Chapter 14: Desensitization
Hey all, welcome back! Few quick notes: first, apologies to those who foundthe shout-outs in the last chapter distracting. In truth, naming characters isone of my fatal flaws as a writer, and when I was struggling to find a namefor the holder of the Draco Plate for example, I came up with its power beforeits name (“dragon powers” are too vaguely defined, so I went with thetransformation into one) and then “Lung” was too perfect to pass up. Not everysuperhero name was a specific reference to some piece of media, but I do enjoyoccasionally including homages like that to works that I enjoyed and haveinfluenced me. I’ll try to keep them more spaced out in the future.
Second, thank you all for your patience with the Darwin’s Origin of Speciesanniversary homage I did. It was a special circumstance that was topical tothe story, so I felt it warranted a post. Again, those of you who post reviewsfrom a Guest account, please remember that I have no way of replying to you:fanfiction doesn’t display responses to reviews, but I do try and respond toeveryone if possible, and Guest accounts simply have no way for me to do so.If you would like to contact me about the content or tone of the homage, I’mhappy to address your concerns if you make an account for me to respond to.For those that missed it and are curious, you can find it in the post historyof my reddit account (same name).
And third, the hype train has left the station, turned into a hype rocket,and exited the stratosphere! Happy gaming, Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire fans!
Hope you enjoy the chapter, and as always, all feedback is welcome!
“So, what if we cut off Blue’s finger?” Leaf asks as they walk.
Blue glances at her, then steps to the side of the road so Red is betweenthem. “I’d tell Squirtle to bite off two of yours, is what.”
Leaf grins. “She’d have to get through Bulbasaur first. My point is, would apsychic be able to lift it immediately after?”
Red scratches his hair, considering Leaf’s question. The morning dawned withclear blue skies above, and after a communal breakfast, they said goodbye toAllie, Matthew and the twins and resumed their journey north. Once they wereon their way, Red filled the others in on the details of his spinarak capture,and his conversation with Professor Oak.
“It’s a good idea-”
Blue steps farther from him too.
“-but hard to test, obviously. From what I read, cut hair and nail clippingslose whatever protection they have as soon as the dark type moves away, sincethe ‘dead zone’ they passively emit doesn’t extend past their skin. Andpsychics have reported that the dead zone fades shortly after death, thoughthat’s medical death, not brain death. So I’m not sure how long a severed bodypart would retain it.” Red puts on a speculative look and peers intently atBlue’s hands, stroking his chin.
“Hey!” Blue says as Leaf laughs, and slows his pace so that he’s behind bothof them. “Keep your beady eyes to yourself and find a pokemon to chop up foryour experiments.”
Leaf’s laughter cuts off, and she frowns over her shoulder as Red mutters“beady eyes?” to himself. “That’s disgusting! You’d have to do it while it’sstill alive to test it.”
“You just suggested chopping off my finger!”
“It was a hypothetical! Some pokemon are actually butchered alive.”
Red blinks. “Are they? Which?”
Leaf grimaces. “Shellfish meat has a bad taste if it’s killed before it’scooked, so they often boil or chop up living ones.”
“At least they’re killing them for food,” Blue says.
“Is that supposed to make it better?”
“Uh… doesn’t it?”
They start to argue over the ethics of eating pokemon, but Red is toodistracted by her example to get involved. He pulls his pokedex out to see ifthere are any dark-type crustaceans.
“If you care about what happens to your pokemon you must recognize they’recapable of feeling, so why is it alright to kill them for food when we don’thave to?”
“I care about my pokemon because they’re mine, pokemon get hurt and killedin the wild all the time.”
“So that’s an excuse to hurt more of them?”
“It’s a fact of nature. Even plants can feel, if feeling is all you careabout, well, something’s gonna die no matter what you eat-”
“Found one,” Red says to cut off their argument before it escalates further.“Crawdaunt, Water/Dark. A group of psychics went to different restaurantspreparing them and reported that after they were, er, chopped up, their partskept their own dead zones for a short time after being separated, but beforethe crawdaunt died.”
Leaf looks faintly nauseous. “Well, that’s that, then. If the deadzone is tiedto the body parts, then it can’t be something in the mind.”
Red shakes his head. “Not necessarily. We don’t actually know the mechanics ofhow it works. What if the source is the mind, and the field it subconsciouslycovers the body with just takes awhile to fade?”
