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Fanfiction Electric Sheep

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

  1. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    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: Sep 13, 2019
    Laserdragon14 likes this.
  2. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    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.
    #2 Jun 2, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2019
    Laserdragon14 likes this.
  3. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    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.
    #3 Jun 10, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2019
    Laserdragon14 likes this.
  4. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    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.
    #4 Jun 19, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2019
    Laserdragon14 likes this.
  5. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    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.”
    #5 Jun 24, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2019
    Laserdragon14 likes this.
  6. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    Besides the common, Accumula City didn’t have much in the way of parks. It was like most of Unova in that regard. While, certainly, the region was trending towards giving more and more of its concrete jungle back to nature, that was only a recent development, and thus, it was far more normal to live one’s whole life within the confines of a Unovan city without even conceptualizing the idea that there could be more than one park.

    N thought that was unfortunate. After all, he remembered the way things had been fifty years ago. The region hadn’t been young then, but it was greener. There were forests and fields and real pokémon in the vast spaces from one city to the next, but now there were gardens at most. Emptiness at least.

    Yet … it wasn’t nearly as bad as he thought it would be. He had heard the rumors of the life that was trickling back into this region—of the hopes that the Unovan people had that their efforts would bring pokémon back. And sure enough, although the Unovans themselves didn’t seem to realize that their efforts were already bearing fruits, N could hear the truth. The voices were whispers now, but they were there, just barely audible on the wind. They were there, too, in the tenacious, green scrub that lined the edges of the safe zones, and they were there in the meow and warmth of the pokémon he had found there, at the edge of Route 2 a week prior to his arrival in Accumula.

    And now? Now he was waiting, seated on a bench just outside of a playground. His fingers trailed along Purrloin’s back as the cat slept in his lap, and his eyes remained fixed on the children just beyond the wrought-iron fence. He wondered how many of them would live and die in that sprawling desert of concrete and steel or how many of them would never meet a real pokémon. He wondered if any of them knew how significant that was.

    “You know, people in this region tend to be leery of old guys hanging out at playgrounds.”

    N shifted his head to see a woman sit down beside him. She tossed her wavy, gray hair over a shoulder and gave him a dazzling smile.

    “Do they?” he asked.

    “It was a joke,” she replied. Then, she hesitated. “But … actually, yeah, probably. Anyway.” She nodded to the napping cat. “Is that one of them?”

    N trailed his fingers down Purrloin’s back again in thought. “Yes. His voice was so clear to me. I was drawn right to him.”

    The woman leaned forward, a frown stretching across her weathered face. “Yeah, but … is he the only one?”

    “Here? Yes. At all?” N closed his eyes and leaned his head back, as if to take in the whispers on the wind again. “No. There are others, and there will be others. I can feel it. This region is stirring, like it’s been asleep for many years.”

    “It practically has,” the woman sighed. “By the way, I asked around. That tip you heard from our Kalosean friend? Well. Given that Rosa saw you at the rally today, I guess I don’t need to tell you that Mr. Delacroix’s tip checked out. The splinter group migrated here after all.”

    N opened his eyes and scowled. “What could they want?”

    “Who knows? Team Plasma said they wanted something similar, but they—oh. Crap.” The woman slapped a hand over her mouth. “This is coming out wrong. N, I’m—”

    At that, N cut her off. “No. I agree. This is … odd.” He lowered his chin, bringing his gaze back onto the cat in his lap. “What do we do?”

    She shook her head. “I don’t know. Sure, it was eerily similar, but … that had to be a coincidence, right?”


    N scratched the pokémon behind a pointed ear. Its eyes slid open, and it picked its head up to gaze at its partner. Then, with a stretch and a yawn, it leapt up, mounting N’s shoulder and winding its way beneath his ponytail, around the back of his neck, and to his other side. It purred as it draped itself dramatically over its partner and gazed at his human friend with wide, green eyes. The woman smirked and scratched it beneath its chin.

    Eying her, N took a breath. “We’ll know for certain if it wasn’t a coincidence once we get to Striaton City.”

    The woman stopped. “Striaton City?”

    “Of course,” he said. “You remember what happened back then, don’t you?”

    Slowly, the woman pulled her hand away and leaned back. “So that’s what you were doing at the rally.”

    N remained silent. He gave his friend another pointed stare as he stood and shoved his hands into his pockets. Following with her eyes, the woman leaned back against the bench.

    “So who’s the lucky trainer?” she asked.

    “I don’t know what her name is yet,” N replied. “You didn’t tell me at first either.”

    The woman smiled. “And look at how far we’ve come. Still, I can’t help but feel sorry for the girl. Saving the world’s a tough job. Not that I regret doing it myself, of course.”

    “So let’s do it for her,” N said.

    “Good to see we’ve been around each other for far too long,” she said. “You’re starting to sound just like me.”

    “But you’ll do it?”

    His friend chuckled and rose to her feet. The chuckle turned into a slight groan as she went, and her movements were far slower than N’s. At the end of it, she dusted herself off and stretched her legs.

    “Well, the old bones aren’t what they used to be, but what the heck?” She gave him another broad grin. “Come on, then! To Striaton!”
  7. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    Sometimes, things change slowly. Although it had been fifty years since Hilda King had traveled through that very same city, Striaton was still by and large untouched by time. Squat brick buildings lined pin-straight streets with the same dingy window displays for the old, dust-filled delis and bodegas that had been in place for the past half a century. Parks occasionally interrupted the long avenues, and these still had the same rusted equipment and overgrown trees and shrubs that had always been there. Striaton was not a place of change, and for that, Door almost felt comfortable. This was the perfect place to begin one’s trainer’s journey. This, she thought, was what Hilda must have seen all those decades ago.

    Or she would have thought that if, for the first part of her journey through Striaton, she wasn’t in a rush. As such, she, Geist, Opal, and Blair breezed right past the delis, past the bodegas, past every half-rotten mural or remotely interesting sight the neighborhood had to offer. The four of them were quiet, save for Opal’s intermittent, cheerful directions. But they were focused, and within the half-hour, they found the brightly lit facade of the nearest pokémon center. Blair went in first, rushing to the desk without a second thought or a thank you. Opal followed suit, chattering about trainer’s licenses and procedures for interacting with a Nurse Joy. That left Geist and Door to wander in awkward silence towards the waiting areas, where they claimed a table for themselves.

    Door sat down and let Scout drop to the floor, and it—he—stood, staring up at her with wide red-and-yellow eyes. She shifted uncomfortably on her feet as she stared back at him. It was odd to think of the thing standing in front of her as a pokémon—or as anything other than a toy, really—but now he had a name and a gender. Jack jumped down to stand next to the patrat and sniff at him cautiously. Other than the obvious differences of species and personality, Door realized she couldn’t tell which was real and which was fake. They both looked perfectly, completely, 100% living and breathing.

    And that unsettled her, even if she had named the patrat.

    She slid out of her chair and squatted down, struggling to make herself as small as possible to avoid startling her pokémon. Jack, who was locked in a one-sided conversation with Scout, stopped chattering to swivel his head towards his trainer.

    “Uh. Hey, guys,” Door said with an awkward wave. “What’s up?”

    Jack reeled back with a smile, his arms opening wide as he barked at Door. Scout, meanwhile, blinked at her lazily.

    Rubbing the back of her neck, Door said, “Wow, okay. So … great battle, I guess. Jack … we’ll get you trained up, but that was a great Tackle you did there.”

    The oshawott, apparently unaware that this was a backhanded compliment from his trainer, whined and leaned forward. Door reached down and stroked his head, feeling the warmth and roughness of his fur, but as she did so, her eyes fell on Scout, who made no effort to move closer. Rather than approach his trainer, he yawned and curled up right on the floor where he had stood.

    “Nice effort too, Scout,” Door muttered. “But maybe we should work on teaching you how to know your own strength.”

    Scout growled and half-closed his eyes, and Door squinted, as if trying to determine whether or not that was a good thing by studying the patrat. She slowly reached out with her other hand, inch by inch, until her fingertips grazed his pelt. It felt real—coarse and warm and slick—and Scout reacted to it by lifting his head and blinking again at his trainer. His movements were fluid and almost real, but it was the glint of his gaze, the glassiness of his eyes, that reminded her she wasn’t looking at a flesh-and-blood pokémon.

    Yet that was the thing about the fake ones: they weren’t supposed to be distinguishable from real pokémon until one got up close, whereas Companions, as far as she knew, were always something else. An other. And that was the thing, really. Maybe it was because of the Uncanny Valley—that weird notion that the more human a non-human thing was, the more obvious and thus unsettling it became to an actual human being—or maybe it was just something that was only obvious to Door, who knew exactly what to look for, but in her opinion, there was always something off about them. Something in their movements and in their glassy-eyed expressions that would always separate them from real, live humans.

    Fauxkémon, meanwhile, were different. They were designed to be as close to the real deal as possible, to fill that void real pokémon created when they vanished from Unova. And so, everything about them, from the way they looked to their mannerisms, were meant to be identical to their real counterparts. At first glance, anyway. Get closer—get on one’s hands and knees and study the fauxkémon—and one would see their glass eyes and the mechanical smoothness of their every movement.

    With that thought in mind, Door looked up, towards Blair. The girl stood at the front desk, keeping her back to Door and Geist. Nurse Joy had disappeared into the clinic by that point, so Blair had no one to talk to about Wilbur or the battle or anything. No one but Opal. The Companion smiled at Blair and kept her hands on the trainer’s shoulders with what might have been a reassuring grasp—Door couldn’t know for certain—but Blair wasn’t responding to her. Opal needed empathy, not just the ability to give someone sympathy, but how could a machine understand what went on in a human’s head? Door didn’t know, but she did know that if there was a Companion out there who could understand what it was like to be human, Opal was most certainly not it, even if her father had given her a personality.

    Something pressed against her, and she looked down in time to see Jack nuzzle her side with big, begging eyes. With a snort, she scratched him behind the ears, and in response, the oshawott trilled and pressed himself into her touch. Real. Not real. No matter how close people got to designing pokémon and androids that blurred the line, that line would always be there. This Door was certain of. And now, looking down at an affectionate oshawott and an indifferent patrat, she never felt more certain of that fact.

    “It’d be a good idea to talk to her, you know.”

    Door jumped and twisted on her knees until she looked up at Geist. He sat with his chin propped up on a hand, his eyebrows raised, and his eyes trained on Door in acute interest. Empathy. No glint. No light behind the eyes. Real. Geist was a far fling from Opal, and for that, Door was relieved.

    Yet she also remembered how he reacted when she tried to get Scout hurt to prove a point.

    Empathy. Real.

    Door looked away, back to her pokémon. When she spoke, her voice was quiet. “Sorry.”

    “Hmm? For what?”

    She stopped petting Jack, and with a whine, the oshawott pushed against her hand with his head.

    “For being stupid,” she said. “I … I got carried away. When I was about to have Scout battle that wild patrat, I mean. You were right, and I’m sorry for making you angry. And … I’m sorry for arguing with Blair, and I’m sorry about hurting Wilbur in the first place. I was just…” She stood and laced her hands through her orange bangs. “God, you must think I’m a jerk.”

    Geist knitted his eyebrows. “Not really. I think you’re a teenager.”

    She moved her arm to glare at him. That prompted him to hold up his hands.

    “Sorry. That came out wrong,” he said. “What I mean is you’re passionate. You might not always be … well, you might make mistakes. And that’s okay because you’re still learning.”

    “You make it sound like you never make mistakes,” she replied. Then, she stopped. “Sorry. I’m not trying to start an argument.”

    “No, it’s okay,” Geist said. “I understand what you’re saying. And … that’s not it, really. I can make mistakes too, just like anyone else. But I admire your passion.”

    She smirked. “Now you’re making it sound like you’re not passionate.”

    “Well! Sometimes.” He tilted his head as a grin broke across his own face. “I’m passionate about my work.”

    “Ha! Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more straight-edge.”

    Geist chuckled but then looked away. Another awkward silence lapsed in their conversation until he frowned and moved his gaze to the table in front of him.

    “Door,” he said. “May I ask you a question?”

    “Sure. Why not?”

    He studied her with a quizzical look. “Are you actually that concerned about what I think of you?”


    “Well.” He lifted a hand and motioned to her. “You apologized to me. Profusely. But many of the things you’re apologizing for would be better said to Blair, wouldn’t they?”

    “Oh.” Door edged back into her seat, much to Jack’s protests. She didn’t say anything more.

    Geist crossed his arms on the table and looked at Blair’s back. “Seeing as you’re not going to apologize to her—”

    “It’s just not the right time for it,” she said quickly. Then, a little softer, she added, “I mean, I’m the reason why she’s here. It … it doesn’t seem right to start a conversation. She’s probably pissed at me, especially since she’s waited so long for that tepig that she started training with her pet instead.”

    “I doubt it,” Geist replied. “You’d be surprised how someone would feel in situations like these.”

    “No. Believe me, this would be the exact wrong time for me to go over there.”

    Geist looked back at her. Gave her a careful, sympathetic look. And then, he shrugged.

    “Suit yourself,” he said. “Just promise me you’ll do it eventually, okay?”

    “Of course I will.” Door pressed a hand to her head, worming her fingers between locks of her hair again. “Just … not now.”

    “All right.”

    Geist pushed his hands into the table and stood. Arching his back to stretch, he yawned and began walking away. Startled by this abrupt shift in their conversation, Door jumped to her feet and strode quickly to catch up with him. She could hear Jack chatter, and as soon as she felt him jump onto her pant leg and climb up to her shoulder, she used a hand to steady him. Scout, meanwhile, remained at her heels, his tiny feet slapping against the polished floor.

    “Hey!” Door called to Geist. “Where’re you going?”

    Geist cast a nonchalant glance over his shoulder. “Back to Dr. Fennel’s laboratory, of course.”

    Door slowed her pace a little, but Geist didn’t. He strode with confidence to the center’s automatic doors, pausing only to let them whir open before him.

    “W-wait!” Door said. “Hold up! I’m supposed to escort you, remember?!” She pressed her cheek into her oshawott. “I’ve got the pokémon you need for protection, remember?”

    Geist led her outside and onto the street. There were crowds there, clumps of people intermingled with glow-eyed Companions meandering both ways down the sidewalk, but none of them meant anything to Door. All that mattered was that Geist was trying to walk away.

    Truth be told, Door couldn’t even figure out why this was so important. Just a day ago, she was looking forward to getting rid of Geist and going back to Nuvema. After all, he was just someone who, through a series of unfortunate events, became the reason why Door was stuck traveling with a fake pokémon and a Companion. But ever since that morning—ever since he snapped at her—she felt as if she had to make it up somehow, as if she had to prove that she wasn’t as bad as he must have thought she was. Perhaps it was just pride; Door did feel she had a reputation to maintain. Or maybe it was a curiosity born from this stranger—this level-headed, posh, clearly-a-respectable-aide stranger—that made her want to follow him. Or maybe it was just his own charisma. Whatever it was, Door needed to keep him in sight. She needed to finish this mission.

    “Hey!” she shouted.

    He finally stopped. Turning halfway towards her, he raised his eyebrows at her once more. “You know … Dr. Fennel’s laboratory is just a few blocks from here.”

    Trotting up to him, Door gasped a few times to catch her breath. “O-oh?”

    Geist nodded. “That’s right. Just down this street. I highly doubt that I’ll run into any interference. You don’t have to accompany me.”

    She shook her head. “Nope. Gotta.”

    “Very well, then.”

    Geist continued down the road, but this time, it was at a slower pace, as if he was deliberately lingering to let Door keep up. Shaking her head for a second time, Door fell into step beside him. It was another block before either of them spoke.

    “Are you still pissed at me?” Door asked.

    “Why would I be … ah, ‘pissed’?”

    With one hand glued to her oshawott, Door lowered herself to pick up Scout. The patrat didn’t resist; in fact, he didn’t seem to notice at all. With a few quick steps, Door caught up with Geist and held up her pokémon.

    “Y’know. About the whole ‘tried to make my patrat fight so it can be injured’ thing,” she said.

    “Did you learn from that experience?”

    “Well, yeah.”

    “I hope you did. That’s all,” Geist said.

    A flicker of anger rushed through Door, but she bit her tongue—physically bit it to avoid speaking thoughtlessly. As she took a deep breath through her nose, Door did her best to suppress how insulted she felt, and by some miracle, she managed to find her words once more.

    “Y-yeah. I did. Don’t worry,” she said.

    “In that case,” Geist continued, “I’m curious.”

    Door looked up to find Geist staring at her again. This time, his eyes were narrow, and his head was angled slightly. It was an expression of both curiosity and condescension, and for that, Door bit her tongue again.

    “W-what?” she asked after a moment of silence.

    “You never answered my question,” Geist said. “You seem very keen on making sure I don’t think badly of you. Why? A few minutes from now, we’ll be parting ways.”

    Door frowned and looked away, at the ground. “It’s … it’s nothing.”

    “Please. I’d like to know.”

    Door shifted Scout from one arm to another, just enough to free one of her hands. With this hand, she played with her bangs. “No, I mean it. I don’t know why. I guess I just think you’re cool. I mean, you’re an aide—”

    “And you’re not?”

    She snorted. “I’m the aide’s aide. I just do the mindless tasks Professor Ironwood or her assistant don’t have time for, like running errands and stuff like that.”

    Geist grinned. “That’s pretty important work.”

    At that, Door sighed. “If you’re trying to make fun of me, I’d hate to tell you this, but it’s not going to work on someone who agrees that her job sucks.”

    Without a word at first, Geist reached for Scout. Door let Geist scoop the patrat out of her grasp, and she watched him nestle Scout in the crook of his arm and pet the meerkat with his other hand. It was odd to see Geist treat the creature like a real pokémon, and much to Door’s surprise, Scout responded like one, with his eyes closing slightly as his paws stretched and batted at the air above Geist’s hand.

    Then Geist turned away from her, blocking the patrat from view.

    “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to make fun of you,” he said. “I’m saying, quite simply, that your job is just as important as any other in the laboratory. Even doing the most menial of tasks allows the rest of the team to function. For example, how well do you think Professor Ironwood would work if she didn’t have her morning coffee?”

    Door guffawed in response, but Geist raised his eyebrows at her.

    “I’m serious,” he said lightly. “I don’t know about Professor Ironwood, but Dr. Fennel is positively scatterbrained in the morning without at least one cup in her.”

    “Really?” Door asked with a snort.

    “Oh yes.” He grinned knowingly at her. “Don’t tell her I said that, of course, but you should see her after she stays up all night.”

    “Wow. Okay, I’m going to take your word for it.” Then, letting her smirk fade, she said, “But you get why I’m a little envious, right?”

    Geist pursed his lips and continued down the street. “Not really, no.”

    Wrapping her hand back around Jack’s middle, Door jogged forward to catch up with him. Once she did, she sighed heavily and replied, “I want to be a researcher someday. A real one. Someone who goes to different regions and studies real pokémon.”

    “The process to become a researcher like that tends to take years.”

    “I know. But I just don’t feel like I’ll get anywhere if all I’m doing is making coffee and doing little things.”

    Geist smirked. “You underestimate the value of the little things.”

    Door tipped her cheek against Jack to hold him steady as she threw her free hand in the air. Her otter squeaked in protest, seemingly indifferent to his owner’s exasperation.

    “C’mon, Geist,” Door said. “Don’t drag me into some kind of circular argument. All I’m saying is I want some time with pokémon, you know? Real ones, not fake ones. I want to see what they’re like.”

    “Good thing you’re keeping Jack, then,” he said.

    At once, Door paused. After a moment, she twisted her head awkwardly to look at the oshawott, to which he responded by butting his nose against the bridge of hers. Wincing, she frowned at Geist.

    “Whoa. Wait,” she said. “You were serious about that?”

    “Of course. As Professor Ironwood said, Jack is attached to you. It wouldn’t be good to separate a young pokémon from a trainer he’s already bonded with.”

    As if to punctuate this, Jack barked and nuzzled his trainer’s cheek. Door petted him carefully, still keeping her eyes on his tiny frame as best as she could. This was her pokémon. Hers. And it was real. The weight of that information had not fully sunken in by that time, but it was starting to. Hers. Her pokémon. Her real pokémon. She turned those words over and over again in her head as she walked forward again.

    “Hey,” she said. “Thanks.”

    “Don’t mention it,” he replied. “You’ll be spending a lot of time with Jack and Scout. I hope you’ll get to know them both very well.”

    Carefully, he set Scout on Door’s other shoulder, then gently took her hand and rested it on the back of the patrat. Scout seemed to mimic Jack, rubbing against Door’s other cheek. She shuddered and swallowed but said nothing as she stared into Geist’s grin. Yet no matter how much she resisted feeling any level of horror, the thought crept back into her head. This wasn’t a real pokémon, yet it felt so much like one.

    Geist did not stride forward, as Door had expected, but instead stepped to the side. Looking up, Door realized why. They had stopped in front of a set of wrought-iron gates, behind which sat a four-story, red-brick building looming over a small garden. The building looked nearly unremarkable to Door, had it not been for the courtyard. She had even mistaken it for an ordinary apartment high-rise until that moment, but now, as Geist approached the call box set in the iron fence, Door could see a host of tiny, green heads poking out of the flowers in the garden beyond the gates. Pokémon. Lots of them. Mostly grass-types like petilil and sewaddle, but there were others too, such as venipede and purrloin. Door stared through the bars at the plethora of pokémon, watching them run through the flowers or splash in the concrete pool that took up the center of the courtyard. At first, she thought these might be real, but with a shake of her head, she reminded herself that none of these pokémon existed anymore in Unova. They were fake. They had to be.

    “Dr. Fennel?” Geist said. Door looked back to see him stooping down, placing his face as close to the intercom as possible. “Sorry it took me so long. I’m here with the escort from Professor Ironwood.”

    The speaker crackled, and an older, female voice floated from it. “Ah! Geist! I was beginning to worry you were attacked again! Please, come in!”

    As soon as the intercom fell silent, the gates whirred and creaked open slowly, and Geist motioned for Door to follow him, which she did without question. Her eyes remained on the pokémon, even as the gates closed shut with a loud clang behind her. She squinted, staring first at the petilil darting around the flower beds and then at the pidove flitting into the fountain.

    Eventually, she shifted her attention back to Geist. Something wasn’t right about this place or those pokémon, but she just couldn’t put her finger on what.

    “Geist?” she said.

    “Yes, Door?”

    “You never told me what Dr. Fennel studied.”


    Geist stopped at the door, whirling around as he placed one hand on it. The other gestured dramatically in the air. All of this was in preparation for a perfect recitation, as if he had been waiting for Door to ask for quite some time.

    “Dr. Amanita Fennel, younger sister of retired poké-oneirologist Dr. Plutea Fennel,” he said. “The current Dr. Fennel is best known as both the regional administrator for the pokémon storage system and one of the most talented minds in the field of pokémon-related technology, but she has also made a name for herself in select circles for continuing her sister’s work. In short, among other things, my employer is engaged in the scientific study of pokémon dreams.”

    Door put her hands on her hips. “Must be a tough field. Robots don’t dream.”

    “I was told they dream of electric sheep.”


    Geist snickered and winked. “A joke. In all seriousness, the Doctors Fennel have always had plenty of subjects.”

    Door raised her eyebrows, her eyes widening slowly. “Really? She’s got real pokémon?”

    “Of course.”

    Geist opened his eyes fully and flicked them to the garden. With only a nod, he said everything he needed to say, but it took a second for his message to sink into Door’s mind. When it did, she gradually looked over her shoulder.

    Right at the frolicking pokémon.

    “No way,” she breathed.

    Geist opened the door and replied, “Way. Why do you think we had a spare set of starters to give to Professor Ironwood?”

    Door’s heart leapt. Spare set of starters. She could feel her heart pounding, her blood rushing to her head and fingers as she turned towards the open lab. There had to be more inside. There had to be a plethora of pokémon she had never seen in the flesh, right beyond that door. So with an excited smile, she looked up at Geist.

    “Are there…?” Her voice trailed off. Suddenly, she couldn’t find the words to form her question.

    But somehow, Geist knew. He stood aside and swept his arm towards the doorway. “See for yourself.”

    Door didn’t need to be told twice. Without a second thought, without another word to Geist, she rushed past him, to the inside of the laboratory.

    She took only two steps into the brightly lit interior before a purple blur shot at her. Instinctively, she yelped and stumbled backwards, flinging her arm out.

    “Scout!” she shouted.

    The patrat leapt off her shoulder and rammed into the purple blur, and as they tumbled to the ground, Door realized the blur was another purrloin. She could see it—hissing and digging its claws into the floor as Scout lifted himself off its back. Door swallowed hard and stared at it, watching it bare its teeth at her patrat, and the sight of its expression made Door freeze. If the pokémon outside of the laboratory were real, then this one had to be too. And as Door’s mind flitted back to Blair’s tepig, she realized one important thing: she had to be careful this time around. Hold back. Avoid hurting her target.

    “Okay, Scout,” she said. “Tackle!”

    Scout leapt the moment Door said that word. He threw his body at the cat, rushing it just as it lashed out with its front paws. Although the purrloin’s claws raked Scout’s shoulder, the purrloin’s Scratch didn’t stop the patrat from slamming into the cat’s stomach, and with that, it tumbled head-over-tail into a metal cabinet nearby. Scout shuffled to a stop and snorted with triumph until a green blur smashed into him and pinned him to the ground.

    Suddenly, Door’s breath caught in her throat, and she could feel her heart thunder against her ribs. There, standing on top of her patrat, just a few feet away from her, was a snivy. A snivy that glared down at its prey, twitching every so often to counter Scout’s struggling. A snivy whose eyes were wet and glistened in a way that seemed too lifelike to be glass. A snivy that Door knew had to be real.

    “H-ho man.” She breathed in. “Okay. You can do this. Scout! Break out and tackle!”

    The patrat rolled, pushing the snivy off of him, but the reptile mimicked his movements and shoved back. For a few seconds, the two tumbled in opposite directions until they stood, claws out and low growls rumbling from their throats. Then, the snivy launched itself at Scout, and before Scout could react, the patrat was ripped off his feet and sent flying backwards into a desk on the opposite side of the room. The desk shook the moment he struck its edge, and as he fell to the tiled floor, tools and a handful of screws rolled off its surface and rained down on him. He chattered as his paws grabbed at his tiny head, his orders completely forgotten.

    “Don’t let it out-muscle you!” she shouted. “Try again! Tackle!”

    Grinding his back paws into the floor, Scout shot at the snivy in a mirror of its last assault. In response, the lizard hissed and dodged, sidestepping the patrat just seconds before impact. Scout slammed into the floor before rising again and dashing after its target, but the snivy leapt out of the way and landed a foot from where it started, forcing its opponent to tumble into the legs of a table instead.

    Door’s hands tightened into fists at the sight of her pokémon’s second failed attempt. She knew the snivy was too quick for Scout, and because of that, she realized she had to slow it down. But how? As she watched her pokémon dash after the snivy again and again, she saw no option, no opening that the snivy left behind, and once she realized this, Door gritted her teeth and struggled to come up with a solution.

    That was when a pair of hands rested on her shoulders. She jumped and half-turned away from the battle just as Geist leaned over her.

    “Relax,” he said. “A pokémon is only as good as its trainer—a faux one especially. Watch the battle. Take note of your opponent’s every move.”

    Door looked back. Without further orders, Scout continued to execute Tackle after Tackle, only to strike the floor as the snivy danced out of his reach. But then, Door transferred her focus to the snivy, watching it land, shift its feet, and turn to observe Scout. The moment she was looking for was quick, but pause was there. All she needed to figure out now was how to take advantage of this. Door frowned, letting that thought sink in.

    “You saw it, right?” Geist asked. “Snivy is keeping its distance. It knows Scout is fake. It can’t wear him down or put itself in range of its attacks, so it’s waiting for Scout to damage himself.”

    “So what do I do?” Door asked.

    “You remember that clever trainers use what they have. Including what’s on the battlefield.”

    Geist nodded to the desk. Door followed his gaze to see the scattered tools and parts on the floor, then the ones still on the top of the desk, then the toolbox sitting in the exact center of the mess.


    “Scout!” she called. “Rush Snivy from the side!”

    The patrat’s ears perked, and his eyes flashed once. Door looked back to the pokémon in time to see Scout dash in an arc towards the snivy. As it watched him, the grass-type hissed again and leapt back to dodge yet another Tackle. It came close to where Door needed it, but it wasn’t close enough.

    “Again! But come at its front!” Door ordered.

    Scout drove itself towards the snivy, forcing it to dodge backwards one more time. Its back struck the desk, and the toolbox lurched closer to the edge.

    “Again!” Door shouted. “From the front!”

    Without a second thought, Scout dove at the snivy, and the lizard dove out of the way.

    Door wondered if the snivy underwent an epiphany right then and there. She had never handled real pokémon, and as such, she didn’t know how advanced their intellects actually were. Maybe they did comprehend tactics or danger the way humans did. Maybe they didn’t.

    Either way, she knew the snivy understood something, as the second Scout plowed into the desk and sent the toolbox crashing onto the floor between him, the lizard’s eyes widened, and it froze with an expression Door was almost certain wasn’t just shock from the loud noise and sudden movement.

    “Now!” Door cried.

    Bursting from the wreckage of the toolbox, Scout rushed at the snivy. Its eyes snapped to him, but the distraction shook it just enough to keep it rooted to the spot for a second too long. Scout threw all his body weight right into the snivy before it could even flinch.

