Tag Archives: fanfiction

Chapter 4: Operant Conditioning

“Go!”

“Shit, they’re fast!”

“There’s another!”

“I got it!”

Red throws a third time, letting go too soon and sending the pokeball slightly off target. Not that it matters: the small brown pokemon hops out of the way, wings flapping to send the ball farther out of reach. The gusts of wind send dirt into Red’s eyes, and he covers his face with an elbow while holding onto his cap’s bill to keep it on his head. When the wind stops, he looks up to see the small flock of pidgey swiftly departing.

Blue walks over, breathing hard. “Goddamn birds,” he mutters as he brushes dirt from his eyes, hair a windblown mess. His squirtle approaches from behind, staring after the departed pidgey for a moment before dropping onto all fours and investigating the grass around them.

“Squirtle manage to hit any of them?” Red asks as he walks around to reclaim his pokeballs and shrink them.

“A couple, but they recovered too fast, and then she ran out of water.” Blue pulls a bottle of it out and begins squirting some into the turtle’s open mouth.

Red hadn’t summoned Charmander, wanting to avoid further injury unless necessary. He looks over to where Leaf and Bulbasaur are and sees her pick up one of her own pokeballs before heading to them.

“No luck either, huh?” Red asks.

“Nope. I think we’re definitely going to need to wear them down first.”

“Which would be easy enough, if they’d stay still and fight,” Blue says.

Red sighs and sits in a patch of short grass, crossing his leg beneath him and drinking from Blue’s water bottle. The other two sit in a rough triangle, Blue rubbing Squirtle’s shell. “Pidgey aren’t as aggressive as rattata,” Red says. “Unless we find a nest and actually start messing with their eggs, they have no reason to stick around rather than just fly off if threatened.”

“Maybe we hold off on catching one for now?” Leaf says.

Blue shakes his head. “I want a Flying type before we reach Viridian Forest, unless you want to risk getting divebombed by some beedrill without a way to fight back.”

“What’s a beedrill?” Leaf asks, and Blue pulls out his pokedex. A large, winged black and yellow insect, all sharp stingers and pointed claws, appears on the screen. “Ugh, yeah, that might be a problem. So… ideas?”

“We could go to the Viridian City and get a net launcher, then come back,” Red says. It’s one of the items on his eventual wish-list of gear, and he’d looked at some prices online. “They cost five hundred dollars, but we can rent one for a hundred-thirty a day.”

Blue scratches his neck. “That’s not bad. How much do you have?”

“After buying all my gear, I’ve got $237 left. You?”

“I have about five hundred saved up.”

Leaf holds up her purse. “I brought four hundred for the trip. So we could all pool in to rent one for $43 each, or buy it for $167, give or take a dollar.”

“So it’s an option, though a pricey one,” Red says.

Blue nods. “I was hoping to save for critical supplies until I can get some winnings for extra cash, so let’s make that Plan B. Any other ideas?”

Leaf looks around at the tall grass, some of it as high as their shoulders while seated. “A trap of some kind? I can hide with Bulbasaur in some tall grass, try to grab one with vines if it gets close.”

“Might take hours of waiting,” Blue says. “What if we lure them? Dig a hole, make a false cover and put some berries on it?”

Red runs his fingers through the grass. “Even if they were heavy enough to break it, they’d just fly out before we got close. I like the berry idea though. Maybe combine it with Leaf’s? Bulbasaur sits under the trap?”

“Or better yet, we can find a berry bush to hide him in,” Leaf says.

They agree, and get up to look for a good spot. It isn’t hard to find berry bushes, but most are stripped of ripe fruit by wild pokemon. A few rattata and pidgey run from the trio as they walk through the tall grass, and eventually they find a berry laden bush with three rattata around it. They seem willing to stand and fight at first, until Leaf brings Bulbasaur out. They flee before Red can bring out Charmander, and Blue throws a pokeball at the retreating rodents, missing one by a hair.

“Not a word,” Blue says.

“It’s a lot easier when they’re knocked out,” Red offers with a grin.

“Okay Bulbasaur. In you go.” Leaf points at the berry bush. Her pokemon walks over to it and begins to feed. “No! Stop!” Bulbasaur hesitates a moment, then continues, and Leaf pulls a spray bottle out of her pocket and squirts a mist of water in Bulbasaur’s face, saying “Stop!” again. He recoils, blinking in surprise, and looks at his trainer with a mournful sound.

“I guess we didn’t think this through,” Blue says, balancing a spinning pokeball on one finger. “He’s going to just eat the berries when we move away.”

“Give me a bit, and he won’t,” Leaf says. “This is a good training opportunity.”

Blue looks skeptical. “You’re going to train him not to eat berries? Might want to make sure he’s full first.”

“It’s not too hard. I just have to reward him with something he wants more.”

Red turns to Leaf, impressed anew. “You’ve studied operant conditioning?” He’s starting to appreciate that Leaf had probably worked at least as hard to prepare for this journey as he and Blue.

“That Pavlov thing?” Blue asks.

“That’s classical conditioning. Operant conditioning deals with positive and negative reinforcement.”

Blue stares blankly at him.

“I’m pretty sure we covered it in school together…”

“Oh?” Blue spins his pokeball again, arm moving slightly to keep it balanced. “I must have been sick that day.”

Red sighs as Leaf smiles and put her pack down to dig through it. “Okay, so Professor Skinner was studying behavior theory, and was focused on the way pokemon learn. He put rattata in a box which had a mechanism to release food, along with a lever, and a light display or speakers.”

“This is fascinating,” Blue says in a monotone.

“Do you want to know what she’s going to do, or not?”

“I was hoping for a ten second answer, not an hour long lecture.”

“It’s been twenty seconds, if that, and only counting your interruption.”

“What, I said it was fascinating, then you get all huffy-”

Anyway,” Red continues, deciding to simplify. “He was able to train the pokemon to press the lever after seeing the right light display or hearing the right sound, but not when seeing or hearing the wrong one. The lever would only dispense food if they pressed it after the right signal. That was their reward, to reinforce the desired behavior. If they did it after the wrong one, they would get a small shock or something. That aversive stimulus was the punishment.

Leaf finds and takes out a small box of PokePuffs. The round cakes are colorful, and their scent fills the air as soon as she opens the wrapping. Bulbasaur and Squirtle sniff, their gazes locking on the brown and orange pastry Leaf holds up.

“Ok, that’s starting to sound familiar,” Blue says. “It’s like how we link new commands with pokemon attacks.”

“Right, but the principle works with more than just battle commands,” Red says. “In fact, it works for pretty much anything, and even the least intelligent of pokemon respond to it to some degree.” Nor are humans exempt: Red had made the connection to his own learning not to touch a hot stove as a toddler before finding the studies that supported it. “According to behavior theory, pretty much all learned behavior is the result of reinforcements and associations.”

“So that water bottle, that’s the punishment,” Blue says. “And the PokePuff is the reward.”

“Right. The water bottle is a positive punishment, because it adds an experience to minimize a behavior. The pokepuff is a positive reinforcement, because it reinforces a behavior. ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ are used in a technical sense here, to mean add or subtract, and not to place a subjective judgement on what’s being added or subtracted. A negative reinforcement would be a positive experience for a pokemon, because it remove a noxious experience when doing a behavior, which encourages it to do that behavior again.

Leaf positions Bulbasaur in front of the bush again, and waits until Bulbasaur begins to stretch his neck out for a berry, then says “Stop!” Bulbasaur hesitates again, and when he resumes reaching for a berry he gets another spray of mist. It takes another few repetitions of this until Bulbasaur stops reaching for berries on his own.

“Isn’t this going to make him stop eating berries altogether?” Blue asks.

“It could, with enough reinforcement,” Red admits. “But she can fine-tune it. Watch.”

Leaf offers Bulbasaaur a berry from her hand, and after a moment he eats it. He doesn’t get squirted, and after she offers him another one he’s faster to eat it, which earns him a scratch behind his ear.

“The real behavior she’s trying to teach him doesn’t have to do with berries, but to respond to her saying ‘stop’,” Red explains. “He recognizes the word to some degree thanks to previous training, but isn’t used to hearing it when doing mundane things. He’s also learning not to eat berries unless it’s offered to him.”

Leaf stays still and silent for a long time, and Bulbasaur doesn’t reach for any berries. Finally he begins to stir and stretch his neck out for one, and when Leaf says “Stop!” he does so right away.

“Good boy!” Leaf breaks off a piece of the pokepuff and feeds it to him, then scratches him behind the ear. “Who’s a good bulbasaur? You are!”

Squirtle is watching the interaction attentively, and eventually walks over to Blue and looks up at him expectantly. “What?” Blue says, sounding defensive as he catches his ball to stop its spinning. “I don’t have any PokePuffs. I’ll pick some up in Viridian.”

Squirtle doesn’t seem particularly assured, and makes a gurgling sound, plodding off toward the berry bush to eat some. Bulbasaur watches Squirtle, but doesn’t join her, earning him another piece of Puff.

By the time the PokePuff is gone, Bulbasaur is obediently sitting in the middle of the berry bush without reaching for any of them. Part of it might be that he’s less hungry, but Red knows that PokePuffs are designed as treats, and aren’t particularly filling.

Leaf brushes her hands off on her pants. “Now we just need to train him to grab anyone that tries to eat the berries.” She eyes Squirtle, then Blue, and both trainers speak at the same time:

“Bulbasaur, Bind!”

“Squirtle, Withdraw!”

Bulbasaur’s vines wrap around Squirtle, but have trouble keeping a grip on the smooth shell.

“Bulbasaur, stop!”

“Squirtle, back up.” Blue slowly circles the berry bush with Squirtle, then points to a clump of berries. “Eat!”

“Bulbasaur, Bind!”

Squirtle dodges the vines and grabs a mouthful of berries, but has to jump back to avoid them again. When Bulbasaur moves forward to pursue, Leaf tells him to stop, and Bulbasaur does.

“Good job Squirtle!” Blue rubs the turtle’s smooth shell while Leaf feeds Bulbasaur part of a new PokePuff, then hands the rest to Blue to feed Squirtle. Red watches them for a moment, then unclips Charmander’s pokeball and looks at its smooth surface.

Inside, he knows Charmander’s physical state is suspended while his mind is busy with the pokeball’s virtual reality, a preprogrammed experience akin to dreaming. He pulls out his pokedex and aligns their lens so he can see what Charmander’s doing.

The screen displays a stadium. Charmander is facing down an assortment of pokemon, as Red, or rather the recording of him that had been programmed into the dex at Professor Oak’s lab, gives Charmander various commands. It won’t make the pokemon any stronger, but Red knows the virtual training will subconsciously help Charmander become even more used to his instructions and fighting in general.

He reclips Charmander to his belt and pulls out his new rattata’s ball, doing the same thing. Instead of the more advanced scenario Charmander is experiencing, the rattata isn’t facing any foes, but simply learning basic commands. Red watches her tackle a mannequin, then begin biting it as his virtual self instructs her to. This sort of virtual training doesn’t form as strong a bond as training in person, and there’s less room for creativity or learning for the trainer, but it’s a convenient method of allowing virtually anyone to capture and train pokemon of their own.

Red remembers learning about pokeball technology at school. Most of the students had just followed the lesson and taken notes at various levels of attention, but Red could barely listen and write at the same time, mind racing with possibilities. He’d finally raised his hand to interrupt the teacher, and asked why people couldn’t just go into a pokeball and learn everything through virtual lessons.

