Tag Archives: rationalist writing

0 – History

A brief history of the Rational and Rationalist fiction genres, their roots in the LessWrong community, and the influences from flagship authors of HPMOR and Luminosity.

Co-hosted by http://alexanderwales.com/

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Websites mentioned in episode:



Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationalilty


Friendship is Optimal

Transcript by an anonymous fan:

[The intro plays.]

DayStar Eld: Hello and welcome to Rationally Writing. I’m DayStar Eld.

Alexander Wales: And I’m Alexander Wales.

DayStar Eld: And this is a brief history of the rational and rationalist writing genres. A great place to start I think is with Eliezer Yudkowsky, who you will probably hear referenced a lot on this podcast, either by name or just as EY. He is currently a research fellow at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute and is one of the founders of the LessWrong website.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. 2006, I believe, is when LessWrong is created. He started that after he was on Overcoming Bias with Robin Hanson. And then Overcoming Bias became Robin Hanson’s personal blog. LessWrong is a community blog: Elizier, Yvain, AKA Scott Alexander–

DayStar Eld: Who runs Slate Star Codex.

Alexander Wales: Luke G, Alicorn and Gwern.

DayStar Eld: And the main point of LessWrong was to help people learn about rationality, share their thoughts about rationality, improve their thinking, comment on each other’s attempts to improve thinking. And the Sequences by Eliezer Yudkowsky were a major part of that effort.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. And they spread out in a lot of different directions. Like artificial intelligence, and many-worlds theory, and things like that. And there’s a heavy focus on computer science as well. Rationalist fiction as a named thing begins in March of 2009. Eliezer posted on LessWrong about rationalist fiction. He named Null-A and David Sling as works that evoked that rationalist aesthetic and encouraged rationalist thinking.

DayStar Eld: Yup. And LessWrong is also where Eliezer posted his first published rational fiction, The Sword of Good. Which was a very short story, satire of a lot of fantasy novels where someone from our world goes to another one and is told “Hey, you’re the long lost king. Go kill this evil wizard and take the throne”. And it examined the story elements of that through a rational lens. And the next one he published there was Three Worlds Collide, an eight chapter science fiction novella exploring metaethics and rational conduct through the implications of humanity making first contact and meeting aliens. And after that he started HPMOR on Fanfiction in March.

Alexander Wales: March 2010 is when the first chapters of HPMOR — Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality — was posted under the pseudonym LessWrong, but everyone knew that it was Eliezer by chapter five.

Daystar Eld: Right. On fanfiction.net it’s still LessWrong. But…

Alexander Wales: Yeah.

Daystar Eld: Yeah. And HPMOR was essentially a reimagining of the world where Harry is raised by Petunia, and Petunia instead of marrying Vernon Dursley marries an Oxford professor who teaches Harry all about science and rationality so that when he gets his letter from Hogwarts he approaches the world of magic with a scientific rationalist perspective. There’s a lot more to it than that but that is the ten second pitch of what the story is about.

Alexander Wales: Right. And it’s quite long. There’s a lot of stuff in it. And well worth reading in my opinion.

Daystar Eld: Yeah. I’ve recommended HPMOR to basically everyone I know, even people who were never big fans of the original Harry Potter. And I’ve gotten- I want to say at least half of my wider social circle and friend group into it.

Alexander Wales: So it ran from 2010 until 2015. There was a long period of slowdown, I think about a year where it wasn’t updating at all. The HPMOR subreddit in that time was quite active with people talking and theorycrafting and recommending other stories. Both of us were heavy posters there.

Daystar Eld: Right. This was a very — to me — enjoyable community to be a part of, because I’ve been part of communities about ongoing fiction works before obviously, but this was the most involved one that I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t just people posting “Oh, you know this artwork reminded me [of something]” or “This guy made some fanart” or “This person met the author and interviewed them and these are some questions and answers”. It was actually a lot of analysis, it was a lot of deep reading, it was a lot of questions and discussion surrounding the characters, their motives, the plot. Which I think can really only be fully done in the more complex works I’ve read. Books like Song of Ice and Fire series have a very vibrant and in-depth community about that because George R.R. Martin does a very good job of foreshadowing, planting clues, having complex characters. And the amount of foreshadowing and clue-dropping in HPMOR is truly impressive.

Alexander Wales: And you know I’ve been on lots of subreddits and community sites and stuff like that. And most of them in the off-season — which was basically what HPMOR had — it just, they turned to crap really, really quickly. A Song of Ice and Fire is not one of them. That’s a rare exception. But a lot TV shows just, the off-season is the time to unsubscribe if you don’t want to see just, ridiculous stuff that has only tangential relationship [to the content].

