Tag Archives: rationalist fiction

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.


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-



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-



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,


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?”


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.


Normal, Fire, Water, Plant, Electric, Poison, Rock, Metal, Bug, Ghost


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.”



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.”


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—”


“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?”


“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.”


“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?”


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.”


“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.


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?”



“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.”


“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?”


“Heh. Fair enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red looks up. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4: Operant Conditioning


“Shit, they’re fast!”

“There’s another!”

“I got it!”

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

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

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

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

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

“No luck either, huh?” Red asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We could go to Viridian City and get a net launcher, then come back,” Red says. It’s one of the items on his eventual wish-list of gear, and he’d looked at some prices online. “They cost five hundred dollars, but we can rent one for a hundred-thirty a day.”

Blue scratches his neck. “That’s not bad. How much do you have?”

“After buying all my gear, I’ve got $237 left. You?”

“I have about five hundred saved up.”

Leaf holds up her purse. “I brought four hundred for the trip. So we could all pool in to rent one for $43 each, or buy it for $167, give or take a dollar.”

“So it’s an option, though a pricey one,” Red says.

Blue nods. “I was hoping to save for critical supplies until I can earn some cash through catches or matches, so let’s make that Plan B. Any other ideas?”

Leaf looks around at the tall grass, some of it as high as their shoulders while seated. “A trap of some kind? I can hide with Bulbasaur in some tall grass, try to grab one with vines if it gets close.”

“Might take hours of waiting,” Blue says. “What if we lure them? Dig a hole, make a false cover and put some berries on it?”

Red runs his fingers through the grass. “Even if they were heavy enough to break it, they’d just fly out before we got close. I like the berry idea though. Maybe combine it with Leaf’s? Bulbasaur sits under the trap?”

“Or better yet, we can find a berry bush to hide him in,” Leaf says.

They agree, and get up to look for a good spot. It isn’t hard to find berry bushes, but most are stripped of ripe fruit by wild pokemon. A few rattata and pidgey run from the trio as they walk through the tall grass, and eventually they find a berry laden bush with three rattata around it. They seem willing to stand and fight at first, until Leaf brings Bulbasaur out. They flee before Red can bring out Charmander, and Blue throws a pokeball at the retreating rodents, missing one by a hair.

“Not a word,” Blue says.

“It’s a lot easier when they’re knocked out,” Red offers with a grin.

“Okay Bulbasaur. In you go.” Leaf points at the berry bush. Her pokemon walks over to it and begins to feed. “No! Stop!” Bulbasaur hesitates a moment, then continues, and Leaf pulls a spray bottle out of her pocket and squirts a mist of water in Bulbasaur’s face, saying “Stop!” again. He recoils, blinking in surprise, and looks at his trainer with a mournful sound.

“I guess we didn’t think this through,” Blue says, balancing a spinning pokeball on one finger. “He’s going to just eat the berries when we move away.”

“Give me a bit, and he won’t,” Leaf says. “This is a good training opportunity.”

Blue looks skeptical. “You’re going to train him not to eat berries? Might want to make sure he’s full first.”

“It’s not too hard. I just have to reward him with something he wants more.”

Red turns to Leaf, impressed anew. “You’ve studied operant conditioning?” He’s starting to appreciate that Leaf had probably worked at least as hard to prepare for this journey as he and Blue.

“That Pavlov thing?” Blue asks.

“That’s classical conditioning. Operant conditioning deals with positive and negative reinforcement.”

Blue stares blankly at him.

“I’m pretty sure we covered it in school together…”

“Oh?” Blue spins his pokeball again, arm moving slightly to keep it balanced. “I must have been sick that day.”

Red sighs as Leaf smiles and put her pack down to dig through it. “Okay, so Professor Skinner was studying behavior theory, and was focused on the way pokemon learn. He put rattata in a box which had a mechanism to release food, along with a lever, and a light display or speakers.”

“This is fascinating,” Blue says in a monotone.

“Do you want to know what she’s going to do, or not?”

“I was hoping for a ten second answer, not an hour long lecture.”

“It’s been twenty seconds, if that, and only counting your interruption.”

“What, I said it was fascinating, then you get all huffy-”

Anyway,” Red continues, deciding to simplify. “He was able to train the pokemon to press the lever after seeing the right light display or hearing the right sound, but not when seeing or hearing the wrong one. The lever would only dispense food if they pressed it after the right signal. That was their reward, to reinforce the desired behavior. If they did it after the wrong one, they would get a small shock or something. That aversive stimulus was the punishment.

