Chapter 9: Delayed Gratification
Hey all, welcome back! Here’s the longest chapter yet, and happily still inline with my aim of one chapter a month. As usual any feedback is appreciated,either here or on /r/rational on Reddit. Enjoy!
Viridian City’s northern department store is a round building that functionsas a one stop shopping mall, each of its four floors devoted to a differentstratum of needs. The sign over the entryway informs that the top floorcontains trainer supplies, the third protective gear, the second conventionalgoods, and the first food and services. Red, Leaf and Blue walk through thewide glass doors into an open and bustling indoor plaza, walls lined withservice areas and shops of every kind. As they head for the escalators, Red’seyes bounce from cafes and massage parlors for trainers to poffin bakeries andtreatment spas for pokemon.
“I may have to stop here on our way out,” Leaf muses, and Red follows her gazeto see a sentret getting its tail brushed through a display window, while inthe next a charmeleon has its claws filed.
He absently rubs the cool spheres at his waist as he eyes the prices. It wouldbe nice to treat his pokemon, but… he only has about $220 of spending money.As nice as it would be to pamper them a bit, his pokemon are dependent on himto make smart financial decisions. If someone were to offer him an hour at thespa or or some extra medicine in case of emergencies, he knows what he’dchoose for himself.
They reach the escalators and decide to head to the top floor first, then worktheir way back down. Red’s gaze continues to roam, passing over brightadvertisements without a second glance. He sees a trainer with a bellsproutoutside its ball step onto the escalator behind them, the plant’s long vineylimbs wrapped around his shoulder and waist. Red smiles as the pokemon’sbulbous head swivels to take in everything around it, mimicking his trainer.
They switch elevators at the second and third floors, then reach the thefourth near its middle, surrounded by stalls and shelves full of pokeballs andmedical equipment. Trainers fill the aisles, speaking with salesmen andcomparing products. Advertisements and guideposts hang from the ceiling todirect customers, and Red scans them quickly. “Okay, so we need to-”
“Check it out, balls are on sale!” Blue approaches a glass display counter andcrouches down to peer at the colorful variety of pokeballs inside. “Greatballsfor just forty bucks with a trainer card. And ten pokeballs gets you a freepremier ball!”
“We don’t need more pokeballs yet-”
“Ooh look, free samples.” Leaf wanders over to a nutritionist sitting at astall, the countertop covered in colored rows of pokemon vitamin supplements.
Red sets his jaw and resists the urge to follow either of them, turningresolutely in the direction of the audio training tools. It’s fairly easy toblock the advertisements: after getting burned a few times by misleading adsas a kid, and making one particularly expensive impulse purchase he laterregretted when he was nine, he grabbed some books on marketing and devoted aweek to reading them.
Once he emerged from that roller coaster of fascination and horror, he walkedinto the living room and declared that if he ever became Champion of theIndigo League, all ads would be just be a name, an image, an intended purposein ten words or less, and some sources for where more information could befound. Since then he just takes the default position that all ads lie abouteverything, reflexively ignores them until he has the chance to do someindependent research.
But ignoring so many cool toys once they’re all around him and in easy reachis a bit harder.
He catches himself slowing down by a shelf of laser pointers with a signdeclaring “50% off!” and forces himself to walk past, only to realize a minutelater that he’s unconsciously veering toward some targeting frisbees thatpromise to “improve pokemon accuracy by 63%!” The lasers are regular priced,they’re just usually marked up twice as much, he grimly reminds himself. Anda 63% improvement means instead of landing two out of ten attacks, mypokemon will land three.
The biggest crowd by far is in the relatively open area where new pokedexmodels are on display and available to demo. Red is glad he’s spared thatparticular temptation. The Technique Machine aisle proves impossible to resisthowever, and he walks over to a console to see what’s available.
He waits for the trainer using one of the machines to finish browsing, thensteps up to the free screen and types in “charmander.”
Toxic, Dig, Flame Charge, Fire Blast, _Shadow Claw…_
Woah. Charmander can learn Shadow Claw? He checks the move’s information andconfirms that yes, it’s a “ghost type” attack. He wonders how long someprogrammer slaved over that particular code.