Daystar Eld: But the HPMOR subreddit and wider community stayed very involved and very interesting to be a part of and I enjoyed my time there quite thoroughly and apparently enough people did where eventually a subreddit spun off. But I think that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. The next thing in our timeline is Alicorn posts the first chapters of Luminosity, which is basically a reimagining of the series Twilight, where Bella is a rationalist rather than her sort of braindead canon self.

Daystar Eld: Yeah. I enjoyed Twilight. I’m one of the few people I know who actually read the whole Twilight quartet, and I’ve got serious criticisms of the series as I’ve written on a number of places on the Internet. But the core idea behind it, the worldbuilding that it did had a lot of potential and I think Luminosity really delved into that potential and brought it to great fruition and had wonderful examinations of the side-characters and made them all work really well with each other and with the new and improved and rational Bella.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. I actually sort of liked Twilight too. I actually did read all four books as well. I thought a lot of the side characters in Twilight were more in-depth and well-rounded than Bella. Bella was my big problem with the series.

Daystar Eld: Absolutely. Yeah. Luminosity basically took the integral weakness to Twilight and made it a strength so that everything kind of clicked into place once that was done.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. So it was Luminosity, and then Radiance is the sequel to that. And that’s the first of I guess what I would call…

Daystar Eld: Inspired-by works?

Alexander Wales: Yeah. It’s this rational character who comes in and sees all this crazy stuff and analyzes it and then it diverges pretty wildly from there.

Daystar Eld: Yeah, yeah. The logical consequences of the changes in the canon start to expand to ripple effects that affect everything. Again, to great effect. This is one of those stories where everything seems to change from the canon but still make sense based on the canon. You can have characters that are reacting to new situations and new circumstances that are going on but don’t feel out of character, they still feel like themselves. Which I think is one of the rarer things about fanfiction and one of the things that to me at least made Luminosity such a great fanfiction. And I would say that Luminosity being as good as it was is part of what made the rational fiction genre begin to open up because people saw HPMOR and they’re like “Wow, this is a great Harry Potter fanfiction about rationality”, and then they saw Luminosity and they’re like “Oh look, this is a great- you can make a rationalist Twilight fanfiction and make it really good, there’s nothing you can’t make rationalize and make good, potentially”.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. Which brings us to November 2012, when Iceman posted Friendship is Optimal. I believe that was all posted over the series of a few days, this was all prewritten. But Friendship is Optimal is about these people developing a My Little Pony MMO type thing and it becomes this sentient artificial intelligence. And it’s not actually fanfiction. I get into that discussion with people a lot, I had some disagreements about whether or not it qualifies as fanfiction. But that was well loved, spread a lot around the LessWrong crowd, and I think that became one of the primary things that people would recommend when you were on the subreddit or on LessWrong. People were like “I’m up to the in-progess point on HPMOR. What do I read next?”

Daystar Eld: Right. It was much shorter than HPMOR and Luminosity, which cover a number of themes. Friendship is Optimal covered the AI theme very powerfully and very well. So it was a great introduction also into the wider discussion of artificial intelligence risk for a lot of people. And to this day every time I have a conversation with someone who doesn’t really understand artificial intelligence as an existential risk to humanity, I still think, “You know, why don’t you check out this short story?” And it’ll do a pretty good job of priming you towards the real questions and real struggles and concerns in the community.

Alexander Wales: So May in 2013 is when Lighting Up the Dark got released by Velorien. In HPMOR there are two, possibly three chapters where there are omakes, which is a Japanese term from manga and anime, it just means bonus or extra. They are non-canon, small segments that are like several paragraphs long, rational takes on The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the Lord of the Rings, and a bunch of different things where problems can be solved in a matter of seconds. So I think that Lighting Up the Dark is probably the first- it’s a Naruto fanfic that specifically in the author’s notes at the beginning says that it was inspired by the Naruto omake in HPMOR. I think that’s probably the first of the more widespread progenitors. The foundational canon of rational fiction, when it actually started to get a canon. Because you had HPMOR, Luminosity, and maybe Friendship is Optimal as things that people would recommend. Lighting Up the Dark is when I think that started to become a canon of work instead.

Daystar Eld: You can also say it was one of the first fan[works].

Alexander Wales: Yeah. It was HPMOR-originating rather than LessWrong-originating.

