Tag Archives: pokemon

Chapter 12: Interlude II – Shadows

“Hey boss, I think I see him,” Bode says.

The leader of the Darkmoon Demons rises from his crouch to join Bode at the mouth of the alley. “Yeah, that’s our guy.” Their mark is going down the steps from an apartment building, buttoning up his jacket against the cool wind. It makes Wax wish he has his leathers on, but they’re too identifiable.

The gang left their jackets with the bikes on Cycling Road to avoid notice when coming into Fuchsia. They did their best to stay under the radar during the day, holing up in a hotel room and only sending people out on food runs.

Now it’s past midnight, and everyone’s tucked nice and cozy in their beds. “How long since someone else came out?” Wax asks.

“Must’ve been ’bout five minutes,” Bode says, keeping his eyes on the street. “Lot of them left together, earlier, but just a couple people here and there lately. Figure their night’s just about wound down.”

Wax watches their mark walk down the street toward them. Not only does he not have anyone with him, the man doesn’t even have a pokebelt. Perfect. They’re all willing to get their hands dirty and risk some jail time, but Wax doesn’t want anyone getting a bounty on their head.

He turns to his boys. Each is intense and focused, some shivering a bit, though he can’t tell if it’s from the cold, or adrenaline as they psych themselves up for the coming fight. “Listen close,” he says, voice low. “This should be easy money. Break a few bones, grab his wallet, then we’re out. Long as he survives, the heat won’t be so bad and we can avoid the cops. But no one touches their pokeballs, got it? If we get the local Gym and trainers on us we’ll never make it out of the city.”

“What if he’s got a pokemon on him?” Jasper asks.

“If he’s got a ball in his jacket or somethin’ and it opens, Bode and I will handle it. Any of you so much as reaches for your belt, I’ll kick your ass and tell Blackfire to torch your jacket. I don’t run with no Renegades. We clear?” They all mutter and nod, clearly impatient to get going. He feels the excitement growing in himself too, and grins. “Alright, let’s fuck him up.”

The night suddenly lights up in flashes, explosive sounds making them all flinch and reach instinctively for their belts. But instead of a squad of cops and their pokemon descending on them, there’s just smoke. Lots of it, surrounding the gang in a thick haze. Wax’s relief is quickly replaced by confusion. Smoke bombs?

He almost screams when someone nearby him does, and he sees Lam fall to the ground, quickly lost in the roiling smog. He stares wildly around, trying to see what’s happening as one after another the others drop, crying out briefly before going silent.

Wax is about to run for it when Bode’s voice cuts through his panic.

“Wax! Wax it’s Koga! Look!”

Wax follows Bode’s pointing hand, and cranes his neck up to see a figure on the roof of the building beside them. It’s hard to make Leader Koga out with the smoke stinging Wax’s eyes, but no one could mistake these tactics after all the rumors that were going around that Fuchsia’s gym leader was cleaning up the streets. A weezing floats beside him, jetting out more smoke down into the alley. Oh fuck me, they were right, we should have stayed the fuck away-

Drop your pokeballs. Now.”

The voice has a mechanical hiss to it, some sort of gasmask, and Wax reaches for his belt. He could send out his houndoom and make a run for it… it would take Koga at least a few seconds to give chase, maybe he can find another alley, jump in a dumpster…

Wax forces himself to take a deep breath, the acrid stench of the smoke almost making him choke. “Koga! This is none of your business! We didn’t use our pokemon, you’ve got no jur-cough-no juris-” Wax breaks off coughing as Koga raises his arms and grips his weezing, then leaps down two stories and lands softly, his descent slow and smooth. The ninja master is shrouded and hard to see through the smog, but as his silhouette approaches, Wax backs up involuntarily. “You’ve got no authority,” Wax chokes out, trying to catch his breath.

“Screw this!” Bode says and bolts for the opening of the alley.

“No you idiot!”

Bode doesn’t get two steps before he cries out in pain and falls, clutching his leg. Then he’s gone, the whole world a haze of smog. Wax can just make out the opening of the alley thanks to the streetlights.

His whole body is trembling as he looks back at Koga, who’s lowering his arms back to his sides, something long and thin held in one. A small sword? There’s a shadow moving through the smog, passing over the bodies of his gangmates. Wax keeps his feet very, very still, not wanting to spook whatever pokemon might be around him.

“Okay… okay you win, here…” Wax undoes his belt and lets it fall to the ground. “We just wanted to make some quick cash, you know? No big deal, a few potions and a night at the hospital and he’d have been fine, we weren’t gonna kill-”

The name of your employer. Give it to me.”

Wax gapes at the figure. “I-no man, you got it all wrong. We were just looking for someone to rob-”

There’s a snapping sound, and something slithers against Wax’s ankle. He screams, jumping away and cowering against the wall, one leg raised off the ground as if to present less targets. “Alright, alright! It was Pat Uzuki! He said head into town, get to this address around this time, showed me a photo, I’m sorry-”

You will never come back to this city. Go, and tell the rest of your kind that Fuchsia is not for you. If I see you here again, I will feed you to my arbok.”

Wax simply stares, shivering. My pokemon… Then the last sentence registers, and he remembers that dry, smooth slither between his ankles.

He bows repeatedly as he stumbles backward, groveling his thanks as he keeps his eyes scanning the ground for that shadow. His foot bumps against Bode’s still figure, and Wax hesitates. Bode and he have been running together since they were punks. If Koga really feeds people to his arbok…

“Leader Koga… what about the others-”

GO!” the ninja thunders, and in the smoke Wax sees the shape of a long, thick serpent rise up. Its hood flares out, and it hisses-

-and Wax is running out of the smoke and through the streets, ignoring the bewildered stare of their mark as he runs for the city limits without another look back, gasping apologies to Bode and the others between breaths of sweet, clean air.


The quiet of Kamal Chadha’s office is unbroken by his keyboard’s clacking, just as it’s uninterrupted by the tick-tock of the old fashioned clock above the door, or the muted wind outside. Each is a soothing testament to the quiet’s value.

His eyes flick between two monitors, collating the previous month’s sales reports for Silph’s upcoming regional conference. He always looks forward to them, learning from the other managers and district directors’ successes and failures. He’s particularly excited for this year, when he would be one of the major speakers. He and his people worked hard to bring up Fuchsia’s sales, and it shows.

Kamal’s hair is kept short, his nails neatly trimmed. His tie is a silver grey that matches his hair, and at his neck hangs the Golden Wheel of his church. He came to Kanto at the age of seven when his father, an engineer, was headhunted by Silph Co. Kamal had been just a bit too old to easily assimilate to the new culture, and his accent and skin tone had not helped. While other children played after school, Kamal studied at home under his mother’s approving gaze. His family wasn’t shunned, but rather treated with polite aloofness by their neighbors.

Things got better as the decades passed. An influx of foreigners and improved communication technologies led to a more multicultural region, and the younger generations treated him no different than anyone else. But by then Kamal had already internalized the sense of “otherness,” and his focus on his work continued through his middle age, keeping few close friends and pursuing his passion for business. He dallied in romance here and there, but remains a bachelor at fifty-six despite his mother’s incessant cajoling.

In truth, he rarely feels lonely. When he first became a manager, his whole store had become his family. A man can only dedicate time and effort to so many things before one starts to suffer for it, and his work had never suffered.

Kamal’s office phone rings, and he glances at the ID. Building security. He finishes the last few lines of the current column one handed as he picks up the phone. “Yes?”

“Sorry to bother you Mr. Chadha, this is Marissa at the front desk.”

Kamal thinks for a moment before he summons the face of the young security guard. “Yes, hello Marissa. Is everything alright?”

“Quiet night down here, but my husband seems to have misplaced his keys. He’s stuck outside the house, and it’s another half hour until my shift is over. Will you be leaving the office before then, or can I lock up and go a bit early?”

Kamal checks the time. When had midnight come and gone? “I think I’ll be staying the night, as a matter of fact. You go ahead.”

“Are you sure, sir? I can wait for the relief to arrive.”

“Quite sure. Trin is still doing the rounds outside, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then go let your husband into the house before he falls asleep on the lawn.”

He hears the smile in her voice. “Thank you sir. Have a good night.”

“You too.”

Kamal hangs up, then goes back to work. He’s not in the least bit tired, and the idea of going home and dithering about until he’s sleepy doesn’t hold any appeal. Course set, he types for another five minutes, then gets up to take a quick break.

Kamal considers himself a man of simple pleasures, but his office is his major indulgence. At the top of the sixteen story Silph building, it takes up a quarter of the floor. A beautiful painting of a ninetales is on the opposite wall, and a bronze solrock lamp hangs horizontally from the ceiling, splaying light out in a sunburst pattern. Decorations aside, it also functions as a home away from home: connected rooms lead to a kitchen on one side and a bedroom on the other, fully stocked with minibar and entertainment systems.

It’s the former he heads to now, turning on the lights and mixing himself a drink. When he finishes, he takes a glass out onto the western facing balcony to drink in the unusually cool summer night.

Fuchsia spreads out beneath him like a cluster of stars fallen to earth. With the safari preserve to the north and the ocean to the south and west, the city is an island of light in a sea of darkness, an opposite reflection of the sky above.

Surprising how quickly a new place could feel like home. He was transferred to Fuchsia about eight months ago, and of all the places he lived, both growing up and in the course of his career, none made him feel so at peace just looking out at it.

He wonders if his predecessor felt it at all. Frank Moore was a competent city director and sometime acquaintance, but resigned after a nervous breakdown. Kamal sent some well wishes, but was too busy dealing with his own sudden promotion to discover the personal details. Frank had been getting along in years, and managing all the stores in Fuchsia can be stressful work.

Kamal watches the sparks that come and go in the distance, racing over the bridge, or “Cycling Road,” that connects the peninsula to western Kanto and Celadon City. He’s been thinking of riding across it soon, for the exercise and the experience. The view of the ocean on every side is said to be lovely, and some of the restaurants that line the sides of the bridge are very popular.

When the stiffness in his legs and shoulders fully fades, he finishes his drink and steps back inside. He refills his glass and debates going back on the balcony, then puts the bottle away and returns to the office. It’s only after he sits down at his computer that he notices the young woman on the couch.

Kamal’s heart clenches in his chest, and he nearly spills his drink as he shoots back to his feet. “Who- how did-” He stammers to a stop as he recognizes her from the news. “Mistress Koga? You startled me…” Kamal slowly sits back down, pulse racing as he lets out a shaking breath. “What are you doing in my office? How did you get in the building?”

“I picked the lock after the security guard downstairs left.” The young woman’s short purple hair is drawn back, making the clean angles of her face look severe. She’s dressed in dark, form fitting clothes that almost resembles body armor, and a purple silk scarf is tied around her neck. “It was easy. You should have gotten better ones.”

He does his best to push away his lingering shock, squaring his shoulders and resting his arms on his desk as his heart rate slowly returns to normal. “Thank you for informing me of that. I’ll be sure to do so. Now please explain why I shouldn’t have you arrested for trespassing. Are you applying as a security consultant? If so, I don’t approve of your methods, and I doubt your father would either.”

“My father is my business. We are here to discuss yours.”

Kamal blinks, and understanding washes through him. Not security, then, but some other position. She isn’t the first person to approach him looking for an inside track on a career at Silph, but he’d never had one break into his office to do so before. If she thought he would be impressed of her dedication or some other such foolish thing, she’s badly mistaken.

Leader Koga has clearly spoiled her. A shame; he always seemed a competent Gym Leader. But Kamal supposes everyone has their weaknesses.

“I’m sorry, but this is my office, and you do not dictate the terms here, no matter whose daughter you are.” He takes a sip of his drink. The spike of fear and adrenaline is still bitter in his mouth, and he grimaces. “If you call my secretary during normal business hours and schedule an appointment, I would be happy to see you when I’m available.”

Janine seems to relax somewhat as he speaks, and he frowns at her. “However, I’m still informing your father of this. And if I ever find out you’ve snuck into this or any other building again, I will be forced to call the police. Do you understand?”

She nods, staring at him.

“Goodnight then.” He turns back to his monitors and begins drafting an email to Leader Koga. He notices in his peripheral that she still hasn’t moved, and seems to be twirling some dark grey cylinder between her fingers, like a very long flute.

“If the new security guard arrives before you leave, I won’t intervene on your behalf.”

“He won’t see me.”

The tube is still spinning, and Kamal begins to feel real anger stirring in him. “Do you want me to call the police?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then why are you still here?”

“I’m waiting for the poison to start working.”

Kamal stares at her. “That’s not funny, young lady.”

She doesn’t respond, those amethyst eyes still steady on his, and the bitterness on his tongue is suddenly hard to ignore. He feels a chill, and then flushes as his heart gallops back into a panicked frenzy.

“What- what did you-”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d refill your glass when you came back in, so this was my backup plan.” She stops her fingers, and the “flute” becomes identifiable. It’s a blowgun.

“I’m glad you took another drink though. I’ve used enough darts tonight, and this gives us more time to talk-”

He grabs his office phone and throws himself backward, hitting the floor and pressing the emergency number. “Help, please send help, I’m being…” There’s only silence in his ear. The line is dead.

He’s in the middle of reaching for his cell when the crazy bitch calmly walks around the desk and aims the blowgun at him, one end at her lips. He freezes, and after a moment she draws it away a bit and perches on the edge of his desk. He notices a facemask of some kind hanging from her neck.

“As I was saying, we have time to talk. I want to know who told you to bribe the mayor, and if you answer me, you get the antidote.”

Kamal feels the world shift. This isn’t some random murder by a sociopathic child. But how does she know about that? No money was even transferred! Doesn’t matter right now. That she has a reason for her actions means there’s a glimmer of hope for him.

“I’ll tell you,” he says. “Just let me get to a hospital, and I’ll tell you everything! Please, I can feel it!” He clutches his stomach, a pang of pain making him want to throw up. She’d likely shoot him with a dart if he does though…

“I find that highly unlikely. You’ve just ingested arbok venom. Most venom is harmless when swallowed, did you know? But arbok use a neurotoxin so potent it’s also poisonous. Just takes longer to act. You should lose consciousness in fifteen minutes or so, and any pain you feel is just in your head. So we have time.” She taps the blowgun. “The dart in here will be considerably quicker depending on where it hits.” She puts it to her lips and aims for his chest.

“Wait, wait! Okay!” His skin feels cold and clammy, and despite her words he feels a fire in his gut. She might be lying about the poison’s effects… he’d never heard anything about arbok venom as a poison. Or his body might just be reacting to the stress of the situation. Either way, he doesn’t think the blowgun is a bluff. “There was no bribe! I just reminded Mr. Ramsey that election season is coming up, and how the new safari regulation would affect tourism and local businesses. Nothing illegal was done!”

Janine rolls her eyes. “Yes, because I clearly care so much about legalities. I already know all this. I asked you who told you to do it.”

“No one, it was my idea!”

“Possible, but I don’t think so. There’s been a concerted effort to soften Fuchsia’s anti-poaching laws for over two years now. On top of that, resistance to the new regulation has been popping up from all sorts of unlikely directions. It’s possible you’re just concerned with the impact on business, but my bet is you’re a patsy. So give me a name.”

Kamal tries to quiet his panic so he can think. If she wants a name, he’ll give her one. “Okay… I’ll tell you. It was Dylan Omaki. He’s a friend of my late father’s who likes hunting in the safari, and asked me to do it as a favor. Please, I didn’t think any harm would come of it-”

She’s shakes her head. “No one above you in Silph goes by that name. You’re going to have to do better than that.”

“It has nothing to do with Silph! I swear, that’s the truth!”

“Mmhm. And did Mr. Moore also know this friend of your father’s?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Like I said, this isn’t new. It’s just a coincidence that your predecessor was doing the exact same thing?”

Shit. “I don’t… it must be-”

“And the gang I stopped from beating up a union leader tonight? ‘Mr. Omaki’ tell you to facilitate that too?”

He feels cold. “How did you kno-” He clamps his mouth shut, furious with himself as he sees the smug smile on her face. “I had nothing to do with that.”

“I believe you. But you know who ordered it done, don’t you?”

Kamal looks away, a drop of sweat sliding down his neck. He’d been uneasy about that whole business. Dealing with unions is always frustrating and tiresome, but this has been the most stubborn leadership he’s ever encountered. When he explained the recent difficulties with his superior, they assured him they would handle it. He didn’t ask questions. In truth, he didn’t want to know the answers… he was just grateful for their help.

“I was hoping you’d be more on the level than Mr. Moore was. It’s really starting to piss me off.”

The fire in his belly is gone, replaced with a block of ice. She’s here on a vendetta, and he was dangerously close to saying something he shouldn’t. Kamal takes a deep breath and sits up, and Janine stands and steps back, gaze wary.

“I won’t say any more. You can let me die and deal with the investigation of my murder, or you can give me an antidote and walk away. But this interrogation is over.”

“That’s it? Just like that, you don’t care if you die?”

He looks her in the eye. “I’d prefer not to, but I won’t let you intimidate me.” Some measure of calm returns to him, and he’s pleasantly surprised to discover as he says it that it’s the truth. I will not betray my family.

Janine meets his gaze silently. “I misjudged you,” she says eventually, voice quiet. “Nothing in my research indicated a spine of steel. I thought you’d be as easy to break as your predecessor.”

Kamal’s eyes widen. “What?”

“Like I said, he was involved in similar things. Corrupting city officials. Buying off Safari Rangers. Hiring thugs. Nothing solid enough that I could let the police handle it, but clear abuses of power. He had to go.”

Kamal’s fists clench. “What did you do to him?”

“Not much. A history of minor mental issues already set the foundation. I added some stimulants to his nightly drinks to disrupt his sleep cycle, then switched them to hallucinogens. Eventually I began to appear to him in disguise. He thought I was a demon, come to punish him for his sins. Told me all sorts of interesting things. But not what I needed. I suspect he didn’t know.”

She says all this casually. Almost dispassionately. As if breaking a man’s mind and destroying his life was of no consequence. Kamal feels his nails digging into his palms. “You’re a monster. A sick, twisted child.”

Her eyes narrow. “Two rangers at the safari were killed by poachers last spring. The suspects were a group of thugs from out of town, very similar to the ones I ran into tonight. They were tied to the scene by eight witnesses at various points. The rangers’ pokemon had been transferred from balls found in the gang’s possession. They claimed someone had sold the balls to them empty.” Janine crouches down to make it harder for him to avoid her gaze. “How many years do you think they were sentenced to?”

Kamal stares at the wall, feeling sick.

“None. Out of nowhere, an army of lawyers descended and tied the case up for months. In that time, all the witnesses either changed their story or moved away from Kanto. Every. Single. One.”

She stands. “I can’t prove the witness intimidation. It took me awhile to trace it, but the money that paid for the defense attorneys came from Mr. Moore. Nothing illegal about that, is there? But those rangers deserved justice. Their families deserved justice. This city deserved justice. And since some powerful people seem intent on preventing that, we’ll have to take what we can get.”

The room feels cold, and Kamal is starting to feel groggy. Panic tries to send protests and denials up his throat, but he doesn’t let them pass his lips. Kamal wonders if the new security guard arrived yet. Would he call up when he does? Kamal’s hand rises to the wheel on his necklace, gripping the cool metal in his hand. Its gold-plated prongs dig into his palm a bit, and he savors the sensation, focusing on it to keep alert. “And killing me? That’s justice?”

“I have little against you personally, Mr. Chadha. But I think you work for immoral people. And I cannot allow you to continue spreading their tendrils through my city.”

“This is ridiculous. You’re just a kid-”

“I’m fifteen. In your world that’s not old enough to be more than a cashier or sales clerk, but in mine I assure you, it’s of little impediment.”

“Your world. You mean pokemon training. You’re not an officer of the law. Not a judge. Not an executioner. If you think I’ve done some crime, take me to the police, I’ll sign a confession to whatever you want-”

“What, hand you over to people your superiors can manipulate and buy off? And what would a confession from you be worth, even if it weren’t under duress? You’re just a hand. I want the head.”

“You won’t get it from inside a jail cell.”

“No one saw me enter, nor will they see me leave. Your security cameras are laughably easy to avoid. And there will be little in the investigation to point to foul play. No one will go to jail for your death, least of all me. You accomplish nothing by dying but dying.”

“You can let me go. I’ll resign, like Frank, move away. I’ll never bother you… your city… again.”

She shakes her head. “You would just be replaced, and I’d have to do this all over again. I need to send a stronger message to your bosses this time. Or you could tell me what I want to know.”

Kamal looks away, ignoring the fluttering of his heart. “I can’t.”

“Such misguided loyalty. Don’t you realize you’re a puppet? They knew something happened to Mr. Moore and sent you in case it happened again. You were chosen because you’re expendable. Little family, few friends. Replaceable.”

Kamal straightens his back and turns to her. “That is your interpretation. Mine is that they knew I would be the perfect person for the job. And I will not betray that trust. You will gain nothing by my death but my death.”

She meets his gaze for a moment, and this time she’s the one that looks away, peering out at the night through his window. “I’m sorry. You are worth less than nothing to me alive if you can’t give me what I need.”

Kamal tries to think of some other argument, something to save himself. But there’s nothing. He can’t convince her to release him, and won’t give her what she wants. He doesn’t know anything of what Frank Moore had done, but his activities in the city haven’t been anything worth killing over.

What of that business tonight? Beating up a union leader, she said. What other things like that have been going on?

He doesn’t know. It’s not his job to know. But he trusts that what has been done has been done for the good of the company, for its employees, and ultimately for the society it serves. He won’t help his murderess in whatever vendetta she has against his superiors. He can only wait for the poison to take its course, and hope that help comes before it does. If the new security calls and receives no answer, what would he do? Did Marissa even inform him that Kamal was staying? Surely she would…

Kamal closes his eyes and bows his head, grip loose around his wheel as he tries to control his breathing, and his fear. Arceus, First and Last, watch over your humble servant. Let me be as malleable as the gold of your wheel, so you can shape me into purity. If I have sinned, let me learn from my sins and change, as you change. And if Judgement is upon me, let me face it with courage.

