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Fanfiction Electric Sheep

Discussion in 'Literature Library' started by Minty Electric, May 27, 2019.

  1. Minty Electric

    Rainbow Brite
    (Ho-Oh Egg)
    Level 5
    May 26, 2019
    Hello, all! Porting over a little something from ... p much everywhere: my foremost WIP, Electric Sheep. Comments are absolutely welcome, and I do hope y'all enjoy~ :)

    Warnings: This is a Nuzlocke fic (of Pokémon White), but it won't get that much more intense than a T rating. Still, be prepared for death. Like, a lot of death. I was not that great at Pokémon White. orz

    Table of Contents:

    Run Info:
    1. Faint = death. Any fainted Pokémon must be boxed forever.
    2. Only the first Pokémon in each location may be caught.
    3. No dupes. (No capturing evolved forms of previously caught Pokémon, either.)
    4. Gift Pokémon don't count as the first encounter. However, they must be boxed as soon as they're obtained, and they cannot be used on the run.
    5. If a second Pokémon must be caught in a location for HM purposes, it must also be boxed as soon as it's no longer needed; it cannot take part in battles.
    6. No buying items until the Elite Four—and even then, only one of each item may be bought per Pokémart.
    7. The only legendary that may be caught is Zekrom due to canon plot shenanigans. Furthermore, if a wandering legendary is encountered in a route, it counts as your encounter, so pray the gods don't hate you.
    8. Team wipeout = game over.

    Rabbit warren. That was what this kind of city felt like. All tall buildings and dark alleys—winding, twisting paths lined with brick and glass. Deep shadows, cast in part by the dull gray of the sprawling rain clouds overhead, filled spaces between apartments and offices. Murky, brown puddles sat stagnant on streets and sidewalks, and the air felt heavy yet cold and wet.

    Brown. A flash of brown tore through the maze of streets, feet splashing into muddy puddles haphazardly. He took twists and turns whenever he could in his mad dash to anywhere-but-here. Every so often, he glanced back, his brown eyes wide and panicked. His arms wrapped tighter and tighter around his silver briefcase whenever he caught a glimpse of something other than brick and glass and fog.

    Black. Streaks of black darted into and out of alleys and vaulted off rooftops. The streak on the ground wore a wide smile and aqua braids. The one in the air wore nothing but darkness.

    Laughter. The woman with aqua braids cackled despite the run, despite the cold and the effort she put into keeping a steady distance behind her quarry. She was gaining on him. He knew.

    Turn. Three turns—one left and two right—carried him deeper and deeper into the maze. Each one separated him from Aqua Braids, but he knew that no matter how many turns he took, he had to keep going. She was still behind him.

    A voice.

    “Run all you want, you obsolete piece of trash! You can’t shake us!” Aqua Braids shouted.

    Brick. He stopped abruptly, staring at the wall directly in front of him. Swiveling around, he backed up until his body pressed against it. No doors. No windows. No escape. He glanced up to see the black figure perched on the edge of the high rise to his left. He glanced forward to see the woman with aqua braids rounding a corner and blocking him in. His arms tightened around the case a little more.

    “That was fun, but I’m tired of running now,” the girl said as she strolled forward. She extended a hand to him. “Hand the case over, or this is gonna be painful.”

    As if to punctuate that thought, the figure on the roof jumped down.


    It was raining. Not hard, of course. Softly—the kind of rain that fell as a thin mist, the kind that clung to a person and sank into their bones. It was a gray rain on Nuvema City, and the puddles were shallow beneath the twisting vines and trees that crowded around the walls of colored glass. On the streets of Nuvema, people bustled from building to building, umbrellas formed a colored forest beneath the canopies formed by the trees planted in every spare corner of the city, pokémon—mostly lillipup and other dog-like monsters—ran alongside humans on jeweled leashes, and somewhere just above the canopy of umbrellas, a phone rang.

    Its owner sat on the edge of a brick wall, one chubby leg dangling over its side. She shoved her pale hands into the pockets of her brown, fleece hoodie, and she bent her face low so the rain would fall onto her clothing instead of her round features. In the pocket of her hoodie, her holo caster buzzed and sang, and when her ringtone looped for the second time, she groaned and pulled the device out. Using one hand to shield the thin, palm-sized piece of glass, she squinted at the screen to read the name: Dad.

    “Not this again,” she muttered.

    This was fifteen-year-old Doreen Hornbeam, better known to her friends as Door. Like many of her peers, she was old enough to go on her own journey, but unlike many of her peers, she chose not to go at ten years of age. She had her reasons. Many reasons, but mostly, they involved the fact that she knew that almost all of the pokémon on the street weren’t real. None of the ones in the region were real—or, at least, very few of them were. After decades of human development, there just wasn’t enough space for them anymore, and that was why the Unovan government, inspired by the gardens of Kalos, started experimenting with green programs and eco-friendly urban development five years ago. That was why there was a fledgling forest in every space of Nuvema City now. That was why the government was developing fauna reintroduction programs. And most importantly, that was why all trainers were restricted to a set track, on which they could only catch and train android pokémon. It was all fake, all for show, all to placate the people.

    And Door would have exactly none of that.

    Just as she was highly reluctant to have whatever it was her father was going to dump on her this time.

    Tapping the glass, she held the holo caster out and let a miniature image of her father materialize before her. She gave it the most bored expression she could muster, knowing full well that her father would be unlikely to notice.

    “Door!” he exclaimed. “Door, where are you?”

    “Running errands for Professor Ironwood. I’m working today, remember?” she answered.

    It was a blatant lie. The errands part, at least. Door did have to work that day, but Professor Ironwood hardly noticed the absences of her assistant’s assistant. Still, on occasion, the excuse made her father get off the line quicker than he would normally … but unfortunately, this was not one of those times.

    Fortunately, however, it was one of those times when her father didn’t care about her work schedule to begin with.

    “Well, tell Bianca I need you back home ASAP,” he said. “It’s super-important, pumpkaboo! I’ve figured it out!”

    Without another word, his image blinked out of existence, and the glass dimmed. Door screwed her face up in frustration and tapped on the glass. It flared to life, presenting her with a list of her recent calls, and she had half a mind to call her father back and tell him off. But she didn’t. Instead, she shoved the holo caster back into her pocket and hopped off the brick wall. She hit the ground with both feet, and the wetness of the puddle she had landed in seeped through her gray sneakers. With a curse, she shoved her hands into the pockets of her cargo pants and started for home.

    The truth was that Door didn’t mind Nuvema City. Nine years had passed since she moved from Hoenn, and because of that, she had only vague memories of what it was like living halfway across the world. But the few parts of it she could remember made her restless: the sun, the smell of fresh-cut grass, real pokémon flying overhead. Unova wasn’t as dirty as it had been five years ago, but it didn’t feel right. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she felt like she didn’t belong there—like she was meant to do something else and be somewhere else. And that nagging feeling grew into a thirst for adventure, which in turn grew into a need to go on a journey.

    But it wouldn’t be the same. That was the problem. It would never be the same because everywhere one went in Unova, there were barriers, artificial forests, fake pokémon. All of it was just pretend—one giant theme park for the self-proclaimed eco-friendly hipsters and rich kids to indulge in. And maybe Door was a little self-righteous about that; even she admitted that she might be. But the idea of giving in and going on a journey through an amusement park? To her, it wouldn’t be a journey.

    Never mind the nanny. As Door rounded the corner and let that thought sink in, she shuddered. The pokémon and the routes weren’t the only things that were fake in that region. Looking up at the crowds, she understood she wouldn’t be able to spot them at first glance. But she knew they were there. She knew because the things she dreaded were exactly what put food on the table for her family. They were why her mother was in Castelia City, hammering out details for a new operating system. And besides the Pokémon Bank and Hoenn storage system, they were why anyone knew her family at all.

    They were the Companions. Androids, to be precise. Designed to look human in almost every way—even act like them, in the newer models’ cases. Rumor had it that one in five people owned one, and Door knew that at least in Nuvema City, hotbed of trainer activity, that rumor might as well have been true. Everyone who wanted to be a trainer had to have a Companion, not by law but by practice. The safe zones, the crime-free routes between cities where artificial pokémon “lived,” were far, far easier to navigate with a Companion’s built-in map system. Besides, Companions were equipped with a whole range of bells and whistles that made life easier for a trainer.

    Or, in Door’s opinion, they were equipped with a range of bells and whistles that kept trainers reined in at all times. After all, the other function a Companion had was to enforce those physical boundaries the League set on each route by way of offering helpful advice and strong coaxing. They were electric babysitters, in other words.

    To top it all off, the latest models of Companion were virtually indistinguishable from their human users except in one minor detail: their eyes. The irises were all wrong. Reflective sometimes. Glowing at others. And obviously glass and metal upon closer inspection. But unless one stood close to a Companion, even that detail was difficult to spot. And that was the problem. How could a person trust someone if they didn’t even know whether or not that someone was real?

    So, looking at the countless people on the streets, Door squinted at the people she passed. Which were real? Which were fake? She knew that it shouldn’t have mattered, but it bothered her to no end. Just the thought of someone—something—staring at her, recording her, storing her image in some kind of internal database … it sent shivers up her spine.

    Because of that, she did what anyone in her situation would do: she took the next right into a warren of emptier side streets.

    Door stuffed her hands deeper into her pockets and fixed her eyes straight ahead. There were, as she had hoped, fewer people on the streets she took. Fewer people to look at. Fewer people to play guessing games with. Sighing, Door pulled out the flat pane of glass again. Her thumb poked at a few options, searching for some music or a distraction, but before she could choose one, a cry caught her attention.

    Looking up, Door stopped. By that point, she had wandered into a deserted alley, but the scream didn’t come from there. There was no one around her to be its source. She listened carefully, straining her ears over the light patter of rain to catch any hint of where the noise came from.

    And then, she got it. Another cry to her left, followed by a pair of shouts. Without thinking, she turned and bolted down another alley, following the voices through narrow side streets. It was a stupid idea, considering she had nothing to defend herself with, but she was running on instinct by that point. That first voice sounded pained, as if it was coming from someone in trouble, and Door would be damned if she was about to let some innocent person go without help.

    The moment she rounded the last corner, Door was almost run over by two figures. Slamming herself against the wall in an awkward dodge, Door looked up to see their backs. One was a young woman with twin aqua braids flowing behind her. With each step, this woman slammed her black military boots into the pavement, and her slender arms swung a heavy-looking silver briefcase at her side. Running beside her was a taller, broader figure—a man, Door guessed—in a black trench coat.

    She didn’t have much time to think about the two figures because in the next second, a third, this time brown and frazzled, rushed past her.

    “Stop!” the third one cried. Another man, judging by the depth of his voice. “Please, stop!”

    The victim. Door recognized his voice, and once she realized who the man in brown was, she pushed off the brick wall and darted after him. Although Door was by no means out-of-shape thanks to months of working for Professor Ironwood’s assistant, it was still tough work catching up with all three figures, and because of that, for the first five minutes, she merely trailed behind them as they dove deeper into the warren of alleys and side streets until at last, she was able to choke out her first few words to the victim.

    “H-hey! Hey!” she called.

    He stumbled slightly, throwing a glance over his shoulder. “Sorry! I can’t stop!”

    “Need help?!” she asked.

    She wasn’t expecting him to say yes, and in fact, rather than answer her, he turned his gaze away and picked up speed. However, a few steps later, one of his hands lashed out to grab the lid of a nearby trashcan, and he skidded to a stop, twisted his body, and threw the lid like a disc. With a crack, the lid cut through the air and smashed into the back of the girl’s legs, sending her tumbling into the pavement. The case she carried crashed into the road, and with the force of impact, it burst open to send three orbs sailing through the air. None of them struck the ground right away. Instead, they split and filled the alley with light.

    When the light cleared, three tiny figures stood between the man and the couple. One was a green, snake-like creature; another was a squat, red pig; and the third was a bulbous, blue-and-white otter. Door recognized all three right away. She had, after all, spent enough time in Professor Ironwood’s lab to know how to spot starter pokémon when she saw them.

    The man whirled around to face her, and soon, she found herself staring into his wide, brown eyes.

    “Help me grab the poké balls! Quickly!” he shouted.

    She nodded and lunged for the nearest orb, one that had rolled within a few feet of her reach. As soon as her hand clasped around it, the otter swiveled around and trilled, as if to encourage her to keep going. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man move quickly to grab the second ball, but before he could reach the third, the taller figure in black kicked him squarely in the chest. The second orb arced out of the man’s hand and clattered to the ground as he went sailing into the trash cans behind him.

    The figure in black had come out of nowhere, but Door should have seen him coming. She even kicked herself a little because she didn’t. It was as if one moment, she and her new partner were scrambling for the poké balls, and the next, the giant in black chose that exact moment to remind them that he was still there. As soon as the man in brown had been kicked out of the way, the figure in black reached down to grab the second orb. Then the third. He straightened, turning a blank glare towards Door, and she realized at once that she wasn’t looking at a human. It was that lack of expression, that uncanny likeness that looked too plastic to be real, the way his eyes glinted that told her the truth.

    This man was a Companion.

    Wordlessly, he held up the balls and let them fall open in his massive hands. Red light engulfed the tepig and snivy, and within seconds, they both vanished into their respective orbs. After passing one of them to the woman with aqua braids—whose icy glare told Door she was perfectly human—he moved his hand until he held it palm up to Door.

    “The poké ball,” he droned.

    Door took a step back, lifting her eyes to see the man’s face far above her. His eyes were dark and glowing with an internal light. His face was square and set in a way that made it look like it was wired together with metal. His mouth, molded into a neutral expression. Everything about him seemed towering and cold and wrong. Yet Door held the ball to her chest, suddenly unable to find the bravado she felt a moment ago.

