Disclaimer : I do not own Pokemon, or any of its affiliated companies including, but not limited to, 4Kids, The Pokemon Company, Game Freaks, or Cartoon Network. The characters written within this fic are soley based upon the fictional characters created by these companies, and the story is not meant to, nor will it, receive any monetary funding.
The Game of Champions
"One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star."
- G.K. Chesterton, essayist
Professor Oak sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose wearily. Months ago, he might have called it an exceptionally long day, but he's had so many of those recently that it no longer seems a statistically correct moniker.
Seated at his desk at home in his infamously casual clothes and lab coat, to any uninformed observer he may seem nothing more than a mere tired researcher, editing graduate papers and proposals seen a thousand times before in different iterations.
Such an observer would have to be exceptionally ignorant, however, to think Samuel Gerald Oak is a mere anything. He is the Pokemon Professor of Kanto and the Indigo League, and his modest townhouse is monitored constantly by no less than three rotating squads of ACE Trainers, any one of whom he could have at his command at mere gesture. What he is editing are legislative bills for business deregulation, all of which must bear his scrutiny before passing into regional law.
And he is not tired, merely overworked. Not overcome, mind you. He is an Oak, after all.
Still, it has been a long day, and the Pokemon Professor wants nothing more from the rest of the night than a warm cup of tea and sleep. Knowing his limits, he decides to take a small break to check his personal email, leaning back in his chair. Before he can move to do so, however, Anaximander, the porygon now connected to his home network for convenience, pulls up his inbox for him.
"Unsettling creature." Professor Oak mutters softly. The pokemon does not respond. It's easy to forget how close to sapient the porygons are, even with the cognitive limiters programmed into them. There's a reason the Porygon Project had received such generous League funding. As a fan of Clarke and Asimov, he wasn't about to let someone else hold the purse strings of the newly re-emerged artificial intelligence field.
He allows his suspicions to rest. Subservience and compliance are hardwired into each and every porygon, and the danger of an unshackled AI is limited by their society's sparse digital network.
There are a few new emails. He accesses the first, whose rude headline foretells the contents.
I've had enough of you and Blaine avoiding me like a fucking leper. I may have been project leader, but the past is the past, and I'm sure your hands are much dirtier than mine by now. All I want is to ply my trade. Take me off whatever blacklist you have me on and stop interfering with my life, or we will have problems.
You aren't the only one that remembers Project Apotheosis.
Oak sighes. It seems that Dr. Fuji has caught on. It is unfortunate. The man has a brilliant scientific mind, and has always lived in the long shadow of the Pokemon Tower and his brother's accomplishments. It is a sad thing to watch him suffocate under the weight of his own inferiority complex.
However, it isn't on Oak's own behalf that the he pursues the vendetta, making the man's very name anathema in the scientific field. Mood darkening, he scowls. He wonders what Dr. Fuji would say if he knew Blaine and him were the reason he is still alive at all.
Still, the cat is out of the bag. The good doctor is sure to get only nastier - Oak knows that the man still resents him for his Professorship and Blaine for his rise to Cinnabar leadership. It's time to warn Dr. Fuji away from the precipice he's unknowingly walking towards.
This isn't a discussion, Seiji. We stole fire from god. If you keep cursing the braviary when it returns, perhaps next time your liver will not grow back.
Your tulips look nice.
To underscore the point, the Professor attaches a picture from the man's ACE surveillance report which includes said flowers, taken from inside the man's very own apartment. Then, in a fit of piety, Professor Oak says a small prayer for Dr. Fuji, that the estranged scientist might take the hint, count his blessings and back off.
After all, he certainly hopes he won't be forced to kill the good doctor.
With that unpleasantness taken care of, Oak sees to the other emails. One is another from his granddaughter, yet another of those stock photos of a skitty with badly misspelled captions. The Pokemon Professor grimaces. He supposes it is too much to hope that Daisy might grow up after earning her second doctorate. But then, his grandson is now the Grand Champion of Indigo, and he still sends emails laden with profanity and vulgar similes and still rides his bicycle all over Oak's lab like some Route 17 vagrant, despite the researcher's protests. The Professor wonders if the younger generation truly is going to the houndooms.
The last surprises him, finally. It is a message from Red. And right after Dr. Fuji's email, too.
"Speak of the devil." Professor Oak murmurs, artificial light illuminating his face in a harsh glow as he leans in.
After a moment, he sits back. There isn't much to the missive.
Professor Oak ponders a moment, fingers drumming the table. Then he shrugs, and stands up.
"Anaximander, I'm going out. Inform my protection detail."
"Yes Professor." An animatronic male voice answers warmly.
Professor Oak sheds his lab coat for a garment more suited for outdoors, a well-worn leather jacket. Grabbing his wallet and keys, he makes for the door and stops after a moment's hesitation, snapping one of his pokeballs off his belt where it hangs on the ball and sticking it in his pocket.
Then he opens the door, and departs into the night.
My time in Cerulean was an enjoyable one, to be sure, a pleasant relief from the bare-knuckle tension of Pewter. I had a badge, I had money, and I had my pokemon, and there I was, in the scenic seaside jewel of Kanto. While it was no fortress city like Viridian, Saffron or Celadon, there were more than enough attractions to hold the interest of a young man my age for the duration of my stay.
That's not to say I was slacking off. In fact, I filed an appointment to battle Misty right on the way back from Nugget Bridge.
The problem was, that the Cerulean Gym and City worked hand in hand to keep you there, funneling as much money into the tourism industry as possible. The application usually took a week to file, and then you had up to another two weeks (or more!) of waiting in order to actually battle Misty. But people still did it. Why?
