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
The Word and the Legend
"To greed, all in nature is insufficient."
-Seneca, famous Roman philosopher
"Ah, come on, fuggen...oh please, those haven't been- really? Really?"
He has been called genius, innovator and national treasure. He is a researcher, inventor and post-apocalypse Renaissance man.
What he is not is patient. Irritably, the man, in pajamas and bathrobe clad, hammers away at a series of keyboards and displays, some physical, others hovering in the air in apparitions of harsh light, casting sunken cheekbones in sharp relief. A graveyard of coffee mugs and doodle sheets sit in rows and stacks around him.
"You're really throwing up Morimoto-Ishihara algorithms here. Really. Hahaha. Ha. Okay. Don't blame me when you get rolled, boom, headshot motherfucker! Get on my level, porygon sluts."
An interface across the darkened room lights up, and a digitized female voice speaks with measured urgency as a shrill alarm begins ringing throughout the house and conjoined laboratory, causing him to wince. "Warning, League Headquarters mainframe under attack. Attention all Elhaz-class technicians, man terminals and prepare-"
The inglorious genius growls and quickly slaps a few buttons on one display, plunging the house into silence once more. "Shut up, shut up, I know. I'm the one breaking in, remember? Honestly, whose idea was it to use elder futhark for personnel designations? Fucking nerds." A dozen new screens of code and numbers pop up in a dizzying half moon, and he grins. "Oh, so the fun police have arrived." He drags one screen of prewritten code and copys it a dozen times before executing. The hacker grins maliciously. "First round's on me, boys. I choose you, CookieMonster."
It's sad, really. He knows all of them personally, and knows any one of them could have been a real threat to him if they put in the time instead of wasting it with stupid things like social lives and sleep. Instead, here they all are drowning in junk code produced by his virus. And he wrote code as a hobby.
The various firewalls and security measures fold before him like wheat before a thresher - as they should, considering he co-wrote almost half of them. Dozens of backdoors and reroutes later, the Pokemon League Headquarters mainframe lays exposed before him like an easy whore, defensive porygons and programmers floundering as they chase after CookieMonster, his own tricked out porygon, currently poking at every top secret file he can find.
Of course, they'll be at it a while. CookieMonster isn't actually designed to hack the top secret files he found, only to give the appearance of doing so, in order to scare the system's porygons and programmers into prioritizing him while he trolls around in their most highly classified directories like a emboar in a turnip field. Whenever they catch and erase him, another copy of his source code activates in a previous file and begins banging pots and pans in another part of the system. It's a hilarious creation.
And meanwhile, he's free to do what he really came here to do, which is...
"Fuck. Fuck, where's that note!"
The genius curses and begins rooting through the papers in front of him, knocking coffee cups askew in his search for the forgotten reason he's hacking the second most secure database in the Indigo League - the first, of course, being Oak's, who one of the code monkeys he is running circles around is eventually going to swallow their geek pride and call. At that point, he'll be waist deep in shit if he's still anywhere within seven proxies.
Eventually he finds a familiar coffee stained note, and frowns.
"That's it?" He sits back, scratching his greasy hair, hands momentarily idle. "I mean, yeah, breaking in was fun. But I could have sworn it was for something more interesting." He shrugs, and taps a few keys, relatively few compared to the firestorm it took to get in, dragging a remembered program from one of his folders into one of the League Headquarter security systems. "Sure, I can fool the seismographs for a few hours. Picking on geologists, the gift so nice..."
He trails off, propping his chin on one fist as he tries to string together memories and reason into motive. The HQ seismographs, which protect the government complex and it's extensive below ground wing from roving diglet colonies and other subterranean dangers, flicker for a moment before settling into an appearance of silence. For the next few hours, the Pokemon League Headquarter's underground eyes will be blind.
Not that it matters. The tunnel walls are all reinforced with yards of concrete and Cinnabarean steel rebar. You'd have trouble finding an onyx that could make it through that much ultradense stone and metal, even if it wasn't sensed beforehand.
Curious, he roots around in the security feeds. Everything looks normal, but that's suspicious in itself, cameras turned off angle and blanked over. He retraces his steps and finds the ones outside the Headquarters - someone is visiting that definitely doesn't want to be seen. He's a genius. It doesn't take him long.
"Oh shit." A worm of fear finally crawls up his spine as he watches a low-resolution outside traffic video record something it really shouldn't have. He's finally stepped into territory dangerous enough to ward him off. "Nope. Nope, nope, nope," he mutters, backing all the way out of the system and mainframe like he's being chased by houndooms, fragging every trace of his intrusion. "Didn't see nuttin'. Not a damn thing, sir. Just fucking with the seismologists, ma'am, taking their lunch money, you know how it is. Certainly didn't notice Giovanni Vittore sneaking into P.L. HQ a few hours ago..."
He's silent as his brain begins to turn over the new information. It's futile to try and stop himself from wondering; curiosity is half his personality, the other half being stubbornness. A clefairy, pink and impish, wanders up out of the darkness with a fresh cup of brown gold and he takes it absentmindedly.
"It's not that it's Giovanni, or that it's League HQ," he argues with himself, "I mean, his gym is in Viridian and HQ is practically right next door, and it's not like he can't go anywhere he fucking wants. No, it's that those things are true that make it weird. Why is Giovanni fucking Vittore sneaking into HQ?"
Angrily he musses his hair, and throws up his hands.
"Nope! Nope, I'm done. I did my wondering. I wondered. Now I am done. Seismographs are dummied, job's done. Do I think about what a weird favor it is to fool the sensors on a building that the scariest trainer in the fucking League just happens to be skulking into like a zigzagoon? I do not. We're even, Red. I'm out."
The officiator's whistle blew.
My arm snapped out, casting my pokeball spinning out. In the wilderness, it wasn't typically a smart idea to throw your ball away, but in the circuits, it was actually it's own skill, releasing your pokemon without telegraphing beforehand to your opponent where.
Some gyms had disallowed it in the beginning, citing the unrealness, but it eventually became a League mandated allowance in official matches across all the regions, as it added another element of tactics to the battles. The matches were meant to simulate real encounters, but the League had long since given up denying that it was a sport in most practice outside the major leagues, albeit a blood sport.
The rule passed, balls were designed with delayed release functions, and that was that.
The ball opened, red pokepower bursting forth, and my newly acquired bulbasaur appeared onto the field, doing a quick inventory of his surroundings like the trained pokebattler he was.
The Cerulean Gym, popular as it was, dominated a large swath of city, a connected superstructure containing numerous arenas large and small. Here, the many trainers of the gym, teachers and contracted circuiteers both plied their trade. It was more like a large university than anything else, albeit a heavily athletically focused one.
The arena we were in wasn't the main one, of course - that was the main one, near constantly occupied by Misty. She liked to hold marathons certain days, taking challenger after challenger on in a row without break. It showed off her endurance, and the televised footage of her in a swimsuit didn't hurt ticket sales, or ratings - she had her own television channel.
The battleground set up catered to land and water pokemon equally, featuring an astroturf field split by a river over which multiple crossings were erected. In terms of design, it was simplistic, but that was fine.
My opponent's ball spun, depositing some bulky blue creature into the water before I could identify it. Both balls were helpfully returned to our hands by the mistermime fielding the match, Daikoku oriented himself and the match began in earnest. I quickly ordered him to the center of one of the halves, putting him the farthest distance from any of the water channels.
