Tag Archives: rationalist fiction

Chapter 24: The Art of Persuasion, Part I

“A month here, huh?”

Blue nods, staring at his feet. He just arrived at the Trainer House a few minutes ago, looking more humbled than Red’s seen in years. He hasn’t had a chance to watch Blue’s battle with Brock yet, but surely it can’t have gone that bad?

Red looks at Leaf and raises a brow. Blue’s ego probably needed to get taken down a peg or two, but he still wants to help his friend out. On top of which, before today Red was probably the one who would be least against staying in one place for so long. “I’m game. What about you Leaf? Think you could stomach sticking around?”

Blue looks up in relief, then turns to her. Leaf smiles. “Let’s do it. I’m sure I’ll think of something to fill the time…”


Red wakes up early Sunday morning to write up and refine his research proposal, then start looking for funding. The rest of the day is spent seeking grants from anyone and everyone that might be even remotely interested.

First Red makes a list of organizations that give grant money to independent researchers. Then he finds out what particular topics they funded research on before or were looking to fund research on now. Only then does he start his letters, each tailored to their goals and values. Since all he needs is the money to hire a psychic on and off for about a month, his asking amount is relatively low compared to most others: a measly four thousand dollars.

During lunch, he looks up the average amount of grant requests independent researchers send out before getting funded, then doubles it and estimates he could get funding by the end of the week if he does nothing but eat, sleep, research, and write.

So that’s what he decides to do.

By Monday the first rejection emails start coming in, almost faster than he can send out new applications. The International Bug Catchers Association thought the hypothesis was focused more on psychic phenomenon than bugs, and the Institute of Psychic Phenomenon thought that even if correct, it might only have to do with bugs, or even just spinarak. Red sighs and thinks of forwarding their emails to each other before changing his mind and sending them to Professor Oak with an eyeroll emote in the subject line.

By the end of Tuesday, Red’s fingers are cramping over the keyboard. He powers through, stopping only for a quick break to have dinner with Leaf and Blue. His mind wasn’t really on the conversation though, and the other two seemed similarly preoccupied, and relieved to get back to work afterward. When Leaf asked if she could have his mother’s phone number, he gave it to her without even asking why she wanted it.

On Wednesday morning Red gets excited when he reads an email from Professor Oak about a rather eccentric millionaire who often funds research trying to prove the existence of a “psychic particle.” He spends most of the time before lunch taking extra care writing and revising the email to him, but when the response letter arrives that night, it politely informs him that such a particle would only exist in true psychics, not “lowly bugs.”

By Thursday he’s seeing application letters in his dreams and putting ice packs over his fingers while he reads about new potential funders. He’s over halfway through his list now, and starting to get nervous.

It isn’t until Friday morning that desperation sets in. As he reviews his list over breakfast, Red realizes he’s nearing the end of it. He hasn’t heard back from half the organizations he emailed, and has to stop himself from scratching out the remaining ones from the beginning of the week.

As Friday night fades into the wee hours of Saturday morning and the desperation begins to turn to dread, Red starts to seriously consider either giving up on his idea or asking Professor Oak if the Pallet Lab could fund it. It’s not a matter of pride that he hasn’t yet: he has no qualms about mentioning that he worked at the Lab under Professor Oak (sometimes directly, so he’s not lying). But the whole point of his journey is to experience and understand the process of doing research on his own, so he can learn from it.

And what he’s learned so far is actually rather valuable: namely that getting a research grant is tedious, difficult work, especially when the topic you’re testing is obscure or not immediately relevant to anyone’s interests. And really, isn’t that how it should be? The very fact that he’s thinking of scrapping the whole thing makes it easy to decide against asking the Pallet Lab to fund it. If the idea really has merit, he should be able to find funding for it, right?

Such are the drift of Red’s thoughts as he finally pushes away from the desk in the Trainer House’s computer lab and staggers off to the floor his room is on. At 2 AM the halls and elevators are mostly empty, and Red enjoys having the large public bathroom on his floor mostly to himself.

After he showers and brushes his teeth, he makes his way to his room and quietly eases the door open. He notices that Blue’s bed is empty, and wonders if he’s in the training rooms downstairs. He hasn’t exchanged more than a few words with Blue or Leaf in the last couple days, and he briefly wonders what they’re up to.

As he slips beneath the sheets his mind turns back to his potential research topic. Is it possible to crowdfund the money he needs, maybe? The asking price is pretty low, after all… he’ll have to look into that in the morning…

Red slips his aching hands under the cool sheets of his pillow and yawns, thoughts on scientific breakthroughs in history that came from seemingly unimportant discoveries. He wonders if someone would eventually write about all this, the struggle of Red Verres’s first groundbreaking experiment…

Self-indulgent as the thought is, it makes him smile. He knows he has to be careful of the gambler’s fallacy though-no, wait, not the gambler’s fallacy, that’s the one about thinking the probability of a random event increases if it hasn’t happened in awhile, and vice versa. It’s the one he always gets confused with gambler’s fallacy…

His tired mind searches around a bit before it finds it: sunk cost, that’s the one. People have a tendency to grow attached to endeavors that they’ve spent a lot of effort or money on. If they give up before seeing results, they feel like they’ve wasted it all for nothing. It makes them more likely to throw good money after bad, though if told about someone else in the same situation, they would likely advise giving up.

Combined the two fallacies are part of what makes gambling so dangerous, and that’s basically what he’s doing: gambling his time and energy on the potential chance of getting the grant money.

Is he deciding to go on because of all the time he already put into it? The best way to ensure he’s not is to precommit to stopping after a certain time period or threshold is reached. A gambler hitting the poker tables might only bring a couple hundred dollars of cash with him when he leaves the house and put a hold on his account until the following morning, to ensure they can’t lose more than that no matter how strong the urge to recoup their losses.

Unfortunately he doesn’t have as elegant a solution for himself, but maybe he doesn’t need one. He has a built-in threshold: the list of organizations. Red pulls out his phone and writes a memo to himself:

Future Red:

When you finish writing to all the groups we’ve already researched, STOP. No looking up new ones. No crowdsourcing. Just accept that the research isn’t substantial or compelling enough for now, and let it go.

I know where you sleep,

Past Red

Red sets the memo to an alarm that’ll go off on Sunday morning, then puts his phone away. Now he can commit to finishing what he started, and will know he gave it his best honest try. If nothing else, he can try to get a government grant in December during their yearly application acceptance, though they rarely give them out to individual researchers, let alone novices. Though hopefully by then he won’t be a novice anymore.

Either way, tomorrow is another day, with its own opportunities to explore.


Three days after she asked Red for his mom’s number, Leaf sits in a workroom at the Trainer House with her laptop and phone out. On the screen is a list of questions, and after writing the last one, she gives it a quick read through, then sits back and makes the call.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mrs. Verres? This is Leaf.”

“Leaf? Is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine. I asked Red for your number, and was wondering if you had a moment to talk?”

“I’m in the middle of something right now, but if it’s not an emergency I can call you back in about ten minutes, if that’s alright?”

“Oh, of course! I’m sorry, I should have texted first-”

“Not at all. What did you want to talk about?”

“I have a project I wanted your opinion on. Red told me you’re a journalist, and I’m thinking of writing a few pieces on the Pewter Museum.”

“Well, I’m flattered. Of course, I’d be happy to help however I can. I’ll call you in a bit, alright?”

“Great, thank you!”

Leaf closes the call and lowers the phone, fingers running over the cover as she turns it over and over in her hands.

Ever since she was little, she’s never had any trouble walking up to strangers and talking to them. One of the benefits of being raised constantly on the move was getting used to meeting new people all the time. She especially loves befriending people who can teach her new things, like Dr. Brenner at the museum, and her “interviews” with others formed the basis for the traveler’s log she wrote for herself of all the places she went with her mom and grandpa.

When she came to Kanto the idea she had in mind was to write about their local myths and stories, but visiting the museum gave her a different idea. What she wants to write now isn’t just some stories to entertain or inform. The reaction of many locals to the museum’s exhibits makes her want to persuade.

And for that, she’ll need help. After almost a week of writing interspersed with researching the history of Pewter City and its museum, she finally finished, and decided it’s time for an outside opinion. There are others she could have talked to, friends of hers or her family’s in Unova. But Mrs. Verres is from Kanto, and knows its culture and people. She can’t hope to change many people’s mind if she doesn’t do her best to understand them first.

Leaf goes back to her rough draft until Mrs. Verres calls back. She starts the paper with her visit to the museum as a tourist to Kanto, how much it impressed her, and how important the presentation of new scientific research can be to society and future generations. It seemed a bit too dry at first, so she made sure to pepper it with little observations and anecdotes from her visit. The wide eyed excitement of the children, the energy of adventure and discovery that permeated (most of) the crowds.

But she doesn’t know if it’s enough. She tries to read it objectively and has to admit that it isn’t particularly inspirational. Maybe some good quotes…

She’s fiddling with the closing paragraph’s language when her phone rings. “Hey Mrs. Verres, thanks for calling back so quick!”

“No problem, but please, call me Laura. So what can I do for you?”

Leaf gives a summary of her and Red’s museum visit on Saturday, and what she wants to do. Halfway through the explanation Mrs. Verres-Laura-asks Leaf to email what she’s written so far. Leaf does so, and she can tell when Laura starts reading because her side of the conversation becomes “Mmms” and “Uh huh”s.

“So yeah, that’s about it. Any advice you could give would be appreciated.”

“Sure, give me a minute to finish up.”

“Kay.” Leaf waits, rereading parts of it herself. She notices her legs kicking and stops them, then crosses them before some other nervous tic manifests. This is the first time she’s shown someone her writing with the direct intention of getting feedback, and she both looks forward to and dreads what Laura might have to say.

Finally Laura exhales. “Alright, all done. It was very well written, by the way. I’m impressed.”

“Thanks! I’ve been working on it since Saturday. Do you have any advice on how to make it better?”

“I do, but first, have you ever gotten a critique of your work before?”

“Like, by a professional? Not really. But it’s okay, you can be honest. I won’t be hurt by whatever you say.”

Laura chuckles. “If that’s true then it means one of us hasn’t done our jobs properly. My editor’s suggestions always felt like chopping bits off one of my children.”

Leaf smiles. “I don’t think I’m there yet.”

“Well, I’ll get to the point then: you’re going to have to rewrite the whole thing.”

Leaf’s smile wilts. “I-what?”

“From scratch. Maybe you can keep some of the middle, especially the first hand observations, those were fantastic.”

Despair and confusion and, yes, hurt, make it hard to respond for the space of a couple breaths. “You didn’t like it.”

“I quite enjoyed it actually. As I said, it was very well written. But the truth is, it’s fluff. It’s a review mixed with an opinion piece. And other than getting people who already agree with you to nod over their breakfast or afternoon coffee, you’re barely going to make a dent in the views of someone who doesn’t agree with you. At best maybe you’ll get people who haven’t been to the museum before to plan a visit. Which is nice, but not what you’re after, right?”

Leaf bites her lower lip. She expected an incisive critique, had thought some of these things herself, but hearing them said by another really drives them home. “No. Not really. But you’re right, it’s not… new. I’m not saying anything new, and I’m not saying it in a new way.”

“That’s it exactly. You’re not just trying for investigative reporting, you’re writing to persuade, right? And that means you need to focus on completely different things.”

Leaf nods to herself, mentally getting used to the idea of rewriting the piece. It’s a daunting task after she worked so hard on this one, but at least she has the research all done, and Laura is right. What she’s written so far won’t convince many people.

“Leaf? You alright, Hon?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry, I know—”

“No, it’s okay. This is why I called you. It all makes sense. Thank you.” She straightens in her chair and opens a new document. “Okay, so… any advice on what to do instead?”

“Absolutely. First let’s list what you did right: you appealed to three of the big four. Logic, emotions, and ethics. Can you guess what the one you missed was?”

Leaf considers the arguments she deliberately avoided. “Authority?”

“Close, but not quite. This is a mistake young writers make all the time when trying to argue against ideas of older generations. You didn’t appeal to tradition.”

Leaf frowns. “Of course not, tradition’s stupid. Heck, the whole point is to break people from clinging to tradition.”

“And that attitude is exactly why your writing won’t reach anyone you want it to. Leaf, the people who don’t like the new exhibits have a very different value system than you. Do you really think ignoring what they think is important, let alone deriding it, will change their view?”

“No, you’re right. But what am I supposed to do then?”

“Understand their values better. You want to reduce the influence of a value you don’t share, but because you don’t share it, you’re missing how it can help you.”

“Help me?”

“Yes. Really immersing yourself in opposing views is a skill that takes a lifetime to cultivate, but for now, the first step is to figure out what purpose the value serves, why it makes sense to them. Always remember that people’s beliefs and worldviews are more complex than first impression lets on, and makes sense internally. Since your actual goal isn’t to make them find traditions less important, just make sure tradition doesn’t hold them back in this one area, you can actually use the overall value to your advantage.”

“Hang on, let me think a moment.” Leaf puts the phone down and puts it on speaker, then spins her chair in a slow circle with one foot, eyes closed.

If she were a proud Pewter citizen, irate at the museum’s sudden attack on her traditional beliefs, what other traditions might balance that out? What would another Pewter citizen who likes the changes say?

She remembers speaking to the visitors on Saturday when she started writing. Most were tourists, but of the natives there were a handful that spoke about it all with a subtle but powerful pride.

Ah. Leaf smiles and opens her eyes, putting her foot down to stop her rotation. “I can focus on Pewter’s other tradition: how they’ve always been at the forefront of science and discovery.”

“Exactly. Remember that traditions are cherished not just because of comfort or pride, but often from an inherent sense that what’s worked so far must have value, and that new, untested ideas risk losing the wisdom inherent to it. Instead, you have to show them the risks in the status quo, and offer them a new source of value that’s tied to the overarching one.”

Leaf has already started typing as Laura talks. “Does it matter if my point isn’t strictly true? I mean, a lot of geological and paleontological discoveries came from Pewter, but other cities have them beat in general, and they’re obviously not current on this topic.”

“I’m glad you asked, because there are seven general traits to effective persuasion. Ready to write things down?”

Leaf finishes her last thought and starts a new paragraph. “Hit me with them.”

“Repetition, Consistency, Social Proof, Agitate then Solve, Prognosticate, Tribalism, and Storytelling.”

Leaf’s fingers fly over the keyboard. “Okay, I think I get the first two and the last one. What about the rest?”

“I’m going to go over them all. Let me know which one you think answers your question. First is Repetition. Pretty simple, the challenge is in presenting the same point or argument in a variety of ways. You want it to stick, but you don’t want to bore them. Next is consistency, also basic: no wild shifts in tone or hypocritical positions.

“Social Proof is basically an appeal to popularity, but without blatantly doing so. Most people will subconsciously find it easier to accept a belief that they feel is mainstream, or held by certain popular individuals. At the very least, it wards against automatic rejection of an idea as too bizarre or ‘obviously crazy.’ As long as you know your audience and are subtle about it, it can help with just about any demographic. That last part applies to all of these, by the way: subtlety is key.”

“Got it. So that one doesn’t really answer my question, but it’s still important for me to keep in mind. What if most people disagree with it?”

“Do you actually know the real numbers? Have you looked into any surveys or polls?”

“I tried to find some on it, but couldn’t.”

“Consider doing one yourself then. Work with the museum if you can. But if it turns out the vast majority are against it, that’s where popular figures can come in. Movie stars, famous trainers, professors, whomever.

“Next is Agitate then Solve. You want to present the audience with a compelling reason the status quo isn’t good, the problems it’s causing, then offer a solution. Make sure the reader or listener understands the problem, why it’s a problem, then sees your suggestion as the most obvious thing in the world.”

Leaf grins. “There’s my answer. ‘Pewter City, once the crown jewel of Kanto for its leadership in Earth Sciences, has been steadily falling behind…'”

“Now you’re getting it. And prognosticate is an extension of that. Do a bit of informed prediction. Why will the bad thing get worse? If Pewter doesn’t regain its dominance, what next?”

“It might start losing tourism, see brain drain, and become a hollow shell of its former self.”

Laura laughs. “Cut the last line and you’re gold. Remember, subtle!”

“Right, right. Tribalism is an ‘us vs them’ thing, yeah?”

“Yep. Like Social Proof, but more stark. I wouldn’t normally advocate pushing this one: tribalism can get ugly fast, and it usually doesn’t need any encouragement to get there. But it has a positive side to it too, and that’s what you have to tap into, if you can. Can you see it?”

Leaf thinks. “Nationality? Other cities or regions will get ahead of Pewter?”

“Sort of, though that’s just another flavor of Agitate and Prognosticate, and it’s not particularly inspirational.”

“Hold on.” Leaf thinks again, closing her eyes and letting her legs tap and drag her around and around. Eventually she frowns and shakes her head. “I don’t think I’m seeing it.”

“Well, there’s not just one correct answer for any of this. Tell me whatever comes to mind.”

“I can’t really think of anything, to be honest. How would you approach it?”

“Well, there’s one tribe that encompasses them all, and works fairly well as a fallback for almost any topic. Make it about our eternal struggle: humanity against the elements. The world is a pretty hostile place, and if mankind has to do everything it can to seek the truth, utilize discoveries, develop new technology, and defend itself from pokemon.”

Leaf has stopped spinning, merely sitting and staring at her phone with her brow furrowed. “I… don’t think I can use that one.”

“Why not?”

Leaf opens her mouth to say… what, she isn’t sure. But the thought of framing the issue, any issue, as humanity vs pokemon, doesn’t sit right with her. Sure, humans working together as one global tribe is important, but painting pokemon as the enemy, as the “them” that needs to be guarded against… it just feels wrong. The life and wellbeing of humans and pokemon are linked, and one isn’t inherently higher than the other. Just because she’s a human doesn’t mean she should promote humanity at the expense of pokemon.

“It’s complicated. I guess I just don’t think I believe it, in this case.”

There’s silence, and Leaf worries that Laura will inquire further, demand her true justification. Instead she simply says “Alright, well you don’t have to use all of them, and if you find another way to apply that one feel free to take a different angle. If not though your article will be more streamlined with fewer things to clutter it up.”

Leaf lets out a breath and returns to her keyboard. “Right. And the last one?”

“Ultimately, the most compelling thing you can do with all of the above is weave it into a story. I don’t mean it has to have a protagonist and a plot and everything. Make it real: don’t talk about yourself, but talk about what you see. Descriptive language, framed as what’s simply there and plain to see to everyone. Draw them in with an evocative scene, introduce real life characters accompanied by quotes. Your whole piece should frame a narrative that the readers feel part of. It’s about them, ultimately.”

Leaf is nodding to herself as she listens and types. “Right, yeah. That’s what I was trying to do with mine.”

“And you did a good job for what it was. I hope you see why this might work better though.”

“Absolutely. I really can’t thank you enough-”

“It was my pleasure. Feel free to send me your drafts or call again if you need to.”

“Thanks. Any last bits of advice?”

“End with a quote. Something profound, or at least profound sounding. The beginning of the piece has to be good enough to inform and hook your readers, but leaving them with something evocative and easy to remember is almost as important. Out of curiosity, how are you planning to publish it?”

“I didn’t think that far ahead honestly. My travel blog for sure, then maybe some local boards or forums, and the museum’s review page.”

“Hmm. Not a lot of traffic on any of those. You want a wide audience, right?”

“Yeah, I’m kind of hoping people will enjoy it enough to share organically.”

“Why not try a news site?”

“I’d love to, but I haven’t looked into it yet and don’t know what their restrictions or requirements are. Maybe one of the news sites will pick up on it.” Or maybe, if she happens to know someone in the business locally…

“Well if that doesn’t pan out, I might know a guy who knows a girl who can give it a look.”

Leaf grins.


It’s late when Blue enters the Pokemon Center, tired from a long day at the Gym. He’s been spending his nights at the Center, helping out however he could. It’s still a bit short-staffed from the backlog of pokemon injured during the fire, and Blue learned basic pokemon first aid from a young age, so he’s more helpful than random volunteers.

If he had his preference, Blue would be using this time to train more, or catch up on his sleep. But gramps was right when he said Blue has to start cultivating his image in as many different ways as he can, and that’s doubly true with his loss at the Gym.

But tonight he’s here for something else too.

The same older doctor is waiting for him when he goes to retrieve his shiftry, finally all healed up and ready for him to retrieve. She’s warmed up to him considerably since he started working here, doing whatever tasks need getting done diligently and without complaint. Blue discovered fairly quickly that someone who’ll do the tedious or less desirable tasks with a smile tend to get in people’s good graces.

Blue exchanges pleasantries with her while he holds the shiftry’s greatball in his hand, feeling its cool metal against his palm.

The night of his defeat, he hadn’t been able to sleep at all. He tossed and turned for hours, mind replaying the match and trying to come up with ways he could have won, or can win in a month. It was only after it arrived at the obvious solution that his brain finally called it quits and let him sleep.

This is his key to victory, right here. His shiftry is the strongest pokemon he has. Once properly trained, it will be more than capable of taking down whatever Brock sends against him.

Which means all he has to do is train it to accept and follow his orders.

Blue runs a finger over a ridge on the ball’s lid, then clips it to its belt and heads for the supply room to change into scrubs. He’s worried that because of the way he caught the shiftry, it might be harder than normal to train.

He’ll just have to be… persuasive.

Chapter 22: The Decisive Path, Part I

The Pewter Gym’s exterior is the most imposing in all of Kanto, so large it can house half the city’s population in an emergency, with grey stone walls thick enough to withstand a charging rhydon. The walls around the front gateway are carved to resemble an onix rearing above, and walking past its threshold feels like leaving the modernity of the city around it behind.

Once inside, that idea is quickly dispelled. Despite the grey stone of the floor and walls, its doors slide open automatically, and its light installations are strong and unobtrusive, running in thin bars along the sides of the ceiling. Trainers and gym staff walk halls with the smooth gait of people with places to be and things to do, and after a moment Blue’s pace matches theirs.

As he passes the training rooms he can hear the muffled shouts of commands, and his fingers repeatedly brush the cool metal of his pokeballs as he resists the urge to unclip and play with them. Everyone he passes has a full belt of six, and the empty spots on his belt feel crippling. His shiftry is still recuperating at the pokemon center, and while it would be nice to have the fully evolved and powerful Grass type with him, it’s not likely to be obedient anyway.

Blue’s fingers brush the pokeballs to the front of his belt. Doesn’t matter. If he’s half the trainer he thinks he is, his squirtle and shroomish will be all he needs.

To be a Champion that leads the people beyond what they think is possible, he needs to be a trainer that proves the impossible can be done. The quicker he gets his first badge, and the more handicaps he has, the greater his fame will grow.

He walks straight past the auditoriums, past the demonstration rooms, the simulation facilities, and straight to the administrative offices. It’s early enough that there’s almost no one here, and he goes straight to the receptionist at the desk and puts his trainer card on the table.

“Blue Oak, here to challenge Leader Brock for a Pewter Badge.”


The stadium is small, about twice the size of a training room. A few steps beyond the entrance door the stone of the floor stops at the edge of the stadium’s walls, which contain a brownish orange soil littered with rocks and boulders of various sizes. There’s no scoreboard, no stands for a crowd, not even a podium for the trainers to stand on, just a square of slightly elevated land on each side. All in all, barely distinguishable from the kind of room a Trainer House might have.

Even still, Blue can practically feel his blood sing as he steps onto the tiny platform raised just above the field. He tilts his head up, feeling the heat of the overhead lamps on his face. The touch of cool metal beneath his fingers is electric, and the edge of his lips twitch, threatening to split up into a grin at any moment.

This. This is where he belongs.

None of the boulders are tall enough to obstruct his sight across the stadium, and Blue takes note of which rocks might provide good cover or can be climbed for a high ground advantage. His pokemon aren’t trained well enough for him to guide exactly where they go, but if they were… there’s a great mini-plateau for shroomish to rain pollen and seeds down from, and squirtle could use the sloping rock to the side to keep away from enemies-

The door across the room slides open and his opponent steps through. He’s not much to look at: a young man in cargo pants and a tank top, hair buzz-cut short. He watches Blue with a neutral expression, tossing a pokeball between his hands as he steps onto the opposing platform.

“Blue Oak?”

“That’s me.” Blue’s fingers itch to unclip one of his balls and copy the other trainer’s motions with it, or show him up with a finger spin or knuckle roll, the way the old man had. He practiced it daily and almost has it down.

“No badges, right?”

“Yeah.”

The young man nods and rotates one hand to toss his ball out without warning. “Go, Geodude!” He catches the ball when it returns and begins tossing it back and forth again. “One pokemon, first knock out.”

Blue sends out his shroomish, the detached calm descending to stifle his annoyance and excitement. This is just a preliminary check to ensure he’s not a total scrub. He plans on ending it as quickly and cleanly as possible. “Shroomish, Leech Seed.”

“Geodude, Rock Throw.”

Blue’s pokemon contracts its body before launching a trio of seeds across the stadium. The geodude moves in slow, short jerks as its arms push it forward, and one of the sticky seeds lands directly on it and begins to spread its vines.

It doesn’t seem to even notice, simply approaching the nearest rock and lifting it over its head.

“Shroomish, dodge!”

The rock is flung in an arc, easy to avoid. It bounces along the dirt and hits the edge of the stadium with a thud. “Shroomish, Stun Spore!”

“Geodude, return.” The rock pokemon is struck by its trainer’s red beam and withdrawn, leaving the leech seed and its barely grown roots to fall to the ground as the spores descend over them.

Blue frowns at his opponent. “Your pokemon wasn’t knocked out.”

The other trainer is already leaving, ball back at his hip. “The match was over. Your next opponent will be here soon.”

The sound of the closing door cuts off the response that rises to Blue’s lips. He knows gym qualifier matches are meant as tests for competence rather than full battles of skill, but what’s the point of sending someone out with a single pokemon?

Blue calls out “Shroomish, here!” to bring his pokemon back into withdraw range, then returns it to its ball. He wonders how long it would take for someone else to come out, and hops down from his platform onto the stadium. The dirt of the ground is soft under his shoes, and he crouches down to feel it between his fingers. Soon his whole hand is underground, and his brow furrows as he begins to dig. How far down does the stadium floor go?

Soon he’s elbow deep in the dirt. He pulls his arm out and brushes it clean as best he can before shoving the displaced pile of it back in the hole and standing. Would it be cheating to plant some traps for the next trainer? Probably. In a League match he wouldn’t be able to, and a wild encounter wouldn’t give him the opportunity either.

But even if he can’t manipulate the environment to his aid, as long as he knows the lay of the land he’ll have an edge against opponents, whether they’re other trainers or wild pokemon.

Blue begins walking the stadium, kicking into the dirt with the toes of his shoes. Some parts are firmer than others, and eventually he finds a spot that feels like solid stone just beneath the soil. A quick dig confirms it, and he begins to feel outward from the solid portion of the ground, noting that it goes up to the wall of the stadium. Walking around the occasional rock, he taps first in one direction, then the other, then continues on until he reaches a corner and starts a new side. After a minute of this he steps away, counting how many he takes before the ground grows softer again.

About five and a half. Hm. Apparently the trench they dug to fill the stadium with dirt didn’t start at its borders. What can he do with that?

Not a whole lot. The dirt gives digging pokemon a great advantage, while the stone would prevent all but a few rock pokemon from going under. It would also stop plants from growing, and make it harder to hide environmental hazards.

Blue continues testing the ground until the door opens again and another trainer comes through. The girl mounts the platform on her side and gives Blue a quizzical look. “What are you doing?”

“Just stretching my legs.” Blue returns to his own platform and takes out his shroomish’s ball again. “Rules?”

“One pokemon, first knockout.” She sends out a nosepass, the peculiar looking rock pokemon gathering electric charge as it marches rigidly across the arena.

Blue shrugs and sends shroomish out again. Electric shocks won’t hurt him much, and he can use leech seed and absorb to wear her pokemon down in a couple of minutes.

However, as soon as his shroomish has landed a leech seed and began absorbing the nosepass to regenerate the damage from its shocks, the trainer returns it again, barely twenty seconds into the match.

“You win,” she says, and walks out the way she came.

Blue sighs. He expected to run through the trainers until he got as high as he could, but this is ridiculous.

He hops back into the arena and sprays his shroomish with a bit of potion to help heal any residual damage, then resumes exploring the arena. Before long another trainer shows up, and after them another, and another, as he’s tested against a variety of rock pokemon.

Roggenrola, bonsly, larvitar… each is quickly withdrawn once it becomes clear that Shroomish’s spores, seeds and absorption abilities nullify the defense of their tough hides. A trainer with a dwebble gives Shroomish his first challenge, the Rock/Bug pokemon eating the leech seeds and going into its shell to avoid the stun spores, all the while inching closer and closer while Blue tries to direct his pokemon’s waddling retreat.

Once his shroomish gets backed into a corner, Blue’s calm gets tinged with worry, and he switches Shroomish for Squirtle. If it likes to hide in its shell so much, I’ll drown it in the damn thing. As soon as the Water type comes out however, the opposing trainer withdraws his pokemon and declares Blue the victor.

Blue rubs some sweat from the back of his neck. It’s a bit frustrating to have the battle called so abruptly, almost like he’s being cheated out of showing what he’s capable of, but for once he’s glad of it. He wants to preserve Squirtle’s water as long as possible, and generally avoid his pokemon getting tired out. It’s been almost two hours since his first battle, and the adrenaline of each fight is starting to tire him out once it wears off.

He brings Shroomish back out to give it the once over. The mushroom pokemon’s edges are drooping, its movements sluggish. Blue opens his bag and takes some food out for it, frowning slightly. Food and potions can only go so far: his shroomish has maybe another few minutes of fight time left before the exhaustion starts to really show.

Its leech seed supply is running low too. He counted eighteen seeds used, out of the roughly thirty the average shroomish stores. He’ll have to get a full count at some point…

The next trainer comes out, and this one Blue recognizes: it’s Jarod, the gym’s Third in command. The trainer is in his late 20s, with spiky orange hair and a thin scar that stands out against his dark skin. It stretches from ear to ear across his cheeks and nose, splitting his face almost evenly across the middle.

Blue stands, brow raised. “Already?”

“Brock said to keep an eye out for you. It’s clear that any more of the same would just be wasting time.” Jarod unclips a greatball as he walks to his platform.

Blue eyes the ball warily as he walks around to his. “Works for me. So what’s the deal? Another quick test?”

Jarod smiles, and casually tosses the ball forward. It spits out a graveler in a flash of light. “First knockout.”

Blue smiles back. Things are finally getting serious. “Leech Seed!”

“Graveler, Rollout.”

A jolt goes up Blue’s spine as the graveler pitches itself forward with its thick legs and arms, dodging the seeds that arc toward it and rolling toward his shroomish. “Shroomish dodge!” He yells, and his pokemon thrusts itself haphazardly to the side, luckily in the right direction to barely avoid the oncoming mass of living stone. The graveler rolls past and strikes a boulder close to the edge of the arena, ricocheting off and catching itself on its hands and feet before launching forward again.

Blue doesn’t give it another chance, pokeballs already in hand. “Shroomish, return!” So that’s the game, is it? His shroomish can’t dodge forever, and it would be hard for leech seeds or other status impairments to hit the graveler while it was moving like that. Even if one landed, it would take awhile to wear the large pokemon down. With that much weight and strength behind the enemy’s roll, his squishy shroomish couldn’t afford to risk a single hit.

Which means he needs something tougher. “Go, Squirtle!” His pokemon appears on all fours, looking around curiously until it spots the graveler. “Bubble!” he shouts just as Jarod yells “Rollout!”

The turtle sucks in a deep breath, then coughs out a stream of bubbles that float toward the onrushing graveler. “Withdraw!” Blue says, and his pokemon ducks into her shell. The graveler rolls straight into the bubbles just as they begin to lose their forward momentum and drift downward, and upon touching each a loud bang is heard, accompanied by a flash of light.

The rock pokemon didn’t achieve much speed yet when it hit the bubbles, and they knock it slightly to the side. Squirtle takes a glancing hit and bounces up against a rock before uncurling from her shell and returning to a ready position.

The graveler also reorients itself, light discolorations on its rocky skin where mist from the bubbles hit. It growls in irritation more than pain, and prepares to launch forward again. Blue quickly yells “Water Gun,” but Jarod says “Defense Curl” and his graveler huddles down on the ground, protecting its face so that only its back is hit. The pokemon’s stone skin turns white and cracks in numerous places from the water, but when its trainer commands it to Rollout again it does so without apparent difficulty, and Blue counters with another Bubble and Withdraw.

Squirtle bounces against two rocks this time before fetching up alongside the edge of the stadium. To his relief she still seems unharmed when she emerges from her shell, and he absently wipes some sweat above his eye as he watches the graveler careen around the other side of the stadium. With its water allergy (shut up Red, no one cares if it’s “not an ‘actual’ allergy”) a direct blast to the graveler’s face would be a one-hit-knockout. Until he can get a clear shot, Bubble will at least slow it down with minimal water use… but he doesn’t know how much longer squirtle can avoid a serious injury, and there’s another way he can slow it down too.

Graveler’s not just a Rock type, but also Ground because of its reliance on being in its element… and Squirtle’s water counters that too.

Graveler comes at his pokemon again and again, and each time Blue’s pokemon is knocked around, he keeps a careful eye on its surroundings. Finally the turtle lands in an area near the middle mostly devoid of rocks, and the Graveler prepares itself to rollout again.

“Squirtle, Soak!”

His pokemon hesitates a moment, not having a target in front of it, then belches a brief flood of water onto the ground, drenching the soil in a spreading circle. The graveler launches itself forward just as Jarod yells “Graveller, stop!”

The boulder pokemon tries to halt itself, too late. Its momentum carries it forward another few revolutions, just enough to get it well and truly stuck in the patch of mud, its weight too much for its stubby arms and legs to pull itself out. Blue was prepared to command his squirtle to withdraw in case it made it through, but he’ll never get a cleaner shot than now. “Squirtle, Water G-!”

