Leaf wakes up the next morning with a sick feeling in her gut. She went to sleep late last night, engrossed by every new comment that showed up on a half dozen different news and community sites.
People condemned the vandals, or supported them, or made unrelated arguments and accusations, seeming to fit the events into whatever narrative they happened to believe. It was dizzying trying to keep up with it, especially with only token comments from anyone official, who would probably wait until morning before making a more complete statement. Just like Leaf knew she should. Eventually she forced herself to turn off her phone and tossed and turned for an hour before drifting off to troubled sleep.
But things don’t seem any clearer this morning when she grabs her phone and immediately begins browsing the sites again, still rubbing the gum from her eyes. She absorbs all the comments that people left overnight, and it gets harder not to respond, especially when they bring her up directly, misrepresent her arguments, or outright put words in her mouth. She knows that running around trying to put fires out might just feed them, especially when groggy and stressed.
She checks the time to see if it’s too early to message Laura, and frowns to see that it’s only 6:18 AM. She shouldn’t, especially since she already knows what Red’s mom would say: keep your head down, let it blow itself out, make a statement when things are calmer. Her heart aches when she sees the pictures, reposted again and again, of the glass doors and windows of the museum smashed in, spray painted symbols of Pewter’s predominant religion on the wall beside it. She thinks of all the people who worked there who she met, who took time out of their day to speak with her, like Dr. Brenner, and regrets bringing such trouble into their lives.
I’m not responsible for this. The people who did it are, and maybe the ones who egged them on.
Easy to say. Hard to fully accept.
She finally forces herself to close her phone again, and gets out of bed to shower and prepare for the day. She starts thinking of things to say, statements to make. An apology first, for clearly angering so many people. A plea for peaceful discourse. Would that make her sound too weak? Should she care? She wonders how Mayor Kitto feels about her now. Probably wishes she’d never come to Pewter.
She leaves the public bathrooms wanting to just crawl back into bed and draw the covers over her head. But when she gets back to her room and, against her better judgement, checks her phone again, she sees something that makes her smile.
It’s an organized message, from over a dozen Pewter churches. They openly condemn the vandalism, and its perpetrators, and plead that the city discuss its differences without anger. A small group of volunteers have already helped clean the graffiti, and the overall tone of the conversations does seem to have shifted slightly since the message went out.
Leaf feels a hundred pounds lighter as she closes her browser and messages Red and Blue, then puts her phone away and gathers her things. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as she thought.
She meets the boys downstairs for breakfast, then they pay at the front and head to the nearby pokecenter. The sun is still rising, and Cerulean West is rising with it. People in work clothes, often with a cup of coffee in one hand, busily move from place to place before the crowds start congesting the roads. Blue’s on his phone as he walks behind Red and Leaf, who talk about the trip to Cerulean North. It isn’t until they reach the center that Blue stops dead and stares at her. “What the hell happened to your following, Leaf?”
“Oh. Uh. Something happened in Pewter.” She flushes. She hadn’t sent Blue the news article last night, thinking he wouldn’t be as interested.
“The museum was vandalized,” Red explains, then looks at her. “I didn’t want to bring it up, figured you might be upset about it.”
“I am. Just trying to see how things turn out.”
“See how things turn out?!” Blue points his screen at her. “Your following doubled overnight! Doubled! How are you not riding this wave? You should be typing until your fingers are sore!”
“Whoa, no,” Red says. “Bad idea. You might cause more drama, it’ll look like you’re making it about you.”
“She can’t just say nothing, it’ll look callous-”
“Guys,” Leaf interrupts. “I was planning on asking Laura, when we’re getting our pokemon. Think she’s awake now, Red?”
“Yeah, she’s an early riser. We’ll let you get your pokemon first so you can call her after.”
“Thanks.” They walk in and go to the line reception hall, a sizeable line already formed as the pokemon trainers prepared for their day. “Or I guess I can do it now. Save my spot?”
They agree, and Leaf wanders over to an empty table to make the call. She breathes deep to settle her nerves as the phone rings, and mostly succeeds by the time Laura picks up. “Good morning, Leaf. Is everything okay?”
“Morning Laura! Yep, everything’s fine. Sorry for the early call.”
“Not a problem, just making some tea. What’s on your mind?”
“Well…” Leaf gives Laura what was intended to be a quick summary, but she keeps thinking of new comments she read or thoughts she had to add to it, until she finally trails off with, “And now I’m thinking it might be best to answer after all, since there was such support-”
“No,” Laura says. “It’s great that there’s been positivity too, but you should still keep out of it. This may be one of the hardest things you learn to do Leaf, so listen carefully. When you’re just a private citizen, you can make all the posts in forums you want. You can have dozens of conversations a day about everything you think of or are interested in. But once you step into the limelight, once you’re in any way a public figure, your whole perspective has to change. And from what I’m seeing right now with your following, you’re definitely a public figure. A minor one, mostly just in one city, but still.”
Leaf listens and tries to really absorb her words. “Okay, yeah. I knew that, I guess I just had to hear you say it too. So not even an apology, right?”
“No, not even that. You did nothing wrong. You just wrote an article, and nothing in it was inaccurate or misrepresented anyone. No offense Leaf, but it shouldn’t even have grown as big as it did. It likely wouldn’t have without the mayor shining a spotlight on it.”
“I know. I bet he’s wishing he didn’t, now.”
Laura makes a sound that Leaf can’t quite interpret. “Regardless, the best thing you can do right now, with things as they are, is ignore it… and get to work on your next article.”
Leaf blinks. “What? Oh. Not on the museum, on something else, right? Keep the momentum going.”
“Exactly. If you’re going to be a journalist, even part time, you have to always be moving on to the next thing. Your job isn’t to pick a hill and fight on it until the bitter end. If you ever want to go into politics, that’s the time to make ideological stands. As a journalist, your job is to investigate and report.”
Leaf is silent for a moment. Does she want to be a journalist, really? She set out to just write something that might make a difference about something she cared about. That’s basically what journalists do, but… after all that happened, is it something she’s willing to keep going through over and over? Or is it just going to be like her other interests, a short lived passion that drives her to try something new, learn new skills, then get bored and move on? She thinks about the book she was planning on writing about local myths in Kanto, and how she has little interest in that anymore.
