All posts by Damon Sasi

Chapter 3: Memetics 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red waves this off. “That’s just an example of how things can spread without being critically examined. The point is that ‘typing’ started in one culture, spread throughout it, and then moved on to every other culture from there. Normally when new ideas get introduced, there’s some pushback, some skepticism. It’s not immediately adopted as the norm.”

“But not the type system,” Leaf muses. “Because it was so useful.”

“Right! It’s such a strong meme because of how interactive and efficient it is. It satisfies the need people have to classify things and fit them into boxes. People like to pick favorites, to identify with whatever type they feel an affinity with, to construct personality types out of them, all that sort of stuff. On top of all that, it satisfies our desire for fairness and balance. With the typing meme, every pokemon has an added layer of strengths and weaknesses, so virtually none are strictly superior to any other.”

“Because they do have strengths and weaknesses,” Blue says, sounding like he’s being pulled in despite himself. “I wouldn’t say that none are purely better, though, I mean I’d never use a corsola over a barbaracle.”

“Aren’t corsola able to regenerate? But I said ‘virtually’ none, that means almost none.”

“Corsola regenerate slow, it’s practically useless in battle, and I know what ‘virtually’ means, Red.”

“Then why did you bother–”

“So the battle scene added to all that meme power,” Leaf interrupts, causing Red to refocus on what he’d been saying.

“Exactly. The commercialization really sped up how far it spread, until virtually every region adopted the same system with little time to critically examine it.” He glances at Blue, who lets the comment pass unchallenged, back to looking exasperated by the conversation. “The metagame revolved around it, and creating or countering a balanced team meant studying established type interactions. Even minor differences got washed away over time in the face of popularity and conformity: here in Kanto, we used to call them ‘Plant’ types before ‘Grass’ caught on, even though it makes less sense.”

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

“Hey, I always thought it was stupid.”

“Sure you did.”

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

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

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

Leaf is quiet for a moment. “So the whole idea of typing pokemon started in a certain culture, and spread as a concept from one to the next without necessarily being justified. You’re saying the ‘meme’ of pokemon types isn’t critically examined, but you’re not pointing out what it actually gets wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure, mienfoo.”

“Is it on your pokedex?”

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

“Neat. So, are mienfoo Fighting/Normal?”

“No, just Fighting.”


“Because it just… isn’t. Why would it be Fighting/Normal? Is there even a Fighting/Normal pokemon?”

“Bewear, from Alola,” Blue immediately says. “Because it’s weak to other Fighting types, unlike most.”

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


“Not Fighting/Normal?”


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

“I mean, it’s a normal looking Fighting type, but I guess it just doesn’t make sense to call it Fighting/Normal. It seems unnecessary to add it… unless it’s also weak to Fighting types?” She glances at Blue, who shakes his head.

“Just so we’re clear, ‘weak to Fighting types’ is not measurable,” Red says as he navigates his pokedex to show a poliwhirl. “What about this guy?”

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

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

“Definitely Water/Fighting.”

“What tipped you off?”

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

“But also a Water type.”

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

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

“A new type?”

“Yeah. How would you know?”

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

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

“Okay. Like what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Contradictory how?”

“Think back to the fighting examples. Why is it acceptable to call some pokemon Fighting/Water, but others just Fighting, when we call nearly every Flying pokemon that isn’t something else Flying/Normal?” He looks at Blue as his friend opens his mouth. “And before you bring up rookidee, if it’s that good at fighting Fighting pokemon–”

Leaf giggles. “‘Fighting Fighting’… now that you mention it, that’s such a silly name for them, isn’t it? It’s not like–”

The grass to her side rustles, and everyone freezes.

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

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

“Squirtle, go!”

“Come out, Bulbasaur!”

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

“Squirtle, Withdraw!”

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

“Water Gun!”

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

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

“Charmander, Tail Whip!”

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

“Bulbasaur, Tackle, then Vine Whip!”

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

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

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

The three trainers step back to back in a rough triangle, and their pokemon spread out to cover them as much as possible while the purple rodents warily circle them. A thrill of fear races down Red’s spine as he counts eight of them.

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

“So close to the road?” Leaf asks.

“Might be new.”

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

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

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

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

“Squirtle, Headbutt!”

“Bulbasaur, Tackle!”

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

“Bulbasaur, Vine Whip!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, yeah,” Red says, still feeling a ghost of the adrenaline rush, remembering the crystal clarity of his thoughts. “After doing it all digitally for so long, it’s just nice to finally pull it off in person, you know?”

Leaf nods. “You guys were great.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue looks up. “You contacting CoRRNet?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hell yeah!” Red takes out one of his unregistered pokeballs as the rattata begins to get shakily to its feet, and with a press of the lens-button, expands it. He holds the ball out so the lens faces the rattata, and three seconds later it emits a chime as it finishes scanning its target.

Red cocks his arm back and throws, muscle memory kicking in from hours of practice he and Blue spent hitting cans with rocks. The ball hits the rattata dead on, and sucks it in with a burst of light before rolling along the ground. Red light blinks over the lens as it registers the pokemon inside, then fades.