    And then, it exploded in a puff of pink smoke.

    For a long while, no one said anything. Door simply stood, stunned, as she locked her eyes on her patrat. The patrat looked back at her and blinked lazily, both eyelids lowering and rising again in a slow glide. And then, Geist finally broke the silence with a heavy sigh and a light pat on Door’s shoulders.

    “Almost but not quite, Dr. Fennel,” he said.

    With that, he strolled forward, hands folding behind his back and eyes on the open staircase on the other side of the room, and at long last, Door realized they weren’t alone. A short, stocky woman idled halfway up the stairs with one hand on the banister and the other in the pocket of her lab coat. Her blue eyes sparkled behind a pair of oval glasses in a way that reminded Door of Professor Ironwood’s smile, and in response to Geist’s comment, she tipped her head towards the pink, blob-like creature floating beside her. This gave the purrloin—the same battered one that Scout had knocked down a moment ago—enough room to leap onto the woman’s shoulder and nestle itself under the graying, chestnut bob of her hair.

    “It was a good try anyway,” she said. She pulled her hand out of her coat pocket and placed it on the purrloin’s back. “One of them seems stable, at least. You’ll be pleased to know your hypothesis about using a psychic gem to boost the tangibility was correct, but I’d like to do an experiment involving a fragment of a mind plate eventually. No doubt the pokémon that come out of that will be even better!”

    “I can put out a call to Bebe Larson if you’d like,” Geist replied. “The plates manifest most frequently in the Sinnoh Underground. She would know if anyone had unearthed a mind plate recently.”

    The woman smiled. “Armed with good ideas as usual. That’s my assistant.” She beckoned Door forward with her free hand. “But it’ll have to wait. We have guests, Geist! You must be Doreen, Professor Ironwood’s assistant.”

    “It’s … it’s Door,” Door stammered with a blink.

    “Door it is, assuming you’ll call me Amanita,” she replied. “I’d imagine that Geist has been referring to me as ‘Dr. Fennel’ this and ‘my employer’ that. He has an unfortunate habit of being too formal around company he’s not used to, I’m afraid.”

    At that, Geist turned his head and coughed into one of his fists, keeping the other hand behind his back. Door ignored him, stepped forward, and gestured towards the empty space where the snivy had been.

    “Um,” she said.

    “Don’t worry about the mess,” Amanita responded. “I’ll clean it up later. That was a great battle, by the way! A bit basic, but for a new trainer, it’s clear you have a lot of potential.”

    Door swallowed. “Um.

    “Dr. Fennel, I believe Door is trying to ask for an explanation,” Geist said lightly.

    Amanita raised her eyebrows. “Oh! Of course!” She motioned towards the blob, which eased its red eyes open and stared directly at Door. “Door, this pokémon is called a munna. You do know about munna, don’t you?”

    Door furrowed her eyebrows. “Sure. Psychic-types. Distant cousins of the drowzee line. They eat dreams.”

    “Right,” Amanita replied. “But they also expel—”

    “Dream mist. I know.”

    Amanita lowered her hand as a surprised smile played across her face. “Do you?”

    “Yeah,” Door said with an uncomfortable shrug. “Professor Ironwood told me all about munna.”

    “Good old Bianca,” Amanita said. “But yes. Dream mist. You do know, then, what dream mist can do, right?”

    “It can—” Door stopped, then threw a glance to the space where the snivy had been. “Oh. You’re not telling me that…”

    Amanita’s smile grew broader. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you.”

    At that, Door couldn’t help but relax. Her shoulders fell, and her posture slouched as she exhaled. “Oh. So it wasn’t real.”

    “Oh, it was real.”

    Door shot Amanita a look. Her eyebrows furrowed, her mouth scrunched up, and her every muscle dedicated themselves to conveying how deep her confusion was.

    “What?” she asked.

    Amanita chuckled and reached out to pet her munna. It huffed and rubbed against her, bobbing a little closer to its master. At the same time, Amanita’s other hand shifted to the purrloin’s head, and the cat purred and batted its tail back and forth.

    “You see,” Amanita said, “it’s true that dream mist possesses certain hallucinogenic properties, and typically, it creates illusions, not tangible objects. However, I’ve been experimenting with boosting Munna’s telekinetic and somnokinetic abilities to the point where, if she wills it, she can compress the dream mist she exudes and convert it into portals.”

    Door took another step forward. “Portals? What … what do you mean by portals?”

    At that moment, Geist cleared his throat, and Door looked up to see him sweeping up the area around the desk with a broom and long-handled dustpan. The tools Door had scattered were already sitting neatly beside the toolbox on the desk.

    “How much do you know about the Entralink?” Geist asked.

    “Not much,” Door admitted. “But then again, there’s not much to know about it. It’s a wasteland, isn’t it? Absolutely no one permitted inside?”

    He looked up with a smirk. “And why do you think that is?”

    Door considered this. It was common knowledge, sure, but why? She struggled to recall all the things she learned about it—all the lessons in school that had centered around Unovan geography. She remembered her school books, her teachers’ lectures, her entire education, and in her memories, all of the information she could recall about the Entralink could be condensed into a single paragraph. It was a vibrant place once upon a time: a vast forest full of life and pokémon smack in the heart of Unova. And then, when the pokémon disappeared, so did the forest, which left the Entralink little more than a desert. This wasn’t some government cover-up either; the photographs of the Entralink’s shrinking green expanses were used in environmental protests for decades until the pokémon population finally collapsed.

    So Door couldn’t help but stare at Geist blankly instead of answering his question. She literally couldn’t tell him why it was off-limits. It just was, even if there was literally nothing there.

    Luckily, he seemed to know, so after resting the broom and the dustpan against the desk, he clapped his hands together and said, “Because it’s unstable now that there are no pokémon.”

    “Un … unstable? What do you mean?” Door asked.

    “Perhaps we should just give you a straight answer here,” Amanita replied. “Even back when real pokémon existed in this region, the Entralink wasn’t fully understood. That’s what my sister’s research set out to uncover: the exact nature of that very spot. Somewhere along the line, she discovered something interesting, and that something was the fact that whoever named the Entralink knew how to pick ‘em.”


    “I mean,” Amanita continued, “that the Entralink is an entry and a link to a different place: the Dream World.”

    The ensuing silence was palpable. Door stood, staring up at Amanita blankly, and Amanita smirked back at her. Then, after a minute passed, the researcher sighed and draped her wrists over the banister.

    “Well? Aren’t you going to ask me what the Dream World is?” she asked.

    “Oh-kay,” Door said, drawing each syllable out over one long exhale. “What’s the Dream World?”

    Amanita slapped the banister. “Glad you asked! The Dream World is exactly what you think it is: the world constructed from pokémon dreams.” Pausing, Amanita pushed herself up, placing one hand on the banister and the other on her hip. “Don’t look at me like that! You’ve already seen a tangible part of this dream world in the form of dream mist. It’s just that the Dream World is something bigger, something that can be shared between pokémon. It is, in other words, another dimension formed from the collective dream energy of every pokémon in existence. While there are different entry points to this other dimension, the biggest weak point in the barrier between reality and the Dream World was once located at the heart of the Entralink. To push through it, all a trainer needed was a sleeping pokémon and a handy little device my sister and I created with the help of dream mist we collected.”

    “The C-Gear,” Geist finished. “We would give you one, but it’s unfortunately rather useless at this point. What Dr. Fennel forgot to mention is that without pokémon, there isn’t enough dream energy in Unova to support the bridge between the Dream World and reality. Thus, with the disappearance of the last wild pokémon in the region, the Entralink collapsed. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing but desert there, of course. Although the dreaming pokémon are gone, their dream energy lingered, congealing into what’s known as dream bubbles. Thus, whereas long ago, pokémon could direct dream energy within the Entralink to become things their trainers may desire, the undirected dream bubbles are left to become something far more dangerous.”

    “What, monsters?” Door asked.

    “No, actually, bombs.”

    She gave him a long, steady look. “Seriously?”

    “Seriously,” Geist replied. “Without pokémon to shape them into stable forms, dream bubbles have an unfortunate habit of converting themselves back into energy of the ordinary, non-dream variety in the most violent ways possible. It’s not pleasant, and the government understood that. So the Entralink became off-limits until the last of the dream bubbles clear off.”

    “Okay, so I got all that,” Door said, “but what does this have to do with that snivy being real?”

    “Well, therein lies the interesting part,” Amanita told her. “You see, the reason why we know the Dream World was a dimension and not merely electrical pulses in a pokémon’s brain is because it was possible to pull things from the Dream World into our own.”

    “So … what? Snivy was a dream pokémon?” Door asked.

    “Oh yes,” Amanita answered. “From Munna’s dream. You see, Geist and I have been researching ways to use dream mist to create portals to the Dream World anywhere, not just the Entralink. It ties in with a theory we have about the sudden reappearance of real pokémon.”

    “Whoa.” Door held up her hands and moved forward a little more. “Whoa, wait. Are you saying there are real pokémon in this region?”

    “Why, yes.”

    “Not just in your front yard.”

    Amanita’s smile returned. “Of course.”

    And at that, Door’s eyes widened. “But … where? How?”

    “We don’t entirely know,” Geist said. “That’s what we’re trying to find out. But we do know that that munna up there was among the first.”

    He nodded to the munna bobbing beside Dr. Fennel. As Door looked at her, she closed her eyes and sang, thrilled to be the center of attention for once. The munna didn’t look particularly out-of-the-ordinary to Door—no distinguishing marks or special color or aura of power or anything else she would have expected from something so powerful it apparently blinked to life out of nowhere. If anything, it looked exactly like the faux munna Door had seen on televised gym battles and tournaments. Then again, there were always other possibilities.

    “Are you sure it’s native? Maybe it was abandoned,” Door reasoned. “Or maybe its parents were. There’re munna habitats in Kalos and Hoenn, right?”

    “All very good theories,” Amanita answered. “Professor Ironwood taught you well. But no, this one was born here; after all, we found her egg in the Dreamyard. No parents in sight.” She hesitated. “Of course, this isn’t to say that we’re ruling out the idea of a parent munna or musharna somewhere in the Dreamyard, especially given the strange bit of activity that happened after we found the egg.”


    “Sure.” Amanita nodded to Jack, still perched on Door’s shoulder after all this time. “All of the pokémon in this lab, your oshawott included, suddenly appeared there too. Fully formed, no less, not as eggs. This all began happening less than a month ago, and we’ve been working to figure out what we’re dealing with since. So, yes, we think there’s a parent munna or musharna somewhere in the Dreamyard and that the Dreamyard itself has become an alternate entry point to the Dream World in lieu of the Entralink, but we haven’t been able to find the pokémon or a portal yet. In the meantime, we’re testing the stability of pokémon pulled from there, which is why Professor Ironwood agreed to give away three Dreamyard-born starters to trainers. It’s to test whether or not they’re stable, as you might’ve guessed with the fate of the snivy you’ve battled just a moment ago.” Amanita dropped her hand. “Unfortunately, our munna’s not quite as strong as whatever’s in the Dreamyard. Whatever she pulls out of the Dream World is sent back there if they take too much damage in reality. Bit of a pesky problem, but it’s not her fault.”

    Munna hummed and bowed her head before nuzzling against Amanita again. In response, Amanita petted the psychic gently.

    Meanwhile, Door shifted her head to look at Jack, who had been quiet since the moment they had walked in. It was odd to Door that he would be, considering he seemed so friendly and chattery every other time she looked at him, but now, perhaps after seeing the snivy get banished back to the Dream World—or whatever really happened—he seemed distant. Silent. Even as Door reached up to stroke the side of his head, he didn’t respond.

    And then, she realized why. He had watched something just like him vanish in a puff of smoke, and she didn’t even think twice about how he felt on the matter. Biting her lip, Door thought about the weight of what she had just learned and what she had just done. Everything came to her so quickly that she had forgotten completely about Jack and how he had to have felt.

    To be fair, all the things Amanita and Geist had just told her was too much, so it was hard not to be distracted. There were real pokémon. An entire alternate dimension. Some kind of weird magic energy that sprouted from pokémon dreams. And all of this came to her on what was just the second day of her journey—a journey she didn’t want to take in the first place. Yet despite the fact that this might have been her reason for not noticing Jack’s silence, it still didn’t excuse what she had done.

    “Hey,” she said quietly. “The snivy. Is it … is it okay?”

    The scientist stopped petting her munna and smiled. “Oh yes. Of course it is. Like I said, the Dream World is an entire alternate dimension. It’s possible to pull things from it, and it’s possible to send things back. Your patrat did a number on that snivy, but I’m sure it’s recovering back in the Dream World where it belongs.” Amanita began petting Munna again. “It’s a nice place actually. The Dream World, I mean. I haven’t seen it since the Entralink collapsed, of course, but how could I forget what that kind of place looked like?”

    At that, finally, Jack stirred under Door’s touch. He chattered softly, nuzzling against Door’s chin. Door breathed a sigh of relief but then thought about Jack—about figuring out a way to apologize to him properly.

    And then, it hit her.

    “The Dreamyard,” she said. “It’s close to here, right?”

    “That’s right,” Amanita replied.

    “Could I … do you think I could bring Jack to see it?”

    “Any particular reason why?”

    Door leaned her head into her otter’s shoulder. “I just think it’d be nice to let him see where he came from.”

    Amanita moved her hand, using it to prop her chin up as she rested her elbow on the banister. “Well, I don’t suppose I could deny that. Of course you can. Under one condition.”


    “Yes. Just one condition.” Amanita inclined her head towards her assistant. “Geist, you’ll have to take her to Striaton Gym. She’ll need to earn her way into the Dreamyard.”

    Door recoiled. “I … what? You want me to earn a badge, just to enter the Dreamyard?”

    “Unfortunately, yes,” Amanita said. “No one can enter the Dreamyard unless they’ve gotten express permission from the local gym leaders, and the local gym leaders only hand out permission to trainers who’ve proven themselves capable of handling pokémon in a humane manner. And anyone who’s working for me, of course.”


    Amanita shrugged. “Leader’s rules. And to be fair, it’s also always been the gym leader’s duty to protect the Dreamyard since the laboratory was abandoned. It’s dangerous there too, you know. Granted, that’s more because there’s a collapsing, abandoned building in there than because of all the reasons why you can’t get to the Entralink anymore.”

    “Oh.” Door shifted on her feet. “That … actually makes sense.”

    “‘Course it does. Now, Geist, if you don’t mind, why don’t you come upstairs and help me make the arrangements? I’ll need to speak with you privately about what happened in Nuvema anyway.”

    “Yes, of course.” As soon as he said those words, Geist stepped forward until his feet mounted the stairs. Then, with one last glance to Door, he told her, “This should only take a moment. Please wait right there.”

    With that, Amanita, Geist, and the two pokémon disappeared through the entrance to the second floor, but Door stood back a short distance from the staircase. Her hand rested on Jack, but her eyes fell on Scout, who ambled up to stand at her feet. After some time, she exhaled.

    “Well, guys,” she said, “you up for a gym match?”

    Scout inclined his head in quiet incomprehension, but Jack whined on her shoulder and pushed his face into her neck. At those responses, Door frowned and glanced back towards the laboratory’s front door.

    “Me too,” she muttered.
  8. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    Door was a little miffed. To be fair, she felt a little miffed because she also felt underdressed and highly confused, but this was secondary to the fact that she was mostly miffed, highly confused, and underdressed all at once because Geist had led her to a fine dining restaurant instead of a pokémon gym. At three in the afternoon, no less.

    Not that she particularly minded getting free food. Sure, she would have preferred something a little less pretentious than anything off a menu that happened to be largely in French, but the point was she didn’t have to pay for it. It was just that she couldn’t figure out why Geist chose to bring her here.

    She squinted at the menu, struggling to make sense of not only the French names but also the International Common descriptions for each dish (what the hell was foie gras?), and when she gave up on that, she sighed heavily, set it aside, and glared at her partner. He sat across a white-covered table from her, one hand on his water glass and the other resting nonchalantly on his closed menu. His eyes stared across the room, and as Door followed his gaze—passing over a massive, elegant dining area stocked full of empty tables, a cleanly uniformed waitstaff of Companions, and the occasional well-dressed patron—she came to a stage on the far end. Or, it might have been a stage. Door wasn’t entirely positive what it was, truth be told. It simply looked like a wide space extending into the dining area but blocked off by a thick, red curtain. Was it a stage? Perhaps a ballroom floor for functions? A place for a live band at nights? Did upscale French restaurants have bands? Door reached for her glass to take a long, nervous drink.

    “You’re wondering why we’re here,” Geist said without taking his eyes off the curtain.

    Door sputtered into her glass and came up gasping. “Th-that thought crossed my mind.”

    Turning his head to her, he lifted his hand off his drink and signaled for a waiter. As if by magic, a young man with wild, red hair swept across the room, pulling a pad and pencil out of the pocket of his apron. This man, Door noticed, was not a Companion. The slightly apathetic expression on his face gave him away; actual service Companions were eternally perky, regardless of how many plates of foie gras with pickled wepear berries they had to serve.

    “Have we decided?” he asked, his voice low and smoky.

    “We have indeed,” Geist replied. He held up his menu, offering it to the waiter. “One bottle of fresh water each, please. My friend would like the chef’s special.”

    “Chef’s special?” the waiter asked, hovering his pencil over the pad.

    “We called ahead,” Geist explained.

    The waiter grinned and pocketed both the pad and his writing utensil. “Of course. Just one moment.”

    He walked quickly away from the table. Door followed him with her gaze until he disappeared through a set of double-doors to the side of the dining room—doors that, judging from the glimpse of the room beyond it, led to the kitchen. As soon as he was gone, Door turned back to Geist.

    “Okay, I’ll bite.” She paused, then shook her head. “No pun intended. What’s going on?”

    Geist smiled innocently, laced his fingers together, and placed his hands on the table. “Door, I’m surprised. Even considering your lack of interest in pokémon training, I would have thought someone who worked for our region’s foremost pokémon professor would have recognized what this place is by now.”

    “We’re in a French restaurant.”

    “Beyond that.”

    “We’re in a very pretentious French restaurant.”

    Geist guffawed but covered his mouth with the back of a hand. “All right. I can’t disagree there. This isn’t my favorite place to eat either. Nor is it Dr. Fennel’s, for that matter. I think the two of us have only ever come here on the very rare occasion that a graduate from the Trainers’ School seemed particularly interesting.”

    Door put an elbow on the table and rested her cheek on her hand. “What, do you throw a wild party here, or is this the pokémon gym?”

    “As a matter of fact, the latter.” Geist picked up his glass and examined the water inside. “Sometimes the former too. It depends on whether or not Bebe Larson is also in town.”

    In response, Door contracted her lips into a pucker as she stared at Geist for a second. Then, she finally furrowed her eyebrows and said, “I was kidding, but okay.”

    Geist placed his glass back down and tilted his head at Door. “My apologies. Allow me to go into a bit more detail. Door, this is—”

    “Le Jardin Potager,” another voice chimed in, “the foremost establishment of French cuisine in all of Unova … and, as your friend says, the Striaton Gym.”

    Door jumped in her seat and twisted around to see a blue-haired man in a sharp, black suit standing behind her. She stopped, taking in his sparkling smile and the depth of his ocean-blue eyes. Everything about him seemed smooth—slicked back, sprayed with cologne, pressed, and polished. He bowed and extended a pale hand to her, and she swallowed.

    “Welcome,” he said. “You must be Doreen Hornbeam. Dr. Fennel has reserved a bit of our time, it seems, and I do apologize that I failed to meet you at the door. My name is Sumac. I am part owner and full general manager of Le Jardin Potager, as well as one of its three possible gym leaders. The water specialist, to be exact.”

    “Oh,” Door said. “I gotcha. Striaton Gym’s the one that does the whole three gym leader thing, right?”

    “A tradition passed down to us by our respective fathers, yes. Speaking of which…” Sumac drew back and motioned to the red-haired waiter, who had seemingly materialized out of nowhere with a tray balanced on his shoulder. “Allow me to introduce you to my cousin, Savory, the fire specialist.”

    “Pleasure to meet you,” he said with a bow. His hand moved fluidly from the tray to the table, depositing a pair of water bottles at its center. “I look forward to your battle.” As he drew himself back up, he slid the tray into his hands at his front and cast a glance to his cousin. “Sage will be meeting us behind the curtain. We’re ready when you are, Sumac.”

    “Ah, such a shame I don’t have more time for theatrics,” Sumac responded with a grin. “Very well. I’ll escort Miss Hornbeam to the stage in a moment. Go ahead and take your place.”

    “Of course.” With another sweeping bow, Savory lifted his eyes to Door and winked. “Good luck, Miss Hornbeam.”

    Then, he turned and walked quickly towards the curtain. Reaching up to play with the bottle of water, Door shifted in her seat.

    “It’s … I prefer Door,” she said. “Just … just Door, if you don’t mind.”

    “Ah! Of course. My apologies again, Door,” Sumac responded. He rested his hand against his chest as if to punctuate this thought, and Door couldn’t help but find the gesture to be a little overdramatic. “Tell me, though. Do you know why there are three leaders at this gym?”

    Door shrugged. “Sure. Because back in the day, whoever had a type advantage against a trainer’s starter would be the one to battle. It was supposed to make things even more challenging for beginners.”

    “A fantastic way to set the stage for the rest of the Unova League, wouldn’t you say?” he asked.

    She couldn’t help but grin—genuinely this time, but also with a hint of confidence. “I’ll say. Please tell me that’s exactly what you’re doing now.”

    “That is, in fact, exactly what we’re doing now,” Sumac answered with a flashy grin of his own. “So tell me, Door. If I sent a grass-type out to battle you, what type would be best to meet it?”

    “Easy.” Door leaned back in her chair, slinging an arm over its back. “Fire. Like the ones Savory trains.”

    “And if I sent a fire-type?”

    “Water. Like your pokémon.”

    “And a water-type?”

    “Grass. Which I’m guessing your other cousin trains.”

    “You would be correct,” Sumac replied. He placed a hand on the table and spread his manicured fingers across the crisp, white cloth. “So, Door. What type is your starter, then?”

    Door stood up, shoving one hand in her pocket to feel Jack’s poké ball. As she did, her smirk grew. “Water. My starter’s an oshawott.”

    Sumac clapped his hands together and smiled. “Then allow me to introduce you to my other cousin.” He threw an arm towards the curtain with a wide, sweeping gesture. “The challenger, Door Hornbeam of Nuvema City, wishes to battle Sage, gym leader of Striaton Gym!” His voice lowered back to its normal volume as he threw a look at Door over his shoulder. “And, if I may add, one hell of a head cook. Win, and perhaps dinner will be on her.”

    Before them, the curtains parted dramatically, swinging back to reveal a wide-open hardwood floor painted with the lines of a battlefield. A young woman with a bright, green ponytail stood in its center, her hands pressed against the waist of her chef’s jacket. Beside her stood Savory, who gestured to the woman.

    “Presenting the head chef of Le Jardin Potager and the grass-type gym leader of Striaton City, Sage Escoffier!” he announced.

    Sage smirked and locked her green eyes on Door. “Ah, challenger! Welcome to Striaton Gym! I look forward to sampling the flavor of your techniques! Please approach the battlefield!”

    Door took a deep breath and strode forward. This was it. Her very first gym battle. She had dreamed of this moment since she was a girl and hoped that one day, she would do it with real pokémon. But as she snaked her hand back into her pocket, she felt Jack’s poké ball. Was he ready? Gym battles were more intense than ordinary fights against wild pokémon or other trainers, and Jack hadn’t done much battling since he had joined Door’s team. Not only that, but also, Door thought back to Jack’s battle against N—how afraid he seemed. How easily he was beaten aside. And then there was the snivy in Amanita’s lab, the one that vanished in a puff of pink smoke after only a handful of attacks. With another deep breath, Door dug a little deeper into her pocket and felt Scout’s ball. No, Jack wasn’t ready. But Scout was. Or so she hoped.

    She took her place on one end of the battlefield as Sage walked to the other. Not once did the gym leader take her eyes off her challenger, and Door wondered how frequently the chef left the kitchen for a good battle. Clearly, given how confident Sage seemed to be, it must have been often. Door swallowed for a second time and silently prayed that she was ready.

    “So,” Sage said. “How long have you been a trainer?”

    “I guess two days,” Door replied.

    Sage chuckled. “You move quickly. All right! I’m honored to be your first gym experience, then! Allow me to tell you how this is going to go. It’s a two-on-two match. Only the challenger may switch pokémon. No time limit, and fauxkémon are allowed. Out-of-bounds counts as a knock-out. Got it?”

    With that, Door pulled Scout’s poké ball from her pocket. Pressing the button, she felt it expand in her hand until it clicked. The movement felt fluid, natural—more so than any other time Door held it. And because of that, she smirked.

    “Oh yeah,” she said. “Standard rules, then. Don’t hold back just because I’m new. I’ve been studying under Professor Ironwood for years.”

    “Spirited,” Sage commented. She tilted her head and reached into her own pocket. “I like that. All right, then! I won’t hold back, and neither should you! Brioche, go!”

    Sage tossed her poké ball to the center of the field, and Door followed suit. With a pair of flashes, two pokémon materialized on the battlefield: Scout and a puppy that looked exactly like Toto in every way. Door stiffened, remembering Blair for a second. She balled her hands into fists and hoped, at least, that this battle would end far, far differently.

    “Whenever you’re ready, challenger,” Sage said. “I’ll let you have the first move.”

    “Hold on! Door!”

    She broke her gaze away from the battle to glance towards the tables. Geist rose to his feet, his eyes locked on Scout.

    “I forgot to mention!” he called. “You’ve been using Scout for a lot of battles lately! That means he’s probably learned new moves by now. If Professor Ironwood taught you anything about the pokémon common to this region, think back on everything you know about patrat!”

    Sage chuckled, drawing her challenger’s attention back to the battle. “Your friend’s observant.”

    “He’s also got a point,” Door replied. Then, throwing her hand forward, she commanded, “Scout! Try Sand Attack!”

    Without even questioning the order, the patrat spun, swiping his paw down into the floor. The motion was clear to Door: Geist was right. Scout did know more moves. And that realization lifted her spirits, even though Scout’s paw did nothing more than grind against the floor. She didn’t entirely expect Scout to turn the floorboards into the dirt and sand needed for the technique she had ordered; in fact, she was convinced that nothing would happen at all. But now that she could see she hadn’t entirely wasted her turn, a new plan was quickly forming in her mind.

    “Not a strong start,” Sage quipped. “Brioche! Let’s show her how to really prepare for a battle! Work Up!”

    The puppy dropped itself low to the floor and emitted a steady growl. Red light swirled around its body as it visibly tensed, and its growl grew louder and louder. Then, at the last second, Brioche snapped back to its full height, threw its head back, and howled, and the light around it burst into a brilliant, red aura. To Door, the creature looked like it was on fire, and with that thought in mind, she ground her teeth together and took a step back. She knew what Work Up did. She had even seen pokémon in televised tournaments use it now and then. But now, faced with a pokémon that was using it to prepare for a strike against her, she had to shake off her nervousness before even thinking about fighting back.

    And then, she poured all her hope into a guess.

    “Scout, you’ve got to take that lillipup out quickly!” she shouted. “Use Crunch!”

    She didn’t expect anything to happen. She really didn’t. But then, to her shock, Scout opened his mouth wide, and a white light burst from his fangs. Before anyone could move, he barreled right for the lillipup, closing the short distance between them until he smashed his teeth into its shoulder. The puppy emitted a mechanical squeal as Scout’s jaws crunched straight through its fake fur and into its metal exoskeleton, and Brioche’s front legs flailed desperately against Scout’s tiny body. Then, with strength Door didn’t even know he had, Scout lashed once and released, sending the lillipup flying into the wall behind Sage. It slammed hard into it, leaving behind a dent as it crashed to the floor. When it struck the ground, it struggled back to its feet and blinked a few times, but before it could move back into the ring, Savory threw an arm into the air.

    “Stop!” Savory announced. “Brioche is out-of-bounds! Match goes to the challenger’s patrat!”

    Sage chuckled again and drew Brioche’s poké ball into the open. The puppy vanished with a flash of red light, and its trainer paused, grinning at her challenger.

    “My, my,” she said. “You’re a lot stronger than I would have thought for someone who’s only been a trainer for two days.”

    Door thought back to N and Blair and Amanita’s snivy again, and she shrugged at Sage’s comment. “It’s been a really long two days.”

    “So I see.” Sage pocketed Brioche’s ball and drew out a second one. “Well, Mademoiselle Hornbeam, I made the mistake of underestimating you once, but I’m not doing it again! Pomme, go!”

    She tossed the next ball into the ring. Door steeled herself, taking another deep breath as she waited. This was it. The grass-type. The gym-trained grass-type, no less. She couldn’t possibly risk sending out Jack at this point; given how little he had battled compared to Scout, Door knew he wouldn’t be able to stand his ground. So silently, she prayed that Scout’s victory against Sage’s lillipup wasn’t just a fluke.

    The light streaming from Sage’s next poké ball burst and faded away, and Door found herself staring at a green monkey. As the pansage glared at Scout with large, dark eyes, a confident smirk played across its cream-colored muzzle, and it lifted one mitten-shaped hand to send a challenging gesture towards Scout.

    And in that moment, Door decided that this match had to end quickly too.