On the other hand, Leaf’s mind is already racing through ideas for what she could write another article about. It’s an exciting feeling, and she enjoys the idea that she might have made a difference, even if it had some negative consequences. If this is going to be another short lived passion, she’ll at least ride it until it peters out, not bow out early because a few windows got broken. “Okay, so I’ll start looking for a new thing to write about. What if someone asks me about it, though? No comment?”
“If you’re ever in front of a camera or in an interview with someone, you can comment on it. But you have to be careful. Again, public figure versus private are two very different things. Now that you have a following, you can’t just think about what you say… you also have to think about what people will hear.”
“Like that preacher.”
Laura’s tone darkens. “Exactly like him. Thankfully he’s getting some backlash over it, from the other priests even. We’ll see what he does in response. But regardless, stay out of it. I’m saying that in my official capacity as your mentor.”
Leaf smiles. “Don’t worry, I’m convinced.”
“Good. I’ve got some friends in Cerulean, maybe someone has extra leads they don’t have time to investigate. One of them might be a good start for a story, if you don’t find something else that interests you.”
“That would be great. Thanks, Laura.”
“Of course, hon. Give Red and Blue my love, and enjoy Cerulean!”
“I will. Bye!”
Leaf closes the call and flips the phone around and around in her hands for a moment, thinking. She feels better about things now, like she doesn’t have to hurry up and respond to the situation. She can just take her time and-
The phone rings and vibrates in her hand, startling her into almost tossing it up. She looks around to make sure no one saw, then checks the caller ID. Hm. Unrecognized.
“Hello, Leaf, how are you?”
Leaf blinks. “Mayor Kitto, hi. I’m… fine, thanks, and yourself?”
“Good, thanks for asking.” The mayor sounds busy, and Leaf imagines him at his desk of paperwork, talking with her via headset while he types with one hand and flips through a folder with the other. “Listen, I know you’re probably busy with your travels. I just wanted to let you know there’s been an incident-”
“Oh gods, another one?” Leaf’s stomach is cold.
“What? Oh, you know about the museum then? Sorry, that’s what I meant.”
“Oh! Yeah, I saw the report last night.”
He chuckles. “Still keeping an eye on our fair city? I’m happy to hear it. Well, that makes this conversation much shorter. I was wondering when you plan to respond? I have a press release in a couple hours, and was hoping to-”
“Respond? To who?”
“To… the situation. In general. You were going to make a statement of some kind, right?”
Leaf is suddenly very, very glad she called Laura when she did. If she’d had this conversation first, she’d feel compelled to assure the mayor that she would, despite having no idea what to say. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Wouldn’t I just make things worse somehow?”
“Oh, I don’t think there’s going to be anything more from this, some folks just got carried away. There’s been a great coming together this morning, and I’m sure you could help with that.”
Leaf frowns. She is glad for the show of solidarity, and if she makes a clear statement of appreciation for that, it could push back a bit against the idea that she’s trying to stir up the city, which is something she saw a number of times from her detractors . Maybe he’s right… “I’ll have to think about it.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Wrong? No, everything’s fine. Why?”
Mayor Kitto doesn’t sound busy any more, voice thoughtful. “I’m sorry, I guess I just assumed this would be something you’re interested in. Was I wrong to involve you in all this, Leaf? I hope I didn’t misread your intentions.”
Leaf rubs her brow with one hand. She wishes she had a moment to think, things feel like they’re speeding up again. “No, I’m g-glad that you mentioned my article.” She almost said grateful, which she was, but… it suddenly didn’t feel prudent to say. “I just want to make sure I’m not doing more harm than good.”
Kitto is quiet for a moment, then says, “I understand. You’re a smart woman. Trust your instincts, and I’m sure you’ll do the right thing. Thanks for your time, Leaf.”
“And you, Mayor.” She ends the call with relief, and begins to spin her phone around and around in her hands again. After a moment she puts it on the table and stares at it distrustfully from there.
Damn it all. She was ready to move on after talking with Laura, but now she’s not quite as sure of herself. She rests her elbows on the table and puts her face between her hands, gaze distant. If she distrusts the mayor’s motives, she shouldn’t do something he wants her to without knowing them. She knows that Laura, at least, has her best interests at heart. So why is she still torn on this?
Because it’s hard to leave it behind, she realizes. That’s what Laura meant. The limelight could be an addictive thing, especially for someone that will rely on attention for their work.
She wouldn’t be doing it for attention, though, if she does it at all. She’d be doing it to help…
Leaf abruptly stands up and pockets her phone. She needs to focus on something else. The sooner she finds a new topic to catch her interest, the sooner she can put the temptation to stay involved in Pewter behind her.
As she heads back toward the guys, she wonders what engaging stories Cerulean City might be hiding.
Cerulean North is much wider than West, stretching all along the coast of the bay. Blue watches it approach from his seat on the roof of the bus, breathing in deep as he catches a glimpse of the coast through the high rises. He imagines he can smell salt on the air, and knows it’s just his imagination. He just misses the beach in Pallet.
Red and Leaf are standing with their hands on the railing, watching the city slowly grow around them as the bus weaves its way toward the heart of Cerulean North, where Blue will find its Gym.
Blue’s fingers trace the lids of his pokeballs for Kemuri, Gon, Maturin and Ion. A shiftry, a shroomish, a squirtle and a shinx… to beat one of the most powerful Water Type trainers in the world, and a powerful psychic at that. Blue doesn’t think he’s ready yet: his loss in Pewter still weighs heavily on his mind. But the only way to regain his momentum is to take Misty out in their first fight, to defeat her utterly if he can, with pokemon to spare.
He doesn’t know if that’ll be possible with his current lineup. Gym Leaders select the strength of their pokemon and the complexity of their strategy based on the number of badges their challengers have, but the jump in difficulty between getting one’s first and second badges is much higher than any other. Ideally that wouldn’t be the case, but Leaders would always pull the most punches against someone untested, and showing that you’re capable of beating one of them is enough for the rest to scale back the majority of their safety precautions.
Blue is going to need stronger pokemon before he faces Misty. No, not new ones that would take awhile to train and become familiar with… he’ll need his pokemon to be stronger.
He’ll need some of them to evolve.
“Not interested in seeing the view, Blue?” His attention snaps up to see Leaf smiling at him from the balcony.
