KindrindraPart Zero: The Board
"If you look up here, you'll see a few numbers written on the board."
Oak paced across the length of his office continuously, never ceasing for any cause. The office was his actual home for most purposes, and he had been spending most of his nights here on his office at the island. He had to, because of the incompetence of those beneath him. Three experiments had died in the last week, and he wasn’t happy to say the least. It had all started with that bloody power failure. Oak scoffed; a warning from Zapdos indeed.
No, Oak doubted that any legendary Pokémon were involved in the accident, and with very good reasons. It was most likely one of those aides he kept running around the place. Some of them were getting restless, annoyed by the total secrecy of the project. Blaine and Pluto just weren’t enough to keep anyone in check anymore. There was always some excuse, a petty trifle that wouldn’t serve as justification in a normal situation, and the administrators just kept caving in. They didn’t seem to realize that lives were at stake here.
There had been deaths in the project, as was always to be expected. The master project had gotten one recently when some incompetent moron had chosen to ignore its power. He shook his head in disgust. For the best scientists in the world, they were very incompetent. All of them were the same, wasting the government’s money without a second thought. Thier projects cost millions of dollars, and they were just treating them like their average play kit that they used. These men wouldn’t know brilliance if they ran into it.
That may have been why he had commissioned the Cinnabar project; he was tired of being lonely. Not a single man in the known world could rival Samuel Oak in intelligence, and he knew it. Terra could, but it was different, more ancient: she had given him inspiration. He had been inspired to create something new, something better. He had tried just that on Cinnabar, gathering the best scientists in the world, and creating the best lab in Kanto with the hopes of creating life.
They had started simple, mere bug Pokémon being cloned, just to test the team under him. The project was pulled off without a hitch, and no major problems surfaced for months. They had moved on to more complex Pokémon, each experiment working spectacularly. Oak’s ambition could be contained no longer: they had tried to create a human.
The first project was a mere cloning, and it succeeded beyond all expectations, developing into a viable infant and flourishing. That wasn’t enough for Oak; he wanted something on his level. He wanted a superhuman of sorts, something new. The debates had raged for months, but eventually Oak’s power and influence won out, and the project began, with gene splicing projects working around the clock to create a new genetic strand: the first artificially created human. The cell was eventually fertilized, and the cloning process put in place. A suitable mother was selected from among the scientists, and the project had begun, with the pregnancy progressing as expected, with no major flaws.
Ambition soon became unchecked. Oak wanted something more, something unnatural. He had become fascinated by Terra privately, and wanted something like it. He wanted a Pokémon that could dwarf the mind of any human. He had organized a team of the best hunters to track down the suitable base species. This was eventually determined to be Mew, as it had DNA that could be very easily manipulated and copied; perfect for a cloning project. Among the team were two young trainers, already marked by incredible skill. They had since risen to prominence in the project, joining the elite council of four that reported directly to Oak.
The DNA was recovered, and the project began to create the ultimate being. The project had been costly, draining millions of dollars from government accounts, but it succeeded in the end, creating a new Pokémon. Oak had been called away by his position, and left the project in the hands of his colleagues.
Things had started to go wrong about a week ago. A power outage had devastated the island, causing several projects to die off, and the main specimen, the Mew clone, to briefly break free of its restraints. But the human was almost born, and the Pokémon was still alive, and the lab went on, albeit now filled with Oak’s impending wrath about the recent failures.
A quick knock rang out from the door. Oak glanced back up, "Come in."
Lance, a respected assistant with the project and one of the commisioned trainers walked in, and bowed awkwardly, a twisted smile on his face evading Oak's detection.
Oak nodded, and motioned for him to sit down. “Lance, I’m quite busy right now. Is there anything you wanted to talk about, or are you wasting my time?”
Lance shifted in his seat, “Well, it’s about the project.” Gramps motioned to go on. “A few people here were talking, and we decided that we don’t like it.”
“They can just get their *** off of the island then. Only the devoted have a place in Operation Dawn," Oak scoffed.
“Oh no, they’re devoted. Just not to you,” Lance rose to his full, rather impressive height, a cruel smirk on his face.
Oak banged his fist on the disk, “What the hell is this?” he shouted.
Lance laughed, a slow and evil laugh, as he gestured towards the doorway. A large upright figure in metallic armor walked in the open doorway, pausing at a hand signal from Lance. Oak gaped in shock, trying to find some sort of a reply. Anything at all. But he couldn't. The creature in the doorway being awake and functioning, much less under Lance's control, was impossible.“This would be a coup.”