The software in the machines are very specific programs designed to do twothings: mundanely, they can train a pokemon to learn a specific behavior thatthey might normally be able to learn on their own, with enough maturity andtraining. The second, far rarer programs are those few that rewrite specificpokemon’s actual “code,” the data they’re saved as while in their pokeball, sothat their physical bodies are safely altered to be capable of entirely newthings. Even rarer are programs written well enough to apply the effects toany pokemon of that species, with all their variation they have, rather than aspecific one the programmer wrote the code for. A coder that manages to makesuch a universal program is usually set for life, and the prestige that goeswith it is almost on par with that given to Professors.
He watches a demonstration video of a charmander attacking a pokedoll, itsclaws trailing purple mist. The mist doesn’t help with cutting the doll, asit’s not a physical augmentation: ghost abilities attack the mind. But he canclearly see that charmander is capable of using it.
This. This would be a solid investment. With Shadow Claw, his charmander wouldhave incredibly boosted coverage. He could stand a chance against rockpokemon, as charmander’s normal claws and fire wouldn’t do much good againsttheir tough hides, and if he faces a psychic or ghost type, he could fightfire with fire, so to speak.
With a mix of excitement and dread, he checks the price and feels his heartsink. Five hundred dollars is relatively cheap, especially for something socutting edge, but it’s still expensive for a one-time use. If it were apermanent copy of the software that he could reuse on other pokemon, thatmight be worth it…
Not that I could afford it either way. He returns to the homescreen andsteps away for the next trainer, watching as a grim looking man in a trenchcoat navigates the screen with quick familiarity, makes his selection, theninserts an ultra ball after swiping his card through the machine. Red turnsaway and continues his search for the training whistles, trying not to dwellon his disappointment.
“Hey,” Blue says as he approaches from the side and falls into step with him.“Lot of stuff around here, huh?”
“Yeah. You buy anything?”
“Nah, not yet. I might call up gramps and ask him to release some of mysavings, but then he’s going to want to know every single thing I spend it on.Man, I can’t wait till I’m fifteen.”
Red nods. “Tell me about it.” He’s not as well off as Blue, but his own bankaccount has a couple thousand in it. Unfortunately he still needs his mother’spermission to withdraw anything more than fifty dollars a week, and his mothermade clear that anything more would be for emergencies. It’s an old grievanceof his and Blue’s: 11 is old enough to go out in the world, but not old enoughto make their own decisions about money, apparently.
On the other hand… He looks around at all the things he’d love to buy. Beingin a store like this, he can see why some kids might need a bit of help withself control.
“Have you seen any shock suits around here?”
Red frowns. “I think that would be on the third floor. It’s more forprotection than training.” Professor Faraday had created the first “shocksuit” to help him safely study electric pokemon. By providing an easy path forelectron flow around the wearer, modern Faraday suits can immunize someone tomost electric attacks.
It’s one of the top items on Red’s wishlist, and being reminded of it doesn’timprove his mood. _I need to get started on articles for my Researcher licenseso I can get some income. _He files the thought away for later consideration.“You’re not going to buy one now, are you? The ones I saw online were pricedat least at a thousand.”
“If Zapdos ends up coming south, I think it would be worth it. I’ll just tellgramps I want the money for a good bike.”
Red’s steps slow at the mention of Zapdos. “Right. I actually wanted to talkto you about that…” How could he stop Blue from going into the storm, short oftying him up? Better yet, how could he change Blue’s mind so he chooses notto himself? Red flips through his memory for ways in which people change theirminds. Fear of consequences, appeal to authority, deceit… which is mostlikely to succeed?
Blue looks at him askance. “What about it?”
1) Fear of consequences. The dangers of the storm trio are hard to overstate,but confronting them is tied to too many of Blue’s central values, includinghis ego and desire to avenge the loss of his parents. _Low chance of success.
2) Appeal to authority. _ Low chance of success_. Blue’s value forautonomy is too high. Calling Professor Oak to intercede directly might work,but would likely sever friendship. Worth severing to possibly save his life?Maybe.