They continue to discuss it for the rest of the morning, all the while keepingtheir eyes peeled for cocoons, webs, or nesting pokemon as they travel.Despite the lower chances of running into pokemon together, no one suggestssplitting up again.
Short of blind luck however, Red despairs at finding a hoothoot or noctowlbefore they leave the forest, let alone some of the rarer pokemon like pikachuor budew. They’ve been walking at about 3 kilometers an hour, and would likelyleave the forest by tomorrow afternoon. Thinking of the bird that flewoverhead last night, he’s more frustrated than ever that he’s the only oneamong them without a flier. He’d rather not settle for a pidgey or spearow,neither of which are capable of mental attacks.
In the meantime they bring their own pokemon out and train with them as theytravel. Leaf sends her rattata from one bush to another on her side to honeits precision in following directions. She eventually nicknames him “Scamp”after he tries to grab a bit of pokepuff from Blue’s shroomish. The fungalpokemon waddles along beside them on its stubby feet, dutifully sending cloudsof different spores and powders over bushes Blue wants to check for hiddenwilds.
Red decided to summon Charmander for some physical training. The fire lizards’strongest muscles are in their hind legs, vital to help them leap out ofharm’s way while young and launch themselves into the air when they growwings.
Once Charmander manages to grab the bit of pokepuff Red holds near his chest,he lifts the next bit to eye level.
Charmander leaps, biting at the air before he falls back to the grass.
Blue smirks. “Speaking of losing fingers…”
“Come on, Charmander, you can do it. Jump!”
Charmander crouches, then leaps again, snagging the pokepuff.
“Good job Charmander!” Red tears off another piece and lifts it above hishead. “Again, jump!” His pokemon tries, again and again, but can’t go higherthan Red’s head. He growls and leaps again, snapping at the air before fallingto the grass, breathing hard.
“Go on boy, you’re getting higher. Jump!”
Charmander looks at the pokepuff, then him. He makes a gurgling sound, andsuddenly starts climbing Red’s leg.
“Hey!” Red stops walking, stretching his arm higher as his other hand reachesfor his pokemon. “That’s cheating!”
Charmander pays him no mind, crawling around his side to avoid his hand, tailkept carefully apart as he makes his way up Red’s shirt, then leaps off andgrabs the pokepuff. Upon landing, the fire lizard happily curls up on thegrass and munches on his prize. Red sighs.
“So are you going to punish that?” Blue says. “Since he was supposed to jump?”
“I wouldn’t,” Leaf says as she tosses a berry to Scamp. “Might discouragecreative problem solving.”
Red nods. “Guess he’s had enough jumping for now.” He rubs the soft hide onCharmander’s head, then returns him to his pokeball as the others walk ahead.
Red summons his spinarak for the first time since he caught it. As soon asit’s out, he avoids looking directly at the face-like pattern on its back. Hefeels his thoughts shying away from the memory for fear of feeling its echoagain, but the problem with trying not to think of something-
Red focuses his gaze on one of its legs, quickly bending down to check if itswounds from before healed properly. He can’t quite bring himself to touch thearachnoid, and simply pulls some jerky out, shredding it into small bits forit to eat.
Something simple to start… “Spinarak, string shot!” he says, pointing at thebranch of a nearby tree. The bug turns to see what he’s pointing at, thenshoots its webbing up, attaching a line to the branch. “Climb!” It scuttles upthe string until it can hang from the beach. “Return.” It drops and scurriesback over to him. “Good job.”
Red drops the meat strips, and suppresses a sudden shudder as its mandiblesclack audibly. He’s glad bug pokemon don’t react as positively to physicalaffection, because he can’t bring himself to treat it as warmly as his rattataor charmander. And that’s even putting aside the-
Red shakes himself, breath catching in his throat. This is going to be harderthan he thought.
Bug pokemon always creeped him out. Just the thought of his spinarak crawlingup his body or resting on his arm makes him break out in goosebumps.
I need to desensitize myself, Red realizes. Pokemon professors need to becapable of studying all kinds of pokemon. Professor Oak doesn’t get squeamishwhen handling venonat, or paras.
Unfortunately, Red never mastered that particular brain hack. He knows thetheory though: small exposures in safe and calming circumstances until he nolonger feels an aversion to that, then moving on to more extremecircumstances.
