Red’s breath catches in his throat. “I… that’s very kind of you, Professor, but… no. I can’t.”
“Are you sure Red? No one would think anything of it.”
Red’s stomach feels like a coiling ekans. He wants to say yes so badly… he deserves it, after all his hard work. Blue got his badge, Leaf her article… didn’t he work as hard?
He deserves it…
Leaving Pewter behind feels both nostalgic and exciting. So much happened in the first week of their journey that the month of “rest” feels like it was over in a blink, and as Red, Leaf and Blue watch the buildings begin to grow more spaced out and the countryside reclaim the horizon, they’re each lost in their own thoughts.
Red is the first to break the silence upon seeing Leaf check her phone for the dozenth time. “Expecting a call?”
Leaf jumps a bit and tucks her phone away. “No.”
Red and Blue exchange a glance. “Well?” Blue asks. “How’s it doing?”
Leaf blushes. “It’s hard to tell. I can’t see the traffic it’s getting, but there are no comments yet.”
Red smiles. “It’s also only on one site. Why not post it elsewhere too?”
“Part of the deal. La-your mom, she pointed me at some editors who might be interested in it. A couple liked it enough to publish, but the only one that offered to pay anything wanted exclusive publishing rights for six months.”
“Six months!” Blue exclaims. “How much did they pay you?”
“Three hundred. It’s not much, I kn—”
“Three hundred!” Red grins. “That’s not bad at all!”
“Comes from writing things people actually want to read,” Blue says. “And by people I mean non-nerds.”
“Hush,” Leaf tells Blue. “I don’t think I’d recommend it as a way to get cash. I spent weeks researching and writing and editing it. If I was after money I could have made more babysitting.”
“Still, it must be gratifying to have someone willing to pay you for it.”
“I guess. I’d rather have chosen the other publisher if it meant I’d actually get some responses.”
“It was published what, a few hours ago?” Blue asks. “Relax. Give people time to slack off at work or get some lunch.”
“I know, I know. What about you, Red? Paper all done?”
Red hesitates. “Yep. Did the last of the edits last night.”
“Can we read it?” Leaf asks.
“Uh. Sure.” Red takes his phone out and forwards it to them.
Leaf’s gaze skims the screen, but Blue begins to read aloud. “‘Psychic phenomena are one of the greatest mysteries in our world.’ Wow, tell us more about how important your research is. ‘We have such little understanding of the origins and mechanics of psychic powers that to most it is still believed to be mystical, a force that defies understanding.’ I think people know what mystical means, Red.”
Red opens his mouth to respond, but Leaf picks up the reading before he can. “‘But just as electromagnetism and radiation were once inscrutable and invisible to us, our tools have evolved to measure them, and new research has developed to study their causes and effects. At the Pallet Labs in Kanto, a new tool has been developed that may begin to demystify psychic powers.
“‘Professor Oak’s latest pokedex includes an upgraded scan of a pokeball’s contents. Its catalogue of the various substances that make up a pokemon, atom by atom, allows for easy study of a pokemon’s molecular proportions, and lets laymen compare their pokemon to regional or international averages at a glance. As this new tool develops and becomes more accurate, we may now be capable of beginning to discern what physical properties grant psychics their powers.
“‘Our initial observations after analyzing the data of an unusually mentally powerful spinarak was that this unclassified section exceeds the norm…'” She trails off and begins scrolling down. “Where do you… oh I see. ‘While the presence of subject 32 indicates that powerful mental attacks are possible with a low Other makeup, the trend of the other subjects makes it a clear exception, and does not discount a potential causal link-‘”
“Blah blah,” Blue mutters, scrolling farther down, “‘Sample size,’ blah blah, ‘future research could further explore…’ That’s it? So maybe there’s a link and maybe there isn’t?”
“The experiment supported the hypothesis,” Red says, ears burning. “But it wasn’t as strong as it could have been. My r-squared was .0988, which means I just squeaked by with a p-value of .048.”
Red sees Blue’s patented blank stare, and smiles. “There was a correlation of about 10%, meaning if you give me a bunch of numbers for the Other of scanned Spinarak and I had to guess what the intensity of their Night Shade are, I could probably be right more often than a random guess by about 10% if I match a higher Other with a higher Intensity and low Other with low Intensity. But 10% isn’t particularly good, and with a sample size of only 40, the chance that the correlation I found was luck rather than a pattern is very close to 5%, which is the somewhat arbitrary, but traditional, cutoff for when the results of experiments are deemed significant.”
“So the point was just to say it’s possible?”
“The point was to explore the idea and hopefully encourage others to research it too.” Apprehension begins to fill him as he predicts where the conversation will go. What will they think of him, when they find out?