“Been here a couple times before with gramps and Daisy.” And apparently once with his parents when he was very young, though he doesn’t remember it as well as Daisy does.
Red drops back into the chair beside him, arms over his head to grip the back of it as he stares up at a highrise they pass. “Did you ever meet Misty?”
“Sort of. We had dinner with her once just after she became Leader. I was pretty young though, don’t think I spoke much.”
“Do you know what her virtue is?” Leaf asks.
“No, like most Leaders, she doesn’t talk about it. But speculation online is that she favors adaptability. Being able to change to sudden circumstances. That or clever use of the environment.”
Red frowns. “Is this an actual thing? You’d think it would be pretty easy to find out about.”
Blue shrugs a shoulder. “To be honest it’s more of a tradition than a rule. Some Leaders probably don’t care as much about it. And it can only give you a path to take for victory. It’s not the only one.”
“Brock trained you in Bide because you demonstrated his, right? Might be worth figuring out, in case she gives you something too.”
“I’ll see what I can learn from her gym members.” The bus enters the city’s main street, stopping to let some people leave and others board. Blue sits up in his seat, watching for the road that will lead to the gym. “The battles themselves might give me some idea.”
A couple stops later, Red and Leaf get off when the bus reaches Cerulean North’s Trainer House. They wish Blue good luck, and agree to meet him for dinner. Blue nods along to whatever suggestions they make, forgetting them a moment later when the bus pulls away. As the gym approaches, all Blue can think about are the upcoming battles.
Pokemon evolve over time as they grow older, but their growth is accelerated when they’re in combat. If he wants to evolve his pokemon, putting them into combat is the best way to do it, but in the wild there’s always the risk of danger. A gym is the best place to get lots of fighting experience safely.
The problem is, that would require Blue switching his pokemon constantly, regardless of efficiency. Not only will it make combat harder, but it would make him appear less skilled than he is, which might make it harder for him to climb the ranks quickly and challenge Misty.
The buildings abruptly fall away to either side as the bus turns a corner, and the coast of Cerulean Bay fills the horizon. Blue stands, hands gripping the seat in front of him, as the gym comes into sight. Unlike Pewter, with its solid walls of imposing grey, Cerulean Gym looks like one giant stadium from the front, round and expanding outward with each floor, metal and glass gleaming in the sunlight.
The sight makes Blue’s heart feel like it’s expanding in his chest, and he smiles as the gym grows to fill his vision. It’s only been a couple weeks since he beat Brock, but an eventful couple weeks, and he feels like it was forever ago. Finally, he’s back where he belongs.
The bus pulls up to the front of the parking lot, and Blue slings his bag over his shoulder and goes down the stairs with the other trainers and tourists. The reception hall is large and ostentatious, with signs pointing to different stadiums and training rooms. At the center is a large aquarium filled with water pokemon, and Blue can’t help but wonder how safe it is, which is of course the point. There are few better ways to showcase how well the gym can train their pokemon than to put a bunch of them on display in a public area and trust that all will be well.
Blue steps up to the aquarium, where an eight or nine year old kid has their face pressed up to the glass. A school of goldeen part around a seadra going in the opposite direction, while on the other side a tentacruel floats serenely by, any pokemon around it giving a wide berth to its many trailing limbs. Defensive pokemon like tentacruel would be the main struggle for him, its Poison typing able to counter Gon’s Grass. If Blue’s forced to use Ion too soon, the shinx wouldn’t be able to take a less defensive pokemon by surprise for a quick knockout.
“Hey!” Blue turns in surprise to find the kid staring at him. “You’re Blue Oak!”
Blue blinks. He hadn’t expected his first fan encounter to be with someone so young. Was he following trainers at that age? He grins. Of course he was. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“Wooow, I saw your fight with Brock online! That last attack was so cool, I was scared your squirtle got crushed! Did you know it would be okay the whole time? When did you get to Cerulean? Are you here to challenge Misty?”
Blue finds himself striking a pose without meaning to, shoulders straight and chin up, legs slightly apart. “I’m here to beat Misty. Can I count on your support?”
“Yeah, for sure! Oh man, when are you going to challenge her? I want to be there!”
Blue fights the sudden urge to say something stupid, like Tomorrow. “Well, we’ll see how long it takes me to get through her gym members. Are you going to be in town long?”
“Oh, yeah, I live in Cerulean East. I come here all the time.”
Blue looks around. “You’re not here on a field trip, are you? Why aren’t you at school?”
The kid suddenly hesitates. “I’m here with my… mom. She’s… in the bathroom.”
“Mmhm.” Should he reprimand him? He’s got to set a good example if kids this young are already following him, but hell, who didn’t skip classes now and then? “Don’t worry, I used to do the same all the time.” Blue winks at the sudden look of relief on the kid’s face. “I’ll be sure to post the date of my challenge, so if you keep following me you’ll definitely see it.”
“Alright! I hope you get to her soon!”
“Me too, kid. What’s your name?”
“Alright, Dennis. I’m going to start my battles soon. Why don’t you head back to school and pretend you got out of bed late? That way you’re less likely to get in trouble before my match.”
“Yeah, alright! Good luck Blue!”
Blue gives a two finger salute, then heads toward the registration desk feeling lighter than air.
What was it Lance once said? “The path to strength is a path of hardship. To fear failure is to fear becoming strong.” So what if it’s a greater risk? He’s got a bag full of medicine to keep his pokemon fighting, and all day to beat Misty’s subordinates. If he can’t win with a handicap, he can’t prepare for the true challenges ahead.
He knows it’s stupid to feel any more confident just because he met some starstruck fan, but by the time he reaches the counter and slaps his trainer ID down on it, he’s still grinning.
Half an hour later, he’s standing in the first stadium, a basic training room with small arena floating in a pool of water that fills its floor, one pokeball spinning in each hand as he waits for the other door to open.
He already let Maturin test the depth of the brackish water and soak up as much as she could. He used the Pewter gym’s water rooms to train her in aquatic combat as much as he could, but its facilities were much more limited than Cerulean’s. He plans on putting them to good use while he’s here.
The other door opens, and a trainer walks in. Blue stops spinning the balls and stares. “Amy!”
The older teen winks. “Heya Blue. How’s it going?”
