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Thread: The Game of Champions -M- (Pokemon) by Lamora

  1. #1
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    Default The Game of Champions -M- (Pokemon) by Lamora

    ==================================================
    The Game of Champions
    Prologue
    Détente
    ==================================================

    “Good men must die, but death cannot kill their names.”

    -Ancient proverb, unknown origin

    ---------(=0=)---------

    A white room with one door.

    Glaring lights.

    A wall of clouded glass.

    Three warriors around a table, two to a side, one to the other.

    Only one of them spoke true.

    ---------(=0=)---------

    I’m well and tired of this.

    All of it, I mean. The games, the machinations. The torture. I’ll talk.

    I’ll tell you a story. My story. The answers you seek won’t have the weight they deserve without it. Answers are much like gemstones: their real worth is found when they are cut, polished and set. I’m no shoddy jeweler. You’ll have my answers through this story or not at all.

    Let’s begin with an introduction. I already know you two, but you most assuredly don’t know me.

    Call me Red. You may have heard of me.

    Red is not my name. It’s a nickname, the homegrown kind that takes root in childhood, latches on and grows on through adulthood until it is an inseparable part of one’s identity. Everyone now makes a big deal of it, but it’s really quite a simple story, simple start and simple end.

    I have red eyes. It’s technically genetic and I’m not albino, as you can tell from my hair, which has never lightened a single shade from charcoal black no matter how many hot afternoons I spent in the sun on the Professor’s research ranch. I know ‘technically’ has perked your interest, but I’ll get to the story behind that in due time.

    As you grow up these things tend to matter less, but when you’re a child, it’s more than enough to separate you from the herd. Perhaps in another time and place it might have been considered attractive, but not in this world of pokemon. Red eyes are distinctive of a number of species, some not particularly docile or friendly. Looking back, I have to admit there is a twisted veracity in that childish logic which served to ostracize me from my peers.

    It was an excuse, though. My mother and I had never been a central part of the Pallet Town community to begin with. For one, we were new to town. My mother had moved to Pallet Town alone carrying me, notably absent of any partner save her pokemon. My mother knew no crafts but the keeping of our home and garden, and never made any effort to integrate into the rural town despite more than enthusiastic encouragement from the settlement’s population of single men. And finally, we were, put bluntly, poor. Thanks to the various jobs my mother jumped through around town, we did not starve, yet paying tuition to the single schoolhouse in town strained our finances to the limit. I learned quickly to give thanks for the patched clothing on my back, lest I cause my mother undue guilt or sorrow.

    I have no idea how much any individual parent let slip in the home, but my reputation as the scion of the family on the other side of the proverbial tracks became common knowledge among the children my age. They were not at fault. They only learned it from their parents. The red eyes gave them justification.

    I do not mean to paint Pallet in anything resembling a bad light. Pallet Town was a sleepy valley town with mild people who, though as flawed as anyone else, for the most part kept their problems to themselves. I was not bullied or discriminated against or picked on. I was simply alone.

    Well, almost. Let me tell you about Blue.

    Blue is not his name either, obviously. It’s the nickname I gave him in return. It’ll make sense in a second.

    Blue was the golden boy of the valley. You may think you know him, from his celebrity biography and soft-ball interviews, but I will set the matter to rest here. It was no exaggeration to say there was no child more beloved in all of Pallet Town. He was an Oak, the venerable Professor’s grandson. He could not run through his own town without a gaggle of children following. He did not as much thrive in the attention as live in it, as he does today. Blue was born to be the center of attention. He was a vain, prancing braggadocio then and will still declare it louder than any other man until the day he dies.

    I’ve heard those who have met him sometimes call him a bully. How utterly droll and unrefined, not to mention childish. Blue is a bully the same way politicians are liars; bully is nothing more than a term coined by a whiny child lacking both power and the knowledge of how to apply it. Blue knows what he wants and knows how to get it. It is no one’s right to complain that he has the guts to seek it without shame.

    That is not to say he does not pack the bite to back up his bark. Blue was nothing less than a genius. He could name every pokemon in Kanto and most of Johto by his ninth birthday. He could command a growlithe or pidgey as well as a town militiaman by eleven, and always came in first in faux pokeball throwing contests. Blue had been working towards a trainer’s license since he first started walking. He’d wanted to leave at five years earlier, following the whole Youngster craze that came with the legal age being lowered from sixteen to eleven, but his grandfather wouldn’t hear of it. It was a point of much conflict between them. Blue had ideas even then, you see. He didn’t just meander into where he stands now. He always was the sort to change the world rather than let it change him.

    Graceful fighter, dashing champion, quiet revolutionary. That is Blue.

    The day we exchanged nicknames was the day of a particularly bad fight between him and his grandfather. It was late in the afternoon in the Pallet Town park and the rest of the children had already headed home for supper. I did not. I always stayed out later than them. My mother never complained. Be it out of trust in me or trust in the security of Pallet Town, she always gave me a long leash, something for which I owe her my habits of self-reliance and eternal gratitude. My reason for this wait was very simple. I wanted a turn at the Pokemon Wall.

    The Pokemon Wall was the informal name the side wall of the park bathrooms had earned over years of chalk graffiti. Officially, you weren’t supposed to write on the side of the building, but it was such a popular pastime that the policemen almost always looked the other way. The Pokemon Wall, as named, was absolutely covered in puerile depictions of the wondrous, terrible monsters which dominated our land, with varying amounts of skill. Only the skill didn’t matter. It was the game.

    Catch’Em All had very simple, easy to follow rules. You covered the wall in chalk pokemon, first. You had to buy the cheap, one idol*(1) chalk down at the general store, because it flaked when hit, which made line calls easier. Twenty, thirty, it depended on how many were playing. You made sure they were single types, fire or bug or water or flying. Dual types always ended in arguments. Typically, dragons were excluded too, as everyone agreed they were unfairly strong. Sometimes, in a hurry, they were just circles with their type written.

    Then you took a tennis ball and tried to hit them. If you managed to wing one and catch the ball on the rebound before it hit, then you caught that pokemon. You write your name or initials on the drawing and continue. You could catch balls other people threw on the rebound and you’d get that pokemon. You didn’t want to do that until later though. If you touched it last and you didn’t catch it, the pokemon got released and ate you, unless you had ‘caught’ your own pokemon. If your pokemon had a weakness against the pokemon dropped, it ate you anyway. If there was no type advantage, you lost your pokemon but didn’t die. If your pokemon had the type advantage, you beat that pokemon and kept your own. The game progressed as people got eaten until there were only two left. The winner was then decided by type advantage, or, alternatively, loud shouting matches and imaginary battles.

    I was a pro at this game. When I did manage to sneak into one of the larger games, it always came down to me and Blue. Blue always won, though, somehow always managing to get type advantage every time. This continued until I won one time and a girl roofed my ball in retaliation. I stopped playing around there.

    I played alone, then. I used a discarded tennis ball I’d cored out and filled with sand until it was roughly the weight of a pokeball, which I’d gauged from my mother’s, which held our hapless family mistermime, a pokemon whose true importance I could not even begin fathom at that time and still have trouble believing now. I picked up one of the leftover bits of store chalk and dragged circles onto the wall at varying heights. I then stood a sporting distance and proceeded to catch the holy hell out of some faux pokemon. I don’t remember missing once.

    After about twenty throws I became aware I had an audience.

    He wasn’t Blue quite yet, then. He was the esteemed Gary Samuel Oak. I can’t remember exactly what I thought of him back then, only that it was considerable less charitable than what I do now. So maybe I still kind of blamed him for the roofing incident. Forgive me. I was young.

    He grinned a devilish grin at me, as if he hadn’t been missing all afternoon. His denims were dusty from the way I would later learn he ran all the way down from the pokemon ranch in a tantrum. “Good arm there, Red.” He said. “Mind a partner, or are ya chicken? Buk buk buk!”

    I ignored his teasing, and asked him what the whole ‘Red’ thing was about.

    He shrugged and gave me a scrunchy-faced ‘well, duh’ look. “Your eyes.” He said.

    I thought about that, and then told him in that case, he was Blue.

    Blue frowned.

    I told him it was because he was my opposite, what with his grandfather and my mother and everything.

    I meant something along the lines him being the rich idol and me the dirty vagrant from the wrong side of town. He told me later he thought I meant something like because I had a mother and no father and limp dark hair while he had a father (sort of) and no mother and lighter spiky hair. Blue may be many things, but never an elitist. He has only ever discriminated against anyone with just cause. He also tells me that it bothered him at the time, mentioning his grandfather, but by the Legendaries if Blue showed it even a whit on his face that day. He cocked his head and shrugged again.

    “Well all right then.” Blue said.

    And that was that.