Red sighs and tells his spinarak to follow him as he catches up with theothers, then begins training it in basic webbing commands: string shot, triplines, web traps, slowly working his way up to the more complex raps andobstacles. The other two watch his new pokemon curiously for a bit, but ifthey notice the way Red avoids looking directly at or touching it, they don’tcomment.
The hours pass, and the sun rises to its zenith. Eventually the trio finds aclearing to stop in for lunch. There’s a small boulder resting beside a nearbytree, and Blue points at it as the other two feed their pokemon, then withdrawthem.
“Shroomish, Leech Seed!”
His pokemon’s soft body contracts, then pulses, the dimples in its fungal domesending out half a dozen seeds over the rock. A gel around the seeds causiesthem to stick, and soon they split open. Thin roots snake out to find theminiscule pits and wedges in the stone, and within few seconds a dozen smallcracks are heard. Leaf steps closer and kneels to watch, keeping her handsaway from the glistening roots as it they slowly press into the boulder.
But soon the vines stop growing, and the seeds fall off one by one, the endsof their roots wilting. Blue frowns and sends his pokemon to eat them. “Thatwasn’t particularly impressive. In the vids I’ve seen, leech seed caneventually bring down even an onyx.”
“Well, there’s a difference between ‘living’ stone and ‘dead’ stone. This,”Leaf says as she knocks a fist on the boulder, “Is just rock. It’s virtuallydevoid of nutrients for the roots to absorb, and is much harder for thedigestive enzymes of the leech seed’s roots to break down. But living stone isbasically like really hard chitin. It’s still organic.”
“Damn. I wanted to get a sense for how well it would work on Leader Brock’spokemon. ” Blue pulls out some berries for his shroomish once the pokemonfinishes eating the barely grown plants.
“The leader of your Rock Gym is named ‘Brock’?”
“His name’s Takeshi actually, but he goes by Brock.” Red says. “Don’t any ofyour Leaders use nicknames?”
She smiles. “Yeah, our Flying Gym leader’s is Skyla. So what kind of Leader isBrock?”
“Very involved locally,” Blue says. “The city loves him, which means anyonewho wants to be mayor there has to hold his favor.”
“So much for the separation of powers.”
Red shrugs. “The people have spoken. Thankfully he seems smart and competent,so things in Pewter have been going pretty well. They have a lot of civicpride.”
Blue withdraws his shroomish, and the three remove their facemasks and takeout food for lunch. Leaf has some bread, cheese, and tomato slices, and Redrealizes that he hasn’t seen her eat any meat. Granted, most of their trailfood consists of fruit, rice balls and granola. Rather than put her on thespot about it, he tests his hypothesis by offering her some jerky, which shepolitely turns down. After hearing her objections to the way pokemon aretreated, he wonders if she avoids eating any pokemon at all, even the plantsand water types.
After they eat, Leaf steps away for a bit to call her mother while Red quicklyconfirms that Zapdos’s storm is still safely north of Pewter. Blue beginssetting up some virtual training for his new pokemon, and Red checks his mail.
He looks at the message from Leader Giovanni again before going to his newmessages. It’s still hard to believe that such a huge figure had actuallytaken the time to respond to a random message by a fan. Red doesn’t considerhimself easily star-struck after growing up knowing the world famous ProfessorOak, but Giovanni’s accomplishments are just as impressive in their own way.More than that, he has a unique way of rationally looking at the world, andRed always learns something new by reading his blog posts.
Red goes to his new messages and sees one from Professor Oak:
I sent an email to Elite Agatha last night, and she responded to me thismorning. Psychic attacks are generally felt as mental, while ghostly attacksare experienced as emotional. This seems like an antiquated conception of thedivision between the mind and emotions, which is why we call both mentalattacks, but she insists the difference is noticeable to those sensitive tosuch things, however fine the line is to others.
I’ll ask some others just to verify, but this is Agatha’s area of expertise,and if we take what she says as a working hypothesis for now, the descriptionyou gave of the attack makes it seem more emotional than mental. Hard to besure though. I would make finding out your top priority.
Red puts his phone away. “Hey Blue, wanna do me a favor?”
“What’s up?” Blue taps at the pokedex screen, gaze intent.
“Would you mind letting my spinarak use its mental attack on you?”