“I… what are you doing here?”
“Ouch, right in the ego.” She’s grinning as she mounts her platform and stands opposite him. “I’ve been here for almost a week now. Does that mean you’re not following me?” Amy starts taking out some aquatic training equipment and placing them beside the standard ones hanging on the edge of the railing.
“I am, yeah, I just… I’ve been busy.” And he’d been following her brother Donovan much more closely, only checking in on her a couple times since they left Viridian.
“I know, it was all over the news, same day I beat Misty. Do we need to start coordinating our plans, or can you just agree to not hog all the press with heroics next time I win a badge?”
Blue grins. “We can try, but it wasn’t really something I planned. No promises.”
“Figures. So, let’s do this thing, yeah? I’m sure you’re in a rush to make your mark here too.”
Blue clips and unclips balls around his belt, shoulders tensing. “Ready when you are. What are the rules?”
“Beat me. Go, poliwhirl!” The blue amphibian materializes on the stadium, skin glistening. Its clear stomach shows the swirling pattern of its internal organs before it falls onto all fours, black eyes blinking around. “This is my only decent water pokemon so far,” she explains. “I decided to join the Gym to improve my training of him and my others.”
Blue hesitates, hands hovering over each ball. “So I just have to beat this one?” From what he saw of Amy, she’s a crafty battler. He doesn’t want to underestimate her just because she’s using a single pokemon.
“And I can use as many pokemon as I want?”
“Standard six. Now quit stalling and summon.”
He smiles. “Right.” That decides it. He reclips Gon’s ball and unclips Zephyr’s. “Go, Zephyr!”
His pidgey comes out standing on the platform, and as Blue catches its ball he sees the look of confusion on Amy’s face. “A flying type? Really?”
“Really.” He takes his whistle out and blows on it, causing his pokemon to take off and begin circling the arena, feeling his attention narrowing to the battlefield. The next time he breathes out, he feels his body calming, heartbeat slow and steady, every nerve ready to react.
Amy frowns, then shrugs and snaps her fingers. Her poliwhirl immediately dives into the water around them, disappearing from sight as Amy expands a metal stick and puts one end in the water, fingers poised over the buttons on the handle. “Good luck hitting him from up there. Ready, set, go!” She presses a button.
Blue whistles the command to dodge, and Zephyr flips into a sideways roll as the poliwhirl bobs up and spits a stream of water at him. Before Blue can make another command the pokemon is gone, and Zephyr continues to circle the arena. Amy keeps clicking buttons, and soon the poliwhirl appears again at the other end of the arena. Zephyr dodges another Water Gun, diving to return the attack only to find the spot of water empty and placid.
Blue whistles again to warn his pokemon away, causing him to climb altitude just as the poliwhirl appears again and shoots. The next few seconds are a rapid series of attacks and dodges, Zephyr skimming the water with his talons just as the poliwhirl ducks under again, only to come up a few meters away to fire back at the spot Zephyr was a moment before.
Blue keeps blowing on the whistle, dodge, attack, climb, left, attack, dodge, circle, trying to catch the poliwhirl with a lucky strike. Amy is focused on the match, but she doesn’t have to do as much, and he can tell from her occasional looks at him that she’s wondering what he’s doing. Her pokemon isn’t going to run out of water any time soon, and it’s faster than pidgey is.
Once Zephyr starts to tire, the shots of water begin to get closer and closer, until one clips his wing and knocks him out of the air. Zephyr recovers quickly, but Blue catches his pokemon with a return beam and quickly sends out Joey. His rattata seems confused, never having been in a stadium or training room before, but as soon as the poliwhirl leaps up from the water for its next attack, Joey dodges to the side without Blue even needing to prompt him.
“What are you doing, Blue?” Amy suddenly asks, drawing his attention to her. One hand is on her hip as she stares at him, brow furrowed. “I know you have two Grass pokemon.”
“You think I’m going to tell you my strategy just like that?” He grins.
She narrows her eyes. “So you do have a strategy? Because from here it looks like you’re not taking me seriously.”
“Nope, totally part of my plan. Promise.”
“I’ll hold you to that. It better be good.” She returns to commanding her poliwhirl, a slight frown still on her face.
Blue has less of a chance to counter her attacks from on land, but a rattata’s reaction speed is better than pidgey’s, and he manages to cleanly dodge each of the poliwhirl’s attacks, which continue to be simple Water Guns. This goes on for a solid two minutes before Amy speaks again.
“If you think you’re going to lure me onto land, we’ll be here all day. I thought you’d be in a rush to reach Misty, after how quickly you Challenged Brock.”
“Maybe I learned some humility from losing to him,” he says, which makes her snort and command another Water Gun.
Blue is happy to keep dodging as long as he can, but as another minute drags by, he fights the urge to grow complacent. A drop of sweat rolls down his neck as he keeps his eyes on the battlefield, preserving his voice by only giving a few oral commands when needed. There’s no safe spot on the arena to hide, and since Amy’s pokemon can go to either side of the arena in moments, the closer his rattata is to the middle the more time it has to dodge attacks where even a fraction of a second makes a difference.
When Joey’s next dodge brings him closer to the side the poliwhirl is however, Amy presses something different, and her poliwhirl rises out of the water in a small wave. No time to dodge. “Quick Attack!”
His pokemon lashes out and strikes the poliwhirl just before the water crashes down around him, but Amy’s pokemon is too distracted by the strike to follow up properly. As soon as Joey rolls to a stop and shakes himself off, Blue orders another Quick Attack just as Amy sends her poliwhirl back into the water. It turns and shoots a water Gun that Joey just barely has time to dodge.
“Close,” Blue says once Joey is back in the center, ready and waiting. His heart pounds in his throat as he watches his pokemon for any sign of injury.
“Yep. Think your rattata is smart enough to stay away from the edge now?”
“Guess we’ll see.”
Amy grins and sends another volley of attacks at Joey, who does indeed keep more to the middle with his leaps. Blue keeps an eye on the water just in case there’s any obvious amounts of blood from the wound he inflicted, but the wound must have been a shallow one. He wouldn’t win this on a light tap.