The graveler is caught in a beam of light and disappears back into its ball. Jarod bounces it in his palm with a thoughtful look on his face. “Took you longer than I expected to think of that.”

Blue scowls as he withdraws his squirtle. “I waited for a good position.”

“The starting position was perfect for it.”

He’s right. Squirtle began the fight in a part of the arena similar to where it ended. “I was taken by surprise at first.”

“Right. Which is why I said you took longer than I expected.”

Blue feels heat brush through his chest, and takes a moment to keep his voice calm. “Well you were a bit slow on your reaction, for someone that saw it coming.”

“Not really. My pokemon began moving just as you did it, so my command wouldn’t have stopped it in time anyway.” Jarod’s voice is mild, his gaze locked on Blue’s from across the arena. “So you didn’t time it that way on purpose? Lucky you.”

“Lucky?” Blue’s laugh is sharp. “If that’s what you want to call your screw up. If you didn’t slow your pokemon down it might have made it through. The mud would have stuck to it, hurt it plenty, but you good as killed it.”

“That looked like your idea actually, if I hadn’t returned it in time.”

“You said to first knock out! I didn’t know you considered the fight over!”

“It should have been obvious that the fight was over. But I guess I’m forgetting you’re still a novice.”

“Oh that’s crap! One more Water Gun wouldn’t have killed your graveler, and the damn thing would have crushed my shroomish like a Bug type if it hadn’t dodged in ti-you think that’s funny?”

Jarod’s laughter stops, but he’s still grinning, face transformed from its earlier calm. Blue can feel his pulse in his temples, and takes long, deep breaths as his rage burns through him.

“If you want to train under Brock,” Jarod says conversationally, “You need to develop thicker skin.”

“And you need to learn how to accept a loss,” Blue spits back. “How did someone like you make Third?” Even as he’s saying it, the realization strikes that Jarod’s been baiting him, and it only makes him madder.

Jarod cocks his head, still smiling. “You think you’re a better trainer than me?”

“I know I am, or I wouldn’t be here. Is this the part where you pull out your real pokemon and make it fight my squirtle?”

“Would you accept such a challenge?” Jarod asks, sounding genuinely curious.

You bet I would almost makes it past his lips, but he bites them to stop it. The Third’s personal pokemon would crush him. He knows that, and he can’t put his pokemon in such a risk just for his pride. “Give me a month, and I’ll take you up on that.”

“A month,” Jarod says, voice flat. “That’s not even enough time for your squirtle to evolve.”

Probably not, but it might be enough to train his shiftry… “Is that a no?”

Jarod stares at him for a moment, and then cracks a smile. “Sure, why not. One pokemon, first knockout.”

Blue’s grin is savage. “You’re on.”

Jarod tips a salute and turns for the door.

Blue lets out a breath and wonders how long he has until the next trainer comes out. He summons Squirtle and takes out his water bottle, letting her drink it all down as he sprays her with the rest of his potion. Her battle wasn’t long, but it was hard on her, leaving visible scratches on her shell and her skin dry. He picks her up and takes her down to the mud she made, letting her play around in it for awhile to soak back up some of the water she lost. He grins as she burrows slightly underneath and pokes her head out to look up at him.

For the first time since starting, he considers taking his pokemon to a center to heal up and rest. He could do it… it wouldn’t cost him any progress from his earlier victories. But it would cost him time, since he can’t be sure when the next trainers up in the ranks will be ready for him. It might not be until tomorrow. It might not be until even later.

The quicker he gets his badge, the more his legend will grow. No way is he going to call it quits after his first actual match of any challenge.

Blue summons Shroomish so both pokemon can catch a breather in meatspace. He sits down and rests his hand on his shroomish’s dome as it dozes. Squirtle crawls over his legs and gets mud all over his pants, and he takes out some seaweed crisps to feed her.

He wonders how Red and Leaf are doing. He pulls out his phone and sees a text from Red from about an hour ago. His fingers hover over the screen to respond, then withdraw as he puts the phone away. The mood is too relaxing to break with a chat right now. He closes his eyes and leans his head back as his squirtle curls up next to him.

Sometime later, the door opens again. He gets to his feet and withdraws his pokemon, then sucks in a sharp breath.

Sharzad, Second Leader of the Pewter Gym, is mounting her platform. She smiles down at him, one hand resting on a ball at her hip.

“Expecting someone else?”

“Sort of.” He thought he’d passed some marker, gone on to the next level of Gym members. Instead he’s facing the Second now? Does that mean… “If I beat you, is Brock next?”

She grins. “Depends on how you beat me. This hasn’t been a binary evaluation, even from the start.”

Blue nods slowly. He knows every gym operates a bit differently in how they organize their internal structure and deal with challenges. There’s also talk that each Gym Leader looks for different qualities in trainers… things that they believe are most important to being a master.

It’s not hard to guess what Brock, master of Rock pokemon, might think is the best quality. Something that revolves around his favored type’s strengths. You need to be patient when you run a defensive strategy.

Is that why he’s been rising up the ranks so quickly? Is he showing strong patience? It’s not a quality he’d normally assign to himself, but maybe it’s true for pokemon battles. He was using a slow and steady strategy after all. And they definitely have the room recorded: maybe he was being watched between matches, to see if he’d grow restless or not use his time well.

Blue smiles as he mounts his platform. Patience. Yeah, he has that when he needs it. A true pokemon master and Champion needs every positive trait, and it’s good to have acknowledgement of his potential so soon.

“Ready?” Sharzad asks, shaking her long dark hair back and slipping a band around it.

“Single knockout again?”

“Nope. Full lineup.”

Blue’s fingers tap Squirtle’s ball at his hip. In this kind of battle, only having three pokemon is a huge handicap… but he only sees one at her hip. “Alright.”

She unclips her ball and tosses it. “Go, Tala!”

A flash of light, and Blue’s heart sinks as a lileep appears. One of the extremely rare ancient pokemon, the rocky-shelled plant is the perfect counter to his team. He knew Sharzad has one of the few in the region, but he didn’t think she’d use it against him. As a Rock/Grass Type it has an equal defensive advantage against all three of his pokemon, while maintaining an offensive advantage against Squirtle and Zephyr. That leaves Shroomish, but the lileep would be immune to or counteract the mushroom’s spores and seeds, and without those he has no edge. Meanwhile the lileep can produce acids and toxins that Shroomish can’t risk being exposed to.

He’s so screwed.

And yet instead of feeling angry or frustrated…. he feels the calm of the battle cloaking him again. This is just another step. Just another challenge on the way to Champion, and no one, no one, is as deserving of that title as he is.

He can win this. Winning is what he does.

Lileep’s weakness is its immobility. Its suction cups can attach to almost any surface, but they’re currently sticking it in place on the arena floor, where it’s also spreading down roots to feed through. The rocks around it are a dangerous resource at its disposal, but they’re still a resource. Blue can assault it like a fortress, attack it from below and above after starving it out.

“Ready whenever you are!” Sharzad calls out gaily, and Blue’s hand unclips and flings out a ball in one fluid motion.

“Go, Shroomish!”

His pokemon appears, and Pewter’s Second doesn’t waste a second. “Tala, Rock Slide!”

Vines thick as Blue’s leg punch into the dirt and begin to heave. The ground of the arena shifts as it rakes up and flings a dozen small boulders.

“Shroomish, dodge!” They spray the field in an arc of noisy collisions, and his pokemon barely gets out of the way on time. “Shroomish, Leech Seed!”

The seeds are shot out, and Sharzad’s pokemon ignores them, acids on its flower petals quickly overcoming the seeds and killing them before they can grow. As predicted.

Unlike the dwebble though, the lileep doesn’t recognize the seeds that failed to wrap around it as food, and those that survive drop to the ground and begin to take root. The soil is too dry and lifeless for them to grow much, but some thin, pale vines creep out.

“Rock Slide!”

“Dodge! Leech Seed!”

“Rock Slide!”

“Leech Seed!”

Patience. That’s the key to fighting the strength of the earth itself. You’ve got to have patience. Thankfully, plants and water also have patience: patience enough for their roots to split stones, for their waves to wear them smooth over thousands of years.

“Rock Slide!” Sharzad yells, and this time one of the rocks hit his shroomish and knocks it back.

Blue watches, heart in his throat, as his pokemon slowly gets back to its feet. It seems to walk alright (though it’s hard to tell with its waddling gait), and Blue and Sharzad exchange a look, then a nod. Injured, but still good to fight.

Still, the idea that her pokemon is gathering more ammunition below the surface, and maybe even began before their match officially started, makes this plan much more risky. How far can it reach, exactly?

Blue feels worry thread through his shoulders and brow in rigid lines as he considers the possibilities. If he can’t cut it off… but the battle calm won’t allow for second guessing his plan at this point. It’s the only chance he has, the only path to victory. He has to see it through.

“Shroomish, Leech Seed!”

“Tala, Rock Slide!”

This one hits again, and sooner than he’d like, he has to withdraw his pokemon. The dirt around the lileep is carpeted with growing, interwoven vines, but he could have gotten a few more seeds off before running out… “Go, Squirtle!”

“Tala, Rock Slide!”

“Squirtle, Withdraw!”

His pokemon hides in her shell as the rocks hit, then emerges. There are new scrapes on her shell, but she seems unhurt. Blue grins. “Good girl!”

Sharzad crosses her arms over her torso, eyebrows raised. “A Water type? I’ve been curious about your plan, and I can’t wait to see where you’re going with this. Tala, Rock Slide!”

“Squirtle, Withdraw!” Fortunate for him, the ancient pokemon doesn’t produce Leech Seeds, and the rest of its Grass attacks are close range. Unfortunate for him, Blue needs to get close to use Soak, his most effective way to spread water. He’ll have to do what he can at a distance.

“Squirtle, Water Gun!”

The burst of water hits the lileep with no apparent effect, its rocky portions not affected the same way other Rock pokemon are. It might even be benefiting from the water, drinking it in, but that’s fine: what he cares about is the water that hits the ground by it, quickly getting soaked up by the ever growing vines of Shroomish’s leech seeds.

“What’s this? Trying to raise a dangerous garden around her?”

Blue doesn’t ask how she knows her pokemon’s gender, focusing instead on Squirtle’s timing to withdraw or try and dodge the next few oncoming attacks.

Soon an almost solid green carpet is spread around the lileep, though none are touching it: every time its vines try to curl around the pokemon’s trunk, it releases an acidic sheen to kill them off. Blue doesn’t command Squirtle to keep attacking: it’s time to focus on the defensive.

Sweat plasters Blue’s shirt to his skin, his eyes unblinking on the arena as he watches for every little twitch the enemy pokemon makes that might betray another attack. Sharzad has largely stopped commanding her pokemon, and it continues to occasionally fling or roll or tumble rocks at his squirtle. The arena is looking almost completely different now, with a wide spread of rocks in various sizes against the wall and in an arc from the lileep.

And finally, it happens: a hesitation. A pause, as Blue’s pokemon stands ready and defiant despite being hit twice more, and the plant pokemon stares back, vines still stretched below the much overturned and pilfered through soil.

“Tala, Energy Ball!”

Now.

“Squirtle, return! Go, Zephyr!”

His pidgey soars through the air with chirps of joy as lileep begins gathering motes of green light. The Energy Ball floats forward, a green mass of light that almost seems to swarm within itself. It peters out and dissolves into little bits the farther it goes, and eventually fades away long before it reaches his pidgey. When Zephyr spots the pokemon that’s facing its trainer, it soars down to perch on his shoulder. Blue smiles and strokes its feathers. It was good to see him flying. After his battle with the shiftry, Blue worried that he never would again.

Blue raises the whistle to his lips and points forward with his other hand. “Zephyr, Wing Attack!”

His pokemon launches itself with a flap of wings that cools his skin. It soars at the enemy with a battle cry, buffeting and slashing at its exposed plant parts.

“Tala, Smack Down!”

Her pokemon tries, its vines writhing beneath the ground as best it can with all the leech seed clogging and guarding the easy paths down. Or maybe it’s just simply out of rocks, as he hoped.

“Tala, Acid!”

One short blast on his whistle, and his pokemon dodges up.

“Tala, Mega Drain!”

Two short blasts to back off. Zephyr is able to harass and attack Sharzad’s pokemon almost without fear, dodging or gaining altitude to avoid whatever attacks do come his way. Meanwhile the lileep is getting badly torn up, and all the leech vines spread around it are cutting off its ability to draw more nutrients from the ground to heal itself.

It’s done. Victory is a heady rush, and Blue grins as Zephyr dives in and tears off another of the lileep’s long pink tentacle-petals, leaving it with one left. A moment later Sharzad withdraws her pokemon with a crooked smile. “Good match.”

Blue withdraws his pidgey, then feels like collapsing back down from relief, unaware of how much tension he was holding in. Instead he takes a deep breath and smiles back. “You too. So, did I pass?”

“Faced with a major type and experience disadvantage, you managed to restrict and starve out my pokemon’s attacks before launching an effective counter strike. I’d say that’s a yes.”

Blue grins and clips his ball. “Should I wait here for him?”

She laughs. “What are you, nuts? You’re not fighting Brock in a dingy place like this. Besides, the area’s a mess.” She’s not wrong: the tossed rocks, the mud pile, the interwoven mat of leech seeds… “And you shouldn’t be fighting him at all without resting up and doing some training, but if you insist, I’ll show you the waiting room for the main stadium. In the meanwhile, it’s time for you to get your pokemon healed. It’s impressive that you did all this in one go, but I don’t want you losing to Brock at anything but your best.”

The words main stadium are still ringing in his head, and he follows her out the door. “To be honest I kind of expected another test of some kind. Like, sitting there for an hour straight until he was available.”

Sharzad tosses her hair over a shoulder to give him an odd look. “Why would we do that?”

“You know, to test my patience. I guess I demonstrated it enough though, huh?” She’s staring blankly at him. “The trait Gym Leaders value? It’s patience for Brock, isn’t it? That’s why you guys let me challenge you so quickly?”

The gym’s Second laughs, the sound bouncing off its stone corridors. “Oh, no, that’s not Brock’s virtue at all. We didn’t even consider that when reviewing your matches.”

Blue feels heat rising in his cheeks. “But… then what-”

“It’s kind of the opposite, in fact. Patience on its own can be useful, but too much is a bad thing. As Rock trainers, we know that giving our opponents too much time will let them circumvent our defenses.” She gives him a lopsided grin. “Someone with patience would probably have more pokemon before challenging a Gym Leader.”

Blue’s flush spreads, and he fights down the urge to argue how patient he was being. She doesn’t understand what he’s trying to accomplish. Besides, whatever this other trait is he clearly has that. “So what does Brock value?”

“Knowing when to strike decisively. Knowing when to take a risk, rather than waiting forever and playing it safe. If you’re always waiting for the perfect moment… sometimes, that can cost you everything.” Sharzad’s gaze is distant, tone soft, and Blue gets the feeling she’s thinking about something more personal than pokemon battles. “Sometimes the strongest play you can make is the one with the highest risk. And a true master knows when those situations are, and commits to them mind, body and soul.”

Chapter 21: Sample Bias

The Pewter Museum of Paleontology is one of the city’s crown jewels, almost as massive as its gym. It’s situated to the far north of Pewter, where the slopes of the surrounding mountains are traced with roads and pockmarked with mansions of the city’s most wealthy inhabitants. In the deepening twilight, Red watches through the cab’s window as the museum’s external lights suddenly turn on and highlight it, so that it’s visible from miles away.

He gently massages his right arm, morbidly drawn to feeling the muted tenderness deep within it. He was released from the hospital just an hour ago, and texted the others to let them know. Blue didn’t respond, but Leaf said she was still at the museum, so after stopping by the pokemon center Red used some of his swiftly dwindling funds to take a cab there.

As he waits, Red goes over his finances. The new week is coming soon, which means he’ll be able to take out another $100 from his savings of $2,148. His mom deposits a portion of his dad’s pension into it every month, adding another five hundred or so. He did some heavy spending to get ready for the journey, but now he’s hoping to live a bit frugally to start building his savings some more.

The problem is new opportunities to spend keep popping up, like paying Psychic Narud to help with his research, let alone any lessons. At times like this the weekly allowance limit is grating, but he knows that one of the best ways to exercising self control is to have such artificial limits until they become habitual.

The best solution he can think of is to apply to a research institution for funding. He has to preregister his hypothesis and research methodology anyway, so putting in some more work for an application to some places might be worthwhile. But at this point he’s not particularly sure his original hypothesis is even worth testing anymore.

When Red met Psychic Laurie and explained the situation, the doctor grumbled and muttered to himself a bit as he felt around in Red’s mind, much the same way Narud had. Even prepared for the sensation this time it was still disconcerting, and Red was relieved when the doctor finished, even though he simply confirmed Narud’s estimation and left to see his next patient without another word.

With his spinarak’s attack confirmed as a ghost move instead of a psychic one, his own supposed psychic trauma could explain why it was so strong against him. But it doesn’t exclude the possibility that it was still an abnormally strong attack paired with a particularly vulnerable target. The high concentration of “Other” that his pokedex detected in his spinarak might still be a significant indication of powerful ability.

It’s a thin thread, and seeming thinner all the time. Still, the experiment might be worth running regardless: for the personal experience, yes, but also for the field as a whole. A null finding is still important, so that anyone else who has a similar hypothesis can look back and see his research found no correlation. Such failures are integral for the pursuit of science to march on.

Red sighs. It just sucks to be the one to eat the cost of it, this time.

The taxi pulls up to the front of the museum, and Red hands the cabbie a twenty before stepping out into the night, tucking away his three dollars of change. It’s just his imagination that his wallet feels lighter, surely…

Red begins to climb the right side of the steps toward the museum entrance. An irregular stream of people walk down the left, mostly younger kids with their parents. About halfway up there’s a huge recess in the staircase, with a bronze statue of an aerodactyl skeleton on a podium. Red smiles as he watches a girl of about 5 reach up to grasp the last bone of its long tail, only to be shoo’d away by her father.

Red reaches the top and pushes through the glass doors, into the wide and well lit lobby. His eyes are drawn up to the dome above him, which has been painted to look like an overhead view of an excavation site, with people working to unearth some unidentified skeleton. Red hasn’t been to the museum since he was the little girl’s age, but he remembers the sense of wonder it evoked. He knows it’s had a lot of renovations and new exhibits since he was last here, and an echo of that wonder returns as he heads toward the ticket stalls.

“One please,” he says, and slides over another five. 43… He forces a smile at the receptionist and enters the museum proper, trying to shake worries of his diminishing cash for awhile and enjoy himself. After the past few days, he figures he deserves it.

The museum is a honeycomb of interconnected sections, each chamber focusing on a different topic. Red starts by entering a long, looping hall, its outside wall showing different strata of earth with pictures and descriptions of the fossils that have been found in each. Occasionally a sample will be on display in a plastic box sticking out of the wall, and Red stops around the middle of the 64-66 million year stratum to admire the perfectly preserved skull of a baby tyrunt, each tooth the size of his fingernails.

The inside wall of the curving hall opens into different rooms that further explore the time period it’s across from. The earlier rooms each cover shorter periods of time, but once it gets far enough back, it’s not uncommon to see tens of millions of years lumped into one room. Red goes into one of the last ones, which is between the 350 million and 400 million year stratum. It’s designed to look like it’s underwater, with blue tinted lights and bubbling aquariums, to fit with all the fossils here being from aquatic creatures. A relicanth swims lazily in a tank set in the far wall, ignoring the two kids that are tapping on the glass to get its attention.

Red’s phone buzzes, and he sees a message from Leaf asking where he is. After he responds, he wanders over to one of the walls with a lot of writing on it.

From here on back in the fossil record, we find nothing but aquatic creatures. This isn’t an accident! The ocean is considered by many to be the source of the first lifeforms: did you know that there are more Water pokemon than any other type? Some scientists believe that hot ocean vents created the perfect environment for the first organisms to form. Whether that’s true or not, current evidence indicates that land creatures didn’t show up until far after aquatic ones, and the earliest specimen show many of their same features. Whether the result of natural processes or some intelligent creator, the ocean is one of the most fertile grounds for discovering secrets of the potential origin of life on earth, and clues to the origin of species.

Under the writing there’s a progression of different skeletons, each vaguely less fishy than the last, with the age marked next to each. Red moves on to the next wall, which shows specimens from this time period.

He stares at a sectioned omanyte’s shell, admiring the polished gleam of each chamber and smooth geometry of the septa’s curvature. The origin of species… it’s not hard to imagine some intelligent creator when looking at things like this. Pokemon like klink and magnemite seem far too organized to have just popped into existence on their own. Far easier to grasp the idea of a purposeful creator than the sheer, mind boggling mathematical odds of pseudo-random natural processes forming such complex, working organisms.

But you can’t just look at one thing and draw conclusions from that. Avoiding such sample bias is fundamental to science. You can support any conclusion you want if you only look at examples that fit your hypothesis.

If you examine one species in a vacuum, like omanyte, it might make sense to believe it was designed by some intelligent creator that values beauty. But if such a creator exists, they’re terribly inconsistent in exhibiting that value.

Yes, the omanyte’s shell is beautiful, by many human standards of beauty anyway. But what about a vertebrate’s skeleton? Not particularly considered beautiful. Or the chitinous form of insects, which many like himself find outright repulsive?

So if beauty isn’t a recurring theme in nature, then maybe some other value was prioritized. The beauty of the omanyte’s shell compared to the chitinous form of a spinarak might be subjective, but order is fairly objective. Life may not all be beautiful, but perhaps an argument could be made that it’s organized? Klink are living beings made of moving gears. Surely that’s the fingerprint of an organized creator?

Red snorts. Voltorb, another pokemon that came into existence more recently, are so volatile that they often live short, fairly pointless lives before exploding, without even attempts at reproduction. The route of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in non-fish vertebrate travels from the brain to the larynx by looping around the aortic arch. In adult giraffarig, that means about twenty feet of extra nerve, a particularly wasteful and pointless design, the result of chaos, not order…

Or maybe expecting gods to follow human concepts like reason and consistency is mistaken on its own, and there are multiple who care about different things, or just one that has no unified or consistent methodology. In which case, trying to understand them would be worse than useless.

But anyone could cloud any idea in contradictory or inconsistent aspects to shield it from logical examination. Not being able to understand something doesn’t affect its potential truth value at all, nor justify believing in it.

Red yawns and leans against the exhibit, surprised at how weary he is after spending so much time in bed lately. Maybe it had something to do with his psychic experience earlier. He wonders if he should tell Leaf about it right away, or wait until Blue’s around too…

The bubbling of the water tanks and the chatter of the museum visitors makes for a soothing background noise, and he rests his forehead against the cool glass of the exhibit, feeling oddly detached from himself. As the dozens of voices buzz around him, Red admires the path of the helix spiral from an inch away, musing over whether the clue to some god lies somewhere in its curves, perhaps one of order and chaos, his gaze following the loops up right down left, up right down left, up right down left…

“Red!”

He turns and sees Leaf jogging toward him with a wide grin. “It’s good to see you up and about! Isn’t this place great? Come on, you’ve got to see this new exhibit that’s going up.” She grabs his left arm and begins to pull him past the rest of the aquatic fossils section. “I’ve been talking to the researcher in charge of it, and it looks fascinating, especially since we’ll be passing by Mount Moon soon.”

Red lets her drag him along as his senses return. “What’s it about?”

“Another explanation for the possible origin of life!” She waggles her other hand’s fingers, voice deepening. “Frooom spaaaace!”

Red grins. “Radiopanspermia? I thought that was proven unlikely: any bacteria that can travel by radiation pressure would be too small to survive in space without protection. Also what does it have to do with paleontology?”

“Not radiopanspermia, lithopanspermia.” They’ve exited the strata tunnel, and Leaf lets go of his hand as they walk together toward the back of the museum, past the artificial indoor dig site and theater room. “The bacteria hitches a ride on or in meteorites.”

“So not from space then: from another planet and then through space. What bacteria can survive in space? And planetary re-entry?”

“Cyanobacteria have been shown to do the first but not the second, but non-photosynthetic organisms deep within rocks to protect them have a chance to survive the exit and entry process.”

Red’s brow rises. “This has been tested?”

Leaf grins. “That’s what the exhibit is for. Many of the conditions were simulated of course, but it seems possible.”

They reach a doorway with a Coming Attraction banner over it, where a splashy cardboard graphic showing a meteor strike advertises the new exhibit. Red slows down, but Leaf walks around it and through the doorway.

“Uh, Leaf…?”

“Come on back, it’s okay!”

Red follows her, and they emerge in a half finished showroom. Most of the floor is still bare and empty, and the walls are bright with a recent coat of paint. A worker is at the top of a ladder installing some lights, and two more are pulling things out of a Container box while a fourth puts the lid back on his and withdraws it into its ball.

Leaf leads him to the side through another door, and this room is clearly much closer to being done. It looks like a small lab, with a focus on equipment and samples. An older woman is testing an unusually large and wide centrifuge on the far side of the room, her grey hair tied back in a ponytail as she peers through her glasses at the spinning machine. She’s dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and flip-flops, and when Leaf and Red approach she looks up with a smile.

“You must be Red.” She holds out her hand. “I’m Dr. Brenner.”

He shakes it, marveling anew at how normal his arm feels. “Red Verres. What’s your field of study, Dr. Brenner?”

“Officially it’s microbiology, but lately I’ve been branching out.” She pats the edge of the centrifuge. “Lately I’ve been studying astrophysics more. It’s fascinating stuff.”

Red nods. Like math, he finds studying physics more pragmatic than fascinating, but that might just be because he’s not as good at it as he’d like to be. “We’re not interrupting anything, are we?”

“Oh, no, not at all, I’m glad for the company.” She shuts off the centrifuge, and they watch it slow to a stop. She takes empty beakers out and puts them aside. “I’m just testing the equipment before the grand opening. Would you like the not-so-grand pre-opening tour?”

“Sure. I know the basics, but I’m curious to know what you’ve got on display here.”

Leaf stays behind to read the info-placard by the centrifuge as Red follows Dr. Brenner around the lab. “Well, there are a number of aspects to lithopanspermia that needed to be verified for the hypothesis to stay viable. First off, microbial life would need to be capable of surviving the stress of planetary ejection, that is, the gravitational pressure of escape velocity.”

“Is that what the centrifuge was for?”

“Exactly. The next is survival in transit: being able to survive the vacuum of space, and the bombardment of radiation.” They approach a table with a vacuum tube on it. “Nonfunctional, of course,” Dr. Brenner says, tapping the glass. “But simulating space to test different bacteria’s resilience has led to some interesting discoveries with extremophiles. And last is atmospheric re-entry.” They move on an empty part of the room. “Which we test with-”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Red says. “This is all really interesting, but if you don’t mind me saying so, even with experimental tests to ensure it’s possible, isn’t it still too speculative to warrant its own exhibit?”

Dr. Brenner laughs, a full, rich sound that makes Red smile despite a stab of irritation. It was a serious question.

When she finishes though, she’s shaking her head. “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you, I promise. Leaf told me you worked at Oak’s lab, and here I was still treating you like a tourist.” She walks back toward Leaf, and Red follows. “Ah, the clarity of youth. And so polite about it! No, I don’t mind you saying so, especially since I raised the same objection myself. That’s partly why I invited Leaf back here to chat after overhearing her interviewing some of the museum guests.”

Red turns to Leaf. “Interviewing is a strong word,” she says with a smile. “I was just curious to know what they thought of the museum’s exhibits. I’ve been here all day, and saw some very mixed reactions.”

“Like what?”

“Well, there were a few who-”

“Why not read from your review of the museum?” Dr. Brenner says. “It was quite evocative.”

Leaf’s cheeks flush. “That’s nice of you to say, but it’s just a rough draft.”

“You wrote a review?” Red asks, brow raised. “I’d love to hear it.”

She hesitates a moment, then takes a tablet out of her bag and taps a few times on the screen. Leaf clears her throat, then reads, “‘The children were fascinated, wide eyed with wonder as they raced from one exhibit to the next, their energy often too much for the parents that trailed behind. It wasn’t hard to see why: though paleontology is often lumped in with geology as the ‘mere’ study of rocks, Pewter’s Museum of Science clearly spared little expense to bring such a potentially dry field to life’… mmm…. hang on, I went on a bit describing the place… ah, here: ‘the impact of which were most evident on their parents. Some were bemused, others curious or thoughtful. But many looked irritated, shocked, or even angry. It wasn’t long before a pattern emerged: the exhibits that discussed evidence and hypotheses on the origins of life were the most troublesome. When asked about their thoughts on the museum, the responses were fairly similar: an admiration of the production value of the exhibits, but a concern for the accuracy of the subject matter.'”

Leaf pauses, looks up at them, then closes the tablet and tucks it away. “That’s, uh, the main point. It was interesting to see so many people react so strongly to the idea that life originated in the ocean, as if they didn’t expect to see something that challenged their views so much.”

“Is it really that widespread?” Red scratches his hair beneath his hat. “I mean, this isn’t really new knowledge.”

Dr. Brenner smiles. “I think you may have an exaggerated view of just how old and widespread it is. You’re both young: things that were discovered even as little as a decade ago seem like common knowledge, simply because you’ve known of them your whole lives. And you were raised in very educated circles.”

Red frowns. He had a few friends and acquaintances in Pallet Town that weren’t connected to the lab or any scientific field… some were even adults, like his dad’s old friends among the nearby Rangers. But he can’t remember ever really talking to them about things like this. It’s possible, even probable, that his perception of what’s normal is skewed by the company he kept.

“A lot of the people I spoke to were residents of Pewter though,” Leaf says. “Shouldn’t they be a bit less surprised?”

“Ah, well, the museum’s undergone a lot of changes lately. The more we learn the better it refines its exhibits, and the ones that are upsetting people… well, they’re generally newer.” She takes off her glasses and wipes at the lens, frowning down at them.

“Is that why you raised objections?” Leaf asks. “Do you think this one’s going to upset people too?”

Dr. Brenner looks at her in surprise, then smiles and puts her glasses back on, beginning to walk around the lab. They follow her as she starts checking over the various equipment that’s set up. “There were politics involved. I wasn’t always working with the museum, I’m fairly new here, actually, but Pewter has always had a bit of a conflict at its heart when it comes to the science it specializes in and the beliefs of its people, though of course they have their own interpretations for what gets dug up.”

“What about the tourists?” Red says.

“Most have their own beliefs, some of which are pretty compatible with the fossil record. But Mayor Kitto and his predecessors, along with the city legislature, always used to put a lot of pressure on the museum board to keep the controversial exhibits from opening.”

Leaf’s brow furrows. “That’s terrible!”

Dr. Brenner grins at her indignation. “Ostensibly it was to ensure the accuracy of the data, and to keep the peace in the city. To be fair, there’s certainly been a lot of complaints in the past year, and it’s been getting worse.”

Red frowns. Public indignation isn’t a justification for suppressing the truth. He supposes he might feel differently if people storm the museum and burn it down, but that seems unlikely. “What changed?” Red asks. “Why did the museum decide to shift course?”

She shrugs. “I wasn’t in the board meetings, heck, I wasn’t even working here at the time. I don’t know what the deciding factor was. But there are always rumors. I’ve heard the mayor’s the one that had a change of heart, told the museum’s board behind closed doors to open whatever new exhibits they wanted.”

“So when you said politics, you meant it literally,” Leaf says. “What does he get out of it?” Red is struck by his friend’s intensity, and he can’t quite place why it feels so familiar until he realizes she reminds him of his mom when chasing down a story.

Dr. Brenner examines a microscope, peering through the lens and adjusting it. The slides nearby are labeled bacillus subtilis. A poster on the wall has a grid with columns labelled Low Earth Orbit, Planetary Ejection, Atmospheric Re-entry, and Simulated Conditions, and bacillus subtilis has checkmarks across the board. “My best guess?”

“And your second best, if you have one.”

She smiles. “Leader Brock isn’t happy about it. Considering Mayor Kitto isn’t an idiot, I’m assuming that was either the intended result, or an understood cost. I think it’s possible that the real pressure has been from the Gym this whole time, and the mayor is starting to push back.”

Leaf whistles quietly. “Power struggles between mayors and leaders seldom end well.”

“At least the museum gets to show whatever it wants now,” Red says. “Brock has no business telling it what to put on display.” Red tries to imagine someone telling the Pallet Lab what it can and can’t study and fails. He’s suddenly glad he never had to worry about the opinions of a popular but uninformed leader, and hopes Pallet doesn’t get a Gym anytime soon.

Leader Brock,” Dr Brenner says, the slightest of emphasis on the title, “Has always done what he thinks is best for our city. I disagree with his perspective, of course, but as far as I know he hasn’t made any ultimatums or commands. In the end, this exhibit is a sort of compromise.”

“How so?”

“Well, recent excavations of meteorite impact sites in Mount Moon found fossils, not just of pokemon but also microbes. There’s some debate over whether they were actually in the meteorites when they landed, and are therefore extraterrestrial, or if they’re from earth.”

“IIIIInteresting,” Red says, rubbing his jaw. People have thought clefairy and jigglypuff came from space for ages… this evidence would do even more to support that theory. “And if it’s proven that life came from rocks in the sky, that goes a long way toward supporting the idea that Pewter’s spiritual beliefs are at least metaphorically correct after all.”

“Exactly. So is it a bit premature compared to some of the other exhibits here? Sure. But speculative as it is, I plan to focus it on the science we have available, which is sound.”

Leaf smiles. “I’m looking forward to coming back when it’s finished.”

Dr. Brenner’s phone buzzes, and she checks the screen before tucking it away. “Sorry to say, I’ve got a prior engagement to go to.”

Leaf is already heading toward the exit, and Red follows her. “That’s okay, we’ve taken up enough of your time.”

The microbiologist laughs as she sees them out of the exhibit. “Not at all, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Are you leaving Pewter soon?”

