Tag Archives: pokemon

Chapter 9: Delayed Gratification

Viridian City’s northern department store is a round building that functions as a one stop shopping mall, each of its four floors devoted to a different stratum of needs. The sign over the entryway informs that the top floor contains trainer supplies, the third protective gear, the second conventional goods, and the first food and services. Red, Leaf and Blue walk through the wide glass doors into an open and bustling indoor plaza, walls lined with service areas and shops of every kind. As they head for the escalators, Red’s eyes bounce from cafes and massage parlors for trainers to poffin bakeries and treatment spas for pokemon.

“I may have to stop here on our way out,” Leaf muses, and Red follows her gaze to see a sentret getting its tail brushed through a display window, while in the next a charmeleon has its claws filed.

He absently rubs the cool spheres at his waist as he eyes the prices. It would be nice to treat his pokemon, but… he only has about $220 of spending money. As nice as it would be to pamper them a bit, his pokemon are dependent on him to make smart financial decisions. If someone were to offer him an hour at the spa or some extra medicine in case of emergencies, he knows what he’d choose for himself.

They reach the escalators and decide to head to the top floor first, then work their way back down. Red’s gaze continues to roam, passing over bright advertisements without a second glance. He sees a trainer with a bellsprout outside its ball step onto the escalator behind them, the plant’s long viney limbs wrapped around his shoulder and waist. Red smiles as the pokemon’s bulbous head swivels to take in everything around it, mimicking his trainer.

They switch elevators at the second and third floors, then reach the fourth near its middle, surrounded by stalls and shelves full of pokeballs and medical equipment. Trainers fill the aisles, speaking with salesmen and comparing products. Advertisements and guideposts hang from the ceiling to direct customers, and Red scans them quickly. “Okay, so we need to—”

“Check it out, balls are on sale!” Blue hurries to a glass display and crouches to peer at the colorful variety of pokeballs inside. “Greatballs for just eighty bucks with a trainer card, definitely getting a few of those, and ten pokeballs gets you a free premierball!”

“Don’t think I need—”

“Ooh look, free samples.” Leaf wanders over to a nutritionist sitting at a stall, the countertop covered in colored rows of pokemon vitamin supplements.

Red sets his jaw and resists the urge to follow either of them, turning resolutely in the direction of the audio training tools. It’s fairly easy to block the advertisements: after getting burned a few times by misleading ads as a kid, and making one particularly expensive impulse purchase he later regretted when he was nine, he grabbed some books on marketing and devoted a week to reading them.

Once he emerged from that roller coaster of fascination and horror, he walked into the living room and declared that if he ever became Champion of the Indigo League, all ads would just be a name, an image, an intended purpose in ten words or less, and some sources for where more information could be found. Ever since then he’s taken the default position that all ads lie about everything, and reflexively ignores them until he has the chance to do independent research.

But it’s a bit harder ignoring so many cool toys once they’re all around him and in easy reach.

He catches himself slowing down by a shelf of laser pointers with a sign declaring “50% off!” and forces himself to walk past, only to realize a minute later that he’s unconsciously veering toward some targeting frisbees that promise to “improve pokemon accuracy by 63%!” The lasers are regular priced, they’re just usually marked up twice as much, he grimly reminds himself. And a 63% improvement means instead of landing two out of ten attacks, my pokemon will land three.

The biggest crowd by far is in the relatively open area where new pokedex models are on display and available to demo. Red is glad he’s spared that particular temptation. The Technique Machine aisle proves impossible to resist however, and he walks over to a console to see what’s available.

He waits for the trainer using one of the machines to finish browsing, then steps up to the free screen and types in “charmander.”

Toxic, Dig, Flame Charge, Fire Blast, Shadow Claw

Woah. Charmander can learn Shadow Claw? He checks the move’s information and confirms that yes, it’s a Ghost Type attack. He wonders how long some programmer slaved over that particular code.

The software in the machines are very specific programs designed to do two things: mundanely, they can train a pokemon to learn a specific behavior that they might normally be able to learn on their own, with enough maturity and training. The second, far rarer programs are those few that rewrite specific pokemon’s actual “code,” the data they’re saved as while in their pokeball, so that their physical bodies are safely altered to be capable of entirely new things. Even rarer are programs written well enough to apply the effects to any pokemon of that species, with all the variation they have, rather than a specific one the programmer wrote the code for. A coder that manages to make such a universal program is usually set for life, and a handful of programmers, like Bill Sonezaki of Kanto, have coded multiple such machines and gained prestige almost on par with that given to Professors.

He watches a demonstration video of a charmander attacking a pokedoll, its claws trailing purple mist. The mist doesn’t help with cutting the doll, as it’s not a physical augmentation: Ghost abilities attack the mind. But he can clearly see that charmander is capable of using it.

This. This would be a solid investment. With Shadow Claw, his charmander would have incredibly boosted coverage. He could stand a chance against rock pokemon, as charmander’s normal claws and fire wouldn’t do much good against their tough hides, and if he faces a Psychic or Ghost type, he could fight fire with fire, so to speak.

With a mix of excitement and dread, he checks the price and feels his heart sink. Five hundred dollars is relatively cheap, especially for something so cutting edge, but it’s still expensive for a one-time use. If it were a permanent copy of the software that he could reuse on other pokemon, that might be worth it…

Not that I could afford it either way. He returns to the homescreen and steps away for the next trainer, watching as a grim looking man in a trench coat navigates the screen with quick familiarity, makes his selection, then inserts an ultraball after swiping his card through the machine. Red turns away and continues his search for the training whistles, trying not to dwell on his disappointment.

“Hey,” Blue says as he approaches from the side and falls into step with him. “Lot of stuff around here, huh?”

“Yeah. You buy anything?”

“Nah, not yet. I might call up gramps and ask him to release some of my savings, but then he’s going to want to know every single thing I spend it on. Man, I can’t wait till I’m fifteen.”

Red nods. “Tell me about it.” He’s not as well off as Blue, but his own bank account has a couple thousand in it. Unfortunately he still needs his mother’s permission to withdraw anything more than a hundred dollars a week, and his mother made clear that should be for emergencies. It’s an old grievance of his and Blue’s: 11 is old enough to go out in the world, but not old enough to make their own decisions about money, apparently.

On the other hand… He looks around at all the things he’d love to buy. Being in a store like this, he can see why some kids might need a bit of help with self control.

“Have you seen any shock suits around here?”

Red frowns. “I think that would be on the third floor. It’s more for protection than training.” Professor Faraday had created the first “shock suit” to help him safely study electric pokemon. By providing an easy path for electron flow around the wearer, modern Faraday suits can immunize someone to most electric attacks.

It’s one of the top items on Red’s wishlist, and being reminded of it doesn’t improve his mood. I need to get started on articles for my Researcher license so I can get some income. He files the thought away for later consideration. “You’re not going to buy one now, are you? The ones I saw online were priced at least at a thousand.”

“If Zapdos ends up coming south, I think it would be worth it. I’ll just tell gramps I want the money for a good bike.”

Red’s steps slow at the mention of Zapdos. “Right. I actually wanted to talk to you about that…” How could he stop Blue from going into the storm, short of tying him up? Better yet, how could he change Blue’s mind so he chooses not to himself? Red flips through his memory for ways in which people change their minds. Fear of consequences, appeal to authority, deceit… which is most likely to succeed?

Blue looks at him askance. “What about it?”

1) Fear of consequences. The dangers of the storm trio are hard to overstate, but confronting them is tied to too many of Blue’s central values, including his ego and desire to avenge the loss of his parents. Low chance of success.

2) Appeal to authority. Low chance of success. Blue’s value for autonomy is too high. Calling Professor Oak to intercede directly might work, but would likely sever friendship. Worth severing to possibly save his life? Maybe.

“I don’t know how prepared we are at the moment,” Red says. “There are some things I was hoping to have before facing one of the trio, like a Faraday suit of my own.”

Blue scratches his neck, looking uncomfortable. “Yeah, I was thinking it over. Look, I think I can take out enough money to cover two suits without gramps noticing right away. Don’t worry about paying me back, I know you’re good for it.”

3) Deceit. I could pretend to be sick at a critical moment, and force Blue to choose between competing values. Better yet, actually injure myself at just the right moment. Even better yet, call Daisy and collaborate a convincing deception for Blue to return home. If discovered though, this would definitely sever friendship. Also would prefer not to injure myself badly enough to warrant serious medical attention. Moderate chance of success, but risky. Reserve for last resort.

4) Competing values….

Red nods. “Thanks, I might take you up on that. But I think there’s a cheaper alternative.”

“What is it?”

“I’ll show you when we head down to the third floor. For now I want to find these whistles before my wallet burns a hole through my pocket.”

They begin to hear the sound of flutes and whistles over the general noise of the store, and find a wall of various handheld instruments a minute later. Leaf is already there, examining a pendant ocarina with four holes on the outer side and two on the inner. A middle aged woman in store attendant uniform is standing beside her and demonstrating the proper way to hold it. Around her neck hangs an assortment of different whistles and flutes from the wall. Leaf spies Red and Blue approaching and waves them over.

“Hey guys! Come listen. She’s explaining how to choose the right instrument.” Leaf turns to the woman. “They’re interested in getting one too.”

The saleswoman smiles and turns to include them in her demonstration. “As I was telling your friend here, a whistle is a good choice for training pokemon that are expected to range out from you, like flying types. But it’s harder than just training them to follow a verbal command. Each action you want them to perform has to be linked to a particular, short tone or tune, and that means which instrument you choose is very important.”

The attendant finds the plain whistle in the jumble around her neck and demonstrates with a pair of quick notes. “See? Just two basic commands, and anything more than that will take a brief melody.” She waits for another attendant nearby to stop blowing on a long flute before she gives three short blows. “So you’ll need one of those for each action. With something like the ocarina, each note can be tied to a command, and then a melody can be its own.” She puts the pendant ocarina to her lips and blows each note once, then a number of quick combinations, and finally a brief melody.

“So why doesn’t everyone get an ocarina?” Red asks. “Other than the price.” He sees on the wall that the plain whistles are just five bucks, while the ocarina is thirty.

She smiles. “The ocarina takes quite a bit more dedication. It has more range and options, but you have to be willing to learn and memorize each one. Also it takes two hands, which some trainers find cumbersome.”

Meaning mostly battle trainers. Having your hands free to swap pokemon at a moment’s notice is a big deal, especially in the fast paced world of competitive battles.

Blue is clearly thinking the same thing, because he heads over to the plain whistles and begins to sort through them.

“I think I’ll take an ocarina,” Leaf says, and goes to the wall to examine the different styles available.

Red turns to the attendant. “So if we plan on traveling and training our pokemon together, should we worry about confusing them with our whistles?”

The woman smiles. “Getting three different instruments would certainly help avoid that.”

“Right. So… any suggestions? Something between the two in complexity is fine, but I don’t mind using both hands if I have to.”

Her necklace rattles as she sorts through it. “How’s this? Bamboo flute. A good amount of variety, and you can use one or two hands for increased range. And it has a very unique sound.” She gives it a trill.

Red goes over to the wall and examines one of the long wooden flutes. “I like it, but do you have something a bit more durable? And a bit smaller.”

“Certainly.” She leads him to another section, and within a few minutes Red decides on a one handed silver flute, with four holes on top and one on the bottom for his thumb. Blue goes with a similar one with a higher pitch, both of which only cost ten dollars, and the three trainers purchase their instruments, which Blue carries in a small shopping bag. After thanking the attendant, they head for the escalators.

“You guys should grab some vitamin samples before we go down,” Leaf says. “I tried to get some for you, but he wouldn’t let me.”

Red and Blue exchange looks, then shrug and head for the stall. There’s a bit of a crowd when they get there, and Red has time to read the ad on the screen above it. The sound is mostly muted by the crowd, but he can pick up the energetic narration. “Is your rapidash more of a slowpoke? Machamp getting seismically tossed? Want your kingler’s carapace to be as strong as steelix? Carbos, protein, iron, we have it all right here! Poffins and berries aren’t enough: four out of five professors agree, your pokemon can’t reach their full potential without the right dietary supplements!”

Blue snorts. “Bet the fifth was gramps.”

Red grins. “Yeah, and I’d love to know who the other four are.”

They move up in the line, and the young nutritionist smiles as they approach. “Hello again, I see you brought your friends! Excellent! What kind of pokemon do you two-”

“I’ll take protein please,” Red says.


The nutritionist blinks, but reaches beneath the counter and hands over two red packets. “Certainly, there you are. Now, if you’re looking for some-”

“Nope, I’m good, thanks a lot.” Red turns to the escalator and begins to head down to the third floor. He and Blue are soon joined by Leaf, who’s looking at him in surprise. “What?”

“Nothing, I just wasn’t expecting you to be so… abrupt. You could have at least heard him out.”

“Why? I don’t have money to spare, and there were more people in line behind us.” Red tucks the packet of protein into one of the side pockets of his bag. “Besides, I’ve already researched his products, and wouldn’t believe any new studies he cites without looking into them myself first anyway.”

“You don’t believe in nutrition supplements?”

“Let’s just say I’m skeptical of some of their claims,” Red says. “I got protein because it has some substantial research backing its effectiveness in muscle growth. As for things like iron ‘boosting toughness,’ or hardening skin or shells… the results are still inconclusive. Some tests show slight measurable gains, others don’t. And that’s not even getting to some of the other stuff they sell.”

Leaf looks at Blue. “You’re in the same boat I take it?”

Blue shrugs. “Some of the top trainers swear by certain vitamins, while others say they’re not necessary. I haven’t seen any proof myself yet, but as far as I’ve heard they can’t hurt, and free is free.”

“Huh. My mom never really talked about them, either for or against.” Leaf shrugs. “She tends to ignore anything outside the scope of her research.”

Blue laughs. “I think that comes with the fancy title. One time gramps spent a month at the lab without coming home for more than a meal and a shower a day. When I told him there’d been a new appointment to the Elite Four, he barely heard me.”

Red opens his mouth, then closes it. He always loved his parents for who they were, but being raised by a pokemon professor had always seemed like the closest thing to a perfect childhood he could imagine. He’s used to Blue’s grouching about Professor Oak, and just assumed it’s due to his lack of interest in science and research. But Leaf’s voice held a similar tinge of wistfulness that stops Red short, and he pulls out his notepad and reminds himself to re-evaluate whether he’s experiencing a negative focusing effect when he gets the chance.

“Hey,” Blue says. “If you’re analyzing me, you have to tell me why. That’s the rule.”

“I’m not.”

Leaf looks between them, then glances at the notepad. “You guys have a rule for that?”

Blue glowers at Red. “We do.”

“Can I have the same rule?”

Red smiles. “Yeah, that’s fair. But I’m not analyzing either of you. Just reflecting on that whole ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ saying.”

They reach the third floor and step off the escalator, and Leaf returns Red’s smile. “I was mostly joking. You deserve your privacy. There’s little enough of it, traveling together like we are.”

Blue snorts. “Yeah, you say that now. It’ll drive you mad soon enough, you wait. Him scribbling in that notebook every other day, looking at you like a pokemon that learned a new trick.” Blue’s voice goes lower as he talks, eyes widening in horror. “Eventually you start thinking over every word you say, wondering what might set him off next… your nights are filled with thoughts of a notebook, its pages dissecting your every thought and action, and you dream of waking up in a lab cage, Red dressed in a white coat and staring down at you, scribbling, scribbling, scribbling…”

Red and Leaf laugh. “It’s really not a big deal,” Red says. “I’ll tell you about it later, promise. Just need to get my thoughts in order. In the meantime, I need to grab a gas mask. You guys should get a couple too.”

They find the right section fairly quickly, but after a few minutes of browsing Red doesn’t find a mask like the one he used in the trainer house practice rooms. He finds an ordering terminal and begins browsing its catalog while Blue and Leaf try on various masks and headgear.

He calls them over when he finds it. “Here, this is the one the trainer house used. It protects your whole face without distorting your vision or voice much.” He goes to the product page and swipes his trainer card. “Just forty bucks too. You guys want one?”

“Yeah, I’ll get one.” Leaf smiles. “I’ve been looking at new moves for Bulbasaur, and it could be handy for protection against powders or spores.”

Blue nods “Me too. There are butterfree and shroomish in the forest that can knock a guy out in one breath.”

Red shifts the quantity to three and presses accept. The machine hums, and after a few moments three of the dozen hand-sized slots beneath the screen light up. Red reaches into two and withdraws the Containers from them, handing one to Leaf while Blue takes his own.

They aim the silver balls at the floor and release the grey boxes inside in a triplet of flashes. Red opens his and takes out the gas mask, freshly sent over from the store’s warehouse. He closes the box, then withdraws it into the Container before returning the sphere into its nook as Blue does the same beside him.

Leaf carefully adjusts the ball in its nook so its lens is properly aligned before straightening. “Checkout’s over there, right?”

“Hang on, there are a couple more things I want here.”

Red follows the signs that have a lightning bolt on them until he’s surrounded by trainers trying out shoes with non-conductive soles. He steps carefully past all the boxes and scans the shelves, reluctantly drawing his gaze from the corner where Faraday suits are being sold as he walks from one aisle to another.

“Aha.” Red goes to a shelf of copper rods about twice as thick as his thumb and as long as his arm. He counts out four and turns to the others. “We should each have at least one. I’m getting two.”

“Do you think these will be necessary?” Leaf asks, taking hers and experimentally pulling on the rod. It extends to the full length of her arm-span without reaching its limit, and she collapses it back to its compact size.

Blue nods. “If we’re going to be risking the storm, we’ll need something like this sooner than later.” He looks over his and frowns, clearly skeptical. “That said, I’d feel much safer in a shock suit. You sure these will be good enough? Don’t they only work if you stand near them?”

“Well, ‘near’ is relative. A true bolt of lightning will be caught within sixty meters, and redirected to the earth. From that point, the ground current might travel about twenty meters, maybe a bit more. Speaking of which,” Red turns to Leaf. “You should pick up new shoes if yours aren’t rubber-soled.”

She hesitates, then nods and goes to the shoe section. Red checks the maximum size of the rods. “Three and a half meters… Should be enough.” He turns to Blue. “You can get a Faraday suit if you want, but I’d rather neither of us spend that much money if it’s not necessary. This will do fine for me.”

Blue looks at him for a moment, then back at the rod. “Sixty meters huh?”


Red surreptitiously pulls out his phone and opens CoRRNet as Blue examines the lightning rod. His friend’s shoulders are straight, and his eyes gleam with anticipation as he extends it fully and tests its weight. Red goes to his alert settings and adjusts the threshold. By default it’s set to only alert him of Tier 1 or higher threats near his location, but it can also alert him of any nearby tickets or requests that pop up. Now it’ll be easy for Red to keep an eye out for any opportunities for heroism as they travel north. If he can delay their journey long enough, the storm might pass before they get near Pewter City. But if not, Red might still be able to distract Blue with requests for aid that will surely pop up with the storm’s arrival, even at its outskirts.

4) Competing values. If the storm comes south, I’ll force Blue to choose between rushing headlong into it and another value. If he has to make a choice between helping someone in need or taking a shot at one of the birds, he’ll make the right choice.

Red puts his phone away and watches Blue test out the quickest ways to get the lightning rod to full length. From a thousand games and conversations the two had shared over the years, Red knows that as hot as his friend burns for revenge against the storm gods, at his core the role he sees for himself is that of an emerging hero, willing and able to help those that need him. That Red sees himself the same way is one of the core bonds of their friendship.

Blue grins as he refolds the lightning rod. “Yeah, this’ll work. With your book smarts and my trainer skills, we’ll have all three birds down by the end of the year. Come on, let’s go help Leaf find a good pair of shoes.”

He’ll make the right choice…

By the time the three leave the department store, the sun has begun its western descent. Once out on the sidewalk, Leaf dons her last new purchase, a white sunhat with a pink band above the rim and in a half-circle above the front. She tugs its edges until it shades her eyes and ears, and smiles.

Blue takes their various instruments out of the shopping bag and passes them out before slipping his own whistle around his neck. Leaf puts her ocarina pendant on and gives each of its notes a test, running through a brief melody. The sharp sounds make passerby turn, and a flock of pidgey take off from a nearby light pole.

Red watches them go as he takes his hat off and slips his own flute on, tucking it into his shirt. His new gas mask is strapped to the outside of his pack for easy access, and his lightning rods are braced along the roof and floor of the inside of his bag: he can feel their upper tips against his spine. He’d had trouble fitting them in at first, and finally resigned himself to using his Container to free up room. For all his planning for the trip, “free space” hadn’t been something he thought he’d need this soon. Now that all his extra clothes are in the silver sphere tucked into one of the bag’s pockets, it feels uncomfortably light.

In total he’d spent about fifty-five dollars, bringing him down to $165. Having to use his only Container is what bothers him most at the moment. Unlike pokeballs, they’re not subsidized by the Department for the Advancement of Trainer Efficacy, and cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars on up depending on how much mass they could store. His own is the lowest model, capable of holding a bit over fifty pounds, not including the light metal box the Container is keyed to. It had his sleeping bag and a collapsible tent in it, but now it holds most of what was in his bag. He left everything that he might need at a moment’s notice out of it, like first aid supplies and snacks.

