Chapter 13: Theory-Induced Blindness
Hello everyone, and welcome back! Longest chapter yet, but thankfully got itout ahead of schedule. Also, some fairly substantial edits to announce:
Due to some great feedback on my /r/rational Reddit post, I realized that Ihad done a poor job of making Red’s goals feel concrete enough. “Become apokemon champion” is straightforward: collect 8 badges, beat the Elite Four,enjoy your political power and prestige.
On the other hand, the criteria to become a pokemon professor was too vague.“Catch lots of pokemon and research them” is not particularly tangible.
So along with my usual edits to previous chapters, I’ve added a few paragraphshere and there to clarify Red’s goals. Most notably, there are some new linesnear the end of chapter 1, and a few paragraphs in the middle of chapter 4.The takeaway is that to advance from a generic Pokemon Trainer to aResearcher, Red needs to submit an independent research article, and toadvance from there he has to continue publishing until his h-index ofpublications and citations reaches 20 for Instructor and 30 for AssociateProfessor. After that, he has to demonstrate understanding in every nativepokemon in his region, and write a dissertation overturning a previousestablished theory about pokemon. He begins to receive payment for submissionswhen he gets his Researcher license.
I’ve also added a bit to their dinner conversation in chapter five, where Leafclarifies her interest in regional myths and legends surrounding pokemon for abook she wants to write, along with some tweaks to other chapters to make itmore apparent that she’s actively seeking such information.
Finally, in this chapter I’ve renamed some of the Plates for more consistenttheming. Because seriously: “Fist Plate?” No.
Hopefully these changes improve the structure of the early story, and makemilestones easier to imagine :) Thanks again to /u/AmeteurOpinions and/u/Drexer for the great feedback, and hope you all enjoy the new chapter!
Just a reminder that if you ask me a question in a review and are not a memberof Fanfiction or aren’t signed in to your account, I can’t respond!
As night descends on Viridian, Red checks their map for other travelerssetting up camps nearby. There’s one within the wards of the Ranger Outpost,so they head east to join it. The forest darkens quickly, and soon they havetheir flashlights out to avoid walking into trees or bushes. Red has one eyeon his phone to guide them, so he sees when they cross the proximity border ofthe wards. Whoever’s on watch at the Ranger Outpost just got an infrared imageof them, and knows nothing dangerous has arrived.
Eventually they find a small clearing with a ring of dim lanterns hanging onthe trees at the perimeter. In the middle are a quartet of sleeping bags withthree girls and a boy sitting on them. They rise as Red, Blue and Leaf arrive,and Red can see pokeballs on each of their belts, though the boy only has two.
“Hey there. Mind if we join you?” Leaf asks.
“Sure-sure,” one of the girls says, beckoning with one hand. “The more themerrier.” She’s a bit shorter than the other two, with pitch black hair wornin a pixie cut. The taller pair are identical twins with light auburn hair,while the boy has blonde hair cut in a bowl and wears glasses. All three girlsare a bit older than Red, though the boy looks a bit younger. “I’m Allie, thisis Ayame and Kiku, and that’s Matthew.”
“Nice to meet you all. I’m Leaf, this is Red and Blue.” Red waves, and Bluetips a salute with his fingers.
The four rearrange their bags in a half circle so the newcomers can startunpacking their things, the bright flashes of their containers lighting up thenight. “So, where ya from, where ya headed?” Allie asks as they open the boxesand take out their sleeping bags.
“Pallet.” Blue says. “Headed to Pewter. You?”
“Matthew and I are going south to see our uncle.”
“We’re going to take the Pallet ferry to Cinnabar,” one of the twins says. Redhas already forgotten which is which.
He lets the others field questions as he sits on his sleeping bag and takesout his notebook. The whole walk here, he couldn’t get his mind off Luke andthe beedrill. Maybe his daily assessment will help him stop circling aroundit.
Red takes out a granola bar and begins writing as he eats. He knows it mightcome off as rude, but at least Matthew seems similarly disinterested in smalltalk, playing on a handheld game system.
Mistakes I made today… _He taps his pencil on the sheet, thinking over thetrip from Viridian City. Nothing too major there. He overcame his fear of theskarmory, and didn’t make any impulse purchases. Once he got to the forestthough, he nearly lost his pokedex. Red grimaces and writes, _Be more carefulwith pokedex. Invaluable asset is not worth risking for higher chance ofencountering pokemon. At least he hadn’t tried it at night first: he can justimagine a noctowl swooping by and snatching it out of his hand.
Now that he’s crossing that strategy out though, he needs a new one. He turnsback to a previous entry where he’d written down ideas for how to findpokemon-
“You’re from Unova?”
Red looks up to see Matthew talking to Leaf, his game system forgotten. “Iam,” she says with a smile.
“Cool! Do you watch League of Heroes?”
Her smile turns to a grin. “You know League of Heroes? I didn’t think it wasavailable here.”
“Allie and I watch it online,” the boy says. “It’s great!”
“What’s League of Heroes?” Ayame or Kiku asks.
“It’s a Unovan cartoon, like Power Force Ten. There’s a video game too.”
“What’s Power Force Ten?” Leaf asks, and the group chuckles. Red turns back tohis notebook. Using forms of bait or instructing his pokemon to find naturalprey in the area are his best bets. Though now that he has a spinarak… Hewrites String up webs, maybe wait on a branch for it to catch something.
“You first.” Allie says.
“Well, it’s a about a team of superheroes,” Leaf says. “There’s Crobatman,he’s an assassin with super reflexes and a wingsuit; Luxray, she’s myfavorite, she manipulates light; Ironman, he’s a robot that’s artificiallyintelligent; Supermon, who has all the powers of the different pokemon types-”
“What, all of them?” Blue asks.
“Seems kind of overpowered,” Red says, distracted despite himself as he erasesa miswritten word.
“No, no, he can only use one of them at a time,” Matthew says.