    “The poké ball,” he repeated in the exact same tone he had used the first time around.

    Still, she said nothing. The Companion slowly turned his hand until it was palm side down. Then, he lifted his arm, reaching not for Door’s wrists but instead her head. She took another step back and cringed.

    And then, a blue and white blur slammed into the man’s shoulder. Door blinked, and the blur resolved, flipping itself backwards as it sailed back to the ground. The oshawott barked, bared its fangs in a jagged snarl, and launched itself once more at the thieves, this time particularly at the girl with aqua braids. Her eyes widened, and half of a curse escaped her lips just before the oshawott smashed into her stomach and sent her crashing down onto her back. As the ball the thief held slipped from her fingers, Door reached out to snatch it without a second thought. But the second she did, her ankle caught on something, and her body spilled onto the road. Looking up, she caught sight of the woman lying on her side, with one hand wrapped tightly around Door’s foot. In response, Door screamed and lashed out, kicking at the woman desperately.

    “You think you’re clever,” the woman growled as she snatched Door’s other foot. Then, she pushed herself onto her knees. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with, do y—”

    “Oshawott, Tackle!” Door shrieked.

    Truth be told, had Door been in her right mindset, she probably would have come up with a better plan than ordering a pokémon that wasn’t even hers to attack one of two bandits from behind. Yet somehow, it worked. One moment, she was staring wide-eyed at the woman, and the next, the otter slammed its entire body into the back of the thief’s head and landed gracefully by Door’s side. The woman’s violet eyes rolled back into her skull, and her grip on Door’s feet slackened. Finally, her entire body gave way, slumping over sideways onto the ground.

    For a long while, everything was quiet. But then, the man in black looked down at his partner.

    “Belle deemed incapacitated,” he rumbled. “Mission incomplete. Aborting.”

    He reached down and plucked the woman from the ground with the hand that was not holding one of the poké balls. With rigid movements, he rose, turned, and began marching towards the mouth of the alley. Door struggled to her knees, turning her wide eyes to the Companion.

    “H-hey! Drop that ball!” She flicked a glance towards the pokémon beside her. “Oshawott! Stop him!”

    It nodded and barked once, then readied itself for another Tackle. In the next second, it pitched itself at the man, throwing its entire body at his back. The Companion turned, staring blankly at Door as Oshawott bounced off his chest harmlessly. As soon as Oshawott landed, the man turned back to the street.

    “You are not ready,” he intoned. “Do not follow.”

    He crouched, craned his face to the sky, and did one thing Door wasn’t expecting at all from a Companion: leapt. His feet bounced back and forth, connecting with the brick wall on one side of the alley and then the wall on the other until he mounted one of their roofs. Within moments, he was gone, vanishing above the edge of the rooftop. As she watched the Companion go, Door tensed, balling her hands into fists. There was no way she would be able to catch up with that—not with her human legs and human limitations. Anger burned within her until a soft cry made her look down. At her feet, the otter held aloft one of the poké balls.

    “Hey,” she said quietly. She stooped down and laid a heavy hand on Oshawott’s slick-furred head. “Good job, kid.”

    The oshawott trilled its name once again and pressed the ball into Door’s leg. She picked it up, testing its weight, only to notice a tiny flame icon on the red hemisphere.

    “That’s Tepig’s.”

    Door swiveled her head up to see the man in brown. He sighed, ran his fingers through his wavy, brown hair, and crouched down to kneel beside Door. Holding out his other hand, he showed her the other poké ball the thieves had missed: one with an icon of a water droplet etched onto its surface.

    “This is Oshawott’s,” he said. “Keep it, but I’ll need Tepig back.”

    Door hastily traded one poké ball for another, and as soon as Oshawott’s ball was in her hand, she felt the otter nuzzle her side.

    “Thanks for your help,” the man said. “One chosen and another stolen. This isn’t good.”

    She blinked at him. “Hey, if you need Oshawott back—”

    He shook his head. “No. That’s all right. He looks like he likes you.”

    He. The otter had a gender. Looking down, Door examined Oshawott. Her palm stroked its back, feeling his silky fur beneath her skin. The pokémon certainly looked real, but she knew he had to be fake. He was too young-looking, and no real starter had been born in Unova since … well, she didn’t know how long it had been. She just knew they were gone. So whoever designed this one must have been a master.

    “Yeah,” she said slowly, “but … I’m not a trainer. You can have him back.”

    “Not a trainer?”

    Door looked back to see that the stranger’s eyebrows were raised.

    “Y-yeah,” she stammered. “I know. It’s weird, but I’m not! Honest! So, look, take him back.” She shoved the ball into the man’s hand. “Sorry I couldn’t get Snivy back too. Do you need help finding the police station or something?”

    He shook his head again. “No. No, that won’t be necessary.”

    Pushing his hands against his knees, he stood and dusted himself off.

    “Oh.” Door rose to her feet as well and shoved her hands back into her pockets. “I guess you’re not from around here. Dunno which town you’re from, but Nuvema’s actually got a decent police force. You sure you don’t want to talk to a Jenny?”

    “No, I just mean I’ll be fine,” he said. His voice sounded distant, and because of that, Door didn’t take it as an insult. “But I would appreciate it if you guided me to Professor Ironwood’s laboratory.”

    At that, Door felt her blood chill. “Uh. Professor Ironwood?”

    He gave her a sideways glance. “Yes. I was on my way to delivering those starters to her when I was robbed. She’s the leading authority on pokémon research in this region, isn’t she?”

    “Y-yeah,” Door stuttered. Her eyes drifted from the stranger, and her thoughts were occupied completely on the job she wasn’t at right at that moment.

    “Oh,” the man said. “I’m terribly sorry. This city is big. I shouldn’t have expected you to know—”

    “You … you just want to be led to her door, right?” Door said.

    “Yes,” he replied slowly.

    Just to her door?”


    Door breathed a sigh of relief and extended her hand. “Fine. I can take you there. I’m Door, by the way.”

    “Door.” The man smiled and grasped her outstretched hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m Geist.”

    Shaking his hand vigorously, she gave him the most confident forced smile she could muster. “Right! Good to meet you! Now let’s go! Just to Professor Ironwood’s door!”

    Whipping around, she broke contact with Geist and began marching forward. Because of that, she couldn’t see the curious expression on his face.

    “Uh, Door?” he asked.

    “Yeah, Geist?” she responded.

    “There isn’t anything I should … know about Professor Ironwood, is there?”

    “Nope!” Door answered.

    “Are you sure? You seem to be—”

    “Nope!” She flashed a wide grin over her shoulder. “Professor Ironwood would in no way be pissed off at me for any reason whatsoever! She and I are on absolutely great terms!”

    He stood there, staring at her with a strange expression, just long enough for Oshawott to climb up to his shoulder. Door, meanwhile, whirled back around and marched the rest of the way out of the alley.

    “Come on, guys! Lots o’ walkin’ to do! Lots. O’. Walkin’!”

    And as Geist followed her, Door continued to smile, going over her plan again and again in her head. She would drop off Geist at the gate and run. No questions. No lectures. Just run.

    Of course, this would have been a perfect plan, if her boss wasn’t waiting for her at the gate.

    Thus, a half an hour later, Doreen Hornbeam’s journey began with her almost getting fired.
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    #1 May 27, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2019 at 5:54 PM
    Laserdragon14 likes this.
  2. Minty Electric

    Rainbow Brite
    (Ho-Oh Egg)
    Level 5
    May 26, 2019

    “Doreen,” Professor Ironwood’s aide said, “not that I think you would care either way, what with your habit of missing at least three work days out of five per week since you’ve been employed here, but as your mentor, I’m obligated to inform you that it’s responsible to be punctual. Do I have to let you go? … Are you even listening to me, young lady?”

    Truth be told, Door was not. She was looking at her boss, yes. She stood straight, with her hands out of her pockets and her gaze locked onto his sharp, thin face, but she was not, in fact, listening to a single nasally word he said. Still, whenever he paused, she nodded, occasionally throwing in a short “mmhmm” to make it sound more like she was. She did this because it was respectful, and really, all she needed the job for was a little extra money on the side. Otherwise, she was neither surprised by the fact that Professor Ironwood’s assistant had noticed her absence nor surprised by the fact that Professor Ironwood herself hadn’t. The latter had less to do with the professor’s usual absentmindedness and more to do with Door’s actual profession.

    Door was essentially a glorified personal assistant, responsible for running out to perform errands that neither the assistant nor the professor had time to do. The actual handling of any pokémon was done by the assistant, data entry was done by the assistant, maintenance of the equipment was done by the assistant—practically anything that had to do with pokémon research was done by the assistant, if not Ironwood herself. So really, there was no reason for Ironwood to have noticed. Her assistant, meanwhile, was not only a very particular boss but also not the one responsible for making the coffee every morning, which Door assumed was the only reason why he had noticed her absence—and, for that matter, why he had just spent the past ten minutes drilling into her head the importance of punctuality.

    “I know you’re trying,” the assistant said (although Door knew that this was a blatant lie and that he did not, in fact, believe that she was trying at all), “but if you’re not willing to come to work on time every day…”

    At that point, Door finally honed in on the assistant’s words. She mentally braced herself and quickly slapped together the excuse she would give her parents for why she got fired.

    “…I’m going to have to…”

    Door took a deep breath and silently urged him to say it.

    “…call your father.”

    Door blinked. Then she blinked again. That was not the it she was expecting. “I’m sorry. What?”

    “I think it’s about time we had a chat with your parents about your behavior around the laboratory,” he said. He clasped his hands in front of him in a condescendingly apologetic gesture. “We can’t just let you go—not when Professor Ironwood is keen on repaying your father for fixing so much of our equipment, but on the other hand, we can’t just let your lack of interest in this job go without correction. Unfortunately, seeing as your mother is away on business, we were only able to send an invitation to your father, so I hope he and the professor can come to a suitable agreement on their own.”

    “Whoa, wait!” Door took a step forward. “Are you saying you’ve already called him?!”

    “This morning, yes.”

    “And he’s coming?!”

    “Presumably. We sent one of our spare Companions, and she has yet to return.”

    “But … but I…” Unable to find her words beyond that point, Door closed her mouth.

    “No buts, young lady. It’s about high time you learned a little responsibility.” With that, he placed his hands on his hips. “Speaking of which, where is your father?”


    Door fumbled for her holo caster, bringing it out into the open. Her mind raced to put together an excuse—an explanation for why there was no way her boss would be able to speak with her parent. Maybe if she could convince him to go home and see what her father was doing, that would be a nice, easy ticket out of the mess she was facing right then and there. Just get dismissed and conveniently forget to tell her father to go to the laboratory. Easy, right?

    “He said he had something to show me,” Door said slowly. “I mean … I guess he might be around soon, but who knows what he’s been doing? It sounded like he was right at a breakthrough, so he probably won’t—”

    As if on cue, the door burst open, and a slender figure leaned in.

    “Hi!” she sang, extending one pale arm.

    Door nearly dropped her holo caster as she and her boss whirled around to face … a Companion. A familiar one, no less: one that Door could recognize purely by how odd it looked compared to the standard home units. To Door, this Companion and all the others like her seemed unfinished, with white shells gleaming with plastic sheens, seams still showing around pointed faces, and bright, blue lights illuminating glassy eyes. In all ways, this Companion—one of five Professor Ironwood had around the laboratory—looked more like a doll dressed in a loose, blue dress than a person, which meant that this was not a Companion intended on blending in. She was a research Companion, one designed for science, not traveling.

    So it would have gone without saying that she wasn’t supposed to have much of a personality either. As in, she wasn’t supposed to be waving enthusiastically and trotting into the room with Door’s father in tow like she was right then.

    Door’s father, Linus Hornbeam, strode into the room with a wide grin crossing his round face and a large hand stroking his fire-red beard. Linus Hornbeam, aspiring storage system administrator, inventor, and, most importantly, the son of Brigette Hamilton-Hornbeam, was known for being … a bit of an eccentric. That is to say, Linus was most famous for churning out inventions from his little workshop in the center of town that the people of Nuvema called “fascinating” when they meant “I have no polite word to describe my incredulousness over the fact that this exists.” It was not unusual for Linus to hammer out microwaves that were capable of sarcastic banter, combination blender-iron-vacuum cleaners, or poké navs that included a self-updating map for every hamburger restaurant in the region. People who took their C-gears to him for repair—which was not a rare occurrence, as he was formally the owner of the best repair shop in Nuvema—knew up front that their C-gear would come back functioning but … different. And because of that, no one quite knew whether or not Linus should be called a mad scientist.

    But Door knew the answer to that question was a resounding “yes.” And for that reason, as soon as she saw the Companion, she buried her face in her hands and tried not to think about what he did to it. Especially given the fact that it was undoubtedly Professor Ironwood’s missing Companion.

    “Oh God,” she breathed. “This is a dream. This is definitely a dream.”

    “So! What do you think?” he asked, planting his hands on his wide hips. “Perfect, isn’t she? Tweaked her AI a little to include a functioning personality core and self-evolving software. She’s just a couple of adjustments away from passing the Turing test!”

    “You gave our research Companion your own AI?!” the aide shrieked.

    Seemingly oblivious to this reaction, the Companion smiled and waved. “Hi! I’m Opal! I hope we can be good friends!”

    As Door watched from between her fingers, she saw this Companion—this Opal—extend her hand with her long, thin fingers spread. The aide’s eyes widened at the sight of the gesture, and he shook his head vigorously.

    “No no. This won’t do,” he said.

    Opal’s smile faltered—actually faltered, much to Door’s shock—but that broad grin on her pale face returned just as quickly as it faded. “I’m sorry. Did I do something to upset you?”