I see your lips curling. Professional disdain, I suppose? Because everyone knows Cerulean Gym is the easiest gym in the Indigo League.
Misty's gym challenge consists of a series of six matches, organized in three sets, spaced over the course of days, in order to simulate fighting different species of Water-type pokemon. The first two sets would be freshwater and saltwater pokemon, and the third would be both. Each set would consist of one match with a gym trainer, followed by one match with Misty. Both the gym trainer and Misty would offer advice and instruction after each match, with the price of the challenge gaining you access to online in-depth lectures on each subject by Misty whether you win or lose.
In other words, a complete joke. Three softball matches with overpaid contractors followed by the Gym Leader herself babying you into a Cascade Badge. Misty claimed to place 'imparting knowledge of Water pokemon over the glory of any personal victory'. Certainly, when more skilled challengers, champions and famous Battle Tower trainers came calling, she brought out her A-game, but only to keep up appearances. In reality, it was a official Indigo League Badge which you could buy, if you were willing to shell out the lucrative Gym Challenge fee and not pay too much mind to the man behind the curtain.
I had considered the morality of such a thing versus the weight of my own pride as a trainer in long detail as I mapped my route through the Kanto gym circuit. Ultimately, it was a deal I simply couldn't afford to pass up. Turning around to challenge a real gym in Johto would have cost me more money, time and trouble than I could afford if I wanted to keep up with Blue, which was the ends that justified my limited means - and in the end, it was Misty debasing herself, not me.
As Gym Leader, no matter what she owed to her bloodthirsty team of top agents and PR men, she still could have designed a gym challenge that tested skill instead of the depth of one's wallet. Misty, despite her love for the spotlight, was a vicious contender in every Championship with her team of top pedigree monsters; there was no basis for doubting her competency, only her idealogy. Disdaining a shameless hedonist would do nothing but waste energy.
So I contented myself to enjoy the downtime in the city of the materialistic, taking care not to deflate my newly fattened purse too soon.
I spent my money on practical things, and held myself back from things beyond my needs. While a full set of magmar-forged Cinnabarean body armor or a collapsible repeating crossbow with full optics and laser sight might have indeed improved my personal safety, it would be that many more pounds to carry as I made my way through Kanto on foot.
In all honesty, an extra bag of rations was more likely to save my life than any weapon or armor piece - there weren't many truly dangerous pokemon that would be stopped or even deterred by any one human weapon. Trainers didn't rely on pokemon for novelty. If a rhyhorn was bearing down on you, it wasn't eighty bolts per minute that was going to save your life. It was the horse-sized fire-breathing wolfhound you had in your pocket.
So instead of cleaning out the military surplus store, I bought bought two new sets of clothes to replace my old ones. I replaced my shoes. I put new batteries in my pokedex and refilled my rations can with trail mix and water purification tablets. I purchased a newer, better knife. I kept all the perfectly functional equipment I had - a compass that could tell time also was not worth the extra twenty idols when mine was perfectly functional, and my rope had plenty of strength and tension left in it without being interwoven with steel thread.
I kept my pokebattling uniform, the red coat on black shirt. My sense of style hadn't changed and the clothes were in near mint condition.
And the hat, of course. But that went without saying.
The rest was spent on the real necessities - the trainer equipment. Balls, food, antidotes, panaceas for various ills. Being the master of such creatures brought great power, and with it, great expenditure reports. If you are a trainer and spend more money on yourself than the pokemon you capture and train, you are simply doing it wrong.
Finally, I did as my profession suggested. I trained. The hills of Cerulean were rife with wild pokemon, and one could make a decent sum catching and selling the elusive and rare abra that blinked around the area.
I happened to have a higher success rate than most, my Butterfree's sleep powder dulling the Psychic-types senses until it was too late for them to escape, while Pikachu dutifully kept the glooms and ekans away with sharp shocks. It was a profitable trade which replenished the funds the greedy city drained from me, and I could feel my starter growing stronger with the steady meals and constant exercise. I would have loved to catch a kadabra, as they were excellent battling pokemon with their physical and mental telekinesis, but I never saw a one, and the evolution of an abra took several years. Most kadabra left the area to wander the route-less wilds immediately upon evolution, and if any odd birds decided to remain I never found them.
Time was a large problem for me in that way. Most pokemon evolved over the course of years rather than by any special mechanisms, with only uncommon exceptions, such as Bug-types who had a naturally short evolutionary cycle. It was, of course, possible to purchase pokemon at prime fighting age, but such pokemon were highly prized and priced and typically snapped quickly up on the market.
One thing was clear: I needed money. More than I could get just skunking abras.
So, after three days of training, I took my swing at the Nugget Bridge Challenge.
The Nugget Bridge Challenge consisted of multiple five round tournaments culminating in a battle royale between the winners of all of them. I'd dodged a bullet today I hadn't heard of any big name trainers competing today, which was pure luck: yesterday there'd been Dane Dogman, two Young Arcanines champions and a Finalist slumming it, any one of whom would have kicked my ass like a hitmonlee with an anal fixation.
The most difficult match I'd had involved an electabuzz with a very bad attitude. He could tank electric attacks with the natural fortitude of his type to start with, and his particular species used their excessive bioelectricity to speed up blood-clotting and tissue growth, allowing for high-speed regeneration. It spent most of the match trying to close the distance with Pikachu, which would have ended in my loss. Finally, the ogre-like creature got frustrated enough to start tossing some bolts of its own, which depleted his energy and only resulted in Pikachu absorbing them and throwing them right back in his face. Eventually the electric collosus toppled, allowing me to advance.
