When Red first sees it, he thinks it’s another rejection letter. His eyes catch on sorry to inform you and his cursor is halfway to deleting it before he sees the number farther down.
His heart skips a beat and his skin goes cold as he quickly reads the paragraph in full, then starts from the beginning, pulse speeding up as he grins wider and wider.
Dear Mr. Verres,
Thank you for your petition. We are sorry to inform you that there is not sufficient interest in your research proposal at this time to grant the full funding requested. However, we have decided that a smaller grant could still serve to explore whether your hypothesis justifies further study.
If this is acceptable, please contact us by the end of the day to receive the proper forms. The offer will be valid for two months, and once accepted, the grant of $2,000 will be made available to you for the duration of four months.
Seeds for the Future, Inc.
“Hey.” The girl on a neighboring computer is looking at him with concern. “Are you alright?”
Red’s growing cackles end in a cough and nods. “Yeah, just… saw a funny meowth picture.”
The girl raises a brow, and Red struggles to tone his grin down to appropriate levels until she turns back to her screen. By then the euphoric rush begins to subside, and he has to confront the reduced funding.
It’s not terrible. Red’s original estimates were for the duration of their month in Pewter, and he’s already a week into it. If he uses the last few days of the month to analyze the data and write the paper, the money should afford him a psychic’s services for the three weeks between now and then. It’ll mean a smaller scale for the project, but it’s better than nothing.
Red looks back through his outbox for the letter he sent to Seeds and saves it for future reference. The next time he has to write for grant money, he’ll start by modelling the general tone and themes of this one. It might not be important, for all he knows any other decently written letter would have gotten the same response from them. One of his supervisors at Pallet Labs, Dr. Madi, suggested he try them out, as they’re known for funding a wide variety of cheap and eccentric research projects in search of undiscovered low hanging fruit.
Red forwards the acceptance letter to Professor Oak and Dr. Madi, then opens his contacts. Now that funding is a probability rather than a possibility, he can start contacting psychics to find one that’s interested in being hired as a human lab rattata.
Red writes a proposal to Narud first, both as a courtesy and because he already has his contact info. He attaches the acceptance letter and sends it off, then looks up other psychics advertising in Pewter.
The remains of Red’s elation quickly peter out as he looks through the potential choices. Counting Narud, there are a total of 7 psychics free to render services at different times throughout the next three weeks. Red was prepared to write up an email and then send it out to all the potential testers, but with such a limited pool he can’t afford to waste a single proposal that isn’t perfect. Red’s already regretting how casually he wrote the one to Narud.
Since he expects to get the answers to these back quickly, he can and should take his time with them, and iterate on each based on any notable weaknesses in the previous. Red begins more in-depth research of the psychics, treating them as he would the grant agencies and trying to learn all he can about their interests and motivations.
It doesn’t matter that he’s the one offering money now: a competent psychic is rarely lacking work, and well paying work at that. Unless Red finds some hint that one of them is under severe financial stress, he needs them more than they need him, and that means he’s already entering the potential partnership at a disadvantage.
Other than studying pokemon, few subjects captured his attention as a kid besides psychology. He read some books on finance and economics and found them mildly interesting, but they never held his attention until he found ones that went into more detail on the incentives that drive behavior, or interpersonal dynamics between people engaging in business deals. One that particularly stuck in his mind detailed the “Golden Rules” of negotiation… many of which he’s breaking right now.
He’s doing his background research, so that’s a plus, but it’s pretty much the only one he has going for him. The worst offense is that he’s negotiating from a place of desperation. Some of it is about manageable expectations: he knows not to let the psychics figure out how limited his options are. But the hard reality at the core of it is that he can’t afford to walk away from all of them… and a negotiation one party can’t walk away from is no negotiation at all.
Red frowns and looks at the email he wrote to Narud, wishing he hadn’t attached the letter but knowing it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Another rule he’s going to have to break is not showing them everything he has to offer right away. The worst he can do is also the best, and offering anything less than 2,000, even just to set a low “anchor” for expectations, would be simply insulting and probably lead to an immediate rejection.
Red leans back in his chair and puts his hands behind his head. What’s left? Lateral concession, for one: if they want more money he can’t give, he can offer something unrelated that they value, if he can figure out what that might be. It also ties into the most important rule: make sure that they feel like they can walk away with a win.
Red’s stomach growls, and he logs off and leaves the computer lab to get some food. He woke up this morning expecting another long day of research and writing, and it turns out that even with his unexpected first success, he’ll be doing more of the same. Ah well. At least he’s mentally prepared.