    “Okay, Scout!” she shouted. “Open up with Crunch again!”

    Scout launched forward, white light swirling around his buck teeth once more. Yet despite the threat Scout posed and the short distance between them, the pansage didn’t move, not even to let its smirk fade. It was only at the last second that the pokémon shifted, holding up its left arm to block Scout’s attack, and when the rodent’s teeth clamped down on the monkey’s arm, it didn’t even squeal. It simply stood there, legs braced against the floor, as it held Scout at bay using just one arm.

    “Pomme, throw it use and Work Up!” Sage commanded.

    In what looked like a mockery of Scout’s move against its teammate, Pomme swung its arm down, threw the patrat off his feet, and tossed him across the field. Door tensed as she watched Scout tumble, her breath catching in her throat until he came to a stop just an inch from the very edge of the field. Then, she exhaled slowly and watched as, across the way, the pansage engulfed itself in a familiar red aura. Its eyes glinted, and its smirk grew more vicious as the monkey let out a low growl of its own. Pomme was certainly more of a challenge than Brioche, and because of that, Door hesitated, thinking hard about how to tackle this opponent without getting Scout knocked out.

    Tackle this opponent.


    Door’s eyes fell on the pansage’s arm. Even through the red light surrounding it, she could see the faint sparking emitting from the break in its “flesh.” That alone gave her an idea.

    “Scout!” she said. “Tackle! Approach it from the right!”

    “Pomme, don’t let it get close!” Sage countered. “Vine Whip!”

    The two pokémon moved almost simultaneously. Scout bounded forward on all fours, rushing towards Pomme in an arc. At the same time, Pomme twirled to swing its tail in an arc around itself. A green light flashed from the tip of the pansage’s tail, and the leaves adorning it twisted and lashed outward into a lithe, green vine. Grabbing it with one hand, Pomme smashed its new whip into the floor just inches from Scout’s face, splintering the boards instantly. Scout leapt over the whip and continued bounding toward Pomme, but the pansage swung its tail again to lash it at the rodent. Despite how close he was, Scout was still far too quick for the monkey, and once more, the tail slammed into the floorboards.

    Grinning, Door cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, “Keep it up, Scout! When you’re close enough, Crunch Pomme’s weak point!”

    Scout leapt over Pomme’s last Vine Whip and shot directly at the monkey’s broken arm. His glowing teeth clamped down on it, and he jerked his head, tearing it clean out of its socket with a loud snap. Sparks flew from the pansage’s damaged side as it reeled back and screamed. And then, it swung around, slamming its tail into Scout’s side. Scout was thrown off his feet, and seemingly on instinct, he released Pomme’s broken arm just before he crashed back down onto the battlefield. The arm clattered away, coming to a rest just outside of the ring, while Scout struggled to stand. His side had been torn open by Pomme’s Vine Whip, just enough to expose his slick exoskeleton, and Door hesitated at the sight of it.

    “Pomme, let’s return the favor!” Sage said with a grin. “Vine Whip the patrat’s weak point!”

    Door shook off her shock and threw a hand forward. “Counter with Crunch!”

    With its good hand, Pomme snatched its tail and lashed out, swinging it once again at Scout. This time, Scout was ready. He opened his mouth and crouched down, and as the vine slammed into his face, he twisted and clamped onto it with his glowing fangs. At the sight of this, Door grinned and balled her hands into fists. She could feel her confidence pouring back into her.

    “All right, Scout!” she said. “Toss it!”

    Scout spun, jerking Pomme with him until the monkey was ripped off its feet. Then, with a snap, Scout threw his opponent into the air as hard as he could, and Pomme shot like a bullet to the ceiling and smashed into a light fixture. Its body burst into a brilliant, white light as sparks rained down on the battlefield. Scout chirruped and dashed back to Door’s feet, narrowly missing the rain of electricity … as well as Pomme’s charred and broken body. The pansage slammed hard into the floor, and although its eyes flickered, it otherwise fell still.

    “Pomme is unable to battle!” Savory announced. “Match goes to the patrat, and with two victories against the gym leader, the challenger wins!”

    Door couldn’t help herself. She shouted once with joy, then swooped down to scoop Scout into her arms. Without thinking, she held him close, ignoring his squirming protests.

    “Oh man, that was awesome!” she shouted.

    “Indeed it was,” Sage replied. She strode forward, recalling her pokémon as she approached Door. “My goodness, that battle did a number on my pansage.”

    At once, Door froze, her smile fading quickly. “Oh. I … sorry. I-I didn’t mean to—”

    Sage chuckled and held up a hand calmly. “It’s all right. I’ve had Pomme’s core reinforced specifically because of how intense gym battles can get. The rest of him can be easily replaced.” She pocketed the ball and turned her sheepish grin towards Door. “I can’t tell you how many times Pomme has been overwhelmed like that. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He just wants to do his best for me.” Sage sighed. “I know it sounds barbaric, but it’s a comfort, really. No matter what happens, your best friend will always be okay.”

    Door gave her an uncertain look. That did sound barbaric to her. Why would anyone want to let their friends battle in the first place if they were just going to get injured that badly? Back in the days of Hilda King’s first journey, there were regulations and rules and restrictions put in place to prevent real pokémon from getting injured. In Door’s opinion, ever since fake pokémon became the norm, people forgot how to have a proper battle. Sure, the rules and restrictions were never lifted—and they were observed whenever a foreigner brought a real pokémon into a match—but no one cared if battles between fake pokémon got extreme. So now, battles didn’t have the same spirit that they used to. And Door thought that was a shame.

    Still, she said nothing as Sage stood before her and shrugged.

    “In any case, that was a great battle, young lady,” she said. “What you did with Pomme’s arm was particularly clever, and tossing Brioche out of the ring was a fantastic idea. My only criticism is don’t be afraid to use a variety of techniques. You were relying on Crunch quite a bit throughout your second match. A great trainer knows how to hold back their power and rely on a variety of moves to outwit their opponent.”

    Door took a deep breath. She remained silent, even as the temptation to point out the fact that she won nagged at her mind. Instead, she watched as Savory and Sumac joined their cousin on the battlefield. Sumac drew out of his pocket a small, velvet cube the size and shape of a ring box, and cracking it open, he presented its contents to Door. She glanced down and took in the sight of the object: a small piece of gold in the shape of three diamonds in a chain. Each diamond was inlaid with a different jewel—sapphire, ruby, emerald—and as Sumac held it up, it glittered in the remaining light of the dining room.

    With a sharp inhale, Door mentally put a name to this object. Of course she knew what it was. She had seen it in so many pictures, and she secretly envied the people who had the opportunity to hold it. So, as she placed Scout on her shoulder and reached for the trinket, her hand began to shake … and continued to shake even after she grasped its warm surface between her fingers.

    “Nonetheless,” Sage continued, “you battled well, and in recognition of your victory against the Striaton Gym, we, the gym leaders, present you with the Trio Badge. Congratulations, Door Hornbeam.”

    Door swallowed hard. “I … I can’t believe it. I finally…” She looked up and couldn’t help but crack a grin. “Thank you. It was an honor battling you.”

    She held out a hand for Sage to shake, and as the woman grasped it and pumped it once, she smiled broadly.

    “Now, if I recall correctly, my cousin always offers the challenger a second, bigger reward,” she said. “A meal on the house, perhaps? I’m sure we could—”

    “Excuse me! Terribly sorry!”

    Door and the three gym leaders turned their heads to Geist, who stood at the edge of the battlefield. In his hand was a communication device. Its screen was still glowing from recent use. Glancing at his face, Door noticed that he was looking at her with not an expression of elation over her victory but instead a solemn glare.

    “Door, we need to go. Now that you have the Trio Badge, that should get us into the Dreamyard,” he said.

    “What’s going on?” she asked. “I mean … I won. That’s a good thing, right?”

    “Oh, it is,” Geist replied, “but I just got a call from Dr. Fennel. Something’s going on over there. It’s covered in a fog of dream smoke.”

    “Dream smoke?” Door whispered. She looked back at the gym leaders to find them exchanging glances.

    “I can’t go,” Sage said. “Not with my pokémon out of commission.”

    “And I’d better stay here to man the restaurant,” Sumac added.

    Savory didn’t even need a cue. He was already taking off his apron, and the moment Sumac finished, he tossed it at him. “I’ll go. Don’t worry about it.”

    “Wait, what?” Door said. “I mean … isn’t it important for you to stay at the gym?”

    “On the contrary. As gym leaders, it’s our responsibility to lend a hand whenever something unusual is happening in our city, especially if it’s not yet clear whether or not the police should be involved.” Savory walked forward and put his hands on his hips. “Are your pokémon ready for another battle?”

    “Sure,” Door said with a blink. “I’ve got one other pokémon, and Scout seems tough enough.”

    The patrat punctuated this thought with a slow blink and a rumbling bark, and Savory responded with a smirk and a gentle pat on the rodent’s head.

    “All right,” he said. “Then let’s go.”
  9. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    A thick, pink cloud hung over the Dreamyard. Literally, a thick, pink cloud, like a vicious cross between cotton candy and fog. Door hesitated for a moment as she stood outside the gates to the abandoned laboratory, and she did so entirely because she needed a moment to take in the fact that she was staring at a cloud of bubblegum barely confined within the boundaries of a dilapidated, brick wall guarded by a single, willowy tree.

    And then, Savory tapped her on the shoulder. “Miss Hornbeam?”

    “Apologies, Savory,” Geist said. “Miss Hornbeam is unused to the kinds of anomalies you would find around Striaton. Nuvema City is comparatively quiet, so I’ve heard.”

    Door jabbed a thumb towards the cloud and sent Geist an incredulous look. “This happens often?!” she squeaked.

    He sent her a sideways glance and replied, “Well. Not here, it doesn’t. Tuesdays at Dr. Fennel’s, however—”

    “If the both of you are done,” Savory said, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “the longer we spend messing around out here, the longer it’ll take to clean this up.”

    “Ah! Of course.” Geist motioned to Savory. “Lead the way, then.”

    With a huff, Savory reached into one of his pants pockets and drew out a poké ball. Tossing it into the air, he announced, “Cut!”

    The ball cracked open, and a flash of white light shot at the tree. The pokémon Savory had released moved too quickly for Door to watch. One moment, she was staring at the ball, and in the next, the top half of the tree slid off its trunk and crashed onto the ground at their feet. Door jumped, glancing from the tree to Savory, just in time to see a pansear land on his shoulder. Savory stopped, studying the tree with a frown.

    “That was a new spindle tree,” he said. “Someone’s been through here recently.”

    Spindle tree. That’s right. Door had heard of them but for whatever reason, Nuvema never really grew them. They were thin trees, genetically modified to resemble old berry bushes from the old days, back when Unova was far greener than it was then. Most towns had spindle trees to create more of a challenge, something a little extra that the kids with fake pokémon and equally fake trainer’s licenses could chew on, but others—like the gym leaders of Striaton, Door guessed—used them to guard places. And they were exceptional at that job: thorny, hardy, fire-resistant, and liable to snap a sharp, scraggly branch off on one’s arm. Not at all easy to clear, in other words … unless one had pokémon that knew a very specific move designed to cut straight through their well-guarded but spindly trunks, anyway.

    But even then, that only allowed passage for a good fifteen minutes before the tree grew back, and sure enough, even as Savory, Door, and Geist stared at the tree, a sprout was beginning to form on its severed trunk. Savory shrugged his pansear off his shoulder, and without waiting for another command, the monkey shrieked, flung itself at the trunk, and sheared off the sprout before it could shoot back up into a fully grown tree.

    “How can you tell?” Door finally asked.

    “Trunk was green,” Savory responded as he helped his pokémon back onto his shoulder. “It didn’t have enough time to turn white again.”

    “You can tell in this fog?” Door scoffed.

    “I’m guessing that’s why we’re waiting,” Geist said, cutting Savory off before he could acknowledge Door.

    Savory didn’t seem to notice Geist’s interruption; he only nodded to his comment. “Taking inventory. Door’s got a patrat that’s already been through a rough battle, and given the fact that she’s faced Sage, I assume her other pokémon is a water-type that she hasn’t used.”

    “Right. An oshawott,” Door said.

    “I’ve got a pansear and a lillipup that are ready to battle, but I don’t have any healing units,” Savory continued.

    “Why not?” Door asked.

    “Rushed out the door and forgot.”

    “That’s very…”

    He leered at her. “Stereotypical for a fire trainer?”

    Door held up her hands. “Inconvenient! I was gonna say inconvenient!”

    Savory relaxed, but his frown didn’t waver. “Yeah, well, besides, I figured you had at least one. Your Companion did order two bottles of fresh water right before the match, after all.”

    “Okay, what does that have to—” Door jolted. Her mind took a second to process what Savory had said, and then, swiveling around to glare at Geist, she snapped, “And now you’re being open about it?!”

    “Being open about what?” he asked.

    “That you’re a Companion!”

    Geist gave her a sheepish smile and held up his hands, and Door leaned a little closer to see what he was showing her. They were subtle, but they were there: the edges of the panels hiding the transmitter pads in his palms. He even tapped a spot on one of his wrists to open them up, and her eyes narrowed as she stared at the round, white screens beneath them.

    “What the hell was all that about back in Accumula, then?!” she demanded. “When I asked you the first time if you were a Companion, why did you pretend you weren’t?!”

    He frowned. “I do apologize, Door, but I didn’t outright tell you whether or not I was because you had just finished explaining why Companions made you deeply uncomfortable. So instead, I asked you why you thought I was a Companion. That wasn’t technically a denial.”

    She had to admit, he had a point. Except she wasn’t about to say that out loud, so instead, she merely continued to glare at him.

    It took a few more moments for Savory to ask, “How in God’s name did you not know that was a Companion?”

    “If I recall correctly, which I have been designed to do, you didn’t either the first time we met,” Geist replied. “Incidentally, the tree grew back.”

    Savory growled and shrugged his pansear off his shoulder. For a second time, the monkey screeched, launched itself at the tree, and sliced it in half. This time, however, the banging of the tree against the ground was accompanied by a whimper from the other side. At that, Savory held up a hand, as if to stop Door and Geist from advancing.

    “I was right,” he muttered. “There is someone there. You! Come out with your hands where we can see them! If you have pokémon with you, make them lead!”

    And then, the last voice Door had expected to hear squeaked from the other side.

    “I-I can’t! My Companion…”

    “What—crap,” Door hissed. She pushed past Savory and launched herself at the hole. “Blair?! Blair! Hold on!”

    “Door?!” Blair squeaked.

    Before either of her partners could stop her, Door vaulted over the stump of the spindle tree and rounded the corner of the wall. On the other side was Blair, who in turn was just barely holding up Opal. As she approached, Door felt a cold, sick feeling well up in her stomach. Opal wasn’t active, and Door could see why right away. Any Companion would have a difficult time operating with a gaping hole in their stomach, right where their power cells should have been.

    “Blair … crap,” Door whispered.

    She slowed to a stop, and her eyes flicked to the trainer. Blair stood shakily beneath the weight of her Companion, with one of the android’s arms wrapped around her thin shoulders. Tears streamed down her face as she stared helplessly at Door.

    “What happened?” Door asked quietly.

    Blair shook her head. “I … I saw the cloud. I-I went in to see what was going on … and then … and then…” She swallowed hard.

    Door reached out to grab Opal and help Blair set her on the ground. As soon as the Companion’s weight was off the trainer’s shoulders, Door reached out to pat Blair’s arm awkwardly.

    “Hey. Everything’s gonna be fine. I’ve got the gym leader with me. We’ll figure out what’s up, okay?” she said. Then, throwing a glance over her shoulder, she shouted, “Yo! Little help here?!”

    The fog swirled behind her and parted to let Savory and Geist through. Geist stood back, freezing as soon as he saw Opal’s condition. Savory, meanwhile, took a few more steps forward and knelt beside her.

    “Jesus,” he muttered, resting a hand on the edge of the gaping hole in Opal’s chest. “Did you see who did this?”

    Blair forced herself to nod. Then, she pointed to the right, deeper into the Dreamyard, and bit her lip. Door narrowed her eyes and rose to her feet, and then, without a word, she turned and dashed in the direction Blair was pointing.

    “Door!” Geist shouted. “Wait! You don’t know what’s in there! Savory—”

    She didn’t stop. Rather, Door dashed forward, into the pink cloud, even if she could barely see anything in front of her. Tall grass whipped at her legs, and rocks and broken tiles felt like they were reaching up and grabbing her feet. But still she ran, deep into the Dreamyard on the hunt for something—anything—that could have done what it did to Blair.

    And then, without warning, a red blur shot at her from the side. She stumbled, reeling back just in time to see the blur pass her and disappear into the pink. A chattering growl rushed around her, one she could recognize immediately: a patrat. Her heart beat furiously as she listened to it, desperately keeping track of where she thought it was. How strong was it? Could the thing use Crunch? Door slipped her hand into her pocket, fumbling for Scout’s poké ball, but even when her fingers closed on it, she hesitated. Scout had just been through an intense battle, one that left him battered and torn. Could he stand another one?

    Before she could answer, the chattering stopped right behind her, and her stomach felt like its bottom dropped out. Swallowing hard, she turned, her foot scuffing against the ground.

    And the moment she faced the way she had come, a patrat shot at her face, mouth open and screaming. Door flinched, stumbling backwards as her arms flew up to shield herself, but the attack she had been expecting never connected. Instead, she heard a thump and felt a warm object squirm at her feet, and when she opened her eyes, she saw Savory’s pansear pinning the patrat to the ground. Door took another few steps backwards and scanned the pink fog for any sign of Savory or Geist. Her eyes fell on a tall, shadowy figure just to her right, and part of her relaxed … until she heard Geist’s voice coming from her left.

    “Door! Get out of the way!”

    She jumped, stumbling backwards just in time to see the man in black—the Companion who had helped steal Geist’s snivy—appear out of the pink cloud to reach for her. Another set of arms circled her waist, and before she could protest, she was lifted into the air and carried several feet back in one smooth leap. Then, whoever held her kept going, bounding in a wide circle around the man and the two pokémon until coming to a stop deeper in the Dreamyard. As soon as she was brought back down to the earth, Door twisted in her captor’s grasp to see Geist glaring into the cloud.

    “Shh. Starr, that Companion … he’s scanning for us. If he can’t pick up on our voices, it should take him a few more moments to locate us,” he said. Then, lowering himself a little more, he added, “Listen. I know you don’t trust Companions, but right now, you’re going to need me. Companions are designed for situations like these; I can detect them just by their heat and electrical signatures, rather than by visuals.”

    “Them?” Door whispered.

    Geist nodded. “Starr hasn’t moved. His partner, Belle? She’s on the roof.” He paused to point upwards, at a spot just above where he and Door had started. “Savory’s pansear is pinning Patrat to the ground. I’ve given him the order to keep it busy until you’re ready to battle. Savory himself is protecting Blair with his lillipup behind us.”

    Door flashed an incredulous look at Geist. “You gave Savory’s pansear an—”

    “Yes. No time to explain that,” he said quickly. “I’m detecting that Belle’s purrloin is right beside her, and that’s not all, either. I think I know what’s causing this flood of dream smoke.”

    “A munna?” Door asked.

    Geist nodded. “Held down by the purrloin.” He flicked her eyes to her. “Door, Scout isn’t in any condition to battle two pokémon. I could lend you Savory’s pansear or … we can go with an alternative I’m not sure you’ll like.”

    “What’s the alternative?”


    “I can’t—” Door hissed.

    Geist snapped his hand over her mouth and sucked in a breath through his teeth. By the way he was staring at the fog ahead of him, Door guessed he was scanning the area for Starr again. Then, when he was satisfied, he relaxed, albeit just slightly.

    “I thought you wouldn’t like that,” he whispered, “but listen. Jack can keep his distance. He knows Water Gun now. Hold onto him, and I’ll carry you and tell you where to shoot. We can keep Jack safe and fight off Belle and Starr at the same time. Sound like a plan?”

    Door slumped her shoulders and stared at Geist for a second. She glanced toward the spot where he said the munna was, and for a second, she thought about her situation. That munna had to be real. This was the Dreamyard, the new cradle for real, flesh-and-blood pokémon. There was no way she could let those two thieves ruin the future of Unova, just like that.

    But before she could say anything, Geist gasped, wrapped his arms around her, and jumped. She felt the wind of something pass beneath her, heard the slamming of a hard object into dirt, and watched as Starr’s black-clad back vanished into the fog. Geist landed on what felt like a crumbling walkway, far above where the two had started. Door felt its rotting concrete beneath her toes and was just slightly grateful that Geist refused to set her down.

    “Ugh, I’m getting so bored!” Belle shouted from somewhere in the pink. “Hurry up and fight, or are you and your Companion friend too spineless to be interesting?”

    “What do you even want?!” Door shouted. Her hand slid into her pocket, shoving aside Scout’s poké ball to grasp Jack’s. With a quick glance over her shoulder, she nodded to Geist.

    “What do we even want?!” Belle repeated. “Why, just a little bit of fun … and chaos!”

    “Great. A drama queen who can’t even come up with something creative,” Door replied as loudly as she could.

    “I heard that!”

    “That’s the point!”

    Door’s voice masked the sound of Jack’s ball expanding and opening in her hand, but it did nothing to smother the excited barking of the otter as soon as he materialized. Quickly shoving the ball back into her pocket, Door frantically covered Jack’s mouth as Geist shot them both a terrified look. Seconds later, he was leaping into the air, narrowly dodging a punch from Starr. He landed on the ground and dashed forward, still carrying Door in his arms, much to her surprise.

    “Patrat straight ahead!” he shouted. “Pansear, get ready!”

    With a nod, Door snapped her hand off Jack’s snout and wrapped it around his stomach. “Okay, Jack! Whenever I shout your name, shoot Water Gun, got it?!”

    Geist slid to a stop right over the monkey and the meerkat. Savory’s pansear looked up, a determined glint in his eye as he waited. At the same time, in response to her command, Jack gave her a confused trill but nonetheless saluted with a stubby arm.

    “Good,” she said. Then, pointing at the rodent at her feet, she continued, “Jack! Now!”

    “Pansear, jump!” Geist ordered.

    The patrat screamed as Savory’s pansear launched itself off its body and into the fog. As soon as the monkey was clear, Jack inhaled deeply and blasted a jet of water out of his mouth. In the confusion, the patrat had no chance. It squirmed in a frantic attempt to dodge, but before it could get to its feet, the jet of water slammed into its chest. To Door’s surprise, the rodent’s torso caved in under the pressure of Jack’s Water Gun, and before long, Door found herself staring down at a battered, unmoving faux patrat.

    “Whoa,” she breathed.

    “Strong little guy, isn’t he?” Geist asked. “That’s why we thought Jack would be ready for life outside the laboratory.”

    With a proud snort, Jack smirked at Door and thumped his chest with a stubby paw. She stared down at her pokémon and blinked. Were real ones actually that strong? Or did Geist’s orders to Savory’s pansear actually entail something more than “keep that patrat busy"? She had no time to think about this, as in the next instant, Geist was dodging Starr once more, and Door heard Starr’s fist crash into solid concrete. Geist landed on a platform above the sound and bolted forward, keeping his head turned as if he was watching something. Then, he leapt again, shooting to the side as he twisted Door around.

    “Incoming! Straight ahead!” he shouted.

    In response, Door clutched her pokémon tightly and screamed, “Jack!”

    The otter barked, drew in another breath, and shot a second jet of water out of his mouth. This time, the jet cut through the pink and connected to something with a smack, and a purrloin howled somewhere very close by. Once he landed, Geist set Door down and leaned over her, squinting at the fog ahead of them. Then, he pulled her back a few steps and pointed forward.

    “Door! There!” he shouted.

    With a short nod, she hoisted her oshawott up and aimed his head in the direction Geist was pointing. “Jack!”

    Jack complied, shooting one more Water Gun at the unseen purrloin. This time, there was no howl of pain.

    “Keep going!” Geist said.

    “You heard him, Jack!” Door responded.

    She held onto her pokémon tightly as Geist picked her up and swung her around. The stream of water shooting out of Jack drew an arc around them, cutting through the fog until it finally struck something just a few feet from where they were. A piercing screech sounded out of the mists this time, and through the thinning cloud, Door could see the dark form of Belle’s purrloin shoot away from them.

    “Hold it!” Door ordered.

    Jack cut off his stream, and the Dreamyard fell into silence, save for the distant growls of the cat. The sounds moved around the trio, continuing in a semicircle until it stopped just to their left. Door wrenched herself free from Geist and pointed Jack directly at the spot where the growls stopped.


    “Door, no!”

    Geist grabbed her and twisted her a little more to the left just as Jack exhaled another stream of water. The blast curved, spraying the ground until it shot up … just in time to catch the purrloin squarely in the face. At once, the cat pinwheeled in the air and slammed into concrete somewhere in the fog, but Geist didn’t stop there. With one more twist, he narrowed his eyes at a point towards the sky and turned Door to face it.

    “Aim high!” he said.

    “Jack!” Door snapped, her voice straining.

    The oshawott pressed himself against his trainer’s chest, inhaled as deeply as he could, and shot out the strongest jet of water he could muster. This time, as it sliced through the air, the fog swirled away from it, peeling back just enough to let Door see Belle standing just a few yards from her. All at once, the thief’s eyes widened, and she reeled back, half-stepping away from the attack.

    Except she wasn’t quick enough. The jet struck her in the stomach and knocked her off her feet, sending her flying off the walkway. Geist’s arms circled Door’s waist again, and he leapt into the air, bounced off a crumbling wall, and bounded onto the platform Belle had stood on a moment ago. He set Door down and pushed past her, darting into the thinning fog until he knelt down by the fallen munna. It squeaked and shifted on the wall, crawling a little closer to the Companion as Door watched. The trainer held Jack close, her eyes on the psychic-type as her oshawott squirmed in her arms. As the tapir moved, its round body rocked into and out of Door’s view, and in the brief glimpses she could get of it, she saw the purple-blue bruises blossoming across its back.

    “Is it okay?” she asked.

    Geist shook his head and held a hand over the pokémon. His palm opened with a click, and the pad set inside it took on a white glow that washed over the munna. The creature squealed and leaned away from the light and into Door’s view, but the longer she watched, the more she saw the bruises shrink and fade.

    “One fresh water left,” Geist said as his palm closed. “Be careful.”

    “Be careful?” Door asked. “For what? The battle’s—”

    “Just beginning, you little twerp!” Belle snapped.

    Starr landed with a bang onto the platform, just in front of Geist and the munna, and Belle perched on his shoulders. The Companion’s stoic expression refused to break, but Belle, leaning over her partner’s head, clutched his scalp with one hand and reached for her belt with the other.

    “I’ve been going easy on you,” she growled.

    Then, she flipped off Starr’s back, landed behind him, and twirled ahead to place herself between him and munna. The stolen snivy’s poké ball appeared in her hand, and she brandished it with a flourish and a vicious smile.

    “We’re not going down without a fight,” she said. “You see, we want that little cutie pie to positively spew dream smoke. It’s gonna be necessary for our little plan.”

    Door scoffed. “Little plan? What little plan?”

    “One neither you nor your precious little Companion there will interfere with,” she replied. “Now, why don’t you two be good little pissants and back away from the munna?”

    Geist stood. His back was turned to Door, so she had no idea what his expression might have been, but judging from the way he tightened his fists, she knew he was ready to fight. And, glancing down at the very real pokémon at his feet, at the way it crawled—with effort—until it cowered behind him, she knew she had to side with him. Even if he was a Companion.

    So she stepped forward.

    Belle’s grin wavered at the corners, and her fingers tightened around the ball in her hand. “Oh, cocky, are we? Don’t make me laugh!”

    Just then, the fog thinned, as if a wind was blowing it away, into the interior of the Dreamyard. Starr turned his head slowly and narrowed his eyes at the ground.

    “It is coming,” he said.

    Belle lowered her arm and turned her grin to the ruined interior of the laboratory. “Finally. I thought I’d have to kick that little pig around more to get that stupid thing to appear.”

    “Geist, what is she talking about?” Door whispered.

    He held out an arm and watched Belle jump off the wall and into the lab’s interior. The fog swirled, compressing into a ball at the center of the yard as she approached step by step. Yet Starr didn’t move, didn’t bother following her. He merely raised a hand to his temple and let his eyes flash over the field.

    “Belle, that is not the musharna,” he said. “Step away from it immediately.”

    She didn’t. She stepped forward, walking slowly towards the cloud. It coalesced before her, shaping itself into a thin pillar before dispersing completely. At its center was not, as Starr had said, a musharna. At its center stood the man from Accumula.

    Belle froze, and even though her back was turned, Door could see her skin blanching. Starr leapt off the platform and started for his partner, while the silver-haired man glared down at Belle.

    “My dear Belle,” he drawled.

    His body dissolved into pink smoke and trailed away from her. The smoke split into thirds, and with a pink flash, the man reappeared—in three different spots surrounding her all at once. Starr reached out for his partner and circled his arms around her waist.

    “Repeat: That is not the musharna,” he repeated. “Warning: Illusion detected. Please be advised that—”

    The three men frowned. “You have failed. How very sad.”

    “Mr. Oppenheimer, sir! I can explain!” Belle called out.

    Starr’s arms tightened around her. “Repeat: Illusion dete—”

    All three figures tilted their heads and gave Belle a saddened frown. “I counted on you to fulfill a very specific mission, my dear. How could you disappoint me so?”