Leaf tucks her ocarina in her blouse. “How long before we’re out of the city? I want to start training Crimson with this!”

“We’re in the northern suburbs now,” Red says. “Shouldn’t take long.”

“Are you gonna pick up a flier soon too?”

“He wants a noctowl,” Blue says, already fiddling with his pokedex as they begin to head north.

“Neat. Why a noctowl?”

“Well for one thing, their night vision is incredible, and they’re almost completely silent while flying. For another, they’re one of the smartest birds in Kanto or Johto.”

Leaf smiles. “Very practical of you.” Red blinks, but before he can comment at her tone Leaf takes out her own pokedex. “Any thoughts on a good set of commands?”

“I’ve been looking some up,” Blue says. “There are a bunch of recommendations, but that lady was right: the more complex commands you want to give, the more you need to practice and memorize.”

“We’d better start then.” Red takes his small flute out, absently stepping around a lightpost in the sidewalk as he examines it. “Let’s go over the basics. Up, down, left, right. That’s four notes. A return command, that’s five. A ‘hover,’ for those pokemon that can do it…”

“Hang on,” Blue says. “Too complex. Pokemon are smart enough to know how to fly on their own. I’m going to stick with diving, climbing, and hovering for movement, and use the rest for attacks.”

“Well, I’ve got the options,” Leaf says, indicating her pendant. “I don’t need to micromanage them every moment, but if I need them to go a specific direction I like having the option.”

They debate and discuss the optimal ways to train their pokemon as they walk, researching and testing their instruments. Within an hour they’re surrounded by more trees than houses, and the road begins to split in different directions. They stay on the main path north as it winds between small neighborhoods and the occasional mom and pop stores.

Eventually Blue and Leaf take turns registering various whistle commands with their pokedex, then downloading them to their pidgey’s pokeballs. After letting the sound recognition programs run, they summon Zephyr and Crimson to fly around them, occasionally using their whistles to try instructions. At one point Crimson lands on Leaf’s shoulder, and Red notes the ruddy feathers along its wing tips. He’s about to point it out to Leaf, then realizes it must be the basis for the name. He feels a flush of embarrassment, and is glad he didn’t voice his assumption that it was a reference to him.

“I can’t wait till they’re big enough to fly on,” Leaf says with a smile as she watches Crimson take off again and soar up to a tree to peck at some fruit.

“Yeah, we should reach Vermillion City before then.”

“What’s in Vermillion city?”

“Well, I don’t know how they do it in Unova, but here in Kanto they don’t just hand the Fly program out to anyone,” Blue says.

“What, you mean it’s regulated?”

Red nods. “It gives bird pokemon an incredible boost in endurance and strength, but it’s not magic, and a lot of people don’t seem to get that.”

Blue scowls. “So all of us have to prove we’re not idiots just because some moron uses it on a golbat that’s barely bigger than they are and plummets off a roof.”

“Ugh. Did that really happen?”


Leaf makes a disgusted face. “So how do we prove we’re not idiots?”

“Vermillion Gym Leader Surge,” Blue says. “You might have heard of him Leaf, he’s from Unova.”

“Really? Neat. No, I never heard of him. Does he use any birds from Unova?”

“Surge runs an electric gym actually. There’s no Flying gym in Kanto.”

Leaf raises a brow, and Red grins, shrugging. “We don’t make the rules.”

The sun continues to set, and the woods on either side of the road begin to grow thick as they enter the outer edges of Viridian Forest. They pass a school nestled in a clearing off the side of the road, and a few minutes later see a crowd of six or seven year olds in the distance. Blue and Leaf call their pokemon back, and withdraw them into their balls. When they get closer, they see the kids are gathered around an old man. A woman in a teacher’s uniform stands by, supervising the field trip and quieting the kids to let the old man talk over their shouted questions and excited chattering.

“Alright now, settle down, settle down,” the old man says, and the kids grow mostly quiet. “Who here can tell me the most important part of catching pokemon?”

“Keep it still!”

“Summon your pokemon!”

“Knock it out!”

“Stay a safe distance!”

“That’s right!” The old man says. “First and foremost, you want to stay a safe distance from the pokemon. That means knowing what a certain pokemon is capable of. If you encounter a pokemon that you’ve never seen before, you have to be extra careful! Don’t assume that just because it’s big that it’ll move slow, or because it’s small it has short reach. Watch carefully.”

The three trainers slow to a stop nearby as the old man walks into the woods. Red looks past him into the foliage and notices a weedle sitting on a bush and munching on its leaves, bright yellow and pink body a warning to any that come near. As the old man approaches, the weedle perks up, its segmented body going rigid as an exclamation point, long and thick as the old man’s forearm.

“Now, the standard pokeball has a lock-on range of about nine meters, and these little bugs can easily jump that. They pack some fearful poison in that stinger, so catching one can be a bit risky. But as long as you know how to read their body language…” He takes a careful step forward, then one to the side, watching the weedle as the stinger on its forehead sways to follow him. “See how it’s bunching itself up? One more ought to do it…”

The old man steps forward, and the weedle shoots forward like a loosed arrow. Red feels his pulse surge, and the watching kids cry out as the old man staggers to the side. The weedle curls midair and flips, so that it lands on the other side still facing him.

Red’s hand is on charmander’s pokeball and Leaf is already stepping forward with her arm cocked back, but when the old man turns they see he’s grinning.

“Caught my sleeve there,” he says, eyes on the arthropod as he holds his arm up to show the tear in his shirt. “Come on little guy, you can do better than that.” He steps forward, some of the children crying out in warning as the weedle bunches itself up and leaps at him again, quick as a blink.

The veteran ducks and spins with the speed of a man half his age, calmly turning to keep the weedle in his vision. It goes at him again and again, but never comes closer than a hand-breadth.

As Red watches the grizzled instructor turn and sidestep every leap, he feels himself slowly relax, a grin spreading over his face. The old man has clearly done this many times to perfect such showmanship, and the crowd of students cheers and claps, Red, Leaf and Blue joining in. In all the many field exercises he went on when he was younger to teach his class about catching pokemon, none of the instructors were as big of a showman as this guy.

The old man turns to face the weedle again, and holds a hand up to quiet the cheers. “Now, see the way it’s arching its body like that rather than leaping at me again? It sees I’m too quick for it, so it’s going to try and even the playing field a bit. That brings us to the second most important thing: speed. You gotta slow the pokemon down, or even better yet, keep it still! Whether you knock it out first or immobilize it some other way, you can’t catch a pokemon that’s moving too fast for your ball to lock onto it, let alone hit it with a throw.”

“We could’ve gotten those pidgey if they hadn’t kept blowing the balls away,” Blue mutters to Red, who shushes him.

The old man spreads his fingers wide and crouches, waiting. When the weedle shoots a string of sticky silk at him, he snatches it out of the air.

The weedle immediately leaps forward, using the connecting string to home in on the old trainer. But the veteran rotates on his heel with his arm straight out, swinging the weedle in an arc and bashing it against a tree trunk beside him. The pokemon falls to the ground and releases the string, stunned.

The old man bows at the renewed cheers, then holds up his hand again to quiet them, three fingers up. “Third, make sure the area is clear of other pokemon. The ball can get confused if the capture area is crowded, and it won’t open if it’s not positive it’ll draw in the right one.” He takes his pokeball out, lens pointed at the weedle. “Gotta let it hold on the pokemon for a bit, and when it’s ready…” There’s a ping as the pokeball locks onto its target. “It’ll let you know. Cock your arm back, take aim, and release just as the ball is leaving your fingertips… like so!” The old man throws the ball, hitting the weedle dead on. The pokeball bounces to the side, and opens mid-spin to capture the pokemon in a flash.

The ball rolls on the grass before coming to a standstill. The old man retrieves the ball as his audience claps and cheers. He approaches the road again and notices the three trainers standing behind the crowd. “Well hello there! Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The kids and teacher all turn in surprise. “It certainly is,” Leaf says with a smile. “That was fantastic!” Red nods agreement.

“Why thank you kindly! You’re trainers then, are ya?” He eyes the pokeballs at their waists.

“That’s right,” Blue says, and spins Zephyr’s pokeball on his finger. “We caught these ourselves.”

“Coooool,” one of the kids says, watching the ball, and Blue smirks as the class begins to murmur excitedly, many asking to see their pokemon.

Red covers his grin with one hand. Just a few years ago, it would have been he and Blue staring in awe as “grown up” trainers walked by. When he notices one of the boys watching him in particular though, he feels his own shoulders square a bit, back straightening.

“Hey, not bad!” The old man gives his new weedle’s ball a spin, then sends it across the back of his hand by flexing his knuckles. The kids ooooh and ahhh, and Blue palms his ball to watch closely as the old trainer dances the still spinning ball from the back of one hand over to the other before turning his hand and catching it out of the air. “We’re gonna look for a spinarak next. Feel free to stick around, maybe you’ll pick up a thing or two!” He winks.

Red’s response is cut off by Blue. “We’d love to, but we’re trying to make the forest by nightfall.”

Leaf nods. “I wouldn’t mind getting a weedle of my own!”

Red hesitates, then nods. “Maybe another time.”

“Anytime you’re in the area, just come pay me a visit. Name’s Hamato.”

They introduce themselves, bow, and wave goodbye as they continue on their way. Leaf and Blue remark on how amazing the veteran trainer had been, while Red is mostly silent. That had been a perfect opportunity to spend the rest of the day without going any further north.

“You alright Red?”

He looks at Blue and nods. “Just wondering how long it might take to catch one of every pokemon in here.”

Leaf looks speculative. “For each of us? Or in total?”

“How about a friendly wager? First person to reach six pokemon, without any duplicates, is treated to dinner by whoever’s last.”

“Sounds like free food,” Leaf says. “You guys are one behind me.”

Red grins. “Is that a bet, then?”

Blue smirks. “You’re on.”

They pick up their pace, each pulling out their own pokedex. Within moments they’re so engrossed in their study of nearby pokemon habits that they barely notice when they pass the sign marking the border to Viridian Forest.

Chapter 8: Priorities

When Red next wakes, he feels much better rested. His phone shows almost eleven, and a text from half an hour ago tells him Blue and Leaf are waiting in the common room.

Red takes his time showering, then heads to the laundry room to pick up his clothes from last night. The small holes in his shirt are barely noticeable without any blood around them, and the smell is completely gone. He packs them back in his bag, then goes downstairs.

The common room isn’t as crowded as it had been the night before, and he quickly spots Leaf and Blue seated across from each other in a square of couches with a table between them. Bulbasaur sits in a potted plant beside Leaf with his eyes closed, and Leaf rubs between his ears.

“Jerk,” Red says, taking his hat off Blue’s head and sniffing it experimentally before putting it over his damp hair. He’d taken it off during the break in training the night before, and it hadn’t absorbed the smell of Charmander’s smoke nearly as much as the rest of his clothes had.

“There you are,” Leaf says with a smile. “Have trouble sleeping last night?”

Red sighs and flops down on a third couch. “You could say that. Is this food for me?”

“Yep.” Blue nudges the plastic box across the table with his foot.

“Thanks.” Red opens it and chows down on the cold noodles and strips of beef. “Sorry I couldn’t join you guys.”

“So what kept you up?”

Red swallows his mouthful, picking his words carefully. “In my attempts to mitigate optimism bias, I fell prey to the planning fallacy.”

Leaf raises a brow. “Oh, yeah,” she says. “I hate it when that happens.”

Blue snorts. “I’m pretty sure it’s nerd for ‘I screwed up.'”

So Red summarizes his night as he eats. His friends seem particularly interested in how the smoke works, and Red passes his notes to Leaf as Blue takes out his pokedex and looks up a video of it in action.

“The pokedex really is an amazing tool for training,” Leaf says. “I spent some time virtually training my pokemon last night to reinforce their target priorities, so it’s even easier for them to recognize friendly pokemon like Charmander or Squirtle if there are other pokemon around.”

Blue scratches his neck. “Are you going to work on training your rattata and pidgey too, or focus on Bulbasaur for now?”

“I want to at least get comfortable with all of them.”

“What about you, Blue?” Red asks.

“YouBlue.” Leaf giggles. “Hey, what’s new, Blue? Say it isn’t true, Blue! What’s your favorite hue, Blue?”

Blue ignores her. “Well, I’ve had a few ideas for what my core team is going to be…”

“I know you always wanted a pidgeot on it.”

Blue nods. “Which is why I’ve already started working with Zephyr.”

“Zephyr? Oh. When did you name him?”

“This morning.” Blue grins. “Leaf and I did some practice maneuvers on the roof, and he flew circles around Crimson.”

Leaf rolls her eyes. “Circle. Singular. He flew one circle around Crimson, and it wasn’t even during a race.”

“Technically still happened. I’m counting it.”

Red finishes eating as they argue, and spies a trash can to throw the box out. On the way back to his seat, he sees Amy sitting across the lobby on her own. Today she’s wearing jeans, a sleeveless blue vest over a white shirt, and a white cap. When he waves to her, she waves back, then walks over to their couches and sits on the one across from him. “Heya Red.”

“Hi Amy.” The other two are looking at her curiously. “These are my friends, Leaf and Blue. I met Amy last night in the training rooms.”

Amy smiles. “Nice to meet you all.”

“You’re a battle trainer!” Blue says, spying the red Volcano Badge on her hat. “Are you here to challenge Leader Giovanni?”

“I actually already have the Earth Badge.” She turns over the left side of her jacket, where a cluster of colorful medals gleam. “It was my third.” Red leans forward and sees the small green badge, along with the Marsh, Rainbow and Soul Badges.

Blue’s eyes light up as he examines them. “Nice. What are you in town for then?”

“I came up from Cinnabar to meet my brother. He just got his last badge and is about to head to the Indigo Plateau.”

“That’s awesome! How old is he? What was his last badge? Does he plan to go to Johto? Do you-”

“Breathe, Blue,” Leaf says. “I’m sure she didn’t come over here to answer endless questions.”

Amy smiles. “It’s fine, really. Twenty-seven, Thunder Badge, and not yet. He wants to try his hand at the League first while he waits for me to catch up.”

“Are you heading up to get the Boulder Badge after, then?” Blue asks.

“The Boulder Gym is in Pewter City, north of Viridian Forest,” Red explains to Leaf.

“I know, I’ve been reading the map.” She smiles at Amy. “I’m from Unova. We’re heading to Pewter City too, if you want some travel company.”

Amy looks between them. “You guys didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”

Red gets a sinking feeling, and takes his phone out to check CoRRNet as Amy says, “A sudden storm developed in the Pewter Mountains. It’s far to the north as of this morning but the whole city is on high alert. I’m going to hold off until we know for sure where it’s headed.”

Leaf looks around in the quiet that follows, studying their tense expressions. “Is it one of them?” she asks, voice low. “What kind of storm is it?” Her fingers lie still on Bulbasaur’s head, and after a moment he shifts a bit, eyes slipping halfway open. He growls quietly, and she resumes rubbing between his ears.

“Lightning,” Red says, reading the report, which warns citizens in the area to check back every few hours to keep track of its movements. “Low precipitation, still a single cell… but a single cell that’s been going for two days now.” It goes on to call for experienced trainers to gather in Pewter and Cerulean in case of attack. Red’s stomach clenches, and he looks at Blue, who’s watching him. So soon… We’re not ready!

“A storm that small lasting that long is definitely not natural,” Amy says. “Which means Zapdos is active again. I’m thinking of taking a detour to Vermillion City until he blows himself out. I suggest you guys hang around here for a bit, wait to see where it moves to.”

Blue is leaning back against the couch, arms crossed. He looks at Red and nods, and Red takes a breath before nodding back. “No,” Blue says. “We’re going.”

Amy blinks. “Going… to Pewter?” She looks from Blue to Red’s determined faces, and her expression hardens. “I take it back Red, you are dewy-eyed. Maybe even stupid. What do you think you’re going to accomplish, other than getting yourselves or your pokemon killed?”

Red opens his mouth to respond, but Blue cuts him off. “What do you care? Run off if you want to; the real trainers will be there with us to defend the city.”

Leaf’s eyes widen, and Red winces. “What he means is-”

“He said what he meant,” Amy says, voice level as she meets Blue’s gaze. “Who do you think you are, kid? You’ve had your pokemon, what, a day or two, and you think that makes you a trainer? Have you ever experienced what the storm gods can do? I have. Watching vids on the net and fantasizing about catching one doesn’t give you a clue of what it’s like.”

Blue drops his gaze to his splayed legs. “My parents were killed when Moltres flew over Fuchsia. I’m not going so I can try and catch Zapdos. I’m going so I can help protect the people there.”

Red listens to the other sounds in the lobby in the quiet that follows. One of the people working at the front desk is chattering on the phone, and some trainers across the room are spread out around a flatscreen watching a subtitled movie, its volume on low. There’s a loud flapping to his side, and he turns to see a spearow with a hood over its eyes perched on a trainer’s gauntleted arm as he walks toward the elevators.

Leaf is watching Blue sadly, and Amy’s expression is a bit softer, though her brow is still furrowed.

When it’s clear Blue won’t say anything else, Red clears his throat. “We made a promise, when we were younger. Swore that we’d do whatever we could against the trio, once we have our own pokemon.” He turns to Leaf. “You don’t have to come. It’s not your fight, and it’s not your region. We can meet up again after the danger’s past.”

Leaf bites her lip. “As great a chapter as it would make for my book, I’m not exactly eager to rush into a storm caused by a legendary. We have our own trio in Unova, and I still have nightmares about the time Tornadus swept through Accumula Town. If mom found out I ran headlong into a Tier 3 threat the first week I got here, she’d tear up my trainer license herself.”

Red feels a stab of guilt at that. Be careful, Red… He shies away from the thought of what his death would do to his mother. More visceral than that, fear coils in his belly as he remembers the death and destruction the Storm Birds, or “Storm Gods” as some still call them, can bring.

Fear that he knows his father had probably faced down dozens of times, against one of the trio or lesser threats. Can he hold himself to a lower standard?

But it’s too soon! We were supposed to have more time to prepare than this. Surely it’s safer, saner, to steer clear for now, and get more experience and pokemon…

Red studies the set of Blue’s jaw, the way he glares down, arms crossed. As things stand, Blue will go with or without him. And despite what he said about his motives, Red knows Blue would try to kill the Storm Birds if he has the chance. I need to review my options for changing his mind.

He tables the thought for later. Even if they end up going, he can still keep his word to his mom, and take rational precautions. “We’re not going to run headlong into it,” Red says. “There are things we can do besides try to drive off Zapdos ourselves. Even if it’s just to help with the evacuation, or those who get injured.”

Blue nods. “We’re not stupid. I wouldn’t send Squirtle or Zephyr out in the middle of a lightning storm, and we don’t have any ground pokemon between us. There are still other things we can do though, especially if we catch some new pokemon on the way.”

Leaf twists her hair around a finger, then lets it go and takes a deep breath and nods. “I’m okay with using CoRRNet to help with any periphery tasks they need help with.”

“That’s the idea,” Red says. “My dad was a Ranger, and he always talked about the need for more trainers in the area. Most local pokemon go to ground and wait the storms out, but some can go wild and attack anyone in the area.”

Amy frowns, but says, “Well, that’s a bit more sensible. Just remember that the storms move faster than normal weather. You could be dealing with some minor threat one minute, and be at the heart of it all the next. And then there’s the Pressure…”

“We’ll be careful,” Red says.

Amy taps her foot a bit, seems about to say something, then nods and settles back in her seat. “Alright. As long as you’re aware of the risks, which it seems you are. Sorry I called you stupid.”

Red smiles. “No harm done.”

Blue notices Red and Leaf looking at him after a moment, and frowns. “Yeah, no harm done. And… sorry I implied you’re not a real trainer.”

Amy shrugs. “You’ll get it once you’ve experienced it as a trainer yourself. It takes a lot out of you and your pokemon, wears on you psychologically. Go every time and you’ll get strung out, start jumping at shadows and making dangerous mistakes.”

“The Leaders show up whenever they can,” Blue says, though not accusingly.

She smiles. “Yeah, well, that’s part of what makes them Leaders.”

“When was your last encounter with one?” Leaf asks, taking out her phone fiddling with it. “And do you mind if I record this?”

“Uh… no I guess not. It was a few months ago. Articuno flew by Lavender near the end of winter, nearly buried the town in a blizzard before it was driven off. My brother and I got severe hypothermia, and he lost a couple toes to frostbite where his boot was cut open by some ice.”

“Do the birds come yearly?”

“Yeah, each one is seasonal,” Red says, and Leaf turns the recording end of the phone to him. “The exact days vary, but Articuno usually becomes active in the winter, Zapdos in the summer, and Moltres in the fall. This is really early for Zapdos. They’ve been spotted flying around at other times, but they don’t bring the storms. Or maybe it’s better to say the storms aren’t around to attract them; there’s a lot of controversy over how the two interact.”