Red checks his phone as he walks in case he missed any texts from Blue or Leaf. The three of them haven’t been in one place since the night of Blue’s loss, and Red still hasn’t told either of them that he’s psychic. When they find out that he’s trying to hire one it will be a hard question to dodge, so when he has a second to spare, he’ll have to think on how to approach that, too.
Maybe he’ll just write them a letter.
“You kids these days, you don’t understand anything. You think you do, with the internet on your phones, ready to answer any questions you have in a second. But knowledge and understanding, those are completely different. Completely different! You understand?”
“No, obaa-sama,” Leaf says with a slight dip of her head.
The old woman’s face wrinkles further as she smiles, one hand tucking a loop of silver hair behind her ear. “Good. Then maybe there’s hope for you. Your accent is atrocious though. Stick to Unown.”
Leaf smiles back. “Yes, grandmother.”
The two are sitting on a bench outside Pewter Museum, in the shade of an oak tree. Leaf’s bulbasaur and the old woman’s roselia are playing around its trunk, stopping to race for the berries the two throw to them every so often.
“Your question comes from a place of simplicity. Where do the majuu come from, why they are so different from us. That is what this museum displays. I do not mind what they say they have found. I mind that they assume this will help them understand the majuu.”
Leaf tosses another berry with her left hand while her right scribbles on the notebook propped up against her leg. “You don’t believe it will?”
“Rocks from the ground are not understanding. Perhaps the gods made the majuu from water, perhaps from stone. Perhaps they did both or neither. We cannot go back and see, so we guess. But why? What matters is that they are here, and we are here, and we must try and live together.”
Leaf nods. “I agree that the most important thing is learning to live with them. But if we learn their origins, we can learn more about why they behave the way they do.”
“Well, so we can train them better. Or maybe we learn more about their biology, develop better medicine for them. And some people revere certain pokemon or hate others based on beliefs that might be wrong. Isn’t that important?”
The old woman turns her cane slowly in her hand, the pokeball at its tip catching the sunlight through the branches. Eventually her head bobs from side to side. “Perhaps. Or perhaps you just fool yourselves into new false thoughts. When I was your age, people respected the majuu, and that respect kept us safe. Now we have these machines to do that, but we lost the respect of forces greater than ourselves.”
“I was always taught to respect pokemon, both as friends and threats.”
“Iie, iie. No. This very name you use, ‘pokemon,’ shows how little respect there is. It is a hard thing to explain, across the decades between us. I cannot describe to you what the world was like before such a word existed. What it was like to hear one’s children call those we fought for centuries their ‘pocket monsters,’ and brandish them as playthings.”
Leaf pauses in her writing to think of an answer to this, and the old woman leans forward to throw a pair of berries at the two pokemon. Bulbasaur’s vines lash out to grab both, but the roselia rebuffs one with one flower while the other catches the berry and lowers it to her mouth. The old woman runs a finger over the pokeball at the end of her cane “They are useful, hai. But putting a majuu in a toy does not make them toys. The storm gods still soar above our heads, beyond the reach of our mortal tricks. How many have died, attempting to capture them?”
“But if one were ever caught,” Leaf says, picking her words with care, “Wouldn’t that save a lot more lives, eventually?”
“And who will this trainer be? What new calamities will they bring, with such power in their pocket? Kingdoms have warred for less, long before mankind’s reach exceeded its grasp. Perhaps next someone will make a ball big enough and catch the Earth, or throw it far enough and catch the Sun. It is folly.”
Leaf slowly nods as she finishes up her notes, thinking of the legends of Unova. Of armies that went to war over the power of legendary pokemon, or the ideals they believed those legends represented. Of battles that scarred the landscape to this very day.
She’s not sure she believes those stories, exactly. Not that it’s hard to imagine similar things happening if humans could control pokemon as powerful as the weather trio, or the stormbringers, but there’s a lot more she can say if she wants to convince the old woman of the good that scientific progress brings, despite the risks. The woman herself would likely not have lived past her hundredth year without advances in medicine.
But it’s not Leaf’s job today to persuade people one by one. She’s here to simply listen and question and learn. This is her fourth interview today, found by simply wandering around outside and inside the museum and asking people who don’t seem busy if they would answer some questions about it and themselves. This conversation drifted quite far afield compared to the others, but still feels pertinent.
Leaf throws her last few berries to their pokemon and watches them eat, then stands and withdraws her bulbasaur. She turns to the old woman and bows. “Thank you for your wisdom, grandmother.”
“Pah.” The old woman waves her hand to the side, as if brushing away some crumbs. “The young do not listen to the old.” She smiles. “And perhaps they shouldn’t. It is not our world to live in for long, and regardless, you will do with it as you choose when we are gone.”