    Belle shook her head and tried to push forward, towards the figure directly in front of her, but Starr held her fast.

    “N-no!” she cried. “Mr. Oppenheimer, I swear, we didn’t fail! The musharna is here! It’s right here! I swear it is!”

    “How sad,” Oppenheimer sighed. “I suppose I have no choice but—”

    “Wait! No!” Belle yelled. She started forward, her hands reaching out for Oppenheimer’s robes, but before she could touch him, Starr swept her off her feet and slung her over a shoulder.

    “Belle deemed incapable of completing her mission,” he droned. “Mission incomplete. Aborting.”

    Starr leapt onto the crumbling wall of the laboratory and bounded away, and over the next few seconds, Belle’s shouts grew more distant and harder for Door to hear. Shortly after Belle and Starr vanished, the remaining pink fog faded away, and all three images of Oppenheimer flickered into nothingness.

    For a few moments, all was still and silent. Door stood, Jack squirming in her arms, as she listened closely to the wind for any sign of Belle. Then, the munna cried out, its song twisting into the air until a deeper voice answered it. Looking down at the interior of the Dreamyard, Door saw a large, purple-and-pink blob float out of the grass and hover in the exact spot where Belle had stood a moment ago. The munna squirmed off the platform and dropped towards the ground until a blue aura lit up around its tiny body and suspended it in thin air. It bounced once and glided towards the larger creature until, at last, it came to a rest on its back. Nuzzling it, the munna cooed and relaxed.

    “Musharna,” Geist recited. “The drowsing pokémon. With the mist from its forehead, it can create shapes of things from dreams it has eaten.”

    “I know what a musharna is,” Door snapped.

    Geist shrugged and stepped towards her. “Just trying to help.”

    “Yes, well, you can—hey! Don’t!”

    Before she could squirm out of Geist’s grasp, he grabbed her by the waist again, jumped off the platform, and landed within the dilapidated laboratory, just feet from the two pokémon. Door twisted herself out of his grasp and hugged Jack close, but Geist didn’t seem to notice. He only walked forward, approaching the musharna slowly as he extended a hand.

    “Munna should be fine,” he said as he reached down to pet the musharna. “I gave her a little medicine, but she’s a tenacious one. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s back to being a handful within the hour.”

    The musharna shifted, tilting its body upwards as if to look at him. Door couldn’t quite tell whether or not it actually was; the creature’s eyes remained shut, even as it angled its face to the Companion. But then, the musharna’s eyes slid open and took on a faint, blue glow as it glanced from Geist to Door and back again. It huffed, heaving as a puff of pink smoke burst from the spot on its snout. As the puff drifted towards the tall, dark grass at the edges of the ruins, the musharna hummed a few notes and floated away from Door and Geist. On its back, the munna looked back and blinked at Door and Geist, then lifted a tiny, stubby paw to wave at them before it and its parent disappeared into the grass.

    “There they go,” Geist said. Then, he smiled at Door and added, “Nice work, by the way. You too, Jack.”

    Jack saluted at him and barked, but Door turned her head away. After a few seconds, she swiveled around and started back towards the Dreamyard gate. She was acutely aware that Geist was jogging after her, but she didn’t bother looking at him.

    “Door,” he began.

    Before he could go any further, Door quickened her step until she passed the crumbling wall of the abandoned lab, and on the other side, she found Savory and his pansear. The monkey perched on its trainer’s shoulder and stared at Door with a level of concern she didn’t know a fauxkémon could express, but as soon as Geist emerged, it broke eye contact with her and leapt from its trainer to the Companion.

    “Geez, he seems excited to see you,” Savory muttered. “So I take it you had a quite a battle in there?”

    “Pansear was great,” Geist replied. “He did everything I needed him to do. You’ve trained him well if he’s willing to listen to a Companion like that.”

    Savory shrugged. “Keep him, then. I’ve got another one, and he seems like he’s already fond of you.”

    “Me?” Geist gave the gym leader a small smile and reached up to pet the fire-type. “Oh no. I can’t. You know the rules. But if you don’t mind, perhaps … Door? Would you like a pansear?”

    Truth be told, Door had already tuned the conversation out. She wandered towards the grass, looking out over the sea of green. Real pokémon were starting to appear in the Dreamyard—that was what Amanita and Geist had said. If that was true, then that had to mean that somewhere in those grasses…

    “Door?” Geist asked.

    “Keep it yourself,” she told him.

    “Door, you should know the rules too. I can’t register pokémon in my name. Companions can’t carry pokémon of their own because they can’t legally obtain the licenses to do so. They can only carry pokémon on behalf of their trainers.”

    “Why? It’s just a toy.”

    Geist sighed. “Not this again.”

    Several feet in front of her, the grass began to rustle. She narrowed her eyes and tried to discern what was in it.

    “Not what again?” she growled.

    “That whole business about fake pokémon and real ones,” Geist replied. “It doesn’t matter whether or not this pansear is real, Door. What matters is—”

    “Do you have a poké ball?” she asked.

    He stopped. “What?”

    She held out her hand. “Mind if I borrow a poké ball? There’s a pokémon in here.”

    “Door, I don’t think—”

    “Look,” she said. “I don’t care if you keep that pansear for yourself. Savory seems to think it likes you, okay? And you’re not my Companion, so do whatever you want or ask Amanita if you can keep it. I literally can’t even care less. Now do you mind? I’ll pay Amanita back for it.”

    There was a beat of hesitation before she felt Geist place an object in her palm.

    “Door, I would highly recommend that you—”

    She expanded the ball and threw it at the rustling grass. It hit its target with a whack, eliciting a sharp cry from the hidden pokémon. She saw a bright red light, the silhouette of a stocky pokémon, reach up towards the sky before vanishing. As she waded into the field, she listened, straining her ears as the ball clicked and shifted the grass around it.

    Then, at last, she found the ball the moment it fell still. Whatever was in that grass, it was hers now, and her heart pounded in her chest at that thought.

    Smiling, she plopped Jack onto her shoulder and bent down to scoop the ball up. Then, wading back into the open, Door displayed the ball to Jack and let him lean down to sniff at it. As she stepped back onto the pavement, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride well within her. Her oshawott—her real, living and breathing oshawott—sat fascinated by the ball in her hand, the one that contained her second very real pokémon. This was it. This was the part where she was really, truly on her way to becoming a real trainer. And it was so very easy.

    “Thanks,” she said, although she meant it more for Jack’s rapt attention than Geist’s generosity. “Whatever’s in here, I know it’s going to be an amazing addition to my team. From here on out, you and me, Jack. You, me, and whatever’s in here will be absolutely unstoppable, right?”

    “I’m sure you will be,” Geist replied.

    Door snorted and glanced at him. He stared back with a small smile and a quirked eyebrow, as if she had done something thoroughly embarrassing. But she wasn’t going to let that bother her. She was a real trainer, after all, and what did he, the fake human being, know about anything?

    “Damn right,” she said as she held up the ball between them. “This pokémon went down without even the slightest fight. Clearly, that’s a sign I’m going to be an awesome tamer of real pokémon one day.”

    “Or it could mean that pokémon wasn’t going to put up a fight in the first place,” Geist replied as he tilted his head at her. “As I was trying to warn you, the pokémon that had captured your attention was…”

    “Something awesome, right?” Door asked. “Something that can be trained into a super-strong, intimidating beast of a pokémon, yeah?”

    “It was an audino.”

    The color drained from Door’s face, but her smile didn’t falter. After a few seconds, Geist put his hand on his hip and sighed again.

    “Audino. The hearing pokémon,” Geist recited. “Their auditory sense is astounding. They have a radar-like ability to understand their surroundings through slight sounds. This ability, combined with the species’ gentle nature and healing techniques, make audino ideal nurses. However, it also makes them difficult to train due to their aversion to loud noises, including those typical of a battle. Conclusion: not a good choice for a beginning trainer.”

    He turned away from her and began walking towards the Dreamyard gate, just as Door had moments before. Savory was already well ahead of them, leading the way back to Blair and Opal and the spindle tree. Door, meanwhile, stood where she was in stunned silence.

    “Come along, Door,” Geist said. “Dr. Fennel is surely waiting for us.”

    At that, Door’s expression faltered, and she bowed her head. Jack, breaking his focus on the ball, gave her an inquisitive whine as he patted her on the back, but Door only emitted a long, low groan of her own.

    “Why me?” she said.
  10. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    To call the ensuing hour in Amanita Fennel’s laboratory awkward would have been an understatement. Savory had parted ways with them at the gate, with the excuse that he had a thing or few to discuss with his fellow gym leaders about the Dreamyard, and Geist had carried Opal upstairs to be repaired and to “upload her memory of the events that transpired this afternoon for analysis.” That left Blair and Door standing awkwardly next to each other against a set of desks—the same ones Scout and Amanita’s snivy had used for battle. For the past half an hour, Blair had stared at her feet as if her shoes had become the most fascinating objects in the room, and Door, meanwhile, had kept herself busy by turning her new audino’s poké ball over in her hand as a thousand conversations filled her head. Every so often, Door would look at the other girl and open her mouth to say something, but just as quickly, she would shut it again and stare at her ball once more.

    Finally, she took a deep breath.

    “Hey, um, just wanna say I’m sorry,” she said quickly.

    She swallowed hard and reached up with her free hand to rub the back of her neck. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Blair look up.

    “I … what?” the girl replied.

    “Sorry,” Door repeated. “Just, um. About Wilbur.”

    “What about Wilbur?”

    “You know…” Still, Door refused to look at her. She even turned her head away from Blair as she twirled her empty hand in the air. “Scout biting him on the leg. Making him bleed. That kind of thing?”

    “Wilbur’s fine.”

    Door shifted her head and caught the other girl’s eye. Blair looked bewildered, eyebrows knitted and eyes wide and uncertain. Yet despite that expression, Door relaxed.

    “O-oh?” she said.

    Blair nodded slowly. “He’s at the pokémon center. The wound wasn’t deep. It’s okay … all right?”

    Door relaxed a little more. “Kinda surprised you’re not pissed off at me.”

    Looking at her shoes again, Blair shrugged. “Why would I be?”

    “I don’t know.” Door rubbed the back of her neck again. “I feel like we got off on the wrong foot.”

    Blair didn’t respond. She scuffed her toes against the floor and refused to look up. In that silence, Door stopped, searching her mind for a way to keep talking.

    “So … why were you at the Dreamyard anyway?”

    “I told you,” Blair responded. “I noticed there was dream smoke coming out of there, so I snuck in with Opal.”

    “Yeah, but if Wilbur was in the pokémon cen—” Door stopped as a part of Blair’s statement sunk into her head. For the second time that day, her mind immediately switched gears, and she gave her conversational partner a wary glance. “Wait. What do you mean you snuck in?”

    Blair looked up at Door with wide eyes, but this time, her eyebrows were raised. It was clear she had meant to say something else, but the moment to correct herself had long passed.

    “I mean I went in before anyone like the police or something got in,” Blair replied quickly.

    Door narrowed her eyes at that. “Come to think of it … only those who’d earned the Trio Badge or who’re working for Amanita have permission to be in the Dreamyard. If you’re a fresh graduate from Trainers’ School, then that means…”

    Blair bit her lip and cringed, leaning away from Door.

    At that, Door frowned and slumped her shoulders. “Blair. Did you earn the Trio Badge?”

    For a second, Blair didn’t react—didn’t say anything and didn’t move to indicate an answer one way or another. Then, slowly, she shook her head.

    Door pulled her hand from the back of her neck to the front of her bangs. Worming her fingers through her hair, she realized then that she was going to have to say something mature. Responsible. Sisterly.

    “Well, look,” she said. “Not everyone can be, y’know. Perfect. We all do things that aren’t exactly by-the—”

    “I didn’t graduate from Trainers’ School.”

    Door stopped. Narrowed her eyes again. Quirked an eyebrow at Blair. “What?”

    Blair tightened her shoulders and pulled them close to her head. “I … I didn’t graduate.” Then, when she spoke next, her voice dropped into what was barely above a mumble. “I wasn’t failing, but my grades weren’t good enough for me to graduate with a trainer’s license.”

    “So … what? You’re just getting a starter and going back to school, or…?”

    Blair cringed a little more. “I’m dropping out. I-I got a trainer’s license at the pokémon center instead.”

    Door’s expression shifted immediately. Her features softened, eyebrows moving from a confused knit to a concerned furrow, and her body leaned towards Blair in an effort to see the girl’s face.

    “Blair,” she said.

    The new trainer sniffed and wiped her eyes with a sleeve. “Sorry. Please don’t tell my aunt. I won’t tell her about the stuff you said to me. But she was only gonna give me a starter on the condition that I’d graduate, but if I didn’t, then…”

    Door held up her hands, palms towards the other girl. “Blair, hold on. I don’t get it.”

    “What’s there to get?” Blair asked. “I suck! I screw up all the time on my tests, I can’t even win a single battle except against a stupid patrat, and you know what that girl said to me when she beat me in the Dreamyard? She just tossed Toto aside like she was nothing, and she called me pathetic, and…”

    With a sigh, Door slung an arm around Blair and pulled her into an awkward half-hug. Door rolled her eyes and groaned, filling the silence Blair left behind the moment she stopped speaking. Then, with a dramatic dip, Door brought her face close to Blair’s.

    “Okay, look,” she said. “Sure, you suck at tests. Everyone sucks at tests. Tests suck, period. If you ask me, the whole concept of a school where you learn things before you go out and become a trainer’s kinda stupid. Training isn’t something you train for. It’s a thing where you do stupid things on the road because the journey itself is supposed to be the thing that teaches you about how much life does whatever it does. I don’t know. I’ve had a long day, so I can’t even tell you whether or not this makes sense, but my point is, just because you suck at school doesn’t mean you suck at everything, got it?”

    Blair sniffled and looked at Door from over her arm. “But what about that girl?”

    “What girl? You mean the inbred punk rock chick who hasn’t seen a shower in God even knows how long?” Door asked. When Blair cracked a smile at that, Door couldn’t help but grin herself as she said, “She’s a complete jerk. Not to mention she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Jack, my oshawott? Took out her patrat in one hit. Took her out too in another.” Using the hand slung around Blair’s shoulders, Door mimed shooting a gun. “Boom. Just like that.”

    Slowly, Blair lowered her arms and widened her grin. “Really?”

    “Really.” Door patted her shoulder. “Anyway, point is, don’t listen to her. Everyone sucks at first, but that’s the whole thing about a journey. You don’t actually know what you’re good at until you kinda figure it out by accident along the way.”

    “So … you think I should still drop out and go on a journey?”

    Door snorted. “Hell, kid. I’ll walk you out of town.”

    “Don’t call me ‘kid.’ I’m fourteen.”

    Pocketing her audino’s poké ball, Door held up a hand. “Okay. Blair it is.”

    Blair’s grin softened. “Thanks, Door. Not … not for the name thing. For everything.”

    Door crossed her arms and shrugged again. “Don’t mention it. But … you did mean the thing about not telling Professor Ironwood about the … other thing, right?”

    “Were you serious about not telling her I dropped out of Trainers’ School?”


    “Then we’ve got a deal.”

    With a smirk, Blair offered a hand for Door to shake. Door snaked one of hers under her arm and took it, and the two trainers pumped their hands once.

    And then, Geist cleared his throat.

    “Well,” he said from his spot on the stairwell, “I suppose this would be a good time to tell you Opal’s ready.”

    On cue, Blair’s Companion trotted down the steps and waltzed across the laboratory floor to approach her trainer. Her hands were out to her sides, palms parallel to the floor to allow her to show off the polished, new panel that covered her stomach. All the while, her eyes were glowing bright blue, as they always had when she was active.

    “Opal!” Blair cried. She pushed off the desk and practically ran to her Companion. Reaching out for her, Blair took Opal’s wrists and looked into her face. “Opal, are you okay?! How’re your power cells?!”

    “Fully functional and charged, Blair! Better than new, even!” Opal replied cheerfully. “It helps when the person repairing you has the right parts on-hand, and Dr. Fennel has plenty!” Then, she hesitated, pulling one of her hands out of Blair’s to touch her fingertips to her lips. “But what did I miss? My memory core seems to have a blank between the Dreamyard and now.”

    “It’s … it’s a long story,” Blair replied. “We should head to the pokémon center now. I want to see how Wilbur’s doing.”

    Opal pulled one of her hands away from Blair’s to salute her partner. “Okay! Destination set! Ready when you are, Blair!”

    With a soft grin, Blair whirled around, keeping her hand on Opal’s other wrist. As the trainer stepped towards the entrance to the lab, Door pushed off the desk.

    “Hey, Blair?” she asked.

    Blair flashed Door a surprised glance. “Yeah?”

    “When I said I’d walk you out of town, I was serious,” she told her. “If you’re going to be hanging around the pokémon center for a while, I’ll swing by later on, and we can talk about that. Okay?”

    A relieved smile broke across Blair’s face, and with a nod, she replied, “Okay.”

    And then, she and her Companion walked out of the lab.

    The moment the door shut behind them, the stairs creaked. Door looked up to see Geist standing straight in the stairwell—straighter than he had a second ago.

    “Dr. Fennel will see you now,” he said.

    Door tightened her arms and walked towards the stairs. As she reached for the banister, she hesitated and looked directly at Geist.

    “I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?” she asked.

    He smiled at her. “No. Why would you think that?”

    “I mean…” She flicked her eyes towards the door. “The whole ‘Dr. Fennel will see you now’ thing. Kinda sounds like meeting the principal if you messed up in school.”

    “Oh. I can assure you, you did absolutely nothing wrong.” Then, after a pause, Geist added, “But you did make up with Blair, did you not?”

    “Guess you walked in after that,” Door muttered. “Yeah. We talked things over. She’s apparently gone through a lot.”


    “Poor kid. Kinda feel sorry for her now.”

    Geist frowned for a moment, then reached out to motion towards the top of the steps. “You’d better go upstairs. Dr. Fennel is waiting.”

    Without even a nod to him, Door climbed the stairs and brushed past him. She emerged into the living quarters a moment later—or, more specifically, what was apparently a living room. Two couches were arranged around a glass-topped coffee table in the center of the space, and the wall closest to Door was lined with framed pictures and low bookshelves filled with books. Straight ahead, she saw a set of three doors, one of which opened into what appeared to be a small repair shop; Door could see the types of chairs Companions would sit in when being serviced through the doorway. To her left was a simple, open kitchen, in which Amanita stood with one hand on a tablet computer and another on a coffee pot.

    “Dr. Fennel?” Door called. “Geist said you were waiting for me.” Amanita looked over her shoulder. “Hmm? Ah! Yes, of course! Close the door, dear, and come on over. I don’t want Geist to hear our conversation.”

    That request struck Door as a little odd, but nonetheless, she shrugged and did as she was told. Closing the door quietly, she stalked across the living room, hands jammed into her pockets, until she stood behind a set of stools at the divider separating the kitchenette from the living room. From that angle, Door could see the pair of coffee mugs sitting on the kitchenette counter in front of Amanita. The scientist finished pouring one cup, then shifted the pot to the other, all while keeping her eyes on a tablet computer.

    “Interesting turn of events in the Dreamyard there,” Amanita said. “Never pegged Belle and Starr as someone else’s hired hands when I met them. They always seemed like a standup pair of potential scientists.”

    Door snorted. Maybe Starr would have been—one could program a Companion to be anything they wanted it to be, after all—but Belle was an entirely different matter.

    “You really think so?” Door said.

    Amanita cracked a grin. “Sure. And before you ask, Cassius Cassine was a lot worse off before he got his training. You could rehabilitate a lot of folks, so long as they’re willing to listen to you. That’s what Bill always taught us, anyway.”

    “Um … right.” Door rubbed the back of her neck. “So … what did you need to talk about? Reward for delivering Geist or something?”

    With a click, Amanita slid the coffeepot back into place. She was quiet for a second as she picked up one of the mugs of coffee and placed her tablet on the divider’s counter, in front of Door. Tapping something on its face, she let the tablet’s holographic projector flicker to life. Above the screen, a small image of Door appeared, standing with one fist clenched at her side and the other hand waving wildly in front of her.

    “And now you're being open about it?!” the image demanded.

    Geist’s voice, from a source unseen, responded, “Being open about what?”

    “That you're a Companion!”

    Amanita reached over to tap the tablet’s face, and the image of Door dissipated.

    “Coffee?” Amanita asked as she extended one of the cups to Door.

    Door could feel her face burn with an embarrassed blush, and she shook her head. Amanita frowned and dumped the coffee back into the pot.

    “Suit yourself,” Amanita said.

    “I, um … thanks, but…” Swallowing hard, she glanced at the tablet again and chuckled nervously. “S-so, uh, you grabbed all the video from Geist’s memory core?”

    Amanita grasped the other cup. Her free hand reached for a small sugar bowl in the shape of a munna, just next to the coffeemaker.

    “Mmhmm,” she replied.

    Door stared at the counter. She could practically feel a part of her curl up and die in her chest. “So I guess you saw all the things I said to him already.”

    “Not all of it. Just the Dreamyard so far. Geist told me I’d be most interested in what happened there.”

    Amanita removed the lid of the sugar bowl and started spooning sugar into her coffee, and Door watched the spoon dip into and out of the container. Instantly, she felt relief. Amanita hadn’t seen much, then. Not the time Door tried to hurt Scout, not all the things she said about Companions … nothing except the Dreamyard. Relaxing, Door sat back and thought about what Amanita had just shown her—about the clip in particular.

    “So … so was it interesting?” Door asked at last.

    “Oh yes.” Amanita replied with a chuckle. “I got a kick out of that part in particular.”

    All at once, Door’s face burned again, and she turned her head away from her host. “To be fair, Geist looks just like a human at first glance.”

    Amanita’s spoon clinked against her mug a few times—slowly, as if she was choosing her next moves carefully. And then, at last, she tapped the spoon on the edge of her cup and placed it in the mug that she had offered Door.

    “Oh, I know,” Amanita said. “Geist was specifically designed to be as close to human as possible. Even newer models aren’t as close to human as he is.”

    Door furrowed her eyebrows. “Then what was so funny about that clip? Why show me that clip if you knew I wouldn’t have been able to recognize what Geist was?”

    “Well, two reasons,” Amanita said as she lifted her eyes to the ceiling. “First, I’d like to apologize to you because it is rather rude to lead you on like that. Second…”

    Amanita’s voice trailed off briefly as her eyes fell onto Door. The trainer shifted uncomfortably on her feet as she brought her cup back to her lips.

    “Second?” she asked.

    “Second, truth is…” She exhaled pressed her mug against her chin. “After seeing that clip, I thought it’d be best to have Geist send you up for a chat. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of questions that need answers.”

    At that, Door held up her hands to stop the older woman in her tracks. “Whoa. Look. I’m sure this all is fascinating, but I don’t need answers. I delivered Geist as promised. I’m good with not knowing what’s up.”

    Peering over the counter, Amanita raised her eyebrows at Door. “A granddaughter of Brigette who isn’t curious? Now that’s something.”

    She stopped to sip her coffee. Door watched her tilt her head back and smack her lips afterwards in thought.

    “Well, dear,” Amanita said, “I can’t very well make you stay and chat, so if you really don’t want to ask, you don’t have to. Feel free to go back downstairs. Geist has been instructed to give you an appropriate reward before you leave.”

    Huh. That was easy. Door shifted from one foot to the other as she mulled over Amanita’s words. Was this too easy?

    “Thanks,” she said cautiously. Then, as an afterthought, she added, “And, um. Sorry. For, y’know. Seeming rude here.”

    “Not at all! Take care, Door.”

    And that was that. Amanita turned her back on the living room and brought her mug to her lips, and Door was left standing awkwardly in the middle of a stranger’s living room. Frowning, Door tilted her head and waited for a beat, as if expecting something else, but when Amanita only continued to sip her coffee in silence, Door nodded and moved to the stairs. Without a word of goodbye, she reached out, her fingertips brushing the doorknob…

    ...before stopping altogether.

    Door sighed and cursed internally and profusely. She whirled around, walked back to the divider, and took a seat on one of the stools.

    Once again, an adult played her like a fiddle.

    “Okay,” she said, her voice dripping with exasperation. “First question. Is he a Companion or isn’t he?”

    Amanita shifted to face Door with a wide, friendly grin. “I thought you’d ask. Yes, Geist is a Companion, through and through. One hundred percent artificial human.”

    Door arched an eyebrow and nodded slowly. “Uh huh. So does he … I mean, that’s a stupid question because he said he knew in the Dreamyard, but—”

    “Yes, Geist knows he’s a Companion.”

    At once, Door’s curiosity burned away into a spike of frustration. “So why’d he pretend he wasn’t?! Why’d he talk about himself like he was just some garden-variety amnesiac?!”

    “Can’t say for certain, dear,” Amanita replied with a shrug. “Sometimes, Geist just likes to be coy.” She hesitated, her eyes drifting to the ceiling again. “Although come to think of it, he did say something about how you didn’t care for Companions. Maybe he was just trying to avoid making you feel uncomfortable. He’s designed to be sympathetic, you know.”

    Door cringed. Of course he had to tell Amanita that part. As if she needed to look even worse in front of another human being. Sure, her reason for hating Companions was, in her mind anyway, completely understandable and her own personal opinion that no one in their right mind would judge her for, but she knew that Geist, with his soft sighs and posh accent, would find a way to make it seem like hating his entire kind was a bad thing.

    And then, there was the part where Amanita thought he might have simply been coy, which to Door sounded as if he had deliberately—

    Wait a second.

    “What do you mean you can’t say for certain why he was pretending? He’s a Companion! It’s not like anything’s actually going through his head! Wouldn’t you have, you know, known that he was acting on the protocols for a mischievous Companion or something? Like … doesn’t he have set characteristics like every other Companion?”

    Using one of her hands, Amanita rubbed the back of her head. “Well … that’s true, but Geist is a bit … special.”

    Door did not like the sound of that. “What do you mean?”

    Amanita gave her a long, serious look. “You’ve noticed it, haven’t you? How Geist sometimes seems … human, as it were?”

    Of course she had. That was the first thing she noticed. Door felt her frustration bubble up and fill every part of her body. Her throat constricted, and it felt as if something large and cold was welling up in her throat. All she wanted was a straight answer, but…

    Taking a deep breath, Door tried to calm herself. Maybe she wasn’t asking the right question. Maybe … maybe it wasn’t so much what Geist was but instead why he was.

    And maybe Door had to dig in a different direction to figure that part out.

    So she began. “Dr. Fennel—”


    “Right. Amanita.” Door hesitated. The first question was the most important. That much she knew. “Who made Geist?”

    The scientist smirked. Apparently, the first question was the right one.

    “Your great aunt,” Amanita replied.

    Door paused again, but this time, it was for a short moment. She punctuated it by slapping her forehead.

    “Oh my God. I’ll dismantle him,” she groaned. Then, peering at Amanita, she added, “He’s from Kanto. If he’s with you now, then he meant he lived with my great aunt, didn’t he?”

    “Technically yes, although Kanto does have its own administrator he could’ve been with.” Amanita brought her cup to her lips. “Still, you’re not wrong.”

    Door winced at her response. Geist had another owner. Things were starting to click into place.

    “So … when he said he doesn’t remember anything before he came to you,” Door said slowly, “that meant…”

    “That he was wiped, just like any other used Companion before they end up with new owners?” Amanita took a sip, then pulled her cup away from her lips only just enough to let her speak. “Yep.”

    Door rubbed her face, trailing her hand slowly downwards until she reached her chin. Then, she shoved her elbow against the counter and leaned in, squinting once more at Amanita. “Chrissake,” she said. “Why couldn’t he just say that?”

    With a grin, Amanita swirled her cup, splashing lukewarm coffee over the rim and onto her hand. “Already went over that, dear. But … wouldn’t you like to know why he’s so special—or why your friends with Team Matrix are after him?”

    And there, Door paused. Before that point, Door didn’t think she could narrow her eyes at a person any more than what she was already doing as she stared at Amanita. But that statement—not only the way it was delivered with the woman’s coy smile and teasing tone but also the actual content of it—allowed Door to transcend to a completely different plane of fed up with literally everything. So, she found a way to narrow her eyes even more without closing them completely.

    “What.” Her reaction was not a question. It was a statement.

    Amanita’s grin softened a little, easing from coy to sheepish as she brought her cup to her lips again. “Team Matrix is after Geist. Or at least, I think that’s one of the things they’re doing. Who’s to say about organizations like these? But in any case, they are. Don’t ask me why; I just know. And I know because … well, that’s why your grandmother had me hold onto him for a few years.”

    So that was it. Door relaxed, exhaling through her nose. Granted, she didn’t know whether or not Amanita was telling the truth, but if she was, then it would have made sense.

    After all, Door knew her grandmother. Or, rather, she didn’t know her grandmother, and that was the problem and point all in one. Brigette Hamilton-Hornbeam—former administrator of Pokémon Bank, former CEO of Halcyon Labs, former a lot of other things related to innovative tech Door could barely comprehend—had not spoken to her own son and granddaughter for over ten years. Linus had tried, of course. There was always a voicemail message on Brigette’s birthday, cards on holidays, anything to stay connected, but Brigette never bothered visiting them and certainly showed the minimum amount of warmth towards Door.