    The game was brutal. We played full scale, all the known Kanto pokemon, including dual types and dragons. We had to stop to debate engagements several times, and it was heated. It was intense, it was tiring and we both argued ourselves hoarse and threw our arms lame. It was the greatest day of my life.

    We played all the way past the setting sun and into the night, where the full moon was so bright that it was as if day had never left. Eventually my mother showed up. Instead of stopping us, she watched. After a few minutes she made a call on the street phone. Several minutes later, Professor Oak’s ponderous old pickup truck came rumbling down the street, and he got out and watched too. Neither of them said much. They just watched as Blue and I raced to catch’em all.

    I can’t truly remember how the night petered out after that. We had worked our way through the Kanto pokemon and gone into the full Indigo League list. We had to keep playing, we knew – to stop would be to dispel the magic of the game. I remember the last engagement being between a dragonite and a salamence, which was basically an even match since they were both Dragon-type and we both knew the argument would never end…the details aren't important. The night was important. It was a magical night.

    The next day, Professor Oak released the first pokedex.

    But anyway, that’s how I got the name Red.

    Oh, you’d like to know my real name, would you?

    Like I’d tell you, Rocket scum.

    ---------(=0=)---------

    Kanto Pokemon Encyclopedic Index Entry # 122 ( J. #*(2)158 ): Mistermime.

    Basic Characteristics: Psychic-type, bipedal humanoid, avg. height 4’03, avg. weight120.1lbs, androgynous.

    Description: Body and limbs are covered in tough, smooth white/off-white/tan exoskeleton. Limbs are connected to circular/oval torso section by large, bulbous red exoskeletal orbs designed to protect from dislocation of joints and to vibrate at high speeds, producing the ‘barrier’ effect. Similar orbs are observed at the tips of all fingers, capable of equally high vibration and barrier-creation abilities. Two short tufts of indigo/dark blue hair extrude from the skull. Two pink, round exoskeletal patches protrude from the cheeks. The feet assume shapes similar to the shoes of a jester, having the consistency and feel of thick leather, allowing mobility and balance without sacrificing defense. The face is humanoid, with features frozen in whatever expression the mistermime was wearing at birth when it’s exoskeleton hardened. Eyes are somewhere around 1.3 times the size of a normal human eye, and in all typical cases assume a crimson hue.

    Nicknames: The Barrier Pokemon, The Clown Pokemon, The Silent Pokemon, mimey(s), Pokeclown(s).

    “…The Mistermime is an interesting and unique specimen that stands out as strange even among the natural bizarreness associated with psychic types. It emits no distinguishable cry and displays no vocal capabilities whatsoever, despite possessing the biological ability, leaving it to researchers to name. It was assumed to be a Normal-type until it was realized that the mistermimes’ intentions were perfectly clear whenever it wished to communicate them. Looking into this, the researchers were able to discern that they communicated through sign language, though they were unable to establish an alphabet or pattern, as replicating the gestures effected no discernable response from other pokemon, once again pressing the dreams of decoding the universal pokemon language far beyond reach. They are not a popular household pokemon, as many find their humanoid appearance and fixed expressions unsettling, but they enjoy common use in military defense and are an essential part of the limiters in pokemon stadiums, though their exact purpose is kept secret to prevent attempts at sabotage and cheating. Mistermimes produce asexually, and are always harsh but protective parents…-“

    ---------(=0=)---------

    1) Idol: Indigo Dollar, short for Indigo League Dollar, the official currency of the Indigo League. The Indigo penny always features the faces of Governor Satoshi of Kanto and Governor Hibiki of Johto side by side, who forged the Indigo Alliance, but the face of the dollar and quarter traditionally feature the Grand Champion of the Indigo League, and is reprinted every time a new one is crowned. The five, ten, twenty and fifty show the current Elite Four, and the hundred shows the current governors of both Kanto and Johto. The nickel and dime feature the Kanto and Johto Pokemon Professors, and the lobbying shadow wars over who gets which are the stuff of legends.
    2) J # : Johto Pokedex number. As the Indigo League is held together by an unsteady and often contested alliance, neither of the two regions has seen fit to put together a collaborative Indigo League Pokedex, necessitating many such small footnotes in the Kanto and Johto Pokedex.

    --------(=0=)---------

    I've posted this in several places. I've got the first chapter, twelve thousand words, which I'll post when I get some feedback. I'm already into work on the second.

    In case you haven't already realized, this is an AU fic. It's going to be a horrific mutation of the games, manga and anime, but it'll be my mutation. If there's some rule against AUs then it's my mistake.

  2. #2
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    Good fic, I couldn't find many mistakes.
    Rocket scum??????lol
    But I don't get what/why you posted @ the bottom. They don't seem to relate to the story
    [IMG]http://i43.*******.com/2vkg5s5.jpg[/IMG]


    don't click this link...

        Spoiler:- Credit:

  3. #3
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    Some quick grammar comments:

    “Your eyes.” He said.
    I won't point out every instance of this error, but I will explain how to fix it and leave it to you to pick up on it (hopefully =P). The period after "eyes" should be a comma, and "he" in "he said" should be lowercase. In a nutshell, anything that states how the dialogue was being said (he said, he shouted, he questioned, he whispered, etc.) is still connected to the dialogue (it's part of the same sentence). As such, the two have to be connected. If the dialogue doesn't end as a question mark/exclamation mark/ellipsis, the ending punctuation should be a comma; likewise the word following should be lowercase if it's not a proper noun.

    (Try reading "He said." as its own sentence and you'll realize that it's not a complete sentence.)

    He told me later he thought I meant something like because I had a mother and no father and limp dark hair while he had a father (sort of) and no mother and lighter spiky hair.
    There's a word missing in the bold. "That" maybe. I could be reading it wrong, though.

    I meant to R&R this when you first posted it, but it sadly got bumped off page 1 so quickly that I forgot about it. So I'm glad someone had bumped it back up and reminded me. I will admit your first section before Red's POV sort of threw me off. I have read a lot of pokemon fic in my time, and you won't believe how many start with some sort of bizarre sequence involving lights and shadows and short sentences, only for the resulting story to melodramatically play up to that or try to be "edgier" than it needs to be. So while I'm still wandering in the dark with the first section (and the ending section with the mistermime), I must say I'm really annoyed with myself that once again I fell into "Don't judge a book by its cover (or introduction)."

    tl;dr: This is awesome, and I'm angry that I didn't start reading this sooner.

    I love your writing style. It's so easy to read but at the same time very professional. You really know how to structure your sentences so they roll off the (mental) tongue. It's also apparent that you have a pretty grand vocabulary, but you know how to make them work with the story which helps enhances Red's voice. Red's voice is clearly distinct; the story he tells us is informative but has that slight twist in narrative that makes the read enjoyable at the same time. You especially do well when explaining concepts to readers. For example, the "wall" game is something us readers would know nothing about, but you explained it and illustrated it beautifully. I really liked your invention of this game, by the way. It really spoke a lot about both Red's and Blue's personalities. Plus it just rang of those childhood games that kids play all the time.

    I also love your portrayal of Red. It's very down-to-earth but not down-on-his-luck; yes, he may have grown up poor but is still appreciative nor bitter all the same. He is very relatable in that sense and makes for an excellent narrator (I'm not sure if the actual story is going to be in his POV first-person, but we'll see I suppose ;P). His interpretation of Blue was also very telling; you can sense a rivalry between them, but it is healthy and friendly in ways. I especially liked this:

    I’ve heard those who have met him sometimes call him a bully. How utterly droll and unrefined, not to mention childish. Blue is a bully the same way politicians are liars; bully is nothing more than a term coined by a whiny child lacking both power and the knowledge of how to apply it. Blue knows what he wants and knows how to get it. It is no one’s right to complain that he has the guts to seek it without shame.
    I liked how nice and circular this prologue was. Everything was wrapped around this long but fascinating anecdote of Red's nickname (the comment on the name, followed by Red's eye color, followed by the actual event that created the names) only for it to end with

    But anyway, that’s how I got the name Red.
    It's so simple but it speaks so much about Red's character. I also like how the ending seems to be foreshadowing something.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this (if you can't tell). The 12k first chapter is a little daunting, but hopefully I'll get the chance to read it. =P

  4. #4
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    ===========================================
    The Game of Champions
    Chapter One
    A Single Step
    ==========================================

    “There is a woman at the beginning of all great things.”

    -Alphonse de Lamartine, originating from an ebook of French poetry recovered from electronic records

    -(=0=)-

    “Why aren’t we just cracking his skull open with a psychic mallet and scooping out what we need?”

    “…you think we aren’t trying?