Leaf smiles and bows again, then goes in search of another interview.
“I’m afraid two thousand isn’t enough to cover three weeks on call,” Psychic Ranna says.
Red feels his stomach clench, and switches the phone to his other hand as he takes a moment to ensure his voice is steady. “You wouldn’t need to be on call, just so long as I can send the participants to you at some point within the three weeks for a quick session.”
It’s the day after he got his acceptance letter, and Red’s sitting in one of the Trainer House’s work rooms. He’s on his second to last potential experiment partner. Narud rejected his offer out of hand, and the rest of the psychics he contacted were just as firm in their negation, if not quite as haughty. He started calling rather than sending emails after the third, and considered going to meet them before realizing the idiocy of negotiating with a psychic in person. Not that he has anything to hide, but he doesn’t know exactly how a psychic reads someone, and whatever points he might gain for sincerity would probably be offset by his unbidden thoughts of desperation and manipulating the situation to his advantage.
“That… might be workable,” the psychic says, and Red’s heart leaps. “If the appointments are brief enough. You merely want me to submit to a Night Shade attack and record the experience, correct?”
“Yes. All in all, that would take maybe 10 minutes, right?”
“More like twenty, I would say.”
“Twenty, then.” Red looks over the notes he made on Ranna before calling. Her advertised services are a mixture of therapeutic work and romantic validation, with what Red suspects is a bit of private investigation, euphemistically concealed. Her site is decorated with vague espeon imagery, her calendar for the coming week shows no openings on Saturdays, and while there are openings starting from 10 in the morning, most of the appointments she already has start after noon. They all have clearly defined start and end times, so it will be easy for Red to schedule and fit in quick sessions with subjects. “I’m fully willing to work around any openings in your schedule.”
“What would the recording entail?”
“A simple video is fine, along with a written line or two of description, then a score from 1-10 on how intense or painful the experience was. After that you can induce amnesia to erase the memory.” Learning about that particular ability had strengthened his methodology immensely. Normally he would be worried about the psychic’s experiences of the previous sessions influencing their assessment of the later ones, but they could literally forget what it was like each time. It’s the closest way of ensuring objectivity for something so subjective short of cloning them a few dozen times and lining each to a separate attack.
“And what is the purpose of this study?”
“That I can’t tell you until after the tests are done. In order for it to be as objective as possible, I need to minimize any influence I might have on your judgement.”
There’s silence from the other end, and Red holds his breath. “Then I believe I can accept this—” Yes! “—as long as I can take steps to assure my safety.”
Uh oh. “Steps like what?”
“Ensuring the trainer does not mean me ill, or cannot take advantage of my weakened state if one of their attacks incapacitates me.”
Red relaxes. “That sounds perfectly reasonable.”
“The trainer will have to subject themselves to checks I deem necessary.”
“I’ll be sure they understand before participating.”
“Also, I do not make appointments on Saturdays.”
“I know. That’s fine.”
“And I would like to cap the maximum appointments to 20.”
Red is quiet. He accepted her other conditions easily, expecting something more important lay behind them, and here it is. A sticking point. “I’m afraid it will have to be more than that. This is a scientific study, and the sample size, meaning the amount of pokemon tested, is of vital importance. Too few and the study would be worthless.”
“And 20 is too few?”
“Then the compensation is not adequate. I cannot agree to meet with any number of people in three weeks for a flat fee. There could be hundreds.”
“I understand, that’s a valid concern. If you could agree to 60, the study would be far more robust.”
“In three weeks? Perhaps 30 could be done.”
“I’m afraid that’s still too low.” How many subjects does he realistically expect to have? He’d like to think he can get at least 60, but that’s being optimistic. He has to go in with low expectations, or he’ll waste concessions bargaining for something too high. If he can get her to 40, that would probably be enough, and anything above that is a bonus. “I might be able to find a significant result with 50.”
“Fifty appointments for $2,000 is unacceptable, even at twenty minutes per session.”
Red does some quick math and realizes that she’s turning down two thousand dollars for roughly two days of work, spread out over three weeks. Red reminds himself to become a professional psychic if he’s ever having money trouble after he develops his powers. “Keep in mind this is a maximum. If I can’t find more than, say, 3 people, you’ll have 2,000 for maybe an hour of work.”
“Well, that hardly seems more fair to you. Perhaps we could work on a session by session basis. This would also free you to work with other psychics if they have more availability.”