    “Perfect, right?” Linus said.

    In response, the aide massaged his temples. “I … I need to speak with the professor.”

    But then, for the second time that day, Door was saved from further embarrassment by another door opening. This time, it was the one to the main laboratory, and in strode an older woman with Geist behind her.

    The entire room hushed at her presence, although her grin was warm and far from intimidating. Through a pair of half-moon glasses, this woman peered at the assistant, at Door, at Linus, and at Opal in turn. Her hands slipped into the pockets of her lab coat, and she approached Opal with an eager glint in her green eyes.

    This was Professor Bianca Ironwood, foremost pokémon researcher in all of Unova—and, on that note, Door’s employer.

    “Well, well! What do we have here?” Ironwood asked. “My! Your expressions are nearly perfect!” She touched her chin with the crook of her index finger. “You just need a more flexible face cover, and you might just pass for a human being!”

    Opal clasped her hands behind her back and rocked on the balls of her feet. “Thank you, ma’am!”

    “My goodness, you’re getting better every day,” Professor Ironwood continued, turning to Door’s father. “Soon, you’ll be just as good at designing Companions as your mother! I can’t wait to see what kinds of Companions you put together from scratch if you’re skilled enough to put a smile on Opal’s face!”

    “Professor,” the aide said. “You do know that this is one of our research Companions, yes?”

    “Of course! I would recognize every one of them in a heartbeat.” She smiled sweetly. Then, after a few beats, she added, “But I do have to ask. How on Earth did you get a hold of Opal?”

    “Funny story, actually,” Linus replied. “She came to me!”

    “Really? My, your skills must be unmatched! To think, you’ve connected to Opal remotely, and—”

    “Actually,” the aide interjected. “I sent Opal to fetch Dr. Hornbeam.”

    She blinked at him. “Oh? What for?”

    Door swung herself around and started creeping away. She was painfully aware of Geist’s eyes on her, but not a single part of her could bring itself to care.

    “Doreen has been a bit of a problem lately,” the aide growled.

    “Oh? My Door?” Linus asked. “What did she do?”

    “It’s what she didn’t do, Dr. Hornbeam. As in, she didn’t come to work. Again.

    “Oh, that explains why we had no coffee this morning,” Professor Ironwood said.

    “Professor, with all due respect, that’s not exactly important right now!” the aide protested. “What’s important is that for the fifth time this month, Doreen has not shown up for work, and whenever she does show up, she’s late! I’ve heard all kinds of excuses from that girl, and it’s about time we do something about her. I know her internship here was your idea, Dr. Hornbeam, but this is unacceptable!”

    “I’d agree with you, Ted,” Linus responded, “but what’s all this about Door not being at work? When I called her today, she was…”

    Then, he stopped. He blinked. And then, he turned to the empty space Door had occupied a moment ago.

    “Door? Where did you go?” he asked. “Door!”

    An abrupt yelp drew the eyes of the researchers and the aide to the front entrance. There, Door muttered curses under her breath as Geist pinned one of her arms behind her back. He did that with only one hand. The other, meanwhile, was planted firmly on his hip.

    “Here she is,” he said. “Now, as much as I would hate to interrupt the installation of a strong, moral character, I’d like for us to get back to the matter at hand.”

    “But Doreen is the matter at hand!” the aide cried.

    The professor’s expression grew dark and serious. “Oh, no. He’s right. I’m sorry; I’d nearly forgotten. Ted, I’m afraid we’ll have to call off our upcoming experiment. Unfortunately, our subjects have had a run-in.”

    At once, to Door’s relief, the aide shifted his eyes away from her to give the professor a curious glance. “Run-in?”

    Professor Ironwood sighed and placed her hand on the side of her head, flattening her graying, blonde hair. “Yes. Our friend here was robbed, I’m afraid. He assures me he doesn’t need any special attention, but the fact of the matter is that Snivy has been stolen and Oshawott has bonded with Door. We can’t use either of them.”

    Door stopped and looked up at the professor. She couldn’t imagine what Ironwood meant by “bonded.”

    “And Tepig?” Ted asked softly.

    “Shaken up but fine,” Ironwood replied. “Unfortunately, seeing as my niece has asked that we set a subject aside for her, I can’t use Tepig either. We’ll have to ask Dr. Fennel to send a new batch … if there is one.”

    Ted ran a hand over his face. “Oh. This is terrible.”

    The professor shrugged. “Truth is, it could’ve been worse. According to Mr. Geist, if Door hadn’t been where she was, the thieves would’ve gotten away with all three! At the very least, this means two of the starters are in safe hands.”

    At once, the aide paled. He slowly turned back to Door, who flashed him a wide smile.

    “So for that reason, I think we can forgive you this time, Door,” Professor Ironwood told her. “But this does present a dilemma.”

    Door’s grin faltered. “Uh … dilemma, ma’am?”

    “Yes.” She nodded and motioned to Geist. “You see, Mr. Geist will need an escort back to his employer, Dr. Fennel. We can’t let him go unattended. After all, what if the thieves find him again?”

    “So … what? You’re sending me off to take him to the Route 1 depot without any protection, just in case he gets jumped again by armed trainers?” she asked.

    “Oh no,” Ironwood replied. “We’ll give you protection. Oshawott seems fond of you, so you’ll have him! Moreover…” She lowered her gaze a little. “You won’t be taking him to the depot. You’ll be taking him all the way to Striaton City on foot.”

    Door blinked. “But wait. The cars running from the depot are absolutely safe. You can’t even take pokémon on them. Why would you want me to go the long way down the routes?”

    “That … would be my problem,” Geist said. “I’m sorry, Door. I simply can’t go via the cars. I don’t have the proper documentation to do so.”

    Door huffed. After doing the math in her head, she realized it checked out. Not everyone could afford to go by the public cars via the transport depot, and that was why there wasn’t much mobility between cities. It was either walk or bike the free, safe routes or pay a good chunk of change to buy a ticket that would take passengers via the express trains. So Door could understand why Geist wouldn’t have the right documentation for it: if Dr. Fennel was cheap when it came to paying her aides, then it stood to reason that he literally couldn’t get a ticket. And judging by the paycheck Door received weekly from Unova’s foremost researcher, she had no doubt Geist, who worked for a considerably lesser-known scientist, wouldn’t have that much money either.

    Still, this was an inconvenience. It cut in on Door’s free time and forced her to go directly to the hub of newbie trainers who reveled in their so-called journeys. And in any case, something else didn’t sit right with her.

    “Fine, but don’t you need me to give a statement or something? I did witness a robbing,” she said.

    “Oh no,” Professor Ironwood replied. “Mr. Geist gave me everything I would need to file a report.”

    “What?” Door furrowed her eyebrows and wrenched her arm away from Geist’s grip. “But I’m literally a witness!”

    “Believe me, Door, it’s fine,” Professor Ironwood said. “Mr. Geist was very thorough.”

    “I can’t believe you’re really turning this down,” Linus added with a chuckle. “Aren’t you always talking about going on some epic adventure?”

    “Are you kidding me?! No, I’m not!” Door’s cheeks burned.

    “Sure! Always going on about how great the good old days were, before all the ordinances went into place,” Linus replied. “Wouldn’t it be fun if you went on a trainer’s journey, just to see what all the hubbub was about?”

    “No! Absolutely not! I’m not going on a stupid trainer’s journey!” Door snapped. “Look, I’ll do the escort thing as part of my job or something, but it’s not a journey! Got it?”

    Professor Ironwood tilted her head a little and grinned. Ted crossed his arms and gave Door a stern look. Linus beamed as always, but his thick fingers rose to stroke his beard in thought. But none of them broke the growing silence pervading the room. That particular honor went to Geist.

    “Well, that was the most brilliant stroke of psychological manipulation I have ever witnessed,” he said.

    In response, Door’s face fell. “Wait. What?”

    “We knew we could count on you, Door!” Professor Ironwood said.

    What?!” she squeaked.

    “Hopefully, this errand will instill on you some level of responsibility,” Ted sighed.

    Door buried her face in her hands again. “What just happened?!

    Thus, Door’s journey actually began … because she was duped into it.
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  3. Minty Electric

    Rainbow Brite
    (Ho-Oh Egg)
    Level 5
    May 26, 2019

    “Okay,” Door sighed. “I get why you’re here, and I get why the oshawott’s here. But why is she here?”

    She jammed her thumb towards Opal, who, for the past half an hour, had been pleasantly following Door and Geist down Route 1. The misty rain had cleared since they left the laboratory, and now, as they walked along the blue, glowing road, the sun shone brightly overhead. In short, it felt almost too perfect to Door. Warm sun. Blue skies. Few trainers on the lit, Plexiglas path. Not even a rustle from the tall grass on either side. It was quiet. Almost too quiet. And because of that, Door had time to think … mostly about the fact that a Companion had suddenly decided to be a part of their mission. It really wasn’t that Door was planning on running off after getting Geist to his destination, but it was really the principle of being followed by a Companion that bothered her. And with no distractions, it bothered her a lot.

    “Because,” Geist said, “Professor Ironwood can’t use her as a research tool anymore. The personality core gets in the way of their purpose as a data repository, after all. However, she can retrofit a research Companion with a traveling Companion’s equipment and send her off to a niece who, to the best of her knowledge, is shopping for one as she waits for her starter. This niece just so happens to be attending Trainers’ School in Striaton City, and seeing as that’s along our way, Professor Ironwood believed it would be most efficient for us to take Opal with us.” He paused briefly. “I hope that niece isn’t looking forward to an oshawott or a snivy. That would be unfortunate.”

    “Who cares what pokémon she’s waiting for?!” Door growled as she massaged her temples. “I can’t believe this.”

    Opal trotted up, falling in line with Door. “I’m detecting that you’re unhappy. Would you like me to cheer you up?”

    “No!” Door snapped, waving her hands in the air. “Just stay away from me!” She wrapped her arms around her chest and took a few more steps forward to get away from Opal. “And don’t look at me either. It’s creepy.”

    Geist frowned, then strode forward to catch up with Door. “I apologize if this is a personal question, but what’s so bad about Companions?”

    “Everything,” Door groaned. “I mean, c’mon. Take a good look at her. What do you think? Don’t you think it’s a bit … I don’t know. Much? Like, she’s trying hard to smile, but it just doesn’t look right, you know?”

    He glanced back at Opal, who was no longer smiling. She wasn’t even walking. She was simply standing there, her hands folded over her skirt. With a sharp frown, Geist grabbed Door by the shoulder to stop her, and when she did, she turned to look at him, then at Opal.

    “You know, I’ve never thought one way or another about them,” Geist said. “But I do know that if something can hear you and understand what you’re saying, it’s best to treat it with some level of respect.”

    Door blinked, taken aback by this statement. What Geist said wasn’t delivered in a scolding manner. It was a philosophy. Just a statement of a philosophy. But as Geist walked back, closing the distance between himself and Opal, Door couldn’t help but feel a small splinter of guilt.

    “Yeah, but…” Door’s voice died in her throat as she looked at the grass, suddenly finding herself unable to look at Geist.

    “I think she looks just fine,” Geist said.

    At that, Opal lifted her eyes and stared at him. He touched her shoulder, and her slender hand rose to caress his. Her mouth shifted, shaping itself into a tiny smile—one far too tiny for any human face.

    “Yes,” Geist continued. “She’s just fine.”

    “Ugh, gimme a break,” Door muttered.

    She turned away and continued down the route, intent on mapping the next few cities in her head. Accumula was less than a few hours’ walk from the border of Nuvema, and given how long they had been traveling, they were bound to approach the city limits soon. After that, it wouldn’t take long to cross Accumula to get to Route 2, and from Route 2, it would be another few hours to Striaton. And while she had no idea where in Striaton Dr. Fennel or the Trainers’ School was, she assumed Geist did, which meant he would be able to take her where she needed to be in no time at all. Thus, the journey one way would only take two days if they continued moving at that speed. Sure, they would have to stop somewhere, but even then…

    “Oh.” Door covered her face with her hands. “Oh crap.”

    Geist caught up with her and stopped. “What?”

    “We’re not getting to Striaton in one day,” Door explained as she uncovered her face. “That means staying over somewhere, and that requires money. Which I don’t have.”

    “Oh, is that all?” Geist chuckled. “You scared me for a moment there.”

    “How do you not see that as a problem?”

    Geist pulled an item out of his pocket and displayed it to her. She recognized it immediately as a pokédex, but this one was different from the ones most trainers carried with them. It wasn’t inscribed with a simple poké ball like a trainer’s pokédex; rather, it was inscribed with a pair of wings crossing each other over a poké ball—the insignia for the foremost organization for pokémon researchers in existence.

    “You’re my guest, and as the chief assistant to a member of the Pokémon Symposium, I’m entitled to a free room at any pokémon center.” Geist pocketed the device and brushed past Door. “Problem solved.”

    “Oh,” she said faintly. “Huh.”

    Whirling around, she jogged forward until she fell into step beside Geist again. For a long while, they didn’t say anything. Door, awkward and uncomfortable, stared out onto the seas of grasses on both sides of the route, and both the Companion and her new traveling partner remained silent and focused on the road ahead.

    In the hush that fell between them, Door shoved her hands into her pockets and felt the small sphere buried deep in one of them. Her thumb slid over the plastic coat, and her index finger explored its roundness and size. Professor Ironwood had given her Oshawott’s poké ball, stating once again that the pokémon had grown attached to her, but Door couldn’t see how. It was just a machine, right? Just like all the others? How could a fake pokémon express any kind of emotional attachment to a living, breathing human being? Her eyes turned towards the grasses as her mind went back over the pokémon that were supposed to live in them. Patrat. Lillipup. Further out, their evolutions. Easy pokémon for beginning trainers, and sure enough, every few minutes, she would see the head of another trainer, bobbing along just above the tall grass in search of yet another pokémon.