The time passes, and Kamal once again begins to hear the alloys of the silence. The ticking clock. The muted wind. All that’s missing is the clack of his keyboard. He thinks of his past self, content and oblivious of what was coming. How strange and unfair, that life could be so utterly shattered in such a small time without warning.

He realizes that he can’t feel the wheel in his hand anymore, and a moment later that he can barely move his limbs. The tiredness spreads slowly, but noticeably now, and his fear returns, a coiling, frantic thing. It’s far too late to try an escape however: he doubts he could even stand.

The girl is staring at him. Is that pity in her gaze? Regret? The dying ember of hope flares up, but when he opens his mouth, he can’t form any words. He lets his hope fade away. She won’t save him now. He would just be a liability to her, a witness to her crime.

He wonders what she plans to do with his body. How she’ll cover up her involvement. Make it look like a suicide, maybe? Push him off the balcony? What will mother think? Imagining her reaction is agonizing, and in that moment he wants to tell Janine everything if only to spare his mother the grief.

But it’s too late: his consciousness is beginning to drift. Kamal thanks Arceus for the strength to hold out as long as he has, then lets the soothing sounds of the silence comfort him down into oblivion.


The night is cool and smells of salt as Janine travels south, passing from one rooftop to the next. She runs on her forefeet, a silent shadow leaping over the streets of her city. Seeing but unseen, hearing but unheard. It’s exhilarating. Freeing.

Especially at the apex of each jump. She leaps, eyes closed as she flies through the air, weightless for a split second before gravity pulls her back down. She tucks into a roll for the landing, and even that is quiet, her padded clothes muffling the impact and protecting her so she can easily spring back to her feet.

She’s taking a new route home, passing by some rumored trouble spots so she can ensure nothing is going on. Thankfully, all is quiet. It usually is: despite what the cartoons say, it’s really hard to randomly run into a crime as it’s in progress, even in the bad parts of town. Nights like this come from a lot of research, having good reason to suspect something will go down at a certain time and place. Even then she usually ends up staking places out all night for nothing.

At least those nights aren’t so exhausting. She just wants to go to bed and stop thinking for a bit. Her thoughts keep circling back to Kamal. Her failure is frustrating on a number of levels, but what bothers her most is how willing he had been to die. She had thought it possible, but hadn’t really believed he would. It worries her that her adversaries have such dedicated employees on staff. She copied his hard drive, and hopes to find some answers there.

The gap between this roof and the next is too wide to jump. As she runs, Janine tosses forward a pokeball and mutters “Go, koffing.”

It opens ahead of her just before the end of the roof, and she catches the ball, clips it to her belt, then grabs her koffing in both hands and says “up” as she leaps forward, her pokemon held just behind her and above her head.

The warm, hollow body of her koffing inflates, extending her leap into a glide. Her feet hit the next roof running, and she lets her koffing go, withdrawing him over her shoulder and reclipping his ball to her belt. The next gap is small enough to jump on her own.

Four hops and another glide later, she’s able to swing over the side of a shop and land in an alley below, a couple blocks from her father’s house. Two meowth leap onto a dumpster as she passes near them, staring at her with shining eyes as the streetlight gleams on their coins. She walks the rest of the way to the house, removing her mask and hood, then stripping the peelable black paint from her pokeballs one half at a time.

The two story house is dark. Her father might be sleeping, or he might be on his computer or watching the news in the living room. She listens for any sounds as she mounts the front steps, but all she hears are the distant waves and the cries of the wingulls above them. The scrape of her key seems very loud as she opens the lock, and she’s careful in opening and closing the door so that it makes as little sound as possible.

She turns the bolt behind her and takes off her shoes and pokebelt as her eyes adjust to the darkness. Once they have, she begins to head for the staircase when she notices the figure on the couch.

Her heart kicks into high gear, and she has a moment of sympathy for how Mr. Chadha must have felt seeing her in his office. She’d learned from the best, after all.

When she’s sure her voice won’t shake, she bows her head and says, “Good evening, father.”

“Good evening, Janine,” he says without inflection “Where have you been.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she decides against lying. For all she knows he arrived just a minute ahead of her after shadowing her all night.

“I did my usual patrols, then went to watch over a union meeting where tomorrow’s protest was being planned. I figured another attempt would be made to disrupt it, but instead a gang of thugs from out of town waited outside to jump Hart McEvoy when he came out. I stopped them.”

“Stopped them. How?”

Her eyes have adjusted enough to make out most of the room from the dim light from outside, but his face is still in shadows. She struggles not to smile as she imagines him shifting the seat around for maximum dramatic effect.

Since she can’t meet his eyes, she just looks at the shadows of his face and folds her arms. “I asked them politely to leave. What do you think?”

“I think you are a foolish and immature-”

“There were six of them-”

Do not interrupt me, Anzu.”

Janine winces. Her dad only calls her that when he’s particularly upset. As if that isn’t bad enough, his accent has gotten thicker throughout their conversation. Raised on the reclusive estates of the Koga clan when he was young, it’s already stronger than most others of his generation. She knows he’s self-conscious about it, even in private, and judges that he’s a handsbreadth away from lapsing completely into Japanese.

She bows her head. “I’m sorry, father.”

“I have warned you time and again of the consequences if you are caught using your pokemon against people. Is your life truly worth so little to you?”

You risked it.”

“I was young and reckless, and I acted throughout the land, not all in a single city. If I was ever convicted, I would not be where I am today. I did not teach you my skills so you could make the same mistakes. I did it so you could protect yourself. ”

“So I should have just let them beat him?”

“Why did you not call the police?”

Janine snorts. “For what? Those magikarp? I needed to know who sent them.”

“They will say that Leader Koga attacked them with pokemon.”

“My pokemon attacked none of them. I used them for cover and to frighten, that’s all.”

“Then you did not need them at all. You put on a spectacle. That is not the way of the ninja.”

“There’s nothing dramatic about being darted unconscious before you even realize what happened. My way makes them frightened. They tell other criminals. It keeps them away from the city.”

“I’ve had to address questions about the crime in Fuchsia already. It was not a criminal who asked.”

She saw that interview. It made her a bit apprehensive, but she already decided that if actual charges are ever brought against her father, she’d turn herself in. “Everyone likes a juicy rumor. The point is they won’t talk to the police, they don’t trust them. And they’re too scared of you to risk it.”

Her father’s voice is tight with anger. “Because of your vigilantism.”

“Yes, my vigilantism, which saved a man from being beaten. Besides, unless you’ve been following me all night, you should have an alibi at the gym. Or did Markus not approach you to help train his venomoth?”

Her father is quiet for a moment. “You arranged that?”

“I suggested a time and date I knew you would be free. His request was genuine.”

“I have taught you too well. And now you do not heed me anymore, it seems. Have you outgrown my tutelage, Anzu?”

Something in his tone makes Janine’s chest tighten. She wishes she could see his face. “No, father. I will always value your teachings. But you cannot ask me to ignore my conscience.”

“As I ignore mine.”

“You know what’s going on, and you do nothing. What would you call it?”

“I would call it having sense. It is not just what you do, it is your methods. They are too brazen. You act without respect to the law at all. Would you have me take over the city? Declare myself mayor and gym leader?”

“Would that be so wrong? You’re ten times the man as that butterfree in city hall.”

Her father suddenly sounds tired. “It is not my place, Janine. We are no longer feudal lords, ruling absolutely by virtue of our might. I am Leader of the city’s pokemon trainers, and that is all. My responsibilities are to fight monsters, not people. There are civilian governments, civilian peacekeepers, civilian courts to deal with them. Our society could not function as it does if every trainer took the law into their own hands.”

“Then it’s a good thing they don’t. But that doesn’t mean I won’t, to protect my city.”

“It may not ever be yours if you continue like this.”

Janine lifts her chin. “Who else is there? Patricia? Lee? I’m your daughter. When you join the Elite Four, I’ll show them who your best student is.”

“I meant if you are branded a Renegade.”

“I won’t be.”

Her father stands and moves to the kitchen. He turns on the light before beginning to make some tea. After a moment Janine follows, stopping at the doorway. She’s so sleepy her eyes keep threatening to drift closed, but she’s not sure if she’s been dismissed yet. Once the water is set to boil, her father turns and leans against the counter, arms folded.

Her father’s face looks different in person than on vids. When she was young it had always seemed strange watching the great Michio Koga in interviews or on battle videos, so severe and cold. True, his face is sharp like hers, with a strong jaw and deep lines around his mouth. But it also holds character that doesn’t come across through a screen. An expressive vibrancy that makes even his current stern expression more heated than cool. Her eyes are drawn to the streaks of grey just beginning to form in his pine-green hair. They remind her of Mr. Chadha’s fully grey head, though they’re both about the same age. She wonders when they first appeared.

“So?”

She meets his gaze warily. “So, what?”

“So, what did you discover.”

Janine smiles before quickly schooling her expression. Part of her has always hoped that deep down, her father approves of what she does, and is just worried about her. He can’t completely ignore the good she’s done, or she’s sure he would have forced her to stop. “It’s as I thought. The same middle man from last time, when Mr. Moore was involved in everything. So I went to his replacement, in case there was a connection.”

“Mr… Chad, was it?”

“Chadha.”

“And?”

“I was right. It took a few bluffs, but he’s behind the same sorts of things. Unfortunately he wouldn’t name his superior.”

“So what makes you think there is a connection?”

“Two people from Silph being behind the same things is too much of a coincidence. There’s got to be someone above them guiding their actions.”

Her father shakes his head. “No, there does not. They work in the same business. They had the same responsibilities. They likely share many beliefs. In short, they had similar goals, resources, and values. It is not impossible that their corruption happened to take the same forms by coincidence.”

Janine frowns, replaying her conversation with Kamal over as best she could from memory. She has a recording of the conversation in her phone, but off the top of her head she can’t remember him actually admitting there was someone in Silph giving him orders, name or no name. “I suppose it’s possible…”

“Of course it is. So what did you do to this man, to force out this conspiracy that you made up in your head?”

She scowls. “Even if I was wrong, he isn’t innocent.”

“Answer the question.”

Janine looks away. “I drugged him.”

“With?”

“My own mix. Mostly chloral hydrate in his drink. Made him think he was dying. Some rohypnol for his memory.”

Her father’s face is hard. “In his ‘drink?’ Alcoholic? Baka musume, you could have killed him!”

“Could have,” she says as her temper flares. “But I learned from the best.”

Her father goes still. Janine flinches as his arm twitches up-

-and takes the teapot off the stove beside him, some wisps of steam just beginning to rise. “One of these days you will go too far, Anzu,” he says, not looking at her. “And I will be forced to stop you.”

Janine lets out her breath, heart racing. She turns and heads for the stairs. “If I ever go that far, father, I’m counting on it.”

Chapter 11: Risk Assessment

The forest was dark and full of monsters, but Red wasn’t afraid. The bravest man in the world sat across the fire, and Red knew nothing would happen to him while Tomio Verres was near.

“The most important thing to remember is that everything contains risk, Red. Everything.”

Red watched his father turn the spit over the bed of cinders. “You mean like how you can choke while eating?”

Tomio smiled. “Exactly.” His other hand poured a packet of soy sauce on the pidgey meat. The fire hissed and snapped as the sauce dripped down with the meat’s juices, and the sharp scent filled the air, combating the damp, green smells of the woods. “So tell me, what risks are we taking right now?”

Red thought it over as he carefully peeled the bark from a stick. His father had given the dagger to him last night for his eighth birthday, and he’d been itching to use it all day. He watched each peel of bark curl up, carefully adjusting his grip if it became too thin or thick. “I guess just being here instead of staying at home is a risk. But the fire is the real problem, since it might bring pokemon. Also, the smell of the meat might attract predators.” As he spoke, he imagined sharp teethed pokemon circling the camp just out of sight, slowly drawing in to pounce on his back. The back of his neck tightened, but he resisted the urge to look behind him. His dad would see if there was a pokemon sneaking up on him, and Kage would alert them if any came near.

The mightyena rested with its head on its forelimbs beside the fire, a shadow in the island of light. One eye was open, reflecting the fire as it watched the pidgey meat, nose twitching. Red checked his new spit for splinters, then handed it to his dad, who speared a pair of wings and legs onto it. “What about if we had stayed home? It’s safe there. There are wards around town to alert us if dangerous pokemon come by, and others to help defend us.”

“Well. We might have fallen down the stairs at home.”

Red’s dad smiled and said nothing.

So Red considered some of the dangers back at Pallet Town. He could drown at the beach, but the obvious answer was to just not swim. He could get run over by a car, but they’re so uncommon and easy to avoid that it’s not likely. He eventually realized he was thinking in circles. Everything was too similar to falling down the stairs to be what his dad had in mind. He tried to think of unpredictable dangers like storms, and as a glimmer of understanding surfaced, he thought out loud. “Well… If I stayed home all the time, I wouldn’t learn as much. I could read about wilderness survival, but knowing how to gather food or build a fire properly takes practice. And if I never left home, I’d never get experience in training or defending against wild pokemon. Which might be okay, if I live my whole life at home or in a city. Or it might be deadly, if something unexpected happens. I would basically be gambling that I wouldn’t need that experience and knowledge later.”

“Put another way?”

“Put another way…” Red took his cap off and scratched his head, then left it off so he could feel the wind in his sweaty hair. His mom had taught him to write with as much breadth as possible before editing down to the basics, cutting the fat from the ideas until the core message stood stark and irrefutable. That’s what his dad wanted. “Put another way, if I stayed home I wouldn’t be learning to manage risk. Letting others keep you safe is a risk in itself, a gamble on the long run that you’ll always be protected.”

“Full marks.”

Pride warmed Red deeper than the fire reached. His dad took the first pidgey off the sticks holding it up, and after blowing on the meat a bit, slid it to the end of its spit and offered it to Kage. His mightyena extended his neck without rising and chomped it off the spit, spilling half of the pidgey to the grass. The dark canine began to feast, light bones cracking in his powerful jaws.

“So what are we doing to mitigate our risk right now, Red?”

“Well. First we used some repel to mask our scent. We chose a dense part of the woods so the firelight doesn’t go far. And as a last resort, Kage is ready to defend us if anything comes by.”

Tomio nodded. “What else?”

Red racked his brain to think of what he’d missed. “Our clothes? Nothing bright green or yellow, nothing tan or purple.”

“Yes. Nothing that resembles prey in the area. What else?”

Red frowned. He picked up a third stick and began to peel it. The minutes crawled by, and when he realized he was focusing more on how much time was passing than finding the answer, he shook his head.

“Where are we?” his dad asked.

“About eight kilometers west of Pallet Town.”

“What’s nearby us?”

Red blinked. “Uh… besides Pallet Town… the beach is about two kilometers south… the southern shore, I mean. The western shore is another seven…”

His dad waited silently, still turning the meat as he pours soy sauce on the second pidgey. Eventually he said, “You can check your map.”

Red did so, brow furrowed. His dad rarely told him straight out how he was wrong, instead letting him flail about and find out himself. It was far more embarrassing than the way they taught in school, where the hammer fell quickly at least. But then, there’s less of an audience with his dad than there was in school, especially when Blue wasn’t with them.

Red expanded the map until he saw it. “There’s a Ranger outpost two kilometers up from us. North, I mean.” Now that he saw it, he remembered there being one to the northwest of Pallet. He hadn’t realized it was so close.

“That’s right. To further minimize our risk in camping out, we chose to spend the night near a Ranger outpost. Being constantly aware of your location helps you not get lost, but what if you were in trouble? What if your phone was broken, or your pokeballs were running low on power? You might have tried to go all the way back to Pallet, when there’s help much closer.”

Red put his phone away, cheeks burning. The words were spoken without rebuke, but Red hated missing obvious things. He bit his tongue, pushing down the excuses that tried to bubble up. Whether he’d been lazy or just forgetful didn’t matter. “So why aren’t we spending the night with them?”

“Because I wanted to spend some alone time with my birthday boy.”

Red looked up and saw his dad’s smile. His frustration melted away, and Red finished peeling the stick with a smile before handing it to him.

“So would you say the risk has been properly negated?” Tomio said as he took the spit and speared more meat onto it.

“I guess so, yeah.”

“What else could we do to be safer, other than camping closer to the outpost?”

“I could have my own pokemon,” Red said automatically.

Tomio laughed, and Red grinned. He knew his dad wouldn’t break the licensing regulations, but he hadn’t given up on the loophole that allowed kids to use pokemon registered to their parents. He wanted a pokemon of his own so bad that just looking at his dad’s full belt made his fingers itch to touch the cold spheres.

“I don’t know that a budew or azurill would be of much use for keeping us safe.”

“I could get a riolu, or a tyrogue.”

Red’s dad shook his head, still grinning. “I’d rather not come home one day and find you with a cracked rib because your training got a bit out of hand. What else could we do?”

Red let it go while his dad was still in a good mood. “You could bring out another pokemon.” He knew his dad was more than capable of commanding two at once in combat.

Tom nodded, face serious again. “I could. Who would you suggest?”

“Kaze could fly around and let us know if something’s coming from the air. Nintai could go underground in case of tunneling pokemon.”

“In a forest?”

Red shrugs. “Kūfuku could use roots…”

His dad smiled and stood. He took out a pokeball and aimed it one handed at the ground far from the fire. “Kūfuku, kimi ni maneita!

The flash lit up the night for a split second, and then a victreebel was with them, its long vine immediately digging into the ground as it flexed its leaves and opened its wide mouth to the sky. Its eyes rolled to take in its surroundings, and it relaxed as it found itself at home. Tomio ran a hand over the plant pokemon’s bulbous body and dug a pokeblock out of his pocket with the other. He murmured a greeting as he dropped the pokeblock into its gaping mouth, then stood back.

“Kūfuku, ne wo orose,” he said, and his pokemon began extending roots through the soil.

Tomio sat back down and carefully placed the second stick of meat on a small plate before handing it to Red. “Why those pokemon?”

Red accepted the plate with thanks, and began blowing on a wing, belly rumbling. “Kage’s nose is strong enough to warn us of most things approaching, but there would be no scent if it comes from underground, or dives from above.”

“Good. So why did I bring out Kūfuku and not Kaze?”

Red hesitated. “Because there are no pokemon native to this area that dive to attack their foes,” he said, trying to sound confident.

“Was that a guess?”

“It… an informed guess. Yes.”

His father nodded. “A good guess.” Red relaxed. “Spearow and Fearow do, but they do not fly by night. So in total our risk-“

“Dad? There’s something else we could do.’

“Such as?”

“We could light other fires.”

Tomio’s hands paused while seasoning his food, face thoughtful. “As decoys.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think we should do that?”

“Not really.”

“Why not?”

“Because leaving unattended fires can be dangerous, even if we build them carefully.”

“So why bring it up?”

“Because it’s an option, even if a dangerous one. It could be worth the risk. If I were here alone I might do it.”

“A manageable risk, to reduce a risk you have no control over.”

“Right.”

“Good.” Red’s dad finished cooking his meal, then joined Red on his side of the firebed. He placed a hand on Red’s hair, then bent to kiss his head. “Yoku dekimashita, Red.”

Red leaned against his father’s side, eating his dinner and feeling warmed from the inside and out.

Remember, nothing is without risk, but risk is manageable. Risk is the balance between the danger of an action, and what the actor is capable of. A skilled trainer manages risks at all times and stays alive. A skilled and smart trainer thinks beyond the obvious risks of action, and find ways to do the impossible. Where such men and women go, legends bloom like flowers in their wake.”


As soon as Red gets over his shock, he whips his bag around one shoulder and scrambles for the zipper along the side. “Repel,” he hisses to Blue. “Now!” He pulls out the canister, pops the top, and sprays himself liberally, breathing deep to recover from the sprint through the woods and to keep himself from panicking.

The body is too far to see clearly through the grass and flowers, but the tallish figure and short hair makes it appear to be a young man. There are red blotches on his clothes, but not enough to tell if he’s dead. Red tries to hold onto that hope, though it makes him anxiously aware of every passing second the venom might be creeping through the man’s veins…

Risk = Magnitude of loss x Probability that loss will occur. M is death for all of us, and P is almost certain. So that’s bad.

“Shiiit,” Blue says, quietly but with feeling as he pants for breath and sprays himself with repel. “How long-”

“Less than a minute ago,” Leaf murmurs, barely audible over the buzzing. He offers his canister to her, but she shakes her head and holds up her own empty can. “I followed one of the beedrill here, and saw it… him… already lying there.”

Easiest variable to reduce is M, which means leveraging our pokemon’s safety. P needs to go down either way. What are our tools?

Blue already has his hand on a pokeball. “We need to watch their pattern, wait for an opening. Two of us can provide cover while the third goes to help him.”

Wait, Red mouths soundlessly as his mind races. Half a meter per second, sustained for up to 40 seconds-no good-which way is the wind blowing?

Leaf is nodding as Red sucks on a finger and holds it up. “A distraction. Red, you taught charmander smokescreen, it’s perfect to keep them away. Bulbasaur could use his sleep powder on any that get through.”

“You’ve trained him in sleep powder?” Blue asks her.

“Yeah, we caught a ledyba with it before I found this place.”

“Wait,” Red whispers as yet another beedrill join the swarm. Moderate wind to the west, won’t work. Spinarak isn’t trained, can’t use web, beedrill could dive through sleep powder and sting before being affected-

“Then I’ll start with Zephyr and whip the smoke into them. You and Bulbasaur-

Wait.

They both look at him.

“We need to wait. The nearest ranger outpost is kilometers away. They’ll be here in eight minutes at most from when you sent your alert, Leaf. This swarm is too big to handle on our own.”

Blue looks at him in disgust. “We can’t just sit here while they could be dying out there!”

“Keep your voice down,” Red says. “This isn’t a cartoon. Against six beedrill, we might stand a chance. At least we could try to get away if things go bad. Against nine, we would need to each personally take down three beedrill, which none of our pokemon are capable of. But even nine would be better odds than this. There are over a dozen beedrill out there-”

“I’m not saying we need to beat them all, but if we’re careful we can at least distract them long enough to check if that guy’s alive.”