While pikachu were naturally among the most biologically suited conductors and redirectors of electricity among Electric-types, that match brought to my attention that it happened to my starter's strong suit in particular, taking in offensive bolts like they were his to begin with and tossing them back with twice the force. I pondered whether it was a product of his isolation, that he had been forced to refine his control without the benefit of other Pikachu to reroute the charge through. I filed it away for later thought.
In any case, the other trainers fell like dominoes. The dominating metagame of pokebattling favored heavy bruisers with few type disadvantages, who could take their licks and still slug it out, with Dragon-types being the kings of that game. It was a smart strategy, as it minimized the risks of loss or career ending injury - there were few hits a hardy pokemon couldn't come back from with today's technology.
Unfortunately, this metagame did nothing to prepare them for a comparatively tiny rat juking around the arena like a dervish, peppering them with electric murder and what I assumed were many insults in the pokemon tongue. The closest any of them got to laying a hand on my vermin was an older growlithe in the second round who danced around the bolts and just managed to get his teeth around the tip of Pikachu's tail, and got dropped like a sack of rocks right after, as befitting any creature that decided to put a lightning rod in it's mouth.
Still, I was lucky. For one, all the pokemon so far had their fleshy, electricity-weak bits exposed. A graveler or other type advantage bruiser would ruin me - Pikachu would just expend himself against it, forcing me to forfeit the match, as there was no way my starter was taking down any Rock-type in a battle of physical attrition without a military-grade power generator like the Pewter Gym had backing him up. For two, this wasn't exact the creme of the crop. These were local and visiting trainers looking to serve the community or get some practice. Pokebattlers who had already made their mark had better things to do.
But I was here now. That was all that mattered. With a nudge, I sent Pikachu onto the field, where he waited for the other trainers to release their pokemon from the balls he was no longer constrained by.
The coliseum floor had been converted into a generic battleground, complete with dirt and rocky outcroppings, not totally unlike the Pewter Gym floor. To acommodate Grass-types, the soil would be fertile, and to acommodate Water-types, the arena was ringed by a moat. Flying-types would be confined to a height no higher than the coliseum walls. The idea was to allow an even chance to all different types.
While it was a slow day for celebrities, the seats were still filled to packing - audience members from all of the five-round tournaments had reserved seats to see their winners participate in the royale. I was told that there'd even been people sitting on the stairs for Blue's. In a stroke of misfortune, he'd had the ill luck to compete on the same day as Lorelei, who was famous for her philanthropism and always made an appearance at Nugget Bridge on behalf of the Elite Four and the impoverished Sevii Islands. She'd forfeited out of good manners at the start of the match, of course, which was the real pity - I'm sure Blue would have killed for a battle with her, even a mock one.
While I hardly drew the same notice as Blue, I noticed a few members of the audience pulling for me rather vocally. Whether they had followed the entertaining spectacle of Pikachu or were leftovers of the hype from my Pewter victory didn't matter. It was a nice feeling.
Luckily, I did not recognize any of the trainers on the opposing podiums, which I thought spoke well for my chances.
Or so I thought.
There were around a dozen other royale participants battling today. They prepared their pokeballs, and I tensed as the opening bell, a relic from before Cerulean Hydroelectric was ever established, was rung, waiting to see what hand I had drawn.
Pokemon exploded onto the field and I tracked the biggest threats as soon as they appeared - a medicham near my side, a lightning quick seviper a quarter rotation away that darted away immediately, a burly looking poliwrath summoned directly into the moat, and what I thought was the worst I would have to deal with, a craggy rhydon that bellowed throatily and began building up speed immediately for a charge.
Then the last pokemon was released, and the marrow shook in all our bones as a dragon's roar split the air.
A charizard materialized in red light and immediately took to the skies, belching strips of flame onto the field. An unlucky ursaring was caught up in the literal line of fire and starting screaming at pitches no bear should be able to produce. The white flag rose from his trainer's podium immediately, and the mistermimes maintaining the arena boundaries reacting, a psychic bubble cocooning the ursine pokemon and lifting it out of danger to be recalled into his trainer's pokeball.
A brave starraptor, the only other flying pokemon in the competition, made a pass at reestablshing air superiority, but it was for naught. The bird's claws raked a shallow gash in the dragon's leathery hide which might as well have bounced off for all the damage it did, drawing the charizard's attention and provoking a retaliatory blast of purging fire. The flames barely had a chance to lick the starraptor's feathers before it was recalled, it's trainer being faster on the button than the ursaring's.
Two down. The rhydon's trainer followed suit shortly thereafter, voluntarily surrendering - a smart choice, considering his pokemon had nothing to close the gap between land and sky. Despite the quick removal of two threats, I almost followed suit.
This was the terror of wyrms. The charizard, while male and hence much smaller than it's female counterparts, dwarfed the other pokemon of the royale by a good margin, being the approximate size of a fucking cottage. Then you had to consider its ability to spam beams of immolating fire, and the fact that charizards could and frequently did chew raw ore to improve the heat of their flames.
The difference in power was so obvious it was considered unfair by some. Diehard supporters of Giovanni often suggested it as a reason for the Grand Champion's mysterious and unprecedented resignation before his match with Lance, as protest against the future of pokebattling he saw: one where Dragon-types and their trainers ruled like kings. Despite Lance exercising less executive power than any Champion previous, the accusation still lingered - what were common trainers to do, when only top-tier type-advantaged pokemon and trainers could hope to even compete against the power of Dragon-types?