Leaf nods. “Same with our Forces of Nature and their elements. So no fourth bird for spring?”

“There may have been, once,” Red says. “There are legends of a fourth god that flies in spring, with rainbow or golden plumage. It didn’t cause storms in its wake, so if it’s still around, it’s hard to notice. It might even be entirely mythical, people just trying to fill the pattern of the seasons with a made up pokemon. The stories say its feathers had rejuvenating powers, and could even restore life to the dead, so mythologically it fits the spring theme pretty well.”

Blue snorts. “Maybe it was real at some point, and someone knocked it out of the sky to steal all its feathers.”

“In any case, spring is a nice breather,” Amy says. “Most years it’s not a big deal; they fly around the wilderness, and everyone stays on high alert in case they wander near any towns or populated areas. A bit stressful now and then, but you get used to it. The year before last we only had to deal with Moltres getting too close to some farms, while Zapdos just circled the mountains for a few weeks, and Articuno turned some uninhabited island into a glacier all winter.”

As they continue to discuss the last few years of the storm trio’s activity, Red closes the CoRRNet announcement and sees an update on his ticket from yesterday. A ranger had closed it, with the comment “Rattata nest found and relocated farther from path. Pallet-Viridian Route secure.” A small bubble of pride warms him. However minor, it’s good to know that they made a difference, and that their experience helped keep others safe.

He does a search for open tickets in the area and spots a few. Most are flagged for Rangers, others for any experienced trainers in the area. Nothing in the city at the moment that requires the help of newbies.

“We boring you, Red?”

“Hm?” Red looks up to see Leaf smiling at him. She doesn’t have her phone out anymore, and he belatedly realizes that he hasn’t heard any conversation for the past few seconds.

“Nah, he probably just had a thought and completely forgot we existed,” Blue says, stretching his arms behind his head. “He does that.”

Red’s cheeks flush, and he closes CoRRNet and puts his phone away. “Sorry, did I miss a question?”

“I asked if you still want to go to the Earth Gym, or if you’d rather head up to Viridian right away.”

“Actually, I want to do some shopping, if that’s alright with you guys.”

“I thought you were trying to conserve your cash?”

“I was. I did my best to pack everything that might be useful, and thought it was enough. But last night’s training drove home how woefully unprepared I am. I’d rather have the gear I need now, like my own gas mask.”

“If you guys are headed north soon, there’s a supply store on the way-” Amy’s phone chimes, and she takes it out. “Excuse me.”

“See that?” Blue says to Red. “Manners.”

Red frowns at him as Leaf covers her grin. “You’re one to talk.”

“Hello? Hey! Yeah, I’m at the trainer house. Are you… cool, I’ll come out now. See you in a bit!”

She ends the call and stands. “My brother’s here. You guys want to meet him?”

“Sure,” Blue says as they all get to their feet.

“This way,” she says, heading for the elevators. “He doesn’t like landing at street level.”

Leaf returns Bulbasaur to his ball in a flash of light, and they go to the roof. The noise of the city washes over them as soon as they step out into the sunlight, a bit muted by their elevation. Other buildings rise up around them, most much higher than the trainer house, though not as wide. Some trainers fly by now and again riding their pokemon, but Amy gazes upward, her eyes shaded against the sun as she searches.

Red studies the landing platform that takes up a third of the roof, marked off by divisions for multiple pokemon to land at once. Another third of the roof is divided into dozens of squares the size of a small closet, designated as a safe spot for psychic trainers who have keyed the trainer house as their pokemon’s “home” to teleport in.

Not for the first time, Red finds himself watching the teleporting zone, hoping to spot someone pop into existence with their pokemon. There was a similar area in Pallet Town that he used to spend hours watching when he was younger, hoping to see someone pop into existence. His dad had come home that way once, and Red had stayed up as late as he could to greet him, only to succumb to sleep a half hour before he arrived.

Even in a major city like this, the teleportations are rare enough that he knows he probably won’t see anyone. Most people train their pokemon to warp directly to a pokemon center, which Red finds a bit pointless, since one of the greatest benefits of pokeball technology is that they can freeze their pokemon at any level of injury and get them to a pokemon center without worry. First teleport priority would probably be the nearest hospital. Second would be home for when I want to visit Pallet, third maybe the Celadon City Department Store

“There he is! Hey Donny!

A distant screech answers her yell, and they turn to follow Amy’s gaze as she waves her arms. Above the tallest building, sunlight flashes off something metallic. For a moment Red thinks a hang glider is swooping down at them, until he sees the red frills and a thrill goes through him.

The skarmory pulls out of its dive when it’s level with the roof top, and sails over the edge and onto one of the runways. Its legs kick as it touches down, bouncing it back up a few times with its wings flared until it finally slows to a stop.

The trainer on its back unbuckles himself from the leather harness and hops down. Amy jogs forward to meet him, and Red and Blue exchange amazed grins as they run forward to join her. By the time they cross the roof to the end of his runway, Amy’s brother has fed his pokemon something from a pouch at his waist and is stroking its neck.

“Hey Bro!” Amy tackle hugs the other blonde, who’s a head taller and easily spins her around. He’s dressed in a thick leather aviator jacket and pants, loose buckles hanging from his belt where it had attached to skarmory’s harness.

“Hey, Sis.” He puts her down and pushes a pair of goggles to his forehead to reveal eyes as light as Professor Oak’s. “You didn’t mention you had a welcome party waiting.”

“These are some newbies I met. Red, Blue, Leaf, this is my brother Donovan and his skarmory, Mags. How’s it going girl?” She runs her nails over the metallic bird’s fin, which causes it to preen, its plate-like feathers lifting and falling in a ripple that sounds like a quick rain of coins.

They exchange greetings. Leaf admires the skarmory and says “Your pokemon is so beautiful! I didn’t know there were skarmory in this region.”

“There usually aren’t,” Blue says. “Did you trade her from someone in Johto?” Red had expected Blue to bombard the competitive trainer with questions, but so far he’s showing remarkable restraint.

“Nah, I took a trip down to the Sevii Islands a couple years ago and found her there.”

Red smiles. “Her nickname, Mags. That’s short for magnesium, right?”

Amy looks smug. “Yep. Guess whose idea that was?” She sticks two thumbs at herself, and her brother grabs her wrists and tries to point them at himself.

Red sees Blue and Leaf’s bemused looks and says, “The metal that skarmory are coated in is a unique magnesium alloy that’s lighter than others. It’s still incredibly strong given its weight, though it’s still about as combustible as most Metal types.”

Blue puts on a thoughtful expression and nods as he side-whispers, “‘Metal’ types,” to Leaf, who smiles and elbows him.

“Would it be alright if I pet her?” Leaf asks.

“Sure, let’s see if she’s in a good mood first.” He tugs on the thin chain around his neck and pulls a whistle out the front of his jacket. Watching his skarmory, he blows a few sharp whistles, then a low warble.

Red doesn’t notice any particular response from Mags, but apparently Donovan reads something from his pokemon, because after a moment he takes the whistle out and says, “Okay, we should be good. Approach slowly from her side and keep your hands free of the area around her wings, they’re very sharp. Also, be sure to stroke from front to back. Ladies first?”

Leaf grins and steps forward, hands carefully held up. Mags notices her when she’s a few steps away, and the pokemon’s attention sharpens, whole body going still. Leaf pauses while Donovan soothes Mags until the skarmory seems calm again, then continues forward until she can run her hand tentatively down the bird’s side.

“Oh!” she gasps. “It’s so… not soft, exactly, but… not hard either. Strong, but yielding.”

After another few moments she steps away, and Blue goes next. Mags shuffles from foot to foot, but allows herself to be stroked without complaint. Donovan watches his pokemon carefully, whistle held up near his lips as he instructs, “Just there… right. You can explore a bit, but no sudden movements. A few more seconds… okay, now slowly step back.”

When it’s Red’s turn to approach, a knot of tension forms in his stomach, and he hesitates. His eyes dart to the razor sharp edges of skarmory’s wings, talon and beak, imagination painting a far too vivid picture of what it would look like tearing through his body.

Donovan wouldn’t let us approach if he wasn’t sure of his training. He tries to step forward, feet doing an awkward half-shuffle. His instincts ignore rational argument and continue to insist that he get as far away from the metallic death machine as he can.

Only a few seconds have passed, and the others are beginning to glance at him curiously. The shame propels him another half-step forward, but no further. This is mutiny! he yells at his jelly legs.

Then the thin iris of the skarmory’s eye meets his, and Red sees an assessment in its alien gaze. Is he a friend, a foe… or possibly food?

Red takes a deep breath, and focuses on his thought process. What are my priorities, and how do my actions align with them?

Priority one: Learn as much as possible about pokemon so I can become a Professor, which also helps-

Priority two: Become an effective trainer, so that I can –

Priority three: Protect the public, benefits of which includes –

Priority four: Gain respect among tribe members and wider community, which helps-

Priority five: Get funding and support to discover the origin of pokemon species.

This paralysis hinders all of the above priorities. So what is its purpose?

To protect the self, loss of which also hinders all of the above.

Exaggeration: The life as a trainer requires far more dangerous risks than this. How can I expect to help Blue against the storm birds if I can’t even do this?

Irrelevant: Possibility of future justified risk doesn’t excuse present recklessness.

Strawman: Present risk is not reckless, and is justified by mitigating future risk through contribution to priorities one and two. What purpose, value, or priority does this fear serve?

Another couple seconds have passed, and a drop of sweat creeps down the back of Red’s neck as he continues to meet the skarmory’s gaze. Some pokemon flies near the building, but doesn’t land on the roof with them.

None. It just is, the simple consequence of acknowledging reality. If someone as capable as dad could die, so can I, and far more easily.

Red lets out his breath. Dad wasn’t ignorant of reality. He knew the risks. And if he could overcome his fear, so can I, or I might as well go home now.

Red takes a step forward. The next is easier, but on the third the armored bird shifts a bit. Red stops, sweat breaking out all over his body. Donovan strokes Mags’s beak, and when she calms down again, Red forces himself to take another step, wiping his clammy hands on his pants. He’s acutely aware that the others are watching him, but as long as he keeps moving forward, he doesn’t have to feel ashamed of the fluttering in his belly.

Once he’s close enough to touch the skarmory, he stops and looks at Donovan. The trainer studies his pokemon briefly, then nods at him. Red slowly reaches out a hand and rests it on the skarmory’s thigh… and sudden wonder blows his fear away.

What looks like a smooth metal body is in fact thousands of small metallic feathers. Each is incredibly fine, but their combined overlapping strength gives the pokemon its incredible physical durability.

“Make a stroking motion, so she knows you’re friendly,” Donovan says, and Red does so, amazed by the distant feel of the warm body beneath the cool metal coating. He’s never felt anything like it.

“Is it alright if I look closer?” Red asks.

“Sure, give me a sec.” Donovan snaps his fingers in front of Mags. The skarmory fixes her attention on her trainer, then the bright blue pokepuff he pulls out of a pocket in his jacket. “Okay, go ahead,” he tells Red, keeping his gaze on his pokemon.

Red crouches forward and examines the glossy coat from an inch away. From here, he can just barely make out that the ripples of distortion on the pokemon’s metal coat, which he’d originally taken to be lines of impurity, are actually super thin divisions where the scale-like feathers overlap.

“Got a few more seconds,” Donovan says. Red nods, and after a few more strokes, steps away from the pokemon. Some of his nervousness returns now that he’s no longer touching it, and he backs away until he’s with Leaf and Blue again.

He braces himself for some comment by the others, but Blue just claps him on the back, and Leaf smiles at him. “Pretty awesome, huh?”

“Definitely.” Red turns to Donovan and Amy. “Thank you very much.” That seems inadequate, so he puts his hands to his sides and bows from the waist, at about a thirty degree angle. “It was an honor to be able to interact with your pokemon, Donovan-san.”

Blue bows beside him, and after a surprised look Leaf mimics them. Globalization had faded much of each region’s unique culture in the times of Red’s grandparents and great grandparents, homogenizing everything from names to language to currency, but children are still taught the basic historical etiquette.

The older trainers look amused, but Donovan returns the bow after a moment. “It was my pleasure.” He gives Mags one more scratch along her neck, then steps back and returns her to her pokeball in a flash of light. “So what’s the story with you three? From around here?”

They tell him where they’re from as they walk back to the roof access and take the elevator down. Once in the common room, Red notices a bigger crowd than there had been earlier. Most of them seem gathered near the entrance.

“What’s up?” Blue asks one of the trainers nearby.

“Someone said Reza Salur is on his way here.”

Reza’s here?” Blue stands on his toes and cranes his neck to look over the crowd.

“Ah, shit,” Donovan says with a rueful grin. “I was hoping he’d get bogged down in Cerulean a while longer.”

Red scratches beneath his cap. “Why is that name familiar?”

Blue gives him a flat look. “Do you ever listen when I talk?”

“Depends. Is he a battle trainer you admire, or did he actually do something important?” Red looks at Amy and Donovan. “No offense.”

Amy grins. “None taken.”

Blue rolls his eyes. “He’s the dragon trainer that single-handedly stopped a kangaskhan herd from flattening Rifu Village last year.”

Red frowns. “Rings a faint bell.”

“You know him?” Leaf asks Donovan.

“Yeah, a bit. We met for the first time a couple years back in the Saffron Gym. It was his third badge, my second. Since then we’ve been keeping tabs on each other’s progress. He-”

The front door opens, and a young man with dark skin and a black jacket walks in. He seems surprised for a moment by the number of people near the entrance, but quickly continues forward to the front desk. His hair is worn long, and swept to hang over the left side of his face.

“Younger than I expected,” Amy says.

Donovan nods. “He’s about your age.”

When he finishes checking in, Reza makes his way through the common room, gaze on the elevators ahead as he ignores the looks and whispers of those around him. Once Reza is past the crowd and fully in sight, Red sees the heavy scars that run along his left jaw and cheek, partially obscured by hair.

Donovan gives a casual salute with two fingers. The dragon trainer glances at him, then smiles in wry amusement and nods back. As he passes, Red notices the conspicuous lack of an ear under his hair, and wonders how far the scarring goes.

“So he’s challenging the League too?” Red asks once he passes.

“Yep. Part of me wants to see how good he is for myself, but I won’t complain if he gets knocked out before that. Fighting dragons is never fun.”

“Nor training them, from the looks of it,” Leaf says, and Red nods. As I’ll find out for myself, someday. His thumb rubs the roof of Charmander’s pokeball.

The crowd is beginning to disperse, and the group makes their way through to the front desk to check out. When it’s his turn, Red swipes his trainer card, then pays four dollars, plus another two for the use of the training room.

“Thank you for staying,” the receptionist says. “We hope to see you again soon!” Red thanks him and joins the others outside.

“Well, I’m starving,” Donovan announces once they’re outside. “How does seafood sound to you, Ames?”

“Right behind you.” She turns to them. “Care to join us?”

“I already ate.” Red looks at the others, “What do you guys think?”

“We should probably get going,” Blue says. “I want to get to Viridian Forest today.”

Leaf nods. “It was great to meet the two of you!”

Amy smiles. “It was. I hope you enjoy your time in Kanto, Leaf.”

“Thanks, I’m loving it so far!”

Blue turns to Donovan. “Good luck in the league. I’ll keep an eye out for you.”

They say their farewells and part. Red’s a bit disappointed that Amy won’t be traveling with them, but his excitement to be back on the move quickly dominates his mood as they walk up the street and head north.

“Okay, so there’s a few stores on the way that have what I need,” he says as he checks online. “Is there anything you guys want to pick up too?”

“Wouldn’t mind getting a whistle and chain,” Blue says.

Leaf looks up at the summer sun as it beat down on them. “And I’d like to find a nice hat.”

“Hat, whistle, gas mask…” Red types with his thumbs, watching stores fade from the map until two are left. “Got one.” He puts his phone away, already thinking of what else he’d like to buy. “The closest is on the northern edge of the city though. Do we want to leave just yet?”

Leaf checks the time. “Well, I’m glad we met Amy and Donovan, but we’re behind schedule.”

“Yeah, I’d like to get to the forest before dark,” Blue says. “What say you, master fallacy planner? Think we can make it?”

Red rolls his eyes and shrugs. “Sure, as long as no more than three moderately interesting or disrupting unexpected things happen along the way.”

Blue smiles. “Those odds aren’t so bad.”

Just then, an exeggutor runs out from a restaurant ahead of them, a food held in each of its numerous mouths. Cars honk as it dashes across the street, and someone in a suit runs after it, pokeball in hand as he tries to get a lock on his pokemon. The two are followed by a pair of angry restaurant staff, and the trainers watch them all run by, then look at each other.

Blue steps to the edge of the sidewalk and holds up a hand at one of the stopped cabs. “Taxi!”

Chapter 7: Optimism Bias

The Training House’s practice rooms are far fancier than the one at the Pallet Labs. Red passes by room after empty room, each different than the last. He’s curious to know if anyone else is up this late, and eventually finds one that’s occupied. He stops in front of the glass door to watch.

A young woman with long auburn hair is using a pair of flags to direct her butterfree, running around it to stay in its line of sight as it performs various aerial maneuvers. Training pokemon to respond to nonverbal cues has its advantages and disadvantages, and is largely a practice of competitive trainers; wild pokemon aren’t likely to get tipped off by shouted orders, after all. Red watches as the woman twirls her left flag once, and the butterfree releases a cloud of green powder. The trainer leaps safely out of the way as the butterfree flaps its wings, a gust of wind blowing the powder forward to envelop a wooden pokedoll shaped like a sandslash.

Red moves on, examining each room until he finds one with the symbols of a fan and fire over it. He enters the long rectangular room, its acoustics changing as the door slides back closed. Fire extinguishers are placed at each corner, and the floor and walls are made of a light grey, pitted stone. Looking up, he sees the sprinkler system and air vents ready to respond to any emergencies.

This should do nicely.

Red takes out his pokedex, and a clicker from his pack. Part of the training process is to associate a behavior with a conditioned reinforcer, the way Leaf had with the pokepuffs. Instead of having to use pokepuffs all the time though, Red wants to try out a feature of the pokedex. He quickly navigates to the right screen, then says, “Pokedex, establish audio reinforcement.”

Acknowledged. Record audio reinforcement when light turns green, then press Done.”

Red smiles as he realizes that the voice of the pokedex is Daisy’s. It’s somewhat disguised by a digital filter, but the cadence of certain words gives it away to those that know her.

As soon the light beside the screen turns green, Red uses his clicker, emitting a sharp, loud click-clak upon press and depress of the button. Then he taps Done on the pokedex screen.

Audio reinforcement confirmed.” It repeats the sound.


Audio reinforcement saved. Upload virtual training?”

“Yes.” Red puts the clicker away and unclips Charmander’s pokeball, aligning the lens with the pokedex’s. “Upload.”

Uploading… upload complete. Please wait four minutes and seventeen seconds for virtual regimen to integrate. Remember to periodically reinforce association in tangible space before hands-on training.”

Red makes a note of the time, then reclips the pokeball and repeats the process with his rattata. Setting up a basic positive reinforcement like this should make it much easier to train his pokemon; the sound of the click will be so associated with a reward, that just hearing it will trigger a release of dopamine.

And he’s going to need all the help he can get. While looking up a charmander’s basic techniques in the pokedex, one in particular had drawn his attention:

Smokescreen: When threatened by large foes, charmander can alter the fuel for their tail flame to produce copious amounts of thick smog. While mild exposure is not toxic, this smoke irritates eyes and sinuses and helps charmander stay hidden. Charmander are especially prone to emitting smoke if threatened at night, when their tail flame makes it particularly hard to hide.

Training such a specific automatic response in bright lights won’t be easy, but the potential benefits are enormous. Smoke could be used to not just hide in and avoid attacks, but also to coordinate ambushes, herd wild pokemon, even set and limit zones of control on a battlefield.

As he waits for Charmander’s virtual training to be done, Red takes out his notebook and scribbles down thoughts on cooperative tactics to try out with the others. Blue or Leaf’s pidgey could use gusts to send smoke in the direction needed, the way that trainer’s butterfree had with its poison powder. The smoke would block Squirtle’s line of sight if used carelessly, but Bulbasaur could use his vines to drag enemies into it. They could even use it to switch pokemon without the opponent being aware…

Red eventually checks the time, gives it another thirty seconds just to be safe, then puts his notebook away and unclips Charmander’s pokeball. He cocks his arm back, then throws it, voice echoing as he says, “Charmander, go!”

The ball reaches the open space in the middle of the room and releases his pokemon in a flash before flying back. Red reaches for it, but the angle of the throw was a bit off, and he has to jump to try and catch it when it returns at an upward angle. He knocks it upward, then tries to catch it as it falls, fingers closing a fraction of a second too late. The ball bounces off his palm and across the floor with a metal ding, ding, dinnnnggggg…

Charmander watches the ball roll by, then ignores it as it halts at the wall. He chirps and approaches as Red kneels down to pick the pokeball up, and Red rubs the lizard’s warm, leathery head.