“That’s really what you wanted from all that work?”
“Well, no,” Red admits. “What I wanted was a direct and unarguably causal relationship that would get my paper published by all the top journals, and the data isn’t clear enough for that. But that was an unrealistic best-case scenario, and even if the relationship was 1:1, there would still need to be follow up experiments to confirm it, not just with a wider pool of spinarak but other psychics too.”
“Hmm…” Leaf finishes scrolling to the bottom of the paper as she reads aloud. “‘Possible confounding variables include unconscious selective bias by trainers to keep stronger pokemon, or regional conformity that excludes low Other and high Intensity spinarak that may be present in other habitats…’ So will you be doing that now, then?”
“If my paper gets enough attention to get more funding? I’d be happy to,” Red says. “I don’t think the research community will be overly excited though.”
“What does gramps think? Can’t he get you the funding?”
Red tugs his cap down and takes a deep breath. Here it comes. “Yeah, he offered as much.”
“Well, there you go then. Congrats.”
“I said no.”
There’s a moment of silence but for the tread of their feet on the road. Then Leaf simply nods, and Blue smirks and slaps him on the shoulder. “Damn right. You’ll get it on your own, and it’ll be for something even better.”
Red didn’t realize how tense he was until it eases away. “You guys don’t think it was a mistake?” He chides himself for his doubt, for forgetting who he’s travelling with. If anyone in the world would understand…
“Absolutely not,” Leaf says as she takes her phone out and checks her article page again. “To shine under the shadow of greatness, you’ve got to blind the world with yours.”
The sun rises to crest the sky as the day passes, Mount Moon growing slowly to encompass more of the eastern horizon. Its distant peak is jagged, part of the mountain broken in where the meteor, then thought to be a chunk of the moon, struck it thousands of years ago. They pass a small logging town at the edge of some woods and stop to rest while they eat. Blue summons Zephyr and throws berries hard in different directions for him to snatch out of the air, while Leaf lets Bulbasaur and Scamp out to play together. Red spends some time filing Charmander’s claws while his pokemon wriggles and squirms at the sensation.
“So we going over the mountain, or through it?” Blue asks.
“Remind me what we’d find either way?” Leaf asks.
“Well, if we go through…” Blue begins to tick them off with his fingers. “Zubat, geodude, sandshrew, zubat, paras, the rare clefairy, zubat, lower down there’s chingling, absol, bronzor, zubat, makuhita, and if you’re super lucky, zubat.” Blue puts his hands down, then tosses another berry up. “An absol would be particularly cool, but I’d rather not spend a week in there hunting for one.”
“Charmander!” Red snaps in his most authoritative voice when the lizard makes to get up again. “Down!” His pokemon complies. “Good boy. Stay.” Red takes a moment to make sure charmander sits still as he finishes filing the edge of his leftmost foreclaw. “Good boy! Good stay!” Red feeds him some pokepuff, then moves on to the next claw. “Around and on the mountain there’s nidoran, ekans, jigglypuff, mankey, the occasionally rare whismur or shinx… personally that’s my vote. It takes longer, but I’m not in any rush.”
“Same,” Blue says, causing Red and Leaf to exchange a glance. Blue spots it and frowns. “What?”
“Aren’t you in a hurry to get the next badge?”
Blue scratches the back of his neck. “Sure. But not at the cost of time to train my pokemon or catch new ones.”
Red grins. “Figured that out, did you?”
Blue chucks a berry at him, and Red ducks just as Zephyr swoops down to grab it, the wind of his passage knocking Red’s hat off.
“Well there’s an excavation site that Dr. Brenner told me about,” Leaf says as Red leans to the side, reaching for it. “I thought it might be fun to drop by and see it.”
“Excavating what?” Red asks as he jams his hat down snug.
“Fossils. Weirdly enough, they’re finding the remains of a lot of aquatic creatures.”
“In the mountain or on the mountain?”
“Both. But a lot of areas are damaged or close to cave-ins, so they might have fallen from above.”
“Huh.” Red looks at the mountain and surrounding foothills. “So this place was all underwater once?”
“Either that or someone who lived on the mountain liked to eat seafood,” Blue says.
Leaf frowns at him, clearly unable to tell if he’s joking. Red saves her the trouble by moving the conversation along. “I’m happy to check them out. She mark your map?”
“Yep.” Leaf takes it out and sends it to them as Scamp tries to avoid Bulbasaur’s vines, which keep reaching out to tangle with his tail.
Red checks his phone when it pings and taps the coordinates for the main excavation site. It’s on the southern half of the mountain’s rim, and not too high up. “Yeah, that’s not far out of the way. What do you think Blue?”