Blue’s fingers pause, and he lowers his pokedex a bit to look at Red. “Saythat again?”
“I’m still not sure if it was a psychic attack or a ghost one, and sinceyou’re dark…”
“No.” Blue turns back to his pokedex.
“I don’t mean right now, but after I train it a bit-”
“Sorry. I’ll pass on testing out its poison too, or Charmander’s fire.”
Red laughs. “Come on, seriously. It won’t affect you at all if it’s psychic,and you’ll barely feel it if not.”
“No shit? I didn’t realize.” Blue raises the pokedex a bit higher, leaningback against his bag so his face is hidden behind it.
Red’s smile fades, brow furrowed. “Why not?”
“I just don’t feel like it.”
“That’s not a reason.”
“Sure it is. Not my concern if you won’t take it.”
A hot flush spreads through Red’s chest. “What’s your problem?”
“An annoying bidoof who can’t take no for an answer.”
And ignites. “I guess it was too much to expect a rational justification fromyou.”
Leaf rejoins them, looking a bit apprehensive. “What’s up?”
“Nothing. Blue’s just being self-centered jackass.”
Blue lowers his pokedex and sits up with a scowl. “You asked me for a favor,but _ I’m_ the self-centered one?!”
“You refused without even explaining why!”
“Sorry professor, better get used to the fact that you don’t always get toknow everything!”
Leaf steps forward, palms out to both of them and looking a bit shocked.“Woah, guys, calm down…”
Red can’t remember standing, but Blue is too, and he cranes his neck to lookat him around Leaf. “If you’re not going to supply a reason for your actions,”Red says as blood pounds in his ears, “Then you can’t complain if I come upwith my own.”
“I can if you’re calling me selfish for not obeying your every command!”
“‘Every command?’ Excuse me for assuming you’d want to help me get myresearcher license!”
“Well excuse me if I don’t like being experimented on just because I’m dark!”
Red’s anger hits a wall. “What? That’s not-”
“Yes, it is! I’m just a test subject to you now, aren’t I?”
“Come on, you know me better than that! Besides, you said you were over it!”
“I lied, you idiot!”
The two of them are breathing hard as that last shout fades away, and as Redtries to think of something to say, Blue makes a sound of disgust and grabshis water bottle before striding away,
“I’m gonna take a leak, Red. Mind if I have some privacy?”
Red stops following, cheeks hot as he glances at Leaf. She’s looking afterBlue with a mix of puzzlement and sadness though, and when she turns to Redthere’s a fierce light in her eyes.
“It was… I just asked him if… ah, hell.” Red sighs and sits back down, wantingto simultaneously punch Blue and apologize to him. “I asked if he’d mind metesting my spinarak’s mental attack on him. When I told Blue I knew he wasdark last night, he said it doesn’t bother him any more.”
“Did you consider whether he was putting on a brave face?”
Red rubs his face. “Not at all. He’s right, I am an idiot.”
Leaf lowers herself to a crouch, leaning back against a tree. “I don’t thinktaking your friend at his word makes you an idiot. It was a mistake. If youdid consider it but ignored it, that might be a different story.”
“You don’t know Blue the way I do. In retrospect it’s obvious that it wouldbother him more than he let on, like the fact that he didn’t tell me himselfafter all these years.”
Leaf has a brow raised. “Is it really that big a deal, here? There’s someprejudice in Unova, but…”
“When my mom was our age, it was illegal for them to hold public office,” Redsays. “People said someone with a dark mind could hide any corruption frompsychics. Like mind reading’s reliable enough to detect that anyway, right? Itwas stupid superstition at the heart of it. Dark pokemon have pretty muchalways been seen as evil in Kanto, and a lot of villains in our movies andshows are dark. Things are a bit better now, but you’ll still meet some thatmakes a big deal of it.”
“Wow. That kind of explains why he kept it secret though, doesn’t it?”
Red shakes his head, anger returning. “Even from me? Talk about lack oftrust!”
Leaf frowns. “Red… don’t take this the wrong way, but how many other friendsdo you have, besides Blue?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Can I make a prediction? Or speculation, rather?”
Her phrasing helps Red take a step outside himself. “Uh… yeah. Go ahead.”