Surely her pokemon is getting tired by now? He can’t tell if it’s attacking any slower, but Joey is finally starting to feel the past few minutes of constant movement. Blue watches the shots of water hit closer and closer, and debates trying an attack before Joey gets too slow…
No. Now is the time for patience, not decisive action. He’ll stick to his plan.
It happens a few Water Guns later: the poliwhirl bobs up and spurts a jet that nails Joey square in the face. The rattata’s light body goes tumbling back, and Blue withdraws him immediately. Good job. He reclips the ball, and chooses another.
“If you send out another pokemon that’s just going to dodge over and over, I’m going to just leave and declare you the loser,” Amy says, voice flat.
Blue grins. “No you won’t. You already said all I have to do is beat your poliwhirl. You didn’t give a time limit, and you’re not going to go back on that now.” He hopes. “Go, Zubat!”
“This is ridiculous!” Amy glares at him as his pokemon materializes and begins fluttering around the room. “What can you possibly mean to do with that?”
“That’s for me to know, and you to find out.”
She scoffs. “Fine, have it your way.” And with that the fight is on again, the poliwhirl bobbing out of the water to spit a stream at his zubat.
Thankfully it’s as hard to hit as Zephyr was, and has its own projectile of sorts. “Zubat, Supersonic!”
His pokemon hovers in place and sends a tight beam of sound, inaudible to Blue or Amy, at the poliwhirl just as it ducks beneath the water. Blue can’t tell if it was affected or not, the move is unreliable even in the best of circumstances, but now at least he has a chance to fight back.
As the battle continues, Amy becomes visibly more cautious. Her gaze never leaves his pokemon as she presses buttons again and again, directing her poliwhirl around the arena to shoot and duck and circle around again. Blue tries to time the gap between each shot, but she keeps things unpredictable, sometimes coming up just a few seconds later on the same side of the arena, another time staying under for almost a minute before appearing at the corner nearest Blue.
Time is on her side, and she knows it. Her pokemon is in its element, barely using any energy to swim from place to place, more or less at its leisure. Meanwhile, his zubat is fluttering madly about, no stalactites or other objects on the ceilings or walls to rest on, even if that wouldn’t make it a sitting target. Blue begins to wonder if Amy’s also spacing out some of the attacks to let any confusion that might linger from a Supersonic fade. If he’s being optimistic, he can interpret her occasional button pushes that don’t result in anything as her pokemon being too disoriented to follow orders, but she’s also probably just moving it from place to place, or even trying to mislead Blue. He wouldn’t be surprised if some of the buttons on the handle didn’t do anything.
Some would call that paranoid. If there’s one thing Blue has learned from watching a thousand competitive trainers battle, it’s never to underestimate the depths they’ll go to hide their methods and mislead opponents.
He’d like to think he learned the lesson well.
Zubat sends another beam of sound down, but instead of dodging away as Blue expected, Amy’s poliwhirl just shoots another Water Gun, then another and another. His zubat is hit by the second and fourth, and Blue quickly withdraws it before looking at Amy’s poliwhirl.
This time its confusion is clear, the pokemon swimming left and right, then turning over to kick its webbed feet into the air for an ineffective dive. Amy keeps pressing the same button over and over, waiting for her pokemon to snap out of it.
This is his chance. But is it time yet? He could send Kemuri out now, get a quick Razor Leaf in…
His pokemon appears on the stadium and uncoils. Its tongue flicks out as it gets its bearings, then turns to the poliwhirl still floating in the water. “Acid!”
Amy presses a button, and her pokemon ducks beneath the water. “Seriously?” She asks, hand on a hip. “You’re using your fourth slot for an ekans?”
Blue shrugs. It won’t leave room for Maturin, Gon and Kemuri, but if Blue’s right, he won’t need both of his Grass types. “I’m the one that should be indignant,” he says. “You were faking that confusion, weren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she asks, pressing a button, and Blue quickly yells for his pokemon to dodge as the poliwhirl attacks again.
Blue smiles. She’s attacking so soon again to prove that she didn’t get lucky with her poliwhirl diving at just the right moment. He’ll likely never know whether her poliwhirl was ever really confused or not, but it wouldn’t have changed his plans if he did.
The battle continues more evenly matched than ever, with Amy’s poliwhirl having to dodge the sprays of acid his ekans shot out of its mouth every time it was attacked. His pokemon isn’t as good at dodging as the others, but he’s able to do some damage before he takes a couple hits and Blue withdraws him. Amy’s poliwhirl has visible burns on its skin from small splashes of acid.
“Two left,” Amy says. “It’s now or never.”
Blue nods. It’s time. “Go, Kemuri!”
Amy presses a button as soon as Blue’s pokemon appears, and when the poliwhirl bobs to the surface, it grips the sides of the arena and stares at the plant pokemon in unwavering concentration.
A beam of white light flash-freezes the ground as it traces a path upward toward Kemuri. Blue’s pokemon reacts too slowly to completely avoid it, and ice covers one of its leafy arms.
Ha. Blue knew she had an ice move just waiting for him to bring out a Grass Type. Now he knows better than to use Gon for his sixth pokemon. The shroomish wouldn’t have stood a chance, with his stubby legs.
As it stands, even Kemuri wouldn’t be able to keep up… but Amy’s poliwhirl is hurt, and must be at least a bit tired by now.
The poliwhirl dives out of sight, then reappears on the other end of the arena, preparing to shoot another beam. This time Kemuri dodges it, and the match becomes a game of whack-a-diglett as Blue’s shiftry leaps from place to place, avoiding Ice Beams and swiping at the poliwhirl with his unfrozen arm. His Leaf Tornado would be practically worthless while it thawed, and Blue is tempted to focus on dodging until it does. But if he gets taken out without doing any damage, Blue would be in a tight spot. He needs to either finish things now, or weaken the poliwhirl enough for Maturin to finish it off.
For now though they appear to be at a stalemate. Each time the poliwhirl tries to fire off another beam, Kemuri reaches it before it can and swipes, forcing it to dive back under. Poliwhirl aren’t naturally capable of ice attacks, which means Amy used a TM to teach it… and while it’s useful to have the wider coverage, especially against Grass types, it would never be as efficient or effective with the attack as an Ice pokemon.