“Nice job!”

“Congratulations Red!”

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2: Fallacy of the Single Cause

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

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

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

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

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

“Bulbasaur! I choose you!”

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

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

“Squirtle! Go!”

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

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

A flash of light, and then his ball comes back, faster than he’d thrown it, and at a slight angle. He stretches out his arm, but the ball hits the wall behind him with a crack that makes him wince. He’d never been the best at catching pokeballs in the practice lessons at school, and his nervousness here is undoing all the practice he put in for his journey.

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


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

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

Red pulls a plastic pouch out of the side compartment in his bag and rolls some berries onto his palm. There are a wide variety in it, each with slightly different properties. Most medicine is based on a certain berries and fruit, oran and obon for healing, leppa for energy, but the majority are mundane food or treats for training.

The charmander’s rough, warm tongue snaps out to scoop up the ones it likes, and he runs his fingers over the soft scales of its head as it chews. Bright blue eyes rise to meet his, and Red’s chest tightens as he looks down at his first pokemon. As far back as he can remember he’d dreamed of forming a bond with his very own, a companion for life, something for him to take care of, that would defend him if needed. Together they’d be able to travel the world, like his father had…

Before he joined the Rangers, and got killed by a wild scyther.

Red shakes his head, driving the thought away, then gives the charmander one more scratch between its eyes, and stands. He knows the next part of the drill, he’s done all this and more countless times in the sims, but somehow it’s different in person. Soon the target pokedolls are sliding forward along their rails; the one in front of Red is shaped roughly like a beedrill.

“Charmander, battle.”

His pokemon goes rigid, and then it spins around. When it catches sight of the pokedoll, it growls, stepping in front of Red. Red feels a bit absurd for a second, being protected by a creature that barely reaches past his knees once it’s on all fours, but a glance at the sharp claws extending from its hands and feet does away with that. A closer glance also shows that the flame at the end of its tail is larger than it was a second ago, too.

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

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

“Charmander, scratch!”

“Squirtle, bite!”

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

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

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

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

“Charmander, ember!”

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

“Squirtle, watergun!”

“Bulbasaur, vinewhip!”

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

“Good,” Oak says. “Most pokemon are smart enough to learn a number of commands, but yours are particularly intelligent. Try teaching them new ones, or experiment with the ones they have, and keep practicing until your pokemon begin to show signs of tiring. Physical attacks tend to be less tiring than their more unique abilities. As their trainers, you will need to learn how to judge your pokemon’s health and withdraw them if they are too hurt or weary. Continue.”

“Bulbasaur, Tackle!”

“Squirtle, Watergun!”

“Charmander, Ember!”

They continued drilling with their pokemon for another couple of minutes, trying out all sorts of different maneuvers: running, guarding, following, dodging, and mixing attacks with all those and a dozen more before Red begins noticing the signs of weariness. The squirtle’s shots of water are smaller and less powerful. Bulbasaur moves slower, and his vines strike with less force. And his charmander…

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

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

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

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

Fire isn’t something that can be thrown…

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

He almost remembers Professor Oak’s caution about the recoil too late, and braces his arm just before the flash of light that brings Charmander out sends his arm snapping back. Red grimaces and rubs his elbow.

Note to self: work on upper body strength more to at least reach a threshold of summoning pokemon one handed.

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

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

“Bulbasaur, return.”

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

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


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


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

What else burns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You tell me, Red.”

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

1) Will it cause harm to a human?

2) Will it cause permanent harm to a pokemon?

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

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

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

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

“Then you may proceed with caution.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That I didn’t do it fast enough, I think.”

“Well, hurry it up, then, so we can get going.”

Red takes his notebook out again and this time leaves the entire thing on the floor, then moves away and points at it. “Ember!”

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

“Dammit,” Red mutters.

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

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

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

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

“How did you learn it?”

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

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

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

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

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

“And does it?”

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

“So ‘no,'” Blue says with a smirk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right. Well, it’s a good idea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red frowns. “Yeah, great, the pokeball’s safety conditioning is very thorough… so thorough I can’t test my prediction.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep,” Red says with a grin. “Just before it burned away. It must catch fire when it gets air. Let’s do it again so you can see!”

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

“But we have to see if it’s replicable!”

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

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

Professor Oak is smiling at him. “I think I can clear that up. That was a very, ah, innovative experiment you pulled off. It took me much longer to isolate the oil, though I didn’t risk immolation to do it. Still, well done, all of you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red smiles. “Well, I had some help.”

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

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

Blue tosses the piece of pokedoll padding aside and follows. “Just as long as we actually end up catching some too.”

Chapter 1: Unreliable Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


He buries his face in his pillow, right hand taking a second one to cover his head. His left swipes in the direction of the sound, seeking the snooze button but finding only air.


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


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

“Hey Future Red, you awake?”

-and then snap open.

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

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

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

Red scrambles for the alarm, too late-


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

Today’s the day.