She picks up a dead leaf and begins to slowly shred it with her fingers, gazedown. “I know I just met you and Blue, so let me know how far off I am. Youmade a few friends when you were younger, but none of them really kept up withyou in school as well as Blue did. After he lost his parents and you lost yourdad, it became more than just a rivalry. Blue didn’t focus as much onacademics, but he’s still smart, and you both had the same drive. Took yourgoals seriously. Other kids became hard to relate to, and eventually youstarted to spend most of your time with him or older researchers and labassistants. But they weren’t really your equals, while Blue was.”
Red is watching her with a mix of embarrassment and admiration. “Okay, you’renot far off at all. In fact your model is surprisingly good considering whatinfo you have. What made all that so obvious?”
She smiles. “Not just you. I think that summary fits him too. I’ve never heardeither of you refer to others your age when you talk. Your past agreements orarguments all seem to be with each other. Other than family members, it’s likethere’s no one else for either of you. You guys aren’t just friends.”
Red feels a bit uncomfortable as she talks, then distinctly nervous by theend. “Woah, woah, you’re not saying… it’s not like we’re…”
Leaf looks puzzled for a second, then laughs. “No, I don’t mean it like that!I’m just saying, if you were just close friends, he probably would have toldyou. But beyond that, you guys act like brothers, and brothers sometimes havea sense of rivalry. My guess is, he didn’t avoid telling you out of lack oftrust, but because he was embarrassed at being seen as lesser.”
Red thinks back to how he felt after his spinarak blasted him, careful not tothink of the blast itself. He hadn’t wanted to tell Leaf and Blue because hehadn’t wanted to admit his weakness. It was only the necessity that made himdo so. He wonders how many other important sides of themselves people hidefrom each other, even those they care about, out of embarrassment. It’s easyto say “He should just trust me” when it’s not you that feels ashamed.
“Yeah. I get it.” Red sighs. “So you think I should apologize?”
“Damn right you should.”
Red gets to his feet as Blue walks back into the clearing. “Hey man, I’mreally s-”
“Forget it.” Blue waves a hand. “Let’s just drop it, alright? We should keepmoving anyway.”
“Uh… sure. You got it.” Shit. Despite all that, he still hoped to performthe spinarak test. Now he can’t think of a tactful way to bring it up. Red’smovements are aggressive as he packs his bag, but he keeps his irritation offhis face as they start walking again.
It’s so frustrating to have the answer to a question so close, and be unableto test it. The itch to know is still there, and it gets worse the longer hetries to think of alternate ways to determine the attack type, all of whichare significantly less precise. Worst case, he could just wait to find anothernormal or dark type to test it on, but a pokemon wouldn’t be able tocommunicate what it had felt. He finds himself getting angry at Blue again forrefusing. Maybe he could arrange to accidentally-
Red slams the door on that train of thought, a sick feeling in his gut. Evenknowing Blue would be immune or resistant to its effects, it’s a horriblething to think of doing to his friend.
To anyone! he screams at himself. That’s Mad Scientist thinking! That’s thekind of thing that gets people branded as Renegades!
Red forces himself to take out his notebook and start writing about something,anything else, as they walk. His hands are shaking a bit. . I’d never dosomething like that, he assures himself. Least of all to a friend.Never.
The kilometers pass steadily underfoot as afternoon gives way to evening, andeach of them gets some training in with the rest of their pokemon. Blue andLeaf train with their starters and pidgey, but neither takes out theirbeedrill, wanting to do some extensive virtual training with them first.Having less pokemon than the others, Red brings Charmander back out afterfinishing with his rattata’s training, and lets the two of them get used toconcurrent orders as they walk. After a couple hours, his rattata has gonethrough three pokepuffs and Charmander two, but they’ve mostly stoppedreacting to his words unless they’re prefaced properly. Red is impressed byhow much smarter his well-bred Charmander is compared to the wild rattata.
Eventually the sun begins to set, and they find another Ranger Outpost to campby. They stop at the outpost itself, a small collection of buildings wherethey can pick up some free traveling rations and food for their pokemon,courtesy of their Trainer IDs.
There’s no spare room for uninjured travelers in the buildings themselves, sothe three set up camp within the wards again, using a trio of handlamps tolight the perimeter before laying out their bedrolls in a loose triangle. Redcalls his mom briefly to assure her he’s still alright, then checks CoRRNetwith some trepidation for any news in the area he might have missed. All seemsquiet in the forest, however. They’re about twelve kilometers from itsnorthern edge, and fifteen from Pewter. Zapdos seems to have swung to thewest, and Pewter is no longer in a state of high alert.