The class had gone silent, many kids turning to give Red a strange look. People can’t go in pokeballs, dummy, his classmate Becka had said. The teacher had reprimanded her, but then reiterated the well known point: pokeballs were for pokemon. They wouldn’t work on people.

Red had barely paid attention the rest of the day. He’d never really thought much about the distinction between people and pokemon, but in those moments it had seemed trivial to him. Surely some day, he’d thought, they would refine the technology to upload humans as data as well. His mind kept coming up with new things such a breakthrough would allow: near instant travel, protection from imminent danger, the ability to stay suspended the same age for decades and jump ahead in time…

Red smiles now, remembering his naïveté. It wasn’t until years later when he was reading one of the books Professor Oak had given him that he’d learned the truth: they can create pokeballs that work on people. The technology had been available from the very beginning. But the atomization and compression isn’t quite so simple for creatures with higher cognitive functions. The first humans who had volunteered to be stored in a pokeball and then reformed had emerged physically healthy, but severely brain damaged.

The book hadn’t elaborated further, and Red had done some independent research online to learn the full story. Over the years, the matter compression technology had continued to advance, and occasionally human testing was tried again. Criminals facing the death penalty were offered the choice of entering a pokeball instead: if they survived with their wits intact, their sentence would be lowered to mere life imprisonment.

Time and again, the results were the same: at best, a regression of mental state to a toddler’s level. At worst, permanent catatonia. Ultimately the decision was agreed by all levels of government: pokeballs were for pokemon. The creation or use of devices that would recognize and store humans became a felony of the greatest magnitude, allowing law enforcement to go all-out against anyone suspected of doing so. All further research on the topic was put to a halt.

Red sighs and puts his rattata’s pokeball away, the screen of the pokedex going still as the lenses unalign. As amazing as technology is, he can’t help but wonder what new things humanity could accomplish, if they were willing to take more risks…

“Alright, that should do it,” Leaf says. She feeds her pokemon the last bit of another puff through the bush’s branches, and gets to her feet. “Let’s get some distance and let Bulbasaur do his thing.”

They find a grassy knoll not too far from the bush and lie or crouch behind it, heads just high enough to watch the bush. Blue rolls three shrunken pokeballs around on his palm by flexing his fingers, while Leaf scans the skies. Red scans through his pokedex’s map, looking ahead at the locations they would soon travel to and refreshing his memory of the pokemon native to there. Some mankey to the west of Viridian City, would be useful to catch one, though they’re rare… lots of weedle in the forest, not to mention kakuna and beedrill… better stock up on poison antidotes…

The sun continues to inch along the sky, and eventually Blue excuses himself to duck behind some trees. While he’s gone, Leaf turns to Red. “So what does it take to become a Professor in Kanto?”

Red scratches his chin where a blade of grass is tickling. “First, to become a registered Pokemon Researcher, I need to contribute an independent article based on my observations and experiences with one of my pokemon. I can submit it through the pokedex, but I have to wait for it to be peer reviewed to be accepted.”

“Can it be on anything?”

Red nods. “Pretty much. I just need to discover or verify something new. Once I’m a Researcher, I can advance by increasing my h-index.”

“That’s the relationship between number of papers published and the times you’ve been cited, right?”

“Yeah. So the more papers I publish, the more chances of being cited by others, but high quality research will likely shoot my score way up. Once I hit 20 I can become an Instructor. At 30 I can apply to become an Associate Professor, and work in the lab under Professor Oak.”

“And then? When do you get your own lab?”

Red shrugs. “Could take years. I need to demonstrate knowledge of every major species in the region to apply to become a Professor, and once I pass that test, my dissertation has to disprove or overturn a previous theory that has already been established.”

Leaf gives a low whistle. “Every species in the region. That’s a lot of work.”

“Yeah, but I can start making money for articles I contribute or review once I’m a Researcher, so it’s incrementally rewarding long before I reach the end.”

“Do you make a lot?”

“It depends on the discovery, but not generally. The rewards are structured more toward verifying and disproving than submitting.”

“And you weren’t able to do any as part of your apprenticeship? Get a head start on it?”

“My work in the lab involved a lot of paperwork and assistance of others in their research. So I got a chance to observe first hand the proper procedures and format and standards, which will help a lot in doing my own research and getting it accepted.”

“So to keep publishing papers, you’ll have to study and catch a lot of pokemon. More than Gym Leaders have, even.”

“Or spend a lot of time with a few dozen, yeah.” He smiles. “Discovering a new specie would put me on the fast track though, so let me know if you spot any.”

She grins. “For a cut of the funds, sure.”

“Sounds fair. I-”

“Look!”

Leaf points as a rattata approaches the berry bush. They watch as it inches closer… closer… then Leaf yells out “Bind!” as it begins nibbling at some berries.

Bulbasaur’s vines whip out and catch the startled rattata, holding it up off the ground to prevent it from running. Leaf and Red dash to the bush, where the squirming rodent is trying to twist around and bite the vines holding it.

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

The vines slam the rattata down and unwind just as Bulbasaur rockets out from the bush and tackles it. It tumbles away in a daze, and Leaf’s pokeball quickly scans it, then flies through the air and snaps it up. The lens blinks red, then stills.

“Nice job,” Red says. “You trained him really well.”

“Thanks. I used to practice with my mom’s pokemon.” Leaf picks her new rattata up with a grin, then pulls her pokedex out and registers it. Once it’s programmed to her Trainer ID, she clips it to her belt, where it will begin the basic training program Red’s rattata is going through.

Red brushes his fingers over his own rattata’s ball. “At least one of us should nickname ours, in case we have them out at the same time.”

“Good idea. I’ll try to think of one.” Leaf crouches down to rub Bulbasaur’s head and feed him another pokepuff. “Good boy Bulbasaur! Such a good boy!”

They hear running from behind, and turn to see Blue, one hand holding up his pants as the other grips a pokeball. “What happened? Did I miss it?!” He looks around wildly, breathing hard.

Leaf and Red glance at each other before collapsing in laughter. Blue blinks at them, then scowls, cheeks darkening as he puts the pokeball away and finishes zipping and buttoning his pants. Eventually Red recovers enough to explain, and they retreat to the hill after Leaf instructs Bulbasaur to return to the bushes.

“So now I’m the only one without a second pokemon,” Blue grumbles as he settles down again.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get the pidgey for sure,” Leaf says.

Red grins. “Unless you have to go pee again. You did get the chance to finish, right?”

Leaf buries her laughter in her arms as Blue punches Red in his good shoulder, and the two begin to roll across the knoll scuffling. It’s only when Leaf catches her breath and tells them they’ll scare away the pokemon that they disengage and flop back down beside her. Red nurses a bruised rib where Blue’s knee had caught him, while Blue examines a tear in his sleeve.

The clouds drift across the sun, darkening the fields as wind sends ripples through the grass. Red checks the time, noting that they have another two hours of sun left. Plenty to reach Viridian City by nightfall, though only if the pidgey shows up within the next thirty minutes…

It takes ten, though it’s not alone. Leaf gives a small gasp, then points: three pidgey wheel in the distance, dipping and looping around each other, steadily making their way closer. Within moments they land and begin to hop over to the bush.

Blue curses, and Leaf bites her lower lip. Red’s hand falls to his pokeball. What would the other two pidgey do when Bulbasaur grabs the third? Run, or attack? The bushes would provide some cover, but outnumbered the way he is, Bulbasaur might be seriously hurt before they can reach him.

Red unclips Charmander’s pokeball, though he doesn’t release him yet, as the explosive sound might scare them away. “We’ll throw them,” he whispers to Leaf. “Bulbasaur will grab one, and when Charmander and Squirtle show up, the other two might run for it or get distracted.”

Blue nods, and Leaf takes a deep breath, eyes on the pidgey. They hop closer… another hop… and then one pecks at the bushes, grabbing a berry.

“Bind!”

Red leaps to his feet and throws as hard as he can, yelling “Charmander, go!” as Blue does the same with Squirtle. The pokeballs soar through the air as the three pidgey explode into action, flapping and chirping in alarm as one of them struggles against the vines holding it. Bulbasaur keeps his target from flying away, but the other two are already pecking his vines to free their companion.

The wrapped pidgey gets its second wing free and begins to flap, lifting itself a bit. Bulbasaur gets dragged from concealment as he tries to hold onto the pidgey, and the two free birds immediately shift focus to attack him with their beaks and talons.

Red and Blue’s pokeballs hit the ground, bounce, and light flashes as they discharge their contents, sailing back up into the air. Charmander and Squirtle seem a bit disoriented at first from the commotion five feet from them, but quickly shift into combat stances, Squirtle rising onto her hindlegs as Charmander’s claws extend.

“Charmander, Emb-Scratch!” Red yells as he runs, remembering just in time not to use a fire attack. So inconvenient-

“Squirtle, Water Gun!”

Charmander leaps at the nearest Pidgey and begins to claw at it while Squirtle blasts at the other with a jet of water. For a second there Red had been worried Squirtle would hit Charmander, but the turtle continues to shoot jets of water at the unengaged bird as Charmander knocks away the lower one.

“Blue, I’m going to let it go! Be ready!” Leaf yells from behind them as they run toward the bush.

By the time they reach the scuffle, Blue has a pokeball in each hand, pressing their buttons to expand them and pointing their lens at the pidgeys. Precious seconds pass as he tries to keep them steady on the birds, shifting his arms slightly as the two free pidgey fly around and occasionally dive at their pokemon.

Gotta keep their wings busy. “Charmander, Bite!” Charmander latches onto his opponent’s shoulder with his teeth. Stuck, the pidgey pecks at the lizard’s face, and Red’s heart leaps into his throat as he sees blood on its beak. His eyes! “Charmander, Tail Whip!”

Charmander’s tail coils around him and presses against the pidgey, causing it to trill and flail frantically to escape the flames rather than continue its assault. Squirtle keeps the third pidgey at bay with bursts of water every time it attempts to get close, while their target continues to drag Bulbasaur farther away as it tries to lift off. Bulbasaur’s feet leave the ground for a moment before he settles back down, digging his feet in and slamming the pidgey against the ground without much effect. Hollow bones, doesn’t have much mass…

Finally a pair of dings sound. “Do it!” Blue yells.

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

Bulbasaur draws his vines in and runs forward as he pulls the pidgey toward him. He releases it just as he hits, but the bird is already airborn, and barely flinches. The tackle does turn it around however, and its first few flaps aim it toward them instead of away.

Blue throws, then shifts the left ball to his right hand and throws again, aiming higher. The pidgey climbs over the first ball, only to be hit by the second.

“Yes!” Blue pumps his fist as the bird disappears in a flash of light. Charmander continues to struggle with the second pidgey, and Red can see both pokemon tiring.

“Leaf, I’m going to tell Charmander to back up,” he says, positioning himself behind the lizard. “Get a ball ready and catch that one!”

“Got it!” She runs forward until she’s just a few feet away and expands a ball, then aims its lens. “Can’t get a lock with Charmander so close!”

“Charmander, back!”

The red lizard releases his target and scampers toward Red, favoring a foreleg as blood runs down his face. The pidgey flaps its wings and tries to gain altitude, but Leaf’s ball pings its lock, and she throws it, hardly needing to aim from so close.

