Tag Archives: fanfiction

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.”

Chapter 33: Interlude V – Double Binds

The coliseum was colder than she imagined, colder than she thought she could endure. Hail pelted her thick coat and bounced off hastily donned goggles. Harsh winds tore words from lips made numb by their assault. The metal of her pokeballs bit at her fingers with icy teeth. And all the while, she grinned until her cheeks felt frozen in their new position.

She had thought she was ready. She had thought she was prepared for any obstacle, any twist.

She never imagined that Elite Lorelei would schedule their Challenge match during a blizzard, on top of an indoor glacier.

Misty had never felt so alive.

Remember, you may forfeit at any time,” Lorelei said in her ear before the battle began. “I will not call the match if one of your pokemon is killed.”

Misty responded by sending her poliwrath out to pummel the Elite’s opening cloyster. Its shell was hard as steel, but just as vulnerable to her pokemon’s precise, powerful strikes. Her poliwrath shrugged off its returned attacks and eventually took it down, which began a flurry of swaps and trades. A jynx took down her poliwrath with a mental blast, then got felled itself by Misty’s jellicent. Lorelei sent out a weavile, but Misty was ready with the withdraw this time. Wishing she still had her poliwrath, Misty sent her blastoise out to tank the sweeper. Her pokemon was able to hold its own for a while, unable to land a solid blow but protected by its thick shell, but the hailstorm was slowly wearing it down, and Misty finally ordered a Body Slam to try and catch the weavile by surprise.

Her pokemon fell onto all fours and thrust itself forward like a battering ram, but slipped on the ice of the glacier and veered a bit to the side. The weavile nimbly flipped itself out of the way, then dashed in for another attack-

-until her blastoise spun on its belly and aimed a cannon right at it for a full on Hydro Pump.

Lorelei didn’t miss a beat, and sent a lapras out that took her blastoise down with a thunderbolt. Misty quickly sent out her starter and lifelong friend, Celest. She grinned as her starmie easily outsped the lapras and hit it with psychic blasts until it was withdrawn, Recovering to heal from the returned electric attacks.

Her first Challenge against the Elite Four, and she was already ahead of the game, with four pokemon against Lorelei’s remaining three. Lorelei may have been a master of Ice pokemon, but Misty had always favored Water types herself, and was more than prepared for the environment and matchup.

A shard of hail slid down her neck, making her shudder and chilling her overconfidence. She mentally directed Celest into the water around them, then linked their minds. Years of training with her starmie allowed her to seamlessly interpret the pokemon’s bizarre senses and alien thoughts. If Lorelei sent out a non-aquatic pokemon, Celest could do hit and runs attacks from the safety of the water, and if the Elite sent out an aquatic pokemon she wouldn’t be able to follow the battle or command her pokemon as well as Misty. With a mental nudge, Celest began rotating around the glacier at high speed as the two surveyed their surroundings through the starmie’s psychic field and waited for Lorelei’s next move.

Lorelei lifted an aquascope from behind her platform walls and walked to the edge of the ice before sending her dewgong into it. She sent the long metal pole of the scope into the water and began fiddling with the controls, moving the camera at its bottom to follow the action as she began sending commands to her pokemon through high frequency clicks.

So much for that idea, Misty thought as she hastily ordered her pokemon to construct a Light Screen. Dewgong’s Water and Ice attacks would be ineffective against Celest, whose ability to naturally cure status effects would help in the outside chance that she was frozen, but the dewgong’s Signal Beam would be especially effective against the psychic starfish.

Instead the dewgong thrust itself at Celest horn first. Misty gasped and doubled over in pain as they were hit by three hundred pounds of blubber sheathed muscle. She quickly commanded Celest to construct a kinetic Barrier around itself as she slowly straightened. Her starmie wouldn’t be able to take another hit like that: she hadn’t expected Lorelei to train her dewgong as a physical attacker, and now the tempo of the battle was on the Elite’s side.

The dewgong hammered Celest again, but its attack was dampened by the Barrier, and Celest just barely clung onto consciousness. Misty ordered Celest to Recover, and her torn flesh began to close and heal, just a hair faster than Lorelei could undo with the next attack. She kept up the assault regardless, and Misty kept Celest in recovery mode, bearing the shared pain through gritted teeth. Once Celest was fully healed she would be strong enough to take a couple hits in a row as she struck back-

Misty felt Celest’s Light Screen fading and saw the trap a second before it was sprung. A second was enough time to react, enough time to command Celest at the speed-of-thought to stop healing and refresh the Light Screen. But with either action equally likely to end in ruin, indecision decided for her.

The Light Screen faded just as Celest finished fully recovering, and in that instant a new pitch of clicks spread through the water. The dewgong blasted Celest with a beam of discordant sound, causing Misty to clutch at her head as the psychic connection broke. She blinked spots out of her eyes as she tried to fight down her panic. Celest was down there, alone and injured… she reached out with her mind to try and re-establish a connection, but sensed nothing but pain and confusion from her starmie.

Misty still had three other pokemon. She could accept the loss of Celest and still use her next three to try for a victory. But that would mean letting her starter stay down there and get pummeled into unconsciousness, or worse-

I forfeit!” she yelled, and within seconds the machines generating the hailstorm shut down as the audience filled the stadium with noise. Misty rushed to the edge of the glacier, stripping off anything water sensitive and taking out her headset before diving into the icy water. She kicked down until she spotted Celest and unclipped its dive ball to return it.

As she kicked back to the surface and climbed onto the glacier, she knew her attempts at becoming Champion were done. Years spent preparing and she had choked in the very first match against the League, had thrown the battle rather than risk harm to her pokemon. Someone so soft could never be Champion. Her hand caressed Celest’s cold ball as she walked to the bridge leading off the glacier, chin held high for the cameras as her spirit withered within her.

Later, as she sat alone outside the Indigo Plateau compound, Lorelei found her. Misty didn’t know how, didn’t question it. She simply continued staring up at the stars as the Elite sat on the bench beside her. They shared a silent handful of minutes before the older woman spoke.

You did a noble thing in there. I hope you’re not still beating yourself up over it.”

Misty didn’t respond, not trusting her voice. Pity was something she wasn’t sure she could take right now, though she wasn’t sensing any from the surface of Lorelei’s thoughts. The woman’s mind was tranquil as a falling snowflake.

“I’ve been following your trainer profile for a while, you know.”

That got her attention. “I never saw-” Misty stopped herself. Of course Champions and The Four would use fake accounts to follow random trainers. She found herself blushing at the thought of an Elite spending time personally watching her journey, and cursed her weakness for the dozenth time.

Lorelei smiled, far warmer than any she showed in the arena. “You have a good heart. A good head, too. That defense of Cerulean Bay? Masterful.”

That was… a group effort.”

As far as the media portrayed it, yes, but those with the proper channels can learn more personal stories. From my understanding, everyone on the north coast of the city owes their life to you.”

Misty’s face was red as her hair now, and she knew it was ruining her attempt to glare at Lorelei. “Do you give this pep talk to all the failed challengers?”

Just the ones I think have potential.”

Potential for what? Champion?”

To make a difference.”

Misty frowned. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I wasn’t about to throw myself off a cliff or become a hermit or anything.”

Lorelei shook her head. “Not good enough. By this time next year, if you’re not someone’s Second or a Director for CoRRNet, I’ll be very disappointed.”

Misty was ready to get pissed again, but the words stuck in her throat. Gym Second? It’s not that she never considered it, but she’s not Leader material. She has no deep ties to any communities, never joined a Gym… hell, she spent half of her journey travelling alone because she preferred it to being around others. “Where would I…?”

The Elite stretched and got to her feet. “That’s up to you, dear. I just wanted to make sure you don’t waste a single day stuck on this. You had to come here. And you had to lose. To learn something about yourself, down to your core. And to find something new to strive for. That was part of your journey, not the end of it.”

Misty hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, I get that. I… thank you, Elite.”

Call me Lorelei.”


The crowd erupts in cheers as Misty’s wartortle is knocked out. “Nice job,” she says into her mic with a grin, then switches its output to the stadium speakers as she withdraws her pokemon. “Well done, Challenger. I only have three pokemon left, which means we’re entering our Lightning Round. What do you say to picking up the pace a bit?”

The young woman on the opposite end of the arena leans against the railing of her platform. “I remain ready to beat you at twice the speed, Leader, or even thrice it if you’d like.”

The audience gives a collective “oooh” as Misty laughs. She likes this Challenger. In the past week of battling Misty’s Gym members, Amy has shown herself to be a competent trainer with a good sense of humor and showmanship. She would fit right in at Cerulean, if she decides to stay.

But that doesn’t mean Misty’s going to make getting her badge easy for the girl. “Thrice the speed it is! Referees, prepare the buzzers! If either of us spends more than half a second without a pokemon out, the match will be forfeit. Ready? Set! Go, Nomo!”

Her quagsire appears on a sand island between their two raised platforms. The two are surrounded by water, and beyond that the open ocean to the north and Cerulean City to the south. Her gym was built just off the beach of Cerulean Bay, with various stadiums constructed at natural points along the coast. Their audience sits in raised bleachers of easily transported plastic and aluminum, and the arena has no roof, opening their battle to the sky.

Amy withdraws her raichu as Nomo sends a Mud Slap at it, and replaces it with an ivysaur who sends Razor Leaves back at the tentacruel Misty replaces her quagsire with. The Gym Leader’s hands never stop moving, withdraw and summon and switch and withdraw and summon and switch, as she and her challenger shout commands.

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

“Modius, Psyshock!”

“Ruby, Night Slash!”

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

“Tetra, Razor Leaf!”

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

Tentacruel against hypno against crawdaunt against skuntank against quagsire against ivysaur until Misty’s back to her tentacruel, who narrowly misses the Challenger’s ivysaur with her beam as Amy replaces it with her hypno again. Their pokemon are slowly worn down from the constant attacking and switching into hits that were aimed at others.

Misty already took down Amy’s butterfree and tangela, but crawdaunt, tentacruel and quagsire are Misty’s last three pokemon, while Amy still has the raichu she used to knock out Misty’s wartortle. If Misty loses her quagsire Nomo, she’ll have no check against the Electric Type. But being Water/Ground means Amy’s ivysaur would massacre it if she keeps it in play. Misty needs to take out the ivysaur to have a chance.

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

Tentacruel into ivysaur, crawdaunt into hypno, quagsire into skuntank, ivysaur, tentacruel, hypno, crawdaunt, skuntank, quagsire, ivysaur, tentacruel, hypno, crawdaunt, skuntank, quagsire… throw, catch, swap, throw, catch, swap, never more than half a second between one getting withdrawn and the next coming out, setting the pattern, establishing expectation, then-

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

Misty swaps Nomo in to tank the poisonous sludge again, but when Amy moves to withdraw her pokemon in anticipation of the next attack, Misty waits for the ball to leave her hand and immediately withdraws her quagsire and sends her tentacruel out instead.

Amy has less than half a second to decide to either summon her ivysaur into the trap or refuse to voice the command and forfeit. In truth no time to make a new decision at all, only to continue hers or let indecision decide.

“Go, Tetra!”

The ivysaur materializes, and its ball rockets back toward its owner. As Misty speaks her next command, half the eyes in the stadium follow it. One of the camera crew (probably Kara, whose reaction speed is superb) actually tracks it on a big monitor as everyone waits to see if Amy can return her pokemon fast enough.

“Osu, Ice Beam!”

“Tetra, return!”

The stadium erupts as the wavering white-blue light hits the ivysaur and immediately covers its skin and plants in frost before its pokeball’s red beam connects to withdraw it. The rapid battle resumes with barely a missed beat, but now Misty’s just waiting for the ivysaur to come back out, weakened and ready to be picked off.

“Go, Modius, Psyshock!”

“Ruby, Night Slash!”

“Pepen, Sludge Bomb!”

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

The ivysaur returns and is hit by the earthy projectile, but this time it’s too hurt to shrug it off and stumbles, patches of frost making its movements stiff.

“Tetra, Mega Drain!”

Oh no you don’t. “Go, Osu!”

Her tentacruel materializes just as in time for the ivysaur to begin sapping its life… and instead the plant pokemon staggers away, veins filled with a poison even its own can’t combat.

“Tetra, return!”

Three to three now, but the battle is decided. Misty plays conservatively, scoring free hits every time Amy is forced to swap in her raichu by using Nomo to negate its attacks. Little by little Misty’s pokemon catch up in the war of attrition… until Amy takes her own gamble.

“Luxi, Slam!”

The raichu dashes forward and throws its weight into Nomo, who’s already nearing the end of his endurance.

“Nomo, Mud Slap!”

“Luxi, Quick Attack!”

The pokemon duke it out for a few tense seconds, and then Nomo falls and doesn’t get back up.

“Nomo, return! Go, Osu!”

“Luxi, Thunderbolt!

“Osu, Acid!”

Electricity crackles, sending her tentacruel’s many limbs flailing until it lies still, but the raichu squeals in pain as it rolls in the dirt. Amy quickly withdraws it, and sends her skuntank out against Misty’s newly summoned crawdaunt.

“Poison Jab!”

“Crab Hammer!”

“Sludge Bomb!”

“Bubblebeam!”

Down goes the skuntank, and now the stadium is deathly quiet as Amy sends her Psychic pokemon out against Misty’s Water/Dark.

“Ruby, Night Slash!” Her pokemon rushes forward to deliver the final blow, safe in its immunity and trusting its thick shell to take any physical attacks the hypno tries-

“Modius, Focus Blast!”

The stadium explodes with noise and Misty stares in shock as the psychic pokemon drops its pendulum, cups its palms toward the onrushing crawdaunt… and with a sudden tensing of its body, causes her pokemon to collapse.

Trained psychic though she is, Misty couldn’t make out the attack. She knows others who claim the move looks like a blinding sphere of blue light, a bullet of ki that blows its opponent’s “energy” all out of balance, but to her it was just a gesture.

Regardless, the results are clear, and Misty quickly withdraws her pokemon. “Congratulations, Challenger!” she says, voice drowning out the crowd over the speakers. “An absolutely masterful surprise attack, kept hidden until the perfect moment! Cerulean Gym hereby recognizes you, Amy Brennan, with the Cascade Badge, for demonstrating adaptability and quick thinking to surprising circumstances. Your journey will place you in many environments, present you with many choices. May what you’ve learned at our gym and our city keep you safe from life’s unexpected tides.”


Misty hops off Nessa as the lapras brings her to the shore at the bottom of the cliffs, then pats her pokemon’s long blue neck and withdraws her. She’s on one of the few patches of sand sloping up to form a beach, and waves crash against the rocks to either side as she walks up the dunes and makes her way to the southern side of the cliffs above her.

After meeting with Amy for some private congratulations and a membership offer to her gym, Misty got a message from her Second asking her to come to the cliffs northwest of Cerulean City. Ariya reported that she found a new cave that wasn’t on any maps, and Misty asked her Second to wait so she could take a quick rest and join her in investigating.

The climb from the beach to the cliffs is rough, but the view from the top is worth it. Mount Moon rises up to the west and Cerulean City stretches out to the southeast. She can just see Nugget Bridge to the east, but the curving path around the cliff quickly obscures it. The wind carries the salt of the ocean up to her as it crashes against the cliffs below.

The walk is a bit longer than Ariya suggested, but the refreshing breeze and gorgeous scenery holds Misty over until the path takes a sharp curve around the cliff face and trails down to a small plateau. Ariya is there with her feraligatr Renekton out, both facing a massive, uneven hole in the rocks.

Misty’s Gym doesn’t have a formal dress code, but if anyone could convince her to institute one, it would be her Second. Today Ariya is dressed in black fishnet leggings, a side slit mini-skirt, and a tank top that bares her midriff. It’s not the immodesty that bothers Misty, who regularly wears swimsuits to challenge matches and some public appearances, but the lack of protective clothing in the field, and the influence it might have on the younger, more impressionable trainers more interested in looking cool than protecting themselves. At least Ariya’s boots are always serviceable.

“Big,” Misty says upon reaching them.

“Told you. I’m thinking a rhydon, tried to bust through and caused the rest to collapse. Problem is, no rubble.”

Misty walks over to the cliff and looks down. “Rocks must have been blown clear, fell into the sea. No blast marks either?”

“Nope. This is how I found it.”

“Have Dorin check for any reports of people hearing explosions anyway.”

Arya nods and sends a quick text before tucking her phone back away. “Would have to be in the past few days. The last satellite mapped this area a week ago. No hole.”

“Convenient. Ready?”

“After you, fearless Leader.”

Misty sprays herself with a can of repel, then summons Celest and mentally orders the starmie to lift itself into the air as they enter the cavern. With another mental command the red jewel at her center blazes bright and gives Misty and Ariya their first look inside.

The hole was punched through the wall of a wide cavern stretching off to their right and left. The ground slopes down straight ahead into water, with stalactites and stalagmites giving it the appearance of a hungry mouth.

“Cheerful,” Ariya says. “I’ll take the left path.”

“No, we’re sticking together. This is a solutional cave.” Misty walks over to the wall and runs her fingers over it. “Limestone. Acids in the water dissolve it and cause it to drip over time, which forms the stalas.”

“Right, I knew that.”

Misty smiles. “Point is, it’s not some new tunnel dug by pokemon. It took centuries to form. I think we’re in a natural habitat.”

“Ahh, shit. Think there are other exits?”

“If there were before I think we would have found out by now. Better check though. Right first.”

They make their way through the cave slowly, stepping around the rough protrusions in the ground as their pokemon take up the front and rear. Renekton is surprisingly light-footed, scales making the lightest of rasps against the ground as he steps with a lazy reptilian grace. Misty keeps an empty pokeball in one hand. She splits her attention between her footing and using Celest’s massively stronger psychic senses to look out for threats. Pokemon flicker by in her peripheral awareness, most underneath them in the water, some others above them through the ceiling, where apparently the cave extends upward.

The tunnel twists and turns and splits multiple times, giving them glimpses of wider caverns full of water and small islands of rock, boulder filled trenches, and whole tunnels filled with veins of gleaming ore. Misty keeps them moving, turning aside from any sense of pokemon in the distance and taking only the right sides at forks.

Before long however they sense pokemon directly ahead, and without another path to turn to. A nest of golbat and zubat roost above. Most are asleep, but some are merely dozing, curious about the sounds the Leader and her Second make, loud as shouts to their sensitive ears. The repel confuses their sense of smell, but there’s no disguising the warm blood beneath their skin. Though Celest has no way to interpret the sensory input she’s receiving, Misty can almost feel the saliva pool in the golbat’s elastic mouths, and it takes a moment for her to realize she can hear it falling in a steady patter up ahead.

She holds a hand up to pause Ariya, heart pounding. If it wasn’t for Renekton’s looming, dangerous presence, the roost might have attacked by now. Misty and Celest make their way back, past Ariya and Renekton, and begin leading them back to the entrance. After five minutes Ariya whispers, “What was it?”

“Golbat, a lot of them. This place is definitely a habitat, and not a new one.”

They take the path back to the entrance, then try the left hand path for another half hour. When the ground splits, half sloping up and the other sloping down into a pool of water, they stop and follow the twists and turns of the cavern back toward the entrance. As they do Celest picks up a mass of minds from aquatic pokemon below them, goldeen or magikarp. The school of fish is a wash of brief, indistinct thoughts, pinpricks of light that swim in shifting clouds… and then suddenly break apart in panic as something massive charges through the water, full of hunger and rage.

“Hey, you okay? Misty?”

Ariya’s hand is on Misty’s shoulder, and she realizes she and Celest have frozen. “Yeah. There’s a gyarados right under us.”

Her Second’s eyes are wide in the crimson light. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

They move quickly after that, trusting the safety of the backtracked path and Celest’s sensory field to alert them of danger. An odd triplet of minds suddenly approaches from one of the side tunnels, and Misty picks up the pace, moving them past its tunnel just as it enters theirs and begins to follow them.

“Magneton behind us,” Misty says.

“Are you shitting me, a magneton? Here?” Ariya snaps her fingers in a quick pattern, and Renekton sidles up closer to them. “Should we take it down?”

“Not worth the risk of attracting others. We’re almost out.” Misty can feel her pokemon tiring from keeping itself levitated for so long, and is happy to see the gleam of sunlight in the distance.

Until the sunlight gets obscured by a humanoid figure emitting a powerful psychic field.

“Focus or split?” Ariya mutters.

“Split,” Misty says, and immediately orders Celest to construct a Light Screen as the alakazam’s mental field meets theirs. It uses brief, sharp jabs of psychic power to probe for weaknesses, and Misty keeps Celest on the defensive as Ariya turns to face the oncoming magneton, prompting Renekton to do the same.

It enters the ruby light of Celest’s glow. As its prongs begin to glow with electric charge, Ariya snaps three fingers. Renekton roars as his muscles flex and swell. Superpower. An ability that would allow Renekton to deliver a devastating physical blow, which would hopefully take the magneton down in one hit since it would leave Renekton weaker afterward.

A bolt of electricity fills the cavern with light and the smell of ozone. Renekton roars in pain this time, but when Misty blinks the after-image out of her eyes she sees him still standing, partially protected by Celest’s Light Screen. Renekton charges forward on all fours to attack the magneton, and Misty turns her attention to the alakazam.

She doesn’t waste time trying to beat the devastatingly powerful psychic at its own game, and commands Celest to attack with a Bubblebeam. The tight stream of water jets out at the alakazam, only to crash against its own defenses.

The alakazam has the measure of Celest now, and presses the attack. Celest can hold her own defensively, but alakazam are weak to physical attacks, and that’s not starmie’s forte. Misty considers summoning a second pokemon, but her concentration is already nearing its limit. Another bolt of electricity lights the cavern behind her, but she doesn’t turn, trusting Celest’s Light Screen to help keep Renekton safe as crashing fills the cavern and the feraligatr roars again.

We need to end this now, before more pokemon show up. What she needs is a more powerful water attack. Starmie don’t hold much inside themselves, but there’s another source nearby.

“Ariya?”

“This fucker is quick, still haven’t hit it!”

“Screen is fading, do I need to refresh it or can you hold out for a second?”

“I’ll bait another one, then you can let it go.” There’s some snapping, and then, “Now!”

Another flash of electricity, and Misty lets the screen fade as she fully merges her mind with Celest’s. She can’t quite make her pokemon understand her, can’t quite imbue it with her intelligence or interpret its instinctual use of its abilities… but she’s spent years guiding Celest and understanding how to influence the starmie’s natural inclinations.

“Going dark!”

Celest zips around the corner and into the pool of water, taking the light with her. The starmie begins to spin and suck in as much water as she can. As she bloats in in size, she lifts herself and the water around her, launching out of the pool to crash over the alakazam in a crushing wave.

Misty rushes forward and locks a greatball onto the dazed psychic. It recovers enough to send a telekinetic blast at the exhausted Celest, pinning her to a stalactite before Misty throws her ball and captures it.

The pain in misty’s chest brings her to her knees, and she forces herself to concentrate as the crimson light around them begins to blink with Celest’s fading life. Her pokemon is in pain and exhausted, and Misty can’t mentally get her to free and heal herself. The ceiling isn’t high though, and Misty summons her blastoise and orders him to stay still on all fours.

Misty quickly climbs onto his back and uncouples their minds before yanking her pokemon off the impaling stalactite, anticipating another blast of electricity and rushing to get the Light Screen back up before it comes. Instead she hears a thud and a crack as she unclips a Full Restore from her belt and sprays it over her pokemon.

Renekton roars in victory over his fallen foe, and Misty smiles as Celest’s gem regains its full, bright glow. She strokes its spongy limbs and sends it mental thoughts of comfort and pride.

There’s a flash as Ariya captures the magneton, and Misty slides off her blastoise’s shell to withdraw him before collecting the alakazam’s ball. She goes to see if there’s anything she can do to help with Renekton, but Ariya is already spraying him with medicine.

“Nicely done, both of you.”

“Nothing to it. This big lug could use a few more shocks, maybe they’ll speed him up.” She rubs Renekton’s toothy snout, and the feraligatr growls in pleasure.

They leave the cave, relaxing once they’re back outside. Misty withdraws Celest and waits for her nerves to calm as she thinks, eyes closed and face turned toward the sun. “This place is going to need a quarantine,” she says.

“Yeah, no shit. Those pokemon were tough as any I’ve seen in the wild.”

“Fully wild habitats are rare in regions these days. Even the Safari goes through occasional cullings.”

“How long do you think it would take to clean this place out a bit?”

“Months. Or we could just try to close it up again, but in the meantime no one goes in, no matter how many badges they have.”

“You want the Rangers on it, or our people?”

Misty hesitates. “If there are other entrances, we’ll need the Rangers.”

“With pokemon that powerful in there? You said it yourself, if there were, I think we’d have found out about it by now. And hey, think of how much stronger we’ll get with access to monsters like those. I never knew I wanted a magneton, but I’m sure I’ll find some uses for it.”

Ariya’s right, but Misty doesn’t want to make the decision for selfish reasons. Then again, if the Rangers show up then word’s going to get out. People will try to get in, make their own entrance if need be. Better to keep it quiet for now…

“Set up a rotation, only people you know can handle it.” Misty’s phone chirps at her, no doubt updating with messages she was sent while in the cavern sans signal.

“Yes’m. Shouldn’t be a lack of interest, once they know what they have the chance to catch. What should we do if someone else comes by?”

Misty takes her phone out to check her messages. “Unless an Elite or Champion shows up, just let them know it’s off limits, League business.” She blinks at the screen, then curses.

Ariya’s raises her brow. “What’s up?”

Misty summons her abra and mentally registers their location, then focuses her mind on her gym’s rooftop. “I’ve got to get back to Cerulean. Something happened on Mt. Moon.”


Misty enters the press room at a brisk pace, back and gaze straight. There aren’t many reporters in attendance, but she still sees a face she hoped not to. Zoey is a good journalist, or at least that’s what people tell her, but as Gym Leader Misty just finds the woman a pain in the ass. Her only consolation is that Mayor Tonio would be at the mic a lot longer than her, whenever he arrives.

The cameras are already filming when she mounts the steps to the podium. As she waits for the room to quiet down, she pulls a notecard from her sleeve and places it by the microphone, where the raised edges hide it from view. She can feel the general wash of emotions from everyone, a faint breeze of anticipation and anxiety against her mind. There’s also a sense of hunger that she’s come to recognize, mostly from journalists and Challengers: ambition.

“Hello, and thank you for coming,” she says when the room is silent. “An hour ago I learned that a Tier 1 Emergency was taking place on Mt. Moon. A paras colony began a mass migration that spilled out onto the mountain when pokemon within it broke through the surface as they fled. Unfortunately, the location they emerged was a paleontological dig site on the southern mountain face, which had 37 staff members and 16 security on site at the time of the incident.

“Thanks to the efforts of the scientists and security on site, and the immediate response of nearby trainers and Rangers, the threat was contained, pushed back, and eradicated before it could spread and necessitate a full scale response like that of the Viridian Forest fire. It was a monumental feat of bravery and skill, and all of Cerulean thanks them.”

She can see the reporters readying to ask questions, and heads them off. “Unfortunately, there were a number of casualties. It is with great sorrow that I report the loss of Kazuo Soto, Fareed Newell, Irina Fujita, Dawson Haulover, Agustin Santiago, Mary Ashcroft, and Cerulean’s own Tetsu Akita. Today we honor their memories, and their sacrifice, without which many more lives would surely have been lost.

“There is one more piece of news. Rangers and on site security have confirmed a Renegade branding in the aftermath. The geologist apparently took advantage of the crisis to try and steal the dig’s fossils, nearly killing two of the site’s defenders in the process.”

Cold silence dominates the room as everyone tries to process such an evil act. Misty allows it to linger, her own revulsion lending new steel to her voice and gaze.

“I want to assure everyone in this city that I will be leaving for Mt. Moon shortly so that I can learn of his crimes, ensure they were appropriately Witnessed, and then oversee his execution personally.”

The crowd is quiet for a moment longer, and when it’s clear that she wouldn’t say anything more, begin shouting questions. Misty glances at the door, which she’s hoping the mayor will walk through at any moment. Damn the man, he had more time to prepare than she did.

“One question at a time, please. I’ll be leaving for the mountain soon, but will answer as many as I can. Yes, Mia?” she asks, picking a reporter at random.

“When will the name of the Renegade be made public?”

“The Rangers will release it when they see fit, as usual. They haven’t even told me. Jordan?”

“Will you be calling for an evacuation of the mountain?”

“Right now the Rangers have already placed Mt. Moon on high alert, and every trainer, merchant and Center staff should be aware of the event. The Rangers have increased their patrols of the mountain to search for any hints of an ongoing threat, but so far have reported none. Tyrisha?”

“Are you mobilizing the gym, Leader?”

“Every member is on standby in case the Rangers call for help. Alan?”

“What aid are we sending to the dig site?”

“That’s a question for Mayor Tonio, who should be here soon.” I’m going to strangle him. She’s running out of opportunities not to call on Zoey, who sits patiently with her hand raised. Better get it over with. Zoey’s known to ask tough questions, and if Misty ends up having to call on her and does so last it would signal reluctance. “Yes, Zoey?”

“Thank you, Leader. The initial alert went out almost three hours ago, now. Why did it take so long for our city to respond?”

Dammit. She doesn’t want to so much as hint at the existence of the cavern. “Unfortunately I was investigating a report of wild pokemon outside the city during the initial alert, and had no cell reception.” Her heart sinks as she realizes that would almost certainly invite more questions. I should have prepared an excuse for this.

“Why didn’t your Second mobilize the Gym?”

“One question each, please. Frank?”

“Same question, Leader.”

“Ariya was with me. Peter held the Gym, and reported that he began mobilization at a medium priority. Due to the distance he knew only psychics with a teleporter and trainers with fliers would arrive on time to help, and two members of the Gym did leave for the mountain before the crisis was passed. Yes, Paula?”

“Where were you and Ariya investigating? Was there another incident today?”

“No, thankfully we were able to address the issue.” Misty is grateful that Paula asked two questions so she could ignore the first. Zoey has her hand up again, but luckily so do others. “Sachio?”

“Was anyone injured?”

“No. Mia?”

“What prompted the investigation?”

“A routine patrol brought up a concern.” She’s dodging, and knows it shows. For a Leader and their Second to personally investigate something would make it anything but a “routine” concern.

Zoey’s hand is still in the air, ready to ask where it took place that didn’t have reception, and at that point Misty’s choices will be to either look like she’s making excuses, which makes her weak and potentially suspicious, or to give away details that could expose the cave.

No win, don’t play. “I’m sorry, but that’s all the time I have-”

The door opens and the mayor walks in. “-so please direct any remaining questions to Mayor Tonio.” Asshole. A few seconds earlier and she wouldn’t have had to appear like she was running, but at least he arrived in time for a clean transition.

She slips the card in her sleeve and hands the podium over to the Mayor with a quick smile and nod, then turns on her heel and strides out of the room. “Dial Ariya,” she says after putting her earpiece in. “Report?”

“I’ve got Molly and Ryuso here, they’ve been briefed. What’s up on the mountain?”

“You’ll figure it out a soon as you check the news. I’ll fill you in later with the rest, just head back to the Gym and take over for Peter.”

“Yes’m.”

Misty ends the call as she exits the building and summons her swanna, Nimbus. “Hey boy, ready for a ride?” She straps herself into his harness and puts her goggles on just as the door behind her opens and Zoey walks out, clearly looking for her and just as clearly surprised to see her already leaving. Misty gives an apologetic smile and wave, then takes off toward the distant mountains before the reporter can open her mouth.