The final battle. This was it. By no means, was it an easy match, with a powerful opponent backed by every piece of intelligence in the system matched upon my relatively weak Pokémon. In reality, that had nothing to do with it. I had a few tricks up my sleeve that gave him absolutely no chance. He had pressure. A lot of pressure. Just about everyone I had ever met was watching, and most of them expected me to fail. I knew I wouldn’t, but at the same time a doubt whispered at the back of my mind. Someone had once told me that the word “nightmare” was subjective. I was starting to believe it. Even if this was every kid’s dream, this wasn’t going to be pleasant. It wasn’t just a Gengar that I was facing. It was a lot more.
I glanced back up at the battlefield to confirm that everything was in place. My opponent was levitating on the other side of the clearing, waiting for me to start the battle. My Pokémon was fully formed and waiting in front of me, equally ready to go. “Alright Nidorino, let’s start this off on a high note. Go for a Shadow Claw across the chest.” Not nearly loud enough. It needed to be firmer, more commanding.
Nidorino leapt at his opponent, a cryptic grey aura forming around his claw. Gengar narrowed his eyes. The system was thinking. Right as the claw was about to connect, it seemed to register what to do. The ghost swiftly dodged to the side as the poison-type flew past him. “Again!” Nidorino hit the ground and pounced in the other direction, striking Gengar in the chest and sending him flying back.
Unfortunately, he was off the ground in a second and it was obvious he hadn’t been badly harmed. Just as expected. No one ever won their last battle by sheer force. Heck, the system probably hadn’t let the attack do any damage.
“Good, let’s try a different tactic. Use-“ He wasn’t listening. Nidorino was staring into Gengar’s eyes, oblivious to anything I was saying. For all practical purposes, he was dead to the world. I grimaced, realizing exactly what was happening. Every final opponent had some sort of trick. For Machamp, it was the constant confusion from its Dynamic Punch attack. For Clefable it was charming the opponent into not fighting. Charizard abused the sun. I had been almost certain that Gengar was going to try to shut down Nidorino by binding it with Psychic. Apparently it was Hypnosis in this battle. Unexpected, but definitely possible to overcome with just a little thought. Not that I had the time.
By this, Gengar’s eyes were glowing blue. Nidorino struggled in pain, but was bound in place.I recognized it: Dream Eater “Sleep Talk!” I yelled out, partially for Nidorino’s benefit, partially to make it look like I was in control. Thankfully, it did the trick. Nidorino began repeating its name quietly. I smiled a little for the cameras, but wasn’t exactly sure where this was going. For all I knew, this would just be even more humiliating than losing normally.
Suddenly, Nidorino stopped talking. His eyes still shut, he lunged forwards towards Gengar, his fist cloaked in poison. The impact sent my opponent flying backwards, and caused eye contact to break. Nidorino opened his eyes, a strange contorted frown on his face that I think represented anger. For everything the system could do, it was never good at showing emotion. Now it was time for the difficult part, the part where all planning stopped. The system never kept up a strategy that had been thwarted. It was moving to a reserve one, and I honestly didn’t know what it was going to be.
Gengar’s eyes glowed again as the system made its decision. This time, they were a pinkish glow, the color of a psychic aura. Brilliant. “Nidorino, Sucker Punch now!” Nidorino rushed forwards, slamming into Gengar’s gut and pushing him back before the attack could be completed. Everything was going according to plan now.
“Double Kick.” I made sure the command was clear enough so that it could not be misinterpreted. The system did have some override procedures where it would stop listening to anyone controlling it. However, for final tests the override could be overridden again if it was certain the commander intended it. And I was fairly certain that every override feature in the system was going to be alerted to a fighting attack used on a ghost.
Nidorino hesitated, the system racing to figure out what to do. And then he jumped. Gengar looked up, the system desperately trying to find anything that it could as to why this would ever be used. At the last moment, Gengar faded a little, becoming. As Nidorino fell through the ghostly outline, I smiled, not even noticing the cameras as I gave the final command of the battle, “Shadow Claw, now!” My opponent was shredded into ghostly essence from the inside out just before the world began to dissolve.
It was dark. Pure black, no light at all. I was… standing? Floating? I never could tell in that dream. Welcome, abomination. The voice rang out from all around me, as if the entire world was whispering. It has been some time since we could converse freely.
It seemed to be emphasizing ‘converse.’ That could only mean “You mean, talk?”
It paused for an unnaturally long period, and I wasn’t sure if it was even still there. I think that’s how mortals treat the word.