Red nods. “We might stay for a few days, maybe a week, depending on how long it takes for our friend Blue to challenge Brock. Afterward we’re going to Cerulean.”

She smiles. “Well, I’ve gotten Leaf’s contact info, and sent her the location of the dig site in case you all decide to drop by and see it. I can give them a heads up: I’m sure they’ll be happy to have you visit.”

Red turns to Leaf, who’s grinning apologetically. “I know Mount Moon isn’t the safest place to travel through, but the dig site is on the outskirts. I thought, if our path takes us that way anyway…”

Red smiles back. “It should be okay, yeah. Blue might not be interested in the dig, but I’m sure he’ll be happy for the chance to catch new pokemon.”

“Thanks again, Dr. Brenner,” Leaf says, turning to her and shaking her hand again.

“You’re quite welcome,” she responds as Red does the same. “Feel free to come back anytime before you go. I’ll be here every night, around the same time.”

They wave and head for the museum’s exit, and Red checks his own phone. Still no messages from Blue. “Hey, have you-”

“No, I assumed he spoke to you. Think he’s still at the Gym?”

“One way to find out.” Red calls, and after about a dozen rings Blue finally picks up.

“Oh, Red! Hey man, sorry I didn’t respond earlier, I was, uh, a little busy.”

“That’s alright, I figured as much. You’re not at the gym, are you?”

“Oh, yeah, I am actually.”

Red checks the time with a frown as they leave the museum and begin to head down the front steps. “You’ve been there all day. Don’t your pokemon need a rest?”

“Well, I haven’t been battling for awhile. I, uh… I’m with Leader Brock.”

Red’s brow rises. “Really? I didn’t think he’d be giving private lessons on your first day there.”

“Well, normally he wouldn’t, but… we kind of fought already.”

Red stops dead, and from the expression on Leaf’s face she can hear Blue through the phone too.

“…You what?!

Chapter 19: Great Expectations

Red wakes from vague dreams to find himself lying on a comfortable bed. He opens his eyes, and it takes a moment to register his surroundings. Clean white walls, bright lights, a particularly distinct combination of smells, and…

“Mom?”

She sat with her eyes closed in the chair beside the bed, and they suddenly snap open at his voice. “Red!” She moves as though to hug him, then hesitates and rests a hand against his hair instead. “How are you feeling?”

He frowns and tentatively sits up, attention shifting to his arm. It doesn’t hurt much, but it’s in a cast that heavily restricts movement. “Pretty well, I think. Am I on any medication, or is it healed?”

She smiles, brow still creased with worry. “You’re clean. They said it’ll take about a week to fully heal, so be careful with it. You’ve only been asleep for a day.”

Only?!” He nearly sits up, but her hand suddenly exerts force to keep him down. “I was out a whole day?! Is the fire under control? Are Blue and Leaf still in the forest? Do you know if they’re alright?”

“Yes, no, and yes, they’re fine. Calm down, Red, everyone’s safe.”

Not everyone. But he feels himself relaxing, bit by bit. “Where are they now?”

“At the pokemon center I think. Leaf was getting her injuries treated here, and left just an hour ago. She was tenacious in finding out how you were before she went. I quite like her.”

Red looks out the window. He’s on a fairly high floor of the hospital, and can see the sun is setting over the mountains. He can’t believe he was out for so long. “When did you get here? You didn’t go through the forest, did you?”

“No, Sam brought me. He came over this morning before I even turned the news on, and we flew straight here. He dropped me off and went to get the others.”

Red recognizes the strain behind his mother’s calm expression and tone. “Sorry for worrying you. I’m glad you’re here.”

She runs her fingers through his hair briefly, seeming about to say something, then bends forward and kisses his head. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

“I could eat, yeah.”

She smiles and stands up. “I’ll be right back.”

After she’s gone, Red looks around the room a bit more. His pokebelt is hanging from the wall beside him, his backpack on the dresser under the window with his hat placed on top of it. He can’t see his clothes anywhere, but the stuff he had in his pockets are in a clear bag on the nightstand beside the bed. A bit of tension he didn’t realize was there eases from his chest when he sees his pokedex in it.

Unfortunately it’s on the side with his broken arm, so he has to sit up and shift around to reach for his phone. While moving, his arm begins to ache, and he stops immediately until it fades, then moves more carefully. He never studied any medicine and has little idea of how his arm was healed, but the memory of his bone pressing against his skin makes his stomach churn. He’ll have to remember to thank the doctors that helped him when he gets the chance, and the woman that brought him here.

He finally manages to open the bag and extract his phone. He lies back and checks his messages, then finds Blue in his contacts.

Hey, I’m up.

No response for a few seconds, and then:

o shit

good to hear man

how u doin?

I’m alright. Is Leaf with you?

ya just got here

she says hi

u able to leave?

Don’t know, haven’t seen a Dr. yet. Will get back to you. Your pokemon okay?

There’s a pause, and a brush of anxiety makes his pulse speed up. Did they lose anyone?

theyre ok

still waiting on some

Red lets his breath out. Well glad you guys are safe. I’ll let you know when I can head out.

same here man

ttyl

Red opens the local news sites and scans the headlines. Twenty seven dead, over fifty wounded, and six still missing. He looks over the names, feeling a touch of surrealism at spotting his own. And then, under deceased…

… Fara Melissa, Kuroda Ayame, Kuroda KikuMarcone Walter…

Red is suddenly cold beneath his hospital gown. Ayame and Kiku… they sound familiar, but they might not be the twins they met, he’s so bad with names…

But should it even matter? He shouldn’t be more sorry for those deaths just because they’re people he met, even if it was just once. Each death is a tragedy, even if he doesn’t know them: they’re still someone’s sister, brother, son, daughter, friend. One less person who might create new art, spur new research, or just share a companionable night around a campfire with, able to sleep sound with the knowledge that you’ll keep each other safe.

Red puts his phone down and leans back against his pillow, staring up as a sick burning sensation spreads through his stomach. Twenty seven or more lost, and Red could have easily been one of them. He was worse than useless, nearly getting himself killed right at the start…

No. He cuts off that line of thought, forces himself to think of how he used the onix roar to save himself and Leaf, and how his foresight ensured they had the lightning rods. It was a team effort, and he hadn’t been useless.

Soon he manages to completely banish the self-pity. He’s still sad about those that lost their lives, but he needs to think more constructively. Heroic responsibility doesn’t mean he should ignore the things he did right, or else he wouldn’t be able to expand on them.

Assess, evaluate, optimize…

Red picks his phone back up. First things first: be prepared for similar situations in the future.

He starts researching other pokemon in the surrounding area, first checking how sensitive their hearing is, then finding their most audibly distinct predators. The major issue is where there’s no local apex hunter: if he uses a beedrill buzz to scare off some breloom, he might attract some hungry fearow. Maybe I should make a list of apex predators first…

He’s still working ten minutes later when a doctor arrives. She looks just a bit older than his mom, though that might just be the carefully controlled exhaustion on her face. Red realizes she’s probably been up all night and day with others from the forest continually coming in. When she gets closer, he reads Dr. Willow on her nametag.

“Good evening, Mr. Verres.”

Mr. Verres. Feels strange being called that. “Hello. Are you the one that patched up my arm?”

“One of them, yes. How’s it feeling?”

He experimentally lifts it again and stops when it aches. “Starts hurting here, but just a bit. Thank you for all you’ve done.”

She dips her head. “Not the cleanest break we saw last night, but far from the worst. You got off fairly lucky.”

“Lucky to have such good friends, mostly.” He immediately regrets saying it. The others who died no doubt had good friends with them too. “So, am I free to go?”

“Let’s find out.” She unstraps the cast around his arm and his skin tingles as it comes in contact with the air again. Red winces as he sees how mottled with bruises his arm is, but when the doctor carefully prods at his skin he doesn’t feel any pain. She doesn’t seem satisfied though. “Not for another day to be safe. Think you can keep from moving your arm that long?”

“Do I have to stay in bed?”

“Not if you’re careful.”

“I’ll manage then.” There’s work he can do in the meantime, like researching spinarak, and maybe doing some experimenting with his.

His mom returns with a tray of food in both hands, and the doctor leaves them to it. The smell of mashed potatoes and pidgey nuggets stokes Red’s hunger to a fever pitch, and he begins shoveling them into his mouth as fast as he can move the spoon.

“Chew, Red. It’s not going anywhere.” Once she’s satisfied that he’s slowed down, his mom begins eating too, and for a time there’s silence but for the scrape of plastic cutlery and the distant sound of the hospital’s intercom.

Once his hunger is tamed and he has attention for other things, the silence begins to make him apprehensive. Part of him is glad his mom is here, but the rest is worried about her reaction to his injury.

“Well?” he says after a minute. “Are you going to try and convince me to stop? Keep working in the lab until I’m older?”

His mom raises a brow without looking up from her food. “Would it do any good?”

He smiles. “Do you have any new arguments to add?”

“No. But recent events might have changed their impact.”

Red just shakes his head.

She sets her fork down. “I heard that the three of you helped some Rangers on the way up.”

Oh. Right. “I… it was just-”

“I’m glad.”

He looks up to see her smiling at him.

“Glad that you’re out there, helping others. Your father would be proud.”

Red stares at his tray, heart pounding. It’s the best reaction he could have hoped for, but it feels dishonest. This seems too big a thing to be brushed off as a white lie, and too deliberate to be a lie of omission. “I miss dad. A lot.” The constant ache at the back of his thoughts sharpens for a moment, and he takes a deep breath to push it back into the vault he’d constructed for it. “But I’m not doing this for him.”

She takes his hand and squeezes it. “I know that, Red. That’s why he would be so proud.”

He shakes his head and pulls his hand away. “That’s not it.”

She tilts her head, brow furrowed.

“I don’t want you to have the wrong expectations. One day I’m not going to live up to them, and it’s better to know that now than be… disappointed.” She’s about to speak, and he hurries on. “And I don’t just mean that I’ll fail to save someone, or be too afraid to try. I mean I might decide against trying, as a conscious choice. Do you see? I might deliberately choose against what dad would have.”

His mom is silent for a time, and Red grows more and more worried. This is the frankest discussion they’ve had about his dad for years, and it’s the closest Red’s come to criticizing him. He should have waited, thought more about how he’d word it…

“I married your father because he was the best man I’d ever met,” she says at last. “I miss him every day. And sometimes I think that if he’d been just a bit less good, he’d still be here with us, and still be helping others.”

“We don’t know what happened that day,” Red says quietly. “That’s what you always said. Is there more to the story?”

She shakes her head. “No. It was his duty to go, and for all we know he did exactly as much as he needed to, as much as was smart to. He wasn’t the only one lost, and the others… his friends, they said he saved a lot of lives. That he just got unlucky.”

She takes his hand again, and this time he lets her hold it, her eyes as intense as he’s ever seen them. “However many lives he saved that day, he might have saved more if he lived past it. Maybe that’s just a rationalization. Maybe others would call that a cowardly excuse, but you’re not their child, you’re mine. Whatever the situation, whatever you choose to do, at the end of the day, all I care about is that you’re safe. Understand?”

A number of thoughts and situations come up that he wants to test her statement against, but it doesn’t feel appropriate just now. Unsure of what else to say, Red simply nods.

His mom smiles and lets his hand go. “Good.” She picks up her fork again. “So, tell me what happened after we got off the phone last night. I want to hear everything.”


Blue’s foot taps on the tile of the pokemon center, gaze fixed on the overhead screen above the lobby’s reception desk. He’s been watching the numbers tick slowly upward, both those currently being treated and the average wait times.

It’s been almost twelve hours since he arrived, exhausted and footsore. Gramps picked him and Leaf up from the forest once they were close enough to the city for their cells to start working again. They went to the hospital to get looked at, and while Blue’s wound took just a few minutes to inspect and finish healing, Leaf had to stay for longer. Afterward Gramps brought him here before heading back to the forest on Glory, the pidgeot moving quick as a dart through the early morning sky with only one rider.

After Blue handed his pokemon over and was given his frustratingly long wait time, he went to the lobby. It was packed with dozens of other trainers fresh from the forest, and Blue picked himself a comfortable couch to rest on. He intended to at least stay up until he heard from Leaf or Mrs. Verres on how she and Red were doing, but he was out the moment his head touched the top of the squishy backrest.

He woke around noon, groggy and in serious need of a bathroom, to find a message on his phone from Leaf. She and Red were alright, and she was on her way to the pokemon center closest to her and wanted confirmation that it was the same one he’s at. He checked the name and told her it was, then went to relieve himself and wash his face.

By the time she arrives he feels like himself again, but his pokemon are still far from the front of the queue. He stops his leg from jittering and gets up as she approaches. She’s looking much better than the night before, and dressed in fresh clothing. “Hey. Feeling alright?”

She smiles. “A hundred percent. The healing went quick, I mostly stayed to get some rest and so they could check for any lingering effects.”

“And?”

She stretches her arms up and to the sides, then twists at the waist and touches her feet one at a time. “No permanent damage. The shock didn’t go anywhere important, thankfully. How are your pokemon?”

He grunts, mood souring again. “No clue.” He points to the screen.

“Oh. And what number are you?”

“103.”

“Oh dear. I’d better go get mine then.”

They head over to the front desk, whose staff has changed a couple times since Blue arrived. New arrivals have thankfully slowed, and there’s just one nurse manning it now.

“How much longer on 103?” Blue asks the guy while Leaf hands her pokemon over in exchange for her own number.

The young man glances pointedly at the overhead monitor, which shows the numbers that just finished being treated as 82, 89, 92, 94, and 95, while the average wait time is twenty minutes. “Perhaps another few hours, sir.”

Blue grunts his thanks, and they head back toward the couches. “What number are you?”

Leaf shows him her 148. “It’s going to be a long night,” she says. “We should go see Red.”

“Did you get a chance to?”

“Just for a minute or so. He was still sleeping, but his mom was super nice.”

“Yeah, Aunt Laura’s cool.” Blue wonders what Daisy’s up to. Gramps said she was helping out elsewhere in the forest, and he shoots her a quick text to see what’s up. “Let’s get some food first, the diners at pokemon centers are usually better than the stuff at hospitals.”

They go and do so, the tables around the food corner just as crowded as the rest of the center. As they eat their sandwich and salad, Blue gets a text. He expects it to be from Daisy, but it’s Red’s picture that appears.

“Hey, he’s up!”

“Awesome, tell him I said hi!”

Blue nods, fingers already moving, and a moment later he’s staring at the text asking how his pokemon are doing. He still doesn’t know how Zephyr or the shiftry are, but he doesn’t want to tell Red that he lost his caterpie or beedrill either. Maybe it would be better over the phone, get it out of the way, but he wants to be able to tell the whole story at once, give some context. He finishes the convo and puts his phone away. “At least his arm’s okay.”

“Yeah. It’s good that he got to the hospital when he did.”

Blue frowns at the crowd around them. “Some of these people should be there themselves. Their pokemon aren’t going anywhere, even if the line wasn’t so long.”

Leaf shrugs. “Maybe they’re too concerned for them to have any peace of mind. They’ve got to make sure they’re okay first.”

“But they’re in their pokeballs. It doesn’t matter to them if they wait an hour or a week.”

Leaf opens her mouth, then closes it and spears a tomato slice, chewing with a distant look on her face. Blue takes a bite of his sandwich and gets another message, opening it with his other hand to see it’s from his sis this time.

All’s good. Got home a couple hours ago.

And here he was, worrying like a chump. thx 4 checkin in w/ me

Grampa said you’re OK. Whine more <333

Blue snorts. well he didnt tell me u were home

Aww were you concerned about me?

my mistake

That’s sweet bro but I was runnin through Viridian when you were just out of diapers. Anything a newbie like you could get through is nbd

Appreciated though ^_o

Blue shakes his head and puts his phone away. “Be glad you don’t have any siblings.”

“Were you interested in seeing Red in the hospital, even if he wasn’t awake?” Leaf asks.

He blinks. “Uh. Yeah?”

“So how is that different than what they’re doing?”

Blue stares blankly at the trainers she gestured toward, and after a moment he remembers the conversation they were having. “Oh! Man, were you thinking of a response that whole time?”

“It was thirty seconds at most. Well?”

“Well what?”

“How is it different?”

Blue frowns. “Red wasn’t trapped in a pokeball in complete stasis. He might have woken up while I was there. Also I could have looked at him, seen how he was doing. It would have been reassuring.”

Leaf shakes her head impatiently and tucks some hair that gets loose behind her ear. “So let’s say you know he won’t wake up for another few days, and you popped your head in for a quick look. Is that enough? Would sitting beside him for a few hours be a waste?”

“Uh. Sort of, yeah. Red’s a smart guy, he wouldn’t mind if he found out I did more productive stuff. Hell, he’d probably agree with me.”

“What about Mrs. Verres? Would you have told her to leave him be, that he’d be fine without her waiting beside him?”

Blue shifts in his seat. “That’s different. She’s his mom.”

“So?”

“So it’s not about what makes sense, it’s emotional. That’s just the kind of bond parents have with their kids.” A pang of loneliness and pain, chased away with long practice. He knows Gramps would stay at his bed if something happened to him. So would Aunt Laura, come to that.

Hm. That thought was kind of comforting. Is that important to Leaf’s point? He has to admit it might be, even if he still thinks it’s kind of a waste of time.

“Well that’s the kind of-”

Blue puts a hand up. “Wait. I get it.”

Leaf’s brow rises. “Get what?”

“I get what you’re saying. It hit me.”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah, just like that.”

Leaf looks skeptical, and he rolls his eyes. “No need for that look, Gramps taught me about admitting when I’m wrong long before Red turned into a pain in the ass about it.”

“Sorry.”

“Besides, I wouldn’t say I was wrong unless I really believed it.”

She grins. “True.”

“Anyway, I still think it’s different. Pokemon aren’t humans. They won’t know whether these trainers waited here or not.”

“Maybe not. But it’s not for the pokemon. It’s for the humans.”

Blue considers this, then nods. “The way funerals are for the living.” He stands up. “So, I’ve got a few hours and you’ve got longer. Let’s go see Red, now that he’s awake.”

They leave the pokemon center and begin to walk toward the hospital as twilight cloaks the city. Pewter is very different from Viridian: far more open, with all the tall buildings spread out. Cars are rare here, with the forest to the south and the mountains to every other side, so the streets are much more narrow, and the walkways wider.

Soon they pass through a residential area, where the houses are almost all made of stone. A few young kids are playing on the lawns, some with each other, others with pokemon. A marill swims around two giggling children in a portable pool, and farther along a toddler rides the back of a growlithe under the watchful eye of their parents.

Despite the circumstances, Blue suddenly feels naked without his own pokemon resting at his waist. It feels strange to be uncomfortable around tamed pokemon when he spent his whole life around them. Especially since he’s only had his own for less than a week. Is this what exposure to wild pokemon does? Makes you wary of them all?

“Oh! Look!” Leaf whispers, and Blue follows her gaze to see a woman leaning out a window to splash some milk in the shadow of her house. Leaf stifles her grin behind her hand until they pass, then says, “I can’t believe that’s really a thing. I half thought you guys were joking.”

“Nope. Me and my friend Batu used to wear black and hide in the shadows to leap out at people when we were younger. We’d get splashed with a lot of milk, but it was always worth a laugh. One time-”

Blue’s phone chimes, and he pulls it out while Leaf tries to get a hold of her giggles. He stops walking, and she turns to him with a questioning look.

“It’s the pokecenter,” he says, heart suddenly pounding. “They’re telling me to come in.”

“What, now? They can’t have finished with your pokemon so quickly.”

“Yeah.” The message doesn’t say they’re done being healed, just to report to a certain room as soon as possible. Blue swallows the dryness in his throat and meets Leaf’s concerned gaze. “I guess I’ll catch you later.”

“Do you want me to-”

“No, it’s fine. Go tell Red I’ll be there soon.”

“Alright.” She returns his wave halfheartedly, and then he turns and jogs back the way he came.

Zephyr or the shiftry? Which one did I lose? Or was it both?

Blue makes it back in less than half the time, sweating and out of breath. He quickly follows the directional signs toward D9, and soon finds himself in an intensive care unit.

Blue’s stomach is clenched up like a fist by the time he reaches the door and knocks. A moment later a doctor opens it, almost as old as Gramps, with her long greying hair tied in a braid. After confirming who he is she invites him inside the room. It looks less like a medical room and more like a computer lab, each console surrounded by periphery equipment and sporting numerous screens, and he realizes he’s in an assessment room rather than one devoted to treatment.

His pokeballs rest on a machine with spherical indents, each slot including a lens aligned with the ball’s to stream data from it to the nearby terminal. He notices that his shiftry’s ball isn’t among them.

“Hello Mr. Oak, thank you for coming so quickly. Some concerns surfaced while treating your pokemon.”

“Yeah, I figured.” Blue wipes his palms on his jeans. “So what’s up? Are they okay?”

“For the most part. I want to know about one in particular.” The doctor meets his gaze, and Blue suddenly notices how cold hers is. “Your shiftry. What happened to it?”

Blue stands a bit straighter, suddenly wary. “I told the guy at reception, it had some acid burns, puncture wounds, poisoning, and its limbs were cut off.”

“We can see that. I want to know how the amputations occurred.”

“Another shiftry’s leaves cut them off. What’s the problem? Are you able to heal it or not?”

“Your shiftry’s healing has already begun, and is going as best as can be expected. It should make a full recovery within a few days.” The nurse’s eyes are hard on his. “The question is whether it will be returned to you or not.”

Blue’s concern fades, anger taking its place. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen thousands of pokemon injuries. Often from wild battles, some from trainer brawls. The wounds to your shiftry’s arms and legs are different from the rest. We have abuse laws in this region, Mr. Oak.”

Searing heat flares through Blue’s chest, each beat of his heart pumping magma through his veins. Calm. Steady. “Are you accusing me of something?” he says, jaw tight.

She doesn’t flinch at his tone. “Those wounds were specific, deliberate. Another shiftry didn’t do that. I want to know what did.”

“I don’t see how it’s any of your business.”

“As a matter of fact it is. If we suspect trainer abuse we’re required to report it to the licensing association. You can tell me or you can tell an investigative review board, but until you do either, you’re not getting your pokemon back.”

He unclenches his fists and takes a deep breath. After Gramps dropped him off, Blue waited until he flew away, then jogged to a small pokemart nearby. He restocked on some supplies, including a few greatballs. Once outside, Blue released his shiftry and quickly recaptured it in a greatball before returning to the pokemon center.

Now he’s wishing he’d kept it in the original ball and just handed them the greatball to put it in when it was healed. “Look, I didn’t have a greatball on me when my group was attacked by the shiftry near the forest fire. I tried to use a pokeball, but it was too big. After we fought them off, this one was still alive, so I used one of the other shiftry’s arms that were severed and made him small enough to fit. He was badly wounded, and I didn’t have any other way to capture him. It was either this, heal him and risk someone else getting attacked, or letting him die. All things considered I thought this was the best option, since grass types can heal almost any wound.”

The doctor’s posture is still rigid, but her expression is a bit less severe. “You were with a group of trainers, and none of you had any greatballs?”

“No, there were only three of us,” he says immediately, while internally kicking himself for not having asked the others. He didn’t even consider it at the time. “Also we were busy last night, you know, trying to stay alive and keep the forest from burning down. If anyone had any before they probably used them by then.”

Her gaze lingers on his for a moment, then she nods. “Given the circumstances, then, I think you did the best you could. It helps that its wounds were promptly cared for. Just to be sure, please give me the names of the other trainers, so I can corroborate your story.”

“Oh come on! Why would I cut up my own pokemon and then bring him here to be healed?”

“Sir, please lower your voice.”

Blue fumes silently for a moment as he calms himself down. Just as he’s about to give her the names, footsteps approaching from the hallway make them both turn.

“Ah, there you are Blue. I thought I heard your voice.”

Professor Oak stands in the doorway, looking tired but smiling. He approaches the monitors, stripping gloves off his hands and tossing them in the trash before he examines Blue’s pokemon info. “Good, good, your pidgey healed just fine.”

Blue’s brain seems to have locked up at his gramp’s unexpected appearance. “His wing’s okay?” he asks after a moment, unable to pick beyond all the other questions.

“Yes, he’ll regain full use of it. The cut was deep, but it missed the bone.”

The doctor is staring at Professor Oak in shock, then turns to Blue. “You’re…?”

“Yeah, that Oak.”

Her cheeks flush, and she turns to the cheerful smile on the Professor’s face with a stammering apology that he waves away before it can take form.

“It’s quite alright, you were only exercising due diligence. I was hoping to have a talk with my grandson before we visit his friend in the hospital, however. Please excuse us, and message me if you need anything.”

“Of course, Professor. Thank you for everything.” She smiles and bows. “Your help has been invaluable, and I’ve never seen my people maintain such good morale in a situation this bad.”

Gramps beams at her and returns her bow, then heads for the door. Blue glances at the doctor as she gives him an apologetic look, pushes his bruised pride aside to mutter some thanks, and follows him.

As they walk through the corridor, his grandpa’s cheerful demeanor doesn’t disappear, but it does gradually fade to its normal, less weaponized form. Blue’s not sure what to say at first: did he just get rescued? It feels like he did, even though he was doing totally fine. He did nothing wrong. So why does it feel like he was let off the hook just because he’s the Professor Oak’s grandson?

To be fair, the Professor hadn’t said anything that could remotely be taken that way. Nor had the doctor implied it. It just seemed taken for granted that the grandson of Professor Oak would of course have the best intentions regarding pokemon wellbeing, and wouldn’t have acted in any way improperly.

Not that he’s complaining. Expectations like that will surely come in handy someday.

Still, even planning to make good use of the Oak name, Blue feels disgruntled. He was fully capable of handling this situation on his own.

Blue lengthens his strides to catch up to his grandpa. “So what are you doing here?” he asks, unable to keep quite all the hostility from his voice.

“Helping with the pokemon, of course. It’s all hands on deck from the surrounding cities, and since you all are here I decided to come to Pewter instead of help in Viridian. I arrived while you were sleeping in the lobby.”

“Ah. Well, thanks for the help back there. Saved me the whole minute it would have taken to give her the trainer’s names.”

The professor’s pale blue eyes flick toward him, and then they’re at the elevators. His grandpa waits until they’re inside and headed for the roof, then turns to him, face serious.

“You’re going to have to be more careful, Blue.”

“With what, exactly?”

“Your choice of victory conditions. There are many paths to becoming Champion, but the one you’ve chosen to walk is narrow as a razor’s edge. Stray too far on either side and you’ll get the title, but accomplish nothing with it.”

Blue scowls, leaning back against the wall and watching the numbers tick up. “You don’t think I know that? I did the best I could with what I had.”

“I believe that, and you believe that, and the two trainers that were with you probably believe that. But when the story gets out, as it certainly will once your fame starts to rise, you’re going to have to be ready to counter the unflattering colors some will paint you in.” The door of the elevator opens. “Start considering what you can do to give them something else to talk about.”

Blue follows him out, thinking it over. Gramps is speaking from experience, and Blue would have to be an idiot to ignore him. “So, what, like spread the story myself?”

“Is that the best you can come up with?” His grandpa waves at someone as they walk through the rooftop’s lobby, with its glass ceiling revealing that night has finally fallen on the city. Once they’re outside on the landing and launching area, he takes out Glory’s ball and summons the pidgeot in a flash of light.

Blue strokes the huge bird’s wing, and when it kneels he climbs onto the second seat on its back. I can’t wait until Zephyr’s this big. “I could help out here with you. Assist with pokemon injured in the forest.”

His grandpa smiles and mounts up before turning Glory toward the edge of the building, the pokemon’s wings spreading as it crouches for takeoff. “That’ll do, for a start…”


“Heyyy, look who’s conscious!”

Leaf turns to see Blue and Professor Oak enter Red’s room, the latter carrying a small bag. Mrs. Verres (“Please, call me Laura”) rises and hugs each of them, then excuses herself to get more chairs. The boys bump fists, and Blue leans on the edge of the bed to get a look at Red’s cast.

“Does it hurt if I do this?” Blue asks, extending a finger toward it.

Red bats his hand away before it can touch. “Thanks for coming, Professor.”

“Of course. From what I gather, you all did remarkably well in the forest, and I wanted to hear your stories personally.” The professor lifts the bag. “I also brought you each something. Ah, thank you Laura.” He takes the seat from her and lowers himself into it.

“You brought us gifts?” Leaf asks, excitement bubbling up in her. “You’ve already given us so much!”

“He’s just protecting his investment,” Blue says as he takes another chair to the other side of Red’s bed. He flips it around so he can prop his arms up on its back while he faces them. “Would have been embarrassing if we kicked the oxygen habit less than a week out.”

“Blue,” Mrs. Verres says, voice calm but firm. “I know you’re joking, but keep in mind that many people didn’t make it out of the forest. You’re all lucky to be alive, despite your achievements.”

To Leaf’s surprise, Blue looks genuinely embarrassed. “You’re right, Aunty. Sorry. So what’d you get us, Gramps?”

“First, for Red, an ultraball.” He takes it out and hands it to him.

“Oh Sam, you shouldn’t have!” Laura says, admiring the sleek black and yellow ball that Red takes reverently. His finger traces the small gold lightning bolt etched into its cover.

“Think of it as a safety precaution. Training a pikachu can be dangerous, and at the very least you need to make sure the ball you hold it in can handle a stray bolt.”

“Thanks Professor,” Red says. “I was going to buy one, but now I can use the money on other things.”

“May I suggest some cheri berries? Besides their medicinal uses, they can be fed to your pichu to temporarily weaken its electricity.”

“Really? How does that wo-”

“Later, Red,” Blue says. “Next gift!”

Professor Oak smiles and turns deliberately away from him and toward Leaf. “Miss Juniper. Your decision to catch the pichu at great personal risk was admirable, but exceedingly dangerous. Rather than attempt to convince you not to try such a thing again in the future, I’d rather equip you so that you can do so a bit safer.”

He hands her a clear plastic jar of some thick amber liquid, tightly sealed. “Is this combee honey?” she asks, voice hushed, and Red gives a low whistle. A cup of the stuff can sell for as much as a hundred dollars, and this looks like a whole pint at least.

“It is, of a particularly strong potency. A small dab should be enough to attract any pokemon with a sense of smell. Use with extreme caution.”

Leaf grins and carefully tucks it in her bag. “I will! Thank you!” She’s already imagining all the ways she can use it, not just to catch pokemon, but also to train Bulbasaur. On top of that, plant pokemon are very adaptive at incorporating the effects of new substances in the plants and seeds they grow. He might even be able to develop his own attractive liquid or pollen…

“You’re quite welcome. As for you, Blue, I give you this.” He hands his grandson… a book.

Blue takes it with a frown that looks more like concentration than pique. “Nobunaga’s Ambition,” he reads from the cover, and flips through it. “Thanks, Gramps,” he says, and only sounds half grudging.

“So, what are you all planning now?” Mrs. Verres asks.

“I’m going to hit the gym when my pokemon are better,” Blue says. “Hopefully I can grab the Pewter Badge in a few days.”

“I have some research I need to do with my spinarak. If you have time, Professor, I could use some help organizing my thoughts on it…”

“Certainly.”

“And you, Leaf?”

She smiles. “The museum here has the largest fossil collection in the region, right?”

“Cinnabar might rival it,” Professor Oak says. “But it would be close.”

She nods. “I’m going to check it out. I’m really curious to know more about your region’s myths and history.” The older the better, and it doesn’t get much older than fossilized pokemon remains. She’s seen how historical evidence could alter or clash with local myths and beliefs back in Unova.

“It’s a fascinating place,” Professor Oak says. “You should all go.”

“Pass,” Blue says. “Seen it. Pretty boring.”

“I’m down,” Red says.

She smiles at him. “Cool.”

“Well, now that’s settled.” Professor Oak checks the time, then smiles and leans back in his chair, eyes sparkling with excitement. “It’s time for my payment for the gifts. I want to hear everything that happened last night. Who’s going to start?”

Leaf’s phone chimes, and her heart sinks as she sees it’s her mother asking her to call when she can. “Excuse me, I have to take this,” she says as she gets to her feet. “I’ll let Red cover my part.”

She leaves the room and finds a quiet corner of the hospital. She was putting off this conversation, but part of her is glad it’s finally upon her. After the numerous near death experiences in the forest, she doesn’t want to let some misaligned expectations get in the way of her and her mother’s relationship.

Leaf presses the call button, heart hammering as she tries to think of what to say. Should she sound calm and casual, as if nothing’s wrong? Cheerful? The usual cool and controlled?

She’s still trying to decide when the ringing stops, and her mother’s voice is in her ear. “Leaf!”

“Hi mom.”

“Oh honey, it’s good to hear your voice. I checked the Kanto news today and it showed a forest fire near where you said you were! Are you alright?”

Tears prickle at Leaf’s eyes at the naked concern in her mom’s tone, and she closes them. “I’m fine,” she says with a smile as she leans back against the wall. “And… Mom, I wanted to say sorry…”

Chapter 18: Interlude III – Son of Stone

When the gods came upon the earth, it was a single, massive lump of solid stone, floating through the Great Dark. So Brock’s great-grandmother taught him as a child, practicing his basic sums as she knitted a sweater with mesmerizing fluidity. Iron and tin, gold and silver, granite and obsidian, all the metals and minerals blended and fused into one cosmic body. The gods had argued over how they might shape this world, and were still not decided when they reached it. Kagu-tsuchi wished to scoop out the earth’s insides like an egg, and fill it with magma until it became a sun. Watatsumi wished to pound rain upon it until the stone eroded and pitted, and craters formed for lakes and oceans that would cover its surface. Every god and goddess had their own preference for what the world should be, and what manner of creatures they would fill it with.