“I’ll take last watch,” Blue says as he finishes eating, then slips into hisbedroll and turns to his side before waiting for a response.
“Okay,” Leaf says. “Night.”
“Night,” Red echoes. Despite saying they’d put the fight behind them, Blue wasdistant all afternoon. Red isn’t sure how long he’ll stay upset, but he’swilling to wait at least a day before poking at it. Normally after a big fightthey would keep their distance and cool off for a bit, but that’s not reallyan option here.
He turns to Leaf. “You tired?”
She shakes her head. “I’ll probably stay up for a bit. First one to fall sleepgets second watch?”
They lie down open their pokedexes. Red looks up efficient ways to set upwebbing with spinarak, wondering how to make use of it tonight. He could put abit of pokepuff in it to draw prey. It would probably work on caterpie andother bugs, but a hoothoot would free itself within seconds without spinarakhanging around nearby to distract or attack it after it’s caught.
He closes his pokedex and starts sketching out different web patterns thatmight better secure a bird pokemon. He could have two sets of vertical linesto the sides of the main web to snare its wings, but what of the talons?
It’s hard to use a bug pokemon’s skills to try and stop a flying type. Theyhad been lucky before with Bulbasaur and the pidgey, and Bulbasaur had beenbadly hurt all the same. He frowns, thinking of psychic and ghost and darkinteractions again, and begins writing them all out, then categorizing all thepokemon types.
Normal, Fire, Water, Plant, Electric, Poison, Rock, Metal, Bug, Ghost
Flying, Fighting, Ground, Dragon, Psychic, Ice
“Whatcha writing?” Leaf asks, voice low.
Red cranes his neck to look at Leaf and sees her lying with her hands behindher head, staring up at the dark. He turns back to his notebook and reads thelists out loud.
“Huh. That’s an interesting way to divide them.”
“Remember our conversation a couple days ago? When we just set out?”
“Yeah. You think of the types as emergent properties rather than fundamentalaspects.”
“For some, yeah. But I’m not sure if I’m right in all of them.”
“Ground being descriptive does seem odd. But why wasn’t Dark listed?”
Red sighs. “Because I have no idea where to put it.”
He hears her shift and sees her lying on her side to face him, so he turns todo the same. “From what we learned today, it seems like a fundamental aspectof their biology.”
He shrugs a shoulder. “Maybe probably. The way their immunity works ismoderate evidence for it. But there’s other evidence against. Before, I wouldhave said Dark Type was descriptive for the same reason Psychic is. Thatthere’s nothing inherent to the biology that interacts uniquely with certainelements or substances, the way water conducts electricity or metal is harderthan rock. Is every cell in a psychic type psychic? Probably not: all thephenomenon we observe with psychics relate to their mental powers’ strengthsand shortcomings, not their biology. So I thought Dark types were similar,because other than their unique resistance and immunity to ghost and psychicphenomenon, they don’t really have any unique interactions.”
“But that’s not actually true,” Leaf says. “You have Fighting down asDescriptive-I understand why, I remember your point from earlier-but even ifit’s just a label put on anything that is really muscular and agile, fightingpokemon tend to have a clear advantage against Dark pokemon, even thephysically tough ones.”
“But is that because of something unique to the Dark typing, or just aninteraction of the individual species? There aren’t really many physicallystrong Dark pokemon. Some are very fast, and some are bulky, but by and large,they’re not strong. So what if it’s just the result of that?”
“But then other strong physical types, like Rock-”
“Think outside the bounds of the typing system for a moment: is there anyreason that a Fighting pokemon’s punch should be so much harder for anumbreon or mightyena to recover from than, say, a heavy rock thrown at them,or a body slam?”
Leaf takes a few moments to think about it, eyes staring down. Red waitspatiently for her to finish setting aside the assumptions their culturessurround pokemon types with.
Eventually she looks up and says, “No. But from all we can observe, that’sjust the way it is.”
Red slumps back, arm covering his eyes. “I know,” he moans quietly. “Itdoesn’t make sense!”
Leaf laughs, hand over her mouth. “If the evidence doesn’t match yourbeliefs…”
“Right, right.” Red sighs. “Just because something doesn’t make sense to medoesn’t mean the world’s wrong. It just means my model of the world is offsomewhere.”