Red shakes his head, still breathing hard from the run as he tries to put his thoughts in order. “My charmander’s smokescreen covers half a square meter per second, and double that vertically. It could hide one person moving slowly, but I wouldn’t be able to see anything from inside it, which means I wouldn’t be able to check for and treat wounds.” Red’s voice cracks, and he takes another deep breath to steady his voice, fists clenched against the ground. “Blowing the smoke into the field won’t work either, the wind will disperse it too quickly.”

“So we try to draw them a bit at a time,” Leaf says.

Blue shakes his head with a frown. “They attack in swarms. Pull one and you usually pull others. But we don’t have to hold them long, eight minutes-”

“Eight minutes with at least four on each of us,” Red says. “Maybe more. None of our pokemon can protect us from all of them, and we can’t outrun them. Zephyr and Crimson can handle at least a couple each, but unless you’re paying close attention you won’t be able to withdraw them at a safe time. And you won’t be paying attention, because the rest will be on you. The repel will mask our scent, but it’ll do nothing once they see us.”

“We could bring out all of our pokemon,” Blue says. “They can hold them off long enough to check-”

Red meets Blue’s gaze. “No bluster, Blue. No bragging. Think before you answer, because you’re gambling with your pokemons’ lives, and ours. Are you really that confident you could command four at once? Two you just caught?”

Blue’s eyes are dark and deep as the sea in a storm, no longer the sparkling blue of his grandfather’s. “Yes,” he says after at least ten seconds, which is still longer than Red had expected. “Maybe not the caterpie. He wouldn’t do much against them anyway, but the others, yeah. I’ve watched gramps. I’ve seen a hundred vids. I’ve practiced in VR sims. It wouldn’t be perfect, but I can do it.”

Red looks at Leaf. “You?”

She shrugs. “Bulbasaur and Crimson, probably.”

“So let’s say I try with Charmander and my rattata. We’re still outnumbered over two to one.”

“We took on bad odds with the rattata cluster.”

“We ran from that rattata cluster. Beedrill are faster, and won’t give up as easily. Not to mention the whole point is to help the guy out there, which we can’t do while all of us are focusing on the beedrill.”

“Squirtle can-” Blue whips his head around, and Red hears it a moment later: buzzing approaching from their side instead of the din in the field.

They all get to their feet, pokeballs in hand, but the three insects pass by them without slowing and join the others in the flower field. Up close, the pokemon’s forelimb stingers look wickedly sharp, their yellow and black bodies lean and deadly.

Red crouches down again, legs shaking at the near miss, and Leaf leans against the tree with a relieved sigh. Blue pounds a fist into the grass as the three join the rest of the swarm, along with yet another from the other side of the clearing, bringing the total upwards of twenty.

Red looks back at the man in the field, searching for any twitch or sign of life. “There’s too many. Fighting on mostly instinct and outnumbered, our pokemon will die. We probably would too. If we know that guy out there is alive, maybe it would be worth the risk, but…” Red’s distantly aware that his legs are still trembling, as are his arms. He forces his gaze away from the… body. “It’s not. You understand? It’s not worth the risk. We’d most likely just get ourselves and our pokemon killed for nothing. That’s not what responsible trainers do. We need to be ready to assist the rangers when they arrive. If there are only a couple they might need our help, but until then we need to-” His voice breaks, and he closes his eyes as they start to burn. Something, there has to be something we can do… “-stay safe. Whoever’s out there… is probably already d-dead…” Like dad, dead even though he understood the risks, dead because at the end of the day he chose to put himself at risk to protect others, I’m sorry dad, I can’t…

There’s a hand on his shoulder. Left hand, right shoulder, Leaf. A moment later Blue’s is on his left, and together they wait, the air filled with the buzzing of the swarm.

Bulbasaur can send powder up and have Zephyr blow it into field: should get some of them, but the rest will notice us… we can try to lure some here and set up a smokescreen to keep the rest from following, taking them out a few at a time, but if any go around the smokescreen we’ll be overwhelmed… Squirtle can draw their attention and stay in her shell to stay safe, but Blue has to be nearby to give commands…

Nothing. There’s nothing they can do. Red takes another minute to finish internalizing that, then takes a deep breath and raises his head, feeling a bit more in control of himself. He wipes at his face, then nods his thanks to the other two and stands. “Be on the lookout for the rangers, they’ll probably be coming from the east across the clearing.”

“Let’s circle around then,” Leaf says, and leads the way through the trees. Red follows Blue after her and tries to keep an eye on the beedrill. A few leave the swarm as they walk, but to the northwest. Red quickly takes out his phone and draws a cone on his map in that direction, estimating where their hive might be so he can avoid it in the future. He can look up foraging ranges to make a better estimation later.

Thankfully the repel seems to be keeping them safe while the beedrill are busy. Red watches another one finish drinking its fill of nectar before flying off for home, its lower limbs coated in pollen. He wonders if the person in the field had been resting there when the swarm arrived, or if they had been foolish enough to try to capture a beedrill while they were foraging. Perhaps only one had been here at first, and the others had taken him by surprise. Either way, where’s his pokemon? As far as Red can tell, the body is alone.

They reach the eastern side of the clearing a few minutes before the Rangers appear through the trees. As Red had guessed there’s two of them, an investigative pair comprised of a senior riding a meganium and a junior on the back of an ursaring. Red doesn’t recognize either of them, and for a moment he feels homesick for the familiar, competent presence of the Rangers around Pallet Town. Then the two are dismounting and withdrawing their pokemon, and Red takes a step forward.

“Sitrep, one civ down, possibly trainer, surrounded by fifteen to twenty passive beedrill. Aid is one charmander, squirtle, bulbasaur, two rattata, two pidgey. Trained suppression skills are smokescreen and sleep powder.” He doesn’t mention their new captures: even if he considered them reliable, the Rangers wouldn’t.

The junior Ranger’s brow rises, but the senior doesn’t blink as he sizes the three up. His eyes linger a moment on Red’s clothes: the red and white of his jacket and black of his shirt makes him match the Ranger uniform color scheme. “You were right to alert us. All three of you are willing to assist?” They confirm, and he nods. “Pokeball count?”

“I have six.” Red glances at the others.

“Five,” Leaf says, while Blue holds up five fingers.

“Good. I’m Ranger Akio, this is Ranger Metis. Please stand by while we assess the situation.”

Red barely steps aside in time to avoid being shoved as they pass. The two Rangers stand at the edge of the clearing and begin to confer in low voices. Red’s gas mask is strong enough to mute the repel he used on himself, but the strength of the Rangers’ repellent still goes through his air filters. Their uniforms are smudged and stained by what seems like a rough few days in the woods, and they stand with the steady confidence of professionals.

The knot of tension in Red’s chest has eased somewhat seeing them. The authorities are here now, and he can relax a bit. The three trainers wait together quietly, ready to act on the Ranger’s command.

But after a couple minutes pass, Red feels his impatience begin to return. He realizes he’s rocking back and forth on his heels, and reminds himself that he’s the one that insisted on waiting for their judgement and assistance.

Blue eventually begins to pace, both hands spinning pokeballs and swapping them with those at his belt with a speed and skill that’s mesmerizing to watch. Red tears his gaze away and sees Leaf watching the Rangers as they murmur to each other, the senior pointing at the far end of the field. She seems more patient than he and Blue, though there’s a crease between her brow.

“So. A ledyba, huh?”

Leaf glances at him.

He smiles crookedly and shrugs. “I could use some distraction, and you seem pretty calm.”

She lets out a breath of amusement through her nose and nods, turning away from the field. “Wish I felt calmer. Yeah, I got the ledyba about half an hour in. It was caught in a spinarak web. I couldn’t get a lock on it, so I had bulbasaur prep some sleep powder, then cut it out with razor leaves.”

“Razor leaves too, huh? You’ve been busy.”

She smiles. “What about you?”

“I got a spinarak, actually. Wonder if you stole its dinner.”

“Wow. Spinarak’s a nice catch.”

“Yeah, ledyba too. Lots of support and impairment.”

She nods, and then they’re silent again. The quiet is filled with the distant buzzing of the swarm and the mutters of the Rangers. Red’s knee continues to ache, and he bends down a bit to rub it gently. After a moment he straightens with a sigh. “Want to know how big an ass I am?” he asks quietly. “There’s someone lying out there either dying or dead, and I feel slighted because I’m not being included in the discussion on how to help them.”

“I know. I feel like my mom sent me out of the room so she could discuss ‘adult things.’ What do you think is taking so long?”

“Their main priority is protecting people, but they’re also guardians of wild pokemon and the environment. Since we don’t know if that guy’s alive, my guess is they’re trying to minimize collateral damage. Something heavy handed could have repercussions that harm a lot of others.”

“Like what?”

“Beedrill keep a lot of the plants in the forest spreading, and cull a lot of pokemon that move into their turf. This looks like a big chunk of a colony: if they’re all taken out, it could be enough to shift the ecology of this part of the forest in ways that are hard to predict.” Talking helps calm Red’s impatience, and he lets out a breath, stretching his arms behind his head. “Or if it’s part of a huge colony, the rest might go on a feeding frenzy to make up their losses. They might even migrate as a swarm. If the Rangers have a couple fully evolved fire pokemon, they could burn all the beedrill up in seconds, but that would be a last resort. Coming up with safe alternatives is harder.”

“Well, I’m happy to help however I can. But being kept out of discussing a plan that will involve my pokemon feels shitty.”

“Yeah. It’s probably because of how young we are. If we had a badge or two to flash around-”

“It’s insulting, is what it is,” Blue says, not keeping his voice as low as theirs. “Treating us like civs. If they knew who we are…”

Red rolls his eyes, though he’s smiling. “Who we are? That pretty generous of you.”

Leaf laughs. “Yeah, I don’t think ‘Juniper’ carries much weight around here.”

“You might be surprised,” Red says. “Your grandfather is pretty well respected, and some people even know of your mom’s work.”

“By ‘some people,’ he means the eggheads at the lab,” Blue says to Leaf.

“Bit of a biased reference pool, then.”

“Still,” Red says. “Unless these guys knew my dad, being the son of a Ranger and journalist doesn’t inspire much awe.”

Blue frowns at him. “Hey, you may not be an Oak by blood, but gramps doesn’t send just anyone out in the world with his babies. And no, I’m not talking about me,” he says as Leaf opens her mouth, and she covers her grin with a hand.

Red shrugs. “I think others would just call it nepotism.”

“Ahh, that’s crap.” Blue hooks an arm around Red’s neck. “Give it a few years and I bet ‘Verres’ will be a household Kanto name.”

Red flushes a bit at the unexpected compliment, trying to think of a reply when Blue knocks his hat off and begins grinding his knuckles in his hair. “After all, someone’s going to have to write my biography, ya know? Who better than the kid who watched the legend begin?”

Red curses and grabs for his hat, which leaves him defenseless to the noogie. Leaf leans against a nearby tree as she tries to muffle her giggles, and Blue spins in place so Red’s punches only graze his ribs.

Suddenly Leaf stands straight, face serious. The boys disengage and turn to see the Rangers approaching. Ranger Metis is frowning at them, but Akio merely watches impassively as they straighten their clothing and stand at attention. “We have a plan. Are you still interested in assisting?”

Red’s cheeks are hot as he nods along with the others. “Sorry sir, just nerves.” If you don’t want to seem like a feckless kid, stop acting like one. “We’re ready. What do you need us to do?”


Even through his mask filters, the air is cloyingly sweet.

Red breathes through his mouth as he watches the meganium’s petals flap up and down, wafting more and more of its sweet scent into the air. They had separated the group, with Akio and Blue to the southeast of the clearing while Red, Leaf and Metis stay on the eastern side. Red can’t see Ranger Akio’s expression from this far, but sitting on the pokemon’s back, so close to the petals, the smell must be overwhelming. He’s probably used to it by now.

Blue on the other hand clearly isn’t, and even from a distance Red can see that his friend’s face is a grimace of disgust. He stands ready though, pokeball in one hand and flute in the other. After another few moments, when the scent feels tangible as cotton candy against Red’s tongue, Akio gives Blue the signal.

“Zephyr, go!” Blue’s pokeball flashes mid-air, and Zephyr swoops out, taking a moment to orient itself in the unfamiliar trees. Blue catches his pokeball with one hand and sticks his flute between his lips with the other, then points and blows a quick pair of notes.

The bird comes up behind Blue and hovers in the air as it begins to flap, small body bounding up and down mid air with every powerful sweep of its wings. Stronger and stronger gusts blow into the clearing, and it doesn’t take long for the beedrill to stop foraging and turn as one toward the source of the scent.

The buzzing of the field reaches a frenzied pitch, and Red feels a thrill of fear in his guts as the swarm suddenly dives toward Akio and his meganium. Blue has already withdrawn Zephyr and is running toward Red, Leaf and Metis.

Ranger Akio waits to ensure the trainer is clear, then slaps his pokemon’s side with a “Ha!”

The meganium leaps into the trees, swiftly disappearing through the foliage on its four powerful legs. Plant pokemon are not particularly known for speed, but meganium is one of the faster among them, and just barely outspeeds the average beedrill. The Ranger’s is no doubt also trained to be quick, and as long as their luck holds out, Akio should be able to keep the majority of the swarm focused on him until they’re far enough to cut the scent trail.

Meanwhile, Metis has already bounded off into the field with his ursaring. They decided not to stay in the clearing, even with the added risk of moving the body, incase any beedrill return or don’t follow Ranger Akio.

As indeed some haven’t. Red watches from the treeline as the powerful ursine swats a beedrill out of the air when it dives at him. The bug hits the ground and stays down, stunned or too hurt to fly again, but there are another four on the outskirts that suddenly turn their focus on Ranger Metis. Red tears his gaze away to crouch beside Charmander.

“Ok buddy, just like we practiced. Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen.”

Charmander’s head snaps up to Red, then he shivers a bit, eyes closing. A thick, heavy smog begins to pour from his tail, spreading and rising under the tree branch like a curtain between the field and the rest of the forest.

“Good job. Good boy,” he says, stroking his pokemon’s smooth head. “More, smokescreen.” He looks at the field as the smoke rises around him, starting to obscure his vision. Faster, faster…

The last thing he sees is Ranger Metis carefully placing the body on the ursaring’s back before hopping back on and running toward him, the four beedrill in pursuit.

Then the smoke is everywhere, and Red can only crouch still so he doesn’t get barreled over. Ursaring aren’t nearly as fast as meganium, and the beedrill would swiftly close the distance. His heart hammers in his throat as he waits, keeping his hand on charmander so he knows where he is.

A few moments later the ursaring dashes through the smoke to Red’s right, a dark mass of furred muscle that takes some of the smoke with it. Then two beedrill zoom over him, more smoke dislodged in their wake. He hears the two beyond the smokescreen veer off, and says “Charmander, stop.” He picks his pokemon up and walks back through the smoke until it clears.

When it does, he sees the two beedrill lying on the grass a dozen feet away. They’d flown straight into the cloud of sleep powder that bulbasaur is raining down from a branch in a nearby tree. Leaf is beside him with a small bucket that they’d filled with sleep spores beforehand.

“All clear!” he says. “The other two turned back.” Red puts charmander down and waits, listening for any newly approaching buzz as the smoke slowly fades. He hears Leaf withdraw bulbasaur, and by the time she gets down from the tree, the smoke is diffuse enough for them to see the field again. The remaining two beedrill return to drinking nectar, taking no mind of them. A newcomer has already joined them, and the one that had been knocked down by the ursaring slowly rises back into the air.

Red lets a breath out and turns to see Blue jogging over, Zephyr on his shoulder. “Nice job. That was perfect timing with that powder, Leaf.”

“Thanks. You guys did great too.”

Red shrugs. He’d performed a simple task with minimal risk. Leaf approaches the unconscious beedrill warily and dumps her bucket of powder onto them. Then the three trainers go to Ranger Metis, who’s crouched beside the body.

Everyone is silent, an air of tension making the forest seem oddly quiet and still. Or maybe that’s just the much quieter buzz of the remaining beedrill.

The body lies limp, mouth slightly parted and eyes closed. The Ranger has two fingers pressed to the young man’s neck, face impassive as he waits for a pulse. Impassive, but not indifferent: it’s an expression of control Red has seen on his father’s face. An expression of enduring.

The trainer’s wounds are hard to make out clearly. The back of his blue jacket is caked with blood where it pooled, but since he’s lying on it again it’s easy to look elsewhere. There are punctures along his torso, though it’s hard tell how many due to the spread of blood. Lacerations run along one arm and up his neck and jaw, leaving the rest of his face relatively unblemished. Red can see the Ranger’s potion and antidote bottles sitting on the grass, the droplets of their spray still glistening on the visible wounds. Their hypercoagulant properties have stopped any blood flow, but no new skin is growing over the wounds.

“Revive capsule?” Leaf says, voice hollow.

Ranger Metis shakes his head, once. “No swallow reflex.” He removes his fingers. “He’s gone. Lost too much blood, and the venom…”

A horrible weight is slowly pressing in Red’s stomach as he looks at the young man’s face. Blonde, with a round chin and a few days of beard growth. In death he looks barely older than Red. “How long…”

“Hard to tell without taking a temperature reading. He’s not stiff yet, so probably no more than a few hours.” Ranger Metis lets out a breath and rises, leaning against his ursaring’s neck and scratching its ear as he turns his face away.

Blue mutters something that gets lost in his face mask and stomps off, while Leaf walks to a nearby tree and sinks to the ground with her back against it, eyes closed.

Red continues to stand where he is, staring at the young man’s face. He’s dimly aware of his pulse speeding up, breath becoming faster and more shallow. He wants to ask if there’s any chance they could have saved him, if acting sooner would have helped… but he already knows there’s no answer. The trainer might have bled out before Leaf found him, or he might have died a few minutes after. Past that, it’s unlikely he’d have survived such blood loss.

This isn’t my fault. I can’t blame myself for making the right choice. He repeats it to himself as the world grows a bit fuzzy around the edges, distantly aware that he’s close to hyperventilating in his mask. He tears it off and takes deep breaths, willing himself to calm down. Not my fault. Not my fault…

The ursaring makes a chuffing noise and sits, Metis still rubbing its head. Now that Red notices the pokemon’s proximity, its size is intimidating. He meets its solid brown eyes and sees none of the razor focus of Trainer Donovan’s skarmory. Instead, the ursaring’s gaze is the very definition of neutral. It simply watches him, waiting. If he leaves it alone, it’ll leave him alone. If he attacks, it’ll snap his neck with one swipe. Things could go one way or the other, and the ursaring simply doesn’t care.

It looks away from him, gaze moving over the body, then off into the trees as its jaw gapes in a yawn. Unimpressed. Despite everything, Red’s lips twitch briefly with the ghost of a smile. The ursaring’s utter disinterest is grounding, in a way, and his breathing begins to even out. For the vast majority of the world and its inhabitants, life will go on. In the grand scheme of things, the web of tragedy and heartbreaks that will spread from this death are relatively minimal.

As soon as he thinks that, an echo of soul-cracking despair makes Red shudder, and he sways on his feet. Minimal. Right. He suddenly wants to call his mother. Hear her voice. He forces himself to remember the ursaring’s indifference, and after a moment the ache numbs a bit.

Ranger Metis finishes drawing comfort from his pokemon and steps away to withdraw it. He clips its pokeball to his belt slowly, then turns to consider the body, face once again a mask. “I’m going to identify him and record his death, then make preparations to transport him. There’s no need for you to be around for all that.” He turns to Red, and the other two as they approach again. “You did well. As thanks, please capture those two beedrill before they awaken. Then I suggest you find a safe place to camp. It will be dark soon.”

“If it’s alright,” Leaf says, “I would like to know who he was.”

Metis looks at her a moment. “Knowing will make it harder.”

“I want to know too,” Blue says, and Red nods. We owe him that much, at least.

Metis meets each of their gazes. His face softens a bit, and he turns away. “Alright. On the condition that you will keep it to yourselves until after we’ve had a chance to inform his family.”

They agree, and watch as Metis respectfully begins to pat the young man’s pockets down. He finds the wallet in his jacket, and extracts it to pull out the Trainer ID.

“Luke Koyama, Age 26. Home, Cremini Town. License issued March 3rd, 1492.”

There’s a moment of quiet as Ranger Metis puts the ID back. Red’s eyes are drawn to Luke’s pokeball belt, where four balls rest. “Was there a pokemon or pokeball out there with him?”

Metis pauses. “No. Not that I saw. I’ll double check before the swarm gets back. Now go catch those beedrill before they wake.”

Blue turns away, and Red and Leaf follow. They approach the sleeping pokemon without getting too close. One of them is still as stone, but the other’s wings are slowly flexing.

Each of the beedrill is about as tall as Red, their forelimb blades as long as his arms. The idea of applying human morality to barely sentient beings should be silly, but beedrill had always struck Red as an evil species, vicious in a way even the most commonly feared ghost and dark type pokemon are often not. No sense getting mad at a pokemon for acting in its nature, his father had told him once, but he can’t help but study their blades, trying to spot any signs of blood…

“You guys take them,” Blue says just as Red opens his mouth. “You took bigger risks.”

Leaf frowns at him. “What? You practically bathed in that beedrill bait. I was scared stiff thinking half of them would go after you.”

“Zephyr blew most of it away, and the beedrill knew the meganium was the source. If a few more had gone after you and Red-”

“I don’t want one.”

They both look at him. He shrugs a shoulder, keeping his gaze on the one starting to wake. “I don’t want one. They don’t really interest me, from a research perspective. So you guys should take them.” He walks away before they can reply, staring out in the direction Ranger Akio had gone.

You’re being irrational, Future Red mutters in the more distant recesses of his mind.

There are two of them and three of us. If someone has to go without, it might as well be me.

Rationalize it all you want, but you took us out of the running for purely emotional reasons. It feels good to you now, but I might need a beedrill someday.

So catch one then. They’re not rare.

Would that have made a difference? What if you come across a dragonair that had killed someone? Excuse me, that might have killed someone.

Is it so bad to not want a pokemon that might have killed a person?

The point of catching pokemon is to stop them from killing people. One of the points, anyway.

There are a pair of flashes and twin explosions of sound behind Red that light up the forest briefly. He looks up, noticing for the first time how dark it’s getting. Well, it’s moot now.