The sun is beginning to set as Misty and Nimbus reach Mount Moon and start to climb altitude. The air turns chilly with the fading light and lower pressure, and Misty buttons her coat as a shiver wracks her form.

The dig site is easy to spot from the air, and she hunches down and banks toward it. When they get closer she can see the aftermath of the battle still being cleaned up, and feels a pang of guilt for having missed it. She might not have made it on time even if she hadn’t been in the cavern, but this could clearly have been much worse.

She begins a slow, circling descent until she can land in front of the dig’s largest building. She takes a moment after dismounting to let her legs get used to standing and walking again, then knocks on the door and enters.

The inside is spacious, with a long table and chairs taking up half of the room and the rest left open with counters and cabinets. The building clearly serves as a meeting hall for staff, and Misty spies the site director Dr. Zapata, some of her people, and a ranger at one end of the room while Leader Giovanni and Leader Brock hold their own council at the other. She takes her gloves off and slips them in her coat pockets as she walks to her peers.

“Ah, Misty. Thank you for coming,” Giovanni says.

“Hello Giovanni, Brock. It’s good to see you two again.”

Giovanni inclines his head. “I only wish the circumstances were better.”

“Me too. I’m sorry I’m late.”

“It’s no trouble. We were just about to begin. Let’s speak again after.” Giovanni heads toward the table, and the dig site staff take the cue and do the same. Dr. Zapata takes the head seat at one end, and her people sit around her.

“Glad you could make it,” Brock murmurs to Misty as they follow Giovanni.

She smiles. “You know I wouldn’t leave you alone with him if I could avoid it.”

He grins back. When Leaders meet there are almost always important decisions made about their shared territory, and any not present for those discussions tends to lose out. On top of that, though neither would admit it, on their own it’s easy to be intimidated by the Viridian Leader, and go along with whatever he says. When they’re together though, it’s not as hard to challenge or push back against him from time to time. If Giovanni ever resented the younger Leaders that shared his borders banding against him, he never showed it.

When Misty first became a Leader she felt like something of a fraud around the others. It wasn’t so bad with younger ones like Brock, or later Erika when she took over Celadon, but Koga, Blaine, Surge, and even Sabrina were all so serious and intimidating. And then there was Giovanni, for whom becoming Champion was just a footnote in his legend. Now, after leading Cerulean for almost five years, she feels much more comfortable in her position, but is still occasionally humbled by the fact that they share the same title.

Leader Giovanni takes the other head seat, and Brock goes to the one on his left while she sits at the Champion’s right. She wondered if Erika would come, as she’s the fourth Leader to share borders with them, but technically the mountain range doesn’t extend to Celadon, so she must have bowed out.

“Thank you for joining us, Leaders,” Dr. Zapata says. “We’ve all had a harrowing day, as you can imagine, and we appreciate your presence on such short notice.”

“Of course,” Giovanni says. “My sincerest condolences for your losses, and my thanks for your bravery and sacrifices.” Brock and Misty murmur their agreement, and Dr. Zapata bows her head.

“Thank you. As soon as we’ve finished cleaning the site, I’ve announced a week of mourning and rest before work resumes. I hope by then to have a new security plan in place to assure our financiers and ensure another incident like this isn’t repeated, or is better defended against.”

The others with her nod their agreement, all but one, who sits in distracted silence. Misty recognizes him, the ACE trainer in charge of security for the site. Pete? Palmer? Something like that. She doesn’t need her powers to tell he’s not happy about the topic of conversation. Anxiety, pride, and shame radiate off him in a tightly controlled spiral that fluctuates with his breaths.

“Understandable. First, let us review the facts,” Giovanni says. “The parasect colony was migrating through the mountain, resulting in a wave of fleeing pokemon. One of the forefronts of that wave broke through the weakened ceiling under one of the dig sites. Tragically, two personnel were immediately killed then. I think we can all agree, this is where our review must begin.”

Brock leans forward. “Your seismographs. Why didn’t they give warning of the attack?”

One of the site employees speaks up. “They did, but the person tasked with monitoring them claims that he was not with them at the time. He was later branded a Renegade for using the attack as an excuse to try and steal the fossils, but in any case, it was an unforeseeable failure in site security.”

“Unforeseeable,” Brock says, and looks around. “Does anyone disagree?”

“Perhaps it would be better to ask what you plan to do different, moving forward,” Giovanni says.

“Two people assigned to monitor it, and one must be present at all times, of course,” Dr. Zapata says. “We’ve already begun such a system.”

“Allow me to make a suggestion, then. Update your equipment and send its output over local wireless. Install apps to allow remote monitoring at all times, with alerts for signals over a threshold.”

Dr. Zapata looks surprised. “Does equipment and software exist for such small vibrations? We’re hoping to detect things far more subtle than even the lightest earthquakes.”

Giovanni makes a careless gesture with one hand. “I believe one of my people has spoken of something similar. I will check and ensure you have access to it later tonight. If not, I will try and finance its creation. It would no doubt be a widely useful technology in any case.”

“That… would be very helpful, Leader. Thank you.”

“Next, then. The response to the incident was immediate and effective: removal of the hazardous spores. Unfortunately another person was killed by the moving cloud. What happened?”

A woman speaks up next. “I was the one that made the call, Leader. We had moments to recognize the threat and act before it could spread further and make any coordinated response impossible. I recognized the risk and gave warning of our intentions, then cleared the spores when we received only affirmative messages of safety. Mary… wasn’t one of those to respond, either to say she was clear or not. It’s hard to tell from the—her—remains, but I assumed that anyone unable to respond would already be hurt too badly to be saved by waiting any longer.”

“Understandable. Does anyone here disagree with that decision or its reasoning?” No one answered, and Giovanni nodded. “We shall say no more about it then. Next…”

The conversation goes on, examining each point of the attack, their response, and the result. Though ostensibly the meeting is to ensure the future safety and well-being of the site employees and improve their security, Misty can feel the tension and occasional fear of those on the other side of the table. She understands. Even though they’re here to help and not cast blame, it never feels good to have your decisions and actions scrutinized by others, especially those in authority, and especially decisions made in a crisis.

At one point Misty senses a spike of anger and indecision from one of the dig employees, an older man with his arms crossed. She waits for the current speaker to finish before saying, “If I could take a moment, I’d like to say that so far it sounds like everyone here did an admirable job responding to the threat. I want to thank you again for your efforts, and reiterate that this meeting is to help improve preparations in case something similar happens again.” She locks her gaze on that of the older man. “Don’t be afraid to say something if you have a suggestion or comment: you’re among friends.”

He drops his eyes when she finishes speaking, and after the other members of the table murmur their agreement and thanks, looks up. “I…” He hesitates. “I had a thought. Earlier. Didn’t want to accuse anyone of anything. Still don’t. You’re right, everyone did a fine job. Seen a lot of Tier 1s over the years. This was kept local, very local. A fine job.”

He frowns, and seems to be searching for words. The table waits. Finally he says, “Hell, I’ll just spit it out. Some of the trainers, they were using balls to capture pokemon as they fought. Sometimes it’s understandable, ‘course it is, you have a moment to catch something you take it. Sometimes it’s even the best choice strategically. But a lot of trainers were wasting time and energy weakening pokemon rather than killing ’em. Using status effects and baiting attacks on a particularly strong or rare pokemon, while a dozen more walk by, a threat to those around them.

“Like I said, I don’t want to get no one in trouble, or accuse anyone. But I just thought I’d say it, make sure it was out there. Maybe we could tell the Rangers, put up a PSA to remind people. I dunno. Just thought I’d say.” He’s quiet a moment, then nods to himself.

Giovanni steeples his fingers. “Thank you, Misty, and you, Albert, wasn’t it? A good point. As you said, it’s an understandable impulse, but one that bears vigilance against. I’ll personally speak with the mountain’s Director, and see about some coverage for it in an upcoming issue of The Daily Trainer.”

The conversation only goes on another few minutes, and as it wraps up Misty prepares to address the issue she’s concerned about. Giovanni glances at her and lifts a finger from the table, almost imperceptible. He knows what she’ll ask, and apparently wants to address something first. She nods.

“As we conclude, I would like to make one final suggestion,” he says. “When we began this venture, the question of security was broached and, for the time, properly addressed. I want to thank you, Paul, and the rest of your people, for their good work.”

The table murmurs agreement, and the ACE Trainer looks at Giovanni in some surprise, and to Misty’s senses, trepidation. “Thank you, Leader.”

“However. In light of this incident, I’d like to, once again, formally offer Gym services to assist in the security of the site.”

The table is quiet. Paul’s face reddens, but he doesn’t speak. Giovanni’s hands move apart and together, tapping his fingertips. “Let me be clear. I in no way blame Paul or his organization for anything that occurred today. But as some of you may remember, I offered the extra personnel initially, and was voted down by my peers and some of you sitting here. At the time I was eventually convinced that showing such favoritism for a project like this could set an undesired precedent. Now, however, I believe that this incident would clear up any potential misunderstandings by the public, and allow us to ensure the continued safety of the site employees and its assets. I understand that many fossils were almost stolen, and would have been if not for the timely intervention of some assisting trainers. That risk must be minimized as thoroughly as possible.”

Misty and Brock exchange glances. She can read the Pewter Leader’s misgivings, and still shares them herself. “I’m sure that Paul and his people will be extra diligent in watching the fossils,” Misty says slowly. “And I don’t know whether I can commit anyone to such a task.” She thinks of the staff she’ll already be committing to watching the new cavern.

“Nor I,” Brock says. “We’re still assisting in the aftermath of the Viridian Forest fire.”

“I understand,” Giovanni says. “My gym is prepared to staff it ourselves. And I have no doubt as to the efficacy of ACE training. Your people will continue to be employed, Paul, and I will be adding a bonus to their salaries. I was planning to do so regardless. To ensure there is no reduction in perimeter vigilance, however, my people can commit exclusively to guarding the fossils, and allow yours to do their jobs unhindered.”

Paul’s tension slowly leaks away, and while he still feels upset, he eventually says, “Thank you, Leader. That’s very generous of you.”

“I hope that’s agreeable to everyone?” Giovanni spreads his palms. “This endeavor can be the first of many profitable ventures on these mountains, and I merely wish to ensure it has every chance to achieve full success.”

Those around the table begin to nod and voice their agreement, and Misty feels any further objections dying on her lips as even Dr. Zapata capitulates. She feels the wry amusement from Brock and raises her brow at him. Fight, or give in? Brock merely lifts his shoulders in a minute shrug and says, “With all that in mind, I can only agree, of course.”

Misty sighs. “Agreed.” This is often how it is with Giovanni: he can speak eloquently, head off objections, satisfy pride, and, just to add icing on the cake, throw around money wherever necessary to ease people’s resistance and just in general be so gracious that disagreement becomes impossible.

She can even almost believe that it would be a good thing, though she knows the political consequences will come up again and again for years if similar projects come about. The amount of power it grants Viridian Gym is massive. Cerulean and Pewter can gain a share themselves, of course… if they’re able to commit the resources. Which, of course, they can’t.

“Good. Now that’s done with, I believe Misty had one more topic to address?”

“Yes, thank you. I think it’s time at last to speak of the Renegade.” The mood of the room immediately plunges, and Misty throws up some light defenses to keep their emotions from washing over her too much. “I would like to know all the details, if you please.”

The Ranger lifts her head. “I believe I can cover that, Leader.” She explains the situation in concise terms, voice bland as she recounts the Witnessing. Misty is surprised to hear that Blue Oak was one of the trainers to be attacked by and help stop the Renegade. She wasn’t aware Sam’s grandson has begun his journey already.

“Thank you, Ranger. Is there any reason this Yuuta hasn’t been seen by a psychic yet?”

“He was too quick to suggest it himself for me to trust the results, and given his actions I didn’t think it was necessary. You are welcome to examine him if you wish, Leader. Will you be the one to oversee his execution?” She looks between Misty, Brock and Giovanni. “I assumed I would have to transfer him to one of your cities, but with all three of you here…”

“Yes, I can oversee it. I’ll meet with him as soon as we finish here.”

“Understood. Just find me when you’re ready.”

Giovanni looks at her, then to the rest of the table. “Does that cover everything? Any further questions? Well and good. Thank you all again. If anyone needs to speak with me, I will be outside for a while. A good evening to the rest of you.”

People begin speaking as they leave the table, and the three Leaders rise together and head for the door. Night has fully fallen on the mountain, and Misty stares up at the stars, so bright and rich this far from the city lights.

Giovanni follows her gaze. “Beautiful, aren’t they? Seeing them so clearly is always a pleasant benefit to any mountain trip.” He turns to her and Brock. “I hope I didn’t put either of you out too much tonight?”

“It’s your money and your people,” Brock says, and Misty nods. “If you judge it to be the right thing to do, we can only bow to your wisdom.”

“You have my thanks. Do let me know if there’s anything you need help with regarding the Renegade, Misty.”

“Same,” Brock says.

“I think I’ll be alright. I just want to make sure things go smoothly.” Misty buttons her coat back up as the chill night air seeps in. Overseeing Renegade executions was an unpleasant part of being a Leader for the first year or so, but over time it became easier, especially as she began to see the results of their actions more and more. Now she just sees it as an unhappy responsibility of her office, and strives to ensure she gives each case its due consideration to ensure justice is done. “We got lucky that he was stopped. If those two trainers hadn’t been passing by… but of course one of them was an Oak, so I guess it’s to be expected.”

“Indeed,” Giovanni says. “None of that man’s line have ever had normal journeys. Trouble seems to find them, or perhaps they simply stand out in troubling circumstances more than most.”

“That’s the truth of it,” Brock says. “Blue was in the forest during the fire. I met him before speaking with you. He was widening the firebreak and helped take down a whole family of shiftry. Caught one, too, and used it to get my badge.”

“Wait, he already beat you?” Misty says. “I didn’t realize he was on his journey that long.”

“Oh, he just began it. I think it was a month ago?”

Misty whistles. “That fast, yeah, I should have figured. I guess he’s coming for me next? Should be fun.”

“Don’t be so sure. I’m still digging up my main arena after he revealed a strategic flaw in its design.”

Giovanni chuckles, a rare sound. “Yes, that sounds like an Oak. After his sister, we should expect great things from him.”

“His companions aren’t without note either,” Brock says. “One is seeking to become a Professor, the other some sort of journalist or politician.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of them,” Giovanni says. “If they continue to follow the young Oak on his journey, I look forward to meeting them all.” Misty nods as the door behind them opens, and some of the site workers come out. “If you’ll excuse me, Brock, Misty. Until next we speak.” Giovanni walks off to speak with Dr. Zapata.

Misty sees the Ranger come out and turns to Brock. “Call you later? We’ve got some things to discuss.”

“You got it. Safe travels.”

“You too.” Misty approaches Ranger Sasaki. “I’m ready.”


The Renegade sits tied to his chair, apparently unconscious. Ranger Sasaki frowns as she finishes opening the door and sees the rest of the room. “Someone was supposed to be stationed here. You do your thing, Leader, I’m going to go speak with whoever had the last-” The ranger stops and stares as Misty walks up to the Renegade, heart pounding. “What’s the matter?”

The man in front of her looks asleep, but even asleep there are flickers. Physical sensations, emotional reactions to dreams, something that she should be able to pick up this close. She puts her fingers under his nose, then presses them to his neck.

“Don’t say it…”

Misty drops her hand away, mind racing. “We’d better go speak to them together, Ranger. He’s already dead.”

Chapter 4: The Efficient Market Hypothesis

 

World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimisation.


Gringotts Bank turned out to be an imposing multistoried building made of snow-white marble. It was located partway down Diagon Alley, near an intersection with something called Knockturn Alley, and towered over the neighbouring shops. Its architecture seemed subtly different than the “muggle” British buildings the wizarding world seemed to mimic, but Harry had never studied architecture enough to pinpoint how.

He was also too distracted by the pair of goblins standing at the bank’s ornate double doors.

They were dressed in perfectly tailored uniforms of scarlet and gold, and discreetly examined everyone that walked by the bank. Harry knew they were goblins the way he’d have known a dragon if he saw one: they matched the description of countless fantasy novels in most metrics, if not all. Far from green skinned, the short humanoids were almost as pale as the marble behind them, but they had elongated, pointed nose and ears, extremely long, dextrous looking fingers, and slanted, piercing eyes.

Harry tried not to stare as he and Professor McGonagall approached the stairs leading up to the door. It took all his self control to keep his questions to himself however: here were living beings, apparently just as sapient as humans, but clearly from a drastically different genealogy! He wondered how much their DNA resembled humans, and if the two species were close enough genetically to interbreed. A handful of goblin bones would probably drive Richard Dawkins into an academic frenzy, let alone sight of the real thing.

Above the great double doors was a gold and mahogany plaque bearing the symbol of an ornate key, the word “Gringotts” inscribed on it. Below that were the words Fortius Quo Fidelius.Harry consulted his scattered Latin; Stronger Through Loyalty?

“Good morning,” he said to the goblins, who bowed in response. The doors appeared to be thick, heavy marble, but one of the goblins gripped its lower handle and swung it open with ease, though he appeared no more muscular than Harry. Mental note: size does not correlate with strength in the magical world.

Harry and Professor McGonagall walked through the doors side by side, and the goblin behind them closed it. They were in a small entrance hall that was mostly empty, though curiously there were a pair of fireplaces to either side. In front of them was another set of doors, these silver, also flanked with goblins. As Harry approached, he saw writing engraved on it:

Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.

Harry swallowed. It should have seemed silly, something out of a nursery tale… but standing in what seemed literally a goblin stronghold, the words conveyed a quiet, self-assured threat that sent a shiver up Harry’s spine. Further note: do not get on a goblin’s bad side.

“Greetings Madame McGonagall,” said the goblin to their right, voice reedy and accented with a dialect Harry had never heard before. “Greetings Master Potter.”

“Greetings,” Harry said, and glanced at Professor McGonagall curiously.

“I informed the bank that we would be arriving today, so they would have your family vault key readily located,” she explained. “It hasn’t been accessed in a decade.”

“Ah. Well, thank you for keeping my inheritance safe for me,” Harry told the goblin. He felt rather awkward claiming money from parents he had never met, but knew he would need it for school supplies that were sure to be very expensive. How much would a genuine magic item go for in the muggle world? People already paid exorbitant prices on claptrap that didn’t even work; the tooth cleaning potion he’d seen in a shop window would probably sell for hundreds of pounds, maybe thousands. He hoped he would be able to afford his wand and books at least.

“Merely our duty, Master Potter,” the goblin said, and bowed again. Was it Harry’s imagination, or was there a slightly mocking tone to the goblin’s words?

The goblin opened the door, revealing a long hall filled with goblins and wizards. The latter mostly stood in queues, while the former walked about with an air of urgent business or stood behind podiums and desks that placed them a head above their clients. A rather obvious bit of over-compensation, but Harry didn’t blame them in the slightest.

All this Harry saw through what appeared to be a thin film of water, falling gently from somewhere above the other side of the doors and trickling into a narrow grate on the floor.

“It’s called the Thief’s Downfall,” Professor McGonagall said, seeing Harry’s hesitation. “It washes away many forms of magical disguise, and will ensure we are who we appear to be. Your scar will become visible after we pass through, but I’ll obscure it again when we leave.” The witch walked through the water, then turned to wait for him.

Harry took a breath and stepped through, eyes shut and shoulders tight as he anticipated a cold bath. The water was lukewarm however, and quickly evaporated. Within seconds he felt completely dry, and he opened his eyes in astonishment, hands running through his hair.

Professor McGonagall gave him a brief smile, then led the way to a podium labeled “Special Appointments.” Harry followed, trying not to stare at any one thing too long. He saw a witch weighing a jingling pouch in her hand, goblins writing on long sheets of parchment with feathered quills, and a wizard handing an emerald the size of Harry’s fist to his goblin teller, who took out a monocle and examined the gem.

The goblin they approached seemed older than the others, head mostly bald and hair long and white, with small spectacles perched on his long nose. “Yes?” he asked without glancing up from the parchment he was examining.

“Harry Potter is here to access his vault.”

There was a slight pause, and the goblin’s eyes flicked upward at Harry. “You have the key?”

Professor McGonagall pulled an iron key out of her sleeve, the letter P engraved at its handle. She held it over the desk.

The older goblin took the key, squinting at it for a moment and running his thin fingers over the engraving before handing it back. “Very good.” The goblin reached to the side and picked up a bell, which he rang in a deliberate pattern: ding-a-dong, ding-ding, dong-ding! “Griphook will guide you.” He rolled his parchment up a bit and continued reading. Harry saw that it extended all the way down to the floor. He wondered why a society that clearly had access to books would still use scrolls. Perhaps it was a goblin thing, along with their aversion to fountain pens.

Griphook proved to be a youngish goblin, with relatively smooth skin and full dark hair slicked back over his head. He bowed after approaching them. “Madame McGonagall. Master Potter. Follow me, please.”

The goblin led them out of the main hall through a side door, which opened into a downward staircase. The stairs were clean white marble at first, but soon changed to dark stone, and the glowing chandeliers gave way to flaming torches. Harry knew they must have been enchanted, as there was no smoke, which would have filled the tunnel without some airway to escape through.

I’m walking down a goblin tunnel, Harry thought with a renewed touch of unreality. The tunnel soon leveled off, and then the walls fell away to reveal long, twisting paths with rail tracks along the floor. Mine carts sat on short tracks that branched off the main lines, and Griphook led them to one.

“Please step aboard, Master Potter.”

Harry met the goblin’s gaze. “Mister will suffice, thank you.” Harry remembered vacationing with his parents at an expensive hotel once. They’d been waited on by the staff with an overwhelming deference that was enjoyable, but in an occasionally uncomfortable way. Though the thought of having servants (or better yet, minions) was appealing on a number of levels, he didn’t quite feel comfortable being called “master” by another race. Especially not coupled with the vaguely mocking tone he sensed from the goblins, though perhaps that was merely a difference in mannerisms or accent that didn’t quite translate well. “And my full name is Potter-Evans-Verres.”

The goblin peered back at him for a silent moment, then another. Harry didn’t drop his gaze, and the goblin finally inclined his head briefly. “As you say, Mr. Potter-Evans-Verres.”

Harry followed Professor McGonagall onto the trolley, ignoring her speculative look. He noted the lack of hand rails or seat belts, and began to feel nervous as Griphook stepped in and closed the side hatch. “Is this really the safest way to conduct a banking transaction?”

“No,” Griphook said with a wide grin, revealing sharp teeth. He pulled a key out of his vest pocket, identical to the one Professor McGonagall had, and inserted it into a keyhole at the back of the trolley. “But then, it wouldn’t be much good if it was.” He twisted the key, and the mine cart shuddered, rolled slowly onto the main track, then zoomed forward at what only felt like roughly half the speed of sound.

Harry’s yell of surprise was soon lost behind them as the wind whipped it from his lips, and he gripped the sides of the cart until his knuckles turned white. He gave Professor McGonagall an accusatory glare, and the witch merely raised an eyebrow, arms crossed nonchalantly over her chest as her lips twitched at the corners. Harry grit his teeth and slowly drew his hands back to his sides, ignoring the lurching sensations in his stomach as the cart rocketed through the twisting caverns, down, down, down.

Of course, they’d assure it’s safe if you have the proper means to travel it, Harry chided himself. They passed by glittering crystal outgrowths, various sized vault doors, and through another Thief’s Downfall, this one much bigger and ice cold, though he once again dried in seconds.

Harry raised his voice over the clatter of the wheels. “Do all wizards keep their money here?”

“All that care about their gold!” Griphook replied.

“Gold?”

“And silver, and bronze!” Professor McGonagall called out. “The gold coins are called Galleons, the silver Sickles, and the bronze Knuts. It’s twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle, seventeen Sickles to a Galleon!”

Harry was still processing the implications of this as they shot around a particularly wide corner, and his next question was interrupted by a burst of fire that illuminated the darkness around them. Harry twisted his head around, but the chamber was already out of sight. “What was that?” he yelled back at Griphook.

“Just a dragon!” Griphook said with a smirk, and Harry couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. His mind raced in a whole new direction, monetary matters temporarily tabled.

Soon after, the cart began to slow, its deafening rattle quieting little by little until it finally took one of the branching paths. The trolley coasted along it and reached a relatively small vault door with no markings on it. Griphook hopped out of the cart and walked up to the door, then inserted the same key he’d put into the trolley cart. A second keyhole was parallel to it, and Professor McGonagall inserted her, or rather Harry’s, key into that one. They twisted together, there was a heavy metal clunk, and the door swung inward.

Harry stepped inside the brightly lit marble room and felt his jaw unhinge in a gape.

Heaps of gold Galleons. Stacks of silver Sickles. Piles of bronze Knuts. More money than he’d ever seen in one place, all in the form of gleaming treasure that would make Bluebeard jealous.This… is all mine?

Harry was vaguely aware of Professor McGonagall leaning casually against the wall, eyes intent. Watching him. Well, that made sense. Being plopped in front of a giant heap of gold coins was a test of character so pure it was archetypal.

Harry closed his mouth. First things first… get an estimate of how much money he was actually looking at, in a way he could understand. “Are these coins the pure metal?” he asked Griphook.

“What?” the goblin spat from the doorway, voice harsh. “Are you questioning the integrity of Gringotts, Mr. Potter-Evans-Verres?”

“No,” said Harry, “not at all, sorry if that came out wrong, sir. I just have no idea at all how your financial system works. I’m asking if Galleons in general are made of pure gold.”

“Of course,” said Griphook.

“And can anyone coin them, or are they issued by a monopoly that collects seigniorage?”

Griphook grinned. “Only a fool would trust any but goblin coin!”

“In other words,” Harry said, “the coins aren’t supposed to be worth any more than the metal making them up?”

Griphook stared at Harry. Professor McGonagall looked bemused.

“I mean, suppose I came in here with a ton of silver. Could I get a ton of Sickles made from it?”

“For a fee, Mr. Potter-Evans-Verres.” The goblin watched him with glittering eyes. “For a certain fee. Where would you find a ton of silver, I wonder?”

“I was speaking hypothetically,” Harry said. For now, at any rate. “So… how much would you charge in fees, as a fraction of the whole weight?”

Griphook’s eyes were intent. “I would have to consult my superiors…”

“Give me a wild guess. I won’t hold Gringotts to it.”

“A twentieth part of the metal would well pay for the coining.”

Harry nodded. “Thank you very much, Mr. Griphook.”

So not only is the wizarding economy almost completely decoupled from the Muggle economy, no one here has ever heard of arbitrage. The larger Muggle economy had a fluctuating trading range of gold to silver, so every time the Muggle gold-to-silver ratio got more than 5% away from the weight of seventeen Sickles to one Galleon, either gold or silver should have drained from the wizarding economy until it became impossible to maintain the exchange rate. Bring in a ton of silver, change to Sickles (and pay 5%), change the Sickles for Galleons, take the gold to the Muggle world, exchange it for more silver than you started with, and repeat.

Wasn’t the Muggle gold to silver ratio somewhere around fifty to one? Harry didn’t think it was seventeen, anyway. And it looked like the silver coins were actually smaller than the gold coins.

Then again, Harry was standing in a bank that literally stored your money in vaults guarded by dragons, where you had to go in and take coins out of your vault whenever you wanted to spend money. The finer points of arbitraging away market inefficiencies might well be lost on them. He’d be tempted to make snide remarks about the crudity of their financial system…

But the sad thing is, their way might actually be better.

On the other hand, one competent hedge fundie could probably own the whole wizarding world within a week. Harry filed away this notion in case he ever ran out of money, or had a week free.

Meanwhile, the giant heaps of gold coins within the Potter vault ought to suit his near-term requirements.

Harry stepped forward, and began picking up gold coins with one hand and dumping them into the other.

When he had reached twenty, Professor McGonagall coughed. “I think that will be more than enough to pay for your school supplies, Mr. Potter.”

“Hm?” Harry said, his mind elsewhere. “Hold on, I’m doing a Fermi calculation.”

“A what? ” said Professor McGonagall, sounding somewhat alarmed.

“It’s a mathematical thing. Named after Enrico Fermi. A way of getting rough numbers quickly in your head…”

Twenty gold Galleons weighed a tenth of a kilogram, maybe? And gold was, what, ten thousand British pounds a kilogram? So a Galleon would be worth about fifty pounds… The mounds of gold coins looked to be about sixty coins high and twenty coins wide in either dimension of the base, and a mound was pyramidal, so it would be around one-third of the cube. Eight thousand Galleons per mound, roughly, and there were around five mounds of that size, so forty thousand Galleons or 2 million pounds sterling.

Harry smiled with a certain grim satisfaction. It was too bad that he was right in the middle of discovering the amazing new world of magic, and couldn’t take time out to explore the amazing new world of being rich, which a quick Fermi estimate said was roughly a billion times less interesting.

Still, that’s the last time I ever mow a lawn for one lousy pound.

Harry wheeled from the giant heap of money. “Pardon me for asking, Professor McGonagall, but I understand that my parents were in their twenties when they died. Is this a usual amount of money for a young couple to have in their vault, in the wizarding world?” If it was, a cup of tea probably cost five thousand pounds. Rule one of economics: you can’t eat money.

Professor McGonagall shook her head. “Your father was the last heir of an old family, Mr. Potter. It’s also possible…” The witch hesitated. “Some of this money may be from bounties placed on You-Know-Who, payable to his ki- ah, to whoever might defeat him. Or those bounties might not have been collected yet. I am not sure.”

“Interesting…” Harry said slowly. “So some of this really is, in a sense, mine. That is, earned by me. Sort of. Possibly. Even if I don’t remember the occasion.” Harry’s fingers tapped against his trouser-leg. “That makes me feel less guilty about spending a very tiny fraction of it! Don’t panic, Professor McGonagall!

“Mr. Potter! You are a minor, and as such, you will only be allowed to make reasonable withdrawals from -”

“I am all about reasonable! I am totally on board with fiscal prudence and impulse control! But I did see some things on the way here which would constitute sensible, grown-up purchases…”

Harry locked gazes with Professor McGonagall, engaging in a silent staring contest.

“Like what?” Professor McGonagall said finally.

“Trunks whose insides hold more than their outsides?”

Professor McGonagall’s face grew stern. “Those are very expensive, Mr. Potter!”

“Yes, but -” Harry pleaded. “I’m sure that when I’m an adult I’ll want one. And I can afford one. Logically, it would make just as much sense to buy it now instead of later, and get the use of it right away. It’s the same money either way, right? I mean, I would want a good one, with lots of room inside, good enough that I wouldn’t have to just get a better one later…” Harry trailed off hopefully.

Professor McGonagall’s gaze didn’t waver. “And just what would you keep in a trunk like that, Mr. Potter -”

“Books.”

“Of course,” sighed Professor McGonagall.

“You should have told me much earlier that sort of magic item existed! And that I could afford one! Now my father and I are going to have to spend the next two days frantically hitting up all the secondhand bookshops for old textbooks, so I can have a decent science library with me at Hogwarts – and maybe a small science fiction collection, if I can assemble something decent out of the bargain bins. Or better yet, I’ll make the deal a little sweeter for you, okay? Just let me buy -”

Mr. Potter! You think you can bribe me?”

“What? No! Not like that! I’m saying, Hogwarts can keep some of the books I bring, if you think that any of them would make good additions to the library. I’m going to be getting them cheap, and I just want to have them around somewhere or other. It’s okay to bribe people with books, right? That’s a -”

“Family tradition.”

“Yes, exactly.”