    ---------(=0=)---------

    My pokemon journey started when I was sixteen. It used to be the minimum age for a trainer’s license and the age at which you could sign up for government service in the pokemon rangers or Kanto militia. I suppose if I were more concerned about security and stability I might have traveled to one of the cities and enrolled in a university, or perhaps sought apprenticeship with one the famed Kanto professors’ labs, but I was not. My wanderlust had been an unstoppable force ever since I watched the trainers of our senior graduating class venture out into the tall grasses. As it happened, I left a day after Blue, and the Legendaries take me if it didn’t feel like an eternity’s headstart then. It still does, even now.

    Do you know he took on the Elite Four? And of course, the Champion. Lance, the Dragon King. They all fell like dominoes. Grand Champion Blue. Undefeated.

    Well, almost. But I regress.

    Sixteen. That was when it started.

    I suppose a good place to start would be graduation day. It was a little after the final ceremony, where I and most of the rest of the class had watched Blue and several other students of the Pallet Town senior class receive their starting pokemon and head north through the tall grasses towards Route 1. There were four of them, this year, much reduced from last year’s rate and a full two dozen less than two years prior. The cause behind this was the Youngster movement.

    Five years ago, the Indigo League had been in dire straits. Active trainer registration was at a record low, and all the extremely promising newcomers were years off of being able to apply for a license or being snapped up into high-paying corporate jobs. The release of the pokedex only made it easier for working trainers to retire to supporting roles, as the pokedex made pokemon watcher roles magnitudes easier, jumpstarting pokemon research like nothing else since the ultra pokeball. I knew of it from the newspapers, over which Professor Oak’s face was pictured for months, and still showed up rather frequently over the years after. The roads were becoming less and less safe with rangers and militiamen retiring, so the Collective Mayoral Congress of the Indigo League passed the Young Trainer Registration Act, which lowered the legal age of trainer license from sixteen to eleven with due demonstration of pokemon aptitude. Registered young trainers would be limited to patrolled Routes and required to report in frequently in city centers. It was intended as a stopgap measure, until they were old enough to enlist in the pokemon rangers and militia at substantially higher salaries, with hefty bonuses to go along with it. The first generation of young trainers, nicknamed youngsters, graduated with the first commercialized pokedexes in their hands.

    It was, as you both recall, a complete disaster.

    The definition of ‘pokemon aptitude’ was lobbied back and forth across the political field like a pinball. Reports rolled in every day of child corpses found in the wilderness, mauled to death by pokemon they had mistakenly treated the same as domestics while exploring. Those youngsters not killed going outside the Routes died from lack of discipline, from starvation and simple bad sense. However their technical aptitude, they were simply not old enough to take care of themselves.

    The Act was hit from all sides with vitriolic invective. On a bright day it was generously referred to as a child soldier program. Most days, however, the Young Trainer Act was seen about as favorably as dropping babies into a cheese shredder. It was banned in half a dozen cities, and harshly regulated in all others.

    It had a variety of effects. While it did lower pokemon attacks on Routes, it was also linked to a rise in pokemon crimes, pokemon abuse and trainer brutality, never mind the galling mortality rate.

    Now, the focus was mainly on fully trained, quality trainer applicants. I had to give the Professor credit – he had smelled the disaster a mile away and used his influence to exclude Pallet Town from the initial list of settlements adopting the Act. That didn’t stop several students from traveling to Viridian and registering anyway. I heard a few of them even survived the first few years.

    One of the requirements for trainers now in Pallet Town was the application fee and the pokedex. I had saved the money to pay for both over many, many years – savings which had ultimately gone to waste when a flock of pidgeot had beat up a windstorm mating over Pallet a few days previous, knocking over a tree into our small house before the Professor and the militia could chase them off. There was no question of whether or not to contribute. I threw my own savings into our reconstruction. Now my money was far, far depleted. It would take years of saving to save up for the exam money, never mind the pokedex.

    So that brought me to where I was then, lazing on a pile of straw outside the ponyta stables on the Oak ranch. I’d been hired on as a ranch hand at eleven, beating out many other classmates who had hoped for a similar job. It was a dream, even the dirtier parts.

    I know you Rockets think of pokemon as beasts. Animals, to be exploited like every other creature on Earth, including human kind. And in a sense, you’re right. They are flesh and blood. A rattata will die as much as a normal rat.

    But that is where all similarity ends. Pokemon are nothing like the other things which walk this land, not in means or in methods. Their power, their very presence signifies ideas of such magnitude that even I, who have stolen secrets from the bowels of history, can scarcely grasp at their edges. They are certainly much more than your tiny corporate mind can even imagine.

    Do you remember when you saw your first pokemon? Do either of you remember the awe you felt? No? You’ve lost it, then, body and soul.

    And that is the reason you’re going to lose no matter what you do to me.

    No, I won’t elaborate.

    ---------(=0=)---------

    I wasn’t lazing that afternoon, but procrastinating. One thing I was putting off was the feeding of Shiryuu, the Professor’s dragonite. Shiryuu was notoriously temperamental for a dragonite and took malicious glee in bowling over ranch hands when he was hungry.

    The other thing was my plans for the future. I had always planned on leaving this day, at Blue’s side. There had been no room for anything else in my plans. I’d spent the last few days in almost complete catatonia, unable to believe that my dreams had been snatched away so quickly. My mother had given me my space, and for once, Ashford, our family mistermime, had no ready antics to distract from the pangs of loss.

    And then it was the day. This day. This morning I’d watched my one and only rival march out into the tall grass to pursue his own pokemon journey. He’d even gotten a little media attention, a live interview on behalf of up and coming trainers, which had been the talk of the town a few weeks back. Blue was gone, and he hadn’t even looked back once.

    I was lost. Left, without a purpose, adrift in a sea of indecision. Should I leave today? Should I wait until I had saved the money for licensing?

    One thing was for certain. This place had to go. I could not grow old in Pallet Town.

    I sighed and gathered Shiryuu’s dinner from the freezer, accepting the chore as a method of getting my mind off the present, if only for a few minutes. I took a pair of keys off the rack, threw the tauros meat in the back of one of the several buggies which the workers and research assistants used to traverse the sprawling Oak ranch, and set off towards the cliffs.

    The research ranch was truly amazing, as was expected of the official Pokemon Professor of Kanto. It had taken me years of working there to fully appreciate how difficult it was keeping so many pokemon together without catastrophe. Every other day there was an incident with the more aggressive species. Usually the handlers’ pokemon could handle it (there were different pokemon used for managing each habitat – I myself was carrying the standard growlithe on my belt at that moment), but occasionally, Oak himself had to step in to mediate.

    And I by mediate, I do of course mean release his giant goddamn gyrados and threaten to Hyper Beam the lot of them if they don’t settle down. Typically, intimidation duty was split between the gyrados and Shiryuu, this week being the gyrados’s turn to be on stink-eye patrol. Shiryuu, in the mean time, would be where he always was on his days off.

    I parked the buggy a good distance away so as not to disturb the great beast. The dragon had wrecked more than one vehicle for interrupting his sun-bathing naps on the edge of the cliff, even for lunch. I hoisted the bag of meat over my shoulder with a grunt and made my way over to the great serpent where it was dozing on the steep edge of the plateau.

    Shiryuu was a magnificent, ancient specimen of a dragonite, with a scaly golden hide and cream-coloured leathery stomach covered in scars and blast marks which spoke of battles of an unspeakable level of power, considering how hard a dragonite’s scales were reputed to be. His claws and horn were chipped and scratched, and one of his two jagged conducting antennae drooped at half the length of the other. I had always wondered if such a blemish would diminish the strength of his terrifying electric attacks, or only make them harder to control. I never remembered to ask. His ragged wings fluttered gently as he awoke, sensing my approach.

    Now, I do not remember whether it was recklessness or apathy that spurred it, but something drove me to meet the dragon pokemon’s eyes as he awoke.

    Oh yes, he attacked. And I suppose I’m a ghost sitting here talking to you. No. I’d be dead if he attacked.

    What Shiryuu did do was roll over, and in one fluid movement, knock me off my feet. I was pinned to the ground under a massive claw with a face full of snarling dragon before I could blink. The wind rushed out of me in a whoosh as I landed hard, hat tumbling off my head. I could not have tried reasoning with him even had I abruptly started believing such a foolish thing would work. Fortunately, I did not need to.

    Averting my gaze, I brought up both palms, splayed my fingers and wiggled them in a gesture I had picked up from Ashford one day in the street, when he had been cornered by an arcanine not too thrilled about his proximity to her litter.

    Mistermimes were notorious for their being the only pokemon who used no words, not even in their psychic communication. Researchers were reportedly unsure if it was a compulsion or a biological inability to grasp the concept. What was certain was that they communicated somehow, and not simply through their hand gestures, whose responses they had been unable to replicate. At that time, I was merely of the opinion that they hadn’t copied them right, as they had always worked well enough for me.