Dragons were extremely rare, slow to age and evolve and downright life-threatening to train. But the end result was undeniable; a pokemon which trumped near every other card in the deck.
I hadn't a prayer of defeating it myself. But it was that very thought that prompted me to hold back my surrender call.
This wasn't a match. This was a battle royale.
The remaining trainers had recognized the charizard as the obvious threat to sweep the Challenge if un-addressed, and had turned to face it for the most part. A few still went on fighting the other pokemon, in the hopes to improve their standings, or perhaps in blithe defiance of their impending loss. Their motivation didn't matter. What mattered was that my only hope of victory was allowing the tankier pokemon to whittle the charizard down, and that they were interfering with that.
I directed Pikachu at them individually. I noticed the poliwrath and medicham off to the side, unmoving, the pokemon and their trainers clearly formulating a plot via the medicham's psychic capabilities. Sensing the opportunity to strike, a rapidash with a wickedly curved born charged, flames flaring out like banners as it accelerated massively.
A blast of electricity struck it in the side, sending the hellish mount down in a heap. It regained muscle control quickly, dodging the next few bolts with unreal accuracy as it broke off towards Pikachu, but it lost sight as it lowered it's horn into goring position and took another hard shock to the haunches, crashing to the ground in a jumbling heap of limbs, easy pickings for Pikachu's instant coup de grace.
A bubble of psychic energy blossomed around the felled rapidash, and as my starter broke off, I felt a surge of pride. A feral might have pursued further combat, but Pikachu had come far - no longer a savage beast, but rather, a edge rapidly being honed to full sharpness.
In this I saw the future potential of my starter, not as a heavyweight trader, but rather as a blade, able to dart in like a scalpel with unerring precision and disengage with the same swiftness, a true terror of the battlefield.
Pikachu tagged the withdrawing rapidash's bubble with a disgruntled bolt and I smirked ruefully. One day, at least.
The other pokemon were retreating or being called back. It was only the poliwrath, medicham and I left to face the dragon. I signalled Pikachu to hang back and evade, not a difficult thing to do given his size. I frowned as I watched the charizard chase a retreating foe nearly to the edge of the arena, flames actually licking off the psychic barrier erected to protect the spectators. They cheered at the spectacle, of course, but it was bad sportsmanship.
But then, what need had the drake's trainer for courtesy with such power at his disposal? I could see him distantly, a tight-faced young man only a few years older than me whose voice was drowned out in the roars of his own creature.
I sensed the signal before it came, my gaze snapping back to the medicham and poliwrath right before they broke off, the muscled blue amphibian leaping into the outer moat as the medicham darted off, dodging the charizard's fire blasts with the precognitive grace of his species, always twisting just enough to avoid destruction.
It was said a medicham could dodge anything that could be dodged. The charizard put this to the test, boxing the hybrid psychic-fighting type with alternating fireballs and swaths of flame. Stones rose from the battlefield and struck the dragon in its tender wings, enraging it. The medicham was an obvious distraction. But how long could it evade?
The margin of distance between fire and flesh decreased. The medicham was ungodly, but it couldn't leap out of the way when the ground was all embers. Suddenly, the meditating pokemon cut left sharply, the charizard banking at an angle that laughed at physics to follow. The medicham was heading towards the edge, where the moat circled the pitch.
The only warning was a shadow like quicksilver through the water. The poliwrath exploded from from the moat, propelled by its massive swimming muscles and no doubt some psychic assistance from the medicham, hitting the dragon midair like a blue cannonball. The two went down in a heap, and the crowd cheered.
The poliwrath was up in a flash, chest bulging cartoonishly before the pokemon expelled a deluge of water, which impacted the charizard with monstrous force. I winced in spite of myself. There were Water-types that could release water at pressures sufficient to cut stone. I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of such a blast.
The dragon tucked its ever-burning tail behind itself, preventing any life-threatening injuries, but struggled to rise, stunned by the assault despite its tough skin and constitution. The poliwrath wasted no time, wading in with heavy haymakers, laying down a shock and awe campaign on the dragon's skull with its spade-like fists. The charizard hunched and tried to weave back and out of the way, but it was already punch drunk, and saurian bones or not, the poliwrath was playing piano the drake's head with ivory anvils, broken up by brief machine guns of water to keep it off balance. The male was tough, but not this tough.
The climax approached, as the meaty Water-type caught the charizard in merciless headlock, right under the massive dragon's crest. I saw the medicham approaching, glowing with psychic power. Psychic attacks worked best with contact, and I surmised that whatever the medicham was preparing - likely some cranial-based mental sucker-punch - would put the charizard out like a light, Dragon-type or no Dragon-type (which the charizard was technically not, due to various genetic technicalities).
I surmised that this was the time to strike, and gave the order.
Like an outtakes reel, I watched the trainer's mouth open in silent horror as Pikachu leapt up from his hiding place, form outlined in crackling lightning, and strike down the medicham from behind with a thunderbolt, too fast and too sudden for the precognitive hybrid to avoid, concentrated as it was on it's objective. It's charge ended in a twitching heap, limbs convulsing as my pokemon viciously followed up, until a purple bubble suffused the medicham, signalling its recall.
From the very beginning, this had been my plan. While the charizard was without a doubt the biggest threat, the medicham had always been the biggest problem. The charizard, while of the dragon family, was also a Flying-type, which meant his massive bones were also largely hollow by necessity to facilitate such flying, which made electric currents go through it like Fuschian cuisine - Pikachu's attacks, while not finishing, would be more effective than most. The poliwrath was an afterthought; it might be a bullet in the water, but water was obviously conductive, and the Water-type hadn't a prayer of catching Pikachu on land without getting fried.