“Why do you care about this so much anyway? It seems like the kind of thing acompetitive trainer would obsess over.”
Red feels himself get defensive, then realizes she’s asking out of genuinecuriosity. After only having Blue to discuss things like this with for solong, he’s not really used to that. “Because it confuses me, and things thatconfuse me are the best warning flags I have to unknown unknowns.”
Leaf smiles. “Unknown unowns? You think there are more than twenty-eight?”
Red grimaces, lips twitching up. “That was a terrible pun.”
Red groans and mimes throwing his pencil at her. She ducks her head, thencomes up grinning. “So you mean it’s the way you realize there’s something youdon’t know that you don’t know?”
“Right. When we feel confusion, it’s the result of some new data that’s atodds with our model of how reality is. So either our model is flawed for notbeing able to account for the new stimulus, or the stimulus is false.”
“Like if you Blue wakes up tomorrow and starts reading science journals?”
It’s Red’s turn to cover his laugh, and he turns to glance at his friend’sstill form. Blue’s breaths are steady and even. “I’m still holding out hope hewill eventually, but if it was something sudden, then yeah.”
“And since your model of Blue includes a disinterest in science articles, thenmaybe that part of the model is wrong.”
Red nods. “Just the first few times though, after which my model of him willhave updated, and it won’t be confusing anymore. Alternatively-”
“Alternatively, your model of the article might be what was wrong. Yourconfusion would be from ‘why is Blue reading something he normally findsboring?’ but maybe it’s about something relevant to competitive battles.”
“Have we been reading the same blogs?”
“Not in this case, but it makes sense. Except, what do you mean by thestimulus being false? Like if it’s just an illusion of Blue, or ahallucination?”
Red smiles. “That’s a possibility, though a very low one. More likely is thathe’s just pretending to read an article irritate me.”
She raises a brow. “Does he do that?”
“Not really. Though when we were younger he once started carrying around anotebook and randomly scribbling in it every time I did or said something.”
Leaf buries her laugh in her arms. “It’s not funny,” Red says, indignationfighting his own smile. She nods without looking up, and his indignationloses. “Okay, it’s a little funny. Anyway, that’s why I’m so interested inpokemon types. They’re a major clue to the way the world really works, and themore they don’t make sense, the more I wonder whether what we know is reallyaccurate.”
Leaf is still smiling when she raises her head, but her tone is serious. “Haveyou considered whether we just can’t understand it? If it’s just somethingunknowable?”
Red shrugs. “Sure, but what’s the use of that kind of thinking? Just throw ourhands up and stop trying to figure things out? There may be limits to what ourflawed and feeble minds can do, but until there’s a sign we’ve reached it, Idon’t see the point in being pessimistic.”
“Just checking to make sure. It’s at least worth recognizing when you might beon a dead end path.”
“Yeah. What about you? Doesn’t the weirdness of typing interest you at all?”
Leaf turns to lie on her back again. “Sure. But then, everything interests me.That’s kind of my problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was raised by two generations of professors. Mom just got her title and lablast year, but she’s always been a researcher. Grampa specialized in pokemonpopulation distributions when I was a kid, so we traveled all over Unova whenI was growing up.”
Red refrains at the last second from exclaiming over how cool that must havebeen. Her mood is too melancholy, so instead he just says, “What was thatlike? I’ve lived in Palette my whole life.”
“It was fun, for the most part. I made a lot of different friends… but I had ahard time relating to them, and always had to move again soon. I had a lot ofcool experiences and opportunities, but never stuck around in one place longenough to really feel like I belonged, or focus seriously on a single project.I’m interested in a lot of different fields of study, but not really an expertin any of them. I’m good at living outdoors. I’m an okay fisher, back when Ifished. I’m good with pokemon, I’m good with numbers. I liked gardening, butwasn’t so good at that. I’m okay at programming, I actually enjoyed it a lot,but I only had a few tutors spread out over the years and there was never muchtime to really learn it formally or practice much.”