Red’s pulse speeds up. This is exactly where he didn’t want the conversation to go. Without the discount of a bundle deal, he’s not going to be able to afford more than 20 sessions at a normal price anyway. “Unfortunately, there are restrictions on grant money’s use.” Technically true. “In addition, using a different psychic would introduce far too much subjectivity. The only way this can work is with a mutual commitment.” Don’t just tell them what you need, tell them how it benefits them. “And remember, this business comes at no opportunity cost. I will find the clients and work them into the openings in your schedule, so that you don’t have a conflict with any other appointments.”
“A fair point. In light of that, I believe I can do 35.”
Still not quite what he wants, but Red is out of things to offer. There has to be something else, some lateral concession… “If you can go as high as 45, I can arrange around Sunday as well.”
“I normally have appointments on Sunday. It’s no bother.”
What else? Red looks at her schedule again. “What if I also refrain from any appointments before noon?” Come on, come on…
Another moment of silence, and then: “Forty. That is as high as I can go.”
Red bursts into a grin and gives himself a second or two before saying, “Agreed. Thank you. Should I head over now so we can finalize the details and arrange for the fund transfer?”
“Yes, I will be available until one.”
“See you soon.” Red hangs up, then leaps into the air and whoops, punching at the ceiling before throwing the door open and jogging down the hall toward the elevators.
Leaf watches the cursor move to the end of a sentence, then split the paragraph in half. “New paragraph there?”
“Yes,” Laura says through Leaf’s earphones. “The point on Pewter’s proud history was made, and can stand alone. Don’t link it explicitly to the contributions to the rest of the region and world, since that point can be much stronger on its own, once expanded.”
“Got it.” Leaf moves her own cursor down and types in some notes to indicate what will fill out the rest of the paragraph. Meanwhile Laura’s cursor scrolls farther down the shared document as she reads on.
“Good, good… Hmm. ‘Pewter’s leadership is needed more than ever’ is a bit much, you don’t want to tell them what you believe, you want to show them why it’s the naturally correct belief to have.”
Leaf scrolls down to where she is and thinks a moment, then begins rewriting:
Over the course of a generation, the paleontologists and geologists of Pewter have revolutionized their fields. The museum has grown steadily all the while, showcasing their findings, educating the public, drawing tourism, and employing thousands, directly or indirectly. Through its partnership with Cinnabar Labs, a whole new field of scientific exploration was founded: the resurrection of ancient life. New secrets began to be uncovered and revealed every day as humanity raced to explore the new world Pewter made possible.
But Pewter is no longer at the forefront of its own creation. In the last few years it has seen less innovation and discovery, and its museum, which once had new exhibits every year, went almost a decade without any. Others have risen to showcase the new discoveries, though their pace is slow.
Through Pewter runs the wisdom and tenacity of generations, traits that are unmatched by the other cities that race forward to fill the void it leaves behind. The world is full of dangers, both old and new. Species of pokemon that have not existed for millennia are returning to the world. Without proper leadership, humanity’s reach may, before long, exceed its grasp.
“Very nice,” Laura says. “Take out ‘and revealed’ from ‘uncovered and revealed,’ and change ‘once had’ to ‘once opened.’ We’ll also have to work on your passive voice later. I like the last line quite a bit, by the way. Where’s it from?”
“An older woman I interviewed a couple days ago said something like it. Should I credit her?”
“If it’s not a direct quote, no. Let me see… hm. Looks like a poet said something similar, over a hundred years ago. Maybe that’s where she got it, or maybe it’s just an old saying. Either way, it’s fine as is.”
Leaf smiles and tucks her hair behind her ear. She’s been writing since morning, and needs a good meal, a hot shower, and a full night’s sleep in that order, but right now she’s just excited to be writing again. She’s almost back at where her original was in terms of length. “So what do you think so far?”
“Not a bad start. I’d say you’re about halfway done content-wise, but three quarters of the way there in word count. Keep an eye on that, or it’ll keep creeping up faster than it should and you’ll just have to edit out more at the end. How are the interviews going?”
“I’ve pretty much finished with citizens in the city, those at the museum, and tourists. Next I just need to get some big names. There’s Dr. Brenner, who I told you about, and I’m hoping she can get me an in with others, like the director, or even the mayor.”
“Yeah, apparently he’s the one who’s been giving them the green light to open the new exhibits.”
Mrs. Verres is quiet for a moment, and Leaf continues typing until she says, “How political is this, Leaf? I know it’s a contentious topic for some residents, but what else is there to it?”
Leaf pauses in her writing. “Um. I’m not sure. Dr. Brenner said that she thinks Leader Brock is upset about the new exhibits?”
“They weren’t allowed before?”
“Something like that, yeah.” She hears Laura sigh, and feels a stab of worry. “Is that a problem?”