“Sure. It’s better than spending time in the mountain. I only have about a dozen repel, and I don’t want to use it all just to avoid getting covered in batshit.”
The next few days of travel pass quickly. The road roughens and begins to branch out in multiple directions as they approach the foothills of the smaller mountains around Moon, and the grass grows tall around them.
Everyone was happy enough the first night to break out the camping gear and sleep beneath the stars again, but by the fourth they begin to miss the comforts of the city. Red decides to ask if the next Outpost they come across has room for them, and the others agree.
The inside looks like many outposts Red has visited: a metal and stone building with clean white tiles and fluorescent lights. And like the other outposts, what was originally designed for function and professionalism has been peripherally overcome with the personal touches of its members over the years. Pictures dot the walls and hallways, a number of the sturdy wooden chairs have been replaced by comfortable cushy ones, and a running tally of the residents’ capture stats are on a whiteboard above the belt rack.
There are six rangers at the outpost, and five are in the middle of their meal when the three of them arrive. They introduce themselves and join the rangers at the long table in their mess hall. The rangers eat quickly and efficiently, but the youngest sticks around after the others finish and asks about their journey as the three travelers finish their meal. When Red asks about the safety of the road ahead, Ranger Matthew pulls out his tablet and shows them the map of the area.
“We’ve had incidents in these areas over the past week. Mostly small threats, unusual pokemon for the route that catch trainers unprepared. Something’s got them riled up, and we’re still figuring out what it is. Pokemon from the mountain are showing up farther afield too.”
“What do the closer Outposts say?” Leaf asks as she puts her fruit down and updates her map with the pokemon sightings.
“Worse the closer they get. We’ve increased patrols to try and reduce response times for travelers, but there are a lot of homes and towns that dot the foothills. and we’re kept pretty busy helping them.”
“Are you guys considering shutting down the route?”
Matthew shakes his head. “Not yet. No one’s died, and we still don’t know what the source of the threat is. There’s talk about sending out a general warning though.”
Red sighs as he spreads more peanut butter on his granola. The Rangers are taking proactive steps, but not enough. “Do you predict that at the current rate of incidents, someone will die soon?”
“Yeah, it’s just a matter of time if you ask me.”
“So why not just skip the waiting and send out the alert, at least?”
“Regional policy,” Matthew says. “Guidelines are set in place to ensure a proportional response.”
Red frowns. He never spoke much with his dad about the policies and administrative decisions the Rangers operate under unless they were related to survival. “Seems unnecessarily risky.”
“Makes sense to me.” Blue cracks a walnut and tips his head back as he tosses it and catches it between his teeth. “If we start shutting down routes every time someone gets killed, it would paralyze the region.”
“Alerts and shutdowns are two different things.”
“We need to be proportional with alerts too,” Matthew says. “If we send them out too often, they become routine and lose their impact.”
“Is that actually true?” Red asks. “Or are we just assuming it is? I get the principle, studies show that emergency broadcasts can garner less attention if they happen too often. But reminding people of routine tasks for safety has also been shown to make people more aware and cautious. Which rule applies here?”
The ranger spreads his hands. “Beats me. Those decisions are made above my paygrade.”
“Besides, what makes you think there’s an answer at all?” Blue asks.
Red stares at him. “That’s quite possibly the stupidest thing you’ve said this month.”
Blue rolls his eyes. “You’re acting like there has to be some ‘rule’ to the way people act that you can predict. People aren’t that simple. They’re too different from one another, too contradictory even with themselves. Warnings about some dangerous things may not apply to warnings about others.”
“Maybe not,” Leaf says. “But either way, there’s an answer to the question of ‘do frequent alerts desensitize people,’ even if we can’t predict the answer from other similar questions.”
“And even if it does,” Red says, “The new question becomes ‘what is the frequency of alerts that minimizes casualties?'”
Blue holds his hands up in surrender. “My point is that can change from region to region, city to city, generation to generation, hell, maybe even be seasonal. Some things might be just too complicated to understand as a general rule.”
Red shakes his head. “It’s too easy to think that way about anything we don’t understand. I’d rather treat questions as solvable first.”
Blue gives him a strange look at that, but before Red can ask what it’s about Ranger Matthew chuckles. “You kids are more interesting than the usual trainers that come through here. They mostly just want war stories.”
Leaf grins. “Is that why you stayed with us?”
“Guilty. I miss running around out there, going from place to place. It’s nice to be able to kick back between all the excitement, but I’m hoping to get assigned somewhere new soon. All this mountain air’s hell on my sinuses.”
“Where are you from, Matt?” Red asks.
“Fuchsia. Got a couple badges, then lost my next few challenges. Decided competitive battling wasn’t for me and applied for the Rangers. Been here for about a year. It’s weird, seeing things from this end.”
