Disclaimer: I do not own Pokémon. Pokémon owns me.
The thumbnail used for this fic is a piece created by a user named Kikariz, who seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth. If anyone knows where they might be contacted, please let me know.
Arc I: Tabula Rasa
"Are you a boy, or a girl?"
He raised his gaze to me when it became clear I wasn't going to answer. He opened his eyes wide, helpless and innocent, almost suppressing the twitch at the corner of his mouth. His biro tapped the form on the desk.
"The Registry Office needs to know."
I stared back at him for a moment as he nodded in grave agreement with his own statement. His pen shifted from one box to the other, his head tilting questioningly from side to side.
Finally, I relented.
"I sexually identify as a Nidoran."
He raised an eyebrow, moving the pen over the empty space next to the 'Other' category.
I sighed. "Male. I'm male."
He nodded, ticking the 'M' box.
"Kinda hurt you don't remember, Dad," I added.
His eyes flared with a sudden fury, and he slammed his open palm on the table with a surprising force. His face was held in a rictus, contorted into an exaggerated parody of a rage.
"That's Professor Oak to you, boy!"
I bowed my head, clasping my hands before me, pulling my shoulders together. My voice dripped with contrition.
"Yes, Professor Oak, sir. Sorry, sir."
"And take off that cap, you look like a damned boy."
I obeyed, the cool air of the lab wafting over my scalp. At the top of my peripheral vision, I could see him settling back into his chair. He raised his hand from the table, glancing at the pen - checking it for fractures before twirling it back into a writing position. He held his jaw rigid, his nostrils flared, a stern gaze settling over me.
"Good. Let's not hear that again. Now, what's your name?"
"Red Oak, sir." I didn't dare look up, for fear of making eye contact. My shoulders were already shaking. I held my breath, steeling myself against the sensation welling in my chest. He filled in another box I couldn't make out, then barked another question.
"Date of birth?"
"August twelfth, five ninety-three, sir."
He glared at me again. "Leaving? On your eighteenth birthday? Are you that desperate to get away from home? What, family not good enough for you? House doesn't meet sir's expectations? Rather swim up shit creek in the blink of an eye than spend one more day with your wrinkled old codger of a father?"
"No, sir. My esteemed father is a gentleman and a scholar."
He gave a short nod, barely satisfied. Behind me I could hear a tortured, nasal snort as one of the aides struggled to contain their laughter.
We proceeded through the questionnaire in that manner, barked questions being responded to with short, respectful answers. Yes sir, no sir, Independent sir. The pages turned at too great a pace, and before long he was pushing the form towards me.
"Jane Hancock, right there."
I leaned over, taking the pen from his hand - he barely allowed himself the slightest resistance before letting it go - and scrawled my signature in the box. There. Done.
I was officially a registered Pokémon Trainer.
The general patter of activity behind me had died - replaced with footsteps, which vanished as the door at the opposite end of the room clicked closed. A moment of privacy, a gesture of respect.
Slowly, and with grave precision, I placed the pen on the desk. Exactly parallel with the edge of the form. I snapped to attention, arms locked straight by my sides, a grim and jaded expression on my face, and looked him directly in the eye. He returned the stare, iron and leather.
I held my breath. Tensed every muscle. But when I saw him bite his lip, I lost.
The air in my lungs escaped all at once in a strangled hoot. My hand reflexively covered my eyes as every laugh I'd suppressed burst forth with a vengeance. My chest convulsed; my eyes ran with water as I snorted like a pig. Through the tears, I could see the Professor doubled over, a hand pressed flat against the desk with the other holding his face.
The laughter racked us both until my chest hurt; until my face was wet and my elbows rested on the desk for support. Until the I'd forgotten why we were laughing - until I was only laughing at how long we'd been laughing.
Eventually, inevitably, the laughter subsided. The last residual chuckles rang out, and silence took over once more. After a moment, he gave a long, steadying sigh. With a palpable reluctance, he took the paper back, looked over it once, and nodded. Ever so slightly, his shoulders slumped. He turned his attention back to me, a sad smile and a hint of sparkle in his eye, and spoke - this time, without the drill instructor routine.
"Well. Can't be a Trainer without a Pokémon, can you?"
Slowly, I shook my head. "No. Sir."
His chest contracted in a silent chuckle, his smile broadening. He stood, tapping the registration form as he did so. He smoothed down his lab coat distractedly, patting away at the creases and pulling at the lapels. Walking around the desk, he came face to face with me.
We stood for a moment, taking each other in. He was ageing, but not yet aged. He had a vigour to him - that of a youthful sportsman who got out before overexertion could take too great a toll. His movements were slow, but that was more a product of present circumstances than infirmity. The wrinkles at the corners of his eyes had grown more prominent in recent years, the creases around his mouth deeper, but it served more to give his face definition than anything else. His hair was more grey than brown, now, but his skin still held a deep tan born of long hours in the sun.
He opened his mouth, then closed it. He turned his face to the ceiling, blinked hard, once, and returned his gaze to me. With great effort, he pushed a smile to his face.