“Well, maybe not. I wish I’d known this sooner, though.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think—”
“No, it’s not your fault. I should have thought of it.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing sweety, I’m sure it—”
“Don’t patronize me.”
There’s a moment of silence, and Leaf puts her hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry Mrs. Verres, for a moment there I totally forgot who I was talking to—”
Laura chuckles, and Leaf feels some tension go out of her shoulders. “Who are you talking to? I’m no one special.”
“That’s not true, you’ve been so nice and helpful, and I just felt like I was… well, like I was talking to my mom.”
“I guess I can take that as a compliment,” Laura asks, voice wry. “Do you talk to your mother like that?”
“Sometimes. She usually does a good job of not talking down to me.”
“Like I was. You’re right. I’m sorry, I forget sometimes what it was like to be young. Let me collect my thoughts for a moment.”
Leaf does some half-hearted editing while she waits, trying to ignore her anxiety. Would Laura stop helping her, now? Maybe she would ask her to rewrite it all from scratch again… or tell her to give it up completely. Leaf doesn’t think she could do that, regardless of what Laura says.
“Okay, so here’s the thing. How much do you know about politics?”
“Not a whole lot. I know a bit of Unova’s, but—”
“No, not local issues or groups. I mean politics itself. The practice of influence, governance, and even control of others.”
“I guess I’ve been learning a bit about the first from you.”
“A bit, yes. But there’s a huge difference between writing to influence others on a topic, and writing to change people’s political beliefs… especially when there might be political figures involved. Can you guess why?”
“Because they might take it personally?”
Laura lets out a brief laugh. “Personally, she says. Leaf, people’s jobs might hinge on denying what you say in this article. People may have spent years working against the change you’re advocating for. This isn’t just an opinion piece anymore, it’s an attack.”
Leaf frowns. “But… I’m not naming anyone, or—”
“Doesn’t matter. Politics is always about conflict, just instead of fighting the person you disagree with physically, you use words. You’re entering a battle, maybe even a war, and you’re not trained for it.”
Leaf tries to fully consider what Laura is telling her, rather than reject it or minimize it out of hand. “So what you’re saying is, my article won’t convince anyone,” she says at last, and slumps back in her chair.
“No, that’s not what I meant. It may well convince a lot of people. The problem is, the people it doesn’t convince aren’t just going to shake their head and go along their day. In fact, the more people it convinces, the more the people it doesn’t convince are going to get up in arms and start firing back.”
Leaf smiles, sitting up again. “So it starts discussion. That’s great! I don’t mind if a few people get upset, as long as it gets people talking about the issues.”
“I’m sorry Leaf, I’m not being clear. Some people, maybe even most, will argue the issues, yes. But some will find a much easier target: you.”
“What? Why me?” Leaf shakes her head. “Nevermind, stupid question. Because it’s easier than addressing the arguments. Much better to discredit the young foreign girl who thinks she knows what’s best for Pewter, after being here all of a month.”
“If it’s any consolation, they would do the same to anyone arguing a side that they oppose. It’s just the nature of the beast. And even within that kind of political theater, most of it won’t be personal… but for some it will. It can get nasty, Leaf. And I know you don’t want me to talk down to you, but nasty even for an adult. Do you understand? Some of them might hold back because of your age, but others won’t. They’ll drag you through the mud if they can, try to make you a laughingstock. Whatever dirt they can find, they’ll dig up and fling, and the rest will just pull some out thei… out of thin air, and throw that too.”
Leaf sits quietly through this, mind playing it out in full detail. She imagines reading articles about herself, portrayed as some ditzy airhead, or stuck up know-it-all. She imagines them dissecting her article, taking things out of context and putting a negative spin on everything. She imagines them finding out about the time she threw a tantrum at a store when she was younger, causing a huge scene and throwing merchandise around until a pokemon got loose and the store got evacuated. Part of her knows she’s more embarrassed in retrospect than her mom was (grandpa thought it was hilarious), but it’s something she still internally cringes at when thinking about, and it would mortify her to have Red or Blue learn about it, let alone all of Pewter.
And at that thought, more than any fear or embarrassment, she finds herself getting angry.
“Now, I don’t want this to scare you off the project,” Laura says. “And maybe I’m blowing things way out of proportion, and it’s not a big deal at all. What you might want to consider is—”
“I’m not scared. And I’m not giving it up.” Leaf keeps her voice level. If I let them shut me up out of fear, before I even try, then what good am I? “If this article might convince people, might really change things for the better, then I’m going to publish it, and deal with the consequences.” And if they think I’ll just take it lying down…
“Well, that’s very brave of you Leaf, but I’m worried you’re not… no, I’m sorry. I won’t patronize you. If you think you’re ready to handle that, well… you’re already risking your life every day, I guess this is just another battlefield.”