Leaf finds and takes out a small box of PokePuffs. The round cakes are colorful, and their scent fills the air as soon as she opens the wrapping. Bulbasaur and Squirtle sniff, their gazes locking on the brown and orange pastry Leaf holds up.

“Ok, that’s starting to sound familiar,” Blue says. “It’s like how we link new commands with pokemon attacks.”

“Right, but the principle works with more than just battle commands,” Red says. “In fact, it works for pretty much anything, and even the least intelligent of pokemon respond to it to some degree.” Nor are humans exempt: Red had made the connection to his own learning not to touch a hot stove as a toddler before finding the studies that supported it. “According to behavior theory, pretty much all learned behavior is the result of reinforcements and associations.”

“So that water bottle, that’s the punishment,” Blue says. “And the PokePuff is the reward.”

“Right. The water bottle is a positive punishment, because it adds an experience to minimize a behavior. The pokepuff is a positive reinforcement, because it reinforces a behavior. ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ are used in a technical sense here, to mean add or subtract, and not to place a subjective judgement on what’s being added or subtracted. A negative reinforcement would still be something that reinforces a pokemon’s behavior, which means whatever was subtracted was noxious, or made it more difficult to do it.

Leaf positions Bulbasaur in front of the bush again, and waits until Bulbasaur begins to stretch his neck out for a berry, then says “Stop!” Bulbasaur hesitates again, and when he resumes reaching for a berry he gets another spray of mist. It takes another few repetitions of this until Bulbasaur stops reaching for berries on his own.

“Isn’t this going to make him stop eating berries altogether?” Blue asks.

“It could, with enough reinforcement,” Red admits. “But she can fine-tune it. Watch.”

Leaf offers Bulbasaur a berry from her hand, and after a moment he eats it. He doesn’t get squirted, and after she offers him another one he’s faster to eat it, which earns him a scratch behind his ear.

“The real behavior she’s trying to teach him doesn’t have to do with berries, but to respond to her saying ‘stop’,” Red explains. “He recognizes the word to some degree thanks to previous training, but isn’t used to hearing it when doing mundane things. He’s also learning not to eat berries unless it’s offered to him.”

Leaf stays still and silent for a long time, and Bulbasaur doesn’t reach for any berries. Finally he begins to stir and stretch his neck out for one, and when Leaf says “Stop!” he does so right away.

“Good boy!” Leaf breaks off a piece of the pokepuff and feeds it to him, then scratches him behind the ear. “Who’s a good bulbasaur? You are!”

Squirtle is watching the interaction attentively, and eventually walks over to Blue and looks up at him expectantly. “What?” Blue says, sounding defensive as he catches his ball to stop its spinning. “I don’t have any PokePuffs. I’ll pick some up in Viridian.”

Squirtle doesn’t seem particularly assured, and makes a gurgling sound, plodding off toward the berry bush to eat some. Bulbasaur watches Squirtle, but doesn’t join her, earning him another piece of Puff.

By the time the PokePuff is gone, Bulbasaur is obediently sitting in the middle of the berry bush without reaching for any of them. Part of it might be that he’s less hungry, but Red knows that PokePuffs are designed as treats, and aren’t particularly filling.

Leaf brushes her hands off on her pants. “Now we just need to train him to grab anyone that tries to eat the berries.” She eyes Squirtle, then Blue, and both trainers speak at the same time:

“Bulbasaur, Bind!”

“Squirtle, Withdraw!”

Bulbasaur’s vines wrap around Squirtle, but have trouble keeping a grip on the smooth shell.

“Bulbasaur, stop!”

“Squirtle, back up.” Blue slowly circles the berry bush with Squirtle, then points to a clump of berries. “Eat!”

“Bulbasaur, Bind!”

Squirtle dodges the vines and grabs a mouthful of berries, but has to jump back to avoid them again. When Bulbasaur moves forward to pursue, Leaf tells him to stop, and Bulbasaur does.

“Good job Squirtle!” Blue rubs the turtle’s smooth shell while Leaf feeds Bulbasaur part of a new PokePuff, then hands the rest to Blue to feed Squirtle. Red watches them for a moment, then unclips Charmander’s pokeball and looks at its smooth surface.

