Trinity Test, Pokémon Style
Sebastian Loft stood there, oblivious to the sun and scorching heat. His gaze was transfixed on the distant horizon. Time passed, he did not stir.
Cory stared at the lone figure up high on the ridgeline. The man was a part of nature, a monument; for the moment, he seemed to surpass his myth-like reputation. Cory had not shrugged off the awe of meeting Loft, and was still coping with the pressure of working with such a man.
"The strongest trainer in Pokémon League History," he smiled. Now that he thought about it, Loft may be a great legend, but Cory thought he himself had the better looks. That egoistic thought helped him focus on the here and now. Unfortunately, it also made him aware of the 103 degree deadstill atmosphere surrounding him. Perfect for what they wanted to do today, and also perfect for toasting them to a Torkoal's burnt shell.
Salt Harbor Missile Range was a dry lake bed in the remote region of route 111. The nearest civilization was Clefton Airforce Base, a tiny outpost of the Hoenn's national guard. Fifty square miles of nothing in particular made it the best, indeed, only place to safely test the guard's artillery and missile pieces. The Hoenn national guard wasn't that big or that active, though, affording certain people the ability to rent the place for personal use. People like Loft.
The radio was receiving a message. Cory answered.
"Hello? Cory here?"
"Cory? Who're you?"
"I'm an associate of Mr. Loft… You have my name on the registry, right?"
"Sec… sec… okay, you're in here. Is Loft there?"
"Oh, well, inform him that weather stat has okay'd all testing; 'Yet another pristine triple-digit day of 99% sunshine' in their words."
"All right, I'll tell him."
"Roger, keep safe, have fun." Cory smirked. He wondered if anyone here was having "fun". The man-of-the-show was nothing but business.
"Hey Loft!" He hollered up to the old man. "We're cleared!"
Loft slid though the dirt and down to the road. Up close he was a little bit more ordinary. He looked more wiry, and tired, then his pictures. His hair was starting to grey, and without his customary glasses he was squinting in the bright sunlight. Still, his expression never changed from one of intensity and calm. Cory couldn't imagine him being flustered.
"You okay? Need water?" the old trainer asked.
"Good idea." The two walked to the bunker where their cooler full of bottled drinks sat, chatting along the way.
"So, can I ask, what exactly are we doing here?"
"Field testing," replied Loft succinctly.
The other raised an eyebrow.
"Wait just a little more."
While Cory rehydrated himself, Loft worked on the laptop.
"What's that?" Cory asked, pointing to the device attached by USB cable.
"Portable Pokémon PC"
He typed in more commands. Sounds resembling long gun shots were heard coming from a short distance away. Moments later, much larger, much louder explosions were heard in the sky. Cory ducked his head outside to see rather menacing fireworks fade away. A second wave reached into the sky, flaring and exploding with a frightening bang.
"Flashbangs, to scare whatever Pokémon are out there to clear the sight."
"I see. Hey, by the way, aren't you not allowed to carry around a portable PC unless you're a league official?"
Loft patted the machine, now attached to three of his Pokeballs. "One of the perks of being on top," he said plainly. The process finished and the lights on the front of the Pokeballs lit up.
"All set." He took the center Pokeball and threw it towards the ground. A Flygon appeared.
"Fwyyyyyyy." It yawned and scratched its ears.
"You overslept, doofus." Now with his Pokémon out, Cory got to see a different side of Loft.
"Have you eaten?"
Loft grabbed the Flygon between the cheeks and stared him eye to eye. The Flygon stared right back.
It nodded once.
"Okay." He stepped back, the Flygon stepped forward, out of the bunker's shade, and spread its wings. The desert sands and shimmering air was its natural habitat, it actually seemed happy to be out in the wasteland. Cory noticed as the Pokémon warmed up, its sleepiness was being worked out, and its exercises became quicker, livelier.
"So, Flygon." Long considered part of the 'main team', the five Pokémon who had powered through opponent after opponent, to give Loft his four world titles. Flygon was the fastest of the five, and combined with its speed and hard-hitting physical attacks, like Earthquake, it was a crowd favorite too. "How're ya doing?" Cory tentatively reached out a hand.
Flygon eagerly brushed into it, enjoying the headscratch. Then it lifted off and performed lazy aerial stunts for Cory. It even faked a blow and began free-falling, before recovering mere feet from the ground and gliding to a gentle landing. Cory applauded.
"He's a nice Pokémon. Is it a he?"
Cory pulled out his Pokedex. He remembered what his primary job was here: to perform research on strong Pokémon for the Lab. They were interested in how Pokémon who were pushed to the limits of training performed, biologically and behaviorally.