I stood in the silence. It had been years since it had first appeared, and there had been several years after the accident where it hadn’t appeared again. Why was it back now? And why did he want to do more than taunt me? “I don’t want to talk to you,” I stated firmly.
It sighed, which sounded like the entire universe was breathing out softly, with no wind flowing. Such a shame. I had two important things to tell you, but I think I can settle with the first. The world started to spin around, as light began to glow and form into objects. When it all settled, I was facing an image of my town. Or at least, something that looked like it had once been Pallet Town. The outlines of buildings, and even a few half-charred structures were still there, but the entire town had been destroyed. Ashes burned in the wind, and bodies and collapsed structures littered the ground. Smoke was still rising into the sky from the area that had once housed the lab. Do you want to know the tragic part of this? The second piece of information could have prevented this. It let out a loud, bitter laugh as the world faded once more.
The lights came back on, and I felt the full weight of the system. I paused for a moment to come to terms with situation. It had just been a dream. It wasn’t real. It hadn’t returned. Part of me lingered on the idea for something, catching that I’d overlooked some detail, but I didn’t care. I tore off the glasses and unhooked some of the cables as I’d done a dozen times before in the earlier tests, while a few of the Professor’s lab assistants took care of the more technical details associated with disconnect. I glanced around the room as they worked, trying not to linger on the dream. Most of the room was occupied in one way or another by the system. A large computer took up the entire backside of the room, humming away as it interpreted various strategies and created the worlds and situations for the tests later in the day. A single technician sat in front of it, busily typing something into the computer. Across the room, various wires and strange metal suits were set up in various patterns. All of them served a purpose, of course. Even with the bulk, expenses, and break downs it was the greatest virtual reality battle simulator in the world, and the system that governed every later exam in the Pallet school system.
The lab assistant at the computer glanced up at me, “Congratulations on the victory. Please enter the hallway and go left until you reach the main conference room. Wait there until you receive further instructions. Do you have any questions?” I shook my head, and left the room. It wasn’t exactly what I had expected to hear after passing, but I could understand the formality. There were a lot of people to get through today.
Outside of the room, the line of people waiting for their final exam was as long as when I’d left it. I was only the twelfth to go in the group of roughly 300 students qualified to take their final, so it was going to be a long day, even if the system was processing three people at a time. “How’d it go?” I couldn’t tell who said it, but most of the line had at least looked up to hear the answer. I put my thumb up, and walked away with a mostly fake smile on my face. I doubt I could’ve given a verbal answer if I’d tried. It’s not that I’m bad with people. In all reality, I’m actually fairly good at talking with people one on one. I’m just terrible with groups. Absolutely terrible. Seriously, there’s only one thing that scared me more. Well, at the time anyways. I’ve gotten better with people in the following years, and I’ve found much, much more frightening things. But that all came about later.
I wasn’t used to the hallway being empty. Normally when I was in the school, large groups of people were everywhere, and I had to push to get through. Today I could hear my footsteps, and the only other noise was the increasingly faint sound of the crowd behind me. I looked at the various rooms as I went by. I’d been in a few of them before as a student. After all, spending eight years in the building and having a wide variety of subjects to match ensured that I’d experienced quite a bit here. But all of that was just about over now.
Locker cleanout and the main portion of the school year were over. The final exams for those qualified to graduate were today. About one-third of my class, and most of the class above me were eligible this year for graduation. That didn’t mean by any standard that they all would pass the exam. The final exam was a very difficult test by any standard, and it required the skills of a master trainer to get through. To compensate, it wasn’t exactly required to graduate with a high school degree. It was required to graduate with a degree and a license, so most people took it anyways. Having your degree normally meant less than having a license anyways. To further motivate people, the professor himself gave anyone who passed the exam their first Pokémon, which was an enormous help in starting off a trainer’s career.
About three minutes of walking later, I was standing in front of the conference room doors. I’d never been in the room before, as it was normally only used by teachers, deans, and periodically people from the League or the lab. I paused for a moment, and pushed open the large wooden door, closing it gently behind me. There were only three other people in the large room. The school principle Mr. Venser was busy discussing something with Professor Oak, and another student in my age group was sitting in a chair, her legs crossed and headphones in. The professor looked up from his conversation, and began to walk across the room. “Eli, my boy, I’m so glad to see that you passed. Not that I ever doubted you would,” the Professor chuckled to himself, “I brought a friend with me today to celebrate with you.”