Inside, he knows Charmander’s physical state is suspended while his mind is busy with the pokeball’s virtual reality, a preprogrammed experience akin to dreaming. He pulls out his pokedex and aligns their lens so he can see what Charmander’s doing.

The screen displays a stadium. Charmander is facing down an assortment of pokemon, as Red, or rather the recording of him that had been programmed into the dex at Professor Oak’s lab, gives Charmander various commands. It won’t make the pokemon any stronger, but Red knows the virtual training will subconsciously help Charmander become even more used to his instructions and fighting in general.

He reclips Charmander to his belt and pulls out his new rattata’s ball, doing the same thing. Instead of the more advanced scenario Charmander is experiencing, the rattata isn’t facing any foes, but simply learning basic commands. Red watches her tackle a mannequin, then begin biting it as his virtual self instructs her to. This sort of virtual training doesn’t form as strong a bond as training in person, and there’s less room for creativity or learning for the trainer, but it’s a convenient method of allowing virtually anyone to capture and train pokemon of their own.

Red remembers learning about pokeball technology at school. Most of the students had just followed the lesson and taken notes at various levels of attention, but Red could barely listen and write at the same time, mind racing with possibilities. He’d finally raised his hand to interrupt the teacher, and asked why people couldn’t just go into a pokeball and learn everything through virtual lessons.

The class had gone silent, many kids turning to give Red a strange look. People can’t go in pokeballs, dummy, his classmate Becka had said. The teacher had reprimanded her, but then reiterated the well known point: pokeballs were for pokemon. They wouldn’t work on people.

Red had barely paid attention the rest of the day. He’d never really thought much about the distinction between people and pokemon, but in those moments it had seemed trivial to him. Surely some day, he’d thought, they would refine the technology to upload humans as data as well. His mind kept coming up with new things such a breakthrough would allow: near instant travel, protection from imminent danger, the ability to stay suspended the same age for decades and jump ahead in time…

Red smiles now, remembering his naïveté. It wasn’t until years later when he was reading one of the books Professor Oak had given him that he’d learned the truth: they can create pokeballs that work on people. The technology had been available from the very beginning. But the atomization and compression isn’t quite so simple for creatures with higher cognitive functions. The first humans who had volunteered to be stored in a pokeball and then reformed had emerged physically healthy, but severely brain damaged.

The book hadn’t elaborated further, and Red had done some independent research online to learn the full story. Over the years, the matter compression technology had continued to advance, and occasionally human testing was tried again. Criminals facing the death penalty were offered the choice of entering a pokeball instead: if they survived with their wits intact, their sentence would be lowered to mere life imprisonment.

Time and again, the results were the same: at best, a regression of mental state to a toddler’s level. At worst, permanent catatonia. Ultimately the decision was agreed by all levels of government: pokeballs were for pokemon. The creation or use of devices that would recognize and store humans became a felony of the greatest magnitude, on par with going renegade, allowing law enforcement to go all-out against anyone suspected of doing so. All further research on the topic was put to a halt.

Red sighs and puts his rattata’s pokeball away, the screen of the pokedex going still as the lenses unalign. As amazing as technology is, he can’t help but wonder what new things humanity could accomplish, if they were willing to take more risks…

“Alright, that should do it,” Leaf says. She feeds her pokemon the last bit of another puff through the bush’s branches, and gets to her feet. “Let’s get some distance and let Bulbasaur do his thing.”

They find a grassy knoll not too far from the bush and lie or crouch behind it, heads just high enough to watch the bush. Blue rolls three shrunken pokeballs around on his palm by flexing his fingers, while Leaf scans the skies. Red scans through his pokedex’s map, looking ahead at the locations they would soon travel to and refreshing his memory of the pokemon native to there. Some mankey to the west of Viridian City, would be useful to catch one, though they’re rare… lots of weedle in the forest, not to mention kakuna and beedrill… better stock up on poison antidotes…

The sun continues to inch along the sky, and eventually Blue excuses himself to duck behind some trees. While he’s gone, Leaf turns to Red. “So what does it take to become a Professor in Kanto?”

Red scratches his chin where a blade of grass is tickling. “First, to become a registered Pokemon Researcher, I need to contribute an independent article based on my observations and experiences with one of my pokemon. I can submit it through the pokedex, but I have to wait for it to be peer reviewed to be accepted.”

“Can it be on anything?”