Professor McGonagall’s body seemed to slump, the shoulders lowering within her black robes. “I cannot deny the sense of your words, though I much wish I could. I will allow you to withdraw an additional hundred Galleons, Mr. Potter.” She sighed again. “I know that I shall regret this, and I am doing it anyway.”

“That’s the spirit! And does a ‘mokeskin pouch’ do what I think it does?”

“It can’t do as much as a trunk,” the witch said with visible reluctance, “but… a mokeskin pouch with a Retrieval Charm and Undetectable Extension Charm can hold a number of items until they are called forth by the one who emplaced them -”

“Yes!” Harry’s excitement made him shift from foot to foot, eyes alight. “I definitely need one of those too! Batman’s utility belt of holding! Never mind my swiss army knife, I could carry a whole tool set in there! Or books! I could have the top three books I was reading on me at all times, and just pull one out anywhere! I’ll never have to waste another minute of my life! What do you say, Professor McGonagall? It’s for the sake of children’s reading, the best of all possible causes!”

“…I suppose you may add another ten Galleons.”

“And a little spending money, like you mentioned earlier. I think I can remember seeing one or two other things I might want to store in that pouch.”

Don’t push it, Mr. Potter.

“But oh, Professor McGonagall, why rain on my parade? Surely this is a happy day, when I discover all things wizarding for the first time! Why act the part of the grumpy grownup when instead you could smile and remember your own innocent childhood, watching the look of delight upon my young face as I buy a few toys using an insignificant fraction of the wealth that I earned by defeating the most terrible wizard Britain has ever known, not that I’m accusing you of being ungrateful or anything, but still, what are a few toys compared to that?”

You,” growled Professor McGonagall. There was a look on her face so fearsome and terrible that Harry squeaked and stepped back, knocking over a pile of gold coins with a great jingling noise and sprawling backwards into a heap of money. Griphook sighed and put a palm over his face. “I would be doing a great service to wizarding Britain, Mr. Potter, if I locked you in this vault and left you here.”

And they left without any more trouble.


Hey everyone. This has been a lot of fun, and the feedback has been very gratifying. I’m probably going to stop here: chapter 5 is where I felt the quality began to reflect the rest of the story, and I’d have little to add to it. I might revisit this to provide more context for certain later events (Harry shopping for his wand, for example), but in the meantime I think these chapters do the job of smoothing out the introduction of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. If you somehow found yourself here while being unaware of that fanfic and want to read more, you can continue the story at hpmor.com

Chapter 3: Comparing Reality To Its Alternatives

“But then the question is – who?”


“Now remember Harry, you’re not under any obligation to be here.”

“I know, Mum.”

“If you want to come home, just give me a call and I’ll pick you right up.”

“Yes, Mum.” As if I’d turn back now.

Petunia Evans-Verres looked at Harry in the rear-view mirror of the car as if she could easily guess his thoughts, and seemed troubled by them. He’d spent the past few weeks in a mild frenzy, first interrogating her for what little direct experience she had about magic (“No Mum, tell me what you’ve seen, not what you’ve guessed or read about.”) then doing independent research, which had quickly proven fruitless. Any books on magic he found involved complicated rituals to bring about some minor, vague misfortune, or wishing yourself riches and happiness through “positive attraction,” or some other such unfalsifiable feel-good fluff. Nothing remotely close to lifting a man off the ground with a couple words and the wave of a stick, let alone turning into a cat, and no mention of a “Hogwarts” anywhere.

Clearly all the real magic was kept out of bookstores or libraries by some organized effort, a notion he found both troubling and thrilling. On the one hand, he was about to be part of a massive, worldwide conspiracy the likes of which he’d only read about in fiction. On the other hand, the reality of a group of people capable of secretly enforcing such a conspiracy was mildly terrifying. He wondered how omnipotent they really were, and whether non-magic authorities were involved in the cover up. Mrs. Figg absolutely refused to answer any questions about magic he had. Harry suspected McGonagall had warned her not to, but she insisted it was for “safety reasons.”

Finally, the day before yesterday, another message had arrived at their house. Professor McGonagall had supplied them with a time and an address where Harry could meet her to obtain his school supplies. So this morning Harry’s mum had driven him to London, uncharacteristically quiet and nervous. Harry assumed she was worried he would make a bad impression, but he was determined not to get into any trouble that might jeopardize his acceptance into the magical world. If the past few weeks had confirmed anything about his nature to himself, it was that he couldn’t stand being aware of a mystery and not having the means to solve it. Just imagining going on with his life without learning more about magic… any scientific field he went into would drive him mad as he considered the true nature of reality that he’d caught a glimpse of.

Once they arrived at the appropriate address, Harry’s mother parked beside a row of shops. Harry stepped out of the car and looked around, and his mother rolled down her window.

“Well,” Petunia said after a pause, looking up and down the sidewalk. “I don’t see Professor McGonagall… though we are a bit early. Where do you suppose the place is? ‘The Leaky Cauldron,’ wasn’t it?”

Harry turned in a slow circle, scanning the shops along the street. Nothing looked like a place that would sell magic wands, even as a joke. There was a fashionable clothing store, a hair boutique, an ice cream parlor, some fast food restaurants, a book shop (which he quickly jogged into, looked around a bit, then left), a pub – “There,” he said, and pointed to The Leaky Cauldron, a quaint brick building tucked between the book shop and a record store. “Maybe she’s already inside.”

“Hm?” Harry’s mother looked vaguely in the direction he’d pointed. “Did you say you saw her?”

Harry began to point again, then stopped and looked at his Mum, then back at the pub. She was looking right at it. “What do you see between that bookshop and the record store?”

“What do you mean, dear? In the alley?”

Alley? From Harry’s perspective, the walls of The Leaky Cauldron were pressed up against its neighbors. “You don’t see the pub right there?” he asked, pointing straight at it again.

“No,” Petunia said. “You mean to tell me there is one?”

Harry felt an electric thrill go up his spine, and simply couldn’t help himself. He approached a nearby couple as they walked by the car. “Excuse me, I’m afraid I brought the wrong prescription with me this morning and can’t quite make out the store signs. Could you read them to me please, from right to left?” He gestured.

The man gave him a curious look, but the woman began listing names. Harry watched her eyes as she named the bookshop, then the record store, without mentioning the Leaky Cauldron. It looked as though her gaze simply passed over where it was without registering it.

“Thank you.” He returned to his mother, shifting his weight from foot to foot with nervous energy as he stood beside the car and examined the pub. “It’s not just you. They couldn’t see it either.” Here it was. Proof, however subtle, that he wasn’t like other people. The now-familiar sense of disorientation came over him, and his mind raced with possibilities for how the cloaking worked. Harry wondered what would happen if he threw a rock out of the pub’s window. Would the glass suddenly become visible to the people on the street? It was all he could do to not rush to the pub and begin experimenting with his mother’s perception.

If wizard folk could do things like this, it was no wonder Harry couldn’t find any books about them. He wondered now if a massive conspiracy was really needed to hide records of the magical world. What if non-magic folk couldn’t even see the books? What else had he seen in his life without realizing no one else could? Maybe some other safety mechanism was in place, like he needed to know the name of the pub as well-

“Good morning, Mr. Potter.”

Harry spun around and beheld Professor McGonagall in all her witchy glory, seeming utterly unconcerned with the odd looks she was getting from passersby.

“Good morning, Professor,” Harry said. “Why can’t Mum see The Leaky Cauldron?”

“It’s enchanted against muggle notice.” The professor turned to his mother. “Good morning Mrs. Evans-Verres. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”

“Not at all, we’d just arrived.” Petunia looked back at Harry, still with that same nervousness she’d had all day. “Well, I’ll be back this evening to pick you up. Be good, Harry.”

She kissed him goodbye and drove away. He watched her go, then turned to Professor McGonagall. “What’s a ‘muggle?'”

Professor McGonagall’s lips twitched. “It’s good to see you again too, Mr. Potter. Muggles are what we call those without a drop of magic in them. Shall we?”

Harry followed her toward the pub. “Ok, so Dad’s a muggle, but Mum too? Her sister was a witch, doesn’t that mean she had some magic in her family?”

“Oh, no, if her parents were both muggles then she was a muggle too,” Professor McGonagall explained in her prim, scottish voice. “What you’re thinking of is what we call a ‘squib.’ Though children of a witch and wizard, they cannot do magic themselves, poor things, but they can perceive many magical things and use enchanted items.”

Harry was trying to filter this information through his understanding of genetics, but was distracted partway as they entered The Leaky Cauldron. Harry whipped his head around to see if anything of note happened as they did, but couldn’t detect any invisibility field descending on him, and no one in the street seemed to notice two people suddenly disappear.

The inside of the pub was a bit dark and shabby, with wooden tables scattered about the shadows and a grubby bar that dominated the far wall. About a dozen people were inside, most dressed in various colored robes.

“Good morning Professor McGonagall,” said the barman with a smile.

“Good morning Tom.”

“Is there anything I could get for – Good Lord.” He peered at Harry, gaze drawn to his forehead. “Is this… can this be…?”

Harry leaned towards the bar of the Leaky Cauldron as best he could, though it came up to somewhere around the tips of his eyebrows. A question like that deserved his very best.

“Am I – could I be – maybe – you never know – if I’m not – but then the question is – who?”

“Bless my soul,” whispered the old barman. “Harry Potter… what an honour.”

Harry blinked, then rallied. “Well, yes, you’re quite perceptive; most people don’t realise that so quickly-”

“That’s enough,” Professor McGonagall said. Her hand tightened on Harry’s shoulder and began to steer him toward the back door. “Don’t pester the boy, Tom, he’s new to all this.”

“But it is him?” quavered an old woman sitting at the bar. “It’s Harry Potter?” With a scraping sound, she got up from her chair.

“Doris -” McGonagall said warningly. The glare she gave the room was enough to stop most others from doing more than muttering amongst themselves and staring, some paused halfway out of their seats.

“I only want to shake his hand,” the woman whispered. She bent low and stuck out a soft, wrinkled palm, which Harry, feeling confused and more uncomfortable than he ever had in his life, carefully shook. Tears fell from the woman’s eyes onto their clasped hands. “My grandson was an Auror,” she whispered to him. “Died in seventy-nine. Thank you, Harry Potter. Thank heavens for you.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry said automatically, and then shot Professor McGonagall a frightened, pleading look.

Others began to approach them again, and Professor McGonagall slammed her foot down. It made a noise that gave Harry a new referent for the phrase “Crack of Doom”, and the other bar patrons once again froze in place just as the general rush was about to start.

“We’re in a hurry,” Professor McGonagall said in a calm voice.

They left the bar without any trouble.

“Professor?” Harry said, once they left. They were in a grassy courtyard surrounded on all sides by high brick walls. He had meant to ask what was going on, but oddly found himself asking an entirely different question instead. “Who was that pale man, by the corner? The man with the twitching eye, slumped in his seat?”

“Hm?” said Professor McGonagall, sounding a bit surprised; perhaps she hadn’t expected that question either. “That was Professor Quirinus Quirrell. He’ll be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts this year at Hogwarts.”

“I had the strangest feeling that I knew him…” Harry rubbed his forehead. “And that I shouldn’t ought to shake his hand.” Like meeting someone who had been a friend, once, before something went drastically wrong… that wasn’t really it at all, but Harry couldn’t find words. “And what was… all of that?”

Professor McGonagall was giving him an odd glance. “Mr. Potter… do you know… how much have you been told, about how your parents died?”

Harry returned a steady look. “My parents are alive and well, thank you. They’ve told me that my genetic parents were killed in a car accident when I was one year old.”

“An admirable loyalty,” said Professor McGonagall. Her voice went low. “Though it hurts a little to hear you say it like that. Lily and James were friends of mine.”

Harry looked away, suddenly ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he said in a small voice. “But I have a Mum and Dad. And I know that I’d just make myself unhappy by comparing that reality to… something perfect that I built up in my imagination.”

“That is quite wise of you,” Professor McGonagall said quietly. “But your genetic parents died very well indeed, protecting you.”

Protecting me?

Something strange clutched at Harry’s heart. “So it… wasn’t a car crash? What did happen?”

Professor McGonagall sighed. Her wand tapped Harry’s forehead, and his vision blurred for a moment. “Something of a disguise,” she said, “so that this doesn’t happen again, not until you’re ready.” Then her wand flicked out again, and tapped three times on a brick wall…

…which hollowed into a hole that dilated and expanded and shivered into a huge archway, revealing a pedestrian street on the other side. A long row of shops advertising everything from actual cauldrons to “dragon liver” were clearly visible, and wizards and witches bustled about from store to store, some even trailing children dressed in small, brightly colored robes.

Harry didn’t blink. It wasn’t like anyone was turning into a cat.

“Welcome, Mr. Potter, to Diagon Alley.”

And they walked forwards, together, into the wizarding world.

Here, Harry was sure, was the true testament to the effectiveness of magical secrecy. A whole long, winding street of London City completely unknown by its inhabitants. Only powerful magic or political agreements of the highest order could keep airplanes or satellites from taking note of such a place. Here were merchants hawking Bounce Boots (“Made with real Flubber!”). There were goggles that would turn anything you looked at green, and a lineup of comfy armchairs with ejection seats for emergencies. Some of the buildings were merely a story or two high, while others had multiple floors and were oddly structured, as though relying on magic to keep them upright.

Harry’s head kept rotating like it was trying to wind itself off his neck. It was like walking through the magical items section of an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rulebook (he had no one to play the games with, but he did enjoy reading the rulebooks). Harry desperately didn’t want to miss a single item for sale, in case it was one of the three you needed to complete the cycle of infinite wish spells.

Then Harry spotted something that made him, entirely without thinking, veer off from the Deputy Headmistress and start heading straight into the shop, a front of blue bricks with bronze-metal trim. He was brought back to reality only at Professor McGonagall’s voice.

“Mr. Potter?” she said.

Harry blinked, then realised what he’d just done. “I’m sorry! I forgot for a moment that I was with you instead of my family.” Harry gestured at the shop window, which displayed fiery letters that shone piercingly bright and yet remote, spelling out Bigbam’s Brilliant Books. “When you walk past a bookshop you haven’t visited before, you have to go in and look around. That’s the family rule.”

“That is the most Ravenclaw thing I have ever heard.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Mr. Potter, our first step is to visit Gringotts, the bank of the wizarding world. Your genetic family vault is there, with the inheritance your genetic parents left you, and you’ll need money for school supplies.” She sighed. “And, I suppose, a certain amount of spending money for books could be excused as well. Though you might want to hold off for a time. Hogwarts has quite a large library on magical subjects. And the tower in which, I strongly suspect, you will be living, has a more broad-ranging library of its own. Any book you bought now would probably be a duplicate.”

Harry nodded, and they walked on.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great distraction,” Harry said as his head kept swivelling, “probably the best distraction anyone has ever tried on me, but don’t think I’ve forgotten about our pending discussion.”

Professor McGonagall was silent for a time. “Your parents – or your mother at any rate – may have been very wise not to tell you.”

“So you wish that I could continue in blissful ignorance? There is a certain flaw in that plan, Professor McGonagall.”

“I suppose it would be rather pointless,” the witch said tightly, “when anyone on the street could tell you the story. Very well.”

And she told him of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

“Voldemort?” Harry whispered. It should have been funny, but it wasn’t. The name burned with a cold feeling, ruthlessness, diamond clarity, a hammer of pure titanium descending upon an anvil of yielding flesh. A chill swept over Harry even as he pronounced the word, and he resolved then and there to use safer terms like You-Know-Who.

The Dark Lord had raged upon wizarding Britain like a wilding wolf, tearing and rending at the fabric of their everyday lives. Other countries had wrung their hands but hesitated to intervene, whether out of apathetic selfishness or simple fear, for whichever was first among them to oppose the Dark Lord, their peace would be the next target of his terror.

(The bystander effect, thought Harry, thinking of the Latane and Darley experiment which had shown that you were more likely to get help if you had an epileptic fit in front of one person than in front of three. Diffusion of responsibility, everyone hoping that someone else would go first.)

The Death Eaters had followed in the Dark Lord’s wake and in his vanguard, carrion vultures to pick at wounds, or snakes to bite and weaken. The Death Eaters were not as terrible as the Dark Lord, but they were terrible, and they were many. And the Death Eaters wielded more than wands; there was wealth within those masked ranks, and political power, and secrets held in blackmail, to paralyse a society trying to protect itself.

An old and respected journalist, Yermy Wibble, called for increased taxes and conscription. He shouted that it was absurd for the many to cower in fear of the few. His skin, only his skin, had been found nailed to the newsroom wall that next morning, next to the skins of his wife and two daughters. Everyone wished for something more to be done, and no one dared take the lead to propose it. Whoever stood out the most became the next example.

Until the names of James and Lily Potter rose to the top of that list.

And those two might have died with their wands in their hands and not regretted their choices, for they were heroes; but they had an infant child, their son, Harry Potter.

Tears were coming into Harry’s eyes. He wiped them away in anger or maybe desperation. I didn’t know those people, not really, they aren’t my parents now, it would be pointless to feel so sad for them –

When Harry was done sobbing into the witch’s robes, he looked up, and felt a little bit better to see tears in Professor McGonagall’s eyes as well.

“So what happened?” Harry said, voice trembling.

“The Dark Lord came to Godric’s Hollow,” Professor McGonagall said in a whisper. “You should have been hidden, but you were betrayed. The Dark Lord killed James, and he killed Lily, and he came in the end to you, to your cot. He cast the Killing Curse at you, and that was where it ended. The Killing Curse is formed of pure hate, and strikes directly at the soul, severing it from the body. It cannot be blocked, and whomever it strikes, they die. But you survived. You are the only person ever to survive. The Killing Curse rebounded and struck the Dark Lord, leaving only the burnt hulk of his body and a scar upon your forehead. That was the end of the terror, and we were free. That, Harry Potter, is why you are often called ‘The Boy Who Lived,’ and why people want to see the scar on your forehead, and shake your hand.”

The storm of weeping that had washed through Harry had used up all his tears; he would not cry again.

(And somewhere in the back of his mind was a small, small note of confusion, a sense of something wrong about that story; and it should have been a part of Harry’s art to notice that tiny note, but he was distracted. For it is a sad rule that whenever you are most in need of your art as a rationalist, that is when you are most likely to forget it.)

Harry detached himself from Professor McGonagall’s side. “I’ll – have to think about this,” he said, trying to keep his voice under control. He stared at his shoes. “Um. You can go ahead and call them my parents, if you want, you don’t have to say ‘genetic parents’ or anything. I guess there’s no reason I can’t have two mothers and two fathers.”

There was no sound from Professor McGonagall.

And they walked together in silence, making their way through the streets of wizards, witches, and their children.

Chapter 2: Everything I Believe Is False

“Of course it was my fault. There’s no one else here who could be responsible for anything.”


Oddly enough, it might have been easier explaining to his dad that an owl had grabbed the letter after all.

“What? Mrs. Figg?” Professor Evans-Verres’s shock was spectacular. Harry empathized completely. He sat at the table between the living room and kitchen, somewhat in a daze.

“Did she say what time they would be coming?” Petunia asked. She checked the pot roast and ran her hands over her hair, as if expecting someone to ring the doorbell any minute.

“We’ve known Mrs. Figg for ten years,” Harry’s dad said. “She’s a perfectly reasonable woman, why on earth would she-”

“No Mum, she just said they’d be here in a ‘jiffy or two.’ I don’t know how far they’re coming, but it’s probably not going to be…” Harry trailed off as he realised that, given the hypothesis being tested, it might well be before the pot roast was done. He tried to remind himself that was silly, teleportation would break so many laws of physics there might as well not be any, but ever since he’d heard the word “Hogwarts” come out of Mrs. Figg’s mouth, his brain didn’t seem to be working properly. A part of his mind took note of his dad’s comment about knowing Mrs. Figg for ten years. Had she moved here the year Harry had been adopted? That seemed significant, if he could only wrestle his mind into considering how.

“Maybe she sent the letters,” Dad said. He began to to pace the limited floorspace of the living room, feet stepping around books with the unconscious ease of memory. “Or she’s part of the same cult your sister was in-”

“Well better set an extra place just in case.” Mum put a stack of plates in front of Harry, and he set the table for four, placing each fork and knife with an inordinate amount of attention. Dad’s theories made sense of course, more sense than his did, but his strange certainty continued to color all his thoughts as he set out the cups.

Dad suddenly gripped the back of the couch, face horrified. “We let her babysit you!”

A knock at the door froze them all in place.

Dad was the first to thaw. He straightened, squared his shoulders, and walked to the front door, dignity fully reinforced by his casual tweed homewear.

Mum wiped her hands on a towel and followed, and Harry rushed after them, wondering if it would be Mrs. Figg and knowing somehow that it wasn’t. Dad peered through the peephole and recoiled as if stung. Harry’s anticipation redoubled.

“Yes, who’s there?” Professor Evans-Verres’s voice did not tremble.

“Professor Minerva McGonagall,” said a formal, Scottish voice, and Michael twitched. Harry wondered why, until his dad opened the door.

Professor McGonagall was an older woman, perhaps in her sixties, with greying hair in a severe bun and square spectacles perched on her nose. She looked every inch the professor she claimed to be, but for two things: she wore a black robe of some rich fabric, and her hat was decidedly pointy.

Harry grinned. His father’s mental image of “professor” had just been severely abused.

“Come in, please,” Petunia said with a smile. “Supper’s almost ready, if you’re hungry.”

“I ate, thank you.” Professor McGonagall said, and walked inside. Harry and his parents stepped back to let her through.

“I’m Petunia Evans-Verres, so nice to meet you…” The two walked down the hall, leaving Harry and his dad by the door. Harry closed it, then exchanged a look with his father.

“What do you reckon?” he whispered. “Time to call the white coats?”

Dad snorted and clapped him on the shoulder with a grin. “Come on, let’s get this foolishness done with.” They followed the women into the living room.

“Got an experiment in mind?” Harry asked. He was still feeling off balance. That strange certainty was stronger now, as if this were all a formality, and he already accepted that the woman in their house was a witch, without quite being able to grasp what that would mean in a practical sense.

“I can’t imagine anything I would come up with that she wouldn’t make an excuse for,” his father said, still keeping his voice low. Harry nodded, and decided to be forthright with their guest, who stood expectantly in the living room. She eyed the multitude of books with what looked to be an admiring air, which Harry found reassuring.

“Good evening Professor McGonagall. As I’m sure you’re aware-” Harry stopped. He actually wasn’t sure what she was aware of. Had she received his letter? What had Mrs. Figg done, read it to her over the phone? Perhaps she had stopped next door to retrieve it before coming here… Harry stifled his questions and began again. “I’m Harry Potter-Evans-Verres. We were surprised by your letter, and have some doubts about its validity. Mum says she’s seen magic before, but neither Dad nor myself have. If you could demonstrate the quality of your magic to us, that would be a good first step.”

Professor McGonagall was watching Harry with an amused expression as he spoke. “Of course, I would be happy to.” She pulled a thin wooden stick out of her sleeve with practiced grace, and Harry blinked. He hadn’t seen the shape of it against the material, and it should have fallen out if it wasn’t held there somehow. “Is there something specific that would persuade you?”

Still preoccupied with her sleight of hand, it took Harry a second to realize she was holding a “magic wand,” and he said the first thing that popped into his head: “Can you shoot fire out of that?”

“Harry!” Mum said with some alarm, and Professor McGonagall’s lips twitched in a brief smile.

“I could, but I think that would be dangerous.” She glanced pointedly at their surroundings. “How about something less destructive?”

“Of course,” Harry said, cheeks red. “Er… did you fly here? I didn’t hear a car, and unless you live nearby I can’t imagine how else you got here so quickly. If you could just… hover a bit? That might help. Wait, on second thought, levitate Dad.”

Professor Evans-Verres gave Harry an approving nod, and stepped forward to face their guest with his arms crossed. Professor McGonagall lifted her wand, and Harry realized his mistake. “Wait!” he said. She lowered her wand, raising an eyebrow. “I want to make sure we do this right.” He thought about it for a second while everyone watched him.

“Now, just to be clear,” Harry said to his Dad. “If the professor does levitate you, when you know you haven’t been attached to any wires, that’s going to be sufficient evidence. You’re not going to turn around and say that it’s a magician’s trick. That wouldn’t be fair play. If you feel that way, you should say so now, and we can ask her to do something else instead.”

Dad nodded, smiling good-naturedly. “Agreed.”

“And you, Mum, your theory says that the professor should be able to do this, and if that doesn’t happen, you’ll admit you’re mistaken. Nothing about how magic doesn’t work when people are sceptical of it, or anything like that.”

Mum glanced at Professor McGonagall’s wand and nodded.

“Is that sufficient, Mr. Potter?” Professor McGonagall said. “Shall I go ahead and demonstrate?”

“Sufficient? Probably not, but it should do for now,” Harry said. Once he saw her methodology he could better decide how to isolate her actions and their relation to the result… assuming there was a result. Did he really expect his father to start floating? “Proceed, please.”

“Is there anything you’d like me to do?” Professor Evans-Verres said, still smiling. “Think light thoughts, perhaps?”

“No need, thank you,” Professor McGonagall replied, and then, “Wingardium Leviosa.”

Harry looked up at his father. “Huh.”

His father looked down at him. “Huh.”

There was a silent pause that Harry knew he would always remember… the moment when his world utterly changed. Everything was still, as if suspended in crystal: he and his mother, staring in shock, the witch holding her wand pointed up at his father, who hung a respectable three feet off the ground in complete defiance of gravity.

And then Professor Verres-Evans looked back at Professor McGonagall and said in a voice Harry had never heard him use, “All right, you can put me down now, thank you.” His father was lowered carefully to the ground, and the moment was ended. The universe continued on as it had before.

Harry ruffled a hand through his dark hair. Maybe it was just that strange part of him which had already been convinced, but… “That’s a bit of an anticlimax,” Harry said. “You’d think there’d be some kind of more dramatic mental event associated with updating on an observation of infinitesimal probability-” Harry stopped himself. Mum and the witch were looking at him oddly. Dad slowly sat down, not even bothering to move the book from the chair as he stared at the piece of wood in Professor McGonagall’s hand. “I mean, with finding out that everything I believe is false.”

Seriously, it should have been more dramatic. His brain ought to have been flushing its entire current stock of hypotheses about the universe, none of which allowed this to happen. But instead it just seemed to be going, All right, I saw the Hogwarts Professor wave her wand and make Dad rise into the air, now what?

The witch was smiling benevolently upon them, looking quite amused. “Would you like a further demonstration, Mr. Potter?”

“You don’t have to,” Harry said. “Though I should probably ask you to do it again just to ensure experimental reliability, we’ve performed a definitive experiment. That wasn’t some trick with mirrors, it wasn’t hypnotic suggestion, he actually lifted off the ground, we all saw it… but…” Harry hesitated. He couldn’t help himself. Actually, under the circumstances, he shouldn’t be helping himself. It was right and proper to be curious. “What else can you do?”

“Besides shoot fire, you mean?”

Dad looked as alarmed as Mum had a moment ago.

“Yes, besides that.” Though Harry actually would love to see it. He was starting to get excited. Would he really be able to fly? Conjure fire at will? How? Did he accelerate the atoms in the air until they combusted? Maybe I use my body heat to-

Professor McGonagall turned into a cat.

Harry scrambled back without thinking, backpedalling so fast that he tripped over a stray stack of books and landed hard on his bottom. His hands came down to catch himself too late, and there was a warning twinge in his shoulder as the weight came down unbraced.

At once the small tabby cat morphed back up into a robed woman. “I’m sorry, Mr. Potter,” said the witch, sounding sincere, though the corners of her lips were twitching upwards. “I should have warned you.”

Harry was breathing in short gasps. It felt like a dam had broken in his mind. His voice came out choked. “You can’t DO that!”

“It’s only a Transfiguration,” said Professor McGonagall. “An Animagus transformation, to be exact.”

“You turned into a cat! A SMALL cat! You violated Conservation of Energy! That’s not just an arbitrary rule, it’s implied by the form of the quantum Hamiltonian! Rejecting it destroys unitarity and then you get FTL signalling! And cats are COMPLICATED! A human mind can’t just visualise a whole cat’s anatomy and, and all the cat biochemistry, and what about the neurology? How can you go on thinking using a cat-sized brain?”

Professor McGonagall’s lips were twitching harder now. “Magic.”

“Magic isn’t enough to do that! You’d have to be a god!”

Professor McGonagall blinked. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been called that.

A blur was coming over Harry’s vision as his brain started to comprehend what had just occurred. Here was the shock he’d been expecting, all the stronger for its delay.

The whole idea of a unified universe with mathematically regular laws, that was what had been flushed down the toilet; the whole notion of physics. Three thousand years of resolving big complicated things into smaller pieces, discovering that the music of the planets was the same tune as a falling apple, finding that the true laws were perfectly universal and had no exceptions anywhere and took the form of simple maths governing the smallest parts, not to mention that the mind was the brain and the brain was made of neurons, a brain was what a person was

And then a woman turned into a cat, so much for all that.

Harry’s head hurt.

A hundred questions fought for priority over his lips, and the winner poured out: “And what kind of incantation is Wingardium Leviosa? Who invents the words to these spells, nursery schoolers?”

“That will do, Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall said crisply, though her eyes shone with suppressed amusement. “If you wish to learn about magic, I suggest that we finalise the paperwork so that you can go to Hogwarts.”

“Right,” Harry said in a daze. Paperwork. Some things never changed, it seemed, even in a world of magic. He pulled his thoughts together and stood up. The March of Reason would just have to start over, that was all; they still had the experimental method and that was the important thing.

“Are you alright darling?” Mum said, putting a hand on her husband’s shoulder.

Professor Evans-Verres did look rather pale. He patted her hand. “I – I think so dear, thank you.” He then brought her hand to his lips in a rare show of public affection. “And… I’m sorry.”

Petunia smiled and squeezed his hand. “That’s alright. I was just as doubtful with Lily, and I didn’t have half as many good reasons to be as you.”

Dad smiled at her, then looked at Harry. “I’m sorry to you too, son. You were right. ‘The final arbiter is observation,’ indeed. I don’t know if I can quite take all this in properly, but…”

Harry had choked up a bit, and now smiled back at his parents. “I had some help, or I would probably have been just as doubtful. Maybe it’s a wizard thing. I’ll explain another time.” He turned to Professor McGonagall, who he now remembered was also the Deputy Headmistress to Hogwarts. A real school for wizards and witches. He couldn’t begin to imagine what it would be like, with professors like this. “I’m ready. How do I get to Hogwarts?”

A brief laugh escaped Professor McGonagall, as if extracted from her by tweezers. “I won’t be whisking you away by magic, if that’s what you’re expecting. As the letter said, term starts September 1st. I will come again and explain how transportation will occur, as well as help you obtain your school supplies.”

“Hold on a moment, Harry,” his father said. “Remember why you haven’t been going to school up until now? What about your condition?”

Professor McGonagall turned to face Michael. “His condition? What’s this?”

“I don’t sleep right,” Harry said. He waved his hands helplessly. “My sleep cycle is twenty-six hours long. I always go to sleep two hours later, every day. 10PM, 12AM, 2AM, 4AM, until it goes around the clock. Even if I try to wake up early, it makes no difference and I’m a wreck that whole day. That’s why I haven’t been going to a normal school up until now.”

“One of the reasons,” said his mother. Harry winced. He didn’t want his potential future teacher and Deputy Headmistress to have a biased opinion of him.

Even if it might be a bit deserved? asked his inner self-critic.

It could be important for the teachers to know, commented his utilitarian side. Remember when our science project-

Shut up or they might not teach us magic! said his Id, and the other parts of Harry promptly fell into agreed silence.