“Hey there buddy. We’re going to try and learn something new tonight, okay?”

Charmander looks up at him and chirps again. Red smiles, wishing for a moment he could communicate with his pokemon intelligently. When he was younger he and Blue used to watch cartoons where the pokemon could talk to each other, and understood human speech directly, even if most couldn’t duplicate it.

It was amusing enough, if obviously for young kids. As he got older it became clear that the premise wasn’t particularly well thought out. Leaf’s perspective would have a lot more weight behind it, in Red’s mind, if pokemon were sapient enough for complex feeling and communication. Putting them in pokeballs would be a lot more morally ambiguous, for one thing, and for another if pokemon were sapient, working out a peaceful coexistence would be much more attainable without resorting to hunting and capturing them.

Still, even without that level of communication, it sure would be useful to have some latent psychic powers manifest right about now.

Red meets Charmander’s gaze directly and concentrates. Raise your left arm. Raise your left arm Charmander. He imagines the sensation of raising his arm, willing Charmander to pick up on it through the mysterious bond that everyone romanticizes.

Charmander’s gaze is locked in his, whole body completely still. Raise your arm, come on, raise your arm. Red’s own arm twitches as he focuses so hard on the muscle-memory, feeling lost in the depths of his pokemon’s gaze. Raise your arm, come on, just a little…

Charmander blinks slowly… then wags his tail a bit and chirps, rubbing against Red’s palm.

“Worth a shot,” Red mutters, and stands. He’d just make do the old fashioned way.

Red had never met a psychic, but whatever advantage their powers might grant them, the beauty of pokemon training, from its ancient, crude form to the refined science it is today, is that it’s accessible to everyone. If it were something that only certain people could do, humanity would never have thrived in such a dangerous world. Society would have been stuck in feudal dynamics, where the majority were ruled by the whims of those few who could control the monsters in the wild and keep the rest of them safe.

Now, science and technology have leveled the playing field. Some people still have natural advantages over others, but in today’s world, anyone can learn the methodology, refine their skills, and harness the power of their own pokemon.

Professor Oak raised a dozen of his own pokemon by Red’s age, and by developing the pokedex, revolutionized the relationship between practical knowledge and cutting edge research, allowing both scientists and trainers to share information and help each other day to day. Elite Agatha was the first trainer who didn’t keep their mysterious affinity with Ghost-type pokemon secretive, and she opened a school at the age of thirteen to help teach others how to deal with and train them, even without psychic powers. And Leader Giovanni rose to the head of his Gym when he was just a few years older than Red, and used his position and status to help set up society’s trainer programs, so everyone has a chance to make their own way.

Limited only by their intelligence, imagination, and will, people and their pokemon are capable of extraordinary things together.

And if they’re smart and dedicated enough, even a child can change the world.

Red tugs the bill of his cap securely down. Time to get started.

He takes out a pokepuff and unwraps it, then takes his clicker back out. Watching Charmander, he points at a section of the stone ground and says “Ember!”

As soon as Charmander whips his tail around and releases some oil, Red presses the button, and the distinct click-clak is heard, echoing in the room.

His pokemon’s attention sharpens, and Red feeds him a bit of pokepuff. “Good boy.” After Charmander finishes, Red does it again, and again. Each time he feeds Charmander some puff, it reinforces the association between the click and a reward, tying the two together so that just hearing the click is enough to signal satisfaction and pleasure.

After the puff is all gone, Red goes to the end of the room and opens a closet in the wall. Inside are a number of training supplies, and he lifts out a large rhydon pokedoll with both arms. It’s made of the same flame retardant foam as the one from that morning’s training, and weighs about as much as his backpack. He brings it over to the left side of the door and sets it down in front of Charmander, who immediately becomes alert. Red steps behind his pokemon as Charmander’s tail blazes, and the fire lizard watches the sudden threat warily, claws extended.

Red gets an arcanine pokedoll and puts it to the right side of the door, using his body to hide it from Charmander as he walks past him. When he puts it down, Charmander suddenly chirps in alarm, and Red jumps back as his pokemon rushes forward to defend him, flicking some fire at the new threat.

“Stop!” Charmander goes still, and Red immediately clicks again. Red’s pokemon growls at the two large simulacrum, but stays his fire. “Good job Charmander. Now, Smokescreen. Smokescreen, Charmander.” Red’s finger hovers over the clicker button, waiting… waiting… “Smokescreen. Smokescreen. Smokescreen.”

No smoke comes. “Any second now Charmander,” Red mutters, and his pokemon’s head twitches. Red chides himself for confusing him, and wonders how long he should wait. He wants the behavior to be associated with the word, but just repeating “smokescreen” over and over is feeling a bit foolish.

Red studies Charmander’s aggressive stance. “Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen.” Charmander twitches, as if ready to act… but does nothing, still watching the threats and growling.

Ah. Red grins. His pokemon is too brave to be scared.

Red slowly steps backward so Charmander doesn’t notice him leaving. When he reaches the closet, he turns and grabs a third pokedoll, this one is a wide, round graveler. He places it behind Charmander, so that the fire lizard is surrounded by arcanine, graveler, and rhydon simulacrum. His pokemon is too fixated on the first two threats to realize that he’s been surrounded, but once Red steps up beside him, Charmander repositions himself and sees it in his peripheral vision.

Charmander chirps in alarm, then turns frantically, first one way then the other, attempting to keep all the threats in sight. When he realizes he can’t, aggression turns to fear.

Red watches the fire lizard curl inward and begin to tremble, and feels a pang in his chest. He’s about to reassure his pokemon that everything’s okay… but Charmander needs to feel threatened to emit the smoke. Red crouches beside him and begins to tremble as well, breathing quickly so that his heart speeds up. “Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen. Smokescreen, smokescreen, smokescreen…”

Charmander continues to tremble, eyes darting around at the large figures looming over them. When he glances at Red again and sees his trainer curled up beside him, he begins trembling harder… and, with Red still repeating “Smokescreen,” it happens. The fire at the end of his tail becomes a bit dimmer, and black smoke begins to billow out.

The second he sees it, Red presses the clicker. Charmander’s head rises, and Red rubs his head. “Good boy!” He coughs as the smoke continues to come out, thick and heavy. It quickly blankets the area and makes it hard to see.

“Charmander, stop!” Charmander goes still, but the smoke keeps coming out. Uh oh.

Red picks Charmander up and walks around, trailing the oily smoke from Charmander’s tail. He says “Stop,” every few seconds, checking to see if Charmander’s tail stops emitting smoke. Even outside of the main cloud, Red’s nose wrinkles when he inhales. He can see how the acrid stench would work as a deterrent, and suddenly realizes his clothing is going to need a thorough washing.

Eventually the pokedolls are almost completely obscured, and when Red says “Stop!” again, the smoke suddenly cuts off. Red presses the clicker. “Good job Charmander.” His eyes water, and he resists the urge to rub at them, peering around in the thick smoke. That was fast.

Red walks over to the fan controls and puts Charmander down. The thick smog combined with his watering eyes makes it hard to see, and Red feels along the wall with his eyes closed, navigating for the right button by memory. One, two… three… four!

The fans rev to life and begin sucking up the smog. Red’s clothing and hair whips about, and Charmander gives an alarmed Rawr! as his protective cover is quickly drawn away.

Charmander tenses as he watches the three pokedolls slowly come back into view. Red puts his finger over the clicker button, waiting. “Charmander, smokescreen. Smokescreen. Smokescre-” Click-clak! “Good boy!” Red watches the smog rise, thin and long as the fans immediately suck it away. How long can he keep that up? “Stop, Charmander.” Charmander glances at him, but then turns back to the pokedoll, growling quietly. Red wonders if the sound of the fans are distracting his pokemon, and turns them back off.

Unfortunately that just causes the smoke to quickly obscure Charmander again. Red curses quietly. He needs to be able to tell the moment Charmander feels safe enough to stop producing the smoke, so he can reinforce him stopping.

And now the smog is completely surrounding him. Shit. Red crouches down and picks Charmander back up with one arm, the lizard’s smooth hide warm to the touch. His pokemon startles, and pain suddenly lances through Red’s side and arm. The lizard’s claws have sunk in, mostly stopped by his clothes’ armor mesh, but the tips still piercing through. “OW! Ow, ow… it’s okay Charmander, it’s just me… ow…”

Red walks gingerly forward, ignoring the pain as best he can as he keeps the smoke cloud behind them, glancing back and saying “Stop” occasionally to see if Charmander complies. Charmander’s tail stops emitting the smoke shortly after they’re past the pokedolls, and Red clicks. “Good boy…” He looks back to see an obscuring cloud of black smoke filling the rest of the room once again.

Red sighs and puts Charmander down, wincing as the lizard’s claws exit his flesh. He can feel blood trickling down his skin from the pinpricks. Charmander looks at the bloodstains on his sleeve and makes a low crooning sound, stepping closer and licking at one.

“Ow, hey, it’s okay. My fault for making you so scared.” The smoke is still spreading toward them, and Red coughs as the foul taste fills his throat. He unclips Charmander’s pokeball and points it at him. “R-return,” he croaks. Charmander is hit by the beam, then vanishes in a flash of light.

Red reclips the pokeball and returns to the controls, holding his breath and closing his eyes along the way as he keeps a hand against the wall. Would help if this place was voice activated, he grumbles to himself as he turns the fans back on. Red takes a deep breath as the air clears for the second time, and a sudden dizziness makes him sink down to the floor.

Alarmed, Red takes off his pack and lifts his shirt to examine his injuries, wondering if he’s bleeding more than he’d realized. They’re not particularly deep, however, and he realizes he’s probably just losing his second wind. Red relaxes and digs out a potion from his bag to disinfect and coagulate the wounds. Some paper towels serve to wipe up the blood, and once he feels the tender scabs already forming beneath his fingers he puts his shirt back on.

The steady hum of the fans provide a soothing ambiance. Red rests his head against the cool wall as he takes deep breaths of clean air and considers the training so far.

The next step is to test and see if the click and command would get Charmander to produce smoke in reaction to a less obvious threat. If so, he would reinforce that, and then wean him off the threats altogether until he responds just to the command and click, and finally just the command alone. He has to work on the “Stop” command too… maybe such an internal activity isn’t so easy for Charmander to stop on command, or maybe it takes a few seconds for the smoke to stop being produced even after Charmander responds to the command. A delay like that would make it much harder to judge the progress of the training…

“Hey, you alright?”

Red snaps out of a light doze to see the auburn haired girl standing in the doorway. He hadn’t heard it open over the fans. “Hi. Yeah, I’m fine, thanks. Just tired.”

“Ah, okay. I was walking by and just saw a sprawled pair of legs.”

Red smiles. “Taking a quick rest. All finished with your pokemon?”

“Yeah, we’re headed to bed. Long day tomorrow.” She notices the spots of blood on his shirt. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Positive. Just scared my pokemon a bit, that’s all. He didn’t mean it.”

She nods. “We’ve all been there. It’s something of a rite of passage, and happens all the time when teaching something new. Just be glad it wasn’t more serious.”

Red remembers the ease with which she dodged away from her pokemon’s attack, and wonders how often she’d been too slow. “What about you, were you teaching your butterfree something new, or just practicing?”

There’s the briefest of pauses before she says “Just practicing,” and Red feels a stab of annoyance. Some of the biggest arguments he’d gotten into with Blue had been about competitive trainer’s habit of secrecy. Most are loath to share the methodology behind the amazing feats their pokemon perform, each unique insight or training strategy they reveal being one less advantage against potential rivals. It’s partly why they’re often looked down on by other trainers, especially academics, and why Gym Leaders are so respected in contrast for opening their doors to teach what helped them become so skilled.

“Sorry, that was rude of me,” Red says into the awkward silence. He rubs his eyes, still irritated from the smog. “Like I said, I’m a bit tired.”

She steps into the room and leans against the door as it closes. “It’s alright. Even at one in the morning it’s silly to expect complete privacy in a place with glass doors.”

“Ah shit, it’s already that late?” Red checks the time himself to see how far off she’s rounding from, and sees it’s 1:14 AM.

“You have an early morning too?”

“That was the plan.”

“Better head back up then.”

He considers it. Postponing the training until tomorrow probably wouldn’t hurt, they’re likely to spend most of it in the city anyway…

Eventually he shakes his head. “I want to finish up first.”

She raises a brow and folds her hands behind her back, resting against them. “Something big going on tomorrow?”

“Not really.”

“Why the rush then?”

Red considers the question a moment. “If I said ‘optimism bias,’ would you understand what that meant?”

“Not really,” she says. “I mean I know what optimism is, and I know what a bias is…”

Red scratches his hair beneath his hat, then takes it off and turns it between his hands as he organizes his thoughts. “Okay well, basically, studies in psychology have shown that people tend to be overly optimistic about things involving themselves.”

“Like what?”

“Like this training I was doing. Part of optimism bias is something called the ‘planning fallacy.’ Experiments show people usually underestimate the time and cost involved in a task they need to complete, and assume the best results.”

She smiles. “I’m a bit guilty of that myself.”

“We all are. Optimism bias affects more than just things we plan for; we also underestimate how dangerous life can be for ourselves. I walked here with a couple friends from Pallet Town yesterday, and within a few hours we were attacked by a large group of rattata.”

The girl’s eyes widen a bit. “How large?”

“Eight, I think.”

She whistles. “Good thing there were three of you.”

“Yeah. We knew that sort of thing could happen, even on the main roads where most dangerous pokemon have been cleared away or chased off. But it was still a shock to experience it, even as our training kicked in.”

“You didn’t use any repellent?”

“We didn’t think we’d need to. The odds of something dangerous happening our first day out just seemed so unlikely. But if someone had asked me whether someone else might have a dangerous encounter their first day of traveling, I’d say it doesn’t matter if it’s their first day or their hundredth, the statistics are the statistics.”

The young woman is quiet for a moment. One hand absently tucks some hair behind her ear as it’s displaced by the overhead fans. “What about Tier 3 threats? People worry about those all the time, even though the odds of them dying to one are really low compared to some more common dangers.”

Red nods. “There are some exceptions, mostly because of heuristics that fool our pattern seeking minds. We don’t tend to hear about every person that dies on the road because it happens fairly often, all things considered, and are quiet tragedies. Region-wide news rarely cover them, unless something unique was involved. But because Tier 3 threats are so rare and visually stunning, and so many people die all at once…”

“Yeah. It makes a big impression.”

“Right. And that’s doubled by the huge media exposure they get. In general, we just don’t consider ourselves subject to the same statistical probabilities everyone else is. If asked, we’d probably never say something so egotistical, but by and large, we get worried about things that likely won’t harm us, and it takes careful attention and diligence to consider what likely will.”

She looks thoughtful. “And we spend millions to try and stop Tier 3 threats…”

“Yeah. We could be spending that money to build more ranger outposts, set up more sensors along major roads. It would probably save more lives per dollar spent.” He sees her cover her mouth as she yawns, which sets off his own, jaw cracking. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to start soapboxing. I tend to talk a lot when I’m tired.”

She’s looking at him with a slight frown. “How old are you, anyway?”

“I’ll be twelve next month.”

“Just started training?”

He nods. “Got my first pokemon yesterday.”

“Yesterday? You don’t sound like most newbies.”

“Less stupid, I hope?”

She smiles. “Less dewy eyed. Stupid’s a bit harder to judge, but exhausting yourself to get a bit of extra training in isn’t particularly smart.”

Red grins. “Future Me might be irritated at Present Me for not getting enough sleep, but he can sleep in if he really needs to. I’d rather Future Me be a bit tired and irritated, even with the potential negatives that entails, than risk him being as unprepared for a dangerous situation as Past Me was.”

“Do you always refer to your future and past selves as different people?”

“Out loud? Only when I’m—”

“Tired,” they say together, and laugh.

“So how are you supposed to fight this bias? Just be more negative all the time?”

“Well, that might help in some cases, but could also make you too pessimistic in others. For planning fallacy the best way to predict how much time something will actually take is to figure out how long it took you to do something similar in the past. But—”

“This is your first time doing anything like this. What about how long others took?”

“That’s the next best thing, but it varies wildly for pokemon based on their age and experience, and the trainers’ skill and experience… the estimates I saw for Smokescreen varied between an hour and ten.”

She chuckles. “So you assumed it would take an hour.”

“Hoped, yeah.” Red stretches his arms, then covers a yawn and forces himself to his feet before exhaustion overtakes him completely. “Whatever tomorrow brings, I want to be ready for it, and once I’ve thought of a way to be, I can’t just ignore it. Leaving an optimization task unfinished is like leaving a splinter in my toe. It might not bother me constantly, but every time I’m reminded it’ll be just as frustrating as the first time, and if I’m in a situation where I need to run, I’ll really regret not just taking it out when I could.”

She watches him thoughtfully as he gets a crick out of his neck. “Well, I guess I’ll reserve judgement until we see how well that works for you.” She smiles and extends a hand. “I’m Amy.”

He shakes it. “Red. Nice to meet you.”

“You too. Good luck with the training, and hope you get some sleep eventually.”

He smiles. “Me too. Have a good night!”

She waves and closes the door behind her. Red turns off the fans, and the sudden silence is almost tangible.

First things first. Red goes to the supply closet and digs past the remaining pokedoll to examine the other supplies. Rope, target posters, water canisters for a spray, a firesuit… There. Red pulls a gas mask from its hook and straps it onto his face.

It’s a clear plastic cover that seals everything from his forehead to his chin, and cleanses the air through filters on the sides. He breathes experimentally through it a few times, then takes it off so it dangles from his neck. He’d considered putting it on before, but didn’t want anything that might distort his voice and make it harder for Charmander to recognize commands. Now that he knows just how irritating the smog is though, it’s clearly the lesser of two evils, since choking and coughing don’t make his speech particularly clear either.

Unfortunately that’s about all that’s useful in here. Red puts two of the pokedolls back in the closet, then leaves the training room to examine the others.

The door to the right of his has a symbol of a fist above it, and he enters out of curiosity. The walls are heavily padded, and the floor is a soft mat, firm beneath the feet, but absorbent to reduce injury from falls. He goes to the supply closet and sees the more intricate pokedoll that swivels when struck to deliver a counter blow, as well as punching bags, fighting gloves, helmets, and body padding.

Red returns to the hallway and keeps searching, checking each new type of room to see what they’re like. One has a swimming pool in it, another a soft dirt floor. Occasionally he finds something in their supply rooms that might be handy for training his charmander or rattata, but for the moment there’s nothing that suits his needs.

Frustrated, he goes to the end of the training rooms and follows the directory to the help desk. A blond guy that looks to be in his mid twenties is sitting with his feet propped up, watching a screen. Red glances at it and sees an ongoing Indigo League match. Considering the time it’s probably a recording, but the blond seems riveted.

The battling trainers are swapping pokemon so fast that it’s hard to follow what happens. He sees a rapidash charge at a pinsir, which is replaced by a feraligatr. The rapidash is withdrawn before a blast of water can hit it, and a blink later there’s an umbreon in its place that shrugs off the deluge before it sends a pulse of darkness back. Feraligatr gets swapped for a hitmonlee that dashes through the darkness unfazed and leaps forward, foot outstretched. Umbreon vanishes in another flash of light just as hitmonlee jumps, and a pidgeot soars safely out of the hitmonlee’s way, then dives as it lands and rakes it with its talons.

“Excuse me,” Red says during the battle’s lull as hitmonlee is withdrawn, a point awarded to the pidgeot’s trainer.

The young man grunts, eyes on the screen.

“I need a mirror. Is there one available?”

“Bathroom,” the blond says, and points without looking.

Red stifles his annoyance. “I mean for training.”

“Training supplies are in the closets.” An ampharos appears to deal with the pidgeot, bulbs glowing with electric charge. Before it can get a bolt off the flying type is withdrawn, the flash overlapping with the replacement pokemon being sent out. By the time its ball rockets back to be caught by its trainer, she has already clipped pidgeot’s pokeball to her belt and replaced it with yet another. Regulations vary between regions, but the Indigo League allows no more than 1.6 seconds to pass without having a pokemon on the field; this trainer had just swapped pokemon and prepared a third in less than half that. Red remembers being awestruck the first time he saw the speed at which professional competitive trainers battle, making split second decisions one after the other while trying to predict two steps ahead of their opponents. Differences of philosophy aside, his admiration hasn’t faded much since.

“I know that, but there aren’t any in them,” Red says, tearing his gaze from the screen.

“Sorry.” The receptionist takes a drink from his soda can. As far as Red can tell, he still hasn’t so much as glanced at him.

Red feels his exhaustion fading as his blood pressure rises. He takes a deep breath, then lets it out. The cheap desk placard says “Mitchell,” and he puts on his most friendly, but forceful voice. “Can you pause that for a moment please, Mitchell?”

Mitchell sighs and stops the recording before turning to him at last, boredom giving way to irritation. “What do you want kid? I told you, the supplies are in the closets.”