But the medicham could sense the bolts before they were coming, and lightning couldn't change direction mid-air. Pikachu would expend himself blasting spots the medicham had vacated a half-second earlier, and then the psychic fighting-type would close the distance and beat the snot out of him.
Unless, of course, the precog could be distracted. I couldn't have known about the finishing move, but I had suspected that the two would double-team the charizard, and devoting anything less than your full attention when dealing with any member of the bloodline of wyrms was asking to be killed. And who would mind a tiny rat pokemon when there was a giant fire-spewing lizard to be taken care of?
Dirty? Underhanded? Absolutely. But betrayal and division are the politics of war.
And now it was just the poliwrath and the dragon, and the dragon had regained its wind.
The charizard's wings flared as it exploded straight upwards into the sky, the poliwrath dangling from his neck like a collar. Maybe another minute or a better hold might have seen the dragon into strangled unconsciousness, but off the ground and hanging on for dear life, the muscled amphibian simply didn't have the leverage.
I had a moment to wonder when the charizard was going to bank to avoid the barrier before it crashed straight into them, realizing belatedly that it had never intended to, smashing the poliwrath against the invisible wall with all it's titanic momentum.
The poliwrath went limp, tumbling from the wyrm's neck to plummet like a stone towards the ground. A red laser-line of light lanced from the trainer's podium, enveloping the defeated brawler and saving it an impact that would have no doubt exacerbated it's already serious injuries. His podium in particular was one of the closer ones to mine, enough so that I could see the foul look he shot me as he did.
I ignored it, and swept my hand forward.
A massive bolt of lightning smote the charizard as it descended, illuminating it's profile in light, all the leftover juice Pikachu had at his disposal in one mighty blow. The dragon roared in fury as his limbs locked up, and fell to earth...
...only to regain control at the last second, just managing to flare his massive orange wings, turning a nasty crash into a skidding crash, talons scrabbling against stone. It howled a challenge, battlecry intermixed with fire.
I blinked, and very deliberately called Pikachu back.
What? Pikachu had taken his biggest swing, and it had whiffed. Another part of battle is knowing when to fold them. The charizard was obviously an old hand, if it's resilience and mastery of the battlefield were any indication, and there was no way in hell I was throwing my starter in with it alone, let alone drained and out of juice. Some gaps of strength were not so easily bridged.
So I wouldn't be receiving my own big fat gold nugget. Big deal. Runner-up's prize was a week at a fully paid five-star hotel.
Pikachu, albeit grumpily, began making his way back towards my podium, and that was when I abruptly realized the charizard wasn't stopping.
Screaming for revenge, it swooped down from the skies, flames extending from it's maw. Horrified, my hands flew through several mime hand-signals instinctively - 'help' and 'defend' and 'oh shit' - before I came to my senses and lunged for the surrender signal, a translucent psychic barrier exploding around Pikachu as the fire bridged the gap.
I breathed a sigh of relief as my starter floated back towards me, the charizard circling the mistermimes' barrier and roaring for another victim. A cold fury rose in me as I noticed Pikachu favoring his leg as he touched down, slightly singed from the nearly deadly sucke-rpunch.
In that moment, I understood completely the impotence many trainers felt in the face of Dragon-types. To control them took skill, but even uncontrolled they could rampage all over the competition, and in a setting like this, who could stop them?
I noticed another figure in the charizard trainer's box, an old man, seemingly locked in a furious argument with the younger, and turned away in disgust to face the medic team rushing up the stairs as the announcer awkwardly declared him the winner, cradling the protesting Pikachu to my chest.
It was then I ran straight into yet another familiar face from Pallet, the second since I had arrived in Cerulean City.
Akiha Green, the sheriff's daughter, started as I called her by name, stunned at the coincidence. Only then did I notice her nametag, which read an entirely different name (and her nurse outfit, which I decided looked rather fetching on her).
Ignoring her co-worker, she smiled blithely, "Excuse me, sir?" She asked, a perfect picture of polite perplexion. At the same time, she flashed a quick military hand-sign with her left hand: halt formation.
Later, then. All right, then. I could use something to keep me from brooding over the charizard trainer's poor sportsmanship, and the story of how the salutatorian of our graduating class, the girl I'd given my first time to, had ended up impersonating a medical professional under a false name was bound to be interesting.
"It was a close thing, but he'll be perfectly fine. Won't even scar." Green assured me, setting down a tube-nozzled can of some regenerative concoction, as I watched pink skin spread over the burned area. Pikachu grumbled and settled down on his haunches, scratching it lightly. "You were lucky. I was watching, and the barrier leapt up a second before your signal. I guessed the mistermimes must have sensed something."
I shrugged, not really wanting to think too closely on it. Instead, I inquired after her choice of attire, and jokingly after what her father might have done to have her abandon the name he gave her.
Green glanced around at the other nurses bustling about the crowded sickbay. "Have lunch with me." She offered, and I agreed.
After a brief hour apart, wherein I went off to confirm my winnings with the hotel (the nicest in Cerulean, where I would be staying in one of the champion suites with a generous expense account for room service) and she produced a military sat phone and immediately began shouting at it, we reunited at one of the nicer outdoor cafes in Cerulean, near the bay, whose clear surface dazzled in the failing light.
I had time to appreciate the sight of her as she approached my table. Green wasn't attractive in the socially popularized way, that slapped you in the face with swaying hips and lush lips, not that she lacked either, nor the shy, girl-next-door way that was sometimes offered as the equivalent opposite. Instead, there was a sense of complete control about her, fully confident and comfortable in her own body, well-kept and at ease, without pretense. She kept her light brown hair long, but neat and un-snarled by any stylish curls or licks. Her skin was clear, of imperfection or cosmetic enhancement.