Daystar Eld: Yeah. And once the first of the people who read HPMOR and possibly Luminosity and Friendship is Optimal said, “Let me try my own hand at this”. That really- then the floodgates opened.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. And 2013 was during the slump in postings on HPMOR. And May was Lighting Up the Dark. And I’m not one-hundred percent sure that’s the first one, but internet archaeology is fairly hard.

Daystar Eld: Yeah. It’s possible there were other stories between those but as far as I’m aware, that was the main one that was completed. And following that one came Branches on the Tree of Time which you wrote and put up on Fanfiction, about the Terminator world and a rationalist computer programming Sarah Connor who actually addresses what it’s like to fight an artificial intelligence. And addresses what it’s like to have time travel as a reality in the world and a tool to use at your disposal. So that was again really fantastic, really explored the themes in a way that to me in any case, ruined the Terminator series forever. If the next Terminator movie — I know Genesis came out somewhat recently and it was from all accounts fairly shitty, but- I mean, okay, most Terminator movies past the second one are fairly shitty in my opinion but — if the next Terminator movie is not Branches on the Tree of Time or something very similar to it, there’s really no reason for me to watch another Terminator movie because the — in my opinion — best exploration of artificial intelligence plus time travel is your story, so.

Alexander Wales: I really liked the Terminator canon. They’ve got a comic book series that’s collected in two anthologies that I mostly enjoy but it’s one of those things where you don’t want to look at the background all that heavily or it starts to really confuse you, at best. So, yeah. I wrote that in September of 2013. And then in October you post the first chapter of Pokemon: Origin of Species. Which I thought was much closer to HPMOR I’d say, in terms of vocabulary and the way it’s approaching the world.

Daystar Eld: Yeah definitely more inspired by HPMOR and Luminosity in the sense of, take a canon, find a protagonist, make them a rationalist, see what happens.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. And that’s sort of where we get our rationalist/rational distinction from, is between those two types of work. Because I wouldn’t call, for instance Branches on the Tree of Time rationalist because it’s not trying to much to teach anything.

DS. Right. Sarah Connor is a rational person and she is — well, she actually may be considered a rationalist herself — but she is a rational person who is using the tools at her disposable in a rational way. But she is not explicitly thinking about or communicating rationalist ideas. So it would be a gray area in my opinion but I’m okay with calling it either rationalist or rational.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. Whereas Origin of Species is much more rationalist. It’s got things to teach in most chapters, right? So then in December of 2013, there had been very many posts about “What should I read next”, or “What are things like HPMOR”. In December is when the rational subreddit was created. Which I really wish that they’d gone with rational fiction instead, because that’s caused many problems down the line with people just being like “Oh yeah, let’s just post things that we’d post to LessWrong”, which was not really what the subreddit was taken over for.

Daystar Eld: Right.

Alexander Wales: So that was December 2013. The initial mods, I think it was…

Daystar Eld: Eatyourbrains, I believe?

Alexander Wales: Yeah. It was Eatyourbrains and Seraphnb, I think. Who has now deleted their account. I think those were the founding two. The mod team is currently myself and PeridexisErrant. Who actually might have been one of the original mods too. This all happened following a post in HPMOR in December, where it was asking what are the characteristics of rational stories. And there was this post by Vivificent who basically laid out what is currently the sidebar of our rational. And that’s changed a little bit as time went on. Things were added and removed to that. But I think it’s fairly close to being the same as his initial comment.

Daystar Eld: Right. So the subreddit was created. A lot of the recommendations that people have been making over the months get posted there including Branches on the Tree of Time, your other story The Last Christmas. I start posting Origin of Species around that time, and originally I was posting a chapter in both HPMOR and rational, but then after the fifth or six chapter I was just posting it in rational. Because a lot of the people in the HPMOR subreddit had subscribed to rational by then, so it was essentially the same community.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. That was our feed population, was HPMOR. There are some people now, I occasionally see comments with people who don’t know what HPMOR is and have never read it.

Daystar Eld: Which is great, because now they’re one of the lucky ten-thousand.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. And there was a post on the subreddit recently talking about what is the point of entry, and it’s sort of grown beyond HPMOR because people disagree on whether that’s a good point of entry to the genre. Even if it’s like, the Ur-example. Which I’m sort of on the fence about.

Daystar Eld: I mean yeah, I kind of just maybe out of personal preference, I would like everyone to read HPMOR if they’re at all interested in rationalist fiction just because I feel like it’s such a good example of it. But I definitely understand if some people aren’t huge Harry Potter fans or get turned off by the… well, that’s a different…

Alexander Wales: Yeah. That’s a different episode.