The ball hits the second pidgey and bounces off it before opening and sucking it inside as it falls. The third pidgey chirrups, then wheels around and flies away.

Red is already kneeling beside Charmander, a potion in one hand and a small towel in the other. “Hold still Charmander, you did so well,” he whispers, heart pounding as he wipes blood away from the lizard’s face. He notices his hand shaking, and takes a deep breath, trying to steady himself. Stupid adrenaline, go away, need to focus…

Charmander’s eyes are closed, so he sprays the potion onto the wounds he can see. His pokemon slowly relaxes, and Red pulls out his water bottle, wetting his towel and gingerly wiping around the wounds. One, two… three… Three peck marks, and when Charmander opens his eyes, they’re undamaged. One particularly bad one had hit the lizard’s previous wound, and Red uses the rest of the potion on the spot, watching as the bloodflow slows and forms a dark scab, new pink flesh already shrinking the wound around the edges.

Red lets out a breath and gingerly hugs his charmander, careful of its tail. It snuggles against his chest, claws sharp, but not piercing his skin.

“How is he?” Blue says after a minute.

Red looks up at Blue. “He’s okay. Bulbasaur?”

“Same,” Leaf says, putting her potion bottle away. “They got him pretty bad though, and the plant on his back is shredded a bit. I’d like to get him to a pokemon center to make sure there’s no permanent damage.”

“Yeah.” Red slowly disentangles himself from Charmander and feeds him a handful of berries while Blue retrieves their pokeballs from the grass. He hands Red the one with the flame on it, and the three trainers withdraw their pokemon. Then Blue registers his new pidgey.

Red smiles, the elation of victory filling him now that he knows his pokemon is okay. “Nice catch man. For a second there I thought you’d grab two.”

Blue chuckles. “If Squirtle knocked down the third I’d have gone for it, but I wanted insurance against the first guy. Got a sense for how they dodge balls from our earlier suckfest. Who’s getting the second one?”

“She is,” Red says at the same time Leaf says “Red.” They look at each other.

“I just got a new pokemon,” Leaf says.

“So? I did too, a few hours ago.”

“Charmander’s the one that fought it.”

“I’d be happy to take it,” Blue offers.

Red ignores him. “You and Bulbasaur are the reason we got these guys at all.”

Leaf hesitates. “Are you sure?”

Red makes himself smile. He wants a flier, he can’t deny that, but pidgey are fairly common pokemon, and he’s sure he’ll get one eventually. There are other alternatives coming up soon anyway. “I’m sure. Go for it.”

Leaf grins and hugs him. “Thank you!”

Red blinks, an indistinct and uncomfortable feeling rising in his chest. “Um. It’s okay.” What? “It’s okay?”

Leaf lets him go and collects the pokeball. As it downloads her Trainer ID, she presses a button on the pokedex. “Pokedex, Nickname: Crimson.”

“Pidgey nickname confirmed: Crimson,” the pokedex replies in a robotic, but somehow cheerful voice. “Uploading name recognition exercises. Estimated time to completion: fourteen minutes, thirty seven seconds.”

Leaf puts the pokedex and ball away and looks up at Red and Blue. “Still haven’t thought of one for rattata,” she says with a smile.

Red scratches his hair beneath his cap, then resettles it over his head, feeling vaguely embarrassed by the homage. “Well, we’ve got time to think of names on the way to Viridian.” Should I name my rattata “Green?” No, that‘s stupid

They collect their things and walk on as the sun slowly paints the sky red and gold.

Chapter 3: Memetics 101

Pallet Town has no particular boundary, the buildings simply growing farther and farther apart until the roads fade to hardpacked dirt. Cars continue to pass the three travelers by on the main street, but once they reach the outer edges the majority of traffic is on foot or bicycle, cutting through the grass every which way to reach the various houses and stores around Pallet’s perimeter.

Red’s mother had told him that this was how the whole town was at first, just a collection of spaced out buildings with dirt roads between them. He looks back at the heart of the town now and smiles at its permanence, the Pokemon Lab sticking up bright and shining against the clear blue sky. A half hour later, they’re far from any houses, and the various paths meander over hills and between lakes, the foliage growing wild and free in every direction around them.

Conversation is light for the first couple hours. Occasionally Leaf asks a question about Kanto, and Blue or Red will answer, fully but without embellishment. Red doesn’t know how Blue sees it, but it feels awkward traveling with a stranger, especially after spending so long planning their journey together.

The first bit of excitement comes when a flock of pidgey fly by overhead. Too high for a pokeball to reach, Red and Blue still argue over whether his squirtle could hit one with a Water Gun. Leaf suggests they take measurements of its range, but Red objects that firing upward would be very different than firing horizontally even without taking into account the wind, while Blue says he doesn’t want to tire Squirtle out, and they continue their walk in silence again.

Finally Leaf turns to Red and says “So you mentioned finding fault with the common type charts, back at the lab. Would you mind explaining what you meant?”

“Oh. Uh, sure.” Ignoring Blue’s smirk, Red collects his thoughts. “So how much do you know about the history of ‘typing’?”

“Not a lot,” Leaf says. “I know it hasn’t always been around, but that it’s pretty universal.”

“Right. Professor Dawkins from Hoenn uses the ‘typing phenomenon’ as an example of a meme in The Selfish Gene. A meme is ‘an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person in cultures.’ Unlike a simple fad, memes are like genes in that they self-replicate and adapt to selective pressures.”

“Okay. But the meme of ‘typing’ must be useful if it’s so good at surviving and spreading, right?”

“Sure, at some level. But think of how everyone but professors incorrectly call pokemon metamorphosis ‘evolution’. Even some professors do it colloquially: it’s just too ingrained in the public consciousness. Just because an idea is popular and resilient doesn’t mean it’s correct.”

Leaf looks skeptical. “Ehh. I dunno. I mean sure to that last part, but that example seems like a semantic argument. Words change in meaning over time based on use. Maybe in a hundred years, ‘evolution’ will mean what we now call ‘metamorphosis’ and ‘metamorphosis’ will mean what we now call ‘evolution.'”

Red waves this off. “That’s just an example of how things can spread without being critically examined. The point is that ‘typing’ started in one culture, spread throughout it, and then moved on to every other culture from there. Normally when new ideas get introduced, there’s some pushback, some skepticism. It’s not immediately adopted as the norm. ‘Typing’ is such a strong meme because of how interactive and efficient it is. It satisfies the need people have to classify things and fit them into boxes. It encourages the tribal tendencies in us to pick favorites, and satisfies our desire for fairness and balance. With the typing meme, every pokemon has strengths and weaknesses, so virtually none are strictly superior to an other.

“The commercialization of battle tournaments accelerated its spread even further, until virtually every region had adopted the same system with little time or inclination to critically examine typing. The metagame revolved around it, and creating or countering a balanced team demanded the study of type interactions. Even minor differences got washed away over time in the face of popularity and conformity: here in Kanto, we used to call them ‘Plant’ types before ‘Grass’ caught on, even though it makes less sense.”

“He’s been calling them ‘Plant’ types ever since he learned that,” Blue says.

“Hey, I always thought it was stupid.”

“Sure you did.”

Leaf smiles. “Okay, so there’s probably room for error along the way. But no one claims that the typing system is perfect… it’s still being adapted based on what we observe.”

Blue nods. “That’s what I always say. But small changes aren’t enough for him.”

“The ‘typing meme’ is too ingrained to allow fundamental shifts,” Red says. “The details adapt as we learn more, but the basics, that pokemon are of one or two types, that those types are weak or strong against other types, have persisted, even when they don’t always make much sense.”

Leaf is quiet for a moment. “So the whole idea of typing pokemon started in a certain culture, and spread as a concept from one to the next without necessarily being justified. The ‘meme’ of pokemon types is just so ingrained by now, it persists without being critically examined. Is that the gist?”

“More or less. Specifically, my problem is with how it’s done and the rigidity of the interactions between the types. Like I said, I’m fine with calling my charmander a ‘Fire type’, and obviously he’s strong against ‘Plant types’. But take those pidgey we saw earlier. What would you call those, if you saw them in Unova?”

“I didn’t get a good look, but probably Flying/Normal.”

“Right. So what does that mean, ‘Flying’?’ What does that mean, ‘Normal’?”

Blue sighs. “Just tell her what you think.”

“No, I like this,” Leaf says with a smile. “It’s how my mom likes to teach.” She thinks about it a moment. “So first off, there’s the obvious: they fly. Not all pokemon do, so it’s an important distinction. And ‘Normal’ means just… normal. You know, baseline. Nothing remarkable. I always figured Normal is what we a call a Pokemon when we can’t figure something else to call them.”

“Okay. So what does it mean to be a ‘Flying’ pokemon, in terms of its strengths and weaknesses to others?”

“Well, it’s strong against Fighting, Grass and Bug types… but weak to Rock, Electric and Ice attacks. Oh, and Ground attacks are pretty worthless against it.”

“What does all that have to do with it being Flying?”

Leaf blinks at him. “Well, birds eat plants and bugs, and Fighting Pokemon can’t really hit them. And since they’re in the air, being knocked down by a rock or lightning is extra painful when they hit the ground… and, well, cold makes it hard to fly…”

Red is nodding. “So let’s deconstruct that a bit. The first thing you said was that ‘birds eat plants and bugs’. Are all flying pokemon birds? The next things you listed were consequences of being in the air. So is all that part of what a pokemon is, or what it does? If a Flying type has a broken wing, what type is it?”

“So you’re saying that Flying isn’t a type? It’s just… what some pokemon do, so we lump that in with the typing meme? That seems to be splitting hairs a bit. Even if they don’t share universal traits, ‘Flying’ still seems a worthwhile classification.”

“Let’s shift focus a bit. Know any Fighting pokemon?”

“Sure, meinfoo.”

“Is it on your pokedex?”

Leaf pulls it out and shows it to them. A bipedal, weasel-looking pokemon appears, its movements and strikes very balanced and quick.

“Neat. Are mienfoo Fighting/Normal?”

“No, just Fighting.”

“Why?”

“Because it just… isn’t. Why would it be Fighting/Normal? I’ve never even heard of a Fighting/Normal type.”

Red takes out his pokedex and shows her a machop. “What’s this look like to you?”

“Fighting.”

“Not Fighting/Normal?”

“No…”

“But not Fighting/Fire either, right? Or Fighting/Bug? Or Fighting/Electric?”

“I mean, it’s a normal looking Fighting type, but I guess it just doesn’t make sense to call it Fighting/Normal. It seems unnecessary to add it.”

“But not unnecessary to call a pidgey Flying/Normal?” Red switches the pokedex image to show poliwhirl. “What about this guy?”

Leaf examines the bipedal amphibian. “That looks Water… maybe Water/Fighting?”

Red switches it to poliwrath, its metamorphed, more muscular form. “And this?”

“Definitely Water/Fighting.”

“What tipped you off?”

“The physique. It’s clearly strong, so I just think it would be a Fighting type.”

“But also a Water type.”

“Well yeah, that’s obviously still a Water type.”

Red nods and puts his pokedex away. “Let’s say you found a new Pokemon type.”

“A new type?”

“Yeah. How would you know?”

The three walk in silence, Pallet town a distant, vague shape behind them. Red pulls out his water bottle and takes a drink, the cool liquid refreshing under the hot sun. He offers some to Blue and Leaf, who take it in turns.