You’ll have to deal with it again eventually.

Technically, you will. Then you might not find it so easy to cast judgement.

His prospective mental voice grumbles a bit, but quiets down. Blue and Leaf approach, and Red turns to them.

“We’re not counting these as part of our catches,” Blue says. “So you’re still only one behind us.”

Red blinks at him, then smiles. The expression feels odd, but good. “Right. Thanks.”

“Not that you’ll be able to catch us before we get to Pewter anyway.” Leaf winks.

Red’s smile widens. “We’ll see about that. I woke up pretty late today: I might catch another three tonight while you guys are sleeping.”

Blue’s about to respond when Red spies a flash of color in the trees. “Akio’s back!”

They turn to see the Ranger approaching from the northeast riding an arcanine. Blue makes an appreciative sound at the sight of the majestic pokemon. Red wonders how far Ranger Akio had run before switching mounts.

After checking with Ranger Metis, Akio dismounts and examines the body for himself before approaching the trainers. The older man is sweating slightly, but otherwise seems fine. All trace of the meganium’s sweet scent are replaced by the hot fumes of the arcanine’s fur.

“It’s good to see you’re all alright. Thank you for your help here today.”

“No prob,” Blue says. “Just doing our duty.”

Ranger Akio’s smile is brief, but genuine. If he’s bothered by Luke’s death, he doesn’t show it. Perhaps he’d already taken it as a given. “Yes. Today you three repaid the trust the public has placed in you, and all trainers. If you don’t mind, I’d like your names, so when we return Mr. Koyama and his pokemon to his family they know who else to thank.” He nods at Leaf. “Yours we have from the ticket you made, Miss Juniper.” He looks at the other two expectantly.

“Red Verres.”

“Blue Oak.”

Ranger Akio’s brow twitches briefly at Blue’s surname. “A pleasure to meet you. May your travels be swift and safe.” He salutes them, one arm crossed behind his back and the other across his waist as he bows slightly.

Red and the others return it, then gather their things. Leaf cleans her bucket out carefully before collapsing it and putting it back in her bag, and Red puts his gas mask back on. Before leaving, Red approaches the Rangers.

“Could you do me a favor? I’m very curious to know what happened out here today,” Red says. “How Luke was killed. What he was doing in the field. I know it’s not likely we’ll get any answers, but…”

Ranger Metis glances at his superior, who studies Red for a moment. “It doesn’t do to obsess over these things. Trust me, I know. Sometimes mistakes are made. Accidents happen. People die. The why isn’t always known, or even helpful.”

Red doesn’t agree with that last bit, but he merely says, “I understand. I don’t intend to dwell on it. I just meant, if you do learn anything, I would appreciate knowing. I think it would help me put it out of my mind.”

Ranger Akio nods. “If we learn anything, I’ll pass it along. You have my word.”

Red salutes him again, bowing deep. “Arigatō, Akio-san.” Red rejoins Blue and Leaf, and, looking back at Luke Koyama one more time in the darkening twilight, leaves the buzz of the remaining beedrill behind.

Chapter 10: Avoidance

In general, travel through Viridian Forest is safe in groups. While the more territorial or aggressive pokemon like weedle or mankey might choose fight over flight, lone pokemon that are willing to face down three humans, even adolescents, are the exception rather than the rule. It’s the primary reason people are encouraged to travel in groups, but it does pose an issue for trainers who are actively seeking out new pokemon.

Red, Blue and Leaf quickly conclude that sticking to the main road through the forest wouldn’t let them encounter many pokemon, while tromping through the forest together would only scare most off. Knowing how foolhardy it would be to go off in separate directions, they compromise with a variation of the tactic Rangers use to sweep an area.

Red checks the map on his phone as he walks through the underbrush. The screen shows an aerial view of the forest overlaid with a grid. The two dots representing Blue and Leaf’s phones form a rough triangle with his own, all within a hundred meters of each other. If someone goes too far from the other two, the phones would alert everyone. In the meantime they have enough personal space to find and catch pokemon without fighting over each one they see, and are still within safe distance of each other for emergencies.

Red smiles and puts his phone away, mentally patting himself on the back. They’ve only been in the forest for half an hour, and have at most another full hour of daylight left. After approximating their distance traveled so far with how much forest is left to the north before Pewter City, Red is confident his “competition” will keep them busy for at least a couple days. Hopefully that’ll be long enough to miss the storm if it continues south, but worst case scenario, Zapdos attacks after they arrive when at least one of them has a full belt of pokemon. And if any help requests pop up nearby meanwhile, it might take even longer before they get to Pewter, giving them an excuse to miss it entirely without bruising Blue’s ego.

Not that he doesn’t intend to try and win their little competition, of course. There are a number of pokemon in the area he wants, and a free dinner is a free dinner.

Red breathes in the earthy smell of the forest, mostly filtered by his gas mask. He’d put it on as soon as they split up, and has an empty pokeball ready in one hand so he can try for a quick capture if he spots a wild pokemon. But even walking alone, he’s big enough to scare away most pokemon in the area. Poking his head in every bush or tree trunk looking for those that are hiding is a great way to get a cloud of poison or stinger to the face, and while his mask will protect him from the former, he doesn’t want to test the latter.

Which leaves using his pokemon to flush wild ones out. He wants to keep charmander fresh, so he puts away his empty ball and unclips his rattata’s to summon it for the first time. “Rattata, go,” he says with a toss, then puts his wrist together to catch the ball on its recoil.

It sails forward into a relatively clear patch of grass and disgorges his rattata in a flash of light before rocketing back toward Red. Realizing in a split second that he threw it with a downward arc, he reaches above his head and snatches it out of the air with both hands cupped together.

“Yes!” Red pumps his fist up with a grin, then looks around. Unfortunately (or fortunately), no one had been around to see it.

No one except his rattata, who seems surprised at the outburst. She stands on her hindlegs and peers around the forest, nose twitching in the air.

Red approaches and kneels to scratch the fur along her back. “Hey there little lady. Nice to see you again,” he says, wanting her to get used to his voice in the real world. He puts her ball away and takes out some dried berries and nuts for her to eat.

His rattata’s whiskers twitch over his cupped palm, then her front paws begin scooping the food into her mouth, munching quickly at each mouthful before grabbing more. Standing on her hindlegs she’s as tall as his knee, and when she finishes feeding she drops back down to all fours and rubs against his ankle.

He plays with her a bit, letting her get the scent of his hands and scratching her white belly. He tries to stroke her tail, and smiles as she squirms, then twists it away from his hand. “Okay, no tail touching. Got it.”

Red finds some rocks and hefts them to ensure they weigh a solid amount. Once he has a dozen in his pocket, he begins walking forward again with one in each hand. His rattata follows at his heels, occasionally running to the sides or ahead briefly to sniff at some moss or munch on a fallen acorn.

Red stops when they near a particularly large clump of bushes, turning one of the stones over and over between his fingers. He doesn’t want to go rooting through the bushes for pokemon, and he doesn’t want his rattata to stick her nose into potential danger either…

“Rattata, ready,” he says, and the rodent dashes in front of him, planting its feet and staring forward, long tail curled up above it. Feeling his pulse begin to speed up, he prepares himself for a fight, then cocks his arm back and throws the rock into the bushes.

The round stone swishes through the leaves and rustles some branches as it hits something with a dull thud. Red waits, body tense, not blinking as the bush sits still… silent…

Eventually he realizes his lungs ache, and lets out his breath. “Rattata, follow,” he says, and they continue onward.

The next bush is smaller than the last, and when he throws the rock it sails straight through it. Red waits with his heart in his throat, but nothing emerges, and he walks on, checking every group of bushes big or dense enough to hide a pokemon.

On his fifth throw, a pidgey flies out of the bush with a startled flap of its wings. Red is aiming an empty pokeball at it before it’s out of sight, but it’s already too far for the lens to get a lock. He frowns as it flies up and away through the tree branches. Rattata hisses at a feather that floats down at them before pouncing on it, and Red laughs, frustration draining away.

He tries another two bushes with no result. Just as he’s about to throw at the third one, his phone chimes, causing him to jump and drop his rock. Blushing furiously, he takes his phone out and checks the screen.

3 to 2. Have I mentioned how much I love tentacool soup?

Red returns his phone to his pocket without replying. He’s dying to know what pokemon Blue had caught, and how, but that’s why Blue hadn’t mentioned it, and asking would just waste more time.

Throwing rocks into bushes and hoping a pokemon would pop out and fight his rattata may be the safest way to go, but it could take hours, and the daylight’s fading. It’s time to put some of his riskier ideas to the test.

He needs a flying pokemon, but hoothoot and noctowl won’t be up and about until it’s full dark. He could try to find one’s roost, but that would involve a lot of tree climbing, and without a flying pokemon of his own he’d be at a major disadvantage if he angers one.

Against anything but other flyers though, his charmander gives him a huge advantage over the local flora and fauna. One on one, the fire lizard could take down practically any pokemon in the forest, as most are bug or plant types.

But being the strongest thing around isn’t going to attract contenders. He needs to seem like the weakest.

Red takes his pokedex out and opens its audio folders. In them are recorded the cries of every pokemon ever captured and studied, most with a number of different entries: anger, playfulness, fear, challenge, affection, and pain.

It’s the last one that interests him at the moment.

In every ecology, there exists a food chain. It’s rarely a straightforward line, but rather a shifting mess of predators and prey. Viridian Forest has over a dozen species of pokemon with almost three dozen different forms that have lived amongst each other for thousands of generations, each filling different niches in the environment and adapting to one-another’s strengths and weaknesses.

Caterpie are without doubt the weakest pokemon in the forest. The only thing that keeps their species going is their incredibly short juvenile period, usually lasting no more than a few days before they “evolve” into metapods, which themselves only take a week or two before metamorphing again into butterfree.

In any other environment, a pokemon like butterfree might stay near the bottom of the food chain. It has no sharp claws or mandibles, and its poisonous spores are slow acting. Encountering any predator should spell a quick doom.

Or it would, if not for a peculiar adaptation.

As far as official classifications go, there are no “psychic bugs” on record. It’s theorized that none are intelligent enough for the true breadth of mental powers psychics are capable of. And psychics do have a harder time defending themselves against bug pokemon, lending some merit to the idea that their minds are too simple, or just too different, for psychics to interact with the way they normally would.

Nevertheless, some bug pokemon like butterfree and venomoth seem capable of low intensity bursts of psychic energy to ward off predators, disorienting them long enough for an escape. There’s debate in academic circles whether it’s a truly psychic attack, or some low frequency sound or vibration the bugs use that just have similar effects; trainers with psychic and dark minds can’t seem to come to a consensus, which leads Red to think that the answer might be both. The bottom line is that butterfree are able to stay near the top of the food chain, despite not actually being a predator to any other pokemon. Even spinarak and ariados, with their own mental attacks, can’t keep butterfree in their webs. As a result, butterfree populations introduced to new habitats can quickly explode in number.

Which is where hoothoot and noctowl come in. Another non-psychic pokemon with rudimentary psychic powers, their mental defenses are strong enough to resist butterfree’s disorienting attacks, allowing them to swoop in for a kill. Lacking the weaknesses of the more powerfully psychic birds like xatu, noctowl are the perfect predator to butterfree.

Unfortunately, it’s still light out, which means playing the distress sounds of an injured butterfree isn’t likely to bring any noctowl or hoothoot to him. But if there’s one pokemon that will catch the attention of any nearby predators, it’s caterpie.

Red goes to the tenth entry in the pokedex and turns the volume all the way up. He briefly considers switching Rattata out for Charmander, but the rodent is much faster than the fire lizard, and if some predators come charging out of the trees at him, he’s going to need Rattata’s speed to intercept them.

Red checks to make sure Rattata is at attention, then wipes his sweating palms on his jeans before he holds the pokedex up and presses the button.

A pained, warbling cry fills the quiet forest air. It only lasts couple few seconds, and then the hushed rustle of leaves returns. Rattata whips its head around, nose twitching as it tries to locate the source of the sound, and Red stands tensely still, ears straining for the sound of wings or rustling underbrush to alert him of incoming pokemon.

After a few seconds pass, Red presses the button again. When nothing approaches, he begins to press it repeatedly, waiting two to five seconds between repetitions as he starts walking forward. His rattata follows, still looking puzzled as she tries to see or smell the injured caterpie she hears.

His arms begin to get tired holding the pokedex above his head, so he lowers it to chest level with the speakers pointed outward, occasionally shifting its direction. Red’s spine feels like a coiled spring, and he keeps one eye on the forest around him while the other watches the ground for roots or stones to ensure he doesn’t trip in the dense underbru-

A line of silk shoots down and nabs the pokedex, tugging it out of Red’s grasp. For a second he simply gapes upward as it floats away to a tree branch above. Then he throws himself at the tree with a cry of horror, scrambling up the rough bark. “Rattata, climb!”

He lifts himself onto the lowest branch before checking to confirm that his pokemon is following, then looks up. There! Now Red can make out the spinarak hanging from the underside of the branch, drawing the pokedex up with its forelimbs.

Including the width of its six legs, the green and black arachnoid is as wide as Red’s torso, half again as big as his rattata. It finishes pulling up the pokedex, but seems confused by what’s clearly not a caterpie. Red’s veins fill with ice as the pokemon scuttles onto the top of the branch and away, pokedex still attached by some string hanging from the end of its abdomen. The slim red device tips this way and that under the branch, and Red begins to climb to the next branch up. Don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall…

To say his pokedex prototype is priceless would be a bit of an overstatement, but to Red it might as well be. Even older models that act as little more than indexes cost hundreds of dollars, and Red’s is by far the most valuable thing he’s ever owned. Part of what had made Red work so hard the past year was the sacred trust Professor Oak would be putting in him: the only other person he’d given his personally designed, off-the-market software to was his grandson. Breaking it would be bad enough, but if the spinarak gets away and someone else finds it…

Red pulls himself onto the second branch and stands, legs only shaking a little. The third is another head above him, almost parallel to his own. He takes out an empty pokeball and points its lens up at what he can see of the bug pokemon. He waits for the ping with his heart in his throat, but the line of sight isn’t clear enough.

“Shit!” Rattata climbs up the trunk beside him, claws still hooked in the bark, and Red points to the retreating spinarak. “Rattata, Bite!”

Rattata follows the direction of his finger and gives a high pitched growl before leaping onto the branch and giving chase. Red places his feet carefully and follows on his own, feeling the whole thing bend and sway beneath him as he watches her attack. The spinarak turns just before she reaches it, and rears onto its hind legs, hissing and aiming the stinger on its forehead to break her charge.

Rattata stops herself short of being impaled, head darting in for a nip here and there. Spinarak retreats with its hind legs to avoid the bites while its forward claws draw blood along rattata’s forehead and stomach. All the while, the pokedex bobs and spins on the end of its string under the branch, out of Red’s reach.

Red grits his teeth as his rattata squeals in pain. Rattata’s greatest strength is her speed: on the narrow branch, the spinarak has home advantage that completely nullifies her maneuverability. Red pulls out his remaining stones and tries to chuck some at the bug. He nearly loses his balance on the third attempt, and his shots all go too high or bounce off the branch. Heart hammering, Red watches helplessly as Rattata over commits and gets stung, only managing a light bite in response.

I need to even the playing field. The only way he can think to do that is to get them off the branch. Just gotta avoid landing on my head. Or my neck. Or my back. “Fuck it,” Red whispers. “Time for heroics.” He shucks off his backpack and lets it fall before he bounces on the branch once, twice, then jumps to the one above, hands reaching.

His fingers scramble at the bark, digging in as his body hangs six meters off the ground. He feels the whole thing bend with his weight, and for a moment thinks it’s going to crack. That would be one way to do it. The wood holds though, and he begins to pull himself toward the pokemon, arms burning and breath coming in short pants. His eyes are fixed on his pokedex, bobbing closer with every hand. Come on… three more… two… there… He reaches out with one hand, fingers on his other screaming with his whole weight as he snatches the pokedex.

As soon as he has it in his grip and pulls, the spinarak scuttles under the branch, following it down as the webbing stretches. It points its stinger at his hand and dashes at him. Red gives a heroic yelp and lets go. “Rattata, down!”

He only has a heartbeat of weightlessness to curl protectively around the pokedex and lift his head before he hits the grass. He’d turned onto his side a bit while falling, and a knobby root sends a bolt of pain up his knee. When he looks up, he sees the pokedex is still attached by its damn string, now stretched long and thin. Red instinctively rolls just as the spinarak leaps down at him.

Completely unfazed by its fall, it dashes for him again, stinger forward. Red holds the pokedex tight as he whips his arm up and spins his whole body, using his uninjured knee as a pivot the way Hamato had.

The spinarak is lifted into the air, and finally releases the web rather than smash into the tree. It lands on its feet and leaps for Red again just as his rattata falls on it in a clawing, squealing fury.

Red forces himself to his feet and stuffs the pokedex in his pocket as he shouts, “Rattata, Quick Attack!”

His pokemon immediately disengages, then dashes in for a bite, running past the spinarak before it can retaliate. She’s breathing hard and bleeding from a number of wounds, but now so is the bug, its green and black abdomen leaking pale fluid.

“Quick Attack! Quick Attack!”

Rattata dashes at the arachnoid again and again, taking a quick nip out of it with each pass. The spinarak occasionally tries to leap at it, but Rattata is too fast on the open grass, juking from side to side before speeding in for another bite.

But Red can see his pokemon getting slower from the blood loss and poison. The time between attacks grows longer, and her exhaustion is palpable as she tumbles over the grass after a close dodge. The spinarak curls its abdomen and shoots a string of web at Rattata as she scrambles to her feet.

Red already has Charmander’s pokeball in one hand and Rattata’s in the other. He points it at her and yells “Rattata, return!” Quick as a blink, a red beam shoots out and reverts his pokemon to a glowing mass that’s sucked back into the open pokeball. The web is left behind, and Red feels a surge of relief. Rattata would be safe in her ball, wounds suspended until he could treat her. “Charmand-”

The spinarak leaps for him. Red rolls to the side, dropping Rattata’s pokeball as he tries to clip it back to his belt. He throws Charmander’s ball haphazardly as he comes up hard against a tree. “Charmander, go!”

The ball explodes with light and sound before shooting back into some bushes to Red’s side. He doesn’t spare it a glance, eyes on the fire lizard as it takes a bewildered moment to look around and orient itself to its new surroundings.

“Charmander, battle!”

Charmander snaps into a combat stance and focuses on the only other pokemon present. The spinarak’s forward charge slows. Maybe it thinks the rattata is still around somewhere, or maybe it’s the open flame at the tip of Charmander’s tail, but the spinarak begins to back away, its abdomen rising to shoot web at the branches above.

“Charmander, Scratch!” He doesn’t dare use ember: bugs are easily killed or crippled by fire, and now that he has his pokedex back, his priority is to capture it.

The spinarak is forced to leap aside as the lizard claws at it, arching its back and raising its body upright above its head, hissing. The black dots and stripe on its abdomen look like a frowning fa-

Freezing, empty night, no light or warmth, not cold but simple absence of heat, a vacuum of sensation or sound that unhinges his mind-

Red gasps, pain radiating from his chest. He’s lying face down in the grass, nose pressed against his breath mask with no memory of when he’d fallen. Was I poisoned? He can’t recall being stung, but a wave of nausea almost makes him hurl when he tries to remember the last thing he’d seen. Red raises his head and spots Charmander weaving erratically toward spinarak, as if he can’t get his balance right. Instead of pressing the advantage, the spinarak turns and begins to scuttle away.

“No… you… don’t,” Red wheezes. He forces himself up and pulls an empty ball from his pocket, holding it outstretched and bracing it on his uninjured knee. The max distance a pokeball beam will work is roughly ten meters, and the bug is almost out of range when he hears the ping of its lock. Heart in his throat, he throws…

…and misses, the ball bouncing on the grass to the right of the spinarak.

“Charmander, Scratch!”

The fire lizard leaps forward, stumbling onto all fours as he tries to recover from whatever had happened. His first claw attack misses, but his flaming tail keeps the spinarak from retaliating so he can get another attack in. This time his claws rake the spinarak’s body, drawing more clear ichor. The arachnoid hisses and jabs its stinger forward, barely missing as charmander jumps away.

Tossing dignity aside, Red crawls forward until he can aim another pokeball, focusing it on the spinarak as it rears up and shoots web at Charmander, sticking his legs together.

Just as it turns to run again, Red throws. The ball nails the spinarak in the thorax, and it vanishes with a flash.

Red collapses back onto his stomach. He still feels queasy, and takes deep breaths until his stomach settles a bit. Charmander struggles to free its legs from the webbing, then curls its tail around to burn the stuff off. Afterward he approaches Red with a chirp and curls up beside him, tail flame warming Red’s arm to just the edge of comfort. He checks to make sure Charmander isn’t injured, then reaches out to rub his smooth head. “Good boy, Charmander. You did great.”

His mask is beginning to hurt as it’s pressed against his face, and he flips himself onto his back with a sigh. After a minute he feels a bit more grounded, but he still can’t think of what had happened without intense discomfort. He groans in frustration, removing his face mask and pressing his palms to his eyes. It’s like there’s a part of his brain that’s broken, a memory scooped out to leave a raw wound that he keeps brushing up against.

The spinarak had hit Charmander with something, and Red, standing behind him, had been evidently hit much harder. It can only be a mental attack of some kind, but spinaraks aren’t usually capable of more than minor emotional manipulation, the type usually classified as Ghost attacks…

Chill fingers brush his spine. He’d never experienced a Psychic attack before, but he’d also never experienced a Ghost attack. He doesn’t know which it had been… but the fact that it was so strong pointed to two possibilities. Either his mind is incredibly vulnerable to all forms of Psychic attack, or… he’s psychic himself, and the attack had been a Ghost one that turned his own mental powers against him.

But I’m not a psychic. He underwent the tests last year. They aren’t 100% accurate, a lot of psychics’ powers only manifest when they encounter others, but he tried all the practice techniques he could find just in case he was one of the rare few. What kid doesn’t dream of having special powers?

