AN: Tremble before the might of my update of terror. Also shout out to the awesome Lion of the Cordy, Cordylion for his mad awesome plotting and editorial skills. Also shout out to my bro StandingMan, author of Ambition and Shadowed Paragon, I told you I'd have this updated. I never said it would be fast, but I said it would be updated, ha! You cannot rush perfection.

Thanks for all the support so far, it's been a fun project and I look forward to the road ahead. But enough of my blabbing, on with the show!


Ben shivered and not just from the cold rain touching his skin. The name sent chills down his spine.

Mars? He was being recruited by Mars?

He stood in front of the Pokemon Center, mouth agape, staring in the direction the woman had headed off in. The Pokemon world's downsides had quickly made themselves known. Great adventure ahead of him also came with the price of potential world destroying psychopaths that could rip apart the entire fabric of the universe.

Potential world destroying psychopaths that the first Ben had apparently tried to get involved with.

He really could not catch a break.

Ben shook his head and darted into the Pokemon Center not only to get out of the rain but out of sudden paranoia. His heart started to race. If Team Galactic existed and Mars was recruiting him…

He took a deep breath to try to calm down.

I'd rather work with you than … not.

Her voice echoed in his mind. She was definitely recruiting. She even had a sultry tone. If Team Galactic – or at least Mars – seemed intent on him joining, was he under surveillance? Was he under threat? Would they cut the loose thread the moment he rejected the offer?

Ben slouched in exasperation and groaned. He should have recognized her sooner. Disguise or not, the eye and hair color should have given her away immediately. How hard was it to recognize bright red hair and red eyes?

Nothing he could do about that now, especially when the contact with Team Galactic by his namesake was out of his control. He could only move carefully and work to stop the damage done by his counterpart. He definitely didn't want to mess with these nuts without proper information and planning. He raced to the front desk and asked Nurse Joy for a room key before rushing to his room, occasionally peeking over his shoulder before finally reaching it.

Ben swiped the security card to unlock the room and stepped through the door. He reached for Piplup and Hisuian Zorua's Poke Balls. He wasn't sure how helpful his team would be if it came down to a fight, but knew having them was better than nothing.

Ben tapped the releases on both Poke Balls to let his teammates out. Piplup trilled at him eagerly while Zorua eyed him suspiciously like one honors the accused. He rolled his eyes and reached into his pocket for his Pokedex, holding it up for his team to see.

"Alright," he began. "We're in a very precarious situation where we might need to fight or at least where I might need to call on you two to get us out of a bind. If you don't mind, I'd like to scan you both with this to see what techniques you know. Would that be okay?"

Piplup and Zorua nodded, prompting Ben to point the device directly at them. The screen lit up to display Piplup on the screen and spoke in a very dull, robotic monotone – some things remained constant in the pokemon universe.

Piplup, the Penguin Pokemon: Because it is very proud, it hates accepting food from people. Its thick down guards it from cold. This pokemon is male and has the ability Torrent. It also knows the following techniques: Pound, Growl, Water Gun, Peck, Icy Wind, and Aqua Ring.

"Nice, didn't expect you to have Aqua Ring," he said. The rest was in line with what he remembered other Piplup having in the games and anime.

The screen then flickered erratically as it flipped through numerous entries in a matter of seconds in hopes of finding Zorua's entry.

Error 610: Species not recognized in database but basic characteristics recognized. Gender of unknown species is female although ability is unknown. Techniques include Shadow Sneak, Swift, Snarl, and unrecognized fourth technique.

Ben raised an eyebrow. Was Hisuian Zorua not even in the Pokedex? Good thing he already knew the species' signature moves and ability. He didn't dwell on the subject long, quickly refocusing on the situation at hand.

"Names, do you want names? Might be easier to identify you both with."

Both Piplup and Zorua looked at each other briefly as if to deliberate amongst each other before they both nodded in affirmation.

Ben frowned for a moment, put on the spot by Piplup and Zorua. He didn't actually have any names in mind when he offered his teammates them. He rubbed his chin absentmindedly, hours of college lectures and research replaying in his mind. He was pressed enough at this point that he'd swipe any mythological or biological inspired names.

"How does Crest sound?" Ben asked, pointing to Piplup.

The bird glared at him like he had been personally insulted, prompting a frown from Ben.

"You're right, sorry, that was a terrible idea."

"Fjord?"

Piplup squawked indignantly, angrier at the even worse suggestion to the point he looked like he was strike him down if he offered another tasteless name. Ben raised his hands defensively. "Definitely not Fjord either, got it!"