She was unashamedly athletic. While I was certainly stronger with my own diligent physical conditioning, I could tell from her biceps and high-sculpted calves that she'd easily dominate the average untrained male. Her body took the normally alluring nurse outfit and turned it into something entirely dangerous.
"I work for ACE." Green began without preamble, plopping down into the seat across from me and stealing a french fry. She hadn't changed out of her uniform, but now sported a ludicrously sized flowerpot, out of the top of which protruded a large bulb which...quivered?
My suspicions were confirmed as her starter's head emerged from the soil, curious eyes surveying us. I vaguely remembered ,it from the graduation ceremony. She smiled warmly, running the pad of her thumb over his head. Pikachu, startled by the appearance, scrambled out of my lap with a hiss and curled around the back of my shoulders, glaring in suspicion.
"They scouted me as infiltrator out of school." Green continued on, eyeing my burger with interest. With a sour look, I put half of it onto my side dish and pushed it towards her. She didn't even smirk as she accepted it, which was somehow more annoying. "My personality has always been more...malleablethan most, and I had the skills. They haven't told me, but I've picked up from smoke and hints that I'm one of several my age that were recruited."
Green then stopped and somehow destroyed her half of my burger in under thirty seconds with perfect manners. Strong, ropelike vines grew from her flowerpot and stretched across the table as her starter curiously perused the table's contents. It went for my milkshake and was rudely rebuffed as Pikachu zapped the offending agricultural appendage, which quickly retreated, the curious eyes disappearing as Green's pokemon quickly burrowed back into the pot. I snorted and scratched his ear.
"There's an organization that's been buying up a lot of young talent lately." Green explained, smiling slightly as she watched the interaction. "They were one of the sponsors of Nugget Bridge this year, which was why I was inserted. They were headhunting the winners, sometimes aggressively."
I thought back to the many ads and sponsor messages I'd heard during the proceedings and could think of only one culprit. Team Rocket.
That was enough to elicit a pause from my schoolmate. Green folded her hands and smiled, but I could tell our interaction had gotten just slightly colder. I noticed her starter watching again, having reemerged from the dirt when I wasn't looking.
"What do you know?" She asked.
I stopped to consider before I spoke. It was all and well that I knew her from my childhood, but that wasn't who I was talking to anymore.
This wasn't Akiha Green, sheriff's daughter, drinking my milkshake across the table. This was ACE, king high bastard of all clandestine organizations and agencies.
There wasn't a government outside of Indigo that didn't have a division modeled after them. Some even said that there was no competition or copycat agencies, that there was just ACE, spread out across every living human region, wars and conflicts and regional borderlines merely a masquerade they allowed to maintain the illusion of individual governance.
Not the case, as I know now, of course. But frighteningly close.
So it was ACE. Across the table. Drinking my milkshake, which I snatched irritably back, fiddling with the rim of my hat as I deliberated.
I told Green an abridged version of the truth. Far greater than the danger of lying to ACE was the danger of them thinking I knew anything of actual import. I told her I'd noticed a wrecked Team Rocket operation while passing through Mt. Moon, and, deciding that anyone capable of wreaking that much havoc was none of my business, had decided to pass it by without reporting anything.
Since Team Rocket operated largely on the level, being a fully legitimized charity organization, I guessed that it would be enough information for an organization like ACE to act on, tracing the money flow and zoning reports. A surprising amount of information-gathering is largely bureaucratic: Team Rocket, secretly malignant criminal organization or not, still had to file their paperwork somewhere.
I want you to pay attention to that. That I never bought into the mythos or facade of untouchability, not even in the beginning. Even now, more canny and far more wary, captured and stripped of my power, I want you to pay attention, to know:
I do not fear you.
However, I did reason that if you had existed for this long without being taken down that you wouldn't be sleuthed by such conventional means. Mt. Moon was big and easily lost in, and I certainly didn't want some Ainu graveyard watch mistaking Green for a poacher, or worse, an investigating Rocket agent. So I suggested she talk to Brock first for assistance navigating the mountain, resolving to send him an email informing him to expect and help her accordingly, and so avoid revealing the true nature of my relationship with the gym leader.
It was partially successful.
"Oh? You're on a first name basis?" She probed teasingly. I quickly denied this, but I had no idea whether she bought it.
Green seemed to believe the rest, or at least accept what I told her. She traced her manicured nail around the rim of my cup, seemingly lost in thought as she drew up her mental notes - I knew the look, as I wore it often enough. One of the reasons we had got on so quickly at the graduation party was in the immediate sense of familiarity I felt, the sort of kinship shared between two people who happen to share similar attitudes.
It was only coincidence that our paths hadn't intersected significantly before that night, and from that very meeting we were already comfortable acquaintances just by remembrance. I wondered a moment at how close we might have been had we been less distant growing up.
Only a moment, however, a rare indulgence. The past was as it was, unchangeable, and I doubted she found melancholia or nostalgia any more productive than I did. What-ifs were for failures.
Green sighed, finally. "Let's have sex."
And I was no failure.
I almost inhaled my entire straw. It's not as if the thought had been far from my mind, but bluntness was it's own element of surprise, especially on a subject I had every experience of being coy about this subject. I remembered (drunkenly) admiring her directness on the night we properly became acquainted, so I had known of course she was no Sinnoan nun, but I had no idea it was a trait of hers to this extent.