“I don’t know how prepared we are at the moment,” Red says. “There are somethings I was hoping to have before facing one of the trio, like a Faraday suitof my own.”
Blue scratches his neck, looking uncomfortable. “Yeah, I was thinking it over.Look, I think I can take out enough money to cover two suits without grampsnoticing right away. Don’t worry about paying me back, I know you’re good forit.”
3) Deceit. I could pretend to be sick at a critical moment, and force Blue tochoose between competing values. Better yet, actually injure myself at justthe right moment. Even better yet, call Daisy and collaborate a convincingdeception for Blue to return home. If discovered though, this would definitelysever friendship. Also would prefer not to injure myself badly enough towarrant serious medical attention. Moderate_ chance of success, but risky._Reserve for last resort.
4) Competing values….
Red nods. “Thanks, I might take you up on that. But I think there’s a cheaperalternative.”
“What is it?”
“I’ll show you when we head down to the third floor. For now I want to findthese whistles before my wallet burns a hole through my pocket.”
They begin to hear the sound of flutes and whistles over the general noise ofthe store, and find a wall of various handheld instruments a minute later.Leaf is already there, examining a pendant ocarina with four holes on theouter side and two on the inner. A middle aged woman in store attendantuniform is standing beside her and demonstrating the proper way to hold it.Around her neck hangs an assortment of different whistles and flutes from thewall. Leaf spies Red and Blue approaching and waves them over.
“Hey guys! Come listen. She’s explaining how to choose the right instrument.”Leaf turns to the woman. “They’re interested in getting one too.”
The saleswoman smiles and turns to include them in her demonstration. “As Iwas telling your friend here, a whistle is a good choice for training pokemonthat are expected to range out from you, like flying types. But it’s harderthan just training them to follow a verbal command. Each action you want themto perform has to be linked to a particular, short tone or tune, and thatmeans which instrument you choose is very important.”
The attendant finds the plain whistle in the jumble around her neck anddemonstrates with a pair of quick notes. “See? Just two basic commands, andanything more than that will take a brief melody.” She waits for anotherattendant nearby to stop blowing on a long flute before she gives three shortblows. “So you’ll need one of those for each action. With something like theocarina, each note can be tied to a command, and then a melody can be itsown.” She puts the pendant ocarina to her lips and blows each note once, thena number of quick combinations, and finally a brief melody.
“So why doesn’t everyone get an ocarina?” Red asks. “Other than the price.” Hesees on the wall that the plain whistles are just five bucks, while theocarina is thirty.
She smiles. “The ocarina takes quite a bit more dedication. It has more rangeand options, but you have to be willing to learn and memorize each one. Alsoit takes two hands, which some trainers find cumbersome.”
Meaning mostly battle trainers. Having your hands free to swap pokemon at amoment’s notice is a big deal, especially in the fast paced world ofcompetitive battles.
Blue is clearly thinking the same thing, because he heads over to the plainwhistles and begins to sort through them.
“I think I’ll take an ocarina,” Leaf says, and goes to the wall to examine thedifferent styles available.
Red turns to the attendant. “So if we plan on traveling and training ourpokemon together, should we worry about confusing them with our whistles?”
The woman smiles. “Getting three different instruments would certainly helpavoid that.”
“Right. So… any suggestions? Something between the two in complexity is fine,but I don’t mind using both hands if I have to.”
Her necklace rattles as she sorts through it. “How’s this? Bamboo flute. Agood amount of variety, and you can use one or two hands for increased range.And it has a very unique sound.” She gives it a trill.
Red goes over to the wall and examines one of the long wooden flutes. “I likeit, but do you have something a bit more durable? And a bit smaller.”
“Certainly.” She leads him to another section, and within a few minutes Reddecides on a one handed silver flute, with four holes on top and one on thebottom for his thumb. It only costs ten dollars, and the three trainerspurchase their whistles, which Blue carries in a small shopping bag. Afterthanking the attendant, they head for the escalators.
“You guys should grab some vitamin samples before we go down,” Leaf says. “Itried to get some for you, but he wouldn’t let me.”
