenge.”

Her calculating look strongly reminds him of his sister. The two of them would probably get along, now that he thinks of it. Daisy tends to treat him like a kid more often than not, but once he shows his competence in an area, she respects him as an equal, more or less. It’s something he appreciates. “Thanks. For the match, too.”

“No problem. You going to hit the pokemon center?”

“No, I’ll be ready for the next battle in a minute.”

She raises a brow, but doesn’t comment. “Alright, I’ll go let them know. Good luck.”

Blue sits down and opens his bag, taking potion and ether bottles out so he can start healing his pokemon up for their next opponent.


Red sits cross-legged on his bed at the Trainer House, eyes closed and earphones on. The soothing sound of the ocean rushing against the shore fills his ears, and he can almost feel the hot sand and sunlight, almost smell the salt as he imagines himself on the beach…

Wait, no, he’s supposed to be focusing on his breathing. He banishes all thoughts of the beach and just focuses on drawing air in slowly through his nose… but now memories of going to the beach crowd in, playing in the sand with the Oaks or walking between his mom and dad along the beach, his small hands in theirs… His mom’s face, so happy, and his dad, looking at him with love-

Red’s eyes snap open. He sighs, and he reaches out to stop the sound loop playing on his phone before searching for a new one. Again.

It’s been two hours since he checked into the Trainer House with Leaf and came up to claim a bed. She said she was going to buy a laptop, then go around town talking to the locals. Red was curious what she was up to, but just agreed to talk to her later. He was eager to try meditating again, this time without distractions. Unfortunately, after doing some basic practice with an audio guide’s voice, he was failing at doing it on his own, which the websites for practicing sensitives insisted was necessary.

He already went through various online suggestions: acoustic music, which he found too distracting, the sound of rain and far-off thunder, which made him sleepy, and the crackle of a fireplace, which brought back more memories of camping with his dad.

Meditation never worked for Red before. He couldn’t stop the racing thoughts that ran through his head long enough to relax or clear his mind… despite his therapist telling Red he wasn’t actually supposed to clear his mind, that that was impossible. How did she put it?

Imagine a river,” his therapist said, sitting in lotus position across from him. “It is your mind. In it, your consciousness, the thing that you call Red,” she extended a finger and touches it between Red’s eyes, “is the fish that swims surrounded by its water, your thoughts. You swim sometimes left or right, up or down… but you follow the river’s flow, barely aware of it. Only when you try and resist the current and swim upstream are you fully conscious of the effect the river has on your behavior.”

So, meditation is going to help me control the current?”

No, that is impossible. The river is you, but its current is shaped by things that are not you. The riverbank, the rocks in the earth, the rains. You cannot control the world around you. You can only react. While our eyes are closed, and we focus on our breathing, you will think random thoughts. You will hear things that draw your attention. A door closing in another office, or a phone ringing. They will distract you, return you to the river’s flow. Your job is to stay above the current. To sit on a rock in its waters, letting them flow around you, through you, wet without being submerged. When a thought flows by, pick it up, examine it… then let it go. Return to your breathing, your awareness of your body, and you will be at peace, no matter how the river rages.”

Red drums his fingers on his knee, then decides to give it a shot. He queues up a looping river soundtrack, and soon his ears are filled with the babbling of a brook, and the soft sigh of the wind through leaves above. When no memories immediately intrude, Red closes his eyes and tries to focus on his breathing again.

Breathe in… He draws the cool air into his lungs, slowly, counting to three.

Breathe out… He feels it exit his nose in a steady trickle, over the course of another three seconds.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

This is dumb.

The thought comes unbidden, despite his desire to focus on the meditation. Red finds it frustrating that even without intrusive memories, his mind is still offering up distractions.

Breathe in…

I should be working on getting published.

Breathe out…

Or just training with one of my po-no, focus!