Leaf smiles. “Thanks, Mrs. Verres.”
“Don’t thank me yet. We may both come to regret this. But I was going to say, there might be a way to get the message out and avoid any unpleasantness.”
Leaf tilts her head. “A pseudonym?” She considers it. She likes to think she’s not vain, so it shouldn’t matter to her if her name is the one on everyone’s lips, as long as they’re talking about what matters. “Are there any downsides?”
“Not usually, no. But a pseudonym is just a buffer. If the article gets big, and if it’s as political as I fear, then dedicated detractors will think you’re some rival they already know, and work to expose you. They’ll figure it out fairly quick, especially if you speak to the mayor. The more people you talk to the easier it will be for them to find out who you are. But it might buy you time for things to blow over.”
“So I just need to think of a name to use.”
“Yep. You have two choices: a real name, which is a bit harder for people to figure out is fake, or an obviously fake name, which gives anyone investigating you a headstart in terms of knowing they’re looking at a pseudonym off the bat. The positive side of using an obviously fake name is that it gets more attention, in general, and might give the story longer legs.”
“Do you have a recommendation?”
“Yes: go with what your publisher says. Whoever it ends up being, they might not even let you use a pseudonym at all. If you end up just posting it online, obviously it doesn’t matter.”
Leaf nods slowly. “Right. This is all stuff to worry about later. For now, I just need to focus on getting the article done.”
“That’s the spirit. And one thing to keep in mind too. For every detractor you have, you’ll probably have many supporters as well, even if you’re less likely to see their messages or comments. Some will support you just because you’re on their ‘team’ and are wearing their uniform, so to speak, but many will admire you for you for your bravery and ideas, especially if you change their minds about something. I won’t say it makes negative attention any easier, in the moment, but in my experience at least, those messages I’ve gotten thanking me for what I do have made it all worthwhile.”
“So it looks like your spinarak’s chitin has a higher proportion of sclerotin compared to the average, by about 17%.” Red turns his pokedex around so the trainer can see the screen, then points to a part of one of the two-tailed graphs. “It’s also larger than average for its age, as you probably noticed. What you might not know is its size puts it more than two standard deviations from the norm. So out of a thousand spinarak, at least 977 of them will be smaller than yours.”
The trainer’s expression shifts from bemused to interested throughout the explanation. “Wow. I had no idea it was that big a difference. Maybe I should focus some time this week on training it…”
Red smiles. “It might be rewarding. It’s probably more durable than other spinarak, though it might have a bit of decreased mobility. That’s guesswork though, for all I know its speed isn’t impacted at all.”
The trainer nods, face thoughtful as he reclips the ball to his waist. “Thanks a lot. So where do I go now?”
“Right in there,” Red says, pointing down the hall to the door at the end. They’re sitting in a waiting lobby on the second floor of an office building. “Psychic Ranna should be done with her appointment in a few minutes, and is ready with the proper forms so you can safely order your spinarak to use Night Shade on her.”
“Alright. Will you let me know what all this was about, after you finish?”
“Sure, if you’d like.” Red makes a note next to the trainer’s name. “If all goes well, you might even be able to read about it in the dex.”
“Cool. Good luck!”
Red watches him go through the door, then heads back to his room at the Trainer House, tugging his hat down and whistling to himself. He’s never been particularly good at whistling, but he’s in a whistling mood, and there’s no one around to stop him.
This would make the seventh subject scanned and tested in just the second day. Some of the trainers are clearly excited by the offer of metrics for their pokemon, and really enjoyed reading as many bits of data as possible, until Red started just emailing them a copy of the results. At the current rate, he could easily get forty by the end of the month, though realistically the frequency of visitors would probably slow down once the initial pool of interested people come through. Others like the most recent trainer just seemed more curious than anything. Still, if he could get forty that wouldn’t be bad at all for an exploratory study.
The methodology is straightforward. He uses the pokedex to get a reading of the spinarak’s “other” metric, then plots that against the 1-10 score Psychic Ranna gives each spinarak. She doesn’t know what’s being tested and has no incentives tied to the outcome, so since she shouldn’t be inclined to inflate or deflate the numbers, and his data comes directly from the pokedex, there’s little chance of misinterpreting or fudging it. Overall it’s a fairly straightforward experiment, but when simplicity is all it takes, it’s often for the best. Now he just needs to find someone to send in with his spinarak, so Ranna doesn’t know it’s his and has no reason to judge it differently…
Red reaches his dorm room and goes to his bed, lying down and opening his dex. He’s so engrossed in comparing the spinaraks’ data that he doesn’t realize he has company until they’re leaning against his bedpost.