“I guess I would have to see it do something I’ve never seen before,” Leaf says at last.

“Okay. Like what?”

“Like… I don’t know. Control… wind? I guess that would be a Flying type, huh? But what if it doesn’t fly itself… hm… maybe if it controlled light. Or if I found a pokemon made of some new material? Though I’m not sure what… like a Glass type?”

Red smiles. “So basically, you would base it on what abilities it has, or what it’s made of?

“Yeah. When you put it like that, it seems obvious. But that’s pretty much the way things are, isn’t it?”

“But we don’t see it so clearly most of the time: we’re so used to thinking of types as intrinsic to a pokemon that we lump what it does in with what it is.

“Okay. I mean I follow what you’re saying, I’m just not sure how that necessarily makes the typing wrong. If the effects of what pokemon does and what it is are basically the same, what difference does it make?”

“That’s where the meme problem comes in. Did we invent the typing system ourselves?”

“No,” Leaf says slowly. “We inherited it whole-cloth from another culture.”

“So what’s the question you have to ask yourself now?”

Leaf is quiet for a minute as the three shift onto a well worn side path around a hill, the grass high as Red’s waist on either side. A berry bush grows beside it, and Blue and Red take a few handfuls to fill their pouches, handing some to Leaf.

She thanks them, then answers. “How much did people know about Pokemon when the meme of ‘typing’ them started?”

Blue groans. “You’ve walked right into his trap.”

Red is grinning. “Not just how much did people know about pokemon: how much did people know about anything? I’ve looked into it, and it turns out the answer is ‘not a lot’. The origins of typing are a bit murky, but it definitely started over three thousand years ago. Think about that for a minute: people were classifying types before we even knew about cells or basic chemistry. Some of the classifications adapted as time went on: ‘Lightning’ became ‘Electric’ around the time we managed to harness it. Others got simplified by popular usage: when manmade pokemon like magnemite and klink started showing up, ‘Steel type’ became the norm, even though many metal pokemon don’t have steel in them, and not all metals have the same properties. It was the ‘Grass’ thing all over again. And that’s just the names! We still can’t agree on what a ‘Dragon Type’ is. No matter how you cut it, the classification system just isn’t rational.”

“And you don’t think it might fix itself over time?” Leaf says.

Red shrugs. “At some point, given enough time and pressure, maybe, maybe we’ll start seeing people classifying some pokemon with three types instead of two. But even if we do, I bet those types are still based on the current illogical, contradictory system.”

“Contradictory how?”

“Think back to the fighting examples. Why is it acceptable to call some pokemon Fighting/Water, but others just Fighting, when we call every Flying pokemon that isn’t something else Flying/Normal?”

Just as she opens her mouth to respond, the grass to her side begins to rustle.

Everyone freezes, Blue’s hand already on his pokeball. “Careful,” he whispers. “Probably just a rattata, but they don’t normally attack three people traveling together… just walk quietly…” They begin to move again, slowly passing the shaking grass.

The rustling suddenly comes from the opposite side in front of them, and Red’s heart leaps in his throat as three shapes rush out at him and Leaf. He raises a hand to push her out of the way and is surprised to feel her palm against his. He turns a bit and sees the surprise mirrored on her face, and then they’re propelling each other in opposite directions as the rattata jump just where they’d been standing, teeth flashing and squealing in anger.

“Squirtle, go!”

“Come out, Bulbasaur!”

Two flashes of light, and Leaf and Blue’s pokemon are standing between them and the rattata. Another two had emerged from Blue’s direction, and dash at Squirtle from both sides.

“Squirtle, Withdraw!”

The blue turtle pops her head and limbs into her hard shell just as the two rodents tackle her. They knock Squirtle a few feet away, but she pops out of her shell unharmed a moment later, while both rattata appear a bit dazed from the impact.

“Water Gun!”

A brief jet of water smacks one of the rattata into the grass, then the other. It all happens so fast that Red barely has time to throw his own pokeball and yell “Charmander, I choose you!”

His fire lizard materializes a few feet before him, and Red snatches his pokeball out of the air as it rockets back to him, feeling a surge of adrenaline. His brief triumph is forgotten as Charmander rushes to intercept a rattata heading for Red. The two begin to bite and scratch at each other, and Red steps to the side so that the fight is between him and the other two rattata, forcing them to circle around.

“Charmander, Tail Whip!”

Charmander breaks away from the rattata, then whirls around and smacks it with the flame at the end of his tail. The rodent squeals in pain and scampers back.

“Bulbasaur, Tackle, then Vine Whip!”

Red glances to the side to see Leaf dealing with the other two rattata: Bulbasaur meets one of their tackles head-on, knocking the smaller pokemon backward and then using his vines to whip it into the second. Both go tumbling away, but the third that had fought Charmander jumps forward to bite down on the long plant, and Bulbasaur cries out in pain.

“Charmander, Scratch!” Red says, pointing at the rattata. He can’t risk using Ember so close to Bulbasaur, especially with all the grass around them…

Luckily the rattata releases its bite and backs off as soon as Charmander approaches, and a sudden jet of water from the side sends it tumbling head over paws.

The three trainers step back to back in a rough triangle, and their pokemon spread out to cover them from every angle as the rattata circle warily. Red does a quick count, dismayed to see eight of the purple furred rodents.

“We must have stepped near a nest,” he says as Charmander growls at an encroaching rattata, halting its advance.

“So close to the road?” Leaf asks.

“Might be new.”

“Squirtle, Water Gun! We need to keep moving till we’re past it then.” Blue tosses a berry at his pokemon after she finishes blasting away another rattata. Squirtle snaps it out of the air, munching and swallowing without taking her eyes off their enemies.

“On it. Charmander, Ember! Ember! Ember!”

Each command is punctuated by a point in a different direction, and Charmander whips his tail again and again to fling fiery oil onto the path ahead. The rattata there dive out of the way, and Red yells “Come on!” and runs for the opening.

Charmander dashes along at his heels, and he hears the others following behind. The rattata run along on both sides and behind them, some getting close enough to leap. Charmander intercepts one mid-air and smacks it away with his tail, while the other lands on Red’s shoulder, its teeth tearing through the protective mesh under his shirt to sink into his shoulder. He yells at the sharp pain that runs through his arm, and bashes its furry body with his fist until it falls off.

“Squirtle, Headbutt!”

“Bulbasaur, Tackle!”

Red keeps running, one hand held over his bleeding shoulder, heart pounding. He reminds himself to breathe as he runs, the months of physical training paying off as they begin to outrun the rodents. One makes a final leap onto Charmander, and both pokemon tumble to the ground, tearing into each other. Red stops and turns around. Leaf and Bulbasaur are right behind them, Blue and Squirtle a bit farther back.

“Bulbasaur, Vine Whip!”

The rattata is knocked off Charmander, who struggles to his feet, bleeding from multiple wounds. Red dashes forward as the rattata attacks Charmander again and kicks at the rodent to make it veer off, right into Bulbasaur’s tackle. The wild pokemon is knocked into a limp heap.

“Thanks,” Red says as Blue and Squirtle reach them, the rest of the rattata giving up the chase and disappearing back into the grass.

“You guys alright?” Blue asks, then hisses in sympathy as he sees Red’s blood-stained sleeve.

“Here, let’s get something on that,” Leaf says, reaching into her bag.

“Charmander first…” Red kneels before his trembling pokemon and reaches back to opens a side pouch of his pack, pulling out a small bottle by feel. “You did great Charmander,” he murmurs. He sprays the lizard’s wounds, and feels a knot of tension release in him as the painkiller visibly kicks in: Charmander’s shaking stops, the lizard’s eyes slipping closed and his rapid breaths steadying. The medicine begins to coagulate Charmander’s wounds right before Red’s eyes, and after it finishes he stands and points his pokeball at the lizard. “Return!”

Only once Charmander is absorbed back into the ball does Red sit on the ground to catch his breath, resting back on his pack with his legs splayed in front of him. He watches Blue and Leaf pet and feed their own pokemon before withdrawing them, then lets them tend to his wound. Blue carefully bares Red’s bloody shoulder, and Leaf sprays her own potion onto the wound. The pain relief is immediate, and Red lets out a breath, feeling his whole body relax.

The other two sit, Leaf breathing hard while Blue rolls up his long sleeve to spray some potion onto scratch marks on his arm. There’s silence as everyone recuperates, and after a minute Red notices he’s smiling. When he catches Blue’s eye, he sees him smiling too. Their smiles turn to grins, and soon they’re both laughing until Red is clutching his sides and Blue is lying on his back, hands over his face.

“What’s the matter with you two?” Leaf says, though she’s grinning too.

“Nothing,” Blue gasps, wiping at one eye and sitting up. “That was just…”

“Totally awesome.” Red extends a fist, and Blue raps knuckles with his.

Leaf laughs. “You only say that because we made it through alright!”

“Well, yeah,” Red says, still feeling a ghost of the adrenaline rush, remembering the crystal clarity of his thoughts. “It’s just nice to finally know how you really handle that sort of situation, you know?”

Leaf nods. “You guys were great.”

Blue pats Squirtle’s pokeball. “All in a day’s work.”

“You were amazing too,” Red says. “How did you know Bulbasaur would act out two different commands consecutively?”

“I tried it back at the lab. Took a few attempts, but he picked up on it quick.”

“Nice!”

“Not everyone wasted their time making discoveries that weren’t discoveries,” Blue says, and ducks as Red throws a pebble at him.

Leaf giggles and turns to Red. “The look on your face-”

“-when we pushed each other? The look on your face!”

Blue grins. “You two looked like dancers whose music got cut off midstep!”

Everyone laughs again, and when it tapers off, they simply sit and listen to the wind over the fields. Red’s nerves still feel amped, and his hand twitches for his pokeball every time the wind rustles the grass particularly hard, in case more pokemon to rush out at them.

When his nerves calm a bit, Red remembers their duty. “Hey,” he says as he pulls out his phone and brings up the Coordinated Ranger Response Network site. “How far did we run, about?”

Blue looks up. “You contacting CoRRNet?”

“Yeah.”

Leaf tilts her head back and closes her eyes. “Say a sprinting speed of nineteen kilometers an hour, couldn’t have been more than fifteen seconds of running, so nineteen by sixty by four would be about eighty meters.

Red opens a calculator app and checks her math, then adds “good with numbers” to his tally of Leaf’s skills as he inputs the rough location of the potential rattata nest. He flags it at the lowest priority, and a few moments later gets back an automated estimation of response time.

“Looks like there’s a pair of Rangers nearby, so they should deal with the nest before anyone else wanders past it.”

“Want to stick around till they get here?” Leaf asks.

“Nah, they’ll have it covered,” Blue says, stretching and sitting up. “We should get a move on.”

Movement at the corner of Red’s eye makes him turn. The rattata that Bulbasaur had knocked out is stirring. “Hey,” Red says, rising to his feet. “It’s waking up.”

“Is that the one that bit you?” Blue asks as he and Leaf also stand.

“No, it’s the one that got Charmander.”

“Well?” Leaf gestures. “Care to do the honors?”

Red glances at Blue, who smiles. “Go ahead, I’ll get the next one.”