Leaf goes quiet after that, and Red keeps the silence, waiting. Eventually shesays, “I want to find something I’m really great at. I want to be anactivist, maybe go into politics, but I’m too young to be taken seriously inmost fields other than as a trainer. And I felt like my worldview was too tiedto Unova’s culture. I wanted a wider perspective, to see how other regionsthink about pokemon and human interactions. I had the idea for a book on thelegends of different cultures because I like writing, and grampa’s research onUnova’s legends always fascinated me. The way people describe the old storiesof Zekrom and Reshiram’s battles as a clash between Truth and Idealism, or howthey ascribe meaning and purpose to the Forces of Nature when they go aroundcausing disasters.”
Red smiles a bit. “Well, you came to the right place if you’re looking forparallels to that.”
“Yeah. Comparing the different views on your Storm Trio and our Weather Trioshould be interesting. Speaking of which, are you and Blue really planning onheading into the storm if Zapdos comes?”
“Yeah,” Red says after a moment. He doesn’t bring up his contingency plansincase Blue might not be fully asleep or wakes up at any moment. It occurs tohim that he could send her an email, give her an idea of his plans and enlisther help. “But like we said, we’re not going to just rush at Zapdos and try totake it down. We just want to help others, for now.”
“Still, you’ll need well trained pokemon just to handle any wild pokemonrampaging due to Pressure. Do you think three pokemon are enough?”
“No, I don’t. We’re not likely to find new pokemon training ours while wetravel though.”
“So what’s your plan?”
“What makes you think I have one?”
Leaf smiles. “Unless your notebook is full of nothing but doodles, you’dbetter have something.”
Red smiles back and pushes himself to his elbows. “You know, I actually do.And you might be able to help with it…”
Red wakes to the feel of a hand shaking his shoulder. There’s a second ofdisorientation, then he scrambles off his belly and looks up at Leaf, who’ssmiling. “Getsumthin?” he mutters, rubbing at his eyes. “Caterpie again?”
“Nope. Say hello to your first flier.”
Red blinks at her, then pushes himself to his feet and turns to the branchesabove, where Leaf is shining one of the lamp lights. The second web heinstructed his spinarak to weave is still up there, and the pokepuff he’dclimbed up and put there is gone. In its place…
Red grins. A hoothoot hangs tangled in the web, sleeping. Its feathers arecovered in the sleep spores Leaf’s bulbasaur had coated the web with.
“Awesome,” Red says, mind coming fully awake as he gets out his pokeball.“When-”
“Just now. I heard its wings, then it struggled a bit in the web. I think itsbeak was full of the pokepuff, because it didn’t make much noise. We shouldset up another one, maybe we’ll get another!”
“Yeah, let me just-”
“What’s going on? We under attack?”
Red and Leaf turn guiltily to Blue, who’s staring blearily up at them. They’dforgotten to keep their voices down.
“Sorry Blue, everything’s fine. We caught a hoothoot.”
Red turns back and aims his pokeball, but the web is too far up. He’d set thefirst one lower so they could see it in the light, but a caterpie had crawledinto it s before he’d even fallen asleep. Leaf had insisted he take it aftergiving up his chance at the beedrill, so he caught his second bug pokemon. Thesecond web was put higher, and between the long branches of two trees in hopesof being more accessible to a flier and less to another crawler
Red puts his pokeball away and begins climbing, and Leaf shines the light onthe tree to help him see.
“Oh, nice,” Blue says, getting to his feet and rubbing his face. “Hang upanother and catch me one, would you?”
“Sure,” Red grunts, limbs burning as he pulls himself up to the branchparallel with the web.
“We actually hung another two,” Leaf says, pointing. “Nothing in them yetthough.”
He straddles it and drags himself carefully closer, then takes out hispokeball and aims it. After a moment it pings, and he lobs it onto thesleeping pokemon,. The ball absorbs it in a flash of light and falls to thegrass below. “That’s five. Told you I’d catch up to…” Red trails off as asecond flash registers to his side. He turns, thinking one of them had caughtanother that appeared just then, but they’re both looking up at him.
“What is it Red?”
“Thought I saw something. You guys didn’t-”
The night briefly lights up again, and suddenly Red has trouble breathing. Hisheart races in his throat as he automatically starts to count, feeling hisbody tremble.
0… 1… 2… 3…
“What was that?” Blue turns to face the direction of the flash. To the west.
4… 5… 6… 7…
“Red! What’s wrong?” Leaf asks.
8… 9… 10… 11…
Red stares out into the darkness of the trees, and sees another bolt ofelectricity light the distant forest.
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