McGonagall gave a long hmmmmm. “I can’t recall hearing about such a condition before…” she said slowly. “I’ll check with Madam Pomfrey to see if she knows any remedies.” Then her face brightened. “No, I’m sure this won’t be a problem – I’ll find a solution in time. Now,” and her gaze sharpened again, “what are these other reasons?”

Harry sent his parents a glare, then straightened his shoulders. “I,” he said with deliberate gravity, “am a conscientious objector to child conscription. On grounds that I should not have to suffer for a disintegrating school system’s failure to provide teachers or study materials of even minimally adequate quality.”

Both of Harry’s parents burst out laughing. “Oh,” said Harry’s father, eyes bright, “is that why you bit a maths teacher in third year?”

She didn’t know what a logarithm was!

“Of course,” seconded Mum. “And biting her was a very mature response.”

Dad nodded. “A well-considered policy to address the failings of a disintegrating school system.”

“I was seven years old! How long are you going to keep on bringing that up?”

“I know,” said his mother sympathetically. “You bite one maths teacher and they never let you forget it, do they?”

Harry turned to Professor McGonagall as his father chuckled. “Are you sure you can’t just whisk me away now?”

“Quite sure.” Professor McGonagall’s restrained smile threatened to burst into a grin at any moment. “And there is to be no biting of teachers at Hogwarts, is that quite clear, Mr. Potter?”

Harry scowled at her. “Fine, I won’t bite anyone who doesn’t bite me first.”

“Better not ask him to build a volcano either,” Dad suggested, and his mother began howling with laughter. “Not unless this school of yours is magically fireproof.”

Dad!” Harry yelled, cheeks burning.

“Well,” Professor McGonagall said. “I think, under the circumstances, that I should avoid taking you to purchase your study materials until a day or two before school begins.”

“What? Why? The other children already know magic, don’t they? I have to start catching up right away! I promise not to burn down the school!” It occurred to him exactly a second after saying it out loud that his having to say it was not particularly encouraging.

“Rest assured, Mr. Potter,” replied Professor McGonagall, “Everyone at Hogwarts will begin with the basics, and the school is quite capable of teaching its students without risk of self-destruction. On the other hand, I suspect that if I leave you alone for two months with your schoolbooks, even without a wand, I will return to this house only to find a crater billowing purple smoke, a depopulated city surrounding it and a plague of flaming zebras terrorising what remains of Oxford.”

Harry’s mother and father nodded in perfect unison.

Mum! Dad!

Chapter 1: A Day of Very Low Probability

Beneath the moonlight glints a tiny fragment of silver, a fraction of a line…

(black robes, falling)

…blood spills out in litres, and someone screams a word.


Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres was doing his best to ignore the yelling outside his cupboard.

It was an hour before supper, and he was lying in the cupboard under the stairs and reading a fantasy novel. Normally he enjoyed reading in companionable silence with his father in his study, or tuning out the sound of his mother’s soap operas in the living room, but when he wanted quiet that even his room couldn’t provide, he would go under the stairs. It was a private, cozy place, mostly insulated from the sounds of phone conversations, television, or outside traffic.

This particular night however, the walls were no match for the steadily rising voices of Michael and Petunia Evans-Verres, and soon Harry began to catch bits and pieces of the conversation.

…just rubbish… fourth time this week… a silly prank, Petunia-“

Harry adjusted his glasses and tried to concentrate on the book. The author was attempting to explain, through an old wizard’s limited grasp of biology and chemistry, how the dragons in his world breathed fire. Though Harry generally preferred science-fiction, he always enjoyed fantasy best when the writers at least tried to put some of the magic in rational, understandable terms: it fired up his imagination to think outside the box for what was possible, if not terribly probable.

-not a prank, I told you… have to show him, or they’ll keep… more and more of them…”

nonsense, there’s no need… worry about crackpots sending him letters!”

Unfortunately, now his imagination was preoccupied with what kinds of letters his dad was keeping from him. Harry closed his book, no longer able to concentrate as a familiar bitterness flared up in him.

It wasn’t that his parents mistreated him. Far from it: he’d been sent to the best primary schools, and when that proved insufficient was given the best tutors an endless pool of starving university students could provide. He’d always been encouraged to study whatever caught his attention, was bought all the books he wanted, was sponsored in whatever maths or science competitions he entered. He knew he was exceedingly lucky, and was always grateful for what his parents gave him… but he would have been satisfied with half as much if it meant he had their respect.

Of course if asked, his parents would say they respected him. An Oxford Professor of Biochemistry and his liberal wife were expected to show an enlightened view of child-rearing that included respect. But that respect meant something different than it would for a fellow adult, who they would never have dreamed of talking about as if he weren’t in the house, let alone making decisions for him.

It wasn’t their fault: society as a whole had such low expectations of children. And if it was ever going to change, it would be up to those like him to change it.

So Harry swung his legs out of the small hammock he’d strung to the walls, turned off the lantern his father had hung up for him, and opened the door into the hallway.

The voices immediately quieted. By the time he stepped into the living room his parents were sitting calmly on the couch, watching the news on a television that stuck out from its surroundings. The Evans-Verres living room was dominated by books. Every inch of wall space was covered by a bookcase going almost to the ceiling. Some bookshelves were stacked to the brim with hardback books: science, maths, history, and everything else. Other shelves had two layers of paperback science fiction, one set right side up, the other stacked sideways in what’s left of the space above. And it still wasn’t enough. Books were overflowing onto the tables and the sofas, covered the top of the television, and made little stacks under the windows.

“Hi Mum, Dad. Is everything alright?”

“Hello Harry.” His mother turned to him with a warm smile, face still young and pretty despite her age. “Yes, everything’s fine.”

“Did we disturb your reading son?” his father said, looking contrite. “We’re sorry, our debate got a bit passionate at the end there.” Michael chuckled.

Harry and his mother exchanged knowing smiles. Professor Evans-Verres viewed arguments as uncivilized, and so any he participated in were automatically elevated in status to “debate.” “It’s alright. I just couldn’t help but overhear,” Harry said with mild emphasis, “and it sounded like a letter arrived for me?”

He saw it in the quick glance they gave each other, his mother’s expectant, his father’s calculating. Harry knew his father was struggling with some mighty cognitive dissonance. One part of him felt guilt from withholding someone’s mail from them, a grievous breach of privacy. The other part felt entitled by societal norms that parents were allowed to decide for their children what information they should or shouldn’t have, no matter how bright and precocious those children might be.

“Yes,” Petunia said after the silence stretched on a few seconds. “It’s the first time I’ve seen it, or I would have told you sooner. Your father thinks it’s just prank mail, but he doesn’t understand-”

“Well no harm in having a look then, right?” Harry said, and held his hand out expectantly, brow raised in an expression of innocent patience. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d do if his father refused, trying to reason with him rarely worked on any topic that concerned Harry’s subordinate status…

After a moment though his father nodded and stood up, walking toward the trash and fishing an envelope and a couple sheets of paper from it. “Quite right Harry, no harm in looking. You’re a bright boy, and I know you won’t get suckered in by whatever crock they’re selling.”

Michael handed the letters and envelope to Harry, who had to choke back a retort to the patronizing tone his father had adopted now that he was giving in. Admitting one’s mistakes was for scientific journals, apparently: not for adults to do to children…

Harry chided himself on such bitter thoughts as he went to the table. He knew this was a sore spot for him, and it occasionally took a while for his temper to calm down. So he forced himself to smile back at his dad, then straightened the first thick, rich paper out and began to read, acutely aware of his parents’ stares.

Harry’s eyes scanned the letter in a few seconds, blinked, then looked up to meet theirs.

“What.”

Michael Evans-Verres smiled. “Yes, rather silly I th-”

Harry held his hand up, then looked back down at the parchment (that’s what you’d call material like this, Harry knew, simple “paper” didn’t suffice) and slowly reread the message.

Dear Mr. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

On the second sheet he found a list that wouldn’t be out of place in a fantasy role-playing game rulebook.

“What is it, some kind of late summer camp?” Harry asked as he eyed the impressive seal heading the parchment: a lion, snake, raven and badger surrounding an ornate H. He smiled as he looked back at the name of the school. Heh. “Hogwarts.” What, was “Newteyes” taken?

“No, Harry,” his mother said. “It’s not a summer camp. As I was telling your father…” She took a deep breath, straightened in her seat, and avoided looking at her husband, gaze steady on Harry. “My sister… your mother, Lily… was a witch. She got that same letter. I’d promised to keep it secret, my whole family did, but now it’s clear you’re meant to know, if they’ve come for you like they did her.”

Harry exchanged a glance with his father, feeling a mix of exasperation and confusion. Mum rarely spoke of his biological parents. It wasn’t taboo or anything, it just never really came up. They’d died in a car crash when he was one year old, the same crash which had given him the lightning shaped scar on his forehead. To hear that they were Wiccan wasn’t terribly surprising considering some of Petunia’s beliefs, but the gravity of her tone didn’t match the subject matter.

“Well that’s, er, very interesting. I guess. But what does her religion have to do with me? Who’s ‘they?'” He didn’t particularly like the ominous sound of them “coming for him,” whoever they were. He imagined a shadowy coven meeting in a forest and pronouncing it time to bring the young Potter into the fold.

“It wasn’t a religion. I’m saying she was an actual witch. She could do magic. Her husband, your father, was a wizard. They both went to this magic school, Hogwarts, when they were eleven. And that you got that letter, it means you’re a wizard too, Harry.”

Michael Evans-Verres laughed, and Harry almost joined him. Petunia Evans-Verres had always been something of the odd-woman-out in their family. Some of the most “spirited debates” he could remember between his parents involved her superstitions, and he had a clear memory as a child of her waving a crystal of some kind in careful patterns over him when he was sick.

When he was younger he used to enjoy going with her to the smoky, mysterious shops she would occasionally frequent, with their pungent odors and exotic wares. Thankfully his father’s books had taught him how to critically examine the beliefs sold in such places, and a few years ago he had begun to find their air of obscure mysticism groundless and mildly irritating.

Harry smiled down at the parchment listing the “school supplies.” Wand, spell books, potion ingredients… he quickly scanned the latter. Nope, no “hog warts” listed, though newt eyes did indeed show up, as well as powdered hens’ teeth. He wondered how expensive that would be: he knew there was some research being done on atavism in chickens that resulted in them growing vestigial teeth, and that the mutation was rather rare. Aboriginal medicine men must have found plenty of uses for it, or imagined them at any rate. He wondered what Hogwarts pretended to use them for. Good dental hygiene?

And yet he didn’t laugh with his father. Because…

Because somewhere in him was a strange certainty that she was right, in this, the most unlikely of cases. You’re a wizard too, Harry.

“Well, maybe someday he’ll be a wizard at chess,” his father said, still smiling as he turned back to the news. “But if whoever keeps sending those letters shows up at the door in a robe and pointy hat, I’m calling the men in the white coats.”

Petunia continued to look only at Harry, her gaze intent, waiting.

“Mum,” he said. “What do you mean by ‘wizard?'”

Petunia bit her lip. “I can’t just tell you. You’ll think I’m-” She swallowed, and Harry felt confused. His mother had always defended her less rational beliefs with an exasperating calm, merely shrugging off logical arguments and relying on some inner conviction. This sudden nervousness, and the confusion he felt from it, made him pay attention. “Listen. I wasn’t – always like this -” She gestured at herself, as though to indicate her lithe form. “Lily did this. Because I… I begged her. For years, I begged her. Lily had always been prettier than me, and I’d… been mean to her, because of that, and then she got magic, can you imagine how I felt? And I begged her to use some of that magic on me so that I could be pretty too, even if I couldn’t have her magic, at least I could be pretty.”

Harry watched in alarm as tears gathered in Petunia’s eyes.

“And Lily would tell me no, and make up the most ridiculous excuses, like the world would end if she were nice to her sister, or a centaur told her not to – the most ridiculous things, and I hated her for it. And when I had just graduated from university, I was going out with this boy, Vernon Dursley, he was fat and he was the only boy who would talk to me. And he said he wanted children, and that his first son would be named Dudley. And I thought to myself, what kind of parent names their child Dudley Dursley? It was like I saw my whole future life stretching out in front of me, and I couldn’t stand it. And I wrote to my sister and told her that if she didn’t help me I’d rather just -”

Petunia stopped. Harry felt somewhat wretched for being responsible for her having to relate such an obviously painful memory. A glance at his father showed his dad similarly stricken. He’d never known that Mum had been through such a dark period, had been so envious of her sister… he wondered how much guilt she must have felt after his biological parents had died.

“Anyway,” Petunia said, her voice small, “she gave in. She warned me it was dangerous, and I said I didn’t care. I drank this potion and I was sick for weeks, but when I got better my skin cleared up and I finally filled out and… I was beautiful. People were nice to me,” her voice broke, “and after that I couldn’t hate my sister any more, especially when I learned what her magic brought her in the end -”

“Darling,” Michael said gently, “you got sick, you gained some weight while resting in bed, and your skin cleared up on its own. Or being sick made you change your diet-”

“No, it was nothing like that,” Petunia said. “It was magic, real magic. I saw it, other things-”

“Petunia,” Michael said. The annoyance was creeping back into his voice. “You know that can’t be true. Do I really have to explain why?”

Petunia wrung her hands. She seemed to be on the verge of tears. “My love, I know I can’t win arguments with you, but please, you have to trust me on this -”

Dad! Mum!

The two of them stopped and looked at Harry. He took a deep breath and thought about the problem. “Mum, your parents didn’t have magic, did they?”

“No,” Petunia said. “Just Lily.”

“Then your family also must not have believed her letter. How did they get convinced?”

“Ah…” Petunia said. “They didn’t just send a letter. They sent a professor from Hogwarts. He -” Petunia’s eyes flicked to Michael. “He showed us some magic.”

“Well there we are then. You don’t have to fight over this,” Harry said firmly. “If it’s true, we can just get a Hogwarts professor here and see the magic for ourselves, and Dad will admit that it’s true. And if not, then Mum will admit that it’s false. That’s what the experimental method is for, so that we don’t have to resolve things just by arguing.” Hoping against hope that this time, just this once, they would listen to him…

“Oh, come now, Harry,” Professor Evans-Verres said. “Really, magic? I thought you’d know better than to take this seriously, even if you’re only ten.”

I. Shall. SCREAM.

“Mum,” Harry said instead, keeping his voice calm. “If you want to win this argument with Dad, look in chapter two of the first book of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. There’s a quote there about how philosophers say a great deal about what science absolutely requires, and it’s all wrong, because the only rule in science is that the final arbiter is observation – that you just have to look at the world and report what you see. Um… off the top of my head I can’t think of where to find something about how it’s an ideal of science to settle things by experiment instead of arguments -”

His mother looked at him and smiled. “Thank you, Harry. But,” she looked back at her husband. “I don’t want to win an argument with your father. I want my husband to just… listen to his wife who loves him, and trust her just this once…”

Harry closed his eyes briefly. Hopeless. Both of his parents were hopeless.

Now they were getting into one of those arguments again, one where his mother tried to make her husband feel guilty, and his father tried to make his wife feel stupid.

“I’m going to go to my room,” Harry announced. His voice trembled a little. “Please try not to fight too much about this, Mum, Dad, we’ll know soon enough how it comes out, right?”

“Of course, Harry,” said his father, and his mother gave him a reassuring kiss, and then they went on “debating” while Harry climbed the stairs to his bedroom.

He shut the door behind him and tried to think, wandering past his own bookshelves crammed with textbooks and sci-fi to lie on his bed.

The funny thing was, he should have agreed with Dad. No one had ever seen any evidence of magic, and according to Mum, there was a whole magical world out there. How could anyone keep something like that a secret in a world of video cameras and spy satellites? More magic? That seemed like a rather suspicious sort of excuse.

Except that some part of Harry was utterly convinced that what his Mum said was true. He was magic… a wizard.

Was it simple ego? What child didn’t want to believe they possessed hidden, magic powers? He knew he had an inflated sense of self-importance as others judged it. He’d always vowed to one day justify it by proving himself unique. Of course, he’d figured it would be somewhere in the realm of science. He’d imagined becoming a world renowned biologist, curing cancer and extending lifespans indefinitely. Or going into physics to perfect cold fusion, ending the planet’s energy needs and propelling humanity to the stars. Reasonable things. Mostly. Not magic, at any rate.

Maybe his powers of reason had been impaired somehow. He frowned, probing his skull with his fingers as if some wound would present itself. He hadn’t hit his head on anything lately… not that he could remember in any case. Would he even remember? There was a scary thought. Harry quickly jumped through some mental hoops to confirm that yes, the least complicated answer that fit all the facts is most likely to be the true one, that all claims require evidence and that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, that two plus two still equaled four.

It should have been a clean case for Mum joking, lying or being insane, in ascending order of awfulness. If Mum had sent the letter herself, that would explain how it arrived at the letterbox without a stamp. A little insanity was far, far less improbable than the universe really working like the contents of that letter implied.

What about his mother’s other views? Was he any more susceptible to those? He considered her belief that atoms arranged in a particular pattern identified as a “crystal” could somehow destroy bacteria or viruses in his body when touched to his skin… specifically those bacteria or viruses deemed “harmful,” opposed to all the beneficial ones… Yes, that he could still rationally reject as a form of wish fulfillment without any evidence to back it up. If the person from Hogwarts came to their house and started bending spoons, he would toss the letter in the trash and think nothing further of it.

But that he was magical… that irrational belief still stayed. And he could think of no evidence to account for it: no moments in his life when he’d exhibited supernatural or unexplainable powers, no hidden talent manifesting in times of great peril or passion. But he still believed he was magic.

Harry rubbed his forehead, grimacing. Don’t believe everything you think, Harry reminded himself. So where do you come from, strange little prediction? Why do I believe what I believe?

Usually Harry was pretty good at answering that question, but in this particular case, he had no clue what his brain was thinking. He couldn’t remember having a belief so clearly based on faith since he was very young. Some people, unfamiliar with the scientific method or rationalism, seemed to think that science took faith, since no one did every experiment themselves, but rather relied on other scientists or textbooks to tell them what was true or not true.

The problem with this view was that no scientist had “faith” in textbooks, other scientists, or even the scientific method. They had confidence in them. Somewhere, someone was able to do the experiments, verified the results through repeated tests, and then subjected their findings to peer review so others could repeat the experiments. And if he wanted, Harry could take the time and effort to learn the information and repeat the experiment himself. Belief in science relied on the external, not the internal, and thus could be shown to others, taught and learned. He no more had faith in science than he had faith that Dad’s car would start tomorrow: he had confidence based on experimentation and observation.

This new belief, however, was not based on external factors. He couldn’t describe it to anyone in a way that would make sense. He couldn’t demonstrate the belief and have it peer reviewed. It just was.

Harry mentally shrugged. A button calls to be pushed, a handle yearns to be turned, and the thing to do with a testable hypothesis is to go and test it.

He went to his desk, shoved some of the books to the side, and took a piece of lined paper from a drawer to start writing.

Dear Minerva McGonagall

Harry paused, reflecting, then discarded the paper for another, tapping another millimetre of graphite from his mechanical pencil. This called for careful calligraphy.

Dear Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall,

Or Whomsoever It May Concern:

I recently received your letter of acceptance to Hogwarts, addressed to Mr. H. Potter. You may not be aware that my genetic parents, James Potter and Lily Potter (formerly Lily Evans) are dead. I was adopted by Lily’s sister, Petunia Evans-Verres, and her husband, Michael Verres-Evans.

I am extremely interested in attending Hogwarts, conditional on such a place actually existing. Only my mother Petunia says she knows about magic, and she can’t use it herself. My father is highly skeptical. I myself am uncertain. I also don’t know where to obtain any of the books or equipment listed in your acceptance letter.

Mother mentioned that you sent a Hogwarts representative to Lily Potter (then Lily Evans) in order to demonstrate to her family that magic was real, and, I presume, help Lily obtain her school materials. If you could do this for my own family it would be extremely helpful.

Sincerely,

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres.

Harry added their current address, then folded up the letter and put it in an envelope, which he addressed to Hogwarts. Further consideration led him to obtain a candle and drip wax onto the flap of the envelope, into which, using a penknife’s tip, he impressed the initials H.J.P.E.V. If he was going to descend into this madness, he was going to do it with style.

Then he opened his door and went back downstairs. His father was sitting in the living-room and reading a book of higher maths to show how smart he was, and his mother was in the kitchen preparing one of his father’s favourite meals to show how loving she was. It didn’t look like they were talking to one another at all. As scary as arguments could be, not arguing was somehow much worse.

“Mum,” Harry said into the unnerving silence, “I’m going to test the hypothesis. According to your theory, how do I send a letter to Hogwarts?”

His mother turned from the sink to look at him uncertainly. “I don’t know, I think you have to own a magic owl.”

That should’ve sounded highly suspicious, oh, so there’s no way to test your theory then, but the peculiar certainty in Harry seemed willing to stick its neck out even further.

“Well, the letter got here somehow,” Harry said, “so I’ll just wave it around outside and call ‘letter for Hogwarts!’ and see if an owl picks it up. Dad, do you want to come and watch?”

His father shook his head minutely and kept on reading. Of course, Harry thought to himself. Magic was a disgraceful thing that only stupid people believed in; if his father went so far as to test the hypothesis, or even watch it being tested, that would feel like associating himself with that…

Only as Harry stumped out the back door into the garden did it occur to him that if an owl did come down and snatch the letter, he was going to have some trouble telling Dad about it.

But – well – that can’t really happen, can it? No matter what my brain seems to believe. If an owl really comes down and grabs this envelope, I’m going to have worries a lot more important than what Dad thinks.

Harry took a deep breath, and raised the envelope into the air.

He swallowed.

Calling out Letter for Hogwarts! while holding an envelope high in the air in the middle of your own back garden was… actually pretty embarrassing, now that he thought about it.

No. I’m better than this. I will use the scientific method even if the result makes me feel stupid.

“Letter-” Harry said, but it actually came out as more of a whispered croak.

Harry steeled his will, and shouted into the empty sky, “Letter for Hogwarts! Can I get an owl?

“Harry?” asked a bemused woman’s voice from nearby.

Harry yanked down his hand as if it had caught fire, hiding the envelope behind his back like it was drug money. His whole face was hot with shame.

An old woman’s face peered out from above the neighbouring fence, grizzled grey hair escaping from her hairnet. Mrs. Figg, the occasional babysitter. “What are you doing, Harry?”

“Nothing,” Harry said in a strangled voice. “Hi Mrs. Figg. I’m just… testing a really silly theory-”

“Did you get your acceptance letter from Hogwarts?”

Harry froze.

“Yes,” Harry’s lips said a little while later. “I got a letter from Hogwarts. They say they want my owl by the 31st of July, but-”

“But you don’t have an owl. Poor dear! I can’t imagine what someone must have been thinking, sending you just the standard letter.”

A wrinkled arm stretched out over the fence, and opened an expectant hand. Hardly thinking himself at this point, Harry gave over his envelope.

“Just leave it to me, dear,” said Mrs. Figg, “and in a jiffy or two I’ll have someone over.”

And her face disappeared from over the fence.

There was a long silence in the garden.

Then a boy’s voice said, calmly and quietly, “What.”

Chapter 32: Decisions

The room is claustrophobic with so many people in it, and Red stands as far into the corner as he can, trying to be innocuous. His foot bounces with the nervous energy filling his gut, but he makes sure to be quiet as he rocks from toe to heel, not wanting to draw attention that might remind someone to remove him.

Technically he has no reason to be here: he doesn’t work at the dig site like Ryback or the site leader, Dr. Zapata. He isn’t an ACE on security like Paul, and unlike Leaf and Blue he had no interaction with Yuuta, so Ranger Sasaki has nothing to ask him. But despite being exhausted enough to sleep for hours, as long as no one seems to mind his presence, he has no intention of missing something this important.

Ranger Sasaki arrived and spoke with Blue then Leaf privately to record their statements, then noticed that they were starting to draw a crowd and asked the Barrier to be removed so they could bring Yuuta inside. Yuuta didn’t wake up until they began to move him, and has been sitting in sullen silence since his interrogation started. Though perhaps “interrogation” is too strong a word so far…

“…three years, after which you spent a couple months travelling through Johto. A brief bit of surveying work for Silph, a conference in Sinnoh, two research projects back to back…”

Yuuta sits bound to a chair by the ankles and wrists with his back against a wall. Ranger Sasaki stands in front of him as she reads from her phone, while everyone else stands in a half circle around him, Paul with his back to the door. Yuuta’s pokebelt is being held outside in case any have been hacked to open by voice command alone.

“…some more survey work for a private dig, and then you drop off the radar for about two years before doing another two surveys and then applying to this site.” Ranger Sasaki scrolls through the document with her thumb, then tucks her phone away and takes out a notepad and pen. “That’s your CV right? Did I miss anything major?”

“No. That’s all right.” Yuuta’s voice is low, gaze on the floor. It’s the first time he’s spoken since waking, and everyone but Ranger Sasaki reacts in some way, shifting or blinking in surprise.

“What’s with the gaps?” Sasaki asks. “Anything you want to clarify for the record, before we do some deeper digging? Maybe point us in the right direction, save everyone some time?”

Yuuta is quiet a moment, then lets his breath out through his nose. “Travelled. Alone.”

“Mhm. Didn’t happen to use any electronic forms of payment during that time, did you?”

“I did, actually. Sometimes. Cash while abroad, but passed through Kanto now and then.”

“Not very helpful.”

“Well I’m sorry ma’am, I guess you’ll have to do your own damn job. Now I’m done talking until I can see my attorney.”

Everyone shifts at the sudden anger in his voice, and Paul snorts. “Renegade asking for a lawyer, that’s rich.”

Yuuta’s head snaps up. “What’d you just call me?”

Ranger Sasaki gestures to Leaf and Blue. “These two say you used pokemon to attack them.”

“What?! He attacked me!” Yuuta jerks his head at Blue.

“No I didn’t, my squirtle attacked your abra!”

“And my sandslash attacked your squirtle, so what’s this Renegade shit?”

Ranger Sasaki holds up a quieting hand before Blue can respond. Red wipes a drop of sweat from his neck as he studies Yuuta’s face. The geologist’s outrage seems genuine, with just the right hint of fear in his voice and eyes. Red never met a Renegade before, and has no idea if they’re all such good actors. Of course if he assumes from the beginning that Yuuta’s a Renegade, then any emotion he shows in denying guilt would seem like good acting, even if genuine…

Blue’s question outside still echoes in Red’s head: Whose side are you on, anyway? Red didn’t mean to imply with his comments that Yuuta wasn’t a Renegade. He was just reacting automatically to potential bias or irrationality. Blue has accused him in the past of getting too much enjoyment out of being a devil’s advocate to infuriating extremes, but Red never means to do it maliciously. Something in him just naturally pushes back at things that look too sure or damning.

What do I think I know, and why do I think I know it? Red can’t help but wonder if the whole thing really was a big misunderstanding, but… he trusts Blue and Leaf not to embellish or exaggerate. Not consciously, anyway. And if Yuuta is a Renegade, getting them to second guess Blue and Leaf is his only chance.

“What did his squirtle attack your abra with?” Ranger Sasaki asks.

Yuuta shifts in his seat. “Water Gun.”

“And your sandslash attacked with what?”

“Scratch.”

Blue and Leaf mix angry denials until the Ranger quiets them again, and Red suddenly wonders why they’re here at all. The whole situation is different than in TV shows (less shouting and dramatic reveals of evidence by the Ranger) but he knows from watching them that suspected Renegades aren’t left alone with anyone while in custody. Still, having Blue and Leaf here just makes it harder to get a clear story from Yuuta, who’s showing more… normalcy, humanity, than the Renegades on the shows.

“They misheard me, that’s all!” Yuuta says. “It was a tense situation, and I was panicked at suddenly having to defend myself without warning!”

“You mean while you were trying to teleport away with a bag full of our fossils?” Dr. Zapata asks. “They may not have known if you had permission at the time, but you knew exactly what you were doing.”

Yuuta is quiet, then leans his head back, face blank again. “I want a lawyer, I said.”

“So you’re not denying that you were attempting to steal the fossils?”

Yuuta remains silent, and Red thinks he won’t answer any more. If it’s one thing Red learned from the shows it’s that crime suspects speaking without an attorney is just a terrible idea in almost every circumstance, so he doesn’t blame the man for being cautious, even if his silence is as good as an admission of guilt.

But he won’t get an attorney if a Ranger and some witnesses agree that he used pokemon to attack someone. Was it two or three? Certainly less than the amount of people in this room. A chill suddenly creeps up Red’s spine as it hits home that he’s likely looking at a dead man. If Yuuta can’t convince the people here that he’s not a Renegade, he wouldn’t see another sunrise.

“No,” the geologist says at last, voice low. “I tried to steal them.”

“No shit,” Blue mutters.

“How could you, Yuuta?” Dr. Zapata asks. “Bad enough that we all worked so hard for them, were they really worth killing for?”

Red expects defiance when Yuuta raises his gaze, but with a shock he sees a pained expression. “You have every right to hate me, Lourdes. I won’t try to excuse it. I put myself first, like I have my whole life. I’m not a good person… but I’m no Renegade!” he says, turning to Blue and Leaf, then Ranger Sasaki. “You have to believe me!”

“The graveler that came through that building and self-destructed,” Leaf says. “You ordered it to.”

“I didn’t know you were there, I swear! If I wanted to kill you, why didn’t I just do it while you were taking care of your friend?”

Leaf hesitates, and the room is silent for a time, broken only by the sound of Yuuta’s shallow, rapid breathing. The geologist has a point, but no one’s brought up what Red thinks is the most important argument. He swallows against the dryness of his throat and wonders if he should say something. Fear radiates off of Yuuta, and Red finds it hard to speak the words that might sentence the man to death. He looks at Ryback, and the man catches his gaze and nods.

“Forget the graveler,” Ryback says. “Your job on site was partially to monitor for seismic activity. You didn’t warn anyone that the paras colony was coming. You must have detected them, known this was your chance.”

“No, I wasn’t with the equipment! I just saw an opportunity and took it.” Yuuta turns to the Ranger. “Look, get a psychic up here and they can prove I’m innocent. I’ll sign whatever waivers they want!”

“I’m sorry, but there’s no way to guarantee that you haven’t trained to fool a psychic. This situation has too many marks of foresight and planning. Even if you didn’t directly use a pokemon to attack a human, you endangered lives by trying to exploit a pokemon attack.”

“And the pokemon you used were exactly what you needed to make it look natural,” Blue says.

“That’s a coincidence, we’ve been here a year. Of course I have natives of the mountain!”

“What about your abra?” Leaf asks. “You had it ready to teleport you out.”

Yuuta scowls. “Any trainer with a brain has a pokemon ready to teleport them in emergencies. You’re just looking for reasons to condemn me, the lot of you! You’ve already made up your minds!”

There’s another uncomfortable silence. Despite Yuuta’s accusation, no one seems eager to brand someone a Renegade on circumstantial evidence, and even Paul appears to be wavering.

“There’s an easy way to verify that,” Red says, causing everyone to turn to him. He steps away from the wall to stand beside Blue and Leaf. “Tell us where your abra teleported to. If you’re telling the truth and your abra was for emergency escapes, then it should have been trained with a pokemon center as its home, or a hospital. You’re not psychic, right? You can’t project a new destination on the spot.”

Yuuta stares at him, jaw tight. Red forces himself to meet the man’s gaze, trying to read some insight or depth in them. But Yuuta only looks angry and scared.