But now the thought of enduring things like… that… again makes Red reconsider the various advantages of even mild psychic abilities.

His thoughts are interrupted by his phone ringing, and he suddenly realizes he’s been holding still for awhile. Had he dropped behind the others’ positions? He takes his phone out and sees that Blue’s calling him.

“Hello?”

“Red! Chasing a caterpie right at you! Cut it off!” Blue sounds like he’s running.

Red blinks, then scrambles to his feet, ignoring the cry of protest from his knee. “What?! From where?” He looks around and realizes his pokemon are all scattered. He pulls his mask back on and hobbles forward to grab Rattata’s ball.

“Northeast! I’ll be on you in ten seconds! Catchers keepers, but just stop it from getting away!”

Blue hangs up, and Red stuffs his phone away and runs over to grab his new spinarak, attaching it to his belt and cursing his weakness. He’d wasted time he could have used to register his spinarak or heal Rattata. But a caterpie shouldn’t be hard to deal with, and all he has to do is stop it from running.

“Charmander, battle!” The lizard was watching him curiously as he dashed about, and now drops back into an aggressive stance. Shit, where’s his ball? It went somewhere in those bushes…

He hears Blue before he sees him, crashing through the underbrush like a stampeding tauros. Once he runs out from between some foliage, Red spots the caterpie bounding ahead of him. About as thick as blue’s leg and half as long, its green segmented body blends in with the grass and leaves around it, whole body scrunching up to propel itself forward in a leap. It hops from grass to tree to bush. When it spots Red and Charmander waiting for it ahead, it aims its body straight up and flings itself up to a tree branch, sticky feet allowing it to start climbing.

“Not again,” Red mutters as he runs forward to meet Blue at the base of the tree. “Where’s Zephyr?”

“I was afraid he’d eat it,” Blue pants. “Can you send up your rattata?”

“She’s hurt.” Red looks at Charmander and hesitates for just a moment. “Get Squirtle out, I don’t want to start a forest fire. Charmander, Ember!” He points just ahead of the caterpie as Blue summons the water turtle.

Charmander looks up, then drops onto all fours. His tail relaxes downward before flicking sharply up, and the glob of fire hits the tree just in front of caterpie. It immediately curls up and shies away from the heat, falling to the grass.

Red and Blue have their pokeballs out and ready, both pinging almost simultaneously. The balls collide mid-air and bounce away from each other, and Red sees Blue’s hand move in a blur, already replacing Squirtle’s ball and grabbing another empty one. Red is still aiming his second when Blue’s new ball locks, and a moment later the caterpie’s gone in a flash.

“Squirtle, Water Gun!” A jet of water splatters against the branch and puts out the fire. Blue rubs the turtle’s shell, then withdraws her.

Red does the same with Charmander after retrieving his ball from the bushes, trying not to feel disappointed as they gather up the pokeballs that missed. “Nice catch.”

Blue smirks and bows in the foreign style their generation uses mockingly, one arm across his stomach and the other to the side with one heel planted forward. “Thanks for the assist. That’s four to two now.” Blue takes out his pokedex and registers his new caterpie, beginning its virtual training.

“Four to three, actually,” Red says as he does the same with his new pokemon.

“Oh right, you said Rattata’s hurt. Whatcha get?”

“Spinarak.”

“Shit, that’s a good one. I got a shroomish.”

“With Squirtle?”

“Yeah, she’s pretty drained. It kept running through bushes so Zephyr couldn’t grab it, and I couldn’t get a clear throw. Got scratched to hell chasing it.”

“Tell me about it. This damn bug nearly made me break my neck…”

They exchange stories as they heal up their pokemon. Red doesn’t mention the mental attack, still not quite sure what to make of it. It would sound like bragging if he emphasizes the possibility that he’s psychic. And what if he’s wrong? He would just sound weak. I need to do some research first. He considers writing a note to remind himself, then realizes he’s not likely to forget the event. He shudders slightly just thinking about it.

Red looks over his medical supplies once he finishes spraying Rattata’s wounds with some antivenom and a healing potion. He has six more potions, three more antidotes, and two each of paralyze and burn heals. Red watches Blue spray a bit of his own anti-burn medicine on his new caterpie, while Red uses one of his potions to heal his spinarak’s wounds.

It’s hard to look at the arachnoid’s green and black abdomen, expecting another burst of mental torment at any second. But nothing happens, and Red strokes his new pokemon tentatively after feeding it some berries. After he withdraws it, he checks the pokedex entry:

Spinarak is a patient hunter that can wait motionlessly for several days for unsuspecting prey. Even juvenile specimen can spin webbing as strong as iron, and adults have been known to spin strands five times as strong as an equal weight of steel. The patterns on their backs are used to project some forms of mental attacks in an outward cone, and the venom in its forehead stinger can melt flesh into a nutrient-rich soup within their cocoons.

His seems to fall within the averages for weight and size. Red begins to look for more details on their mental attacks when his phone chimes. A moment later, both his and Blue’s phones chime at the same time.

They look at each other and say “Leaf!” before pulling their phones out. Red flushes as he realizes he’d forgotten to tell her that they’d stopped moving. It had been just Blue and him for so long that he’d forgotten… if she was hurt because of their negligence…

Come quick as you can!” had been the second message. The first had been a CoRRNet alert… with Leaf as the author.

“This way!” Red takes off through the trees quick as he dares, keeping one eye on his phone’s map and the other on the ground for roots or ditches. The wilderness training he’d gone through, first in class as a kid and then with Blue over the past year, had taught him how dangerous running through forests can be, especially with low light, and he tries desperately not to twist his ankle as he hurries to Leaf’s location, the pain from his knee getting worse with every step. Leaf didn’t press her panic button, taking the time to write out a ticket on CoRRNet instead, so what-

They find Leaf just before reaching a clearing. She’s crouched around the side of a tree, and puts her finger over her lips as soon as she turns and sees them.

“Quiet. Look.” She points.

Still catching their breath, Red and Blue look past her. It takes a moment for Red to realize what he’s seeing.

The clearing is full of flowers. Above them, a swarm of at least a dozen beedrill fly from one to the other, collecting pollen.

And lying on the ground in the middle of the field is a body.

Chapter 9: Delayed Gratification

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We don’t need more pokeballs yet-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. You buy anything?”

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

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

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

“Have you seen any shock suits around here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Competing values….

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue snorts. “Bet the fifth was gramps.”

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

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

“I’ll take protein please,” Red says.

“Same.”

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

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

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

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

“You don’t believe in nutrition supplements?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not.”

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

Blue glowers at Red. “We do.”

“Can I have the same rule?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep.”

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

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

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

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

He’ll make the right choice…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Neat. Why a noctowl?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s in Vermillion city?”

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

“What, you mean it’s regulated?”

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

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

“Ugh. Did that really happen?”

“Yep.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Keep it still!”

“Summon your pokemon!”

“Knock it out!”

“Stay a safe distance!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You alright Red?”

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

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

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

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

Red grins. “Is that a bet, then?”

Blue smirks. “You’re on.”

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

Chapter 8: Priorities

When Red next wakes, he feels much better rested. His phone shows almost eleven, and a text from half an hour ago tells him Blue and Leaf are waiting in the common room.

Red takes his time showering, then heads to the laundry room to pick up his clothes from last night. The small holes in his shirt are barely noticeable without any blood around them, and the smell is completely gone. He packs them back in his bag, then goes downstairs.

The common room isn’t as crowded as it had been the night before, and he quickly spots Leaf and Blue seated across each other in a square of couches with a table between them. Bulbasaur sits in a potted plant beside Leaf with his eyes closed, and Leaf rubs between his ears.

“Jerk,” Red says, taking his hat off Blue’s head and sniffing it experimentally before putting it over his damp hair. He’d taken it off during the break in training the night before, and it hadn’t absorbed the smell of Charmander’s smoke nearly as much as the rest of his clothes had.

“There you are,” Leaf says with a smile. “Have trouble sleeping last night?”

Red sighs and flops down on a third couch. “You could say that. Is this food for me?”

“Yep.” Blue nudges the plastic box across the table with his foot.

“Thanks.” Red opens it and chows down on the cold noodles and strips of beef. “Sorry I couldn’t join you guys.”

“So what kept you up?”

Red swallows his mouthful, picking his words carefully. “In my attempts to mitigate optimism bias, I fell prey to the planning fallacy.”

Leaf raises a brow. “Oh, yeah,” she says. “I hate it when that happens.”

Blue snorts. “I’m pretty sure it’s nerd for ‘I screwed up.'”

So Red summarizes his night as he eats. His friends seem particularly interested in how the smoke works, and Red passes his notes to Leaf as Blue takes out his pokedex and looks up a video of it in action.

“The pokedex really is an amazing tool for training,” Leaf says. “I spent some time virtually training my pokemon last night to reinforce their target priorities, so it’s even easier for them to recognize friendly pokemon like Charmander or Squirtle if there are other pokemon around.”

Blue scratches his neck. “Are you going to work on training your rattata and pidgey too, or focus on Bulbasaur for now?”

“I want to at least get comfortable with all of them.”

“What about you, Blue?” Red asks.

“YouBlue.” Leaf giggles. “Hey, what’s new, Blue? Say it isn’t true, Blue! What’s your favorite hue, Blue?”

Blue ignores her. “Well, I’ve had a few ideas for what my core team is going to be…”

“I know you always wanted a pidgeot on it.”

Blue nods. “Which is why I’ve already started working with Zephyr.”

“Zephyr? Oh. When did you name him?”

“This morning.” Blue grins. “Leaf and I did some practice maneuvers on the roof, and he flew circles around Crimson.”

Leaf rolls her eyes. “Circle. Singular. He flew one circle around Crimson, and it wasn’t even during a race.”

“Technically still happened. I’m counting it.”

Red finishes eating as they argue, and spies a trash can to throw the box out. On the way back to his seat, he sees Amy sitting across the lobby on her own. Today she’s wearing jeans, a sleeveless blue vest over a white shirt, and a white cap. When he waves to her, she waves back, then walks over to their couches and sits on the one across from him. “Heya Red.”

“Hi Amy.” The other two are looking at her curiously. “These are my friends, Leaf and Blue. I met Amy last night in the training rooms.”

Amy smiles. “Nice to meet you all.”

“You’re a battle trainer!” Blue says, spying the red Volcano Badge on her hat. “Are you here to challenge Leader Giovanni?”

“I actually already have the Earth Badge.” She turns over the left side of her jacket, where a cluster of colorful medals gleam. “It was my third.” Red leans forward and sees the small green badge, along with the Marsh, Rainbow and Soul Badges.

Blue’s eyes light up as he examines them. “Nice. What are you in town for then?”

“I came up from Cinnibar to meet my brother. He just got his last badge and is about to head to the Indigo Plateau.”

“That’s awesome! How old is he? What was his last badge? Does he plan to go to Johto? Do you-”

“Breathe, Blue,” Leaf says. “I’m sure she didn’t come over here to answer endless questions.”

Amy smiles. “It’s fine, really. Twenty-seven, Thunder Badge, and not yet. He wants to try his hand at the League first while he waits for me to catch up.”

“Are you heading up to get the Boulder Badge after, then?” Blue asks.

“The Boulder Gym is in Pewter City, north of Viridian Forest,” Red explains to Leaf.

“I know, I’ve been reading the map.” She smiles at Amy. “I’m from Unova. We’re heading to Pewter City too, if you want some travel company.”

Amy looks between them. “You guys didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”

Red gets a sinking feeling, and takes his phone out to check CoRRNet as Amy says, “A sudden storm developed in the Pewter Mountains. It’s far to the north as of this morning but the whole city is on high alert. I’m going to hold off until we know for sure where it’s headed.”

Leaf looks around in the quiet that follows, studying their tense expressions. “Is it one of them?” she asks, voice low. “What kind of storm is it?” Her fingers lie still on Bulbasaur’s head, and after a moment he shifts a bit, eyes slipping halfway open. He growls quietly, and she resumes rubbing between his ears.

“Lightning,” Red says, reading the report, which warns citizens in the area to check back every few hours to keep track of its movements. “Low precipitation, still a single cell… but a single cell that’s been going for two days now.” It goes on to call for experienced trainers to gather in Pewter and Cerulean in case of attack. Red’s stomach clenches, and he looks at Blue, who’s watching him. So soon… We’re not ready!

“A storm that small lasting that long is definitely not natural,” Amy says. “Which means Zapdos is active again. I’m thinking of taking a detour to Vermillion City until he blows himself out. I suggest you guys hang around here for a bit, wait to see where it moves to.”

Blue is leaning back against the couch, arms crossed. He looks at Red and nods, and Red takes a breath before nodding back. “No,” Blue says. “We’re going.”

Amy blinks. “Going… to Pewter?” She looks from Blue to Red’s determined faces, and her expression hardens. “I take it back Red, you are dewy-eyed. Maybe even stupid. What do you think you’re going to accomplish, other than getting yourselves or your pokemon killed?”

Red opens his mouth to respond, but Blue cuts him off. “What do you care? Run off if you want to; the real trainers will be there with us to defend the city.”

Leaf’s eyes widen, and Red winces. “What he means is-”

“He said what he meant,” Amy says, voice level as she meets Blue’s gaze. “Who do you think you are, kid? You’ve had your pokemon, what, a day or two, and you think that makes you a trainer? Have you ever experienced what the storm gods can do? I have. Watching vids on the net and fantasizing about catching one doesn’t give you a clue of what it’s like.”

Blue drops his gaze to his splayed legs. “My parents were killed when Moltres flew over Fuchsia. I’m not going so I can try and catch Zapdos. I’m going so I can help protect the people there.”

Red listens to the other sounds in the lobby in the quiet that follows. One of the people working at the front desk is chattering on the phone, and some trainers across the room are spread out around a flatscreen watching a subtitled movie, its volume on low. There’s a loud flapping to his side, and he turns to see a spearow with a hood over its eyes perched on a trainer’s gauntleted arm as he walks toward the elevators.

Leaf is watching Blue sadly, and Amy’s expression is a bit softer, though her brow is still furrowed.

When it’s clear Blue won’t say anything else, Red clears his throat. “We made a promise, when we were younger. Swore that we’d do whatever we could against the trio, once we have our own pokemon.” He turns to Leaf. “You don’t have to come. It’s not your fight, and it’s not your region. We can meet up again after the danger’s past.”

Leaf bites her lip. “As great a chapter as it would make for my book, I’m not exactly eager to rush into a storm caused by a legendary. We have our own trio in Unova, and I still have nightmares about the time Tornadus swept through Accumula Town. If mom found out I ran headlong into a Tier 3 threat the first week I got here, she’d tear up my trainer license herself.”

Red feels a stab of guilt at that. Be careful, Red… He shies away from the thought of what his death would do to his mother. More visceral than that, fear coils in his belly as he remembers the death and destruction the storm birds, or “storm gods” as some still call them, can bring.

Fear that he knows his father had probably faced down dozens of times, against one of the trio or lesser threats. Can he hold himself to a lower standard?

But it’s too soon! We were supposed to have more time to prepare than this. Surely it’s safer, saner, to steer clear for now, and get more experience and pokemon…

Red studies the set of Blue’s jaw, the way he glares down, arms crossed. As things stand, Blue will go with or without him. And despite what he said about his motives, Red knows Blue would try to kill the storm birds if he has the chance. I need to review my options for changing his mind.

He tables the thought for later. Even if they end up going, he can still keep his word to his mom, and take rational precautions. “We’re not going to run headlong into it,” Red says. “There are things we can do besides try to drive off Zapdos ourselves. Even if it’s just to help with the evacuation, or those who get injured.”

Blue nods. “We’re not stupid. I wouldn’t send Squirtle or Zephyr out in the middle of a lightning storm, and we don’t have any ground pokemon between us. There are still other things we can do though, especially if we catch some new pokemon on the way.”

Leaf twists her hair around a finger, then lets it go and takes a deep breath and nods. “I’m okay with using CoRRNet to help with any periphery tasks they need help with.”

“That’s the idea,” Red says. “My dad was a Ranger, and he always talked about the need for more trainers in the area. Most local pokemon go to ground and wait the storms out, but some can go wild and attack anyone in the area.”

Amy frowns, but says, “Well, that’s a bit more sensible. Just remember that the storms move faster than normal weather. You could be dealing with some minor threat one minute, and be at the heart of it all the next. And then there’s the Pressure…”

“We’ll be careful,” Red says.

Amy taps her foot a bit, seems about to say something, then nods and settles back in her seat. “Alright. As long as you’re aware of the risks, which it seems you are. Sorry I called you stupid.”

Red smiles. “No harm done.”

Blue notices Red and Leaf looking at him after a moment, and frowns. “Yeah, no harm done. And… sorry I implied you’re not a real trainer.”

Amy shrugs. “You’ll get it once you’ve experienced it as a trainer yourself. It takes a lot out of you and your pokemon, wears on you psychologically. Go every time and you’ll get strung out, start jumping at shadows and making dangerous mistakes.”

“The Leaders show up whenever they can,” Blue says, though not accusingly.

She smiles. “Yeah, well, that’s part of what makes them Leaders.”

“When was your last encounter with one?” Leaf asks, taking out her phone fiddling with it. “And do you mind if I record this?”

“Uh… no I guess not. It was a few months ago. Articuno flew by Lavender near the end of winter, nearly buried the town in a blizzard before it was driven off. My brother and I got severe hypothermia, and he lost a couple toes to frostbite where his boot was cut open by some ice.”

“Do the birds come yearly?”

“Yeah, each one is seasonal,” Red says, and Leaf turns the recording end of the phone to him. “The exact days vary, but Articuno usually becomes active in the winter, Zapdos in the summer, and Moltres in the fall. This is really early for Zapdos. They’ve been spotted flying around at other times, but they don’t bring the storms. Or maybe it’s better to say the storms aren’t around to attract them: there’s a lot of controversy over how the two interact.”

Leaf nods. “Same with our Forces of Nature and their elements. So no fourth bird for spring?”

“There may have been, once,” Red says. “There are legends of a fourth god that flies in spring, with rainbow or golden plumage. It didn’t cause storms in its wake, so if it’s still around, it’s hard to notice. It might even be entirely mythical, people just trying to fill the pattern of the seasons with a made up pokemon. The stories say its feathers had rejuvenating powers, and could even restore life to the dead, so mythologically it fits the spring theme pretty well.”

Blue snorts. “Maybe it was real at some point, and someone knocked it out of the sky to steal all its feathers.”

“In any case, spring is a nice breather,” Amy says. “Most years it’s not a big deal: they fly around the wilderness, and everyone stays on high alert in case they wander near any towns or populated areas. A bit stressful, but you get used to it. Last year we only had to deal with Moltres getting too close to some farms: Zapdos just circled the mountains for a few weeks, and Articuno turned some uninhabited island into a glacier all winter.”

As they continue to discuss the last few years of the storm trio’s activity, Red closes the CoRRNet announcement and sees an update on his ticket from yesterday. A ranger had closed it, with the comment “Rattata nest found and relocated farther from path. Pallet-Viridian Route secure.” A small bubble of pride warms him. However minor, it’s good to know that they made a difference, and that their experience helped keep others safe.

He does a search for open tickets in the area and spots a few. Most are flagged for Rangers, others for any experienced trainers in the area. Nothing in the city at the moment that requires the help of newbies.

“We boring you, Red?”

“Hm?” Red looks up to see Leaf smiling at him. She doesn’t have her phone out anymore, and he belatedly realizes that he hasn’t heard any conversation for the past few seconds.

“Nah, he probably just had a thought and completely forgot we existed,” Blue says, stretching his arms behind his head. “He does that.”

Red’s cheeks flush, and he closes CoRRNet and puts his phone away. “Sorry, did I miss a question?”

“I asked if you still want to go to the Earth Gym, or if you’d rather head up to Viridian right away.”

“Actually, I want to do some shopping, if that’s alright with you guys.”

“I thought you were trying to conserve your cash?”

“I was. I did my best to pack everything that might be useful, and thought it was enough. But last night’s training drove home how woefully unprepared I am. I’d rather have the gear I need now, like my own gas mask.”

“If you guys are headed north soon, there’s a supply store on the way-” Amy’s phone chimes, and she takes it out. “Excuse me.”

“See that?” Blue says to Red. “Manners.”

Red frowns at him as Leaf covers her grin. “You’re one to talk.”

“Hello? Hey! Yeah, I’m at the trainer house. Are you… cool, I’ll come out now. See you in a bit!”

She ends the call and stands. “My brother’s here. You guys want to meet him?”

“Sure,” Blue says as they all get to their feet.

“This way,” she says, heading for the elevators. “He doesn’t like landing at street level.”

Leaf returns Bulbasaur to his ball in a flash of light, and they go to the roof. The noise of the city washes over them as soon as they step out into the sunlight, a bit muted by their elevation. Other buildings rise up around them, most much higher than the trainer house, though not as wide. Some trainers fly by now and again riding their pokemon, but Amy gazes upward, her eyes shaded against the sun as she searches.

Red studies the landing platform that takes up a third of the roof, marked off by divisions for multiple pokemon to land at once. Another third of the roof is divided into dozens of squares the size of a small closet, designated as a safe spot for psychic trainers who have keyed the trainer house as their pokemon’s “home” to teleport in.

Not for the first time, Red finds himself watching the teleporting zone, hoping to spot someone pop into existence with their pokemon. There was a similar area in Pallet Town that he used to spend hours watching when he was younger, hoping to see someone pop into existence. His dad had come home that way once, and Red had stayed up as late as he could to greet him, only to succumb to sleep a half hour before he arrived.

Even in a major city like this, the teleportations are rare enough that he knows he probably won’t see anyone. Most people train their pokemon to warp directly to a pokemon center, which Red finds a bit pointless: one of the greatest benefits of pokeball technology is that they can freeze their pokemon at any level of injury and get them to a pokemon center without worry. First teleport priority would probably be the nearest hospital. Second would be home for when I want to visit Pallet, third maybe the Celadon City Department Store-

“There he is! Hey Donny!