Grass pokemon like mine were best at defense and offense after a little preparation. After a few terse directions, Daikoku set himself and tensed, sending his body into hypergrowth as vines crept down his back and coiled out, forming a short defensive net around him. His bulb bulged with dangerous powders. Ideally, I'd have ordered him to prepare razor leaves, but Daikoku was only halfway through that feeding regiment, and hadn't quite assimilated that deadly plant into his physiology yet. I'd have to wait if I wanted those infamous spadelike dismembering projectiles which were the favorite of so many trainers.
I wracked my brain for that brief glimpse I've had of the opponent's pokemon. It could be anything out there- and there were several herbivore Water-types which particularly-
"Welcome to the freshwater trainer battle!"
I flailed in surprise as the speakers inside my podium blared briefly with disgusting cheer. I looked across the field to the female gym trainer standing in the other, who waved when she saw me looking, holding a microphone on a zip cord. She was very pretty.
What. I thought.
"Pop quiz, the presence of what pokemon indicates water is safe to drink?" She asked, voice reverberating.
I stared. Then I ordered Daikoku to launch poison clusters into the water. As the purple powder spread, true to form, a ponderous quagsire leapt from the water, unable to tolerate the presence of the contagion.
"Good work! That's right, if you see a quagsire in the wild, you can be sure that there's drinkable water nearby."
Are you fucking serious.
The quagsire charged. "Of course, that doesn't mean they'll be willing to share!"
Are you fucking serious?
The Water/Ground-type wasn't quite as oblivious as it seemed. Moment before stepping into Daikoku's vine whip net, his chest bulged, and a blast of water knocked my bulbasaur back, dragging his vines with him. If he could get my pokemon in the water, he'd win this match.
Of course, that didn't mean I'd let him. He might have had the weight advantage, but that just meant it took even more energy to move out of water. I barked a quick order, and Daikoku arched forward, bulb unfolding slightly. He tensed, and expelled several fat leech seeds, which struck the quagsire's literally rubbery hide, sticking to him like insects they were named after, slowly swelling.
He stopped to brush them off before charging again, but the battle was already over. Daikoku juked around him and fired more, sapping more of the quagsire's energy, flagellating him with vine whips anytime he drew near. Eventually the beefy pokemon simply collapsed, puckered with leech seeds slowly draining him and out of water to spit. The trainer recalled him, leaving the leech seeds behind, which Daikoku ambled over to graze, snapping them up in quick bloody bites.
"Nice job!" The trainer enthused. "While it's true being able to move on land gives quagsires an advantage over other Water-types, it's not easy for them. Next battle!"
The rest of the match was relatively straightforward, as I recalled my bulbasaur and sent out Pikachu to face her simipour. Honestly, another quagsire would have been a better choice, given their particular species' tendency to laugh off electricity with their subdermal rubber hide.
The water monkey was hellishly quick, diving in and out of the water and peppering Pikachu with spouts, but that matter was put to rest when Pikachu finally got fed up trying to hit the aquatic simian directly and simply electrocuted him through one of the water guns he was expelling.
It was idiotic, and humiliating to just be a part of. I felt like a professional artist winning an award on a finger-painting. It was a win, but not any I could take pride in. The quagsire alone should have tackled my bulbasaur into the water and ignored the leech seeds, before going on to beat Pikachu into the ground. The strategy my opponent had used wasn't alternative or esoteric, just deliberately stupid.
This wasn't pokebattling, this was my trainer's ego getting a fifteen minute handjob from across the room. Idly, I wondered whether it counted as legalized prostitution, considering she was a gym trainer and drew a government salary paid for by my taxes.
She shook my hand afterwards, white teeth dazzling, the only physical feature I can really remember. Shiny and perfectly kept teeth, impossible for any trainer who spent longer than a month roughing it - the owner of the Safari Zone in Fuschia, a famous retired explorer and expansionist, legendarily had a replacement set made entirely of gold. Each cavity an adventure, he claimed. Not the case nowadays, of course, with walk in clinics and healthcare I took benefit of myself.
But even I had a few cavities. You didn't carry toothpaste or whitening strips when you could carry another repellant bottle, or ration bar. It was the principal of the thing.
"Thanks for the battle!" She chirped. Perfect alabaster teeth. "You've been invited-"
I told her I was busy and left. Her scrunched up frown was sweet enough to rot my teeth.
Of course, I didn't exactly whittle my days away waiting for my appointments with the Gym. With my prize of free lodgings robbed of me by Pikachu's standoffishness, I found myself once more in need of a stopgap to prevent my wallet from draining too quickly.
Foraging was one method I pursued of course. All pokemon captured could be sold, if only for pennies to League long-term storage - better stored and harmless than wild where it could hurt a human, they reasoned. But you wouldn't make a living selling pokemon into cold storage, the payout barely covering the cost of the pokeball.
No. Like it or not, we all lived in a pokemon world, where monsters were power, and where any one pokemon was caught you could be assured that someone would want it.
Trading was one way. As I mentioned before, there was a large market for pokemon of battling weight, constantly shifting. To the uninformed or unskilled, it appeared helplessly chaotic, impossible to win a fortune or even a profit out of. But I was neither. I knew how to play the Game.
In the span of a day, I traded three sandslash for twelve oddish, twelve oddish and 200 idols for a rapidash, a rapidash for a poliwhirl and 700 idols, and finally, a poliwhirl for a jynx.
It was an amazingly lucrative final trade - poliwhirl was nowhere near jynx's market value, and I'd picked up an extra 500 idols along the way trading the rapidash - an idiot trainer with cowboy dreams, or perhaps supremely confident he could break what I had found in a few short minutes to be a unmanageably temperamental rapidash.
But the jynx was the real coup. Uniquely the only Ice/Psychic-type known to exist, it was well valued across both pokebattling and recreational fronts, as well as hard to acquire, showing up only in far reaches, well off the beaten Routes. I won the trade from an old retiree, the jynx being an old Ranger trophy. He wasn't eminently concerned with money, with his decent pension - he merely wanted a poliwhirl for an upcoming fishing competition and didn't feel like pinching pennies over months to get it.
And that was where profit was made. There was no luck. There was only preparation meets opportunity, and recognizing the latter and knowing when to seize it was ninety percent of any great success.
He named her Lola, and I saw no reason fit to change it. While she wasn't trained as a pokebattler, she had plenty of potential to learn the trade. I decided to put her in storage for the time being, throwing up an overly high price for her on the market just in case, since an untrained jynx wouldn't be of much use for the Water or Electric-type gyms. If Lola hadn't sold and I hadn't found a good Grass-type counter by Celadon I'd take her out. In the meanwhile, she'd stay in long term so I could avoid the chances of her being stolen.
Other than trading and foraging, there were always trades to be learned - but those took significant time and material investment to learn, and were something of a sign of retirement - you became a craftsman when it became clear you weren't going to be winning any rings in your lifetime.
To be a pokebattler was to accept living life week by week. You needed money just like every other man, but you couldn't afford to stay too long in any place and risk losing your edge. Ideally, after winning enough badges and acclaim, you'd start making royalties from appearances and fortress contracts, but that was a long, long way off.