“No unaccompanied abra have been reported,” Ranger Sasaki says. “If we’re looking in the wrong places, tell us now.”

Yuuta’s throat works for a moment, then he looks down and mutters, “I’m not saying anything else without a lawyer. You can’t charge me as a Renegade just because I was caught stealing.”

“And if that’s all it was, you’d be right,” Sasaki says. “But even putting aside the reckless endangerment by use of pokemon, even putting aside the testimony of these two, your attempted thievery relied on the endangerment of others.” Her tone is flat, and she looks from one adult to the next, each nodding. She also look at Red, who nods reflexively. “You were in the presence of a Tier 1 Emergency, and instead of helping your fellow man, you exploited the situation for your own benefit, and endangered the lives of others with your graveler. For that, I brand you a Renegade.”

“No, please-”

“Dawson, Mary, and Tetsu died today, Yuuta,” Dr. Zapata says, expression hard. “They died fighting to protect everyone on this site, on this mountain. To protect you. And what were you doing? Trying to steal from them, from all of us. Witnessed.”

“I… I didn’t…”

“Witnessed,” Paul says, voice flat.

“Witnessed,” Ryback mutters, gaze down.

Yuuta looks around the room, face drained of color by the time he reaches the trio. “Kids… please, tell them… I could have killed you, if I wanted, I mean I was just… I’m s-sorry…”

Blue stares at him in undisguised contempt, while Leaf looks sick and angry, eyes down. Red feels his stomach roll when Yuuta turns to him again, and forces himself not to step back to the wall. He wasn’t there, he can’t say anything that would help the man. Didn’t stop me from helping condemn him.

Then Red realizes that’s exactly what the room is waiting for. He remembers now, it’s the Ranger plus four witnesses, and Blue and Leaf can’t, they were directly involved. His presence wasn’t an oversight at all: he’s expected to pass judgement. That’s why the Ranger looked at him.

Cold sweat breaks out all over his skin, and he takes a deep breath to calm himself. He needs time, he needs to think about all the evidence and angles-

“Red,” Ryback says. “Do you need a minute?”

Everyone’s looking at him now, Blue and Leaf are looking at him, and he knows what he has to say, he just doesn’t want to say it, doesn’t want to be the person to decide. Going first or last has too much resistance, they should have couched him in the middle of the witnesses if they were trying to get him to feel less pressure, to conform, but of course they’re not doing anything so deliberate. They just expected him to do his duty as a trainer: to listen, decide, and witness.

“Please… please, don’t…”

“I witness,” Red whispers, and clears his throat. “With all the evidence as it is, I witness the Ranger’s branding,” he says, louder.

“No… nooo…”

Yuuta shakes his head as he moans, face screwed up in horror and grief. “Branded and witnessed,” Ranger Sasaki says. She opens her mouth again, then pauses and looks at the trio before turning to Paul. “If you wouldn’t mind staying a moment?” He nods and opens the door. Everyone else files out of the room, and Red, Leaf and Blue follow as Yuuta begins to sob.

Ranger Sasaki leads them outside, into the sunlight. Red feels it dry his sweat almost instantly, and shivers at the sudden temperature change.

“Thank you all for your help,” Sasaki says, gaze on the trio in particular. “Encountering and passing judgement on a Renegade are difficult things to do at any age, and I’m sorry you all had to go through it. You comported yourselves well, and are dismissed. I have your contact information for the paperwork, and if there are further questions,” she says, addressing Ryback and Dr. Zapata too.

“Thank you, Ranger,” Dr. Zapata says, face a mask. As Sasaki returns to the building, Dr. Zapata turns to the trio too. “And thank you. I know I speak for everyone on site when I say that you’ve saved today from being full of any more heartache. After the friends we’ve already lost, the theft would have been a crippling blow to our spirit.”

“We did as anyone would,” Leaf says, and Blue nods. Red stays silent, unsure if she’s including him and still preoccupied with the fate of the man he sentenced to death.

Dr. Zapata turns to Ryback. “Thank you, Jon. Would you mind escorting these three to a center or outpost?”

“Of course, Doctor, I was just going to suggest the same.”

She grips his arm, then walks toward the distant figures of the other site workers.

“We can make it ourselves,” Blue says once she’s gone. “You don’t need to coddle us.”

Ryback raises a brow. “How many healthy, rested pokemon do you all have among you?”

The trio pauses to count, and Leaf raises three fingers.

Blue nods. “I’ve got three.”

“Two.” And one of them’s a caterpie. Red reminds himself to let Charmander out to rest soon.

“Well this whole half of the mountain range is like a kicked beedrill’s nest right now, and frankly I don’t like your odds of making it on your own. Partly because you’re still newer trainers, and partly because I know at least one of you must be exhausted.” Red considers denying it as the other two look at him, but fights down the urge. “Alternatively you all could rest here for the night. By tomorrow the Rangers should have calmed things down a bit.”

“Is there room for us?” Leaf asks.

“Normally no, but…”

Red nods. They’d lost some people. It only takes a few seconds of thought to recognize they’d be stupid not to take him up on his help. “Well, if you can be spared around here, I wouldn’t mind the escort.”

“I’m okay with it too,” Leaf says.

Blue looks at them, then shrugs. “Sure. Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, you all did a lot here. It’s the least we can do to pay you back. Give me an hour to finish some things up, and I’ll meet you on the east side of the dig.”

They agree and watch as he walks off, circling around the warzone of dead pokemon that blights a third of the dig site. The three stand together in silence and watch the various people moving about. Red wonders when Yuuta will be executed, and how. The day feels like it has gone on forever, probably because he feels so drastically different now than when he woke up this morning. There’s a surreal sense of distance as he feels unconnected from his painful thoughts of guilt and uncertainty, but also a feeling of connection with the world around him, all his senses turned up as he breathes deep and feels again the same bittersweet gladness to be alive from just after the battle.

Blue turns to Red and Leaf, a thoughtful, distant expression on his face. Just as Red’s about to ask his friend if he feels the same way, Blue says, “So, anyone hungry?”

Red snorts, then giggles, then sits down in the dirt, laughing until he clutches his stomach. Blue gives him a startled look, then tries to exchange concerned glances with Leaf, who merely gives a sad smile.

“Uh. You okay, man?”

Red makes an effort to control himself, speaking through giggles. “Yes… yes, I am hungry. And tired. And maybe slightly delirious because of it.”

“Well, we’ve got time for a snack and nap.”

“A snackap,” Leaf says in an experimental tone. “Napack? A snap.”

Red shakes his head. He knows his friends aren’t ready to talk about what just happened yet either, and is grateful for the excuse to put it off. “No, you guys go ahead.” He pushes himself to his feet. “There’s something I want to do before we leave.”

“What is it?”

Red hesitates. Would he rather be alone? He’s never done a burial before, isn’t even sure why he wants to, other than a feeling of obligation. “My rattata got killed. I want to bury her.”

Leaf’s hands cover her mouth. “Oh, Red, I’m sorry. How?”

“One of the paras that looked dead… she walked by it and it pierced her heart before I could withdraw her. Spearow also didn’t make it.”

“Damn, your Flying type too?” Blue demands. “Against paras? What happened?”

Red flushes. “There were hundreds of them, what do you think happened? Some stun spores knocked him to the ground and they tore him to shreds! Sorry not everyone can be as good as you!”

“Hey, I didn’t say that!”

“You implied it!”

“The hell I did, I was just asking a question! I’ve lost pokemon too you know!”

Leaf steps between them, a palm on each of their chests. “Woah, guys, calm down! We’ve all had a stressful day! Deep breaths!”

Red tries to continue meeting Blue’s glare, but it’s hard to be menacing when you’re constantly shifting your head around a pleasant white sunhat. He finally does as she says, letting his breath out in a hot gust as he steps back. “Sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

Blue scratches the back of his neck. “Yeah, well. That sucks about your pokemon. Sorry.”

“Yeah. You guys get something to eat, I’m going to the edge of the dig site. I’ll be back soon.”

“Screw that, we’re coming with you,” Leaf says with a resolute expression that quickly shifts to apprehensive. “Unless you’d rather do it alone?”

Red shrugs. “I don’t mind the company.” Maybe he’s not the only one that needs to go through some motions right now. He worries he should be feeling more, enough to cry or scream or something, but he doesn’t feel enough to do anything like that, and this at least is something constructive he can do. “Thanks.”


The trio walks away from the dig site until they’re surrounded by grass and trees, on high alert for any wild pokemon that might still be in the area. Red takes a handheld shovel out of a Container of tools in his bag and shoves the blade through the thick grass with his foot. After it’s up the dirt beneath it is easier to scoop, and once his arms can no longer manipulate the shovel in and out without widening the hole he hands it to Blue.

Red unclips the pokeball, then braces himself physically and emotionally. “Go, Rattata,” he mutters.

The pokeball kicks and disgorges his pokemon, blood still pooling out of her chest and into the grass. Leaf tilts her head up, eyes closed, and as Blue lowers Rattata into the hole she begins to recite:

In life you were a stranger first
A danger tamed and taught
But as life endangers man and mon
As one we trained and fought

In life you were my guardian
I called you and you came
We rose to any challenges
Our fates became the same

In life you were my dearest friend
I taught you and you taught me
To fill our days with laughs and love
Our nights warm and danger free

In life you gave me everything
A debt I can’t repay
The road goes on for me alone
Now rest, your duty’s done.

Her voice is soft and sure, but for a slight hitch at the end that makes Red’s chest ache. The last line takes him by surprise: he’s used to it being In death your battle’s done. He wonders if it’s a regional difference, or her own alteration. Blue finishes filling the hole, then places the grassy plot back onto it, mostly undisturbed.

“She was such a little thing,” Red says searching for the words as he spoke. “But she fought without hesitation, always. She did her best to keep me safe, and she succeeded. It’s only been a month and a half since we started our journey, but she was with us from day one, from the first danger we all faced as a team. She’s not the first pokemon we lost,” he says, nodding to Blue. “And not the only one we lost today. But she’s the first we caught together. And I’m glad we’re all together to say goodbye.”

Red waits for more words to come, thoughts popping in and out of his mind, spinning through it untethered until they fade. The silence stretches out, too long, so he just nods and whispers “Thank you” to the small grave before turning away, cheeks red.

Too late he realizes he prohibited any potential last words the other two might have wanted to speak, but they follow him without hesitation, so he supposes they didn’t plan on saying anything.

“Thanks guys,” Red says to Blue and Leaf as they make their way back to the dig site.

“No prob.” Blue has the shovel braced between his arms and shoulders, gaze down. Leaf nods, sniffing a bit. Red waits for some crushing emotion to wash over him, but he feels… okay. A bit sad, a bit bitter at the unfairness of it all, but mostly he just feels hungry and tired.

Red isn’t even sure why he feels like he should be more upset. Is he worried there’s something wrong with him? That maybe his metric for grief was broken after his dad, just because he isn’t falling to pieces over his lost rattata?

It’s possible that the psychic block Narud mentioned is affecting his emotions, but the simpler explanation is that his rattata just didn’t matter that much to him. It feels horrible to admit, but he can’t ignore his feelings, or lack of them. He’s sad that Rattata died, and feels it as more of a constant than the sadness of the people that died today, but if he focuses on them, he feels it more acutely.

And they’re people he hasn’t even met. Leaf, who he’s known for about as long as he had his rattata, feels exponentially more important to him. Hell, he even feels more for the Renegade, though that’s a more confused jumble of emotions. Still, sadness for his death, the senseless waste of it, is one of them. It seems his prediction at the restaurant their first night together holds true so far. Sad as he is at the loss of his pokemon, they still just don’t “matter” to him in the same way people do.

Maybe that makes him a horrible person, but Red decides to try and table that worry for now, if he can. It’s not particularly productive, and there are more pressing issues at hand.

“I’m going to let my pokemon out to get some rest and heal them up a bit before we leave,” Red says as they walk. “The last thing I want to face today is another fight, but it’s better to be prepared. You guys want to have a bite meanwhile?”

“Sure,” Leaf says. “Let’s do it at the east side so we’re ready for Ryback.” They pass site personnel, ACE, and other trainers that are still recovering from the battle and helping clean up the dig site. Red wonders if they should help, but no one seems to expect it of them, and he’s too tired and distracted to do more than appreciate being able to sit it out.

They reach the eastern edge of the site and find the road continuing on across the mountain. Red takes his shovel from Blue and returns it to its Container, then they release some unhurt pokemon and sit to eat trail mix, jerky, fruits and veggies.

“Weird day, huh?” Blue asks with a full mouth as he tosses carrot chips to Maturin and Zephyr.

“Yeah.” Red rubs his sleeping charmander’s head with one hand as the other holds a stick of jerky. “Mom and your grandpa are going to freak when they find out.”

“Think you should tell them before the news does?” Leaf asks as her ledyba crawls up her back and onto her hat. “I don’t have that problem at least. Or, I don’t think I do. Maybe my mom started watching Kanto news too. Hm.”

Red and Blue look at each other. “Eh,” Blue says with a shrug. “The news is fast, but it’s not that fast.”

Red smiles. “I’ll probably call my mom tonight anyway, so might as well tell her then. She-”

Leaf’s phone chirps a tune just then, and they all wait in trepidation as she takes it out and looks at the screen.

“Oh.” She relaxes. “It’s just an email… from the Pewter mayor?” Leaf scans the screen. “He’ll be giving a speech at a graduation ceremony tomorrow, and said to tune in for mention of ‘a certain article.'” She raises wide eyes to them. “I thought he forgot.”

“That’s great,” Red says. “He’ll give it a huge boost.”

“Yeah…” Leaf puts her phone away, gaze distant.

“What’s the matter?”

“Mayor Kitto struck me as an acutely political person. I left his office feeling… not manipulated so much as handled. I’m happy for the extra attention, I just can’t help but wonder what his goal is.”

“Ulterior motives don’t necessarily have to be negative. Why not ask him?”

Leaf smiles. “Even if he’s honest, I wouldn’t trust him to give a full answer.”

“He’s just plugging your article,” Blue says. “Mutual back scratching, a politician’s bread and butter. What could he possibly be doing that’s so bad?”

“Well, he could be directing funds toward friends on the museum board, or putting himself in more of a position to decide future direction for the museum,” Leaf says. “Just because he happens to be on the right side of the latest topic doesn’t mean he’ll always be. Qualified people need to guide its choices, not leaders or mayors.”

“Until we live in a technocracy, that’s probably wishful thinking in any case,” Red says. “What’s your alternative? Tell him not to mention the article?”

Leaf shakes her head. “No, I just don’t want to be used or drawn into a political fight that will force me onto the side of a stranger. Kitto seems like a nice guy, but if he’s in some scandal a couple years from now, anyone that’s seen as close to him could be affected by it. Plus, if I really want to do serious journalism someday, getting used to relationships like that could be compromising.”

“Or useful,” Blue says. “Gramps has a half-dozen friends in the press that he uses for different reasons when he needs to get the word out on something.”

“Ask my mom what she thinks,” Red suggests.

Leaf nods and begins navigating on her phone. “I think I will.”

“Wait, hang on,” Blue says. “Did he say he’s going to mention it tomorrow?”

“Yeah?”

Blue rubs his chin. “You might want to get him to postpone that.”

“What? Why?”

“Have you considered the optics on all this? We just single-handedly… double-handedly? The two of us just helped catch a Renegade as he tried to steal a fortune’s worth of fossils. We might hit regional news. Even if it’s just local, we’re gonna get a huge spike in followers.”

Leaf nods, face thoughtful. “I’m going to get another smaller spike from the mayor’s mention, but if the Renegade story hits first… suddenly I’m not just some tourist when he mentions me.”

“Exactly. The timing couldn’t be better if you planned it.”

“Maybe someone did,” Red says. “These mountains are owned by Viridian, Celadon and Pewter, and a lot of the workers here are from Pewter. Word could have spread by now: maybe the mayor already knows.”

Leaf frowns. “He must have written his speech before today though. I guess it’s not hard to slip this mention in, but only if it’s topical, and in that case why wouldn’t he have originally planned to include it?”

“Maybe he was waiting for you to do something noteworthy.”

Blue shrugs. “No way of knowing until we know what his speech is about. Either way, if he mentions it before all this hits the news it won’t be nearly as big an impact.”

“Why not preempt that, then?” Red asks. “Just tell the mayor what happened, so he can mention it even if it hasn’t made news yet.”

Leaf tugs at her lower lip. “I guess so,” she says slowly. “But that seems a bit too much like self-promoting, doesn’t it?”

“No way, it’s getting ahead of the story,” Blue says. “Just make it clear that you’re giving him the heads-up so he doesn’t get caught unaware if the news breaks around then.”

Leaf is nodding. “Got it.” She puts her food down and begins typing away.

Blue turns to Red and catches him gazing up at the sky, where Zephyr is soaring in slow circles. “You alright?”

“Yeah. Just thinking.” I need another flying pokemon. He sighs. “What do you think of the Renegade system? Does it seem… fair to you?”

Blue frowns at him. “Of course not. That’s the point, isn’t it? ‘Better to brand ten innocents than let one Renegade go free?'”

“Yeah, I know. The damage that one Renegade can do to society far outweighs the lives of the ten. Are you ever scared of being one of those ten, though?”

“I am,” Leaf says, still typing on her phone. “Scared, that is. Today I had some tense moments wondering if we’d made a mistake.”

“Come on, no way that guy wasn’t guilty,” Blue says. “I mean, yeah, it was a bit intense having to get everyone to believe us over him, but it was pretty clear he was up to no good.”

“What if it’s not so clear next time?” Red asks. “We didn’t actually prove anything, it was just all so much more circumstantial than it is on TV.”

Blue’s eyes narrow. “What are you saying? You think we were wrong?”

“No, no.” Red makes a sound of frustration. “Look, I witnessed, didn’t I? I just think… he was tied up, you know? He wasn’t going anywhere. There was time to look into things more, find more neutral witnesses. I know you guys weren’t able to witness, but I’m your friend, even if the evidence wasn’t on your side I’d feel pressured to believe you. Dr. Zapata and Ryback just lost three colleagues, they’re not exactly thinking clearly right now. And Paul, well, he’s leading security here. If something had happened to the fossils it wouldn’t look great for him.”

“Alright, sure, they could have gotten him a lawyer and put him in court and filled a jury with random people and hoped that the truth came out,” Blue says. “But what if it doesn’t? We’re back to the question of letting a Renegade free. Remember Modama Town? Old Agate Village? One psychopath gets it in his head to wipe out hundreds of people, or even thousands, and we’re just supposed to hope they don’t? Fuck that.”

Red shakes his head. “I know. It’s horrifying. But events like that happen so rarely.”

“Yeah, and I doubt that’s a coincidence.”

“What we need are numbers,” Leaf says. “People killed by Renegades in a year, people killed as Renegades in a year, people investigated, people branded… the hardest part would be the speculation though.” Leaf taps at her phone a few more times, then tucks it away. “We can’t know how effective killing suspected Renegades is by just pointing to the lack of terrorist attacks. Maybe we’re nipping dozens of them in the bud, or maybe we’re just predominantly catching Renegades like Yuuta, who are… indirect. He could have killed us if he wanted to, you know. After his graveler knocked you out.”

Blue shakes his head as their pokemon all suddenly focus on something behind him. Red turns to see Ryback approaching. “The guy was scum,” Blue says. “He was still out in the open, didn’t want to risk anyone seeing him kill us. If he got away with this heist he would have just grown bolder, done something worse.”

“Maybe,” Ryback says. “Or maybe he would have sold his loot and found some other Region to retire in. Either way, I’m glad he didn’t get the chance.”

The trio start repacking their food and withdrawing their pokemon. Ryback is dressed in more protective clothing and a full pokebelt. “Hang on a sec, don’t finish closing your bags yet. I’ve got something for you all.”

Red, Blue and Leaf exchange glances, then put their bags back down and approach him as he lifts a small sack and takes out a Container. “Got two more of these in here, a fossil in each. I talked to Dr. Zapata, and she agreed… we wouldn’t have any of these if not for you all. They’re extras, so we’re free to do with them as we’d like.”

“Um. Wow. That’s… really nice of you,” Red says slowly. “But I wasn’t there-”

“I know, you were helping me. Didn’t seem fair to exclude you for that, since you would have been otherwise. Plus you helped with… afterward, and did as much as anyone to help protect the site. Paid a price for it, too. This is our way of saying thanks. Don’t worry, they’re not super valuable. If you ever go to Cinnabar Labs though, they might be able to regenerate them for you.”

“We’ve been here before,” Leaf says as Ryback takes out the second and third Containers, all three balls gleaming in the sun.

“You should pick first this time,” Red says. “And you can go second, Blue.”

“Nah, you go second. By the time we’re at Cinnabar my team is going to be mostly solid.”

“What are they?” Leaf asks.

“This one’s a ball of amber that we believe has aerodactyl blood in it. It’s part of a shipment that’s going to Pewter’s museum. These two are a pair of fossils for omanyte and kabuto.”

“Aerodactyl’s the flying one, right? I’ll take it,” Leaf says with a smile. “Thank you so much!”

Red sighs to himself. He was hoping for that one. Of the remaining two though, he has no real preference. His hand twitches indecisively from left to right, and he finally just chooses at random. “Which is this?”

“Omanyte.”

“Cool. Thanks.” Red tucks it into his bag and wonders if he’ll ever revive it. He always wanted to learn more about the regeneration process, and this is as good an excuse as any to start.

Blue takes his kabuto fossil and they finish packing up. “We’ve got a few hours of daylight left, think we can make it to the final checkpoint by then?”

Red takes a deep breath, then lets it out, feeling more energized. The rest and food helped a lot. “Sure, let’s do it. I wouldn’t mind getting off this mountain by tomorrow. Would be nice to have a shower tonight.”

“Agreed,” Leaf says. “Is that okay with you, Ryback?”

“I’m just here to help, you three set whatever pace you want. I’ve been on site for almost a week, and after today wouldn’t say no to a shower myself. And a stiff drink.”

Chapter 31: Distractions

The first thing that makes Blue reconsider his enthusiasm is the sheer number of geodude, zubat, sandshrew, graveler, and other pokemon flooding out of the hole in the mountain.

The second is the cloud of spores that pour out after them, disguised and mingled with the dust of the collapsed earth. Blue watches as a graveler pulls itself up into the sunlight and takes two stumbling steps forward, then collapses onto its face to reveal a back covered in visibly growing fungus.

Goosebumps break out along his arms as a childhood fear returns, spawned by nights of staying up past his bedtime to secretly watch zombie movies. Until his parents died, waking to find his friends and family stumbling around with blank white eyes and fungal caps was his most recurring nightmare.

Migrating parasect colony, or maybe a rampage, started a stampede. Fire and Flying pokemon are top priority. He pulls his facemask on and unhooks Zephyr’s ball, then hesitates as the wave of fleeing pokemon approaches them. Hopefully they’re too panicked to do anything but run, but if he summons a pokemon in front of them they might attack it-

“Steven and Janet, clear that cloud out! Everyone to the west of the opening, move north or south immediately!”

The voice comes from Ryback’s radio, and the group skids to a halt as they realize within seconds of each other that they’re in the danger zone. Leaf breaks southward first, and the rest follow her, keeping an eye out for the stampeding pokemon that run or fly past them, oblivious to their doom.

A trio of sandshrew scurry toward them in an intersecting route, and Ryback unclips a ball and throws, summoning a sandslash in a blink. “Keep going!” he tells them as he stops behind his pokemon.

The trio doesn’t even exchange a look, all three stepping beside him and summoning Maturin, Bulbasaur and Spearow. The oncoming sandshrew hesitate, then dive under the ground. They brace themselves for an attack, but after a few seconds the pokemon pop out of the ground behind them and keep fleeing.

They withdraw their pokemon and continue southward until they reach one of the portable buildings and run behind it. “I had that handled,” Ryback says. “If you want to help, you’ll have to defer to those of us here. Understood?”

Blue opens his mouth just as another voice speaks from the radio. “This is Janet, we’re in position. If anyone’s not clear, say so now.”

Ryback presses his radio button. “Ryback here, we’re clear, over.”

“Hiro clear, over.”

“Natalie and Carmin, clear, over.”

Stupid, she said to say something if you’re not clear. The last of the pokemon from the hole are dispersing past them, and Blue fights the urge to take out pokeballs to grab some. It seems like such a waste to just let them run by, but they might have a chance to pick some up later, and it’s not worth the risk of starting an unnecessary fight in such a volatile situation.

“Incoming whirlwind, over.”

They watch as the cloud of dust and spores gets caught in a slowly building cyclone, and shift in a slow spiral as it blows westward. It sails over the fleeing pokemon in its path before dispersing into the open air past the edge of the mountain. Blue watches the heavier pokemon that don’t get swept up collapse, skin covered in spores.

With the obscuration out of the way, they can see the dozens of crimson paras and parasect crawling over the mountain in outward waves, emitting a new fog of spores as they go.

The voice of the ACE on the radio is calm. “Parasect colony is climbing out of the mountain. Fire pokemon out front, Flying in support. Poison special attackers. Everyone else, watch for strays. If at all possible, try and protect the fossils. Rangers are inbound, first ETA is fifteen minutes. Over.”

Ryback raises it to his mouth. “This is Ryback, we’ve got about a dozen pokemon that were in the path of the twister growing shrooms, over.”

“Natalie here, I’ve got it, over.”

Ryback reclips his radio, then turns to the trio. “What have you got?”

“Charmander,” Red says. Nidoran and Spinarak are Poison, but not special attackers.

“We have pidgey,” Blue says, cocking a thumb at Leaf.

“They’re not enough, but the charmander might help. You’re with me, Red.”

Red hesitates, then nods and steps forward as he unclips Charmander’s ball. Ryback turns to Blue and Leaf. “Can you two hold a perimeter?” Blue and Leaf nod. “Good. This is one of the buildings we’ve been storing fossils in. Keep any rampaging pokemon from destroying it, if you can, and stop them from coming up behind us.”

Ryback moves around the building and toward the oncoming swarm of paras and parasect. Red’s face is pale, but he raises his fist, and Blue bumps it.

“Guess it’s your turn for thrilling heroics.”

“At least your arm’s not broken.”

Leaf hugs Red. “Be careful. Watch the cross-wind.”

Blue smirks as his friend freezes, then awkwardly pats her shoulder. “I will. Keep Blue out of trouble.”

“Why do I always get nanny duty?” Leaf grumbles, lips twitching upward.

“I’m sorry, of the three of us, which has a badge again?” Blue asks.

Red gives a weak smile and jogs after Ryback. Blue and Leaf watch him go, then summon Zephyr and Crimson as they move back to back to cover both sidelines.

“Zephyr, scout!”

“Crimson, scout!”

Blue watches Zephyr loop around them in the air, slowly scoping the area for any approaching threats. He keeps his gaze on the ground, watching for any telltales signs of pokemon burrowing under the surface.

To his right, Blue can just make out the beginning of the assault in his periphery. Blasts of fire and gusts of wind hit the expanding cloud of spores from multiple directions, keeping it and the insects emitting it, or more accurately the mushrooms on their backs, from advancing. There’s an occasional boom as fire causes a pocket of spores to combust all at once.

Blue wipes sweaty palms against his pants. Red and Charmander would be backup to the more experienced trainers with stronger fire pokemon, picking off any paras that get too close, or helping cleanse the bodies of overrun pokemon before they begin emitting their own spores. They wouldn’t be near the center of the fighting, and should have plenty of time to fall back if they get overrun…

He forces himself to go back to scanning the rest of the digsite, where wild pokemon continue to run around haphazardly. The occasional ACE or scientist rushing to join the main fight engages them, whether by their choice or the pokemon’s, and three separate battles break out in Blue’s field of vision.

“If one of them need help, and we’re just standing here doing nothing…” Leaf says behind him.

“Yeah.” Zephyr lets out a warning cry as a group of zubat flutter by. Blue feels the merciful cool of the battle calm descending as they flutter and loop closer and closer, only to soar away when Zephyr gives a louder battle screech. As they go, his antsy excitement returns, sending useless energy through his arms and legs, commanding him to go, fight, help.

A gout of flame to his left makes Blue turn to see a woman with a flareon cleansing the pokemon that were caught in the spore cloud. She reaches a graveler that shudders as soon as the flame finishes washing over it, and a flash of light quickly captures it before she moves on to the next, making her way toward the mountain’s edge.

“Got movement here,” Leaf says. Blue unclips Maturin’s ball and looks over his shoulder to see a growing bulge moving through the ground as something digs beneath it. “Go, Bulbasaur!”

Her pokemon flashes into existence just as the sandshrew reveals itself. “Vine whip!”

Her pokemon extends its vines and rears them back, but the sandshrew dives back underground before they can land. They watch the sandshrew burrow away, and Leaf reclips her ball without withdrawing Bulbasaur.

“Do you think-”

Leaf is interrupted by a heavy rumble beneath them that sends both to their knees. “Either someone just used Earthquake, or we need to get off this side of the mountain,” she says. “More of them might be coming up under us.”

“There might be an onix digging around to get away from them, but it probably won’t head any farther up.”

“Probably?”

“Hopefully. What do you want to do, sound a full retreat? They might not want to leave their fossils.”

Leaf bites her lower lip. “ACE is in charge of security, maybe we can get one of them to-”

This time both Zephyr and Crimson give warning cries as another flock of zubat race toward them. In the space of a heartbeat it becomes clear that these are not going to just fly by, and the battle calm is there like a cool cloak round his shoulders.

One, three, five, six, seven. Blue braces his arm. “Go, Maturin! Water Gun!”

“Bulbasaur, return! Go, Ledyba! Supersonic!”

Water and sound knock a zubat out of the sky and send two more tumbling in different directions, and then their pidgey engage the rest of them. The zubat are smaller and more agile, but the birds are ever so slightly faster, keeping ahead of the swarm’s poisonous fangs.

Blue and Leaf focus on directing Maturin and Ledyba and let their pidgey’s instincts take over. Blue feels the split in attention keenly as he keeps trying to pay attention to what Zephyr is doing while finding new targets for Maturin, but a distant part of him observes the wider battle, and thinks of ways to end it. “Water Gun! Water Gun! Those three are coming back, we won’t be able to avoid them all.”

“Supersonic! I know, I’m going to withdraw Ledyba before they reach her. Should we Rise and Fall?”

Blue remembers the tactics they practiced on the roof of Viridian and plays it out in his head. “Too slow. Vanishing Act?”

“Need more support. Supersonic! How about a Pinwheel?”

“Alright, on three. Two-Watergun! One!”

“Crimson, defend!”

Crimson breaks away and flies over to hover above her as Blue grabs Maturin off the ground and runs behind them. Part of his skin touches Maturin’s and immediately feels dry and stiff as the moisture is sucked out of it. Blue puts Maturin back down and ignores the ache. “Ready!”

“Crimson, Gust!”

“Zephyr, break!”

Crimson begins flapping hard in the direction of the swarm as Zephyr dips a wing and soars away. The zubat trying to chase both begin to get buffeted by the wind, struggling to make headway against it.

Some begin to break away and approach from above or the sides. Blue points to each in turn with his commands. “Maturin, Water Gun! Zephyr, Quick Attack!” Spurts of water continue to knock zubat out of the air, and Zephyr is a tan blur as he zips back and forth to harry them from behind. The zubat try to fly around the column of wind, but Leaf pivots Crimson with them, wheeling the wild pokemon in a slow arc.

One by one zubat begin to drop to the ground and fail to rise, or turn to flee. But soon Crimson tires, and Maturin runs out of water. As soon as the wind dies down, the remaining four zubat close the gap in a blink.