A distant screech answers her yell, and they turn to follow Amy’s gaze as she waves her arms. Above the tallest building, sunlight flashes off something metallic. For a moment Red thinks a hang glider is swooping down at them, until he sees the red frills and a thrill goes through him.

The skarmory pulls out of its dive when it’s level with the roof top, and sails over the edge and onto one of the runways. Its legs kick as it touches down, bouncing it back up a few times with its wings flared until it finally slows to a stop.

The trainer on its back unbuckles himself from the leather harness and hops down. Amy jogs forward to meet him, and Red and Blue exchange amazed grins as they run forward to join her. By the time they cross the roof to the end of his runway, Amy’s brother has fed his pokemon something from a pouch at his waist and is stroking its neck.

“Hey bro!” Amy tackle hugs the other blonde, who’s a head taller and easily spins her around. He’s dressed in a thick leather aviator jacket and pants, loose buckles hanging from his belt where it had attached to skarmory’s harness.

“Hey sis.” He puts her down and pushes a pair of goggles to his forehead to reveal eyes as light as Professor Oak’s. “You didn’t mention you had a welcome party waiting.”

“These are some newbies I met. Red, Blue, Leaf, this is my brother Donovan and his skarmory, Tita. How’s it going girl?” She runs her nails over the metallic bird’s fin, which causes it to preen, its plate-like feathers lifting and falling in a ripple that sounds like a quick rain of coins.

They exchange greetings. Leaf admires the skarmory and says “Your pokemon is so beautiful! I didn’t know there were skarmory in this region.”

“There usually aren’t,” Blue says. “Did you trade her from someone in Johto?” Red had expected Blue to bombard the competitive trainer with questions, but so far he’s showing remarkable restraint.

“Nah, I took a trip down to the Sevii Islands a couple years ago and found her there.”

Red smiles. “Her nickname, Tita. That’s short for titanium, right?”

Amy looks smug. “Yep. Guess whose idea that was?” She sticks two thumbs at herself, and her brother grabs her wrists and tries to point them at himself.

Red sees Blue and Leaf’s bemused looks and says, “The metal that skarmory are coated in is a titanium alloy. It’s incredibly light for its strength, and the only type found naturally.”

“Neeeeerd,” Blue mutters until Leaf elbows him.

“Would it be alright if I pet her?” Leaf asks.

“Sure, let’s see if she’s in a good mood first.” He tugs on the thin chain around his neck and pulls a whistle out the front of his jacket. Watching his skarmory, he blows a few sharp whistles, then a low warble.

Red doesn’t notice any particular response from Tita, but apparently Donovan reads something from his pokemon, because after a moment he takes the whistle out and says, “Okay, we should be good. Approach slowly from her side and keep your hands free of the area around her wings: they’re very sharp. Also, be sure to stroke from front to back. Ladies first?”

Leaf grins and steps forward, hands carefully held up. Tita notices her when she’s a few steps away, and the pokemon’s attention sharpens, whole body going still. Leaf pauses while Donovan soothes Tita until the skarmory seems calm again, then continues forward until she can run her hand tentatively down the bird’s side.

“Oh!” she gasps. “It’s so… not soft, exactly, but… not hard either. Strong, but yielding.”

After another few moments she steps away, and Blue goes next. Tita shuffles from foot to foot, but allows herself to be stroked without complaint. Donovan watches his pokemon carefully, whistle held up near his lips as he instructs, “Just there… right. You can explore a bit, but no sudden movements. A few more seconds… okay, now slowly step back.”

When it’s Red’s turn to approach, a knot of tension forms in his stomach, and he hesitates. His eyes dart to the razor sharp edges of skarmory’s wings, talon and beak, imagination painting a far too vivid picture of what it would look like tearing through his body.

Donovan wouldn’t let us approach if he wasn’t sure of his training. He tries to step forward, feet doing an awkward half-shuffle. His instincts ignore rational argument and continue to insist that he get as far away from the metallic death machine as he can.

Only a few seconds have passed, and the others are beginning to glance at him curiously. The shame propels him another half-step forward, but no further. This is mutiny! he yells at his jelly legs.

Then the thin iris of the skarmory’s eye meets his, and Red sees an assessment in its alien gaze. Is he a friend, a foe… or possibly food?

Red takes a deep breath, and focuses on his thought process. What are my priorities, and how do my actions align with them?

Priority one: Learn as much as possible about pokemon so I can become a Professor, which also helps-

Priority two: Become an effective trainer, so that I can –

Priority three: Protect the public, benefits of which includes –

Priority four: Gain respect among tribe members and wider community, which helps-

Priority five: Get funding and support to discover the origin of pokemon species.

This paralysis hinders all of the above priorities. So what is its purpose?

To protect the self, loss of which also hinders all of the above.

Exaggeration: The life as a trainer requires far more dangerous risks than this. How can I expect to help Blue against the storm birds if I can’t even do this?

Irrelevant: Possibility of future justified risk doesn’t excuse present recklessness.

Strawman: Present risk is not reckless, and is justified by mitigating future risk through contribution to priorities one and two. What purpose, value, or priority does this fear serve?

Another couple seconds have passed, and a drop of sweat creeps down the back of Red’s neck as he continues to meet the skarmory’s gaze. Some pokemon flies near the building, but doesn’t land on the roof with them.

None. It just is, the simple consequence of acknowledging reality. If someone as capable as dad could die, so can I, and far more easily.

Red lets out his breath. Dad wasn’t ignorant of reality. He knew the risks. And if he could overcome his fear, so can I, or I might as well go home now.

Red takes a step forward. The next is easier, but on the third the armored bird shifts at bit. Red stops, sweat breaking out all over his body. Donovan strokes Tita’s beak, and when she calms down again, Red forces himself to take another step, wiping his clammy hands on his pants. He’s acutely aware that the others are watching him, but as long as he keeps moving forward, he doesn’t have to feel ashamed of the fluttering in his belly.

Once he’s close enough to touch the skarmory, he stops and looks at Donovan. The trainer studies his pokemon briefly, then nods at him. Red slowly reaches out a hand and rests it on the skarmory’s thigh… and sudden wonder blows his fear away.

What looks like a smooth metal body is in fact thousands of small metallic feathers. Each is incredibly fine, but their combined overlapping strength gives the pokemon its incredible physical durability.

“Make a stroking motion, so she knows you’re friendly,” Donovan says, and Red does so, amazed by the distant feel of the warm body beneath the cool metal coating. He’s never felt anything like it.

“Is it alright if I look closer?” Red asks.

“Sure, give me a sec.” Donovan snaps his fingers in front of Tita. The skarmory fixes her attention on her trainer, then the bright blue pokepuff he pulls out of a pocket in his jacket. “Okay, go ahead,” he tells Red, keeping his gaze on his pokemon.

Red crouches forward and examines the glossy coat from an inch away. From here, he can just barely make out that the ripples of distortion on the pokemon’s metal coat, which he’d originally taken to be lines of impurity, are actually super thin divisions where the scale-like feathers overlap.

“Got a few more seconds,” Donovan says. Red nods, and after a few more strokes, steps away from the pokemon. Some of his nervousness returns now that he’s no longer touching it, and he backs away until he’s with Leaf and Blue again.

He braces himself for some comment by the others, but Blue just claps him on the back, and Leaf smiles at him. “Pretty awesome, huh?”

“Definitely.” Red turns to Donovan and Amy. “Thank you very much.” That seems inadequate, so he puts his hands to his sides and bows from the waist, at about a thirty degree angle. “It was an honor to be able to interact with your pokemon, Donovan-san.”

Blue bows beside him, and after a surprised look Leaf mimics them. Globalization had faded much of each region’s unique culture in the times of Red’s grandparents and great grandparents, homogenizing everything from names to language to currency, but children are still taught the basic historical etiquette.

The older trainers look amused, but Donovan returns the bow after a moment. “It was my pleasure.” He gives Tita one more scratch along her neck, then steps back and returns her to her pokeball in a flash of light. “So what’s the story with you three? From around here?”

They tell him where they’re from as they walk back to the roof access and take the elevator down. Once in the common room, Red notices a bigger crowd than there had been earlier. Most of them seem gathered near the entrance.

“What’s up?” Blue asks one of the trainers nearby.

“Someone said Reza Salur is on his way here.”

Reza’s here?” Blue stands on his toes and cranes his neck to look over the crowd.

“Ah, shit,” Donovan says with a rueful grin. “I was hoping he’d get bogged down in Cerulean a while longer.”

Red scratches beneath his cap. “Why is that name familiar?”

Blue gives him a flat look. “Do you ever listen when I talk?”

“Depends. Is he a battle trainer you admire, or did he actually do something important?” Red looks at Amy and Donovan. “No offense.”

Amy grins. “None taken.”

Blue rolls his eyes. “He’s the dragon trainer that single-handedly stopped a kangaskhan herd from flattening Rifu Village last year.”

Red frowns. “Rings a faint bell.”

“You know him?” Leaf asks Donovan.

“Yeah, a bit. We met for the first time a couple years back in the Saffron Gym. It was his third badge, my second. Since then we’ve been keeping tabs on each other’s progress. He-”

The front door opens, and a young man with dark skin and a black jacket walks in. He seems surprised for a moment by the number of people near the entrance, but quickly continues forward to the front desk. His hair is worn long, and swept to hang over the left side of his face.

“Younger than I expected,” Amy says.

Donovan nods. “He’s about your age.”

When he finishes checking in, Reza makes his way through the common room, gaze on the elevators ahead as he ignores the looks and whispers of those around him. Once Reza is past the crowd and fully in sight, Red sees the heavy scars that run along his left jaw and cheek, partially obscured by hair.

Donovan gives a casual salute with two fingers. The dragon trainer glances at him, then smiles in wry amusement and nods back. As he passes, Red notices the conspicuous lack of an ear under his hair, and wonders how far the scarring goes.

“So he’s challenging the League too?” Red asks once he passes.

“Yep. Part of me wants to see how good he is for myself, but I won’t complain if he gets knocked out before that. Fighting dragons is never fun.”

“Nor training them, from the looks of it,” Leaf says, and Red nods. As I’ll find out for myself, someday. His thumb rubs the roof of Charmander’s pokeball.

The crowd is beginning to disperse, and the group makes their way through to the front desk to check out. When it’s his turn, Red swipes his trainer card, then pays four dollars, plus another two for the use of the training room.

“Thank you for staying,” the receptionist says. “We hope to see you again soon!” Red thanks him and joins the others outside.

“Well, I’m starving,” Donovan announces once they’re outside. “How does seafood sound to you, Ames?”

“Right behind you.” She turns to them. “Care to join us?”

“I already ate.” Red looks at the others, “What do you guys think?”

“We should probably get going,” Blue says. “I want to get to Viridian Forest today.”

Leaf nods. “It was great to meet the two of you!”

Amy smiles. “It was. I hope you enjoy your time in Kanto, Leaf.”

“Thanks, I’m loving it so far!”

Blue turns to Donovan. “Good luck in the league. I’ll keep an eye out for you.”

They say their farewells and part. Red’s a bit disappointed that Amy won’t be traveling with them, but his excitement to be back on the move quickly dominates his mood as they walk up the street and head north.

“Okay, so there’s a few stores on the way that have what I need,” he says as he checks online. “Is there anything you guys want to pick up too?”

“Wouldn’t mind getting a whistle and chain,” Blue says.

Leaf looks up at the summer sun as it beat down on them. “And I’d like to find a nice hat.”

“Hat, whistle, gas mask…” Red types with his thumbs, watching stores fade from the map until two are left. “Got one.” He puts his phone away, already thinking of what else he’d like to buy. “The closest is on the northern edge of the city though. Do we want to leave just yet?”

Leaf checks the time. “Well, I’m glad we met Amy and Donovan, but we’re behind schedule.”

“Yeah, I’d like to get to the forest before dark,” Blue says. ” What do you say, master fallacy planner? Think we can make it?”

Red shrugs. “Sure, as long as no more than three moderately interesting or disrupting unexpected things happen along the way.”

Blue smiles. “Those odds aren’t so bad.”

Just then, an exeggutor runs out from a restaurant ahead of them, a food held in each of its numerous mouths. Cars honk as it dashes across the street, and someone in a suit runs after it, pokeball in hand as he tries to get a lock on his pokemon. The two are followed by a pair of angry restaurant staff, and the trainers watch them all run by, then look at each other.

Blue steps to the edge of the sidewalk and holds up a hand at one of the stopped cabs. “Taxi!”

Chapter 7: Optimism Bias

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

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

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

This should do nicely.

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

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

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

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

Audio reinforcement confirmed.” It repeats the sound.

“Save.”

Audio reinforcement saved. Upload virtual training?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, you alright?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have an early morning too?”

“That was the plan.”

“Better head back up then.”

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

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

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

“Not really.”

“Why the rush then?”

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

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

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

“Like what?”

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

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

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

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

“Eight, I think.”

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

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

“You didn’t use any repellant?”

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

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

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

“Yeah. It makes a big impression.”

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be twelve next month.”

“Just started training?”

He nods. “Got my first pokemon yesterday.”

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

“Less stupid, I hope?”

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

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

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

“Out loud? Only when I’m-”

“Tired,” they say together, and laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The young man grunts, eyes on the screen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I guess I missed that one.”

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

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

“When I draw the short straw.”

“Must be boring.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, thanks!”

“No prob. Shouldn’t take long.”

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

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

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


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

“Hey snorlax, you getting up anytime today?”

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

“Almost eight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll save a plate for you!”

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

Chapter 6: Interlude I – The First Night

Laura Verres ends the call with her son and puts her phone away, gaze distant and a slight furrow in her brow. After a moment the oven chimes, and she goes to extract the roast fearow she’d prepared. Some final garnishing, a light sheen of sauce, and she puts it on a serving platter. She lifts the plate carefully and places the whole thing in the bottom half of a dull metal box. After closing and latching the lid, she stands back and takes a Container from her pocket.

Resembling a plain grey pokeball but with more buttons and a small display screen on top, the Container takes a moment to scan the box as she points the lens at it. When the ball makes a ding sound, she lightly tosses it underhand. It approaches the box containing the roasted fearow, opens and draws in the whole thing, contents and all. The Container falls to the table with a metal clink, and begins to roll toward the edge.

She stops it before it falls and heads upstairs to change, absently tucking the ball in a nook near the front door along the way.

If she doesn’t let herself dwell on it, she can almost imagine that Red is just over at a friend’s house, or out camping with Blue. Less than a day, and the house already feels abandoned. Sounds seem to echo in the silence, the walls hollow and fragile. She knows it’s all in her mind, but she can’t help feeling like a caretaker, getting ready to cover the furniture, draw the curtains, and lock the door on her way out.

When Red had originally approached her about becoming a trainer, it had taken all her willpower to smile and be encouraging. She was so relieved to see his excitement about becoming a pokemon professor… so relieved to see him excited about anything. After Tom’s death, a listless depression had kept him lying in bed all day, reading book after book or simply staring at the ceiling.

Laura was willing to endure anything to keep him from returning to such despair. Tom had lived his life following his passions and doing what he felt was right, even if it was dangerous. She couldn’t let her fears stop Red from finding his own calling in life.

And now that he doesn’t need her at home, she can return to hers.

Once she’s ready, she goes back downstairs and puts the sphere containing the roast fearow into her purse, along with a canister of pokemon repellant. It’s a ten minute walk to the Oaks’ residence, and the breeze is cool as it comes from the bay to the south, tugging at her hair and dress. She passes a handful of neighbors along the way, most walking their pokemon.

“Hello Laura.” She turns to see Mrs. Kiri out with her raticate. The old pokemon’s fur is more gray than gold, and Laura smiles as he sniffs at her familiar scent and rubs against her ankles.

“Hello Ana, hello Swift.” She crouches down to scratch behind the veteran’s notched ear. Not so swift as he once was, Ana’s raticate is a town champion, having fought off a number of particularly vicious wild pokemon over the years. The rodent’s eyes slip half-closed, and he stretches beneath her touch.

“Going for a walk?” Ana asks.

“Off for dinner with the Oaks, actually.”

“Splendid. Tell them I say hi, and thank Daisy again for me would you? Swift’s leg is barely troubling him anymore.”

“I will. Have a good night!”

“You too.” The veteran trainer walks past, and a moment later her pokemon scurries after her, barely favoring the hind leg that had almost been bitten off by a nidorino. Laura watches them fade into the dark, then walks on, enjoying the night air. Though she’d grown up in Celadon, she rarely misses the crowds and excitement of cities anymore. A few years in Pallet and she’d grown to love the quiet nights and star filled skies of the small town. Adapting back to city life would take some getting used to.

Laura had been a writer and journalist before marrying. She still occasionally writes editorial pieces for the local paper, but it’s not the same as the in-depth reporting she used to do. Forming relationships with people at all levels in society, learning how to ask the right questions, find the important, hidden stories… It had been an exciting life, shining a light on corruption or an aspect of the human experience few considered.

And it’s how she met Tom. The Celadon Herald was doing a story on the Rangers, a deeper look into the kinds of men and women who dedicated their lives to patrolling the wilds and defending others. Each of them had been passionate and brave, but Tom had a quiet intensity to him that was hard to forget.

Laura waits at an intersection for a car to pass, then crosses the street, glancing at the pokemon lab in the distance. Its lights are mostly off, but it still stands out as the heart of the town. She would miss Pallet and her friends here, but she knows she’ll come back some day.

She arrives at the Oak residence, a simple two story house much like her own. Far less ostentatious than one might expect of the eminent pokemon expert in Kanto, but Laura knows that Sam would spend most nights at the lab if not for his granddaughter. She rings the bell, and the professor opens it a moment later.

“Laura, come on in!”

She smiles. “Hi Sam.” She hugs the man who has been like a second father to her, then follows him toward the dining room. She and Marian Oak had been inseparable since they were children. The loss of his daughter and son-in-law a few years after Blue’s birth had been a shared tragedy, and years later he and his grandchildren had been there for her and Red when Tom had died.

Blue’s older sister enters from the kitchen carrying some salad. “Hello, Daisy.”

“Hey Aunt Laura!” Daisy puts the bowl to the table. “You’re just in time, everything’s ready. Got the main course?”

“I do.” She takes out the Container and aims it at an empty area of the dining room floor. She braces her arm, then presses a button on the side. The silver sphere scans the space in front of it, then opens with an explosion of light and sound that ends with the box lying on the floor.

Daisy takes the top off, and breathes deep as the scent fills the room. “Mm. Smells delicious!” She lifts the plate and puts it on the table, steam still rising from the cooked meat. “Everyone hungry?”

The next few minutes are spent enthusiastically digging in, punctuated by the occasional compliment of a dish. Once everyone has finished their first serving and begins to slow down, Laura turns to Daisy. “Ana says hello, and thanks again.”

Daisy smiles. “Swift’s recovering alright?”

“I saw him on the way here. He looked great.”

“I’m glad. I’ve been putting off new clients to get Moonlight ready for the contest in a couple months, but I had to make an exception in his case.”

“Oh? How’s she doing?”

“I’ll bring her out and show you after we eat!”

Sam’s voice is proud as he spoons more rice onto his plate. “I think they’re going to reach Master Rank this year.”

Daisy snorts. “Maybe if you bribe the judges.”

“Daisy! I would never abuse my long and deep friendship with the heads of the Pokemon Coordinator Contest to

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t try that innocent tone with me: I still remember when you just had a ‘friendly chat’ with Leader Erika on the week of my birthday, and what a surprise, she happens to be in town that day!”

“It’s hardly surprising if one of my old students wants to visit me now and again.”

“And the time when we went to Saffron for Blue’s birthday, where you chose the one hotel and room that the President of Silph happened to be staying next door to…”

“Well if you’re going to turn every coincidental

And the time I got sick for a week and couldn’t go to school, and who should come to teach me at home but Mistress Agatha of the Elite Four

Laura is grinning as Sam raises an indignant chin. “Surely a loving grandfather can speak of his worries and troubles to

“My point,” Daisy says, spearing a chunk of fearow with her fork. “Is that you seem to know just about everyone somehow, and if I ever find out that you’ve used your influence to give me an unfair advantage in the region-wide contest to test my skills as a pokemon coordinator, thus cheating me out of a fair assessment and cheating everyone else in the contest of theirs, I’ll wait till you’re sleeping one night and mail all your pokemon to Professor Elm. Pass the rice please.”

The professor hmphs, but passes the bowl with a slight smile. “Bring home even third place and people will come all the way from Johto to learn under you.”

Grandpa

“So, Laura!” Sam says, turning to her. “I’ve noticed pokedex registrations from Red, Blue and Leaf. It looks like all their preparation is paying off. Have you heard from them?”

“Yes, less than an hour ago. They’re doing fine, arrived in Viridian with at least one new pokemon each.”

“Fantastic.”

Daisy is watching Laura. “How are you holding up?”

Laura takes a drink, then puts on a smile. “Not bad. I’m thinking of going back to work, actually.”

Sam raises a brow. “Really? Is Tom’s pension…”

“No, that’s all fine. It’s for me, mostly.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” Daisy says. “I always enjoy reading your articles. Is there something specific you want to write about?”

“A number of things, actually. I’ve never really stopped wanting to write about current events, I’ve just had a more limited ability to investigate them.”

“What do you think you’ll start with?”

“Something easy, I think. Maybe a look into those recent accusations of sexual harassment by employees at Silph.”

Daisy grins. “Oh yeah, no big deal, just going to start off by taking on the biggest company in Kanto.”

Laura scrapes the last bit of food from her plate. “Maybe I’ll throw in some pieces on gardening,” she says, and Daisy laughs. “In all seriousness though, it’s been hard to listen and watch what’s been going on in the region at times, and not do or say something about it.”

Daisy nods. “We’re pretty isolated here.”

“Not for long,” Sam says.

“What do you mean?”

Laura sips from her glass. “The town council is already thinking of incorporation, and after that it’s just a hop and a skip till we’re a proper city, with our own mayor and gym and everything.”

Daisy absorbs this for a moment. “That would be quite a big change…”

“That’s an understatement,” the professor says. He stands and begins clearing the table once it’s evident everyone is done eating. “You were only five when we first moved here, so you might not remember how different it is today compared to back then, but it’s barely recognizable as the same place. Incorporation would be an even bigger shift.”