His Pokedex was an advanced model, with all kinds of neat gadgets installed. He went to the level-calculator, wondering how high Loft had trained his Pokémon (this knowledge wasn't released to the general public).
His hand jittered. He tried tapping the screen, sure that there was some bug. He read the figure again.
"That's not physically possible."
"What is?" Loft asked without looking up from his workstation.
"I'm trying to take Flygon's level."
"Oh. It's 175."
"No, that's not possible. It doesn't go that high. There's some bug here." Ignoring the fact that Loft had confirmed the number on his screen without even looking, Cory was still in shock.
But there was no mistake.
"You know levels don't tell you that much about how strong a Pokémon really is."
"That… doesn't matter. What's up with this?"
Loft sighed and put down his tools. He had at last accepted the Central Lab's request to allow an associate to shadow him during his routine training. He had accepted knowing they might be nosy and annoying, but he wish they hadn't sent someone who would be so flabbergasted at every little aspect of his profession.
"The dex is right, Flygon is level 175. Do you even know how levels are calculated, or what they represent?"
"Um, not really." He had a vague idea about experience gained and relative strength, but he didn't want to say anything more to make him look stupid.
"Awhile ago they thought there was a natural limit to a Pokémon's capacity to carry out the wishes of their trainers, in other words, to battle effectively. This theoretical limit was called the "Experience Cap", and an informal system was based around a famous Alakazam at the time. When word of Mewtwo got out, this theory was scrapped; and they realized much more powerful Pokémon existed, even without any human interaction. Still, rating Pokémon based on levels was a fancy, neat-o thing to do, and the armchair trainers loved it, so the League went and formulated a system."
"I follow so far…"
"They determined that there was a fuzzy cap where Pokémon could fight to, and beyond that cap, it wasn't that the Pokémon couldn't become more powerful, but they started to become exponentially more dangerous when fighting, both to their opponents and to themselves. Just shy of this fuzzy area they set the cap and called it level 100. The way battles work, no one's encouraged to even approach that cap, much less break it. It takes an exhaustive amount of work to even reach the cap, let alone go beyond it, even intentionally…"
"Yeah, then how'd you…. Flygon? 175?"
"Another perk for being the best; no… a necessity to be the best," Loft grimaced. He turned to his Flygon. "Flygon, ready?"
The dragon-ground Pokémon bobbed and flew far out towards the missile range. A final wave of flashbangs lifted off into the sky, followed by an even louder sound. The warning siren pierced Cory's ears, and he had to cover them. Loft motioned him inside the bunker.
Inside he was going over schematics and making notes.
"We are… 1,200 feet from target, Flygon is 800 feet in the air." He pushed a walkie-talkie to his mouth. "Flygon you read me?"
"Fwyyyyy." It was fuzzy and faint, but Loft seemed to understand his companion.
"For a little more detail, it's not that it's especially hard to push a Pokémon over level 100, but if you try, the League will know and subject you to their own byzantine regulations. It makes it very discouraging to actually do it."
"Apparently you did."
"Yes, well, I was willing to sacrifice a lot to become stronger." He looked gloomy for a moment. He suddenly bent forward and wrote something in his notebook. Cory was curious, and peeked over when Loft wasn't paying attention.
'REM: call eric'. Eric was Loft's son, Cory recalled. Despite being a world-famous trainer, very little of his personal life ever got through to the public.
"Not my job," Cory said to himself. Then aloud: "So what kind of regulations are you put under?"
"For one, since anything over 100 is dangerous, even to the Pokémon, I have to take care to train Flygon's body to handle the forces exerted on it. Then there's the health checkups, the medicine and vitamin supplements, the constant diet and exercise, all that jazz. For Flygon in particular, that means lots of Calcium and Carbos; it helps with strengthen his blood vessels, bones, and tissue, which help with the G-forces when flying. Then there's special rules accompanying what battles Flygon can enter and how they're fought, and even the locations are regulated."
"Hmm. That does sounds excessive, don't you think? I mean, even regulated, why would they let you keep a Pokémon that strong, if it was just a danger?"
"I'll tell you if you keep this confidential. It's not classified, but it's better if it's not shared."
"I'll sign a gag order if you want," Cory offered.
"Please," Loft said, totally serious. He wrote a hasty, crude, barely-legal contract ordering Cory to not divulge the specified information. The researcher obliged and put his name down in writing.
"So so so, what's the catch about 100+ pokes?"
"The catch is that they are considered military assets and that we're obligated to register with the national guard. I'm considered a contracted civilian retainer." For emphasis, Loft pulled out his wallet and showed him a small card in the back. It was a Military I.D. with Loft's photo on it.