“Knock knock.” Blue says.
Red looks up and blinks. “Yo. What’s up? Haven’t seen you in awhile.”
“I’ve been busy. Like yourself, huh?” Blue hooks a thumb in his pocket and leans down to read his dex screen. “You free tonight? I need your help with something.”
“This is nuts.”
Blue smirks at Red. “If you want to back out, now’s the time.”
Red shakes his head with a scowl. “I’m not gonna let you do it alone, I’m just going on the record.”
The two are in one of the House’s Grass Type training rooms. Charmander is at Red’s feet, digging curiously at the dirt that makes up the floor, and Zephyr is fluttering around. Blue tosses his shiftry’s greatball from hand to hand. They just finished keying it toward both his and Red’s voices.
He spent more hours than he could count over the past week training his shiftry virtually, giving it plenty of positive memories to offset the negative ones it surely has of him. Blue doesn’t trust the routine anti-human-aggression programs to keep this particular pokemon from being hostile. There are prerecorded simulations to choose from on the dex, and Blue went through them in a particular order: first Blue finding Shiftry alone and hurt, then slowly nursing him back to health, little by little. They wouldn’t replace the memories it already has, but they would offer another history, and hopefully confuse it enough so that it doesn’t automatically want to attack him.
“It’s got to be done sometime. I need to know how he acts in meatspace, and you’re the only one I trust to have my back on it.”
“Only one dumb enough and close enough, you mean,” Red grumbles, but he stays his ground and widens his stance a bit, hands on an empty pokeball and his charmander’s. “Let’s get it over with.”
“Okay. Ready… set… GO, shiftry!”
The pokemon bursts into existence exactly halfway between him and Red. Blue catches the ball and immediately aims its lens forward, ready to withdraw his pokemon if it pounces on his friend—
—but Blue’s shiftry simply stands there, its body fully restored, if a bit undernourished looking.
Red stands ready, his charmander in a defensive stance. Blue can’t see his shiftry’s face, but Red doesn’t look alarmed, just apprehensive.
“I think… it might be okay?” Red says.
Blue reaches down to his poffin pouch and says “Shiftry, foo—”
At the sound of his voice, his shiftry snaps around on one foot, handleaves fanning out and legs coiling beneath it. Red cries out a warning as it leaps—
The beam hits it mid-air and sucks it back into Blue’s greatball.
Blue stares at it, a sick feeling churning in his stomach. It hadn’t attacked Red, but it still remembers him, and not fondly. All that time spent trying to affect its behavior and view of him, all those hours watching a virtual screen and subtly coaxing it along, and the first test in the real world couldn’t have gone worse.
“Well, that could have gone worse.”
Blue glares at Red. “How?”
“One of us could be dead.” Red strokes his charmander’s head. “It did look very tense when it was summoned. Maybe it wasn’t your voice that triggered it, just the fact that it was hearing something unexpected from behind it.”
Blue snorts, then tosses his greatball to Red. It’s an easy throw, but Red barely catches it, which doesn’t particularly inspire confidence for the next part.
“You try, then. Let’s see if he goes for me right away.”
“I don’t think the most direct approach is best, in this circumstance.”
“Well it’s the fastest.”
“I don’t think the fastest approach is best in this circumstance either,” Red says. “I’m mostly concerned I’ll miss the return catch and you’ll get killed and I’ll have to fill out a lot of paperwork about responsible use of House training rooms.”
“I believe in you,” Blue says. “And if you don’t believe in you, believe in the me that believes in you.”
Red frowns. “That’s from—”
“Just throw the damn ball!”
Red rolls his eyes and cocks his arm back. “Ready… set… go, Shiftry!”
The release is a bit closer to Red than the middle, which might be for the best, considering, and Red does catch the great ball on its return arc. After that, Blue’s attention is too focused on the shiftry, which locks its gaze on him and immediately crouches for a leap.
Blue takes a step back, hand rising with another greatball. “Zeph—”
Red sucks the shiftry back into its ball, then stares at it thoughtfully, other hand going up to adjust his cap. “You know, there’s a chance it’s not trying to attack you.”
Blue raises his head. “Yeah?”
Red nods. “It might be going for a hug.”
Blue gives him a flat stare, and Red’s face remains stoically neutral. “We can’t know until we try.”
Blue cracks a smile and holds his hand up. Red tosses the greatball back, a bit to the right, and Blue snatches it out of the air. “I’m going to call that Plan D, for Dumbass, and keep thinking of alternatives.”
“What if you have some food ready for it? Maybe it’s hungry.”