Red nods. “Pretty much. I just need to discover or verify something new. Once I’m a Researcher, I can advance by increasing my h-index.”

“That’s the relationship between number of papers published and the times you’ve been cited, right?”

“Yeah. So the more papers I publish, the more chances of being cited by others, but high quality research will likely shoot my score way up. Eventually I’ll become an Instructor, then an Associate Professor, and be able to work in the lab under Professor Oak.”

“And then? When do you get your own lab?”

Red shrugs. “Could take years. I need to demonstrate knowledge of every major species in the region to apply to become a Professor, and once I pass that test, my dissertation has to disprove or overturn a previous theory that has already been established.”

Leaf gives a low whistle. “Every species in the region. That’s a lot of work.”

“Yeah, but I can start making money for articles I contribute or review once I’m a Researcher, so it’s incrementally rewarding long before I reach the end.”

“Do you make a lot?”

“It depends on the discovery, but not generally. The rewards are structured more toward verifying and disproving than submitting.”

“And you weren’t able to do any as part of your apprenticeship? Get a head start on it?”

“My work in the lab involved a lot of paperwork and assistance of others in their research. So I got a chance to observe first hand the proper procedures and format and standards, which will help a lot in doing my own research and getting it accepted.”

“So to keep publishing papers, you’ll have to study and catch a lot of pokemon. More than Gym Leaders have, even.”

“Or spend a lot of time with a few dozen, yeah.” He smiles. “Discovering new species would put me on the fast track though, so let me know if you spot any.”

She grins. “For a cut of the funds, sure.”

“Sounds fair. I-”


Leaf points as a rattata approaches the berry bush. They watch as it inches closer… closer… then Leaf yells out “Bind!” as it begins nibbling at some berries.

Bulbasaur’s vines whip out and catch the startled rattata, holding it up off the ground to prevent it from running. Leaf and Red dash to the bush, where the squirming rodent is trying to twist around and bite the vines holding it.

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

The vines slam the rattata down and unwind just as Bulbasaur rockets out from the bush and tackles it. It tumbles away in a daze, and Leaf’s pokeball quickly scans it, then flies through the air and snaps it up. The lens blinks red, then stills.

“Nice job,” Red says. “You trained him really well.”

“Thanks. I used to practice with my mom’s pokemon.” Leaf picks her new rattata up with a grin, then pulls her pokedex out and registers it. Once it’s programmed to her Trainer ID, she clips it to her belt, where it will begin the basic training program Red’s rattata is going through.

Red brushes his fingers over his own rattata’s ball. “At least one of us should nickname ours, in case we have them out at the same time.”

“Good idea. I’ll try to think of one.” Leaf crouches down to rub Bulbasaur’s head and feed him another pokepuff. “Good boy Bulbasaur! Such a good boy!”

They hear running from behind, and turn to see Blue, one hand holding up his pants as the other grips a pokeball. “What happened? Did I miss it?!” He looks around wildly, breathing hard.

Leaf and Red glance at each other before collapsing in laughter. Blue blinks at them, then scowls, cheeks darkening as he puts the pokeball away and finishes zipping and buttoning his pants. Eventually Red recovers enough to explain, and they retreat to the hill after Leaf instructs Bulbasaur to return to the bushes.

“So now I’m the only one without a second pokemon,” Blue grumbles as he settles down again.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get the pidgey for sure,” Leaf says.

Red grins. “Unless you have to go pee again. You did get the chance to finish, right?”

Leaf buries her laughter in her arms as Blue punches Red in his good shoulder, and the two begin to roll across the knoll scuffling. It’s only when Leaf catches her breath and tells them they’ll scare away the pokemon that they disengage and flop back down beside her. Red nurses a bruised rib where Blue’s knee had caught him, while Blue examines a tear in his sleeve.

The clouds drift across the sun, darkening the fields as wind sends ripples through the grass. Red checks the time, noting that they have another two hours of sun left. Plenty to reach Viridian City by nightfall, though only if the pidgey shows up within the next thirty minutes…

It takes ten, though it’s not alone. Leaf gives a small gasp, then points: three pidgey wheel in the distance, dipping and looping around each other, steadily making their way closer. Within moments they land and begin to hop over to the bush.

Blue curses, and Leaf bites her lower lip. Red’s hand falls to his pokeball. What would the other two pidgey do when Bulbasaur grabs the third? Run, or attack? The bushes would provide some cover, but outnumbered the way he is, Bulbasaur might be seriously hurt before they can reach him.