Helplessly, the first thing that tumbled out of my mouth was a question. I will admit now and forever that when it comes to affairs of the fairer sex that I am not a clever man.
Green glared, though I had the sense it was only half at me. "Well, it's like this. Since I joined up, I've been blindfolded, drugged, abandoned in strange locales to fend for myself, undergone organizational hazing disguised as counter-interrogation instruction, and generally been fucked around with by sadistic operative instructors in the name of training. Then they stick me in this racket, chasing a lead that my cover is frankly terrible for."
"Now, don't get me wrong. I'm grateful to you for sharing. The ACE promotion ladder is seniority based for the most part, and very slow-moving, and in a case as big as this, a tip like yours could be my big break. If it's valid. Which, as soon as I report it, they are going to have me crawling through dark tunnels ankle deep in zubat shit to verify." Her gaze shifted, allowing the entire weight of her ire to drop on me. It was not inconsiderable. "There's also the fact that you've blown my cover at the Challenge. Gossip like what you provided is what nurses live for, as you'll discover if you spend even a week ingratiating yourself with them. Which I did." She grit her teeth. "Thanklessly."
"So basically, ACE is not as glamorous as it's cracked up to be, and is actually a giant sausage club of old jingoists with chessmaster complexes, and I've been under a lot of stress, and am about to be under more, and I'm kind of homesick, and I feel like staying in a real hotel for once, and you don't need to buy me dinner since I ate yours, and I'm really done wasting effort justifying this." Green finished abruptly, gathering up her bag and flowerpot, uprooted soil falling as she stood, cocking an eyebrow at me challengingly. "I do have my own lodgings, and if you make me argue this another second then I'll just go there and let you go watch cable in your swanky hotel room and wonder where exactly I hide my three other pokeballs. I'll give you hint: they're not in my purse."
I sat back, momentarily poleaxed by the onslaught of forwardness.
One small voice in my head suggested I point out that I was never arguing in the first place.
That voice was never heard from again.
I stood up, threw a twenty idol note on the table, and the rest, as they say, was history.
In the morning, I awoke to an empty bed. I caught of flash of red in my peripheral vision, and looked to see Green already up, fiddling with her face in the bathroom mirror, morning light streaming in through the window. I guess she has a face to put on like any other girl. I surmised wrongly.
She noticed me staring, and glanced at me. "Morning." She offered, blinking rapidly.
I grunted an affirmative, rising to make myself decent. An angry squeal came from within the closet, and I slid open the door, admitting a very grumpy Pikachu to the room. I'd imprisoned him there once it became clear that the time for talking was over - I wasn't about to put on a show for a pokemon.
Moody little twit. I even gave him poketreats, and it wasn't as if he wouldn't have slept there anyway. And from the looks of things, he seemed to want more.
I glared at him sullenly. No. Not without something in return.
Carefully, I reached into my bag and pulled out an object that made him hiss and jerk back. A brush.
It wasn't as if Pikachu didn't keep his fur clean, but it was unkempt. I wasn't much one for gussying up, but I did like to be presentable, and Pikachu looked two days out of the woods. He hadn't responded well before. But now I had leverage and time to ply the matter.
I pulled out some poketreats and and held them in my hand. I picked up the brush with the other. The message was abundantly clear.
Pikachu gave me the stink eye.
I smirked, and popped a poketreat in my mouth mockingly. I made a great show of chewing and swallowing the disgusting thing (perfectly safe for humans, just not terribly appetizing), then glanced speculatively at the rest in a very casual manner.
Growling, Pikachu leapt up onto the bed and prowled into my lap, ears flicking backwards in disapproval as I set to straightening his unruly coat. And I let him at the treats, of course. That was how trades worked.
I wouldn't have mentioned the little interlude but for the way I turned and caught Green, now staring at me, smiling in a mysterious and thoughtful way. I flushed some, realizing the ridiculous sight of myself - a shirtless boy with bed-head brushing out a great yellow rat.
I look back now with greater wisdom, and wonder if that's the moment when she decided.
Back to the moment, I immediately switched focus, asking her what made ACE worth working for, if the personnel treatment was really so terrible. Green snapped out of her musing, and crossed her arms, glancing sideways in consideration.
"Pride." She said finally, smiling faintly. "I always planned to take a job in law or security, but...militia? Rangers? I'm capable of more. The military and other parts of the government may keep society in order, but ACE protects society itself. Humanity as whole would have cut ourselves to pieces if not for the Champion, and we are the inheritors and guardians of that legacy. The vanguards against extinction. If I'm able, if I possess the ability to take up that mantle, how could I be satisfied holding any lesser responsibility? It's not about honor or duty. It's ego. Yeah, it's hard." And Green's smile stretched into a full, humorless grin, a predator's salute, all teeth and defiance. "But I'm harder. I don't like how the organization has been built, Red. That's why I plan to rise to the top and destroy it from the apex down, to rebuild it myself, back up to it's previous heights and beyond, to what I believe it could be. I'm not doing it for anyone but me, and that's why it's pride. Because I know I'm right, and I'll tear ACE down to prove it."
I rocked back a bit. I had no idea Green's ambitions ran so deep. I could feel it now, the weight of her conviction, filling the room with the power of her will. There was no doubt, not even room for it to exist. I'd felt it before, in Blue. She really was a bird of our feather.
The oppressive aura disappeared, and Green looked down, rummaging in her purse. "Which is why I need to ask you a favor." Before I could react, she produced a pokeball, and snapped it open.