“Sorry, I’m a little tired, and this is my first time at a Trainer House.” Making enemies isn’t going to help him, and he doesn’t have time to waste if he wants to get any sleep tonight. “What match was that? It looked pretty intense.”

After a moment Mitchell’s frown softens a bit, and he glances at the screen. “That was Alicorn’s last Summer Qualifiers from earlier tonight. She’s headed to Johto next week.”

Red vaguely remembers Blue mentioning an “Alicorn” once or twice. Something about her ability to adapt strategies on the fly and respond to new information… Red props his elbows on the counter. “Cool. I heard she has a great meta game.”

Mitchell nods. “Definitely top percent material. You see her match against Blaine last month?”

“No, I guess I missed that one.”

“Oh man, that was intense. You gotta check that out.”

“Noted.” Red glances around at the cluttered desk. “So you work here all night?”

“When I draw the short straw.”

“Must be boring.”

“Eh. Some nights go quicker than others.” Mitchell scratches the stubble on his jaw. “So what were you looking for again?”

“I need something that will let me see my pokemon without him seeing me.”

“Hmm. We’ve got observation rooms with a one way mirror.”

“I’d prefer being in the same room. Maybe a mirror and something to attach it to the ceiling?”

“Ah. Well I don’t think we have anything like that. What do you need it for?”

Red sighs. “I’m training my charmander to put up a smokescreen on command, but they need to be afraid to do it. I want to trigger it in different ways so he’s used to responding to it during emotions other than feelings of helplessness, so was thinking of hiding behind a pokedoll, throwing charmander’s ball to the other side of it, then shaking the doll and yelling to surprise him into emitting the smoke, which I’d then reinforce. But I can’t see him if I’m behind the pokedoll, so I won’t know when to reinforce his behavior, and if I pop my head out to look he’ll see me. So I figure I’ll stick a mirror on the roof and use that, since he’s not likely to look up.” Red sees Mitchell’s skeptical look. “What? You don’t think it will work?”

“Well, work or not, it’s pretty much the most convoluted way to go about it that I can imagine. Why does it matter if he sees you?”

“He’s really protective. I think if he sees me behind the pokedoll he’ll just think I’m in danger and attack.” Red shrugs. “I guess I’ll test it just to be sure, since I can’t get a mirror. Thanks anyway.”

“Well hold on there, you won’t need the mirror if you’ve got someone else to do the shaking.”

Red blinks as Mitchell gets up and walks around the counter, placing a “Be right back” sign up. “Are you volunteering?”

“Sure, my butt’s getting sore anyway.”

“Hey, thanks!”

“No prob. Shouldn’t take long.”

Red frowns. “Actually, that’s what I thought, but there’s an aspect of optimism bias called the planning fallacy-”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mitchell says, already heading toward the training rooms. “Come on, let’s go scare the smoke out of your pokemon.”

Red sighs and follows. Mitchell is clearly looking for an excuse to do something more exciting than sit at his desk, but Red doesn’t want to get the guy in trouble. It’ll be easier with help, he reasons. Another hour at most. Hour and a half, maybe…

Red feels for his pokeball pouch, drawing another sphere out and enlarging it. There, just ahead between the trees… now! He throws, the ball missing by an inch as the mythical pokemon makes a sharp turn. He gasps in exasperation and exhaustion, pumping his legs harder to keep up as the mysterious creature pulls further ahead. He can’t let it get away, such a rare find has to be studied… he reaches for another ball and throws it, hitting a tree trunk. He tries to run faster, arms pumping at his sides as he leaps over fallen logs and ducks between thorny bushes-

“Hey snorlax, you getting up anytime today?”

Red opens his eyes a crack, momentarily nauseous from disorientation. He shifts his head to squint over his shoulder at Blue’s silhouette. His skull feels like it’s full of cotton, and his thoughts crawl over each word one by one until he can comprehend them all together. “Mphre… time…?”

“Almost eight.”

It takes Red a full second to subtract four from eight to calculate how long he slept. He groans and rolls back over, pulling the blanket over his head.

“Hey! They’re about to serve breakfast in the mess. You don’t want any?”

A quick check with his hierarchy of needs pyramid confirms that “sleep” is etched much larger than “food” at the moment. “Mbbe later,” Red mutters, already drifting off back into his dream. The pokemon is so close he can almost make it out… four legged, and blue… or is it purple?

“Suit yourself. Guess I’ll just borrow this hat if you’re not using it.”

Alarm blows Red’s dream to fragments. He cranes his head over his shoulder again to see Blue walking out with his red and white cap on.

Red’s hierarchy pyramid pops up again, with HAT now overlaid at an angle across every level.

“Ngh!” Red tries to roll out of bed and only succeeds in turning over, his arm making a weak throwing gesture to capture the thieving demon as he walks toward the door. “…back,” Red wheezes, searching blearily around the bed for a pokeball.

“I’ll save a plate for you!”

Exhaustion overcomes his outrage, and Red’s eyelids slip back down, arm trailing over the edge of the bed as he drifts back to sleep.

Dammit, Past Red…

Chapter 6: Interlude I – The First Night

Laura Verres ends the call with her son and puts her phone away, gaze distant and a slight furrow in her brow. After a moment the oven chimes, and she goes to extract the roast fearow she’d prepared. Some final garnishing, a light sheen of sauce, and she puts it on a serving platter. She lifts the plate carefully and places the whole thing in the bottom half of a dull metal box. After closing and latching the lid, she stands back and takes a Container from her pocket.

Resembling a plain grey pokeball but with more buttons and a small display screen on top, the Container takes a moment to scan the box as she points the lens at it. When the ball makes a ding sound, she lightly tosses it underhand. It approaches the box containing the roasted fearow, opens and draws in the whole thing, contents and all. The Container falls to the table with a metal clink, and begins to roll toward the edge.

She stops it before it falls and heads upstairs to change, absently tucking the ball in a nook near the front door along the way.

If she doesn’t let herself dwell on it, she can almost imagine that Red is just over at a friend’s house, or out camping with Blue. Less than a day, and the house already feels abandoned. Sounds seem to echo in the silence, the walls hollow and fragile. She knows it’s all in her mind, but she can’t help feeling like a caretaker, getting ready to cover the furniture, draw the curtains, and lock the door on her way out.

When Red had originally approached her about becoming a trainer, it had taken all her willpower to smile and be encouraging. She was so relieved to see his excitement about becoming a pokemon professor… so relieved to see him excited about anything. After Tom’s death, a listless depression had kept him lying in bed all day, reading book after book or simply staring at the ceiling.

Laura was willing to endure anything to keep him from returning to such despair. Tom had lived his life following his passions and doing what he felt was right, even if it was dangerous. She couldn’t let her fears stop Red from finding his own calling in life.

And now that he doesn’t need her at home, she can return to hers.

Once she’s ready, she goes back downstairs and puts the sphere containing the roast fearow into her purse, along with a canister of pokemon repellant. It’s a ten minute walk to the Oaks’ residence, and the breeze is cool as it comes from the bay to the south, tugging at her hair and dress. She passes a handful of neighbors along the way, most walking their pokemon.

“Hello Laura.” She turns to see Mrs. Kiri out with her raticate. The old pokemon’s fur is more gray than gold, and Laura smiles as he sniffs at her familiar scent and rubs against her ankles.

“Hello Ana, hello Swift.” She crouches down to scratch behind the veteran’s notched ear. Not so swift as he once was, Ana’s raticate is a town champion, having fought off a number of particularly vicious wild pokemon over the years. The rodent’s eyes slip half-closed, and he stretches beneath her touch.

“Going for a walk?” Ana asks.

“Off for dinner with the Oaks, actually.”

“Splendid. Tell them I say hi, and thank Daisy again for me would you? Swift’s leg is barely troubling him anymore.”

“I will. Have a good night!”

“You too.” The veteran trainer walks past, and a moment later her pokemon scurries after her, barely favoring the hind leg that had almost been bitten off by a nidorino. Laura watches them fade into the dark, then walks on, enjoying the night air. Though she’d grown up in Celadon, she rarely misses the crowds and excitement of cities anymore. A few years in Pallet and she’d grown to love the quiet nights and star filled skies of the small town. Adapting back to city life would take some getting used to.

Laura had been a writer and journalist before marrying. She still occasionally writes editorial pieces for the local paper, but it’s not the same as the in-depth reporting she used to do. Forming relationships with people at all levels in society, learning how to ask the right questions, find the important, hidden stories… It had been an exciting life, shining a light on corruption or an aspect of the human experience few considered.

And it’s how she met Tom. The Celadon Herald was doing a story on the Rangers, a deeper look into the kinds of men and women who dedicated their lives to patrolling the wilds and defending others. Each of them had been passionate and brave, but Tom had a quiet intensity to him that was hard to forget.

Laura waits at an intersection for a car to pass, then crosses the street, glancing at the pokemon lab in the distance. Its lights are mostly off, but it still stands out as the heart of the town. She would miss Pallet and her friends here, but she knows she’ll come back some day.

She arrives at the Oak residence, a simple two story house much like her own. Far less ostentatious than one might expect of the eminent pokemon expert in Kanto, but Laura knows that Sam would spend most nights at the lab if not for his granddaughter. She rings the bell, and the professor opens it a moment later.

“Laura, come on in!”

She smiles. “Hi Sam.” She hugs the man who has been like a second father to her, then follows him toward the dining room. She and Marian Oak had been inseparable since they were children. The loss of his daughter and son-in-law a few years after Blue’s birth had been a shared tragedy, and years later he and his grandchildren had been there for her and Red when Tom had died.

Blue’s older sister enters from the kitchen carrying some salad. “Hello, Daisy.”

“Hey Aunt Laura!” Daisy puts the bowl to the table. “You’re just in time, everything’s ready. Got the main course?”

“I do.” She takes out the Container and aims it at an empty area of the dining room floor. She braces her arm, then presses a button on the side. The silver sphere scans the space in front of it, then opens with an explosion of light and sound that ends with the box lying on the floor.

Daisy takes the top off, and breathes deep as the scent fills the room. “Mm. Smells delicious!” She lifts the plate and puts it on the table, steam still rising from the cooked meat. “Everyone hungry?”

The next few minutes are spent enthusiastically digging in, punctuated by the occasional compliment of a dish. Once everyone has finished their first serving and begins to slow down, Laura turns to Daisy. “Ana says hello, and thanks again.”

Daisy smiles. “Swift’s recovering alright?”

“I saw him on the way here. He looked great.”

“I’m glad. I’ve been putting off new clients to get Moonlight ready for the contest in a couple months, but I had to make an exception in his case.”

“Oh? How’s she doing?”

“I’ll bring her out and show you after we eat!”

Sam’s voice is proud as he spoons more rice onto his plate. “I think they’re going to reach Master Rank this year.”

Daisy snorts. “Maybe if you bribe the judges.”

“Daisy! I would never abuse my long and deep friendship with the heads of the Pokemon Coordinator Contest to

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t try that innocent tone with me: I still remember when you just had a ‘friendly chat’ with Leader Erika on the week of my birthday, and what a surprise, she happens to be in town that day!”

“It’s hardly surprising if one of my old students wants to visit me now and again.”

“And the time when we went to Saffron for Blue’s birthday, where you chose the one hotel and room that the President of Silph happened to be staying next door to…”

“Well if you’re going to turn every coincidental

And the time I got sick for a week and couldn’t go to school, and who should come to teach me at home but Mistress Agatha of the Elite Four

Laura is grinning as Sam raises an indignant chin. “Surely a loving grandfather can speak of his worries and troubles to

“My point,” Daisy says, spearing a chunk of fearow with her fork. “Is that you seem to know just about everyone somehow, and if I ever find out that you’ve used your influence to give me an unfair advantage in the region-wide contest to test my skills as a pokemon coordinator, thus cheating me out of a fair assessment and cheating everyone else in the contest of theirs, I’ll wait till you’re sleeping one night and mail all your pokemon to Professor Elm. Pass the rice please.”

The professor hmphs, but passes the bowl with a slight smile. “Bring home even third place and people will come all the way from Johto to learn under you.”


“So, Laura!” Sam says, turning to her. “I’ve noticed pokedex registrations from Red, Blue and Leaf. It looks like all their preparation is paying off. Have you heard from them?”

“Yes, less than an hour ago. They’re doing fine, arrived in Viridian with at least one new pokemon each.”


Daisy is watching Laura. “How are you holding up?”

Laura takes a drink, then puts on a smile. “Not bad. I’m thinking of going back to work, actually.”

Sam raises a brow. “Really? Is Tom’s pension…”

“No, that’s all fine. It’s for me, mostly.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” Daisy says. “I always enjoy reading your articles. Is there something specific you want to write about?”

“A number of things, actually. I’ve never really stopped wanting to write about current events, I’ve just had a more limited ability to investigate them.”

“What do you think you’ll start with?”

“Something easy, I think. Maybe a look into those recent accusations of sexual harassment by employees at Silph.”

Daisy grins. “Oh yeah, no big deal, just going to start off by taking on the biggest company in Kanto.”

Laura scrapes the last bit of food from her plate. “Maybe I’ll throw in some pieces on gardening,” she says, and Daisy laughs. “In all seriousness though, it’s been hard to listen and watch what’s been going on in the region at times, and not do or say something about it.”

Daisy nods. “We’re pretty isolated here.”

“Not for long,” Sam says.

“What do you mean?”

Laura sips from her glass. “The town council is already thinking of incorporation, and after that it’s just a hop and a skip till we’re a proper city, with our own mayor and gym and everything.”

Daisy absorbs this for a moment. “That would be quite a big change…”

“That’s an understatement,” the professor says. He stands and begins clearing the table once it’s evident everyone is done eating. “You were only five when we first moved here, so you might not remember how different it is today compared to back then, but it’s barely recognizable as the same place. Incorporation would be an even bigger shift.”

“Is it because of the lab?”

“It’s been pulling people and money here for over a decade now, and there’s no sign that will stop anytime soon.”

Daisy and Laura join him in bringing things to the kitchen, and they carry the conversation to the kitchen, where Daisy begins to make some tea as Sam washes the dishes. Laura is waved off when she tries to help, so she and Daisy move to the living room. Daisy turns on the news, and the low volume and sound of running water in the kitchen are a soothing ambiance in the background as they talk.

reflect the noticeable drop in prices. Center administrators cite increased efficiency, mostly from the recently implemented standardized practices. When polled, over 80% support expanding the trainer subsidies. Licensing officials have yet to comment

“Is our center in that 80%?” Laura asks.

Daisy sighs as she pours them two cups of tea. “Some are, but not enough. Too few trainers pass through Pallet, and enough neighbors grumble about the tax as it is.”

“Until it’s their pokemon that’s hurt.”

reported that a swarm of tentacool have been spotted near Cinnabar Island, estimated to pass by the end of the week. Travelers should be aware that such swarms can move at surprising speeds, and are advised to use naval transport to and from the island until the danger is past.”

The screen shows a “cloud” of small red spheres bobbing in the ocean, each pair belonging to a separate poisonous jellyfish. Laura feels an involuntary shudder of revulsion. “So many…”

Daisy makes a face. “Hope they don’t come up here and ruin our beach. The surfing contest is next week.”

Mental images of some trainer and their pokemon caught in such a massive swarm makes Laura feel sick. Soon she’s seeing Red or Blue’s face in every scenario. She turns away from the television. “Weren’t you going to show me what Moonlight can do now?”

“Oh, right!” Daisy goes to the cubby by the door and brings back a greatball, its blue lid marked with a white sphere between its red ridges. With a hard throw, the ball zips through the air, appearing for a moment as though it will crash through a window: then it flies over the empty space of the living room, and discharges a clefairy onto the carpet.

Daisy catches the ball as it rockets back at her. “Hey there Moonlight! Come say hi to Aunt Laura!”

The pink, shy pokemon makes a light trilling sound, and flutters her small wings as she hops toward them, cuddling into Daisy’s arms. The teen brings her pokemon to Laura, who rubs the fluff of hair between the clefairy’s ears.

continues to enjoy its lowest crime rate since Leader Koga became head of the gym. Koga has commended the local police for their efforts, deflecting any implications that he might be partially responsible

Daisy strokes the pokemon’s tail, then smiles at Laura. “Remember that big debate grandpa was in last year, where the professors were all arguing theories on how the ‘Metronome’ ability works?”

“Vaguely. My main takeaway was that we still don’t quite understand how certain pokemon like clefairy get their energy. Wasn’t there something about the variation in their powers?”

“Right. Instead of just being able to manipulate electricity or temperature, clefairy, who don’t normally seem to be capable of such things, have been observed in rare circumstances displaying wildly different powers. People used to think it depended on the clefairy, but over years of consistent study they observed the same clefairy running the gamut of different abilities.”

“But it’s still completely random as far as we can tell?”

Daisy smiles. “Not completely. I think I’ve figured out how to influence what power they exhibit.”

Laura blinks. “How?”

“Come outside, I’ll show you. It’s about time for our practice session anyway.”

They leave their tea, and Daisy stops at the kitchen to grab a couple water bottles before they go out. Moonlight sings a brief, sweet melody, and flutters from Daisy’s arms into the wide grassy yard in front of the Oak residence. She begins an odd, hopping dance in a circle while gazing up at the moon.

“So most trainers, if they have a pokemon like clefairy, use the command ‘Metronome’ to try and trigger their mysterious powers. If the pokemon is trained well, they’ll go through the motions, but it’s a total gamble: no matter how well trained, it seems to do nothing as often as not, and even if it does something, there’s no way to prevent it from, say, shooting a bolt of lightning at a ground pokemon, or bathing a rock pokemon in fire.”

As Daisy talks, she begins to mimic Moonlight’s movements. Soon the pokemon and human are synchronized, hopping up and down from one foot to the other, fingers raised upward.

Laura grins, covering her mouth to hide it. Daisy looks utterly ridiculous, but the teen seems unselfconscious, completely absorbed in bonding with her pokemon. While not all pokemon coordinators are as good at battling as trainers, they do seem to have a better affinity on average with pokemon’s moods and behavior, which helps them enormously in the medical or training fields.

Once Laura is sure she won’t start giggling, she uncovers her mouth. “Is this what influences it? The dancing?”

“No, I’m just getting her in the mood… any second now…”

Moonlight starts to sing. Her voice is low, but haunting, the high, sweet tune carrying through the still night air.

And once she has the hang of the melody, Daisy begins to sing too.

Laura sucks in a breath, staring. She had heard Daisy sing before, but never like this. The teenager must have been practicing intensely: her tone and pitch are carefully controlled to match the pokemon’s, the two harmonizing beautifully.

And it doesn’t settle there: soon the melody shifts, Moonlight always leading at first. Daisy barely misses a note each time however, and eventually she begins the first shift herself, and the pokemon follows her, the two weaving a song of simple joy and hope and longing.

For what is surely only a couple minutes, but feels far longer, Laura merely watches and listens as the pokemon and human show the depth of their bond beneath the stars and moon. She feels as though she’s witnessing something primal and ancient, even as it’s new and incredible to her.

Abruptly, Daisy lowers one arm and points into the darkness. For the first time, a word enters the melody, and that word is “Met-ro-nome.” Each syllable seems carefully, delicately pronounced, so that it fits the music.

And in response, the clefairy’s arms begin to sway back and forth, and facing the direction her trainer is pointing, Moonlight opens her mouth wide… and emits a howling gale of wind.

When it dies down, the song is still going, and Daisy says it again, with the same deliberate focus: “Met-ro-nome.”

Moonlight completes its revolution in the small circle she and her trainer form, and then turns again and sways her fingers back and forth through the air. For a brief moment, nothing happens, and then, on the clefairy’s next hop, the ground suddenly bucks, and a cone of rock juts outward from the ground beneath the pokemon.

Again, the song continues, and again the word: “Met-ro-nome.”

The gust of wind returns, making the grass rustle and tear free.

Daisy has been maintaining the same song for almost a minute now, face glistening with sweat. A few seconds later: “Metr-ro-nome.”

A bolt of electricity briefly illuminates Moonlight and arcs off into the sky where Daisy is pointing.

Again: “Metr-ro-nome.” Nothing seems to happen.

Still the song, and again: “Metr-ro-nome.” The leaves of grass around Moonlight abruptly begins to grow, one inch, two, three inches, flowers blooming among them.

A few seconds of singing, and again: “Metr-ro-nome.” The gust of wind returns.

And again: “Metr-ro-nome.” For the second time in a row, the wind.

Suddenly Daisy’s dancing slows, and in the space of a blink Moonlight’s does too. The song continues for a few seconds more, dwindles, then peters off, both pokemon and human seeming to end near the same instant and coming to a standstill.

Daisy drops to the ground, and Moonlight falls back, her curling, fluffy tail lying limp. Both are breathing hard, eyes closed as they recover.

It takes Laura a moment to recover as well, and when she does she breaks into applause. “Oh Daisy! That was incredible! You too Moonlight, my goodness… how long have you been hiding such an amazing talent? You could be stars!”