“What, you mean being the one that goes out and helps people?”
“Yeah, after all the times I was out there and the Rangers saved my butt.” He grins. “I try to project the stoic professionalism thing, inspire confidence, but I don’t think I’m good at it.”
“Well, if you come to our rescue, we’ll pretend you are,” Leaf says.
Matthew chuckles. “You three don’t seem like you need much rescuing, and I’m glad of it. With so few Outposts around and so much land to cover, a lot of the lower level tickets end up being solved by other trainers before we can get there. Takes a load off, I can tell you. Lets us focus on the bigger things. Speaking of which.” The ranger gets up. “I’d better get back to work before the sergeant pokes his head in. You all have a good night.”
They say goodnight and finish eating just as another pair of trainers arrive. One of them recognizes Blue from his battle with Brock, and he stays behind to talk to them as Red and Leaf head for the guest quarters.
“There have to be some studies done, or comparative cases,” Leaf says as they head for the cots in the back. “I’ll check Unova’s policies and see if there are any statistics available on casualty rates and frequencies.”
“I’m curious to know how the decisions are made at all,” Red says. “There’s gotta be some spectrum between potential risk and the first casualties where it’s considered.”
“You look into that then, and we’ll compare notes. Nighty!”
“Night.” Red enters the men’s quarters and prepares for bed, then decides to call his mom while he still has the room to himself. She knows they left Pewter, so it’s back to the nightly check in. He finds it less onerous than he used to, though that might change after a couple weeks on the road.
“Hi Sweetie! How was your day?”
“Hey, Mom. Uneventful. We’re at an Outpost for tonight.”
“Glad to hear it. How are Leaf and Blue?”
“They’re okay.” Red sticks the phone to his shoulder and begins polishing his pokeballs. He really needs to pick up a headset. “Leaf got another few comments on her article, was pretty excited about that. I think she was expecting more by now though.”
“I know, poor girl. I told her not to get her hopes up, but she did a good job for her first piece. It’ll be something to build on.”
Red guesses Professor Oak mentioned him turning down his offer. “I guess I should feel the same about my paper?”
“Of course. You knew from the beginning it would be a long road.”
He did, but hearing her say it still makes him feel better. “How’s Celadon?”
“Busy as ever. I’ve been out and about so much that the apartment is still bare while I figure out where to open each container ball. What’s on your mind?”
Red thinks of his house in Pallet sitting empty and feels a pang. He knows his mom is looking for renters and can’t decide if strangers living there would be worse. He has a sudden urge to tell her how being in the Outpost makes him miss Dad, then decides against it. No need to bring her mood down or make her worry about him. “Any luck on the clefairy market?”
“Oh, thanks for reminding me. There’s one for about nine hundred, freshly caught and with no training at all. Good enough?”
Red thinks it over. He was on the lookout for anything under a thousand, since the average price for untrained clefairy hovers around twelve hundred on most days. It’s a rare pokemon that’s a favorite for pageants and makes for great gifts, but lacks the competitive scene’s value to skyrocket its price.
“Yeah, that sounds good. Keep an eye on it for me?”
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“You’re welcome hon. Goodnight.”
Red closes the call and hangs his belt on the cot’s corner pole, then tops it with his hat. He lies down with his hands behind his head and stares at the ceiling, taking a quick rest before he heads for the shower. He has about two hundred dollars on him, having withdrawn the max amount every week and spent as little as possible while in Pewter. Nine hundred bucks is just over a third of his funds, but if he’s right about the clefairy’s imminent increase in value he should be able to make it back.
That’s assuming he sells it of course, which he told his mom he’d only do if he caught another one. Red doesn’t think that’s likely if they’re going over the mountain rather than through it. But even if he doesn’t, the clefairy’s value would still be an asset he could liquefy in an emergency… his mom would understand.
There’s so much he could do with the extra money. Better equipment. Funding his own research. Hell, he could start some psychic lessons in Cerulean. He still remembers the feeling of Narud peering around in his head, however briefly. That sensation of having a separate self within himself. What would it be like, to harness that power?
More than once, Red has thought that the most obscure secrets of the universe would be revealed through the study or use of psychic abilities. There are plenty of mysteries he could tackle in the world of pokemon biology: the secret to the intense compression of liquids Water types are capable of, or how Ice pokemon can freeze an environment with beams of light, or the ever fascinating sudden and rapid metamorphoses known colloquially as “evolution.” All those questions fascinate him… but none really address the core question in his mind, the origin of pokemon life and species. He doesn’t know how his research would be improved with a personal understanding of psychic phenomenon…
But he’ll continue studying psychic abilities if the opportunity presents itself, whether or not his paper gets published. If he ever wants to understand his own powers, it’s as good a place to start as any.