No, as a pokebattling trainer starting out, you looked to earn your bread at the high-risk, high-reward tables.
Which is why, much like pokebattling was the biggest sport in the world, gambling was the largest non-subsidized industry.
Why not? History had shown it to be a thrill even in the most primitive times, putting up your future for chance. Celadon Corners and Goldenrod Games, based out of their respective cities, ran the most lucrative industry in the Indigo League not directly overseen by the League itself. Slots, Voltorb Flip, card flip, pachinko - the two giants ran everything, right down to where I currently found myself.
You see, the machines are utterly for suckers. They're truly a tax on people bad at mathematics. To win the rare prizes only the casinos offer, you're actually better buying the coins and cashing them in outright.
But down at the human level, betting on competition between recognizably imperfect creatures, that was where reliable money could be made, for those who had the eye.
It was early in the day when I found myself at the Cerulean ponyta circuit. The cape city had a terrific track, running right along the water, which attracted a good crowd any day of the week, especially clear ones like today.
Why ponyta and not rapidash, you might wonder? Well, while rapidash were naturally older and faster, they tended to be much too aggressive, often devolving into fights. While some people enjoyed the violent spectacle of the 'fire-crashes' as they were called, the less unstable and more controllable ponyta circuits drew the more experienced gamblers, and hence, the larger crowds.
I wouldn't normally become involved in this sort of thing, but selling the rapidash in my pokemon trading chain had chanced me a walk through the stables, and an eye at the ponyta. I didn't have a specific knowledge of records or statistics for the racers, but I knew my horseflesh, and had seen an opportunity to make a quick buck.
A Chance Encounter in stall three, the leading prospect for the race, was in perfect health, but had been twitching up a storm, mane flaring up in down. It was his rut coming up. Now, the racers had naturally developed treatments for this, but they'd leave him docile and a tad numb, no conditions to lead a race in. He'd finish well, but not first. That, I was betting, would be Blaine's Last Laugh, the second contender. It wouldn't be a terrific amount of money, but it'd be worth the price of the ticket, and be a suitable waste of an afternoon.
I was just settling down with a box of caramel corn when a familiar roar shook the stadium, causing me to freeze in recognition.
Out of the sky dropped a charizard, swooping down over the wall of the hippodrome to do a low flyby over the audience. People whooped as the shadow of the great beast passed over them, not in fear, but in excitement, stretching hands upwards to feel the updraft. The dragon did one more revolution, blowing flashy streams of fire over the attendees, before cutting across the ponyta line and landing on one of the sky-perches specially designed to accommodate trainers with such mounts who were willing to pay for it.
Right above my fucking head.
I had only myself to blame. Seats so far back cost the least, being the farthest away from the track and right up against the wall of the highest-level, where the wealthy patrons and their mounts sat, and as such was vulnerable to food and (Arceus forbid) droppings from mounts themselves occasionally bombing you. I actually had the row mostly to myself. My cheapskate ways now had the air around me literally rising in temperature from the charizard's sulphurous breath.
My bulbasaur merely poked his head out, ever innocently curious. Pikachu lost his shit, hissing up a storm and crawling under my seat, glaring hostilely out from in-between my legs. I didn't blame him. There weren't enough charizards around for this to possibly be a coincidence.
My suspicions were confirmed a short minute later, as the charizard's head snaked down, admitting a wizened old man holding creakily onto his crest. A few people in rows further up turned around clapped for him as he slid creakily off, prompting a few irritated snorts of flame from the charizard. The people ooed, and I sighed. Stadium barriers and urbanization had robbed people of their sense of danger.
The little old man settled down next to me with the calm disregard for boundaries of the very elderly. "Share some of those jacks, youngster?" He asked, grinning a smile not quite full of teeth.
I stared at him a moment, nonplussed. I glanced up above me, where his giant, murderous dragon was calmly watching our exchange out of one eye. Then I gave my whole bag of snacks to the old man.
I wasn't sure why he was here, but I sure as hell wasn't going to try to make him leave.
The old man blithely ignored the question, munching on my cracker jacks. What was it with people and stealing my food? "I'm not supposed to have these, you know." He whispered conspiratorially. "Doctor says they're bad for my health. Of course, the doctor doesn't own a giant fire-breathing dragon and can suck an egg for all I give a hoot."
Daikoku, ever the intrepid explorer, snaked a few vines over the rim of his pot. The old man blinked blearily and fumbled around briefly, grasping one. "Oh, who's this? Ho ho." The vines curled around his wrinkled thumb and he felt around for a minute until he found the rim of the pot, rubbing one of my bulbasaur's ears with one knuckle.
I realized for the first time that he was completely and utterly blind, eyes white with cataracts. Then I realized that he had presumably flown here in said state. Then I very calmly edged away from the obviously deranged man.
"Yeh, I am blind." The old man barked sharply, suddenly. I jerked in surprise. "Took you long enough to notice, may I say. But that's young people. Acting like they know everything when they can't even see what's in front of their nose." In a milder tone, he continued. "So, who're you betting on?"
Tersely, I asked him exactly who he was, and why he had decided to track me down. It was easy to recognize him now, of course: it was the old man from the Nugget Bridge Challenge, who'd come in the box of the charizard's trainer. But that told me nothing about his intentions, or identity.
The old man scowled, as if I had ruined some great trick. "In my day, we engaged in a bit of polite small talk before getting to the bloody point."
In his day, they likely used apricots as pokeball casings. I let him know as such and he roared with laughter, interrupted by hacking coughs. I had only a rumbling chuff before the charizard's head came snaking down between us. Before I could even begin to deal with that surprise, the old man swatted it angrily across the nostrils. "Get offa me, you great dumb lizard!"
Instead of being snapped up in a single, dusty swallow, the dragon retreated. My respect for the man went up several notches. No one got away with treating a Dragon-type like that without good reason. This old man, not the trainer who had wielded him in the Challenge, had to be the real owner of the charizard.
The old man's face grew wistful. "Aye. Me grandson. Too much pride to get along with ol' Alexander, too little sense not to let things be. But it's not his fault. It's his father, me son-in-law what set that fire in him. Never made champion and now the boy feels it's his duty to see it done. He was Alexander's real trainer; I just brought him up through the younger years. Training a drake ain't the work of one generation, you know."
Knowing the old man wouldn't leave, and curious in spite of myself, I asked after the father. The old man's jaw set stubbornly, and I got the sudden feeling of having trodden on something I ought not have.
"Dead. Took his own life." The senior grunted. "Daft, selfish bastard. Went and challenged Koga, and Koga shamed him. Took his whole team and damn near Alexander with him. Didn't quite get out unscathed, though." As he said so, the old man tapped his right eye and pointed up.
I looked, and noticed the charizard too was indeed missing an eye, a faded, blotchy scar barely discernable. It was one thing to hear of Koga's crippling power, but another to see it's work done. Any pokevenom deadly enough to scar through a dragon's regenerative powers was nothing to be trifled with. The old man continued.
"Wouldn't even hear of starting over, or settling into the family business. Daft, daft fool. His ambitions were big, but the grander the dream, the more terrible the ruin. Didn't even realize why he lost. You know why?" Obligingly, I asked, and the old man leaned in. "Koga didn't fight his dragon. Koga fought him."