Daisy smiles, voice a bit weak. “Thanks Aunt Laura.” She opens one of the water bottles, then helps Moonlight drink some before taking a swallow herself. “It took me a year to even match Moonlight’s melody. But did you see? She did it! Four times out of seven, the same ability! That’s got to be a record, and twice in a row at the end? I’ve been trying to get her to do that for a month! I’ve never heard of a clefairy doing that before, and neither has grandpa.”

Laura speaks slowly. “It’s the tone, isn’t it? The tone you pronounce the command in, how much emphasis on which syllables…”

Daisy nods. “In the wild, pokemon like clefairy and togepi only exhibit these surprising and random abilities on rare occasions, always while waving their arms and singing. Not always the same song, but not always completely different either. To an untrained ear, there seemed to be no correlation, and most people think that the arm waving is what’s important. Maybe it still is in its own way, I’m not sure.”

“But you found a tone that’s linked to a specific power,” Laura marvels. “Even more, you can duplicate it!” Her wonder is renewed by the significance of what she just saw. She can’t wait to tell Red, and again feels the pang of his absence. It takes her by surprise, and she realizes she had been completely absorbed in the music and dance, the first thing to have completely taken her mind off Red’s leaving all day.

Daisy breathes deep and takes a long drink from the second water bottle before letting Moonlight finish it off. The pokemon is looking somewhat recovered, and Daisy gets to her feet. “I’m sure others have considered it, but as far as I know no one’s practiced and experimented long enough to isolate one. Most trainers can get their pokemon to link the command with the action of swaying and singing, but volume, pitch, emphasis and lengths of which syllables and consonants… it’s hard to control so exactly, and the possibilities are endless. The slightest change seems to bring about a wholly different power.”

“Have you tried using a recording device?”

Daisy grins. “First thing grandpa rushed off to grab as soon as we thought of it. Didn’t work, which almost made me give up then and there. But it seems like we need to build up to it every time, get in sync enough to get it just right. Even when we record it in the middle of the song, it doesn’t come out the same when we play it. Grandpa says something about the sound is different, but we haven’t had time to consult with an acoustics expert yet. Maybe we’ll figure it out after the competition.”

Laura nods. “I’m sure you will. Either way, it’s still pretty amazing.” She grins, feeling a burst of pride for her oldest friend’s daughter, overriding even the sadness that Marian isn’t around to see what kind of woman Daisy is growing up to be. Eyes stinging with sudden moisture, Laura folds the teen into a hug, one hand brushing at her eyes. “Congratulations, Daisy.”

“Aunt Laura, I’m all sweaty!”

“I couldn’t care less. I think Sam’s right, with an act like that, I can’t imagine any other coordinator getting a higher score in August. You’ll reach Master Rank for sure.”

Daisy hugs her back, voice a bit embarrassed, but determined. “Well, we’ll be trying our hardest, in any case.” She picks her pokemon up, and they head back toward the house. Laura wonders briefly what the Oaks are going to do about the spike of rock sticking out of their lawn, and whether the back yard is full of similar oddities.

When they enter the house, Laura is prepared to call out to Sam about how amazing his granddaughter is when she sees the professor standing behind a chair in the living room, staring at the television. The words die in her throat at the grim set of Sam’s face. She turns to the television, a cold shiver racing up her spine.

“What happened grandpa?”


unexpected at this time of year. The low precipitation supercell is sweeping northward, and Rangers insist that it’s too early to tell if this is a precursor to an attack. Nevertheless, CoRRNet representatives stress that everyone should periodically review their city’s evacuation and defensive procedures as a matter of course. The most recent standard response protocols can be found online, at

The tension in the room is palpable, and Moonlight makes a low trilling noise. “Where was it?” Laura asks, stomach cramping slightly with fear.

Sam pours himself a cup of tea, still watching the television until the news anchor shifts to another story. He finally sits down, face troubled. “Near Pewter.”

Fingers of ice brush her racing heart. Her hands grip the back of the couch, knuckles white. “Sam… that’s where Red and Blue are traveling, they’re going north after Viridian

“Don’t worry, Laura. The storm is headed for the mountains, and they’ll have plenty of warning if it changes direction.”

Her pulse begins to slow back down, and she lets out a low breath. Daisy is quiet, still staring at the screen. Thinking of her parents, no doubt.

The loss of Marian Oak and her husband James had almost broken the Verres household, resulting in the biggest fight she and Tom ever had. He refused to quit his position as a Ranger when she asked him to, insisting that tragedies like that were exactly why he was needed. His passion for helping people had always been one of the major reasons she loved him, but at that moment grief and fear had been stronger than love. All she could think of was that she would lose him. That Red would have to grow up without his father, like Blue and Daisy and so many others.

She had never wished so hard to be wrong about something. In the end, the universe took no mind.

“So, did I hear singing outside?” Sam says, breaking her dark thoughts. He’s watching his granddaughter, who still has a faraway look in her eyes.

“Yes,” Laura says, forcing some cheer into her voice. “Daisy showed me something remarkable.”

“Hm?” Daisy blinks at them and seems to come back to herself. “Oh! I was showing Aunt Laura…” She smiles and sits down with Moonlight in her lap. “You missed it grandpa, Moonlight did the wind gust twice in a row!”

“That’s great!” Sam grins, and the dark mood recedes from the room a bit. He pours a new cup of tea for Daisy and Laura and hands it to them. “Tell me all about it.”

Laura sits down as she and Daisy explain what had happened. The rush of cheer they had brought inside doesn’t completely return, and each of them glances at the television perhaps a bit more often than they normally would, but the news remains relatively mundane for the rest of the night, and their conversation eventually shifts on to other, similarly lighthearted things.

The three talk late into the night until silences and yawns begin to lengthen the switches between topics. It’s almost midnight by the time the second pot of tea is cool, and Laura decides to head home before she falls asleep here. It’s tempting to sleep in a house with other people in it, but she wants to spend the night at home, if for no other reason than to prove to herself that it’s not a big deal. She’ll have to get used to it soon enough.

“Thanks for everything, Sam, Daisy,” she says as the teen retrieves her serving plate and places it back in its box. Laura withdraws it back into the Container and tucks the silver sphere away before putting on her shoes and coat.

“Goodnight, Aunty,” Daisy says, hugging her. “Feel free to come by anytime if you get lonely.”

Laura smiles and kisses her hair. “I will.”

Sam waits by the door, his pokeball belt on. “I’m going to walk her home, Daisy. Be back soon.” Laura gives Moonlight a farewell rub, then follows him out the door.

The town is dark and still, most inhabitants long since gone to bed. Laura wonders if Red is asleep. She can almost feel the empty echoes from her house, waiting for her, the way it seemed after Tom’s death, when Red was little more than a ghost in his room. Tom was often gone for weeks at a time on duty, but even when she felt his absence like a physical ache, he was never more than a phone call away. Now she can’t even call him to talk about their day, to just hear his voice. At least she can still call Red in the morning.

“When do you plan on leaving, Laura?”

She looks at the professor. “Not for a couple weeks at least. I need to get my affairs in order and talk to some people, maybe find an apartment, depending on what I end up doing.”

Sam nods, and is quiet again for awhile. When he speaks again his voice is low, almost as if he doesn’t want to be heard, though there’s no one around. “I don’t mean to impose, but I have a favor to ask.”

“Don’t be silly. What is it?”

“In the course of your investigations, whatever they may be and wherever they may take you, would you mind terribly keeping an ear out for any mention of a Dr. Fuji?”

Laura blinks in surprise. She wasn’t expecting something like that. “Of course. Is he a medical doctor?” She reaches absently for her notepad before remembering that she isn’t carrying one, hasn’t for years.

“Yes, among other things. He was—is—a biologist who specialized in genetics, and an old friend of mine.”

“Did something happen to him?”

Sam sighs. “I don’t know. We kept in touch until about ten years ago, when his responses began to slow. I tried contacting him numerous times during a particularly large stretch of silence. His eventual reply was rather curt: some new project was taking a lot of his attention, the specifics of which he never mentioned.

“It was the last I or anyone I know heard from him. I resigned myself to thinking he simply… faded away. Withdrew. He lost his daughter, almost fifteen years ago. Shortly afterward his wife left him. It made him more absorbed by his work than ever, and I guess I just assumed he finally ran out of whatever kept him going. I tried to get in contact with him, help if I could, but no one seemed to know where he went.”

Laura is silent as they walk. “What changed?” she finally asks.

“A rumor. Not even that. A suspicion, grown from disconnected bits of information noticed over the years. Random remarks in online forums. Old news reports. Offhand comments. Whispers in the dark.”

“Whispers of what?”

“Other scientists and engineers from every region who similarly faded from the public, most within the same span of years. I don’t know if anyone else made such a connection, or if it’s mere coincidence. There are enough conspiracy theorists on the net to make me think I’m being paranoid.”

Laura shakes her head. “Maybe. Maybe not. You can’t really know without looking, and it’s hard to look without knowing what you’re looking for. What are your theories?”

“Hardly anything as substantial as a ‘theory.’ Not even a hypothesis, I’m afraid.”

Laura smiles. “What are your best completely unscientific guesses?”

Sam raises a hand, fingers moving to tick off each one. “First, some top secret government or company research project. Perhaps they’re all alive and well, and merely in deep seclusion. Many seemed to be those who had few tethers to keep them in public life.”

“Sounds reasonable. We know there are a number of projects that have been hidden from the public eye, and not all for questionable reasons.”

“Perhaps not, though Fuji’s studies tended toward pokemon research. Assuming that’s what the project is about, the name ‘Oak’ was apparently not fit to be included.”

Laura chuckles. “I always knew you’d get around to developing an ego some day.”

Sam smiles slightly. “My second guess is foreign interests have been poaching them for their own purposes, and none of their absences are related at all. I may simply be falling to confirmation bias, and forgetting all the data that doesn’t fit the pattern I’ve already formed in my head.”

“That second part should be fairly easy to figure out, with some research.”

He nods. “I’ve done some looking, but far from extensive. And the third possibility I’ve seriously contemplated is perhaps the most frightening, the thought which makes me wish to be wrong, dismiss my suspicions as crackpot.”

Laura frowns. “I know you love being wrong, but not without good reason.”

“I want to be wrong, Laura, because if I’m right it would mean my friend is very likely dead or imprisoned, as are all the others who faded so similarly.”


“An organization,” Sam says, voice quiet. “One that operates between regions, could identify and hire, kidnap or coerce multiple researchers and technicians into secret work that they have no intention of allowing the public to be aware of.”

Laura doesn’t laugh. She’s never known Sam to joke about something like this, nor would he bring it up if he were really as unsure as he claims. The night suddenly seems chiller than it had a moment before. She draws her coat tighter around her as they approach the path to her house, and begin walking up toward the light hanging over her door.

When they reach it Laura turns to face Sam. His salt and pepper hair is somewhat disheveled, a bit like the perpetual mess of his grandson’s, and his blue eyes and face are lined from a long and exciting life. Even without his lab coat, Professor Oak still looks every inch the deeply kind, extraordinarily intelligent man she’d known since childhood.

“I know,” Sam says in the silence. “I’m being a paranoid fool. It’s almost a relief to hear how ridiculous it sounds out loud.”

When she meets his gaze, the usual spark of boundless curiosity and enthusiasm isn’t there. Despite his words, his expression holds no levity, and Laura realizes he is offering her an out. Playing down his beliefs and self-deprecating, so she can dismiss his suspicions as overly imaginative without offending.

But he doesn’t believe they are. He’s as serious as she’s ever seen him, through tragedies shared time and again.

“I’ll keep an ear to the ground,” Laura says at last. “If I can manage it, I’ll keep both.”

Chapter 5: Personhood Theory

“I’m fine mom,” Red says. “Not a scratch on me.” Technically it’s a bite mark.

Red stands in Viridian City’s southern pokemon center, using his phone to call home as he waits in line. Blue and Leaf are ahead of him, and step forward as the nurse behind the counter gives the young man at the front of the line a receipt.

Red steps forward too, shifting his phone to his other ear so he can pull out his wallet.

“We got in ten minutes ago, maybe twenty, before it got dark,” he says. He turns to look out the front of the building’s glass walls, where the city lights illuminate the night.

“Good. How is your pokemon? Have you and Blue caught any new ones yet?”

“We did. I have a charmander and rattata, Blue has a squirtle and pidgey. Oh, and there’s a third person with us named Leaf. She’s the daughter of a professor from Unova.”

He can hear his mom’s smile over the phone. “I’m glad it’s not just you and Blue. Hopefully she’ll keep you two from fighting.”

Red makes a noncommittal sound and changes the subject as Leaf turns around at the sound of her name. “How about you, how was your day?”

“Just fine. I took a walk along the beach and had a meeting with the town council. Now I’m getting ready to meet Sam and Daisy for dinner.”

“Great! Tell them I said hi.” Red feels some relief that his mom won’t be spending his first night away alone.

“Just hi?” His mom’s voice is teasing. “Nothing else you want to say to Daisy?”

Red feels his cheeks flush, and tries to sound bored rather than whiny. “Mom, it’s been a year.” Why did he tell her that he liked Blue’s sister? “‘Hi’ will do, thanks.”

“Alright, alright, ‘hi’ it is. Anyway, I’ve got to go, sweetie. Give my love to Blue, and find a nice place to stay tonight. I love you Red.”

Red glances at his companions and turns casually to the side, voice lowering. “Love you too, mom, goodnight.” He ends the call and puts his phone away just as Blue steps up to the counter.

“Hello, new trainer?” the nurse says with a smile.

“Yeah, how did you know?” Blue unclips his pokeballs and puts them in the round indentations on the nurse’s tray.

“You’ve got the look. Young, a bit nervous, few pokemon. Mind if I see your ID?”

“Sure.” Blue takes out his wallet and hands her his trainer card.

“Thank you.” The nurse taps some keys on her computer. “Ah, Pallet Town. My sister lives there. And what is the nature of your pokemon’s injuries?”

“Nothing serious, just a couple wild encounters.”

“Are either of them poisoned or burned? Any untreated open wounds?”

“No, just some scrapes and bruises. My squirtle might be more tired than anything.”

The nurse types a bit more, then her computer spits out a receipt. “Alright, your pokemon will be ready within the hour. We’ll send you a message when you can pick them up.”

When it’s Red’s turn, he feels a bit anxious as he hands his pokemon over and explains to the nurse their various injuries. It’s strange how simply being ‘mine’ makes these pokemon mean so much to me, even the rattata. Something to do with the effort he’d put into acquiring her, maybe?

Red pulls his notebook out of his pack as he crosses the clean tiles to the bench Leaf and Blue are on. After sitting beside them, he opens it to a new page, dates it, then writes:

Observation: I’m feeling remarkably attached to my pokemon after such a short time with them.

Question 1: Is this usual?

Question 2: Does it affect my objectivity when regarding them in other ways?

Reminder 1: Look into research on-

“Hey Red, you hungry?”

He looks up at Leaf, blinking. Now that she mentions it, it’s hard to ignore his stomach’s complaints. All he’d had since breakfast were some snack bars on the road. “Yeah, starving.”

“We’ve got at least half an hour before our pokemon are ready,” Blue says. “Let’s go find some food.”

Red nods, and looks down at his notebook as the others get to their feet, trying to remember what he’d been writing.

-research on human connections with each other, with objects, and with pokemon.

Reminder 2: Survey others if possible, mark distinctions between pokemon gifted and pokemon caught.

Red frowns and puts the notebook away as he stands. It isn’t exactly what he’d wanted to write, but it’s enough to remind himself of his thought process later on.

The three leave the pokemon center and walk through the city. People on foot and bicycles throng the sidewalks, pooling at the ends of blocks to wait for lights to change before crossing streets. Every few minutes some large flying pokemon goes by overhead, its passengers’ legs dangling a dozen feet above the traffic, and occasionally people riding large pokemon pass them. Leaf points in delight as a flaming horse gallops by on the other side of the street, its rider seemingly unharmed by the pokemon’s fiery mane.

“What’s that?”

“Rapidash,” Red says. “Their hair glows like fire, but they can keep it from combusting into actual flames if trained to be ridden.”

Leaf turns her neck to watch it disappear around a corner. “So pretty…”

Blue snorts, and Leaf turns back with a cheery smile. “Keep laughing after I catch one,” she says. “The sound of hooves will be the last thing you ever hear.”

“Ha. You’ll have to get through Squirtle first.”

Red and Blue have both been to Viridian City before a few times, but it’s all new to Leaf, so they point out some of the more famous landmarks as they walk.

“There’s a supermarket that way that’s second biggest in Kanto. A lot of people stop by on their way to the Indigo Plateau, they sell everything a trainer might need.”

“See that big building near the center of the city? That’s the Trainer House, we’ll head there after our pokemon are taken care of.”

“There’s a huge lake over that way, but fishing in it’s usually prohibited.”

“Hey,” Leaf says as they reach an outdoor cafe and sit at a table. “What’s the Gym in this city?”

“The Earth Gym.”

“That’s Leader Giovanni’s, right? What’s he like?”

Blue grins. “Oh man, Giovanni is awesome. He was nineteen when he became Champion, and he’s held his Gym for decades. He’s like fifty-something now.”

“He’s really philanthropic too,” Red adds. “Gives away millions to subsidize trainer activities and fund pokemon research.”

“Woah. Should we swing by the gym, then?”

“Nah,” Red says with a sigh. “He’s on one of his trips, I checked yesterday.”

“You did?” Blue asks, brow raised.

Red rolls his eyes, smiling. “Just because I’m not going for badges doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be cool to meet him. You should check out his blog, Leaf, he writes about all sorts of things, including how to analyze problems and think more clearly.”

“Well, we can still train at the gym,” Blue says. “Though I’d like to get to the forest by tomorrow if we can. I want a full belt as soon as possible.”

Leaf nods. “If we have time, then?”

They agree, and a waitress comes by to take their order. Red sees a woman at another table, eating her steak and occasionally dropping bits of meat to the side for her growlithe to eat. He takes his notebook back out as they wait for their food.

“What’s that? Journal?” Leaf asks.

“Sort of. I like to write out my thoughts at the end of the day, helps keep track of questions I’ve had, remind myself to look into answering them or reflect on them in the future when I know more.”

“Did you just think of something?”

“Yeah,” he says, flipping back to the latest page and writing as he talks. “How do you guys feel about your pokemon so far?”

“Pretty good,” Blue says. “Haven’t had a chance to check out the pidgey, but seemed like a fighter. And my squirtle is great.”

Leaf nods. “Same, looking forward to getting to know Crimson and my rattata, but I couldn’t be happier with Bulbasaur. He’s everything I’d hoped my first pokemon would be… smart, versatile, tough.”

“Do you feel a… scratch that, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your ‘bond’ with your pokemon so far? One being you barely feel anything for them, ten being they matter to you as much as close friends or family.”

Blue shrugs. “I guess Squirtle a seven, the pidgey a four or five.”

“Bulbasaur a nine,” Leaf says slowly. “Rattata a… four, I guess? And Crimson a six, though that may be because of the nickname.”

“What about the process of capturing it?”

“Yeah, that definitely plays a part. In the struggle I feel like I got to know it a bit, and it’s got spirit, that’s for sure.”

Red doesn’t comment on her reasoning, just writing his questions down as well as their answers, trying to get a feel for what a good survey on this topic might look like. Gathering qualitative data is more important than quantitative for now, to help understand things well enough to begin formulating hypotheses. “So those numbers, four at the lowest, nine at the highest. Do they seem in any way odd to you guys?”

Leaf looks curious. “Not really. What do you mean?”

“Well, we don’t get so attached to other people we just meet. Why are we all so attached to our pokemon already?”

“People talk about the bond between trainers and pokemon all the time,” Blue says. “This is what they mean. Humans and pokemon, we’re meant to work together like this. That’s why it feels so natural.”

Red looks at Leaf. “You feel that way too? Like it’s just that simple that you catch a pokemon and feel attached to them?”

Leaf shrugs. “I’ve been around my mom’s pokemon all my life, and I love them all… well most of them, she has this minccino that’s totally spoiled. But there’s definitely something special about having my own.”

Red finishes writing, then taps his pencil against the notebook a moment. “What about the other pokemon we saw today?”

“What about them?”

“Have you thought about them at all since? Do you think about the other rattata that we fought, or that third pidgey that got away?”

The other two are silent for a bit, then Blue shrugs. “Not really.”

“I have, a little. I kind of felt bad for the third pidgey, in case the ones we caught were its family. Why, have you been thinking of them?” Leaf asks.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Every so often I wonder about my rattata. If she was a mother whose children now lost her.”

Blue rolls his eyes, but Leaf’s expression is sympathetic. “That makes sense. Do you feel bad about it?”

“I don’t, actually,” he says, surprising himself with the realization even as he sees their brows rise. “I mean in an abstract way, sure, but I’m not about to go back and release her. And I’m a bit curious as to why. I care about my rattata, but not the ones I didn’t catch, even the ones affected by its capture. Is that odd?”