Soon the argument became more than words, and each god began to form it as they wished. Fire filled its core so that the whole planet glowed, until water fell on the surface to cool it before it burst. Lightning blasted the stone into soil, and plants grew and sucked up the water before it washed all else away. It was a time of endless strife, and the gods were so busy trying to dominate each other that a hundred thousand years passed without a single creature they created surviving to birth a new generation.

It was the god and goddess Haniyasu-Hiko and Haniyasu-Hime that decided to fashion creatures that could live even in such endless turmoil. Though the fire filled its belly, still the stone was there. Though the lightning blasted pits in it, still the stone was there. Though the waves and rain pounded it to sand, still the stone was there. Though the greedy roots cracked it, still the stone was there. And so, they made their beings from stone, which weathered all things, cracked and scorched and pitted and split, but still there.

The rest of the gods’ creatures, crafted from other elements, lived where they could, but the stone people were capable of surviving in the most environments, and spread the farthest. Eventually the gods exhausted themselves into a stalemate, and left to regain their strength on the way to another world. The various creatures and demigods that they had crafted and left behind reached a relative peace of their own, and lived in their domains. As generation after generation passed, the people of stone softened and became flesh and blood. But just as the bones of the earth remained stone, so did the bones of the people, hard and strong enough to stand against the storms of the gods with a straight back.

“That is our legacy, Takeshi,” his great-grandmother told him in her native tongue, thin hands ceasing their waltz to grip his arm with surprising strength. “Stone endures.” Her thumb dug into his skin, not enough to hurt, but so she could feel the bones beneath his flesh. “Inside you lies the strength of the very earth itself. Others have forgotten their ancestors, but our people will always be the children of stone.”


Gym Leader Brock, who no one alive still calls Takeshi, sees the forest around him in the green glow of infrared. More than that, he can feel it through the pokemon he rides. Aeosis’s body winds between the trees, but his sides are so wide that they constantly strip the bark clean off the trunks he brushes against. Sharp cracks come from all sides as smaller trees and bushes snap and get trampled under the onix’s many segments.

“Brock!”

Again and again throughout the forest, trainers stop what they’re doing and look on as the massive rock snake passes by, almost sixty meters long from head to tail. The boulders of its body are the height of a tall man, and from his saddle a few segments behind the onix’s head, Brock’s messy brown hair bobs just below the tree branches.

“Leader Brock is here!”

“Brock! Brock and Aeosis!”

“At your side, Gym Leader!”

Brock uses the metal claws at the end of his gloved fingers to tap a quick pattern on one of Aeosis’s neck boulders, and the onix raises its head up and roars, a response to the trainers they passed and a rallying cry to those ahead.

It took under twenty minutes to rouse and mobilize the Gym and any volunteers from Pewter once Brock got the emergency alert from Viridian. Brock was filled with pride when he stepped outside his gym and saw the size of the crowd waiting. Nearly twice as many as the last Tier 1 threat, and plenty of familiar faces.

He wasted no time sending out support teams to different parts of the forest based on the Ranger requests, only retaining five groups of five to ride with him toward the biggest fire, where the most help will be needed. A few have peeled off to assist Rangers they passed, and one from each group formed an escort unit for a group of injured trainers.

By the time Brock can see the glow of the fire above the trees, he’s down to five groups of three, each trailing his onix to either side on their own mounts. The others ride a variety of types to be prepared for any situation. Those from his gym tend to favor rock types, but few rock pokemon are fast enough to keep up with an onix.

“Sir, some trainers eight degrees to your left, around what might be a downed tree.” Jarod’s voice murmurs from his earpiece. Brock’s Third is flying above the canopy and looking down with thermal imaging goggles. With the reception out in this part of the forest, the radios are their only way to relay information and help navigate. “I think they’re trying to shift it.”

“Got it.” Brock switches frequencies to the others. “Turning left. Watch the tail.” He taps a subtle rhythm to the left of Aeosis’s neck, and the onix forges a new path through the trees, barely caring about foliage density. Brock’s body is high up enough to avoid most of the brambles and bushes that survive his pokemon’s passage, the rest scratching harmlessly at his armored leggings.

Soon he spots light ahead, blazing in the green tint of his goggles, and he quickly tugs them off until they hang around his neck. Within moments they’re at the downed tree where the lanterns are hung. The trainers around it are standing at the ready, their pokemon prepared for a fight. Once they spot Brock on Aeosis’s back, their shock and terror gives way to relief, and one of the younger men leans against a tree with a hand over his eyes. “Oh, thank Arceus…”

Before Brock can ask what their situation is, one steps forward. “Leader, our friends are trapped under-”

Brock’s heart sinks. The trunk is nearly as thick as Aeosis, and anyone caught under it would be crushed like a caterpie. But his fingers are already moving in a rapid pattern on Aeosis’s neck. “Stand far back, all of you.” There are some branches extending from the trunk, and it’s possible the broken ones under it are holding some weight off…

They withdraw their pokemon and scramble to the sides as Aeosis rears up, then lowers his gaping maw over the trunk and bites down. Brock grips the handle on his saddle tight with one hand, then taps again to tell Aeosis to lift.

The tree rises slowly as Aeosis brings his head back up. Brock is lifted too as the segment he’s seated on rises, bringing him partway into the canopy. As soon as there’s room, a couple of the trainers begin to crawl under the tree, one holding a lantern. There’s a cry of relief, then dismay, and the others quickly join them to assist in bringing the bodies out.

By then his gymmates and volunteers have arrived, and a few get off their mounts to help. There’s the flash from under the tree of a pokemon being withdrawn into their ball, though in what condition Brock doesn’t know. Once everyone’s out from under the tree, Brock taps another command, and Aeosis drops the trunk with a crash, its middle imprinted with the onix’s triangular bitemark.

Some of the trainers are weeping over one of the bodies, while others surround a second, an unconscious girl whose arm was crushed. The grass is dark with blood in some places, and the smell of it fills the air around them.

Brock turns to the only trainer still standing. “What happened here? Did a raichu bring down the tree?” The woman doesn’t respond, staring in disbelief at her dead friend.

Brock feels a stab of empathy, then pushes it aside. He unstraps himself from his saddle and falls to the grass with a thump that gets her attention. She suddenly seems to realize how close she is to the massive onix, grief and shock joined by sudden fear.

He steps up to her and puts his hand on her shoulder. “What’s your name, trainer?” he asks, putting his will into his tone and grip, the same will that allowed him to catch and train the largest onix in Kanto.

The woman snaps to attention, eyes alert in a face full of loss. “Aiko, sir.”

“What happened here, Aiko?”

“It was… some breloom, we got caught up in their fight with the ‘chu… one of them shot seed bombs out. The trunk was already damaged by other attacks, and the seeds ripped right through it. Brought the whole thing down… we tried to get out of the way, but… Suki…” Tears gather in the trainer’s eyes, and she rubs them away with one hand, stifling a sob.

He squeezes her shoulder, gently but firm enough to bring her focus back to him. “What happened to the breloom? Are they still in the area?”

“Two captured, the rest fled when the tr-tree came down.” She takes a deep breath, then another. “Same with the ‘chu. We didn’t… we haven’t seen them since, but they ran that way.” She points, and her hand is steady.

Brock nods and looks at his people. “Gestov, Mark, stay with them and get the injured to a hospital. Paula, Avanni, see if you can find the breloom and ‘chu.”

They confirm, and he turns back to Aiko. Her face is full of loss and pain, but her eyes are clear, her breaths steady. Satisfied, Brock lowers his voice, speaking with quiet confidence. “Thank you, Aiko. I know your heart is heavy, but the others may yet need your strength to survive the night. Can I count on you to get them through this?”

“I… Yeah. Yeah, I won’t let them down.”

“I know you won’t.” He squeezes her shoulder again, thumb feeling her collarbone. “You have the strength of stone.”

She bows her head. “Thank you, Leader.”

Brock returns to Aeosis and climbs up its boulder segments until he’s back in the saddle. From so high up, he projects his voice for all to hear. “Tonight has taken much from you all, but it’s not yet time to mourn. We don’t know how extensive the rampage is, but the nearest Ranger Outpost has been destroyed, and you can’t stay in the forest. My people will lead you to Pewter, where you will be safe. Courage, for a little longer! Dawn is coming!”

Most of the trainers are looking at him by the end, brushing tears away or standing again, heads held high. Brock turns Aeosis toward a clear path through the trees, and they swiftly leave the gathering behind, his followers waiting until the onix’s long body and tail is gone before following.

Once he’s away from the lights, Brock puts his goggles back on, bringing the forest into green tinged sight again. One hand goes to his ear, and he switches to his Third’s frequency. “Jarod, some breloom may be in the area. Keep an eye out and relay to Paula and Avanni.”

“Yes sir. Be aware, you’re approaching the smoke surrounding the fire. I can’t see through it.”

“Got it. Stay clear for now.” He switches to general chat. “We’re approaching the fire. Groups four and five, spread out and circle around to lend support to the Rangers at different points. Groups two and three, disperse and check for distress signals to assist trainers wherever you find them. Without a steady signal to update them some might be obsolete, but keep looking.” Brock barely ducks in time to avoid a branch that sweeps just over Aeosis’s horn. “Group one, with me.”

A few moments later he sees the smoke, lit by scattered lanterns and the fire at its heart, and then they’re plunging into it. He guides Aeosis with taps of his fingers, a few on the side to turn him toward the denser smoke, and another quick pattern on his back to slow him down. The smoke makes his infrared goggles worse than useless, and he takes them off so he can see by the distant, diffused glow of the fire. As they get closer to the center of it, the light grows, as does the heat in the air.

Within a minute though, Aeosis begins showing signs of distraction, swinging his head around and growling. Brock looks around in the smoke for what might be upsetting his pokemon. Onix are used to navigating in the pitch blackness of mountains and deep within the earth, but maybe the ethereal lights and the thick smoke are making him twitchy.

Aeosis suddenly slows to a stop, and there’s a sharp crack as his pokemon’s head swings around, the horn on his forehead messily splintering a branch into pieces. Brock feels bits of wood rain down on him, and the stoney skin beneath his saddle vibrates with the onix’s growl as it peers into the smoke to their side. He taps a pattern along its skin, frowning. “Aeosis, calm. Forward.”

The onix’s agitation fades slightly and they travel deeper into the smoke, but before long Aeosis becomes unruly again. Brock begins to worry at his behavior. Combined with the low visibility around them, he’s not sure they can avoid crushing someone in their path, and soon he taps the command to stop.

“Something’s got Aeosis riled,” he tells the others through the radio as he unbuckles and leaps to the grass. “I’m dismounting.” Aeosis rears up once he’s clear, head snapping more branches and making them fall in a series of crashes that are almost lost in the onix’s roar.

“Aeosis, down!” Brock yells once the sound fades, ears ringing. He looks around, but can’t spot any threat that his pokemon might be responding to. He reaches forward and taps the command against its body, but the onix doesn’t heed either.

The Gym Leader quickly grabs the nearest boulder segment of its body and begins climbing, fingers gripping the edges to pull himself up and up, past his saddle.

Aeosis sways and turns a bit, an automatic reaction rather than an attempt to shake Brock off. He holds on tight until Aeosis is steady again, then reaches up to the last few boulders so he can grip the horn on its head. He braces his feet against the onix’s right jaw so he can look it in the eye closest to him.

The onix’s head is a bit bigger than he is, its eyes each the size of his fist. The smoke makes it too hard to see the shape and size of his pokemon’s pupil, and Brock has to go by other cues to judge his pokemon’s mood.

“Aeosis! Down!” He taps out the command on the rocky skin of his pokemon’s head as he says it, staring into the onix’s right eye as best he can through the thick smoke.

Its jaw opens, and Brock kicks off, gloved fingers carefully gripping the blunt side of Aeosis’s horn. The jaws snap on empty air, and then Brock is swinging back, heels slamming into his onix just beneath its jaw.

Brock hangs on tight as his pokemon rears back, more in surprise than any pain. Before it can try anything again, he pulls himself up past its mouth until he can crouch on its snout, staring into its eyes from an inch away. “Aeosis! Down!

Brock is distantly aware that his remaining gym members have arrived, fanning out in a loose circle as they watch. They know better than to interfere, but if Aeosis begins to rampage…

His pokemon shakes its head to the side. Not hard, barely a fraction of its full strength… but its full strength is enough to topple a building. Brock is whipped around its horn, the rough edges scraping his heavy gloves as he holds tight to avoid being flung off. He distantly hears yells of alarm from the others as the wind whistles in his ears.

He lands with another doubled kick on its jaw, pain jolting up his legs and pelvis, shoulders and wrists aching. “Stay back, everyone!”

Aeosis growls, eyes rolling to Brock’s new position on his left side. Brock’s hand goes to the heavyball at his belt. He could return Aeosis, get him under control where it’s safer… but that would have to be after tonight, since it would be impossible to find a space big enough to release him within the forest.

Worse than that, it would prove that he’s incapable of controlling his own pokemon.

His hand goes past the ball and unzips his pocket, then pulls out some small quartz shards. He presses them against the pokemon’s lips, letting its taste buds there feel the crystals. Aeosis makes a sound of hunger, and Brock whips his hand away just as his pokemon opens his mouth and snaps at the air.

A drop of sweat rolls down Brock’s neck, easily attributed to the diffuse heat of the nearby fire. “No, Aeosis. Our people need us, and you will listen to me, now! Down, Aeosis, down!”

The only sound is the rapid beat of Brock’s heart as his pokemon shifts its head from side to side… then lowers itself to the grass, laying out flat with a crash that nearly dislodges him.

He holds on for another few seconds, and then slowly steps down, ignoring the pain in his legs, merely glad that they’re still steady. He brushes the quartz against its lips again. “Good, Aeosis. Very good.” His pokemon opens its mouth, and he throws the crystals into its maw for it to crunch and swallow. Aeosis makes a contented sound from deep inside the long caverns of its body.

Brock strokes the ridges above its eyes until it closes its lids in satisfaction. Only then does his Second approach, dismounted from her dodrio. “What happened?” Sharzad asks.

“I’m not sure.” Brock looks around in the thick smoke again, where the other gym trainers have formed a loose semicircle. “Everyone, scout out in pairs, and stay alert!” They begin to move in expanding loops, disappearing between the trees as they explore outward.

Sharzad approaches and strokes Aeosis’s other eyeridge, long black hair tied back in a heavy braid. “What is it boy? What got you so spooked?”

Brock smiles as his onix responds positively to her touch, some of his tension fading. That had been far too close for comfort. Luckily Aeosis seems fine now.

Despite how responsive Aeosis often is, it would be a mistake to treat him like any other pokemon. No matter how much they trained, the onix’s temperament remains wildly unpredictable at times, and with so much power even the slightest mistake can be disastrous. The thought of what Aeosis would do if he ever went on a true rampage has kept Brock up many nights, and compelled him to spend more hours training the onix than the rest of his pokemon combined.

A year before, Brock fought a fully grown tyranitar that came down from Mount Silver. Four stories tall, each of its feet the size of a car, able to level a building with a sweep of its tail. He commanded Aeosis to wrap around it, hoping to bind it into submission for long enough for help to arrive. But after a few seconds of grinding, there was a massive crack, and the tyranitar’s struggles ceased. Brock stared in shock as his onix began feasting on the broken granite skin of its opponent, the enormity of the power he had harnessed truly registering for the first time.

Ever since Brock captured the legend of Mount Moon two years ago, he became something of a mythical figure in Pewter. It helped him expand the gym’s power and influence, but many of the residents began treating him with a deference that bordered on worship, which was distinctly uncomfortable. A number of the city’s citizens, especially the older ones, viewed Aeosis as a god, the progenitor of his race. Brock tried to convince others to work with the onix, but most were too afraid or reverent to attempt it.

As he told anyone who would listen, such talk was foolishness. A god would not be captured and tamed like any other monster, however perilous it had been to accomplish. Like the storm birds, they would be forces of nature beyond human control.

In private though, he can occasionally admit how that might describe Aeosis after all. Sharzad was the only one besides Brock willing and able to train the onix. She explained that in her home region, the onix grew nearly as big more regularly than in Kanto, though she admitted to never seeing one quite his size. It gives Brock a measure of peace to know that if something happens to him, Aeosis would be in good hands.

“He’s probably just unused to the smoke,” she says after a moment, reaching into the pouch at her waist and feeding Aeosis a small amethyst. “Maybe if he went underground he would feel more comfortable?”

Brock rubs his chin. “Maybe. He could submerge just enough that I could still ride him, if we’re careful. But it would heavily damage the tree roots, and-”

“Leader!”

Brock’s hand goes to his ear piece. “Go ahead Wallace.”

“We found two trainers, dead. They weren’t absorbed or eaten, but their bodies have long, deep cuts.”

Brock relays the info out loud, and Sharzad swears under her breath, hand at her belt. “Killing without feeding. The only things in the forest that come to mind are shiftry.”

“And they would be virtually invisible in the smoke.” Brock switches to general chat. “High alert to all points! There may be camouflaged shiftry around us.” He switches to group one’s frequency. “Regroup everyone. With any luck Aeosis scared away any that were near, but don’t take any chances.”

“Return!” Sharzad’s dodrio disappears in a flash of light, her hands moving in a blur. “Go, Skydart!” Her huge fearow bursts into existence mid air, and she catches its ball with one hand as her other points outward, spinning in a slow circle. “Whirlwind!”

The fearow caws and tips into an angled spin, flapping wings barely able to fit in the limited clearing Aeosis created above them. The gusts of air send the smoke billowing outward in every direction, and the shiftry are suddenly there like a magician’s trick.

Brock counts five of them standing well away from Aeosis, and when he turns to look back the way they’d come he sees another dozen approaching the many segments of the onix’s body, possibly more hidden in the smoke farther back. They must have been following them for awhile, more and more drawn to gather for a slaughter.

The ground practically quakes with Aeosis’s growl, but he doesn’t lose control again, glaring at the plant monsters with dilated pupils. Brock and Sharzad exchange a look, and then she holds both arms up and yells “Fly!”

Her fearow swoops down and grabs her arms in his talons, lifting her off with a few beats of his powerful wings. Brock leaps up onto Aeosis’s saddle and straps himself in with one hand as the other goes to his earpiece. “Everyone, use wind to push away the smoke,” he says in general chat. Smart enough for an ambush. Probably even smart enough to recognize a type advantage. “Aeosis, Bide.”

His onix immediately surges around into a coil, Brock holding tight as they whip around and around over Aeosis’s lower body with the grinding sound of stone on stone. Within moments, the pokemon’s entire length is wrapped in an ascending circle, with Brock riding the boulder near his neck at the top, well above the bulk of the onix’s body. Aeosis continues to churn slowly in place, letting them watch all sides.

If the shiftry were distracted by the sudden movement, they get over it quickly. Some bound forward, sharp leaves extended, while others stay back and begin to spit seeds out. They crack against Aeosis’s sides without leaving a mark, but moss and roots swiftly grow where they struck, spreading their way between the boulders as the forward shiftry slash and hack at him, their sharp leaves tearing against his rocky skin and leaving behind lines of acid that etch into the stone of his hide.

Aeosis’s body vibrates as he growls, but Brock taps out his custom command again. Bide, just a little longer… Shiftry are some of the most subtle and cunning pokemon around. If Aeosis just rushed at them, they would use their speed and agility to keep their distance, harry his sides and rear with quick strikes. It might take hours, but eventually they would whittle the titanic onix down.

More and more of the shiftry close in, covering Aeosis’s outer coils with acid scars and roots. Brock keeps his body low and slides his arms into straps along the saddle to avoid any seed that might shoot higher, and to be prepared for what comes next. He watches one of the shiftry in the distance finish spitting seeds out and leap forward to use its leaf blades.

A mirthless grin peels Brock’s lips back. Smart as the shiftry are, humans are smarter. And combined with his training and guidance, the prey they trapped is far too large for them.

Aeosis trembles beneath him and coils himself tighter, almost as if he’s trying to shrink into himself, and the shiftry’s attacks grow more frenzied, most of the remainder swooping in for the kill.

Now. Brock’s claws tap six times against Aeosis’s skin.

GROOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAARRR!

Brock keeps his eyes tightly closed as he’s whipped left and right, body tied so securely to the saddle that he’s in more danger of throwing up from nausea than he is of getting flung off. He’s long since grown used to the disorientation however, and simply holds tight and endures it while his onix unleashes the rage it had built up.

First the tail, swinging out in an unwinding arc that sends shattered shiftry sailing through the air, most already dead before they smash into trees. Then the head, darting left and right, rising and falling again and again to chomp down on the plant pokemon that had avoided the tail. In less than ten seconds, over twenty shiftry lie dead and dying, some chomped in half, the rest broken and battered into pulp.

Brock suddenly tastes eggs, hears a creaky door, feels the chill of the winter wind. A kaleidoscope of colors explode behind his eyelids, and his nose feels stuffed with cut onions, the acidic fumes melting his brain into jelly as the sensations all shift, then shift again, then overlap in a maddening mix. His skin feels both hot and cold in overlapping waves, and his sense of gravity completely unhinges so that it feels like he’s clinging to the saddle to avoid falling into the sky, then feels the pull to his left side, then all directions at once.

Aeosis makes a sound of confusion, slowing to a stop and writhing spastically. Brock struggles against the whirlwind of sensations and opens his eyes a crack as he bounces up and down. The three shiftry that remain are standing far back, and through his goggles, their eyes glow a brilliant green.

His pokemon suddenly flips himself over, rolling into a tree and collapsing its trunk over his back. The spike on his head keeps his foremost boulder segments from touching the ground, and ensure that Brock isn’t crushed in his carefully located saddle. Brock doesn’t know what sensations his onix is being overwhelmed by, but he can feel his own mind scrambling under the assault, and he grits his teeth as he struggles to stay conscious-

At first his brain interprets the high pitched screech as just another hallucination, but then the mental attack abruptly ends. Brock’s whole body sags, and he opens his eyes again to see Sharzad and Skydart diving at a shiftry. They stop mid-air, and there’s a flash before they fly back up, the shiftry below them gone.

The others look up and around, but Skydart dives at them from the other side this time, and silently. He flaps his wings to stop just above them and hover for a couple seconds, displacing the newly gathered smoke. Sharzad hangs one handed, the other holding a greatball out so that it locks on to one of the shiftry, then tossing it for the capture.

The last one tries to spit seeds out at the fearow, but Sharzad shouts “Drill Peck!” and lets go, rolling along the grass as Skydart dodges the seeds and strikes, beak piercing straight through the shiftry’s eye and into its brain.

Brock looks away as the shiftry topples to the ground and the bird pokemon’s long, cruel beak darts in and out to feed, stomach queasy enough. Sharzad collects her great balls and stuffs them in her bag, then goes around to all the shiftry spread out in a circle around them. A couple more get captured as they lie bleeding and broken, but the rest are apparently dead.

By the time she approaches, he and Aeosis are mostly recovered, and Brock has unstrapped himself to feed the onix some more gems. “You two alright?”

“Yeah.” He rubs Aeosis’s eyeridge, then checks his wounds. None are serious enough to warrant medical attention: the onix’s hide is so tough that the acids had burned themselves out before penetrating far. “Nice timing.”

She smiles. “They’re vulnerable when they link up to do mental attacks. Do you think there are more around?”

The Gym Leader frowns. “I doubt it.” Shiftry are fairly rare, and while groups of them ambushing trainers aren’t unheard of, it’s strange to see quite so many. “In fact I’m surprised there were even this many in one area. They must have come from all around…”

The others have begun to arrive, staring around at all the dead shiftry and murmuring in surprise and alarm. Wallace approaches Brock, holding a pair of IDs. “The trainers we found. I marked their coordinates for later.”

“Well done.” He reads their names, Pamela Harris and Derek Watson, committing them to memory and studying their pictures as best he can in the dim light. Their deaths had warned him and his gymmates of the danger they faced. The least he could do is know who they were.

“Everyone else okay?” Sharzad asks, and the others confirm that they hadn’t encountered any trouble. “They must have all been drawn to Aeosis.”

Brock nods and puts the trainer IDs away. “Let’s get going then, before any more show up.”


The fire is a fearsome thing, burning hungrily for kilometers and constantly threatening to spread further. The Rangers and trainers have done a good job with the firebreak, but even with dozens of them working together, they could only expand it outward a bit at a time.

Aeosis almost doubles its size in one lap, then doubles it again in another two.

Brock stands on the onix and holds onto his horn as he tunnels just a bit beneath the surface, guiding him along the edge of the firebreak by tapping on it. Grass, roots and bushes are no obstacle, and the occasional tree takes only a few minutes to uproot and push aside.

After about an hour, the firebreak stretches far enough to safely contain it in every direction. Brock returns to Ranger Haru, who thanks him profusely for his aid. Most of the other rangers and trainers have begun to disperse, some to rest farther from the heat and smoke, others toward preregistered distress signals. Brock already sent the remainder of his group along to help them, and now that the fire is contained, he begins to search for a trainer or Ranger that might recognize the trainer IDs they found.

Someone eventually tells him he saw them with Ranger Malcolm, and when Brock tracks the coordinating Ranger down, his face falls as he takes the IDs.

“Yes, I sent them out,” he says taking his cap off and wiping at the sweat on his forehead. “Those damn shiftry… we had some others encounter them too.” He gestures toward three trainers, two boys and a girl, who are helping with some final cleanup efforts.

“Really?” Brock eyes the trainers, impressed. There probably hadn’t been as many as had attacked him, but they all seem fairly young, one of them especially so. In fact…

“Blue Oak?”

The youth looks up from the branch he’s dragging, then snaps to attention. He hesitates and looks at the other two, who nod at him to go ahead before he jogs over. “Yes, Gym Leader?”

“I thought that was you.”

“You recognized me?”

“We didn’t speak, but you were with your grandfather last year when he visited Pewter.”

The young Oak nods. “Of course. I forgot.”

Brock smiles. He can’t tell if the boy is implying that he regularly forgets meeting Gym Leaders, or if he’s just being modest of recognition he gets for being with his grandfather. “I hear you survived an ambush by some shiftry.”

Blue blinks. “Yeah, about an hour ago.”

“How many were there?”

“Six.”

Six more. “This was within the smoke, yes? How did you spot them?” Brock listens in quiet fascination, then shakes his head. “You got incredibly lucky.”

Blue stiffens a bit, chin rising as his face goes blank. “Yes, Gym Leader.”

“So did I.” Brock grins as Blue’s expression turns to surprise, and explains what happened with his own encounter. “Did you check the area, see if there was anything that caused them to attack you?”

“No, we came back to warn others.”

“Could you find the spot again?”

Blue hesitates. “Maybe. The smoke…”

Brock nods. “I understand. Well, I’m glad you’re okay. You do credit to your family name.”

Blue bows his head, “Thank you, Leader.”

Brock is about to turn away when the boy looks back up, seeming poised to say something further. “Yes?”

“You brought help, right? From Pewter?”

“I did. They’re spread out now assisting others.” Brock frowns. “What’s wrong?”

“I left some friends to come help with the fire. One was injured. If you wouldn’t mind, could you…”

Brock already has a hand on his earpiece, picking up on the boy’s concern. “Names?”

“Red Verres and Leaf Juniper.”

Brock asks over every frequency if anyone has encountered either, and gets the affirmative from Julie. “One of my people has your friend, Red, and is taking him to Pewter. She says the girl stayed behind at your camp.”

For a moment Brock thinks Blue is going to faint in relief, the young boy rocking back as his shoulders sag. He puts a hand out and grips his shoulder. “You alright, son?”

Blue takes a deep breath and nods, standing straighter again. “I’m fine. I just… thank you, Leader.”

The new sincerity in his voice makes Brock smile. He squeezes Blue’s shoulder, feeling the strength of his bones before letting go, remembering Aiko. His position often carries with it many burdens, but it’s moments like this that he feels most deserving of his title. “Thank you, trainer, for your assistance. Feel free to stop by the Gym, if you’re going to Pewter.”

Blue nods. “My friends and I were heading there.”

“Then stay safe until we meet again.”

The boy says goodbye to Ranger Malcolm, then the other two, and heads off into the forest at an odd hopping jog.

“What will you do now, Leader?” the Ranger asks.

“Head farther south. The Viridian Gym might need help with emergencies closer to their side of the forest.” Especially since Giovanni isn’t usually in his city, Brock refrains from saying. It would be uncouth to speak critically of how another Gym Leader manages their city. “Yourself?”

Malcolm sighs. “Once this fire dies down, we’ll have to assess how big an impact tonight will have on the ecology, and decide where and when to rebuild our outpost. The initial pikachu and raichu rampage that started this mess is just the beginning of our worries here. Combined with poachers that will come to take advantage of the confusion and chaos, a Ranger’s work is never done.”

“So it’s said.” Brock holds out his hand. “On behalf of Pewter, thank you for your service. If you need anything from my city, please let us know.”

The Ranger takes it. “Thank you, Leader. Your people made a great difference here, as did your onix. Good hunting.”

Brock nods and heads to Aeosis. He notices that it’s a bit easier to see than it was, and checks the time. Half past four in the morning. The sun’s rising.

Weariness numbs the edges of Brock’s thoughts, but he ignores it and remounts. “Group One, we’re headed south. Form up.”

There’s a lot of forest to cover, and a Gym Leader’s work is never done either.

Chapter 16: Diversions

Hundreds of hours in simulations prepared Blue for a lot of situations, but running through a forest at night was not one of them.

Foliage rakes at his clothes and skin as he weaves around trees and tall bushes. It’s hard to move fast and hold a flashlight straight, and he also struggles to keep the lightning rod from snagging every bush he passes. He contracted it to half its length, but it’s still over half as long as he is tall.

Worst of all, even with the flashlight to spot the obvious roots, every other step seems to almost land on one. Anyone else would have a twisted ankle in less than a minute.

But Blue Oak, future Champion of Indigo, has the physical agility and reaction time of a born pokemon master, and pokemon masters do not trip and eat dirt on the way to a double rescue, even with no one around to see it.

Instead he begins to run in an odd hopping motion, feet not swinging at all as he lands and pushes off with his whole foot. It’s tiring and probably looks ridiculous, but it’s faster than walking would be, and lets him avoid a faceplant.

And after all, there’s no one around to see it.

Thankfully he also doesn’t trip over a pokemon every five feet like in the sims. He sees a few pikachu and raichu in the distance as he travels, but none get close enough to be a threat. The frequency of wild pokemon encounters there were always annoying, but he supposes it’s to make up for the other challenges trainers face, like hop-running through a dark forest until your lungs burn and your legs feel like lead so you can stop a fire and get help for your friends before they die a horrible death.

Assuming there’s help available, that is. The glow of the fire above the trees seems to have intensified, and soon he begins to smell smoke. He pauses and drops the lightning rod just long enough to tuck his phone between his knees and put his facemask on. Then he picks it back up and keeps going, flashlight aimed at the ground to find safe spots for his feet. In the distance he hears a voice, amplified by something as it shouts orders. He uses it as his directional reference, figuring whoever is doing the shouting is probably in charge of stopping the fire.

Just as he’s beginning to see a glow between the trees, too steady to be the fire, a pikachu zags through the forest to his right and heads straight toward him. Blue feels his adrenaline spike as he quickly jabs the rod into the ground as hard as he can and jumps back, unclipping Shroomish’s ball before his feet hit the ground. A bolt of electricity strikes his rod, and he sidesteps to keep it between him and the pikachu as he throws, world narrowing down as calm settles over him.

“Go, Shroomish.”

Even while moving and in the dark, he judges the angle right and feels the pokeball smack back into his palm as it returns. Blue feels a moment of fierce pride, which cuts off abruptly when his foot hits a root and topples him onto his back.

“Leech seed!” Blue yells just before the fall knocks his wind out. He scrambles to get his soles under him and shines the light forward so he can see the fight.

His pokemon is shooting seeds up in an arc to land around the pikachu like hail. They’re faster than the powder, and Blue sees some manage to land on the rodent, sticking to its fur and spreading thin tendrils around it. The pikachu sends shocks at Shroomish again and again, but doesn’t seem to realize why none of them are connecting.

But the electricity is still traveling through the ground, causing his pokemon to jump and cry out in pain. “Sleep powder!” Shroomish sends out clouds of spores, and the pikachu begins to dodge, sending out erratic bolts here and there as its glowing cheeks leave streaks of light through the air.

It’s hard to keep the phone’s flashlight on it, but even harder to get a lock with a pokeball. Blue watches for an opening, a slight stumble, a slow turn-

The pikachu leaps forward and begins scratching at Shroomish, the two pokemon tumbling over the grass. It seems to have given up on its electricity, or maybe it ran out, but its claws and teeth are still dangerous enough to draw blood.

“Absorb!” Blue yells as he steps around the pokemon to keep the lightning rod between him and the ‘chu, just in case. Motes of green light appear on his pokemon’s wounds as it absorbs the pikachu’s skin and blood and uses its nutrients to regenerate itself. It’s enough to help his pokemon heal some of the damage it’s taking, but the pikachu has energy to spare, and doesn’t even slow down as it leaps off and begins to jump in and out of range for hit and run attacks, quick as a blink even while blood seeps down its fur from the eroded flesh.

“Headbutt!” Shroomish shoves forward with its feet to try and slam into the rodent, but it misses and tumbles over the grass, torn and bloody from the scratches. It gets back up and tries again and again, but it’s just not fast enough to match the pikachu’s speed.

Thankfully it doesn’t have to. Blue feels a distant, savage satisfaction as he sees the pikachu stumble for the first time, finally beginning to feel its losses. The leech seeds’ vines are now firmly wrapped around it and embedded in its skin, growing fat off its blood. Most grass pokemon aren’t unusually fast or lethal, but if you can stall your opponent long enough, they’re champions at endurance matches.

The pikachu starts to go wild as it feels its life being drained away by the plants, rolling along the ground and sending electricity through its own body as it tries to get the seeds off. Blue keeps trying to get a lock, but it’s moving too erratically. “Sleep powder!”