“Hell yeah!” Red takes out one of his unregistered pokeballs as the rattata begins to get shakily to its feet, and with a press of the lens-button, expands it. “Pokeball, scan.” He holds the lens toward the rattata, and when the ball emits a chime, cocks it back, aims, and throws, muscle memory kicking in from hours of practice he and Blue had spent hitting cans with rocks.

The ball hits the rattata dead on, and sucks it in with a burst of light before rolling along the ground. The lens blinks red as it registers the pokemon inside, then fades.

“Nice job!”

“Congratulations Red!”

Red picks up his first caught pokemon and takes out his pokedex, lining up the lens on both. The screen shows the rattata resting in a grassy glade, its vital data listing beside it:

Rattata: Female. Height: 28 cm. Weight: 3.3 kg. Approximate age, 9 Months. Rattata’s large teeth grow continuously throughout its life, and must be worn down by gnawing. Hardy omnivores, rattata have been known to thrive in virtually any environment. Because it reproduces so quickly, a pair of rattata can quickly colonize an area.

Seeing that his new pokemon is a female sends a note of disquiet through Red’s triumph. He thinks back to what he’d said about them stumbling onto a nest. Had he just caught a mother?

His train of thought is interrupted by Blue’s hand clapping his good shoulder. “Come on, let’s get get going. I want to find a pidgey!” His friend picks up his bag, and begins to jog ahead. Leaf smiles and follows, and Red clips his new pokemon to his belt and hurries to catch up.

Chapter 2: Fallacy of the Single Cause

“Okay, trainers: first step is to bring out your pokeballs.”

Red, Blue and Leaf all stand at the front of a long room made of grey stone. Speakers and cameras are set in the ceiling behind them so Professor Oak and others can watch and instruct them. Waist high dividers run the length of the room between the three as they face the far end, where target pokedolls of various shapes and sizes on mechanical tracks stand facing them. Empty lanes stretch out to their sides.

Red feels sweat collecting under his hat, and rubs his palm against his pants for the third time, shifting his pokeball around to get a better grip on it. He’s about to meet his pokemon for the first time, and he doesn’t want to make a fool of himself in front of the other two. He wonders how many of the staff from the lab are on break to watch, and has to dry his palms again.

“When you call out its name and give it one of the commands to come out, there will be a two second delay. Throw it forward in as straight a line as you can, red side up, white side down, with a forward spin: the pokeball will open to release onto the ground, and the energy will send the ball in the opposite direction. You can release your pokemon from your hand, but the recoil is rather strong, and you need adequate empty space around you for the ball to open. Begin.”

Silence reigns in the long, empty hall, the only sound Red’s heartbeat in his ears, and then-

“Bulbasaur! I choose you!”

Leaf’s voice thunders through the room without echoing, the walls and ceiling shaped to break up sound. Red watches the ball sail forward in a spinning blur, and then there’s a flash of light. The pokeball shoots back toward Leaf, who shifts her hand a split second too late to catch it: her fingers brush the smooth metal and send it up over her head to clatter against the wall behind her.

In front of her is a four legged, teal reptile with a dark green bulb on its back. It blinks, sniffs, and begins to explore its surroundings.

“Squirtle! Go!”

Blue’s ball flies in a slower, straighter arc, so that when the light flashes out, he’s able to catch it as it sails back toward him.

“Go, Charmander!” Red yells, and throws his ball, aiming for a slow, easy underhand.

A flash of light, and then his ball comes back, faster than he’d thrown it, and at a slight angle. He stretches out his arm, but the ball hits the wall behind him with a crack that makes him wince.

Then all his attention is on the two foot tall orange lizard in front of him, standing on its hind legs with a long tail held behind it for balance. A small flame burns steadily at its tip, barely noticeable under the strong lights.

“Charmander…”

The lizard turns at the sound of its name, and Red approaches it, kneeling down and letting it sniff his hands. He looks to the side to see Blue and Leaf doing the same with their Pokemon.

“When you and your pokemon feel comfortable with each other, feed them some berries.”

Red pulls out a plastic pouch and rolls some berries onto his palm. The charmander’s warm, rough tongue immediately snaps out and scoops them up, then it looks up at him as it chews, bright blue eyes meeting his while he runs his fingers over the soft scales of its head.

Red’s chest feels tight as he looks down at his first pokemon. As far back as he can remember he’d dreamed of forming a bond with his very own, a companion for life, something for him to take care of, that would defend him if needed. Together they’d be able to travel the world, like his father had…

Before he joined the Rangers, and his pokemon had been killed by a wild scyther.

Red gives the charmander one more scratch between its eyes, then stands. He knows the next part of the drill, and sure enough, the target pokedolls are sliding forward along their rails. The one in front of Red is shaped roughly like a Beedrill.

“Charmander, battle.”

His pokemon goes rigid, and then it spins around. When it catches sight of the pokedoll, it growls, stepping in front of Red. Red feels a bit absurd for a second, being protected by a creature that doesn’t even rise up past his knees, but one glance at the sharp claws extending from its hands does away with that. A closer glance also shows that the flame at the end of its tail is larger than it was a second ago.

By the time the foam-clad figure stops a few feet in front of his charmander, Red hears Blue and Leaf give their own pokemon the battle command. All three pokemon stand ready to defend their trainers. Red sees that the bulbasaur has two vines extended from under its bulb, held poised above it at the ready.

Oak’s voice breaks the silence. “Begin.”

“Charmander, scratch!”

“Squirtle, bite!”

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

In a blink the charmander dashes forward and swipes at the pokedoll. Strips of foam fly off it, and the force of the blow spins it, an arm coming around to hit the charmander from the side.

Red’s pokemon hops back, dodging the counter attack and planting its feet in front at the ready.

Red grins. His pokemon is fast, and clearly well trained. Not that he had a hand in that of course, but it’s still good to know. Now to see what else it can do… He pulls out the sheet of paper Professor Oak had given him with his pokemon’s trained commands on it.

“Charmander, ember!”

The charmander’s flame doubles in size, and with a growl it spins, tail lashing out. Some of the fire detaches itself and sails onto the pokedoll. Its foam is clearly fire retardant, but the ember still melt into the material a bit before being snuffed out.

“Squirtle, watergun!”

“Bulbasaur, vinewhip!”

The blue turtle rears its head back, then spits a short jet of water at the pokedoll hard enough to spin it around. Leaf’s bulbasaur extends its vines far enough to whip the pokedoll with loud thuds.

“Good,” Oak says. “Most pokemon are smart enough to learn a number of commands. As yours grow and become stronger, their abilities will expand, and you will be able to teach them more powerful and complex attacks. Over time the old commands will be forgotten if they are not reinforced. For now, keep practicing until your pokemon begin to show signs of tiring. Physical attacks tend to be less tiring than their more unique abilities. As their trainers, you will need to learn how to judge your pokemon’s health and withdraw them if they are too hurt or weary. Continue.”

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

“Squirtle, watergun!”

“Charmander, ember!”

They continued drilling with their pokemon for another couple of minutes before Red begins noticing the signs of weariness. The squirtle’s shots of water are smaller and less powerful. Bulbasaur moves slower, and his vines strike with less force. And charmander…

Red kneels down and rubs the lizard’s head. It looks up at him, pupils dilated, chest rising and falling with its harsh breaths. Red feeds it some more berries, looking at its tail flame with some concern. It’s definitely smaller than it had been before.

Red gets up to approach the target pokedoll, and Charmander growls from behind him. Red looks back and smiles as the lizard moves to stand between him and the pokedoll again. “It’s okay Charmander.” Red goes and retrieves the pokeball from where it hit the wall, and points its lens at his pokemon. “You did great. Return.” A red beam hits the charmander, spreading over it in a flash of light that returns to the pokeball faster than a blink.

Red approaches the pokedoll, fingers feeling the pits and holes where his charmander’s fire had melted the foam. What had his pokemon done, exactly, to use its tail flame as an attack? Fire needs something to burn, like wood or a candle wick. When he and Blue had practiced wilderness survival, they had found some materials better than others for catching fire and burning longer, but while bits of flaming debris sometimes fell off the burning material, the fire itself always clung to what it was on.

Not being able to burn the foam, Charmander’s embers guttered out. But what sustained it in the air along the way?

Fire isn’t something that can be thrown…

Red walks away from the pokedoll and pulls the pokeball back out, pointing it at the floor in front of him. “Charmander, go.”

Too late he remembers Professor Oak’s caution about the recoil: the flash of light that brings Charmander out sends his arm snapping back with a wrenching pain. Red grimaces and rubs his elbow, which feels as though he’d pulled the muscle.

Note to self: work on upper body strength so I can summon pokemon without throwing the ball. Until then, brace arm.

Charmander stands waiting, exactly as he had before Red had withdrawn him, flame low and breathing hard. Red kneels beside it and feeds it more berries, then bends his head to examine the fire at the end of its tail.

No matter how hard he strains his eyes, he can’t make out what the fire is burning. It seems to simply flare from the end of its tail, blue at its base, then white and red above that. Red moves his hand above the fire until he feels its heat, then snatches it back.

“Bulbasaur, return.”

Red looks to the side to see Leaf smiling at her pokeball. He frowns, rubbing his elbow again. Why wasn’t there any recoil from withdrawing a pokemon like there is in releasing it?

Red looks back at the charmander’s tail flame. One mystery at a time. He pulls a pocket notebook out and detaches a sheet of it. He holds it over the flame.

“Rrrawwr.”

Red blinks and looks at the charmander, who’s watching over its shoulder as he burns the paper. Red smiles and rubs its head, and they watch together as he lifts the paper away so it can burn on its own. When it’s burned almost down to his fingers, he blows it out.

“Rawr?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna do that to you.” Red feels along the burnt edge of the paper.

What else burns?

Wood, paper, cotton, cloth… none of which are at the end of the charmander’s tail. He knows some forms of gas are combustible, but you can’t throw burning gas either. Which leaves…

“Oil.” Red says. “You produce some kind of oil, don’t you Charmander? Maybe as a form of waste?”

Charmander just stares at him. Its breathing is lighter now, its pupils less dilated. It nuzzles his hand, and he scratches the soft scales under its jaw. Red laughs as its eyes slip half closed, and it begins to sway left and right, its tail bobbing in opposite directions.

“Squirtle, return.” A flash of light, and then Blue clips the pokeball to his belt and examines his own target pokedoll, a soaked nidorino.

“Professor Oak,” Leaf calls out. “What gender are our pokemon?”

“Bulbasaur and Charmander are males. Squirtle’s a female.”

“Professor,” Red says. “Is it okay if I perform a quick experiment?”

“You tell me, Red.”

Red runs through the checklist of guidelines for Safe and Ethical Pokemon Experimentation:

1) Will it cause harm to a human?

2) Will it cause permanent harm to a pokemon?

3) Will it damage potential relationships between the pokemon and humans?

4) Does it violate the trainer’s priority in deciding what is best for their pokemon?

As Red was the trainer in question, 4 was fine, and he had no intention of damaging his relationship with his charmander, so 3 was too. It wouldn’t harm the charmander either, so he was clear on 2, and as for 1…

“I might get burned a little, but I’ll be very careful,” Red says. “I’ve got a few burn remedies in my bag.”

“Then you may proceed with caution.”

Red smiles. “Thank you Professor.” It’s the first time he’s being trusted to perform an experiment on his own. He rethinks what he has in mind to ensure he doesn’t screw it up, aware that Professor Oak other researchers are watching him.