"Shall we meet your starter?"
I nodded, and followed him as he walked towards a side door. The Professor drew a key card from the pocket of his lab coat and swiped it through the reader to one side, tapping a numerical pin into the adjacent pad. A green light, a click, and the metal door slid aside.
Through the entrance shone white, sterile light. Powerful fluorescent strips illuminated the room from the ceiling, the flow of energy through them lending the room a low electric hum. Devices of steel and chrome lined the walls and crowded the centre of the tiled floor. They stood alongside ancient machines of faded plastic and warped metal, even the odd bit of wood panelling - all of them computers, many of which reached as high as the ceiling. Plenty were obsolete, unused for decades but too large to be easily removed. Half had been built into the structure of the lab itself - towering punch-card computers yellowed with age, reels of tape feeding into behemoths which couldn't have operated a modern calculator.
Contrasting them were the newer, sleeker machines. Where the older computers were all hard angles and broad blocks, these were contoured and rounded. Blinking lights and touchscreens, coloured stripes pulling the eye towards important panels and recesses. Crevices and wireframes abounded, many of them shaped to accept the small sphere of a Pokéball.
I'd spent nearly eight years with the Professor, and I still had no idea what half these machines did. The most prominent was in the far centre of the room - a flat, raised dais of black plastic that sported six hemispherical indents. A diagnostic tool, much the same as the one seen in most Pokémon Centres. It would analyse the code form that Pokémon took when placed into a Pokéball, scanning for irregularities against a database of healthy examples of the species, detecting issues and prompting the nursing staff with recommended treatments.
There had been much effort in recent years to develop tools which could alter Pokémon through direct manipulation of the code. This had been widely speculated about ever since the development of electronic Pokéballs - if Pokémon could be converted into binary data, surely we could manipulate that data to improve, perfect, duplicate, even invent Pokémon.
And since Pokéballs could be used to store inanimate objects, the phrase "post-scarcity society" had been spoken with increasing fervour and excitement. It was an exciting prospect - but the Professor had quietly told me not to pin my hopes on it. His colleagues at Silph were of the opinion that the technology was decades away at best, utterly unfeasible at worst. Reading the contents of an Apricorn in code form was one thing; altering that code and pushing them back into the device in a way that manifested as desired was another altogether.
Cradled within the nearest of these recesses sat a single Pokéball. Plain red and white, unadorned - either a weak and easy capture, or an official Association-approved starter. The Professor, a few steps ahead of me, strode up and tapped a few icons on the touchscreen that covered one slanting side of the machine. The tall screen that marked the far edge of the device blinked into life. A few seconds passed as it displayed a simple Pokéball icon, the white and red halves alternately glowing and fading.
Then, divided into six segments, the screen displayed the contents of the six slots. Five empty, naturally, but the sixth held—
My breath caught.
The Professor beamed, his pride clear to see.
Eevee. The most adaptable, customisable Pokémon on the planet. Most Pokémon had a single evolutionary path, if they had one at all. Lucky ones might have two, though many of the alternate forms had absurdly specific requirements that were utterly asinine to trigger.
Eevee had seven.
Seven confirmed, with at least one more rumoured. As starters went, it was an absolute dream. A genetic structure so unconventional that, had a geneticist proposed it, the concept would have been dismissed outright. Of course, it's easy to dismiss a theory - harder with a small brown-furred, bushy-tailed mammal, yapping cheerfully and demanding treats.
"How did you...?"
He chuckled, raising the palms of his hands into the air.
"I'm the Pokémon Professor! Who's going to turn me down?"
I was at a loss for words. The Professor tapped a few keys to bring up some diagnostics on the screen, and began reading aloud.
"Male. Three years old in real time, eleven-odd months from his point of view. In perfect health physically. Not fixed - so mind your leg. A few recessive genes which could cause issues for potential offspring, so you'll want to screen any mates ahead of time."
He turned from the screen.
"In terms of personality, I understand he's a bit on the naive side - even as Eevees go. Very trusting, very friendly. Quite playful. He might be a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to danger, at least at first, so don't be surprised if he's frightened at the outset. He's been through training, so he knows how to fight, but he might be a little skittish when it comes to real violence. He may need some emotional support on that front. Don't worry, though - physically, he's got the makings of a real powerhouse, and the Association's file claims he's a quick learner."
I nodded as he spoke, a smile blooming wide across my face. My own Pokémon.
"Can...can I meet him?" I asked.
The Professor grinned, pressing a few buttons on the console. The screen blipped off, and a brief whirring noise signalled the ball's release from its anchoring. He took the ball, rotating it into a Trainer's grip, button pointed outward, without so much as thinking about it. A reflex honed from decades of practice.
I moved forward, opening my palm. He clasped his hands around mine, pressing the Pokéball into my grasp. I took it and turned to the open space behind me, straightened my stance, and pressed the button.
A stream of electric light, condensing in the outline of a quadrupedal mammal perhaps a foot high. A variety of hues appeared, quickly defining themselves into a tawny fur coat with a fluffy, cream-coloured collar. Pointy ears, perked and already twitching. The light stabilised and a pair of shining black eyes stared at me, eager and excited.