Leaf nods. “He has to switch between them-
“-he can only do it once every ten minutes-”
“-and he gets their weaknesses too. There’s also Techno-”
-she’s my favorite-
-she has no powers, but she’s super smart and has a bunch of inventions-
-she made Crobatman’s suit!”
“Stop interrupting, Matt,” Allie says, batting his arm. “Anyway, it’s a prettycool show. Power Force Ten is sort of like Kanto’s version of it, in terms ofpopularity. Nine humans found some of Arceus’s legendary Elemental Plates, theones for Sky, Earth, Mind, Body, Flame, Sea, Meadow, Lightning, and Stone.”
Leaf blinks. “Why is it called Power Force Ten, then?”
“Oh, Milo is the tenth. He’s considered the ‘Normal’ type-”
Red snorts, and everyone turns to him. He looks up. “Sorry, it’s nothing.”
“Ignore him,” Blue says. “He’s a hater.”
“I am not. Milo is my favorite character.”
“Does he have a power?” Leaf asks.
“No,” Matthew says. “He but he makes up for it by being really smart.”
“Not so much with technology, but other ways.”
Red nods. “He’s good at getting the team to work together, thinking outsidethe box, and is a great strategist.”
“And since he uses pokemon instead of relying on powers, he’s the best traineramong them,” Blue adds.
“What made you laugh then?”
“I just think their idea of the Arceus Plates is funny. I mean, a ‘Sky Plate’that grants ‘Sky Powers?’ Like having wings is a power, somehow?”
“It’s just a show,” Matthew says with a frown.
“I know,” Red says quickly. “I like the show. I just laughed because callingMilo the ‘Normal Type’ made me imagine them writing in a ‘Normal Plate’…” NowAllie is frowning at him too, and the sisters are raising mirroring eyebrows.“Forget it,” Red mutters and turns back to his notebook, biting into thegranola.
There’s a pause, then Leaf says, “So what about the other types?”
Ayame or Kiko tick them off her fingers. “The Dread, Frost, Insect, Spirit,Toxic, Iron, and Draco Plates were found by Renegades.”
“They’re pretty evil,” Kiko or Ayame says with taboo relish.
Once spinarak spins a web, I could put pokepuffs in it to attract prey…
Blue smirks. “And totally badass. My favorite is Magnus. His wife and kid werekilled by a metagross, and when the the Dread plate came to him and gave himthe powers of dark pokemon, he decided it was so he could wipe out allpsychics, pokemon and human.”
“No way, Lung is the coolest,” Matthew says. “He can actually turn into adragon, it’s awesome-”
…though it might still take too much time while traveling…
“He’s in trouble now that Crystalla might be switching sides,” Allie says,then says to Leaf. “She’s got the Frost Plate.”
“No way, she’s not going to break up with Lung,” one of the sisters say.“Kagari’s charming, but he’s a jerk.”
“He’s a _hot _jerk,” the other sister says with a giggle.
Blue turns to Leaf. “Kagari’s the-”
“Flame Plate?” She grins.
Red sighs and wishes he’d brought some headphones. He hadn’t really imaginedneeding to be able to tune out sound on his journey. That excuse isn’t goingto be valid forever. It’s not like he has infinite resources though, and nomatter how thorough he is in trying to think of them, there are countlessthings he won’t realize he might need until he does.
He tries his best to focus and writes a bit more as the conversation continuesabout the different character dynamics, but it’s too distracting. He feelshimself getting more and more frustrated as his train of thought keepsderailing, and when he finishes his granola he forces himself to his feet.
“Gonna go call my mom,” he explains, and steps away from the clearing whilethe others continue talking. Once he’s outside the ring of lanterns and thevoices are a mess of indistinguishable noise, he sits down with his back to atree and he takes a deep breath. He has no reason to be so irritated with theothers.
The forest stretches dark and still ahead of him, quiet but for the hum ofvoices behind and the occasional sound of pokemon in the distance. He hears aflutter of wings at one point, and wonders if a noctowl is on the hunt. Tryingto catch one in this darkness would be worse than stupid though.
Red just listens to the wind in the branches and his own breaths until hefeels himself again. As he gazes out into the night, he can’t help but wonderif somewhere out there, there are others lying dead or dying, unable to find asafe place to camp for the night.
He shakes himself and lets his breath out, then takes his phone out to callhis mom. She answers on the third ring. “Hi honey! How is everything?”
“Hi mom. Everything’s alright. We’re all safe, getting ready to turn in forthe night.”
“Are you enjoying the city?”
“We left this afternoon actually. We’re in Viridian Forest.”
“Already? Aren’t you going a bit fast, Red?”
“There just wasn’t much reason to stay. We didn’t become trainers to hang outin the city, you know.”
“I’m just worried about the storm…”
“Yeah, that’s kinda scary,” Red says. “But hopefully it’ll pass before we getthere, and if not, there are few safer cities in summer than Pewter.”
“I know. Just be careful.”
Red rubs his knee, which is mostly pain free now. “We will. So how’severything with you?”
“Productive! I have some news, actually.” She tells him about her plans toreturn to work in Celadon, which Red is happy to hear. Then she mentions whatDaisy showed her last night.
“Pitch and tone…” Red marvels. “That’s an amazing discovery.”
“It was really something else, Red. I wish you could have seen it!”
“I can’t wait to,” Red says. “Daisy has her Researcher license, so once sheunveils it at the Coordinator competition, I’m sure she’ll post demonstrationsand trials on the pokedex.”
“I’m not sure what the applications of it would be though. Not battles,surely?”
Red’s pencil is in his hand, though he can’t remember taking it out, and hehasn’t enough light to write by anyway. He taps it against his leg instead.“Hard to tell. It sounds like it requires way too much buildup to be used inbattles, but if you could pinpoint a certain power’s requisite tone, and ifit’s all the same with different clefairy, then it could be invaluable forcertain tasks. There’ll be a huge demand for clefairy when the news gets out,especially among researchers.”
“Well then, it’s a good thing you have a heads up.”
Red grins. “I’m definitely not leaving Mount Moon without one. In fact… wouldyou mind if I dipped into my savings a bit?”