They leave the Outpost the next morning after a leisurely breakfast with the rangers, who seem more relaxed during the day. Or maybe they’re just less tired. Red gets to know a few more of them, and feels another pang of homesickness for his dad’s friends and coworkers around Pallet. Ranger Matthew tosses each of them a Ranger issue meal bar for the road as they leave, and Red pockets his with a nostalgic feeling.
Mindful of the warning about increased incidents, Leaf and Blue send Crimson and Zephyr wheeling above, and Red sends Rattata out to scout the trail alongside Scamp. They rotate through their other pokemon as they travel, giving each time to walk beside them.
Eventually Red lets Pichu out, but the electric mouse immediately scampers up to perch on his shoulder. Its small claws hold tight to Red’s collar as Pichu watches the two rattata dart behind and between and ahead of the three trainers, their whiskers quivering as they sniff for food or danger.
“Go ahead,” Red says as Pichu pokes his head forward and sniffs at Leaf. “That’s the lady that caught you. She saved your life. Do you remember her?”
Leaf smiles as the pichu’s nose twitches, its overlarge ears swiveling from side to side above it, and picks a berry from her satchel to offer. Pichu shies away and scrambles to the other side of Red. “Aww,” Leaf says with a grin. “Is this his first time around others?”
“Yeah. I spent about an hour a day letting him get used to me, but he’s still really timid.” Timid is putting it mildly. When Red first brought him out at the training rooms, Pichu sent sparks wildly around until he was empty; not in any organized attack, but simply out of panic.
“I remember him being much more spirited in the forest. Guess he was desperate.”
Zephyr flies down to land on Blue’s shoulder, who winces a bit. “You’re getting too big for that, bud,” Blue says as he pats the pidgey’s wing. Now that he’s up close, Red notices Zephyr’s almost twice as large as Crimson. Different pokemon can mature faster or slower than each other, but intense training and battling always speeds the process up.
“He looks close to evolving.” Red says, and at Leaf’s curious look adds, “His crest is starting to drape back.”
“I was hoping it would happen in Pewter, but I didn’t spend as much time with him as the others,” Blue says. “Most of the gym members weren’t really interested in a flying type.”
“So did you really learn a lot there, or were you just being polite?” Leaf asks.
“I don’t know if ‘learn’ is the right word. Shut up Red, I heard that snicker. I picked up some good advice, and the trainers there were good practice partners, but the real value came from the consistency. It’s different, having a schedule for training, being expected to stick to it. I think that’s half the value being in a gym gives, and if I can stick to it elsewhere, I won’t need to spend a month in each city preparing for the badge.”
“I thought you’d like it there,” Red says. “Leaf and I are always such wet blankets about battling, it must have been nice to be around others who were into it.”
Blue scratches at the back of his neck. “Sure, it was alright. But at the end of the month I was bored out of my mind at still being there, while the rest of them were happy to stay and soak up as much as they could. Mostly from trainers like me.”
“Big words from someone that took a whole two tries to get his badge,” Leaf teases.
Red grins. “Can you imagine how big his ego would be if he got it on the first?”
“Hey, I’m serious!” Blue says as they laugh. “You know how long some of them have been there? Months, without challenging Brock once. They don’t get it, think they can become great by just climbing ranks, learn everything inside and out before they take a chance. Most didn’t come to the forest that night, even though their Leader sent out the call. A few are the real deal, but the rest… they’re a bunch of wimps!”
Red holds his hands up. “Sorry, Blue, didn’t mean anything by it. Two tries is damn impressive any way you cut it.”
“What would you do different, if you were Brock?” Leaf asks.
Blue’s jaw sets. “Brock… he’s a good Leader, and he talks the talk about being hard on trainers. Even does a decent job of walking it. But even he babies them too much. For the members, I’d send them out on missions with the Rangers at least once a week. They need to cut their teeth on some real situations more often, have some natural pressures to get creative. For the challengers, three months, max, before they have to try for the badge or leave. If they want to come back after hitting up some other gyms, fine, but this hand holding shit has got to end. It’ll hurt the city’s combat readiness, sure, but if every gym starts doing it at once each one will still be more or less up to strength if they need defending.”
“Sounds like you put some thought into this,” Leaf says. “Are there any Leaders you think have it right?”
“Hard to tell without seeing their gyms myself, but Surge, maybe? Koga and Sabrina too, in their own way.”
“Blaine?” Red asks.
“Probably the closest. But none of them have it all right.” Blue turns to Leaf. “What are Unova’s leaders like?”
As they start to discuss that, Red smiles as he remembers his talks with Blue on this over the years. Blue used to go on rants about the Gym Leaders all the time, but this was calmer, more focused. It’s clear his friend has learned more than he realizes from the Gym.