Professor Oak reached down to his belt, and unclipped a red and white ball from it. He wrapped his fingers around the orb, and clicked the white button on the front. After a short burst of red light, a small blue turtle appeared. “Squir, squirtle,” the Pokémon chimed. I smiled, not the fake smile I’d put on earlier, this one was real. I reached down to him and picked him up in my arms.
“How are you doing, buddy?” I asked. The Squirtle wiggled a little to gain a better position, but stopped moving and began to talk in his own language. After handling him for three years, I’d learned how to decipher some of it. However mostly I just nodded my head and picked up what I could. Professor Oak smiled, and went back to his conversation with the principle. Let me clarify this: I didn’t own, or train, Squirtle. He was the Professor’s Pokémon; I just cared for him at the lab. If I actually owned him, it would’ve been illegal prior to that day.
“Glad to see you passed,” the girl beside me mumbled. I looked over at her, to see that she had taken her headphones out and had her Charmander on her lap. She was the second of the three junior aides at the lab, and worked in the fire-type section with her Charmander. We’d had our share of disagreements, but didn’t really dislike each other. Well, I’m not actually sure what she thought about me. We talked sometimes, and it didn’t always break down into fights, but it did often enough. I just liked to imagine we were on better terms to keep her older brother –my supervisor- happy.
“Hello, Bianca. See you cleared your exam.” I kept it short and neutral. I’ve never known exactly what to say around her to create a conversation that wasn’t likely to break down, and had learned several times over that sarcasm and teasing should be reserved for Gary.
“Eh, Slowking was more annoying than I had imagined, but it still only took about twenty seconds,” she boasted with a smirk on her face. I was pretty sure she was lying, but didn’t bother pushing it. I later found out it took 26, not that it matters. Anyways, the look on her face told me she was in a decent mood, or at least not any state where she was likely to kill me, so I took a seat next to her and Squirtle jumped to the ground. “How did you scrape by?”
I ignored the wording, and just gave a straight answer. “Pretty well, actually. I wasn’t prepared, but I passed.” She folded the corner of her lip up in a half-smile of sorts, probably at something I’d said.
“I guess it’s to be expected that you wouldn’t know what a reasonably smart battler would do. He went for Hypnosis, right?” She was going back to her iPod, just barely paying attention to the conversation.
“Yeah, how’d you know that?” I asked. Hypnosis had never really occurred to me.
She glanced back up, and stared at me for a moment as if I’d asked her the stupidest question she’d ever heard. “Well, it’s the best option. Psychic is great for damage, but can be stalled by Substitute and Dark Auras. That, and no final test ever plays that aggressively. Burn is a nice stalling tactic, but Nidorino knows quite a few special attacks as well, so it would be too easy to avoid. Perish Song leads to a tie, which is simply settled by a redo. Hypnosis, on the other hand, has only one good way around it, is unlikely to be predicted by a rookie such as yourself, and shuts down the opponent to later by blasted away by hexes. It’s simple really.” With that, she turned up her iPod to full volume, blocking out the conversation completely. Squirtle hopped back on my lap, and I stroked his shell for the next few hours while waiting for the tests to conclude.
Thirty people later and the only person I really wanted to see in the room walked in. It honestly didn’t surprise me at all that Gary passed, as he could reliably outscore even Bianca in all of the battling strategy tests. His grandfather didn’t even have to rig his match for an easy test to make sure that he would win. He glanced around the room, and quickly spotted Bianca and I sitting next to each other. He walked over, and started the conversation in his usual manner “Eli, Bianca, what’s up?”
I gestured towards my ear, and he gave a silent laugh as he reached over and ripped the headphones out of her ears. Bianca immediately shot her face up, and glared daggers at Gary who just smirked. "What was that about?” she demanded.
Gary held up his hands in a mock defensive gesture. “Hey, I just wanted to talk,” he replied.
“I, obviously, did not.” She tried to put her headphones back in, but found them in a Bulbasaur’s vines by the time she reached them. She narrowed her eyes even further, but before she could yell at Gary the entire conflict was interrupted.
“Gary, Bianca, Elisha, it’s nice to see that all of my aides passed.” Oak had walked over to the group, and seemed completely oblivious that one of his junior aides was about to murder his grandson, although I suspect this was purposeful. “After the graduation ceremony is done, could you guys see me at my office.”
“Of course,” I shot in before Gary or Bianca could protest it on the basis of not wanting to be with each other. “I’ve got some stuff at the dojo to take care of, but after that, I’ll come over.”
Gary rolled his eyes, “Come on, gramps, I practically live there. I’m sure that all three of us feel the same way,” his eyes drifted over to Bianca.