“To buy some clefairy.”
There’s a pause. “I don’t know that that’s such a good idea, Red.”
“It’s definitely a sound investment, I promise-”
“It’s not the financial angle. I just don’t think Daisy showed me what she didso you could profit off other people’s ignorance.”
“But I really need the money!”
“So do the people who are selling clefairy, for all you know.”
Red scowls. “It’s not like I can corner the market or anything.”
“So it’s alright if you can only cheat a few people instead of many?”
“Cheat seems a strong word for it-”
“Do you know how many stories I’ve covered on insider trading?”
“That’s completely different!” Red realizes he’s almost shouting, and takes adeep breath, lowering his voice. “I’m not influencing how much clefairy willbe worth.”
“It’s not just about whether you have influence. It’s about a mutualunderstanding of value. The person you’re buying from doesn’t know as much asyou do, and you know it. You are deliberately taking advantage of theirignorance.”
“So, what, I can’t buy something I think is undervalued? Different people havedifferent reasons to value something. That’s why they engage in trade.”
“But they share an understanding of each other’s values and motives. Red, ifyou wanted to buy a clefairy for personal use, it wouldn’t be a problem. Butyou want to do it just to sell to someone else! You know the buyer wouldn’ttake the deal if they knew what you would do with it.”
Red opens his mouth, then closes it. He… actually doesn’t have an argument forthat… but… “But I really need the money!” he says, hating how juvenile hesounds.
“Lots of things! I need to buy a new Container, and a TM, and some trainersupplies-”
“Those sound like wants, not needs. You can afford them now, if you reallyneed them, or I’ll give you the money if you can’t.”
I saw a dead trainer today, do you want me to end up like him because I’m notprepared? _Red bites down on his lip. He feels guilty just thinking it, andknows he would feel even more guilty if it works. She’s right though: hedoesn’t _need the supplies so much as he’d feel better or safer having them,which doesn’t necessarily place his need over that of the person selling theclefairy.
“What if I research the person selling it and see if they’re wealthy, first?”
“Pretend for a moment that Blue isn’t related to Daisy, and he’s selling aclefairy without knowing how much more it will soon be worth. Would you buy itfrom him just because he’s wealthier than you?”
“Dammit,” Red mutters. “Alright, that was a long shot anyway.”
“Or what about-”
“Alright, alright. I get it. You’re right. Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, be thankful your mother is smart enough to stop you frommaking mistakes.”
Red smiles a bit. “Thanks mom.”
“No no, hear me out. What if I just buy one _clefairy, strictly for personaluse? I’m still a bit far from Mount Moon, and they’re really rare. If I don’tsee any, at least I’ll have the one. Even if I _do see one, Blue or Leafmight catch it. And if I see one _and _I catch it, _then _maybe I can sell it.Which is fine, because I caught it myself, right?”
“That.. seems reasonable…”
He grins. “Thanks mom! If you see one for less than six hundred, feel free tograb it.”
“…fine. But if you sell it-”
“I won’t. Promise.”
She sighs. “Any preferences?”
“Nah, the gender ratio pretty well balances out the price distortion forbreeding.”
“Alright then. I’ll check the markets tomorrow.”
After a few minutes of idler chat concerning her moving plans, Red saysgoodnight and ends the call with another promise to “stay safe.”
He stares into the dark forest afterward, thinking about Daisy’s discovery.Kanto legends talk about the clefairy family having all sorts of unusualpowers. There are records that classify them as part of their own unique type,but most of their supposedly special properties seem exaggerated, if notcompletely made up.
Still, there are so many unusual things about them that it’s not hard toimagine there being more to them than is readily apparent… and this might bethe key to discovering what they are.
Red catches a hold of his excitement and tries to stuff it into a box of lowerexpectations. Whatever secrets he might discover in clefairy are a long wayoff. In the meantime, he already has a mystery to tackle: his spinarak. Thatmental bla-
-dark emptiness, silent and still-
-st had crippled him, and he still doesn’t know why. If the spinarak wasn’t already hurt and ready to run, it might have killed him while he was prone. Blue and Leaf would have found him lying there on his belly, dead as Luke.
Red still hasn’t told the others. He’s too embarrassed to… but it’s notsomething he can ignore. A weakness like that can get him killed if itcripples him again at the wrong time, and it can get his companions killed.They have a right to know.
But first he needs to know more about it himself. He takes out his pokedex andgoes to spinarak’s file, opening it past the menu summary he’d read earlier.He does a search for “psychic” and reads the first paragraph that shows up.
Both in the wild and after capture, spinarak have demonstrated mental attackssimilar to some other insectile pokemon. Experiments have ruled out thepossibility that it uses psychic reception to identify prey, or protectitself: their capabilities seem purely projection of the psychic and ghostvariety. However, they are not often the spinarak’s first or even secondstrategy of attack. The venom its stinger excretes…
Red taps the  and skims the referenced research paper. Observations showedspinarak preparing to deal with captured prey differently before it even sawwhat it had caught. Some experiments were done to determine if it wasindicative of psychic powers, or if it was some other sense like scent or thevibrations on the web. The tests indicated the latter, as they were not ableto distinguish between an actual pokemon’s thrashing and artificialmanipulation. Furthermore, their behavior changed even when dark pokemon wereintroduced to their webs. Red goes back to the main article.
…can kill pokemon its size in minutes from a small scratch, and if it hasroom to maneuver, it will often sting its opponents and then use its web toimmobilize them until the opponent succumbs to the toxin. However, despitenot being classified as Psychic or Ghost pokemon, some rare spinarak have theability to attack the mind by inducing some mental discomfort through thepatterns on its abdomen. While experiments have shown that the visualcomponent is not necessary, it does seem to greatly increasediscomfort. The exact method and nature of the mental attacks arecurrently unknown.