"Me stupid son-in-law's team could have beaten Koga. Would have beaten Koga, with Alexander to sweep them up after the rest of them duked it out. So he riled him up. Poked him in his weak spots, played some mind games, and sent out his supposed ace. What could me fool son do but answer with his own? But all warfare is based on deception. Alexander tired himself taking that one out at full strength, thinking the rest would be easy pickings, and Koga rolled another right out."
"My son's team may have been the stronger, but Koga mastered him, and so made his enemy's strength his own. If your opponent knows what you're going to do before you do, you've already lost. Koga outplayed him, and my son knew it, and it killed him. Who'd you bet on?"
I told him my bet, and my reasoning on it, and I will swear up and down he could see me for the look he sent me.
"What an odd boy, to understand monsters better than men. But I you didn't stand out I wouldn't have been able to find you. I'm bettin' you're wrong, and yours is losing right about now." It was, now that I noticed. The old man grinned. "No Gods But Men is in the lead, innit? I sensed the strength of the rider's bond flying over the field. Same way I found you, in fact. You burn with a remarkable aura. One day, you'll possess the sense, I wager." The old man nodded sagely, radiating wisdom like a thermal heater.
I'll admit, I was taken in for a moment by his words. Then I informed him that he was absolutely full of shit, and snatched my box of snacks back. The charizard, Alexander, rumbled above me in warning.
The old man cracked a grin. "Oh? Don't believe in the trainer sense?"
That wasn't it. The trainer sense was a documented, if unexplained thing: just like trainers with steady teams eventually came to communicate with them as if they shared a common language, the trainer sense, or monster eye, or a dozen other names, was merely the progression of such. Veteran trainers and breeders bonded more quickly with pokemon, and had a preternatural sense for their surroundings and interactions with others. Some even reported feeling their pokemon's emotions, such as pain, sorrow, anger, over distances. It was only one of many aspects of pokemon that science had trouble explaining.
So, it wasn't unreasonable to think that the old man, obviously someone who had worked with pokemon long enough to develop such a strong trust with such prickly pokemon as charizards, might develop the trainer sense, and that the loss of his sight, which was known to enhance other physical senses, might augment his trainer sense in some way. Mr. Fuji, the highest authority on Ghost-types besides Agatha, had made similar claims before.
It was, however, ridiculous to think that the old man might pick out anything on the back a moving dragon, or somehow manage to track me over the length of a city with it. It wasn't some psychic thing : that much was known for certain. Also, No Gods But Men was currently in seventh, with A Chance Encounter leading, as expected.
The old man swore virulently and tore up his betting ticket as the ponyta and his rider crossed the finish line, quickly announced over the hippodrome speakers to the great jubilation of some and obvious disappointment of others. "You've caught me out, boyo." He admitted glumly. "After the incident at the Challenge, I asked a few friends in city records to keep an eye out for you. Your trainer record had some kinder block on it, but you charged the ticket on trainer credit, which is classified and monitored separate. I zipped on over once I heard. Alexander's an independent contract for Cerulean and has a roost reserved here."
I chanced another look up at the charizard, suitably impressed. Independent contracts with cities were reserved for pokemon of great worth to the city's defense. To gain such a contract and hold it even after losing an eye was a testament to his power and skill. I wondered if any pokemon in that Challenge might have left in one piece had Alexander been under proper control.
"I actually came to apologize for on me grandson's behalf for the bad sportsmanship shown. Yer starter might well have been killed, and I recognize that." The old man fished around in his coat, and retrieved a pokeball. "In my time, among dragon breeders, we offered the first of the brood for such slights. This is Alexander's last, I'm afraid : it was to go to my grandson, but he's more than proven himself undeserving of such responsibility."
I froze up. I'd never be able to train the charmander in time for the Championship, of course - Dragon-types took decades to reach maturity. But dragons of any age were prized above all on the trading market, especially at such formative ages as charmander. If I were to sell it, I might not need the Ainu Clan to pay for my next few gyms. Any of them, in fact.
But then I turned the thought over in my mind.
No matter how I reasoned it, I couldn't take the charmander. Maybe it was that it went so far beyond charity that I might as well take the old man's name along with it. Maybe it was that I didn't believe the old man be taxed for the wrongs of his kin.
Most, I thought, it was the companionship I felt with the grandson, even though I'd never met him, having now learned his backstory. Maybe I didn't want his one chance to have been his only chance. After all, his ambitions were paltry next to mine, and he had been slapped down. Some part of me didn't want to damn my lesser parallel.
I told the old dragoneer such and he nodded glumly. "I suspected as much. It wasn't all blitzle puckey, what I said, you know. We fogeys of the profession can tell for someone, when we get this close, or at least get a sense: tell the resolute from the cringing. There's plenty of skilled youngsters this generation, it seems, but even in comparison you're frightfully controlled, all dense and drawn in. It's as impressive as it is tragic - no one burns as hard or as short as one like you for any homely dream. Yours must be a terrible desideratum."
I didn't bother responding to his unspoken question. My dream wasn't exactly one you bandied about. After an awkward silence, the older man rose stiffly.
"Well, I suppose I'll do as you said. See if the boy can't make something of himself. Who knows? Maybe he'll be ready for Alexander by the time I pass." The dragon snaked down his head, and the old man paused to rub the drake behind his crest. He looked sad. "Moltres, I certainly hope so. Otherwise, he'll just fly off. It's their way, you see. Dragons won't obey someone who's dreams can't fill their wings, it's just not in their nature. If you don't have that, they'll find someone who does. The dragon rage." He chuffed a little laugh. "These League fools think it's an attack. Ha! No. As the dragon lives, it rages, and you know why?"
"Because we walk an earth amongst living gods," He answered softly. "And they cannot bear to exist in a world where they are not sovereign of their own souls."
I found myself staring at the cavernous scar that dominated Alexander's head, a long, spotty rent in otherwise unblemished orange scales, crossing his eye socket. His ragged eyelid opened, and I jerked slightly to find the socket occupied rather than empty. A gold prosthetic was exposed, engraved in which were Imperial characters I recognized.
Seifukusha, it read. Conqueror.
Alexander tilted his head to look and my eyes fell before I could meet his. The old man mounted his dragon and left.
My 'freshwater' battle with Misty came after three more days. Despite my skepticism, I dutifully honed both my pokemon and my mind to the task - Pikachu and Daikoku I set to battle, foraging through the wilds and picking up mock-battles along the Cerulean cape shore, a popular hangout for trainers.
When I finally showed up to the battle, I was impressed. Not by the coliseum, fully three sizes larger than the one in Pewter, or the accompanying size of the crowd, cheers and jeers near drowning out the announcer. No, I was impressed by Misty herself.
The Gym Leaders were any city's pride. They'd been described as anything from military deterrents (by separatists) to living sacraments (by nationalists). No matter whether you liked or hated the Leader in particular, each and every one wielded power that could not be denied or belittled.
Misty's setup was a testament to that fact. She didn't schedule battles - she scheduled battle marathons. I was only one in a list of trainers facing her today growing near into the triple digits. She battled for hours, often not even switching pokemon.
All of this I knew already. But as I stood in the trainer podium as it rose into the coliseum, sunlight blasting me straight in the eyes, I was impressed.