"Woah. That is serious."
"Right. We're allowed the 'privilege' to keep Pokes this level if we make them available for national crisis."
"Man. Have you ever been called on?"
"Three months in Kuwait for Operation Enduring Freedom. Fortunately no combat, Flygon only ran two or three recon missions, then the drones took over. Worst days of my life… personal observation, please don't construe that as a statement of my politics. Best just lay off that subject."
"Hey, I'm just a researcher, not a reporter," Cory said while throwing his hands up. "But jeeze, military assets, the Iraq war? Are you kidding me, the public would have a heyday if they knew about this!"
"Thus the gag order."
Cory shook his head. Here he was, casually talking shop with the legendary Sebastian Loft himself, acting like they were close buddies, and Loft kept piling on the juicy behind-the-scenes details of the world of super-elite trainers.
Loft adjusted more instruments, then ran outside to check the area with his own eyeballs.
"Okay, all set."
He pointed to each monitor and control panel in front of them in turn.
"Thermobaric reading, pressure reading, centralized data, video feed, instrumental feed, atmosphere reading, pokenav system, radar. Another perk of being associated with the army, lots of cool toys."
"What's this all for?"
Loft took a deep breath.
"We're doing power and damage assessments."
"Meaning we ask the question 'How big a boom can Flygon make?'"
This got more interesting. He had assumed they were doing some attack testing, but had thought it'd be akin to bombing runs, or aerial dogfights, or flight patterns, or something of the like.
"Sheer power, that's what we're here for. I've never actually mechanically measured Flygon, so this will be a first."
"Now, if you could let me concentrate."
He piqued in the radio.
"Flygon, we're final-set. Testing Earthquake, Hyper Beam, and Aeroblast. Which do you want to start off with?"
Aeroblast? Cory reacted silently. Since when could a Flygon learn Aeroblast? He wanted desperately to ask, but couldn't. Besides, Loft was making funny faces.
"No, I told you can't do that."
"Yes. No. I said it's overmuch. We need all of the testing."
"Damnit that is not allowable!"
He began typing into the computer.
"You know what, fine. Your call."
Loft stormed out of the bunker for a second.
"What's the matter?"
"Flygon. He's being stubborn."
"We're supposed to test all of his attacks. The dirk just wants to show off though."
"He wants to fire an overcharged Aeroblast."
Cory didn't really understand, and Loft got the hint.
"It means he wants to put physical max energy into the one attack. He doesn't think it's a big deal if he passes out right after and we waste a few days for him to recover. Noooo. Too mundane for him." He got back on the radio. "Last chance to back down you bastard."
"Fwwwwwwiiiiiii!" came the angry reply over the radio.
The computer beeped. Loft bent down to read it.
"Huh?" Cory tried to peek in, but Loft brushed past him.
"Crap!" he yelled. "Flygon!"
He dialed the radio to a different channel.
"Cent this is Loft, come in."
"We're having a change of plans."
"We're cleared for large-field explosions, right?"
"Yep, up to 3k kilos."
"Um, right, 3k? Well, we might hit that."
"What is 3kilos?" asked Cory. Loft motioned him to shut up.
"Can we go up to 3k?"
"Well, yeah… I mean, that's what the range is cleared for by the safety board, but, I mean, that's preposterous."
"Well, just giving you fair warning, if it happens that way."
"Alright. You be safe. I'll get the staff on alert, if you're worried."
The radio clicked off. Loft clicked to a different channel.
"Ready on mark 200 seconds, Flygon. Don't be stupid."
Loft looked at the radar.
"Wait, 7,800? That's way too high. Unless…. Crap. Crap. Crap." He tried clicking the radio, but it was no use, Flygon was out of range.
"We've got to go." Loft grabbed his laptop and pounded out.
"What's going on?" Cory felt confused, again, but this time not the amazed kind of confused, but the scared kind.
Loft grabbed him, hauled him outside, and shoved him into the jeep. The ignition started, and Loft blitzed off without even putting on his seatbelt.
"15 seconds…" He pulled in behind a ridge. "^%$& that lizard," he muttered under his breath. "Get down."
"Get down!" His head was shoved under the dashboard, and Loft followed suit in his own seat. Cory craned his neck to try to see outside. It appeared all so calm, the bright sunlight beating down on a still summer day.
Six more seconds passed, actually. Then the sky went dark for a split second. Literally, the entire sky turned to night. Except, over the ridge, there was the sheen of a blinding flash. The phenomena passed in less than a second.
Cory lifted his head an inch, unfortunately a moment too early.