Red looks over the rest of the biological info for any more relevantreferences. He tried reading about psychic phenomenon when he was younger, butthe research on it, what little there was, quickly went beyond hiscomprehension. He moved onto other things after his tests came back negative.There were just so many other things to learn…
Unfortunately, now he finds himself with serious need to know, and little timeto get back into the literature. Red closes the file and takes out his phone.He begins to search for Professor Oak’s number, then stops. The professor hadinsisted he feel free to call whenever, but Red doesn’t want to take advantageof their relationship. He can do some research first, then call the professorwhen he has specific questions to ask.
He begins to put the phone away, but there’s a niggling discomfort at the backof his mind. He almost ignores it, but months of training in self-awarenesshas helped occasioanlly identify cognitive dissonance. He takes a deep breathand closes his eyes, thinking about his motives.
Lying to himself is one of the most useless and dangerous things he can do. Ifhe’s being honest, it’s his pride that made him hesitate to call theprofessor. Two days into his journey and he already needs help? It doesn’t fithis mental model of himself, where he’s smart and capable enough to learn andunderstand things on his own.
But objectively, he knows what a stupid thought that is, not to mentionconceited. _If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders ofgiants. _Some of the greatest minds that ever lived had purportedly said that.
Red wants to prove himself as at least Professor Oak’s equal. But progresscomes from starting farther than the previous generations, and not takingadvantage of his mentor’s knowledge would be as dumb as trying to trainpokemon without pokeballs or dex, just because the professor had to.
His ego still doesn’t like it, but Red dials the professor before it can comeup with another reason to put it off.
“Hello Red, it’s good to hear from you. How is everything?”
“Hi professor. Sorry to bother you so late-”
“Not at all, not at all. I was hoping you’d call soon, actually. Blue’s tooproud to do more than check in by text, but I knew you’d let me livevicariously through you. What exciting adventures have you all been up to?”
Red winces. “Actually professor, it took something of an emergency to get pastmy ego enough to call.”
The professor’s tone sobers. “Everyone’s alright?”
“Yeah, we’re fine.”
“We saw a dead guy today.”
There’s a moment of silence where Red has time to be as surprised as ProfessorOak. That… wasn’t what he planned to say…
“What happened?” the professor asks again, quieter.
So Red tells him about the beedrill swarm, their argument over what to do, therangers’ arrival, how well the plan went, and how ultimately useless it allwas. Professor Oak listens without interruption.
“Ranger Akio said he’d let me know if they learn something. Not sure if Ibelieve him, but it’s better than nothing. I just hate not being able to findout what happened. And I feel guilty, even though it’s hard to think ofsomething else we could have done. Maybe that’s why, because I can’t think ofanything better. What if I had a slingshot? I could have shot a potion andantidote capsule at him, maybe it would have kept him alive until the Rangerscame. Or Blue could have done it, he’s a better shot than me-”
He stops and takes a deep breath. “Sorry.”
“It’s alright. I’m sorry you all had to go through that, especially so earlyon your journey. I empathize with your guilt, but you should know better thanto listen to it.”
“I’m not just angsting, though. At least I don’t think I am.”
“Is there something you’re not telling me about why you decided to wait forthe Ranger? Convincing Blue wouldn’t have been easy if your reasons weren’tsound.”
“I could barely keep myself from rushing in, honestly.”
“I think if you had tried, the three of you would be dead right now. You’regoing to have to get used to the frustration of not solving every problem, oryou’re going to get yourself killed before you write your first researchpaper.”
“But I don’t think I’ve learned anything from it. I can’t think of somethingdifferent to have tried, or something new to do to be prepared in the future.”
“Then maybe it’s because there isn’t anything. Red, your father was a braveman, and he instilled great values in you-”
Something hot and painful coils through Red’s chest. “I’m not trying to be mydad.”
“Then what… ah. Have you been reading Leader Giovanni’s blog?”
Red blinks. “Yeah, for a few weeks now actually. Do you?”
“Now and then. Giovanni was one of my students at some point, you know. Let meguess: you’re worried you failed in your Heroic Responsibility. That you tookthe easy way out, waiting for the Rangers to arrive.”
“The Bystander Effect-”
“Doesn’t apply nearly as much if you were the only ones present at the time.What’s really bothering you?”
Red closes his eyes and rests his head against the tree. “I felt relieved,when the Rangers came. I thought, ‘Now they can handle it.’ And now I don’tknow if my motives for not trying before that were genuine or not.”
“You’re being too hard on yourself Red. It’s not your responsibility to solvethe world’s problems.”
Red sighs. Professor Oak is a genius in a number of ways, but… He wonders whatLeader Giovanni would say. “Maybe you’re right. Anyway, sorry for not having amore exciting story to share. I know this probably wasn’t the kind of thingyou had in mind for vicarious adventuring.”
“Not quite, but I knew to expect it at some point. And I’m glad you told me.Have you spoken to your mother yet?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t want to worry her. Could you…”
“As long as she doesn’t ask me, I won’t bring it up.”
Red lets out a breath. “Thank you.”
“Of course. Despite my grouching, I still remember what it was like to beyoung.”
“How long did you go, before something like this happened?”
The professor is quiet for a moment, and Red hears a chair creak. “About twoweeks. Some trainers tried to stop a graveler that was stomping through atown. Would have been easy with today’s pokeball technology, but back then… itcrushed two of them, and five pokemon, before it was stopped.”
Red’s mind shies away from the mental image. Graveler are often slow enough tobe easily captured today, but he can see why they’d be a bigger threat backwhen Professor Oak was his age, and the precursor to pokeballs only workedwithin touching distance. “What did you do?”
“Me? Nothing. I was good even at that age, but I didn’t have any pokemon thatcould help. I knew I would have just gotten in the way.”
Red wonders if the professor had selected this story among multiple he couldhave told. “That must have been frustrating.”
The professor gives a short laugh. “Very. I was so upset with myself I didn’teven stick around for the funerals. Over time, the guilt got better…especially once I got into situations where I did get involved. When Iproved to myself that I had what it takes to help others. Just as I have everyconfidence you will.”
“Thanks, professor,” Red whispers.