They try it, and then a trough of water, then both, then put Blue farther behind them. The last is the only one that makes the shiftry hesitate: it clearly identifies Blue, notices the food and water between and to the side, then goes for them.
“Well, that’s promising.” Red stands by, ready with the greatball. “Think you can talk?”
Zephyr spots the pokemon and flies down to land on Blue’s shoulder, looking ready to launch himself at the shiftry. Blue wonders if he thinks it’s the same one that almost killed him. “Ahhhh,” Blue intones, quietly, then with increasing volume. The shiftry pays no heed. “Wom. Pow! Fnnadle! Laracra! Rotund!”
“Rotund is actually a word.”
“Shut up, Red.” Huh. The shiftry isn’t responding to the sound of his voice, or even whole words. “I’m going to try some commands.”
“Kay.” Red steps a bit closer with the greatball, on the opposite side of the food and water.
Blue wipes his sweaty palms on his pants and considers his options. “Shiftry, down.”
His pokemon pauses mid-gobble, the fanlike leaves on its hands flexing outward and inward.
It drops to its haunches, and Blue blinks. “Well, damn.” He begins to walk forward. “I wonder if—”
The shiftry springs at him, and Blue tucks into a roll while Zephyr launches up. Blue tumbles beneath the shiftry as it leaps to where he was, and Zephyr dives at the shiftry just as Red returns it to the greatball. When Blue stops rolling and bounces to his feet, it takes him a moment to realize the threat has passed.
“Fine.” Blue looks at where the shiftry was, then presses his back to the wall and slides down it to the floor. Zephyr flutters down to the dirt, pecks at some of it, then hops over to Blue, who strokes his feathers.
Red comes over and sits beside him. “Back to the drawing board, huh?”
Blue grunts. “It was worth a shot. I knew it would take awhile, just gotta keep at it and see if I can think of something else in the meantime.”
“Let me know when you want to try again,” Red says, clapping him on the shoulder. “There are some books on unruly pokemon that I can show you. They might come in handy.”
“Thanks. And thanks for doing this.”
“I’m serious. I know you’ve got your own stuff going on. I owe you one.”
Red coughs. “Funny you should mention that…”
“Ha. What is it?”
“I need you to take my spinarak to a psychic and have it hit her with Night Shade.”
Blue raises a brow.
Red explains his experiment, and what he needs Blue to do. “Sounds easy enough. So hey, you met with this psychic, right? What did she say about, you know…”
Red stares at the ground. Just as Blue is about to nudge him, he says, “I actually met with a psychic at the hospital. They told me I’m… well, I’m psychic.”
Blue nods, letting out a hollow breath. Of course.
“But I’m also not psychic.”
“He said I have the ability. But that I locked it up. My powers, or whatever. They’re locked up by themselves. I don’t know, the whole thing is weird.”
Blue stares. “Why? I mean why would your powers do that?”
Red lifts a handful of dirt, letting it drop back down slowly. “When my dad died, apparently. That’s what he said, anyway. Unresolved issues or something.”
The two friends sit in silence as Red’s charmander wanders over to the food and begins to munch at the remaining poffins. Blue can’t think of anything to say. He tries to be happy that Red’s a psychic. Just because he isn’t one, just because he wanted it since he was young enough to realize what being a psychic meant, doesn’t mean he can’t be happy for Red. Friends should support each other, not get bitter about shit like that. He thinks he could force himself to congratulate him, and even come to fully mean it in time. But this new twist makes it weird.
“You’ll figure it out,” Blue says at last. “The fuck does that psychic know? You’ll make it work.”
Red looks at him. “You think so?”
“Of course. You’re a smart guy, you know, in your way. Look at you, already doing your own research a couple weeks out of the lab. Whatever the block thing is, you’ll work through it.”
Red smiles. “Thanks, man. And I’m not just saying this because you said that, but I know you’ll get Brock at the end of the month.”
Blue grins. “Of course I will.” His grin fades a bit. “I notice you didn’t say I’ll train this shiftry.”
Red looks at him, solemn again. “You’re the most dedicated trainer I’ve ever met, Blue. I’m sure you’ll go far and do a lot of great things. But one thing I know, and that you know now too, is that you don’t win every battle. Maybe this shiftry is one of those battles. Maybe it’s just too far gone. And sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, how persuasive you can be, how much skill you have… you can’t have everything. Sometimes you just can’t win.”
Blue wants to reject what he says, but he can’t. The lesson he learned at the Gym, and in the forest standing over the dead pikachu, is still too fresh.
“No. Sometimes you don’t win.” He gets to his feet, and Red stands beside him. “But I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me from trying.”