After all, it wasn't every 'living sacrament' that could wear a one-piece so well.
I squinted atop the tower as I ascended from beneath the stadium, scoping out the battleground to assure myself it was the same as advertised.
A large disc of land dominated the center of the battlefield, ringed by alternating rivers and rings of more land, connected by bridges to the main disc. It was a battlefield which allowed for both land and Water-types.
A rainbow barrier sparkled briefly in a dome over the battlefield as a matter of rote, allowing both trainers to see the airspace allowed to Flying-types by the psychic barrier.
"UP NOW is TRAINER RED, here for his FIRST of THREE! Some of you might RECOGNIZE HIM from his STUNNING UPSET at PEWTER GYM not too long ago!"
The announcer boomed, and I sighed. I suppose it was too much to hope that I might pass by unmentioned. I wondered if the brief swell in cheering was real or imagined, and then decided it didn't matter.
My attention snapped back to the present as Misty flourished in the far distance, sending a pokeball spinning into the air. I nudged Pikachu off my shoulder, and he leapt down to the battlefield, darting towards center field as the opposing pokemon appeared in a flash of crimson light.
Furtively, I glared at the coalescing monster, searching for the clue that would alert me to it's identity, that one detail that would give me even a moment's-
"It LOOKS like MISTY has sent out her CROCONAW, McCLUSKY!"
Or there was that. I grit my teeth as a standard profile of the pokemon came up next to Misty's massive headshot on the scoreboard, listing battle stats and history, which the announcer started into with great gusto.
"VETERAN fans will note McCLUSKY as being SIRED by REYNOLDS, Misty's CHAMPION FERALIGATR-"
I tuned him out and barked a few orders into the small audio receiver on my podium, which relayed them via speaker inside the psychic barrier of the battlefield. It blocked outside sound as a matter of necessity - in a stadium this big with this many fans, orders would never reach the pokemon through all the background noise. This also served to prevent trainers from hearing eachother's orders.
The croconaw appeared - a great, scaly blue lizard with great jaws and was immediately peppered with lightning by Pikachu. It moved with surprising agility, recovering quickly from the opening salvo with a snarl and slipping into the water.
My pulse quickened. Like most professional battling pokemon, it had obviously been trained to resist it's counters - much like the charizard, being at a type disadvantage was nothing new or frightening to it.
I spoke into the receiver, and Pikachu jinked into motion, darting back into the outward rings just as the croconaw erupted out of the water into the space he'd just vacated. I breathed a quick sigh of relief. The feraligatr line lost speed as it evolved, but found a strikingly good balance of dexterity and power at croconaw age. True, they'd never be the Water-type powerhouse that feraligatrs were, but a feraligatr wasn't going to catch Pikachu even if it had the whole day to do it. Meanwhile, the croconaw could still lash out with surprising swiftness in or out of water while retaining enough bulk to weather a few assaults.
Pikachu juked backwards, cheeks crackling with retribution, but the croconaw was back into the water like a flash. I realized with quick clarity that it had started moving before Pikachu was even done dodging, and that it's real objective had not been to score a hit, but to drive Pikachu off the central platform, the largest and safest portion of land.
Frantically, I called into the arena, and Pikachu shot into motion - away from the central platform and the water that separated it, where I knew the croconaw would be waiting.
Seeing it's ruse revealed, the croconaw burst from the water in another ring, aiming a bulbous jet of water at Pikachu; large, rather than precise, designed to knock Pikachu into the water. The match would be over then. I would be forced to call a forfeit or pit my starter against a carnivorous monster in it's most natural environment.
Pikachu dodged, and fired back, but the croconaw had already slipped back into the water. Pikachu continued running, darting from strip to strip, and I cursed.
This was bad. Misty had the momentum. If Pikachu slowed down, he was prey to McClusky's water blasts and jaws. If he kept running he'd simply tire himself out, never managing to pinpoint the croconaw, as the constant motion made it a near impossible shot.
The croconaw emerged again, letting loose another salvo. It caught the end of Pikachu's tail, and my breath caught, but Pikachu merely hissed (from the looks of it, I couldn't actually hear him from here), and returned, once again missing.
I narrowed my eyes, noticing a pattern in the croconaw's positioning. Misty had given it a good strategy, but hadn't bothered to modify it's base instincts. Patterns were routines, and routines could be exploited.
I ordered Pikachu to rush the center. My rat turned on a dime and began a mad rush towards land, like a yellow flash. Then I issued my next order, and waited.
A shadow moved in the water. I roared into the mic, and Pikachu reacted.
The water behind my starter erupted as the croconaw emerged in a flash of teeth and fury, just in time to take a bolt of lightning to the midsection, already traveling to his position. The croconaw was blasted back onto land, and Pikachu landed nimbly onto land.
I smiled thinly. A predator always struck from the blind spot. Too bad this wasn't the wilds. Too bad Pikachu was no mean prey.
The croconaw recovered quickly, rolling over and letting loose a unsettling reptile cough, pain and anger intermixed. Pikachu braced, gathering charge to strike. This time, he wouldn't miss.
Without warning, a blaring horn rang out, prompting a brief surge in cheers. I blinked, thrown off, and looked up at the mega-screen, where it read CHALLENGE COMPLETE in large flashing letters next to the three other options under my name, those being VICTORY, FORFEIT and DEFEAT. Looking down at the battleground found the croconaw, McClusky, already dissolving into red pokepower, returning to the hand of the distant swimsuited figure.
Slowly, understanding dawned on me, and I called Pikachu back with a bitter scowl.
'Challenge complete'. Not 'forfeit', though I had her creature dead to rights. No matter what, Misty's image would be protected.
"So, who's dirty little secret are you?" Misty asked conversationally, plopping down in front of me. Eloquently, I choked on my hamburger and was forced to pound my chest as I attempted to avoid suffocation.
I was sitting in one of the Cerulean Gym dining halls. After spending nearly an hour stewing in the long line of trainers waiting to confirm their losses or wins, I'd realized that angsting over the insincerity of the system was hungry work and remembered that the Gym offered discounts to battling trainers.
Pikachu, perched atop my backpack and napping at the nape of my neck, hissed at the sudden disturbance. I sucked in a few deep breaths, and recentered myself.
Misty was decent at least, wearing a logo-blanketed sweat jacket and pants over her usual attire, her chin propped up by her fist as she awaited her answer. Around us, the usual business of the cafeteria was interrupted by several suited men positioned rather conspicuously in a circular formation around the building. A staryu floated lazily in the air around her. I spotted a Water Stone strapped tightly to one of it's tentacles and understood - it was evolving, just now coming into the psychic powers that allowed it the status of a pseudo land-dwelling Water-type. Idly, I wondered if it shared any relation to her immortal championship starmie.
Nearby, people tried and failed to pretend that they weren't trying to eavesdrop, surreptitious glances hitting me like a relentless volley of intrusion. I sighed. At least there weren't any tv cameras.
"Those? Psh." Misty waved a hand, taking a swig out of a sports bottle. "Can't exactly talk business in front of those. Also, you're deflecting, but that's fine. I was just curious." She smiled brightly.
I wasn't quite sure what she was talking about. Pikachu, awake now, was watching the staryu, and let off a growl, waking Daikoku, who was eating in his flowerpot underneath my chair. I flicked Pikachu in the nose and kicked the pot; both subsided. I didn't particularly feel like getting dog-piled by machokes in the middle of lunch.