Slowly, gingerly, I knelt down on one knee and produced a handful of berries. Eevee didn't need much encouragement; without a moment's hesitation, he trotted over to me and started eating from my hand. His little wet nose grazed the ball of my hand as he ate. Trusting.
Perhaps a little too trusting, but we'd deal with that later.
As the little furball finished the berries and began nuzzling my hand, I felt a sensation overcome me. One I had never truly known before. Contentment, yes, and joy at meeting a new friend, but also a heavier one.
Our last dinner together was strange. The Professor was actually there, for one - he usually spent his evenings in the lab, tending to the Pokémon or working on his research. That had dropped off over the last few weeks - I guess he was starting to realise how little time was left before we flew the coop. Tonight, he'd even gone so far as to ditch the lab coat in favour of a maroon shirt. He might as well have been wearing a tuxedo.
Daisy, by contrast, seemed for all the world like it was just another evening. Only the meal itself suggested that anything was different - deep-fried Magikarp, croquettes, and heaping portions of thick-cut chips. My favourite, and in massive quantities. It was a statement in itself, a reminder of what would be here if - when - I came back.
To tell you the truth, I'd half-expected Blue to skip dinner entirely - he'd been vocal about his annoyance with the Professor's decision - but it seemed the allure of fresh-fried Magikarp overwhelmed him. Honestly, I was impressed with his composure. He'd been pissed for weeks that I was getting a starter and setting off before him. Perhaps he'd finally grasped that it was his fault to begin with.
He was, after all, the elder of us - if only by a week. His eighteenth birthday had come and gone. But the Professor had been insistent that we both get top-of-the-line starters, and acquiring those took time. He couldn't get two of them at once - not Pokémon of the standard he expected for his protégés. I hadn't had a problem with Blue going first, and neither had the Professor.
The Professor had, however, playfully posed the question to him, feigning indecision - a rare chance to really rile Blue up. Hit him right in the ego, an affront to his assumption of superiority. It had all been in good fun, until Blue - the idiot - had to go and pull that card.
The "I'm your real grandson" card.
Bam. Buttons pressed, nerves pinched. I'll never understand why Blue thought that was a good idea, but it sure as hell backfired on him. The Professor actually shouted at him - something I'd seen only twice before. Once when he'd caught Blue throwing rocks at the Professor's Tauros, and the other at my Mom.
After that, he'd brooked no further discussion. I was going first, Blue would get his starter when another could be found. Blue had protested, argued - Mew help us, even apologised - all to no avail.
I knew it was just a jab, but it still hurt.
Now, though, he'd seemingly come to terms with it. I guess he realised protest wasn't going to get him anywhere, and continued petulance would only sour the mood. For all his braggadocio, we were still brothers - as far as I was concerned, anyway - and neither of us wanted to say goodbye on a hard note. It could be a long time before we saw each other again.
Come the end of dinner, he even delivered a toast.
"Hey, everybody! Listen! I got something important to say." He stood, flute in hand - the Professor had broken out a bottle of champagne for the evening - and tapped it with his fork a couple of times. Unnecessary, since we were all looking at him already, but he could never resist the flair of a gesture.
"Now, you all know me—"
The Professor frowned in confusion, looking at me and jabbing a thumb towards Blue. "What's his name again?" he asked.
Blue ignored the sally, instead continuing his oration. "You all know me. Soul of generosity, no question. But when Gramps first told me that Red was gonna be joining our family, I was against it. That nerd? That weirdo? Dumbass who reckons you could breed a Seviper with a Zangoose if you had the balls to stick 'em in a room together? 'Tard who thinks Rock types are vulnerable to Electric attacks? I took one look at that scraggly, skittish little kid and I said to myself Ah, c'mon Gramps, we can do better than that."
"And you showed up, and you took up in my room and you ate our food, you cried a lot and you were scared of everything - but hell, I guess Gramps saw something in you, cause you were something special. Couldn't talk to the other kids for shit, but you're a born Trainer if ever I saw one. You were in the lab every damn day, nerding it up with the old coot or givin' Mareep the shocker or whatever. You played with the Pokémon, you studied 'em, ran the sims, everything. You even got Gramps to get a couple packages in from Hoenn, and wouldn't you know it? Now we've got a baby Zangoose and a really conflicted Seviper."
Chuckles all around.
"So I guess you're not a total retard. You got the theory down - good enough, anyway. And now Gramps is gonna let you go to town on the Elite Four, 'cause he's got too old to split Agatha in half himself."
The Professor was leaning back, hands resting on his belly, mildly amused. Daisy was leaning on one closed hand, peering at her younger brother with scepticism, rolling her eyes and sighing at every puerile turn of phrase. I was busy trying not to tear up.
Hey, coming from Blue, this was tender.
"Don't let the head start make you feel safe, now. Watch your back, 'cause I'm gonna be on your scent like a Houndoom."
He raised his glass, as did the rest of us.
"Smell ya later, bro."