“Is it because of the lab?”

“It’s been pulling people and money here for over a decade now, and there’s no sign that will stop anytime soon.”

Daisy and Laura join him in bringing things to the kitchen, and they carry the conversation to the kitchen, where Daisy begins to make some tea as Sam washes the dishes. Laura is waved off when she tries to help, so she and Daisy move to the living room. Daisy turns on the news, and the low volume and sound of running water in the kitchen are a soothing ambiance in the background as they talk.

reflect the noticeable drop in prices. Center administrators cite increased efficiency, mostly from the recently implemented standardized practices. When polled, over 80% support expanding the trainer subsidies. Licensing officials have yet to comment

“Is our center in that 80%?” Laura asks.

Daisy sighs as she pours them two cups of tea. “Some are, but not enough. Too few trainers pass through Pallet, and enough neighbors grumble about the tax as it is.”

“Until it’s their pokemon that’s hurt.”

reported that a swarm of tentacool have been spotted near Cinnabar Island, estimated to pass by the end of the week. Travelers should be aware that such swarms can move at surprising speeds, and are advised to use naval transport to and from the island until the danger is past.”

The screen shows a “cloud” of small red spheres bobbing in the ocean, each pair belonging to a separate poisonous jellyfish. Laura feels an involuntary shudder of revulsion. “So many…”

Daisy makes a face. “Hope they don’t come up here and ruin our beach. The surfing contest is next week.”

Mental images of some trainer and their pokemon caught in such a massive swarm makes Laura feel sick. Soon she’s seeing Red or Blue’s face in every scenario. She turns away from the television. “Weren’t you going to show me what Moonlight can do now?”

“Oh, right!” Daisy goes to the cubby by the door and brings back a great ball, its blue lid marked with a white sphere between its red ridges. With a hard throw, the ball zips through the air, appearing for a moment as though it will crash through a window: then it flies over the empty space of the living room, and discharges a clefairy onto the carpet.

Daisy catches the ball as it rockets back at her. “Hey there Moonlight! Come say hi to Aunt Laura!”

The pink, shy pokemon makes a light trilling sound, and flutters her small wings as she hops toward them, cuddling into Daisy’s arms. The teen brings her pokemon to Laura, who rubs the fluff of hair between the clefairy’s ears.

continues to enjoy its lowest crime rate since Leader Koga became head of the gym. Koga has commended the local police for their efforts, deflecting any implications that he might be partially responsible

Daisy strokes the pokemon’s tail, then smiles at Laura. “Remember that big debate grandpa was in last year, where the professors were all arguing theories on how the ‘Metronome’ ability works?”

“Vaguely. My main takeaway was that we still don’t quite understand how certain pokemon like clefairy get their energy. Wasn’t there something about the variation in their powers?”

“Right. Instead of just being able to manipulate electricity or temperature, clefairy, who don’t normally seem to be capable of such things, have been observed in rare circumstances displaying wildly different powers. People used to think it depended on the clefairy, but over years of consistent study they observed the same clefairy running the gamut of different abilities.”

“But it’s still completely random as far as we can tell?”

Daisy smiles. “Not completely. I think I’ve figured out how to influence what power they exhibit.”

Laura blinks. “How?”

“Come outside, I’ll show you. It’s about time for our practice session anyway.”

They leave their tea, and Daisy stops at the kitchen to grab a couple water bottles before they go out. Moonlight sings a brief, sweet melody, and flutters from Daisy’s arms into the wide grassy yard in front of the Oak residence. She begins an odd, hopping dance in a circle while gazing up at the moon.

“So most trainers, if they have a pokemon like clefairy, use the command ‘Metronome’ to try and trigger their mysterious powers. If the pokemon is trained well, they’ll go through the motions, but it’s a total gamble: no matter how well trained, it seems to do nothing as often as not, and even if it does something, there’s no way to prevent it from, say, shooting a bolt of lightning at a ground pokemon, or bathing a rock pokemon in fire.”

As Daisy talks, she begins to mimic Moonlight’s movements. Soon the pokemon and human are synchronized, hopping up and down from one foot to the other, fingers raised upward.

Laura grins, covering her mouth to hide it. Daisy looks utterly ridiculous, but the teen seems unselfconscious, completely absorbed in bonding with her pokemon. While not all pokemon coordinators are as good at battling as trainers, they do seem to have a better affinity on average with pokemon’s moods and behavior, which helps them enormously in the medical or training fields.

Once Laura is sure she won’t start giggling, she uncovers her mouth. “Is this what influences it? The dancing?”

“No, I’m just getting her in the mood… any second now…”

Moonlight starts to sing. Her voice is low, but haunting, the high, sweet tune carrying through the still night air.

And once she has the hang of the melody, Daisy begins to sing too.

Laura sucks in a breath, staring. She had heard Daisy sing before, but never like this. The teenager must have been practicing intensely: her tone and pitch are carefully controlled to match the pokemon’s, the two harmonizing beautifully.

And it doesn’t settle there: soon the melody shifts, Moonlight always leading at first. Daisy barely misses a note each time however, and eventually she begins the first shift herself, and the pokemon follows her, the two weaving a song of simple joy and hope and longing.

For what is surely only a couple minutes, but feels far longer, Laura merely watches and listens as the pokemon and human show the depth of their bond beneath the stars and moon. She feels as though she’s witnessing something primal and ancient, even as it’s new and incredible to her.

Abruptly, Daisy lowers one arm and points into the darkness. For the first time, a word enters the melody, and that word is “Met-ro-nome.” Each syllable seems carefully, delicately pronounced, so that it fits the music.

And in response, the clefairy’s arms begin to sway back and forth, and facing the direction her trainer is pointing, Moonlight opens her mouth wide… and emits a howling gale of wind.

When it dies down, the song is still going, and Daisy says it again, with the same deliberate focus: “Met-ro-nome.”

Moonlight completes its revolution in the small circle she and her trainer form, and then turns again and sways her fingers back and forth through the air. For a brief moment, nothing happens, and then, on the clefairy’s next hop, the ground suddenly bucks, and a cone of rock juts outward from the ground beneath the pokemon.

Again, the song continues, and again the word: “Met-ro-nome.”

The gust of wind returns, making the grass rustle and tear free.

Daisy has been maintaining the same song for almost a minute now, face glistening with sweat. A few seconds later: “Metr-ro-nome.”

A bolt of electricity briefly illuminates Moonlight and arcs off into the sky where Daisy is pointing.

Again: “Metr-ro-nome.” Nothing seems to happen.

Still the song, and again: “Metr-ro-nome.” The leaves of grass around Moonlight abruptly begins to grow, one inch, two, three inches, flowers blooming among them.

A few seconds of singing, and again: “Metr-ro-nome.” The gust of wind returns.

And again: “Metr-ro-nome.” For the second time in a row, the wind.

Suddenly Daisy’s dancing slows, and in the space of a blink Moonlight’s does too. The song continues for a few seconds more, dwindles, then peters off, both pokemon and human seeming to end near the same instant and coming to a standstill.

Daisy drops to the ground, and Moonlight falls back, her curling, fluffy tail lying limp. Both are breathing hard, eyes closed as they recover.

It takes Laura a moment to recover as well, and when she does she breaks into applause. “Oh Daisy! That was incredible! You too Moonlight, my goodness… how long have you been hiding such an amazing talent? You could be stars!”

Daisy smiles, voice a bit weak. “Thanks Aunt Laura.” She opens one of the water bottles, then helps Moonlight drink some before taking a swallow herself. “It took me a year to even match Moonlight’s melody. But did you see? She did it! Four times out of seven, the same ability! That’s got to be a record, and twice in a row at the end? I’ve been trying to get her to do that for a month! I’ve never heard of a clefairy doing that before, and neither has grandpa.”

Laura speaks slowly. “It’s the tone, isn’t it? The tone you pronounce the command in, how much emphasis on which syllables…”

Daisy nods. “In the wild, pokemon like clefairy and togepi only exhibit these surprising and random abilities on rare occasions, always while waving their arms and singing. Not always the same song, but not always completely different either. To an untrained ear, there seemed to be no correlation, and most people think that the arm waving is what’s important. Maybe it still is in its own way, I’m not sure.”

“But you found a tone that’s linked to a specific power,” Laura marvels. “Even more, you can duplicate it!” Her wonder is renewed by the significance of what she just saw. She can’t wait to tell Red, and again feels the pang of his absence. It takes her by surprise, and she realizes she had been completely absorbed in the music and dance, the first thing to have completely taken her mind off Red’s leaving all day.

Daisy breathes deep and takes a long drink from the second water bottle before letting Moonlight finish it off. The pokemon is looking somewhat recovered, and Daisy gets to her feet. “I’m sure others have considered it, but as far as I know no one’s practiced and experimented long enough to isolate one. Most trainers can get their pokemon to link the command with the action of swaying and singing, but volume, pitch, emphasis and lengths of which syllables and consonants… it’s hard to control so exactly, and the possibilities are endless. The slightest change seems to bring about a wholly different power.”

“Have you tried using a recording device?”

Daisy grins. “First thing grandpa rushed off to grab as soon as we thought of it. Didn’t work, which almost made me give up then and there. But it seems like we need to build up to it every time, get in sync enough to get it just right. Even when we record it in the middle of the song, it doesn’t come out the same when we play it. Grandpa says something about the sound is different, but we haven’t had time to consult with an acoustics expert yet. Maybe we’ll figure it out after the competition.”

Laura nods. “I’m sure you will. Either way, it’s still pretty amazing.” She grins, feeling a burst of pride for her oldest friend’s daughter, overriding even the sadness that Marian isn’t around to see what kind of woman Daisy is growing up to be. Eyes stinging with sudden moisture, Laura folds the teen into a hug, one hand brushing at her eyes. “Congratulations, Daisy.”

“Aunt Laura, I’m all sweaty!”

“I couldn’t care less. I think Sam’s right, with an act like that, I can’t imagine any other coordinator getting a higher score in August. You’ll reach Master Rank for sure.”

Daisy hugs her back, voice a bit embarrassed, but determined. “Well, we’ll be trying our hardest, in any case.” She picks her pokemon up, and they head back toward the house. Laura wonders briefly what the Oaks are going to do about the spike of rock sticking out of their lawn, and whether the back yard is full of similar oddities.

When they enter the house, Laura is prepared to call out to Sam about how amazing his granddaughter is when she sees the professor standing behind a chair in the living room, staring at the television. The words die in her throat at the grim set of Sam’s face. She turns to the television, a cold shiver racing up her spine.

“What happened grandpa?”

“Shh!”

unexpected at this time of year. The low precipitation supercell is sweeping northward, and Rangers insist that it’s too early to tell if this is a precursor to an attack. Nevertheless, CoRRNet representatives stress that everyone should periodically review their city’s evacuation and defensive procedures as a matter of course. The most recent standard response protocols can be found online, at

The tension in the room is palpable, and Moonlight makes a low trilling noise. “Where was it?” Laura asks, stomach cramping slightly with fear.

Sam pours himself a cup of tea, still watching the television until the news anchor shifts to another story. He finally sits down, face troubled. “Near Pewter.”

Fingers of ice brush her racing heart. Her hands grip the back of the couch, knuckles white. “Sam… that’s where Red and Blue are traveling, they’re going north after Viridian

“Don’t worry, Laura. The storm is headed for the mountains, and they’ll have plenty of warning if it changes direction.”

Her pulse begins to slow back down, and she lets out a low breath. Daisy is quiet, still staring at the screen. Thinking of her parents, no doubt.

The loss of Marian Oak and her husband James had almost broken the Verres household, resulting in the biggest fight she and Tom ever had. He refused to quit his position as a Ranger when she asked him to, insisting that tragedies like that were exactly why he was needed. His passion for helping people had always been one of the major reasons she loved him, but at that moment grief and fear had been stronger than love. All she could think of was that she would lose him. That Red would have to grow up without his father, like Blue and Daisy and so many others.

She had never wished so hard to be wrong about something. In the end, the universe took no mind.

“So, did I hear singing outside?” Sam says, breaking her dark thoughts. He’s watching his granddaughter, who still has a faraway look in her eyes.

“Yes,” Laura says, forcing some cheer into her voice. “Daisy showed me something remarkable.”

“Hm?” Daisy blinks at them and seems to come back to herself. “Oh! I was showing Aunt Laura…” She smiles and sits down with Moonlight in her lap. “You missed it grandpa, Moonlight did the wind gust twice in a row!”

“That’s great!” Sam grins, and the dark mood recedes from the room a bit. He pours a new cup of tea for Daisy and Laura and hands it to them. “Tell me all about it.”

Laura sits down as she and Daisy explain what had happened. The rush of cheer they had brought inside doesn’t completely return, and each of them glances at the television perhaps a bit more often than they normally would, but the news remains relatively mundane for the rest of the night, and their conversation eventually shifts on to other, similarly lighthearted things.

The three talk late into the night until silences and yawns begin to lengthen the switches between topics. It’s almost midnight by the time the second pot of tea is cool, and Laura decides to head home before she falls asleep here. It’s tempting to sleep in a house with other people in it, but she wants to spend the night at home, if for no other reason than to prove to herself that it’s not a big deal. She’ll have to get used to it soon enough.

“Thanks for everything, Sam, Daisy,” she says as the teen retrieves her serving plate and places it back in its box. Laura withdraws it back into the Container and tucks the silver sphere away before putting on her shoes and coat.

“Goodnight, Aunty,” Daisy says, hugging her. “Feel free to come by anytime if you get lonely.”

Laura smiles and kisses her hair. “I will.”

Sam waits by the door, his pokeball belt on. “I’m going to walk her home, Daisy. Be back soon.” Laura gives Moonlight a farewell rub, then follows him out the door.

The town is dark and still, most inhabitants long since gone to bed. Laura wonders if Red is asleep. She can almost feel the empty echoes from her house, waiting for her, the way it seemed after Tom’s death, when Red was little more than a ghost in his room. Tom was often gone for weeks at a time on duty, but even when she felt his absence like a physical ache, he was never more than a phone call away. Now she can’t even call him to talk about their day, to just hear his voice. At least she can still call Red in the morning.

“When do you plan on leaving, Laura?”

She looks at the professor. “Not for a couple weeks at least. I need to get my affairs in order and talk to some people, maybe find an apartment, depending on what I end up doing.”

Sam nods, and is quiet again for awhile. When he speaks again his voice is low, almost as if he doesn’t want to be heard, though there’s no one around. “I don’t mean to impose, but I have a favor to ask.”

“Don’t be silly. What is it?”

“In the course of your investigations, whatever they may be and wherever they may take you, would you mind terribly keeping an ear out for any mention of a Dr. Fuji?”

Laura blinks in surprise. She wasn’t expecting something like that. “Of course. Is he a medical doctor?” She reaches absently for her notepad before remembering that she isn’t carrying one, hasn’t for years.

“Yes, among other things. He was—is—a biologist who specialized in genetics, and an old friend of mine.”

“Did something happen to him?”

Sam sighs. “I don’t know. We kept in touch until about ten years ago, when his responses began to slow. I tried contacting him numerous times during a particularly large stretch of silence. His eventual reply was rather curt: some new project was taking a lot of his attention, the specifics of which he never mentioned.

“It was the last I or anyone I know heard from him. I resigned myself to thinking he simply… faded away. Withdrew. He lost his daughter, almost fifteen years ago. Shortly afterward his wife left him. It made him more absorbed by his work than ever, and I guess I just assumed he finally ran out of whatever kept him going. I tried to get in contact with him, help if I could, but no one seemed to know where he went.”

Laura is silent as they walk. “What changed?” she finally asks.

“A rumor. Not even that. A suspicion, grown from disconnected bits of information noticed over the years. Random remarks in online forums. Old news reports. Offhand comments. Whispers in the dark.”

“Whispers of what?”

“Other scientists and engineers from every region who similarly faded from the public, most within the same span of years. I don’t know if anyone else made such a connection, or if it’s mere coincidence. There are enough conspiracy theorists on the net to make me think I’m being paranoid.”

Laura shakes her head. “Maybe. Maybe not. You can’t really know without looking, and it’s hard to look without knowing what you’re looking for. What are your theories?”

“Hardly anything as substantial as a ‘theory.’ Not even a hypothesis, I’m afraid.”

Laura smiles. “What are your best completely unscientific guesses?”

Sam raises a hand, fingers moving to tick off each one. “First, some top secret government or company research project. Perhaps they’re all alive and well, and merely in deep seclusion. Many seemed to be those who had few tethers to keep them in public life.”

“Sounds reasonable. We know there are a number of projects that have been hidden from the public eye, and not all for questionable reasons.”

“Perhaps not, though Fuji’s studies tended toward pokemon research. Assuming that’s what the project is about, the name ‘Oak’ was apparently not fit to be included.”

Laura chuckles. “I always knew you’d get around to developing an ego some day.”

Sam smiles slightly. “My second guess is foreign interests have been poaching them for their own purposes, and none of their absences are related at all. I may simply be falling to confirmation bias, and forgetting all the data that doesn’t fit the pattern I’ve already formed in my head.”

“That second part should be fairly easy to figure out, with some research.”

He nods. “I’ve done some looking, but far from extensive. And the third possibility I’ve seriously contemplated is perhaps the most frightening, the thought which makes me wish to be wrong, dismiss my suspicions as crackpot.”

Laura frowns. “I know you love being wrong, but not without good reason.”

“I want to be wrong, Laura, because if I’m right it would mean my friend is very likely dead or imprisoned, as are all the others who faded so similarly.”

“How?”

“An organization,” Sam says, voice quiet. “One that operates between regions, could identify and hire, kidnap or coerce multiple researchers and technicians into secret work that they have no intention of allowing the public to be aware of.”

Laura doesn’t laugh. She’s never known Sam to joke about something like this, nor would he bring it up if he were really as unsure as he claims. The night suddenly seems chiller than it had a moment before. She draws her coat tighter around her as they approach the path to her house, and begin walking up toward the light hanging over her door.

When they reach it Laura turns to face Sam. His salt and pepper hair is somewhat disheveled, a bit like the perpetual mess of his grandson’s, and his blue eyes and face are lined from a long and exciting life. Even without his lab coat, Professor Oak still looks every inch the deeply kind, extraordinarily intelligent man she’d known since childhood.

“I know,” Sam says in the silence. “I’m being a paranoid fool. It’s almost a relief to hear how ridiculous it sounds out loud.”

When she meets his gaze, the usual spark of boundless curiosity and enthusiasm isn’t there. Despite his words, his expression holds no levity, and Laura realizes he is offering her an out. Playing down his beliefs and self-deprecating, so she can dismiss his suspicions as overly imaginative without offending.

But he doesn’t believe they are. He’s as serious as she’s ever seen him, through tragedies shared time and again.

“I’ll keep an ear to the ground,” Laura says at last. “If I can manage it, I’ll keep both.”

Chapter 5: Personhood Theory

“I’m fine mom,” Red says. “Not a scratch on me.” Technically it’s a bite mark.

Red stands in Viridian City’s southern pokemon center, using his phone to call home as he waits in line. Blue and Leaf are ahead of him, and step forward as the nurse behind the counter gives the young man at the front of the line a receipt.

Red steps forward too, shifting his phone to his other ear so he can pull out his wallet.

“We got in ten minutes ago, maybe twenty, before it got dark,” he says. He turns to look out the front of the building’s glass walls, where the city lights illuminate the night.

“Good. How is your pokemon? Have you and Blue caught any new ones yet?”

“We did. I have a charmander and rattata, Blue has a squirtle and pidgey. Oh, and there’s a third person with us named Leaf. She’s the daughter of a professor from Unova.”

He can hear his mom’s smile over the phone. “I’m glad it’s not just you and Blue. Hopefully she’ll keep you two from fighting.”

Red makes a noncommittal sound and changes the subject as Leaf turns around at the sound of her name. “How about you, how was your day?”

“Just fine. I took a walk along the beach and had a meeting with the town council. Now I’m getting ready to meet Sam and Daisy for dinner.”

“Great! Tell them I said hi.” Red feels some relief that his mom won’t be spending his first night away alone.

“Just hi?” His mom’s voice is teasing. “Nothing else you want to say to Daisy?”

Red feels his cheeks flush, and tries to sound bored rather than whiny. “Mom, it’s been a year.” Why did he tell her that he liked Blue’s sister? “‘Hi’ will do, thanks.”

“Alright, alright, ‘hi’ it is. Anyway, I’ve got to go, sweetie. Give my love to Blue, and find a nice place to stay tonight. I love you Red.”

Red glances at his companions and turns casually to the side, voice lowering. “Love you too, mom, goodnight.” He ends the call and puts his phone away just as Blue steps up to the counter.

“Hello, new trainer?” the nurse says with a smile.

“Yeah, how did you know?” Blue unclips his pokeballs and puts them in the round indentations on the nurse’s tray.

“You’ve got the look. Young, a bit nervous, few pokemon. Mind if I see your ID?”

“Sure.” Blue takes out his wallet and hands her his trainer card.

“Thank you.” The nurse taps some keys on her computer. “Ah, Pallet Town. My sister lives there. And what is the nature of your pokemon’s injuries?”

“Nothing serious, just a couple wild encounters.”

“Are either of them poisoned or burned? Any untreated open wounds?”

“No, just some scrapes and bruises. My squirtle might be more tired than anything.”

The nurse types a bit more, then her computer spits out a receipt. “Alright, your pokemon will be ready within the hour. We’ll send you a message when you can pick them up.”

When it’s Red’s turn, he feels a bit anxious as he hands his pokemon over and explains to the nurse their various injuries. It’s strange how simply being ‘mine’ makes these pokemon mean so much to me, even the rattata. Something to do with the effort he’d put into acquiring her, maybe?

Red pulls his notebook out of his pack as he crosses the clean tiles to the bench Leaf and Blue are on. After sitting beside them, he opens it to a new page, dates it, then writes:

Observation: I’m feeling remarkably attached to my pokemon after such a short time with them.

Question 1: Is this usual?

Question 2: Does it affect my objectivity when regarding them in other ways?