Finally, Red takes his notebook out of his pocket and tears out a handful of paper. He places them on the floor in a pile, then goes over to the pokedoll and digs his fingers into one of the slashed lines in the foam. With a pull that sends a warning pain through his elbow, he rips a section of foam off the pokedoll.

Judging it big enough, he walks a few feet from the paper pile. “Charmander,” he says, and the lizard looks at him. He points to the paper with one finger. “Ember.”

The charmander looks at the paper pile, then back to him. “Rawr?”

“Ember,” he says again, jabbing with his finger.

Charmander looks back at the paper, then spins without warning. Flames lash out onto the paper pile, and Red rushes to slam the foam down on the small blaze.

When he lifts it up, there’s little but charred paper under the foam. He examines them, but feels and sees nothing.

“That proved what, exactly?” Blue asks, leaning on the wall dividing him from Red.

“That I didn’t do it fast enough, I think.” Red takes his notebook out again and this time leaves the entire thing on the floor. Red points at it again. “Ember!”

This time Red slams the foam down within a second after the fire hits it. When he lifts it up, the notebook sticks to the foam. He peels it off and sees it still smoldering, the acrid fumes making his nose wrinkle. He dabs at the small flames with the edge of the foam until they go out, but when he runs his finger through the hole, it comes out dry.

“Dammit,” Red mutters.

“What’s the problem?” Leaf asks from beside Blue, folded arms hanging down the wall.

Red frowns at the fire on Charmander’s tail. “Are you aware of the scientific method?”

“Sure, grandpa and mom taught me. Ask a question, guess an answer, predict a relationship, test your prediction, analyze the results.”

Red smiles. “I was taught it a bit differently, but that’s the gist, yeah.”

“How did you learn it?”

“First comes the question: how does the charmander sustain the fire at the end of its tail? By asking that question, I’m committed to acquiring data to answer it.

“So that’s step two, which I did earlier: research. The pokedex is no help in this case, but I can observe to gain information too, and what I observed is how it does its ember attack.” Red points to the pokedoll. “The fire went through the air to hit that. Well, fire needs fuel to be sustained: it’s not a physical thing, like a piece of wood.

“Which leads to step three, my hypothesis: the fire is fueled by the steady release of some kind of oil, which it slings forward to hit whatever it wants to burn. But how to prove it without hurting the charmander? The hypothesis needs something I can test, a prediction: I thought if I can put out the fire fast enough, it’ll leave behind some of the oil that it uses to fuel it. This foam will put it out, and the notebook was there to give it something else to burn besides the oil.”

In the silence that follows, Blue, who seemed to have spaced out somewhere around step two, looks at Red. “And?”

Red sighs. “Step four was the test. Step five is to analyze the data and see if it supports the hypothesis…”

“And does it?”

Red looks mournfully at his ruined notebook. “Inconclusive.”

“That means no, right?” Blue smirks.

Leaf smiles. “Well maybe the test wasn’t good enough. What if you don’t use the notebook? Have him ember onto the ground. Without something else to burn, the fire might not go through the oil as quickly.”

Red scratches his hair beneath his cap. “Does that make sense?”

Leaf shrugs. “Maybe not, but if the fire jumps to the paper, then there’s more fire, which needs more fuel, right? And the best fuel is the oil. Or maybe the paper is absorbing the oil, so you can’t see it.”

Red nods. “Okay. I’ll try that then.” Red stuffs the notebook in his pocket and points to the ground. “Charmander.” The lizard looks at him. “Em-”

“Wait,” Blue says. Red and the lizard both look at him. “You should tell him to throw it farther.”

Red is about to ask why, then he gets it. “You think more oil will be produced?”

Blue shrugs. “It has to be, to go farther.”

Leaf looks thoughtful. “So Charmander knows how much oil to throw when its target is farther away?”

“Maybe not as a calculated measurement, but on an instinctual level or as a learned behavior, sure.” When Blue notices Red staring at him, he looks defensive. “What? You think only people who spend all day reading can know big words?”

“No, I just… well, you don’t use them normally.” And Red’s a bit impressed that Blue had thought of that. It’s so easy to recognize when Blue’s ignorance of science leads him to bad conclusions that Red often forgets that ignorant doesn’t mean dumb.

Blue rolls his eyes. “When you live with a professor you tend to pick some things up.”

“Right. Well, it’s a good idea.”

“Unfortunately it brings up another problem,” Leaf says. “If Charmander knows just how much oil to release to send his fire as far as he wants it to go, how would there be any substantial amount left where it lands?”

They’re all silent for a moment, then Red grimaces. “Ok, let’s hope I’m better at this than I am catching pokeballs.” He takes a few steps back from his charmander, then points at the pokedoll. “Charmander! Ember!”

The lizard stares at him, then looks at the pokedoll, then back to him. “Rawr!”

“I’ll be fine.” He takes a step to the side, moving farther out of the line of sight. “Go on. Ember!”

Charmander spins, and Red jumps at the flame, trying to hit it with the foam. It flies past him, and his charmander growls.

“Dammit.” Red steps to the side again. “Ember,” he says, pointing at the pokedoll.

His charmander doesn’t move, merely growling again. “Charmander, ember!”

Instead, the lizard walks in front of him, and only then flicks fire at the pokedoll.

“Aww, he doesn’t want to hurt you!” Leaf says. “That’s so sweet.”

Red frowns. “Yeah, great, only now I can’t test my prediction.”

“Oh, move aside.” Blue hoists himself over the divider and takes the foam from him. “At this rate we’ll be as old as gramps by the time we get out of here.”

Red steps back, and Charmander comes with him. Blue, standing to the side, lifts the foam, and Red points at the pokedoll from safely behind his pokemon. “Ember!”

Charmander flicks fire, and Blue slaps the foam down on it, quenching it against the cold ground. “Ha!”

Red rushes forward, and when Blue lifts the foam, he kneels down and sees something glisten on the stone for the space of a heartbeat: then it suddenly ignites. Red pumps his uninjured arm in the air with a whoop, and Blue crouches down to look too.

“What happened?” Leaf asks, joining them. The fire burns down to nothing, leaving a small scorch mark on the rock. “You see some oil?”

“Not anymore,” Red says with a grin. “I saw it though, just before it burned away. It must catch fire when it gets air. Let’s do it again, I’ll show you.”

“Hey!” Blue says. “I thought we were leaving Pallet sometime today?”

Professor Oak’s voice comes from behind them rather than the loudspeaker, making everyone jump. “Don’t worry, repeated experiments won’t be necessary.”

“Professor!” Red points at the scorch mark. “They produce oil to make the fire, that’s why it goes out when they die! At least, I think it is,” Red says, suddenly doubtful. “I guess this doesn’t conclusively prove that they don’t also rely on keeping their tail lit, but…”

Professor Oak is smiling at him. “Yes, so I saw. Well done, all of you. That was a very, uh, innovative experiment you pulled off. It took me much longer to isolate the oil, though I didn’t risk immolation to do it.”

Red blinks, then his heart sinks. “You already knew. That entry in the pokedex… it was one of your tests!”

The professor nods. “I changed the pokedex’s data to match what the rumors about charmander had been when I was your age. I wanted to see if any of you would notice the problem, ask the right questions, and figure it out… though I didn’t expect it to happen quite this quickly. Go ahead and check.”

Red pulls his pokedex out and navigates to charmander’s page, which now begins:

Charmander: The Lizard Pokemon. Charmander prefer rocky, mountainous terrain, and hatch from their eggs when their tails ignite and crack the shell. They secrete an oil from the end of their tail that combusts when exposed to the air. The flame varies in strength and size based on their mood and health: when agitated, they produce more, but when their vitals are low, the oil trickles to a near stop.

Red’s chest feels empty. “So I didn’t discover anything new.” Professor Oak often gives Red incomplete scenarios or bits of data to solve hypothetical problems, but Red never suspected he would mess with the pokedex.

Blue elbows him. “You expected to get your Researcher license before even leaving the building?” he says, not unkindly. “At least give yourself a full twenty-four hours.”

“And it was still an original discovery,” Leaf says with a wry grin. “Just a few decades later than someone else made it.”

“She’s right, Red,” Professor Oak says. “You did a decent job of tackling your first problem scientifically.”

Red smiles. “Well, I had some help.”

“Remember, all of you, that no matter what the pokedex says, it might be wrong. Not a day goes by that we don’t learn something new, or learn that what we think we know is false. That’s why journeys like yours are so important: fresh eyes gathering new data will ensure we constantly update our knowledge and think in new ways. I have every confidence now that your journey will be one full of new discoveries.”

The three stand a bit taller, and Red feels his excited energy mirrored in the other’s expressions. He puts his pokedex away and heads for the door. “Come on, let’s get going. There are a ton of pokemon to study between here and Viridian City!”

Blue sighs. “As long as we get there sometime this century.”

Chapter 1: Unreliable Predictions

The Verres household’s second bedroom looks as though it belongs to two very different people. Or perhaps one person and one rampaging tauros.

The floor is littered with clothes. Used socks lie in unmatched pairs beside shoes, and half the chairs and bedposts have shirts or jackets hanging on them. The walls are completely obscured by maps, charts, and detailed pictures of pokemon biology and life cycles, most with writing scribbled on them in a tight, efficient script. The small cabinet beside the bed is overflowing with books and notepads, some spilled off onto the floor beside it.

Amidst this carnage, certain areas are pristine. Bookshelves line the walls, each filled with textbooks and novels that are all alphabetically organized. The work desk is completely clear of clutter, keyboard and mouse neatly placed an arm’s distance from each other. The wires and cables are carefully zip-tied and braced along the wall and desk. A can of sharpened pencils and capped pens sits against the wall, and a notebook rests beside it, open to a crisp, empty white page.

On the bed lies a boy, one leg and arm hanging over its side. On the wall above him there’s a calendar opened to June. Most of the boxes in the first half have notes written in them. One by one, X’s are drawn through each, right up to the highlighted square in the middle… afterward, the squares of the calendar are blank.

Today’s the day after which all earlier predictions cease.


As sunlight slowly fills the room through the drawn shades, a colorful alarm shaped like a chatot suddenly whirs to life. The lid over its round eyes slide open, it raises its head, and its beak yawns wide to emit-

Cacacacacacacacaacacaw!

The boy flails against the covers, sitting up and blinking through gummy eyes. He looks at the time and groans. It’s only seven…

Cacacacacacacacaacacaw!

He buries his face in his main pillow, right hand taking a second one to cover his head. His left swipes in the direction of the sound, seeking the snooze button on its head. It finds nothing.

Cacacacacacacacaacacaw!

The boy takes the pillow off his head and swings it down at the alarm. The tip of the pillow brushes the chatot’s beak, but the alarm is perched precariously on the end of the nightstand just out of reach. As if whoever decided where to place it had done so after measuring the length of the boy’s arm and a pillow.

Cacacacacacacacaacacaw!

He bolts back up with a scowl and staggers out of bed just long enough to hit the button and slump back onto the mattress. He sighs as his eyes slip closed-

“Hey Future Red, you awake?”

-and then snap open.

“Remember yet?” the chatot asks in a young boy’s voice. “You predicted having trouble sleeping last night, your last night that is, not mine, and set the alarm to be extra annoying just in case you’re unusually tired, since you can’t afford to oversleep today.”