Ben gulped. He definitely had to get the third suggestion right or he was a dead man.

"How does Trident sound?"

Piplup's eye twitched.

"Hear me out. It's a weapon wielded by a master of the sea. It would refer to the appearance of your final evolution but also to how you are a mighty weapon of the sea," Ben explained. "Even you have to admit that's cool!"

Piplup gave the name some thought before puffing out his chest with pride.

"You like it?"

Piplup nodded.

"Good, that's one down, I guess…" Ben muttered, turning his gaze to Zorua who he already knew would be significantly tougher to name.

He tossed out a few cliches. Shade, Vex, Hex, and Nocturne were far too generic to be good names. Besides, the absolute last thing he needed was to tick off Trident again by suggesting a bad name.

Some dumber side of him came up with Snowball but that only lasted less than a second. Only someone with no creativity or common sense would even suggest Snowball as a joke.

That left him with myths and names unique to other languages. And while he was loath to utilize them since so many lackluster names frequently originated from them, there were a few things that didn't sound too bad.

In fact…

"How do you like Nyx, Zorua?"

The fox tilted her head slightly out of curiosity.

"I remember it from a class in ancient history, it's a name meaning dark or night in Greek. At least, that's what it's supposed to mean. It would fit your illusion powers and your species."

Ben swore he could see the gears shifting inside Zorua's head as she stared into the sky. After a good minute or more of deliberation, the fox nodded.

"So you'll take the name?"

She nodded again.

"Awesome, guess that takes care of that." Ben chuckled, taking a deep breath.

He felt a little better now that he knew what he was working with, although he was skeptical that he could take on a Team Galactic executive and win. The best he could do was run and disorient his foes to put greater distance between him and his potential pursuers. Nyx's illusions would certainly aid in buying them time to escape and direct enemies away from them, but even that did not guarantee success. Every technique and trick had a counter.

Illusions could be broken with a Pokemon with great senses or otherworldly abilities that basically allowed them to see through illusions. Especially the kind Nyx likely would create, since she wasn't very old and lacked experience in projecting them. He supposed how to handle a potential confrontation with Team Galactic depended on what type of world he was in. If he was in a world like the anime, he'd probably be able to hold his own or outmaneuver them rather easily even though he was just a beginner. However, if this was some sort of world with any sort of realism, it was best to avoid the criminals altogether.

All the more reason he needed to hit the library. As Sun Tzu said, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."

He certainly had more than one hundred battles ahead of him if he was going to survive as a trainer.

/

The Jubilife Library was unlike anything he had seen so far. Its red brick exterior reflected a classical western style, as opposed to the subtle Japanese design generally incorporated into the Pokemon universe. Now that he thought about it more, it wasn't really all that special. If anything, it was mundane. The Jubilife Library looked less like a library and more like a converted warehouse. Perhaps, that was why it stood out amongst the modern landscape of the city, a surviving relic amid streets of glass and steel.

Whatever the case, he had research to do. Ben entered the library and gave his surroundings a once over. It was surprisingly spacious and modern in contrast to the homely brick exterior. High ceilings, a digital directory of the building – with touchscreen if the couple sliding the map of the building around was any indication – and a cafe practically at the entrance. A blend of the old and the new.

Ben made his way past tourist and trainer alike, walking through the cafe and entering the actual library. His eyes widened at the sight of endless bookshelves; his heart skipped a beat. It was like his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin all over again. Before him was a treasure trove of knowledge and information. The only question was where to start.

He took a deep breath. Conference tournament records – he needed conference tournament records before anything else. Those would be the most telltale sign of what he was dealing with.

/

Ben reached for the almanacs atop the tower of books he'd stacked upon the table.

He wasn't leaving any stone unturned. He had almanacs on two decade's worth of conference results from the regions he recognized, magazines featuring the champions and Elite Four members of the past five years, and books about the most notorious crimes in history, all in hopes of gaining information about what he was up against in this world.

He set the almanacs in front of him and smirked at the title of the first one he pulled from the stack. Ray's Conference Almanac: Indigo. Ben thumbed through the first few pages in search for the contents page.

He immediately turned to the first of the Indigo Conference tournaments held in this decade in search of a particular name.

If he found Ash Ketchum's name somewhere in the records, specifically top sixteen of the Indigo Conference he would know he was in the anime universe. Anything higher and he probably landed in some alternate universe.

He flipped to the next log and skimmed over the names before repeating the process. Two pages, then four, then eight, ten…not a single sign. He grabbed the Silver Conference almanac and checked the more recent records for any sign of Ash to no avail. Unfortunately, Ever Grande and Lily of the Valley records came up empty too.