Red and Blue exchange looks, then shrug and head for the stall. There’s a bitof a crowd when they get there, and Red has time to read the ad on the screenabove it. The sound is mostly muted by the crowd, but he can pick up theenergetic narration. “Is your rapidash more of a slowpoke? Machamp gettingseismically tossed? Want your kingler’s carapace to be as strong as steelix?Carbos, protein, iron, we have it all right here! Poffins and berries aren’tenough: four out of five professors agree, your pokemon can’t reach their fullpotential without the right dietary supplements!”
Blue snorts. “Bet the fifth was gramps.”
Red grins. “Yeah, and I’d love to know who the other four are.”
They move up in the line, and the young nutritionist smiles as they approach.“Hello again, I see you brought your friends! Excellent! What kind of pokemondo you two-”
“I’ll take protein please,” Red says.
The nutritionist blinks, but reaches beneath the counter and hands over twored packets. “Certainly, there you are. Now, if you’re looking for some-”
“Nope, I’m good, thanks a lot.” Red turns to the escalator and begins to headdown to the third floor. He and Blue are soon joined by Leaf, who’s looking athim in surprise. “What?”
“Nothing, I just wasn’t expecting you to be so… abrupt. You could have atleast heard him out.”
“Why? I don’t have money to spare, and there were more people in line behindus.” Red tucks the packet of protein into one of the side pockets of his bag.“Besides, I’ve already researched his products, and wouldn’t believe any newstudies he cites without looking into them myself first anyway.”
“You don’t believe in nutrition supplements?”
“Let’s just say I’m skeptical of some of their claims,” Red says. “I gotprotein because it has some substantial research backing its effectiveness inmuscle growth. As for things like iron ‘boosting toughness,’ or hardening skinor shells… the results are still inconclusive. Some tests show slightmeasurable gains, others don’t. And that’s not even getting to some of theother stuff they sell.”
Leaf looks at Blue. “You’re in the same boat I take it?”
Blue shrugs. “Some of the top trainers swear by certain vitamins, while otherssay they’re not necessary. I haven’t seen any proof myself yet, but as far asI’ve heard they can’t hurt, and free is free.”
“Huh. My mom never really talked about them, either for or against.” Leafshrugs. “She tends to ignore anything outside the scope of her research.”
Blue laughs. “I think that comes with the fancy title. One time gramps spent amonth at the lab without coming home for more than a meal and a shower a day.When I told him there’d been a new appointment to the Elite Four, he barelyheard me.”
Red opens his mouth, then closes it. He always loved his parents for who theywere, but being raised by a pokemon professor had always seemed like theclosest thing to a perfect childhood he could imagine. He’s used to Blue’sgrouching about Professor Oak, and just assumed it’s due to his lack ofinterest in science and research. But Leaf’s voice held a similar tinge ofwistfulness that stops Red short, and he pulls out his notepad and remindshimself to re-evaluate whether he’s experiencing a negative focusing effectwhen he gets the chance.
“Hey,” Blue says. “If you’re analyzing me, you have to tell me why. That’s therule.”
Leaf looks between them, then glances at the notepad. “You guys have a rulefor that?”
Blue glowers at Red. “We do.”
“Can I have the same rule?”
Red smiles. “Yeah, that’s fair. But I’m not analyzing either of you. Justreflecting on that whole ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’saying.”
They reach the third floor and step off the escalator, and Leaf returns Red’ssmile. “I was mostly joking. You deserve your privacy. There’s little enoughof it, traveling together like we are.”
Blue snorts. “Yeah, you say that now. It’ll drive you mad soon enough, youwait. Him scribbling in that notebook every other day, looking at you like apokemon that learned a new trick.” Blue’s voice goes lower as he talks, eyeswidening in horror. “Eventually you start thinking over every word you say,wondering what might set him off next… your nights are filled with thoughts ofa notebook, its pages dissecting your every thought and action, and you dreamof waking up in a lab cage, Red dressed in a white coat and staring down atyou, scribbling, scribbling, scribbling…”
Red and Leaf laugh. “It’s really not a big deal,” Red says. “I’ll tell youabout it later, promise. Just need to get my thoughts in order. In themeantime, I need to grab a gas mask. You guys should get a couple too.”