That… does sound like something he would do, yes. Memories begin to seep through the cobwebs around his mind, and Red lowers the pillow and rubs at the gunk in his eyes so he could look at the calendar.

“Well if you’re listening to this you’re probably up now, but if not…”

Red scrambles for the alarm, too late-

CACACACACACACACACACACACACA-

Red slams the pillow down on the chatot with a muffled bang that knocks it to the floor, but he’s grinning. He remembers now.

Today’s the day.

With a rush of energy, Red stumbles to the bathroom to shower, the initial blast of cold water waking him the rest of the way. He brushes his teeth with one hand while washing his hair with the other, then dries up and opens his closet, where his traveling clothes are laid out carefully separate from the rest. Stain resistant, reinforced thread with protective mesh underwire, form fitting but light enough not to hamper movement. He pulls on the black shirt, red and white jacket, and denim pants, then opens the box of new, but broken-in, hiking shoes.

Only after he’s fully clothed does he permit himself to look at the clock, which reads…

7:32 AM.

Red slumps. The lab doesn’t open until eight. He checks his phone and sees no messages or missed calls.

Foot tapping with impatient energy, he decides to make breakfast to burn a half hour. He goes downstairs to the kitchen and begins preparing food. When the eggs start sizzling he hears his mom’s door open upstairs, and then feet treading down to join him.

“Morning Red.”

“Morning mom!”

She kisses his head and goes to the fridge. “Your alarm was unusually insistent today.”

Red grins. “Yeah, sorry. I set some failsafes.”

“Mhmm.” She pulls some milk out of the fridge, a winking cartoon miltank on the cover. “Any word from Blue or Professor Oak?”

“No.” Red slides some bread into the toaster, then turns the stove off and lifts the eggs onto a plate. When he asked his mother to teach him how to cook last year it was harder to reach the stove without standing on a stepping stool, but now he feels comfortable in the kitchen. He and Blue agreed that they should be ready for anything on their journey, which includes knowing how to cook their own food in the wild if needed. They worked their way there by learning to cook in a kitchen first, usually this one, with his mom as their teacher. “He said he would call when it’s ready.”

“Good then, at least we’ll have the morning together.” She smiles.

Red was actually thinking of bolting down his breakfast and heading to Blue’s for last minute coordination, but he shoves down his impatience and smiles back at her. His mother did her best to hide her worry over the past year, but he saw it all the same. Overly affectionate words, prolonged hugs, and above all, a haunted gaze he only ever picked up in his periphery, when she thought he was too absorbed in his work to notice.

He knew at those moments she was thinking of his father, and worrying that she would lose him too.

So he sets the table and puts out their breakfast, then eats with deliberate slowness. They make small talk, while under the table Red’s foot bounces, bounces, bounces, and his gaze flicks to the clock again and again to track the glacial sweep of its hands.

He’s buttering his third piece of toast when the house phone rings, and he surges out of his chair with a shout of “I’llgetit!” as he runs to the wall mount. His heart leaps as he sees the lab’s public number on the ID.

“Hello!”

“Er… hi?” The man on phone seems startled, and Red takes a deep breath to calm himself. “Is this the Verres residence?”

“Yes.” Red says, speaking slowly as iron bands tighten around his chest. “This—is—Red. How—may—I—help—you?”

“Oh, good morning Red, I didn’t recognize you there. Professor Oak would like you to come down at your earliest conven-”

“I’monmyway!” Red slams the phone onto its cradle. “It’s ready!” he yells to his mom as he runs upstairs, food forgotten.

On top of his dresser sits a large backpack, stuffed with everything from clothing to snackbars, carefully weighed to ensure he could jog with it at length without tiring. He had packed and repacked it the night before in preparation, but after having trouble sleeping he pulled the Kanto map out to study by lamp light, then a list of species types, then a half a dozen other things, until inevitably half the bag’s smaller side pockets were spread over his nightstand.

He quickly repacks everything, then slings it over his shoulder and goes to the door. He stops halfway out and looks back.

Red examines his books, his video games, his old toys, knowing it might be months at least before he sees any of it again. His gaze falls on his calendar, with all its empty squares ahead.

Red smiles and closes the door firmly behind him.

His mom is standing by the front door when he goes downstairs. He slows and stands before her, only having to lift his chin a little to meet her gaze.

“Got everything?”

There’s a slight hitch to her throat, there then gone, and suddenly Red’s throat feels clogged. Don’t cry…

“I-I think so.”

“You’ll call when you get to Viridian?”

“Of course.”

“And every night after!”

Red shifts his weight. “Yeah.”

“If you need anymore underwear-”

“Mom!” He puts his hand on the doorknob, and she covers it with hers.

“Forgetting something?” She pulls his hat off the wall hook behind her and fits it snug over his dark hair. “There. Now you look ready for anything.”

Red tugs the cap’s crimson bill a bit lower. “Thanks, I thought it was in my bag.”

He reaches for the door again, pauses, and then he hugs her nearly as tight as she hugs him.

“Be careful, Red,” she whispers.

“I will, mom.”


By the time he reaches Pallet Town’s main street, Red’s eyes are mostly dry, and he’s walking with eager anticipation. The Pallet Lab becomes visible soon after, and upon turning onto its avenue he sees a familiar figure in a dark blue shirt and khakis on the other side of the street.

“Blue!” He waits for a car to pass and jogs across to join his childhood friend, whose own backpack bulges with its contents. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d already be inside with your grandpa.”

“I just woke up when they called,” Blue grumbles, rubbing one eye. “Couldn’t sleep last night, so I ended up working on my type chart for a couple hours.”

Red suppresses a sigh. A major differences that became clear between the two of them over the past year is that while Red’s interests in pokemon span multiple different levels, Blue is mostly just obsessed with battling.

Red once explained for five minutes to Blue how a researcher in Johto discovered that, after breeding a slowbro and a bayleef, the baby chikorita that hatched was able to heal those around it: a power no other chikorita had ever displayed, but that the slowbro father had learned. Blue’s only reaction had been to begin feverishly mapping out potential ability combinations to try for breeding competitive pokemon. He wasn’t the least bit interested in the implication that pokemon retained some intuitive, genetic grasp of how to use abilities they didn’t normally have. They argued about things like that all the time, and all Blue ever seems to care about is what makes pokemon stronger or changes to the type charts.

Making matters worse is the suspicion Red has gained over the years that the entire concept of pokemon “types” is majorly flawed…

“Let me see?”

Blue pulls out a square of folded paper and hands it to him. Red opens it and examines the hand-made grid.

On the top, from left to right, are seventeen color coded “types.” The same types are listed on the left from top to bottom, and where the various types intersect with eachother are X’s or checks, though most spaces are empty, and many have the smudges of erased marks. Most of them seem right, though Red doesn’t follow the competitive scene enough to tell what changes to the meta are new or outdated.

One change makes him curious. “What’s this?” Red points to the erased checkmark where Poison meets Grass. “You removed Plant’s weakness to Poison?”

“Yeah. I was watching matchups in the Indigo regionals, and started going back over a lot of the high profile matches. In most cases, Grass pokemon were able to hold their own.”

“Huh. Were you just looking at just Indigo matches?”

“That’s where I’ll be competing, so yeah.”

Red scratches his hair beneath his cap. “Then your sample size might not have been big enough. Most of the Plant pokemon in Kanto have adapted to become poisonous. It helps them survive better.”

“Well, that’s good enough for me.”

Red frowns. “What if you come across a non-poisonous Plant type from another region?”

Blue shakes his head. “Theory versus practice, my friend. Doesn’t matter if a thousand Grass pokemon would lose to a thousand Poison, if the ones I’m going to be fighting with are exceptions. Besides, I can recognize all the natives anyway. This is just for quick reference.”

“Well if it’s for quick reference it should be accurate to the rule, not the exceptions.” Red takes a pencil from his pocket. “Here, just put the checkmark back with an asterisk-”

Blue grabs the paper from him and stuffs it back in his pocket. “Look, you do things your way, I’ll do things mine, alright?”

Red rolls his eyes. Thankfully Blue is smart enough to know the difference between anecdotal evidence and evidence from rigorous experimentation, but he still puts too much stock in observation vs theory. Sometimes all it takes is one carefully constructed and repeatable experiment to understand the truth behind a thousand different disputing observations. They’ve argued about it often, but Red doesn’t want to ruin this special day with it.

A couple years ago Professor Oak took note of Red’s grades at school, and gave him some books to read that were a bit more advanced than the standard curriculum. When Red returned to Oak’s lab within a week with all of them read and asking for more, the Professor contacted his school and mother and informed them that he would be engaging Red in an apprenticeship.

Ever since then, Blue and he began to grow a bit more distant. At first Red thought Blue was jealous, but his friend showed little interest in the scientific pursuits his grandfather and Red shared.

Instead, the more Red learned at the lab, the more he and Blue argued. It got worse a year ago when they began preparing for their journey, and came to a head last month, when Blue declared that he’d rather learn from experience than trust what’s in books, and that Red would waste his life reading rather than doing anything worth writing about. Red responded that maybe Blue was just too stupid to learn something until he had it beaten into him, and shortly after that one of them had thrown the first punch.

After Red’s mom pulled them apart, they hadn’t spoken to each other for two weeks, which was about how long it took for Red’s black eye to fade. It was only their coming adventure that put their fight behind them by unspoken consent.

They’re a few streets away from the lab when Red decides the silence has gone on long enough. “So, do you know what we’ll get yet?”

“No, he still wouldn’t tell me. Said it would be a surprise. Personally I think he just got them at the last minute.”

“Any ideas though?”

“You’d know better than me, with all the time you spend at the lab.”

Red shakes his head. “I really only deal with papers and reports… once in awhile I see some pokemon we’re experimenting with, but no record of all the ones there, and I rarely go to the ranch.”

They reach the plaza in front of the multistory lab. The building is white and silver and glass, easily the biggest in Pallet Town, and it never fails to impress upon Red how lucky he is to be working at the hub of Pokemon research in Kanto. When Professor Oak moved to Pallet Town to set the lab up, it almost literally put the place on the map. Red’s mother told him that by the time he and Blue were born, the town had grown twice as large as it was originally, and in the eleven years since then Red has seen it grow twice as large again.

They enter the air conditioned lab and walk together through the entrance hall, where sketches and diagrams of pokemon physiology are displayed along the walls. Red spots his favorite, a drawing of a dissected bulbasaur that’s hundreds of years old. The frail, carefully sealed parchment details how the plant material is rooted and merged with the reptilian body. It’s the first historical evidence of someone attempting a naturalistic study of pokemon, rather than the ubiquitous regard of them as supernatural and mythic creatures. It took generations for the rest of civilization to catch up with the unknown researcher’s perspective: that pokemon could be studied and understood. A perspective most honored by those like Samuel Oak, from the first generation of trainers dubbed “Pokemon Professor.”

Red and Blue enter the office space and begin to pass a number of scientists that they wave to. Most of them are in their twenties or thirties, and smile at the sight of the youngsters, knowing what they’re here for.

“Good luck, Blue!”

“Have fun you two!”

“Red! Come see me after, I’ve got something for you-”

The two adolescents grin and wave as they walk through the labs, mutually picking up the pace as each other’s excitement reignites their own. They’re practically jogging by the time they reach the main lab, an open, round room filled with desks and computers, with various scientists scattered around it in groups, and many doors leading off to the smaller areas.