“Not at all,” Blue says. “Why would you care about the other pokemon? One of them bit you! And another scratched up my arm, not to mention the way they hurt our pokemon.”

Leaf opens her mouth to respond, but just then their food arrives. Red’s stomach growls, and he begins eating his sandwich.

“Like this food,” Red says, covering his mouth after a bit of bread flies out. “Woop, sorry.” He swallows. “I don’t really care about the pidgey whose meat I’m eating. But if I had a pidgey, and it was killed for its meat, I’d probably be upset. Is that hypocritical of me?”

Blue looks too interested in his food to respond, but Leaf finishes chewing and says, “I’m not sure. There are others who think so though. You’re talking about the relationship between people and pokemon, the way we use pokemon for our own benefit. There’s a group of activists in Unova who talk about it all the time. Used to be smaller, but now they’ve even got members in the government.”

“Really? What do they want?”

“Oh, lots of things. Stricter requirements for trainer licensing, better treatment of wild pokemon, an end to pokemon testing-”

Red snorts. “What, would they rather we test on humans instead?”

Leaf meets his gaze. “When it’s to benefit humans? Is that so strange?”

“It’s idiotic,” he says. Her eyes narrow, and he rushes on. “I’m sorry, but it is. We would never have developed half the medicines we have today without pokemon testing, there’s just no way to replicate human test subjects quickly or reliably enough, even ignoring the moral issues of experimenting on them-”

“But it’s not a moral issue when we raise pokemon just to test out new chemicals that might hurt or kill them?”

Feeling like he’s just digging a deeper hole, Red looks to Blue for help, but his friend is merely watching with amusement as he eats. “Of course it is, but isn’t it also a moral imperative to develop medicines that’ll save as many people as we can? How do you balance the lives of a relatively few pokemon against all the people and other pokemon we help by doing so?”

“You’d probably feel different if you were one of the test subjects. Or if they wanted to use your charmander.”

“No,” he says adamantly. “I wouldn’t.”

Leaf stares at him. Even Blue looks surprised. “You really mean that?”

“I try to be self aware enough to keep from holding hypocritical beliefs. I don’t want to lose my charmander, even after just a day with him. It would be really sad, maybe heart-breaking if I had him for a long while. But if for some reason there was an experiment that had to use my charmander, instead of one in the wild, to help people, or even other pokemon…”

“People you don’t even know?” Blue asks.

Red tries to find the words, frowning at the woman and her growlithe at the other table. “Look, it’s… see that woman there? Say her growlithe died. Who would be affected by it?”

“She would, and her family, if they’re close to her pokemon.”

“Right. For how long?”

Leaf raises a brow. “That… depends. I was really sad for a couple months after my mom’s purrloin died. She was too, but I took it much harder, because I was young. There are a lot of factors that go into it.”

“Okay, but around a couple months for both of you. Did you by chance get another one?”

“Yeah, she brought another one home a few months after the first died.”

“And that helped.”

Leaf nods. “That helped.”

“Have you ever lost a person? Your dad, maybe?”

Leaf notices Blue go still, and looks back at Red with some hesitation. “He doesn’t live with us anymore, but no, I’ve never lost a person.”

“Well take it from me: you’re sad for more than just a few months. And not just you: your family, your friends, everyone’s affected by the loss and its effect on you. For years. It’s… there’s like a crack in your life that doesn’t ever really go away.”

The girl from Unova is quiet for a bit as she chews her food. Eventually she says “I think I get it. You’re saying that as sad as a pokemon’s death might be, a person’s death… ripples outward more, and is much more affecting.”

“Yeah. That’s about right.” Red focuses on his sandwich, ignoring the ache in his chest with long practice, shoving the crippling, bitter despair back into the mental vault he’d built for it.

“I… can’t really argue with that without seeming untactful,” she says slowly. “But I think some people would take their pokemon’s loss as hard as another person’s.”

Red shrugs. “Sure. But that’s still one relationship severed. Most people have multiple, and each of those people have multiple more. That’s why for me, no pokemon’s life could ever be as important as a person’s. Even if the pokemon is mine, and the person is a complete stranger.”

“What if they’re a dick?” Blue says.

Red frowns at him. “They probably still have friends, family, someone cares about them.”

“What if they’re a mass murderer? Or a renegade?”

“That’s… a different story…” Seeing Blue’s triumphant smile, Red sighs. “Okay, fine, to memost of the time, no pokemon’s life is as important as a random person’s, statistically speaking, since most people aren’t psychotic outlaws who train their pokemon to kill people.” Even helping hide or shelter a renegade is enough to get someone executed; if for whatever strange reason Red has to choose between a Renegade’s life and a pokemon’s, he might actually get charged himself for saving the renegade.

Leaf watches Red for a bit, then nods slightly. “I believe you believe that. But I think you might feel differently once you’ve really bonded, spent a few months or years with your pokemon.”

Red opens his mouth, then reconsiders and takes a drink. Eventually he shrugs. “Yeah, maybe. And if so, I might reconsider my view of pokemon testing. But I don’t think it’s likely.”

There’s silence at the table as they eat for a bit, watching the occasional pokemon walk by beside or ridden by their trainer. A pidgeot lands at a store across the street, and its rider slides off its back, the car-sized bird disappearing in a flash of light as its trainer withdraws it.

After the atmosphere at the table seems a bit lighter, Blue speaks. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re both nuts.” He takes a swig of his mixed fruit juice. “Obviously we need to keep developing better medicine and technology, but I wouldn’t give up my pokemon for it. Let gramps and the other white coats catch their own rattata to test on.”

“Well,” Leaf says as she sprinkles some salt on her tomato slices. “Most people seem to agree with you. The group I was talking about doesn’t have a lot of support in Unova, and I’ve never heard much of similar sentiments in other regions.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Blue says as he leans back, chair tipped to balance on its hind legs as he munches on a riceball. He rests one foot on the table’s edge, ignoring or oblivious to the dirty look their server gives him as she passes by. “Start giving in to little changes, and who knows what else they’ll want?”

“Last I heard before I left, they were talking about restricting the use of pokeballs and outright banning all pokemon trainer battles.”

Blue practically chokes on his food, eyes wide as his chair slams forward. “Wh-what?” He coughs up some rice and reaches for his drink. “What are they-chkugh-nuts?”

Red thumps on Blue’s back as Leaf shrugs. “Lots of people think so, but I’m not one of them. I think pokemon battling for sport is cruel, especially outside of regulated tournaments. They’re living creatures, they have feelings, and making them fight when it’s not necessary is callous.”

Blue frowns at her, taking a drink to clear his throat. “Tournaments have so many rules that pokemon rarely get seriously injured. Besides, you’re not going to prepare your pokemon for a real fight if you always stop as soon as they get a little hurt. Would you rather them die against some wild pokemon because they weren’t prepared?”

Red watches them continue to argue, considering their points as he eats. He has to admit he agrees with Blue more than Leaf, though that might just be a cultural bias of his, as apparently a number of people think differently in Unova. He drinks some soda, then interjects, “Why do they want to restrict pokeball use?”

Leaf turns to him. “They say it’s cruel to keep them imprisoned. Stunts their minds, makes them too subservient, hard to reintegrate into the wild if they’re released.”

“Makes sense. But you use them anyway?”

Leaf nods. “I don’t think the stasis of the balls is harmful in and of itself, and it even helps them live longer, in a sense, to better match our lifespans. Besides, training pokemon the old-fashioned way isn’t always realistic or safe, especially when you plan on traveling and acquiring a lot of them.”

“Still, it seems to benefit people at the expense of pokemon. Doesn’t that go against the beliefs of that group you’re talking about?”

“I agree with them generally, but not all their specifics or methods.” She shrugs. “I just think there’s a better way to go about things than we are now.”

“I think a lot of people can agree to that, at least.”

“Yeah. They’ve been getting more radical the more people support them, but there’s still disagreement from within too.”

Red nods, still feeling a bit uncomfortable about inadvertently insulting her earlier. “Thanks for bringing it up, by the way. Professor Oak’s specialty is pokemon-human interactions, and I find the whole topic interesting. That Unova group is something for me to look into later.”

Leaf smiles. “No problem. What you were talking about reminded me of it anyway. It’s funny, I actually thought of them when I met you this morning: their leader Ghetsis also has red eyes.”

“Is that rare in Unova too?”

“Yeah, I’ve only seen a couple people with them.”

Blue stabs a mushroom with his fork and points it at Leaf. “So why are you a trainer?” He pops it in his mouth. “Red wants to be a professor, and I’m going to be the next Kanto Champion. What made you come here?”

“Well, I want to be a Coordinator someday, but I’m planning on doing a lot of traveling. I want to go to different regions and write a book on pokemon origin stories.”

“Like what Red wants to find out?” Blue asks.

“Not really,” Red and Leaf both say together. They exchange a smile, and Red gestures for her to go ahead. “From what Red said, he’s more interested in their biological origins, like my mom’s research.” Red nods. “I’m more interested in the mythology. The stories every region has about pokemon, particularly those venerated or worshiped specifically in the culture. I find it really fascinating the ways different regions view pokemon, and the relationship between humans and pokemon.”

“Well, whatever the reason, it’s good to have you along,” Blue says.

“And you came to the right place,” Red adds. “Kanto’s a pretty superstitious place.”

Blue snorts. “Compared to what?”


“Heh. Fair enough.”

Leaf looks back and forth between them with obvious interest. “Why, what are some things people here believe?”

As Blue brings up some common myths and superstitions held by the region, Red is thinking over everything Leaf had said. He’d never paid much attention to the politics of other regions before, and he occasionally scribbles some thoughts in his notebook as he eats.

Will his view of pokemon as inferior to people ever change? He doesn’t think it’s likely. The entire basis for pokemon-human interactions stems from the basic need for people to defend themselves from them: it’s hard to see the species as having equal value when you’re willing to kill and capture them to defend yourself. Red’s father was a Ranger, someone who dedicated his life to helping keep people safe from wild pokemon. He was killed in the line of duty when some scyther attacked a farm.

Red wanted to be a Ranger too when he was younger, but that ambition cooled in the grief that followed, and his internship with Professor Oak opened up a new road. Still, it’s a sobering reminder that had humanity not domesticated pokemon, they would be at the mercy of even common ones the way they are those that are basically forces of nature, like hurricanes or earthquakes.

Most people living in cities don’t need much protection day-to-day, but they do rely on others to handle the occasional major threats, like a rampaging tyranitar, or a migrating beedrill swarm. And while trainers put themselves in danger to stop such threats, it’s really the pokemon that are shouldering the most risk. The media likes to romanticize the partnership and brave sacrifice of those pokemon, but those who raise pokemon as pets and companions must be aware that it’s not entirely a conscious sacrifice: ultimately, many pokemon are used as tools, living weapons and shields.

Not that people shouldn’t still treat pokemon well, when possible. Red can’t stand hearing about pokemon abuse, and part of a trainer’s responsibility is to improve human-pokemon relations, learning more about how we can benefit each other. While many, like Blue, see that as secondary to the opportunities and prestige it imparts, to Red it’s at the core.

Ultimately though, what interests him most is why people feel the way they do, think the way they do, about pokemon, about everything. He’s not quite sure if he’s right to feel intrinsically superior to pokemon, and he makes a special note on his thoughts of the subject for future reflection.

“No! Do you really?” Leaf giggles into her hands.

Red looks up. “What?”

Blue is smirking. “I don’t, but yeah, a lot of people in Pallet swear by it.” He turns to Red. “I’m telling her about the shadow check.”

Red groans. “So much wasted milk. I haven’t once heard of someone actually finding a Dark pokemon hiding in shadows by splashing milk in them, but every sunset you’ll see some people toss a glass over the east side of their house. I think it’s become more of a good luck thing now, but it’s still pretty dumb.”

Leaf gets her laughter under control. “Oh, I have to see this tomorrow,” she says with a grin as she picks her fork back up. “Though I guess it’s not so different from some of the religious rituals back home.”

Eventually they finish eating and pay their bill. On the way back to the Pokemon Center, Blue’s phone chimes a message to let him know his pokemon are ready, and by the time they reach it Leaf and Red’s had done the same.

The line is small, and when Red reaches the front he hands his receipt over and accepts his pokeballs back with a smile. “Everything’s okay?”

The nurse smiles back, handing him a summary of his pokemon’s status. “They’re in good health. A minor concussion was corrected in your rattata, and charmander’s wounds were fully healed.”

“Thank you!”

“You’re quite welcome. Your pokeballs have also been recharged, and are in good working order. Have a good night.”

“You too.” Red steps away and waits for the other two to get their pokemon back too. He checks his charmander in the meantime through the pokedex, and is relieved to see him looking fully recovered from his wounds, without even any visible scarring. He clips Charmander back to his belt and sees Leaf approaching. “All good?”

“Yep. They put Bulbasaur under some sunlamps, and said his bulb has fully regrown its damage.”

“Nice.” They wait for Blue, then head toward the entrance and they walk out into the night again.

The three make their way through the city toward the Trainer House, a lodging facility that caters specifically to trainers and their pokemon. There’s one in Pallet Town too, but Viridian’s is huge: fifteen stories tall and wide enough to take up a city block. It’s easy to find from pretty much anywhere, a massive red-brick building with solar panel foliage trimming, each artificial “leaf” hanging limp and dormant until morning.

The entrance hall and lobby are as different from the Pokemon Center’s as fire and water. There’s a deep brown rug beneath their feet rather than stark white tiles, amorphous couches scattered about rather than chairs set in orderly rows, and wooden tables instead of glass. Teenagers are draped over the various furniture, watching televisions or eating snacks, some with their pokemon beside them. Potted plants litter the room, bug and plant pokemon resting in their soil and among their roots and leaves. A few adult trainers move about too, most heading toward or coming from the elevators and doors around the room’s perimeter. Red doesn’t spot any who are his, Blue or Leaf’s age, and is reminded of how privileged he is to be able to set out on his journey so young.

Blue leads the way toward the reception desk, where they pass their trainer cards over and receive room assignments for the night. Red looks over the lobby, excitement and exhaustion warring in him.

“Normally it’d be great to meet all these trainers and see their pokemon,” Leaf says slowly, echoing his thoughts. “But I’m kind of tired.”

“There’s always tomorrow,” Red says, and Blue yawns in punctuation.

“I’m in 1321, West,” Leaf says, looking at her room assignment. “What about you guys?”

“1208,” Blue says, and Red holds his up to show the same. “East.”

Leaf smiles and tucks some hair behind her ear. “Well, I guess I’ll see you guys in the morning for breakfast then.”

They say goodnight, and make their way to the elevators on opposite sides of the lobby.

Red lies in bed, staring up at the bottom of Blue’s bunk. All around him are the sounds of a dozen other trainers close to Red and Blue’s age, shifting or snoring in their sleep. A quick glance toward the clock above the door shows him it’s almost midnight.

Red sighs and shifts on the unfamiliar mattress, trying to find a more comfortable position. He hasn’t been able to sleep. His mind keeps going over everything that happened on the first day of his journey… training with charmander, catching his rattata, helping Blue and Leaf catch pidgeys, their conversation during dinner. Every time he closes his eyes and tries to drift off, some new analysis or perspective of an event intrudes: how he should have acted, what he could have done differently.

The thought that has him in open-eyed wakefulness currently is that moment when he and Blue ran toward their pokemon after sending them ahead to help Leaf’s bulbasaur. He’d been about to order Charmander to Ember, but hadn’t because it was too risky with Bulbasaur so close, forcing him to rely on his less effective claws and teeth. A restriction like that is dangerous. They got lucky in avoiding serious injuries to Charmander or Bulbasaur, but Red still hasn’t thought of a better action he could have taken in that circumstance, and that’s making it hard to sleep.

I need to be more useful, he thinks. Charmander’s strong, but I can’t be so limited in how I use him that I’m relying on his fire. Hewe—need more utility. More versatility in combat.

Red reaches under the bed and pulls his pokedex out of his pants. Bringing it under the covers so the light doesn’t wake anyone, he looks up some known techniques charmanders can learn. He wishes for the dozenth time he’d known what pokemon Professor Oak would have for them so he could have researched them in-depth beforehand.

After about twenty minutes of reading, Red closes the pokedex. He slips back into his shirt and pants, then gathers his things and tiptoes out the door to find the training rooms.

Chapter 4: Operant Conditioning


“Shit, they’re fast!”

“There’s another!”

“I got it!”

Red throws a third time, letting go too soon and sending the pokeball slightly off target. Not that it matters: the small brown pokemon hops out of the way, wings flapping to send the ball farther out of reach. The gusts of wind send dirt into Red’s eyes, and he covers his face with an elbow while holding onto his cap’s bill to keep it on his head. When the wind stops, he looks up to see the small flock of pidgey swiftly departing.

Blue walks over, breathing hard. “Goddamn birds,” he mutters as he brushes dirt from his eyes, hair a windblown mess. His squirtle approaches from behind, staring after the departed pidgey for a moment before dropping onto all fours and investigating the grass around them.

“Squirtle manage to hit any of them?” Red asks as he walks around to reclaim his pokeballs and shrink them.

“A couple, but they recovered too fast, and then she ran out of water.” Blue pulls a bottle of it out and begins squirting some into the turtle’s open mouth.

Red hadn’t summoned Charmander, wanting to avoid further injury unless necessary. He looks over to where Leaf and Bulbasaur are and sees her pick up one of her own pokeballs before heading to them.

“No luck either, huh?” Red asks.

“Nope. This isn’t as easy as in the sims… or we’re getting the equivalent of a lot of bad RNG. We’re definitely going to need to wear them down first.”

“Which would be simple enough, if they’d stay still and fight,” Blue says.

Red sighs and sits in a patch of short grass, crossing his leg beneath him and drinking from Blue’s water bottle. The other two sit in a rough triangle, Blue rubbing Squirtle’s shell. “Pidgey aren’t as aggressive as rattata,” Red says. “Unless we find a nest and actually start messing with their eggs, they have no reason to stick around rather than just fly off if threatened.”

“Maybe we hold off on catching one for now?” Leaf says.

Blue shakes his head. “I want a Flying type before we reach Viridian Forest, unless you want to risk getting divebombed by some beedrill without a way to fight back.”

“What’s a beedrill?” Leaf asks, and Blue pulls out his pokedex. A large, winged black and yellow insect, all sharp stingers and pointed claws, appears on the screen. “Ugh, yeah, that might be a problem. So… ideas?”

“We could go to Viridian City and get a net launcher, then come back,” Red says. It’s one of the items on his eventual wish-list of gear, and he’d looked at some prices online. “They cost five hundred dollars, but we can rent one for a hundred-thirty a day.”

Blue scratches his neck. “That’s not bad. How much do you have?”

“After buying all my gear, I’ve got $237 left. You?”

“I have about five hundred saved up.”

Leaf holds up her purse. “I brought four hundred for the trip. So we could all pool in to rent one for $43 each, or buy it for $167, give or take a dollar.”

“So it’s an option, though a pricey one,” Red says.

Blue nods. “I was hoping to save for critical supplies until I can earn some cash through catches or matches, so let’s make that Plan B. Any other ideas?”

Leaf looks around at the tall grass, some of it as high as their shoulders while seated. “A trap of some kind? I can hide with Bulbasaur in some tall grass, try to grab one with vines if it gets close.”

“Might take hours of waiting,” Blue says. “What if we lure them? Dig a hole, make a false cover and put some berries on it?”

Red runs his fingers through the grass. “Even if they were heavy enough to break it, they’d just fly out before we got close. I like the berry idea though. Maybe combine it with Leaf’s? Bulbasaur sits under the trap?”

“Or better yet, we can find a berry bush to hide him in,” Leaf says.

They agree, and get up to look for a good spot. It isn’t hard to find berry bushes, but most are stripped of ripe fruit by wild pokemon. A few rattata and pidgey run from the trio as they walk through the tall grass, and eventually they find a berry laden bush with three rattata around it. They seem willing to stand and fight at first, until Leaf brings Bulbasaur out. They flee before Red can bring out Charmander, and Blue throws a pokeball at the retreating rodents, missing one by a hair.

“Not a word,” Blue says.

“It’s a lot easier when they’re knocked out,” Red offers with a grin.

“Okay Bulbasaur. In you go.” Leaf points at the berry bush. Her pokemon walks over to it and begins to feed. “No! Stop!” Bulbasaur hesitates a moment, then continues, and Leaf pulls a spray bottle out of her pocket and squirts a mist of water in Bulbasaur’s face, saying “Stop!” again. He recoils, blinking in surprise, and looks at his trainer with a mournful sound.

“I guess we didn’t think this through,” Blue says, balancing a spinning pokeball on one finger. “He’s going to just eat the berries when we move away.”

“Give me a bit, and he won’t,” Leaf says. “This is a good training opportunity.”

Blue looks skeptical. “You’re going to train him not to eat berries? Might want to make sure he’s full first.”

“It’s not too hard. I just have to reward him with something he wants more.”

Red turns to Leaf, impressed anew. “You’ve studied operant conditioning?” He’s starting to appreciate that Leaf had probably worked at least as hard to prepare for this journey as he and Blue.