They find the right section fairly quickly, but after a few minutes ofbrowsing Red doesn’t find a mask like the one he used in the trainer housepractice rooms. He finds an ordering terminal and begins browsing its catalogwhile Blue and Leaf try on various masks and headgear.
He calls them over when he finds it. “Here, this is the one the trainer houseused. It protects your whole face without distorting your vision or voicemuch.” He goes to the product page and swipes his trainer card. “Just fortybucks too. You guys want one?”
“Yeah, I’ll get one.” Leaf smiles. “I’ve been looking at new moves forBulbasaur, and it could be handy for protection against powders or spores.”
Blue nods “Me too. There are butterfree and shroomish in the forest that canknock a guy out in one breath.”
Red shifts the quantity to three and presses accept. The machine hums, andafter a few moments three of the dozen hand-sized slots beneath the screenlight up. Red reaches into two and withdraws the Containers from them, handingone to Leaf while Blue takes his own.
They aim the silver balls at the floor and release the grey boxes inside in atriplet of flashes. Red opens his and takes out the gas mask, freshly sentover from the store’s warehouse. He closes the box, then withdraws it into theContainer before returning the sphere into its nook as Blue does the samebeside him.
Leaf carefully adjusts the ball in its nook so its lens is properly alignedbefore straightening. “Checkout’s over there, right?”
“Hang on, there are a couple more things I want here.”
Red follows the signs that have a lightning bolt on them until he’s surroundedby trainers trying out shoes with non-conductive soles. He steps carefullypast all the boxes and scans the shelves, reluctantly drawing his gaze fromthe corner where Faraday suits are being sold as he walks from one aisle toanother.
“Aha.” Red goes to a shelf of copper rods about twice as thick as his thumband as long as his arm. He counts out four and turns to the others. “We shouldeach have at least one. I’m getting two.”
“Do you think these will be necessary?” Leaf asks, taking hers andexperimentally pulling on the rod. It extends to the full length of her arm-span without reaching its limit, and she collapses it back to its compactsize.
Blue nods. “If we’re going to be risking the storm, we’ll need something likethis sooner than later.” He looks over his and frowns, clearly skeptical.“That said, I’d feel much safer in a shock suit. You sure these will be goodenough? Don’t they only work if you stand near them?”
“Well, ‘near’ is relative. A true bolt of lightning will be caught withinsixty meters, and redirected to the earth. From that point, the ground currentmight travel about twenty meters, maybe a bit more. Speaking of which,” Redturns to Leaf. “You should pick up new shoes if yours aren’t rubber-soled.”
She hesitates, then nods and goes to the shoe section. Red checks the maximumsize of the rods. “Three and a half meters… Should be enough.” He turns toBlue. “You can get a Faraday suit if you want, but I’d rather neither of usspend that much money if it’s not necessary. This will do fine for me.”
Blue looks at him for a moment, then back at the rod. “Sixty meters huh?”
Red surreptitiously pulls out his phone and opens CoRRNet as Blue examines thelightning rod. His friend’s shoulders are straight, and his eyes gleam withanticipation as he extends it fully and tests its weight. Red goes to hisalert settings and adjusts the threshold. By default it’s set to only alerthim of Tier 1 or higher threats near his location, but it can also alert himof any nearby tickets or requests that pop up. Now it’ll be easy for Red tokeep an eye out for any opportunities for heroism as they travel north. If hecan delay their journey long enough, the storm might pass before they get nearPewter City. But if not, Red might still be able to distract Blue withrequests for aid that will surely pop up with the storm’s arrival, even at itsoutskirts.
4) Competing values. If the storm comes south, I’ll force Blue to choosebetween rushing headlong into it and another value. If he has to make a choicebetween helping someone in need or taking a shot at one of the birds, he’llmake the right choice.
Red puts his phone away and watches Blue test out the quickest ways to get thelightning rod to full length. From a thousand games and conversations the twohad shared over the years, Red knows that as hot as his friend burns forrevenge against the storm gods, at his core the role he sees for himself isthat of an emerging hero, willing and able to help those that need him. ThatRed sees himself the same way is one of the core bonds of their friendship.