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Red is suddenly aware that his left foot is a bit uncomfortable, tucked under his right knee the way it is. He adjusts it slightly, then tries to go back to the breathing. Focus on the feeling of air moving through your nose and lungs. Nothing else. Just feel that.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

The sound of the river is calming. He can almost picture himself there, and decides to do exactly that. First just the river, its banks green and surrounded by forest. Then he places a big, mostly flat rock in the middle of the river, just large enough for a boy to sit on it. He watches the water split around it, lapping occasionally at the edges. Finally he places himself on the boulder, sitting as he imagines he looks now.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Without audio or visual distraction, he’s able to focus entirely on his thoughts and sensations. The feeling of his shirt on his skin, the pressure on his lower legs, the soft pillow against his back. His mind keeps wandering to Blue and Leaf and his mom and Professor Oak and Daisy and his dad, but in a way that gets more and more diffuse, easy for him to ignore and refocus on his breathing.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Eventually he feels like he’s as focused as he’s going to get, and starts ramping up his awareness. First he focuses on the crown of his head, and, imagining a ring of light, slowly traces it down to his neck, heightening his awareness of each part it passes. When it reaches his mouth he feels his tongue stuck to the roof of it, and relaxes his jaw to let it fall. It feels strange though, and after a moment he realizes he stopped moving the ring down, too distracted by the odd sensation of forcing his tongue to find a comfortable position so he can’t constantly feel it.

He sighs and opens his eyes again. There are a couple others in the room with him, one lying on their bed and reading, the other talking on their phone. Red considers taking an earplug out to hear what they’re saying, then banishes the impulse as sheer nosiness born from akrasia.

He forces himself to close his eyes and try again, picturing the river, the rock, himself, returning to his slow, steady breaths. This time when the ring reaches his mouth, he just lets it fall open a little, leaving his tongue in a comfortable and unobtrusive position.

Unfortunately now he keeps thinking of how he looks to anyone passing by, who would probably think he fell asleep. He almost closes his mouth, then decides against it. What should he care what strangers think?

…But now he’s busy thinking that just thinking about how he shouldn’t be distracted by what other people are thinking is distracting hi-

Breathing, focus on the breathing. In… out… in… out…

He finally moves the ring of light farther down, past his chin and neck, over his chest. He becomes aware of his heart beating, and even more aware of the expansion of his lungs, before his stomach starts to distract him. It’s been a few hours since breakfast, and he’s getting a bit hungry…

Red tries to move past the sensation, but now his mind keeps wondering what he’ll have for lunch, and whether he should ask Leaf to join him, and if he should try again when he’s full. After five minutes he decides to start all over, returning to his breathing, then imagining the river, then starting the ring of light at his head and moving it down his ne-

Bing!

Red’s eyes snap open as the river sound is interrupted by the received message alert. He sighs and checks it, surprised for a moment to see that over an hour has passed since he began meditating.

His irritation vanishes when he realizes the email is from a publishing journal interested in his study.

Trainer Red,

We found your paper on the research boards looking for peer review and publication. We find your hypothesis and results fascinating, and would like to volunteer our services. If you find this agreeable, please contact us at your earliest convenience.

Yours Truly,

Advanced Research Publications

Red grins as he starts composing a response. He cautions himself not to be too optimistic, but still, it’s hard to be less excited at the prospect that today he might get his Researcher’s license. Well, not today, but from a chain of events that start today.

Once he sends his response, Red grabs a snack bar from his bag and starts munching on it as he paces, thoughts of lunch with Leaf forgotten. He notices the odd looks from the others in the room and goes out into the hallway to pace instead, checking his phone every so often even though he knows it will alert him when one arrives.

He’s looking at his screen when it does, and his grin slowly fades as he reads it. He stares for a moment, thumbs hesitating over the response keyboard. He starts typing a few times, only to delete what he wrote a few words in, until he finally just calls the number in the email signature.

“Hello, Advanced Research Publications, how may I direct your call?”

“Hi. Uh. I got an email about interest in publishing my paper, and had a few quest-”

“Please hold.”

Red listens to the waiting music with a slight frown, and continues pacing the hall. After a moment he realizes he’s still holding his snack bar and tucks it in his pocket. Of course it was all too good to be true. But still, he has to know for sure…

“Hello, this is Donald, how can I help you?”

“Hi. I’m Red Verres, I received an email about publishing my paper… I had some questions, if you wouldn’t mind?”

“Okay Red, give me one moment…” Red hears typing, and stops pacing so he can lean against the wall as he waits. “Yeees, I see. Well, what did you want to know, Red?”

“The email, it asked for… money. A lot. I just wanted to clarify, is this a submission fee, or a publication fee?” Please say publication…

“Submission, but I can assure you that we only send such offers to those we have great confidence in reaching our standards.”