Daystar Eld: Yeah. Around this time also Yudkowsky recommended Worm, which is not a rationalist fiction. Kind of but not really a rational fiction. I would be okay with calling it a rational fiction but I’m okay with other people saying it’s not too.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. This is one of the things you can get in fights with people on the subreddit about. Whether or not Worm is rational. And I don’t think it is, partly because I know wildbow, he’s expressed some hesitance about that label. And I think that if you’re an author and you say “Well, I don’t think that label applies to my work”, especially for a label like rational, I think that’s your prerogative. I’m willing to accept it in that case. I think that the label got applied to Worm by a lot of people, not Yudkowsky and himself.

Daystar Eld: Right. I definitely wouldn’t want to pull anyone into our community against their will. But I’m more than happy to recommend it to people in our community as something they’re probably going to enjoy. First off, it’s a superhero fiction where essentially the idea of what happens if superheroes are real really is explored from top to bottom. At the basic kids in high school that wake up one day with superpowers, to the how governments interact, how governments treats the superheroes, how superheroes interact with the government and civilian populations, privatized, public, all that stuff. Everything’s examined. Everything is interacting with each other. And in and of itself, it’s just a great character-driven story, plot-driven story, amazing fight scenes, all that good stuff. And what gets it called a rational fiction a lot or a rationalist fiction by some people even, is the fact that the main character is, in all respects intelligent, thoughtful, and good at examining how to get the most out of her powers or the powers of those around her. She’s a munchkin. A term that generally just means someone who uses the rules of the game to their advantage. And in some respects maybe cheats the rules a bit, uses loopholes, things like that. And she’s able to get quite a lot out of her essentially not on it’s face impressive power of controlling insects. And that’s really one of the things that makes it such an enjoyable read for a lot of rationalists or rational readers.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. And I think a similar one that I don’t- it doesn’t come from inside the genre, it comes from outside the genre. Mother of Learning was not written as rational fiction. It sort of adopted that label, or gotten into it. Harry Potter…

Daystar Eld: And the Natural 20.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. Harry Potter and the Natural 20 has similarly been called rational but it wasn’t written as rational fiction and I kind of prefer not to try to interpret works as rational if that’s not what the author has been intending because I think that’s part of the reason for wildbow’s hesitance there is that a lot of people come in and they say “Oh, this isn’t rational and this isn’t rational”, and it’s like, well, that’s not what it is.

Daystar Eld: Yeah. Harry Potter and the Natural 20 is a delightful read, very funny. It’s a great examination of the rules differences between the DnD and the Harry Potter magic system. But it’s main character Milo is a munchkin first and foremost, not a rationalist. Not a rational character in many respects.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. The Two Year Emperor, also.

Daystar Eld: Yup.

Alexander Wales: I am pretty sure that was in late 2013, but that was one of the early ones and sort of widely talked about in rational subreddit.

Daystar Eld: The Two Year Emperor is a…

Alexander Wales: A portal fantasy.

Daystar Eld: Portal fantasy, yeah.

Alexander Wales: And it goes into DnD “rules as written”, which is a sort of a term that came out of the character optimization boards. And if you take the DnD rules as written, they are absolutely insane. And Two Year Emperor has a lot of fun with that. I think 2014 is sort of when we get into the sort of mainstream current history. In May I wrote A Bluer Shade of White, which is a Frozen fanfic that I originally wrote for a bitcoin bounty. Someone had offered a prompt with a bounty if someone could deliver, so I wrote A Bluer Shade of White. I never got that bounty because it took me more than the stated week, but then I wrote, or I posted the first chapter of Metropolitan Man.

Daystar Eld: I have to admit that I have not read A Bluer Shade of White. I actually haven’t seen Frozen. So I’ve been kind of waiting until the inevitable “Oh, I guess I should see Frozen”.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. You should see Frozen. Frozen is a good movie. I would say it’s in the top twenty-five percent of Disney movies. I like Frozen a lot, but it also, like a Disney movie, doesn’t really care about a lot of things.

Daystar Eld: I know at the very least that there is a lady who has ice powers and at some point creates a sentient talking snowman and this is not explored at all in the story.

Alexander Wales: Right. He’s comic relief.

Daystar Eld: Right. I fully look forward to seeing how you expand on that which I’m sure you do. But Metropolitan Man was again, just another amazing exploration of Superman. The golden age superman specifically, back in the forties, fifties?

Alexander Wales: Yeah. Well, golden age is forties/fifties, Metropolitan Man is actually set in the 1930s. I think it’s ‘34 and ‘35.