Crimson pokepower erupted onto the floor of the hotel suite, and I jerked back. Pikachu squeaked and leapt free, clambering up onto a dresser. I noticed that he'd scarfed all the poketreats while I was distracted, and I hadn't been even half done brushing him. Sneaky little fuck. The light coalesced and became solid.
It was Green's starter from the previous day. It was a bulbasaur.
A squat, wide creature about the size and height of a footrest, he - a male - bore mottled cyan skin and a wide bulb on his back, set into an overgrowth of twisted vines and slowly growing leaves, ready to uncurl and entangle at a moment's notice. Standing on all four stumpy legs, the top of his bulb reached about mid thigh, and I could tell from the leaves and pigmentation of his skin that he was close to his next evolution. His face was impish and eager, angular and stretched wide over his large skull, growing incisors poking out under his upper lips.
And he was friendly. The bulbasaur immediately waddled forward, vines uncurling and curiously encircling my calves. I chuckled and scratched one leathery ear flap.
I couldn't help but like him. I looked up, and found Green watching me somberly.
"It's good you like him." The girl said quietly. "Because I need you to keep him."
Her words hung in the air like nonsensical babble, as if they didn't fit right together. Then they clicked,and I reeled.
"It's a requirement for the job." Green spoke slowly, but each wroth syllable seethed with a restrained fury. "All agents have to give up their starter pokemon. Their loss or injury could be emotionally compromising. Emotionally compromising. This was the statute that almost broke the deal for me. But for my damned pride." She smiled bitterly. "They give you time to find a proper home, of course, but I don't want to send Daikoku to some breeder. I want you to take him."
I was speechless.
"That's his name, Daikoku. There was a pre-pokemon legend...but you wouldn't know it. I've seen how you treat your pokemon so I know that you'll do right by him. I've already ordered a month's worth of fertilizer for him, Celadon grade: I'll have it sent here. Please take him."
It wasn't even a decision. The venusaur evolution was a terrific defense and attrition pokemon, tanking hits with it's saurian genes and controlling battlefields with its variety of poisons and botanical weapons. They weren't fast, but they didn't have to be. And they evolved at the rate of consumption, which, with such high grade food, would have me an ivysaur before the month was out. I would take him. He'd be a terrific asset against Misty's gym.
But it was her starter pokemon. Even benching them was hardly ever done. Trading them was downright unheard of. Giving them away was straight out. I stumbled over a few offers of remuneration.
"No!" Green snapped angrily, then subsided. "You don't need to pay me. I want you to have him. I called Brock this morning. He told me a lot. I know you're no pushover, and I know Daikoku won't just fall by the wayside if he's with you. You'll make sure he reaches his potential. That's how you'll repay me." She paused. "And any more tip-offs on Team Rocket, of course. Here, I'll give you my number."
All of a sudden, a hissing filled the room, followed by a snap of lightning. We both jumped, and bore witness to Daikoku in dawning horror, as he rampaged around the room, vines engulfed in sudden flame, braying in panic. It seemed that he'd ventured a tendril towards Pikachu, intending to greet his new comrade, and was sharply rebuffed. An incendiary spark caught hold, and now the covers of the bed were on fire.
The fire alarms went off, militia were called, and I was kicked out. And that was how I spent my first night with the second member of my championship team - wandering Cerulean, looking once again for a seedy motel to call my own.
Kanto Pokemon Encyclopedic Index Entry # 1 ( J. #231 ): Bulbasaur.
Basic Characteristics: Grass-type, poison-type. Quadroped, thick, starchy skin for water and nutrient absorption, consumption/metabolic-based evolution. Omnivore. No natural age limit yet known, postulated from centuries to eon based on rate of dilapidation into venusaur stage. Avg. height 2'04'', avg. weight 15.2 lbs. Green into blue skin pigmentation, flora pigmentation varies by region and diet.
Description: The first stage of a marvelously adaptable grass pokemon, the bulbasaur is very resilient for it's age. Typically found feeding and planting leech seeds to be consumed later in a given area, they are not quite the wandering pollinators the venusaur are yet, but tend to keep a large territory. As their diet expands, the bulbasaur's body begins to break down and weaponize toxins for self defense and hunting, causing it to excrete very little waste relative to the amount it consumes. In the same vein, the bulbasaur conserves it's bodily resources extremely efficiently, allowing it to go many days without food or drink.
Nicknames: The Seed Pokemon, waddlebulb, venuseed.
"...bulbasaur to venusaur, it's all about the diet, you see. Their bodies are hardwired to produce some damn interesting stuff given the right food. But it's not when they're full that you need to worry, oh no. Droughting is what it's called - you stave them off food and drink for a day or two, so when they go into battle, their bodies are already in endurance mode, absorbing everything, using everything way more efficient. Doesn't hurt that the hunger make
s them mean, too, of course..."
Dane Dogman : A second-ring Champion trainer famous for using exclusively lupine pokemon. Many think him able to go to the Finals, but Dane repeatedly states that he's uncomfortable facing Koga, given the man's reputation for ending pokemon's careers with his crippling pokevenoms.
The braviary and the liver : While there are traditionalists who keep to the original texts of ancient pre-pokemon myths, others sub in pokemon in the place of animals in order to make the tales more accessible to those without knowledge of pre-pokemon zoology.
Fuschian cuisine : Food from Fuschia, oriental and tasty in the old Imperial style, is notoriously un-filling.
Sinnoan nuns : The nuns of Sinnoh, while alike in official authority to every other religious order in the quasi-theocratic region, are unlike them in having directly engineered three out of the six Champions of Sinnoh directly or indirectly, the current Champion, Cynthia, being a fully sworn mother superior. They are known for their chastity and Xanatos-complexes.