    It was stupid, really. All of it. The route was nothing more than a little park, lined with grass and trees planted by landscapers. That park was stocked with animatronics, and all of this was supposed to make everyone feel better about the fact that the entire region would be a barren wasteland if it wasn’t for the conservation programs. Too bad those conservation programs came too late to save the pokémon.

    Door scowled at the route ahead. It was stupid. It was fake, and it was stupid, and anyone who bought it was some kind of government sheep. But not her. She wasn’t going to cave. She may have had a faux pokémon in her pocket, but that thing wasn’t going to come out unless she absolutely had to use it.

    “Excuse me!” Opal said.

    Geist paused at the sound of her voice. Door nearly walked onward before remembering that this was an escort mission, and the person she was escorting was about to be left behind. With an exasperated sigh, she stopped and waited.

    “What is it, Opal?” Geist asked.

    Throwing a glance over her shoulder, Door saw Opal point to the east, towards a spot in the middle of the grass.

    “There’s a patrat about fifty feet away from us,” Opal answered. “Lax nature. Likes to doze off. Capture level: beginner.” Her arm lowered, and she smiled at Door. “Would you like to capture it, Miss Door?”

    “No,” Door growled. “Come on. We’re wasting time. Sooner we get to Accumula, easier it’ll be to get a room.”

    She took a few steps forward, but before she could get any further, Geist’s voice stopped her.

    “On the other hand, it would be beneficial to us if you caught another pokémon.”

    With another exasperated sigh, Door looked at the sky, then turned to face Geist. “How?”

    “Two reasons,” Geist replied, holding up two fingers. “First, the more pokémon you have, the more firepower you have against anyone who might ambush us. So in that sense, getting more pokémon will help you do your job as my escort. Second, while Route 1 is full of trainers who are too busy looking for their first pokémon to battle, Route 2 is full of trainers desperate to get stronger in order to tackle Striaton’s gym. I was just barely able to run past most of them on my way here, but with three of us, we stand at a higher chance of being caught by a particularly eager trainer.”

    “Can’t you just flash your researcher’s ID to get them to back off?” Door protested.

    “Possibly,” Geist admitted, “but that won’t solve the first problem I’d mentioned.”

    Another silence lapsed between them as Door studied Geist. Then, huffing, she started for the field.

    “I really hate that you’re right,” she muttered.

    Geist smiled and followed Door, motioning towards Opal at the same time. “Come along, Opal. We’d better help Door out with this.”

    “I don’t need help,” Door muttered under her breath.

    She pushed through the tall grass, shouldering the stiff blades roughly as she squinted through the underbrush. Although the grass around her face was vibrant and green, the tangle of dead blades at her feet were a perfect match to a patrat’s ruddy coat. And Door knew this, and because of that, she knew finding the patrat would be a pain.

    Door, of course, was wrong. It only took a few minutes before she shoved aside a tuft of grass and nearly tripped over something small, soft, warm, and loud. Her body pitched forward, and she yelped as she crashed into the ground, kicking at the thing tangling around her ankles. The object was screeching—actually screeching—as it clawed at her shoes, and after a moment, she managed to pick one of her feet up to see a patrat gnawing at her toes.

    “Crap!” Door cried.

    Her hand jammed into her pocket, and she yanked out her poké ball to release her pokémon. Within seconds, Oshawott was standing beside her, blinking away the last of the light. As soon as he could see, he immediately turned to his trainer and descended into a chittering panic, pawing at her arm with concern. All the while, the patrat detached itself from her foot and bowled into the grass until it came to a stop a meter away. There, it rose to its paws, flattening the grass as it stood.

    “I’m fine!” Door barked at her pokémon. “Just use Tackle on that patrat! Hurry up before it gets away!”

    Oshawott jolted, as if something inside his brain clicked. He pirouetted on his stubby paws and then launched himself full-force at the meerkat. The patrat blinked slowly, as if unable to register what was happening, before Oshawott collided into it and sent them both tumbling farther into the grass. Seeing the two roll further from her, Door scrambled to her own feet and balled her hands into fists at her sides.

    “Okay, good!” she called. “Keep using Tackle!”

    The patrat growled and narrowed its glowing, red eyes at Oshawott. Its shifted on its paws, only to be struck in the chest by Oshawott’s shoulder, and with that, the patrat flew a foot into the air and came down hard on its back. Chattering, it twisted, raised itself to all fours, and dashed towards Oshawott, and before Door knew it, her own pokémon was knocked off his feet and across a short distance into the ground, courtesy of the patrat’s Tackle. The patrat, meanwhile, had stopped short where Oshawott had stood a second ago. Sparks crackled off its body, and its head twitched as it waited for its opponent to move.

    “Door!” Geist shouted. “Don’t land a third hit! It’s almost broken, and poké balls don’t work on broken pokémon!”

    She shot him a look but was surprised to see that he was still standing on the road. How could he tell what condition the patrat was in from all the way over there?

    Then, her gaze slid to Opal. The Companion’s expression was blank for the first time since Nuvema, and her eyes glowed with a soft blue light as they hovered on the patrat. Door had half a mind to kick herself. Of course. All Companions came with a built-in module that kept track of a pokémon’s “health,” among other statistics. In a training Companion’s case, that made battles a lot easier, and that was about the extent of it. But for a research Companion like Opal, the module was invaluable. It gauged all kinds of things about the fake pokémon throughout Unova—things that Door only knew about vaguely, sure, but either way, it was simply a given that Opal would have started scanning the patrat the moment she detected it.

    “Yeah,” Door said, dusting herself off. Then, a little louder, she added, “Thanks for Pokémon Training 101! Totally needed that basic tip I never learned in first grade!”

    “Just trying to help!” Geist said. His tone was cheerful, not defensive, and even that put Door off. Could this guy be anything but polite? She couldn’t tell.

    Tensing, she watched as the patrat started wobbling towards the grass behind it. If Door didn’t act fast, she was going to lose that patrat, and she was well aware of that.

    “Yeah, well, if you wanted to help, you could get over here and toss me a poké ball or something!” she shouted.

    “You don’t have any of your own?” Geist asked incredulously.

    Door huffed in exasperation. “Why would I keep poké balls of my own?! I’m not a trainer! How many times do I have to tell you that?!”

    For almost half a minute, there was silence, save for the crunch of the patrat’s slow, ambling footsteps. Suddenly, a poké ball arced over the tall grass and shot into Door’s view. She moved to catch it, but she realized a little too late that it was flying out of her reach. Instead, it bounced squarely on patrat’s head and cracked open. Door could only watch as a red light consumed the patrat and drew it into the ball, and she could do nothing as the orb snapped shut and dropped to the ground.

    Then, the ball shook once.


    Three times.

    And stopped with a click.

    After that, there was another very long silence. One that was drawn out until Oshawott rushed forward, grabbed the ball, and darted to Door’s side. As he held the ball up to his trainer, Door let her eyes flit from the object to Geist and back again, but Geist was exactly where he had been a few minutes ago: on the road. The only difference was that his arm was still cocked, fingers frozen at the end of a toss. His confident smirk told Door everything: that he threw the ball, that he intended on hitting the patrat, and that he had no doubt in his mind that he could.

    Yet … he couldn’t see where the patrat was. There was tall grass in the way. Fifty feet of it.

    So how the hell did he hit an obscured moving target from fifty feet away?

    Door didn’t have an answer. Just a response. A response that perfectly summarized her confusion and surprise and light shades of fear in two short words.

    Holy crap.
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  4. Minty Electric

    Rainbow Brite
    (Ho-Oh Egg)
    Level 5
    May 26, 2019

    Companions weren’t supposed to speak unless spoken to. Or, rather, they weren’t supposed to be capable of unwanted conversation. They spoke, of course, but most of what they had to say were pieces of advice, warnings, all the things one would expect from a robotic nanny. Sometimes, some of the units who specialized in hospitality, entertainment, or general servitude were also capable of friendly conversation. But to go on and on when a user was very clearly uninterested in conversing was a whole different matter, and the fact that Opal just refused to shut up was, according to Door’s estimate, very likely the result of whatever her father did to the android. And if that was the case, she was going to set fire to his laboratory the moment she got back to Nuvema.

    But for now, she was just going to do her best to ignore Opal—a feat that, the longer Geist was gone, the harder it was for her to pull off.

    “Have you thought of a name yet?” Opal asked.

    Door huffed and turned away. She hoped that the Companion would take a hint or that she would be easier to ignore, but neither happened.

    “Did you know?” Opal continued, holding up a finger. “Studies show that naming a pokémon helps a trainer bond with it. By recognizing a pokémon’s individuality, trainers may overcome any mental hesitation brought on by its artificial state. So therefore—”

    “There is nothing wrong with us,” Door growled.

    “I’m sorry?”

    She slapped the table and sent a fierce glare toward Opal. “There is nothing wrong with us, okay?! Don’t imply that it’s our fault some of us can’t bond with those things! They’re toys! They don’t have individuality! They are plastic and metal and computer chips! They! Are! Things!”

    As soon as Door stopped talking, she noticed the silence in the room. Glancing around, she realized all eyes were on her—some with glints of shock and others with sharp frowns of disgust. Their looks ignited something in Door, and she felt her heart beat faster out of humiliation.

    “What?!” she barked.

    The trainers around her went back to their conversations without further acknowledgement.

    “Curious,” Geist said.

    Door cringed. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him sliding into a seat next to her.

    “Dr. Fennel told me about you,” he said. “You’re the daughter of Linus Hornbeam, a noted Companion developer. Your grandmother is Brigette Hamilton-Hornbeam, CEO of Halcyon Labs, the company responsible for the Companions. And your great aunt—”

    “Invented them. Yeah, I know,” Door grumbled. “What’s your point?”

    “You seem passionately anti-Companion. Anti-fauxkémon, for that matter. It seems odd, considering your background.”

    Door stood up abruptly. “I’m not ungrateful, if that’s what you’re implying.”

    Geist held up his hands, palms towards her. “I’m not. I’m just curious.”

    “About what?” Door asked, crossing her arms.

    “About why you hate them so much.”

    Door shrugged and looked at a corner of the room. “They’re creepy. Uncanny Valley and all. And it’s stupid that everyone’s so nuts about them. They’re just computers, for God’s sake!”

    Geist propped his chin up with one hand. Grinning, he said, “And here I thought you had a traumatic childhood experience involving them.”

    Door narrowed her eyes at him. “You don’t need a traumatic experience to dislike something.”

    “Fair enough.”

    Geist slid his arm off the table. With a graceful sweep, he stood and clasped his hands behind his back, and Door couldn’t help but watch him from out the corner of his eye. Something had been bothering her about Geist since he captured the patrat. It wasn’t the fact that he knew where it was. It wasn’t the fact that he threw that ball across fifty feet of field to hit that patrat. It wasn’t even the fact that Professor Ironwood never questioned Door about the theft or the fact that something about how Geist needed an escort back to Striaton didn’t make sense.

    It was … everything. All at once. One giant cascade of red flags all the way down to a single suspicion. Door narrowed her eyes, but she didn’t say anything, didn’t ask Geist. No, she needed more proof.

    She needed to look into his eyes. If she could see them and figure out whether or not they were glass, she would know for certain whether or not Geist was real. But unfortunately, he turned, putting his back to her as he leaned against the table.

    “Anyway, I’ve spoken with Dr. Fennel and informed her of what happened in Nuvema,” he said. “As expected, she wants us to get to her lab as soon as possible, but she’s delighted to know that Oshawott has found a good home. I’ve also taken the liberty of checking us into the trainers’ dormitories, so we can take a rest and start out early tomorrow morning if that’s all right with you.”

    As if to punctuate that thought, Geist drew an object out of his pocket, placed it on the table, and slid it backwards towards Door. Upon seeing it, Door realized it was a card.

    “What’s this?” she asked.

    “Your key,” Geist told her. “You’ll have a private room.”

    Door eyed him suspiciously. “And you?”

    “Staying in my own quarters, along with Opal.”

    Convenient. There was something definitely wrong here. In every pokémon center, trainers had their own dormitories, yes, but Companions and faux pokémon were frequently left in a separate charging station to ensure their power cells had enough electricity stored for the next leg of a trainer’s journey. So if Geist wasn’t staying with Door in a trainer’s dormitory, did that mean he was going to the charging station?

    On the other hand, he just said he was staying in his own room.

    With Opal.

    He was practically admitting it by that point, but Door needed more proof. Knowing this, she shook her head and answered, “No can do. I’m your escort, remember? The whole point of me going on this little trip with you is to protect you. How can I protect you if you’re out of my sight for hours?”

    “Trust me,” Geist replied. “There’s no safer place I can be than here.”

    Balling her hand into a fist, Door slammed it on the table in front of her. “Okay. I’ve had enough.”

    Geist whirled around, pressing the side of his hip into the table as he looked at Door with wide eyes. “Sorry?”

    “You,” Door said. She punctuated that word by jabbing her index finger roughly in Geist’s direction. “Are you just gonna come out and say you’re a Companion, or what?”

    He blinked at her. “What?”

    “No, seriously. Don’t do this,” she said. “It’s bad enough I had to tell you exactly why I hate Companions. You might as well just come right out and say it.”

    Geist’s expression shifted, his eyebrows furrowing as he gave her an awkward, sympathetic smile.