Ben groaned, slamming his head down on the table. That didn't help him much. Actually, that didn't help him at all. Making sense of the world primarily hinged upon figuring out Ash's progress. Back to the drawing board.

Ben reached up and pulled the top book from the stack, only to frown upon looking at the cover. The Idiot's Guide to League Champions. Wrong book. He pushed the book off to the side and reached for the book that had been underneath it, setting it down in front of himself.

Halls of Fame: A History of the Regional Champions and the Elite Four

Perhaps this would help him piece together the world a bit. The difficulty curve of training would be easier to figure out by examining how long it took the best in the world to reach their peak.

Ben flipped through the book and started with Sinnoh, skipping to the chapter on the champion. Just as he expected, Cynthia was the champion of Sinnoh. What he was surprised to learn though was that she had taken the mantle from Bertha. He knew Bertha was a crafty veteran but didn't expect she had been champion at one point.

More importantly, from the looks of it, Cynthia won her first Lily of the Valley Conference tournament at the age of 17 and ascended to champion six years later.

He flipped through the book making his way back to the chapter on Lance, finding a similar story to Cynthia's ascendance. He finished runner-up in the Indigo League at the age of 17 and won the Silver Conference at 18 before taking both the Kanto and Johto champion mantles about seven years later.

He quickly turned to the chapter on Steven. It seemingly took him a bit longer due to his defensive, tank heavy team but he was runner up in the Ever Grande Conference at the age of 17 and ultimately claimed the mantle of Hoenn champion nine years later.

It took time to become champion. He could definitely rule out a fast track to fame and power like in the games. Then again, he was armed with knowledge and shortcuts to power. Although it made him morbidly curious.

Ben flipped to the chapter on Galar, unable to resist checking if Leon existed here. He gritted his teeth. Leon did exist and he was receiving tons of hype.

Ben groaned. He hated Leon. He was one of the major reasons he refused to play Sword or Shield. His backstory of being an unbeatable super champion seemed unearned compared to the other champions who had more depth and experience, in addition to giving off the impression they'd earned their positions from years of growth based on the ages they appeared to be. It didn't help that the hype for Leon felt forced, especially in the anime where he was beating the other champions with ease.

Youngest champion of all time at the age of 17 – one year past the beginning of his journey. Unbeaten in a hundred televised matches so far.

Apparently some things remained constant no matter how disliked.

Ben closed the book on champions in disgust and reached for the book on historical criminals, prying it from the bottom of the pile and almost toppling the stack in the process. Ben sprung to his feet to steady the wobbling tower of books before sitting back down.

He opened the book and flipped through it rapidly. Years of college reading and coding taught him the valuable skill of speed reading and helped him skim through the information.

From what he gathered, Team Rocket was mostly accounted for if the chapters on Giovanni, Archer, Proton, Petrel, and Ariana were any indication. Giovanni had tried some sort of plan to weaponize Mewtwo against the legendary Pokemon in Kanto, along with running his trafficking and poaching side-gigs. Apparently the league dealt with both his plan and the fallout afterwards before rounding up the remaining leaders.

There also was a brief chapter on Team Plasma, although the information on Team Plasma and their leadership was far less detailed than the chapters on Team Rocket. Ghetsis tried disarming the entire region with his propaganda about Pokemon only to be exposed and for league forces to arrest him after uncovering his plan to commit a coup against the champion and E4.

Unfortunately it didn't look like Team Galactic or any of the other regional threats had been dealt with. That likely meant Galactic was either just starting as an organization or was an established threat in the beginning stages of inching closer to their insane goal of messing with the delicate fabric of the universe.

Ben rubbed his chin in thought as he pieced together what little he knew. From the looks of it, he could rule out having landed in the anime. Ash was nowhere to be found – although he wasn't going to completely dismiss the possibility of his existence. Maybe that was something for future research.

Furthermore, Dawn's reaction to him, and Barry's stories about his friendship with the old Ben, basically confirmed that this place was different from the anime. Lastly, the champions' longer development only made it more obvious the world was a bit more serious than the anime universe or at least everything was scaled differently. Training seemingly took time and dedication.

He sighed. He was still lacking important information but he supposed that it didn't matter. He had a gym to prepare for – and worse, a rendezvous with a criminal organization.

A plan was forming in the back of his mind for his meeting with Mars, and even he knew it was insane. But unlike back in the old days, when Doctor Cascade was a moderating partner-in-crime for his Youtuber schemes, there was no one here to talk him out of it.

The hell with it. What was the worst that could happen? You could only die once.