“Are the offers made post peer review?” What an odd order of operation…

“No, technically that will still need to be done. But if you’re worried, we offer a very dynamic review process. And if the submission fee is a bit too high, we offer reductions if you have volunteer reviewers that will work with us.”

Red blinks. “I’m sorry, I don’t know if I heard that right. Did you just say volunteer reviewers? I pick them? To review my own paper?”

“Absolutely. We at ARP believe in an open access scientific community.”

“So I can just have my two friends submit their reviews?”

“As long as they have a Researcher’s license, we welcome their expertise.”

“Oh, well, that makes everything better.” Red clenches his teeth and takes a calming breath. It does help, but not by much. He holds out hope that maybe this isn’t as bad as he thought. “So is this submission fee in lieu of a publishing fee?”

“There is a minor publishing fee too, as we’re not subscription based. Our papers are offered free for all on our website, to ensure that your research has the highest chance of being read and cited.”

Red relaxes a little. That’s a bit more reasonable, then… and he does want people to read it, after all. “Well, how much is the publishing fee?”

“Eight hundred. But you can pay it in installments, and if you agree to review papers for our journal, we can reduce it for each journal you review, down to three hundred.”

Red’s hand rises to cover his eyes. “Because once I get published, I’ll have my Researcher license, and can review others to get their papers published too.”

“Exactly! If you’d like to submit your paper with reviewers, I can go ahead and email you the proper forms. If you have trouble finding reviewers, we can put you in contact with some who-”

“Yeah, sure, just email me whatever. Thanks.” Red hangs up and sighs. Thanks for not getting my hopes up, Past Red.

Anytime, Future Red.

Red feels like complaining to someone, and squashes the impulse to call his mom or Professor Oak. Leaf might be more acceptable, but he doesn’t want to distract her from her work. Instead he simply goes back to his room and finishes his snack bar as he lies on his bed and renews his search for journals to submit to. Journals that aren’t pyramid schemes churning out unvetted papers.

After Red submits to a few more places, he considers trying meditation again, and instead decides to scroll through recent research discoveries. There are some neat findings on different metal compositions in “Steel” Type pokemon that keep him engrossed for an hour, which leads him to some of the latest papers on interregional pokemon diversity. Red thinks back to his conversation with Professor Oak about there being no psychic rattata, and his recent readings about sensitives versus psychics.

Of course, it’s possible for there to be rather large differences in pokemon from different regions. Over millennia, natural selection is a powerful force for change. There may be no rattata that are Psychic Types, but in the Alolan islands there are Dark ones. Not just that, their raichu are Psychic, their exeggutor aren’t, their meowth are Dark, and their marowak have powers normally associated with Ghost Type pokemon. The regional differences there prove that whatever trait causes pokemon to become a type like Psychic or Dark can be introduced into a genetic pool, or manifest after enough mutation.

Red thinks of pokemon like noctowl and spinarak, who have some limited psychic powers, but aren’t considered Psychic Types. Maybe someday, somewhere in the world they’ll have developed what rudimentary powers they have, and be considered full Psychic Types.

If so, Red hopes whoever discovers them has the sense to call them something new. He wonders if researchers like Darwin debated what to call them when they discovered such variations in their travels. Red’s not sure why the alternate evolutions from Alola are still called “raichu,” “exeggutor,” “marowak” and “meowth,” rather than given their own names like others, such as gallade and froslass.

Semantic confusion aside, discovering his own variation would make for an amazing discovery. Journals would pay him to publish that paper.

Red takes out his notebook and makes a reminder to read more into pokemon breeding. If he can identify the strongest psychics in spinarak populations, maybe he can breed the first ever Bug/Psychic spinarak.

He could start reading about it now, but he has enough on his plate. With reluctance, he puts such thoughts aside and gets back to work on his abra plan. He starts drafting proposals to put on the city’s message boards to attract other trainers.

What really irks him is that he’s going to have to share the method with others. It would get out eventually, he knew, and it should, if it would lead to more people being able to catch and study abra. But it would have been nice to get some exclusive benefit out of the idea first, instead of sharing it with a dozen others, aside from Leaf and Blue.

But then, is that really necessary? Surely they don’t need a dozen. Red abandons his current draft and decides to work out exactly how many people it would take to safely enact.