She crossed her arms and legs in her ‘I really want you to butt out of my life’ gesture, and huffed out “I guess.”
“Good, good. We’re about two-thirds of the way through the list, so until we’re done, celebrate with your peers,” the professor glanced between Gary and Bianca, “and try not to kill anyone.” With that, he turned around and went back to his discussion with the principle.
“Great advice,” Bianca growled as she took her headphones from Gary’s Bulbasaur and put them back on.
“Well, someone doesn’t want to talk today.”
“Gary, when has she ever wanted to talk?” I replied.
He shrugged, “True enough. Anyways, after Oak’s done with his little discussion, let’s have a practice battle tonight.”
I stared at him blankly, “Practice battle? But neither of us even have-“
“So what if neither of us have a Pokémon of our own? We have our license now, so we can command anything that’ll listen to us. And that’s assuming that gramps doesn’t give us Squirtle and Charmander, which he probably will. We’ve got nothing to worry about,” he interrupted.
I paused for a moment, and listened to the buzz of other conversation in the room. He was right. After today, I could legally have a Pokémon battle. That was going to be strange, to put it one way. Simulator fighting was one thing, but actual battles would be another thing entirely. It would be something like the difference between Zelda and actual fencing. “My mom will probably want to talk to me.”
Gary’s face sunk a little. “Oh, right.” He thought for a moment, and replied, “So, how about we do it at eight or so?”
“Yeah, that would probably work.” From there the conversation varied dramatically, from sports to battling to television and back, racing across anything we could think of for the next two hours. Eventually, it was time to take the stage. When it was all said and done, only about fifty people would be graduating with a license, diploma, and Pokémon.
There we were. All forty-eight of us lined up behind the doors leading to the stadium stage, where the principle was giving his address to the crowd. I could hear his voice echo through the stadium, but couldn’t actually make out a word he was saying. That’s when they started calling out names out the names. It was time to go out and face the crowd. “Bianca Aethus,” I decided to focus upon the person being called when it came time to go out. It kept my mind off the crowd before me. Bianca strode out across the stage, her faded jeans brushing against the stadium floor and the sleeves of her brown coat moving with the rhythm of her pace as she walked. “Elisha Ambrose,” I wanted to shut my eyes, but I had to cringe with them open. I hate my full name. It just sounds way too girly. I stare up at a screen as I walk, focusing more on my image than the crowd. It’s always best to stick with the familiar. My muscular arms were covered by my long, grey jacket. My black hair was tucked away under a white baseball cap, and I pulled down the bill a little further in case my composure broke a little. I was grateful to see that it was holding up.
And so it went, focusing in on the name of a classmate, thinking over the memories of the best to avoid the present. I remembered events from the last seven years, and realized that it was all about to end. For better or worse, this was the last I would see of some of them. Of course, Gary appeared the most confident of any of us, giving a small wave to the crowd as he walked out. He didn’t bother to cover up his brown hair, and probably couldn’t have anyways. It was pretty spiky, and he probably didn’t have a hat that could fit on it anyways. Eventually the names came to an end, and the Professor himself came to the stage to give his address.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Professor Oak, director of the Pallet Laboratory and governor of the town. I have come here for a truly special purpose today, and one of the highlights of my job. These young men and women we are honoring today have worked towards their dream for many, many years and have finally arrived at the end of one path, and the start of one much larger. The journey will be different for all. Some will choose to become researchers, others the workers that keep the nation together, others soldiers in the army.”
“Regardless, every journey is equally important and difficult in its own way. They will encounter new allies, as well as new rivals. Challenges that we can’t even imagine may arise in the next generation, and they must be prepared to deal with those as well. There will be moments of immense joy and sore misfortune before them, and I wish them all the best. But at the same time, I know they can all succeed if they keep their focus on who they are, where they came from, and where they are going. Everything else is just another variable.”
Two men watched a boat fade into the distance from there safe position on top of the island. "Champion, do you really think he's given up?" The shorter of the two asked.
The taller man, dressed in a red cape and a blue suit almost resembling armor shook his head. "No, he'll try to retake his title eventually. It might not be for years, but we had best be ready."
A long silence began before the shorter man, dressed in a black trench coat spoke. "I can help you, my resources are yours."
The taller man turned towards the second one and smiled. "Tell me, Giovanni. Would you mind running Viridian? I need someone there to keep an eye on the old man in case he tries anything."
The shorter man nodded, and focused his eyes on the ship that was now almost invisible on the horizon.