Shroomish sends out a cloud of spores, but the pikachu leaps away, tumbling into a roll. As soon as it’s back on its feet, it suddenly dashes off into the dark forest.

Blue stands frozen for a second, torn in two by conflicting desires. Then he curses, free hand moving in a flurry minimize-pocket, unclip-return-reclip, yank before he’s off after it, trying not to stumble as he holds the light ahead to keep the pikachu in sight and the rod up by his shoulder, ready to jam it into the ground the second the pikachu turns toward him.

Its energetic leaps are interrupted by constant tumbling along the grass, just hurt enough that he can keep up with it, but not enough to get close. Even worse, it keeps scrambling between and under dense bushes that he has to detour around. He loses sight of it a few times, only able to stay on its trail because of the occasional flashes of electricity.

This is stupid, he thinks as he run-hops, but he doesn’t stop. Even knowing he might run into another ‘chu or some other pokemon at any moment, even knowing that he’s running in the wrong direction from the fire, even knowing that he left the others to get them help quicker, not catch a pikachu, he can’t just let it get away. This is his best chance to get an electric pokemon anytime soon, and a rare one at that.

The pikachu finally starts to slow down enough for him to close the distance a bit, and then his foot comes down on the side of a root. He hits the ground face first, nose smacking into the plastic of his mask and sending a bolt of pain through his head. It takes him a couple seconds to push himself up and grab the lightning rod, then he’s off again, nose stinging with every breath as he looks frantically around for the ‘chu.

Nothing. A bitter frustration wells up as he slows, chest heaving as he flashes the light around, then points it away over his shoulder. He’s wasting time, he should be heading toward the fire… Come on, a spark… just one spark…

A flash to his left and he’s off again, hoping it’s not a different pikachu, hoping his nose isn’t broken, and hoping above all that he’s not endangering his friends with this mad chase.

The spark goes off one more time as he runs forward, and then there’s nothing but the light bobbing along the ground in front of him. His eyes flick from left to right in case it turned in a different direction, but there’s nothing, and he starts to feel the despair again. It can’t have gotten far, not moving as slow as it was…

His side aches, his nose pulsing with every beat of his heart. He trips again, barely managing to keep his feet, and just as he’s about to slow and turn the light away to look for more sparks, he sees something yellow in the distance, lying still.

Blue rushes forward in a surge of triumph, jabbing the rod down and pulling out a ball. An eternity passes before he hears the ping, and then he throws, hits, bounces, captures.

Yes!” He pumps a fist in the air, then falls to his knees as he clutches a stitch in his side, breathing hard through his mouth and fogging his facemask. He lets himself drop onto his side and lie still until his pulse has slowed down a bit, pulling his mask off so it rests on his head to prod his nose gently. No blood, so it’s probably fine. All worth it.

As soon as the stitch fades, he gets to his feet and goes to the ball with a grin. With a pikachu on his team he’s got a strong play against flying and water types, which will make Cerulean Gym significantly easier. He takes out his pokedex to register it, using the light of the screen to line up their lenses.

Blue’s grin slowly fades as his pokemon doesn’t appear on the screen. Instead there’s just text listing the mass and atomic makeup of the contents, along with other basic information. No… it wasn’t that long, just a few seconds… He pulls the ball away, then realigns it. Again the pokedex treats it like a Container rather than a pokeball. The DNA of the leech plants and pikachu are listed, but there’s no brain activity, which means…

Blue’s hand trembles, and the lens unaligns briefly, causing the text to wipe and reappear. Not a pokemon, as far as the ‘dex is concerned. Just atoms of meat, and some plant. The seeds took too much blood, or maybe their vines entered its skull. A pokecenter could heal almost anything else, but not that. A damaged brain is unrecoverable. Dead.

Blue screams, throwing the ball at a tree. It bounces off and rolls back, and he kicks it against a bush where it comes to rest. His heart is pounding again as scalding tears gather at the corners of his eyes, and he rubs them away with his palms, chest burning as his anger roars through him.

“It’s not my fault. You ran, you stupid rat, you had the leech seeds on you and you… you attacked me, I didn’t… you made me waste all this time!

Blue clamps his lips shut as his yell rings through the forest. I’m talking to a ball. A dead pokemon in a ball. He focuses on breathing until the anger is back under control, then wipes at his face again and pulls his mask back down, tucking the pokedex away. He picks up the ball and braces his arm to release its contents, then unclips Shroomish’s ball.

“Go, Shroomish,” he says, just loud enough to be heard as he tosses it forward, arm catching it reflexively.

His pokemon is moderately hurt, but he doesn’t want to waste potions that they might need later. Instead he kneels down and picks his shroomish up, placing it by the body without looking directly at it. Some of the leech seeds fell off in its mad dash, but there are a few left, swollen and cracked. Shroomish waddles closer and begins to pick the seeds off with its teeth, crunching the soft shells to get to juicy innards.

Blue looks away, feeling his stomach churn. Within moments his pokemon’s wounds begin to glow green, body using the nutrients to repair itself.

There’s a flash of light to his side, and Blue turns to see another pikachu running through the forest, cheeks glowing like angry eyes. He watches it run off, then withdraws his pokemon after it finishes and goes to picks up the lightning rod. He turns to the body of the pokemon that was almost his. His lips tremble briefly with something fighting to come out, and he’s not sure if it’s going to be more anger or some pointless apology-

Another flash of electricity on his other side, closer. Blue takes a deep breath, then turns to the glow of the fire above the distant trees and jogs toward it, gaze ahead.


As Blue approaches the light he saw earlier, too steady and white to be the fire, this time he sees the lanterns hung here and there from the trees. Around them is a thin haze of white smoke, and as Blue gets closer he begins to see it in the beam of his phone’s light. Soon it’s thick enough to see around him like fog, and by then there’s enough light to put his phone away. Once it gets noticeably warmer, he finds the first trainers and pokemon working to contain the blaze beyond.

Blue stands and watches for a moment, panting for breath and slipping the lightning rod snug between his bag and his back along his spine so he has both hands free. Ahead and to the right, a sandslash is digging along the side of a trench to widen it, tearing up the grass and bushes in its way. A sudden crack makes him turn toward a falling branch, and he sees a primeape jumping from tree to tree above with its trainer. Others on the ground quickly drag away any uprooted or broken plants to keep the firebreak clear of anything that might burn. Some of them, especially the rangers, have bright orange fire suits on, but everyone has some kind of breath mask.

He’s close enough for him to make out the words of the person with the megaphone he heard, their voice made strange and alien by a facemask and the amplification. “Second squad, flare up to the east!” they yell, loud enough to cut through the distant roar of the fire and various other shouts of trainers to each other and their pokemon. Blue follows its tone of command to a Ranger standing beside a fallen log with a megaphone in one hand a tablet in the other. When he gets closer, he sees she’s an older woman, greying hair cut short beneath her Ranger cap.

She glances at him as he approaches, then looks back to the screen. “Pokemon?”

“Squirtle, pidgey, shroo-”

“Phone.” He offers it to her, and she opens the map and sets a marker on it before handing it back. “Head west, find Ranger Malcolm.”

“My friend has a broken arm, he needs hel-”

“Is he alone?”

Blue pauses, irritated. “No, there’s someone with-”

“Then they’re as safe as they’ll get until this fire is under control. Check if their distress call came through.” She tilts the screen to him.

Blue’s anger almost erupts, but one look at the digital map makes him swallow it. The fire is a mass of thermal colors in the otherwise dark forest, with pinpricks of light showing people and pokemon. A river runs from northeast to southwest, creating a natural barrier for the fire on that side, while the Rangers and trainers spread out over a long, uneven half circle to contain it in the other directions.

The CoRRNet outpost is gone, lost somewhere in the middle of that bloom of color.

“Is this live?”

“Mostly. The pikachu and raichu knocked out the local tower, and it’s hard to get a steady signal.”

A graphic overlay shows different colored pings over various spots, and after a moment Blue finds their location, then traces his finger over the screen in the direction he came. “That one,” he says, pointing to the distress signal that marks where they made camp. So many… His friends’ red marker is just one among dozens blinking in and out of existence, crying for attention. He can see some pinpricks of light there though, so assuming it updated recently, at least he knows they’re still okay.

“We have their location then. They’ll get help when we can spare it.” A message pops up on the screen beside one of the lights to the east side of the fire, and she raises the megaphone. “Squad five, raichu attack to the east!” She lowers it and continues watching the screen. “Get moving trainer. Head back to your friends or go find Malcolm.”

Blue stares at her grim face for another moment, her attention wholly on the screen in front of her, and turns away with a sick feeling in his stomach as he begins to run toward Malcolm. The fire is so big… Red and Leaf would be okay.

As he gets closer, the smoke in the air hangs thick. The diffuse illumination is tinged with yellow and red as the lamps grow less frequent and the fire’s light grows closer. It makes visibility a bit difficult again, lack of light replaced with too much smoke and shadow.

As he runs he catches glimpses of others around him, some widening the firebreak, others nursing burned pokemon. The earth trembles beneath his feet, and he sees a rhyhorn emerge from the smoke. A Ranger sits on its back, her hands tapping the ridges of its shoulders to direct it toward the fire. Two trainers walk out of the smoke to his right with their arms around a third’s waist, the middle trainer’s legs burned through his pants. Blue looks away quickly and checks his phone to adjust his course a bit farther from the fire, breath loud in the facemask as he pushes himself to move faster.

When he hears a new amplified voice shouting “Tree coming down!” he turns toward it and jogs around a particularly dense clump of bushes in time to see a pinsir finish wrenching a tree out of the ground, its huge horns digging into the bark. Its trainer gives a whistle, and it releases the tree and steps back to let the whole thing fall.

The crash is enormous, but as soon as the tree settles a handful of pokemon and their trainers set at it, hacking the branches off and carrying them away. The trees here are dense enough to stop the firebreak from continuing, but they’ve brought down about a dozen so far, and the pinsir is already moving on to another.

Blue jogs over to the coordinating Ranger and waits until he finishes speaking with a pair of others. Blue realizes he can see the smoke in the air moving subtly. They’re downwind, though thankfully it’s not a strong breeze.

The two trainers run off, and Blue steps up to the Ranger. “Ranger Malcolm?”

“Yes. Haru send you?”

“No, a woman, I didn’t get her na-”

“That’s fine. What’ve you got?”

“Squirtle, pidgey, shroomish, caterpie, beedrill.”

He frowns and looks at the tablet for a moment before shaking his head. “Squirtle might be useful, but it can’t hold enough for what we need. Can your pidgey create a whirlwind?”

“Not yet.”

“Have you got a firecoat?”

“No.”

“Any ultraballs?”

He resists the urge to say he has greatballs. “No.”

“Ever fight a fire before?”

Blue just shakes his head, frowning.

“Well, we could use more hands to keep the firebreak clear. Just head over to—”

“Hang on, you want me to carry branches?”

The Ranger’s gaze flicks up from his tablet, eyes cool. “Is that a problem, trainer?”

“I left my friends to stop the fire and get help to them quicker, not fetch and carry.”

“Why are you wasting my time then? By all means, stop the fire.” He turns back to his tablet.

Blue grits his teeth. “Look, I know my pokemon aren’t the best for this, but I’m telling you, you’d be wasting me on pick up duty. I can give cover to others, stop ‘chu—”

“I’m not here to appease your ego, kid,” the Ranger says without looking up. “I’ve got over sixty—” He stops as Blue feels the wind pick up and raises his megaphone. “Southwest breeze, fire line at five hundred meters and closing! Forward squads, fall back!”

“I want to help,” Blue insists after it’s lowered.

“It’s not about what you want, it’s about what we need. You don’t have the skills or pokemon to do what’s needed, which means you do what you can. If you don’t like it, you can go play hero somewhere else.” He turns as another Ranger approaches, and the two begin analyzing wind patterns.

Blue stomps away, half intending to head back to Red and Leaf and half deciding to find another coordinating Ranger to offer his help to. He can’t just run around helping at random. For one thing he might do more harm than good… and for another, he needs to be officially recognized to get any prestige from this.

Most Champions are barely known before they reach the League, and are little more than figureheads once they gain the title. Instead of leading, of pushing society to the next step, the Championship title is treated like just another badge. A footnote in what they do after. Even those like gramps and Giovanni are known more for what they did after they relinquished their title.

It’s worse than pathetic. It’s a damned waste.

Gym Leaders can do more than just protect their lands and train others. They can change the face of entire cities with the power of their personality and vision of the future. When they’re loved and trusted by their people, they deserve their title: not “Protector,” or “Teacher.” Leader.

Blue isn’t going to be a figurehead. He’s going to lead Kanto and Johto into a new age. An age without fear. Without calamity. An age of action, rather than reaction.

An age without the Storm Gods.

And to bring the people with him, to make them want to go with him, he needs to be the kind of person they’re willing to follow into a storm’s very heart, so they can rip it out.

All that starts here, helping however he can. Showing what he’s capable of. Who’s he to demand a more important task? He hasn’t earned their trust yet.

He can’t even catch a pikachu without killing the damn thing.

Blue takes a deep breath, then lets it out. When the anger is all but gone, he turns to walk back toward the Ranger. As he does, two women jog over to them through the smoke, one tall and willowy under her windbreaker, the other muscular and dressed in a judogi. The Ranger looks up as they approach. “River side?”

“Secure,” the taller one says, voice heavily muffled. She’s wearing a mouth filter and goggles instead of a full face mask, making it hard to tell her age. “But we had some trouble with raichu that came by.”

“What happened to Pam and Derek? They were supposed to give you cover.”

“They never showed up.”

“What? I sent them to you 20 minutes ago.” The ranger runs a hand through his hair. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” the woman in the judogi says. “But my pokemon are hurt, and we’re almost out of potions and balls. I don’t know if I’ll be able to fend off many more.”

“Hey,” Blue says as he reaches them. “Here, take these.” He pulls the lightning rod out from where it’s wedged between his back and bag, then hands some of his potions and pokeballs over, including his three greatballs.

They look at him in surprise, but the trainer takes it, relief plain as she extends the rod and practices sticking it in the ground. “These will help. Thanks kid.”

“I’m Blue. Blue Oak.”

Her eyes widen behind her mask. “Thanks, Oak. I’ll get it back to you after.”

“Sure.” He turns to the Ranger. “I’ll help clear the firebreak. Tell me where you need me.”


The first thing the fire teaches Blue is to fear the wind.

He walks the firebreak with Luis and Sarah, a pair of trainer siblings in their late teens. The three work together to drag fallen branches and uprooted bushes out of the firebreak, sweaty, exhausting work made worse by the oppressive heat all around them. But the occasional brush of air against his skin brings danger rather than relief, causing them all to stop what they’re doing to look around, waiting, listening for the sound or sight of the fire racing toward them, of a warning called. The last stiff breeze had come in an unexpected direction and sent the fire a hundred meters in seconds, trapping a trainer and almost killing him. It had taught them all to be wary.

The trench is wide enough to stop the fire when it goes too far in any direction, but that means they end up walking a stone’s throw away from the fire in some areas.

Passing through those are the worst, the heat almost unbearable as they widen the firebreak at its far edge. Blue watches with a hand on squirtle’s ball in case any embers are blown across. The smoke is so thick that it’s like walking through a red cloud.

“I don’t think we can move this one!” Sarah half shouts over the roar of the fire, tugging at a branch that’s twice as long as she is tall. “Any of you got a strong pokemon?”

Blue shakes his head, wiping sweat from his neck. “Nothing that can cut it, either!”

“I’ve got one that might!” Luis unclips his pokeball and braces his arm. “Go, Jaws!”

A raticate flashes into existence, the muscular rodent immediately cowering from the light and heat. Luis kneels down and strokes it, murmuring something, then guiding it toward the middle of the tree branch. He stands it and points straight at the wood.

“Cut!”

The raticate begins to chomp at the bark, oversized teeth sinking into it with a crunch and jerking it off to spit to the side. It grips and chews and spits again and again while the trainers watch, and eventually it manages to bore through the branch and snap it in half with its final bite as it crawls through to the other side.

“Good girl!” Luis feeds and withdraws it as Blue and Sarah grab a half and begin to drag it away. Once they have both pieces a good distance from the firebreak, they continue walking again, breathing hard and occasionally stopping to clear other things off.

The break curves away from the fire for a bit, and they take a break to drink some water and rest in the lower heat. A dugtrio approaches and passes them from behind, its trainer following the three bobbing heads as they widen the firebreak by another few meters, barely visible claws sending grass flying as it burrows up and down. Blue and the others quickly scoop up the clumps of grass and toss them to the safe side of the break.

“Where were you guys, when this all started?” Blue asks as they set off again.

“To the west, across the river,” Sarah says, loosening her dark hair from its messy ponytail and rebinding it tighter. “One second we were asleep, the next there were pikachu everywhere. One of them ran right over our friend, got caught in her sleeping bag.” She grimaces and looks away.

Blue looks at her, then Luis. “Is she…”

“We fought them off and got her to the Outpost, but by then it was already ablaze. They stabilized her, but…” He shakes his head, eyes angry and desolate. “One of the Rangers strapped her to his pidgeot and took off for Pewter. They’re worried there might be permanent nerve damage.”

Blue doesn’t know what to say to that, so he says nothing, fighting the fear for Red and Leaf that rises up in him. Even if he gets help to them, he has no idea how bad Red’s arm is. What if it doesn’t heal right? A one armed trainer is at a serious disadvantage, and far more vulnerable in the wild. Would his journey be over already? Over before it really began?

The thought makes him cold, even in the stifling heat around them. He always figured Red would end his journey as soon as he got his Researcher’s license: he’s a good trainer, but he’s not, well, Blue. He’s better suited in a lab or writing books. He’ll probably even become a Professor some day. But experience in the field is essential to be a researcher, and if he gets crippled this young…

Blue chases the fear away with anger. Red would be fine, and one day he’d pay the Storm God back for this… But his strongest rage seems so insignificant against the nearby blaze, a charmander throwing embers at the sun, and he can’t shake the niggling fear for his friends.

Blue feels the wind pick up again, and the three of them immediately tense, watching the fire and preparing to run.

“Shit.” Luis points. “It’s headed toward the break, that way.”

He’s right. Blue can feel the direction in the caresses of air, stoking the fire and blowing burning debris in that direction. They begin to run along the trench, listening to the fire crackle and roar as it spreads through the trees.

Then the fire is visible again, a glowing light through the smoke. Blue begins to hear a faint popping sound, and looks around with a hand at his belt. It doesn’t sound like the electricity from earlier… “What is that? It sounds like it’s coming from the fire.”

“It’s… nothing dangerous.” Luis shakes his head. “We heard it earlier. Metapod hanging in the trees…”

Oh. Blue’s glad Leaf isn’t around to hear it. She cares about pokemon so much that it surprises him how competent she is in a fight. Even coordinators like Daisy don’t think of pokemon the way Leaf does. Unovans are strange.

Blue pulls out his phone for any messages that might have gotten through to him from the others, but the screen’s illumination makes it hard to make out details through the smoke. He puts his phone away and shoves his worries away again. “Another branch up ahead.”

The night drags on, an unending journey through smoke and heat. Another sandslash, or maybe it’s the one from earlier, eventually comes by to widen the break another few meters. A few minutes later they find a tree that the sandslash dug around, and wait for a trainer with a pokemon that can knock it down to come by so they can help clear it. In the meantime, they drag a huge bush that was uprooted off the firebreak and onto the grass. Blue’s muscles protest as his breath catches in his throat, and when Luis shouts that they’re clear, lets it go with a gasp, arms burning.

He leans his hands on his knees to catch his breath, closing his eyes against sudden dizziness. A hand touches his shoulder, and he looks up to see Sarah holding a water bottle.

“Go,” she says and points away from the fire. “Get away from the heat and rest a bit. We’re waiting here anyway.”

He wants to argue that he’s alright, but she and her brother haven’t treated him as lesser just because he’s younger, and he can tell she’s not doing so now. Besides, the sight of her water bottle makes him realize how parched his throat his. “I’ve got my own. Thanks.” Blue stumbles away until the heat is more bearable, near the outer edges of the lamp light. He puts his back to a tree and slides down to the grass, one hand digging his water bottle out of his bag.

Blue lifts his mask and takes a long drink. After the first swallow his throat seems to open up, warm water pouring down it almost faster than he can swallow. When his lungs start to burn for air he stops and secures his mask again. He pours the rest of the water over his hair before resting his head against the trunk and closing his eyes. His interrupted sleep is starting to catch up to him after laboring in the heat, and he struggles not to doze off as he lets his muscles rest.

He hears the crunch of footsteps approaching, and waits for Luis or Sarah to say something. Their steps are slow, almost awkward. When he hears them in front of him they still don’t say anything, Blue opens his eyes. He sees nothing at first, nothing but the white and brown and green of smoke and trees, and then his heart stutters in his chest.

A shiftry stands before him, over two meters tall hunched over, taller even than gramps. Its white mane of fur fades into the smoke perfectly, drawing his eyes to a bark covered humanoid body nearly as thick as the tree he’s sitting against. The branches that make up its arms are extended outward, fanning the air around it as it hop-steps delicately from one T shaped foot to the next, leaves rustling.

The leaves’ razor sharp edges are stained red, blood smeared across their stems.

Blue’s hand inches toward his pokeball pocket, heart pounding as the pokemon takes another step closer to him. He doesn’t know what sense it used to find him, but just as the smoke gives it incredible camouflage, it doesn’t seem to be able to see well in it.

Shiftry, Dark/Grass. Known as the ‘sinister pokemon,’ they excel at picking enemies who are weakened or at a disadvantage. Low defenses, but agile and deadly, capable of brute force mental attacks…

The shiftry balances from one foot to the next, legs moving with an awkward grace that reminds Blue suddenly of the way he’d run through the forest. As it hops a bit closer, the razor sharp edges of its leaves slice through the smoke, first one way and then the other in sweeping gestures that buffet him with gusts of air.

Blue wonders if it’s trying to fan away the smoke to see better. His fingers slide into the bag and search for the ridges of a greatball… and then his heart sinks as he remembers he gave his away.

This is what you get for trying to be helpful…

He swallows the bubble of nervousness rising in his chest, then plucks a pokeball out and expands it with this thumb.  Most shiftry are just outside the edge of what a pokeball’s mass limit can hold, but the fog makes it hard to tell just how big this one is. Either way, it would buy him time to get a pokemon out. Squirtle, shroomish or caterpie wouldn’t stand a chance. Zephyr could distract it and do some damage, but not enough.

That leaves one choice, risky as it is. Pokeballs can train even the most vicious pokemon to not see people as targets, but it’s not always a sure thing, and that doesn’t mean they’ll follow orders well.

Suddenly there’s the sound of voices, and the shiftry goes still, turning toward them. Panic constricts Blue’s chest, and he barely stops himself from calling out a warning. It might kill them in seconds if they walk near it unsuspecting, but it would kill him even quicker if it notices him. He turns the ball’s lens to face it, other hand putting down the water bottle and going to his belt… the ball isn’t pinging. Smoke is causing too much interference. He holds it up a bit, putting it closer…

“Blue, you ready?”

The shiftry turns its back on him and Blue shoves himself forward, holding the ball straight out toward it. It pings just as the shiftry leaps away, and the ball strikes it in the back and snatches it out of the air.

Blue rolls away before it even hits the ground, drawing his beedrill’s pokeball and getting to his feet to watch as the shiftry’s rolls to a stop. He has a brief moment of hope, and then the ball shudders and wiggles. Ah shit!

“Blue!” Luis and Sarah materialize in the smoke, pokeballs in hand.

“Get back! Shiftry in the ball!”

“What b—”

The shiftry explodes back out of the ball in a flash of light and an unusually loud bang that hurts Blue’s ears, the emergency rematerialization blowing the two halves of the pokeball apart. It stumbles on its awkwardly shaped feet, seeming disoriented from the sudden change.

“Go, Beedrill!” Blue yells as he throws the ball high up. It opens with a flash, and as he catches the pokeball, his pokemon falls to the ground in a limp heap, wings moving slowly. Blue stares at it in horror. I forgot, the sleep powder…

“Go, Prince!” Luis shouts.

“Go, Rafflesia!”

The shiftry focuses on the nidorino and gloom that suddenly appear beside it, leaves fanning out as the trainers catch their balls and yell simultaneously “Poison Sting!” and “Acid!”

Blue rushes to his beedrill as the fight begins. He opens the pouch in the side of his bag and pulls out bottles until he finds the awakening potion, shoving the rest back in and spraying the beedrill. Its delicate wings beat a bit faster, arms and legs twitching as it struggles toward consciousness. Blue can see some spores still covering it, and begins to carefully brush them away, not sure if an awakening potion would work while it’s still covered in the stuff. How do insects breathe? Should he be focusing on the head? He’s about to ask Red when he remembers he’s not here, and his hands brush faster, ignoring the unnerving feel of the bug’s chitinous body under his hands.

The shiftry gives a grinding, cracking roar, like tree bark twisting against itself. Blue looks up and sees the shiftry swing at Luis’s nidorino, leaves drawing bloody furrows along its hide. The shiftry isn’t looking good, mane and skin covered in dark patches where the gloom’s acid has burned it. Sarah’s pokemon shoots stream after stream of the caustic liquid out, hissing and bubbling on the shiftry’s skin.

“Double Kick!” Luis yells. His nidorino leaps and spins in the air to slam both hindlegs into the shiftry’s knee. It roars as the bark cracks and buckles, and its retaliatory swipe misses the nidorino as Luis’s pokemon leaps away. Another spurt of acid hits the shiftry’s leaves, almost dissolving one of them completely.

From all appearances, they’re winning. Strong as the shiftry is, the pokemon they chose are well suited to the fight, and they have it outnumbered.

So why is Blue still so tense?

Because shiftry are called the “sinister pokemon” for a reason. They target the helpless, and don’t fight fair.

“Horn attack!”

Why isn’t it using its a mental attacks?

Blue’s heart beats faster and faster as the shiftry spits seeds toward the gloom at an incredible speed, the hard shells striking it without much effect.

“Poison powder!”

Blue’s hands are paused above his beedrill, heart racing to a painful pitch. They’re missing something. What? What?

Why is it staying to fight when it’s so outnumbered?

“Oh, hell,” Blue whispers, and turns slowly around in a circle. He sees nothing but smoke and trees.

Nothing but smoke and trees.

The ball is already in his hand, already cocked back, already sailing out. “Go, Zephyr!” Blue yells, and as soon as he materializes, “Gust!”

His pokemon loops haphazardly midair so that he’s behind Blue, then begins to flap faster and faster, thinning the smoke in front of them as he blows it away.

The whiteness sticks in one spot ahead of him, and a second later his eyes adjust to see it for what it is: the mane of another shiftry. Another solidifies to Sarah’s right, and a third closer to Luis, like optical illusions made real. Three… four… Blue spins around. Now that he’s looking, he can see the shiftry that was creeping up on him through the smoke.

Six.

Six shiftry against three of them, and his only pokemon that can stand against them is asleep. Luis and Sarah stare in shock as the trap is revealed, and then step back to back, hands going down to their belts.

The revealed pokemon seem to realize their cover is gone, and then the forest rings with their grinding roars as they close in from all sides.

Chapter 14: Desensitization

“So, what if we cut off Blue’s finger?” Leaf asks as they walk.

Blue glances at her, then steps to the side of the road so Red is between them. “I’d tell Squirtle to bite off two of yours, is what.”

Leaf grins. “She’d have to get through Bulbasaur first. My point is, would a psychic be able to lift it immediately after?”

Red scratches his hair, considering Leaf’s question. The morning dawned with clear blue skies above, and after a communal breakfast, they said goodbye to Allie, Matthew and the twins and resumed their journey north. Once they were on their way, Red filled the others in on the details of his spinarak capture, and his conversation with Professor Oak.

“It’s a good idea-”

Blue steps farther from him too.

“-but hard to test, obviously. From what I read, cut hair and nail clippings lose whatever protection they have as soon as the dark type moves away, since the ‘dead zone’ they passively emit doesn’t extend past their skin. And psychics have reported that the dead zone fades shortly after death, though that’s medical death, not brain death. So I’m not sure how long a severed body part would retain it.” Red puts on a speculative look and peers intently at Blue’s hands, stroking his chin.

“Hey!” Blue says as Leaf laughs, and slows his pace so that he’s behind both of them. “Keep your beady eyes to yourself and find a pokemon to chop up for your experiments.”

Leaf’s laughter cuts off, and she frowns over her shoulder as Red mutters “beady eyes?” to himself. “That’s disgusting! You’d have to do it while it’s still alive to test it.”

“You just suggested chopping off my finger!”

“It was a hypothetical! Some pokemon are actually butchered alive.”

Red blinks. “Are they? Which?”

Leaf grimaces. “Shellfish meat has a bad taste if it’s killed before it’s cooked, so they often boil or chop up living ones.”

“At least they’re killing them for food,” Blue says.

“Is that supposed to make it better?”

“Uh… doesn’t it?”

They start to argue over the ethics of eating pokemon, but Red is too distracted by her example to get involved. He pulls his pokedex out to see if there are any dark-type crustaceans.

“If you care about what happens to your pokemon you must recognize they’re capable of feeling, so why is it alright to kill them for food when we don’t have to?”

“I care about my pokemon because they’re mine, pokemon get hurt and killed in the wild all the time.”

“So that’s an excuse to hurt more of them?”

“It’s a fact of nature. Even plants can feel, if feeling is all you care about, well, something’s gonna die no matter what you eat-”

“Found one,” Red says to cut off their argument before it escalates further. “Crawdaunt, Water/Dark. A group of psychics went to different restaurants preparing them and reported that after they were, er, chopped up, their parts kept their own dead zones for a short time after being separated, but before the crawdaunt died.”

Leaf looks faintly nauseous. “Well, that’s that, then. If the deadzone is tied to the body parts, then it can’t be something in the mind.”

Red shakes his head. “Not necessarily. We don’t actually know the mechanics of how it works. What if the source is the mind, and the field it subconsciously covers the body with just takes a while to fade?”

They continue to discuss it for the rest of the morning, all the while keeping their eyes peeled for cocoons, webs, or nesting pokemon as they travel. Despite the lower chances of running into pokemon together, no one suggests splitting up again.

Short of blind luck however, Red despairs at finding a hoothoot or noctowl before they leave the forest, let alone some of the rarer pokemon like pikachu or budew. They’ve been walking at about 3 kilometers an hour, and would likely leave the forest by tomorrow afternoon. Thinking of the bird that flew overhead last night, he’s more frustrated than ever that he’s the only one among them without a flier. He’d rather not settle for a pidgey or spearow, neither of which are capable of mental attacks.

In the meantime they bring their own pokemon out and train with them as they travel. Leaf sends her rattata from one bush to another on her side to hone its precision in following directions. She eventually nicknames him “Scamp” after he tries to grab a bit of pokepuff from Blue’s shroomish. The fungal pokemon waddles along beside them on its stubby feet, dutifully sending clouds of different spores and powders over bushes Blue wants to check for hidden wilds.

Red decided to summon Charmander for some physical training. The fire lizards’ strongest muscles are in their hind legs, vital to help them leap out of harm’s way while young and launch themselves into the air when they grow wings.

Once Charmander manages to grab the bit of pokepuff Red holds near his chest, he lifts the next bit to eye level.

“Jump!”

Charmander leaps, biting at the air before he falls back to the grass.

Blue smirks. “Speaking of losing fingers…”

“Come on, Charmander, you can do it. Jump!”

Charmander crouches, then leaps again, snagging the pokepuff.

“Good job Charmander!” Red tears off another piece and lifts it above his head. “Again, jump!” His pokemon tries, again and again, but can’t go higher than Red’s head. He growls and leaps again, snapping at the air before falling to the grass, breathing hard.

“Go on boy, you’re getting higher. Jump!”

Charmander looks at the pokepuff, then him. He makes a gurgling sound, and suddenly starts climbing Red’s leg.

“Hey!” Red stops walking, stretching his arm higher as his other hand reaches for his pokemon. “That’s cheating!”

Charmander pays him no mind, crawling around his side to avoid his hand, tail kept carefully apart as he makes his way up Red’s shirt, then leaps off and grabs the pokepuff. Upon landing, the fire lizard happily curls up on the grass and munches on his prize. Red sighs.

“So are you going to punish that?” Blue says. “Since he was supposed to jump?”

“I wouldn’t,” Leaf says as she tosses a berry to Scamp. “Might discourage creative problem solving.”

Red nods. “Guess he’s had enough jumping for now.” He rubs the soft hide on Charmander’s head, then returns him to his pokeball as the others walk ahead.

Red summons his spinarak for the first time since he caught it. As soon as it’s out, he avoids looking directly at the face-like pattern on its back. He feels his thoughts shying away from the memory for fear of feeling its echo again, but the problem with trying not to think of something-

dark

alone

Red focuses his gaze on one of its legs, quickly bending down to check if its wounds from before healed properly. He can’t quite bring himself to touch the arachnoid, and simply pulls some jerky out, shredding it into small bits for it to eat.

Something simple to start… “Spinarak, string shot!” he says, pointing at the branch of a nearby tree. The bug turns to see what he’s pointing at, then shoots its webbing up, attaching a line to the branch. “Climb!” It scuttles up the string until it can hang from the branch. “Return.” It drops and scurries back over to him. “Good job.”

Red drops the meat strips, and suppresses a sudden shudder as its mandibles clack audibly. He’s glad bug pokemon don’t react as positively to physical affection, because he can’t bring himself to treat it as warmly as his rattata or charmander. And that’s even putting aside the-

cold

hurts

Red shakes himself, breath catching in his throat. This is going to be harder than he thought.

Bug pokemon always creeped him out. Just the thought of his spinarak crawling up his body or resting on his arm makes him break out in goosebumps.

I need to desensitize myself, Red realizes. Pokemon professors need to be capable of studying all kinds of pokemon. Professor Oak doesn’t get squeamish when handling venonat, or paras.

