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 had 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 with 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 a while 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 Kyo 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.


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?”



“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.”


“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?” Tomio asked. “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 not practice. And if I never left home, I’d never practice 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.”

“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 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 might be more embarrassing if he was in school, but the only one around is his dad, who never laughs at him for missing a question.

Red expanded the map until he saw it. “There’s a Ranger outpost two kilometers up from us. North, I mean.” Once 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. Even without being laughed at, 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 of his own before handing it to his dad.

“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 have your mother call about a new hole in the wall because your training got 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 kimeta!”

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 o uero,” 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?”

“Uh… an informed guess?”

His father smiled, but nodded. “And a good one. 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.”


“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.”


“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 in the field 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.

“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. Red 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. He’s tempted to take his notebook out to check his numbers, he’s not great at math, but knows he’s just being optimistic. They’d never make it in time. 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—”


They both look at him.

“We need to wait.” The words are hard to say, but he forces them out. “The nearest ranger outpost isn’t far, 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 he could be dying out there!”

“Keep your voice down,” Red snaps, shame and anger and fear swirling in his chest. “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.” Red takes another deep breath, trying to get his heartbeat to slow. “The repel won’t mean much if 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 the sims. It wouldn’t be perfect, but I can do it.”

Red looks at Leaf. “You?”

She worries her lower lip. “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: more 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 person in the field, searching for any twitch, any sign of life at all. “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. 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 hidden 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 of them 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,” Blue says, while Leaf 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 calm. 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 my dad made sure I understood that 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 on the ecosystem 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’s 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.

She grins. “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 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 extra 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, in case 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 Akio filled with more powder 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 the rest of her bucket 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.

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 up 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 vaguely burnt-air smell coming off 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. “Thank you.” 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 yells as he throws.

The ball sails forward into a relatively clear patch of grass and disgorges his rattata in a flash of light before rocketing back toward Red. His throw had a bit too much of a downward arc, so he has to reach above his head to snatch it out of the air with both hands cupped together.

“Yes!” Red pumps his fist 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 had an empty pokeball ready, but it’s already too far for the lens to get a lock, and 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 very few Bug/Psychic pokemon on record. It’s theorized that most just aren’t 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 end result 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.

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 a couple 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 and around… 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 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 were his grandchildren. Breaking the pokedex 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 to point its stinger at his hand and dash at him.

Red gives a heroic yelp and lets go before yelling, “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 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!” In the space of 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 hit Charmander with something, and Red, standing behind him, was 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.


“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. Red spots the caterpie bounding ahead of his friend just before Blue’s visible between the foliage. 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 in 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, hoping his pokemon can interpret the difference.

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 beside the caterpie, though not quite where Red pointed. Still, the pokemon 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 trunk 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?”


“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 as just thinking about it brings back a vivid echo of the sensations.

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. Once 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…

The second message said “Come quick as you can!” The first was 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, then with his father, then with Blue over the past year, 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 stare 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.