    But if there was one thing Door knew about Brigette—other than the fact that she was practically an ice queen as far as she was concerned—it was that Door was poised to inherit this great big family history full of things like a massive tech empire and the words “revolutionized the face of” … and the only reason why she knew about any of it was because she was taught about it in school. She wasn’t told any of it by her grandmother or her often scatterbrained father. It was fed to her by some musty textbook in the back of a classroom, through lectures peppered with kids swiveling around to look at her, through secondhand stories flavored with the excitement of people who apparently knew her family more than she did.

    So yes. She understood that Amanita had no idea why an evil organization was after a Companion Brigette had dumped on her. Dumping important things onto the heads of innocent bystanders with as minimal an explanation as possible was just something Door’s grandmother did.

    And so, Door felt a little bit of sympathy for Amanita as she finally responded.

    “I’m listening,” Door said.

    Amanita sighed, and Door couldn’t help but notice the slightly relieved note it carried.

    “You see,” Amanita began, “Geist is a lot older than he looks, and … well. Your aunt died—what, ten years ago?”

    Door shrugged. She knew she should have felt a little somber at the mention of her great aunt’s death, but the truth was she didn’t feel anything at all. “Yeah.”

    Amanita flicked her fingers across her tablet, and its holographic screen flickered to life once more. “Well, Geist has only been with me for the past three years.”

    Shifting her eyes to the ceiling, Door did the math and nodded slowly. “Okay. So…”

    “So where was he for the past seven years? Bouncing between all of us.”

    Amanita’s fingers struck the glass surface of her tablet once more, and a photograph popped up on the screen above it. Door sat in silence, her eyes scanning across the row of people before her. Eight people stood frozen in time, gathered on the stone steps of a brick building Door couldn’t recognize. All of them looked happy and excited to be there. It was strange for Door to see her grandmother smiling, yet there she was, right in the center, proud and happy and young beside Geist. Lanette stood on his other side, just as young and happy, with her arm looped in his as she smiled shyly to the camera. And next to Lanette must have been Amanita, a literal child perched on the concrete banister. Door couldn’t recognize the others—not the perky blonde woman next to Amanita, the tall punk on the rightmost edge, or either of the two bespectacled human walking sticks taking up most of the left side. And even when Amanita named them, she still didn’t.

    “Let’s see,” Amanita said. “Well, for the first few years, he was with Rachel McKenzie in Johto, who isn’t pictured here because this was taken before all that. After then, he spent a couple years with your grandmother in Hoenn.”

    She prodded at the photograph, at Brigette’s smiling face. The image distorted beneath her touch, rippling like water until it resolved. Somehow, Brigette’s smile looked wrong when it did. Fake somehow. So did the others as Amanita shifted her finger from face to face.

    “Then it was a couple years in Sinnoh with Bebe Larson,” Amanita continued. “Then, so I’ve heard, a very brief time in Kalos with Cassius Cassine, followed by, finally, yours truly.” Her finger lingered on the image of her childhood self, and her voice dropped in volume. “Right around Johto, Team Matrix suddenly popped up, and apparently, the messages they sent Ray scared her enough to force her to send him off to another region. But … well. You can probably figure it out from there.”

    Door didn’t need to think about it. She barely needed to say it, but it spilled out of her mouth all the same. “They all got messages.”

    Amanita pulled her finger away and rested her hand on the counter. “Got it in one. All of them demanded that we hand Geist over.”

    She flicked the tablet again, and the photo shifted to the side, just enough for another window to appear. Door leveled her eyes on it, staring hard at the email client with a single message open and glaring back at her.

    Zero-One is a mistake that must be fixed. You have one chance to do the right thing. Our agents will be in touch shortly.

    Door furrowed her eyebrows at those words. Something didn’t make sense.

    Or, well, none of it made sense, but there was something about Amanita’s story that seemed … odd. It nagged at the back of her mind, even as Amanita continued.

    “Dummy email from a server in Kalos, of course. Perfectly untraceable,” Amanita said. “So, figuring I couldn’t put up a fight myself, I hoped that by sending Geist to your father, I could at least hide him until all of this blew over—or until your father could get him to your company’s headquarters in Castelia.”

    Door reeled back at that statement. “Wait. Geist was delivering starters, not coming for help … wasn’t he?”

    Amanita gave her guest a wry smile. “Door, I still don’t know how Team Matrix found him. I had to be cautious, so I told all three of my assistants at the time that that’s what he was doing and sent them off. I figured that Professor Ironwood would know what to do, and hey, it couldn’t hurt. Her niece had been asking for a starter for months anyway, and if Geist ran into trouble, well. Then he and my other assistants were all armed. Win-win for everyone.” She hesitated for a beat. “Except for the part where Belle and Starr turned out to be the agents in question, anyway. Shame, too. They were with me for a year, and they came highly recommended. Girl has a head on her shoulders, really.”

    How Belle could pass off as anything remotely legit was beyond Door, but she didn’t think to ask. In truth, it didn’t seem quite as important as a lot of other oddities about Amanita’s story, and a thousand more questions spun through Door’s mind. Why was Belle at the Dreamyard? Why did she try to steal the starters? What was Team Matrix, really? If they were after Companion liberation, then what could they have wanted with a real snivy and a real musharna?

    And most importantly…

    “So … why does Team Matrix want him?” she asked.

    Amanita brought her coffee cup to her lips and stopped. “Hmm?”

    Swallowing, Door pressed on. “I mean, when you wipe a Companion, then they’re completely reset. Stealing Geist would be just like stealing a fresh-out-of-the-box Companion. If Team Matrix is all about Companions, you’d think they’d know that.”

    “Oh, no doubt, dear, but Geist is a little different. You see, it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s wiped. The point is…” Amanita hesitated, glancing at the ceiling as if the right words were painted above her. “Well, he’s the prototype.”

    The ensuing silence was short, but it was thick and heavy as Door processed that thought.

    “I’m sorry,” she said. “What?”

    Amanita motioned to her with her mug. “I told you he was older than he looks.”

    “But…” Door screwed up her face and shook her head vigorously. “The prototype as in … the first Companion?”

    “That would be what ‘prototype’ means, yes.”

    Door’s eyebrows rose. “But that would make him, what? Forty years old?”

    “Probably closer to forty-five,” her host replied.

    Door splayed her hands out in front of her, palms up. “But … how?! Companions start experiencing massive slowdown when they’re half that age!”

    Amanita gestured to the ceiling with a finger. “Ah, and therein lies the interesting part. While I don’t rightly know for certain what in Geist causes that, I do know that he was not only the prototype but also your great aunt’s personal Companion.”

    “Yeah. We already—”

    “Which means that whenever she had a new feature to test out, she most likely tried it on Geist first.”

    As Amanita downed the rest of her coffee, Door opened her mouth again to speak, but then, after a moment of silence, she closed it again. A realization descended on her in that time, settling into her brain gradually, as if it was a liquid filling the crevices of her cerebral cortex.

    “So,” she said, “you’re saying…”

    “That when I say Geist is the prototype, I mean for literally everything?” Amanita nodded. “Yes. It also means that there’s a possibility that he’s got cutting edge, experimental tech inside of him. Not just tech that’s been keeping him running all these decades either. I’m talking about tech that your aunt never had the chance to release before she … well.”

    Another silence descended on the room, this time cold and empty, not thick and expectant. Amanita didn’t need to finish that sentence, but frankly, Door wouldn’t have minded if she had.

    Because the first and last time Door had ever seen Lanette Hamilton was at the woman’s funeral … which was funny to Door, given that Lanette was apparently the reason why her family was famous at all.

    But Door didn’t want to say that. Amanita was a stranger, after all. What kind of guest would she be if she dumped old family drama on her? So, swallowing her frustration, Door nodded and said, “Yeah. I get it.”

    Amanita must have noticed how awkward and quiet Door had become, because at that point, she coughed lightly into her hand. “Sorry.”

    “Don’t be. Barely knew her.”

    “Of course.”

    Amanita turned away and set her mug on the kitchen counter. Door’s eyes settled on the coffeepot as the scientist pulled it free and began making another steaming cup of coffee. There was something soothing about the motion, the way Amanita swept the carafe out of the machine and the way the coffee hit the mug with a splash. Door inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of freshly brewed coffee, and already, she was regretting the decision to turn down a cup. The conversation and onslaught of revelations already left her feeling drained, and she had the feeling she was only partway through the story. And given the fact that she hadn’t had a decent cup of coffee in almost two days, Door wasn’t looking forward to hearing the rest of the story without a hefty dose of caffeine.

    But then, Amanita shoved the carafe back in place, and Door’s mind was forced to refocus on the woman, sans coffee.

    “Anyway,” Amanita continued, “point is, that’s the long and short of it. Team Matrix wants Geist because he could be carrying around tech to make whatever it is they want to do possible.”

    Door grimaced again. “And I’m leaving that hunk of junk with you.”

    She reached up and placed a finger on the hologram still projected in front of her. Pressing her fingertip into her grandmother’s face, Door twitched the picture back and forth as she digested everything Amanita had just told her. Then, she stopped and gazed through the picture at Amanita, who was busy pouring milk into her coffee.

    “Wait,” she said. “Why are you okay with me going back to Nuvema City if Team Matrix is desperate to get their hands on your Companion?”

    “Because after looking at Geist’s video memories, I called in a favor from the Striaton gym leaders, and if absolutely no one else is available, then Sage will take him to Halcyon Labs,” Amanita replied casually.


    “Oh.” Amanita added sugar and stirred, clinking the spoon against her mug as if to punctuate her words. “So you probably shouldn’t worry about it, dear. We’ll be fine. I have no doubt Savory’s gathering the troops to make sure we’re safe through the night too.”

    “I dunno. Maybe,” Door mumbled.

    Amanita tapped her spoon against the rim of her mug and took the first sip of her new cup of coffee. As she pulled it away, she sighed in exaggerated contentment and let her shoulders sag. Door smiled a little. For an old woman, Amanita was a character, and if everything she had shared was true, then Door felt a little bit guilty. Even with the reassurance that the Striaton gym leaders were going to do everything they could to protect her and get Geist out of her life, the fact of the matter was that anything that would happen to her—and, in truth, all of the things that had already happened—would clearly be Brigette Hamilton’s fault. What else could Door do but feel for the woman?

    Probably feel a little guilty by extension, but it wasn’t as if Door was about to do the noble thing and claim responsibility for it. And she knew that made her a slightly terrible person, but did she really want to get involved with an evil organization and a generations-old dose of family drama when she could just go home and forget all of this? No. No, she did not.

    Her eyes settled back on the picture of her grandmother. This was where she came from. This was who her grandmother was. But this was all in the past, and it technically didn’t have anything to do with Door, so could she really be blamed if—

    A pop-up appeared under her finger, snapping her out of her daze. At first, her mind waved it off as a perfectly ordinary part of the system—just a tiny box that listed off all the basic information about the image—but then she looked at it.

    Really looked at it.

    And then she did the math.

    “Hey … Amanita?”

    The woman didn’t turn around. It was as if she knew what the question was before Door had asked it. “Yes, dear?”

    “You … you said that Geist is about forty, right?”

    “Forty-five at the oldest, yes. Why?”

    Slowly, Door pulled her finger away from the image, but the pop-up remained.

    “This photo was taken over fifty years ago,” she said quietly.

    “Oh. Yes, I suppose it has.”

    Amanita whirled back around and eyed the photograph. She prodded it with a finger, minimizing the email client and forcing the photograph to take up the entire holographic screen again. Then, she flicked the pop-up itself to flip it around.

    “This was a picture of all of us—the original set of core administrators for the storage system, I mean,” Amanita explained. “Last Pokécon we attended together, in … maybe 2005? Ah. Guess it would be, if the date created’s right.”

    Door raised her eyebrows and nodded. “Yeah, that’s great and all, but if that was five to ten years before Geist existed…” She jammed her finger into the image of the man at the center of the photograph. “Then what the hell is this?”

    Amanita’s face blanked. Just blanked, all of a sudden. Door froze, finger still poking halfway through the projection, as she watched Amanita’s expression shift and darken until it was almost … sad? Bewildered? As if she had just realized Door lacked a vital piece of the puzzle, and this was the worst possible thing in the world.

    All of a sudden, any suspicion Door had that the woman was hiding anything from her vanished.

    “Is … is that why you didn’t know Geist was a Companion?” Amanita asked softly.

    Door blinked. “What?”

    Amanita covered her mouth with a hand and turned away. When she spoke, her voice was low and hurried, as if she was talking more to herself than to Door. “Oh. That makes so much sense now. I mean … it’d be a little odd that you would assume he was human if you knew who—Lanette went to great lengths to make him look identical, and there’s no way a human being could look that close.”

    She had missed something. But what? Door screwed up her face and drew her shoulders in defensively. “What?

    “Then again, how could you have not known what he looks like?” Amanita continued, as if she hadn’t heard Door either time. “Or … maybe you kids don’t know anymore. Kids in my day didn’t know what Steve Wozniak looked like, never mind Paul Allen, so maybe … nah, that still doesn’t explain…”

    Right about then was when Door had had enough. She threw her hand out of the projection and slapped the counter in front of her, drawing the woman’s attention back to her.

    “Amanita!” she barked. Then, she pointed to the image. “What?!

    The scientist set her coffee cup down. One of her hands curled by her face, and the other rested its fingertips on the rim of her mug.

    “Door,” she said, “did your grandmother ever tell you anything about … I mean … don’t you have pictures of…?” She motioned to the man in the center of the projection.

    “No?” Door squeaked.

    For the third time in their conversation, there was a long pause, and this time, it was once again cold and awkward and stifling.

    And then, Amanita huffed and shook her head.

    “I’m gonna have to have a word with your grandmother,” she sighed.

    Door winced. “Why?”

    “Because, Door, this”—she pointed to the man, as if to emphasize her thought—“is not Geist, as you’ve already realized. Instead, I’d like for you to meet the reason why all of us are where we are today: the original inventor of the storage system, Dr. Bill McKenzie.”

    Door stared at her with complete incomprehension.

    “Really? Nothing?” Amanita groaned and rolled her eyes. “Geez, what do they teach you kids in school these days? Fifty years ago, Bill was a household name!”

    “Uh … we might’ve covered him in history class? I dunno. I kinda … wasn’t paying attention.” Door cringed.


    Door splayed her hands out in front of her. “Well, come on! If I wasn’t gonna hear it from my grandma—”

    With one hand held up to Door, Amanita used the other to pick her mug up again. “All right. I get it. Really, I’m a little disappointed in Brigette myself. We all swore we wouldn’t let Bill be forgotten, and here we are, fifty years later…” She trailed off with another shake of her head.

    Door’s eyes settled on the photograph again, on the figure at its center. She knew she had been traveling with what was apparently his robot double for the past two days, but to her, Geist’s human predecessor was … somehow less impressive. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why, although it may have had to do with how casual he looked. How very … ordinary, for someone her grandmother and Amanita swore should never be forgotten.

    “So … what? He was a big deal?” she asked.

    Amanita snorted. “Was he a big deal? Oh, goodness.” She motioned to Door again with the hand that held her mug, splashing coffee onto the counter next to the tablet. “Like I said, he’s the reason why any of us are here—including trainers like you. Imagine what life would be like without the storage system. A lot of things about pokémon had been complete mysteries to us. Trainers never bothered catching a lot of pokémon, researchers couldn’t catch or keep samples … heck, even the regional leagues couldn’t sprawl as far as they do now. Then Bill came along with his system, and boom! Training as you knew it completely changed.”

    Door furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “But … my aunt invented the storage system.”

    Placing a hand on her hip, Amanita grinned and held up her coffee cup. “Is that what they say nowadays? Ha! I’m sure Bill woulda gotten a kick out of hearing that. Honey, no, the original idea was his.”

    She stopped for a second to take a sip. As she drank, she glanced at the ceiling in thought. Then, slowly, she pulled her mug away.

    “Granted, your great aunt was brilliant in her own right,” Amanita continued. “The original storage system was a text-based interface. Nearly unnavigable to anyone who wasn’t fluent in line code. Your great aunt gave it a GUI and even bashed the entire concept of user accessibility into Bill’s head until he stopped cooking up stuff only code monkeys like us can use.” She chuckled. “Those two were a pair, dear. Bill was brilliant. Lanette was creative. And the two of them just had a way of bouncing ideas off each other unlike anything else the rest of us could’ve achieved. And that’s why…”

    Her voice trailed off, and Door stared at her for a beat until she realized the woman wasn’t going to continue.

    “That’s … why what?” Door asked.

    Amanita set her mug on the counter and arched her fingers over its mouth again. Her expression gained a frown and a faraway look, and her mouth twitched.

    “That’s why Lanette was closer to him than any of us,” she said at last.

    Her voice was low, quiet, and just barely audible, and because of that, Door waited again, letting the woman gather her thoughts. Then, after a deep breath, Amanita continued.

    “All of us looked up to Bill,” she explained. “He … he had this way of looking at things. Everything had a purpose. Everything had a reason for being. So no matter who you were or where you came from, he’d look at you and just know how to push you to do your best. So when I say everyone looked up to him, I mean it. But Lanette? Lanette was his best friend. She didn’t see him the way we did. She was … well, she was his equal—his partner. Those two went together like a left hand and a right hand. Whenever you saw those two working … it was something magical, dear.”

    It didn’t take a genius to know where this was going. The distant, soft tone. The past tense. The way Amanita was carefully choosing her words. Door knew she wasn’t being tactful because Lanette was dead and gone; she wasn’t stupid. But the story had to be finished. She could see that in Amanita’s face, in the way she was pausing to think of a way to press onward. So when Door spoke next, it was out of obligation: out of her own need to hear Amanita’s words and out of Amanita’s need to speak.

    “So … what happened?” she asked.

    Amanita looked almost relieved to hear Door ask. She shrugged, and as she brought her shoulders down, her body visibly relaxed. “Well, Bill died. Went pretty young, too. Probably … oh, fifty years ago, I guess. Not long after this picture was taken. It doesn’t matter. The point is, all of a sudden, we were this fledgling group of people whose lives had been irrevocably changed by this one person, and that person was dead and gone. You’d better believe it hit us all hard, but it hit some of us harder than others. Your great aunt, for example.”

    Door shifted uncomfortably in her seat. The metaphorical pieces were coming together, and the picture was starting to get uglier in her mind.

    She thought briefly about what she knew of her great aunt. Lanette Hamilton, the former administrator of the Hoenn network, the founder of Halcyon Labs, the supposed inventor of the storage system. Only she wasn’t one of those things apparently, and that was bad enough, but to Door, there was more. This was the woman who shut herself up in a remote corner of Kanto, the woman who cut all ties to her family and the rest of the outside world, the eccentric inventor who supposedly went the way of Nikola Tesla and Howard Hughes and all the other brilliant crazies before her.

    And now, Door knew her as something else: as the woman who made a robot butler that looked exactly like a dead man.

    “So … you’re saying that she made Geist look like her best friend because he died?” she asked.

    “That’s my theory, yep,” Amanita replied. “No one’s really confirmed that. Not to me anyway, but your grandma might be able to shed some light on that.” She pushed her coffee cup a little further away from her. “Which brings us to the point of the matter! Door, I’d hate to do this, but I have another job for you.”

    “Huh?” Door shook her head vigorously. “Uh … sure. I guess. What’s up?”

    “I need you to deliver Geist to Halcyon Labs HQ,” Amanita replied.

    Door jolted. If her mind was calm and methodical before, it was running at the speed of light now, and every muscle in her body was just as electrified as her brain was. She sat bolt upright, back straight and stiff, hands balled into fists on the counter in front of her, eyes wide and fixed completely on Amanita.

    “What?!” she exclaimed. “But that’s all the way in Castelia City! And didn’t you just say Sage was gonna do it?!”

    In response, Amanita gave her a shamefaced smile. “I know. But if you’ve made it to here from Nuvema, you should have no problem getting across Nacrene and the Skyarrow. There’s even a gym in Nacrene, if you liked Striaton’s.”

    “But…” Door gazed at Amanita helplessly. “Why me?!”

    “Well, dear, if Team Matrix is after Geist, then there’s no safer place for him than Halcyon’s HQ,” Amanita said. “Unfortunately, poor Geist can’t go there himself, being a Companion and all, and while Sage could be the one to take him, she’s got gym duties to attend to. It’d be much easier for all of us if you went, sorry to say. And besides, wouldn’t you like to ask your grandma a few questions? Like, for example, why she never told you about Bill?”

    Door settled into her seat and narrowed her eyes at her host. She grumbled a few words under her breath about not knowing about Bill because she didn’t care, about how secretive her grandmother was, and about how stupid Geist was, but she didn’t string together a sentence coherent or audible enough for Amanita to catch. She made sure of that. Part of that was because she didn’t want the attached argument, and part of it was because she knew that somewhere, deep down, she was just a little bit curious.

    Nonetheless, Amanita held up a hand again to calm her. “I know. You’d rather just go back to Nuvema and forget about all this Companion business, wouldn’t you? Or at least, that’s the impression a certain little birdie told me while I was downloading his memories and fixing up the other girl’s Companion. And you know what he also told me? That another certain someone wants to be a researcher someday. So why don’t I make you an offer? Do this for me, find out what your grandma knows, and I might just be able to work something out with Professor Ironwood. Transfer your internship over here. Let you work with real pokémon. What do you say?”

    She moved her hand, extending it for Door to shake. Door hesitated in response, and her expression—and, for that matter, her entire body—relaxed. Her eyes flicked from Amanita’s hand to her face.

    “Seriously?” she asked cautiously.

    Amanita grinned. “Seriously.”

    For a moment, Door merely sat where she was, considering the offer. It wasn’t because she wasn’t sure whether or not she should take it; she knew this could be her dream job. But the problem was she wasn’t sure whether or not she should believe Amanita. Sure, she had believed her about the story—she had seen the photograph, and she knew her grandmother would lie to the woman, after all—but this wouldn’t be the first time someone had duped her into a job. What if the reward wasn’t real? And what if, beyond that, Amanita had told her what she thought was the truth, but in actuality, Brigette had lied to her about everything? What if Door was walking into one big mess, far bigger than she had ever dreamed of?

    But on the other hand, what if everything was real, and in a week, she would be working with real pokémon?

    Real pokémon. Was the risk of a mess worth that?

    Door bobbed her head back and forth and then finally decided that, yes, it was.

    “All right,” she said, shaking Amanita’s hand. “But I’m holding you to that.”

    Amanita smiled as if she knew Door would say that. “Naturally, dear! Now, I know it’s gonna be a long walk to Nacrene, so if you’d like, I’ve got a couch and a blanket you’re welcome to use for the night.”

    “Huh? Oh, um. N-no,” Door quickly said, her mind flashing back to Blair. “I have … I promised someone I’d meet them at the pokémon center.”

    Amanita’s grin gained a warm, knowing shade as she broke away from Door. Flicking her pad, she dispelled the photograph and brought up a folder in its place.

    “Ah, the Whitleigh girl, is it?” she asked.

    Door felt her face burn with a blush. “It-it’s not what you think!”

    Amanita waved a hand in the air. “Don’t worry, Door. It’s good to have a healthy rivalry on journeys like this! Now, you’d better run along. Blair’s not the only one waiting for you.”

    For a second, Door hesitated, staring at Amanita blankly until it dawned on her that the scientist had meant the very person she was supposed to be escorting. Shaking her head, Door jolted herself alert.

    “R-right,” she said. “And, um … thanks. For the offer, I mean.”

    Amanita tapped a file within the folder, bringing up a window with plain text sprawled across it. “Don’t mention it, Door. Just be careful out there and stay in touch as much as possible, okay?”

    Door nodded, then started for the staircase. As she opened the door one more time, she glanced over her shoulder at Amanita, who was already busy scrolling through the file. With one last grin, Door slipped into the stairwell and shut the door behind her.

    For that reason, she didn’t read the words filling Amanita’s screen.


    > Author: Cassius Cassine

    First of all, if you’ve found this file on your own, congratulations. You’re one of the rare people who’re capable of bypassing the security measures of not one but three of the original members of the Pokémon Storage System’s core development team. In plain Common, that either means technology has advanced to the point where what we do is child’s play, or it means you’re a straight-up computer genius. Either way, take pride in getting this far.

    Now, I don’t like beating around the bush, and I know you probably have better things to do than read a readme file—if you’re reading this at all. So let me just lay it out for you straight.

    Enclosed in this folder is a whole stack of documentation which was cobbled together by me, Bebe Larson, and Lanette Hamilton herself. All of them detail the inner workings of this very specific Companion you have in your possession, as well as some history behind why I needed to write this. Read these files carefully and think about them.

    Once you’ve done that much, you’ll probably be a little weirded out. That’s okay. I was too when I found all this stuff. But unlike you, I was a dumbass and a coward. I didn’t have the guts to fix things myself, and I own up to that. And between you and me, that’s why I wrote this file: so maybe, just maybe, someone like you will come along and do the right thing.

    What I mean to say, reader, is my name is Cassius Cassine, and in the following files, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to fix Bill McKenzie’s biggest mistake.
  11. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    When Savory shut Amanita’s front gate and hurried along the road back to the Striaton Gym, he had a number of things to worry about. For one, he was worried that he had just made a fool of himself by bidding the girls farewell so quickly. (He did.) For another, he was worried that Sumac would bite his head off for taking so long and for coming back so close to the dinner rush. (Sumac would.) For a third, he was worried that the things he had seen at the Dreamyard meant he and his cousins would have to get involved with the police, and he was worried because this was always the worst part of his job as a gym leader for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with the time he broke up with Officer Jenny’s daughter and proceeded to “relieve his frustration” on a mailbox or two. (Those were most definitely the reasons.)

    And for a fourth, he was worried that the veteran trainer and the homeless-looking guy who had been waiting outside of Amanita’s gate were now following him.

    (They were.)

    Savory tried his hardest not to think about that last one. Instead, he tried to ground himself by shoving his hands into the pockets of his slacks and keeping his eyes on the sidewalk. His fingers played with the last poké ball in his pocket as he tried to come up with a plan. Why did he give the Companion his pansear again?

    Oh. Right. Because the pansear liked him, and Savory had so many other ways of keeping a mugger at bay. Like the lillipup he was supposed to use on beginning trainers. Or the pocket knife that he had most definitely left in the office of Le Jardin Potager. Or the martial arts moves he absolutely, without-a-doubt did not learn from old Brycen movies.

    Savory was not a very smart man, no. Sage was the smart one. Sumac was the dumb-but-you-forgave-him-because-he-was-pretty one. And Savory?

    Well. Savory was the impulsive one.

    “Sautée! Bite!”

    He whipped around, snapping his lillipup’s ball into the air behind him. No sooner had the puppy burst from it than a massive set of claws smacked it out of the air and pinned it to the concrete. An emboar towered over the dog, leaning in with a grunt as Sautée squirmed and whined under its massive hand.

    Beside this scene, the veteran smiled and patted one of the emboar’s toned arms.

    “Now, now, Curly,” she said. “Don’t want to break the gym leader’s lillipup.”

    The emboar snorted again, and tiny plumes of fire flashed from its nostrils. But nonetheless, following its trainer’s word, it pulled its arm up, easing its hand off the puppy’s back just enough to take pressure off the fauxkémon.

    This did not comfort Savory in the slightest, and as his eyes flicked from the emboar to the veteran, he struggled to form another plan of escape. Rush her? No. The emboar had two arms, and although Savory wasn’t the sharpest tool in Striaton Gym’s shed, he knew better than to pick a fight with 330 pounds of muscle, fire, and rage. Run the other way? But what about Sautée? A third option, then?

    As if sensing his panic, the woman pushed one of her palms towards him.

    “Relax, son,” she said. “My friend and I just want to talk.”

    All of a sudden, Savory was aware of someone behind him. He cursed, mentally kicking himself for forgetting all about the woman’s human partner. On instinct, Savory shifted his feet and lowered himself into a fighting stance.

    In response, the woman’s face fell, and her hand stopped mid-push. “I said relax. We’re not gonna hurt you. Not even Curly.” She patted her pig on the shoulder again, then snorted herself. “You know, though, it’s kinda funny. Your dad would’ve given his left arm to be punched in the face by Curly here. He was always a little sore that I fought your uncle instead. Or he was after I swept through the League.”

    Savory shifted his weight again. His muscles relaxed a little, and his eyes darted from the woman to the emboar and back. A realization was slowly coming to him.

    “You’re…” His voice trailed off before he could finish.

    “That’s right,” she said. “And the man behind you … you might’ve heard of him from your dad too. But don’t worry. He’s a friend of mine now.” At this point, she lowered her chin, and her expression darkened. “Now. Question. What did you see at the Dreamyard?”

    Savory inhaled deeply through his nose. His eyes wandered away from both the woman and the emboar in front of him as he mulled over the question. The truth was, he didn’t see much. The fog was far too thick. But there were voices and noises—strange ones that he wasn’t quite sure he could describe.

    And in any case, why would he say a word to these people? There was a chance the woman in front of him was who she said she was, but anyone could string together some vague references to the original Striaton gym leaders, get an emboar fauxkémon, and pretend to be the champion.

    Sure, he knew what the champion looked like, but he had never actually met her in person. He wasn’t nearly lucky enough to represent the three gym leaders at League meetings and whatnot, and in any case, that wasn’t the point. The point was, everyone knew what the champion looked like. Anyone could make themselves up to look just like her. And anyone could walk up to a guy on the street for reasons that could very well be crazy to ask him about things he may or may not have seen. Why should he tell those people anything at all?