“Good morning!” booms a voice at the center of the room.

Professor Oak stands beside a table, pokedex in one hand and a pokeball in the other. While he spends most of his days indoors now, the old man’s skin still holds a hint of the tan he carried most of his life, and though his hair is more silver than gray, his eyes sparkle with undiminished vitality and curiosity. His open white lab coat is heavy with various tools and electronic devices sticking out of its pockets.

“Hey gramps!”

“Morning Professor Oak!”

They run up to him as he puts the pokeball down and slips the pokedex into a pocket. Red can see three pokeballs on the table, each with a colored symbol above the button: a green leaf, an orange flame, and a blue water drop. His foot begins to tap in place again as excitement fills his chest and limbs with energy.

Professor Oak beams at them. “You guys look great. Filled with eagerness and prepared for anything. It almost makes me want to leave this all behind and come along. If I were ten years younger…” He sighs, and claps his hands together. “Well. Time to pass on the torch. But first, an introduction. Leaf?”

A foreign girl with long brown hair stands up from the computer she was sitting at. Red was so focused on the pokeballs he didn’t even notice her. She’s about his and Blue’s age, and seems similarly prepared for travel.

As she approaches, Red looks at the three pokeballs again and blinks. “You’re coming with us?”

She smiles. “Nice to meet you.”

“Leaf, this is my grandson Blue, and one of my students, Red. Boys, this is Leaf Juniper. She’s the granddaughter of an old friend of mine from Unova, and she recently came here to study Kanto pokemon.”

Red stares until Blue greets her, then mumbles his own after. He knows of Professor Juniper, of course, and that he has a daughter, Aurea, who also recently became a Professor, but he didn’t know he had a granddaughter. He never met someone from Unova before, and he hadn’t expected to be setting out with anyone but Blue…

“I thought you only finished making two new prototypes, professor?” Red asks. He knows it’s childish, but he doesn’t want to have to share his.

“I have. Leaf’s mother made her own pokedex based on my last design, so she’s trying to expand its listing for their international index.”

Professor Oak reaches into his white coat and pulled out two red, slim computers. Red takes his reverently and opens the cover. A pair of touch screens greet him, one a home screen with a bunch of apps, the other a white, blank index. The empty, numbered list calls to him, just begging to be filled with information.

“My latest design prototype, almost ready for mass production. I want you two to give it a field test by catching as many Pokemon as you can to add to our database. And here are the pokemon you’ll be using to start.” Oak gestures to the three red and white spheres. “It took me awhile, but I got a hold of a bulbasaur, squirtle, and charmander from the breeders.”

Yes! Red barely stops himself from pumping a fist into the air, and Blue cracks his knuckles in anticipation. Such rare and strong starting pokemon had been almost beyond his hopes.

“They’ve been bred and raised to be among the most intelligent and obedient of their species, which will make training them easier than most wild pokemon you catch.” Professor Oak says as he picks up the leaf-imprinted pokeball. “Treat them well, train them properly, and they’ll be your friends and protectors until their last breath.”

The professor holds the lens button on its front level with the lens on the front of Red’s pokedex, and to his delight a bulbasaur suddenly appears on the main screen, sleeping in the simulated environment the pokeball creates for him: a lush, grassy clearing in the middle of a forest. Its name pops up at the top of the screen, and after a second of loading, Red sees the Pokemon’s vital stats get listed: height, weight, type, and more.

Professor Oak moves the ball away from Red’s pokedex and does the same thing to Blue’s and Leaf’s. The video on Red’s pokedex freezes as soon as the lens is no longer aligned, and the image shrinks and becomes stored with the entry as the space listed #001 fills.

“When you catch a new Pokemon, just hold it up to the lens like this, and the pokedex will identify it and record whatever information it can. Your pokedexes all have access to the sum total of knowledge we currently have about the various species, so if you see one in the wild that it recognizes, you’ll be able to research it. But it will only be able to actually gather new information from the ones you capture. The more you catch, even among the same species, the more data we have on them, so each capture you make has the potential to teach us more. Do your best to try to catch them all!”

Heart in his throat, Red begins to look over all the information the pokedex has on bulbasaur:

Bulbasaur: Seed Pokemon. It exists in a symbiotic relationship with a seed embedded in its back at birth, which sprouts and grows as it ages. The plant absorbs nutrients from bulbasaur’s body, while bulbasaur can photosynthesize light through the plant’s leaves. It can go for days without eating as long as it has enough sunlight and water, and the plant can survive without sunlight as long as bulbasaur can find food.

It goes on for several pages to describe all that has been learned about bulbasaur’s growth, mating habits, preferred environments, and more. After the professor finishes scanning bulbasaur to each of their pokedex, he does the same thing with charmander and squirtle.

“So, I’m going to give you all time to examine these pokemon, then you’ll get to choose which one you want.”

Red exchanges a look with Blue and Leaf. The Unovan smiles and gestures to the two boys.

“After you: I’m a guest here, and they’re all new to me anyway. I have no preference.”

“What about you, Red?” Blue asked. “Got a favorite?”

Red can only remember a handful of details about the rare pokemon, and looks at the most recent entry, #007:

Squirtle: Turtle Pokemon. Its shell is hard and smooth, providing great defense and allowing swift swimming beneath the water. Its skin absorbs moisture from the air to fill its water pouches, and when threatened, it can withdraw into its shell and shoot foam or water from its mouth in a powerful spray. It also has strong jaws for biting anything that gets too near.

A pretty straightforward water type, then. He moves on to #004:

Charmander: Lizard Pokemon. Charmander prefer rocky, mountainous terrain, and hatch from their eggs when their tails ignite and crack the shell. The flame on the end of their tail varies in strength and size based on their mood and health. It is said that Charmander dies if its flame goes out.

Red frowns. It is said? “Professor, this entry on charmander… it says that it dies if the flame on the end of its tail goes out. That can’t be right, can it?”

Professor Oak shrugs. “Based on what’s been observed, that’s the inference many have drawn.”

Hmm. The Professor had worded that rather oddly. “But if the flame varies based on their health, wouldn’t it be more logical to say that when they die, the fire goes out?”

“More logical?” Blue says. “Who cares if it sounds more logical? He just said that it’s been observed.”

“But that’s a fallacy of correlation and causation,” Red says. “Just because the two things happen at the same time, doesn’t mean one causes the other, or that we can tell which one causes which.”

Leaf surprises Red by nodding. “It’s like saying ‘Pidove flock in city parks because people there feed them.’ But pidove might be there anyway even if no one feeds them, because the parks are where the insects and berries they would normally eat are. So maybe people feed pidove in the parks because they like feeding pidove, and that’s where pidove happen to be because of the environment.”

Professor Oak examines the image of the charmander sleeping in its artificial cave, tail flame lighting its surroundings. “Well, charmander won’t go anywhere near water in quantities larger than a puddle, so short of forcing one to submerge, there’s just no way to tell for sure… and since that might kill the charmander, we obviously wouldn’t try that experiment.”

“Of course not, but… there has to be some other way of determining it.” Red picks up the charmander’s pokeball. Here’s a worthy first mystery to take on: he would find a way to prove one way or the other how charmander’s fire relates to their vitality, and begin earning his Pokemon Researcher license. “I’ve decided. If it’s okay with the other two, I want to study charmander.”

As Red suspected, Blue immediately picks up the Water type. “I choose squirtle.” He grins and spins the pokeball around on the tip of his finger before tossing it up a bit and catching it. Red wonders how long Blue practiced that. Either way it looks cool, and he has to stop himself from attempting it himself. He’ll try later in private.

“Well, I guess that leaves me with bulbasaur,” Leaf says happily as she picks it up. “I was lying earlier when I said I had no favorite. It has a certain symmetry, don’t you think?”

“It does indeed,” Professor Oak says with a smile. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a velvet bag, then carefully pours a handful of shrunken pokeballs into his palm and hands them out. “Press the button to expand or shrink its size. When you catch a new Pokemon, it will be atomized and compressed inside it, but you won’t be able to shrink it again. If you have too many to carry around comfortably, you can store them at any computer connected to the network, and withdraw them from a different one later.”

“Is the pokemon’s data kept in the ball?” Red asks.

“No, it transfers with the pokemon to the network.” Professor Oak points to the computer hard drive at the nearest PC. “That pokeball will still be programmed for it though, so best to hold onto it.” He hands out pamphlets that detail the pokeball’s functions, and another for the pokedex. “The balls are capable of basic verbal commands to release, withdraw, and nickname your pokemon, but the pokedex is how you interface with the pokemon themselves for virtual training while they’re in their balls.”

“So if we lose these balls or something happens to them, our pokemon are safe.” Leaf says.

“For the ones you have stored, yes, though it’s a hassle to get it rekeyed to another pokeball: you essentially have to release it and catch it again.”

Red examines his pokeball. He learned all this in bits and pieces over the months of working here, but it still fascinates him how amazing technology has become. He remembers seeing a picture of pokeball technology back when Professor Oak was his age, before there was an internet to rapidly transmit the pokemon from one place to another, let alone allow the balls to change their size. It looked like a big metal coconut.

“I know how eager you all are to get on your way, so let’s get your accounts set up,” Professor Oak says.

They walk to the nearest PC, and Blue smiles at Red. “So, care to try a battle when we leave? You know, as an ‘experiment,’ to see if the type charts are accurate.”

Red sighs. “I never said they’re all wrong… I know Water types are strong against Fire.”

Leaf looks at them curiously. “Was that ever in doubt?”

Blue puts his hand on Red’s shoulder. “Our Red thinks he knows better than everyone else how pokemon really work.”

Red shrugs off Blue’s hand. “I think the ‘typing’ method that all the battle trainers are obsessed over has problems, that’s all.”

“And he thinks this based on his many years of first-hand training and battling experience,” Blue confides to Leaf, who giggles.

Red feels his cheeks flush, but Professor Oak speaks up from the front of the group. “Red may very well be right about some of his ideas: no Professor I’ve met has claimed to be a hundred percent sure they understand how pokemon work. They’re mysterious creatures, and we’ve only recently had the technology to really study them thoroughly and scientifically.”

Leaf nods. “Mom is always talking about how often she gets something wrong before she gets it right. So are you journeying to become a Professor, Red?”

“For now I’d be satisfied with getting my Researcher license and filling the Kanto pokedex.” They arrive at the PC, and Professor Oak begins setting up their accounts. “But yeah, I’m going to become a Professor eventually and get my own lab.”

“Really?” Leaf looks interested rather than skeptical, which is a nice change of pace. Most people outside the lab don’t tend to take him seriously. But then, she is the granddaughter anddaughter of Professors herself. “What will your lab focus on?”

“I want to study the origin of pokemon species.”

“Which ones?”

“All of them.”

Now she looks skeptical. “All of them? You mean…”

Red tries to ignore Blue’s smirk. “Yeah. I want to know where they all came from. What makes them so different from each other, and what makes us so different from them.”

The girl gives a low whistle. “You and the rest of the world. You don’t dream small, do you?”

Red smiles. “Where’s the fun in that?”

“None at all,” Professor Oak says as he registers Blue’s Trainer ID to the network.

Leaf smiles back. “Well, I’ll be happy to hear about your theories on pokemon types sometime.”

“And I’ll be happy to help prove them wrong,” Blue says with a grin, and spins his pokeball on a finger again. “Through battles.”