Professor Oak doesn’t respond, merely humming to himself as he settles in athis desk. Red can hear drawers opening and closing, and the sound of rapidtyping on a keyboard. Red looks back at the campsite behind him and sees theothers still sitting in a circle, talking. He can make out the sound of theirvoices, but not the words.
“There was something else I called about. The main thing, actually.”
“You have my undivided attention,” Oak assures him, still clacking away on thekeyboard.
Red smiles briefly. It’s rare to see the professor at his desk doing any lessthan two things at once. “I caught a spinarak earlier today-”
“-yes, I saw. Very well done-”
“-but during the fight I was caught in some sort of mental attack againstCharmander. It incapacitated me completely for at least a few seconds, and Ididn’t fully recover from it for a few minutes.”
The sound of Oak’s typing slows to a stop. “You say it incapacitated you? Aspinarak?”
“Tell me everything.”
He does, going into detail about the way it felt during and after. As hedescribes it, he feels the echo of it again, raw and painful in his mind.
“And it still hurts when I try to think of it, professor.” Red’s throat is dryfrom so much talking, and he considers going to the campsite for his waterbottle. “Is that normal?”
“Yes and no.” The professor is typing again, faster than before.
“Could you be a bit more specific? And possibly reassuring?”
“It’s normal for victims of strong mental attack, but quite rare for aspinarak to be capable of that strong an attack.”
“So either my spinarak is an outlier, or I’m the outlier, and I’d react atleast as badly to other mental attacks. Or both.”
“First let’s gather some data by testing out one of the pokedex’s newfeatures. Take yours out and go to your spinarak’s entry.”
Red switches his phone to speaker and places it on the grass, then does so.“Okay. Now what?”
“We’ve added the ability to read pokemon’s digital data and quantify it ineasy to read metrics.”
“That sounds pretty cool.” He begins poking around the options on the menu.“One of Bill’s programs?”
“Yep. The Pokemon League has been doing the majority of the funding, and we’vemade a lot of progress. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get objectiveinterspecies measures. The best we can do is estimate a pokemon’s capabilitiescompared to others of the same species.”
Red navigates to the page labeled “Biology,” and looks down the list ofoptions. Diet, Life Cycle, Chemical Composition… “Okay, I think I see it.”He taps Comparative Metrics, and a bar graph slowly begins to populate,comparing things like muscle mass, chitin density, neuron count, and more tothe total average of registered spinaraks within the same age and genderrange. Some of the bars go up, while others go down from the baseline of 0%difference. “Woah. This is awesome.”
“Indeed. We’re working on one that will compare performance metrics directly,measured through simulations in virtual space, but in the meantime this mighthelp.”
The bars continue to populate, none stretching very far from the center line.“Now let me see…” Red hears a keyboard clacking, and a little notificationpings on the corner of his screen to let him know it’s being shared by PROF.OAK. “Ah, it works. Excellent. And it’s just about done… well now. See theoutlier?”
“I do, but what does it mean?” Most of the % differences listed are under 20%,either positive or negative. In Chitin Density, his spinarak has a 16%increase in thickness over others. Its venom sacs on the other hand are -12%the size of the species average. But in the last category, labeled “Other,”the difference is 37%, making it stick out from the rest of the metrics andskew the range of the y axis.
“‘Other’ is where the pokedex puts everything else in the data that can’t beeasily categorized, or things we haven’t been able to fully study in a speciesyet.”
Red feels excitement stir in him. “So this could be something new, right? Imean, potentially, this could be important.”
“Absolutely. I think you just found the topic for your Researcher licensearticle, Red.”
Red’s eyes narrow. “Wait, this isn’t like the charmander tail flame again, isit?”
Professor Oak laughs. “Not this time. Just keep in mind, ‘Other’ is somethingof a useless metric for the most part. It’s a calculation based on mass anddefined by the pokemon’s coding. Whatever was left over that we couldn’teasily account for or distinguish goes there: everything from a pokemon’sstomach bacteria to the thickness of its hair.”
“So… I might discover that psychic powers in spinarak are positivelycorrelated with how much bacteria are in its guts?”
“Just think of the headlines. You might start the first diet fad for psychics.Of course, it might also be completely unrelated.”
Red lowers his pokedex. “Professor… could you explain what psychic powersare?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t know that anyone can do that. Even the psychicsthemselves fall into camps, some decidedly less scientific than others.”
“But you can explain the leading theories, right? I’m feeling a bit vulnerableat the moment, and short of seeking out another pokemon with psychic attacksand letting it blast me, I want to know how likely it is that the… variance ison my end.” He’d almost said “weakness.”
There’s a moment of hesitation. “Red, do you know what theory-inducedblindness is?”
“I think I’ve heard the phrase before…”
“A psychologist named Daniel Kahneman coined it. You’ve run across his ideasbefore, even if you didn’t know it. Theory-induced blindness is a kind ofconfirmation bias, where thinking you know the way the world works means youignore facts or dismiss ideas that show how it actually works.”
Red processes this, then smiles. “And there’s experimental evidence thatsupports this? I knew it. I _knew _it! This _totally _helps explain theintractability of perceptions of pokemon types-”
“This isn’t just a layman’s bias, Red. Scientists are also vulnerable to it.”
“Really? That sounds… pretty unscientific. How could they just ignoresomething that contradicts a theory? That’s half the point of testingpredictions!”
“Ah, the voice of youth.” Red can hear the Professor’s grin. “You might besurprised how many otherwise intelligent and accomplished scientists can fallprey to it. Especially when inverse incentives are involved.”
“Even you, Professor?”
“Even me. Why do you think I keep so many fresh young minds around?”
“I just figured it’s the next best thing to cloning yourself.” Despite whatthe professor says, Red finds it hard to believe that a scientist wouldn’timmediately recognize contradicting evidence like a flashing red light.Especially one as accomplished as Professor Oak. He probably did it when hewas less experienced-
Red blinks, then abruptly laughs at himself. “Okay, wow. That’s kind ofscary.”