Or maybe it’s everything else. Having his own pokemon to train, the forest fire, the journey in general. Blue’s growing up, getting more mature. Red wonders if he has too, and pulls out his notebook to start listing things he wants to change about himself:
1. Be less afraid of tamed pokemon. Test: Next time you have the chance to interact with a dangerous one, don’t hesitate without reason.
2. Pay more attention to friends. Test: Correctly guess when Blue or Leaf are lying or feeling vulnerable without them saying so.
3. Be a better scientist. Test: Form a more falsifiable hypothesis for your next research project.
Red has trouble thinking of any others. He’s just about to ask Blue and Leaf for feedback on what he needs to improve when his phone chirps a shrill alarm.
The group’s pokemon all react to the sudden noise, and Blue and Leaf blink at him. “Is that—”
“Someone just sent out a CoRRNet ticket near us,” Red says as he pulls it out. “I changed my alert settings when we left the Outpost this morning.” Tapping the alert brings up his map, which expands from their location to the site of the ticket writer. “About two kilometers northeast of here, where the road branches off a bit… ‘Assistance required to investigate unknown hazard.'”
Blue frowns. “That’s it?”
Red nods. “The closest Ranger outpost is twenty minutes away. Think we should go?”
Leaf has already changed course and begins walking faster. “It’s on the way. Let’s see if we can help.”
Red and Blue match her pace, then begin to speed up. Soon the three are jogging as their pokemon run faster too, and Red feels Pichu’s claws grab tight to his shirt and collar as his backpack bounces.
“What do you guys think it is?” Leaf asks.
“Around here, maybe a spearow attack.” Blue tracks Zephyr with his pokeball as he loops around and withdraws him.
Red shakes his head. “It said unknown hazard, if a pokemon was sighted they would have listed it.” The possibilities run through Red’s mind, focusing on the wording in particular: “unknown hazard.” Hazard implies something in the environment. Maybe a toxin? He unhooks his facemask from the back of his pack and pulls it on, and the other two do the same, breaths fogging the glass as they run.
Eventually the tall grass in the distance shows a gap, and the other branch of the road becomes visible. Once they reach it they turn right and continue eastward, and soon they can see two trainers in the distance.
It’s a pair of older girls, who turn around as the group approaches. “Hey, hold on! Withdraw your rattata!”
They call their pokemon back before they can run by the two trainers, then return them and introduce themselves. “We’re here to help. What’s going on?”
“Glad to hear it. This is Naoko, I’m Dania.” The trainers look to be in their mid teens, both with a full belt of pokemon. “Take a look.” They step apart and point farther up the road.
In the distance a ponyta lies on the road, apparently unconscious. Heart still pounding from the run, Red feels his pulse spike even faster at what’s beyond it.
Pokemon litter the road and the grass to its sides, mostly bird pokemon. There’s no blood or signs of a battle, and Red feels goosebumps rush up his arms, thoughts racing.
“How long has this been going on?” Blue asks.
“Ten minutes? We sent the alert right after. Jonetsu was trailblazing, then he just fell over.” Naoko’s hands grip her elbows, radiating barely controlled panic. “He’s out of withdraw range… I don’t know what to do.”
“We don’t dare go any closer,” Dania says. “We saw nothing, heard nothing.”
“I don’t blame you,” Red says. There’s something distinctly unsettling about all the unconscious, possibly dead, pokemon littering the road.
“Could be some kind of spores,” Leaf says, and licks her finger to check the air. “We’re not downwind.”
“Have you tried going around?” Red asks.
“No. There are no pokemon on the ground around here, but we don’t know how far the effect extends, and it might be a matter of time before a pidgey flies over to the north of us and hits the ground.”
“If there’s some ghost or psychic pokemon ahead, I might be able to check it out,” Blue says, causing everyone to look at him in surprise.
“Woah, hold on,” Red says. “It’s very noble of you, but let’s not assume it’s a mental attack just yet. If they’re asleep it might be some sound.”
“Why can’t we hear it then?” Dania says. “Wait, we’re out of range, right. But by a few meters?”
“It must end somewhere,” Leaf reasons. “What pokemon around here can put others to sleep?”
“Jigglypuff,” the others respond immediately, and Naoko continues with, “But they mostly stay closer to Mount Moon. I guess we might be close enough to find a stray one…”
“Pokemon from the mountain have been spotted wandering farther lately,” Red says, recalling what Matthew said. “A jigglypuff’s range is what, 70 decibels? 80? A wigglytuff has more. And sound travels in an open space by the inverse square law.” Red takes his notebook back out and writes the equation. “Double the distance means a fourth of the intensity, which is about 6 decibels. The ponyta is about thirty meters away, so if the sound went below 0 decibels in that distance, its source should be about… 150 meters away? No that’s not right…”
“Um,” Naoko says, and Red looks up in distraction. “I don’t know if this matters to what you’re doing, but ponyta hearing is much better than ours is.”