Blue’s pulse jumps as the poliwhirl suddenly shoots out a Bubblebeam on its next surface. A rapid popopopopop fills the stadium as the stream of exploding bubbles strikes Kemuri and slows it down. “Kemuri, d-”
His pokemon abandons its forward momentum and throws itself to the side as the poliwhirl stops its attack and concentrates on another beam of freezing white light. It catches his pokemon in the side, and Blue knows it’s now or never. “Razor Leaf!”
Shivering and half covered in frost, Blue’s pokemon spreads the leaves of one hand and swings it, sending the sharp tips of each flying out like spinning shuriken. Amy’s poliwhirl is just ending its attack when they strike it, and the pokemon immediately ducks under the water, which darkens with its blood.
Blue quickly withdraws his pokemon and waits while Amy taps a button on her controller, pokeball in her other hand. They wait in tense silence for a few moments, and then her poliwhirl jumps out of the water and lands on the stadium, glistening skin retaining most of the water so that barely any drips onto the floor.
Amy hops onto the stadium floor and inspects her pokemon’s wounds. Blue can see the bleeding gashes along its arm and to the side of one bulbous eye. They appear to be superficial wounds, not enough to take it down if this was a real fight in the wild, but…
Amy turns to him. “What have you got left?”
“I was going to use my squirtle,” he says, and wonders if he should mention his shinx. It would make quick work of her pokemon, maybe would have even beat it while it was fresh, but he’d rather not reveal it until he faces Misty, just in case…
Amy deliberates a moment, then nods. “Okay, you win. But I want to know why it took you so long to bring your shiftry out,” she says as she takes out a potion and sprays her poliwhirl’s injuries. She murmurs something to it as she feeds it a poffin, then withdraws her pokemon and leans against the wall of her platform, arms crossed. “Spill.”
Blue feels himself relax as soon as she admits defeat, and leans against his platform railing as his battle calm slowly leaks away, replaced with a giddy relief. “I was partly trying to draw out the match,” he admits. “It was a great chance to give my pokemon some combat experience.” Part of him is a little disappointed he didn’t get a chance to send Maturin out. “But there was more to it than that. I watched your fight with Misty, and I knew I had to test for a range of attacks. I didn’t want you surprising me with a reverse coverage move the way you did her.”
The corner of her mouth twitches upward. “I thought you said you weren’t following me?”
He grins. “Those were your words, I just said I’ve been busy. But not too busy to watch Misty’s most recent battles, considering my plans to challenge her and all. I didn’t know you stayed after, that was an actual surprise, but I was happy to let you assume it also meant I didn’t see your battle.”
“Hmph. Well, as irritating as it was, you definitely earned the victory.” She cocks her head a bit, considering him. “You’ve got what it takes to go far, Blue. I look forward to seeing your Challenge.”
Her calculating look strongly reminds him of his sister. The two of them would probably get along, now that he thinks of it. Daisy tends to treat him like a kid more often than not, but once he shows his competence in an area, she respects him as an equal, more or less. It’s something he appreciates. “Thanks. For the match, too.”
“No problem. You going to hit the pokemon center?”
“No, I’ll be ready for the next battle in a minute.”
She raises a brow, but doesn’t comment. “Alright, I’ll go let them know. Good luck.”
Blue sits down and opens his bag, taking potion and ether bottles out so he can start healing his pokemon up for their next opponent.
Red sits cross-legged on his bed at the Trainer House, eyes closed and earphones on. The soothing sound of the ocean rushing against the shore fills his ears, and he can almost feel the hot sand and sunlight, almost smell the salt as he imagines himself on the beach…
Wait, no, he’s supposed to be focusing on his breathing. He banishes all thoughts of the beach and just focuses on drawing air in slowly through his nose… but now memories of going to the beach crowd in, playing in the sand with the Oaks or walking between his mom and dad along the beach, his small hands in theirs… His mom’s face, so happy, and his dad, looking at him with love-
Red’s eyes snap open. He sighs, and he reaches out to stop the sound loop playing on his phone before searching for a new one. Again.
It’s been two hours since he checked into the Trainer House with Leaf and came up to claim a bed. She said she was going to buy a laptop, then go around town talking to the locals. Red was curious what she was up to, but just agreed to talk to her later. He was eager to try meditating again, this time without distractions. Unfortunately, after doing some basic practice with an audio guide’s voice, he was failing at doing it on his own, which the websites for practicing sensitives insisted was necessary.
He already went through various online suggestions: acoustic music, which he found too distracting, the sound of rain and far-off thunder, which made him sleepy, and the crackle of a fireplace, which brought back more memories of camping with his dad.
Meditation never worked for Red before. He couldn’t stop the racing thoughts that ran through his head long enough to relax or clear his mind… despite his therapist telling Red he wasn’t actually supposed to clear his mind, that that was impossible. How did she put it?
“Imagine a river,” his therapist said, sitting in lotus position across from him. “It is your mind. In it, your consciousness, the thing that you call Red,” she extended a finger and touches it between Red’s eyes, “is the fish that swims surrounded by its water, your thoughts. You swim sometimes left or right, up or down… but you follow the river’s flow, barely aware of it. Only when you try and resist the current and swim upstream are you fully conscious of the effect the river has on your behavior.”
“So, meditation is going to help me control the current?”
“No, that is impossible. The river is you, but its current is shaped by things that are not you. The riverbank, the rocks in the earth, the rains. You cannot control the world around you. You can only react. While our eyes are closed, and we focus on our breathing, you will think random thoughts. You will hear things that draw your attention. A door closing in another office, or a phone ringing. They will distract you, return you to the river’s flow. Your job is to stay above the current. To sit on a rock in its waters, letting them flow around you, through you, wet without being submerged. When a thought flows by, pick it up, examine it… then let it go. Return to your breathing, your awareness of your body, and you will be at peace, no matter how the river rages.”
Red drums his fingers on his knee, then decides to give it a shot. He queues up a looping river soundtrack, and soon his ears are filled with the babbling of a brook, and the soft sigh of the wind through leaves above. When no memories immediately intrude, Red closes his eyes and tries to focus on his breathing again.
Breathe in… He draws the cool air into his lungs, slowly, counting to three.
Breathe out… He feels it exit his nose in a steady trickle, over the course of another three seconds.
This is dumb.
The thought comes unbidden, despite his desire to focus on the meditation. Red finds it frustrating that even without intrusive memories, his mind is still offering up distractions.