    Because, he realized after a moment of thought, Savory believed her. He couldn’t explain why, but somehow, he just knew she really was the champion.

    Savory was not a very smart man, no. But he knew he was in deep.

    “Not much,” he said quietly. “Lots of pink. There was … I guess another woman in there? With a Companion? She attacked one of these girls, but I didn’t see her.” He hesitated. “And there was this other voice. It was coming from everywhere, and it was—”

    “What did it say?” the man asked.

    Savory jumped but quickly regained his composure. Clearing his throat, he straightened up. “I don’t know. Look, it didn’t make sense to me, okay? Something about … disappointing him, I guess? The voice, I mean. It was a guy. Older guy.”

    The champion and the homeless man exchanged glances. Then, the woman clicked her tongue and recalled her emboar.

    “We should tell Rosa,” the man said.

    Sighing, the champion walked forward and rested an elbow on Savory’s shoulder.

    “Sure,” she said. “But first, let’s escort this young man back to the Striaton Gym.”

    Her partner raised his eyebrows. “Are you thinking of recruiting all three?”

    “Recruiting?” Savory repeated, quirking an eyebrow at the champion.

    She smiled and patted his back with the hand that was resting on his shoulder. “Well, that and I’ve heard you all got the best chocolate mousse in the region. If this is gonna be a long few days for me, I might as well start it off right.”


    “So you accidentally caught a real audino?” Blair asked.

    Door shrugged. Since departing from Striaton early that morning, she had led the way out of the city, marching along the lit, tiled path of Route 3. By her side was the audino in question, who had seemed all-too eager to leave the Dreamyard. At every noise and every new sight, the rabbit-like creature would hum and crane her neck and twist around to look at the grass, the trees, and the humans around her. Blair had called her adorable and even “squishy,” words which, in Door’s opinion, fit the pokémon and her abundance of pink and curls and puffy fur a little too well. For this reason, Door had decided to give her the most appropriate name she could think of at the time: a name that not only fit the pokémon’s apparent softness but also felt like one Door wouldn’t mind calling out in the heat of a battle.


    “Yep,” she said presently. “Not that I mind. Knives looks tough … even if she’s pink and all.”

    “Uh … I guess,” Blair replied. “But I thought that audino were supposed to be gentle.”

    Door slipped her hands behind her head and cast a smirk back at the other trainer. “I’m sure I can teach her how to be a vicious killer.”

    Blair grinned right back and snorted. “Ha. Good luck. Anyway, it’s cool that you caught a pokémon at all.”

    At that, Door’s smile fell, and she furrowed her eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

    “Well…” Blair crossed her arms. Her shoulders rose, tensing around her face as she frowned. “I’ve been in Striaton for years. There’re lots of pokémon that live around town, and not once have I ever come close to catching one myself.”

    Door blinked and raised her eyebrows. “But when we met, you caught that patrat, right?”

    “Correction!” Opal exclaimed. She trotted forward, one finger raised to the sky, until she fell into step beside Blair. “That patrat was defeated, not caught. According to my sensors, the patrat was dispatched with utmost efficiency with a single Tackle!”

    Blair cringed. She turned her head away from her friends as she bit her lip. At the same time, Door stopped and stared at Blair, forcing the rest of the group to halt in their tracks.

    “You … you took it out?” she asked.

    “Y-yeah,” Blair mumbled. “Completely.”

    Door groaned, faced Blair, and put her hands on her hips. “Don’t they teach you how to catch pokémon at that trainer’s school you went to?”

    Blair fidgeted as she forced herself to speak. “Y-yeah. They … they do. It’s just that I … I … um.”

    “You were never good at it, were you?”

    She lowered her head. “No.”

    With a heavy sigh, Door ran her fingers through her hair and looked out towards the sea of grass. This route, like the ones bordering Accumula and Nuvema, was maintained. Perfect. It looked like a sea of tall grass, but all of the grass was at uniform height. All of the trees were evenly spaced. The route cut through everything too cleanly, as if the grass simply stopped at a perfect line across the prairie to make way for the road. And as if that wasn’t enough, Door realized that the whole thing looked like a carbon copy of Routes 1 and 2. The only difference was that Route 3 was far more populated. There were several trainers out there, each creeping along the manicured fields or battling one another, but no one was on the road itself.

    But beyond their welcomed absence on the road, none of the trainers interested Door. They wouldn’t be able to teach Blair how to catch a pokémon, after all. But something else caught her eye, something completely relevant to Blair’s predicament: movement in the grass. Every so often, waves would form, with grass shaking against the wind as something passed through it. Some trainers chased after the trails formed by these waves, but other trails were left to weave across the field and disappear. Door let her eyes linger on each trail as she contemplated her next actions. The presence of trainers here would make what Door had in mind a bit of a challenge, but she knew she had to do it. For a friend.

    “Yo, so those dumb-sounding pokémon capture courses. How did they teach you to catch pokémon?” Door asked.

    Blair visibly relaxed before answering. Her shoulders lowered, her hands laced together, and when she spoke, her voice was a little louder, a little firmer, a little more like the Blair Door had first met on Route 2.

    “Kinda stupidly, like you said,” Blair said. “They explained how you need to weaken a pokémon and taught us how to use a poké ball, and then they had us practice on fauxkémon owned by the school.”

    “But you never actually went after wild pokémon, did you?”

    Blair scratched her arm nervously. “Well … no. Students aren’t technically allowed out on the fields without an escort and a Companion, and even then, they have to stick to the roads only. Not the fields. It’s too dangerous.” On the last two words, Blair mimed quotation marks around her head.

    Door snorted this time and held up a hand, palm up. “There’s your problem. All talking, no hands-on learning. Really dumb way to figure things out, I think. Hey, Geist. Gimme a poké ball. I gotta teach Blair how it’s done.”

    Seconds later, she felt Geist’s hand press into hers to place a poké ball in her palm. It took all her willpower not to shudder at the suddenness of it all. She couldn’t even hear the Companion approach, and the time between her request and his reaction was practically negligible. Yet his hand—the warmth, the softness of his skin, even the particular smoothness of his fingernails—felt too real. She had to take a moment to remind herself of what he was, and that was one moment too long for her tastes.

    With a cough and a shudder, she yanked her hand away from Geist’s and curled her fingers around the poké ball at the same time. Then, inhaling deeply, Door started into the field.

    “Door,” Geist said, “I’m detecting a—”

    “I’m fine,” she snapped.

    “Did you not want—”

    “I said I’m fine.” She glanced over her shoulder, first to send a cold glare to Geist, then to offer a soft look to Blair. “Catching pokémon is the most basic thing a trainer can do. At least, until you start getting into the harder routes, anyway. But regardless of where you are, you should be able to do it without a Companion.”

    Geist crossed his arms and gave Door a worried frown. “Well, yes, but a Companion’s assistance is—”

    “Completely, 100% optional,” Door growled as she turned back to the field.

    He sighed behind her. “Very well. Good luck, Door.”

    “Right,” she said. “So step one is finding a suitable pokémon.”

    Door didn’t expect step one to take long at all. Even with the route crawling with trainers, there were more spots of waving grass than there were humans. All she had to do was pick one, and conveniently enough for her, there was one directly ahead of her. She pressed her lips together and crouched, watching it dart back and forth mere feet from where she stood.

    “Step two: battle it!” she announced. “Knives! Pound whatever’s making this grass wave!”

    The fact that the rabbit bounded past Door without question came as a pleasant surprise to her. She didn’t even think that the creature was paying attention. Yet there she went, the fluffy audino, cooing eagerly as she dove into the rustling grass.

    “Why’re you using Knives?” Blair asked. “Isn’t she too new to fight?”

    “Ha! That’s the point,” Door replied, flashing a grin at Blair. “See, part of step two is doing everything you can to avoid making it faint. Sometimes, it’s better to go with a weaker pokémon than a stronger one because that way, you’re sure to avoid knocking it out accidentally.” She held up a finger. “In fact, I’m willing to bet that’s what happened with the patrat. Toto’s a fake pokémon, right? They’re stronger than real ones, and sometimes, they don’t even know their own strength. Sure, the patrat had to’ve been fake too, but—”

    And then, a lillipup flew past Door and crashed onto the pathway right beside Blair. Both trainers jumped and screamed, with Blair leaning into Opal and away from the downed lillipup. Door took a few more seconds to let her heart rate stabilize, and then, she looked down to find Knives at her side, grinning up at her with a broad, almost stupid smile. The audino tilted her head and chirped, her lips bubbling open and shut in as cute a manner as she could muster. Upon seeing that smile, Door shifted her gaze back to the lillipup, just in time to see it rise shakily to its feet.

    Geist, meanwhile, stood a short distance away from Opal and Blair. Up until this point, he had been watching patiently, but as soon as the trainers screamed, he reached up to massage the bridge of his nose with another sigh.

    “Health is at 21%,” he intoned. “Door, I realize you would rather not take my advice, but perhaps now would be a good time to use that poké ball.”

    “Uh … r-right,” she said.

    Flicking her wrist, Door tossed the poké ball at the lillipup and watched it smack the puppy in the forehead and suck it inside with barely a struggle. Once the ball snapped shut, it fell onto the pathway and rocked back and forth for a few seconds. Door didn’t even have to hold her breath; she knew the moment the ball struck the lillipup that it was as good as hers. And sure enough, after those few seconds, her poké ball went still with a final ping, and Door was left to gape at the pokémon standing next to her.

    “Jesus,” she muttered. “Where’d you learn to do that?”

    Knives giggled, drawing her paws to her mouth as she squinted her sky-blue eyes. Then, she reached out to tug at Door’s pant leg, leading her back to the path like a small child leading her parent through a toy store.

    “I … did you know about this?” Door asked, her voice high-pitched as she threw a glare towards Geist.

    In the time that it took for Door to reach the road again, Geist had moved to the poké ball and picked it up. His eyes were glowing faintly as he stared at its surface.

    “Yes,” he said. “Knives is a young pokémon, and audino themselves don’t possess much in the way of offensive talents. However, it’s rather clear to me that your audino is eager to please.”

    Door furrowed her eyebrows. “A-and?”

    “And sometimes, when a pokémon is eager to please, they go to great lengths to make their masters happy. Including attack repeatedly without being ordered to do so.” Geist turned his hand, dangling the ball from his fingertips. “Lillipup. Female. Moderate experience level. Serious natured but prone to playful outbursts.”

    His trainer took the ball from him and stared at it as if it was an alien artifact. A question was forming in her mind, specifically about how Geist could tell what the lillipup’s personality was, but she couldn’t find her voice. So in her silence, Geist turned away from her and folded his hands behind his back.

    “As you can see, Miss Blair,” he said, “capturing pokémon requires a level of skill and attention, but Door is right in saying both of those traits are easily acquired with practice. Weaken a pokémon first to disable it, then throw a poké ball at it once you’ve determined whether or not it’s weak enough to be captured. Be sure not to go overboard on your attacks, else you’ll encounter the same problem you did when you tried to capture that patrat. When in doubt, rely on your Companion. We have the ability to calculate a pokémon’s health from a distance and advise you on the best time to attempt a capture. Understand?”

    Blair nodded, her eyes wide and on Geist. “Y-yeah. I think so.”

    Geist’s hand snaked into the pocket of his coat to draw out another poké ball. “Then would you like to give it a try? There was another lillipup not far from the one Door battled. Opal will be able to tell you where it is now.”

    With a deep breath, Blair steadied herself and straightened her back. She balled her hands at her sides and lifted her chin to look deep into Geist’s face. Her hand quivered as she reached up, slowly, for the ball in the Companion’s palm.

    And then, a scream rose from the field behind them and stopped her.

    Somebody stop them! They took my pokémon!

    Blair and Opal whirled around as Geist and Door looked up, all in time to see two figures leap onto the road and dash away. Two very familiar figures.

    “Belle!” Door shouted.

    She shoved Geist out of the way and dashed forward, but before she could take more than a few steps beyond him, he reached out and snatched her arm. Pain shot up to her shoulder as she twisted around, her hand clawing at his.

    “Geist! Let me go!” she screamed.

    “Now hold on!” he snapped. “You can’t just run after two criminals, just like that!”

    “Watch me!”

    “Hold on!” Blair said.

    She flicked her arm out, as if to bar Door’s progress with her own body. Door stopped, took a calming breath, and followed Blair’s glance to see what had caught her attention. A boy stumbled out of the tall grasses, crying and gasping for breath. He snapped his gaze towards the retreating backs of Belle and Starr, whimpered, and turned his head towards Door and her traveling party. His eyes shone with tears as he limped towards them.

    “Please,” he cried. “Please! They took my patrat!”

    It was Opal of all people who trotted forward. She reached out for the child and grabbed him by the arms, then held him up. Her eyes flashed as they trailed down the boy’s leg and stopped at his ankle.

    “I’m detecting a sprain,” she said. “It’s pretty bad. You have no business running around, I’m afraid.”

    He shook his head and looked up at her. “But I have to! Patrat’s all I’ve got! If they get away with Patrat…”

    “Where’s your Companion?” Blair asked.

    The boy sniffed and shook his head again. “They broke her. The girl has this really strong snivy, and she snuck up behind us—”

    Door shoved Geist away from her and bolted down the road, heading quickly in the direction Belle and Starr ran. It didn’t take long for Geist to catch up to her, and he skidded to a halt directly in front of her. By the time Door realized he was in front of her, it was a second too late. She barrelled into him, and the moment she did, she shoved her hands into his chest and stumbled backwards for a few steps. He remained where he stood, calmly, with his feet planted on the road and his arms extended at his sides.

    “Get out of the way!” Door shouted.

    “I thought I told you we shouldn’t be rushing off like this!” Geist snapped.

    “The longer we stand here talking, the more likely Belle and Starr are gonna get away!” She waved her arm wildly to the side. “I’m not playing around, Geist! Get out of the way and let me go after them!”

    “We need a plan,” he growled. “This time, we don’t have the advantage of being covered by dream smoke, and we’ve just found out that Belle has no problem with using pokémon to attack people and Companions. If you run after them, who knows what they’ll do?”

    “How’s this for a plan?” Door hissed, jabbing a finger at Geist’s face. “Go find that kid’s Companion and get her back online. You were Amanita’s assistant. You should have some tech knowledge or whatever under your belt. In the meantime, I’m going after Belle and Starr, whether you like it or not. I’ll figure it out when I get there.”


    “Knives! Get him out of my way!”

    Geist widened his eyes as he opened his mouth in protest, but before he could say a word, a blur of pink and cream shot at him and slammed into his chest. He fell onto his back with a bang, and Door dashed past him without even looking back. All she was aware of was her audino bounding beside her on the left and, a few moments later, a second presence joining her on the right. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Blair catching up with her, and with that, she smirked.

    Two human trainers. Multiple real pokémon. Two thieves to capture. This was going to be easy.


    It didn’t surprise Door in the least that their chase would lead them off the roadway and beyond the manicured fields. The geography of Unova had barely changed since Hilda King’s day; everything was still there. It was just that most people stuck to the neatly trimmed fields and steel-and-glass pathways. But all it took to access the wild parts was to climb over a small fence and cross into even taller, denser grass—places where the fauxkémon grew obscenely strong and where the rougher sorts of characters went.

    And Knives, of course, had no concept of fences. She had grown up within the boundary of one large wall, sure, but what did a short, wood-and-wire barrier even mean to her? So for that reason, she led the way, ears twitching as she guided Blair and Door right to that wild place, deep into the overgrown fields, and right to a forgotten cave.

    Stopping at the mouth, Door peered in, then looked back at her audino.

    “In here?” she asked.

    The audino’s ears twitched once, and then she smiled and nodded with a soft coo. With a deep breath, Door turned back to the opening.

    “Pretty cool, isn’t it, Blair?” she said. “Got any idea what this is?”

    Blair took a step forward until she joined Door at the mouth. Peering down into the darkness, she said, “I dunno. But the only major cave system in the area is Wellspring Cave. That’s probably where we are, but…”

    Door looked at her. “But?”

    “But Wellspring Cave’s off-limits.”

    “What do you mean ‘off-limits’?”

    Blair turned her eyes to Door. “I mean we shouldn’t be here.”

    “You didn’t seem to have a problem with climbing over that fence back there.” Door motioned to a vague point behind her. “Which, by the way, was a really crappy fence. Seriously, how’s that supposed to keep anyone out of this place?”

    A nervous smile crossed Blair’s face. “I-I know. But I’m starting to have second thoughts.”

    Door chuckled and laid a hand on Blair’s shoulder. “C’mon, Blair. Where’s that self-confident jerk I’d met back on Route 2?”

    Blair crinkled her nose at that. “First of all, shut up. Second, you didn’t look that dangerous.” She turned her head towards the cave, and her smile fell. “Not compared to this, anyway.”

    “I was seconds away from taking that the wrong way,” Door said.

    Shaking her head, Blair said, “Sorry. It’s just … maybe Geist was right.” She looked at Door. “I mean, these are criminals, and that’s a dark cave. Who knows where they are, and who knows what’s in here? We could be ambushed by them or whatever’s living in the cave. I-I mean … they say strong pokémon are in there, you know.”

    “Who says?” Door snorted. Then, rolling her eyes, she drew her hand away from her friend and stepped into the darkness. “Anyway, we can’t go back. There’s a patrat in trouble. And besides, I’ve faced Belle and Starr before. They’re no big deal. Just stay close and be ready to fight, and you’ll be fine.”

    “But I’ve faced them too,” Blair replied quietly.

    Door stopped. Her eyes widened as she thought for a few seconds about what Blair had just said. That was right; she had faced Belle and Starr before then. Back in the Dreamyard. Back when they took out Blair’s team and her Companion.

    Back when Door had Geist’s help to fight back.

    “Look,” Door said, flashing an awkward smile at her partner, “no big deal. Like I said. Just stay close. We’ll double-team ‘em, okay?”

    She extended a hand to Blair. For a long while, Blair merely stared at it, unmoving and uncertain. Then, slowly, she reached out and grabbed it. Door grinned and pulled her in, leading her into the cave.

    Thus, they descended, down a rocky, dirt-covered path winding into the darkness. Knives passed them and trotted forward, and for a long time, all that Door and Blair could hear was the soft humming from the audino. Door squinted in the darkness, desperate to make out any semblance of shadows, but in the meager light still filtering in from the gaping cave entrance, she could see no sign of Belle or Starr. Blair drew close to her until Door could sense the girl’s body heat against her back. She could feel Blair trembling, feel Blair’s hand tighten around her wrist, and she was just about to tell Blair to calm herself when she ran into Knives’s back.

    “Knives?” Door hissed. “Everything okay?”

    The audino’s paw curled around her free hand, and in the dimness of the cave, she could make out Knives pointing straight ahead and slightly upwards.

    “You know what sucks about these caves?” Belle announced. “You can’t see jack in them. So if, for example, two gullible sacks of crap waltzed in to get all kissy-faced with each other, you miss out on all the good parts!”

    “Belle, we have a mission.”

    “Oh, Starr. You’re such an absolute killjoy. Monkshood, go say hello!”

    Door’s reaction was immediate. Without thinking twice, she plunged her hand into her pocket and threw the first ball she grasped ahead of her.

    “Huntress, Bite!” she shouted.

    “Huntress?” Blair asked.

    Before Door could answer, the ball cracked open, and a brilliant, white light shot out of its heart and slammed into a dark shape several feet in front of her. As the light burst, Door could see a snivy—the snivy—held within the jaws of a small lillipup. Then, the light faded completely, and the cave plunged into what seemed like a thicker darkness than it had before.

    “Where’s your adorable Companion, kid?” Belle called out. “Not with him today? That’s a shame. He was a real help in the Dreamyard, wasn’t he? Bet he could see just as well in the dark as he could in dream smoke!”

    “You talk too much!” Door snapped. “Huntress! Bite harder and drag that snivy back here!”

    “Aww, girl, I was just pointing out that only one of us can see!” Belle replied. “Monkshood, Vine Whip!”

    Somewhere in the darkness, Door could hear a snap, followed by a dog’s high-pitched whine. She flinched and squinted, desperately seeking out her pokémon.

    “Huntress!” she called. “C’mon, girl! Bite it and get back here!”

    “Ha! You’re hilarious! Monkshood, Vine Whip again!”

    More snaps. More yelps. Door cringed again, gritting her teeth as she struggled to think of what to do. The answer, consequently, was more or less an accident.

    “Huntress, throw it off!” Door called.

    “Monkshood, Vine Whip again!”

    Door sucked in a breath. She heard the snap, but this time, there was no yelp. There was only a muffled growl, and something inside Door’s chest tightened. Was this it? Was Huntress as fast as Door prayed she was? The growl was joined by soft scuffling, then a snivy’s scream, and finally, silence.

    Punctuated with a splash and a curse from Belle.

    “Monkshood, return!” she cried.

    For a brief second, the darkness was lanced by the red beam of a poké ball. It was too faint for Door to make Belle out, but it was just enough to tell her exactly where the thief stood. Grinning, she tugged at Blair’s hand to pull her close.

    “You saw that, right?” she whispered.

    “Yeah,” Blair said. “And I have a plan. Can you keep her busy?”

    “No sweat.” Door released Blair’s hand and shoved at the girl’s shoulder. “But be careful.”

    Without another word, Blair slipped away. Door could hear her retreating, and because of that, she prayed Starr couldn’t. But just to be sure, she had to keep Belle talking and battling.

    “You got lucky,” Belle snapped. “But trust me, your luck ends here! Pride! Scratch its eyes out!”

    Another burst of white light flooded the cave, and Door breathed a sigh of relief when she realized she couldn’t see Blair out the corner of her eye. The girl was hiding, which no doubt meant Starr couldn’t see her. So with that in mind, Door edged towards Knives, scanning darkening cave for any sign of her lillipup.

    “Huntress, keep an ear out, and Tackle if that purrloin gets close!” she ordered. Then, after what felt like a suitable pause, she added, “Hey, Belle! Mind if I ask you something?”

    “Oh? The baby knows my name? Did you hear that, Starr? I’m famous!”

    Door snorted. “Hardly. My Companion used to work with you, genius. He told me who you were, but what he didn’t tell me is why you’re going around kidnapping pokémon.”

    Huntress’s growl filled the cavern, followed shortly by a bark and the sounds of a scuffle. Belle’s purrloin hissed and yowled, and then both pokémon’s cries were cut off by a dull thump.

    “Scratch again!” Belle ordered.

    “Keep it up!” Door responded. “See, I understand why you tried to take that munna. Dream smoke’s got hundreds of different uses, especially as clean energy. Totally valuable. But why’d you take some kid’s patrat? Those’re literally one of the most common species in the region.”

    “If you don’t get why, then you don’t get what Team Matrix is after!” Belle responded.

    Door smirked. “Ah. So you do work for Team Matrix.”

    “Duh! And for your information, I might be a lot of things, but a hypocrite isn’t one of them,” Belle continued. “If we set the Companions free, we have to set the fauxkémon free. It’s just how things work!”

    More growling. More scuffling. Door’s eyes darted to the source of the sound as she scrambled to come up with a way to keep the conversation going.

    “So, what? Are you pretending to be good guys now?” she asked.

    “We are the good guys, dumbface!”

    A rip, a whine, a thump. Two attacks landed. Door squinted again into the darkness, and slowly, her eyesight began to adjust. She could just barely make out the small lumps that had to have been Purrloin and Huntress. The taller of the two—the purrloin—darted away from the short, squat lump beside it but then fell into a slow creep as it circled its prey. At the same time, the shorter lump crouched and began to growl again.

    But where in the world was Blair?

    “Don’t give me that crap,” Door said. “You jumped Geist in that alley! You stole a snivy from him, and you tried to steal a tepig and my oshawott! How’s that supposed to be what a good guy does?”

    Belle screeched with laughter. Looking straight ahead, Door could just make them out: the slender form of Belle rocking back and forth on her feet and the looming, taller form of Starr, staring straight back at her. Both stood on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking what Door realized was the finger of an underground lake. How she didn’t notice the latter up until now, she couldn’t say. In the dim light, the lake undulated, its waters lapping softly against rock.

    And there, on its shore, just below the outcropping, was something else: Blair’s silhouette. She paused at the sound of Belle’s laughter, then crept up the side of the rock until she disappeared behind Starr.

    “Look, kid, if you’re gonna get stuck on your own moralities and whatever, I’m not gonna explain a thing to you,” Belle said, her voice squeaking with the remnants of her laughing fit. “Y’know, it’s gonna get real annoying to refer to you by anything other than your name if I don’t know what your name is. What’s your name, kiddo, so I can blatantly ignore it later?”

    “Wow, no. How about I don’t tell you?” Door asked.

    “Rude.” Belle flicked a hand into the air. “Well, fine. I’ll find out eventually. You did challenge the Striaton Gym, after all. All I have to do is ask Starr to look up the gym’s records and find out who the last challenger was.”

    “What? How did you know I challenged the Striaton Gym?”

    “Um, hi? We’re following you?” Belle put her hands on her hips and leaned forward. “Why do you think Starr and I lured you out to some cave where no one would ever think to look for a lost, dumb trainer? Speaking of, Pride, finish off that mutt with Scratch! And Starr? Reach behind you, sweetie.”

    Belle’s purrloin lunged for Huntress as Starr twisted around. Door’s eyes flicked back and forth frantically as she scrambled to decide which one to pay attention to, but in the next moment, that decision was made for her. Blair shot up, throwing her entire body into the Companion’s. Her feet slammed into his back as she hooked one of her arms over his face. Starr wrenched around, stumbling erratically on the outcropping as his partner shouted and scrambled away.

    “Door! Your lillipup!” Blair cried.

    The second Door snapped her eyes back to the battle, the purrloin latched itself onto Huntress, its paws snapping over her eyes. Huntress howled and scrambled, bucking wildly as the cat dug its claws into her face. At the sight of the struggle, Door sucked in a breath and forced herself to calm just enough to see what else was there on the battlefield—what else was mere steps from where Huntress stood.

    It didn’t take long for a plan to hit her.

    “Huntress, bash that purrloin into the ground with Tackle!” she called out. “Then whip your head up and forward!”

    With a low growl, Huntress acted immediately. She threw herself forward, slamming her entire body onto the cat clinging to her head. Belle’s purrloin yowled, its paws flailing, but the lillipup pinned her down. Then, Huntress jerked, lifting the cat onto her head, and with a snap of her tiny frame, she flung the creature away from her … and directly into the lake. For a second time, one of Belle’s pokémon plunged into the waters with a splash and sank at once.

    “Pride, return!” Belle snapped. “Starr, don’t let that twerp get away!”

    Looking up, Door saw Blair leap off the outcropping and bolt towards her. Under one of Blair’s arms was a small bundle, and her other hand snaked to her waist. She plucked something from her belt, and twisting around, she snapped her arm forward.

    “Wilbur! Ember!” she called out.

    “Oh no you don’t!” Belle screamed. Both of her hands snapped to her own waist, and as quickly as she could, she threw a pair of balls forward. “Watcher! Stalker! Double Tackle!”

    Two. Belle had somehow picked up a second patrat, and now she was planning on a two-on-one match. Door scoffed, thinking back to Belle’s insistence that she was one of the good guys, but she knew this wasn’t the time to dwell on it. Instead, she recalled her lillipup and motioned forward with her other hand.

    “Knives! Quickly! Help Wilbur out with Pound!” she called.

    In a flash, Blair’s tepig and a pair of patrat materialized onto the cave floor, and Knives scrambled forward to meet them. Rushing past the pig, Knives shrieked and raised a muscular paw. At the same time, Wilbur inhaled, rearing back on his hind legs before exhaling a jet of flame. Light danced off the cavern walls as one of the oncoming patrat was engulfed in fire. The second slammed face-first into Knives’s paw, only to be thrown into the flames.

    In the time that it took for the battle to begin, Blair caught up with Door and grabbed her by the arm.

    “Run!” she shouted. “Wilbur, keep attacking! Make sure they don’t follow us!”

    Stumbling into her first steps, Door followed Blair but pivoted at the same time to face her audino. “You too, Knives! Keep it up with Pound!”

    “Don’t you run away from us!” Belle shouted. “Watcher! Stalker! Tackle! Don’t let them get away!”

    Neither Door nor Blair looked back. Both trainers only knew their pokémon were following them from the pounding of their running feet, the cries of Knives, and the heat and light of Wilbur’s fire. They didn’t look back until they emerged into the brilliant afternoon light, squinting against the pain. And then, they only afforded the battle behind them a cursory glance as they ran through the tall grass and back to and over the fence. Eventually, their pokémon’s attacks cut off, and Belle’s screaming grew fainter with distance.

    And then, at last, all Door could hear were her footsteps, and the footsteps of Blair, Wilbur, and Knives. Nothing more.


    They found Geist and Opal exactly where they left them: on the road, kneeling next to the boy. This time, they were joined by a young-looking female Companion who sat beside her trainer with a weary look on her face. Geist’s hands were at her back, threading wires over and under a gap in her internal machinery, and as Blair and Door walked towards them, Door realized what had once been in that space: a crushed battery pack that was now sitting on the road beside the Companion. When they finally approached, Geist shut the panel and pressed his hands into the Companion’s back.

    “That should do it,” he said. “I’ve rerouted your power completely to your auxiliary battery. What’s your time on it?”

    The kneeling Companion tilted her head. “Three hours and counting.”