“That Pavlov thing?” Blue asks.

“That’s classical conditioning. Operant conditioning deals with positive and negative reinforcement.”

Blue stares blankly at him.

“I’m pretty sure we covered it in school together…”

“Oh?” Blue spins his pokeball again, arm moving slightly to keep it balanced. “I must have been sick that day.”

Red sighs as Leaf smiles and put her pack down to dig through it. “Okay, so Professor Skinner was studying behavior theory, and was focused on the way pokemon learn. He put rattata in a box which had a mechanism to release food, along with a lever, and a light display or speakers.”

“This is fascinating,” Blue says in a monotone.

“Do you want to know what she’s going to do, or not?”

“I was hoping for a ten second answer, not an hour long lecture.”

“It’s been twenty seconds, if that, and only counting your interruption.”

“What, I said it was fascinating, then you get all huffy-”

Anyway,” Red continues, deciding to simplify. “He was able to train the pokemon to press the lever after seeing the right light display or hearing the right sound, but not when seeing or hearing the wrong one. The lever would only dispense food if they pressed it after the right signal. That was their reward, to reinforce the desired behavior. If they did it after the wrong one, they would get a small shock or something. That aversive stimulus was the punishment.

Leaf finds and takes out a small box of PokePuffs. The round cakes are colorful, and their scent fills the air as soon as she opens the wrapping. Bulbasaur and Squirtle sniff, their gazes locking on the brown and orange pastry Leaf holds up.

“Ok, that’s starting to sound familiar,” Blue says. “It’s like how we link new commands with pokemon attacks.”

“Right, but the principle works with more than just battle commands,” Red says. “In fact, it works for pretty much anything, and even the least intelligent of pokemon respond to it to some degree.” Nor are humans exempt: Red had made the connection to his own learning not to touch a hot stove as a toddler before finding the studies that supported it. “According to behavior theory, pretty much all learned behavior is the result of reinforcements and associations.”

“So that water bottle, that’s the punishment,” Blue says. “And the PokePuff is the reward.”

“Right. The water bottle is a positive punishment, because it adds an experience to minimize a behavior. The pokepuff is a positive reinforcement, because it reinforces a behavior. ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ are used in a technical sense here, to mean add or subtract, and not to place a subjective judgement on what’s being added or subtracted. A negative reinforcement would still be something that reinforces a pokemon’s behavior, which means whatever was subtracted was noxious, or made it more difficult to do it.

Leaf positions Bulbasaur in front of the bush again, and waits until Bulbasaur begins to stretch his neck out for a berry, then says “Stop!” Bulbasaur hesitates again, and when he resumes reaching for a berry he gets another spray of mist. It takes another few repetitions of this until Bulbasaur stops reaching for berries on his own.

“Isn’t this going to make him stop eating berries altogether?” Blue asks.

“It could, with enough reinforcement,” Red admits. “But she can fine-tune it. Watch.”

Leaf offers Bulbasaur a berry from her hand, and after a moment he eats it. He doesn’t get squirted, and after she offers him another one he’s faster to eat it, which earns him a scratch behind his ear.

“The real behavior she’s trying to teach him doesn’t have to do with berries, but to respond to her saying ‘stop’,” Red explains. “He recognizes the word to some degree thanks to previous training, but isn’t used to hearing it when doing mundane things. He’s also learning not to eat berries unless it’s offered to him.”

Leaf stays still and silent for a long time, and Bulbasaur doesn’t reach for any berries. Finally he begins to stir and stretch his neck out for one, and when Leaf says “Stop!” he does so right away.

“Good boy!” Leaf breaks off a piece of the pokepuff and feeds it to him, then scratches him behind the ear. “Who’s a good bulbasaur? You are!”

Squirtle is watching the interaction attentively, and eventually walks over to Blue and looks up at him expectantly. “What?” Blue says, sounding defensive as he catches his ball to stop its spinning. “I don’t have any PokePuffs. I’ll pick some up in Viridian.”

Squirtle doesn’t seem particularly assured, and makes a gurgling sound, plodding off toward the berry bush to eat some. Bulbasaur watches Squirtle, but doesn’t join her, earning him another piece of Puff.

By the time the PokePuff is gone, Bulbasaur is obediently sitting in the middle of the berry bush without reaching for any of them. Part of it might be that he’s less hungry, but Red knows that PokePuffs are designed as treats, and aren’t particularly filling.

Leaf brushes her hands off on her pants. “Now we just need to train him to grab anyone that tries to eat the berries.” She eyes Squirtle, then Blue, and both trainers speak at the same time:

“Bulbasaur, Bind!”

“Squirtle, Withdraw!”

Bulbasaur’s vines wrap around Squirtle, but have trouble keeping a grip on the smooth shell.

“Bulbasaur, stop!”

“Squirtle, back up.” Blue slowly circles the berry bush with Squirtle, then points to a clump of berries. “Eat!”

“Bulbasaur, Bind!”

Squirtle dodges the vines and grabs a mouthful of berries, but has to jump back to avoid them again. When Bulbasaur moves forward to pursue, Leaf tells him to stop, and Bulbasaur does.

“Good job Squirtle!” Blue rubs the turtle’s smooth shell while Leaf feeds Bulbasaur part of a new PokePuff, then hands the rest to Blue to feed Squirtle. Red watches them for a moment, then unclips Charmander’s pokeball and looks at its smooth surface.

Inside, he knows Charmander’s physical state is suspended while his mind is busy with the pokeball’s virtual reality, a preprogrammed experience akin to dreaming. He pulls out his pokedex and aligns their lens so he can see what Charmander’s doing.

The screen displays a stadium. Charmander is facing down an assortment of pokemon, as Red, or rather the recording of him that had been programmed into the dex at Professor Oak’s lab, gives Charmander various commands. It won’t make the pokemon any stronger, but Red knows the virtual training will subconsciously help Charmander become even more used to his instructions and fighting in general.

He reclips Charmander to his belt and pulls out his new rattata’s ball, doing the same thing. Instead of the more advanced scenario Charmander is experiencing, the rattata isn’t facing any foes, but simply learning basic commands. Red watches her tackle a mannequin, then begin biting it as his virtual self instructs her to. This sort of virtual training doesn’t form as strong a bond as training in person, and there’s less room for creativity or learning for the trainer, but it’s a convenient method of allowing virtually anyone to capture and train pokemon of their own.

Red remembers learning about pokeball technology at school. Most of the students had just followed the lesson and taken notes at various levels of attention, but Red could barely listen and write at the same time, mind racing with possibilities. He’d finally raised his hand to interrupt the teacher, and asked why people couldn’t just go into a pokeball and learn everything through virtual lessons.

The class had gone silent, many kids turning to give Red a strange look. People can’t go in pokeballs, dummy, his classmate Becka had said. The teacher had reprimanded her, but then reiterated the well known point: pokeballs were for pokemon. They wouldn’t work on people.

Red had barely paid attention the rest of the day. He’d never really thought much about the distinction between people and pokemon, but in those moments it had seemed trivial to him. Surely some day, he’d thought, they would refine the technology to upload humans as data as well. His mind kept coming up with new things such a breakthrough would allow: near instant travel, protection from imminent danger, the ability to stay suspended the same age for decades and jump ahead in time…

Red smiles now, remembering his naïveté. It wasn’t until years later when he was reading one of the books Professor Oak had given him that he’d learned the truth: they can create pokeballs that work on people. The technology had been available from the very beginning. But the atomization and compression isn’t quite so simple for creatures with higher cognitive functions. The first humans who had volunteered to be stored in a pokeball and then reformed had emerged physically healthy, but severely brain damaged.

The book hadn’t elaborated further, and Red had done some independent research online to learn the full story. Over the years, the matter compression technology had continued to advance, and occasionally human testing was tried again. Criminals facing the death penalty were offered the choice of entering a pokeball instead: if they survived with their wits intact, their sentence would be lowered to mere life imprisonment.

Time and again, the results were the same: at best, a regression of mental state to a toddler’s level. At worst, permanent catatonia. Ultimately the decision was agreed by all levels of government: pokeballs were for pokemon. The creation or use of devices that would recognize and store humans became a felony of the greatest magnitude, on par with going renegade, allowing law enforcement to go all-out against anyone suspected of doing so. All further research on the topic was put to a halt.

Red sighs and puts his rattata’s pokeball away, the screen of the pokedex going still as the lenses unalign. As amazing as technology is, he can’t help but wonder what new things humanity could accomplish, if they were willing to take more risks…

“Alright, that should do it,” Leaf says. She feeds her pokemon the last bit of another puff through the bush’s branches, and gets to her feet. “Let’s get some distance and let Bulbasaur do his thing.”

They find a grassy knoll not too far from the bush and lie or crouch behind it, heads just high enough to watch the bush. Blue rolls three shrunken pokeballs around on his palm by flexing his fingers, while Leaf scans the skies. Red scans through his pokedex’s map, looking ahead at the locations they would soon travel to and refreshing his memory of the pokemon native to there. Some mankey to the west of Viridian City, would be useful to catch one, though they’re rare… lots of weedle in the forest, not to mention kakuna and beedrill… better stock up on poison antidotes…

The sun continues to inch along the sky, and eventually Blue excuses himself to duck behind some trees. While he’s gone, Leaf turns to Red. “So what does it take to become a Professor in Kanto?”

Red scratches his chin where a blade of grass is tickling. “First, to become a registered Pokemon Researcher, I need to contribute an independent article based on my observations and experiences with one of my pokemon. I can submit it through the pokedex, but I have to wait for it to be peer reviewed to be accepted.”

“Can it be on anything?”

Red nods. “Pretty much. I just need to discover or verify something new. Once I’m a Researcher, I can advance by increasing my h-index.”

“That’s the relationship between number of papers published and the times you’ve been cited, right?”

“Yeah. So the more papers I publish, the more chances of being cited by others, but high quality research will likely shoot my score way up. Eventually I’ll become an Instructor, then an Associate Professor, and be able to work in the lab under Professor Oak.”

“And then? When do you get your own lab?”

Red shrugs. “Could take years. I need to demonstrate knowledge of every major species in the region to apply to become a Professor, and once I pass that test, my dissertation has to disprove or overturn a previous theory that has already been established.”

Leaf gives a low whistle. “Every species in the region. That’s a lot of work.”

“Yeah, but I can start making money for articles I contribute or review once I’m a Researcher, so it’s incrementally rewarding long before I reach the end.”

“Do you make a lot?”

“It depends on the discovery, but not generally. The rewards are structured more toward verifying and disproving than submitting.”

“And you weren’t able to do any as part of your apprenticeship? Get a head start on it?”

“My work in the lab involved a lot of paperwork and assistance of others in their research. So I got a chance to observe first hand the proper procedures and format and standards, which will help a lot in doing my own research and getting it accepted.”

“So to keep publishing papers, you’ll have to study and catch a lot of pokemon. More than Gym Leaders have, even.”

“Or spend a lot of time with a few dozen, yeah.” He smiles. “Discovering new species would put me on the fast track though, so let me know if you spot any.”

She grins. “For a cut of the funds, sure.”

“Sounds fair. I-”


Leaf points as a rattata approaches the berry bush. They watch as it inches closer… closer… then Leaf yells out “Bind!” as it begins nibbling at some berries.

Bulbasaur’s vines whip out and catch the startled rattata, holding it up off the ground to prevent it from running. Leaf and Red dash to the bush, where the squirming rodent is trying to twist around and bite the vines holding it.

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

The vines slam the rattata down and unwind just as Bulbasaur rockets out from the bush and tackles it. It tumbles away in a daze, and Leaf’s pokeball quickly scans it, then flies through the air and snaps it up. The lens blinks red, then stills.

“Nice job,” Red says. “You trained him really well.”

“Thanks. I used to practice with my mom’s pokemon.” Leaf picks her new rattata up with a grin, then pulls her pokedex out and registers it. Once it’s programmed to her Trainer ID, she clips it to her belt, where it will begin the basic training program Red’s rattata is going through.

Red brushes his fingers over his own rattata’s ball. “At least one of us should nickname ours, in case we have them out at the same time.”

“Good idea. I’ll try to think of one.” Leaf crouches down to rub Bulbasaur’s head and feed him another pokepuff. “Good boy Bulbasaur! Such a good boy!”

They hear running from behind, and turn to see Blue, one hand holding up his pants as the other grips a pokeball. “What happened? Did I miss it?!” He looks around wildly, breathing hard.

Leaf and Red glance at each other before collapsing in laughter. Blue blinks at them, then scowls, cheeks darkening as he puts the pokeball away and finishes zipping and buttoning his pants. Eventually Red recovers enough to explain, and they retreat to the hill after Leaf instructs Bulbasaur to return to the bushes.

“So now I’m the only one without a second pokemon,” Blue grumbles as he settles down again.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get the pidgey for sure,” Leaf says.

Red grins. “Unless you have to go pee again. You did get the chance to finish, right?”

Leaf buries her laughter in her arms as Blue punches Red in his good shoulder, and the two begin to roll across the knoll scuffling. It’s only when Leaf catches her breath and tells them they’ll scare away the pokemon that they disengage and flop back down beside her. Red nurses a bruised rib where Blue’s knee had caught him, while Blue examines a tear in his sleeve.

The clouds drift across the sun, darkening the fields as wind sends ripples through the grass. Red checks the time, noting that they have another two hours of sun left. Plenty to reach Viridian City by nightfall, though only if the pidgey shows up within the next thirty minutes…

It takes ten, though it’s not alone. Leaf gives a small gasp, then points: three pidgey wheel in the distance, dipping and looping around each other, steadily making their way closer. Within moments they land and begin to hop over to the bush.

Blue curses, and Leaf bites her lower lip. Red’s hand falls to his pokeball. What would the other two pidgey do when Bulbasaur grabs the third? Run, or attack? The bushes would provide some cover, but outnumbered the way he is, Bulbasaur might be seriously hurt before they can reach him.

Red unclips Charmander’s pokeball, though he doesn’t release him yet, as the explosive sound might scare them away. “We’ll throw them,” he whispers to Leaf. “Bulbasaur will grab one, and when Charmander and Squirtle show up, the other two might run for it or get distracted.”

Blue nods, and Leaf takes a deep breath, eyes on the pidgey. They hop closer… another hop… and then one pecks at the bushes, grabbing a berry.


Red leaps to his feet and throws as hard as he can, yelling “Charmander, go!” as Blue does the same with Squirtle. The pokeballs soar through the air as the three pidgey explode into action, flapping and chirping in alarm as one of them struggles against the vines holding it. Bulbasaur keeps his target from flying away, but the other two are already pecking his vines to free their companion.

The wrapped pidgey gets its second wing free and begins to flap, lifting itself a bit. Bulbasaur gets dragged from concealment as he tries to hold onto the pidgey, and the two free birds immediately shift focus to attack him with their beaks and talons.

Red and Blue’s pokeballs hit the ground, bounce, and light flashes as they discharge their contents, sailing back up into the air. Charmander and Squirtle seem a bit disoriented at first from the commotion five feet from them, but quickly shift into combat stances, Squirtle rising onto her hindlegs as Charmander’s claws extend.

“Charmander, Emb-Scratch!” Red yells as he runs, remembering just in time not to use a fire attack. So inconvenient-

“Squirtle, Water Gun!”

Charmander leaps at the nearest Pidgey and begins to claw at it while Squirtle blasts at the other with a jet of water. For a second there Red had been worried Squirtle would hit Charmander, but the turtle continues to shoot jets of water at the unengaged bird as Charmander knocks away the lower one.

“Blue, I’m going to let it go! Be ready!” Leaf yells from behind them as they run toward the bush.

By the time they reach the scuffle, Blue has a pokeball in each hand, pressing their buttons to expand them and pointing their lens at the pidgeys. Precious seconds pass as he tries to keep them steady on the birds, shifting his arms slightly as the two free pidgey fly around and occasionally dive at their pokemon.

Gotta keep their wings busy. “Charmander, Bite!” Charmander latches onto his opponent’s shoulder with his teeth. Stuck, the pidgey pecks at the lizard’s face, and Red’s heart leaps into his throat as he sees blood on its beak. His eyes! “Charmander, Tail Whip!”

Charmander’s tail coils around him and presses against the pidgey, causing it to trill and flail frantically to escape the flames rather than continue its assault. Squirtle keeps the third pidgey at bay with bursts of water every time it attempts to get close, while their target continues to drag Bulbasaur farther away as it tries to lift off. Bulbasaur’s feet leave the ground for a moment before he settles back down, digging his feet in and slamming the pidgey against the ground without much effect.

Finally a pair of dings sound. “Do it!” Blue yells.

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

Bulbasaur draws his vines in and runs forward as he pulls the pidgey toward him. He releases it just as he hits, but the bird is already airborn, and barely flinches. The tackle does turn it around however, and its first few flaps aim it toward them instead of away.

Blue throws, then shifts the left ball to his right hand and throws again, aiming higher. The pidgey climbs over the first ball, only to be hit by the second.

“Yes!” Blue pumps his fist as the bird disappears in a flash of light. Charmander continues to struggle with the second pidgey, and Red can see both pokemon tiring.

“Leaf, I’m going to tell Charmander to back up,” he says, positioning himself behind the lizard. “Get a ball ready and catch that one!”

“Got it!” She runs forward until she’s just a few feet away and expands a ball, then aims its lens. “Can’t get a lock with Charmander so close!”

“Charmander, back!”

The red lizard releases his target and scampers toward Red, favoring a foreleg as blood runs down his face. The pidgey flaps its wings and tries to gain altitude, but Leaf’s ball pings its lock, and she throws it, hardly needing to aim from so close.

The ball hits the second pidgey and bounces off it before opening and sucking it inside as it falls. The third pidgey chirrups, then wheels around and flies away.

Red is already kneeling beside Charmander, a potion in one hand and a small towel in the other. “Hold still Charmander, you did so well,” he whispers, heart pounding as he wipes blood away from the lizard’s face. He notices his hand shaking, and takes a deep breath, trying to steady himself. Stupid adrenaline, go away, need to focus…

Charmander’s eyes are closed, so he sprays the potion onto the wounds he can see. His pokemon slowly relaxes, and Red pulls out his water bottle, wetting his towel and gingerly wiping around the wounds. One, two… three… Three peck marks, and when Charmander opens his eyes, they’re undamaged. One particularly bad one had hit the lizard’s previous wound, and Red uses the rest of the potion on the spot, watching as the bloodflow slows and forms a dark scab, new pink flesh already shrinking the wound around the edges.

Red lets out a breath and gingerly hugs his charmander, careful of its tail. It snuggles against his chest, claws sharp, but not piercing his skin.

“How is he?” Blue says after a minute.

Red looks up at Blue. “He’s okay. Bulbasaur?”

“Same,” Leaf says, putting her potion bottle away. “They got him pretty bad though, and the plant on his back is shredded a bit. I’d like to get him to a pokemon center to make sure there’s no permanent damage.”

“Yeah.” Red slowly disentangles himself from Charmander and feeds him a handful of berries while Blue retrieves their pokeballs from the grass. He hands Red the one with the flame on it, and the three trainers withdraw their pokemon. Then Blue registers his new pidgey.

Red smiles, the elation of victory filling him now that he knows his pokemon is okay. “Nice catch man. For a second there I thought you’d grab two.”

Blue chuckles. “If Squirtle knocked down the third I’d have gone for it, but I wanted insurance against the first guy. Got a sense for how they dodge balls from our earlier suckfest. Who’s getting the second one?”

“She is,” Red says at the same time Leaf says “Red.” They look at each other.

“I just got a new pokemon,” Leaf says.

“So? I did too, a few hours ago.”

“Charmander’s the one that fought it.”

“I’d be happy to take it,” Blue offers.

Red ignores him. “You and Bulbasaur are the reason we got these guys at all.”

Leaf hesitates. “Are you sure?”

Red makes himself smile. He wants a flier, he can’t deny that, but pidgey are fairly common pokemon, and he’s sure he’ll get one eventually. There are other alternatives coming up soon anyway. “I’m sure. Go for it.”

Leaf grins and hugs him. “Thank you!”

Red blinks, an indistinct and uncomfortable feeling rising in his chest. “Um. It’s okay.” What? “It’s okay?”

Leaf lets him go and collects the pokeball. As it downloads her Trainer ID, she presses a button on the pokedex. “Pokedex, Nickname: Crimson.”

“Pidgey nickname confirmed: Crimson,” the pokedex replies in a robotic, but somehow cheerful voice. “Uploading name recognition exercises. Estimated time to completion: fourteen minutes, thirty seven seconds.”

Leaf puts the pokedex and ball away and looks up at Red and Blue. “Still haven’t thought of one for rattata,” she says with a smile.

Red scratches his hair beneath his cap, then resettles it over his head, feeling vaguely embarrassed by the homage. “Well, we’ve got time to think of names on the way to Viridian.” Should I name my rattata “Green?” No, that‘s stupid

They collect their things and walk on as the sun slowly paints the sky red and gold.

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.”