Daystar Eld: So, right. So Lex Luthor is the main character. He’s a rational protagonist who is examining this alien god who has come to Earth and is dispensing justice. And it does a great job of examining why Lex Luthor is not an evil insane person who just wants to stop everything good and just about the world for no reason. He is someone who is on the less empathetic side, doesn’t really care about killing people if they get in his way or, having people die as a result of his plans. But his main concern is the continued existence of planet Earth and its people. So when he sees Superman show up and understands what it means for there to be a 0.1% chance even of Superman at some point destroying the world realizes, okay, it’s probably best to kill Superman. And it was widely received fairly well. It’s another story that I recommend to most people I know. Most people enjoy it.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. The reaction was — I don’t want to say mixed, but — a lot of people had the reaction of, “I liked that story but I’m never going to read it again”.

Daystar Eld: Ha, that’s what I always wanted to do with the ending. But I’m not going to, I don’t know if we should say that because of spoilers, spoiler alert. Most people have mixed reactions to the ending.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. I mean we can talk about that at a later point.

Daystar Eld: Absolutely. I’d be thoroughly happy to have an episode about Metropolitan Man.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. But that basically brings us up to — I think — current history. The stories I’m following right now is Animorphs: The Reckoning, there’s a lot of Worm fanfic, I think that’s pretty common. It’s Taylor with a different powerset.

Daystar Eld: Yeah. And there are a number of other stories, we can’t really name all of them. But just off the top of my head, I remember there was a Death Note fanfic that was doing pretty well. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Unfortunately, it seemed to have been discontinued at some point.

Alexander Wales: The Waves Arisen. That’s complete now, and that’s one that I recommend.

Daystar Eld: Yeah, another Naruto fanfic. And there’s a number of stories now that you can find on the subreddit r/rational. We’ve got everything there from fanfiction to original fiction, from short stories to web serials, one-offs. Scott Alexander from Slate Star Codex is writing Unsong.

Alexander Wales: Yeah. That’s one of the ones I would not consider rational. But I don’t have any qualms about that being on the subreddit. I just would like people not to take it as rational fiction. Because I think if you come into it with that mindset you’re not going to enjoy it as much.

Daystar Eld: Right. I was just going to say. One of the things about the community now is that it’s fairly open. We don’t need to restrict necessarily the works that are posted to the subreddit, as long as we know the difference between them and they’re clearly marked. So I’m always happy to talk about and engage in conversations about stories that are enjoyed by the community and see people talk about them. As long as the tags and the guidelines and things like that make it clear what is and isn’t rational and rationalist fiction, you can go to the subreddit and enjoy a wide variety of stories without necessarily thinking, “Oh well, if something isn’t rational I can’t post it here and talk about it with other people who enjoy rational fiction”.

Alexander Wales: Yeah.

Daystar Eld: So that’s pretty much the recent history of the still fairly new rational community. I should say rational fiction community, the rational community is a much wider thing. And it’s not exactly important to know for people who are getting into the genre, but if you ever plan on going to the subreddit or are wanting to discuss the topics or the stories that lead you there with other people, that’s just an idea of where it came from and what it meant to at least two of the readers and participants in the community. It’s at the very least been a positive and constructive influence on my life, so I’m happy to be part of it.

Alexander Wales: Yeah, me too.

Daystar Eld: Alright. Thanks for joining us, and starting with episode one, we’re going to start discussing in more detail what the rational fiction genre is, what the rationalist fiction genre is, how to tell the difference. And from there go on to giving advice and discussing the stories and genres. So hope you’ll join us for that.

Alexander Wales: Yeah.

[The outro plays.]

1 – What is Rational Writing?

Webserial authors Daystar Eld and Alexander Wales share their thoughts on what rational writing is, and describe the Rational and Rationalist writing genres.


Co-hosted by http://alexanderwales.com/

Websites mentioned in episode:





With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Chapter 8: Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So what kept you up?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about you, Blue?” Red asks.

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

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

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

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

“Zephyr? Oh. When did you name him?”

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

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

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

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

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

Amy smiles. “Nice to meet you all.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hear what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’ll be careful,” Red says.

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

Red smiles. “No harm done.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do the birds come yearly?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We boring you, Red?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There he is! Hey Donny!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy grins. “None taken.”

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

Red frowns. “Rings a faint bell.”

“You know him?” Leaf asks Donovan.

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

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

“Younger than I expected,” Amy says.

Donovan nods. “He’s about your age.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks, I’m loving it so far!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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