“Maturin, Return! Go, Kemuri!”

“Ledyba, Supersonic! Crimson, Wing At-Crimson return!”

Leaf’s beam hits her pokemon as it screeches in pain, cutting the sound off as it vanishes in a red glow. Blood and feathers finish falling from where it was as the zubat wheel around in confusion, then go for Ledyba.

“Ledyba, return!”

“Kemuri, Extrasensory!”

The zubat begin to crash into each other, screeching in alarm and pain. One of them uses their own supersonic wail, causing Blue to uselessly clap his hands over his ears. Blue’s vision swims as he feels the sound in his sinuses, the pressure waxing and waning in a way that makes his head feel like a squeezed water balloon.

Blue drops to all fours and curls up into a ball as the vertigo sets in, flashing back to years of training drills in school. Their instructor stood in front of the class, speaking as they demonstrated the proper response to the audio assault they were all about to endure. The best defense against moves that cause mental confusion is to focus on what your body is doing. Maintain a physical position that’s low to the ground, and eliminates your body’s ability to hurt itself.

Sharp pain blooms as Blue’s nails scrape at his ears, and he tucks his hands under his knees to pin them with his weight. The abrasion of the soil and pebbles against his skin grounds him as the wail goes on and on and o-

Blessed silence. No, not silence, but without the audio scalpel of their cry, everything seems so muted. Blue uncurls and pushes himself up, knees wobbling.

He expects to see the zubat all dead or captured, but two are still in the air. What felt like a minute under sonic siege was only seconds as the beam of high pitched sound was either directed elsewhere, or died with one of the zubat on the ground.

Leaf throws a pair of pokeballs that capture them, and Blue aims his at the ones still in the air. His nerves are rattled, but the battle-calm is still there, and he draws it tighter around himself to block out the stinging pain of his self-inflicted ear cuts. He tracks the zubat as they flutter in panicked circles and loops under Kemuri’s mental onslaught, one ball on each, letting his thoughts drift so that his arms move purely on reflex, tracking the two pokemon…

Ping! He throws one, sucking it out of the air. The second ball pings another lock, and he throws again just as the zubat stops flapping its wings. Its frail body plummets and bounces against the ground once before lying still.

Blue quickly unhooks another ball and captures it before letting his breath out in a rush. He turns to Kemuri, whose eyes are just beginning to return to normal as his posture slowly relaxes. “Good job, Kemuri. Guard.” He takes out a pokepuff and tosses it to his pokemon, then brings Maturin back out and lets her empty his spare water bottle before giving her a pokepuff too.

“You okay?” Leaf asks. “Your left ear is bleeding.”

Blue checks and winces as the cut behind his ear stings at his touch. “Fine. How’s Crimson?” He takes out a potion and sprays his ear.

“I’m going to wait for a pokemon center to take him back out.” She begins to pick up her new zubat and check them with her pokedex, face growing longer after each. “Both gone. Yours?”

Leaf’s voice is flat, and Blue gives her a searching look. He’s about to ask if she’s okay, but holds his tongue. Maybe she’s wearing her own cloak. Blue checks the two zubat he caught. “One’s okay.” He releases the dead one, then goes to get the pokeball that missed.

Around them, the war for the mountainside continues unabated. A few dozen figures hold the line against the paras and parasect in the distance, while random wild pokemon are fought and taken down by the rest of the trainers spread out around the dig site. Zephyr comes down to land on Blue’s shoulder, and his talons bite into the undermesh of his shirt. Blue stifles a cry and resists the urge to chase his pokemon off. Zephyr is quivering with exhaustion, and Blue strokes him instead. “Forgot about the great job you did up there, boy,” he mutters as he picks up the pokeball and tucks it away, then gives his pidgey some berries and a pokepuff. “You’ll be a new terror in the sky when you’re all grown up.”

After one last look at the main battlefield, Blue returns to Leaf and Kemuri. “Zephyr’s tired. Think we’ll-”

Click, clickclick, click!

Blue and Leaf blink. “What was-”

Thud, thud, thudthudthudrrrrrrrrrrrrr-

Blue and Leaf look around wildly for the source of the noise, then look at each other.

“The other-

-side, move!”

CRASH

A graveler bursts through the building in a hail of broken wood and glass as Leaf and Blue throw themselves away from the rolling boulder. Zephyr launches back into the air with a shriek of protest, and Blue’s other two pokemon flinch at the hail of shrapnel.

“Kemuri, Leaf Blade!” Blue yells as he scrambles to his feet. “Zephyr, back!” Zephyr aborts his dive midway, while Kemuri leaps at the graveler and slashes it across the face.

The graveler roars in pain and tries to body-slam Kemuri, who leaps backward. Blue is about to command Maturin when another loud clickclick is heard.

Blue resists the urge to turn around and look for the source of the sound: he knows better than to take his eyes off a pokemon in a battle. A moment later he’s glad he does, because he sees the graveler freeze, then throw itself onto its face, grabbing the earth with all four hands.

Blue’s battle calm crystallizes into one last insight, then shatters in a flood of icy panic. “Self-destruct!” he yells as his hands fly to his pokeballs to withdraw everyone. “Return, Maturin! Return, Kemuri!” Blue’s every heartbeat is like a timer counting down, and rather than risk wasting any more seconds trying to return Zephyr he simply starts running and yells “Zephyr, back!”

Leaf has already taken off for the opposite side of the ruined building, and skids to a stop before diving behind it. Blue wants to yell for her to keep running, but it may be their only chance. Not gonna make it, he thinks with another spurt of panic, and runs faster. Shit shit shit-

Blue hears Leaf yell “Hey, get down!” and wonders if she’s talking to him before he reaches the end of the building and sees a paleontologist with a heavy rucksack standing there with a nonplussed look on his face. A distant part of Blue recognizes him as the one that was giving Red and him the evil eye earlier.

And then a giant, hot hand presses its palm against his back and shoves just as a massive BOOM leaves his ears ringing for the second time in five minutes.

Blue lies in a crumpled heap until the world stops spinning and he can finish testing for broken bones. His elbow feels like it shattered when he rolled into a rock, but he can move it, and he smacked his head against the ground pretty bad, but he doesn’t feel nauseous or disoriented.

I should be dead. What was that, 200 feet at most?

He realizes he can vaguely hear something through the ringing that might be Leaf calling his name, and shifts around until he can see her relieved face looking down at him.

“Leaf,” he mutters. “Ylright?”

She sticks a thumb up, then starts spraying potion liberally over his head and neck and shoulders. He points a finger to his elbow, where the outer part of his shirt was shredded to reveal the mesh under it. He’s glad it was there to save him from losing skin, but he almost changes his mind at the pain of Leaf rolling his sleeve down to see the damage.

His elbow looks badly bruised, but doesn’t seem to be broken. The bone might be cracked, but at the first spray of potion he feels the pain lessen, and after a few more the swelling goes down enough for him to flex his arm with minimal pain.

Zephyr lands next to him, and a wave of relief makes him dizzy. Or maybe that’s the start of a concussion. He pats his pidgey with his good arm, then returns him to his ball and stands up with Leaf’s help.

A couple uncomfortable squirts in his ears has him shaking his head and trying to get the liquid out, but the ringing has stopped enough for him to hear. “We should be dead,” is the first thing he hears.

“I know, I was thinking the same thing. That graveler must have been freshly evolved if its blast was so small.”

Blue looks at the blackened remains of the graveler’s body, and the scorch marks on the ground around it. He considers going over to see if it’s still savable, sometimes with immediate medical attention a self-destructing pokemon can be saved, but he knows the window of opportunity would have passed while he was recovering. Blue’s surprised Leaf didn’t try to save it, but he’s glad she was worried about making sure he was alright.

“Hey, where’s that other guy?”

“He’s inside.” She jerks a thumb at the long, narrow building, which has a huge section torn out of the side. “Said he’s going to check on the fossils.” Blue’s frowning at the visible destruction. “Something wrong?”

“Sorry, yeah, just… was he standing there when you got here?”

Leaf stares at him, then blinks as it registers. “Yeah. He… I wonder why he didn’t yell a warning about the graveler.”

“Didn’t even have a pokemon out, right?”

“No… Blue, those clicks.”

He remembers. Right before they heard the graveler start running for its rollout, then again before the Self-Destruct. “You don’t think…”

He sees his mounting unease reflected in her gaze, and they begin moving toward the building together. “There must be a reasonable explanation,” Leaf says, and Blue notices that she’s whispering now.

Blue unclips a ball, heart pounding. What they’re thinking is crazy, but… better safe than sorry. “Go, Maturin.” He picks his pokemon up after she appears, and steps up into the broken remains of the building. Leaf follows him, hands moving over her right ear.

The inside of the building is a mess of wood and glass and paper. They step over a crushed table and around a cabinet torn partway off the wall to walk toward the opposite end of the rectangular building.

What looks like a storage room is open, and the paleontologist is standing in front of a series of labeled drawers with the rucksack he was wearing at his feet. The one near the middle is open, with rows of grey Container balls nestled in slots documenting where and when they were found.

Most of the slots are empty. The bag looks to be about halfway full.

The paleontologist turns to them as they approach, two more Containers in his hand. He bends and places them in the bag, then securely closes it.

“What are you doing?” Blue asks, throat dry.

“Moving these. It’s not safe here anymore, so I’ve been going around to get these off site.”

“You said you were just going to check on them,” Leaf says, stepping up beside Blue.

“Change of plans. Just got the orders.” His hands never stop moving, and when he finishes tying the bag he slings it over his shoulder. Blue can’t help but stare at the still-open cabinet, with half of its Containers still sitting it, something’s wrong, something’s wrong-

“Stop,” Leaf says, and Blue’s attention snaps to the man’s hand as he unclips a ball from his waist and braces his arm, paying her no mind.

“Go, Abra.”

The squat tan psychic pokemon appears on the floor, sitting quietly with its eyes closed, and Blue is suddenly very afraid and very glad that he’s Dark. “Stop, whatever you’re doing, we need to make sure-”

“Abra, Teleport,” the man says as he reaches forward to put a hand on his pokemon, and with a surge of adrenaline Blue yells “Maturin, Water Gun!” His pokemon, who might normally hesitate to shoot in the direction of a human, focuses on the abra and spits a sharp stream of water out.

The trainer flinches, for just a moment, and in that moment there’s a pop as the abra vanishes, the trainer’s hand an inch away. The water hits the floor and digs a shallow groove in it, and the three are left staring at each other for the space of a heartbeat.

I just ordered my pokemon to attack his outside of a challenge, he was standing right there he might have been hit I could be charged as a Renegade-

“Go, sandslash,” the man says, and suddenly there’s a squat, spiny pokemon standing between them. Blue stares at it, still trying to process what’s happening battle calm where’s my battle calm when the paleontologist says “Slash,” voice tight and angry, face a mask.

Slash. Not Scratch, the generic command for a claw attack, generally safe for trainer battles. Slash, the command that specifies lethal intent, for pokemon specifically trained to recognize and aim for vital organs in their opponent.

And the sandslash moves toward them.

Blue scrambles back, dropping Maturin and opening his mouth to yell a command to her, while Leaf presses something to her left ear and turns around, right hand pointing a pokeball and activating it manually, arm snapping up.

He has a moment to wonder why she’s summoning it behind her, then yells “Withdraw!” as the sandslash claws Maturin across the chest, too quick for her to react. Then Leaf says “Sing!” and Blue snaps his hands up to cover his ears even knowing he’s too la-


Fire and fungi. Birds and bugs. Poison and paras. Simple equations with obvious outcomes, if the variables are anywhere near even. A single arcanine could scorch dozens of paras to ash. A single pidgeot could tear a field of them to pieces with a miniature cyclone. A single muk could bury waves of them in poison.

But no pokemon is immune to fatigue, and all the type advantage in the world won’t stop sheer, overwhelming numbers.

“Ember! Ember! Ember!”

The fire flicks out, onetwothree, and a trio of paras crackle and burn. Behind them another six advance, shooting out yellow and green and blue spores that get swept back by the wings of Ryback’s fearow. It dives a second later, piercing and shredding the dome of a parasect before flying up in a corkscrew to shed the mushroom and insect gore covering its feathers.

Red can’t think of how long they’ve been fighting anymore, or how much longer until the Rangers come. His entire world is the next attack, and then the next, and the next. The radio keeps squawking orders and warnings and calls for help, but Red barely pays attention to it anymore. He feels like he’s in a cartoon, trying to plug a wall that keeps sprouting new leaks.

Red’s nidoran is already exhausted, and his poisonous spurs take out another handful of the paras before he accumulates too many injuries for Red to heal with quick sprays of potion. Spinarak takes his place and holds up better, until a parasect rushes forward and claws off two of its forelegs. Red withdraws it before the giant claws can close around its head, and an ember by Charmander swiftly engulfs the parasect. Its flaming corpse does little to deter the red and orange swarm.

The red and orange swarm that extends for two hundred meters in front of them.

Could use a beedrill about now, wouldn’t you say?

Shut up, Past Red.

Leaf’s beedrill might help take out another dozen or two, but the real battle will be decided by their special attackers. No matter how good a physical fighter is one-on-one, certain special attacks can take out whole swathes of the foe again and again from a safe distance. Between choosing his targets, Red catches glimpses of them at work. A weezing floats above the swarm to his left, blanketing the bugs below in clouds of noxious gas. To the right, a magmar glows red-hot and wades through the paras in a shimmering cloud of superheated air that crisps anything near it.

Red and Ryback are holding the line between the two, along with a geologist named Pira. Her only supereffective pokemon is a numel who spits small showers of embers out of its hump every few seconds to help cover them. Red feels a burst of relief every time the fiery rain comes down to buy him and Charmander some more breathing room.

Red doesn’t see the weezing go down or get withdrawn, but he begins to notice the surge in enemies a few seconds before Ryback calls out “Big group coming on the left!”

Red and Pira pivot and redirect their pokemon to get ready for the twenty or so paras and three parasect that trundle toward them. Too many. Way too many. He shoves down his anxiety and tries to think of solutions. He already tried using his pokedex to imitate paras’ predators, but the fungi are driving them beyond reasonable fears, which is why they march to their fiery, poisonous doom by the dozens. We need a force amplifier.

“I’m going to concentrate on the parasect,” Ryback says. “We need something-Drill Peck!-we need something else to help hold the paras off!”

Pira hesitates. “I’ve got a lickitung, but I’d rather not use him for fodder unless we don’t have another choice.”

Dammit. Guess it’s time. “I’ve got a spearow, but it’s freshly caught. Ember! I don’t know how much it will help-”

“We need whatever we can get!”

He unclips its ball. “Go, Spearow!”

The bird appears and screeches at the sight of all the swiftly approaching paras, though whether in fear or hunger Red doesn’t know. “Peck!”

Spearow dives at the paras along the side of the horde, sharp beak dismembering pincers and legs before it flutters back out of their reach. Red sees Ryback’s fearow divebomb two of the parasect and make short work of them, but the third holds it off for a bit with a cloud of stunspores that it has to circle around to blow away.

Charmander and the numel burn another handful of paras in the next few seconds, but the rest just keep coming. “Slow retreat,” Ryback says. “Keep falling back until this bunch is done.”

Red begins stepping backward, and calls Charmander to follow him as he tries to keep an eye on his spearow at the same time. The bird is having trouble scoring any killing blows now that the paras know it’s around, and Red sees it get engulfed in a cloud of poison powder while it’s distracted.

“Spearow, Quick Attack!” Red begins counting in his head. The paras’s poison would kill a pokemon like spearow after about sixty seconds. He wants to withdraw it, but almost twenty paras are still coming, and the fearow has only just managed to take down the last parasect. 4, 5, 6…

“Back, farther,” Ryback says, and Red mirrors his backward movements.

“Charmander, back!” The fire lizard is breathing hard, and Red can see the flame on his tail burning low. 11, 12… He won’t last much longer… 13… force amplifier, something to make a bigger flame… 15, 16…

Another burst of fire from Pira’s numel brings down a second handful, but the paras keep coming, and now they’re starting to spread to the sides, outside of their reach. “We’re breaking formation,” Ryback says. 21, 22, 23. “We need to hold them here.” He quickly commands his fearow to pick off the bugs that are trying to get past them, leaving charmander, spearow and numel with the rest. 32, 33, 34-

“Shit!” Red says as another cloud of spores is ejected toward them, and jumps to the side. “Ember!” He lost count, and starts again at 40 just in case. We have nothing to burn, nothing to use to spread fire… In his distraction, he sees that Spearow has abandoned the hit and run maneuvers to try and peck the paras again, and feels a surge of fear. “Spearow, Quick Att-”

He sees it happen, a burst of blue spores that engulfs the bird’s head. “No!” Red yells, ball extended. “Spearow return!”

The beam misses as his pokemon falls into the swarm of paras, who quickly converge on the bird.

No, no! “Ember, Charmander, Ember, Ember!”

The globs of fire bring down another two paras, but there are a dozen left, and Red watches in horror as blood and feathers spray into the air.

Red reclips spearow’s ball, chest burning as he fights back the urge to run forward and rescue his pokemon. It’s not fair, he was just going to withdraw him, he-

“They’re still coming!” Ryback says as the paras get within ten feet. “If you’ve got anything else, we need them now!”

“Go, Orval!” Pira says, and her lickitung appears. “Supersonic!” The parasect at the front become confused by the beam of shrill noise, allowing Ryback’s fearow to swoop down and rake them to pieces in a series of rapid dives. “Focus on defensive fighting, we just need to buy time!”

“Go, Rattata,” Red says, biting back bitter words. If you brought your lickitung out earlier my pokemon might still be alive. “Quick Attack!”

The paras keep driving themselves forward over the bodies of their fallen kindred, driven by the mushrooms’ imperative to spread their spores. With the five pokemon combined, however, they die as quickly as they scuttle forward, bursts of flame and wind providing cover for Red’s rattata to distract the confused front lines. Red goes from tired to exhausted, but still the battle goes on until his voice grows hoarse and his fingers fumble with potion bottles.

“Ranger ETA is five minutes!” the radio says. “Hold the line as best you can!”

“Shit,” Red croaks. “It’s only been ten minutes?”

“I know,” Ryback pants. “Drill Peck! Feels like hours.”

“Should I call my friends?”

“Not yet. They have their own job to do.”

Red opens his mouth to argue, then closes it. There’s no time, and Ryback is the senior trainer around. “Pira, my rattata needs a potion.”

“Okay, do it. Orval, Slam!” The lickitung waddles forward and smashes its tail down on one of the paras. “Defense Curl!”

“Rattata, back!” Red kneels down as his pokemon returns to him, trembling with adrenaline and pain. Red’s chest hurts as he sprays her wounds. “You’re doing great,” Red whispers as he strokes her head. She nuzzles Red’s fingers with her whiskers, causing his throat to tighten. “Just k-keep moving girl, it’ll be over soon…” He wants to give her more time to rest, doesn’t want to send her back at all, but the lickitung is already being overwhelmed. “Go! Quick Attack!”

Red gets to his feet and hangs the potion bottle on his belt before realizing it’s empty and tossing it aside. His eyes roam the swarm of paras as he digs a new one out of his bag, new fear settling into him as he sees the scuttling mass of insects seems untouched, despite what must be hundreds of charred and broken bodies they trample underfoot.

“We’re not going to be able to hold out another five minutes,” Pira says, echoing Red’s thoughts. “Orval, Supersonic! Even if we do, there’s no guarantee the Rangers will get to our area in time.”

“We can’t spare anyone to go for help,” Ryback says. “If we have to run, we run, but not while our pokemon can still fight. Shara, Drill Peck!”

Red tries to think of his remaining resources. He can use a smokescreen from charmander, but it won’t hamper the paras, who are used to travelling in the pitch black of the mountain. His pichu’s electricity would barely hurt them, and his caterpie could maybe trip up one of them. And… that’s it. If there’s something else he could be doing, he’s too distracted to think of it.

If the Rangers don’t arrive soon, we’re screwed.

“Charmander, Ember! Rattata, Quick Attack!”

The minutes drag on, Charmander’s embers becoming smaller and smaller, Rattata moving slower with every strike. Soon a paras survives an ember, and Red notices that Charmander’s tailflame is a slender flicker. “I have to withdraw my charmander,” Red says, coughing at the dryness in his throat. “He’s spent.”

“Do you have any ether?” Pira asks.

“No.”

“Here.” She hands him a bottle, and Red drops to his knees, spraying the rare stimulant into Charmander’s mouth. A few seconds later the lizard’s eyes widen, and his tailflame flares back to near full size.

He hands it back. “Thanks.”

“Should buy us another few minutes.” She waits for her numel to send another salvo of fiery death into the paras’ ranks before she gives it some.

“Charmander, Ember! Ryback, even with the ether our pokemon are fading fast. I’m going to call my friends.”

Ryback looks torn. “Alright, let them kn-”

“Rangers on site, approaching east side! Everyone begin rotating to help those on the west!

“Nevermind!” Ryback says with a grin. “We’re on the home stretch. Just a little longer!”

Red still feels like they can use the help, but he has to admit that knowing the cavalry’s on the way is invigorating. A few seconds later he can see the effect of the new arrivals as more trainers begin to hem in the paras at their sides. Soon they can begin advancing, and do so, pushing the waves of paras forward. A rapidash and venomoth spew flamethrowers and sludge bombs to their left, while on their right a quilava sends out exploding bursts of fire into the swarm and a dodrio dashes back and forth along the front lines, each head skewering a different bug every second.

Red’s fear and anxiety slowly fades as they push forward and reclaim lost ground, though the smell and feel of all the dead paras that crunch underfoot is nauseating. Red tries to avoid them at first, but there’s just too many, and he still has to stay focused on the fight, and instead only watches for patches of poison to step around or fungus to burn.

Between Ryback’s fearow taking out any parasect that trundle too close and Charmander and the numel’s flames crisping the front lines, Red’s rattata is free to strike in quick attacks that get it out of the enemy’s reach before they can retaliate. Red watches his pokemon harry and harass the swarm with pride, until one of the bodies they pass by rears up and stabs her through the torso with both claws.

Red whips her ball up and tries to get a lock on his rattata as she thrashes weakly against her assailant. He watches with his heart in his throat as her movements slow, and the dying paras finally crawls off her. “Rattata, return!” Red cries out, withdrawing her into her ball. “Charmander, Ember!” Please, it was only a few seconds, please, be okay, Red thinks as he scrambles for his pokedex for a moment, then stops and reclips her ball to his belt. He forces himself to focus on the battle. It won’t change if I know now or five minutes from now. Focus. Worry fills Red’s stomach with acid, but he’ll be damned if he lets his distraction cost him another pokemon.

The circle of trainers around the swarm grows tighter, and they advance farther toward the collapsed dig site. Paras and parasect are still pouring out of it, until the whole battlefield is stunned by an echoing roar.

A charizard dips out of the sky, its scales gleaming in the sun like living flames. Its wings beat the air in claps of thunder before it soars down over the epicenter and bathes it in fire. Again and again the trainer on its back strafes the battlefield, pouring hot death into the hole the paras are crawling out of until the fungus in the tunnel catches fire. Soon after a pillar of black smoke begins to rise, and the waves of bugs crawling out of the hole abruptly stops. Red watches in awe, and Charmander makes a low crooning noise as it tracks the charizard’s flight with wide eyes.

The battle is quickly over after that, and Red finds a relatively clean boulder to sit on as the dozens of site workers and nearby trainers who came to help coordinate clean up and triage. Ryback finds him there, staring down at Rattata’s ball, pokedex sitting on the rock beside him.

“Did it make it?”

Red shakes his head, not looking up. The first pokemon he ever caught, dead because a stupid bug was driven into a suicidal frenzy by a fungal parasite.

“I’m sorry. I wanted to say, you did good. We couldn’t have done it without you and your pokemon.”

“Thanks,” Red whispers, and clears his throat. He wants to take his mask off, but the stench would be even worse then.

“Want to head back to your friends, make sure they’re alright? Or do you need a minute?”

Red shakes his head again and hops off the boulder as he pockets his dex and reclips Rattata’s ball. He’ll release and bury her later. He wishes he could do the same for his spearow, but he doesn’t have the stomach to search for his remains, if there even are any.

As they walk, Red lets memories take him. Training with his rattata, scouring Viridian for wild pokemon with her, finding his spinarak and catching it, playing with her and Charmander in the park at Pewter. Why had he never named her? Even now, Red can’t think of one. It doesn’t feel right, that she’ll forever just be “Rattata” to him.

He thinks of the nest she was part of when he caught her, how she might have had children. Was it worth catching her, bringing her north all this way, only to die on a mountain far from her home? Red looks around at the blighted mountainside, and spots a pair of trainers sitting beside a third who’s lying still, eyes closed. Red takes his hat off and runs his fingers through his sweaty hair, enjoying the breeze and happy to be alive.


The first thing Leaf does after Wigglytuff starts singing is take out a potion and spray Maturin’s chest, where the sandslash’s claws scored deep wounds. Then she takes another pair of plugs out and stuffs them in Blue’s ears. Her heart races as she waits for him to wake up, gaze never leaving the sandslash or its master. The thief.

No, not just a thief. He attacked them. He actually sent his pokemon to attack them.

Renegade.

The thought chills her to her bone. Encountering Renegades, that’s the stuff trainers do in comics and movies. Is he insane? He must be, to doom himself over some fossils, no matter how valuable.

Of course, Blue’s squirtle did attack his abra first… but that was clearly a warning shot. Wasn’t it? Oh gods, did they attack an innocent trainer unprovoked? Are they going to get branded?

But no, he used a graveler to tear up the building, maybe even knew they were on the other side. He summoned a sandslash to attack them. He was prepared, could have had it tear up the rest of the house, passed the whole thing off as natural.

Leaf walks over to her wigglytuff and strokes its lush fur to calm herself a little. The feel of it is truly incredible, like trailing her fingers through a warm cloud, and her nerves are soothed almost immediately. Or maybe it’s the song, warped and heavily muted, but still audible at this range, and lovely. She doesn’t know how loud it has to be to knock her out, but she’s glad she tested whether the plugs would work up close.

Blue stirs in her peripheral, and she moves back over to him just as he jerks awake, eyes wide. It takes a moment for his face to clear, and when it does his expression hardens. He gets to his feet and checks Maturin, then flashes her a thumbs up and withdraws his pokemon. He takes his phone out and begins typing into it, and it takes Leaf a moment to realize that he’s marking their location with a Renegade flag. It might not even be noticed right away, with the Tier 1 still ongoing, but-

Leaf’s eyes widen. She forgot about that. How far is Wigglytuff’s song going? It’s probably not nearly as far since they’re most of the way inside a building, but it still could be endangering people.

She has to end it.

Leaf goes over to the Renegade and carefully undoes his belt, then empties his pockets. She carries all his things over to the cabinet and puts them on it, then returns his sandslash to its ball. What else can she do to secure him? Once caught, pokemon are intrinsically taught not to attack people through the very first, most basic training programs, so she can’t order her bulbasaur to wrap him in vines or put him to sleep. She can have him emit some sleep powder and then just sprinkle some into the man’s nose, but they’re much less predictable than the continued effect of Wigglytuff’s singing, unless she’s willing to just keep scooping more over him, which might be dangerous.

Leaf nearly leaps out of her skin when Blue taps her shoulder, and he puts his palms up in apology. She waves it off, cheeks flushed as she takes a deep breath. Blue shows her his phone, which has the message “What are you doing?” typed on its notepad app.

She brings up her own. “Gotta stop the song, others at risk. Wanna secure him first.”

Blue scratches his neck, then types, “Any of these doors got locks?”

They check, and only the outhouse style bathroom does. “Flimsy,” Blue types with a frown.

“Maybe stick them both in there and close the door? Limit sound exposure outside.”

Blue nods, and they work together to drag and shove the Renegade’s body into the bathroom. Leaf can see it would be a tight fit to get Wigglytuff into it too, but thankfully the pokemon’s body is extremely malleable, and she fits comfortably in the remaining space. She continues to cheerfully sing as Leaf strokes her head, then closes the door.

The sound drops to nearly nothing. “I’ll test,” Blue says, and unplugs an ear before she can stop him. His eyes promptly roll up in his head, and she catches him before he can crumple to the ground.

Leaf sighs and lowers him the rest of the way, then finds the plug he dropped and puts it back in.

When he wakes up, she leads him all the way outside, where he tries again with some trepidation. He soon relaxes, and flashes a thumbs up.

Leaf unplugs too, first one ear, then the next. She can still hear the song, but about as muted as it was while she was standing next to it with the plugs. “Okay, do a quick search to make sure no one around us got knocked out while in a fight. I’ll stay and make sure she keeps singing.”

“Got it.”

Leaf leans against an undamaged part of the building and looks out over the mountainside. Her pulse is finally returning to something approaching normal, but she still feels jittery. Until someone else shows up and the Renegade is physically confined, it feels like anything can happen, and since things are currently stable, “anything” would likely be bad. She keeps replugging her ears and poking her head into the building to make sure the bathroom door is closed. After the third time she checks she goes inside and brings all his stuff out with her.

When she unplugs her ears she hears a roar, and turns to see a charizard flying over the battlefield. It’s awe inspiring enough to make her forget what’s going on for a moment, but by the time it finishes its fiery strafing runs she realizes that Blue’s still not around.

She texts him and waits, nerves ratcheting back up again. She goes through the building to the other side to check if he’s in that direction when her phone buzzes, and she sees that he’s on his way back “with help.”

Relief makes her legs buckle, and she sits down for a minute before reminding herself that this would be the exact time in a movie for the villain to escape, and maybe kill his jailer on the way. She puts her earplugs back in and stays in the building until Blue arrives with two ACE trainers and one of the paleontologists, who wait outside.

“They know what’s up,” Blue says through text. “Return her and they’ll hold him until a Ranger arrives.”

“They have rope?”

“Better.”

Leaf is curious, but she complies and waits outside while they carry the man out. It becomes clear once an ACE brings out a Mr. Mime. The rare psychic pokemon creates a telekinetic barrier around the man, trapping him once he wakes. As she’s asked to corroborate Blue’s story, Red and Ryback arrive, and they hear the whole thing. Leaf feels herself getting anxious again as Blue recounts the part where he fired on the abra first. Who are they going to believe, two kids or one of their coworkers?

Ryback and the other paleontologist look stunned. “I just can’t believe Yuuta would do something like that. He’s been working with us for over a year…”

Red looks tired, maybe worse than tired, but his voice is steady when he says, “That’s what makes Renegades so scary, isn’t it? They don’t walk around with a big red R on their shirt. Anyone could be one.”

“Not making a great case for us,” Blue growls, elbowing him.

“Yuuta wasn’t the most friendly sort,” Ryack admits. “He was always helpful, but never got close to anyone.”

“Careful,” Red says. “It’s been shown in studies that it’s easier to remember negative things about someone and forget positives when primed to think badly of them.”

“Whose side are you on?” Blue demands.

Red opens his mouth, then closes it and rubs his eyes. “Sorry, I was just…”

“It’s okay,” ACE Trainer Nora says. “We’re pretty sure the grandchildren of Professor Oak and Juniper didn’t suddenly decide to become Renegades a few weeks into their journeys.”

“Just in case though, you’re both prepared to make a deposition to the Rangers?” asks Jabari, the other ACE. Leaf gets the impression the question is rhetorical.

They both nod. “I know this is just our word against his, but we can at least prove that he tried to steal the fossils,” Leaf says.

“If you can find anywhere an abra teleported into without its trainer, that’ll corroborate that part,” Red suggests.