I should be working on getting published.
Or just training with one of my po-no, focus!
Red is suddenly aware that his left foot is a bit uncomfortable, tucked under his right knee the way it is. He adjusts it slightly, then tries to go back to the breathing. Focus on the feeling of air moving through your nose and lungs. Nothing else. Just feel that.
The sound of the river is calming. He can almost picture himself there, and decides to do exactly that. First just the river, its banks green and surrounded by forest. Then he places a big, mostly flat rock in the middle of the river, just large enough for a boy to sit on it. He watches the water split around it, lapping occasionally at the edges. Finally he places himself on the boulder, sitting as he imagines he looks now.
Without audio or visual distraction, he’s able to focus entirely on his thoughts and sensations. The feeling of his shirt on his skin, the pressure on his lower legs, the soft pillow against his back. His mind keeps wandering to Blue and Leaf and his mom and Professor Oak and Daisy and his dad, but in a way that gets more and more diffuse, easy for him to ignore and refocus on his breathing.
Eventually he feels like he’s as focused as he’s going to get, and starts ramping up his awareness. First he focuses on the crown of his head, and, imagining a ring of light, slowly traces it down to his neck, heightening his awareness of each part it passes. When it reaches his mouth he feels his tongue stuck to the roof of it, and relaxes his jaw to let it fall. It feels strange though, and after a moment he realizes he stopped moving the ring down, too distracted by the odd sensation of forcing his tongue to find a comfortable position so he can’t constantly feel it.
He sighs and opens his eyes again. There are a couple others in the room with him, one lying on their bed and reading, the other talking on their phone. Red considers taking an earplug out to hear what they’re saying, then banishes the impulse as sheer nosiness born from akrasia.
He forces himself to close his eyes and try again, picturing the river, the rock, himself, returning to his slow, steady breaths. This time when the ring reaches his mouth, he just lets it fall open a little, leaving his tongue in a comfortable and unobtrusive position.
Unfortunately now he keeps thinking of how he looks to anyone passing by, who would probably think he fell asleep. He almost closes his mouth, then decides against it. What should he care what strangers think?
…But now he’s busy thinking that just thinking about how he shouldn’t be distracted by what other people are thinking is distracting hi-
Breathing, focus on the breathing. In… out… in… out…
He finally moves the ring of light farther down, past his chin and neck, over his chest. He becomes aware of his heart beating, and even more aware of the expansion of his lungs, before his stomach starts to distract him. It’s been a few hours since breakfast, and he’s getting a bit hungry…
Red tries to move past the sensation, but now his mind keeps wondering what he’ll have for lunch, and whether he should ask Leaf to join him, and if he should try again when he’s full. After five minutes he decides to start all over, returning to his breathing, then imagining the river, then starting the ring of light at his head and moving it down his ne-
Red’s eyes snap open as the river sound is interrupted by the received message alert. He sighs and checks it, surprised for a moment to see that over an hour has passed since he began meditating.
His irritation vanishes when he realizes the email is from a publishing journal interested in his study.
We found your paper on the research boards looking for peer review and publication. We find your hypothesis and results fascinating, and would like to volunteer our services. If you find this agreeable, please contact us at your earliest convenience.
Advanced Research Publications
Red grins as he starts composing a response. He cautions himself not to be too optimistic, but still, it’s hard to be less excited at the prospect that today he might get his Researcher’s license. Well, not today, but from a chain of events that start today.
Once he sends his response, Red grabs a snack bar from his bag and starts munching on it as he paces, thoughts of lunch with Leaf forgotten. He notices the odd looks from the others in the room and goes out into the hallway to pace instead, checking his phone every so often even though he knows it will alert him when one arrives.
He’s looking at his screen when it does, and his grin slowly fades as he reads it. He stares for a moment, thumbs hesitating over the response keyboard. He starts typing a few times, only to delete what he wrote a few words in, until he finally just calls the number in the email signature.
“Hello, Advanced Research Publications, how may I direct your call?”
“Hi. Uh. I got an email about interest in publishing my paper, and had a few quest-”
Red listens to the waiting music with a slight frown, and continues pacing the hall. After a moment he realizes he’s still holding his snack bar and tucks it in his pocket. Of course it was all too good to be true. But still, he has to know for sure…
“Hello, this is Donald, how can I help you?”
“Hi. I’m Red Verres, I received an email about publishing my paper… I had some questions, if you wouldn’t mind?”
“Okay Red, give me one moment…” Red hears typing, and stops pacing so he can lean against the wall as he waits. “Yeees, I see. Well, what did you want to know, Red?”
“The email, it asked for… money. A lot. I just wanted to clarify, is this a submission fee, or a publication fee?” Please say publication…
“Submission, but I can assure you that we only send such offers to those we have great confidence in reaching our standards.”
“Are the offers made post peer review?” What an odd order of operation…
“No, technically that will still need to be done. But if you’re worried, we offer a very dynamic review process. And if the submission fee is a bit too high, we offer reductions if you have volunteer reviewers that will work with us.”
Red blinks. “I’m sorry, I don’t know if I heard that right. Did you just say volunteer reviewers? I pick them? To review my own paper?”
“Absolutely. We at ARP believe in an open access scientific community.”
“So I can just have my two friends submit their reviews?”
“As long as they have a Researcher’s license, we welcome their expertise.”
“Oh, well, that makes everything better.” Red clenches his teeth and takes a calming breath. It does help, but not by much. He holds out hope that maybe this isn’t as bad as he thought. “So is this submission fee in lieu of a publishing fee?”
“There is a minor publishing fee too, as we’re not subscription based. Our papers are offered free for all on our website, to ensure that your research has the highest chance of being read and cited.”
Red relaxes a little. That’s a bit more reasonable, then… and he does want people to read it, after all. “Well, how much is the publishing fee?”
“Eight hundred. But you can pay it in installments, and if you agree to review papers for our journal, we can reduce it for each paper you review, down to three hundred.”
Red’s hand rises to cover his eyes. “Because once I get published, I’ll have my Researcher license, and can review others to get their papers published too.”
“Exactly! If you’d like to submit your paper with reviewers, I can go ahead and email you the proper forms. If you have trouble finding reviewers, we can put you in contact with some who-”
“Yeah, sure, just email me whatever. Thanks.” Red hangs up and sighs. Thanks for not getting my hopes up, Past Red.