Reminder 1: Look into research on-

“Hey Red, you hungry?”

He looks up at Leaf, blinking. Now that she mentions it, it’s hard to ignore his stomach’s complaints. All he’d had since breakfast were some snack bars on the road. “Yeah, starving.”

“We’ve got at least half an hour before our pokemon are ready,” Blue says. “Let’s go find some food.”

Red nods, and looks down at his notebook as the others get to their feet, trying to remember what he’d been writing.

-research on human connections with each other, with objects, and with pokemon.

Reminder 2: Survey others if possible, mark distinctions between pokemon gifted and pokemon caught.

Red frowns and puts the notebook away as he stands. It isn’t exactly what he’d wanted to write, but it’s enough to remind himself of his thought process later on.

The three leave the pokemon center and walk through the city. People on foot and bicycles throng the sidewalks, pooling at the ends of blocks to wait for lights to change before crossing streets. Every few minutes some large flying pokemon goes by overhead, its passengers’ legs dangling a dozen feet above the traffic, and occasionally people riding large pokemon pass them. Leaf points in delight as a flaming horse gallops by on the other side of the street, its rider seemingly unharmed by the pokemon’s fiery mane.

“What’s that?”

“Rapidash,” Red says. “Their hair glows like fire, but they can keep it from combusting into actual flames if trained to be ridden.”

Leaf turns her neck to watch it disappear around a corner. “So pretty…”

Blue snorts, and Leaf turns back with a cheery smile. “Keep laughing after I catch one,” she says. “The sound of hooves will be the last thing you ever hear.”

“Ha. You’ll have to get through Squirtle first.”

Red and Blue have both been to Viridian City before a few times, but it’s all new to Leaf, so they point out some of the more famous landmarks as they walk.

“There’s a supermarket that way that’s second biggest in Kanto. A lot of people stop by on their way to the Indigo Plateau, they sell everything a trainer might need.”

“See that big building near the center of the city? That’s the Trainer House, we’ll head there after our pokemon are taken care of.”

“There’s a huge lake over that way, but fishing in it’s usually prohibited.”

“Hey,” Leaf says as they reach an outdoor cafe and sit at a table. “What’s the Gym in this city?”

“The Earth Gym.”

“That’s Leader Giovanni’s, right? What’s he like?”

Blue grins. “Oh man, Giovanni is awesome. He was fourteen when he became Leader, and he’s held the Gym for decades. He’s like fifty-something now.”

“He’s really philanthropic too,” Red adds. “Gives away millions to subsidize trainer activities and fund pokemon research.”

“Oh wow! Are you guys planning on challenging him?”

“Can’t,” Red says with a sigh. “He’s out of town, I checked yesterday. Won’t be back until next week.”

“We can still go to the gym and do some training,” Blue says. “Though I’d like to get to the forest by tomorrow if we can.”

Leaf nods. “If we have time, then?”

They agree, and a waitress comes by to take their order. Red sees a woman at another table, eating her steak and occasionally dropping bits of meat to the side for her growlithe to eat. He takes his notebook back out as they wait for their food.

“What’s that? Journal?” Leaf asks.

“Sort of. I like to write out my thoughts at the end of the day, helps keep track of questions I’ve had, remind myself to look into answering them or reflect on them in the future when I know more.”

“Did you just think of something?”

“Yeah,” he says, flipping back to the latest page and writing as he talks. “How do you guys feel about your pokemon so far?”

“Pretty good,” Blue says. “Haven’t had a chance to check out the pidgey, but seemed like a fighter. And my squirtle is great.”

Leaf nods. “Same, looking forward to getting to know Crimson and my rattata, but I couldn’t be happier with Bulbasaur. He’s everything I’d hoped my first pokemon would be… smart, versatile, tough.”

“Do you feel a… scratch that, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your ‘bond’ with your pokemon so far? One being you barely feel anything for them, ten being they matter to you as much as close friends or family.”

Blue shrugs. “I guess Squirtle a seven, the pidgey a four or five.”

“Bulbasaur a nine,” Leaf says slowly. “Rattata a… four, I guess? And Crimson a six, though that may be because of the nickname.”

“What about the process of capturing it?”

“Yeah, that definitely plays a part. In the struggle I feel like I got to know it a bit, and it’s got spirit, that’s for sure.”

Red doesn’t comment on her reasoning, just writing his questions down as well as their answers, trying to get a feel for what a good survey on this topic might look like. Gathering qualitative data is more important than quantitative for now, to help understand things well enough to begin formulating hypotheses. “So those numbers, four at the lowest, nine at the highest. Do they seem in any way odd to you guys?”

Leaf looks curious. “Not really. What do you mean?”

“Well, we don’t get so attached to other people we just meet. Why are we all so attached to our pokemon already?”

“People talk about the bond between trainers and pokemon all the time,” Blue says. “This is what they mean. Humans and pokemon, we’re meant to work together like this. That’s why it feels so natural.”

Red looks at Leaf. “You feel that way too? Like it’s just that simple that you catch a pokemon and feel attached to them?”

Leaf shrugs. “I’ve been around my mom’s pokemon all my life, and I love them all… well most of them, she has this minccino that’s totally spoiled. But there’s definitely something special about having my own.”

Red finishes writing, then taps his pencil against the notebook a moment. “What about the other pokemon we saw today?”

“What about them?”

“Have you thought about them at all since? Do you think about the other rattata that we fought, or that third pidgey that got away?”

The other two are silent for a bit, then Blue shrugs. “Not really.”

“I have, a little. I kind of felt bad for the third pidgey, in case the ones we caught were its family. Why, have you been thinking of them?” Leaf asks.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Every so often I wonder about my rattata. If she was a mother whose children now lost her.”

Blue rolls his eyes, but Leaf’s expression is sympathetic. “That makes sense. Do you feel bad about it?”

“I don’t, actually,” he says, surprising himself with the realization even as he sees their brows rise. “I mean in an abstract way, sure, but I’m not about to go back and release her. And I’m a bit curious as to why. I care about my rattata, but not the ones I didn’t catch, even the ones affected by its capture. Is that odd?”

“Not at all,” Blue says. “Why would you care about the other pokemon? One of them bit you! And another scratched up my arm, not to mention the way they hurt our pokemon.”

Leaf opens her mouth to respond, but just then their food arrives. Red’s stomach growls, and he begins eating his sandwich.

“Like this food,” Red says, covering his mouth after a bit of bread flies out. “Woop, sorry.” He swallows. “I don’t really care about the pidgey whose meat I’m eating. But if I had a pidgey, and it was killed for its meat, I’d probably be upset. Is that hypocritical of me?”

Blue looks too interested in his food to respond, but Leaf finishes chewing and says “I’m not sure. There are others who think so though. You’re talking about the relationship between people and pokemon, the way we use pokemon for our own benefit. There’s a group of activists in Unova who talk about it all the time. Used to be smaller, but now they’ve even got members in the government.”

“Really? What do they want?”

“Oh, lots of things. Stricter requirements for trainer licensing, better treatment of wild pokemon, an end to pokemon testing-”

Red snorts. “What, would they rather we test on humans instead?”

Leaf meets his gaze. “When it’s to benefit humans? Is that so strange?”

“It’s idiotic,” he says. Her eyes narrow, and he rushes on. “I’m sorry, but it is. We would never have developed half the medicines we have today without pokemon testing, there’s just no way to replicate human test subjects quickly or reliably enough, even ignoring the moral issues of experimenting on them-”

“But it’s not a moral issue when we raise pokemon just to test out new chemicals that might hurt or kill them?”

Feeling like he’s just digging a deeper hole, Red looks to Blue for help, but his friend is merely watching with amusement as he eats. “Of course it is, but isn’t it also a moral imperative to develop medicines that’ll save as many people as we can? How do you balance the lives of a relatively few pokemon against all the people and other pokemon we help by doing so?”

“You’d probably feel different if you were one of the test subjects. Or if they wanted to use your charmander.”

“No,” he says adamantly. “I wouldn’t.”

Leaf stares at him. Even Blue looks surprised. “You really mean that?”

“I try to be self aware enough to keep from holding hypocritical beliefs. I don’t want to lose my charmander, even after just a day with him. It would be really sad, maybe heart breaking if I had him for a long while. But if for some reason there was an experiment that had to use my charmander, instead of one in the wild, to help people, or even other pokemon…”

“People you don’t even know?” Blue asks.

Red tries to find the words, frowning at the woman and her growlithe at the other table. “Look, it’s… see that woman there? Say her growlithe died. Who would be affected by it?”

“She would, and her family, if they’re close to her pokemon.”

“Right. For how long?”

Leaf raises a brow. “That… depends. I was really sad for a couple months after my mom’s purrloin died. She was too, but I took it much harder, because I was young. There are a lot of factors that go into it.”

“Okay, but around a couple months for both of you. Did you by chance get another one?”

“Yeah, she brought another one home a few months after the first died.”

“And that helped.”

Leaf nods. “That helped.”

“Have you ever lost a person? Your dad, maybe?”

Leaf notices Blue go still, and looks back at Red with some hesitation. “He doesn’t live with us anymore, but no, I’ve never lost a person.”

“Well take it from me: you’re sad for more than just a few months. And not just you: your family, your friends, everyone’s affected by the loss and its effect on you. For years. It’s… there’s like a crack in your life that doesn’t ever really go away.”

The girl from Unova is quiet for a bit as she chews her food. Eventually she says “I think I get it. You’re saying that as sad as a pokemon’s death might be, a person’s death… ripples outward more, and is much more affecting.”

“Yeah. That’s about right.” Red focuses on his sandwich, ignoring the ache in his chest with long practice, shoving the crippling, bitter despair back into the mental vault he’d built for it.

“I… can’t really argue with that without seeming untactful,” she says slowly. “But I think some people would take their pokemon’s loss as hard as another person’s.”

Red shrugs. “Sure. But that’s still one relationship severed. Most people have multiple, and each of those people have multiple more. That’s why for me, no pokemon’s life could ever be as important as a person’s. Even if the pokemon is mine, and the person is a complete stranger.”

“What if they’re a dick?” Blue says.

Red frowns at him. “They probably still have friends, family, someone cares about them.”

“What if they’re a murderer? What if they’re a serial killing psycho?”

“That’s… a different story…” Seeing Blue’s triumphant smile, Red sighs. “Okay, I’ll amend a bit: to me, most of the time, no pokemon’s life is as important as a random person’s, statistically speaking, since most people aren’t psychopathic murderers.”

Leaf watches Red for a bit, then nods slightly. “I believe you believe that. But I think you might feel differently once you’ve really bonded, spent a few months or years with your pokemon.”

Red opens his mouth, then reconsiders and takes a drink. Eventually he shrugs. “Yeah, maybe. And if so, I might reconsider my view of pokemon testing. But I don’t think it’s likely.”

There’s silence at the table as they eat for a bit, watching the occasional pokemon walk by beside or ridden by their trainer. A pidgeot lands at a store across the street, and its rider slide off its back, the car-sized bird disappearing in a flash of light as its trainer withdraws it.

After the atmosphere at the table seems a bit lighter, Blue speaks. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re both nuts.” He takes a swig of his mixed fruit juice. “Obviously we need to keep developing better medicine and technology, but I wouldn’t give up my pokemon for it. Let gramps and the other white coats catch their own rattata to test on.”

“Well,” Leaf says as she sprinkles some salt on her tomato slices. “Most people seem to agree with you. The group I was talking about doesn’t have a lot of support in Unova, and I’ve never heard much of similar sentiments in other regions.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Blue says as he leans back, chair tipped to balance on its hind legs as he munches on a riceball. He rests one foot on the table’s edge, ignoring or oblivious to the dirty look their server gives him as she passes by. “Start giving in to little changes, and who knows what else they’ll want?”

“Last I heard before I left, they were talking about restricting the use of pokeballs and outright banning all pokemon trainer battles.”

Blue practically chokes on his food, eyes wide as his chair slams forward. “Wh-what?” He coughs up some rice and reaches for his drink. “What are they-chkugh-nuts?”

Red thumps on Blue’s back as Leaf shrugs. “Lots of people think so, but I’m not one of them. I think pokemon battling for sport is cruel, especially outside of regulated tournaments. They’re living creatures, they have feelings, and making them fight when it’s not necessary is callous.”

Blue frowns at her, taking a drink to clear his throat. “Tournaments have so many rules that pokemon rarely get seriously injured. Besides, you’re not going to prepare your pokemon for a real fight if you always stop as soon as they get a little hurt. Would you rather them die against some wild pokemon because they weren’t prepared?”

Red watches them continue to argue, considering their points as he eats. He has to admit he agrees with Blue more than Leaf, though that might just be a cultural bias of his, as apparently a number of people think differently in Unova. He drinks some soda, then interjects, “Why do they want to restrict pokeball use?”

Leaf turns to him. “They say it’s cruel to keep them imprisoned. Stunts their minds, makes them too subservient, hard to reintegrate into the wild if they’re released.”

“Makes sense. But you use them anyway?”

Leaf nods. “I don’t think the stasis of the balls is harmful in and of itself, and it even helps them live longer, in a sense, to better match our lifespans. Besides, training pokemon the old-fashioned way isn’t always realistic or safe, especially when you plan on traveling and acquiring a lot of them.”

“Still, it seems to benefit people at the expense of pokemon. Doesn’t that go against the beliefs of that group you’re talking about?”

“I agree with them generally, but not all their specifics or methods.” She shrugs. “I just think there’s a better way to go about things than we are now.”

“I think a lot of people can agree to that, at least.”

“Yeah. They’ve been getting more radical the more people support them, but there’s still disagreement from within too.”

Red nods, still feeling a bit uncomfortable about inadvertently insulting her earlier. “Thanks for bringing it up, by the way. Professor Oak’s specialty is pokemon-human interactions, and I find the whole topic interesting. That Unova group is something for me to look into later.”

Leaf smiles. “No problem. What you were talking about reminded me of it anyway. It’s funny, I actually thought of them when I met you this morning: their leader Ghetsis also has red eyes.”

“Is that rare in Unova too?”

“Yeah, I’ve only seen a couple people with them.”

Blue stabs a mushroom with his fork and points it at Leaf. “So why are you a trainer?” He pops it in his mouth. “Red wants to be a professor, and I’m going to be the next Kanto Champion. What made you come here?”

“Well, I want to be a Coordinator someday, but I’m planning on doing a lot of traveling. I want to go to different regions and write a book on pokemon origin stories.”

“Like what Red wants to find out?” Blue asks.

“Not really,” Red and Leaf both say together. They exchange a smile, and Red gestures for her to go ahead. “From what Red said, he’s more interested in their biological origins, like my mom’s research.” Red nods. “I’m more interested in the mythology. The stories every region has about pokemon, particularly those venerated or worshiped specifically in the culture. I find it really fascinating the ways different regions view pokemon, and the relationship between humans and pokemon.”

“Well, whatever the reason, it’s good to have you along,” Blue says.

“And you came to the right place,” Red adds. “Kanto’s a pretty superstitious place.”

Blue snorts. “Compared to what?”

“Johto?”

“Heh. Fair enough.”

Leaf looks back and forth between them with obvious interest. “Why, what are some things people here believe?”

As Blue brings up some common myths and superstitions held by the region, Red is thinking over everything Leaf had said. He’d never paid much attention to the politics of other regions before, and he occasionally scribbles some thoughts in his notebook as he eats.

Will his view of pokemon as inferior to people ever change? He doesn’t think it’s likely. The entire basis for pokemon-human interactions stems from the basic need for people to defend themselves from them: it’s hard to see the species as having equal value when you’re willing to kill and capture them to defend yourself. Red’s father was a Ranger, someone who dedicated his life to helping keep people safe from wild pokemon. He was killed in the line of duty when some scyther attacked a farm.

Red wanted to be a Ranger too when he was younger, but that ambition cooled in the grief that followed, and his internship with Professor Oak opened up a new road. Still, it’s a sobering reminder that had humanity not domesticated pokemon, they would be at the mercy of them the way they are other forces of nature, like hurricanes or earthquakes.

Most people living in cities don’t need much protection day-to-day, but they do rely on others to handle the occasional major threats, like a rampaging tyranitar, or a migrating beedrill swarm. And while trainers put themselves in danger to stop such threats, it’s really the pokemon that are shouldering the most risk. The media likes to romanticize the partnership and brave sacrifice of those pokemon, but those who raise pokemon as pets and companions must be aware that it’s not entirely a conscious sacrifice: ultimately, many pokemon are used as tools, living weapons and shields.

Not that people shouldn’t still treat pokemon well, when possible. Red can’t stand hearing about pokemon abuse, and part of a trainer’s responsibility is to improve human-pokemon relations, learning more about how the two species can benefit each other. While many, like Blue, see that as secondary to the opportunities and prestige it imparts, to Red it’s at the core.

Ultimately though, what interests him most is why people feel the way they do, think the way they do, about pokemon, about everything. He’s not quite sure if he’s right to feel intrinsically superior to pokemon, and he makes a special note on his thoughts of the subject for future reflection.

“No! Do you really?” Leaf giggles into her hands.

Red looks up. “What?”

Blue is smirking. “I don’t, but yeah, a lot of people in Pallet swear by it.” He turns to Red. “I’m telling her about the shadow check.”

Red groans. “So much wasted milk. I haven’t once heard of someone actually finding a Dark pokemon hiding in shadows by splashing milk in them, but every sunset you’ll see some people tossing glass over the east side of their house. I think it’s become more of a good luck thing now, but it’s still pretty dumb.”

Leaf gets her laughter under control. “Oh, I have to see this tomorrow,” she says with a grin as she picks her fork back up. “Though I guess it’s not so different from some of the religious rituals back home.”

Eventually they finish eating and pay their bill. On the way back to the Pokemon Center, Blue’s phone chimes a message to let him know his pokemon are ready, and by the time they reach it Leaf and Red’s had done the same.

The line is small, and when Red reaches the front he hands his receipt over and accepts his pokeballs back with a smile. “Everything’s okay?”

The nurse smiles back, handing him a summary of his pokemon’s status. “They’re in good health. A minor concussion was corrected in your rattata, and charmander’s wounds were fully healed.”

“Thank you!”

“You’re quite welcome. Your pokeballs have also been recharged, and are in good working order. Have a good night.”

“You too.” Red steps away and waits for the other two to get their pokemon back too. He checks his charmander in the meantime through the pokedex, and is relieved to see him looking fully recovered from his wounds, without even any visible scarring. He clips Charmander back to his belt and sees Leaf approaching. “All good?”

“Yep. They put Bulbsasaur under some sunlamps, and said his bulb has fully regrown its damage.”

“Nice.” They wait for Blue, then head toward the entrance and they walk out into the night again.

The three make their way through the city toward the Trainer House, a lodging facility that caters specifically to trainers and their pokemon. There’s one in Pallet Town too, but Viridian’s is huge: fifteen stories tall and wide enough to take up a city block. It’s easy to find from pretty much anywhere, a massive red-brick building with solar panel foliage trimming, each artificial “leaf” hanging limp and dormant until morning.

The entrance hall and lobby are as different from the Pokemon Center’s as fire and water. There’s a deep brown rug beneath their feet rather than stark white tiles, amorphous couches scattered about rather than chairs set in orderly rows, and wooden tables instead of glass. Teenagers are draped over the various furniture, watching televisions or eating snacks, some with their pokemon beside them. Potted plants litter the room, bug and plant pokemon resting in their soil and among their roots and leaves. A few adult trainers move about too, most heading toward or coming from the elevators and doors around the room’s perimeter. Red doesn’t spot any who are his, Blue or Leaf’s age, and is reminded of how privileged he is to be able to set out on his journey so young.

Blue leads the way toward the reception desk, where they pass their trainer cards over and receive room assignments for the night. Red looks over the lobby, excitement and exhaustion warring in him.

“Normally it’d be great to meet all these trainers and see their pokemon,” Leaf says slowly, echoing his thoughts. “But I’m kind of tired.”

“There’s always tomorrow,” Red says, and Blue yawns in punctuation.

“I’m in 1321, West,” Leaf says, looking at her room assignment. “What about you guys?”

“1208,” Blue says, and Red holds his up to show the same. “East.”

Leaf smiles and tucks some hair behind her ear. “Well, I guess I’ll see you guys in the morning for breakfast then.”

They say goodnight, and make their way to the elevators on opposite sides of the lobby.


Red lies in bed, staring up at the bottom of Blue’s bunk. All around him are the sounds of a dozen other trainers close to Red and Blue’s age, shifting or snoring in their sleep. A quick glance toward the clock above the door shows him it’s almost midnight.

Red sighs and shifts on the unfamiliar mattress, trying to find a more comfortable position. He hasn’t been able to sleep. His mind keeps going over everything that happened on the first day of his journey… training with charmander, catching his rattata, helping Blue and Leaf catch pidgeys, their conversation during dinner. Every time he closes his eyes and tries to drift off, some new analysis or perspective of an event intrudes: how he should have acted, what he could have done differently.

The thought that has him in open-eyed wakefulness currently is that moment when he and Blue ran toward their pokemon after sending them ahead to help Leaf’s bulbasaur. He’d been about to order Charmander to Ember, but hadn’t because it was too risky with Bulbasaur so close, forcing him to rely on his less effective claws and teeth. A restriction like that is dangerous. They got lucky in avoiding serious injuries to Charmander or Bulbasaur, but Red still hasn’t thought of a better action he could have taken in that circumstance, and that’s making it hard to sleep.

I need to be more useful, he thinks. Charmander’s strong, but I can’t be so limited in how I use him that I’m relying on his fire. Hewe—need more utility. More versatility in combat.

Red reaches under the bed and pulls his pokedex out of his pants. Bringing it under the covers so the light doesn’t wake anyone, he looks up some known techniques charmanders can learn. He wishes for the dozenth time he’d known what pokemon Professor Oak would have for them so he could have researched them in-depth beforehand.

After about twenty minutes of reading, Red closes the pokedex. He slips back into his shirt and pants, then gathers his things and tiptoes out the door to find the training rooms.

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, mienfoo.”

“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 pokemon like magnemite and klink started showing up from man-made objects, ‘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.