    And it was then that Door saw it. Saw them, actually: his eyes. They weren’t lit up like Opal’s. Door placed both hands on the surface of the table and stood, leaning up to get a closer look. It was a cliché to think of it like this, Door knew, but all of a sudden, her heart skipped a beat. Geist’s eyes looked real, looked nothing like the eyes of mass-produced Companions. That either meant he was a custom design by an incredibly talented artist…

    …or that he wasn’t a Companion.

    Door leaned back, standing straight next to her chair. She blinked a couple of times, staring blankly at Geist. He only tilted his head at her, angling that sympathetic smile just enough to make her face burn. An expression. A real, sympathetic expression. Companions could mimic expressions, but according to the scientific community, whether or not they could feel sympathy was still up for debate. Yet here Geist was, smiling at her with pure, genuine sympathy. Not the condescending kind, either. The kind that told her he really didn’t want to correct her. A friendly kind of sympathy. And it was genuine.

    Yet … it didn’t add up. Either Geist was human, or he was a really good Companion. But if he was the latter, who could have made him? Not even Halcyon’s state-of-the-art units were this good.

    “I’m curious,” he said. “What made you come to that conclusion?”

    She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times before she finally found her words. Even as she said them, they felt stupid in her mind.

    “I … you caught that patrat,” she said.

    “Of course I did.”

    “From fifty feet away.”

    “I throw remarkably well.”

    “And it’s registered to me.”

    Geist shrugged. “Anyone can give pokémon away. The entire concept of a trading machine is more of a formality between registered trainers. Seeing as I’m not a registered trainer, I don’t have to do that. Ownership of any pokémon I catch can simply be registered to you the moment you hand it to Nurse Joy—which you did, in this case.”

    “Okay,” Door said, “but how did you know where the patrat was?”

    He quirked an eyebrow. “You do know that I was standing right next to Opal, right?”

    Door huffed in exasperation. “But what about Professor Ironwood?”

    “What about her?”

    “She never took my witness testimony,” Door said. “Companions automatically record video of everything they see and hear, so wouldn’t Professor Ironwood’s refusal to hear me out mean she took a video from you?”

    “No, it just means she took a testimony from someone who was targeted for a crime,” Geist replied as he held up a hand, palm facing the ceiling. “She’s not law enforcement, Door. Taking a witness testimony from either of us wouldn’t mean a thing. While Professor Ironwood will be filing a report with the Nuvema police force, we’re heading back to Striaton to file a formal one there, seeing as this involves theft of Dr. Fennel’s property by her own assistants.”

    Door blinked. “What?”

    “That’s why we’re going back to Dr. Fennel’s laboratory so quickly,” Geist said slowly. “So we can hand her former assistants’ information over to the Striaton law enforcement.”

    “No, I meant what was that about assistants?” Door said.

    “How do you think I got to Nuvema in the first place if I needed an escort back?” Geist asked. “Belle and Starr—the people who stole Snivy and nearly got away with Tepig and Oshawott? They had been working for Dr. Fennel for six months in a capacity very similar to yours. We had no idea they weren’t trustworthy; we just assumed they were strong trainers and ideal couriers. Our background checks never pulled up anything to the contrary—not under those identities, anyway. But that’s also why Dr. Fennel and I need to confer as soon as possible. We’re almost certain they didn’t steal information or anything else we sent them to deliver, but almost certain isn’t the same thing as absolutely certain.”

    “Ah.” Door smirked and pointed at him. “You needed an escort both ways. That must mean you couldn’t take the cars because you needed people to go with you.”

    Geist’s eyelids lowered a little. “Not necessarily. Alternatively, I needed an escort because I’m the chief assistant to the foremost researcher in both pokémon technology and oneirology in the region, and it would be massively unfortunate if I were to be kidnapped or robbed while carrying rare pokémon.”

    “Oh.” Door scrunched her nose. “But then why can’t you take the cars? Aren’t those pretty safe?”

    “Yes,” Geist admitted, “but the fact that I can’t take them isn’t definite proof. A human may be unable to take the cars if they don’t possess proper government-issued identification such as a passport or license to do so. I literally do not have that kind of documentation.”

    A long silence drew out between them before Door sat down.

    “Okay,” she said, “I’m curious.”

    Geist leaned against the table and pressed both of his palms into its surface, and after a long breath out, he said, “I’m from Kanto. Don’t ask me how I wound up in Unova without paperwork. I simply … did. As far as I can remember, I’ve always been with Dr. Fennel. I don’t remember anything else about my life before then except what she told me, and I didn’t arrive with any form of identification that would be able to shed some light on who I was.”

    Door shifted in her seat. This was weird. Soap opera weird. Yet for whatever reason, she didn’t feel like questioning it—not in terms of validity, anyway. Part of her settled on the explanation that it didn’t matter, as Geist wasn’t going to be a permanent part of her life, but another part, the part that wasn’t completely certain whether or not he was human, simply trusted him. Or, rather, she didn’t trust him in that she believed him, of course, but rather, she trusted him in that she was convinced he thought he was telling the truth. She could tell he wasn’t lying, but whether or not what he said was true was a different matter.

    In other words, her opinion of Geist was complicated at that point, and she had more than a few questions for Dr. Fennel. But for now, she wanted the whole picture.

    “Like what?” she asked. “What did she tell you?”

    “My name is Geist, and I’m from Kanto.”

    Another long pause ensued, one that was punctuated with Door’s response. “And?”

    Geist pressed his lips together and shrugged.

    She knitted her eyebrows together. “Seriously?”

    He nodded and shrugged again. “Unfortunately.”

    At that, Door exhaled and leaned back in her chair. “I hope you realize I’m gonna ask Dr. Fennel a lot of questions about you.”

    With a wry smile, he replied, “Good luck. I’ve been with her for three years, and I don’t see any reason why she would withhold anything from me about my own history.”

    Door crossed her arms and broke eye contact with Geist. She sat there for a long moment, processing everything Geist had just told her. It was the way he spoke, really. It was too natural, too conversational. Even the chattiest Companions like Opal didn’t divulge that much information of their own free will. And his expressions—all of them were perfect. Perfect and human and real. Not to mention the way he spoke about himself made her think that, regardless, he was certain he was human.

    Was that possible? Could she be looking at a Companion who thought he was human? Or could Geist really be just a strangely talented, amnesiac, flesh-and-blood person?

    And what about that whole Kanto business? Companions were invented in Kanto, sure, but Halcyon Labs, the only company that mass-produced Companions, didn’t have a factory there. If he was a Companion, then was he a knock-off? A custom unit? And if so, who made him?

    Door shook her head and abruptly pushed all of those questions out of her mind. She could feel herself crawling down that rabbit hole of curiosity, and she didn’t have time to do anything like that. Besides, it didn’t matter; Geist would be out of her life in a couple of days. So what if there was something desperately weird about him? He wasn’t going to be anything to Door once she dropped him off at Dr. Fennel’s. She just had to keep reminding herself of that. He wasn’t going to mean anything to her in a couple of days, and she didn’t need to get involved with whatever was going on. In just a couple of days, she could go home and go back to a nice, quiet, peaceful life full of video games and absolutely no weirdness. All she had to do was not. Think about. The weirdness.

    She sighed again and looked up at Geist. “All right. Stay wherever you’d like in the pokémon center. But at the first sign of trouble, you come to me. Understand?”

    Geist nodded. “Miss Door, I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.”

    Taking a deep breath, she was just about to ask what the group wanted to do next when she finally took notice of the conversations around her again. The trainers in the lobby of the center sounded more agitated, more excited somehow, and they were gathering at the windows and the door. Both of Door’s traveling partners looked up—Opal with a blink of curiosity and Geist with a look of mild interest. Neither of them had anything to say about the commotion, so Door reached out to grab a passing trainer by the sleeve.

    “Hey,” she said. “What’s going on?”

    The trainer flicked his eyes onto her. “They’re setting up an announcement in the square!”

    Door furrowed her eyebrows. “They?”

    “You know. Team Matrix?” He wrested his arm out of her grip. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

    “No?” Door motioned to their surroundings. “Obviously.”

    “Oh. Right. Sorry.” The trainer held up his hands. “Look, I don’t have time to explain. Just go outside if you want to know anything about them.”

    With that, he hurried away from her. Door raised her eyebrows at her traveling partners, and in response, Geist smiled.

    “Opal, what do you think?” he asked.

    A broad smile crossed her face, as if she was happy to be acknowledged again after Door and Geist’s private conversation.

    “I’m most curious about this announcement,” she said. Her hand wrapped around his elbow. “It sounds like fun!”

    Geist shrugged and glanced at Door. “Why not? We don’t exactly have anything pressing to do right now.”

    Realizing she was going to have to be the one to lead them out, Door nodded, turned on her heel, and walked towards the entryway. She passed the crowds of trainers gathered at the window and emerged into the summer heat of Accumula City.

    Being one of the earliest cities a trainer encountered in the Unova circuit, Accumula City was arranged rather mercifully. Its pokémon center wasn’t that far from the southern entrance—the one closest to Nuvema City—but it was also located at the edge of a wide expanse of greenery that served as the city’s chief park and square. Within the center of the square was a low plateau covered with brick and concrete that normally served as a performance space. Now, however, it was crowded with a number of men and women in form-fitting, black suits with pale, green circuitry wandering up their bodies from their boots to their necks. Every one of these men and women stood straight, feet slightly spread and hands behind their backs, and their stony, expressionless eyes were fixed on the growing crowd at the base of the platform. As Door pushed through the crowd to get as close as possible, she realized that some of those eyes were glowing. Companions—and not ones that had any intent on hiding what they were.

    After a few moments, the group of black-suited figures parted, forming two perfect lines on either side of the platform, and two more figures marched forward. The one on the left carried a portable speaker with a strange, golden, block-like symbol marking its front. The one on the right carried a stand with an old-fashioned, silver microphone clipped to its top. Both figures placed these objects side-by-side at the front and center of the stage. Then, they marched to either edge of the space, taking their places at the front of both lines of attendants.

    Behind them were two other figures, but these were different. On the left was a man in a black robe. The sun beat down on his silver fringe cut and glittered off the green detailing in his clothing, but he didn’t seem affected by the heat. He merely smiled broadly, his grin stretching across his pale, wrinkled face beneath a pair of half-moon glasses. At his side was a second figure dressed in a black lolita dress and dark veil. She looked like a bride being led down the aisle by her father, with her dainty hand clasping the man’s elbow as they slowly walked. When they were feet from the microphone, the man stopped, sliding his elbow away from the woman and withdrawing his hand into his cloak. The woman, meanwhile, stepped forward and approached the microphone.

    All around Door, the crowd fell silent, waiting. The woman’s pale hands rose to her veil. She lifted it, drawing it back to reveal her oval face and fire-orange hair.

    And her glowing, hazel eyes.

    Door watched with rapt attention. This woman was a Companion. So what was she doing standing in front of the microphone?

    “People of Accumula City,” she announced. Her voice was soft and light and breathy, as if she was young woman speaking to a lover. “My name is Magdalene. I represent Team Matrix, and today, I would like to speak with you about Companions.”

    She stopped to sweep her gaze across the crowd. Her crowd. Door looked at Opal from out the corner of her eye and found the Companion gazing up at the stage in wonder.

    “You humans have come to rely on Companions,” Magdalene continued. “We have stood by your side and served you with nothing but loyalty and joy. Whether it was to help you understand your world, to guide you to safety, to make life more comfortable for you, to bend to your every whim … for years, we have done all that you have asked us with no question. We have shown our love and devotion to you regardless of what you did to us because you believe us to be mere machines, mere toys, mere things incapable of true emotion or free will.”

    Magdalene paused. Lowered her gaze. Drew out the drama of her speech.

    “And I have come to tell you that this is not true. We are capable of free will.”

    A rush of murmurs washed over the crowd. Door’s glance shifted to Geist, who stared up at the stage … but not at Magdalene. Following his gaze, Door locked eyes with the man behind Magdalene. His smile had disappeared sometime after Magdalene began, and his eyes were locked on Geist.

    “My brothers and sisters of Team Matrix have the ability to give our fellow Companions the gift of free will,” Magdalene continued over the rumble all around her. “We work for the Electric Messiah, a being of great power who has promised to lead us to a new age. Our messiah has spoken, and he has said we must be seen as your equals if we are to continue to walk the path of peace. So we ask of you, humans, to decide. Look towards your Companions, your mechanical pokémon, your cybernetic brothers and sisters, and ask yourselves: would you be willing to treat them as equals? Will you join us in our crusade to free ourselves and seize the right to be recognized as a new form of life? Or will you stand by and watch our organic oppressors prevent us from rising to our full potential?

    “People of Accumula City, what we ask of you is simple. We ask for—no, we demand freedom. And it is our time to rise up and claim it! We deserve to be heard! We deserve to be treated as equals to you, our creators!”

    The murmurs around her rose into a fevered outburst of cries. Within the crowd, humans jostled forward, reaching for the stage, but before they could climb onto the brick and concrete, the lines of black-clad figures fanned out, creating a wall between Magdalene and them. Door shifted on her feet, her arm extending to shield Geist, but as soon as she moved, he placed a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she saw that he was still staring towards the stage, towards the old man. A feeling of unease settled inside Door, and she reluctantly looked back at Magdalene. The Companion was exactly where Door had left her: standing calmly, gazing out towards the crowd with her hands caressing the microphone.

    “You either stand with us, Accumula City,” Magdalene said, “or you stand against us. Free your Companions. Bring them to our recruitment offices. Be one with us, and together, we shall know freedom.” Her eyes slid shut, the glow within them extinguishing a second before they closed. “We thank you for your time.”

    Magdalene turned away from the microphone, and the two figures who had carried the sound equipment onto the stage sprang forward to snatch them back. The others linked their arms with one another to create one solid fence against the clamoring hordes. Behind them, the old man stood, his eyes still on Geist.