“I just went from doubting what you said to experiencing it first hand, andalmost missed the irony.”
The professor chuckles. “Like all biases, it can be subtle. So you see, I’m abit worried about telling you the predominant hypothesis on psychicphenomenon, let alone whether it’s the one I think is correct. I don’t want tobias your thinking.”
“But I need to know something to help figure it all out, don’t I?”
The professor lets out a breath. “Something, yes. Let me think.”
Red stays quiet as the professor types, using the time to pull his notebookout of his pocket and write “BEWARE THEORY INDUCED BLINDNESS” on the cover bythe light of his pokedex, drawing squares around it and putting an exclamationmark at either end, then doodling the open jaws of a gyarados over the top andbottom. After a few minutes, the professor speaks again. “Alright, here’s thecrash course. I’m going to do my best to present all the competing theoriesfairly without promoting one over the others. Forgive me if I go over anythingyou’ve heard before.”
“Don’t worry about that, it’s been awhile anyway.” Red turns to a fresh pageand labels it “Psychic Phenomena.”
“For starters, psychic phenomena are generally classified in two categories:projection and reception. Projection powers are the ones that are the mostnoticeable to others. They include telekinesis, barriers, teleportation, andreconstruction, among other things. Reception are the subtler powers, likeperception, precognition, and focus.”
“Not all psychics have all the powers though, right?” Red asks as he writes.
“Right. Humans psychics vary wildly in strength compared to pokemon of a givenspecies, and are weaker in the few projection powers they have. They seem tobe weaker in reception powers too, but since we can’t talk to pokemon, it’sharder to tell. But even all this is controversial, as some academics objectto the blanket classifications, and many psychics prefer otherinterpretations.”
“What do you mean? Mysticism?”
“It’s admittedly a fine line: some of the powers we once considered magicalhave since been revealed to be psychic, while others we thought were psychicdon’t behave the way the majority of psychic powers do, or even the way ghostor dark powers do for pokemon. We think of them all as ‘mental powers,’ butthen there are the other unusual abilities people and pokemon havedemonstrated: is reading auras a psychic power, or a distinct and separatepart of being in tune with _ki, _as the otherwise non-psychic martial artistsinsist? Are you starting to see the shape of the problem?”
Red frowns. “There are way too many theories, none of which account for allthe evidence.”
“Not by half. And there’s another major problem that throws a snag ineverything.”
“What is it?”
“Let’s see if you can figure it out. Pretend you don’t know there are anyhuman psychics, and have only been studying pokemon. What would you say if Itold you that humans can exhibit psychic powers?”
Red puts his pencil down and closes his eyes, thinking it over. His firstreaction would be skepticism, because if he doesn’t know there are psychichumans, it must be because he hasn’t seen any evidence of them. “I would askyou to show me the human with the powers.”
“What if I said you can’t test their powers right now, but insist you believethey’re true anyway?”
Red opens his eyes, nonplussed. “I… would say you can insist whatever youwant, but I can’t _make _myself believe psychic humans exist outside of atemporary hypothetical, especially when such a thing goes against the naturalorder as I understand it.”
“So you’d be blinded by your confidence in accepted theories.”
“What? No, that’s ridiculous. There’s a difference between rejecting evidencecontradicting your theories and being skeptical of unsupported assertions.”
“Then what argument would you use to try to convince me they don’t exist?”
“None. Until you provide me a reason to believe they might exist, it would bea waste of time. I might as well go around trying to disprove everythingrandom people believe without evidence.”
“But I’m not a random person,” the professor says patiently. “I’m yoursuperior, and I’m telling you that psychic humans exist. How would youconvince me I’m wrong?”
Red grumbles and closes his eyes again, turning the problem over in his mind.If he has to try and disprove an untestable assertion, he can only rely onnatural laws and time-tested theories that contradict that assertion to castdoubt on it, or refer to ones that would increase the burden of proof beyondreasonable levels. What would make him the most skeptical of psychic humans?
If I haven’t seen or heard of any psychic humans before, my naturalinclination would be to assume they don’t exist. But psychic powers do exist,so what makes me so skeptical of the idea that a human could develop them? Forthem to exist they would have to be an exception to some rule that I alreadybelieve about the world, or that my experience leads me to believe is true-
“Oooh, of course. There are no psychic rattata!”
The professor laughs. “Go on.”
“No psychic rattata. Furthermore, no psychic machop, no psychic rhyhorn, nopsychic krabby, and no psychic charmander! Pokemon species are either capableof psychic powers or not. Some pokemon like spinarak are capable of limited,narrow mental powers, but there are no pokemon species where one member hasexhibited them, but the others haven’t!”
“Exactly. It’s a subset of something called the ‘Speciation Paradox,’ but Ilike ‘No Psychic Rattata’ better.”
Red runs his fingers through his hair, taking his hat off for a moment andscratching his head as his mind races. “Wow. I’ve occasionally considered wayshumans seem fundamentally different from pokemon, but I never reallyconsidered the way psychic powers manifest. Now that I recognize it, that’s apretty major incongruity. It must drive researchers nuts.”
“It does. Unlike the narrow bounds of a pokemon species, humans exhibit wildlyvarying psychic powers. A tiny fraction have extremely powerful abilities,some have fairly weak powers, and the vast majority apparently have none atall.”
Red puts his cap back on, and begins writing rapidly to cover everything. “Somaybe humans, as a whole, are a psychic species with tons of variance. Maybe alot of what we dismiss as intuition, or even the special bond between somehumans and their pokemon, are due to subtle psychic powers. There must besomething about our accepted models of psychics, or our accepted models ofhumans as a species, that this evidence is contradicting.”
“Very good. But it gets worse.”
Red frowns. “Yeah. What about dark humans? There aren’t any dark rattataeither.”
“Some think it’s just a unique variation of psychic abilities, a defensiveadaptation that makes a person or pokemon completely immune to psychic powers.Like pokemon, dark humans project a ‘dead zone’ around them that psychicabilities can’t penetrate, but unlike pokemon, and unlike psychics, no darkhuman has been able to manipulate that field or take advantage of the otherabilities dark pokemon have.”