    “Good. That should be enough to get you back to Striaton City.” He glanced up at Door and Blair. “How did you two do?”

    Blair stepped forward and pulled the bundle out from under her arm. Door noticed then that Blair had wrapped her jacket around it, and as she pulled it in front of her, it wriggled in her arms. Opening it, Blair revealed a battered patrat, which she carefully pulled free and cradled in one arm. The boy jumped to his feet, winced, and—against his sprained ankle—scrambled forward to reach for his pokémon.

    “My patrat! Is he okay?!” he cried.

    Opal was at his elbow immediately, steadying him as she helped him to her partner. “Careful! Remember, your leg is injured. You shouldn’t jump up so suddenly like that!”

    The boy looked down at the road. “I’ll … I’ll be fine. But … is my patrat…?”

    Smiling, Blair took the boy’s free arm, bent it, and transferred the patrat to his trainer.

    “A little beat up, but he’ll be all right,” she said. “I don’t think they were trying to hurt him that much, but get him to a pokémon center so they can check him out, okay?”

    With a sniff, the boy held his patrat close. “I-I don’t know how to thank you, but—”

    “I do.”

    The boy’s Companion rise shakily to her feet. Geist shot to his own, helping her just like Opal helped her partner. Soon, she wobbled forward with her hands extended towards Blair and Door. Both of her palms began to glow white, just as Geist’s did when he healed the Dreamyard munna, but this time, six small, pink spheres appeared in the beams of light—three for each hand. When the light faded, the orbs fell into her palms and rested there, and Door could see what they were: poké balls in their retracted states. Not just any, either. Actual heal balls, high-class poké balls that were hard to find in Nuvema.

    “Please take these,” the Companion said. “It’s the least we could do to thank you for all your help.”

    Blair shook her head. “No, it’s okay. It was really nothing. Just the right thing to do, you know?”

    “We must insist,” the Companion responded. “You have done much more for us than we can describe. So please.”

    With his signature soft smile, Geist collected three of the spheres. Opal followed suit, and the two of them slipped the balls into their pockets.

    “Thank you,” Geist said. “Now hurry back to Striaton and be careful from here on out.” He turned his head slightly and gave the boy a stern glance—the kind a parent would give his child. “And remember. Stay within the safe zone.”

    “I will,” the boy replied. “Thank you.”

    With one last smile, the boy’s Companion scooped her partner into her arms and began hurrying away, back towards Striaton. Watching the Companion race away with the boy in her arms was almost a comical sight to Door, something that nearly ruined the otherwise nearly heartwarming moment. So at first, Door didn’t notice Blair slink up to her side and stand there with her arms wrapped around her frame. She didn’t notice, that is, until she shoved her hands into her pockets and bumped Blair’s arm, and as soon as she did, she gave Blair a side-glance.

    “Hey,” she said. “Good battling. You’re a pretty tough girl, and man, Wilbur’s Ember was—”

    “Door,” Blair interrupted, her voice quiet and low. “There’s something you need to know about that boy’s patrat.”

    She blinked. “Oh? What’s that?”

    Blair turned to face Door, and in that second, Door could see her uncomfortable expression. Eyebrows furrowed. Eyes worried. Frown deep and tight. Something was wrong.

    And then, she said three words that made Door stop.

    “He was breathing.”


    > File1.txt

    > Author: Lanette Hamilton

    > Notes: From the personal audio research notes of Lanette Hamilton. Transcript only; sound file has been lost. Transcriber unknown.

    Companion: noun, an advanced humanoid computer capable of socialization and service.

    Note to self: Terrible definition. Edit later.

    I wish I could just define things simply. It’s already getting to be more complicated than it should be, but to be honest, this whole thing’s a mess. I blame myself a little. I thought this would fix things—maybe make things a little easier. But to be honest, I’m not half as good at lying as Cassius or half as confident as Bebe or Brigette, and I’m certainly not half as clever as Bill. I don’t even know why I lied about … well. You know.

    Right. Right. Sorry. The point of this message.

    I don’t know why I lied. I just did. And now I need to figure out how to make more of these things when that’s completely impossible! How am I supposed to emulate—

    Right. I can do this. It’s just a balance, right? Perfectly logical. With modern technology as it is, we’re already almost there. It’s just a matter of changing a few settings, finding the right configuration of hardware—simple!

    Besides, I have Zero-One to help me. This won’t be so bad.


  12. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    Door sat cross-legged on the edge of a trainer’s path with Geist standing calmly behind her. The two had barely spoken to each other since the boy and his Companion left for Striaton, but frankly, Door didn’t care. She wasn’t about to apologize to a Companion, as Blair had suggested; after all, he wasn’t alive. He wasn’t really hurt, and frankly, the patrat seemed more important. So, Door focused her attention on training, and Geist remained quiet, especially now that Blair had taken Opal to battle trainers nearby. And for that, Door was thankful. It meant she could think.

    Presently, she nibbled at a hardened granola bar and kept her eyes trained on her lillipup. Huntress, meanwhile, was locked in battle, dashing through the dark grass with her teeth bared. The blades whipped at the dog’s cheeks, but as far as Door could tell, Huntress didn’t care. All of her lillipup’s attention was locked on the purrloin in front of her. It led her along, throwing a glance back at her every so often as it wove this way and that, but no matter where it went, Huntress followed just a hair behind. The dog leaned forward, her scrawny legs reaching, her paws flexing, her claws digging into the earth to throw herself forward, but no matter what she did, the purrloin slipped out of her reach, time and again.

    There were a thousand tactics Door could have used to stop the purrloin, and she knew this. She could, for example, order Huntress to use Growl. With the thickness of the grass, Growl could startle the cat just enough to make it stumble, and that single misstep would buy Huntress enough time to catch up. Or Door could have Huntress come in at an arc, cutting through the field via a path the purrloin would never be able to see from its vantage point. Or maybe Door could even switch out Huntress for Jack, whose Water Gun could strike the purrloin from a distance.

    But she didn’t. She merely sat quietly on the path, front teeth biting into the rock-hard granola bar.

    It was because of that patrat. Door had intended to spend her time training and battling, but her mind kept wandering back to the boy’s patrat. She was bothered by what Blair had said, even long after the two had decided it wouldn’t help to chase down the boy and ask him where he had gotten a real pokémon. And it distracted her long after Geist had suggested training, long after Blair had mentioned and explained the dark grass, long after they took up opposite sides of the field.

    And all of this was because it bothered Door to know that there were so many possible answers to that lingering question.

    First, there was the most obvious. The patrat wasn’t native. There were patrat nests all over the world, and even then, lots of breeders had raised patrat and other supposedly “Unovan” pokémon from tamed specimens because of their desirability after the Unovan population collapse. The boy could have gotten that patrat from any number of places.

    Second, there was the possibility that Blair had simply mistaken exhaust from a faux patrat’s ventilation system for breathing.

    Third, the patrat was real and Unova-bred. And this possibility even had sub options. The boy could have known Amanita, or Amanita might have given out pokémon to new trainers herself. Maybe he went to the Dreamyard and found a real pokémon produced by a munna. Maybe a pair of domesticated patrat got loose and bred.

    She bit clean through the granola bar and chewed thoughtfully. Her eyes refocused on the battle in front of her, and in that moment, she took inventory of what her pokémon were doing. On the field, something jumped in front the wild purrloin and smashed a shoulder into its chest. The cat stumbled backwards and crashed down onto the ground, and seconds later, Huntress slammed her entire body on top of it.

    Noting that her pokémon were still handling the battle, Door frowned and let her mind wander back to the question at hand. There were problems with the three possible answers that had occurred to her.

    First, the trainer looked too new to be foreign, and he wouldn’t make a big deal about the theft of his patrat if he was. He would simply go after Belle and Starr himself with whatever backup pokémon he had if he wasn’t new. Sure, maybe he was starting fresh, but what kind of trainer would go to a new region with none of the pokémon he had in his previous journeys? And if this was his first journey, why go through a region like Unova, with its high crime rates and swarms of fauxkémon, with a real pokémon he’s taken with him from another region? There were plenty of safer regions out there for a newbie, including wherever the kid might have been from. And the possibility that the patrat came from a breeder was just as preposterous. Those were highly prized pets; Door couldn’t imagine someone wanting to sic something like that on a fauxkémon.

    Second, Blair was too smart to mistake a fauxkémon’s cooling emissions for actual breathing. Even small children knew the difference, and Blair went to a school that specialized in the study of pokémon. So if she said it was real, it had to be real.

    Third, Geist was just as surprised as they were that the patrat was real. Granted, he hadn’t said anything when Blair had told him, but to Door, that was just additional proof. If he knew and wanted to cover it up, he would have, just as he had when he led Door to believe he wasn’t a Companion. Besides, she couldn’t imagine why Amanita would give away her own research subjects to just anyone—the starters notwithstanding.

    So as far as Door was concerned, the patrat was real. But if it was real, then where did it come from?

    Letting her mind wander back to the present, Door noticed that Huntress’s barks grew muffled against her Bites. The trainer looked out across the field again, just in time to see Huntress tear chunks from the fauxkémon’s frame. For a second, Scout watched from his position behind her, standing exactly where he had emerged when he knocked the purrloin off its feet, but before he could even blink in his usual, slow way, another purrloin shot at his face and dragged its claws across his eyes.

    At last, Door snapped out of her thoughts completely. Biting off another chunk of her granola bar, she shot to her feet and glared at the battle in front of her.

    “Huntress! Scout needs help! Bite!” she shouted.

    The second purrloin bent down and curled its lips back into a snarl, and its green eyes flashed at Scout with their own, internal light. Scout blinked back, steadily, slowly, almost uncomprehendingly, until the purrloin raised its claws for one more attack. With a smooth twist, he turned his head, and the purrloin hesitated, glancing from Scout to a Huntress diving straight for it. She slammed into its side and rolled off Scout into the tall grass, taking the purrloin with her. Scout picked himself up and tilted his head as the grass rustled violently in front of him. Barks and yowls rose from somewhere deeper in the field, but as the seconds ticked by, the yowls grew more and more mechanical until they stopped abruptly. Shortly afterwards, the barking stopped too.

    Door relaxed. “Not bad, guys. Come back.”

    Huntress burst from the grass with her tail wagging vigorously behind her. A grin crossed the dog’s face, and her tongue lolled out of her open jaws as she trotted forward. Scout scrambled to his feet and followed, and soon, the two pokémon stood before their trainer.

    Part of Door lingered for just another second on the boy and his patrat. The myriad of questions Door had about the two still bothered her, but she knew those nagging, uneasy thoughts weren’t about to get answers. So with a deep breath, she pushed them out of her mind and smiled at her pokémon.

    And then another thorn in her side spoke up.

    “Not bad at all,” Geist agreed. “But if I may ask, why are you only battling wild pokémon? We’ve passed no fewer than twenty trainers so far, and—”

    “And I didn’t ask for your opinion,” Door said with an exasperated huff. “But if you’re gonna be nosy about it, I don’t want to battle some rando who’s just getting advice from their Companion. Kids this early in the Unovan circuit always have to ask their Companions about every little thing, and battles just take forever. Believe me. I see them around Nuvema all the time.”

    “Door,” Geist sighed, “you can’t fault a trainer for being new. Trainers who don’t have Companions are seasoned veterans from other regions. Not only would they already know everything our standard trainer’s manuals cover, but they’re also far, far too powerful for you. There’s nothing wrong with battling someone—”

    Don’t you dare say ‘at your skill level.’

    Geist’s shoulders sagged. “There is nothing wrong with battling a new trainer. It’s a great way to make connections and learn more about training and pokémon than you would have by yourself. Blair understands that.”

    “Well, Blair’s not me,” Door snapped. “Why do you care anyway?”

    “Because I’m your Companion.”

    She looked at him. “And when did that happen?!”

    Geist shrugged. “Did you really think Amanita simply downloaded data from me yesterday? She had a feeling you would agree to escorting me to Castelia, so she took the liberty of registering you as a secondary user.” He closed his eyes and lowered his head, as if he was just as irritated with the situation as she was. “Thus, until we reach Castelia City, it’s my duty to provide you with as much guidance as possible.”

    Door fell silent for a long moment. She narrowed her eyes at Geist and weighed all possible responses to this revelation. Being stuck delivering her dead aunt’s robot butler was one thing; being forced to partner up with the thing, though? An entirely different story. It meant she was connected to a Companion, that her reputation for having never touched a Companion in her life—helping her father to repair them notwithstanding—would forever be tarnished. And besides, why didn’t anyone ask her if she wanted a Companion? Why did Amanita just hoist one onto her without her consent?

    Breathing deep, Door tried to swallow all of that frustration. No, if she reacted, that would just give Geist the satisfaction of seeing her snap. She knew, of course, that he technically couldn’t actually feel satisfaction—true emotions were beyond a Companion’s capability, after all—but she wasn’t especially in the mood to take Geist’s pre-programmed smugness.

    So, with a soft glance towards her pokémon, she opted for ignoring him. “Anyway, I think we’re doing just fine. Right, guys? Huntress, you had, what, twenty victories in a row? And Scout’s got ten, plus Jack and Knives got in a few … in all, nice training session.” She shoved the last corner of the granola bar into her mouth, chewed it, and swallowed. As she shoved the wrapper into her pocket, she added, “Only downside is you beat everything I could’ve caught, but hey.”

    Although Scout didn’t even seem to hear her, Huntress whimpered and took a step back at the note of criticism. In response to her lillipup’s shift, Door held up her hands.

    “Whoa, wait!” she said. “I’m not saying that’s a bad thing! I’m just saying it means I’ve gotta change my game plan. I mean, a handful of really strong pokémon’s just as good as an army, right? Like … what’s the point of catching a ton of pokémon if none of them can fight?” She stood and dusted off her pants. “So relax! You’re doing great!”

    By that point in time, Huntress was practically vibrating.

    “What?” Door asked. “I mean … I didn’t think I put it that badly.”

    As quickly as he could, Geist stepped forward and placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder. When she looked up, she noticed that his eyes were glowing bright blue.

    “Door,” he said, “I think—”

    The brilliant, white light that burst from Huntress’s body silenced Geist. Door stumbled backwards, into his hands, as her pokémon hummed and twisted at her feet. She could see and hear the processes happening: the mechanical whirring, the elongating, the unfurling, the reshaping—all of the hallmarks of evolution, taking place in a matter of seconds. And when it was over, the light fizzled into a dazzle of sparkles, leaving behind not a lillipup but a herdier.

    “Whoa,” Door breathed.

    Shaking off the last of the light, Huntress craned her neck to examine her back. Her short, dark tail wagged, and her bushy whiskers quivered as she panted and barked. Door pushed off her Companion and knelt down, reaching out in wonder. Fauxkémon or not, evolution was a marvel, a thing of beauty, and Door couldn’t deny this. Still, she stopped just short of touching Huntress to think. The dog sniffed at her hand and licked her fingers, but Door ignored this to reach into her pocket with her other hand.

    Behind her, before she could grab her holo caster to check on what she was seeing, Geist cleared his throat. “Herdier,” he recited. “The loyal dog pokémon. It loyally follows its trainer’s orders. For ages, they have helped trainers raise pokémon.” He gave Door a sideways glance. “Notice the key word there. Loyal. Given your typical impulsive behavior, it would be a good idea to be careful with this one. Evolution shifts a pokémon’s programming. Now that Huntress is a herdier, she will act on innate directives programmed for the herdier species first and foremost, then apply the personality core she’s established since activation. Do you understand?” After a beat, he lowered his shoulders, sighed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “‘Are you even listening to a word I say’ might be a better question.”

    “Yeah, sure,” she mumbled. Then, drawing out Jack’s poké ball, she said, “Hey, Jack! Come on out and see this!”

    With his own flash of white light, Jack emerged, barking and brandishing his scallop shell. The moment he landed on the road and realized there was no one to battle, however, he stopped, popped his shell onto his stomach, and leaned toward Huntress to sniff her. And then, despite her attempts to lean away from the oshawott, Jack reached out to grab Huntress’s whiskers and examine them. She began to emit a low growl before Door threw a hand between them and forced them to separate.

    “Personal space, Jack!” she snapped. Then, drawing him close, she draped her arms around Jack but used one hand to point to Huntress. “So, remember that lillipup you were fighting alongside earlier? This is her now! Think you can do that?”

    Jack stared up at her, blinked, and tilted his head with an inquisitive whine. In response, Door pumped both arms in the air.

    “C’mon!” she said. “Really concentrate!”

    With a confident smile and nod, Jack bore down, folding himself over as he brought his curling front paws together in front of his chest. Door watched her oshawott intently, waiting for something—anything—to happen. Behind her, Geist leaned down and tapped her on the shoulder.

    “Uh, Door?” he said. “Evolution doesn’t quite work like that.”

    A dazzling flash of light caught the trainer, the oshawott, and the Companion off-guard, and they looked to the side, just in time to see the last few seconds of Scout’s own evolution into a watchog. Even in its sleeker, more alert form, Scout blinked at them, tilting his now lithe head and licking his longer, shinier buck teeth.

    “Or maybe it does for some pokémon,” Geist said as he turned back to Door, “but not to real ones.”

    Scooping Jack into her arms, she whirled around, stood, and faced her Companion. “Okay. Fine. So how does evolution work?”

    She wasn’t actually interested; she knew on a general, vague level how evolution worked. It was one of the training basics, something everyone knew happened to some pokémon at certain points of their lives. But she had a feeling that asking Geist would get that smug look off his face, so she did.

    “Well, it’s complicated,” Geist replied. Sure enough, his infuriatingly sympathetic grin faded, and he motioned to Huntress. “Most pokémon evolve the way Huntress did: automatically after gaining enough battling experience to do so. Think of it like hitting puberty, only instantaneous and directly tied to your actions. The principle is the same: you change based on the amount of time you’ve spent living. Only … I suppose for humans, it’s more of a metaphorical concept, but—”

    “Bored,” Door drawled as she narrowed her eyes at Geist.

    He waved a hand in the air. “Right. Get on with it. Now, there are exceptions to the general rule. As I’ve said, most pokémon that can evolve do so the way Huntress does, and I’m afraid to say that the oshawott species is in this category. Therefore, Jack will need to gain more exposure to battling in order to trigger his own evolution. However, other pokémon, such as the eevee species, the kadabra species, and more have their own specific requirements: evolution stones, evolution items, and heightened bond with a trainer, to name a few. Why, in the region of Kalos, there’s a species of squid-like pokémon called inkay that requires you to—”

    Bored,” Door sighed in exasperation. She tilted her chin up, a position mimicked by Jack. “So when’s Jack due to evolve, then?”

    Geist heaved a sigh of his own and examined the oshawott. “Mm. Well, it looks like it should be any—”

    “Door? Hey! Oh wow!”

    At the sound of Blair’s voice, Geist stood straight, and Door twisted around to see Blair running towards them with Opal trailing behind her. Blair came to a skidding halt right behind Door, where she planted her hands on her knees and bent down to look at Huntress and Scout, while Opal came to a stop beside Blair and clasped her hands under her chin.

    “Wow, is this Huntress and Scout?” Blair breathed.

    She reached out to pet Huntress, and the dog responded with a yip, a wag of her tail, and an excited leap in the air to meet Blair’s palm. Bringing her hand down, Blair knelt on the road and began working her fingers through Huntress’s rough coat.

    “She’s amazing!” Blair said. “Wish Toto would evolve already. Or Wilbur.”

    “Aww, I’m sure they will,” Door replied. “These two just did, and you saw how much battling they got in. If you’ve been fighting as many pokémon as I have, Toto and Wilbur can’t be that far away from evolving. And incidentally, speaking of, you were right about training in dark grass.”

    Blair flashed her a confident smile. “See? Trainers’ School teaches you something now and then.”

    “Ha. Remind me to never doubt you,” Door said.

    “Yeah.” Blair’s hands began to slow. “Pretty soon, you’ll be able to take on Nacrene Gym.”

    “So will you.”

    “Sure, but…”

    Blair’s voice trailed off, and Door set her jaw at the abrupt silence. She had always thought that the concept of a sinking feeling was cliché, but that was exactly what she felt right then: a cold, tightening, painful feeling, like her heart was slowly drifting into her stomach.

    “Uh, so … how was battling against all those trainers?” Door asked.

    “Great!” Blair replied. “I-I’ve been learning a lot from them. It’s a great way to pick up tips. You should try it sometime.”

    Door knew she meant it, but there was something about her voice—a distant twang to it that only deepened her feeling of dread. Inhaling through her nose, Door squatted next to Blair and nudged her with an elbow.

    “Something wrong?” she asked.

    Blair shrugged. “Well, um…”


    She frowned. “Um. I lost a few battles too.”

    “How many?” Door asked. She tried her best to make her voice sound soft yet comforting—strong yet not forceful.

    But even then, Blair cringed, and her own voice grew quiet. “A-about half of them.”

    “Oh.” Door smiled broadly and gave Blair’s shoulder a firm nudge. “Well, that’s not bad! Better than all of them!”

    “I-I know. But I was also watching you battle for a bit too. Your pokémon are so strong,” Blair replied.

    “Hey, if you’re comparing yourself to me—”

    Blair cut her off with a brisk shake of her head. “N-no! It’s not that! I, um.” She took a deep breath and said, “I’m going back to Striaton City to get the Trio Badge.”

    At that, Door’s heart sprang back into place, and the cold sensation left her, as if she was abruptly filled with warm air. She even breathed an audible sigh of relief. Here, she thought Blair was about to quit training or descend into verbal self-flagellation or something. But deciding to go back and earn a badge? That was nothing in comparison.

    “Oh,” she said. “Here I thought you were gonna say something worse. You shouldn’t be phrasing stuff so ominously like that.”

    “Well, actually…” Blair’s hands stopped altogether. “Door, this is the bad news: I don’t want you to come with me.”

    And just as quickly as her relief came, Door descended back into a mild panic. She felt her blood drain, and she blinked and swallowed hard.

    “W-what?” she asked. “Why? I mean, with how strong you’re getting, going up against the Striaton Gym should be a breeze.”

    “Yeah, but it’ll just hold you back,” Blair said. “And think about every gym after that. If we travel together, we’d have to wait for each other to fight the gym leader. And the gym leader would need to recover between the both of us too, so we’d have to wait longer before leaving every city. And … that’s not all, either.”

    Door’s shoulders slumped. “What else is there?”

    “It’s that boy’s patrat,” Blair said. “I was thinking about it and how it was breathing. Don’t you think it’s weird?”

    “Yeah, sure, but it could’ve been a lot of things. It could’ve just been some dumb kid sending a bred patrat out to battle fake pokémon for all we know.”

    Blair frowned. “I guess. But I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t think that was the case. And even if it was … what that girl said’s been bothering me.”

    “What, Belle?” Door snorted. “She’s crazy. Who even knows what she was talking about?”

    “She said she was following you.”

    “And what? You’re afraid of being jumped by her?”

    “No.” Blair rose to her feet. “I’m afraid something really weird’s going on, and I want to be ready for it. You get what I mean?”

    At first, Door stared into Blair’s eyes. Then, after a moment of thought, she shifted uncomfortably on her feet and tore her gaze away. “Y-yeah. I get what you mean. But … that wouldn’t matter, right? If we traveled together, then we can both prepare ourselves for whatever Belle’s doing at the same time, and we’d have fun traveling together. I mean, I’m supposed to be helping you out and everything, right?”

    “And you are.” Blair reached out to put a hand on Door’s shoulder. “Door, you’re a really strong trainer compared to me. I mean, you’ve gotten two of your pokémon to evolve while I haven’t even gotten one. It wouldn’t be fair for me to hold you back and constantly force myself to catch up to you just so I can earn badges at the same rate you would. But if I train at my own pace, maybe I’ll get as strong as you are, and maybe I can be ready to fight in my own way. Trust me. It’ll be better if we went our separate ways from here on out. I’ll catch up with you eventually, and when that happens, let’s battle. I’ll show you how strong I’ve gotten.”

    As soon as those last words left her mouth, Door snorted and rubbed her nose. “Spoken like a true rival.”

    Blair smirked. “You’re not the only one who thought the old days were really cool.”

    Door chuckled, then bucked her head towards the road. “So. You heading back to Striaton?”

    “Yeah. Toto and Wilbur might not have evolved yet, but I know they’ll be able to kick Sumac’s butt anyway.”

    At that, Door raised her eyebrows. “You already know who you’re fighting?”

    “Of course I do,” Blair said with a laugh. “Sumac likes to make it this huge secret, but the other two think he’s a prat. In Striaton City, it’s pretty much common knowledge.”

    Door stared at her for a few beats before replying, “Kick his ass.”

    Blair’s smirk broadened as she took several steps to the north, away from Door, Geist, and the pokémon. With a final half-turn, she fired a finger-gun at Door and gave her a wink.

    “You got it,” she said.

    Then, she started walking away. Opal trotted behind her, raising an arm to wave at Door and her Companion.

    “Bye now!” Opal called.

    And with that, the pair left, walking on until they disappeared around a bend yards ahead. Long afterwards, Door could still feel a smirk playing across her own face. Without letting her expression falter, she pushed Jack onto her shoulder and recalled Huntress and Scout.

    “Those two are something else,” she muttered. Then, more to Jack than to Geist, she added, “Anyway, you ready?”

    “When you are,” Geist responded. “Nacrene City isn’t that far ahead. If we follow this path, we should get there by sunset, and the nearest pokémon center is six city blocks from the city’s entrance.”

    Door, as always, wasn’t listening. By the time Geist was done speaking, she was already marching ahead. Thoughts and fantasies of herself as a real trainer in the old days filled her mind.

    That was because things were different now.

    She had a rival.


    > Galatea7.txt

    > Author: Lanette Hamilton

    > Notes: From the audio research notes of Lanette Hamilton. Transcript only; sound file has been lost. File transcribed by Bebe Larson.

    (Cassius’s Note: Original voice file damaged by exposure to LFA. Spoken date and time lost; file date marked two years, three months prior to File One, placing this as the earliest surviving recording of LH’s notes on Project Galatea.)

    LANETTE: —14:53, follow-up on Project Galatea, recording 7, dated [REDACTED]. After several attempts at forming a lightweight but highly durable endoskeleton, it was determined that the titanium alloy sample sent in by a certain contact at Devon Corp would be perfect for our needs. I haven’t yet settled on a suitable compound for synthetic skin, but my contact assures me his industrial synthetics division has a thing or few in mind. I trust them. They did the AM Suit, after all.

    On a personal note, keeping Project Galatea secret has been quite a challenge, given recent events. He’s already started to ask questions, and I don’t know how long I can dodge them. Just in case, I’ve moved my notes to a closed, encrypted server for maximum security. I only hope he doesn’t get creative. I don’t think he can access something like that, but then again, he’s done stranger things.

    I just need six more months, and then I’ll be able to tell him everything. Just six more months.

    [end recording]

  13. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    As a contrast to Striaton and Nuvema, Nacrene was considered by native Unovans to be the beginning of civilization. It always had been one of the buffers between Castelia and the rest of the world with its rickety, old warehouses-turned-art-spaces—the ones that survived despite how decrepit they were even fifty years ago. Really, the only difference between then and now was that there were somehow more of those warehouses. Despite the fact that Nacrene City had not seen an actual factory in over a century—beyond the mass-produced hipster phenomenon in the 2010s, anyway—somehow, the little burg in its tiny crook beside Pinwheel Forest and South River sprouted an entire labyrinth of dirty, old brick buildings converted into loft spaces for tortured artists trying to find themselves.

    But that part of Nacrene was off limits to the average trainer. Every Companion, Geist included, knew this, but even without a Companion, one could easily tell that the warehouses and ancient hipster relics were off-limits to the average trainer. The glassy pathway that was Route 3 fed directly into a guard’s outpost, which in turn fed directly into the High Line Pathway, and the High Line Pathway was exactly what it sounded like: a pathway built above the city, winding across its expanse. Its main features: friendly lighting, nicely maintained plants, three-foot walls leading into four-story drops, and exits only at key trainer-friendly locations and tourist spots. During business hours.

    This was not, in other words, a place one would expect Door to like. Not with its contemporary grunge or its neon lights advertising every fake thing in existence. Yet as Geist led her into the city, her eyes turned down to its sprawling expanse, and she couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit of awe towards every little detail she could see from her lofty vantage point. As her eyes flicked from detail to detail, she stroked Jack absently as he purred on his shoulder, and between the vibration of his tiny body and the dim, multicolored lights all around her, Door felt … almost at peace.

    “You know,” Geist said, leaning towards her, “this isn’t the original main road. A trainer had entered the city during the heyday of the old Unova League, they would have done so six blocks to the south and at ground level. Traffic was rerouted to the north about two decades ago, following the completion of the High Line Pathway.”

    Door nodded, only half paying attention to what her Companion was saying. “I know.”

    “Ah. Good.” Geist folded his hands behind his back. “I just wanted to let you know that this experience isn’t quite as true to the champion’s as you might like.”

    “I know.”

    He shot her a look. “You are listening to me, yes? Not just saying you know while failing to pay attention to a word I’ve been telling you?”

    “Don’t be stupid, Geist. Of course I’m listening to you. It’s just ... weird.”


    Door shrugged and tore her eyes away from a storefront. “I dunno. I always thought Nacrene was the bottom edge of the crowded parts of Unova.”

    “It is,” Geist replied slowly. “Turn here for the pokémon center, by the way.”