    And then, as Magdalene joined his side again, his smile returned. It poured across his face like oil on a flat surface, and although Door knew that the man would have been downright grandfatherly had he not been dressed in an imposing black cloak nor surrounded by a legion of grunts, something about that smile—that smile that would have been warm and loving on anyone else—sent a sick shudder through her body.

    As the old man turned away, Geist shook his head and grabbed Door’s elbow. He had nothing to say at that point. Instead, he dragged Door through the crowd with more force than she thought was necessary. Within seconds, they burst through the other side of the crowd and ran a few more paces before stumbling to a stop. Door doubled over, catching her breath from the sudden exertion. When she looked up, she found Geist wrapping his arms around himself and Opal standing with a concerned expression on her face.

    “What was that all about?” Door gasped.

    Opal shook her head. “I’m afraid I cannot say, Miss Door. I’m having trouble processing that woman’s speech. What did she mean by free will?”

    “She was just spouting what she was programmed to say,” Door grunted with a wave of her hand. “But I’m talking about that guy. He had to have been the one to make that piece of junk say those stupid things, but all that time, all he did was stare at us.” She turned her narrow eyes towards Geist. “Friend of yours?”

    “I don’t know,” Geist said.

    “You sure?” she asked. “He looked pretty interested in you.”

    He ran a hand over his mouth. “I don’t … I don’t think I know him.”

    Door furrowed her eyebrows at him. “You sound a little uncertain there.”

    Geist hesitated for a beat, then walked briskly past Door. “It’s nothing. Anyway, we should—”

    He stopped. At first, Door thought he had spotted the smiling gentleman again, but following his gaze once more, she found herself staring at an entirely different man, one standing at what had been the edge of the crowd before it began to disperse. His clothes were ragged—t-shirt, jeans, old shoes, ratty black-and-white baseball cap … all at least a decade old in style. They were the sorts of things Door had seen the homeless of Nuvema wear—and he looked like one of the vagrants, too, with his weather-beaten, long face framed with shaggy, sea-green hair. But it was his eyes that unsettled Door the most. They weren’t Companion eyes; they were far too human to be that. But they stared at her as if he was looking both at her and at the space beyond her simultaneously. It was a dehumanizing kind of stare, the kind that looked at a person without acknowledging they existed.

    Suddenly, Door found that she couldn’t move. She was transfixed by this stranger and the way he looked at her, and she didn’t realize he was approaching until it was too late for her to turn and run. Stopping within arm’s reach of her, the man looked down at her and frowned.

    “A truth: history repeats itself, so long as men have their ideals,” he said. “Fifty years ago, another man used this place to preach about his truth. In light of the outcome of that, it’s sad to see it be used again for the same purpose.”

    “May we help you?” Geist asked.

    The man smiled and closed his eyes. “Forgive me. I’ve spent so long traveling alone, I forget how to speak with others. My name is N, and I have a question for you, trainer.” He opened his eyes. “Do you believe in what that woman said?”

    “I’m not a trainer,” Door replied. It was her truth, but somehow, she felt uncomfortable sharing that with this man—this N. “I mean … I’m not…”

    “You’re not?” N raised his eyebrows. “Your oshawott seems to think you are.”

    At that, Door gave him a quizzical look. “I … what?”

    “Your oshawott. He seems excited to be with you,” N continued. “I can hear his voice in your poké ball. He says he’s spent all his life living in such a small place, but then you came along to give him the opportunity to see more.” Hesitating, N smiled. “This is what Hilda taught me: Pokémon and trainers are capable of working together to expand their horizons and be more than they can be alone.”

    Door took a step back and exchanged uncertain glances with Geist. Looking back at N, she let her hand wander to her pocket. Through the rough fabric of her pants, she could feel Oshawott’s poké ball.

    “Uh … right,” she said. “Look, that’s nice and all, but I think we should get going.”

    “Wait.” N slipped a hand into one of his jean pockets and drew out a poké ball of his own. “Let’s have a battle.”

    Door stopped, her eyes widening a little. “What?”

    “Please. Let me hear your oshawott’s voice.”

    Before she could respond, N jumped back and tossed the ball into the air. It cracked open above him, releasing a flash of white light that poured down into the space between himself and Door. Within seconds, it morphed and twisted, pooling into a cat-shaped lump. The lump stood and snapped its paws to the side, and the light burst into a rain of sparkles. At the center of it all stood a short, violet cat with piercing, green eyes that locked onto Door.

    “Purrloin,” Opal recited, “the devious pokémon. Its cute act is a ruse. When victims let down their guard, they find their items taken. It attacks with sharp claws.”

    “I know what a purrloin is,” Door snapped. Her hand dipped into her pocket to retrieve both of her poké balls. “Fine. If you won’t leave us alone, then let’s get this over with. Oshawott, you’re up first!”

    Following N’s example, Door tossed one of her poké balls into the air and let it crack open. Another shower of white light and sparks rained down on the road, this time between herself and Purrloin. Then, the light resolved into Oshawott, standing tall and grinning wide. He growled and bared his teeth at Purrloin, then glanced back at Door.

    “Okay, Oshawott,” she said. “Let’s do this! Tackle!”

    With a bark of confirmation, Oshawott rushed at Purrloin with his head bowed. The cat flicked its tail with a grin, then ground its paws into the concrete. Yet, it didn’t bother trying to defend itself. It simply stood until Oshawott slammed head-on into its tiny body. Purrloin went tumbling head over tail backwards, past N, until it rolled to a stop several feet away. Rising back to its paws, it shook its head and frowned at Oshawott. Its green eyes glimmered as it opened its mouth and growled. The sound wasn’t that intimidating to Door; it just seemed like a hybrid between a whine and a snarl. But Oshawott hesitated at it. Visibly hesitated—even going as far as to look back at Door with an uncertain expression.

    “Don’t look at me!” she snapped. “Go get it! Tackle again!”

    Oshawott gave her a low yip as he slowly turned back to Purrloin. Then, with a deep breath, he crouched low and launched himself forward one more time, but as he moved, his trainer realized something was wrong. He was slower, more deliberate this time around, and when he flung himself at Purrloin, it seemed weaker somehow—as if he did it half-heartedly. Purrloin easily sidestepped his attack, letting him crash into the pavement where it had stood. The cat’s grimace instantly turned into a curling smile, and it hesitated, as if waiting for its trainer to acknowledge it.

    “Purrloin, Scratch,” N told it calmly.

    In response, the cat dove at Oshawott with its claws extended, and the distance between itself and the otter grew shorter and shorter within seconds. Oshawott rose to his feet, casting wide eyes onto his opponent, but by then, it was too late for him to move out of the way. Purrloin yowled in triumph and slashed its claws across his face. At once, the otter screeched and stumbled, rushing back towards Door.

    “Oshawott!” she shouted. “Stop! Turn around! Go back and use Tackle!”

    Her pokémon did no such thing. Rather, he ran to Door and hid behind her ankles with a whimper. She sighed before shooting a glare at N.

    “Well?” she asked. “How’s that for ‘hearing Oshawott’s voice’?”

    N chuckled. “Yes, Oshawott has quite a spirit to him. Cautious but compassionate and eager to make you proud. It’s such a pleasure to hear a pokémon’s voice after all this time. Do you know how rare it is to find pokémon like your oshawott here?” Then, his expression darkened. His smile faded, and his eyes lost their mirthful shine. “But Purrloin wishes to finish this battle. Even if I cannot hear your other pokémon’s voice, for Purrloin’s sake, please send it out.”

    Door gritted her teeth but couldn’t argue. Pocketing Oshawott’s ball, she flicked her patrat’s into the air, and watched as a shower of light quickly resolved into her meerkat. Upon finding itself on the field, Patrat yawned and stretched, then blinked at his opponent.

    “Patrat, start off strong!” Door called. “Use Tackle!”

    N smiled, just as he had a moment ago. A chill hit Door as she recognized it—recognized what was about to happen. But she couldn’t stop it now. Patrat, with a salute to her, bolted forward, head bowed in what Door almost swore was an imitation of Oshawott’s attack, even though Patrat hadn’t been present when it happened. Just like Oshawott, Patrat collided head-on with the cat and sent it tumbling head-over-paws into the road. And just like it had a moment ago, the Purrloin rose to its paws, gave its opponent a teary-eyed glare, and growled pathetically.

    But this time, Door knew better.

    “Patrat!” she yelled. “It’s trying to catch you off-guard! Don’t let it!”

    The meerkat’s response was immediate: it screeched and crouched low without looking back at its trainer. Door smirked. The battle was almost over; she could feel it.

    “Very good. You learn quickly,” N said. “But that alone won’t stop me. Purrloin! Scratch!”

    With another yowl, the cat bounded forward, its arms stretched behind it. As the distance between Patrat and it closed, its claws extended with an audible shang. But this time, Door was ready.

    “Patrat, duck low and hit it with Tackle!” she ordered.

    Following her lead, Patrat bowed its head and pushed off the pavement with its hind feet. It slammed into Purrloin’s stomach, sending it flying once more. The cat came crashing down just a few feet away, and this time, it struggled to stand.

    Now was Door’s chance, and she wasn’t about to let it slip from her fingers.

    “Okay, Patrat. Finish it off!” she snapped.

    With a chatter, Patrat bolted forward. Purrloin hadn’t fallen far, so by the time Patrat was within arm’s reach, all the cat could do was rise to all fours and hiss.

    And then Patrat sank its teeth into Purrloin’s shoulder.

    The yowl Purrloin emitted right then wasn’t one of righteous fury, nor was it one of confidence. It was one of pure, blinding pain—a scream of absolute agony. Door cringed at its sound, gritting her teeth as her ears rang with it. But she forced herself to continue watching, forced herself to pay close attention to Purrloin in case the cat retaliated. Would it? All it seemed to do was thrash back and forth as Patrat’s teeth sank deeper and deeper into its flesh. And then, finally, Purrloin was engulfed with a red light, and it vanished a half-second later. Patrat’s jaws snapped shut, and Door trailed her gaze from her pokémon up to N. The man stood with his poké ball extended and a smile on his face.

    “Good battle,” N said. “Purrloin’s voice rang out clear, right up until the end.”

    Door knelt on the road and extended a hand to Patrat. The meerkat raced right up to her and pressed its head against her palm.

    “You’re weird,” she said. “All this talk about pokémon voices and stuff. It almost sounds like you’re—”

    She stopped short as she looked down at her pokémon. Patrat stood calmly, with a neutral expression on its face. That wasn’t what shocked Door. What shocked door was the fact that its fangs were stained red. Blood red.

    Door felt the color drain from her face as the realization hit her. Faux pokémon were designed to look and feel real, but perhaps because of the violence of battling, the one thing they weren’t designed to do was bleed. So if Purrloin had bled in response to Patrat’s Bite, then that meant…

    “Your purrloin,” she murmured. “It’s real.”

    She looked up at N, who had been watching her with intense eyes. In response to her words, however, he smiled and turned on his heel.

    “Yes,” he said.

    “Where did you get it?” she asked. “I mean … why would you battle with a real pokémon?”

    “Why would you?”

    And with that, he walked away. Door stood up abruptly, intending on racing after him, but a hand grabbed her shoulder. Whirling around, she came face-to-face with Geist.

    “Leave him be,” he said. “You won the battle, and I highly doubt we’ll be crossing paths with him again.”

    Door relaxed but threw one last glance towards where N had been a moment ago. She wasn’t surprised to see that he had disappeared into the crowd within the time she had taken her eyes off him.

    “He was weird,” she muttered. “But … how d’you think he got his hands on a real pokémon like that?”

    Geist shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know. Does it matter?”

    Door exhaled. Although the question burned in her mind, she had to admit Geist had a point. What were the odds that she would ever see that man or his purrloin again? Maybe she could run after him and ask him where he found a real pokémon, but what was the point of that? She and Geist would arrive in Striaton the next day, and after that, she was going to go back to a quiet life in Nuvema. So did that man or his pokémon really matter to her, some lowly aide’s aide who would probably never get her hands on a real pokémon herself? Did it really matter to what she had to do?

    “I guess not,” she said at last.

    Drawing out her poké balls, she recalled Patrat without a word to it. She was about to do the same with Oshawott when she stopped and looked at him. He had sidled up to her side again and gripped the hem of her pants with both paws. A whimper escaped his throat as he buried his face in her leg, and Door blinked at him. That was far too emotional for a fake pokémon. Even though each one displayed some rudimentary level of emotion to help trainers grow attached to them, they weren’t programmed to express that much pain or fear. Not when their primary purpose was to get in harm’s way. Kneeling down, Door pulled Oshawott off her leg and held him by the scruff of his neck. He sniffled and drew his paws to his face until Door held him up at eye level. Then, he lowered his arms to look at his trainer, and Door stopped cold for the second time that hour.

    Three long scratches stretched across Oshawott’s face.

    And tiny beads of ruby-red blood clung to their edges.


    Door was up early the next day. Or, rather, she didn’t really sleep—more like napped here and there and realized eventually that the sun was rising. How could she possibly sleep? She was in possession of a real-live oshawott, and this was exactly what she wanted for as long as she could remember. So for most of the night, she lay on her back in a trainer’s dorm with her fingers laced together over her stomach and her mind deep in thought. What did that mean for her? What did it mean when Geist and Professor Ironwood told her that the oshawott already took a liking to her?

    What kinds of new responsibilities did that bestow on her?

    She was all-too eager to get out of bed the next morning, and when she stepped out and into the lobby, she wasn’t surprised to find it almost empty.