Unfortunately, Red never mastered that particular brain hack. He knows the theory though: small exposures in safe and calming circumstances until he no longer feels an aversion to that, then moving on to more extreme circumstances.

Red sighs and tells his spinarak to follow him as he catches up with the others, then begins training it in basic webbing commands: string shot, trip lines, web traps, slowly working his way up to the more complex traps and obstacles. The other two watch his new pokemon curiously for a bit, but if they notice the way Red avoids looking directly at or touching it, they don’t comment.

The hours pass, and the sun rises to its zenith. Eventually the trio finds a clearing to stop in for lunch. There’s a small boulder resting beside a nearby tree, and Blue points at it as the other two feed their pokemon, then withdraw them.

“Shroomish, Leech Seed!”

His pokemon’s soft body contracts, then pulses, the dimples in its fungal dome sending out half a dozen seeds over the rock. A gel around the seeds causes them to stick, and soon they split open. Thin roots snake out to find the minuscule pits and wedges in the stone, and within few seconds a dozen small cracks are heard. Leaf steps closer and kneels to watch, keeping her hands away from the glistening roots as they slowly press into the boulder.

But soon the vines stop growing, and the seeds fall off one by one, the ends of their roots wilting. Blue frowns and sends his pokemon to eat them. “That wasn’t particularly impressive. In the vids I’ve seen, leech seed can eventually bring down even an onyx.”

“Well, there’s a difference between ‘living’ stone and ‘dead’ stone. This,” Leaf says as she knocks a fist on the boulder, “Is just rock. It’s virtually devoid of nutrients for the roots to absorb, and is much harder for the digestive enzymes of the leech seed’s roots to break down. But living stone is basically like really hard chitin. It’s still organic.”

“Damn. I wanted to get a sense for how well it would work on Leader Brock’s pokemon. ” Blue pulls out some berries for his shroomish once the pokemon finishes eating the barely grown plants.

“The leader of your Rock Gym is named ‘Brock’?”

“His name’s Takeshi actually, but he goes by Brock.” Red says. “Don’t any of your Leaders use nicknames?”

She smiles. “Yeah, our Flying Gym leader’s is Skyla. So what kind of Leader is Brock?”

“Very involved locally,” Blue says. “The city loves him, which means anyone who wants to be mayor there has to hold his favor.”

“So much for the separation of powers.”

Red shrugs. “The people have spoken. Thankfully he seems smart and competent, so things in Pewter have been going pretty well. They have a lot of civic pride.”

Blue withdraws his shroomish, and the three remove their facemasks and take out food for lunch. Leaf has some bread, cheese, and tomato slices, and Red realizes that he hasn’t seen her eat any meat. Granted, most of their trail food consists of fruit, rice balls and granola. Rather than put her on the spot about it, he tests his hypothesis by offering her some jerky, which she politely turns down. After hearing her objections to the way pokemon are treated, he wonders if she avoids eating any pokemon at all, even the plants and water types.

After they eat, Leaf steps away for a bit to call her mother while Red quickly confirms that Zapdos’s storm is still safely north of Pewter. Blue begins setting up some virtual training for his new pokemon, and Red checks his mail.

He looks at the message from Leader Giovanni again before going to his new messages. It’s still hard to believe that such a huge figure had actually taken the time to respond to a random message by a fan. Red doesn’t consider himself easily star-struck after growing up knowing the world famous Professor Oak, but Giovanni’s accomplishments are just as impressive in their own way. More than that, he has a unique way of rationally looking at the world, and Red always learns something new by reading his blog posts.

Red goes to his new messages and sees one from Professor Oak:

Hello Red,

I sent an email to Elite Agatha last night, and she responded to me this morning. Psychic attacks are generally felt as mental, while ghostly attacks are experienced as emotional. This seems like an antiquated conception of the division between the mind and emotions, which is why we call both mental attacks, but she insists the difference is noticeable to those sensitive to such things, however fine the line is to others.

I’ll ask some others just to verify, but this is Agatha’s area of expertise, and if we take what she says as a working hypothesis for now, the description you gave of the attack makes it seem more emotional than mental. Hard to be sure though. I would make finding out your top priority.

Safe travels,

Sam

Red puts his phone away. “Hey Blue, wanna do me a favor?”

“What’s up?” Blue taps at the pokedex screen, gaze intent.

“Would you mind letting my spinarak use its mental attack on you?”

Blue’s fingers pause, and he lowers his pokedex a bit to look at Red. “Say that again?”

“I’m still not sure if it was a psychic attack or a ghost one, and since you’re dark…”

“No.” Blue turns back to his pokedex.

“I don’t mean right now, but after I train it a bit-”

“Sorry. I’ll pass on testing out its poison too, or Charmander’s fire.”

Red laughs. “Come on, seriously. It won’t affect you at all if it’s psychic, and you’ll barely feel it if not.”

“No shit? I didn’t realize.” Blue raises the pokedex a bit higher, leaning back against his bag so his face is hidden behind it.

Red’s smile fades, brow furrowed. “Why not?”

“I just don’t feel like it.”

“That’s not a reason.”

“Sure it is. Not my concern if you won’t take it.”

A hot flush spreads through Red’s chest. “What’s your problem?”

“An annoying bidoof who can’t take no for an answer.”

And ignites. “I guess it was too much to expect a rational justification from you.”

“Guess so.”

Leaf rejoins them, looking a bit apprehensive. “What’s up?”

“Nothing. Blue’s just being a self-centered jackass.”

Blue lowers his pokedex and sits up with a scowl. “You asked me for a favor, but I’m the self-centered one?!”

“You refused without even explaining why!”

“Sorry professor, better get used to the fact that you don’t always get to know everything!”

Leaf steps forward, palms out to both of them and looking a bit shocked. “Woah, guys, calm down…”

Red can’t remember standing, but Blue is too, and he cranes his neck to look at him around Leaf. “If you’re not going to supply a reason for your actions,” Red says as blood pounds in his ears, “Then you can’t complain if I come up with my own.”

“I can if you’re calling me selfish for not obeying your every command!”

“‘Every command?’ Excuse me for assuming you’d want to help me get my researcher license!”

“Well excuse me if I don’t like being experimented on just because I’m dark!”

Red’s anger hits a wall. “What? That’s not-”

“Yes, it is! I’m just a test subject to you now, aren’t I?”

“Come on, you know me better than that! Besides, you said you were over it!”

“I lied, you idiot!”

The two of them are breathing hard as that last shout fades away, and as Red tries to think of something to say, Blue makes a sound of disgust and grabs his water bottle before striding away,

“Wait, Blue-”

“I’m gonna take a leak, Red. Mind if I have some privacy?”

Red stops following, cheeks hot as he glances at Leaf. She’s looking after Blue with a mix of puzzlement and sadness though, and when she turns to Red there’s a fierce light in her eyes.

“You. Explain.”

“It was… I just asked him if… ah, hell.” Red sighs and sits back down, wanting to simultaneously punch Blue and apologize to him. “I asked if he’d mind me testing my spinarak’s mental attack on him. When I told Blue I knew he was dark last night, he said it doesn’t bother him any more.”

“Did you consider whether he was putting on a brave face?”

Red rubs his face. “Not at all. He’s right, I am an idiot.”

Leaf lowers herself to a crouch, leaning back against a tree. “I don’t think taking your friend at his word makes you an idiot. It was a mistake. If you did consider it but ignored it, that might be a different story.”

“You don’t know Blue the way I do. In retrospect it’s obvious that it would bother him more than he let on, like the fact that he didn’t tell me himself after all these years.”

Leaf has a brow raised. “Is it really that big a deal, here? There’s some prejudice in Unova, but…”

“When my mom was our age, it was illegal for them to hold public office,” Red says. “People said someone with a dark mind could hide any corruption from psychics. Like mind reading’s reliable enough to detect that anyway, right? It was stupid superstition at the heart of it. Dark pokemon have pretty much always been seen as evil in Kanto, and a lot of villains in our movies and shows are dark. Things are a bit better now, but you’ll still meet some that make a big deal of it.”

“Wow. That kind of explains why he kept it secret though, doesn’t it?”

Red shakes his head, anger returning. “Even from me? Talk about lack of trust!”

Leaf frowns. “Red… don’t take this the wrong way, but how many other friends do you have, besides Blue?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Can I make a prediction? Or speculation, rather?”

Her phrasing helps Red take a step outside himself. “Uh… yeah. Go ahead.”

She picks up a dead leaf and begins to slowly shred it with her fingers, gaze down. “I know I just met you and Blue, so let me know how far off I am. You made a few friends when you were younger, but none of them really kept up with you in school as well as Blue did. After he lost his parents and you lost your dad, it became more than just a rivalry. Blue didn’t focus as much on academics, but he’s still smart, and you both had the same drive. Took your goals seriously. Other kids became hard to relate to, and eventually you started to spend most of your time with him or older researchers and lab assistants. But they weren’t really your equals, while Blue was.”

Red is watching her with a mix of embarrassment and admiration. “Okay, you’re not far off at all. In fact your model is surprisingly good considering what info you have. What made all that so obvious?”

She smiles. “Not just you. I think that summary fits him too. I’ve never heard either of you refer to others your age when you talk. Your past agreements or arguments all seem to be with each other. Other than family members, it’s like there’s no one else for either of you. You guys aren’t just friends.”

Red feels a bit uncomfortable as she talks, then distinctly nervous by the end. “Woah, woah, you’re not saying… it’s not like we’re…”

Leaf looks puzzled for a second, then laughs. “No, I don’t mean it like that! I’m just saying, if you were just close friends, he probably would have told you. But beyond that, you guys act like brothers, and brothers sometimes have a sense of rivalry. My guess is, he didn’t avoid telling you out of lack of trust, but because he was embarrassed at being seen as lesser.”

Red thinks back to how he felt after his spinarak blasted him, careful not to think of the blast itself. He hadn’t wanted to tell Leaf and Blue because he hadn’t wanted to admit his weakness. It was only the necessity that made him do so. He wonders how many other important sides of themselves people hide from each other, even those they care about, out of embarrassment. It’s easy to say “He should just trust me” when it’s not you that feels ashamed.

“Yeah. I get it.” Red sighs. “So you think I should apologize?”

“Damn right you should.”

Red gets to his feet as Blue walks back into the clearing. “Hey man, I’m really s-”

“Forget it.” Blue waves a hand. “Let’s just drop it, alright? We should keep moving anyway.”

“Uh… sure. You got it.” Shit. Despite all that, he still hoped to perform the spinarak test. Now he can’t think of a tactful way to bring it up. Red’s movements are aggressive as he packs his bag, but he keeps his irritation off his face as they start walking again.

It’s so frustrating to have the answer to a question so close, and be unable to test it. The itch to know is still there, and it gets worse the longer he tries to think of alternate ways to determine the attack type, all of which are significantly less precise. Worst case, he could just wait to find another normal or dark type to test it on, but a pokemon wouldn’t be able to communicate what it had felt. He finds himself getting angry at Blue again for refusing. Maybe he could arrange to accidentally-

Red slams the door on that train of thought, a sick feeling in his gut. Even knowing Blue would be immune or resistant to its effects, it’s a horrible thing to think of doing to his friend.

To anyone! he screams at himself. That’s Mad Scientist thinking! That’s the kind of thing that gets people branded as Renegades!

Red forces himself to take out his notebook and start writing about something, anything else, as they walk. His hands are shaking a bit. I’d never do something like that, he assures himself. Least of all to a friend. Never.


The kilometers pass steadily underfoot as afternoon gives way to evening, and each of them gets some training in with the rest of their pokemon. Blue and Leaf train with their starters and pidgey, but neither takes out their beedrill, wanting to do some extensive virtual training with them first. Having fewer pokemon than the others, Red brings Charmander back out after finishing with his rattata’s training, and lets the two of them get used to concurrent orders as they walk. After a couple hours, his rattata has gone through three pokepuffs and Charmander two, but they’ve mostly stopped reacting to his words unless they’re prefaced properly. Red is impressed by how much smarter his well-bred Charmander is compared to the wild rattata.

Eventually the sun begins to set, and they find another Ranger Outpost to camp by. They stop at the outpost itself, a small collection of buildings where they can pick up some free traveling rations and food for their pokemon, courtesy of their Trainer IDs.

There’s no spare room for uninjured travelers in the buildings themselves, so the three set up camp within the wards again, using a trio of handlamps to light the perimeter before laying out their bedrolls in a loose triangle. Red calls his mom briefly to assure her he’s still alright, then checks CoRRNet with some trepidation for any news in the area he might have missed. All seems quiet in the forest, however. They’re about twelve kilometers from its northern edge, and fifteen from Pewter. Zapdos seems to have swung to the west, and Pewter is no longer in a state of high alert.

“I’ll take last watch,” Blue says as he finishes eating, then slips into his bedroll and turns to his side before waiting for a response.

“Okay,” Leaf says. “Night.”

“Night,” Red echoes. Despite saying they’d put the fight behind them, Blue was distant all afternoon. Red isn’t sure how long he’ll stay upset, but he’s willing to wait at least a day before poking at it. Normally after a big fight they would keep their distance and cool off for a bit, but that’s not really an option here.

He turns to Leaf. “You tired?”

She shakes her head. “I’ll probably stay up for a bit. First one to fall asleep gets second watch?”

“Deal.”

They lie down and open their pokedexes. Red looks up efficient ways to set up webbing with spinarak, wondering how to make use of it tonight. He could put a bit of pokepuff in it to draw prey. It would probably work on caterpie and other bugs, but a hoothoot would free itself within seconds without spinarak hanging around nearby to distract or attack it after it’s caught.

He closes his pokedex and starts sketching out different web patterns that might better secure a bird pokemon. He could have two sets of vertical lines to the sides of the main web to snare its wings, but what about the talons?

It’s hard to use a bug pokemon’s skills to try and stop a flying type. They got lucky before with Bulbasaur and the pidgey, and Bulbasaur was badly hurt all the same. Red frowns, thinking of psychic and ghost and dark interactions again, and begins writing them all out, then categorizing all the pokemon types.

Substance:

Normal, Fire, Water, Plant, Electric, Poison, Rock, Metal, Bug, Ghost

Descriptive:

Flying, Fighting, Ground, Dragon, Psychic, Ice

“Whatcha writing?” Leaf asks, voice low.

Red cranes his neck to look at Leaf and sees her lying with her hands behind her head, staring up at the dark. He turns back to his notebook and reads the lists out loud.

“Huh. That’s an interesting way to divide them.”

“Remember our conversation a couple days ago? When we just set out?”

“Yeah. You think of the types as emergent properties rather than fundamental aspects.”

“For some, yeah. But I’m not sure if I’m right in all of them.”

“Ground being descriptive does seem odd. But why wasn’t Dark listed?”

Red sighs. “Because I have no idea where to put it.”

He hears her shift and sees her lying on her side to face him, so he turns to do the same. “From what we learned today, it seems like a fundamental aspect of their biology.”

“Possibly.”

“Probably.”

He shrugs a shoulder. “Maybe probably. The way their immunity works is moderate evidence for it. But there’s other evidence against. Before, I would have said Dark Type was descriptive for the same reason Psychic is. That there’s nothing inherent to the biology that interacts uniquely with certain elements or substances, the way water conducts electricity or metal is harder than rock. Is every cell in a psychic type psychic? Probably not: all the phenomena we observe with psychics relate to their mental powers’ strengths and shortcomings, not their biology. So I thought Dark types were similar, because other than their unique resistance and immunity to ghost and psychic phenomena, they don’t really have any unique interactions.”

“But that’s not actually true,” Leaf says. “You have Fighting down as Descriptive-I understand why, I remember your point from earlier-but even if it’s just a label put on anything that is really muscular and agile, fighting pokemon tend to have a clear advantage against Dark pokemon, even the physically tough ones.”

“But is that because of something unique to the Dark typing, or just an interaction of the individual species? There aren’t really many physically strong Dark pokemon. Some are very fast, and some are bulky, but by and large, they’re not strong. So what if it’s just the result of that?”

“But then other strong physical types, like Rock-”

“Think outside the bounds of the typing system for a moment: is there any reason that a Fighting pokemon’s punch should be so much harder for an umbreon or mightyena to recover from than, say, a heavy rock thrown at them, or a body slam?”

Leaf takes a few moments to think about it, eyes staring down. Red waits patiently for her to finish setting aside the assumptions their cultures surround pokemon types with.

Eventually she looks up and says, “No. But from all we can observe, that’s just the way it is.”

Red slumps back, arm covering his eyes. “I know,” he moans quietly. “It doesn’t make sense!”

Leaf laughs, hand over her mouth. “If the evidence doesn’t match your beliefs…”

“Right, right.” Red sighs. “Just because something doesn’t make sense to me doesn’t mean the world’s wrong. It just means my model of the world is off somewhere.”

“Why do you care about this so much anyway? It seems like the kind of thing a competitive trainer would obsess over.”

Red feels himself get defensive, then realizes she’s asking out of genuine curiosity. After only having Blue to discuss things like this with for so long, he’s not really used to that. “Because it confuses me, and things that confuse me are the best warning flags I have to unknown unknowns.”

Leaf smiles. “Unknown unowns? You think there are more than twenty-six?”

Red grimaces, lips twitching up. “That was a terrible pun.”

“Inown.”

Red groans and mimes throwing his pencil at her. She ducks her head, then comes up grinning. “So you mean it’s the way you realize there’s something you don’t know that you don’t know?”

“Right. When we feel confusion, it’s the result of some new data that’s at odds with our model of how reality is. So either our model is flawed for not being able to account for the new stimulus, or the stimulus is false.”

“Like if Blue wakes up tomorrow and starts reading science journals?”

It’s Red’s turn to cover his laugh, and he turns to glance at his friend’s still form. Blue’s breaths are steady and even. “I’m still holding out hope he will eventually, but if it was something sudden, then yeah.”

“And since your model of Blue includes a disinterest in science articles, then maybe that part of the model is wrong.”

Red nods. “Just the first few times though, after which my model of him will have updated, and it won’t be confusing anymore. Alternatively-”

“Alternatively, your model of the article might be what was wrong. Your confusion would be from ‘why is Blue reading something he normally finds boring?’ but maybe it’s about something relevant to competitive battles.”

“Have we been reading the same blogs?”

“Not in this case, but it makes sense. Except, what do you mean by the stimulus being false? Like if it’s just an illusion of Blue, or a hallucination?”

Red smiles. “That’s a possibility, though a very low one. More likely is that he’s just pretending to read an article to irritate me.”

She raises a brow. “Does he do that?”

“Not really. Though when we were younger he once started carrying around a notebook and randomly scribbling in it every time I did or said something.”

Leaf buries her laugh in her arms. “It’s not funny,” Red says, indignation fighting his own smile. She nods without looking up, and his smile wins out. “Okay, it’s a little funny. Anyway, that’s why I’m so interested in pokemon types. They’re a major clue to the way the world really works, and the more they don’t make sense, the more I wonder whether what we know is really accurate.”

Leaf is still smiling when she raises her head, but her tone is serious. “Have you considered whether we just can’t understand it? If it’s just something unknowable?”

Red shrugs. “Sure, but what’s the use of that kind of thinking? Just throw our hands up and stop trying to figure things out? There may be limits to what our flawed and feeble minds can do, but until there’s a sign we’ve reached it, I don’t see the point in being pessimistic.”

“Just checking to make sure. It’s at least worth recognizing when you might be on a dead end path.”

“Yeah. What about you? Doesn’t the weirdness of typing interest you at all?”

Leaf turns to lie on her back again. “Sure. But then, everything interests me. That’s kind of my problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was raised by two generations of professors. Mom just got her title and lab last year, but she’s always been a researcher. Grandpa specialized in pokemon population distributions when I was a kid, so we traveled all over Unova when I was growing up.”

Red refrains at the last second from exclaiming over how cool that must have been. Her mood is too melancholy, so instead he just says, “What was that like? I’ve lived in Pallet my whole life.”

“It was fun, for the most part. I made a lot of different friends… but I had a hard time relating to them, and always had to move again soon. I had a lot of cool experiences and opportunities, but never stuck around in one place long enough to really feel like I belonged, or focus seriously on a single project. I’m interested in a lot of different fields of study, but not really an expert in any of them. I’m good at living outdoors. I’m an okay fisher, back when I fished. I’m good with pokemon, I’m good with numbers. I liked gardening, but wasn’t so good at that. I’m okay at programming, I actually enjoyed it a lot, but I only had a few tutors spread out over the years and there was never much time to really learn it formally or practice much.”

Leaf goes quiet after that, and Red keeps the silence, waiting. Eventually she says, “I want to find something I’m really great at. I want to be an activist, maybe go into politics, but I’m too young to be taken seriously in most fields other than as a trainer. And I felt like my worldview was too tied to Unova’s culture. I wanted a wider perspective, to see how other regions think about pokemon and human interactions. I had the idea for a book on the legends of different cultures because I like writing, and Grandpa’s research on Unova’s legends always fascinated me. The way people describe the old stories of Zekrom and Reshiram’s battles as a clash between Truth and Idealism, or how they ascribe meaning and purpose to the Forces of Nature when they go around causing disasters.”

Red smiles a bit. “Well, you came to the right place if you’re looking for parallels to that.”

“Yeah. Comparing the different views on your Storm Trio and our Weather Trio should be interesting. Speaking of which, are you and Blue really planning on heading into the storm if Zapdos comes?”

“Yeah,” Red says after a moment. He doesn’t bring up his contingency plans in case Blue might not be fully asleep or wakes up at any moment. It occurs to him that he could send her an email, give her an idea of his plans and enlist her help. “But like we said, we’re not going to just rush at Zapdos and try to take it down. We just want to help others, for now.”

“Still, you’ll need well trained pokemon just to handle any wild pokemon rampaging due to Pressure. Do you think three pokemon are enough?”

“No, I don’t. We’re not likely to find new pokemon training ours while we travel though.”

“So what’s your plan?”

“What makes you think I have one?”

Leaf smiles. “Unless your notebook is full of nothing but doodles, you’d better have something.”

Red smiles back and pushes himself to his elbows. “You know, I actually do. And you might be able to help with it…”


Red wakes to the feel of a hand shaking his shoulder. There’s a second of disorientation, then he scrambles off his belly and looks up at Leaf, who’s smiling. “Getsumthin?” he mutters, rubbing at his eyes. “Caterpie again?”

“Nope. Say hello to your first flier.”

Red blinks at her, then pushes himself to his feet and turns to the branches above, where Leaf is shining one of the lamp lights. The second web he instructed his spinarak to weave is still up there, and the pokepuff he’d climbed up and put there is gone. In its place…

Red grins. A hoothoot hangs tangled in the web, sleeping. Its feathers are covered in the sleep spores Leaf’s bulbasaur had coated the web with.

“Awesome,” Red says, mind coming fully awake as he gets out his pokeball. “When-”

“Just now. I heard its wings, then it struggled a bit in the web. I think its beak was full of the pokepuff, because it didn’t make much noise. We should set up another one, maybe we’ll get another!”

“Yeah, let me just-”

“What’s going on? We under attack?”

Red and Leaf turn guiltily to Blue, who’s staring blearily up at them. They forgot to keep their voices down.

“Sorry Blue, everything’s fine. We caught a hoothoot.”

Red turns back and aims his pokeball, but the web is too far up. He set the first one lower so they could see it in the light, but a caterpie crawled into it before he even fell asleep. Leaf insisted he take it after giving up his chance at the beedrill, so he caught his second bug pokemon. The second web was put higher, and between the long branches of two trees in hopes of being more accessible to a flier rather than a crawler.

Red puts his pokeball away and begins climbing, and Leaf shines the light on the tree to help him see.

“Oh, nice,” Blue says, getting to his feet and rubbing his face. “Hang up another and catch me one, would you?”

“Sure,” Red grunts, limbs burning as he pulls himself up to the branch parallel with the web.

“We actually hung another two,” Leaf says, pointing. “Nothing in them yet though.”

He straddles it and drags himself carefully closer, then takes out his pokeball and aims it. After a moment it pings, and he lobs it onto the sleeping pokemon. The ball absorbs it in a flash of light and falls to the grass below. “That’s five. Told you I’d catch up to…” Red trails off as a second flash registers to his side. He turns, thinking one of them had caught another that appeared just then, but they’re both looking up at him.

“What is it Red?”

“Thought I saw something. You guys didn’t-”

The night briefly lights up again, and suddenly Red has trouble breathing. His heart races in his throat as he automatically starts to count, feeling his body tremble.

0… 1… 2… 3…

“What was that?” Blue turns to face the direction of the flash. To the west.

4… 5… 6… 7…

“Red! What’s wrong?” Leaf asks.

8… 9… 10… 11…

Red stares out into the darkness of the trees, and sees another bolt of electricity light the distant forest.

Chapter 13: Theory Induced Blindness

As night descends on Viridian, Red checks their map for other travelers setting up camps nearby. There’s one within the wards of the Ranger Outpost, so they head east to join it. The forest darkens quickly, and soon they have their flashlights out to avoid walking into trees or bushes. Red has one eye on his phone to guide them, so he sees when they cross the proximity border of the wards. Whoever’s on watch at the Ranger Outpost just got an infrared image of them, and knows nothing dangerous has arrived.

Eventually they find a small clearing with a ring of dim lanterns hanging on the trees at the perimeter. In the middle are a quartet of sleeping bags with three girls and a boy sitting on them. They rise as Red, Blue and Leaf arrive, and Red can see pokeballs on each of their belts, though the boy only has two.

“Hey there. Mind if we join you?” Leaf asks.

“Sure-sure,” one of the girls says, beckoning with one hand. “The more the merrier.” She’s a bit shorter than the other two, with pitch black hair worn in a pixie cut. The taller pair are identical twins with light auburn hair, while the boy has blonde hair cut in a bowl and wears glasses. All three girls are a bit older than Red, though the boy looks a bit younger. “I’m Allie, this is Ayame and Kiku, and that’s Matthew.”

“Nice to meet you all. I’m Leaf, this is Red and Blue.” Red waves, and Blue tips a salute with his fingers.

The four rearrange their bags in a half circle so the newcomers can start unpacking their things, the bright flashes of their containers lighting up the night. “So, where ya from, where ya headed?” Allie asks as they open the boxes and take out their sleeping bags.

“Pallet.” Blue says. “Headed to Pewter. You?”

“Matthew and I are going south to see our uncle.”

“We’re going to take the Pallet ferry to Cinnabar,” one of the twins says. Red has already forgotten which is which.

He lets the others field questions as he sits on his sleeping bag and takes out his notebook. The whole walk here, he couldn’t get his mind off Luke and the beedrill. Maybe his daily assessment will help him stop circling around it.

Red takes out a granola bar and begins writing as he eats. He knows it might come off as rude, but at least Matthew seems similarly disinterested in small talk, playing on a handheld game system.

Mistakes I made today… He taps his pencil on the sheet, thinking over the trip from Viridian City. Nothing too major there. He overcame his fear of the skarmory, and didn’t make any impulse purchases. Once he got to the forest though, he nearly lost his pokedex. Red grimaces and writes, Be more careful with pokedex. Invaluable asset is not worth risking for higher chance of encountering pokemon. At least he hadn’t tried it at night first; he can just imagine a noctowl swooping by and snatching it out of his hand.

Now that he’s crossing that strategy out though, he needs a new one. He turns back to a previous entry where he’d written down ideas for how to find pokemon-

“You’re from Unova?”

Red looks up to see Matthew talking to Leaf, his game system forgotten. “I am,” she says with a smile.

“Cool! Do you watch League of Heroes?”

Her smile turns to a grin. “You know League of Heroes? I didn’t think it was available here.”

“Allie and I watch it online,” the boy says. “It’s great!”

“What’s League of Heroes?” Ayame or Kiku asks.

“It’s a Unovan cartoon, like Power Force Ten. There’s a video game too.”

“What’s Power Force Ten?” Leaf asks, and the group chuckles. Red turns back to his notebook. Using forms of bait or instructing his pokemon to find natural prey in the area are his best bets. Though now that he has a spinarak… He writes String up webs, maybe wait on a branch for it to catch something.

“You first.” Allie says.

“Well, it’s about a team of superheroes,” Leaf says. “There’s Crobatman, he’s an assassin with super reflexes and a wingsuit; Luxia, she’s my favorite, she manipulates light; Ironman, he’s a robot that’s artificially intelligent; Supermon, who has all the powers of the different pokemon types-”

“What, all of them?” Blue asks.

“Seems kind of overpowered,” Red says, distracted despite himself as he erases a miswritten word.

“No, no, he can only use one of them at a time,” Matthew says.

Leaf nods. “He has to switch between them—”

“—he can only do it once every ten minutes—”

“—and he gets their weaknesses too. There’s also Techno—”

“—she’s my favorite—”

“—she has no powers, but she’s super smart and has a bunch of inventions—”

“—she made Crobatman’s suit!”

“Stop interrupting, Matt,” Allie says, batting his arm. “Anyway, it’s a pretty cool show. Power Force Ten is sort of like Kanto’s version of it, in terms of popularity. Nine humans found some of Arceus’s legendary Elemental Plates, the ones for Sky, Earth, Mind, Body, Flame, Sea, Meadow, Lightning, and Stone.”

Leaf blinks. “Why is it called Power Force Ten, then?”

“Oh, Milo is the tenth. He’s considered the ‘Normal’ type-”

Red snorts, and everyone goes silent. When he looks up, everyone’s looking at him. “Sorry, it’s nothing.”

“Ignore him,” Blue says. “He’s a hater.”

“I am not. Milo is my favorite character.”

“Does he have a power?” Leaf asks.

“No,” Matthew says. “But he makes up for it by being really smart.”

“Like Techno?”

“Not so much with technology, but other ways.”

Red nods. “He’s good at getting the team to work together, thinking outside the box, and is a great strategist.”

“And since he uses pokemon instead of relying on powers, he’s the best trainer among them,” Blue adds.

“What made you laugh then?”

“I just think their idea of the Arceus Plates is funny. I mean, a ‘Sky Plate’ that grants ‘Sky Powers?’ Like having wings is a power, somehow?”

“It’s just a show,” Matthew says with a frown.

“I know,” Red says quickly. “I like the show. I just laughed because calling Milo the ‘Normal Type’ made me imagine them writing in a ‘Normal Plate’…” Now Allie is frowning at him too, and the sisters are raising mirroring eyebrows. “Forget it,” Red mutters and turns back to his notebook, biting into the granola.

There’s a pause, then Leaf says, “So what about the other types?”

Ayame or Kiko tick them off her fingers. “The Dread, Frost, Insect, Spirit, Toxic, Iron, and Draco Plates were found by Renegades.”

“They’re pretty cool too, if totally evil,” Kiko or Ayame says with taboo relish.

Once spinarak spins a web, I could put pokepuffs in it to attract prey…

Blue nods. “My favorite is Magnus. His wife and kid were killed by a metagross, and when the Dread plate came to him and gave him the powers of dark pokemon, he decided it was so he could wipe out all psychics, pokemon and human.”

“No way, Lung is the best,” Matthew says. “He can actually turn into a dragon, it’s awesome—”

…though it might still take too much time while traveling…

“He’s in trouble now that Crystalla might be switching sides,” Allie says, then says to Leaf. “She’s got the Frost Plate.”

“No way, she’s not going to break up with Lung,” one of the sisters say. “Kagari’s charming, but he’s a jerk.”

“He’s a hot jerk,” the other sister says with a giggle.

Blue turns to Leaf. “Kagari’s the—”

“Flame Plate?” She grins.

Red sighs and wishes he’d brought some headphones. He hadn’t really imagined needing to be able to tune out sound on his journey. That excuse isn’t going to be valid forever. It’s not like he has infinite resources though, and no matter how thorough he is in trying to think of them, there are countless things he won’t realize he might need until he does.

He tries his best to focus and writes a bit more as the conversation continues about the different character dynamics, but it’s too distracting. He feels himself getting more and more frustrated as his train of thought keeps derailing, and when he finishes his granola he forces himself to his feet.

“Gonna go call my mom,” he explains, and steps away from the clearing while the others continue talking. Once he’s outside the ring of lanterns and the voices are a mess of indistinguishable noise, he sits down with his back to a tree and he takes a deep breath. He has no reason to be so irritated with the others.

The forest stretches dark and still ahead of him, quiet but for the hum of voices behind and the occasional sound of pokemon in the distance. He hears a flutter of wings at one point, and wonders if a noctowl is on the hunt. Trying to catch one in this darkness would be worse than stupid though.

Red just listens to the wind in the branches and his own breaths until he feels himself again. As he gazes out into the night, he can’t help but wonder if somewhere out there, there are others lying dead or dying, unable to find a safe place to camp for the night.

He shakes himself and lets his breath out, then takes his phone out to make the call. His mother answers on the third ring. “Hi Honey! How is everything?”

“Hey, Mom. Everything’s alright. We’re all safe, getting ready to turn in for the night.”

“Are you enjoying the city?”

“We left this afternoon actually. We’re in Viridian Forest.”

“Already? Aren’t you going a bit fast, Red?”

“There just wasn’t much reason to stay. We didn’t become trainers to hang out in the city, you know.”

“I’m just worried about the storm…”

“Yeah, that’s kinda scary,” Red says. “But hopefully it’ll pass before we get there, and if not, there are few safer cities in summer than Pewter.”

“I know. Just be careful.”

Red rubs his knee, which is mostly pain free now. “We will. So how’s everything with you?”

“Productive! I have some news, actually.” She tells him about her plans to return to work in Celadon, which Red is happy to hear. Then she mentions what Daisy showed her last night.

“Pitch and tone…” Red marvels. “That’s an amazing discovery.”

“It was really something else, Red. I wish you could have seen it!”

“I can’t wait to,” Red says. “Daisy has her Researcher license, so once she unveils it at the Coordinator competition, I’m sure she’ll post demonstrations and trials on the pokedex.”