He quickly realizes that while stronger trainers would require less of them, they would still need a lot of them in any case just to cover the full area necessary. What he needs is to find a place that doesn’t need so much caution, so that more trainers aren’t necessary. Or even a place near a Ranger Outpost around Cerulean Bay, where the abra are found…

Something tugs at Red’s memory. Blue. Something Blue said, recently. About abra? No, about the area. Land around Cerulean Bay is incredibly expensive to own, and a lot of it to the west is untamed, while the north…

The north.

Red sits up and calls Professor Oak.

“Hello Red! I was just going to have lunch, do you mind if I call you back?”

“No problem Professor, but I just have a quick question.”

“Yes?”

“I need to talk to Bill.”


“Thank you!” Leaf waves at the taxi as it makes a u-turn, driving off back down the singular road that goes all along Cerulean Bay. Beside her, Red looks around at the verdant fields on one side of them and the shocking blue of the water on the other. He can just make out the mountains from here, those around Moon to the west and the smaller range to the north.

“This place is so pretty,” Leaf says as the wind whips her hair back. She raises a hand to shove her hat down more securely, and slowly turns to take it all in. “I’m surprised more people don’t live here.”

“I guess that’s one of the perks to being able to afford all this land.” Red steps off the road and onto the small path through the long grass. In the distance, he can just make out a building that looks far too wide to be a single person’s house. “Lack of neighbors, if you don’t want them.”

“Makes you wonder why he invited you.” Leaf sprays herself with some repellant, then offers it to Red, who does the same. “I mean I’m happy to come along, but couldn’t you guys just talk on the phone?”

“Once he knew what I wanted, he insisted.” Red shrugs. “I’m just happy to get to meet him.”

They make their way toward the house, which slowly resolves itself into several distinct shapes. Technically the house can be referred to as a cottage, relatively small and quaint looking, but it’s connected to so many wider, more modern buildings around it that the whole thing can easily be referred to as complex. Red spots a proximity sensor stuck in the ground to their left as they get within a kilometer of it, and wonders what Bill does if there’s a real threat in the area. From what he understands, the tech-genius has never distinguished himself as a particularly powerful trainer.

They just reach the clearing around the buildings when Leaf suddenly grabs Red’s arm and pulls him to a stop. “Red, look!

Red follows her finger, and feels his heart jump into his throat. In the distance, right near the front door of one of the side buildings, there’s the unmistakable pink and fluffy form of a clefairy. The squat bipedal pokemon is just standing there, and Red quickly grabs a pokeball out of his pocket.

“Should we summon something?” he whispers.

“Might scare it off,” she says, holding her own pair of pokeballs now. “You go left.”

He nods, and the two split off to either side, moving slowly and quietly. Red can hear his heartbeat as he takes step after careful step forward, the wind threatening to blow his cap off as he stays carefully upwind of the pokemon.

Won’t matter, their hearing is much stronger than their smell, maybe Leaf should summon her Wigglytuff after all…

But the clefairy continues to just stand there as they approach, and Red gets close enough to see it’s looking right at him. He freezes, waiting for Leaf to approach it from the other side, when suddenly-

“About time. What took you guys so long?”

Red stares.

Leaf stares.

The wind blows Red’s hat off, and he doesn’t move.

The clefairy is still looking directly at him, voice surprisingly loud considering the distance between them, and all too human.

“Come on in, I need your help with something.” It turns and starts walking toward the front door.

Red stares after it, then turns slowly to Leaf, whose face is as blankly shocked as he imagines his is. It feels like his brain is broken. His mouth moves silently for a moment, then can only emit a flat, calm, “What.”

 

Chapter 34: Redefining Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay, kid?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If it takes you a try or two…”

“Or three…”

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

“Or two…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“From birth.”

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

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

“A clever plan.”

“Tried and true?”

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

“Sooo, it’s more of an experiment.”

“Yes. A clever experiment.”

“Uh oh,” Blue mutters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue raises a hand. “I’m not.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’d you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmm. Alright, first questi-”

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

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

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

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

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

“Waaay ahead of you, buddy.”


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

Of course not, Professor!”

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

I… Yeah. I knew that. Obviously.”

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

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

Don’t make me call your mother.”


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

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

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


“We can’t help you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf smiles. “To be fair-”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, alright.”

“Yeah, alright.” Red’s mood darkens as he thinks of the long night and day he has ahead of him of continuing his attempts to get his research published.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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