    Shiryuu gave me one more full second of hot stinky dragon breath before his roar dropped into a low rumble, as he shifted his weight and interest off of me. I rose gingerly and replaced my hat, feeling the beginnings of bruises I was sure I would not enjoy later as I eased oxygen back into my lungs. But then, I was the idiot who had decided to look a dragon pokemon in the eyes, which was a bad idea with any aggressive species, especially dragons. Only Oak, his trainer, did that and got away with it.

    The dragonite snuffled at the closed bag eagerly before I plucked it out of his way. He’d gone and ate it whole before, and the cloth hadn’t gone down well. I yanked it open and fished out the first huge tauros slab. Shiryuu’s pupils dilated immediately as he caught the scent.

    I tossed it up in the air, and the dragonite charcoaled it expertly with a blast of dragon fire before snagging it in his jaws, chewing vigorously. Tauros meat was incredibly dense and thick, so much so that even the dragon’s maw, filled with stalactite teeth powered by muscles with the power to crush boulders, had trouble masticating it. It was the same meat used in pokemon ranger jerky. The novelty of the dragonite’s eating trick had long since worn off on me, and I sat down, knowing it would take Shiryuu a good minute to choke down the thick beef.

    Deciding it wasn’t exactly the worst alternative, I decided to ask Shiryuu what he thought my next course of action should be.

    Predictably, he completely ignored me, focusing on his meal. Small jets of smoke and flame escaped his nostrils as he worked the blackened meat around in his teeth.

    Shiryuu finished it in about thirty seconds, a new record. He must have been hungry. Dutifully, I chucked the next steak up into the air, watching it disappear in a flash of fire and gums.

    I explained my fears and trepidations. The safer choice would be to wait for the money to accumulate once more and register then. I’d never even considered taking a ranger or militia scholarship; through some reasoning or logic I had firmly decided I had to be a trainer first, a journeyman, free of debts and obligations, searching the lands. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be looking for, but that didn’t change the strength of my convictions. One didn’t necessarily have to know what one was looking for to find it.

    The other option was to register at Viridian. I knew from research that the trainer licensing exam was much cheaper there, even within my meager means, because of the large population and the limited starting pokemon supply. They also did not require the purchase of a pokedex along with the license. If I went there, I could become a trainer almost immediately, albeit one lacking a starting pokemon or pokedex. It wasn’t such a terrible imposition in and of itself, as I knew from school how to capture a pokemon without the aid of your own, but it’d put me at a tremendous disadvantage compared to Blue. But then again, when had I not been the underdog in that exchange?

    Blue. It always came back to Blue.

    Have you heard of the term ‘unspoken agreement’? Blue and I had something like that. It was never verbalized or said aloud, but we had both always known it would come down to us. Me vs. him, him vs. I.

    And look at us now. They’re calling Pallet ‘The Town of Champions’ nowadays. Did you know Professor Oak used to be a champion?

    Of course you do.

    My reverie was broken when Shiryuu nudged me rather rudely, obviously through with waiting for his last tauros breast. I thought of an odd thing as I dispensed it: perhaps Shiryuu’s interruption was input of its own.

    Bear with me, here. Shiryuu acted according to his nature. He obviously didn’t care about the troubles of some human who brought him food. Contrary to popularized belief, empathy did not beget power.

    Perhaps that was the answer, then? Follow my nature.

    I know it seems flimsy, but keep in mind that I was in a dark place at the time. Any answer seemed preferable to no answer. I bowed before the dragonite and gave a thanks that was only half sarcastic. Then I booted up the buggy and headed back to the main complex.

    I can feel your trepidation. No, I didn’t run off immediately to begin my epic quest. I did, however, punch out early, calling in one of the many favors the other ranch hands owed me for working their shifts. Shiryuu’s ‘answer’ had given me something to occupy my thoughts, and no smart man handled pokemon with their head halfway out of the game.

    What was my ‘nature’? I considered the question as I made my way down the trail leading from the Oak ranch to the main town. My bike had broken the previous summer, so I had walked every day since then, nearly ten miles there and back. It was good exercise. As I passed through the marketplace, a response began to form.

    Every person has a dream. Sometimes it is grand, like becoming a celebrity or star trainer. Sometimes it’s more humble, like raising a family, or acing the next exam. There’s one other thing all people seem to hold in common: surrender.

    Everywhere I look I see defeat. People capitulating , settling for less, being ‘close enough’. I remember a few examples of this that stuck out in my mind as I passed them in the street.

    The diner owner was a lean, balding man with an outdated trainer’s license on his wall, missing a finger and a half on his burn-scarred left hand. You could see him every tournament night at the bar, screaming battle strategy louder than any of the other patrons. Had he ever won a cup of his own?

    The wrinkled coffee shop marm, who you could hear singing through the window at closing time in a fetchingly young soprano. Had she ever held an audience?

    I recall my mind drifting back to the ranch I had left, to the venerated owner. Samuel Gerald Oak was a name written on a cobblestone somewhere at the end of Victory Road. His name would be engraved in gold trim, and under there would be carved his pokemon team, and under that, his age when he became the seventh youngest trainer to become a first-ring champion, reserved solely for those who managed to beat all four members of the Elite Four. He had then gone on to college, earning his dual PhDs in poke-technology and pokebiology, graduating first in his class. He was long since past the pokebattling days which had turned his hair prematurely silver, and would be the only one working on the first day of Indigo League Pokemon Trainer Championships, when the Elite Four and Grand Champion gathered to test those eight-badge trainers who thought themselves hard enough to carve their name in the stones of the Plateau. He’d be the one working almost every other night of them, too.

    But come Finals night, Professor Oak would be there with the rest of us, quietly sipping his beer along with the rest of us in the crowded bar, looking on wistfully as the newcomers were raised up or hammered down on that pixilated television screen. Had he ever dreamed of taking that final step, of stepping up to that stand that fifth time and calling Lance to the arena? For all his successes, was he just another man with regrets he’d never be able to banish?

    I barely noticed myself passing my street by. I wasn’t heading home. I was heading somewhere else.

    At the edge of Pallet Town is a vast, long field of tall, green grass, bracketed by a forest of tall oaks. At the very end of it you can barely make out the beaten dirt path of Route 1. Every year on graduation day, trainers walked across that field and left, on their way to Viridian to float their challenges down Victory Falls and start their pokemon journey. It would have been safer and more prudent to clear the field and pave the rest of the way to Pallet, but then, tradition is rarely prudent. Besides, the field was swept for pokemon beforehand anyway – watching your graduates get eaten right out of the gate would not have set the best precedent.

    I had to look again, I realized. I was no longer insensate with loss. I had to look down that field at my future and feel out my own urges, my own nature. Could I wait, or could I not? Logic didn’t play into it. I had to know my own gut.

    They were still taking down the decorations when I came down to the field. The post-graduation party had run its course, and now the adults were packing up.

    A few students lingered about, reveling in the afterglow of feeling. Paper cups with the last dregs of the spiked punch were strewn about, on the sides, empty, crushed, discarded. I paused to let a few children pass without bowling me over, chased giggling by another who seemed absolutely convinced his toy pokeball held a Legendary and felt the need to scream it’s power for all to hear. Two men lifted a cooler while another folded the table out from under it. The sheriff, satisfied that there was no chance of any drunken revelry starting up there, mounted his rapidash and rode off. I saw Professor Oak, talking quietly with a few men in white suits, who I hadn’t noticed at the ceremony.

    I went unnoticed as I shuffled under the farewell banner, being dismantled by two men atop ladders. I stopped at the edge of the tall grass, sharply mowed the previous morning in preparation. I could see the edge of the field just barely, if I squinted past the red rays of the dipping sun.

    There was nothing. I felt nothing.

    Frustrated, I waded out into the field, feeling something like desperation scratching at the door of my mind. There had to be an answer, and it had to be here – where else could I stand and see the roads backwards and forward to my dreams?

    I was about twenty yards out into the tall grass when the sun fell at just the right angle to hit me straight in the eyes. Blinking rapidly, I pulled my hat down over my eyes.

    Someone called my name. I turned around and saw Professor Oak, pushing frantically through the grass towards me, a tight expression of fear on his face. My own pulse jumped as a matter of habit. The last time I’d seen that kind of panic on his face had been when he had tried to domesticate a munchlax. I took a step back, and felt the ground squeal and move under me. Naturally, I jumped back.

    Crouched there growling under the eves of the weeds and tall grass was a wild pikachu. I froze instantly. I wasn’t afraid – only little kids are afraid. I was logically terrified.