Red stares at her, then flips his notebook closed. “Right. Of course it is. Well, nothing for it then. We’ve got our hypothesis, time to test it. What pokemon do we have with the best hearing? I think mine is Rattata.” Technically Pichu might have better hearing, but Red would rather not risk him unless he has to.
“Same,” Leaf says, and grins at Blue. “Could use a zubat about now, huh?”
He makes a face. “I think Zephyr’s my best at hearing, though I don’t know if pidgey are better than rattata?”
“I have a noctowl,” Dania says, and unclips a pokeball. “Go, Tarkus!”
The noctowl bursts into existence in the air, and Red has a moment of wistful envy before the bird staggers and plummets to the grass.
“Tarkus!” Dania rushes over to it and skids to the ground, checking its breast and beak. “He’s okay… you were right, just sleeping!”
“That means Jonetsu is too!” Daoko runs forward before Red can stop her, and returns her ponyta to its ball. Red waits for her to keel over, but however far the jigglypuff or wigglytuff is, apparently they’re not close enough yet.
“Okay, so do either of you have a rattata?” Red asks.
Red types his own Clear out on his phone as Rattata continues to sniff at the grass in front of him. He walks farther to the north, counting ten paces before taking three eastward. Another series of buzzes makes him look down, and now one of them says stopped. Scamp apparently fell asleep, and Red watches as a marker appears on his map. It’s the ninth incident, and now they have a very clear idea of the sound’s circumference.
Red was worried that the jigglypuff or wigglytuff was moving as it sang, but it seems to be staying still enough for them to map its general location. They could triangulate its distance and direction from the second time their rattata fell asleep, but Leaf pointed out that there might be more than one of them, and so they continued to spread slowly outward just incase.
Naoko has a rattata too, which left Blue and Dania back where they started in case of trouble or if any rangers show up. Red’s phone buzzes with an all clear from Leaf to indicate that she’s carried her rattata out of the danger zone and woke it back up, then another message from Blue arrives.
Okay, so we good? Looks like there’s just the one so let’s go grab it.
Red hesitates, then types “Okay” on his phone. He digs his earplugs out of his bag and returns Rattata to her ball. The group agreed to a finders-keepers policy for any sleeping pokemon that they stumble across, and Red’s eager to see what he can find.
Ready… Dania sends.
Setgo Blue replies, and Red grins and sticks the earplugs in. They muffle the ambient sounds around him, and Red begins walking toward the center of the sound circle. He can see Naoko to his right, and farther along the distant figures of Blue and Dania as they jog off the path. There’s a flash farther out, and Red knows Leaf must have caught something.
He casts his eyes around, searching for the brown of a pidgey or spearow among all the grass. There’s one farther ahead, but Naoko is already running for it, and Red sees another depression in the tall grass to his left.
His heart races as he jogs toward it. Nidoran or mankey, nidoran or mankey, nidoran or mankey… yes!
Red holds his ball at the sleeping male nidoran, counting the seconds until he knows it’s done locking, then tosses the ball and lets out a muffled woop as it disappears into it. He quickly grabs it and attaches it to his belt without registering it, taking out another ball and jogging forward through the tall grass.
It feels exposed running through the thick greenery without a pokemon, but anything that’s out here has likely been put to sleep by the ‘puff or ‘tuff. Though something about that thought bothers him… Red slows down as he considers the nagging sensation, then sees Blue jogging into the grass ahead of Dania and picks up his speed, knowing that his friend is going for the main prize. Dania sticks to the road and catches what looks like a pidgey, and a minute later Red sees the tan hide of a sandshrew up ahead.
He breaks into a run, breath loud in his muffled ears as his feet fly over the grass. He looks to his right and sees Naoko gaining on him with a wild grin, then zags in front of her to block her sight as he gets close enough to point his pokeball.
Naoko slides in from the side, one hand up to block his pokeball’s connection as her own lens aims straight at it. Red curses and dashes away, not wanting to get caught up in a contest for one when there are others around.
Blue is in the distance, with Leaf hot on his heels. Red checks his map and sees that they’re halfway to the center. He could give chase, but there’s a ton of unexplored area to the other side that might have pokemon in it.
Red changes course and waves at Dania as he jogs past her. He strains his eyes to pick out some distortion in the landscape and spies another flash of brown.
Well, it’s a Flying type, he thinks as he happily catches the spearow, then takes off for another shape.