Blue grins as he refolds the lightning rod. “Yeah, this’ll work. With yourbook smarts and my trainer skills, we’ll have all three birds down by the endof the year. Come on, let’s go help Leaf find a good pair of shoes.”
He’ll make the right choice…
By the time the three leave the department store, the sun has begun itswestern descent. Once out on the sidewalk, Leaf dons her last new purchase, awhite sunhat with a pink band above the rim and in a half-circle above thefront. She tugs its edges until it shades her eyes and ears, and smiles.
Blue takes their various instruments out of the shopping bag and passes themout before slipping his own whistle around his neck. Leaf puts her ocarinapendant on and gives each of its notes a test, running through a brief melody.The sharp sounds make passerby turn, and a flock of pidgey take off from anearby light pole.
Red watches them go as he takes his hat off and slips his own flute on,tucking it into his shirt. His new gas mask is strapped to the outside of hispack for easy access, and his lightning rods are braced along the roof andfloor of the inside of his bag: he can feel their upper tips against hisspine. He’d had trouble fitting them in at first, and finally resigned himselfto using his Container to free up room. For all his planning for the trip,“free space” hadn’t been something he thought he’d need this soon. Now thatall his extra clothes are in the silver sphere tucked into one of the bag’spockets, it feels uncomfortably light.
In total he’d spent about fifty-five dollars, bringing him down to $165.Having to use his only Container is what bothers him most at the moment.Unlike pokeballs, they’re not subsidized by the Department for the Advancementof Trainer Efficacy, and cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars on updepending on how much mass they could store. His own is the lowest model,capable of holding a bit over fifty pounds, not including the light metal boxthe Container is keyed to. It had his sleeping bag and a collapsible tent init, but now it holds most of what was in his bag. He left everything that hemight need at a moment’s notice out of it, like first aid supplies and snacks.
Leaf tucks her ocarina in her blouse. “How long before we’re out of the city?I want to start training Crimson with this!”
“We’re in the northern suburbs now,” Red says. “Shouldn’t take long.”
“Are you gonna pick up a flier soon too?”
“He wants a noctowl,” Blue says, already fiddling with his pokedex as theybegin to head north.
“Neat. Why a noctowl?”
“Well for one thing, their night vision is incredible, and they’re almostcompletely silent while flying. For another, they’re one of the smartest birdsin Kanto or Johto.”
Leaf smiles. “Very practical of you.” Red blinks, but before he can comment ather tone Leaf takes out her own pokedex. “Any thoughts on a good set ofcommands?”
“I’ve been looking some up,” Blue says. “There are a bunch of recommendations,but that lady was right: the more complex commands you want to give, the moreyou need to practice and memorize.”
“We’d better start then.” Red takes his small flute out, absently steppingaround a lightpost in the sidewalk as he examines it. “Let’s go over thebasics. Up, down, left, right. That’s four notes. A return command, that’sfive. A ‘hover,’ for those pokemon that can do it…”
“Hang on,” Blue says. “Too complex. Pokemon are smart enough to know how tofly on their own. I’m going to stick with diving, climbing, and hovering formovement, and use the rest for attacks.”
“Well, I’ve got the options,” Leaf says, indicating her pendant. “I don’t needto micromanage them every moment, but if I need them to go a specificdirection I like having the option.”
They debate and discuss the optimal ways to train their pokemon as they walk,researching and testing their instruments. Within an hour they’re surroundedby more trees than houses, and the road begins to split in differentdirections. They stay on the main path north as it winds between smallneighborhoods and the occasional mom and pop stores.
Eventually Blue and Leaf take turns registering various whistle commands withtheir pokedex, then downloading them to their pidgey’s pokeballs. Afterletting the sound recognition programs run, they summon Zephyr and Crimson tofly around them, occasionally using their whistles to try instructions. At onepoint Crimson lands on Leaf’s shoulder, and Red notes the ruddy feathers alongits wing tips. He’s about to point it out to Leaf, then realizes it must bethe basis for the name. He feels a flush of embarrassment, and is glad hedidn’t voice his assumption that it was a reference to him.