"Well, you!" Misty made a lackadaisical motion that managed to indicate me, my person and my entire character. "Let me tell you, my managers are in a fucking tizzy trying to figure out you. Since little Oak skunked me in his third match yesterday they've been tearing up the stratosphere trying to figure out who's behind him."
That got my attention. Blue was here, and already through his gym battles? Go figure.
Misty nodded. "Mhm. I did a special three-in-a-row for him, no waiting, for the crazy ratings, right? The plan was to let him go crazy in the first two, big slugfests, and then I get him in the third, so we both get some screentime, right? Even ran it through with his agent. So, we get to the third match, I pop Gaslight-" Her champion golduck, I recalled. "-and what does he do?" She threw up her hands.
"He one-ups me and throws out a ninetales! A ninetales! Fucking no-one has ninetales, they're impossible to get. I know one person with a ninetales, and that's Blaine, and he's been in the Game forever." Misty stole one of my fries, and I struggled not to clench my fists. "Needless to say, the fox wrecks Gaslight with all it's mysterious ghost shit, and embarasses me in front of the whole coliseum. With a Fire-type! I'll be cleaning up that embarrassment for weeks." The Gym Leader let out an explosive blast of a sigh. "Asshole. So that's why I came to check you out. I mean, you're obviously running a double con."
Confusion filled me. What?
Misty smirked. "The lone trainer with no name who wanders into town, dazzles everyone with skill, and walks into the sunset? This is the real world, not a neo-spaghetti western. I should know, I've starred in a few." She put up a placating hand. "Now, I'm not saying you're just some sock-puppet, but we both know old man Oak doesn't indigo-classify just anyone. You're somebody's plan. I've been in the business long enough to know that. You're about as off-color for the standard fare as those eyes of yours."
Well, didn't she just have it all figured out. The words slipped out and I immediately regretted them, but she just chuckled ruefully, swirling around her sports bottle.
"Poking a little too hard, am I? No worries, no worries. You must be one of those. You don't like me, do you?" Misty observed, phrasing it like some tragedy. "We both realize that the way I do things isn't glamorous, but let's look at the numbers. Not mine, though those are pretty nice, as the tabloids will attest. Let's look at Cerulean City." Misty's smile grew mischievous and smug, at odds with the topic she was laying out. "Since I was chosen as Gym Leader, the tourism industry and traffic has exploded. Now, maybe you're not interested in the wild parties or tacky knick-knacks or the sights - I know I'm not. What you might be interested in is the thousands of jobs that have been created to deal with that demand. The millions of idols that have been brought in. Now, I'm not gonna pretend I do this for the people: I fucking don't."
Misty's smile grew into a dark, wicked thing then: an R-rated rickshaw of dark pleasure and schadenfreude. "I love the life my job's bought me. What's more important in the post-apocalypse but fame and fortune? But honor, you protest, but integrity. Psh." The lewd expression disappeared, and she leaned back, bored now. "Those don't feed families or house them, Red. Can I call you that? I feel like we understand each other pretty well."
I was silent. The hedonist's words flew around me in a haze of confliction.
This was not what I had expected to deal with when I had ordered a burger and a shake.
Sensing my indecision, she leaned forward again, now back in her starting position, chin on fist, examining me like one would an exhibit. "Let me ask you this, then: am I the only person who would have ever done this? Am I the only Gym Leader ever appointed who would...sunk, if you wanna call it that, to this level? Moralize all you want. If I'm a bitch, I'm the one you know. If what I do is bad, it's the lesser evil."
We were both silent for a time. Misty had given me a lot to think about and she seemed a bit put out by my non-reaction.
"Well, that's my schtick." She said finally. "I actually came down to tell you that you'll be getting exactly what you wanted. See, my managers wanted me to roll out the gold-engraved pokeballs and thrash you into the ground. But I figure that's kind of a dick move and will garner more attention to my loss yesterday than it detracts. So instead, because I'm the boss, I moved both of your matches up into this week. I won't pull any funny shit, and as soon as you've got your badge, you can mosey right on out of my city."
"Come to think of it, in fact..." Misty dug around in her pocket and produced a pin, which she walked over and affixed to my hat. I took my hat off to look at it. It read 'LEVELED BATTLER' in red letters. "You might like this too." She drawled. "A couple other big cheeses have the same problems with me that you do, so they've cooked up these. That pin basically restates that our matchup is dishonorable and baloney and whatever and that I'm fighting at your level and not mine." She unzipped her jacket some, and I saw an identical pin stuck to the strap of her leotard. "I think they're actually trying to shame me. Silly them, right?"
Misty walked off, her evolving staryu trailing behind. One of her bodyguards said something into his wrist and the whole cadre moved to mirror her. The Gym Leader stopped by one table to sign autographs and then left.
I looked at my hat. Then I put it back on my head.
Two days later, I received an email from Professor Oak asking me to check up on a colleague of his, who apparently hadn't contacted him in a few days.
I'd just finished with the second gym battle, my 'saltwater' battle. The entire battle is mostly a blur to me even now - I recall solely that I never met Misty's eyes even as I 'won', and that it was otherwise unmemorable.
I was still in a haze over what Misty had said. I'd always had trouble reconciling my conflicting philosophies - idealism vs. pragmatism, what I dreamed weighed against what was possible in this world.
I had thought myself already resigned to dirtying myself at some point in my climb to the top - perhaps not so soon, but greater trainers had sunk to much lower depths in their scrambles toward heaven. Despite my raging against compromise, the poor boy inside me had already known that compromise was vital to survival, never mind victory. It had to happen sooner or later.
I had imagined it in the form of some commercial contract or deal - I would need money at some point, after all, and minor indignities were preferrable to failure, little deaths to stave off total annihilation. I was naive, and I realized that now.
Yet still I balked. Misty's offer tasted so strongly of charity, of pity-giving, that I nearly gagged. But what was I to do but accept? Misty was egomaniac with cause - her record of pokebattling was undeniable, and she could crush me as simply as deciding to with her suite of elite pokemon. Her way was the only way - there was no highway option
These thoughts consumed me as approached the small coastal studio Oak's address had led me to. I knew little concrete about the cost of Cerulean real estate, but common sense told me the dazzling view of the sapphire Cerulean bay alone must have driven the price into the millions. It didn't surprise me, however - any peer of Professor Oak was bound to be extremely successful, and with such windfall came lucrative gains.
I knocked on the door, which opened slightly. Not thinking much of the way Pikachu perked up and hissed into the gap (as it was his common reaction to most things new), I shifted Daikoku's pot in my arms and shouldered my way inside; the Professor had said it might be unlocked.
Now, I'd love to say my inner turmoil had my normally stoic bearing a little looser than usual.
"Fucking finally." The clefairy said, taking a long drag from its cigarette and smashing it into the ashtray next to it as it leapt down from the stepping stool it had been sitting on.
Daikoku's pot slipped from numb fingers, smashing thunderously on the doormat, depositing my squealing bulbasaur onto the floor. Pikachu screeched and took off into the house like a shot. Daikoku, meanwhile, rolled awkwardly off his side and fixed me with an utterly wounded look.