“That seems significant…” Red says slowly. “I wish I could talk to one ofthem, and a psychic.”
“I’ll see if I can call in a favor for the latter, but why not just ask Blue?”
Red blinks, pencil pausing mid-stroke. “Wait, what?”
“Oh. Oh dear.”
Red gapes. “That jerk, he never told me! When did he find out?”
“Shortly after he met Elite Agatha. She informed me afterward, and I told himin private. He was quite upset.”
“That’s understandable.” He was disappointed as a kid when he didn’t manifestpsychic powers, but at least he could still train psychic pokemon to respondto this thoughts. A pokemon trainer with a dark mind would have twice as harda time training psychic types, and for some they’d find it completelyimpossible.
That said, Red can appreciate the trade-off better now that he knows what amental attack feels like. A blanket protection against psychic attacks, and aresistance to ghost attacks, could be invaluable.
Professor Oak sighs. “I’ll have to apologize for letting his secret slip, Isuppose.”
Red hesitates. “If you’d like, I can pretend-”
“No, no. It’s my mistake, and better that he knows you know than maintain adouble-deception. It should be something you’re aware of if you’re going to betraveling together anyway.”
“Yeah. Ooo, and this means I can test if my spinarak’s mental attack waspsychic or ghost!”
“You’re going to ask it to blast my grandson, aren’t you?”
The professor laughs. “Well it wouldn’t be the first time a scientist risksRenegade branding. Just make sure you get him to sign a waiver. Better makethat multiple waivers.”
“Wouldn’t it be useful to know, though?”
“You’re wondering if it had such a strong effect because you’re a latentpsychic?”
“It crossed the optimistic part of my mind, yeah. But I mean in general, sincewe’re trying to figure out if there’s something special about my spinarak.”
“Yes, it could definitely be useful to know. Some think psychic and ghostpowers are related, certainly more related than psychic and dark. Others thinkthat they’re all variations of the same one. The only things we really knoware that some psychics have an affinity with ghost pokemon, and dark trainershave difficulty training either, though psychic types more than ghosts.”
Red’s wrist is cramping from writing so much so quickly, switching betweensummarizing and writing questions as soon as they spring to mind. “And nothingrelates them to _ki _energy so far?”
“Not so far as I’m aware, though I admit it’s completely outside my area ofexpertise. Why?”
Red puts the pencil down and flexes his wrist to relieve the ache. “Justthinking out loud. You know my perspective on pokemon types reflectingemergent properties…”
“Ah, yes, I see. Are you reconsidering something about it?”
“Sort of. I’ve been starting to group the types as ‘substantive’ versus‘descriptive,’ because it helps them make more sense. Like, Water type issubstantive, while Flying is descriptive. One is inherent to a pokemon’sgenetics, or biological composition. The other is just a description of aproperty they have.”
“So a pokemon that’s strong is considered Fighting, a descriptive type, butthere is nothing inherently “Fighting” about it, unless _ki _energy proves toexist independent of psychic powers. I imagine you classified Psychic pokemonas descriptive too?”
“Yeah. But now… I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it after I learn more.”
“I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting out.”
“Thanks. In the meantime, I think that’s all the questions I have for now.”
“My advice is to not worry too much about the bigger questions yet. Break themystery down into smaller problems, and work at solving those. Put the cluestogether from the outside in.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll be starting with spinarak anyway.”
“Good luck Red, and don’t hesitate to message me again if you think ofsomething else.”
“I will. Thanks again, Professor. For everything.”
“Night.” Red closes the call and puts his phone away, ear throbbing fromholding it against his shoulder. He finishes writing out his thoughts, andafter a few minutes has a page with a flowchart of sorts on it:
Hypothesis: Some biological metric the pokedex classifies as “Other”influences strength of a pokemon’s psychic powers.
Step 1: Find multiple pokemon within a species that exhibit psychic powers.
Step 2: Determine what the relative strength of those powers are betweenthem.
Step 3: Measure their biological metrics to check for correlations betweenpsychic power and Other.
Step 4: If it does, repeat steps 1-3 for another species. If it doesn’t,repeat steps 1-3 with pokemon exhibiting ghostly powers.
Red frowns. He’s going to need a lot of spinarak.
When he gets back to the clearing, the group is still talking about PowerForce Ten.
“I’d want the Lightning Plate for sure,” Matthew says. “The superspeed alonemakes it awesome.”
“More awesome than flying?” Leaf says. “Sky Plate for me, for sure.” Shelooks at Red and grins. “Assuming Sky Powers are a thing, of course.”
He smiles back as he sits, feeling considerably more at ease than he had uponfirst entering the clearing. “Hey, if something like a Sky Plate reallyexists, far be it from me to decide whether it makes sense. Clearly my view ofreality is what’s flawed.” Red takes out his water bottle and drinks, easingthe ache in his throat.
“What about you, Red?” Allie asks. “What Plate would you get? Fire?”
“Psychic,” Blue guesses.
“Actually, I’d choose the Fairy Plate.”
Everyone looks surprised. “Fairy types? Those are a myth,” Matthew says.
Red doesn’t remark on the irony. “Maybe. But if Fairy types actually exist,then they should have their own Plate, right?”
“I guess so,” Allie says. “But why do you want it? What would it do?”
“Exactly. What would it do? If it exists, I’d want to find out.”
“I heard legends where they controlled light, like Luxray,” Leaf says. “Turnedit into a weapon.”
“I read a book where they could charm others into doing what they want,”Matthew says. “Like mind control.”
The others begin debating what possible powers the Fairy Plate might grant.Leaf turns to Red after a few moments, looking at him speculatively.
“You seem in a better mood.”
He shrugs, then nods. “Had to get something off my chest I guess. Spoke to mymom and Professor Oak.”
“Care to share?”
“Later,” he promises, and she seems satisfied with that.