“I can’t wait till they’re big enough to fly on,” Leaf says with a smile asshe watches Crimson take off again and soar up to a tree to peck at somefruit.
“Yeah, we should reach Vermillion City before then.”
“What’s in Vermillion city?”
“Well, I don’t know how they do it in Unova, but here in Kanto they don’t justhand the Fly program out to anyone,” Blue says.
“What, you mean it’s regulated?”
Red nods. “It gives bird pokemon an incredible boost in endurance andstrength, but it’s not magic, and a lot of people don’t seem to get that.”
Blue scowls. “So all of us have to prove we’re not idiots just because somemoron uses it on a golbat that’s barely bigger than they are and plummets offa roof.”
“Ugh. Did that really happen?”
Leaf makes a disgusted face. “So how do we prove we’re not idiots?”
“Vermillion Gym Leader Surge,” Blue says. “You might have heard of him Leaf,he’s from Unova.”
“Really? That’s awesome. No, I never heard of him. Does he use any birds fromUnova?”
“Surge runs an electric gym actually. There’s no flying gym in Kanto.”
Leaf raises a brow, and Red grins, shrugging. “We don’t make the rules.”
The sun continues to set, and the woods on either side of the road begin togrow thick as they enter the outer edges of Viridian Forest. They pass aschool nestled in a clearing off the side of the road, and a few minutes latersee a crowd of six or seven year olds in the distance. Blue and Leaf calltheir pokemon back, and withdraw them into their balls. When they get closer,they see the kids are gathered around an old man. A woman in a teacher’suniform stands by, supervising the field trip and quieting the kids to let theold man talk over their shouted questions and excited chattering.
“Alright now, settle down, settle down,” the old man says, and the kids growmostly quiet. “Who here can tell me the most important part of catchingpokemon?”
“Keep it still!”
“Summon your pokemon!”
“Knock it out!”
“Stay a safe distance!”
“That’s right!” The old man says. “First and foremost, you want to stay a safedistance from the pokemon. That means knowing what a certain pokemon iscapable of. If you encounter a pokemon that you’ve never seen before, you haveto be extra careful! Don’t assume that just because it’s big that it’ll moveslow, or because it’s small it has short reach. Watch carefully.”
The three trainers slow to a stop nearby as the old man walks into the woods.Red looks past him into the foliage and notices a weedle sitting on a bush andmunching on its leaves, bright yellow and pink body a warning to any that comenear. As the old man approaches, the weedle perks up, its segmented body goingrigid as an exclamation point, long and thick as the old man’s forearm.
“Now, the standard pokeball has a lock-on range of about nine meters, andthese little bugs can easily jump that. They pack some fearful poison in thatstinger, so catching one can be a bit risky. But as long as you know how toread their body language…” He takes a careful step forward, then one to theside, watching the weedle as the stinger on its forehead sways to follow him.“See how it’s bunching itself up? One more ought to do it…”
The old man steps forward, and the weedle shoots forward like a loosed arrow.Red feels his pulse surge, and the watching kids cry out as the old manstaggers to the side. The weedle curls midair and flips, so that it lands onthe other side still facing him.
Red’s hand is on charmander’s pokeball and Leaf is already stepping forwardwith her arm cocked back, but when the old man turns they see he’s grinning.
“Quick bugger caught my sleeve there,” he says, eyes on the arthropod as heholds his arm up to show the tear in his shirt. “Come on little guy, you cando better than that.” He steps forward, some of the children crying out inwarning as the weedle bunches itself up and leaps at him again, quick as ablink.
The veteran ducks and spins with the speed of a man half his age, calmlyturning to keep the weedle in his vision. It goes at him again and again, butnever comes closer than a hand-breadth.
As Red watches the grizzled instructor turn and sidestep every leap, he feelshimself slowly relax, a grin spreading over his face. The old man has clearlydone this many times to perfect such showmanship, and the crowd of studentscheers and claps, Red, Leaf and Blue joining in.