“And just test his pokemon,” Blue says. “If he has any that have been trained to attack people-”

“Yes, I’m sure the Rangers have seen all the same crime shows,” Nora says with a smile.

“What was his job here?” Leaf asks.

“He was a geologist,” Ryback says. “He… actually, he…”

“What is it?”

“Let me guess,” Red says. “He ran the equipment that monitored seismic activity.”

Ryback nods with a sigh. “I thought it was strange that we didn’t get any warnings about pokemon tunneling under us. I suppose he was ready for something like this.”

Or worse… what if he planned for it? Leaf tries to dismiss the thought: who could plan for a rampage? They would have to set it off themselves, or work with others to do so. The thought is insane… but she keeps thinking of the man’s face, his calm, his preparation.

“Well, everyone get comfortable while we wait for the Rangers,” Paul says as he leans against the building with his arms crossed. “Personally, I’m hoping Mr. Mori wakes up before they get here. I’d like to ask him a few questions myself.”


…as always, we must ask ourselves what the point of our criminal justice system is, and what we wish to optimize it for. Safety? Reform? Punishment? These three values can often result in very different outcomes.

Which is why the case of how the state treats Renegades so often inflames public policy debates. It is taken for granted that, while many crimes are heinous beyond words, for this crime, and this crime only, it is justified that we brand a man or woman irredeemable, and with all of society’s collective might, from Gym Leaders to police to Rangers, we hound them to their dying breath, as we would a rogue pokemon. Indeed, it is often argued that once committed to such acts, the Renegade ceases to be human, and thus is no longer treated as such.

In a world where our very survival as a species depends on us capturing and training pokemon not to hurt humans, but to defend them, we hold the act of training them to kill us so profane that anyone who would violate that cornerstone of human society is utterly ejected from it. So hated is the Renegade, so feared by their region, so dangerous in the common mind, that we have accepted the thought of using their own crimes against them. We empower Hunters to mimic their methodology, to commit their same profanity, in order to keep us safe.

And perhaps that’s as it should be. By every account, Renegades are a vicious breed, driven to unconscionable extremes that set them apart from society’s core values, often simply to enrich themselves. Or, in perhaps the most sympathetic of examples, driven so mad with grief or rage that they throw their lives away to get revenge for a loved one murdered by more mundane means. In any situation, they are regarded as people who are beyond reason.

But consider this: in the Time of Conflict, there was once a wealthy province where petty crime ran rampant. There was a great divide between the rich and poor, and many hungry and homeless citizens would choose to steal a loaf of bread rather than starve. The shogun decreed that a policy of leniency had bred thieves, and changed the punishment for thievery from imprisonment to death.

The crime of thievery did indeed go down by some measure… but the crimes of assault and murder rose to far outstrip what was lost. For many thieves that spied a witness or faced a lawman, it was often a simple choice to fight to their last breath, to kill, when they knew the only other outcome was to be killed themselves.

-Excerpt from the blog Rationally Thinking, by Giovanni Sakaki, Sept 4th, 1505.

Chapter 30: Over the Mountain

On the sixth day after leaving Pewter, Mount Moon goes from a feature of the landscape to part of the terrain. Red thought he was in good shape when he set out on his journey, and did his best to keep up his training regimen in the city, but by the time the ground is regularly sloping from five to ten degrees, he’s starting to regret the decision to climb the mountain rather than go through it.

They pass entrances to the mountain here and there as they travel, all marked by pokemon centers. The only other buildings on the mountain are the occasional Ranger Outposts and supply stores, most of which are located near each other. Hikers and other trainers occasionally cross their path, some with tips or advice on the route choices ahead.

When they begin to move southward around the mountain, Dania and Naoko say their goodbyes at the next Pokemon Center. The two plan on traveling inside of Mount Moon to reach its smaller northern neighbors. Blue and Leaf exchange numbers with them, and Red does too to avoid any awkwardness. He doesn’t expect he’ll be keeping in contact with them, but it can’t hurt.

Red never had a huge host of friends or acquaintances, and so far the only people he’s added since leaving Pewter are Amy and Donovan, Psychics Narud and Ranna, and Dr. Brenner. His list of contacts is still mostly made up of people from Pallet Labs, and Red wonders if he should be trying harder to get acquainted with all the people they meet in their travels. Forming relationships is a big part of a trainer’s journey, as it helps create bonds that can last months or even years later, where unexpected circumstances might bring old friends together again. Fortuitous chance meetings are such a trope in trainer fiction that the unofficial tradition of exchanging contact info with anyone that you’ve been in a battle with has become an interregional norm.

“Are you guys keeping up with a lot of the people we’ve met?” Red asks as they leave the pokemon center.

“Meh. A couple.” Blue shrugs. “I’ve been following Donovan here and there to see if he’s reached Indigo Plateau yet, and a couple of the good trainers at the Gym. Got friendly with some of the Center staff at Pewter too.”

Leaf nods. “I made some friends while writing the article, mostly in the museum. I used to be into social media a lot more when I was younger, but right now I don’t really feel like I have much to share. Not that’s worth sharing, anyway.”

“Oh, I’ve got plenty to share,” Blue says. “I’ll consider it a major failing if I don’t have a million followers by the time I hit the Elite Four. I got my first spike after I beat Brock of course, but I haven’t hit the triple digits yet.”

Red checks his phone and sees that it’s true: Blue’s trainer profile has 74 followers. His last post was some advice on training pidgey based on his experience with Zephyr. “I get how this will be useful to you, Blue,” he says. “But aren’t you interested in an online persona, Leaf? If more people know who you are, then more of them will pay attention to your books or articles.”

“Yeah, I know it’s important. I don’t really enjoy networking though, and for now I’m focusing on just writing enough things that are good on their own merits. If people start to follow me from that, great.”

“You should talk to gramps sometime,” Blue says. “He’s a wiz at crafting a public image.”

Leaf cocks her head. “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need to craft an image after all the impressive things he’s done.”

“Well he’s an amazing trainer, sure-”

“-and the greatest researcher of our age,” Red mutters.

“-and whatever, a good researcher, yeah,” Blue says, ignoring Red’s sputtering incredulity. “But what really makes him influential is how he makes himself seem like someone that deserves respect, deserves influence, beyond what others with his skills have. People like Giovanni and Lance are the same. Great feats aren’t enough: there are over a dozen Indigo Champions still alive today, but only a few still matter, because they make themselves matter.”

“I get it, you need to leverage your story and image to be influential. I just don’t think I’d be good at that.”

“It doesn’t have to be different from what you might otherwise do,” Red says. “Giovanni’s public outreach is a big deal, but his blog also helps him stay relevant to the Region in a way most other Gym Leaders and ex-Champions aren’t.”

“You know Bill, right?” Blue asks Leaf.

“Sonezaki? Of course. He was a big deal in Unova for awhile when we updated to his latest generation of storage systems.”

“Right, well he’s notoriously camera shy. Hates doing interviews or putting his foot in the public arena at all.”

“You met him, didn’t you?” Red asks.

“Yeah, once. Gramps took me on a visit when I was a kid.”

“What’s he like?” Leaf asks.

“Kinda nuts, but stupid-smart. He’s a workaholic with enough money to buy a city, and what does he do? Grabs up all the land north of Cerulean Bay just to avoid any neighbors for his mansion. Not even a mansion really, more like a bedroom and kitchen attached to five labs. Point is, everyone in Kanto and out knows him by his first name, he could be funding political movements and guiding region policy if he wants, but instead he just sticks to his research and no one cares what he thinks.”

Red frowns. “Plenty of people care what he thinks.”

“Yeah, when they want something from him. As long as he’s designing new tech, people are happy to take it, but when he starts going on about his pet projects everyone tunes him out. Everyone that matters,” Blue says before Red can protest again. “Do you see people lining up to fix the problems with human storage? A couple dozen people have signed up, max. If gramps got behind a project like that, people would pay attention.”

“Again, I’m not disagreeing with you,” Leaf says. “I just don’t think I have it in me to work so hard or well at crafting a public image.”

Blue shrugs. “Suit yourself. But if you never try, you can’t really know.”

The conversation turns to other things after that, but Red notices that Leaf begins checking her phone more often as they make their way around the base of the mountain, and spends more time typing into it during their rest stops.


The sun is at their backs when they crest the last ridge around the the excavation site and see it stretched below them, a scar on the mountain’s monotonous landscape. From this distance the portable buildings that were set up to house the diggers and researchers are as small as Red’s thumb, and he finds himself taken aback by how large the whole thing is. Tiny figures are spread all around the site, some huddled in the dirt, others moving to and fro with purpose. As the trio begin to speed up their approach (a partial consequence of going downhill) Red notices the figures on the perimeter, facing outward.

When they get within speaking range, a young man who was standing on one of the nearby building’s roofs hops off and walks toward them.

“ACE Trainer,” Blue mutters.

“How do you know?” Leaf asks.

“Look at the way he walks. That kind of swagger is hard to teach outside of the academy.”

Leaf covers her grin with one hand as Red says, “That and the uniform’s also a giveaway.”

“Oh, is it red here?” Leaf asks. “Ours wear orange and blue.”

“Ho there!” The trainer says as he gets closer. “Mind routing around the site? We have some digs in progress.”

“Hello!” Leaf steps forward. “We actually got directed here from Dr. Brenner in Pewter. She said she’d be sending word along…”

The man frowns and half-turns back to the rest of the digsite. “Probably did, to someone here…” He unclips a radio from his belt. “Hey Ran, you hear from someone named Brenner lately, over?”

“Don’t recall, over.”

He lowers his radio. “Did she give you a name?”

“Ah, yeah, Ryback?”

The man’s expression softens and he presses the button again. “Hey, mind getting ahold of Ryback? Some kids here say he’s expecting them, over.”

“Will do, gimme five? Over.”

“Thanks, out.” He re-clips his radio. “Should be along shortly. Mind staying out here until he arrives?”

“Sir, yes sir!” Blue says with a salute.

“Appreciate it.” He jogs back to where he was and climbs onto the roof in two quick motions.

Blue stares after him, then turns to the other two. “Think I was too subtle?”

“I think he just doesn’t care about getting sassed by some kid,” Leaf says with a grin.

Blue unclips a ball and begins to spin it along his knuckles. “Bunch of stuck-up pricks. And that’s coming from me.”

“That’s funny, I could swear I remember someone who wanted nothing more than to be in ACE when he was younger… who could it have been?” Red taps his cheek, gaze upward.

“Shut up, I just thought the uniform looked cool. How many ACE Trainers have become Champion? Oh right, zip. All that fancy diploma’s good for is getting hired as security for dirtholes like this.”

“Aww,” Leaf purses her lips. “Did someone not get accepted at the academy?”

Leaf bears only a second of Blue’s glare before she averts her face, palms out. “Ahh, I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Such contempt! It burns!”

Red pulls a Burn Heal out and sprays a tiny amount at her. “It’s no good, he’s still looking at you!”

Leaf collapses to the ground in stages. “Tell my mother… she was right…” she gasps as Red begins to dig furiously through his bag.

“Dammit, where’s that revive capsule?! Don’t you dare die on me, Leaf!”

Blue wanders off muttering to himself as the two are overcome with laughter, and only returns when the man on the building yells out, “Ryback is finishing something up! Says to give him twenty minutes!”

Leaf makes an effort to collect herself, still giggling. “Thanks!” She shouts back, and the man waves an acknowledgement.

“You done?” Blue asks them, and after convincing him they are, the three put their bags down and bring out their new pokemon for field training while they wait.

Leaf summons her wigglytuff, a mound of bouncy pink and white fur that energetically hops around as soon as it’s released. It examines every rock and shrub with eyes as bright as the sky and a beatific smile that stretches across a face as wide as its body.

“Isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” Leaf asks as she feeds it some berries, then runs her hands over its fur to clean off some debris that had accumulated from many romps up the mountain.

“Disgustingly so,” Red agrees cheerfully as he brings out his nidoran. It’s a feisty thing, and he has to be stern with it to avoid its affectionate but dangerous head-butts. After feeding it a few pecha berries to weaken its venom, he begins a close examination to check it for damage. On their way up the mountain it tussled with some mankey that attacked them, and this is its first time out since they left the pokemon center. The spines on its back are strong and unbroken, and other than a notch missing from one ear its fur is glossy.

Red practices switching nidoran from Double Kicks to Horn Attacks and back to cut down the time between actions. He tries not to get distracted by the sight of Leaf’s wigglytuff inflating to twice its size and smacking a small boulder hard enough to send it tumbling up the ridge. Meanwhile Blue brings his shinx out and sends it racing to a far off tree and back, timing it and praising each second it shaves off.

Red grins as his nidoran stops its practice to watch the shinx running to and fro, then begins to hop after it. Its hind legs are so powerful that it actually outstrips the blue and black feline, who turns and hisses at it, teeth crackling with electricity. “Nidoran, stop!”

His pokemon freezes as the shinx returns to its master. “Care for a battle?” Blue asks, rubbing its ear. “Would be a good way to put them through their paces.”

“Nah, I’m okay.”

“Oh come on,” Blue says. “Just a practice match, first strike.”

“With a Poison and Electric pokemon, one strike can be damaging enough.”

“You guys never want to battle,” Blue grumbles. “Feels like I might as well be travelling alone sometimes.”

Red opens his mouth to argue when Leaf says, “How about a race? We all have a rattata now. Let’s see which is fastest.”

Blue grins. “Better than nothing. Let’s say, to that tree and back?”

Red withdraws his nidoran and brings out his rattata. “Sure.”

“Go, Joey!”

Red snickers as Blue’s pokemon materializes. “You named your rattata Joey?”

“Yep. Seems a fitting tribute.”

“Go, Scamp!” Leaf scratches her pokemon’s head as she looks back and forth between them. “I feel like I’m missing something.”

“Joey’s a character from an ‘educational video’ used in Johto primary schools like a decade ago. It was super cheesy, and taught kids all the things not to do as a trainer. Don’t travel in unprotected clothing like shorts, don’t boast incessantly about your pokemon, don’t train one pokemon exclusively.”

“Our teacher tried showing it to us in our fourth year,” Red says, voice solemn. “They were not prepared for the memes that have plagued the school ever since.”

“Well, now I’m curious. Send me a link later, let’s get this race going!”

“Hang on, I’ve got a better idea,” Red says. “Blue, bring out-”

A tremor rumbles through the ground beneath their feet, there and gone in a heartbeat. The three look around expectantly, but another doesn’t come.

“Was that an earthquake, or pokemon?” Leaf asks. “I was hoping to avoid the former while I’m here.”

“If we’re lucky it was pokemon,” Blue says. “I could use some ground types.”

“Yeah, or it’s an onix that’s burrowing way too close to the surface,” Red says.

“No problem there, I bought a heavy ball just on the off chance we need one. So, what were you saying?”

“Huh? Oh, bring out your pokedoll.”

Blue raises his brow, then takes out his Container holding his training supplies and materializes the huge box inside it. Red and Leaf help him take the lid off and lift out the foam training dummy, then place it on the ground. Their rattata take a sudden sharp interest in the doll once it’s down, and all three growl at it, tails raised and fur bristling.

“Okay, so the three of us will stand in a triangle around it. We’ll order our rattata to use Quick Attacks on it from our position, and call them back after. Whoever can get the most strikes in after a minute wins.”

They position themselves and set a timer. Blue’s rattata is the largest of the three, while Red and Leaf’s are about equal. Red wonders if its bigger size would slow it down or not. “Ready… set…”

“Quick Attack!”

The three rattata dash forward, slashing or biting at the mannequin as they run by.

“Joey, b-”

“Ratta-”

“Scamp, back!”

“-ack!”

“-ta, back!”

The three pokemon slow uncertainly for a second before returning to their trainers.

“Quick attack!”

They launch themselves at the mannequin again, tearing and biting with squeals of rage, then past it in a blink.

“Rattataback!” Red yells.

“Joey back!”

“Back!” Leaf simply yells, and hers trails behind Blue’s rattata in returning, while Red’s mills around briefly first.

“Quick-”

“Quick atta-”

“-attack!”

“Quick Attack!”

“-ck!”

The minute passes quickly, and when Red’s phone buzzes the three let their rattata rest, feeding them berries and letting them have a drink as their sides heave for breath.

“Okay, so mine only hit it 17 times. Fairly sure yours got higher.”

“19,” Blue says.

“21.”

“Okay, so Leaf’s is fastest, that was evident quickly, and Blue looked like it had a faster reaction time. More importantly, I saw exactly what I was afraid of when I suggested the exercise. Our pokemon don’t know how to work together well. We need to work on coordinating their attacks, especially when using the same pokemon.”

“You should also nickname your pokemon,” Blue says. “Three syllables is a lot.” Leaf nods.

Red frowns. He’s about to point out that “Maturin” and “Kemuri” don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but he knows Blue chooses his pokemon names for more than pure efficiency. For reasons Red can’t really explain, he still hasn’t nicknamed any of his pokemon. He pulls out his notebook to remind himself to put some time into examining why later. “I haven’t really thought of one yet. I’ll think it over. Shall we try again, this time trying for better coordination?”

They practice until their rattata are weaving in and out around the pokedoll with a fair amount of ease, if not quite like a well oiled machine, at least not getting in each other’s way or hesitating as often. They switch to their flying pokemon next, Red’s spearow acting as the main attacker while the two pidgey harass, and by the time they hear footsteps approaching the pokedoll is in rough shape.

They withdraw their pokemon as an older man in a thoroughly dirty pair of jeans and an untucked button up shirt arrives, grey hair tied back in a ponytail and half-lens glasses perched on his nose.

“Hey, you must be Leaf! I’m Jon Ryback, nice to meet you.” The trio shake his hand and introduce themselves. “Brenner didn’t say when you’d be arriving, so pardon me for not being prepared.”

“No worries, we don’t mean to be a bother,” Leaf says. “We’re just passing through and were curious to see what you’re all doing here. I’ve been writing about the museum’s latest exhibits, and thought something on the fossil collection itself might be a good followup.”

“Sounds good. Why don’t I give you the grand tour first, and you let me know if you have any questions.”

They collect their things and begin to follow him toward the excavation site. More accurately, sites, as they can see multiple digs in progress, each spaced out along the entirety of the small valley between two of the mountain’s ridges. Each has long white rope stretched out over several intervals, with vertical ropes anchored to the ground of the dig site to form a grid. Most have a few figures working in them, but what Red notices most is what he doesn’t see. “No pokemon?”

“For the most part, no. This is extremely delicate work, and only the very best mon can be trusted to do it. Some specifically train their pokemon to help excavate, but for the most part it’s just easier to do it ourselves.” Ryback gestures toward the entirety of the dig sites ahead. “We’ve got almost thirty diggers working seven sites at the moment. Seventeen paleontologists, three geologists, a biologist, some excavators, a few others. Most help out at different digs, but some have intensive projects that they’re committed to.”

“You all don’t work for the museum, then?” Leaf asks. “This is a collaborative effort?” She has her notebook out and jots things down as they walk.

“Oh, yeah. This expedition has a number of backers. The museum’s a big one, but Cinnabar Lab’s got an interest in fossils so they can revive them, and there are some private backers too.”

They stop at a dig site to watch as people working in it carefully chip at the dirt and brush it away, slowly revealing whatever fossils they find. One of them is measuring the distance from an anchored rope to the bone they’re working on, and mark down the number before continuing to dig it the rest of the way out.

“Must be nice to have so much support, right?” Red asks.

“Ehhh. It’s a bit more complicated than that.” Ryback continues walking. “Not all of us work together normally: we’re sharing a dig site and help each other out for efficiency, but a lot of us are hired by different people to get fossils exclusively for them.”

“What, you mean they’re actually bidding against each other for the fossils?” Blue asks. “Why not just share them?

“Can’t,” Ryback says. “The private funders either want them for their collection, which puts them at odds with the museum, or for their research, which can take years. The museum doesn’t mind buying them second-hand from anyone that doesn’t need them anymore, but they have a strong interest in whole specimen, which means they have to bid aggressively. And whatever the Cinnabar folks do with them, it doesn’t leave much behind, so they’re at odds with everyone.”

“So how many of these fossils can actually get revived?” Blue asks. “We’ve got what, only three from Kanto?”

Ryback grins and rubs his neck. “Well, that’s a question for a different set of folks. They must think they can do more though, because they bid top dollar for them. It’s actually gotten to be something of a problem, since the mountain chain itself belongs to Pewter, Cerulean, and Viridian depending on where the dig sites are. Each one’s been trying to get exclusive rights to diggers on their portion of land, but for now a compromise of third party security and collaboration seems to be working.”

They reach a dig site that has about a dozen people working in it. A wide area is cordoned off to isolate a group of fossils embedded in the earth. “We use hammers and chisels to dig the ground up and find some fossils, and if it’s small, bag it.” Ryback says. “Every so often though we find something big, or in lots of pieces, like this one.”

Red expected to see them digging it free, but instead people are moving around it with rolls of paper towels, unfurling them from one side to the other. Roll by roll the entire area is slowly covered, until the workers pick up long strips of burlap and buckets of what looks like plaster.

“They’re making a mold?” Red asks.

“Not quite. It’s a cast, to protect the fossils and keep them together as we dig them out for transport. For pieces like this, it’s safer to extract them from the surrounding stone and dirt in a lab setting.”

One of the excavators takes out an industrial strength Container and releases a huge metal box from it, easily large enough to fit the slab of earth that contains the fossils. The group moves on up the ridge and past some smaller digs. As they start to ascend, another light tremor shakes the ground beneath them. Red frowns and looks around. No one else in the digs seem bothered by it, though a few also look around for a moment before getting back to work. Whoever’s in charge of security surely has seismographs, and would know if there were unusual pokemon activity beneath them.

“So what kinds of fossils are around here?” Leaf asks.

“Oh, all kinds. This may seem like a small area, but geologically we’re talking about time, not space. Come on up here, I’ll show you…”

He leads them to the top of a ridge so they can see the foothills of the mountains more clearly.

“Ok, so, see those hills down there? The bones there are Triassic, about 200-250 million years ago. The closer ones are early Jurassic… it skews a bit toward late Jurassic in a kind of crescent around there, then all the rest up to where we are is mid-Jurassic, 165 mya. Each cluster tells a different story, about a different world. It’s a bit like time travel in a literal sense, with distance corresponding to time,” Ryback says.

Red looks down and gently kicks at the earth. “So this mountain wasn’t a mountain a 165 million years ago?”

“Oh hell no, you go that far back and none of this is recognizable. See that white hill over there? River channel sandstone. Lots of beautiful bones under there, jet black. Got tumbled a bit so they’re all scattered about. They’re worn smooth in a way that makes them worthless for museum purposes, so they fetch a lower price.”

“What’s the oldest fossils you’ve ever dug up?”

“Oh, that would be stromatolites, easy. Lamiated rocks formed by blue-green algae. We’re talking 3.5 billion years ago.”

Red tries to imagine that stretch of time and fails. Blue seems to be having a similar problem, and looks interested for the first time. “Billion, with a B?”

“Yep.” Ryback starts to lead them back down the ridge. “Life was all microbial back then, and that’s where it all began, for us. Prokaryotes to eukaryotes, we’re all branches from the same roots. If I recall correctly, some new research was demonstrating how we can find bacterial DNA in a lot of the human genome. Amazing, isn’t it?”

“It certainly is,” Leaf says as she scribbles, while Blue grunts noncommittally and Red nods, lost in thought. He’s considering the implications of all the current life forms on the planet coming from bacteria. Do new species of pokemon that get discovered still have the same markers in their genome? If not, what would that imply? The abiogenesis theory?

“So why don’t you tell us a bit about how we know how old all this stuff is?” Leaf asks.

“We study the strata it’s found in. See all those segments in the earth once we cut it away? Each one represents a different layer that fell over the one below. The deeper you get, the older it is.”

“But where do the numbers come from? How do you know how old the stratum are, rather than just that this one is older than that one?”

“We use radiometric dating. Some isotopes decay over a very, very long half-life, and change into something else.” They pass by another dig, where a man gives them a dirty look. Red startles and is about to ask him what was wrong, but they’re past the site and he thinks he imagined it, or misinterpreted the expression.

Until of course, Blue mutters, “Man what was that guy’s problem?”

“You saw that too, huh? Guess some people don’t like outsiders here.”

“Oh, well, I hate to be a bother, might as well get going soon.”

Red grins. “Bored?”

“Out of my mind.”

“Radiometric dating, I’ve heard of that,” Leaf says. “It’s when you examine an isotope of an element, measure how long it takes for half the isotope to decay into another kind, and count how much of that isotope is left in what you’re studying, right?”

“That about covers it on the surface, yes.”

Red wonders how much of this is stuff Leaf honestly doesn’t know and how much is her just exercising her newfound journalistic powers. Blue has begun spinning a pokeball on each index finger, and it’s hard to tell how much he’s listening.

“So, I’ve heard of a few criticisms to isometric dating,” Leaf says. “Mind if I run them by you?”

Ryback grins. “Sure.”

“If you use carbon dating, then how-”

“Oh no, that’s a common mistake. Carbon dating only works for testing the age of once-organic life within the past 60,000 years, give or take. Other isotopes have a far longer half-life. Uranium-lead, samarium-neodymium, potassium-argon, rubidium-strontium, and others.”

Leaf smiles back. “That does answer that question, thanks. Second, how do you know how much of the original element was in what you’re testing? Don’t you need that info to calculate backward and tell how much it had when it formed?”

“We would, if we were only measuring one element. What we do instead is cross-check: one based on uranium-235’s decay to lead-207 with a half-life of about 700 million years, and one based on uranium-238’s decay to lead-206 with a half-life of about 4.5 billion years. Graph them on a Concordia diagram and see where they meet.”

“Huh. Okay, last question on this: new rocks or samples show up that get aged within the last century, let alone the last few years. Doesn’t that demonstrate it’s not useful?”

“Some of the time that’s been reported as happening sure, but always in extreme circumstances, like rocks that form from a volcano eruption. Think about trying to use a thermometer to check for a fever while taking a cold shower. There’s going to be some interference.”

Leaf’s next question is cut off by a sudden rumbling of the ground that makes Red reflexively buckle his knees, just barely managing to avoid falling as the sound of stone crashing on stone echoes around them. The sound of screams spikes his adrenaline, and even as he thinks Earthquake? he has his hands on his pokeballs, as do Blue and Leaf. They’re all looking in different directions, searching for the threat.

“I don’t see anything,” Red says. Don’t be pokemon…

“Oh, no,” Ryback whispers and Red turns to see him staring in the direction of a small dust cloud rising over one of the dig sites. “Paul, what happened?” Ryback yells into his radio as he starts jogging toward it. The three trainers immediately follow him. “Was it a pokemon? Natural cave-in? Was anyone down there? Over!”

Don’t say pokemon…

“Rei and Bernard,” his radio says. “I don’t kn-wait… oh shit-Paul to all points, we have a Tier 1 on site!

“Talk about good timing,” Blue mutters as they break into a run. “I thought this whole visit would be boring.”

Yeah. Lucky us.

Chapter 29: On the Road Again

Red’s breath catches in his throat. “I… that’s very kind of you, Professor, but… no. I can’t.”

“Are you sure Red? No one would think anything of it.”

Red’s stomach feels like a coiling ekans. He wants to say yes so badly… he deserves it, after all his hard work. Blue got his badge, Leaf her article… didn’t he work as hard?

He deserves it…


Leaving Pewter behind feels both nostalgic and exciting. So much happened in the first week of their journey that the month of “rest” feels like it was over in a blink, and as Red, Leaf and Blue watch the buildings begin to grow more spaced out and the countryside reclaim the horizon, they’re each lost in their own thoughts.

Red is the first to break the silence upon seeing Leaf check her phone for the dozenth time. “Expecting a call?”

Leaf jumps a bit and tucks her phone away. “No.”

Red and Blue exchange a glance. “Well?” Blue asks. “How’s it doing?”

Leaf blushes. “It’s hard to tell. I can’t see the traffic it’s getting, but there are no comments yet.”

Red smiles. “It’s also only on one site. Why not post it elsewhere too?”

“Part of the deal. La-your mom, she pointed me at some editors who might be interested in it. A couple liked it enough to publish, but the only one that offered to pay anything wanted exclusive publishing rights for six months.”

“Six months!” Blue exclaims. “How much did they pay you?”

“One-fifteen. It’s not much, I kn-”

“A hundred bucks!” Red exclaims. “Say, that’s not bad!”

“Comes from writing things people actually want to read,” Blue says. “And by people I mean non-nerds.”

“Hush,” Leaf tells Blue. “I don’t think I’d recommend it as a way to get cash. I spent weeks researching and writing and editing it. If I was after money I could have made more babysitting.”

“Still, it must be gratifying to have someone willing to pay you for it.”

“I guess. I’d rather have chosen the other publisher if it meant I’d actually get some responses.”

“It was published what, a few hours ago?” Blue asks. “Relax. Give people time to slack off at work or get some lunch.”

“I know, I know. What about you, Red? Paper all done?”

Red hesitates. “Yep. Did the last of the edits last night.”

“Can we read it?” Leaf asks.

“Uh. Sure.” Red takes his phone out and forwards it to them.

Leaf’s gaze skims the screen, but Blue begins to read aloud. “‘Psychic phenomena are one of the greatest mysteries in our world.’ Wow, tell us more about how important your research is. ‘We have such little understanding of the origins and mechanics of psychic powers that to most it is still believed to be mystical, a force that defies understanding.’ I think people know what mystical means, Red.”

Red opens his mouth to respond, but Leaf picks up the reading before he can. “‘But just as electromagnetism and radiation were once inscrutable and invisible to us, our tools have evolved to measure them, and new research has developed to study their causes and effects. At the Pallet Labs in Kanto, a new tool has been developed that may begin to demystify psychic powers.

“‘Professor Oak’s latest pokedex includes an upgraded scan of a pokeball’s contents. Its catalogue of the various substances that make up a pokemon, atom by atom, allows for easy study of a pokemon’s molecular proportions, and lets laymen compare their pokemon to regional or international averages at a glance. As this new tool develops and becomes more accurate, we may now be capable of beginning to discern what physical properties grant psychics their powers.

“‘Our initial observations after analyzing the data of an unusually mentally powerful spinarak was that this unclassified section exceeds the norm…'” She trails off and begins scrolling down. “Where do you… oh I see. ‘While the presence of subject 32 indicates that powerful mental attacks are possible with a low Other makeup, the trend of the other subjects makes it a clear exception, and does not discount a potential causal link-‘”

“Blah blah,” Blue mutters, scrolling farther down, “‘Sample size,’ blah blah, ‘future research could further explore…’ That’s it? So maybe there’s a link and maybe there isn’t?”

“The experiment supported the hypothesis,” Red says, ears burning. “But it wasn’t as strong as it could have been. My r-squared was .0988, which means I just squeaked by with a p-value of .048.”

Red sees Blue’s patented blank stare, and smiles. “There was a correlation of about 10%, meaning if you give me a bunch of numbers for the Other of scanned Spinarak and I had to guess what the intensity of their Night Shade are, I could probably be right more often than a random guess by about 10% if I match a higher Other with a higher Intensity and low Other with low Intensity. But 10% isn’t particularly good, and with a sample size of only 40, the chance that the correlation I found was luck rather than a pattern is very close to 5%, which is the somewhat arbitrary, but traditional, cutoff for when the results of experiments are deemed significant.”

“So the point was just to say it’s possible?”

“The point was to explore the idea and hopefully encourage others to research it too.” Apprehension begins to fill him as he predicts where the conversation will go. What will they think of him, when they find out?

“That’s really what you wanted from all that work?”