Anytime, Future Red.
Red feels like complaining to someone, and squashes the impulse to call his mom or Professor Oak. Leaf might be more acceptable, but he doesn’t want to distract her from her work. Instead he simply goes back to his room and finishes his snack bar as he lies on his bed and renews his search for journals to submit to. Journals that aren’t pyramid schemes churning out unvetted papers.
After Red submits to a few more places, he considers trying meditation again, and instead decides to scroll through recent research discoveries. There are some neat findings on different metal compositions in “Steel” Type pokemon that keep him engrossed for an hour, which leads him to some of the latest papers on interregional pokemon diversity. Red thinks back to his conversation with Professor Oak about there being no psychic rattata, and his recent readings about sensitives versus psychics.
Of course, it’s possible for there to be rather large differences in pokemon from different regions. Over millennia, natural selection is a powerful force for change. There may be no rattata that are Psychic Types, but in the Alolan islands there are Dark ones. Not just that, their raichu are Psychic, their exeggutor aren’t, their meowth are Dark, and their marowak have powers normally associated with Ghost Type pokemon. The regional differences there prove that whatever trait causes pokemon to become a type like Psychic or Dark can be introduced into a genetic pool, or manifest after enough mutation.
Red thinks of pokemon like noctowl and spinarak, who have some limited psychic powers, but aren’t considered Psychic Types. Maybe someday, somewhere in the world they’ll have developed what rudimentary powers they have, and be considered full Psychic Types.
If so, Red hopes whoever discovers them has the sense to call them something new. He wonders if researchers like Darwin debated what to call them when they discovered such variations in their travels. Red’s not sure why the alternate evolutions from Alola are still called “raichu,” “exeggutor,” “marowak” and “meowth,” rather than given their own names like others, such as gallade and froslass.
Semantic confusion aside, discovering his own variation would make for an amazing discovery. Journals would pay him to publish that paper.
Red takes out his notebook and makes a reminder to read more into pokemon breeding. If he can identify the strongest psychics in spinarak populations, maybe he can breed the first ever Bug/Psychic spinarak.
He could start reading about it now, but he has enough on his plate. With reluctance, he puts such thoughts aside and gets back to work on his abra plan. He starts drafting proposals to put on the city’s message boards to attract other trainers.
What really irks him is that he’s going to have to share the method with others. It would get out eventually, he knew, and it should, if it would lead to more people being able to catch and study abra. But it would have been nice to get some exclusive benefit out of the idea first, instead of sharing it with a dozen others, aside from Leaf and Blue.
But then, is that really necessary? Surely they don’t need a dozen. Red abandons his current draft and decides to work out exactly how many people it would take to safely enact.
He quickly realizes that while stronger trainers would require less of them, they would still need a lot of them in any case just to cover the full area necessary. What he needs is to find a place that doesn’t need so much caution, so that more trainers aren’t necessary. Or even a place near a Ranger Outpost around Cerulean Bay, where the abra are found…
Something tugs at Red’s memory. Blue. Something Blue said, recently. About abra? No, about the area. Land around Cerulean Bay is incredibly expensive to own, and a lot of it to the west is untamed, while the north…
Red sits up and calls Professor Oak.
“Hello Red! I was just going to have lunch, do you mind if I call you back?”
“No problem Professor, but I just have a quick question.”
“I need to talk to Bill.”
“Thank you!” Leaf waves at the taxi as it makes a u-turn, driving off back down the singular road that goes all along Cerulean Bay. Beside her, Red looks around at the verdant fields on one side of them and the shocking blue of the water on the other. He can just make out the mountains from here, those around Moon to the west and the smaller range to the north.
“This place is so pretty,” Leaf says as the wind whips her hair back. She raises a hand to shove her hat down more securely, and slowly turns to take it all in. “I’m surprised more people don’t live here.”
“I guess that’s one of the perks to being able to afford all this land.” Red steps off the road and onto the small path through the long grass. In the distance, he can just make out a building that looks far too wide to be a single person’s house. “Lack of neighbors, if you don’t want them.”
“Makes you wonder why he invited you.” Leaf sprays herself with some repellant, then offers it to Red, who does the same. “I mean I’m happy to come along, but couldn’t you guys just talk on the phone?”
“Once he knew what I wanted, he insisted.” Red shrugs. “I’m just happy to get to meet him.”
They make their way toward the house, which slowly resolves itself into several distinct shapes. Technically the house can be referred to as a cottage, relatively small and quaint looking, but it’s connected to so many wider, more modern buildings around it that the whole thing can easily be referred to as complex. Red spots a proximity sensor stuck in the ground to their left as they get within a kilometer of it, and wonders what Bill does if there’s a real threat in the area. From what he understands, the tech-genius has never distinguished himself as a particularly powerful trainer.
They just reach the clearing around the buildings when Leaf suddenly grabs Red’s arm and pulls him to a stop. “Red, look!”
Red follows her finger, and feels his heart jump into his throat. In the distance, right near the front door of one of the side buildings, there’s the unmistakable pink and fluffy form of a clefairy. The squat bipedal pokemon is just standing there, and Red quickly grabs a pokeball out of his pocket.
“Should we summon something?” he whispers.
“Might scare it off,” she says, holding her own pair of pokeballs now. “You go left.”
He nods, and the two split off to either side, moving slowly and quietly. Red can hear his heartbeat as he takes step after careful step forward, the wind threatening to blow his cap off as he stays carefully upwind of the pokemon.
Won’t matter, their hearing is much stronger than their smell, maybe Leaf should summon her Wigglytuff after all…
But the clefairy continues to just stand there as they approach, and Red gets close enough to see it’s looking right at him. He freezes, waiting for Leaf to approach it from the other side, when suddenly-
“About time. What took you guys so long?”
The wind blows Red’s hat off, and he doesn’t move.
The clefairy is still looking directly at him, voice surprisingly loud considering the distance between them, and all too human.
“Come on in, I need your help with something.” It turns and starts walking toward the front door.
Red stares after it, then turns slowly to Leaf, whose face is as blankly shocked as he imagines his is. It feels like his brain is broken. His mouth moves silently for a moment, then can only emit a flat, calm, “What.”