It takes a second to identify the ekans, and about half a second more to recognize that it’s moving oh shit—
Red leaps to the side as it uncoils at him, simultaneously reaching for Charmander’s ball and calling himself an idiot twice over. Instead he pivots on his heel and runs for the center, chasing the distant figures of Blue and Leaf as he reclips Charmander’s ball and tucks the empty one away. Of course it makes sense that if pokemon with better hearing fall asleep farther away, pokemon with worse hearing won’t until they’re much closer.
Red chances a glance back to confirm that, yep, the ekans is chasing him like a ripple of purple water through the grass, and terror sends fresh adrenaline through his pumping legs.
When last they clocked their run speeds, Blue beat Red by just over a second in a hundred meter dash. Turns out that being chased by a poisonous snake makes you run faster than any rivalry can, because he’s soon within throwing distance of Blue. When his friend next turns around to check how close Leaf is, he spots Red and grins wide, slowing a bit to turn and run backward as he flips him the double pidgey.
Red’s mouth moves soundlessly—Run you idiot!—as he waves his arms frantically forward with what must be a sufficiently terrified expression, because Blue’s eyes widen and he immediately turns around and puts on a burst of speed. Leaf, who had been gaining on him, turns and sees Red too, then looks behind him and sees the ekans.
She immediately reaches for her bag, hands scrambling at the straps and reaching in, heedless of the objects that fall out. Red wishes he knew what she was looking for in case it was jettisoned, and jumps over the various bottles and containers rather than risk tripping on them. Just as he’s about to catch up to Leaf, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a collapsible net.
Red grabs it from her and extends its handle, then plants a foot, pivots, and swings the net just above the grass. The ekans leaps at him just as the net begins to lift… and bounces against the rim and to the side.
It lands in the grass sideways and rights itself with a twist. Red uses the end of the net to pin it in place as Leaf approaches with a pokeball, knuckles gripping the handle painfully tight as the snake writhes and tries to slip away. A moment later Leaf’s pokeball snags it and sucks it in.
Red falls back onto the grass and pants for breath, a dull roar in his ears. He can just see Leaf in his periphery lying beside him, and he holds up a fist. She stares at it for a moment, then grins and bumps it with hers, shaking her head.
Some time later the stitch in his side fades he sits up just in time to see a pidgey fly up from the grass in the distance. There’s motion to his left, and another one takes off far away, flying a bit unsteadily at first before it flaps its wings and lifts in a clean arc.
Red blinks, then cautiously unplugs an ear little by little. When he hears nothing and doesn’t begin to feel sleepy, he pulls the other out and looks around.
Blue is walking back toward them, sweaty and triumphant as he spins a pokeball on his finger. “Hey losers. What was all that about?”
“Ekans,” Red says between heavy breaths. “Low hearing. Wasn’t asleep.”
“Wow. Sucks to suck. Glad you didn’t get bit though. That your net, Leaf?”
She nods as she pulls the second plug from her ear. “I used it to catch my ledyba.”
“Why did you pull the net out, anyway?” Red asks. “I was running it toward the jigglypuff so it would fall asleep.”
“Well I didn’t know if you were going to make it that far. I figured it would be good to have on hand in case we needed it, but then you grabbed it and decided to make a stand. I just thought you were out of breath.”
“Well the main thing is, no one important died,” Blue says. “I’m assuming, anyway. You guys see the other two? We should probably warn them that the pokemon are waking back up.”
Leaf and Red get up and head back toward the road, picking up Leaf’s fallen items as they go. “So how did you guys do?” Leaf asks.
“Nidoran and spearow,” Red says.
“No shit?” Blue asks. “I just got a rattata and this wigglytuff.”
“Woah!” Red says as Leaf makes a sound of envy. “So it was a fully grown ‘tuff?”
“Yep! Sitting on a rock and just singing its heart out. Sucker never saw me coming. Should fetch a good price on the market.”
“Hey Blue,” Leaf says in a sweet voice. “You wouldn’t happen to want to maybe trade it, would you?”
“For what, an ekans? Nah, I’m good, thanks.”
Leaf nods. “Yeah, an ekans wouldn’t really help you out in Cerulean. I heard that Water types don’t fare too well against Electric, though…”
Red and Blue stare. “No way…”
She unclips a ball from the back of her belt and polishes it with an admiring look. “You know what, I think I’ll keep it. I always wanted a luxray…”
Red listens to them barter as they meet up with Dania and Naoko and find the road again together. As they continue their walk to Mount Moon, Red takes his phone out and finds their open ticket, and with Dania’s permission marks it solved. He wonders if Ranger Matt will see it and note the name on it. No worries guys, Red thinks as he tucks his phone away with a smile. We got this one.
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