"I understand this is not a normal situation for you." The clefairy bit off in clipped tones. "It's fine, don't worry about it. All I need is a human actuator with Indigo-level clearance who can keep his mouth shut and pull the pretty levers. Preferrably before the cigs I've been chain-smoking wear off, and the clefairy's regenerative hyperamnesia the poison was supressing blank-slates the collection of neurosises I call my personality, thereby destroying the nationally-proclaimed 'greatest mind born since the Neo-Dark Ages'. But please, let's wait for you to calm down. My name's Bill, what's yours?"
My mind was blank. This situation could not possibly be reacted to, so I did not react. I stared at the sarcastic impossibility in front of me with wide, disbelieving eyes.
The clefairy palmed it's face in a human gesture that looked so very wrong on it. "Welp, there goes my emergency supply of patience for idiots. Thankfully, even dumb animals can respond to stimuli."
With that, the clefairy's voice rose to screaming, ultradecibal pitch. "MOVE, TRAINER!"
I jumped a near foot in the air as the sound of breaking windows filled the house. Somewhere else, I heard Pikachu howl, and the sound of lightning followed. The clefairy charged me, and I retreated on instinct, scrambling away from the mad creature.
"MOVE! MOVE! DOWN TO THE FUCKING LABORATORY!"
My eardrums stung in pain, and I fled down the halls of the domicile, flayed by the sound of it - Bill's - voice, as he chased me down the stairs, passing messy rooms filled with files and computers.
A sliding glass security door stood destroyed at the bottom of the circular stairwell. Blood and broken glass littered the floor like the scene of a murder. Pursued by Bill the clefairy, I leaped over the steel divider and into the laboratory. Peripherally, I noticed its lavish and expensive equipment, even more extensive than anything I'd seen on the Professor's ranch. This wasn't a million idol cutting-edge laboratory - this was a billion idol bleeding-edge facility.
All for one man, currently trapped foaming mouthed in a glass-tube at the end of the bay. I stopped short, transfixed by the sight of the Indigo League's greatest genius, clawing bloody-fingered at the walls of his prison like a asylum patient. Behind the toothy insanity, I could almost glimpse the weedy, humorously caustic inventor who occasionally called in to tv shows to offer his crude, backhanded insights.
The clefairy's impossibly human voice rose in a snap behind me. "The computer. Quickly."
I leapt away like a man burned, but the clefairy was already passing me, stepping into a parallel glass tube to the human Bill's. My mouth gaped open like a fish, mind struggling to catch up with the absurdity.
"TRAINER ID! IN THE COMPUTER!"
My trainer's instincts reacted, choosing action over stillness, clawing my identification card out of my pocket and into the slot on the side of the computer, an ordinary government laptop which dominated the laboratory atop a podium at it's center, standing out like a conductor's stand.
Bill the clefairy pounded a button on the inside of the tube and it hissed shut. "SIGN IN, KILL THE SECURITY NOTIFICATION AND INITIALIZE THE PROCESS!" He screamed, voice muffled by the glass.
Out of some miracle I logged in, pulling my hardly used governmental PIN out of some panicked corner of my brain. A security warning for new users popped up immediately and I clicked the red X.
The desktop was cluttered with folders, some numeric, others a gibberish collection of letters, all locked. In the background, a younger Lorelei lounged in little more than a smile, no doubt from her modeling days before she became the Absolute Zero Empress.
A tiny window opened on the center screen. BEGIN OPERATION MONSTER MINDFUCK WHAMMY JAMMY AND REVOLUTIONIZE GODDAMN POKESCIENCE AS WE KNOW IT, AGAIN? YES/NO?
YES, I clicked, and both Bills began to scream.
At this point I'm not ashamed to say that the sudden onset of insanity caught up to me all at once, and I turned around and slumped down against the podium, covering my ears and clenching my eyes shut. It was too much, too fast. This was what Oak called a errand?
After a while, a hand found it's way to my shoulder. Cautiously, I opened my eyes.
Daikoku had created a protective circle around me of vines and leech seeds while I was catatonic, meandering around it in a worried circle as he bleated cries of distress I hadn't heard. I found my right hand curled in Pikachu's fur, who had entered the circle and curled up by my side.
Bill looked down at me with tired, blood-streaked eyes, cradling a cigarette in his other. "Fancy a drink, trainer?" He croaked.
Pikachu hissed at him.
"Clefairy." He retorted, in much the same tone as one would use to tell someone to fuck off.
And strangely enough, Pikachu did.
We sat in Bill's kitchenette, small despite the size of the house. I guessed from the state of the rest of the house that he wasn't interested in much besides innovation - containing rooms filled with cardboard boxes of folders, machines and other research tools, discarded and seemingly forgotten. Even his bed was only a mattress and blanket, tucked behind a row of spectrometers and glass slides.
I watched the clefairy with a wary caution as it approached the table, a cup of coffee clutched in its tiny hands. Bill took it, and the clefairy waddled off to purposes unknown. The super-genius waved at its back.
"Don't worry about it. Regenerative hyperamnesia, like I said. It doesn't even remember me being in it's brain - clefairies forget fucking everything except basic functions just to protect their minds." Bill snorted. "Psychic savants, able to reproduce almost any natural phenomena they witness, and what stops them from ruling the world? They can't fucking remember what they did. Even clefables aren't much better."
I nodded mutely, still digesting what I'd seen. Bill glanced at me, before shrugging and going on. I'm sure he was used to lacking a mental peer capable of bouncing his ideas back at him.
"Anyway, thanks for the save. I asked Oak to send a cleared runner over to check on business just in case things went wrong, and it looks like I was right. Just like always." He gulped down a swallow of caffeinated gold and sighed. "Still, you did me a solid, so I guess I owe you one."
Silence ensued. I thought of the thousand things I could ask of the premiere mind in pokescience and decided I wanted none of them. I didn't crave trivia or technology. What I wanted was an answer to my philosophical turmoil, the root of which I couldn't even discern.
I wanted the badge, the win, the next gym and the next battle, and Misty had offered me it. My goal was not here, but at the top, with Blue. I had no practical choice but to accept, so there was no reason to feel guilty for doing so. The outcome was obvious, and yet, I was haunted by something I could not define.
Bill's eyes widened as he listened, and by the end, he was staring at me like I was the most interesting exhibit in a museum. "You know you're like a hundred years too fucking young and late to be tackling the root of the human condition, right? Philosophers have argued around your problem since before we put monsters into balls." He sounded delighted. "Mew. Oak does like his Platonics and dreamers, doesn't he."
Sighing, Bill took out a cigarette and rose from his seat, rummaging around in his cabinets for a lighter
"I'll spare you the armchair sophistry and backseat rationalizations and tell you what motivates me. I'm an inventor, Red. That is my purpose. I've heard pokebattlers say they fight because it's the only time they feel alive."
At this I nodded - while I did not share the same mentality, there were times when I revelled in a similar understanding.
"Well, that's what innovation is like for me. The way I see it, if you're not working to advance the human understanding of what is and may be, then you're basically just a decomposing sack of fucking meat, yanno?" Bill shrugged, as if he hadn't just called every non-PhD holder in the history of mankind worthless. "I'm really not trying to be melodramatic here, but everyone who's born gets one fucking thing, and that's a lifetime. If your life's only contribution is another provider, another family unit, some menial service and easygoing life which preserves the status quo of our species, which is really not that special, by the way, then aren't you just a brick in the wall barring our way?"