    To you, it may seem quite comical. Pikachu are among the weaker ranks of pokemon, defying the power-rarity correlation. They are barely over a foot tall on average, and store all their electricity in the pouches on their cheeks, which is not much. Most of their popularity comes from their place in pokemon contests and pageants.

    This pikachu, however, was not small. Nearly two feet long, it hissed at me, curling it’s tail protectively behind it’s bulk. I knew then that I was very much in trouble. Normally, pikachu were docile, skittish pokemon who avoided human contact, but they were extremely protective of their tails, and for good reason. Pikachus used their tails as grounding rods for excess electricity which would otherwise make them ill. A pikachu with a broken tail was only doomed to death by slow self-electrocution unless treated.

    And I had just stepped on it. Evidence of my crime was apparent in the muddy partial footprint on the length of the flat tail. This pikachu was well and pissed.

    I raised my hands slowly and splayed my fingers in the same gesture I had used with Shiryuu.

    Piiiiiiiiiiiiii-!

    The pikachu’s cheeks glowed briefly, and there was a sharp whip-crack of electricity, faster than I could catch, and the whole world went white. My body locked up tight and rigid before I collapsed, muscles flailing out of my control. It felt like someone was running a vacuum through my intestines. Then the whiteness dispersed into exploding starbursts of pain, leaving me numb with pain in the dirt. My senses returned sluggishly and incompletely, the world around me bobbing around in haziness as if I were experiencing everything through water.

    I could hear the piercing hiss of the pikachu, the gulping static crash of a released pokeball. I tasted the tang but not the copper of the blood in my mouth. My skin felt two layers too thick, brushing against the rough soil and itchy grass. Except for my hands, of course. My hands burned. Everything was blurry colors, like a water painting.

    A large white-coated something knelt down over me, pressing fingers to my neck. What a stupid something. My neck wasn’t hurt. It was my hands, my hands, see?

    I tried to raise them, and only managed to flop them about like a landed magikarp.

    Distantly I heard a familiar, strong old voice ask, “Can you speak, son?”

    I responded with what I thought at the time was a very articulate sounding mumble-groan.

    I was lifted by strong arms under the knees and neck. I heard Professor Oak tell them to put me in his truck, “he’ll be all right, just some electrical burns and paralysis, I’ll take him to the hospital” and “call his mother and tell her what happened” and various other quick commands he issued. One of the white-suited men wandered over and I fixated on his red lapel pin for no particularly reason at all while he talked. It was shaped like an ‘R’ and rimmed in gold. The Professor eventually shouted at him and started his pickup truck and then we were off.

    I drifted in and out of consciousness on the way to the hospital. My snatches of memory are brief and at random: the Professor shifting gear two blocks away, the Professor unbuckling my seatbelt, the Professor over me as I was wheeled to my room. With him so close I noticed features about him that had escaped me before, lines on his face not evident from a distance. Professor Oak had never seemed it, but he was old. Old and tired. You could hardly believe he was in his late forties, with his all white hair and ancient eyes.

    I eventually drifted fully to sleep before awaking completely about an hour later, my normal clothes somehow substituted magically for a hospital gown. The chirping of crickets and the dark outside informed me as to my time. I flexed my bandaged hands and noticed only a faint twinge of pain, indicating treatment.

    I located my clothes and effects on the table beside me, and my mother on the chair in the hallway outside my door.

    I’ll not bore you with the pleasantries and anxious inquiries after my health. My mother was my mother, and she behaved at that time as all mothers would have, yours or mine or anyone’s.

    Well…perhaps not yours.

    Don’t pout, we both know you’re a heartless *****. And you, I don’t know your mother, but judging by your occupation she was either absent or didn’t know how to raise a son. Continuing on…

    Continuing on, we eventually made our way home. Ashford was distraught, of course, and was signing distress signals with his hands every which way when I walked in.

    Ashford had always been something of a spectacle in town. Mistermimes were not that common a choice of house pokemon, due to the stigma associated with Psychic-types and the mistermimes’ all around creepiness. Some mistermimes were truly grotesque, with faces forever set in grimaced or crying expressions. Ashford was lucky. His exoskeletal features had hardened into a dignified, condescending expression that would not have looked that out of place on a snooty butler, brows raised and eyes lidded with a stiff upper lip. It was what my mother had named him for.

    I quickly made an ‘all clear’ sign with three fingers on my left hand, and then showed him my hands, where only faint, white scar patches on my palms were any indication that the pikachu encounter had happened at all, thanks to the healing powers of chansey egg extract. The mistermime subsided and began cooking dinner.

    I took my mind off what the hospital bill would be and put it on task to the real challenge of the night: saying goodbye to my mother.

    I did it at the dinner table. Ashford put my plate in front of me and I didn’t touch it for a while. My stomach was too full of indecision to bear pasta.

    “Aren’t you hungry?” My mother asked.

    I told her I wasn’t. Then I told her I was leaving tomorrow to become a pokemon trainer.

    My mother put down her fork and wiped her mouth with her napkin and didn’t speak for a while. “It’s very dangerous.” She said. After a pause, she added. “You saw what could happen today. The world isn’t like Pallet. I know you think you know, but you don’t.”

    I told her I did know, and that even if I didn’t, I’d never find out if I didn’t learn for myself.

    “There’s a thousand things that could go wrong.” She said.

    I told her that things are always going wrong everywhere, and that I didn’t have to go any farther than upstairs to my half-reconstructed bedroom to realize that.

    “I don’t want to lose you.” She said. Her voice quivered on the edge of tears.

    I told her I didn’t want to lose myself.

    She pushed her plate away, stood up and moved to the kitchen, facing away from me. Understanding that dinner was very much over, Ashford took both of our unfinished plates and put the leftovers in the fridge. I could tell he intended to corner me later. I didn’t get up. Tension and guilt rooted me to my spot, but conviction spurred me onwards.

    My mother eventually composed herself well enough to speak evenly. “Where will you go?”

    I told her I would go to Viridian first, where the exam was cheap and licensing was free, and then to issue my challenge at Victory Road. Then through the Viridian Forest to Pewter, and on to Cerulean. Or perhaps I would go a different route. It didn’t really matter. I would find my way.

    “Could you not wait? Until you can hitch a ride with someone to Viridian. I don’t want you traveling alone out there.”

    I told her no. It would always be another thing, I said. Waiting for a ride, waiting for money. Something else would always be there to make me stay, I said, and I had a feeling she knew it. Tomorrow I would pick up my last paycheck from Professor Oak and then I would leave, without exception.

    I could see my mother’s heart break at my harsh declaration, but I refused to look away as she cried. I had already foreseen this outcome, and I would bear the consequences of my decision without balking. I waited.

    My mother retreated to her room after a short while. I sensed she would not return. My appetite returned after an hour of pacing around the house restlessly and prepping for my departure, so I ‘waved my plate and finished it. Then I went to bed.

    ---------(=0=)---------

    I woke up the next day to the sound of my door opening. I rose blearily from my bed, addressing Ashford, who had just then slipped into my room. I had not slept well, so I wished the pokemon, verbally, a good morning.

    In response, the mistermime walloped me across the face.

    Now, I know what you are thinking. A domestic pokemon, attacking a human? Outrageous. But despite the stinging pain, I felt embarrassed, rather than shocked or enraged. I was well used to this.

    It was our game, you see. I hadn’t picked up his signs just from watching him – that would have been ridiculous. Ashford had taken it upon himself from a very young age to teach me his signs, to the point where nowadays, he took rather unkindly to us doing otherwise. He had never struck me around my mother, of course, and he had never hit me with such force as to leave a bruise. It had always been a game. Perhaps the price for losing was a bit high, but I was of the no-pain-no-gain school of thought.

    I could never bear to lose, even then. I felt the urge to win as I lived and breathed. I corrected my motion, making the signs for ‘awake’ and ‘morning’, adding a greeting at the end. Ashford backed away from the bed as I rose.

    He raised both his hands, palms flat. I wasn’t in any mood to play. I made to move around him. He juked left in front of me.

    I raised one eyebrow and tried the other side. No dice.

    Ashford wiggled his fingers. Apparently he wasn’t going to let me leave until I agreed to play. Bemused, I took up his stance and posture. I’d long outgrown the mirror game, but it seemed that my leaving had triggered some sort of nostalgic impulse.

    The mirror game was simple. I had to copy his movements for as long as I could. It sounded easy, but if I lagged behind him to long, he would give me one across the face, two for flinching. He grew wilder and more complex as I progressed in skill. He always let me off if I managed to keep it up a good amount of time. I’d gotten good enough that I could almost sense what was coming, which was the point where he had stopped offering to play and concentrated on teaching signs.