The conversation continues, then slowly winds down. They arrange for who willtake what watch, and Red volunteers to go first, since he woke up so late thatmorning. After another few minutes of quiet talking punctuated by more andmore frequent yawns, the others slip into their bedrolls and drift off one byone.
Blue, who has second watch, is the last to fall asleep. “Want me to wait upwith you, Red? Pull a double shift?” he says, voice low.
“Nah, get some rest. Thanks though.”
“No problem,” he mumbles, yawning and turning onto his stomach, arms under hispillow and beside his pokebelt.
“Just wanted to let you know… uh… I spoke to your grandpa. I know you’redark.”
Blue lies quietly for a moment. “That so?”
“He didn’t mean to let it slip, but… well, there’s something I need to tellyou. I was kind of embarrassed to before.”
“I should wait to tell Leaf too. I just wanted to let you know that I know.”
Blue shrugs his shoulders. “Daisy is too. She doesn’t let it bother her, andI’m over it.”
“Good. I think it’s kind of cool, in a way.”
“Yeah. Gives me an edge against psychic trainers.” Blue shifts deeper into hisbedroll. “Remember to wake me on time.”
Red smiles. “See you in a bit.”
As the sounds of the others’ quiet breathing surrounds him, Red takes hisphone out and he finds Leader Giovanni’s email address on the Viridian Gym’ssite. Then he checks the blog and notices there’s a different address there.Probably better to use that one, since this isn’t concerning gym business.
He thinks over what he wants to say to catch the Gym Leader’s attention. Heprobably gets hundreds of emails a day. What sorts of things would he instructa human filter to pass on to him?
Red remembers a podcaster who gets a lot of mail going over his criteria for“Delete, read, or save for later,” and decides it’s as good a set ofguidelines as any:
Esteemed Leader Giovanni,
My name is Red Verres, and I’m an apprentice of Professor Oak’s. I havelearned a lot from your blog about the responsibility and values of pokemontrainers and citizens, and want your advice on something…
He succinctly summarizes the events at the flower field. It bothers him a bitto namedrop Professor Oak, but he knows that’s just his ego again. He wants aresponse, and without something early on to distinguish it, there’s littlereason for the letter to even reach Leader Giovanni.
_…Professor Oak insists that I did all I could. Part of me wants to believehim, but another part is wary of doing so. I think if I do, it would be tooeasy to excuse myself for not thinking of something that could have worked,and shirk heroic responsibility in the future. _
So I was hoping to get your insight on the matter, if you have the time torespond. If you were in my place, with the resources I had, what would youhave done?
Thank you for your time,
By the time he finishes, his hour’s nearly up. He does some reading on Theory-Induced Blindness, then puts his phone away and wakes Blue.
“Lucky bastard,” his friend mutters as he rubs the sleep from his eyes. “Firstand last watch are always the best.”
Red grins as he slides into his own bedroll. “I can stay up if you want, keepyou from nodding off.”
“Nah, I’ve got to refresh myself on caterpie lifecycles. Night bud.”
“Goodnight.” Red covers his eyes with one arm to block off the light, quicklysinking into sleep.
Ranger Akio rides his meganium through the forest, the swarm of the beedrillso loud he can’t even hear his own pokemon’s pants for breath. He glances backand sees them coming, a shifting mass of yellow and black, red eyes seethinghatred at the prey that stays just beyond their claws.
Once they’re far enough back, he grips tighter with his thighs and reachesboth hands down to his pokebelt. With meganium’s pokeball in one hand andarcanine’s in the other, he slowly rises his his knees, plants one foot on hispokemon’s back, and leaps off, pointing it at the plant pokemon and shouting“Meganium, return!” and “Arcanine, go!” in quick succession.
From one direction, his meganium disappears in a flash of light. From theother, his arcanine rockets out of the ball in his hand, crimson fur bright inthe brown and green forest. Akio lands, leaps, and spins onto the firepokemon’s back, digging his heels in to command him forward-
-and instead gets knocked to the ground, a line of pain etched across hisside as the lead beedrill buzzes past him. He tumbles over the grass as hispokemon roars and spews fire at the swarm. Half a dozen fall, but the restquickly bury the arcanine in a tide of piercing stingers. Akio grabs anothertwo pokeballs and opens his mouth to command them open, but instead a cloud ofblood sprays from his lips. He looks down and sees the armblades of a beedrillpiercing his lungs. His pokeballs fall from numb fingers as the green bladeswithdraw, not a beedrill’s after all, thicker and longer, like those of ascyther, and Red’s father falls to his knees-
Red wakes with a cry, kicking at his bedroll and crawling out of it, gaspingand trembling as he feels his body for puncture marks.
“What is it?! Are you alright?”
Red looks up to see one of the twins staring at him in concern, one hand onher pokebelt. Fourth or fifth watch, then. He looks around to see if he wokeanyone, but the rest are still asleep. Red rubs the cold sweat from his face.
“Fine. I’m fine. Just a nightmare. Sorry.”
“Oh… okay. Um. Do you want to talk about it?”
Red shakes his head and crawls back into his bedroll. “No, I’m okay. Sorryagain.”
“That’s alright.” She looks uncomfortable, but sits back down and picks up abook beside her.
Red’s heartbeat begins to slow. He closes his eyes and focuses on hisbreathing until it evens out again, but he can’t go back to sleep withoutpicturing Luke or Ranger Akio or his father.
Eventually he sighs and takes his phone out to check his mail. He scrolls pastsome daily reports and newsletters, then spots one in particular.
Heart racing for a different reason now, he opens the letter from LeaderGiovanni, cautioning himself not to get too excited, that it’s probably justan automated response.
But when it loads, the message on his screen reads:
From what details you have provided, I would have acted as you did. If thatis not sufficient to your sense of responsibility, and you still fear that youacted out of cowardice, consider this: is there any amount of money that wouldhave convinced you to try? -G
Red lies awake into the next watch change, thinking about it. He eventuallyresponds simply with No, and afterward sleeps until morning without dreams.
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