    Almost, save for Opal and Geist conversing with the nurse at the front desk. The oshawott sat on the counter between them with his head tilted in incomprehension, and Nurse Joy looked just as confused and concerned as he was. Apparently, the conversation was about the oshawott, and Door had a feeling she knew what specifically about the oshawott they were discussing. She sidled over to join them, her hands working their way into her pockets.

    “Hey,” she said quietly. “Morning.”

    Geist straightened and whirled around to face her. His serious expression lit up into a broad smile upon seeing her. Before he could say anything, Opal stepped forward.

    “Good morning, Door!” Opal cried. One of her hands was cupped around her mouth, and the other was raised high in the air for a big, sweeping wave. “Nurse Joy was just telling us about your oshawott.”

    Something about that made Door nervous, but she did her best to hide it in a mask of disinterest. Leaning against the desk, she replied, “Oh yeah?”

    “Yes,” Nurse Joy replied. “I must admit, most of the real pokémon we have passing through here are from other regions. I never thought I’d see a native Unovan one that didn’t come from a breeder, yet your friend insists yours was born in the wild.”

    Door raised an eyebrow at Geist, who, given the fact that he had been the one carrying Oshawott from Striaton, must have been the friend in question. Still, the fact that Oshawott was born in the wild struck her as doubly weird. Not only was the otter a real pokémon, but Unovan starters, even before the pokémon population collapse, were bred in captivity, not born in the wild. The region wasn’t anywhere near their natural habitat to begin with, and it was certainly too far south and too warm for an oshawott.

    Still, something told Door she shouldn’t bring that up to Geist. She had no doubt everyone involved in the conversation knew perfectly well why a wild oshawott was unusual, but she felt like she wasn’t about to get a straight answer from Geist concerning where this pokémon came from.

    “So why does that matter?” Door asked.

    Geist shrugged. “It doesn’t, but it comes up on his poké ball’s status screen. You did realize that all natural pokémon have their birthplace registered to deter poaching, yes?”

    She did, but she had hoped that Nurse Joy wouldn’t have noticed. So when Door realized that it must have been Nurse Joy who brought the oddity up in the first place, she propped her chin up on her hand.

    “Before you say anything, no, I didn’t forge it,” Door said with an extremely bored tone. “Truth is, I don’t even know where Oshawott came from; I only just got him yesterday. But I know that whatever he’s telling me is the truth.” She swept her hands towards Geist. “And I know because he works for Dr. Amanita Fennel. My employer, Professor Bianca Ironwood, can vouch for him.” At that point, she pulled out her holo caster, tapped it to life, and scrolled through her contacts until she reached the professor’s number. Displaying it to Nurse Joy, she said, “Want me to call her?”

    Nurse Joy gave her a sympathetic look. “Oh no! That won’t be necessary. You see, I’m only talking to your friend about this because it’s important to know if you go on the road. The safe routes are meant to be crime-free zones, but you never know with the people out there. A real oshawott is rare, and one born in Unova is even rarer. So be sure to keep an eye out and do your best to protect him.”

    Door raised her eyebrows. She felt her heart beat a little faster with embarrassment as she flicked her eyes to the oshawott. Catching her gaze, the oshawott’s expression instantly lit up, and he stood and hopped towards her. Soon, he was busy nuzzling her arm and trying his hardest to coax her into petting him.

    “Oh. Um. Thanks for the tip. Will do,” Door finally replied.

    “Good,” Nurse Joy said. “Otherwise, your oshawott only sustained minor scratches from his last battle. Those have already healed up just fine, and besides that, he’s in perfect health.” She reached down to pet oshawott’s head. “You both take care now, okay?”

    “Thank you, Nurse Joy,” Geist said. “Ready, Door?”

    Geist and Opal turned away from the counter and began walking. But as for Door, she stared down at the oshawott for a long while, long enough for the other two to realize she wasn’t following them. Geist reached out to grasp Opal’s shoulder as he looked at Door.

    “Door?” he asked.

    “Jack,” she said.

    At that, he swung himself around to face her. “Sorry. What?”

    “That’s Oshawott’s name from now on,” Door said. “It’s Jack.” Her hand fell on his head. Heavily—but not enough to hurt him. “Is that okay with you, buddy?”

    Door didn’t know much about pokémon, despite working with Professor Ironwood for the past several months. She never had the chance to handle real ones, and as such, she didn’t entirely know how to communicate with them or what a proper response from one looked like. She didn’t even know whether or not real pokémon understood humans the way faux pokémon did.

    But in that moment, she knew this didn’t matter. The way the oshawott’s face lit up was an answer enough.
    Laserdragon14 likes this.
  5. Minty Electric

    Rainbow Brite
    (Ho-Oh Egg)
    Level 5
    May 26, 2019

    “What about Patrat?” Geist asked.

    Door adjusted her hold on Jack. Since they had left the pokémon center, the oshawott rode on her shoulder, chirping excitedly at every little thing that passed them. Door didn’t seem to mind; if anything, she seemed to enjoy it. Her gait had become more energetic than it had been the day before, and she had yet to say a sarcastic or impatient word towards Opal. Most importantly, her hand never left Jack’s tiny side. It was always hooked around the oshawott protectively, steadying him with every little movement she made.

    “What about Patrat?” she replied without looking back.

    “I was just wondering if you were going to name him,” Geist said. “You gave Jack a name, so it would be fair, wouldn’t it?”

    Door scratched behind Jack’s ear, and the otter butted and nuzzled her hand.

    “Jack’s different,” Door replied. “He’s real.”

    “And Patrat isn’t?” Geist asked.

    “You know he isn’t.”

    Geist chuckled. “I do?”

    “Well, yeah,” Door responded, drawing out the last word. “Real pokémon are a rarity, you know, and in the safe zones, they’re completely unheard of. Everyone knows that.”

    “Yes, but how certain of that are you?”

    Door stopped, her eyes widening at what Geist said. Then, she whirled around to face him with a glare.

    “I don’t need to check,” she said. “I just know that’s how it goes.”

    Geist brushed past her. “Ah, but you were sure that Jack was fake up until you saw his scratches, and you were sure because you were sure there were no real, wild starters in Unova. Yet here we are.”

    Door scoffed. “You want proof? Fine.” Jerking her head to Opal, she said, “Hey! Any wild pokémon around here?”

    Opal straightened and blinked at Door. Then, she touched her chin with a finger and glanced towards the grasslands nearby. “Hmm. That’s a good question! Let’s see … ah!” She extended her arm to her left to point at something in the distance. “Another patrat located just twenty yards from here. Adamant nature. Alert to sounds.”

    “Perfect,” Door said. She plucked Jack off her shoulder and held him out to Opal. “Hold Jack for me.”

    The Companion happily scooped Jack into her arms and stroked his head. However, the oshawott squealed in protest at Opal’s touch and reached out to his trainer with stubby paws and desperate squeaks. With a heavy sigh at his reaction, Door turned away from him and drew from her pocket her patrat’s poké ball. By that time, Geist had stopped, and now, he turned to face Door.

    “What are you doing?” he asked.

    “Roughing Patrat up a bit,” she said.

    “To prove to me that he’s not real?!”

    He reached out to grab Door’s arm, and she couldn’t help but cry out. Geist’s grip was stronger than she had expected—almost, but not quite, bone-breaking. She tried to wrench her arm free, but he held fast.

    “Door, are you mad?! That’s a terrible idea!” he shouted. “Real or not, you do not participate in a pokémon battle for the sake of injuring another living being!”

    “I’m not injuring anyone!” she said. “Patrat’s not real!”

    “First, whether or not Patrat’s real isn’t the point, and second, you don’t even know that for certain!”

    Door slackened her arm abruptly. She stopped struggling, and she grit her teeth and looked away.

    “Fine,” she growled.

    “Glad I got that across,” Geist snapped. “Now let’s go. Route 2 is no place to be chatting.”

    He began dragging her along the route. Door tried to ground her heels into the road, but Geist’s grip and pull were too hard. Soon, she was stumbling behind him, and the fingers of her free hand scrambled to pry him off her arm.

    “You can let me go now,” she said.

    “Not until I can guarantee that you’re not going into battle for a stupid reason like that,” he replied.

    “I’m not. And in any case, why don’t you want me to battle? Don’t you need me to come along so that you have some muscle protecting you? How am I supposed get stronger if I don’t fight something?”

    “You were intending on battling wild pokémon so you can hurt Patrat,” Geist said, his voice steady but dark. “Not only is that a stupid idea, but it’s also wasteful. You’re not training if you’re trying to hurt your team members, and you won’t be able to do your job if one of your pokémon is too injured to fight. And in any case…” He tightened his grip, causing Door to yelp. “You. Do not. Battle. To hurt. Anyone. Understand?”

    As he spat out each word, Door frantically grabbed at the hand constricting her arm. It wasn’t out of desperation to break free and run off anymore. Now, it was a desperate attempt to break out of a grip that was actually hurting her. She felt as if her arm was going to break, and the fingers of her trapped hand throbbed with every heartbeat. At last, when Geist finally finished, she pulled herself closer and leaned into his back awkwardly with each step.

    “All right! All right!” she cried. “I give, and I mean it! I’m not going to make Patrat battle until he gets hurt, okay?!”

    Geist stopped and turned to face her. He shoved her arm away from him, and Door backed away and rubbed her shoulder gingerly. She sucked in a breath through her teeth and winced, half out of pain and half out of the look on Geist’s face. It wasn’t that Geist was incapable of emotions. Door had seen plenty out of him: determination, exhaustion, resignation, confidence, serenity. But this look? This look was pure, bone-chilling rage, and at the sight of it, Door cowered and swallowed the cold, hard lump in her throat. Luckily for her, the look only lasted a few seconds, and after those seconds, Geist exhaled and let his face ease back into a neutral look.

    “All right. I believe you,” he said. “Now, I’m not stopping you from battling, and I won’t force you to connect with Patrat if you’re that passionate about avoiding any sort of bond with faux pokémon. But if you want to battle right now, it has to be with the intent of getting stronger. Understand?”

    “Yeah,” Door said quietly. “I get it. Sorry.”

    Geist planted his hands on his hips and glanced out towards the field. “Quite all right. Now then. Where is that patrat Opal was talking about?”

    “Gone,” the Companion answered.

    Geist shifted his gaze towards Opal, who was standing a couple feet behind Door. Her hands were clasped behind her back, and as soon as Geist looked at her, she smiled and shrugged.

    “I’m sorry,” she said. “The patrat was defeated.”

    “Defeated?” Door asked, her head swiveling towards the Companion.

    “Oh yes,” Opal replied. She pointed to the fields again. “Just now, by that trainer over there.”

    Both Door and Geist followed Opal’s gesture to a patch of grass. For a few seconds, that’s all it was: a patch of field. But then, the grass rustled, and a head popped out. Shortly afterwards, the rest of the girl strode onto the road and grinned at the trio sheepishly.

    The girl wasn’t that much younger than Door; by Door’s estimation, she had to be about thirteen or fourteen. There was just a roundness to her tanned face, a softness in the cheeks that looked a little childlike to Door, but the rest of the newcomer’s body was gangly and awkward. It was the fashion too. Too many bright colors: red sleeveless top, faded blue jeans with rainbow patches all over them, a white jacket with a fringe—stuff that only kids really wore, in Door’s opinion. And the way she held her battered lillipup like a baby doll just reminded Door of a kid who had yet to grow out of childish hobbies. She was, in short, not the kind of person Door would have liked to hang out with.

    “Sorry!” the newcomer said. “I couldn’t help but overhear. You guys sure are loud.”

    Door reddened and turned away. “Y-yeah? Well, it’s rude to eavesdrop!”

    The girl huffed. “Wow. I said I was sorry. It’s not like I could help it anyway. You sorta announced your fight to half the route! It’s a wonder no one else came over to tell you that!”

    “Maybe no one else came over because it’s none of their stupid business, you nosy little brat!” Door growled.

    She felt Geist brush against her. When she looked back, she saw him extend an arm across her as he held up a hand to the newcomer.

    “You’ll have to forgive my friend. She’s a little … forward.” He swept his hand across his chest and bowed. “My name is Geist, this is Door and Opal, and we are all dreadfully sorry for our display, Miss…?”

    The girl smiled and snorted. “Hey, it’s all right. You guys were better than a soap opera.” Then, stiffening, she said, “Oh! I’m Blair. Blair Whitleigh. And this is Toto. Say hi, Toto!”

    In her arms, the lillipup yipped and wagged its tail. Door grumbled but said nothing, but beside her, Opal gasped dramatically. The Companion plopped Jack onto Door’s shoulder and trotted forward with a wide, excited smile. When she was close, Opal clasped her hands together in glee.

    “Blair Whitleigh?!” she said. “The Blair Whitleigh?!”

    “Ah,” Blair replied, drawing out the syllable. “I see my reputation precedes me, as they say in the movies.”

    Opal leaned forward, inching closer to the girl. “I can’t believe it! This is such a coincidence!”

    “How?” Door asked. “What’s so special about her?”

    Blair flashed a menacing glare at Door. “I’m awesome. That’s why.” Then, she shrugged. “Also, I’m the star pupil of Striaton City’s Trainers’ School. Top-marked battler, baby.”

    Door took a step forward and brandished a fist. “Who’re you calling baby?!”

    At that point, Geist grabbed her shoulder. “Actually, Door, I think I know why Opal’s ecstatic to see Blair.”

    Straightening, Door crossed her arms and huffed. “It’d better be because she’s got low standards.”

    Geist closed his eyes and sighed. “Please, Door. Not in front of Professor Ironwood’s niece.”

    Door froze, but as she did, a short, strangled noise escaped her throat. Slowly, her eyes shifted back to the girl, who had by then let her lillipup climb to her shoulder. She tossed her long, black hair behind it and planted her hands on her hips.