“Well, no,” Red admits. “What I wanted was a direct and unarguably causal relationship that would get my paper published by all the top journals, and the data isn’t clear enough for that. But that was an unrealistic best-case scenario, and even if the relationship was 1:1, there would still need to be follow up experiments to confirm it, not just with a wider pool of spinarak but other psychics too.”

“Hmm…” Leaf finishes scrolling to the bottom of the paper as she reads aloud. “‘Possible confounding variables include unconscious selective bias by trainers to keep stronger pokemon, or regional conformity that excludes low Other and high Intensity spinarak that may be present in other habitats…’ So will you be doing that now, then?”

“If my paper gets enough attention to get more funding? I’d be happy to,” Red says. “I don’t think the research community will be overly excited though.”

“What does gramps think? Can’t he get you the funding?”

Red tugs his cap down and takes a deep breath. Here it comes. “Yeah, he offered as much.”

“Well, there you go then. Congrats.”

“I said no.”

There’s a moment of silence but for the tread of their feet on the road. Then Leaf simply nods, and Blue smirks and slaps him on the shoulder. “That’s my Red. You’ll get it on your own, no two ways about it.”

Red didn’t realize how tense he was until it eases away. “You guys don’t think it was a mistake?” He chides himself for his doubt, for forgetting who he’s travelling with. If anyone in the world would understand…

“Absolutely not,” Leaf says as she takes her phone out and checks her article page again. “To shine under the shadow of greatness, you gotta blind the world with yours.”


The sun rises to crest the sky as the day passes, Mount Moon growing slowly to encompass more of the eastern horizon. Its distant peak is jagged, part of the mountain broken in where the meteor, then thought to be a chunk of the moon, struck it thousands of years ago. They pass a small logging town at the edge of some woods and stop to rest while they eat. Blue summons Zephyr and throws berries hard in different directions for him to snatch out of the air, while Leaf lets Bulbasaur and Scamp out to play together. Red spends some time filing Charmander’s claws while his pokemon wriggles and squirms at the sensation.

“So we going over the mountain, or through it?” Blue asks. “There aren’t any pokemon I need in there.”

“Really? None?” Leaf asks.

“Nothing really competitive.” Blue begins to tick them off with his fingers. “Zubat, geodude, sandshrew, zubat, paras, the rare clefairy, zubat, lower down there’s chingling, absol, bronzor, zubat, makuhita, and if you’re super lucky, zubat.” Blue puts his hands down, then tosses another berry up. “An absol would be cool, but I’d rather not spend a week in there hunting for one.”

“Charmander!” Red snaps in his most authoritative voice when the lizard makes to get up again. “Down!” His pokemon complies. “Good boy. Stay.” Red takes a moment to make sure charmander sits still as he finishes filing the edge of his leftmost foreclaw. “Good boy! Good stay!” Red feeds him some pokepuff, then moves on to the next claw. “There’s a bunch of different ones outside the mountain though. Nidoran, ekans, jigglypuff, mankey, the occasionally rare whismur or shinx… we can just go over it if we want. It takes longer, but I’m not in any rush.”

“Same,” Blue says, causing Red and Leaf to exchange a glance. Blue spots it and frowns. “What?”

“Aren’t you in a hurry to get the next badge?”

Blue scratches the back of his neck. “Sure. But not at the cost of time to train my pokemon or catch new ones.”

Red grins. “Figured that out, did you?”

Blue chucks a berry at him, and Red ducks just as Zephyr swoops down to grab it, the wind of his passage knocking Red’s hat off.

“Well there’s an excavation site that Dr. Brenner told me about,” Leaf says as Red leans to the side, reaching for it. “I thought it might be fun to drop by and see them.”

“Excavating what?” Red asks as he jams his hat down snug.

“Fossils. Weirdly enough, they’re finding the remains of a lot of aquatic creatures.”

“In the mountain or on the mountain?”

“Both. But a lot of areas are damaged or close to cave-ins, so they might have fallen from above.”

“Huh.” Red looks at the mountain and surrounding foothills. “So this place was all underwater once?”

“Either that or someone who lived on the mountain liked to eat seafood,” Blue says.

Leaf frowns at him, clearly unable to tell if he’s joking. Red saves her the trouble by moving the conversation along. “I’m happy to check them out. She mark your map?”

“Yep.” Leaf takes it out and sends it to them as Scamp tries to avoid Bulbasaur’s vines, which keep reaching out to tangle with his tail.

Red checks his phone when it pings and taps the coordinates for the main excavation site. It’s on the southern half of the mountain’s rim, and not too high up. “Yeah, that’s not far out of the way. What do you think Blue?”

“Sure. It’s better than spending time in the mountain. I only have about a dozen repel, and I don’t want to use it all just to avoid getting covered in batshit.”


The next few days of travel pass quickly. The road roughens and begins to branch out in multiple directions as they approach the foothills of the smaller mountains around Moon, and the grass grows tall around them.

Everyone was happy enough the first night to break out the camping gear and sleep beneath the stars again, but by the fourth they begin to miss the comforts of the city. Red decides to ask if the next Outpost they come across has room for them, and the others agree.

The inside looks like many outposts Red has visited: a metal and stone building with clean white tiles and fluorescent lights. And like the other outposts, what was originally designed for function and professionalism has been peripherally overcome with the personal touches of its members over the years. Pictures dot the walls and hallways, a number of the sturdy wooden chairs have been replaced by comfortable office chairs, and a running tally of the residents’ capture stats are on a whiteboard above the belt rack.

There are six Rangers in at the facility, and five of them are in the middle of their meal when the three arrive. They introduce themselves and join the Rangers at the long table in their mess hall. The Rangers eat quickly and efficiently, but the youngest sticks around after the others finish and asks about their journey as the three travelers finish their meal. When Red asks about the safety of the road ahead, Ranger Matthew pulls out his tablet and shows them the map of the area.

“We’ve had incidents in these areas over the past week. Mostly small threats, unusual pokemon for the route that catch trainers unprepared. Something’s got them riled up, and we’re still figuring out what it is. Pokemon from the mountain are showing up farther afield too.”

“What do the closer Outposts say?” Leaf asks as she puts her fruit down and updates her map with the pokemon sightings.

“Worse the closer they get. We’ve increased patrols to try and reduce response times for travelers, but there are a lot of homes and towns that dot the foothills. and we’re kept pretty busy helping them.”

“Are you guys considering shutting down the route?”

Matthew shakes his head. “Not yet. No one’s died, and we still don’t know what the source of the threat is. There’s talk about sending out a general warning though.”

Red sighs as he spreads more peanut butter on his granola. The Rangers are taking proactive steps, but not enough. “Do you predict that at the current rate of incidents, someone will die soon?”

“Yeah, it’s just a matter of time if you ask me.”

“So why not just skip the waiting and send out the alert, at least?”

“Regional policy,” Matthew says. “Guidelines are set in place to ensure a proportional response.”

Red frowns. He never spoke much with his dad about the policies and administrative decisions the Rangers operate under unless they were related to survival. “Seems unnecessarily risky.”

“Makes sense to me.” Blue cracks a walnut and tips his head back as he tosses it and catches it between his teeth. “If we start shutting down routes every time someone gets killed, it would paralyze the region.”

“Alerts and shutdowns are two different things.”

“We need to be proportional with alerts too,” Matthew says. “If we send them out too often, they become routine and lose their impact.”

“Is that actually true?” Red asks. “Or are we just assuming it is? I get the principle, studies show that emergency broadcasts can garner less attention if they happen too often. But reminding people of routine tasks for safety has also been shown to make people more aware and cautious. Which rule applies here?”

The ranger spreads his hands. “Beats me. Those decisions are made above my paygrade.”

“Besides, what makes you think there’s an answer at all?” Blue asks.

Red stares at him. “That’s quite possibly the stupidest thing you’ve said this month.”

Blue rolls his eyes. “You’re acting like there has to be some ‘rule’ to the way people act that you can predict. People aren’t that simple. They’re too different from one another, too contradictory even with themselves. Warnings about driving safe may not apply to warnings about pokemon attacks.”

“Maybe it doesn’t,” Leaf says. “But either way, there’s an answer to the question of ‘do frequent alerts desensitize people,’ even if we can’t predict the answer from other similar questions.”

“And even if it does,” Red says, “The new question becomes ‘what is the frequency of alerts that minimizes casualties?'”

Blue holds his hands up in surrender. “My point is that can change from region to region, city to city, generation to generation, hell, maybe even be seasonal. Some things might be just too complicated to understand as a general rule.”

Red shakes his head. “It’s too easy to think that way about anything we don’t understand. I’d rather treat questions as solvable first.”

Blue gives him a strange look at that, but before Red can ask what it’s about Ranger Matthew chuckles. “You kids are more interesting than the usual trainers that come through here. They mostly just want war stories.”

Leaf grins. “Is that why you stayed with us?”

“Guilty. I miss running around out there, going from place to place. It’s nice to be able to kick back between all the excitement, but I’m hoping to get assigned somewhere new soon. All this mountain air’s hell on my sinuses.”

“Where are you from, Matt?” Red asks.

“Fuchsia. Got a couple badges, then lost my next few challenges. Decided competitive battling wasn’t for me and applied for the Rangers. Been here for about a year. It’s weird, seeing things from this end.”

“What, you mean being the one that goes out and helps people?”

“Yeah, after all the times I was out there and the Rangers saved my butt.” He grins. “I try to project the stoic professionalism thing, inspire confidence, but I don’t think I’m good at it.”

“Well, if you come to our rescue, we’ll pretend you are,” Leaf says.

Matthew chuckles. “You three don’t seem like you need much rescuing, and I’m glad of it. With so few Outposts around and so much land to cover, a lot of the lower level tickets end up being solved by other trainers before we can get there. Takes a load off, I can tell you. Lets us focus on the bigger things. Speaking of which.” The ranger gets up. “I’d better get back to work before the sergeant pokes his head in. You all have a good night.”

They say goodnight and finish eating just as another pair of trainers arrive. One of them recognizes Blue from his battle with Brock, and he stays behind to talk to them as Red and Leaf head for the guest quarters.

“There have to be some studies done, or comparative cases,” Leaf says as they head for the cots in the back. “I’ll check Unova’s policies and see if there are any statistics available on casualty rates and frequencies.”

“I’m curious to know how the decisions are made at all,” Red says. “There’s gotta be some spectrum between potential risk and the first casualties where it’s considered.”

“You look into that then, and we’ll compare notes. Nighty!”

“Night.” Red enters the men’s quarters and prepares for bed, then decides to call his mom while he still has the room to himself. She knows they left Pewter, so it’s back to the nightly check in. He finds it less onerous than he used to, though that might change after a couple weeks on the road.

“Hi sweetie! How was your day?”

“Hey mom. Uneventful. We’re at an Outpost for tonight.”

“Glad to hear it. How are Leaf and Blue?”

“They’re okay.” Red sticks the phone to his shoulder and begins polishing his pokeballs. He really needs to pick up a headset. “Leaf got another few comments on her article, was pretty excited about that. I think she was expecting more by now though.”

“I know, poor girl. I told her not to get her hopes up, but she did a good job for her first piece. It’ll be something to build on.”

Red guesses Professor Oak mentioned him turning down his offer. “I guess I should feel the same about my paper?”

“Of course. You knew from the beginning it would be a long road.”

He did, but hearing her say it still makes him feel better. “How’s Celadon?”

“Busy as ever. I’ve been out and about so much that the apartment is still bare while I figure out where to open each container ball. What’s on your mind?”

Red thinks of his house in Pallet sitting empty and feels a pang. He knows his mom is looking for renters and can’t decide if strangers living there would be worse. He has a sudden urge to tell her how being in the Outpost makes him miss dad, then decides against it. No need to bring her mood down or make her worry about him. “Any luck on the clefairy market?”

“Oh, thanks for reminding me. There’s one for about nine hundred, freshly caught and with no training at all. Good enough?”

Red thinks it over. He was on the lookout for anything under a thousand, since the average price for untrained clefairy hovers around twelve hundred on most days. It’s a rare pokemon that’s a favorite for pageants and makes for great gifts, but lacks the competitive scene’s value to skyrocket its price.

“Yeah, that sounds good. Keep an eye on it for me?”

“Will do.”

“Thanks mom. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“You’re welcome hon. Goodnight.”

“Night.”

Red closes the call and hangs his belt on the cot’s corner pole, then tops it with his hat. He lies down with his hands behind his head and stares at the ceiling, taking a quick rest before he heads for the shower. He has about two hundred dollars on him, having withdrawn the max amount every week and spent as little as possible while in Pewter. Nine hundred bucks is just over a third of his funds, but if he’s right about the clefairy’s imminent increase in value he should be able to make it back.

That’s assuming he sells it of course, which he told his mom he’d only do if he caught another one. Red doesn’t think that’s likely if they’re going over the mountain rather than through it. But even if he doesn’t, the clefairy’s value would still be an asset he could liquify in an emergency… his mom would understand.

There’s so much he could do with the extra money. Better equipment. Funding his own research. Hell, he could start some psychic lessons in Cerulean. He still remembers the feeling of Narud peering around in his head, however briefly. That sensation of having a separate self within himself. What would it be like, to harness that power?

More than once, Red has thought that the most obscure secrets of the universe would be revealed through the study or use of psychic abilities. There are plenty of mysteries he could tackle in the world of pokemon biology: the secret to the intense compression of liquids Water types are capable of, or how Ice pokemon can freeze an environment with beams of light, or the ever fascinating sudden and rapid metamorphoses known colloquially as “evolution.” All those questions fascinate him… but none really address the core question in his mind, the origin of pokemon life and species. He doesn’t know how his research would be improved with a personal understanding of psychic phenomenon…

But he’ll continue studying psychic abilities if the opportunity presents itself, whether or not his paper gets published. If he ever wants to understand his own powers, it’s as good a place to start as any.


They leave the Outpost the next morning after a leisurely breakfast with the rangers, who seem more relaxed during the day. Or maybe they’re just less tired. Red gets to know a few more of them, and feels another pang of homesickness for his dad’s friends and coworkers around Pallet. Ranger Matthew tosses each of them a Ranger issue meal bar for the road as they leave, and Red pockets his with a nostalgic feeling, remembering the times his dad would bring him some.

Mindful of the warning about increased incidents, Leaf and Blue send Crimson and Zephyr wheeling above, and Red sends Rattata out to scout the trail with Scamp. They rotate through their other pokemon as they travel, giving each time to walk beside them.

Eventually Red lets Pichu out, but the electric mouse immediately scampers up to perch on his shoulder. Its small claws hold tight to Red’s collar as Pichu watches the two rattata dart behind and between and ahead of the three trainer, their whiskers quivering as they sniff for food or danger.

“Go ahead,” Red says as Pichu pokes his head forward and sniffs at Leaf. “That’s the lady that caught you. She saved your life. Do you remember her?”

Leaf smiles as the pichu’s nose twitches, its overlarge ears swiveling from side to side above it, and picks a berry from her satchel to offer. Pichu shies away and scrambles to the other side of Red. “Aww,” Leaf says with a grin. “Is this his first time around others?”

“Yeah. I spent about an hour a day letting him get used to me, but he’s still really timid.” Timid is putting it mildly. When Red first brought him out at the training rooms, Pichu sent sparks wildly around until he was empty; not in any organized attack, but simply out of panic.

“I remember him being much more spirited in the forest. Guess she was desperate.”

Zephyr flies down to land on Blue’s shoulder, who winces a bit. “You’re getting too big for that, bud,” Blue says as he pats the pidgey’s wing. Now that he’s up close, Red notices Zephyr’s almost twice as large as Crimson. Different pokemon can mature faster or slower than each other, but intense training and battling always speeds the process up.

“He looks close to evolving.” Red says, and at Leaf’s curious look adds, “His crest is starting to drape back.”

“I was hoping it would happen in Pewter, but I didn’t spend as much time with him as the others,” Blue says. “Most of the gym members weren’t really interested in a flying type.”

“So did you really learn a lot there, or were you just being polite?” Leaf asks.

“I don’t know if ‘learn’ is the right word. Shut up Red, I heard that snicker. I picked up some good advice, and the trainers there were good practice partners, but the real value came from the consistency. It’s different, having a schedule for training, being expected to stick to it. I think that’s half the value being in a gym gives, and if I can stick to it elsewhere, I won’t need to spend a month in each city preparing for the badge.”

“I thought you’d like it there,” Red says. “Leaf and I are always such wet blankets about battling, it must have been nice to be around others who were into it.”

Blue scratches at the back of his neck. “Sure, it was alright. But at the end of the month I was bored out of my mind at still being there, while the rest of them were happy to stay and soak up as much as they could. Mostly from trainers like me.”

“Big words from someone that took a whole two tries to get his badge,” Leaf teases.

Red grins. “Can you imagine how big his ego would be if he got it on the first?”

“Hey, I’m serious!” Blue says as they laugh. “You know how long some of them have been there? Months, without challenging Brock once. They don’t get it, think they can become great by just climbing ranks, learn everything inside and out before they take a chance. Most didn’t come to the forest that night, even though their Leader sent out the call. A few are the real deal, but the rest… they’re going about it all wrong!”

“Chill, Blue. We’re just giving you grief. Two tries is damn impressive any way you cut it.”

“What would you do different, if you were Brock?” Leaf asks.

Blue’s jaw sets. “Brock… he’s a good Leader, and he talks the talk about being hard on trainers. Does a decent job of it. But even he babies them too much. For the members, I’d send them out on missions with the Rangers at least once a week. They need to cut their teeth on some real situations more often, have some natural pressures to get creative. For the challengers, three months, max, before they have to try for the badge or leave. If they want to come back after hitting up some other gyms, fine, but this hand holding shit has got to end. It’ll hurt the city’s numbers, sure, but if every gym starts doing it at once each one will still be more or less up to strength if they need defending.”

“Sounds like you put some thought into this,” Leaf says. “Are there any Leaders you think have it right?”

“Koga, maybe. Sabrina too, in her way. But none of them have it all right.”

While they discuss the differences with the Gym system in Unova, Red smiles as he remembers his talks with Blue on this over the years. Blue used to go on rants about the Gym Leaders all the time, but this was calmer, more focused. It’s clear Blue learned more than he realizes from the Gym.

Or maybe it’s everything else. Having his own pokemon to train, the forest fire, the journey in general. Blue’s growing up, getting more mature. Red wonders if he has too, and pulls out his notebook to start listing things he wants to change about himself

1. Be less afraid of tamed pokemon. Test: Next time you have the chance to interact with a dangerous one, don’t hesitate without reason.

2. Pay more attention to friends. Test: Correctly guess when Blue or Leaf are lying or feeling vulnerable without them saying so.

3. Be a better scientist. Test: Form a better hypothesis for your next research project.

Red has trouble thinking of any others. He’s just about to ask Blue and Leaf for feedback on what he needs to improve when his phone chirps a shrill alarm.

The group’s pokemon all react to the sudden noise, and Blue and Leaf blink at him. “Is that-”

“Someone just sent out a CoRRNet ticket near us,” Red says as he pulls it out. “I changed my alert settings when we left the Outpost this morning.” Tapping the alert brings up his map, which expands from their location to the site of the ticket writer. “About two kilometers northeast of here, where the road branches off a bit… ‘Assistance required to investigate unknown hazard.'”

Blue frowns. “That’s it?”

Red nods. “The closest Ranger outpost is twenty minutes away. Think we should go?”

Leaf has already changed course and begins walking faster. “It’s on the way. Let’s see if we can help.”

Red and Blue match her pace, then begin to speed up. Soon the three are jogging as their pokemon run faster too, and Red feels Pichu’s claws grab tight to his shirt and collar as his backpack bounces.

“What do you guys think it is?” Leaf asks.

“Around here, maybe a spearow attack.” Blue tracks Zephyr with his pokeball as he loops around and withdraws him.

Red shakes his head. “It said unknown hazard, if a pokemon was sighted they would have listed it.” The possibilities run through Red’s mind, focusing on the wording in particular: “unknown hazard.” Hazard implies something in the environment. Maybe a toxin? He unhooks his facemask from the back of his pack and pulls it on, and the other two do the same, breaths fogging the glass as they run.

Eventually the tall grass in the distance shows a gap, and the other branch of the road becomes visible. Once they reach it they turn right and continue eastward, and soon they can see the figure of two trainers in the distance.

They turn around as the group approaches. “Hey, hold on! Withdraw your rattata!”

They call their pokemon back before they can run by the two trainers and return them. “We’re here to help. What’s going on?”

“Glad to hear it. This is Dania, I’m Naoko.” The trainers look to be in their mid teens, both with a full belt of pokemon. “Take a look.” They step apart and point farther up the road.

In the distance a ponyta lies on the road, apparently unconscious. Heart still pounding from the run, Red feels his pulse spike at what’s beyond it.

Pokemon litter the road and the grass to its sides, mostly bird pokemon. There’s no blood or signs of a battle, and Red feels goosebumps rush up his arms, thoughts racing.

“How long has this been going on?” Blue asks.

“Ten minutes? We sent the alert right after. Jonetsu was trailblazing, then he just fell over.” Naoko’s hands grip her elbows, radiating barely controlled panic. “He’s out of withdraw range… I don’t know what to do.”

“We don’t dare go any closer,” Dania says. “We saw nothing, heard nothing.”

“I don’t blame you,” Red says. There’s a something distinctly unsettling about all the unconscious, possibly dead, pokemon littering the road.

“Could be some kind of spores,” Leaf says, and licks her finger to check the air. “We’re not downwind.”

“Have you tried going around?” Red asks.

“No. There are no pokemon on the ground around here, but we don’t know how far the effect extends, and it might be a matter of time before a pidgey flies over to the north of us and hits the ground.”

“If there’s some ghost or psychic pokemon ahead, I might be able to check it out,” Blue says, causing everyone to look at him in surprise.

“Woah, hold on,” Red says. “It’s very noble of you, but let’s not assume it’s a mental attack just yet. If they’re asleep it might be some sound.”

“Why can’t we hear it then?” Dania says. “Wait, we’re out of range, right. But by a few meters?”

“It must end somewhere,” Leaf reasons. “What pokemon around here can put others to sleep?”

“Jigglypuff,” the others respond immediately, and Naoko continues with, “But they mostly stay closer to Mount Moon. I guess we might be close enough to find a stray one…”

“Pokemon from the mountain have been spotted wandering farther lately,” Red says. “A jigglypuff’s range is what, 70 decibels? 80? A wigglytuff has more. And sound travels in an open space by the inverse square law.” Red takes his notebook back out and writes the equation. “Double the distance means a fourth of the intensity, which is about 6 decibels. The ponyta is about thirty meters away, so if the sound went below 0 decibels in that distance, its source should be about… 150 meters away? No that’s not right…”

“Um,” Naoko says, and Red looks up in distraction. “I don’t know if this matters to what you’re doing, but ponyta hearing is much better than ours is.”

Red stares at her, then flips his notebook closed. “Right. Of course it is. Well, nothing for it then. We’ve got our hypothesis, time to test it. What pokemon do we have with the best hearing? I have a Rattata.” Technically Pichu might have better hearing, but Red would rather not risk him unless he has to.

“Same,” Leaf says, and grins at Blue. “Could use a zubat about now, huh?”

“Ugh. No thanks. I think Zephyr’s my best at hearing, though I don’t know if pidgey are better than rattata?”

“I have a noctowl,” Dania says, and unclips a pokeball. “Go, Tarkus!”

The noctowl bursts into existence in the air, and Red has a moment of wistful envy before the bird staggers and plummets to the grass.

“Tarkus!” Dania rushes over to it and skids to the ground, checking its breast and beak. “He’s okay… you were right, just sleeping!”

“That means Jonetsu is too!” Daoko runs forward before Red can stop her, and returns her ponyta to its ball. Red waits for her to keel over, but however far the jigglypuff or wigglytuff is, apparently they’re not close enough yet.

“Okay, so do either of you have a rattata?” Red asks.


Clear.

Clear.

Red types his own Clear out on his phone as Rattata continues to sniff at the grass in front of him. He walks farther to the north, counting ten paces before taking three eastward. Another series of buzzes makes him look down, and now one of them says stopped. Scamp apparently fell asleep, and Red watches as a marker appears on his map. It’s the ninth incident, and now they have a very clear idea of the sound’s circumference.

Red was worried that the jigglypuff or wigglytuff was moving as it sang, but it seems to be staying still enough for them to map its general location. They could triangulate its distance and direction from the second time their rattata fell asleep, but Leaf pointed out that there might be more than one of them, and so they continued to spread slowly outward just incase.

Naoko has a rattata too, which left Blue and Dania back where they started in case of trouble or if any rangers show up. Red’s phone buzzes with an all clear from Leaf to indicate that she’s carried her rattata out of the danger zone and woke it back up, then another message from Blue arrives.

Okay, so we good? Looks like there’s just the one so let’s go grab it.

Red hesitates, then types “Okay” on his phone. He digs his earplugs out of his bag and returns Rattata to her ball. The group agreed to a finders-keepers policy for any sleeping pokemon that they stumble across, and Red’s eager to see what he can find.

Ready… Dania sends.

Setgo Blue replies, and Red grins and sticks the earplugs in. They muffle the ambient sounds around him, and Red begins walking toward the center of the sound circle. He can see Naoko to his right, and farther along the distant figures of Blue and Dania as they jog off the path. There’s a flash farther out, and Red knows Leaf must have caught something.

He casts his eyes around, searching for the brown of a pidgey or spearow among all the grass. There’s one farther ahead, but Naoko is already running for it, and Red sees another depression in the tall grass to his left.

His heart races as he jogs toward it. Nidoran or mankey, nidoran or mankey, nidoran or mankey… yes!

Red holds his ball at the sleeping male nidoran, counting the seconds until he knows it’s done locking, then tosses the ball and lets out a muffled woop as it disappears into it. He quickly grabs it and attaches it to his belt without registering it, taking out another ball and jogging forward through the tall grass.

It feels exposed running through the thick greenery without a pokemon, but anything that’s out here has likely been put to sleep by the ‘puff or ‘tuff. Though something about that thought bothers him… Red slows down as he considers the nagging sensation, then sees Blue jogging into the grass ahead of Dania and picks up his speed, knowing that his friend is going for the main prize. Dania sticks to the road and catches what looks like a pidgey, and a minute later Red sees the tan hide of a sandshrew up ahead.

He breaks into a run, breath loud in his muffled ears as his feet fly over the grass. He looks to his right and sees Naoko gaining on him with a wild grin, then zags in front of her to block her sight as he gets close enough to point his pokeball.

One, two-

Naoko slides in from the side, one hand up to block his pokeball’s connection as her own lens aims straight at it. Red curses and dashes away, not wanting to get caught up in a contest for one when there are others around.

Blue is in the distance, with Leaf hot on his heels. Red checks his map and sees that they’re halfway to the center. He could give chase, but there’s a ton of unexplored area to the other side that might have pokemon in it.

Red changes course and waves at Dania as he jogs past her. He strains his eyes to pick out some distortion in the landscape and spies another flash of brown.

Well, it’s a Flying type, he thinks as he happily catches the spearow, then takes off for another shape.

It takes a second to identify the ekans, and about half a second more to recognize that it is moving oh shit

Red leaps to the side as it uncoils at him, simultaneously reaching for Charmander’s ball and calling himself an idiot twice over. Instead he pivots on his heel and runs for the center, chasing the distant figures of Blue and Leaf as he reclips Charmander’s ball and tucks the empty ball away. Of course it makes sense that if pokemon with better hearing fall asleep farther away, pokemon with worse hearing won’t until they’re much closer.

Red chances a glance back to confirm that, yep, the ekans is chasing him like a ripple of purple water through the grass, and terror sends fresh adrenaline through his pumping legs.

When last they clocked their run speeds, Blue beat Red by just over a second in a hundred meter dash. Turns out that being chased by a poisonous snake makes you run faster than any rivalry can, and when Blue next turns around to check how close Leaf is to him, he spots Red and grins wide, slowing a bit to turn and run backward as he extends two fingers up.

Red’s mouth moves soundlessly-Run you idiot!-as he waves his arms frantically forward with what must be a sufficiently terrified expression, because Blue’s eyes widen and he immediately turns around and puts on a burst of speed. Leaf, who had been gaining on him, turn and sees Red too, then looks behind him and sees the ekans.

She immediately reaches for her bag, hands scrambling at the straps and reaching in, heedless of the objects that fall out. Red wishes he knew what she was looking for in case it was jettisoned, and jumps over the various bottles and containers rather than risk tripping on them. Just as he’s about to catch up to Leaf, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a collapsible net.

Red grabs it from her and extends its handle, then plants a foot, pivots, and swings the net just above the grass. The ekans leaps at him just as the net begins to lift… and bounces against the rim and to the side.

It lands in the grass sideways and rights itself with a twist. Red uses the end of the net to pin it in place as Leaf approaches with a pokeball, knuckles gripping the handle painfully tight as the snake writhes and tries to slip away. A moment later Leaf’s pokeball snags it and sucks it in.

Red falls back onto the grass and pants for breath, a dull roar in his ears. He can just see Leaf in his periphery lying beside him, and he holds up a fist. She stares at it for a moment, then grins and bumps it with hers, shaking her head.

Some time later the stitch in his side fades he sits up just in time to see a pidgey fly up from the grass in the distance. There’s motion to his left, and another one takes off far away, flying a bit unsteadily at first before it flaps its wings and lifts in a clean arc.

Red blinks, then cautiously unplugs an ear little by little. When he hears nothing and doesn’t begin to feel sleepy, he pulls the other out and looks around.

Blue is walking back toward them, sweaty and triumphant as he spins a pokeball on his finger. “Hey losers. What was all that about?”

“Ekans,” Red says between heavy breaths. “Low hearing. Wasn’t asleep.”

“Wow. Sucks to suck. Glad you didn’t get bit though. That your net, Leaf?”

She nods as she pulls the second plug from her ear. “I used it to catch my ledyba.”

“Why did you pull the net out, anyway?” Red asks. “I was running it toward the jigglypuff so it would fall asleep.”

“Well I didn’t know if you were going to make it that far. I figured it would be good to have on hand in case we needed it, but then you grabbed it and decided to make a stand. I just figured you were out of breath.”

“Well the main thing is, no one important died,” Blue says. “I’m assuming, anyway. You guys see the other two? We should probably warn them that the pokemon are waking back up. Speaking of which…”

Leaf and Red get up and head back toward the road, picking up Leaf’s fallen items as they go. “So how did you guys do?” Leaf asks.

“Nidoran and spearow,” Red says.

“No shit? I just got a rattata and this wigglytuff.”

“Woah!” Red says as Leaf makes a sound of defeat. “So it was a fully grown ‘tuff?”

“Yep! Sitting on a rock and just singing its heart out. Sucker never saw me coming. Should fetch a good price on the market.”

“Hey Blue,” Leaf says in a sweet voice. “You wouldn’t happen to want to maybe trade it, would you?”

“For what, an ekans? Nah, I’m good thanks.”

Leaf nods. “Yeah, an ekans wouldn’t really help you out in Cerulean. I heard that Water types don’t fare too well against Electric, though…”

Red and Blue stare. “No way…”

She unclips a ball from the back of her belt and polishes it with an admiring look. “You know what, I think I’ll keep it. I always wanted a luxray…”

Red listens to them barter as they meet up with Dania and Naoko and find the road again together. As they continue their walk to Mount Moon, Red takes his phone out and finds their open ticket, and with Dania’s permission marks it solved. He wonders if Ranger Matt will see it and note the name on it. No worries guys, Red thinks as he tucks his phone away with a smile. We got this one.