“I’m not sure what the applications of it would be though. Not battles, surely?”

Red’s pencil is in his hand, though he can’t remember taking it out, and he hasn’t enough light to write by anyway. He taps it against his leg instead. “Hard to tell. It sounds like it requires way too much buildup to be used in battles, but if you could pinpoint a certain power’s requisite tone, and if it’s all the same with different clefairy, then it could be invaluable for certain tasks. There’ll be a huge demand for clefairy when the news gets out, especially among researchers.”

“Well then, it’s a good thing you have a heads up.”

Red grins. “I’m definitely not leaving Mount Moon without one. In fact… would you mind if I dipped into my savings a bit?”

“What for?”

“To buy some clefairy.”

There’s a pause. “I don’t know that that’s such a good idea, Red.”

“It’s definitely a sound investment, I promise—”

“It’s not the financial angle. I don’t think Daisy showed me what she did so you could profit off other people’s ignorance, and I certainly didn’t tell you about it so you could. She’s the one that put the hard work into making clefairy more valuable, not you.”

“But I could really use the money!”

“So could the people who are selling clefairy, for all you know.”

Red scowls. “It’s not like I can corner the market or anything.”

“So it’s alright if you can only cheat a few people instead of many?”

“Cheat seems a strong word for it—”

“Do you know how many stories I’ve covered on insider trading?”

“That’s completely different!” Red realizes he’s almost shouting, and takes a deep breath, lowering his voice. “I’m not influencing how much clefairy will be worth.”

“It’s not just about whether you have influence, it’s about a mutual understanding of value. The person you’re buying from doesn’t know as much as you do, and you know it. You are deliberately taking advantage of their ignorance.”

“So, what, I can’t buy something I think is undervalued? Different people have different reasons to value something, that’s why trade happens at all.”

“But they share an understanding of each other’s values and motives. Red, if you wanted to buy a clefairy for personal use, it wouldn’t be a problem. But you want to do it just to sell to someone else! If the person selling it to you cares that you’ll be a good trainer for it, you’d have to lie or admit you don’t plan to keep it. If they ask why you’re buying it just to sell it yourself, again you’d have to lie, or you know they wouldn’t take the deal; not unless they’re so desperate for money that they need to sell it now rather than in a few weeks.”

Red opens his mouth, then closes it. He… actually doesn’t have an argument for that… but… “But I really need the money!” he says, hating how juvenile he sounds.

“What for?”

“Lots of things! I need to buy a new Container, and a TM, and some trainer supplies—”

“Those sound like wants, not needs. You can afford them now, if you really need them, or I’ll give you the money if you can’t.”

I saw a dead trainer today, do you want me to end up like him because I’m not prepared? Red bites his lip. He feels guilty just thinking it, and knows he would feel even more guilty if it works. She’s right though; he doesn’t need the supplies so much as he’d feel better or safer having them, which doesn’t necessarily place his need over that of the person selling the clefairy.

“What if I research the person selling it and see if they’re wealthy, first?”

“Pretend for a moment that Blue isn’t related to Daisy, and he’s selling a clefairy without knowing how much more it will soon be worth. Would you buy it from him just to resell it, or would you tell him that the price is going to go up soon even though he’s wealthier than you?”

“Dammit,” Red mutters. It does feel different when he considers doing it to a friend…

“Or what about—”

“Alright, alright. I get it. You’re right. Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, be thankful your mother is smart enough to stop you from making mistakes.”

Red smiles a bit. “Thanks, Mom.”

“You’re welcome.”

“What if—”

“Red!”

“No no, hear me out. What if I just buy one clefairy, strictly for personal use? I’m still a bit far from Mount Moon, and they’re really rare. If I don’t see any, at least I’ll have the one. Even if I do see one, Blue or Leaf might catch it. And if I see one and I catch it, then maybe I can sell it. Which is fine, because I caught it myself, right?”

“That… seems reasonable…”

He grins. “Thanks! If you see one for less than a thousand, feel free to grab it.”

“…fine. But if you sell it—”

“I won’t. Promise.”

She sighs. “Any preferences?”

“Nah, the gender ratio pretty well balances out the price distortion for breeding.”

“Alright then. I’ll check the markets tomorrow.”

After a few minutes of idler chat concerning her moving plans, Red says goodnight and ends the call with another promise to “stay safe.”

He stares into the dark forest afterward, thinking about Daisy’s discovery. Kanto legends talk about the clefairy family having all sorts of unusual powers. There are records that classify them as part of their own unique type, but most of their supposedly special properties seem exaggerated, if not completely made up.

Still, there are so many unusual things about them that it’s not hard to imagine there being more to them than is readily apparent… and this might be the key to discovering what they are.

Red catches a hold of his excitement and tries to stuff it into a box of lower expectations. Whatever secrets he might discover in clefairy are a long way off. In the meantime, he already has a mystery to tackle: his spinarak. That mental bla—

dark emptiness, silent and still

—st had crippled him, and he still doesn’t know why. If the spinarak wasn’t already hurt and ready to run, it might have killed him while he was prone. Blue and Leaf would have found him lying there on his belly, dead as Luke.

Red still hasn’t told the others. He’s too embarrassed to… but it’s not something he can ignore. A weakness like that can get him killed if it cripples him again at the wrong time, and it can get his companions killed. They have a right to know.

But first he needs to know more about it himself. He takes out his pokedex and goes to spinarak’s file, opening it past the menu summary he’d read earlier. He does a search for “psychic” and reads the first paragraph that shows up.

Both in the wild and after capture, spinarak have demonstrated mental attacks similar to some other insectile pokemon[23]. Experiments have ruled out the possibility that it uses psychic reception to identify prey[24], or protect itself; their capabilities seem purely projection of the psychic and ghost variety. However, they are not often the spinarak’s first or even second strategy of attack. The venom its stinger excretes…

Red taps the [24] and skims the referenced research paper. Observations showed spinarak preparing to deal with captured prey differently before it even saw what it had caught. Some experiments were done to determine if it was indicative of psychic powers, or if it was some other sense like scent or the vibrations on the web. The tests indicated the latter, as they were not able to distinguish between an actual pokemon’s thrashing and artificial manipulation. Furthermore, their behavior changed even when dark pokemon were introduced to their webs. Red goes back to the main article.

…can kill pokemon its size in minutes from a small scratch, and if it has room to maneuver, it will often sting its opponents and then use its web to immobilize them until the opponent succumbs to the toxin.[25] However, despite not being classified as Psychic or Ghost pokemon, some rare spinarak have the ability to attack the mind by inducing some mental discomfort through the patterns on its abdomen. While experiments have shown that the visual component is not necessary[26], it does seem to greatly increase discomfort[27]. The exact method and nature of the mental attacks are currently unknown.

Red looks over the rest of the biological info for any more relevant references. He tried reading about psychic phenomenon when he was younger, but the research on it (what little there was) quickly went beyond his comprehension. He moved onto other things after his tests came back negative. There were just so many other things to learn…

Unfortunately, now he finds himself with serious need to know, and little time to get back into the literature. Red closes the file and takes out his phone. He begins to search for Professor Oak’s number, then stops. The professor had insisted he feel free to call whenever, but Red doesn’t want to take advantage of their relationship. He can do some research first, then call the professor when he has specific questions to ask.

He begins to put the phone away, but there’s a niggling discomfort at the back of his mind. He almost ignores it, but months of training in self-awareness has helped occasionally identify cognitive dissonance. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, thinking about his motives.

Lying to himself is one of the most useless and dangerous things he can do. If he’s being honest, it’s his pride that made him hesitate to call the professor. Two days into his journey and he already needs help? It doesn’t fit his mental model of himself, where he’s smart and capable enough to learn and understand things on his own.

But objectively, he knows what a stupid thought that is, not to mention conceited. If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Some of the greatest minds that ever lived had purportedly said that.

Red wants to prove himself as at least Professor Oak’s equal. But progress comes from starting farther than the previous generations, and not taking advantage of his mentor’s knowledge would be as dumb as trying to train pokemon without pokeballs or dex, just because the professor had to.

His ego still doesn’t like it, but Red dials the professor before it can come up with another reason to put it off.

“Hello Red, it’s good to hear from you. How is everything?”

“Hi professor. Sorry to bother you so late—”

“Not at all, not at all. I was hoping you’d call soon, actually. Blue’s too proud to do more than check in by text, but I knew you’d let me live vicariously through you. What exciting adventures have you all been up to?”

Red winces. “Actually professor, it took something of an emergency to get past my ego enough to call.”

The professor’s tone sobers. “Is everyone alright?”

“Yeah, we’re fine.”

“What happened?”

“We saw a dead guy today.”

There’s a moment of silence where Red has time to be as surprised as Professor Oak. That… wasn’t what he planned to say…

“What happened?” the professor asks again, quieter.

So Red tells him about the beedrill swarm, their argument over what to do, the rangers’ arrival, how well the plan went, and how ultimately useless it all was. Professor Oak listens without interruption.

“Ranger Akio said he’d let me know if they learn something. Not sure if I believe him, but it’s better than nothing. I just hate not being able to find out what happened. And I feel guilty, even though it’s hard to think of something else we could have done. Maybe that’s why, because I can’t think of anything better. What if I had a slingshot? I could have shot a potion and antidote capsule at him, maybe it would have kept him alive until the Rangers came. Or Blue could have done it, he’s a better shot than me—”

He stops and takes a deep breath. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright. I’m sorry you all had to go through that, especially so early on your journey. I empathize with your guilt, but you should know better than to listen to it.”

“I’m not just angsting, though. At least I don’t think I am.”

“Is there something you’re not telling me about why you decided to wait for the Ranger? Convincing Blue wouldn’t have been easy if your reasons weren’t sound.”

“I could barely keep myself from rushing in, honestly.”

“Be glad you didn’t or the three of you would be dead right now. You’re going to have to get used to the frustration of not solving every problem, or you’re going to get yourself killed before you write your first research paper.”

“But I don’t think I’ve learned anything from it. I can’t think of something different to have tried, or something new to do to be prepared in the future.”

“Then maybe it’s because there isn’t anything. Red, your father was a brave man, and he instilled great values in you—”

Something hot and painful coils through Red’s chest. “I’m not trying to be my dad.”

“Then what… ah. Have you been reading Leader Giovanni’s blog?”

Red blinks. “Yeah, for a few weeks now actually. Do you?”

“Now and then. Giovanni was one of my students at some point, you know. Let me guess: you’re worried you failed in your Heroic Responsibility. That you took the easy way out, waiting for the Rangers to arrive.”

“The Bystander Effect—”

“Doesn’t apply nearly as much if you were the only ones present at the time. What’s really bothering you?”

Red closes his eyes and rests his head against the tree. “I felt relieved, when the Rangers came. I thought, ‘Now they can handle it.’ And now I don’t know if my motives for not trying before that were genuine or not.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself, Red. It’s not your responsibility to solve the world’s problems.”

Red sighs. Professor Oak is a genius in a number of ways, but… he wonders what Leader Giovanni would say to that. “Maybe you’re right. Anyway, sorry for not having a more exciting story to share. I know this probably wasn’t the kind of thing you had in mind for vicarious adventuring.”

“Not quite, but I knew to expect it at some point. And I’m glad you told me. Have you spoken to your mother yet?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to worry her. Could you…”

“As long as she doesn’t ask me, I won’t bring it up.”

Red lets out a breath. “Thank you.”

“Of course. Despite my grouching, I still remember what it was like to be young.”

“How long did you go, before something like this happened?”

The professor is quiet for a moment, and Red hears a chair creak. “About two weeks. Some trainers tried to stop a graveler that was stomping through a town. Would have been easy with today’s pokeball technology, but back then… it crushed two of them, and five pokemon, before it was stopped.”

Red’s mind shies away from the mental image. Graveler are often slow enough to be easily captured today, but he can see why they’d be a bigger threat back when Professor Oak was his age, and the precursor to pokeballs only worked within touching distance. “What did you do?”

“Me? Nothing. I was good even at that age, but I didn’t have any pokemon that could help. I knew I would have just gotten in the way.”

Red wonders if the professor had selected this story among multiple he could have told. “That must have been frustrating.”

The professor gives a short laugh. “Very. I was so upset with myself I didn’t even stick around for the funerals. Over time, the guilt got better… especially once I got into situations where I did get involved. When I proved to myself that I had what it takes to help others. Just as I have every confidence you will.”

“Thanks, Professor,” Red whispers.

Professor Oak doesn’t respond, merely humming to himself as he settles in at his desk. Red can hear drawers opening and closing, and the sound of rapid typing on a keyboard. Red looks back at the campsite behind him and sees the others still sitting in a circle, talking. He can make out the sound of their voices, but not the words.

“There was something else I called about. The main thing, actually.”

“You have my undivided attention,” Oak assures him, still clacking away on the keyboard.

Red smiles briefly. It’s rare to see the professor at his desk doing any less than two things at once. “I caught a spinarak earlier today—”

“—yes, I saw. Very well done—”

“—but during the fight I was caught in some sort of mental attack against Charmander. It incapacitated me completely for at least a few seconds, and I didn’t fully recover from it for a few minutes.”

The sound of Oak’s typing slows to a stop. “You say it incapacitated you? A spinarak?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell me everything.”

He does, going into detail about the way it felt during and after. As he describes it, he feels the echo of it again, raw and painful in his mind.

“And it still hurts when I try to think of it, professor.” Red’s throat is dry from so much talking, and he considers going to the campsite for his water bottle. “Is that normal?”

“Yes and no.” The professor is typing again, faster than before.

“Could you be a bit more specific? And possibly reassuring?”

“It’s normal for victims of strong mental attack, but quite rare for a spinarak to be capable of that strong an attack.”

“So either my spinarak is an outlier, or I’m the outlier, and I’d react at least as badly to other mental attacks. Or both.”

“First let’s gather some data by testing out one of the pokedex’s new features. Take yours out and go to your spinarak’s entry.”

Red switches his phone to speaker and places it on the grass, then does so. “Okay. Now what?”

“We’ve added the ability to read pokemon’s digital data and quantify it in easy to read metrics.”

“That sounds pretty cool.” He begins poking around the options on the menu. “One of Bill’s programs?”

“Yep. The Indigo League has been doing the majority of the funding, and we’ve made a lot of progress. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get objective interspecies measures. The best we can do is estimate a pokemon’s capabilities compared to others of the same species.”

Red navigates to the page labeled “Biology,” and looks down the list of options. Diet, Life Cycle, Chemical Composition… “Okay, I think I see it.” He taps Comparative Metrics, and a bar graph slowly begins to populate, comparing things like muscle mass, chitin density, neuron count, and more to the total average of registered spinaraks within the same age and gender range. Some of the bars go up, while others go down from the baseline of 0% difference. “Woah. This is awesome.”

“Indeed. We’re working on one that will compare performance metrics directly, measured through simulations in virtual space, but in the meantime this might help.”

The bars continue to populate, none stretching very far from the center line. “Now let me see…” Red hears a keyboard clacking, and a little notification pings on the corner of his screen to let him know it’s being shared by PROF. OAK. “Ah, it works. Excellent. And it’s just about done… well now. See the outlier?”

“I do, but what does it mean?” Most of the % differences listed are under 20%, either positive or negative. In Chitin Density, his spinarak has a 16% increase in thickness over others. Its venom sacs on the other hand are -12% the size of the species average. But in the last category, labeled “Other,” the difference is 37%, making it stick out from the rest of the metrics and skew the range of the y axis.

“‘Other’ is where the pokedex puts everything else in the data that can’t be easily categorized, or things we haven’t been able to fully study in a species yet.”

Red feels excitement stir in him. “So this could be something new, right? I mean, potentially, this could be important.”

“Absolutely. I think you just found the topic for your Researcher license article, Red.”

Red’s eyes narrow. “Wait, this isn’t like the charmander tail flame again, is it?”

Professor Oak laughs. “Not this time. Just keep in mind, ‘Other’ is something of a useless metric for the most part. It’s a calculation based on mass and defined by the pokemon’s coding. Whatever was left over that we couldn’t easily account for or distinguish goes there, everything from a pokemon’s stomach bacteria to the dirt or other material that might be in its fur.”

“So… I might discover that psychic powers in spinarak are positively correlated with how much bacteria are in its guts?”

“Just think of the headlines. You might start the first diet fad for psychics. Of course, it might also be completely unrelated.”

Red lowers his pokedex. “Professor… could you explain what psychic powers are?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t know that anyone can do that. Even the psychics themselves fall into camps, some decidedly less scientific than others.”

“But you can explain the leading theories, right? I’m feeling a bit vulnerable at the moment, and short of seeking out another pokemon with psychic attacks and letting it blast me, I want to know how likely it is that the… variance is on my end.” He’d almost said “weakness.”

There’s a moment of hesitation. “Red, do you know what theory-induced blindness is?”

“I think I’ve heard the phrase before…”

“A psychologist named Daniel Kahneman coined it. You’ve run across his ideas before, even if you didn’t know it. Theory-induced blindness is a kind of confirmation bias, where thinking you know the way the world works means you ignore facts or dismiss ideas that show how it actually works.”

Red processes this, then smiles. “And there’s experimental evidence that supports this? I knew it. I knew it! This totally helps explain the intractability of perceptions of pokemon types—”

“This isn’t just a layman’s bias, Red. Scientists are also vulnerable to it.”

“Really? That sounds… pretty unscientific. How could they just ignore something that contradicts a theory? That’s half the point of testing predictions!”

“Ah, the voice of youth.” Red can hear the Professor’s grin. “You might be surprised how many otherwise intelligent and accomplished scientists can fall prey to it. Especially when perverse incentives are involved.”

“Even you, Professor?”

“Even me. Why do you think I keep so many fresh young minds around?”

“I just figured it’s the next best thing to cloning yourself.” Despite what the professor says, Red finds it hard to believe that a scientist wouldn’t immediately recognize contradicting evidence like a flashing red light. Especially one as accomplished as Professor Oak. He probably did it when he was less experienced—

Red blinks, then abruptly laughs at himself. “Okay, wow. That’s kind of scary.”

“Hm?”

“I just went from doubting what you said to experiencing it first hand, and almost missed the irony.”

The professor chuckles. “Like all biases, it can be subtle. So you see, I’m a bit worried about telling you the predominant hypothesis on psychic phenomenon, let alone whether it’s the one I think is correct. I don’t want to bias your thinking.”

“But I need to know something to help figure it all out, don’t I?”

The professor lets out a breath. “Something, yes. Let me think.”

Red stays quiet as the professor types, using the time to pull his notebook out of his pocket and write “BEWARE THEORY INDUCED BLINDNESS” on the cover by the light of his pokedex, drawing squares around it and putting an exclamation mark at either end, then doodling the open jaws of a gyarados over the top and bottom. After a few minutes, the professor speaks again. “Alright, here’s the crash course. I’m going to do my best to present all the competing theories fairly without promoting one over the others. Forgive me if I go over anything you’ve heard before.”

“Don’t worry about that, it’s been a while anyway.” Red turns to a fresh page and labels it “Psychic Phenomena.”

“For starters, psychic phenomena are generally classified in two categories: projection and reception. Projection powers are the ones that are the most noticeable to others. They include telekinesis, barriers, teleportation, and reconstruction, among other things. Reception are the subtler powers, like perception, precognition, and focus.”

“Not all psychics have all the powers though, right?” Red asks as he writes.

“Right. Humans psychics vary wildly in strength compared to pokemon of a given species, and are weaker in the few projection powers they have. They seem to be weaker in reception powers too, but since we can’t talk to pokemon, it’s harder to tell. But even all this is controversial, as some academics object to the blanket classifications, and many psychics prefer other interpretations.”

“What do you mean? Mysticism?”

“It’s admittedly a fine line. Some of the powers we once considered magical have since been revealed to be psychic, while others we thought were psychic don’t behave the way the majority of psychic powers do, or even the way Ghost or Dark powers do for pokemon. We think of them all as ‘mental powers,’ but then there are the other unusual abilities people and pokemon have demonstrated; is reading auras a psychic power, or a distinct and separate part of being in tune with ki, as the otherwise non-psychic martial artists insist? Are you starting to see the shape of the problem?”

Red frowns. “There are way too many theories, none of which account for all the evidence.”

“Not by half. And there’s another major problem that throws a snag in everything.”

“What is it?”

“Let’s see if you can figure it out. Pretend you don’t know there are any human psychics, and have only been studying pokemon. What would you say if I told you that humans can exhibit psychic powers?”

Red puts his pencil down and closes his eyes, thinking it over. His first reaction would be skepticism, because if he doesn’t know there are psychic humans, it must be because he hasn’t seen any evidence of them. “I would ask you to show me the human with the powers.”

“What if I said you can’t test their powers right now, but insist you believe they’re true anyway?”

Red opens his eyes, nonplussed. “I… would say you can insist whatever you want, but I can’t make myself believe psychic humans exist outside of a temporary hypothetical, especially when such a thing goes against the natural order as I understand it.”

“So you’d be blinded by your confidence in accepted theories.”

“What? No, that’s ridiculous. There’s a difference between rejecting evidence contradicting your theories and being skeptical of unsupported assertions.”

“Then what argument would you use to try to convince me they don’t exist?”

“None. Until you provide me a reason to believe they might exist, it would be a waste of time. I might as well go around trying to disprove everything random people believe without evidence.”

“But I’m not a random person,” the professor says patiently. “I’m your superior, and I’m telling you that psychic humans exist. How would you convince me I’m wrong?”

Red grumbles and closes his eyes again, turning the problem over in his mind. If he has to try and disprove an untestable assertion, he can only rely on natural laws and time-tested theories that contradict that assertion to cast doubt on it, or refer to ones that would increase the burden of proof beyond reasonable levels. What would make him the most skeptical of psychic humans?

If I haven’t seen or heard of any psychic humans before, my natural inclination would be to assume they don’t exist. But psychic powers do exist, so what makes me so skeptical of the idea that a human could develop them? For them to exist they would have to be an exception to some rule that I already believe about the world, or that my experience leads me to believe is true

“Oooh, of course. There are no psychic rattata!”

The professor laughs. “Go on.”

“No psychic rattata. Furthermore, no psychic machop, no psychic rhyhorn, no psychic krabby, and no psychic charmander! Pokemon species are either capable of psychic powers or not. Some pokemon like spinarak are capable of limited, narrow mental powers, but there are no pokemon species where one member has exhibited them, but the others haven’t!”

“Exactly. It’s a subset of something called the ‘Speciation Paradox,’ but I like ‘No Psychic Rattata’ better.”

Red runs his fingers through his hair, taking his hat off for a moment and scratching his head as his mind races. “Wow. I’ve occasionally considered ways humans seem fundamentally different from pokemon, but I never really considered the way psychic powers manifest. Now that I recognize it, that’s a pretty major incongruity. It must drive researchers nuts.”

“It does. Unlike the narrow bounds of a pokemon species, humans exhibit wildly varying psychic powers. A tiny fraction have extremely powerful abilities, some have fairly weak powers, and the vast majority apparently have none at all.”

Red puts his cap back on, and begins writing rapidly to cover everything. “So maybe humans, as a whole, are a psychic species with tons of variance. Maybe a lot of what we dismiss as intuition, or even the special bond between some humans and their pokemon, are due to subtle psychic powers. There must be something about our accepted models of psychics, or our accepted models of humans as a species, that this evidence is contradicting.”

“Very good. But it gets worse.”

Red frowns. “Yeah. What about dark humans? There aren’t any dark rattata either, outside of those from Alola, which are basically just a different species.”

“Some think it’s just a unique variation of psychic abilities, a defensive adaptation that makes a person or pokemon completely immune to psychic powers. Like pokemon, dark humans project a ‘dead zone’ around them that psychic abilities can’t penetrate, but unlike pokemon, and unlike psychics, no dark human has been able to manipulate that field or take advantage of the other abilities dark pokemon have.”

“That seems significant…” Red says slowly. “I wish I could talk to one of them, and a psychic.”

“I’ll see if I can call in a favor for the latter, but why not just ask Blue?”

Red blinks, pencil pausing mid-stroke. “Wait, what?”

“Oh. Oh, dear…”

Red gapes. “That jerk, he never told me! When did he find out?”

“Shortly after he met Elite Agatha. She informed me afterward, and I told him in private. He was quite upset.”

“That’s understandable.” Red was disappointed as a kid when he didn’t manifest psychic powers, but at least he could still train psychic pokemon to respond to this thoughts. A pokemon trainer with a dark mind would have twice as hard a time training psychic types, and for some they’d find it completely impossible, not to mention being unable to teleport.

That said, Red can appreciate the trade-off better now that he knows what a mental attack feels like. A blanket protection against psychic attacks, and a resistance to ghost attacks, could be invaluable.

Professor Oak sighs. “I’ll have to apologize for letting his secret slip, I suppose.”

Red hesitates. “If you’d like, I can pretend—”

“No, no. It’s my mistake, and better that he knows you know than maintain a double-deception. It should be something you’re aware of if you’re going to be traveling together anyway.”

“Yeah. Ooo, and this means I can test if my spinarak’s mental attack was Psychic or Ghost Type!”

“You’re going to ask it to blast my grandson, aren’t you?”

“…maybe?”

The professor laughs. “Well it wouldn’t be the first time a scientist risks Renegade branding. Just make sure you get him to sign a waiver. Better make that multiple waivers.”

“Wouldn’t it be useful to know, though?”

“You’re wondering if it had such a strong effect because you’re a latent psychic?”

“It crossed the optimistic part of my mind, yeah. But I mean in general, since we’re trying to figure out if there’s something special about my spinarak.”

“Yes, it could definitely be useful to know. Some think psychic and ghost powers are related, certainly more related than psychic and dark. Others think that they’re all variations of the same one. The only things we really know are that some psychics have an affinity with ghost pokemon, and dark trainers have difficulty training either, though psychic types more than ghosts.”

Red’s wrist is cramping from writing so much so quickly, switching between summarizing and writing questions as soon as they spring to mind. “And nothing relates them to ki energy so far?”

“No, no relationship between psychic and dark trainers and ki. Why?”

Red puts the pencil down and flexes his wrist to relieve the ache. “Just thinking out loud. You know my perspective on pokemon types reflecting emergent properties…”

“Ah, yes, I see. Are you reconsidering something about it?”

“Sort of. I’ve been starting to group the types as ‘substantive’ versus ‘descriptive,’ because it helps them make more sense. Like, Water type is substantive, while Flying is descriptive. One is inherent to a pokemon’s genetics, or biological composition. The other is just a description of a property they have.”

“So a pokemon that’s strong is considered Fighting, a descriptive type, but there is nothing inherently “Fighting” about it, unless ki energy proves to exist independent of psychic powers. I imagine you classified Psychic pokemon as descriptive too?”

“Yeah. But now… I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it after I learn more.”

“I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting out.”

“Thanks. In the meantime, I think that’s all the questions I have for now.”

“My advice is to not worry too much about the bigger questions yet. Break the mystery down into smaller problems, and work at solving those. Put the clues together from the outside in.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll be starting with spinarak anyway.”

“Good luck Red, and don’t hesitate to message me again if you think of something else.”

“I will. Thanks again, Professor. For everything.”

“Anytime. Goodnight.”

“Night.” Red closes the call and puts his phone away, ear throbbing from holding it against his shoulder. He finishes writing out his thoughts, and after a few minutes has a page with a flowchart of sorts on it:

Hypothesis: Some biological metric the pokedex classifies as “Other” influences strength of a pokemon’s psychic powers.

Step 1: Find multiple pokemon within a species that exhibit psychic powers.

Step 2: Determine what the relative strength of those powers are between them.

Step 3: Measure their biological metrics to check for correlations between psychic power and Other.

Step 4: If it does, repeat steps 1-3 for another species. If it doesn’t, repeat steps 1-3 with pokemon exhibiting ghostly powers.

Red frowns. He’s going to need a lot of spinarak.


When he gets back to the clearing, the group is still talking about Power Force Ten.

“I’d want the Lightning Plate for sure,” Matthew says. “The superspeed alone makes it awesome.”

“More awesome than flying?” Leaf says. “Sky Plate for me, for sure.” She looks at Red and grins. “Assuming Sky Powers are a thing, of course.”

He smiles back as he sits, feeling considerably more at ease than he had upon first entering the clearing. “Hey, if something like a Sky Plate really exists, far be it from me to decide whether it makes sense. Clearly my view of reality is what’s flawed.” Red takes out his water bottle and drinks, easing the ache in his throat.

“What about you, Red?” Allie asks. “What Plate would you get? Fire?”

“Psychic,” Blue guesses.

“Actually, I’d choose the Fairy Plate.”

Everyone looks surprised. “For the Fairy Type? Those are a myth,” Matthew says.

Red doesn’t remark on the irony. “Maybe. But if Fairy pokemon actually exist, then they should have their own Plate, right?”

“I guess so,” Allie says. “But why do you want it? What would it do?”

“Exactly. What would it do? If it exists, I’d want to find out.”

“I heard legends where they controlled light, like Luxia,” Leaf says. “Turned it into a weapon.”

“I read a book where they could charm others into doing what they want,” Matthew says. “Like mind control.”

The others begin debating what possible powers the Fairy Plate might grant. Leaf turns to Red after a few moments, looking at him speculatively.

“You seem in a better mood.”

He shrugs, then nods. “Had to get something off my chest I guess. Spoke to my mom and Professor Oak.”

“Care to share?”

“Later,” he promises, and she seems satisfied with that.

The conversation continues, then slowly winds down. They arrange for who will take what watch, and Red volunteers to go first, since he woke up so late that morning. After another few minutes of quiet talking punctuated by more and more frequent yawns, the others slip into their bedrolls and drift off one by one.

Blue, who has second watch, is the last to fall asleep. “Want me to wait up with you, Red? Pull a double shift?” he says, voice low.

“Nah, get some rest. Thanks though.”

“No problem,” he mumbles, yawning and turning onto his stomach, arms under his pillow and beside his pokebelt.

“Hey Blue.”

“Hm?”

“Just wanted to let you know… uh… I spoke to your grandpa. I know you’re dark.”

Blue lies quietly for a moment. “That so?”

“He didn’t mean to let it slip, but… well, there’s something I need to tell you. I was kind of embarrassed to before.”

“What’s up?”

“I should wait to tell Leaf too. I just wanted to let you know that I know.”

Blue shrugs his shoulders. “Daisy is too. She doesn’t let it bother her, and I’m over it.”

Red relaxes a little. “Oh? Good. I think it’s kind of cool, in a way.”

“Yeah. Gives me an edge against psychic trainers.” Blue shifts deeper into his bedroll. “Remember to wake me on time.”

Red smiles. “See you in a bit.”

As the sounds of the others’ quiet breathing surrounds him, Red takes his phone out and he finds Leader Giovanni’s email address on the Viridian Gym’s site. Then he checks the blog and notices there’s a different address there. Probably better to use that one, since this isn’t concerning gym business.

He thinks over what he wants to say to catch the Gym Leader’s attention. He probably gets hundreds of emails a day. What sorts of things would he instruct a human filter to pass on to him?

Red remembers a podcaster who gets a lot of mail going over his criteria for “Delete, read, or save for later,” and decides it’s as good a set of guidelines as any:

Esteemed Leader Giovanni,

My name is Red Verres, and I’m an apprentice of Professor Oak’s. I have learned a lot from your blog about the responsibility and values of pokemon trainers and citizens, and want your advice on something…

He succinctly summarizes the events at the flower field. It bothers him a bit to namedrop Professor Oak, but he knows that’s just his ego again. He wants a response, and without something early on to distinguish it, there’s little reason for the letter to even reach Leader Giovanni.

…Professor Oak insists that I did all I could. Part of me wants to believe him, but another part is wary of doing so. I think if I do, it would be too easy to excuse myself for not thinking of something that could have worked, and shirk heroic responsibility in the future.

So I was hoping to get your insight on the matter, if you have the time to respond. If you were in my place, with the resources I had, what would you have done?

Thank you for your time,

Red Verres

By the time he finishes, his hour’s nearly up. He does some reading on Theory-Induced Blindness, then puts his phone away and wakes Blue.

“Lucky bastard,” his friend mutters as he rubs the sleep from his eyes. “First and last watch are always the best.”

Red grins as he slides into his own bedroll. “I can stay up if you want, keep you from nodding off.”

“Nah, I’ve got to refresh myself on caterpie lifecycles. Night bud.”

“Goodnight.” Red covers his eyes with one arm to block off the light, quickly sinking into sleep.


Ranger Akio rides his meganium through the forest, the swarm of the beedrill so loud he can’t even hear his own pokemon’s pants for breath. He glances back and sees them coming, a shifting mass of yellow and black, red eyes seething hatred at the prey that stays just beyond their claws.

Once they’re far enough back, he grips tighter with his thighs and reaches both hands down to his pokebelt. With meganium’s pokeball in one hand and arcanine’s in the other, he slowly rises to his knees, plants one foot on his pokemon’s back, and leaps off, pointing it at the plant pokemon and shouting “Meganium, return!” and “Arcanine, go!” in quick succession.

From one direction, his meganium disappears in a flash of light. From the other, his arcanine rockets out of the ball in his hand, crimson fur bright in the brown and green forest. Akio lands, leaps, and spins onto the fire pokemon’s back, digging his heels in to command him forward

and instead gets knocked to the ground, a line of pain etched across his side as the lead beedrill buzzes past him. He tumbles over the grass as his pokemon roars and spews fire at the swarm. Half a dozen fall, but the rest quickly bury the arcanine in a tide of piercing stingers. Akio grabs another two pokeballs and opens his mouth to command them open, but instead a cloud of blood sprays from his lips. He looks down and sees the armblades of a beedrill piercing his lungs. His pokeballs fall from numb fingers as the green blades withdraw, not a beedrill’s after all, thicker and longer, like those of a scyther, and Red’s father falls to his knees

Red wakes with a cry, kicking at his bedroll and crawling out of it, gasping and trembling as he feels his body for puncture marks.