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

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

7:32 AM.

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

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

“Morning Red.”

“Morning mom!”

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

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

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

“No.” Red slides some bread into the toaster, then turns the stove off and lifts the eggs onto a plate. When he asked his mother to teach him how to cook last year it was harder to reach the stove without standing on a stepping stool, but now he feels comfortable in the kitchen. A year ago he and Blue spent an afternoon imagining all the worst situations they might find themselves in on their journey, and while most weren’t particularly likely or easy to prepare for, the thought of losing all their food while in the wilderness led to them asking Red’s mom to teach them how to cook. “He said he would call when it’s ready.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red smiles and closes the door firmly behind him.

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

“Got everything?”

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

“I-I think so.”

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

“Of course.”

“And every night after!”

Red shifts his weight. “Yeah.”

“If you need anymore underwear-”

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

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

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

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

“Be careful, Red,” she whispers.

“I will, mom.”

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

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

“Nah, just woke up when they called.” Blue Oak yawns, rubbing one eye. “Couldn’t sleep last night, ended up watching League matches and working on my type chart till after midnight.”

Red suppresses a sigh, knowing he’s not in a position to throw stones and accustomed by now to his friend’s obsession with pokemon battles… an obsession that’s divided them more and more in the two years since Professor Oak noticed Red reading books far beyond his grade level, and talked his mother into pulling him from school to apprentice at Pallet Labs.

At first Red thought the growing distance between them was from jealousy on Blue’s part, but his friend showed little interest in the scientific pursuits his grandfather and Red shared. It blew Red’s mind when a researcher in Johto discovered that, despite pokemon mothers only ever giving birth to their own specie even when mating with a different one, their children sometimes demonstrate powers unique to their father’s, proving that some genetic transfer does occur despite no other signs of hybridization. When he explained it to Blue, however, his friend wasn’t interested in the implications that pokemon gain intuitive understanding of any abilities they genetically acquire; instead Blue just began feverishly mapping out potential ability combinations to try for breeding competitive pokemon.

Worse than their drift in interests is Red’s growing suspicion that the entire concept of pokemon “types,” the bedrock upon which all pokemon battle strategy is built, is majorly flawed…

“Let me see?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, that’s good enough for me.”

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

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

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

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

Red rolls his eyes. Thankfully Blue is smart enough to know the difference between anecdotal evidence and evidence from rigorous experimentation, but he still puts too much stock in observation vs theory. Sometimes all it takes is one carefully constructed and repeatable experiment to understand the truth behind a thousand different disputing observations.

They’ve argued about it often, but last month things came to a head when Blue declared that he’d rather learn from experience than trust what’s in books, and that Red would waste his life reading rather than doing anything worth writing about. Red responded that maybe Blue was just too stupid to learn something until he had it beaten into him, and shortly after that one of them had thrown the first punch.

They didn’t speak to each other for two weeks after Red’s mom pulled them apart, which was about how long it took for his black eye (left to heal without medicine as punishment) to fade. It was only their coming adventure that put their fight behind them by unspoken consent, and Red doesn’t want to risk ruining this special day by rehashing it.

Instead they cross a few more streets in silence, until the lab is just a block away and Red’s excitement returns. “Still no clue what we’ll get?”

“No, he’s really sticking to it being a ‘surprise,’ which has not been helpful for planning. You weren’t able to find any hints?”

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

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

They enter the air conditioned lab and walk together through the entrance hall, where sketches and diagrams of pokemon physiology are displayed along the walls. Red spots his favorite, a drawing of a dissected bulbasaur that’s hundreds of years old. The frail, carefully sealed parchment details how the plant material is rooted and merged with the reptilian body. It’s the first historical evidence of someone attempting a naturalistic study of pokemon, rather than the ubiquitous regard of them as supernatural and mythic creatures.

It took a hundred generations for the rest of civilization to catch up with the unknown researcher’s perspective. To treat pokemon as creatures that could be studied and understood, rather than just tamed by warriors and warlords seeking to keep their villages safe and expand their territory. A new perspective most honored by those like Samuel Oak, among the first generation of trainers dubbed “Pokemon Professor.”

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

“Good luck, Blue!”

“Have fun you two!”

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

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

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

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

“Hey gramps!”

“Morning Professor Oak!”

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

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

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

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

She smiles. “Nice to meet you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Oak moves the ball away from Red’s pokedex and does the same thing to Blue’s and Leaf’s. The video on Red’s pokedex freezes as soon as the lens is no longer aligned, and #001 fills and colors Bulbasaur’s name in green and purple.

“When you catch a new Pokemon, just hold it up to the lens like this, and the pokedex will identify it and record whatever information it can. Your pokedexes all have access to the sum total of knowledge we currently have about the various species, and it’s up to you to catch as many pokemon as possible to help us gather new information on them. The more you catch, even among the same species, the more data we have on them, so each capture you make has the potential to teach us more. Do your best to try to catch them all!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which ones?”

“All of them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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