Bill finally found his lighter, and lit up, shadows catching his face harshly for a moment as he cupped his hands. Even bloodshot, his eyes were sharp, and he fixed me with a penetrating gaze as he spoking, filling every word with purpose.
"Nothing in nature evolves without hardship. I could have retired after inventing the storage system. But I didn't. Because then all I would be is a sack of decomposing meat. When I'm eating, sleeping, or crapping, I could be any ordinary asshole doing that. But when I'm inventing, when I'm struck by my next inspiration - that's when I'm Bill. Because no one, no one, does what I do as well as I do it. I don't want the inventions I make. I want to invent them."
After a moment of staring, he broke out coughing, having held his drag in too long. His coughing broke into smoky laughter, and he waved his cigarette.
"And these damned things? Let's just call it living life on hard mode." He shuffled to a drawer and began rummaging around in some papers. "Enough fucking proseltyzing. You be you, Red. Or a sack of decomposing meat."
The inventor pushed an envelope into my hands and shooed me towards the door. "Do me a favor and take this. I guess I'll owe you another one!" He said as I left. I did not reply, lost in thought.
The crowd was massive as I stepped into my box, Pikachu weaving around my legs to clamber up my back. Their murmurings had turned to cheering the moment my heel had hit the first step. It was a sunny day.
"COMING to you LIVE from CERULEAN GYM STADIUM ONE, we are here with the FINAL BATTLE in TRAINER RED'S gym series..."
I fiddled with my hat as I waited. Despite my intentions, I felt oddly calm. Pikachu's mood mirrored mine, watching docilely from over my shoulder despite the noise.
"GYM LEADER MISTY has TAKEN THE STAND!"
In the far distance I could see her, doffing her sweat jacket and standing bare before the Indigo League, flesh glistening with sunscreen and body oil.
Narcissism failed to describe her. Egomaniacism was barely in the right neighborhood.
There wasn't an ounce of shame or doubt in her. I wondered if there ever had been. Misty was beautiful, by a standard she enforced on every person who looked upon her. There was no choice. She was beautiful. The lenses zoomed, and Misty waved to her fans, a bubblegum smile on her face.
Misty glanced across the field towards me, and the shot caught it. Her blank, pliant smile loomed over me from the screen, void of true emotion.
Our ID photos blinked onto the stadium screens. In the six bubbles below our names, three pokeballs rolled animatronically into their places on my side, two on hers, both cherry red.
Obligingly, I unclipped the LEVELED BATTLER pin from my hat and held it clearly forward. The cameras zoomed in.
"You can SEE HERE as TRAINER RED once again presents his badge that this will be a LEVELED BATT-"
And with a quick heave, I chucked it out over the stadium.
The cameraman, whoever they were, was skilled. They followed it perfectly as it flipped end over end, landing on one of the floating platforms; I'd aimed decently. The sound of the stadium became jumbled with confused noise.
Then Pikachu's thunderbolt caught up with it, toasting it to a crisp in front of everyone present physically or otherwise.
In the space of seconds, the massive dome went completely silent for a single moment.
Then, somewhere in the stand, a dragon roared, and Stadium One exploded into an uproar. The announcers voice excitedly over the din, seemingly breathless, megaphone turned to near defeaning levels.
"IT SEEMS THAT TRAINER RED HAS ISSUED A CHALLENGE TO OUR GYM LEADER! THE QUESTION REMAINS, HOWEVER-"
The chaos barely registered to me. I had eyes only for my enemy, whose painted expression stood frozen in the massive screens, eyebrows risen in an expression of mild surprise.
Then, Misty's lips curled upwards. It was not a nice smile. She looked downwards and began fiddling with her control pad.
"-WILL SHE RESPOND!?"
She had expected this. She might even had planned for this. Either way, it didn't change my course of action -
- because I had come here to Cerulean Gym to take a badge. Not be given one. That was the truth I had realized.
The screens blinked a warning as they began to shift. The two red pokeballs on Misty's side flipped over on themselves and disappeared.
Then, a single golden pokeball rolled in and locked in place.
The noise before had been a whisper compared to this. You couldn't hear a thing in the stadium now, not even the announcer on max volume. People who had paid standard fare for their seats now stood, screaming in the stands at their fortune.
Golden pokeball. A champion pokemon - a monster at the pinnacle of their existence, almost never revealed outside the Championship, which the average Indigo tax-payer received only one free ticket to in their lifetime.
I couldn't control myself. My mouth curled slightly. This was my truth. It was just as Bill had said.
A pokemon battler, fighting the longest odds. That was who Trainer Red was.
And in that moment, at that place - I was alive.
Kanto Pokemon Encyclopedic Index Entry #35 (J. # 41): Clefairy
Basic Characteristics: Normal-type, psychic abilities, second form evolution. Pink fur, small claws for omnivorous consumption, black tufted ears. Avg. height 2'00", avg. weight 16.5 lbs (small sample group due to status as protected species)
Description: An incredibly mysterious pokemon capable of seemingly anything. For a long period, it seemed that the feats a clefairy could perform were limitless, taken for evidence of the existence of actual magic as was claimed by many superstitions. However, non-invasive observation using measuring instruments revealed that the large range of phenomena the clefairy could produce actually originated from hyper-fine Psychic manipulation on the molecular level. Clefairy are a protected species under the ACPA (Ainu Clan Preservation Act) and forbidden for capture except under Indigo-level supervision.
Nickname(s): The Fairy Pokemon, moonfae, the Dancers-in-the-Mountain.
"...it's notable that clefairies are not actually Psychic pokemon until they decide to be. They possess what can only be described as a fluid-state brain structure, the only unchanging parts being those governing basic subsistence and very limited memory. However, the moment something catches the clefairy's interest, the entire neural lace restructures itself for the maximum pursuit of that goal. That is what allots them their savant-like focus. Even explained, however, it's not surprising that the things the clefairy can do are often mistaken for miracles..."
Contracted circuiteers: Pokebattlers who have signed contracts with agents to battle in gym and battle circuits. A term of classification which encompasses many professions, from the battle instructor who prepares pokebattlers to fight, to the fourth to first ring champion who trains all year keeping their badges and team current to participate in the Championships.
Deadly Plant: Bulbasaurs and their evolutions accumulate defense mechanisms based on the food available in their environment. 'Razor leaves' develop from consuming the shoots and leaves of a rather dangerous plant which grows in wilderness outside the Routes in Johto.
Fortress contract: In the interest of maintaining a reliable force of defenders in the case of emergency, cities and settlements will often pay trainers, or more specifically their pokemon, to stay in their city instead of wandering around as they are wont to do. This is a rare thing, reserved to pokemon of extreme strength or utility. An example of this are the trainers who contract their electrodes to the Cerulean Power Plant.
Championship starmie: All the pokemon of a gym leader's championship team are well-known, but Misty's starmie is of particular infamy for being singularly responsible for the resignation of one of the previous Elite Four.
AUTHORS NOTE: Sorry for the wait. I joined the Air Force. Can't promise updates will be sooner - if anything I have less time than before - but at least now I can tell you that I'm not updating for freedom.