    Ashford started out fast right out of the gate, this time, twisting and curling his fingers into knots. He wasn’t joking around. I took the same position and he instantly contorted into another one, with me right on his heel. He hopped on one foot and I was there in a blink. A one-legged no-arm squat. Holding one foot behind me and touching the ground. I probably could teach yoga.

    Ashford only escalated further. One armed pushups. A german suplex. At one point he did a cartwheel in place. Five minutes of intense movement later, he raised one hand from his handstand and we both gave each other the ‘all clear’ sign. I was careful to follow just a bit farther behind on that one – he’d tricked me before.

    I wiped the sweat from my brow on my pajama sleeve and watched Ashford’s fingers curl inwards and outwards in uncertain movements, looking around me, at the floor, at the half-finished plaster of the ceiling.

    The mistermime tapped himself on the temple with two fingers. Remember, he said. He reached out and grabbed one of my hands, and tapped my fingers on his temple. Remember him.

    I was so touched I couldn’t have spoken even had I wanted to. Sadness and regret crept into me without warning. I smiled and made a series of signs; ‘future’, and ‘remember’, and ‘cherish’.

    Funnily, this seemed to piss the clown off. Ashford made a sign of dismissal and repeated the ‘remember’ sign, this time with ‘past’ and enthusiastic miming of our calisthenics added in.

    I couldn’t help but laugh. Remember what I taught you. Of course. Ashford had never been the sentimental type. I made a ‘don’t worry’ sign and threw in a few random obscure sign combos like ‘I’m hungry but not for that’ and ‘six months, three days and five hours previously’ and ‘I’m being chased by a large angry arcanine and believe we should run now’.

    The mistermime raised his hands in surrender and shuffled to the side, allowing me to pass. I stopped to grab a few apples in the kitchen for the road and left.

    Knowing this would be the last time I set eyes on my, if not beloved, then fondly remembered hometown, I took my time walking to the ranch. I made sure to bid good morning to the few people I knew personally – the tailor at his loom*(1), who repaired my ranch ravaged clothes; the blacksmith*(2) and carpenter in their shops, who I had seen frequently in the last few days regarding the reconstruction of our house; the librarian in her archives, where I had spent many a work-free afternoon. The grocer. The barman. So many small, quiet relationships, and I could not dare miss a one.

    It made me late for my shift, but considering I had no intention of working it anyway, the point was rather moot. This was important. I wanted to leave with no regrets.

    I arrived at the Professor’s ranch a full hour after my normal time, fifty minutes after I would have finished being briefed by him with the other hands, twenty minutes after I would have been finished grooming the new litter of the alpha arcanine, a job none of the ranch but I had volunteered for. It would be around this time I would probably start with the industrial grade rock polish on the rhyperior’s hide.

    One of the ranch hands directed me to the Professor’s current location. It was eerie, making my way through the whitewashed halls of the main lab complex for the last time. The disinfectant tang in the air had always reminded me queasily of a hospital.

    The lab assistants and scientists I passed paid me no attention, focused as they were on their own tasks; the Professor always drove them to their limits, breaking many dreams of a position on the Pokemon Professor’s research team being anything cushy. Indeed, I had to step around a few whom I was certain would have bowled me over had I not moved. There was a solemn, dignified professionalism to the place I would not recognize or appreciate for a long time, until I was long past that day and place.

    The Pokemon Professor’s office was as understated as his personality, humble and secreted off on the back edge of the lab. The drab décor of the office was legendary in its own respect, renowned for having driven itself right out of all documentaries*(3) set at the Oak ranch through sheer dullness. I had always secretly admired it. Professor Oak’s office, in my eyes, seemed exactly suited to its purpose, from the small size to the packed steel bookcases to the digital clock hung directly over the Professor’s head, so that visitors would not have to look away impolitely if they were in a hurry. The only thing resembling a personal feature was a tall, narrow window in the back of room, which looked out upon the closest pokemon enclosures to the ranch. Decorations were for the home, I thought. Mixing the two only invited laxness and unprofessionalism.

    The Professor answered as promptly as if he had been expecting me when I knocked on his door. “Come in, Gary.” His muffled voice came through the door. I hesitated one extra second before entering.

    The Professor seemed timeless as ever when I saw him, no trace of the previous day’s events showing on his face. I’d never seen him outside of a polo shirt and slacks under the traditional white coat until graduation day, when he had deigned to don a suit for his grandson’s ceremony. Even the slight variation of his coat hanging on the back of his seat seemed jarring in my charged mood. I realized I had never seen his arms beyond the wrists. His wrinkled elbows stretched taut, tan leather over a worn drum, as he sat up. His eyes widened marginally.

    “Red,” He referred to me by my birth name – he always did – but for the sake of this record I’ll simply substitute. His voice was mild and measured. “I wasn’t expecting you. When you missed roll call I assumed you had taken a mental health day. What can I do for you?”

    I told him I was leaving, and that I was there to pick up my last paycheck. I didn’t bother to mince words or add an apology for the suddenness – for all his mildness, the Professor could not abide useless chatter. I did add a ‘sir’, though. It was a term of respect, and I respected no one as I did this man.

    Professor Oak took this in stride, as he did everything; seldom did things surprise as experienced a pokemon trainer as him. I expected a swift write-off of my check, and perhaps a cursory inquiry if he was feeling inquisitive that day. I got something else. The Professor rose from his chair, collecting his coat under one arm.

    “Walk with me.” He told me, and I did. It was impossible to not make a habit of obeying the Professor’s orders after spending as much time as I had under him.

    We walked through the halls of the complex. Professor Oak took a moment to mentally conceptualize his speech and think as we strolled, seemingly without destination. He began talking as we turned a corner.

    “You were never like the others, Red, I hope you know. It isn’t just your schoolwork, where even I admit you rival Gary, or your work here, where I’ve never seen steadier hands, no, not those. Those are just matters of diligence: I’ve seen the same in many others, though perhaps not to your degree.”

    White coats everywhere. Scientists and security alike, bowing to a portly elder man in picnic attire. I watched scientists behind us digging for pass-cards to cross the security checkpoint the Professor had simply walked right on through, waving League-appointed guards away from me like pesky cobwebs.

    “It’s the mind that drives them, your mind. To tell you the truth, Red, I’ve had my eye on you for a while – longer than you might believe. You’re an anomaly. What is it you intend to do, out there? I refuse to believe that a will like yours exists without an ambition to feed it. What is your ambition?”

    We had come to an empty laboratory, filled with great humming supercomputers and blinking machines. It had the feel of an inner sanctum, a theory lent credit from the card and code the Professor had finally been forced to produce to enter. Perhaps it was imagination, but I felt I could almost feel the scientific progress happening as I stood there among the machines, the pokemon potential being explored a bit further with every waking second.

    I wanted to become a pokemon trainer, I told him.

    The Professor snorted. “That is less an ambition than a milestone. It seems like every other housewife has a trainer’s license these days. No. There has to be something more.”

    I asked him why he didn’t go ahead and tell me, if he was so certain of me and the worthlessness of my answer. Perhaps my response was out of line, but Professor Oak had always been a personal hero of mine, and hearing him discard my dream stung more than I was willing to admit, despite his lavish praise of me beforehand. I was itching to leave.

    The Professor’s eyebrows rose into his hairline before settling, as he sighed and leaned back on the edge of an exam table. An expression which I would have described as embarrassed, had it been any other person, crossed his face.

    “I seem to have misrepresented myself. I did not invite you here to belittle you, Red, quite the contrary. I want to offer you a job, in my laboratory.”

    I was rather shocked, as you might imagine. People had to study for years to qualify for a research grant in any official pokemon lab. Only the crčme de la crčme ever managed to attract the notice of the Pokemon Professor of their region, and that was only after years of work in the field. To be granted a fellowship without holding a degree of some kind would be completely unprecedented, but then, it was part of the Pokemon Professor’s job to set new precedents. And I knew Professor Oak. He wouldn’t make such an offer as a jape. You’d have to be crazy to say no.

    No, I said.

    It was obviously an answer he was not used to, from his frown. But like a good scientist, he took the new data and began again.

    “You’re set on becoming a trainer, then. Is it some gym that’s caught your attention? I know it’s not the rangers, or the navy or police or militia, otherwise you’d have simply taken a scholarship. I’ve never pegged you for the contest type, but are you looking at pokemon coordination*(4)?” The Professor continued on, seeking answers in my blank declaration. “I simply wish to understand your plans.”

    I’m secure enough now to admit that I was looking for approval when I explained my plans to Professor Oak. I felt a growing unease as I watched his face wrinkle up in disapproval.