The old man turns to face the weedle again, and holds a hand up to quiet thecheers. “Now, see the way it’s arching its body like that rather than leapingat me again? It sees I’m too quick for it, so it’s going to try and even theplaying field a bit. That brings us to the second most important thing: speed.You gotta slow the pokemon down, or even better yet, keep it still! Whetheryou knock it out first or immobilize it some other way, you can’t catch apokemon that’s moving too fast for your ball to lock onto it, let alone hit itwith a throw.”
“We could’ve gotten those pidgey if they hadn’t kept blowing the balls away,”Blue mutters to Red, who shushes him.
The old man spreads his fingers wide and crouches, waiting. When the weedleshoots a string of sticky silk at him, he snatches it out of the air.
The weedle immediately leaps forward, using the connecting string to home inon the old trainer. But the veteran rotates on his heel with his arm straightout, swinging the weedle in an arc and bashing it against a tree trunk besidehim. The pokemon falls to the ground and releases the string, stunned.
The old man bows at the renewed cheers, then holds up his hand again to quietthem, three fingers up. “Third, make sure the area is clear of other pokemon.The ball can get confused if the capture area is crowded, and it won’t open ifit’s not positive it’ll draw in the right one.” He takes his pokeball out,lens pointed at the weedle. “Gotta let it hold on the pokemon for a bit, andwhen it’s ready…” There’s a ping as the pokeball locks onto its target.“It’ll let you know. Cock your arm back, take aim, and release just as theball is leaving your fingertips… like so!” The old man throws the ball,hitting the weedle dead on. The pokeball bounces to the side, and opens mid-spin to capture the pokemon in a flash.
The ball rolls on the grass before coming to a standstill. The old manretrieves the ball as his audience claps and cheers. He approaches the roadagain and notices the three trainers standing behind the crowd. “Well hellothere! Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
The kids and teacher all turn in surprise. “It certainly is,” Leaf says with asmile. “That was fantastic!” Red nods agreement.
“Why thank you kindly! You’re trainers then, are ya?” He eyes the pokeballs attheir waists.
“That’s right,” Blue says, and spins Zephyr’s pokeball on his finger. “Wecaught these ourselves.”
“Coooool,” one of the kids says, watching the ball, and Blue smirks as theclass begins to murmur excitedly, many asking to see their pokemon.
Red covers his grin with one hand. Just a few years ago, it would have been heand Blue staring in awe as “grown up” trainers walked by. When he notices oneof the boys watching him in particular though, he feels his own shoulderssquare a bit, back straightening.
“Hey, not bad!” The old man gives his new weedle’s ball a spin, then sends itacross the back of his hand by flexing his knuckles. The kids ooooh and ahhh,and Blue palms his ball to watch closely as the old trainer dances the stillspinning ball from the back of one hand over to the other before turning hishand and catching it out of the air. “We’re gonna look for a spinarak next.Feel free to stick around, maybe you’ll pick up a thing or two!” He winks.
Red’s response is cut off by Blue. “We’d love to, but we’re trying to make theforest by nightfall.”
Leaf nods. “I wouldn’t mind getting a weedle of my own!”
Red hesitates, then nods. “Maybe another time.”
“Anytime you’re in the area, just come pay me a visit. Name’s Hamato.”
They introduce themselves, bow, and wave goodbye as they continue on theirway. Leaf and Blue remark on how amazing the veteran trainer had been, whileRed is mostly silent. That had been a perfect opportunity to spend the rest ofthe day without going any further north.
“You alright Red?”
He looks at Blue and nods. “Just wondering how long it might take to catch oneof every pokemon in here.”
Leaf looks speculative. “For each of us? Or in total?”
“How about a friendly wager? First person to reach six pokemon, without anyduplicates, is treated to dinner by whoever’s last.”
“Sounds like free food,” Leaf says. “You guys are one behind me.”
Red grins. “Is that a bet, then?”
Blue smirks. “You’re on.”
They pick up their pace, each pulling out their own pokedex. Within momentsthey’re so engrossed in their study of nearby pokemon habits that they barelynotice when they pass the sign marking the border to Viridian Forest.
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