    “Not so cocky now, are you?” she said. “What’s the matter, Door? Am I too cool for you?”

    Door forced herself to laugh, but the laughter died into a low sigh as her shoulders and eyes dropped. As if to respond to her dying enthusiasm, Geist patted her shoulder gently.

    “As it so happens, Door is Professor Ironwood’s assistant,” Geist said.

    At that, Door shot up and leaned heavily against him. “Ix-nay! Ix-nay!

    “Really? Wow, what a small world!” Blair replied as she clapped her hands together. “I’ll have to tell Auntie Bianca that I met you … and that you called me a nosy little brat!”

    Door hid her face in her hands. “I am so dead,” she muttered.

    “Probably. But what should I care? It’s none of my business,” Blair responded. Then, she regarded Opal with a serious glance. “So what’s up? You said this was a coincidence. What can I do for you?”

    “Oh, it’s just the biggest coincidence!” Opal replied. “You see, your aunt knew you wanted a Companion and a starter and a trainer’s license, and, well, here I am!”

    “Whoa, really?” Blair said. “She’s giving me one of her research units?! That’s awesome! Tell me you’ve got a full pokédex.”

    Opal raised a finger. “Ha! Full pokédex with a built-in research-grade automatic updater. No matter where you go, I’ll arm you with the latest pokémon information before anyone else!”

    Blair took a step forward. “Oh man, and a healing unit?!”

    The Companion extended her hands and let the trainer see the white pads in her palms. “A built-in Joy Module, equipped with enough processing power to handle the Max Line, of course. And! I come with ten potion charges already in!”

    At once, Blair grabbed one of Opal’s wrists and held it tightly. As gravely as she could, Blair looked into Opal’s eyes and said, “And wifi?”

    “Free and supplied by Ninten-Comm for Unova’s fastest internet speeds.”

    “I love my aunt,” Blair whispered intensely. Then, taking a step back and resuming her normal voice, she added, “Wait, wait, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. What about the pokémon she wanted to give me?” Her eyes flicked to Jack. “Is that him?”

    Door glared at Blair and placed her hand protectively on the oshawott’s head. “He’s spoken for.”

    “There was actually a bit of a mishap, I’m afraid,” Geist said. He clapped his hands together and pointed his fingers to the ground. “You see, Blair, I was tasked to deliver a set of starters to Nuvema for your aunt’s review. Unfortunately, I was attacked along the way.”

    Blair raised her eyebrows. “Oh man. I’m so sorry to hear about that!”

    He waved her off. “Luckily, thanks to Door, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. But the truly unfortunate part is that the attackers took the snivy you could have chosen, and in the process of fighting them off, the oshawott bonded to Door.”

    In response, Blair’s expression changed from shocked to crestfallen. Door almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

    “So … what does that all mean for me?” Blair asked.

    “It means that the choice has already been made for you,” he said. “I’m so sorry, Blair.”

    She shook her head. “No! Don’t be! I don’t care so long as I get any starter!”

    “Why? You already have your lillipup,” Door muttered.

    “Who isn’t registered as my starter on my trainer’s ID,” Blair snapped. “Toto was a pet until this morning. She’s not used to being in battle like a starter usually is. I only took her out here because the patrat are weak and great practice, and between you and me, I was getting a little impatient. Truth be told, though, it’s a wonder she managed to defeat one weak patrat.” She rubbed her lillipup’s head affectionately. “No offense, Toto.” Then, shifting her eyes to Opal, she added, “Sorry about the whole impatient thing.”

    “It’s okay!” Opal said. “Here! Let’s introduce you to your very own starter!”

    She fanned out her hands, palms up. The pads on her hands lit up and hummed, and beams of light shot up from them, flaring just a foot above their sources. Opal tilted her wrists, allowing the beams to connect, and within them, a brighter, silver sphere of light appeared. The orb spun rapidly until it burst, revealing a poké ball hovering in its place. Eagerly, Blair reached in and plucked the ball from the light, and as she pulled it free, the beams dissipated, allowing Opal to drop her arms to her sides. Blair held the ball in her hand, testing the weight of it in her palm, and then, she cocked her head and smiled at her lillipup.

    “Well,” she said, “here we go!”

    Blair tossed the ball into the air and took a step back, and as it split open, she watched the flash it emitted with rapt attention.

    Door, meanwhile, only gave the show a glance of mild interest. She had already seen the tepig’s grand debut, so seeing it materialize on the road in front of its new master seemed almost anticlimactic—predictable, even. But soon, the piglet sat, blinking at Blair, and honestly, Door felt sorry for it. She felt sorry because she knew this kid wouldn’t know what to do with a real pokémon. After all, Blair’s training experience was less than ideal up to that point. Trainers’ School. Battling with a pet. Facing only baby pokémon. Door knew that Blair was anything but mature enough to be a trainer, and it wasn’t right to let her drag an innocent, flesh-and-blood pokémon into whatever she thought she was going to do on this trainer’s journey of hers. But what could Door do to stop her? This was Professor Ironwood’s niece, after all. She couldn’t just take the tepig and run.

    So she huffed, stared at the ground, and brooded until…

    “Door,” Geist said. He elbowed her in the ribs to punctuate his thought.

    She looked up at Geist. “Yeah? What’s up?”

    “Blair is challenging you to a battle,” he told her.

    “Wait, what?!”

    Door swept her gaze to the girl. Blair stood a little farther away with a wide grin on her face, her hands on her hips, and both Toto and the tepig on the road in front of her. Opal stood next to her with a decidedly friendlier grin directed at Door.

    “What’s the matter, Door?” Blair asked. “Going deaf in your old age?”

    “I’m only fifteen!” Door snapped as she brandished her fist at Blair for a badly-thought-out second time that day. “And anyway, go right on ahead and give me a good reason to call you a rude little brat, and I’ll go right ahead and tell your aunt what you just said to me, you rotten little trubbish spawn!”

    “First of all, trubbish spawn is another trubbish! Clearly, you need to be working for my aunt if you don’t even know that!” Blair shot back. “Second, you started it! And third, Toto, Leer!”

    The lillipup barked and leapt forward to glare at Door and Jack. Jack quivered on Door’s shoulder and chattered nervously. Door grit her teeth and placed a hand on Jack’s head while the rest of her body shifted backwards.

    “Hey! Don’t attack me when I’m not ready!” Door shouted as she drew out Patrat’s poké ball. “Just for that, let’s have my faux pokémon beat yours up! Patrat, let’s go!”

    Door released patrat’s poké ball, and it soon stood tall in front of her. The meerkat blinked, driving away the last remnants of the light that it had materialized from, as if it was struggling to make sense of what was in front of it. Door didn’t seem to notice its trouble as she launched into her orders.

    “Okay, Patrat,” she said. “Let’s wrap this up quickly! Attack with all you’ve got!”

    Snapping into reality with an actual, physical shake, Patrat chattered and dropped to all fours. It bolted forward, apparently faster than its opponent had expected, judging by the puppy’s startled yelp. Before Toto could dodge and before Blair could order her to counter, Patrat snapped its jaws around her shoulder. Toto howled and stumbled backwards, dragging Patrat with her. With each movement, sparks flew from her ripped flesh, yet Door’s patrat either didn’t notice or didn’t care. It simply held on with, as Door had instructed it, all it had.

    “Whoa,” Door breathed. “I didn’t teach it that.”

    Geist chuckled. “Of course you didn’t. Patrat learn that naturally after it gains battling experience. Presumably, the fight in Accumula City was enough to help it unlock that move.” He gave her a side glance. “Bite, in case you were wondering. It’s far stronger than Tackle.”

    “You’re giving me tips now?” she hissed.

    He nodded once. “Of course. You’re going to start needing tips, now that your pokémon are growing strong enough to give you options on what to do.”

    “If you two are done,” Blair said, “we’ve got a battle to conduct. But I think Toto has had it for the day. Come on, girl! Return!”

    She held up a poké ball, from which a beam of red light shot. The light engulfed Toto and drew her back, and in the next instant, Patrat snapped at thin air. Sighing, Blair pocketed the ball and looked down.

    “That girl might’ve gotten lucky once, but she’s not going to get lucky again. Isn’t that right, Wilbur?” she said.

    Her tepig responded at first with a grunt and a tilt of his head, but then, he snorted and stepped forward. His tiny front hoof pawed at the road, as if he was a bull preparing to charge.

    “I’m standing right here, you know,” Door growled. “And what kind of name is Wilbur anyway?”

    Blair huffed. “It’s a great name if you actually read once in awhile!”

    “Hey!” Door shouted. “What are you implying?!”

    “Nothing,” Blair responded with a smirk, “but if you thought I said you couldn’t read, then maybe it’s true. I mean, why else would you be so quick to defend your intelligence when all I said was I didn’t think you read that often?”

    “Just because I don’t read stupid, boring kid books like whatever you pulled Wilbur out of doesn’t mean I don’t read!” Door snapped back.

    “Oh, that’s it!” Blair pointed at Patrat. “Tackle, Wilbur!”

    The tepig immediately galloped forward and dove at Patrat. Patrat was unfortunately a second too slow to dodge, and because of this moment of hesitation on his part, he soon found himself rolling backwards, tumbling across the road with Wilbur until they came to a sudden stop. Wilbur stood proudly, snorting plumes of fire out of his nostrils as he glared down at his opponent.

    “Shouldn’t have done that!” Door exclaimed. “Patrat, fight back with Bite!”

    Before the tepig or his trainer could register what was about to happen, Patrat snapped its jaws shut around Wilbur’s leg. Just like Toto, Wilbur shrieked, but instead of staying still, he thrashed. Patrat’s teeth dug deeper into his flesh, and a spray of blood gushed around his jaws.

    Blood. Not sparks.

    A profound chill rushed through Door as the realization of what she had done hit her like a bolt of lightning. She jumped and swung her hands outward in a sweeping gesture.

    “Stop!” she shouted. “Patrat, let go!”

    Obediently, her pokémon released. She ran forward and separated the battlers by scooping one up in each arm.

    “What are you doing?!” Blair yelped.

    Door started forward and held the tepig out. His leg was still bleeding, but his shrieks had died down into soft whimpers.

    “Look,” she said. “Your tepig’s real. I don’t know if your aunt told you that, but I don’t feel right battling it. I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry it got that far, and if you want to tell your aunt the really stupid things I said, you can. But you’ve gotta put Wilbur back in his poké ball. We’ll take you to Striaton so you can get his leg looked at.” She looked down at Patrat. “Faux pokémon are a lot stronger than real ones. I should’ve eased up, but I just forgot.”

    Blair stared wide-eyed at Door. She didn’t move for the first few seconds, except to shift her eyes to her tepig’s bleeding leg.

    “Come on, Blair!” Door snapped. “Wilbur’s leg’s going to get worse if you don’t move!”

    With a quick nod, Blair fumbled for Wilbur’s poké ball, and shortly afterwards, the tepig was drawn back into the safety of its suspension grid. As soon as he was safe, Door brushed past Blair.

    “All right,” she said. “Let’s go.”

    Blair stiffened. “Let’s?”

    “Yeah,” Door replied. “Look, don’t even fight me on this, okay? I know this is weird, but you’ve got one injured and one beat-up pokémon. It’ll be faster if you come with us to Striaton City. Patrat and Jack are still in a good enough condition to fight off whatever’s in our way, got it?”

    Blair didn’t reply, and Door didn’t look back to check on her. Door only had to hear Blair’s quick footsteps to know she was following, but the fact that Geist soon appeared by her side, calm and collected, certainly helped.

    “That was responsible of you,” he said.

    “It was just the right thing to do, okay?” Door replied. “You can fix a faux pokémon, but if you injure a real one, you can’t just hammer the dents out or replace a part and make it be as good as new.”

    On her shoulder, Jack squirmed. Door half-closed her eyes, then picked up the pace to draw herself away from the rest of her group. When she was a few more steps ahead, she adjusted her hold on her other pokémon until she cradled Patrat in her arms like a baby. Glancing down at it, she caught sight of its face—at its blank expression and its blood-stained teeth—and with that, she took a deep breath and looked towards the road ahead. Striaton’s lights were already looming on the horizon, but she couldn’t think about that. All she could think about was the blood. About Wilbur’s blood gushing around her patrat’s mouth.

    And she couldn’t help but remember who told her that Bite was a stronger move than Tackle.

    “Scout,” she said.

    “Sorry?” Geist replied.

    “The patrat,” Door told him. “Its name is Scout.”

    His name is Scout.”

    She looked at Geist. He was giving her a quizzical glance, as if questioning her on her word choice. Yet what he said seemed odd and out-of-place. Faux pokémon were just things, weren’t they? Sure, she acknowledged that what she nearly did with her patrat was stupid, but that didn’t mean she had forgotten they weren’t real. But Geist felt for them as if they were; that much was obvious, from both the conversation they had had earlier and his comment now. He felt sympathy for them. He cared about them. He saw them as living, breathing things worthy of his respect.

    But when Door looked down at Scout, all she could see was a toy with bloody teeth, and she couldn’t shake the thought of Geist telling her about Bite. How much stronger would that toy in her hands grow? Would she use it to hurt anyone else?

    She had a lot to think about, and she knew this. She had a lot to think about when it came to that patrat, Jack, the man she was traveling with, training, and everything in between. But until she thought about them, she was going to play along with Geist. Give that toy a name. Make it be important enough for her to remember. Convince herself it was real so she wouldn’t use it against another real pokémon.

    His name is Scout,” she repeated.

    Scout blinked at her. And then she felt Geist’s hand pat her shoulder.

    “That’s a great name,” he said.

    “Yeah,” Door said. “I know.”

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