Red unclips Charmander’s pokeball, though he doesn’t release him yet, as the explosive sound might scare them away. “We’ll throw them,” he whispers to Leaf. “Bulbasaur will grab one, and when Charmander and Squirtle show up, the other two might run for it or get distracted.”

Blue nods, and Leaf takes a deep breath, eyes on the pidgey. They hop closer… another hop… and then one pecks at the bushes, grabbing a berry.


Red leaps to his feet and throws as hard as he can, yelling “Charmander, go!” as Blue does the same with Squirtle. The pokeballs soar through the air as the three pidgey explode into action, flapping and chirping in alarm as one of them struggles against the vines holding it. Bulbasaur keeps his target from flying away, but the other two are already pecking his vines to free their companion.

The wrapped pidgey gets its second wing free and begins to flap, lifting itself a bit. Bulbasaur gets dragged from concealment as he tries to hold onto the pidgey, and the two free birds immediately shift focus to attack him with their beaks and talons.

Red and Blue’s pokeballs hit the ground, bounce, and light flashes as they discharge their contents, sailing back up into the air. Charmander and Squirtle seem a bit disoriented at first from the commotion five feet from them, but quickly shift into combat stances, Squirtle rising onto her hindlegs as Charmander’s claws extend.

“Charmander, Emb-Scratch!” Red yells as he runs, remembering just in time not to use a fire attack. So inconvenient-

“Squirtle, Water Gun!”

Charmander leaps at the nearest Pidgey and begins to claw at it while Squirtle blasts at the other with a jet of water. For a second there Red had been worried Squirtle would hit Charmander, but the turtle continues to shoot jets of water at the unengaged bird as Charmander knocks away the lower one.

“Blue, I’m going to let it go! Be ready!” Leaf yells from behind them as they run toward the bush.

By the time they reach the scuffle, Blue has a pokeball in each hand, pressing their buttons to expand them and pointing their lens at the pidgeys. Precious seconds pass as he tries to keep them steady on the birds, shifting his arms slightly as the two free pidgey fly around and occasionally dive at their pokemon.

Gotta keep their wings busy. “Charmander, Bite!” Charmander latches onto his opponent’s shoulder with his teeth. Stuck, the pidgey pecks at the lizard’s face, and Red’s heart leaps into his throat as he sees blood on its beak. His eyes! “Charmander, Tail Whip!”

Charmander’s tail coils around him and presses against the pidgey, causing it to trill and flail frantically to escape the flames rather than continue its assault. Squirtle keeps the third pidgey at bay with bursts of water every time it attempts to get close, while their target continues to drag Bulbasaur farther away as it tries to lift off. Bulbasaur’s feet leave the ground for a moment before he settles back down, digging his feet in and slamming the pidgey against the ground without much effect.

Finally a pair of dings sound. “Do it!” Blue yells.

“Bulbasaur, tackle!”

Bulbasaur draws his vines in and runs forward as he pulls the pidgey toward him. He releases it just as he hits, but the bird is already airborn, and barely flinches. The tackle does turn it around however, and its first few flaps aim it toward them instead of away.

Blue throws, then shifts the left ball to his right hand and throws again, aiming higher. The pidgey climbs over the first ball, only to be hit by the second.

“Yes!” Blue pumps his fist as the bird disappears in a flash of light. Charmander continues to struggle with the second pidgey, and Red can see both pokemon tiring.

“Leaf, I’m going to tell Charmander to back up,” he says, positioning himself behind the lizard. “Get a ball ready and catch that one!”

“Got it!” She runs forward until she’s just a few feet away and expands a ball, then aims its lens. “Can’t get a lock with Charmander so close!”

“Charmander, back!”

The red lizard releases his target and scampers toward Red, favoring a foreleg as blood runs down his face. The pidgey flaps its wings and tries to gain altitude, but Leaf’s ball pings its lock, and she throws it, hardly needing to aim from so close.

The ball hits the second pidgey and bounces off it before opening and sucking it inside as it falls. The third pidgey chirrups, then wheels around and flies away.