    “You’re willing to start out with no pokemon or pokedex?” He asked quietly, a note of disbelief entering his voice. He had good reason. Trying to become a trainer without a trained starter pokemon was a risky gambit at best – I would have to catch a feral and train it, or net a pokemon whose sale could afford me a starter, a dangerous business which would require me to venture out into the wilds without a pokemon to defend me. I was confident in my ability, though. I had spent my entire childhood romping around the woods of Pallet, and I’d always scored highest in the hunting and tracking exercises in school*(5).

    I said as much and the Professor lapsed into silent but furious thought. He knuckled his chin and shook his head.

    “No. No, that won’t do at all.” Professor Oak turned to his desk and rattled one of the drawers open. “I have a new job for you, Red, one I think you’ll take.”

    He withdrew a sleek new pokedex, candy red paint gleaming under the harsh lights of the lab. It wasn’t any model I recognized.

    “Johto just released their new, second generation pokedex a couple months ago, you’ll recall.” The Professor said. I nodded. He waved the pokedex in his hand. “Well, it’s been getting rave reviews, so the Kanto poketechnological research board starting putting pressure on me to match them, ‘in the interest of friendly regional competition’, or so they say.” He shrugged. “Between you and me, half the board members are separatists, so I’m sure there’s some sort of political my-region-is-better-than-your-region thing going on. Nevertheless, I decided to comply and get it over with, so here it is: the second generation Kanto pokemon encyclopedic index, complete with unlimited messaging and a thumb pad and mini-games and all the other do-hickies that have the Johtoan trainers drooling.”

    The Professor set it on the table, and pushed it towards me.

    “The problem is, it hasn’t been beta-tested yet. I’m fairly sure I’ve worked out the bugs, but it never hurts to be careful. I’d like you to take it and write up a review on it.” His face then split into the smile which had made him the favorite guest at the schoolhouse. “I wouldn’t ask you to do it for free, though. How does an advance copy and a fee waiver for your exam and starter sound?”

    I couldn’t speak. It was perfect. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me. And I had to turn it down.

    What?

    Of course you can’t understand. You’ve never been poor. When you live without means, there are times when your pride is everything you have. I had never accepted charity before and I couldn’t start there. To take it, I believed, would be to cripple everything my journey stood for.

    Thankfully, I was prevented at that time from making the biggest mistake of my life by none other than my rival, sauntering in right at that moment.

    I stared. There was a certain air about Blue then, a weight to his stride that I could hardly believe he had picked up in just a day of being a trainer. He looked radiant, alive, free. It was that last part more than anything that made his next arguments more compelling.

    “Yow, that’s one helluva deal, Red. You should try not being a ******* and taking it.” Blue drawled. His speech had grown far more informal since his youth, from long afternoons spent shooting the breeze with the officers and retirees of the militia and rangers. His arms were tucked snugly into his jacket, a parcel wedged in the space between his arm and side. Blue’s eevee, a rare starter it had no doubt taken many of the Pokemon Professor’s strings to get, trailed behind him obediently. As ever, he looked as if he had stepped right off of a runway. “I mean, it’s not like he’s just givin’ it to ya. I got one too, and you better believe he’ll rip me a new one if it gets released and it turns out you can’t load new ringtones or some stupid crud like that.”

    “Hello, Gary.” The Professor replied, adding very dryly. “Good afternoon to you too.”

    “’Sup gramps. Here’s your package or whatever.” Blue tossed the parcel on a gurney, where it landed with a clang. Professor Oak winced. Blue gave me a head nod. “Gramps told me about the little shock you had, so I stopped by your house to call you out for getting stomped by a yellow rat. Imagine my surprise when I hear about this half-baked Viridian baloney. I mean, yeesh, I’ve got a headstart, a sweet pokemon and dashing good looks. How do you expect to catch up with just a license? You gonna save up for a pokedex and catch and train a feral at the same? Don’t take the piss, I’ll be halfway through the league by then!”

    “Gary intends to take on the Kanto gym circuit. He’s already taken up with a mentor.” His grandfather explained. There was no pride in his tone, but the fact that the Professor cared to mention it at all was telling in itself. “He says he intends to challenge the Elite Four.”

    “Hell yeah I do. Gonna be the Grand Champion, man, Hall of Fame.” Blue smirked. “Howdja like to see me every time you open your wallet, and think, ‘man, I wish I was cool enough to have taken that deal when I was a kid so I could have the honor of being the first to receive the champ’s wisdom’?” Blue’s expression shifted, quicksilver, into a scowl. “You don’t wanna be that guy, Red. Take the job.”

    I would like to say I spent a long time wrestling my conflicting desires, my pride and my dream, but any time I spent deliberating was in delusion. My mind had made itself up as soon as Blue had walked into that room like the king of the world and everyone in it. Arrogant or ambitious, right or not, I wanted that, wanted it bad, and something more besides. Anything that brought me closer to that goal I would take, and damn the price.

    I hesitated several seconds, and silently picked up the pokedex. A big ****-eating grin spread itself across Blue’s face, and he slapped me on the back. “That’s the spirit, Red! Carpe diem, do or die, fu- ah,” He glanced pointedly at his grandfather. “-screw the consequences. Who wants to live forever?”

    “Quite.” The Professor agreed sarcastically, a wry smile twisting his lips. “I’ll have the exam brought in.”

    “What? Aw man, are you kidding? That dinky thing?” Blue complained, obviously unwilling to let paperwork spoil the mood. “Come on, gramps, we both know the test’s a joke. Forget eleven, I coulda passed it when I was two. You really gonna waste his time with that toilet paper?”

    Professor Oak looked about ready to snap, so I quickly intervened, assuring him that I was happy to take the exam.

    “Thank you, Red. It’s nice to see that there are some who appreciate the value of procedure.”

    After an intercom message and short wait, an assistant brought a copy of the Pallet Town PTCE, or Pokemon Trainer Certification Examination, into the lab. She was a slim, flighty thing with round glasses and secretary heels, and Blue refused to let her out of the room without charming her into a full stutter. She fled before he could move in for the kill, however. The Professor gave Blue the evil eye for the rest of the visit.

  5. #5
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    It took me around half an hour to finish the exam. I never had to glance more than once at a multiple choice question, and the long answers were laughable. It focused more on avoiding pokemon than training them. I would have finished sooner had Blue not seen fit to add commentary every time I turned a page; apparently he had memorized the exam.

    “Oh, page three? Check out question twenty-three, you’ll laugh.”

    “Hurry up and flip, man, there’s a typo on question forty-five you gotta see.”

    “Oh, you’ve gotten to the long answers, good. Yo Red, buddy, look at number seven. ‘At what time would be the best time to attack a snorlax’? Anyone who asks that question has never met a snorlax, just sayin’.”

    I made to hand the exam to Professor Oak when I was finished, but Blue quickly hopped up and intercepted it before I could, snatching it and flipping through it like an impatient child. The Professor pinched his nose and sighed in exasperation.

    “Right, right, right, right,” Blue declared, in a tone of intense boredom. “Right, right, one wrong, two wrong – jeezus, Red, was the chapter on pokemon law missing in your book or what? – right, right, right and right. Long answers are long, so probably right too, or at least some believable sophist bull.” He relinquished the packet to his grandfather, taking a square of gum out of his pocket and popping it into his mouth. “Are we really acting like he was ever gonna fail? Is that a thing now?”

    The Professor took it and began paging through it at nearly the same speed. Both Oaks’ minds functioned at similar breakneck speeds. He lectured as he read. “No, Gary, there is simply a thing called ‘not counting your eggs before they-‘” A pause. “I don’t see any wrong here, Gary, what exactly were you talking about?”

    “I counted the anabolic pokesteroids question wrong because it is. All outlawing them has done is drive them into the criminal community. You know how many pokemon have died because of dirty-mixed rare candy? You know how much money Kanto could make by legalizing and taxing them?” Blue shrugged. “I mean, it’s not like they’re gonna stop using. Half the military is popping candy. All you gotta do is reinstate random League drug tests so competitions stay clean, and boom. You kill criminal revenue across the board, lower drug crime and fatality rates, and get a whole new industry all in one move.”

    “Tests have shown that pokesteroid-using pokemon are almost impossible to integrate back into the wild.” The Professor argued. “That’s not even talking about the addiction problems.”

    “Uh, hello? Pure candy addictions are always psychological. The only real addictions come out of candy mixed with narcotics, which wouldn’t even be allowed to happen if rare candy were regulated-!”

    Sensing the signs of a long argument, I quick cut in to ask how I did. The Professor blinked and looked again at my exam before setting it down.

    “A perfect score, as I suspected. Just like my grandson here would have gotten had he not been too busy carrying the torch for junkie legislation.”

    Blue scowled. “The integration argument isn’t even a valid point. Who except the most extreme monster-huggers ever even release pokemon? Is expansion not a goal anymore? Are we forgetting that wild pokemon are exactly what created the Dark Continents*(6) in the first place?”