“What is it?! Are you alright?”

Red looks up to see one of the twins staring at him in concern, one hand on her pokebelt. Fourth or fifth watch, then. He looks around to see if he woke anyone, but the rest are still asleep. Red rubs the cold sweat from his face.

“Fine. I’m fine. Just a nightmare. Sorry.”

“Oh… okay. Um. Do you want to talk about it?”

Red shakes his head and crawls back into his bedroll. “No, I’m okay. Sorry again.”

“That’s alright.” She looks uncomfortable, but sits back down and picks up a book beside her.

Red’s heartbeat begins to slow. He closes his eyes and focuses on his breathing until it evens out again, but he can’t go back to sleep without picturing Luke or Ranger Akio or his father.

Eventually he sighs and takes his phone out to check his mail. He scrolls past some daily reports and newsletters, then spots one in particular.

No way…

Heart racing for a different reason now, he opens the letter from Leader Giovanni, cautioning himself not to get too excited, that it’s probably just an automated response.

But when it loads, the message on his screen reads:

From what details you have provided, I would have acted as you did. If that is not sufficient to your sense of responsibility, and you still fear that you acted out of cowardice, consider this: is there any amount of money that would have convinced you to try? -G

Red lies awake into the next watch change, thinking about it. He eventually responds simply with No, thanks the Leader, and then sleeps until morning without dreams.

Chapter 12: Interlude II – Shadows

“Hey boss, I think I see him,” Bode says.

The leader of the Darkmoon Demons rises from his crouch to join Bode at the mouth of the alley. “Yeah, that’s our guy.” Their mark is going down the steps from an apartment building, buttoning up his jacket against the cool wind. It makes Wax wish he had his leathers on, but they’re too identifiable.

The gang left their jackets with the bikes on Cycling Road to avoid notice when coming into Fuchsia. They did their best to stay under the radar during the day, holing up in a hotel room and only sending people out on food runs.

Now it’s past midnight, and everyone’s tucked nice and cozy in their beds. “How long since someone else came out?” Wax asks.

“Must’ve been ’bout five minutes,” Bode says, keeping his eyes on the street. “Lot of them left together, earlier, but just a couple people here and there lately. Figure their night’s just about wound down.”

Wax watches their mark walk down the street toward them. Not only does he not have anyone with him, the man doesn’t even have a pokebelt. Perfect. They’re all willing to get their hands dirty and risk some jail time, but Wax doesn’t want anyone getting a bounty on their head.

He turns to his boys. Each is intense and focused, some shivering a bit, though he can’t tell if it’s from the cold, or adrenaline as they psych themselves up for the coming fight. “Listen close,” he says, voice low. “This should be easy money. Break a few bones, grab his wallet, then we’re out. Long as he survives, the heat won’t be so bad and we can avoid the cops. But no one touches their pokeballs, got it? If we get the local Gym and trainers on us we’ll never make it out of the city.”

“What if he’s got a pokemon on him?” Jasper asks.

“If he’s got a ball in his jacket or somethin’ and it opens, Bode and I will handle it. Any of you so much as reaches for your belt, I’ll kick your ass and tell Blackfire to torch your jacket. I don’t run with no Renegades. We clear?” They all mutter and nod, clearly impatient to get going. He feels the excitement growing in himself too, and grins. “Alright, let’s fuck him up.”

The night suddenly lights up in flashes, explosive sounds making them all flinch and reach instinctively for their belts. But instead of a squad of cops and their pokemon descending on them, there’s just smoke. Lots of it, surrounding the gang in a thick haze. Wax’s relief is quickly replaced by confusion. Smoke bombs?

He almost screams when someone nearby him does, and he sees Lam fall to the ground, quickly lost in the roiling smog. He stares wildly around, trying to see what’s happening as one after another the others drop, crying out briefly before going silent.

Wax is about to run for it when Bode’s voice cuts through his panic.

“Wax! Wax it’s Koga! Look!”

Wax follows Bode’s pointing hand, and cranes his neck up to see a figure on the roof of the building beside them. It’s hard to make Leader Koga out with the smoke stinging Wax’s eyes, but no one could mistake these tactics after all the rumors that were going around that Fuchsia’s gym leader was cleaning up the streets. A weezing floats beside him, jetting out more smoke down into the alley. Oh fuck me, they were right, we should have stayed the fuck away-

Drop your pokeballs. Now.”

The voice has a mechanical hiss to it, some sort of gasmask, and Wax reaches for his belt. He could send out his houndoom and make a run for it… it would take Koga at least a few seconds to give chase, maybe he can find another alley, jump in a dumpster…

Wax forces himself to take a deep breath, the acrid stench of the smoke almost making him choke. “Koga! This is none of your business! We didn’t use our pokemon, you’ve got no jur-cough-no juris-” Wax breaks off coughing as Koga raises his arms and grips his weezing, then leaps down two stories and lands softly, his descent slow and smooth. The ninja master is shrouded and hard to see through the smog, but as his silhouette approaches, Wax backs up involuntarily. “You’ve got no authority,” Wax chokes out, trying to catch his breath.

“Screw this!” Bode says and bolts for the opening of the alley.

“No you idiot!”

Bode doesn’t get two steps before he cries out in pain and falls, clutching his leg. Then he’s gone, the whole world a haze of smog. Wax can just make out the opening of the alley thanks to the streetlights.

His whole body is trembling as he looks back at Koga, who’s lowering his arms back to his sides, something long and thin held in one. A small sword? There’s a shadow moving through the smog, passing over the bodies of his gangmates. Wax keeps his feet very, very still, not wanting to spook whatever pokemon might be around him.

“Okay… okay you win, here…” Wax undoes his belt and lets it fall to the ground. “We just wanted to make some quick cash, you know? No big deal, a few potions and a night at the hospital and he’d have been fine, we weren’t gonna kill-”

The name of your employer. Give it to me.”

Wax gapes at the figure. “I-no man, you got it all wrong. We were just looking for someone to rob-”

There’s a snapping sound, and something slithers against Wax’s ankle. He screams, jumping away and cowering against the wall, one leg raised off the ground as if to present less targets. “Alright, alright! It was Pat Uzuki! He said head into town, get to this address around this time, showed me a photo, I’m sorry-”

You will never come back to this city. Go, and tell the rest of your kind that Fuchsia is not for you. If I see you here again, I will feed you to my arbok.”

Wax simply stares, shivering. My pokemon… Then the last sentence registers, and he remembers that dry, smooth slither between his ankles.

He bows repeatedly as he stumbles backward, groveling his thanks as he keeps his eyes scanning the ground for that shadow. His foot bumps against Bode’s still figure, and Wax hesitates. Bode and he have been running together since they were punks. If Koga really feeds people to his arbok…

“Leader Koga… what about the others-”

GO!” the ninja thunders, and in the smoke Wax sees the shape of a long, thick serpent rise up. Its hood flares out, and it hisses-

-and Wax is running out of the smoke and through the streets, ignoring the bewildered stare of their mark as he runs for the city limits without another look back, gasping apologies to Bode and the others between breaths of sweet, clean air.


The quiet of Kamal Chadha’s office is unbroken by his keyboard’s clacking, just as it’s uninterrupted by the tick-tock of the old fashioned clock above the door, or the muted wind outside. Each is a soothing testament to the quiet’s value.

His eyes flick between two monitors, collating the previous month’s sales reports for Silph’s upcoming regional conference. He always looks forward to them, learning from the other managers and district directors’ successes and failures. He’s particularly excited for this year, when he would be one of the major speakers. He and his people worked hard to bring up Fuchsia’s sales, and it shows.

Kamal’s hair is kept short, his nails neatly trimmed. His tie is a silver grey that matches his hair, and at his neck hangs the Golden Wheel of his church. He came to Kanto at the age of seven when his father, an engineer, was headhunted by Silph Co. Kamal had been just a bit too old to easily assimilate to the new culture, and his accent and skin tone had not helped. While other children played after school, Kamal studied at home under his mother’s approving gaze. His family wasn’t shunned, but rather treated with polite aloofness by their neighbors.

Things got better as the decades passed. An influx of foreigners and improved communication technologies led to a more multicultural region, and the younger generations treated him no different than anyone else. But by then Kamal had already internalized the sense of “otherness,” and his focus on his work continued through his middle age, keeping few close friends and pursuing his passion for business. He dallied in romance here and there, but remains a bachelor at fifty-six despite his mother’s incessant cajoling.

In truth, he rarely feels lonely. When he first became a manager, his whole store had become his family. A man can only dedicate time and effort to so many things before one starts to suffer for it, and his work had never suffered.

Kamal’s office phone rings, and he glances at the ID. Building security. He finishes the last few lines of the current column one handed as he picks up the phone. “Yes?”

“Sorry to bother you Mr. Chadha, this is Marissa at the front desk.”

Kamal thinks for a moment before he summons the face of the young security guard. “Yes, hello Marissa. Is everything alright?”

“Quiet night down here, but my husband seems to have misplaced his keys. He’s stuck outside the house, and it’s another half hour until my shift is over. Will you be leaving the office before then, or can I lock up and go a bit early?”

Kamal checks the time. When had midnight come and gone? “I think I’ll be staying the night, as a matter of fact. You go ahead.”

“Are you sure, sir? I can wait for the relief to arrive.”

“Quite sure. Trin is still doing the rounds outside, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then go let your husband into the house before he falls asleep on the lawn.”

He hears the smile in her voice. “Thank you sir. Have a good night.”

“You too.”

Kamal hangs up, then goes back to work. He’s not in the least bit tired, and the idea of going home and dithering about until he’s sleepy doesn’t hold any appeal. Course set, he types for another five minutes, then gets up to take a quick break.

Kamal considers himself a man of simple pleasures, but his office is his major indulgence. At the top of the sixteen story Silph building, it takes up a quarter of the floor. A beautiful painting of a ninetales is on the opposite wall, and a bronze solrock lamp hangs horizontally from the ceiling, splaying light out in a sunburst pattern. Decorations aside, it also functions as a home away from home: connected rooms lead to a kitchen on one side and a bedroom on the other, fully stocked with minibar and entertainment systems.

It’s the former he heads to now, turning on the lights and mixing himself a drink. When he finishes, he takes a glass out onto the western facing balcony to drink in the unusually cool summer night.

Fuchsia spreads out beneath him like a cluster of stars fallen to earth. With the safari preserve to the north and the ocean to the south and west, the city is an island of light in a sea of darkness, an opposite reflection of the sky above.

Surprising how quickly a new place could feel like home. He was transferred to Fuchsia about eight months ago, and of all the places he lived, both growing up and in the course of his career, none made him feel so at peace just looking out at it.

He wonders if his predecessor felt it at all. Frank Moore was a competent city director and sometime acquaintance, but resigned after a nervous breakdown. Kamal sent some well wishes, but was too busy dealing with his own sudden promotion to discover the personal details. Frank had been getting along in years, and managing all the stores in Fuchsia can be stressful work.

Kamal watches the sparks that come and go in the distance, racing over the bridge, or “Cycling Road,” that connects the peninsula to western Kanto and Celadon City. He’s been thinking of riding across it soon, for the exercise and the experience. The view of the ocean on every side is said to be lovely, and some of the restaurants that line the sides of the bridge are very popular.

When the stiffness in his legs and shoulders fully fades, he finishes his drink and steps back inside. He refills his glass and debates going back on the balcony, then puts the bottle away and returns to the office. It’s only after he sits down at his computer that he notices the young woman on the couch.

Kamal’s heart clenches in his chest, and he nearly spills his drink as he shoots back to his feet. “Who- how did-” He stammers to a stop as he recognizes her from the news. “Mistress Koga? You startled me…” Kamal slowly sits back down, pulse racing as he lets out a shaking breath. “What are you doing in my office? How did you get in the building?”

“I picked the lock after the security guard downstairs left.” The young woman’s short purple hair is drawn back, making the clean angles of her face look severe. She’s dressed in dark, form fitting clothes that almost resembles body armor, and a purple silk scarf is tied around her neck. “It was easy. You should have gotten better ones.”

He does his best to push away his lingering shock, squaring his shoulders and resting his arms on his desk as his heart rate slowly returns to normal. “Thank you for informing me of that. I’ll be sure to do so. Now please explain why I shouldn’t have you arrested for trespassing. Are you applying as a security consultant? If so, I don’t approve of your methods, and I doubt your father would either.”

“My father is my business. We are here to discuss yours.”

Kamal blinks, and understanding washes through him. Not security, then, but some other position. She isn’t the first person to approach him looking for an inside track on a career at Silph, but he’d never had one break into his office to do so before. If she thought he would be impressed with her dedication or some other such foolish thing, she’s badly mistaken.

Leader Koga has clearly spoiled her. A shame; he always seemed a competent Gym Leader. But Kamal supposes everyone has their weaknesses.

“I’m sorry, but this is my office, and you do not dictate the terms here, no matter whose daughter you are.” He takes a sip of his drink. The spike of fear and adrenaline is still bitter in his mouth, and he grimaces. “If you call my secretary during normal business hours and schedule an appointment, I would be happy to see you when I’m available.”

Janine seems to relax somewhat as he speaks, and he frowns at her. “However, I’m still informing your father of this. And if I ever find out you’ve snuck into this or any other building again, I will be forced to call the police. Do you understand?”

She nods, staring at him.

“Goodnight then.” He turns back to his monitors and begins drafting an email to Leader Koga. He notices in his peripheral that she still hasn’t moved, and seems to be twirling some dark grey cylinder between her fingers, like a very long flute.

“If the new security guard arrives before you leave, I won’t intervene on your behalf.”

“He won’t see me.”

The tube is still spinning, and Kamal begins to feel real anger stirring in him. “Do you want me to call the police?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then why are you still here?”

“I’m waiting for the poison to start working.”

Kamal stares at her. “That’s not funny, young lady.”

She doesn’t respond, those amethyst eyes still steady on his, and the bitterness on his tongue is suddenly hard to ignore. He feels a chill, and then flushes as his heart gallops back into a panicked frenzy.

“What- what did you-”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d refill your glass when you came back in, so this was my backup plan.” She stops her fingers, and the “flute” becomes identifiable. It’s a blowgun.

“I’m glad you took another drink though. I’ve used enough darts tonight, and this gives us more time to talk-”

He grabs his office phone and throws himself backward, hitting the floor and pressing the emergency number. “Help, please send help, I’m being…” There’s only silence in his ear. The line is dead.

He’s in the middle of reaching for his cell when the crazy bitch calmly walks around the desk and aims the blowgun at him, one end at her lips. He freezes, and after a moment she draws it away a bit and perches on the edge of his desk. He notices a facemask of some kind hanging from her neck.

“As I was saying, we have time to talk. I want to know who told you to bribe the mayor, and if you answer me, you get the antidote.”

Kamal feels the world shift. This isn’t some random murder by a sociopathic child. But how does she know about that? No money was even transferred! Doesn’t matter right now. That she has a reason for her actions means there’s a glimmer of hope for him.

“I’ll tell you,” he says. “Just let me get to a hospital, and I’ll tell you everything! Please, I can feel it!” He clutches his stomach, a pang of pain making him want to throw up. She’d likely shoot him with a dart if he does though…

“I find that highly unlikely. You’ve just ingested arbok venom. Most venom is harmless when swallowed, did you know? But arbok use a neurotoxin so potent it’s also poisonous. Just takes longer to act. You should lose consciousness in fifteen minutes or so, and any pain you feel is just in your head. So we have time.” She taps the blowgun. “The dart in here will be considerably quicker depending on where it hits.” She puts it to her lips and aims for his chest.

“Wait, wait! Okay!” His skin feels cold and clammy, and despite her words he feels a fire in his gut. She might be lying about the poison’s effects… he’d never heard anything about arbok venom as a poison. Or his body might just be reacting to the stress of the situation. Either way, he doesn’t think the blowgun is a bluff. “There was no bribe! I just reminded Mr. Ramsey that election season is coming up, and how the new safari regulation would affect tourism and local businesses. Nothing illegal was done!”

Janine rolls her eyes. “Yes, because I clearly care so much about legalities. I already know all this. I asked you who told you to do it.”

“No one, it was my idea!”

“Possible, but I don’t think so. There’s been a concerted effort to soften Fuchsia’s anti-poaching laws for over two years now. On top of that, resistance to the new regulation has been popping up from all sorts of unlikely directions. It’s possible you’re just concerned with the impact on business, but my bet is you’re a patsy. So give me a name.”

Kamal tries to quiet his panic so he can think. If she wants a name, he’ll give her one. “Okay… I’ll tell you. It was Dylan Omaki. He’s a friend of my late father’s who likes hunting in the safari, and asked me to do it as a favor. Please, I didn’t think any harm would come of it-”

She’s shakes her head. “No one above you in Silph goes by that name. You’re going to have to do better than that.”

“It has nothing to do with Silph! I swear, that’s the truth!”

“Mmhm. And did Mr. Moore also know this friend of your father’s?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Like I said, this isn’t new. It’s just a coincidence that your predecessor was doing the exact same thing?”

Shit. “I don’t… it must be-”

“And the gang I stopped from beating up a union leader tonight? ‘Mr. Omaki’ tell you to facilitate that too?”

He feels cold. “How did you kno-” He clamps his mouth shut, furious with himself as he sees the smug smile on her face. “I had nothing to do with that.”

“I believe you. But you know who ordered it done, don’t you?”

Kamal looks away, a drop of sweat sliding down his neck. He’d been uneasy about that whole business. Dealing with unions is always frustrating and tiresome, but this has been the most stubborn leadership he’s ever encountered. When he explained the recent difficulties with his superior, they assured him they would handle it. He didn’t ask questions. In truth, he didn’t want to know the answers… he was just grateful for their help.

“I was hoping you’d be more on the level than Mr. Moore was. It’s really starting to piss me off.”

The fire in his belly is gone, replaced with a block of ice. She’s here on a vendetta, and he was dangerously close to saying something he shouldn’t. Kamal takes a deep breath and sits up, and Janine stands and steps back, gaze wary.

“I won’t say any more. You can let me die and deal with the investigation of my murder, or you can give me an antidote and walk away. But this interrogation is over.”

“That’s it? Just like that, you don’t care if you die?”

He looks her in the eye. “I’d prefer not to, but I won’t let you intimidate me.” Some measure of calm returns to him, and he’s pleasantly surprised to discover as he says it that it’s the truth. I will not betray my family.

Janine meets his gaze silently. “I misjudged you,” she says eventually, voice quiet. “Nothing in my research indicated a spine of steel. I thought you’d be as easy to break as your predecessor.”

Kamal’s eyes widen. “What?”

“Like I said, he was involved in similar things. Corrupting city officials. Buying off Safari Rangers. Hiring thugs. Nothing solid enough that I could let the police handle it, but clear abuses of power. He had to go.”

Kamal’s fists clench. “What did you do to him?”

“Not much. A history of minor mental issues already set the foundation. I added some stimulants to his nightly drinks to disrupt his sleep cycle, then switched them to hallucinogens. Eventually I began to appear to him in disguise. He thought I was a demon, come to punish him for his sins. Told me all sorts of interesting things. But not what I needed. I suspect he didn’t know.”

She says all this casually. Almost dispassionately. As if breaking a man’s mind and destroying his life was of no consequence. Kamal feels his nails digging into his palms. “You’re a monster. A sick, twisted child.”

Her eyes narrow. “Two rangers at the safari were killed by poachers last spring. The suspects were a group of thugs from out of town, very similar to the ones I ran into tonight. They were tied to the scene by eight witnesses at various points. The rangers’ pokemon had been transferred from balls found in the gang’s possession. They claimed someone had sold the balls to them empty.” Janine crouches down to make it harder for him to avoid her gaze. “How many years do you think they were sentenced to?”

Kamal stares at the wall, feeling sick.

“None. Out of nowhere, an army of lawyers descended and tied the case up for months. In that time, all the witnesses either changed their story or moved away from Kanto. Every. Single. One.”

She stands. “I can’t prove the witness intimidation. It took me a while to trace it, but the money that paid for the defense attorneys came from Mr. Moore. Nothing illegal about that, is there? But those rangers deserved justice. Their families deserved justice. This city deserved justice. And since some powerful people seem intent on preventing that, we’ll have to take what we can get.”

The room feels cold, and Kamal is starting to feel groggy. Panic tries to send protests and denials up his throat, but he doesn’t let them pass his lips. Kamal wonders if the new security guard arrived yet. Would he call up when he does? Kamal’s hand rises to the wheel on his necklace, gripping the cool metal in his hand. Its gold-plated prongs dig into his palm a bit, and he savors the sensation, focusing on it to keep alert. “And killing me? That’s justice?”

“I have little against you personally, Mr. Chadha. But I think you work for immoral people. And I cannot allow you to continue spreading their tendrils through my city.”

“This is ridiculous. You’re just a kid-”

“I’m fifteen. In your world that’s not old enough to be more than a cashier or sales clerk, but in mine I assure you, it’s of little impediment.”

“Your world. You mean pokemon training. You’re not an officer of the law. Not a judge. Not an executioner. If you think I’ve done some crime, take me to the police, I’ll sign a confession to whatever you want-”

“What, hand you over to people your superiors can manipulate and buy off? And what would a confession from you be worth, even if it weren’t under duress? You’re just a hand. I want the head.”

“You won’t get it from inside a jail cell.”

“No one saw me enter, nor will they see me leave. Your security cameras are laughably easy to avoid. And there will be little in the investigation to point to foul play. No one will go to jail for your death, least of all me. You accomplish nothing by dying but dying.”

“You can let me go. I’ll resign, like Frank, move away. I’ll never bother you… your city… again.”

She shakes her head. “You would just be replaced, and I’d have to do this all over again. I need to send a stronger message to your bosses this time. Or you could tell me what I want to know.”

Kamal looks away, ignoring the fluttering of his heart. “I can’t.”

“Such misguided loyalty. Don’t you realize you’re a puppet? They knew something happened to Mr. Moore and sent you in case it happened again. You were chosen because you’re expendable. Little family, few friends. Replaceable.”

Kamal straightens his back and turns to her. “That is your interpretation. Mine is that they knew I would be the perfect person for the job. And I will not betray that trust. You will gain nothing by my death but my death.”

She meets his gaze for a moment, and this time she’s the one that looks away, peering out at the night through his window. “I’m sorry. You are worth less than nothing to me alive if you can’t give me what I need.”

Kamal tries to think of some other argument, something to save himself. But there’s nothing. He can’t convince her to release him, and won’t give her what she wants. He doesn’t know anything of what Frank Moore had done, but his activities in the city haven’t been anything worth killing over.

What of that business tonight? Beating up a union leader, she said. What other things like that have been going on?

He doesn’t know. It’s not his job to know. But he trusts that what has been done has been done for the good of the company, for its employees, and ultimately for the society it serves. He won’t help his murderess in whatever vendetta she has against his superiors. He can only wait for the poison to take its course, and hope that help comes before it does. If the new security calls and receives no answer, what would he do? Did Marissa even inform him that Kamal was staying? Surely she would…

Kamal closes his eyes and bows his head, grip loose around his wheel as he tries to control his breathing, and his fear. Arceus, First and Last, watch over your humble servant. Let me be as malleable as the gold of your wheel, so you can shape me into purity. If I have sinned, let me learn from my sins and change, as you change. And if Judgement is upon me, let me face it with courage.

The time passes, and Kamal once again begins to hear the alloys of the silence. The ticking clock. The muted wind. All that’s missing is the clack of his keyboard. He thinks of his past self, content and oblivious of what was coming. How strange and unfair, that life could be so utterly shattered in such a small time without warning.

He realizes that he can’t feel the wheel in his hand anymore, and a moment later that he can barely move his limbs. The tiredness spreads slowly, but noticeably now, and his fear returns, a coiling, frantic thing. It’s far too late to try an escape however: he doubts he could even stand.

The girl is staring at him. Is that pity in her gaze? Regret? The dying ember of hope flares up, but when he opens his mouth, he can’t form any words. He lets his hope fade away. She won’t save him now. He would just be a liability to her, a witness to her crime.

He wonders what she plans to do with his body. How she’ll cover up her involvement. Make it look like a suicide, maybe? Push him off the balcony? What will mother think? Imagining her reaction is agonizing, and in that moment he wants to tell Janine everything if only to spare his mother the grief.

But it’s too late: his consciousness is beginning to drift. Kamal thanks Arceus for the strength to hold out as long as he has, then lets the soothing sounds of the silence comfort him down into oblivion.


The night is cool and smells of salt as Janine travels south, passing from one rooftop to the next. She runs on her forefeet, a silent shadow leaping over the streets of her city. Seeing but unseen, hearing but unheard. It’s exhilarating. Freeing.

Especially at the apex of each jump. She leaps, eyes closed as she flies through the air, weightless for a split second before gravity pulls her back down. She tucks into a roll for the landing, and even that is quiet, her padded clothes muffling the impact and protecting her so she can easily spring back to her feet.

She’s taking a new route home, passing by some rumored trouble spots so she can ensure nothing is going on. Thankfully, all is quiet. It usually is: despite what the cartoons say, it’s really hard to randomly run into a crime as it’s in progress, even in the bad parts of town. Nights like this come from a lot of research, having good reason to suspect something will go down at a certain time and place. Even then she usually ends up staking places out all night for nothing.

At least those nights aren’t so exhausting. She just wants to go to bed and stop thinking for a bit. Her thoughts keep circling back to Kamal. Her failure is frustrating on a number of levels, but what bothers her most is how willing he had been to die. She had thought it possible, but hadn’t really believed he would. It worries her that her adversaries have such dedicated employees on staff. She copied his hard drive, and hopes to find some answers there.

The gap between this roof and the next is too wide to jump. As she runs, Janine tosses forward a pokeball and mutters “Go, koffing.”

It opens ahead of her just before the end of the roof, and she catches the ball, clips it to her belt, then grabs her koffing in both hands and says “up” as she leaps forward, her pokemon held just behind her and above her head.

The warm, hollow body of her koffing inflates, extending her leap into a glide. Her feet hit the next roof running, and she lets her koffing go, withdrawing him over her shoulder and reclipping his ball to her belt. The next gap is small enough to jump on her own.

Four hops and another glide later, she’s able to swing over the side of a shop and land in an alley below, a couple blocks from her father’s house. Two meowth leap onto a dumpster as she passes near them, staring at her with shining eyes as the streetlight gleams on their coins. She walks the rest of the way to the house, removing her mask and hood, then stripping the peelable black paint from her pokeballs one half at a time.

The two story house is dark. Her father might be sleeping, or he might be on his computer or watching the news in the living room. She listens for any sounds as she mounts the front steps, but all she hears are the distant waves and the cries of the wingulls above them. The scrape of her key seems very loud as she opens the lock, and she’s careful in opening and closing the door so that it makes as little sound as possible.

She turns the bolt behind her and takes off her shoes and pokebelt as her eyes adjust to the darkness. Once they have, she begins to head for the staircase when she notices the figure on the couch.

Her heart kicks into high gear, and she has a moment of sympathy for how Mr. Chadha must have felt seeing her in his office. She’d learned from the best, after all.

When she’s sure her voice won’t shake, she bows her head and says, “Good evening, father.”

“Good evening, Janine,” he says without inflection “Where have you been.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she decides against lying. For all she knows he arrived just a minute ahead of her after shadowing her all night.

“I did my usual patrols, then went to watch over a union meeting where tomorrow’s protest was being planned. I figured another attempt would be made to disrupt it, but instead a gang of thugs from out of town waited outside to jump Hart McEvoy when he came out. I stopped them.”

“Stopped them. How?”

Her eyes have adjusted enough to make out most of the room from the dim light from outside, but his face is still in shadows. She struggles not to smile as she imagines him shifting the seat around for maximum dramatic effect.

Since she can’t meet his eyes, she just looks at the shadows of his face and folds her arms. “I asked them politely to leave. What do you think?”

“I think you are a foolish and immature-”

“There were six of them-”

Do not interrupt me, Anzu.”

Janine winces. Her dad only calls her that when he’s particularly upset. As if that isn’t bad enough, his accent has gotten thicker throughout their conversation. Raised on the reclusive estates of the Koga clan when he was young, it’s already stronger than most others of his generation. She knows he’s self-conscious about it, even in private, and judges that he’s a handsbreadth away from lapsing completely into Japanese.

She bows her head. “I’m sorry, father.”

“I have warned you time and again of the consequences if you are caught using your pokemon against people. Is your life truly worth so little to you?”

You risked it.”

“I was young and reckless, and I acted throughout the land, not all in a single city. If I was ever convicted, I would not be where I am today. I did not teach you my skills so you could make the same mistakes. I did it so you could protect yourself. ”

“So I should have just let them beat him?”

“Why did you not call the police?”

Janine snorts. “For what? Those magikarp? I needed to know who sent them.”

“They will say that Leader Koga attacked them with pokemon.”

“My pokemon attacked none of them. I used them for cover and to frighten, that’s all.”

“Then you did not need them at all. You put on a spectacle. That is not the way of the ninja.”

“There’s nothing dramatic about being darted unconscious before you even realize what happened. My way makes them frightened. They tell other criminals. It keeps them away from the city.”

“I’ve had to address questions about the crime in Fuchsia already. It was not a criminal who asked.”

She saw that interview. It made her a bit apprehensive, but she already decided that if actual charges are ever brought against her father, she’d turn herself in. “Everyone likes a juicy rumor. The point is they won’t talk to the police, they don’t trust them. And they’re too scared of you to risk it.”

Her father’s voice is tight with anger. “Because of your vigilantism.”

“Yes, my vigilantism, which saved a man from being beaten. Besides, unless you’ve been following me all night, you should have an alibi at the gym. Or did Markus not approach you to help train his venomoth?”

Her father is quiet for a moment. “You arranged that?”

“I suggested a time and date I knew you would be free. His request was genuine.”

“I have taught you too well. And now you do not heed me anymore, it seems. Have you outgrown my tutelage, Anzu?”

Something in his tone makes Janine’s chest tighten. She wishes she could see his face. “No, father. I will always value your teachings. But you cannot ask me to ignore my conscience.”

“As I ignore mine.”

“You know what’s going on, and you do nothing. What would you call it?”

“I would call it having sense. It is not just what you do, it is your methods. They are too brazen. You act without respect to the law at all. Would you have me take over the city? Declare myself mayor and gym leader?”

“Would that be so wrong? You’re ten times the man as that butterfree in city hall.”

Her father suddenly sounds tired. “It is not my place, Janine. We are no longer feudal lords, ruling absolutely by virtue of our might. I am Leader of the city’s pokemon trainers, and that is all. My responsibilities are to fight monsters, not people. There are civilian governments, civilian peacekeepers, civilian courts to deal with them. Our society could not function as it does if every trainer took the law into their own hands.”

“Then it’s a good thing they don’t. But that doesn’t mean I won’t, to protect my city.”

“It may not ever be yours if you continue like this.”

Janine lifts her chin. “Who else is there? Patricia? Lee? I’m your daughter. When you join the Elite Four, I’ll show them who your best student is.”

“I meant if you are branded a Renegade.”

“I won’t be.”

Her father stands and moves to the kitchen. He turns on the light before beginning to make some tea. After a moment Janine follows, stopping at the doorway. She’s so sleepy her eyes keep threatening to drift closed, but she’s not sure if she’s been dismissed yet. Once the water is set to boil, her father turns and leans against the counter, arms folded.

Her father’s face looks different in person than on vids. When she was young it had always seemed strange watching the great Kyo Koga in interviews or on battle videos, so severe and cold. True, his face is sharp like hers, with a strong jaw and deep lines around his mouth. But it also holds character that doesn’t come across through a screen. An expressive vibrancy that makes even his current stern expression more heated than cool. Her eyes are drawn to the streaks of grey just beginning to form in his pine-green hair. They remind her of Mr. Chadha’s fully grey head, though they’re both about the same age. She wonders when they first appeared.

“So?”

She meets his gaze warily. “So, what?”

“So, what did you discover.”

Janine smiles before quickly schooling her expression. Part of her has always hoped that deep down, her father approves of what she does, and is just worried about her. He can’t completely ignore the good she’s done, or she’s sure he would have forced her to stop. “It’s as I thought. The same middle man from last time, when Mr. Moore was involved in everything. So I went to his replacement, in case there was a connection.”

“Mr… Chad, was it?”

“Chadha.”

“And?”

“I was right. It took a few bluffs, but he’s behind the same sorts of things. Unfortunately he wouldn’t name his superior.”

“So what makes you think there is a connection?”

“Two people from Silph being behind the same things is too much of a coincidence. There’s got to be someone above them guiding their actions.”

Her father shakes his head. “No, there does not. They work in the same business. They had the same responsibilities. They likely share many beliefs. In short, they had similar goals, resources, and values. It is not impossible that their corruption happened to take the same forms by coincidence.”

Janine frowns, replaying her conversation with Kamal over as best she could from memory. She has a recording of the conversation in her phone, but off the top of her head she can’t remember him actually admitting there was someone in Silph giving him orders, name or no name. “I suppose it’s possible…”

“Of course it is. So what did you do to this man, to force out this conspiracy that you made up in your head?”

She scowls. “Even if I was wrong, he isn’t innocent.”

“Answer the question.”

Janine looks away. “I drugged him.”

“With?”

“My own mix. Mostly chloral hydrate in his drink. Made him think he was dying. Some rohypnol for his memory.”

Her father’s face is hard. “In his ‘drink?’ Alcoholic? Baka musume, you could have killed him!”

“Could have,” she says as her temper flares. “But I learned from the best.”

Her father goes still. Janine flinches as his arm twitches up-

-and takes the teapot off the stove beside him, some wisps of steam just beginning to rise. “One of these days you will go too far, Anzu,” he says, not looking at her. “And I will be forced to stop you.”

Janine lets out her breath, heart racing. She turns and heads for the stairs. “If I ever go that far, father, I’m counting on it.”

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?”

“Johto?”

“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.