Red is already kneeling beside Charmander, a potion in one hand and a small towel in the other. “Hold still Charmander, you did so well,” he whispers, heart pounding as he wipes blood away from the lizard’s face. He notices his hand shaking, and takes a deep breath, trying to steady himself. Stupid adrenaline, go away, need to focus…

Charmander’s eyes are closed, so he sprays the potion onto the wounds he can see. His pokemon slowly relaxes, and Red pulls out his water bottle, wetting his towel and gingerly wiping around the wounds. One, two… three… Three peck marks, and when Charmander opens his eyes, they’re undamaged. One particularly bad one had hit the lizard’s previous wound, and Red uses the rest of the potion on the spot, watching as the bloodflow slows and forms a dark scab, new pink flesh already shrinking the wound around the edges.

Red lets out a breath and gingerly hugs his charmander, careful of its tail. It snuggles against his chest, claws sharp, but not piercing his skin.

“How is he?” Blue says after a minute.

Red looks up at Blue. “He’s okay. Bulbasaur?”

“Same,” Leaf says, putting her potion bottle away. “They got him pretty bad though, and the plant on his back is shredded a bit. I’d like to get him to a pokemon center to make sure there’s no permanent damage.”

“Yeah.” Red slowly disentangles himself from Charmander and feeds him a handful of berries while Blue retrieves their pokeballs from the grass. He hands Red the one with the flame on it, and the three trainers withdraw their pokemon. Then Blue registers his new pidgey.

Red smiles, the elation of victory filling him now that he knows his pokemon is okay. “Nice catch man. For a second there I thought you’d grab two.”

Blue chuckles. “If Squirtle knocked down the third I’d have gone for it, but I wanted insurance against the first guy. Got a sense for how they dodge balls from our earlier suckfest. Who’s getting the second one?”

“She is,” Red says at the same time Leaf says “Red.” They look at each other.

“I just got a new pokemon,” Leaf says.

“So? I did too, a few hours ago.”

“Charmander’s the one that fought it.”

“I’d be happy to take it,” Blue offers.

Red ignores him. “You and Bulbasaur are the reason we got these guys at all.”

Leaf hesitates. “Are you sure?”

Red makes himself smile. He wants a flier, he can’t deny that, but pidgey are fairly common pokemon, and he’s sure he’ll get one eventually. There are other alternatives coming up soon anyway. “I’m sure. Go for it.”

Leaf grins and hugs him. “Thank you!”

Red blinks, an indistinct and uncomfortable feeling rising in his chest. “Um. It’s okay.” What? “It’s okay?”

Leaf lets him go and collects the pokeball. As it downloads her Trainer ID, she presses a button on the pokedex. “Pokedex, Nickname: Crimson.”

“Pidgey nickname confirmed: Crimson,” the pokedex replies in a robotic, but somehow cheerful voice. “Uploading name recognition exercises. Estimated time to completion: fourteen minutes, thirty seven seconds.”

Leaf puts the pokedex and ball away and looks up at Red and Blue. “Still haven’t thought of one for rattata,” she says with a smile.

Red scratches his hair beneath his cap, then resettles it over his head, feeling vaguely embarrassed by the homage. “Well, we’ve got time to think of names on the way to Viridian.” Should I name my rattata “Green?” No, that‘s stupid

They collect their things and walk on as the sun slowly paints the sky red and gold.

Chapter 3: Memetics 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why did you bother–”

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

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

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

“Hey, I always thought it was stupid.”

“Sure you did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure, mienfoo.”

“Is it on your pokedex?”

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

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

“No, just Fighting.”


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

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

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


“Not Fighting/Normal?”


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

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

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

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

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

“Definitely Water/Fighting.”

“What tipped you off?”

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

“But also a Water type.”

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

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

“A new type?”

“Yeah. How would you know?”

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

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

“Okay. Like what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Contradictory how?”

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

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

The grass to her side rustles, and everyone freezes.

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

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

“Squirtle, go!”

“Come out, Bulbasaur!”

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

“Squirtle, Withdraw!”

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

“Water Gun!”

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

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

“Charmander, Tail Whip!”

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

“Bulbasaur, Tackle, then Vine Whip!”

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

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

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

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

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

“So close to the road?” Leaf asks.

“Might be new.”

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

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

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

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

“Squirtle, Headbutt!”

“Bulbasaur, Tackle!”

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

“Bulbasaur, Vine Whip!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf nods. “You guys were great.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue looks up. “You contacting CoRRNet?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nice job!”

“Congratulations Red!”

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

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

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

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