    I quickly asked when I was going to get my starter. Professor Oak took his stern glare off of Blue and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

    “Unfortunately, Red, I only ordered the three starters billed for graduation, and of course Blacky here.” Blue’s eevee, refusing to be ignored, had leapt up onto the table next to the Pokemon Professor. He scratched it under its chin. I noticed the markings of a female on the eevee’s coat and body, making the pokemon even rarer than I had initially thought. “Apart from the pikachu caught yesterday, I have no starter level pokemon on the ranch. I can put in an order today, but it will be a few days until it arrives.”

    “That sucks, buddy. I was hoping for a little battle before I left.” Blue stuck his hands in his pockets. “Ah well. Maybe your mom can tolerate you for a few more days, eh? Be seeing you.” He whistled sharply at Blacky, who leapt down from the table to settle at his feet.

    Blue was leaving? I made this a question.

    Blue rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Well, yeah. I only stopped back by to drop off gramps’ package and take a breather. Bro tip, Red: the trick when battling the gyms is to take it slow. More than half the losers you hear flaming out on the news are ones who tried to blitz the circuit, skipping the routes by teleport and sticking only to trainer battles, but that never works. You can’t win every battle on type advantage. You gotta have enough experience.” He crossed his arms. “I’m gonna head through Viridian Forest. It’ll be a good place to train Blacky and this new pidgey I caught.” Just then, I noticed the extra pokeball hanging on his magnetic belt clip. He smiled slyly. “Maybe if you hurry you’ll be able to catch me in Pewter. Maybe.”

    Blue gave me the biggest, smarmiest, fakest thumbs up in the history of insincerity and turned to leave.

    That was when I turned to Professor Oak and told him I’d take the pikachu. Call it a competitive streak, or just me being tired of Blue looking down on me. I had no idea at the time of what that pikachu would come to mean to me. Right then, I just flatly refused to let Blue have the last word.

    It certainly served that purpose. Blue missed a step and looked at me dumbly, like I had just issued a declaration in imperial Japanese. Professor Oak wrung his hands worriedly.

    “Are you sure, Red? I haven’t had any chance at all to domesticate it. It’s last memory is likely of your attack. I’m perfectly willing to put a rush order on that starter order if it’s speed you’re worried about. I can’t in good conscience issue it to you feral.”

    There was no backing down, now. The idea had rooted itself in my mind. I would beat Blue, all right; I’d even do with a feral starter. I told him I was sure, and that I’d take the money for the starter if I was lifting such a nuisance as he claimed off his hands.

    Blue cackled. “Aw man, gramps, Red’s callin’ you out!”

    “Be quiet, Gary!” The Professor snapped, patience finally at an end. He softened his tone as he spoke to me. “Red, are you sure you are not acting rashly?” I could see the same weariness I had yesterday in him now, in his eyes and slumped back and in the very rise and fall of his chest. He thought I was making a foolish, hot-blooded mistake.

    But when I looked back at Blue, I saw something else entirely. There was a difference in the way he looked at me, an unspoken challenge in the way he stood upright, hands at his side, face shining in anticipation. Before, I had been the he’d surpassed and left behind. Now, with this bold action, I was his rival reborn, equal, respected, to be wary of, to be feared.

    At that time, in that place, I would have scaled the very peak of Mt. Silver to have that, bare-handed and bloody-faced.

    I asked the Professor how quickly he could have the pikachu brought here.

    Blue smiled from ear to ear. Professor Oak became sullen, spiteful, almost cold. “So you are not to be dissuaded. Fine. I will have the pikachu fetched and the money transferred, and on your shoulders fall any consequences. I must go: I have had well enough dealings with children today.”

    Not an hour ago, such harsh declamation would have cowed me – now, it was a gnat’s discontented buzzing. I had gained much more than I had lost in that discourse, I felt.

    ---------(=0=)---------

    I stopped by home, of course. How could I not?

    The two of you may not understand, but you’ve never had parents, not the real kind, who you knew loved you; knew their love like gravity and running water and time itself; a love that couldn’t be changed by any force or being.

    I will tell you nothing of that time, not one word of those spoken nor even one feeling of those many that were shared. I can no more describe to you the experience of leaving a parent than I can sing colors to a man born blind and deaf. Even if I could I would not; watching you rot from your ignorance is a much more pleasing sight to these eyes.

    Let it suffice that I was back on the street not an undue time later, the great, warm cloak of home and childhood ripped from my shoulders. Sadly, the sun was nowhere near setting, sitting almost directly overhead, ruining any chances of a dramatic exit.

    I walked to the edge of the field. I stepped in without hesitation. It was a short minute to the other side, a period during which I seemed to become hypersensitive to my surroundings. I could hear every sweeping oak tree, whispering wordlessly in the wind. I could feel the grass and weeds through my triple-layered travel jeans, taste the dry Kanto summer. I could smell my teen spirit departing.

    My first foot hit the dust of Route 1, and then the second. The tiny dust clouds they kicked up seemed to drift on forever.

    I looked back to Pallet Town, rising above the forest line, and saw my past laid out in great disgrace and greater glory.

    I looked forward and saw eternity.

    ---------(=0=)---------

    Kanto Pokemon Encyclopedic Index Entry #133 (J. # 184): Eevee

    Basic Characteristics: Normal-type, quadrupedal mammal, avg. height 1’00, avg. weight 14.3lbs.

    Description: Small warm-blooded pokemon, sharing the characteristics of many living and extinct animals. Body covered in thick coat of fur, hardened with the creature’s saliva. Large white mane of fur around neck, to protect throat and for use in mating displays. Tall, long ears which can detect sounds at great distances, gauge clearance in a manner similar to whiskers and move with great dexterity to indicate mood. Eyes large and irises brown. Nose kept wet with mucus to prevent drying.

    Nickname(s): The Evolution Pokemon, The Evolutionary Pokemon, The Environmental Pokemon, The Common Pokemon.

    “…Despite their nickname, eevee are far from a common pokemon; indeed, they are quite difficult to procure due to their popularity in contests. They are also highly coveted as research subjects because of their unstable genetic code: eevee have the largest number of evolutions ever recorded in pokemon history, for the most esoteric reasons, currently recorded at seven. Some of these evolutions occur from ordinary stressors, such as elemental stones, but two evolutions, umbreon and espeon, are dependent on the eevee’s nocturnal or diurnal tendencies, and two others only seem to occur near two noted landmarks, those being the Moss Rock in Eterna Forest and the Ice Rock on Route 217, both in Sinnoh. These phenomena, of course, is claimed by Sinnoans to be due to the pokegod Arceus’ blessing upon both stones which, of course, incited the followers of the Mew cult to once again decry said divine denomination…”

    ---------(=0=)---------

    1) Tailor’s loom: Due to pokemons’ known hatred of plants and other places of manufacturing, mass-production and pollution, settlements without a city wall or strong militia tend to regulate such practices to the smallest necessary degree for civilized living. This has lead to a large revival in skilled craft, often pokemon-aided. Pallet is such a settlement, and the Pallet tailor is such a craftsman.
    2) Blacksmith: See tailor.
    3) Documentaries: Since recording technology has been legalized for reproduction, cinema and moving pictures have experienced an explosion in interest. Some artists refer to it as the Video Renaissance. Many educational films have been made for school use, including biographies on important figures, a group in which the de facto leaders of the scientific pokemon world are most definitely included. In these films, Professor Oak has received little interest or coverage due to his unexciting interview personality and succint speech, and was given no extra time on screen. He is, however, mentioned derogatorily in several documentaries by Professor Elm.
    4) Pokemon coordination: The official name for the occupation raising of pokemon to compete in pokemon contests. Several less formal and more pejorative ones include ‘pokefan’, ‘putting makeup on monsters and parading them around’, and ‘poke******ry’.
    5) Hunting and tracking exercises: With the imminent danger of attack from monsters always growing higher as settlements become larger and more technologically advanced, lessons in woodcraft and wild navigation quickly became mandatory in League certified schools. These lessons include the evasion and pursuit of pokemon, the trapping of mundane animals, finding shelter and identifying signs to lead back to humanity.
    6) Dark Continents: The plural name for the large, pokemon-overrun land masses across the western sea. Records from before pokemon indicate they used to be divided into human countries, from which some close-knit communities can trace their ancestry and ethnicity. No reported contact has been made with any human civilization beyond our own. Excursions into Dark Asia, the nearest Dark Continent, are forbidden by all regions and are classified as high treason by all Pokemon Leagues. The only information obtained is done so by highly trained military teams who cross the sea infrequently to scout the land, which has become even more infrequent as of late due to low return rates.
    -------------------------

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