The shockwave came in, actually lifting the three-quarter-ton jeep and shoving it back a few inches. The rest of the desert was covered in a thick sandstorm and howling crosswinds.
Cory turned to Loft and tried asking him something. Loft yelled something back. Cory realized he couldn't hear anything, they were deaf from the concussion on their eardrums. The backwash wave came in, almost as strong as the original, and smothered any hope of hearing each other.
When the air settled to something like normal, Cory picked himself out of the passenger seat and ran bodily of the hill. At the crest there was a perfect view of the Salt Harbor dry lakebed.
Or what was supposed to be a lakebed. Cory found himself staring into the sky at the surreal mushroom cloud hanging over it. It looked just like the films, except, standing a couple miles away, it felt like it took over the whole damn sky.
"Wow," he mouthed.
Loft had the radio on him. It was soon buzzing.
"Loft, what was that!"
"I warned you."
"Felt like a nuke, sir! God damn, god gamn! Arceus des and all that! Jeeze!"
"Yeah, bout sums it up."
"Humans are, I need to go find Flygon."
"Right. We're rattled, but I think we're okay. You know any property damage is being billed to you, right?"
"That's fine. Talk later, out."
Loft took time to snap a photo of the nightmarish scene, then tossed the camera to Cory. "For your research."
They got in the jeep and began wandering back to the bunker. It had survived, thankfully, and so did the instruments inside of it. The same couldn't be said of their gear that they had left outside. Besides, the far-side of the bunker, facing the range, was now buried in ten feet of sand. Loft and Cory had to dig to get into the back entrance. Loft went to the instrument array, and spent a minute trying to boot it up and working.
"Yeah, pretty close."
"The blast. 2.86 kilotons equivalent of TNT. About ¼ the power of the Hiroshima bomb."
"All that from a Pokémon?"
"Yeah. You know, another thing I have to do is keep a special radiation-treatment program embedded into Flygon's virtual space? It keeps him weaker than he could be."
"It could've been worst?"
Now Cory understood why the military would be interested in these Pokémon. And why Loft retired from official battling awhile ago, and hadn't used his main team for a longer time yet.
"Transmitter's down. Oh, wait, radar has him going into sector 312… here. Okay." Loft jumped up.
"Let's go discipline the brat."
A day later, they were standing at the weather station's visitor balcony. There was a homey café behind them and each adult took a sandwich and double servings of water. Cory thought they'd sit at the shaded tables, but Loft meandered over to the balcony rail, leaning on it.
Rather than pissed, or impressed, or happy, or anything else, Cory thought he looked sad.
"What's wrong? You're on the news, after all."
"That's nothing new."
Cory recalled the CNN broadcast- Pokémon Master training results in massive explosion, no casualties, minor damage: "Reports are coming in that a massive explosion, nearly 3 kilotons of TNT, was recorded at the Salt Harbor Missile Range. Officials say the testing was expected and nobody was hurt, and that all safety precautions and regulations were upheld. They did mention the blast was a bit bigger than they were expecting, and that it dazzled quite a few of the locals and was heard as many as twenty miles away. Reportedly, Pokémon World Champion Sebastian Loft was performing field testing of his Pokémon in the area, and the two are probably linked. Officials have yet to confirm or deny this." Followed by long-distance footage of the massive white explosion, as the sheer kinetic energy of the Aeroblast erupted.
"That was quite a show. Too bad for Flygon, though." The Pokémon really overdid it. They had found the thing half-buried in the sand, fainted, and not a little damaged. The doctors said there was a 80% chance the Pokémon would need additional surgery and would take months to recover to full strength.
Loft didn't heed Cory's concern, though. He kept staring at the distant horizon.
"What's on your mind?" Cory asked.
"Do you know how many Pokémon who are strong enough to have to be registered with the military?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"Sixteen, spread between six trainers. At 4, I have the most. I've faced those five other trainers about eight times apiece- with a perfect win rate."
"Huh." Cory didn't know what to say. He couldn't empathize, his only Pokémon was a Grumpig back at the lab, not used for battling at all.
Only five other trainers, and they didn't even compare to this guy. His Pokémon had made world news just in an overdone practice attempt. Four of his Pokémon were so strong they had to be regulated by the friggin army and weren't allowed into normal battles. Cory couldn't even imagined how this man lived, how he worked, how he fit into the world. He was in a league of his own, a league reserved for ancient Greek gods and acts of nature.
"You know that worn-out saying, 'It's lonely at the top'?" Loft muttered.
"Yeah," Cory nodded. Loft kept gazing towards the horizon, as if searching for something. After a long minute of silence, he finished:
"It's so damn true."