    Without even a nod of acknowledgment, Door turned and began walking down a thin pathway arcing away from the thick, main trunk of the High Line. She could see the pokémon center mere blocks from her.

    “Okay, so,” she said slowly, “where’s all the crime?”

    Geist stopped. He gave her an awkward stare, as if to weigh whether or not he should answer her question. Then, he extended a hand across his chest and pointed to the wall, silently pressing her to look over it.

    She did so. Leaning against the wall, she stood on tip-toe with one hand latched firmly on the scruff of Jack’s neck as the two of them peered down at the streets below. Beneath the ambling pathway, trash collected between buildings and against the High Line’s supports. People huddled in the darkness, in the shadows, sometimes low to the ground with their hands on a raggedy pokémon of one type or another. Younger, scrappier men ambled in the openness of the streets, shouting and occasionally shoving one another while herdier barked and howled at their heels. Women were less common sights out there, but when Door could spot them, they were almost always either walking quickly and with purpose along the sidewalks or drunkenly with male company in the shadows of the High Line. One couple spilled into Door’s view, her hands reaching down to his pants, and Door—knowing at once what that meant—pulled herself back up, pushed away from the wall, and walked away.

    “Up until Castelia, think of it as easy mode,” Geist said as he fell into step behind her. “Nuvema and Striaton are safe compared to the rest of the region, and Nacrene herds you to wherever you need to be. But once you get to Castelia, it’s very easy to end up in seedier areas like what you see down there. That’s why a Companion is so essential.”

    Door jammed her hands into her pockets. “Or. You know. Common sense.”

    “You’ll be surprised to know how rare that actually is.”

    Door cast Geist a withering look. She wasn’t about to dignify him with a response; she knew what he was doing. He was luring her into responding, just so he could counter it with some other witty comeback. It was so obvious to her. Companions had certain personality types, and if any human could detect a pattern in the way they behaved, everything they did became obvious—mere chains of actions dictated by that single fundamental personality type.

    Geist, Door decided, was a smartass type. A crossroads between the comedic and intelligent personality cores, in a combination that came off as obnoxious to her but was probably hilarious to her great aunt. Door wasn’t about to fall into that. She wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of a response.

    And soon, she had an excuse. As she and Geist approached the pokémon center, its automatic doors whirred open, and out walked the two people Door had least expected. She froze and felt her heart drop into her stomach, and all of a sudden, any banter she might have had with Geist was instantly forgotten.

    The first figure she saw was the man from Accumula—the green-haired, homeless one she had battled. He looked just as weary, just as lost in thought as he had in the town square a few days ago, and when he noticed her, he glided to a stop like a ghost.

    Next to him, meanwhile, was the champion of Unova, a woman Door had only watched on television and heard about through gossip at school. This was a woman Door had looked up to since she was young, a woman whose entire journey was the epitome of all the things Door thought a trainer’s career should be. This woman both saved and conquered Unova without a Companion, with real pokémon, with experiences the current Unova League could only dream of replicating. This woman was the very definition of authentic.

    And her name was Hilda King.

    Hilda was taller than Door had assumed she was—and a lot leaner in person too. But everything else about her was spot-on: the creases in her face; the gray streaks in her otherwise chestnut hair; the intensity in her deep, blue eyes; and even the exact shade of her blue trench coat and the fraying of her pink scarf. It was all there, in every glorious detail of the veteran trainer. Hilda stood straight, following her friend’s gaze until her eyes fell onto Door. And then, she smiled.


    At Door.

    Door was never washing her eyes again.

    “Well, hello there!” Hilda said, her voice low and booming. “Seems my friend’s taken an interest in you. Sorry if he startled you. It’s his first time back in Unova, and he’s a bit of a tourist.”

    Door shook her head, her mouth hanging open in awestruck silence.

    “Hilda,” the man said, “this is the trainer I told you about. The one with the oshawott.”

    She raised her eyebrows at him. “Is that so?” Turning back to Door, she stuck out her hand. “Pleased to meet you! This is N. I’d tell you what that stands for, but he really does prefer N, and frankly, I can’t blame him. Judging by the way you’re staring at me, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you know who I am, but what’s your name, kid?”

    Door squeaked. Somewhere in the back of her throat, her voice was stuck, and somewhere in the back of her head, she was already kicking herself for looking like a complete tool in front of royalty.

    “This is Door Hornbeam of Nuvema City,” Geist replied, motioning towards her. “I’d tell you what Door stands for, but I’m afraid my friend would kill me. I am her Companion, Geist, and this is Jack, the oshawott your friend was referring to.” As Jack saluted the champion, Geist reached out to shake Hilda’s hand. “It’s an honor to meet you, Miss King.”

    Hilda quirked an eyebrow at him. “You’ve got a talkative one on your hands. Don’t see too many of those in the Calliope line, but I guess whatever works for you, girl.” Then, withdrawing her hand from Geist’s, she reached out to pet Jack. “In any case, ‘Hilda’ is just fine. And if I may say so, you’ve got just the cutest little oshawott! Reminds me of Cheren’s starter, actually.”

    Door stared at Hilda and decided she was not going to wash Jack either. Noticing her silence, Hilda laughed and drew herself away. Her hand dipped into her pocket, and with it, she drew out four objects. Holding up her palm, she presented them to Door. Three of the objects were tiny, blue gummy candies in the shapes of a bulb-like berry, and the fourth was a raindrop-shaped piece of glass on a short, black rope. Within the glass pendant, water sloshed, glittering in the lights of the street lamps and the pokémon center.

    “Here,” Hilda said. “Take this. You’ll need it more than I do. You’ve got three chesto berries and one mystic water here. It should go without saying that your oshawott should be wearing the mystic water; it’ll boost its water magic, if you catch my drift.”

    For a long while, Door stared at the objects. Was the champion of Unova actually giving her a present? The question echoed in Door’s mind as she struggled to force her body to move. Eventually, it was Geist who had to shift, accepting the berries with one hand and the mystic water with the other. Pocketing the berries, he turned to help Jack put the necklace on.

    “We appreciate it, believe me,” he said. “You must forgive my partner. She’s not normally this silent, but it seems she’s in the presence of someone she greatly respects. So, in other words, she’s a bit starstruck at the moment.”

    Door could have killed Geist if she wasn’t too busy still processing the fact that Hilda King had given her a power-up item for her oshawott. A power-up item that one of her pokémon must have worn at one point.

    “Aww, that’s sweet,” Hilda said. “I’m not that much of a role model, though, and you certainly don’t have to be so intimidated by me. My friends are much, much better choices for people to respect than I am. Bianca, for example.”

    “Ah, yes,” Geist said. “Professor Ironwood. Door works for her, actually, as her assistant’s assistant.”

    Some part of Door really wanted to kill Geist. If only the rest of her would move, anyway.

    “Really? Ha! Small world,” Hilda said. “Anyway, I’m not offended at all by strong, quiet types. I’ve got another friend like that, actually. Rosa Alvarado. She tends to wander around now, but maybe someday, you’ll run into her.” Hilda hesitated for a beat. “Or, actually, come to think of it, it’s more like I’ve got two friends who’re the strong, quiet type, if you count N.”

    She winked at her partner, but he didn’t seem to notice the ribbing. Instead, his eyes were locked onto Door and Door alone. As soon as Hilda was done speaking, N took a step forward and looked down at Door.

    “The Dreamyard,” he said.

    This snapped Door out of her daze. Shaking her head, she blinked at N.

    “W-what?” she asked.

    “The Dreamyard,” he repeated. “Team Matrix. They were in the Dreamyard, weren’t they?”

    “Y-yeah,” Door responded softly. “They were. How—”

    “Did they attempt to capture a munna?”

    Door nodded slowly. “Yeah.”

    “And did a musharna drive them away with its illusions?”

    “Yeah.” Door gave N a strange look. “How’d you know?”

    Throughout N’s questions, Hilda had gotten quiet. Her smile had faded, and her eyes had darkened. Now, she stared at Door sternly, and upon hearing the girl’s final answer, Hilda transferred her gaze to N.

    “N, it’s okay,” she said. “Reshiram and Zekrom, they’re—”

    He whirled around and stalked away for several steps until there was enough distance between him and Door to create a battlefield.

    “Battle me,” he said. “I need to see how much you’ve grown since Accumula City.”

    “Whoa, wait,” Door said. “N-now? In … in front of…?”

    Hilda ignored her question in favor of moving towards N and reaching for his shoulder. As her hand rested on it, she leaned in. “N. Are you sure about this?”

    He turned his head away from her and frowned. “We battled in Nacrene City too. Do you remember?”

    Hilda stared at him for a beat, and then, slowly, her smile returned. Pulling away from him, she took a few more steps back and reached up to clasp her hands behind her head.

    “Make me proud, kid!” she called to Door. “I want to see some energy out of you and your pokémon!”

    Door smiled hesitantly and reached into her pocket. If Hilda King was asking for a show, she couldn’t turn her down. But how would she go about battling N without embarrassing herself? Briefly, she thought about using Jack, but she wanted to save him for a grand finale. It didn’t seem right to open with him, especially when she had one pokémon who was far better equipped to wipe the floor with whatever N had to offer.

    “Scout! You’re up first!” she shouted.

    With a burst of light, Scout took the field. He landed on his feet and stood tall, seemingly not at all bothered by the fact that he lacked an opponent. Clicking his teeth, he tilted his head and stared across the field. N couldn’t help but sigh at the sight of him.

    “False pokémon,” he said. “They’re so quiet. So incomprehensible to me. When they speak, I can only hear buzzing.” He plucked a ball from his belt. “Pidove, show her!”

    He tossed the ball in the air, and with a familiar, white light, a blur took to the sky, looped around, and swooped down. The pidove screeched and flicked the remaining light off its wings before diving at Scout. Far below, Scout blinked lazily, tilted his head, and stumbled out of the way mere seconds before one of the pidove’s wings would have clipped him in the face. Immediately after zooming past its target, the bird shot back into the air again and circled above the watchog.

    “Door, be careful!” Geist said. “As a terrestrial pokémon, watchog can’t learn the sorts of distance attacks that can take down a flying-type unless you teach them via technical or hidden machines. In other words, there’s no way Scout will be able to reach Pidove. You have other pokémon that can use distance attacks, however. Jack’s Water Gun—”

    “Okay, thank you,” Door replied impatiently. “Scout will be fine. Scout! Show him with Crunch!”

    “You should listen to your Companion,” N responded. “Pidove, Gust!”

    The bird made no effort to swoop down at Scout again. Instead, it whirled around in the air until it faced the watchog, and once it did, it snapped its wings together. A blast of wind shot from its tiny body and swirled around Scout, picking the watchog up and sending him flying back into the road. He barked once when he struck the pavement, but then, slowly, he rose back to his feet and blinked at the bird. Door gritted her teeth when she realized Scout would never get a chance to use Crunch at that rate. She had to change her strategy, and she had to do it quickly.

    “Again, Pidove!” N shouted.

    For a second time, the bird snapped its wings together, sending another blast of wind down onto Scout. And for a second time, the meerkat was swept off his feet and slammed into the pavement, only to get back up and blink at the bird. This time, however, his movements were jerking and shaky, and it was clear to Door that one more Gust could break her pokémon.

    Her eyes trailed over the battlefield. There had to be some way to lure Pidove into diving down. There had to be something she could do.

    And then, she saw the wall along the edge of the High Line, and an idea quickly formed in her head.

    “Once more, Pidove!” N called.

    “Scout, brace yourself against the wall!” Door shouted as she threw her arm forward.

    At once, Scout dashed from his spot to the wall. Above him, N’s pidove clapped its wings together to shoot another rush of wind at Scout, but the watchog ducked, tucking himself under the lip of the wall and bracing himself against the concrete and steel. This time, the wind slammed into him, but he didn’t budge. The wall itself kept him in place. Upon seeing this, the bird fluttered overhead, swerving in frustrated loops as it chirped wildly. The corners of N’s mouth tugged downwards as he gazed at his pokémon.

    “It seems we have no choice, my friend,” he sighed. “Quick Attack!”

    Pidove smoothed out its flight path at the sound of N’s order. It arced up, sailing in a graceful curve high into the air before angling itself towards Scout. Knowing exactly what was about to happen, Door grinned.

    “Brace yourself, Scout!” she called. “You know what to do!”

    The bird shot itself at Scout. Although Door had seen Quick Attack executed in televised matches, it was something entirely different to watch it happening in real life. Pidove was a gray blur, just barely visible in the lights of the pokémon center. One second, it was hovering above N’s head, and in the next, it was low to the ground, mere inches from Scout. Her heart thundered with uncertainty in that split second. How would Scout be able to catch something so quickly? Her teeth clenched in response to that thought, and at the very last moment, she flinched out of fear.

    And then, there was a screech. Forcing herself to look at the battle, she was shocked to find Scout standing calmly in front of the wall. Except … he wasn’t quite standing. His lower body was stiff and solid, but his shoulders and neck had twisted down to clamp his teeth onto the pidove’s body. The bird thrashed in his jaws, screaming and squealing as blood spurted from its back and wing, but throughout his attack, Scout remained placid. He straightened. He blinked. He shook his head vigorously once. But he didn’t react to catching the pidove, and he certainly didn’t release it.

    N snapped his arm up, aiming his poké ball at the pidove.

    “Pidove, return!” he called.

    And so it did, in a flash of red. The moment the pidove flowed out of Scout’s mouth, his jaws snapped shut, and he blinked once again. His fangs were stained with the pidove’s blood, and realizing this, Door hesitated, reached up to touch Jack, and let her face twist in open disgust. Perhaps using Scout was a bad idea after all, but something kept her from switching him out. And that something was Hilda King’s voice.

    “Not bad, kid,” she said. “Using your environment to your advantage shows you’re no beginner. Just control your watchog’s power a little better, okay? You’re not supposed to draw blood in a battle!”

    Door’s heart leapt at Hilda’s advice, and she couldn’t help but grin. Hilda didn’t think she was a beginner! How could she argue against a compliment like that? So with a deep breath, she let her hand drop off Jack’s back. She wouldn’t switch. Not now. Not when she was proving herself. All she needed to do was show Hilda she could control Scout a little better.

    “R-right,” she said. “Okay! I’m ready for the next one if you’ve got one!”

    N turned his eyes to Door as he pulled out a second poké ball. “Hm. So you’ll stay with your watchog. Artificial pokémon … it’s true that they possess an incredible amount of power, and your watchog is indeed fascinating. But its voice…” He huffed and shook his head. “Tympole! Begin with Supersonic!”

    The ball in his hand cracked open, releasing yet another flash of white light. This time, it struck the pavement and resolved quickly into a black and ivory ball: a tympole, blinking in the glare of the lights overhead. The second it appeared, the tympole opened its mouth and screamed. Ripples of air shot from its maw and washed over Scout, and to Door’s surprise, the watchog flinched. His face twisted in pain, and his paws gripped the wall behind him until the noise from the tympole finally died down.

    And then, Door could hear Scout’s shrieks. High-pitched and agonized, like metal on metal. Scout twisted off the wall and smashed his head into the pavement as his paws scrambled across his head in a desperate attempt to grab at his ears.

    “Scout!” Door cried. “Scout, snap out of it!”

    “Door, this is confusion,” Geist said. “There are only four possible ways to cure it. I don’t have the first on hand, you don’t have a pokémon capable of the second, and the third’s too risky. You need to use the fourth. Switch him out for another pokémon.”

    “I know what confusion is, and I don’t need to switch him out!” Door snapped. “Scout, you can do this! Use Crunch!”

    Unfortunately for her, Scout didn’t seem to hear her. He moved, but it wasn’t to attack tympole. Instead, he slammed his head against the wall of the High Line over and over and over again.

    “Scout!” Door shouted.

    “I’m sorry to hurt him,” N sighed, “but it must be done. Tympole, Round!”

    The tympole opened its mouth again to release another scream. This time, however, the air that rippled from its open jaws formed pale, green circles, pulsating and electric as they cut through the air towards Scout. They didn’t wash over him, as Door had expected, but rather, they slammed into her watchog’s back, as if they were solid objects crashing one after another into his body. Each one smashed him against the wall, again and again, until the tympole’s attack finally stopped. And then, Scout crumpled onto the ground, panting and whimpering as he held his head.

    “Door.” Geist reached out and lay a hand on Door’s shoulder. “Please. Switch him out. He can’t take much more of this.”

    Shrugging his hand off her shoulder, she shouted, “Yes, he can! Scout! Crunch!”

    N flicked his hand towards Scout. “Tympole, Round again!”

    Scout snapped his head up, and for the first time since the battle began, Door got a good look at her pokémon’s face. It looked nothing like what Scout normally looked like. His lips were curled back, exposing his teeth in a vicious snarl, and his eyes were wide and glowing. Every part of him was tense. Every part of him was angry.

    And then, abruptly, he lunged for the tympole. The amphibian had opened its mouth again to fire off another wave of green ripples, but Scout leapt over and around these deftly, scrambling on all fours until he was nothing but a golden-brown blur on the pavement. All of a sudden, he was by the tympole’s side with his mouth open and gaping. His jaws snapped down, latching around the tympole’s body with a sickening squelch. The tympole screamed and thrashed, and a spurt of blood erupted around Scout’s fangs, but Scout didn’t let go. He held on tight, shaking his head vigorously as he sank his fangs deeper into the amphibian’s flesh. In response, Door cringed. She couldn’t do anything—couldn’t order her pokémon to stop. All she could do was watch as her watchog tried to rip the tympole apart.

    So once again, N snapped his poké ball up to point it at his pokémon.

    “Tympole, return!” he ordered. And then, as his pokémon was drawn back into the ball, he frowned. “I’m so sorry, my friend. I underestimated our enemy.”

    Scout’s jaws snapped shut like a bear trap. Door balled her hands into fists at her side, her own anger and shock bubbling just beneath the surface of her skin.

    “It wasn’t a bad attempt,” Hilda replied. “For a new trainer, this girl seems powerful. It’s just that she has to learn a little self-control, but that’s perfectly normal for someone who’s new at this.”

    Door shook at the criticism. She didn’t mean to. She didn’t expect Scout to be this powerful in his evolved form, and she certainly didn’t expect him to get this emotional. But looking down at her pokémon—at the way he was still perched on all fours and at the way he shook and growled with anger—she felt a tiny splinter of panic.

    And then, she felt Geist’s hand on her shoulder.

    “Door,” he whispered gently. “Switch Scout out. Yes, he can still fight, but if he fights in this state, he could seriously injure N’s next pokémon. I’d hate to say it, but you’re not yet ready to calm an enraged pokémon. Recall him and use Jack instead, okay?”

    She shrugged his hand off roughly. “I’m fine, okay?! I can do this, and so can Scout!”

    “Door,” Hilda said.

    At once, Door flicked her attention back to the champion. Hilda stared back at her with a stern, stony glare. Right away, Door’s anger dissolved, leaving only pure, cold fear at the sight of her idol staring her down not with excitement or the wise look of a mentor but instead with the expression of a parent seconds from scolding a child.

    “Listen to your Companion,” she said. “Your watchog is in no state to be fighting.”

    All of a sudden, everything felt cold. Door swallowed hard and pulled Scout’s poké ball from her pocket. Her pokémon hadn’t moved in those few minutes. Rather, he was still crouched low to the ground, growling and waiting for another opponent. Hilda was right; Scout was in no condition to battle. Door had embarrassed herself in front of her idol, all because she didn’t know Scout would lose control like that.

    “Scout, return!” she shouted.

    And to her surprise, he did. The red light of his ball swallowed him, and he didn’t fight it. He simply let it draw him off of the battlefield, and when the ball closed around him, it stayed shut. Door examined it for a second, her face twisted into a deep frown. At the edge of her peripheral vision, she watched N stride over to Hilda and hand her the tympole’s poké ball. She nodded to him, and with that, N breathed out, heaving his shoulders slowly, before returning to his side of the battlefield. The expression on his face was virtually unreadable to Door, but somehow, it looked dark in ways she couldn’t describe.

    “I look forward to hearing your next pokémon’s voice,” N said. “Timburr, go!”

    Door stiffened. How could N’s voice sound so calm? Didn’t he see how Scout hurt his pokémon? Didn’t he see Scout snap? Hell, didn’t he even see the way Hilda had put Door in her place? Why wasn’t he yelling at her too?

    In the space between them, the light from N’s poké ball materialized into a small, child-like creature that carried a block of wood under one arm. Door knew what the creature was; it just took a moment for her to register its appearance. And in that time, the timburr twirled his block with one arm, rested it on his shoulder, and stared up at Door with a bored, impatient expression.

    Geist nudged her shoulder. “Door,” he said, “he’s waiting for you to send out an opponent. I would highly recommend Jack. Huntress and Knives are both normal-types, so they have an elemental disadvantage to the timburr species. Water-types like Jack, however, are neither strong against nor weak against fighting-types like timburr. Besides, this would be a good opportunity to get Jack the experience he needs to evolve.”

    “Why won’t you just leave me alone?” Door said. “I can do this on my own, you know.”

    Taking a step back, Geist dropped his arms to his sides and gave her a steady, neutral glance. “It’s my duty, Door. Among other things, Companions are designed to be sources of information for their trainers. In every battle, we do our best to provide our partners with advice and analyses that may improve their chances for victory.”

    “Well, I don’t need you to do that,” she hissed. “So, I don’t know—shut that feature off or something.”

    “I wouldn’t recommend that. It could be useful,” Hilda said.

    Door looked back at her to see her smiling. Actually smiling this time, in a gentle manner. Like a mother smiling at a child.

    And right then, as she stared at the champion’s grin, something sick and cold wormed its way into her stomach.

    “To be honest,” Hilda continued, “I kinda wish I had a Companion back when I’d journeyed. It would’ve made life so much easier.”

    Door felt her heart twist. Her idol was actually supporting a cop out? It took a deep breath and a moment of clenched teeth for Door to gain control of her anger and push it deep down inside her—just enough for her to think. And when her head cleared, even just a little, she shrugged to send Jack onto the field.

    “Jack, start with Water Gun,” she growled.

    The otter trilled and somersaulted off her shoulder. Landing in front of the timburr, Jack rocked backwards, inhaling deeply as he went, and then exhaled a hard jet of water from his mouth. His attack cut through the air in seconds, struck N’s timburr in the chest, and launched him backwards. N’s timburr hit the ground with a thud, but the attack didn’t stop there. Instead, he was pushed—dragged across the pavement by the Water Gun—for a few meters while his block of wood skittered out of his hand and beyond its reach. Gritting his own teeth, the timburr snarled and rose to his feet again. In the dim light, Door could see a flash of his skinned back, and she grimaced at the thought of the injury.

    N, meanwhile, regarded his pokémon’s injury with a steadily darkening expression. Yet even then, he refused to lose his composure. He refused to break down and say something to Door.

    Instead, he pointed to Jack. “Timburr, Low Kick!”

    “Jack! Jump over it and Tackle! Pin Timburr down!” Door shouted.

    Jack crouched in preparation, and the timburr rushed forward far quicker than Door had anticipated. She had expected him to be slowed by his injuries. She had expected him to be in pain. She had expected that agony to affect him. But no, that wasn’t what happened. One moment, he was struggling to stand up, and in the next, he was mere inches from her oshawott. His foot swept down, and Jack, who was just as surprised as Door was by the timburr’s quickness, had no time to dodge. So instead, the fighter’s leg hit him hard in his back paws, and Jack fell flat on his back, dazed and whimpering at the night sky.

    “Excellent job, Timburr,” N said. “Jump back and use Bide!”

    With a huff of acknowledgement, the timburr did as he was told. He leapt backwards, moving until he stood next to his block of wood. Then, he reached down, grabbed it, and planted it square-side-down onto the pavement with a thud. With it as his shield, the timburr knelt on one knee, shut his eyes, and began to hum. A soft, red light ebbed from his grayish-brown skin, but otherwise, he did absolutely nothing. Nothing to strike at Jack while he was vulnerable. Nothing to bulk himself up. Nothing but kneel and wait.

    Suddenly, Door felt Geist’s arms wrap around her shoulders.

    “Door,” he said urgently, “listen to me. Don’t attack. Do you see that red aura? That’s an energy net. If you strike it, Timburr will absorb damage and translate it into energy to feed that net. After a certain amount of time, that energy will explode outward, and Jack will take more damage than the amount he would have inflicted on Timburr. In other words, Bide is an extremely dangerous attack, and the only way to avoid being struck by it is to not strike in the first place.”

    She squirmed in his grip. “I know how Bide works!” she yelled. “I’m Professor Ironwood’s assistant, remember?! Bide’s so simple, I’ve seen seedot use it!”

    “I’m just trying to help you,” Geist protested.

    “Well, don’t! I’ve already got a plan!” Door said.

    Then, squirming out of his embrace, she took a step forward and looked down at her oshawott. In the time Geist had been spending explaining Bide to Door, Jack had managed to pick himself up, but he didn’t look like Scout after Tympole’s first Round. Jack wasn’t calm and unshaken; he was panting. He was bent over. Door could see bruises through his blue fur. And that was all after just one Low Kick. She set her jaw and squinted first at her pokémon and then at the meditating timburr. Her plan would have to be done delicately.

    “Jack, Tail Whip!” Door cried.

    Without a single question, her oshawott obeyed. He jumped, turning in the process so his backside faced the timburr. Looking over his shoulder, Jack shook his hips, wagging his bulbous, stub-like tail back and forth as quickly as he could while barking rhythmically. Door looked up to watch the timburr intently, and to her relief, one of the fighter’s eyes slid open. His gaze fixed on the tail, and his tight frown wavered ever so slightly. This was it. The timburr’s guard was lowering.

    “Again!” she ordered. “Give it all you’ve got, Jack!”

    Once more, the oshawott wagged his lower body. He took gradual steps backwards, inch by inch, as he presented his tail to the timburr. The timburr, meanwhile, shifted on his knee, struggling desperately to focus on maintaining Bide. But a minute later, his hum became a wavering, desperate cry, increasing in volume and pitch until it grew to a screech. And then, the net gave out, bursting outward in all directions. The red light washed over Jack, but he whirled back around to face his opponent as if nothing had happened. Throwing a look over his shoulder, Jack extended one of his paws to give his trainer a thumbs up.

    And then, Door couldn’t help but grin. “Jack! Tackle!”

    Jack barked and threw himself forward. The timburr was too close, too fresh from Bide to dodge, so all he could do was look on as the oshawott came closer and closer. He couldn’t even throw his hands up to cushion the blow as Jack plowed directly into his chest. At once, the timburr’s legs gave out, and he was thrown like a ragdoll back into the pavement with Jack on top of him. Once they landed, Jack planted a paw on each of his limbs to pin him to the ground.

    “Good job, Jack!” Door said. “Now use Water Gun!”

    “Timburr, fight back!” N called. “Low Kick!”

    N’s timburr squirmed beneath Jack, but the otter held him down fast. No matter how much the timburr tried to jerk one of his legs free, the oshawott kept both of them pinned to the ground. Perhaps realizing he was trapped, his eyes widened and locked onto Jack’s face, and the oshawott’s lips curled into a wide smirk in return. Jack inhaled deeply, puffing up his chest and even rising a little on all fours while N’s timburr thrashed and howled. And then, at last, Jack exhaled, spewing another jet of water directly into the timburr’s face.

    “Timburr, return!” N shouted as he lifted his pokémon’s ball into the air.

    Like the others, the timburr didn’t resist. He merely vanished in a haze of red light, only to be drawn back into the poké ball. The moment Jack felt his opponent vanish from beneath him, he cut off his attack, rose to his feet, and swiveled around to face his trainer. A proud smile stretched across his face, and he barked, as if to ask her for her approval. Door walked forward and bent down to scoop her pokémon up into the crook of one arm. She used her other hand to pet his back as she stood. Part of her hesitated to smile or congratulate Jack, but the other part of her was elated. Sure, she may have lost control of Scout, but this time around, she did it. Jack was perfect, and she was in complete control. She knew exactly how powerful her oshawott was, and she acted accordingly. That meant she knew what she was doing—that she could do this without a Companion and that she wasn’t just some slightly-above-rookie trainer. She was competent.

    So with that in mind, she let herself smile and hug her oshawott.

    “You were awesome out there, Jack. Good job,” she said.

    The oshawott trilled in return and nuzzled her cheek. At this, N cocked his head and half-turned away from Door.

    “Your oshawott,” he said. “He’s telling me that he’s proud to have made you happy. It’s curious, really.”

    “Not that curious,” Hilda replied. “You can’t be doubting the idea that trainers and pokémon can have meaningful relationships after all we’ve been through.”

    He chuckled. “No, Hilda. Of course not. I’ve known you for far too long. But…” His smile faded, and he cast a glance back to Door. “I just find it curious.”

    A flicker of rage ignited in Door’s chest, and she scowled at N. “Why do you ‘find it curious’?” she asked, her last words dripping with venom.

    “Although I cannot hear the voices of false pokémon, I can see how a trainer acts towards them,” N replied. “All pokémon, real or not, still have hearts. This cannot be denied. You should pay attention to them when they tell you something important, especially if it’s about how they feel. This is the only way you’ll be able to bond with your pokémon and grow as a trainer.”

    “Excuse me?” Door snapped. “I listen to all my pokémon! What, is this about how Scout lost control? Because that’s not my fault.”

    “No, it wasn’t,” N agreed, “but you didn’t—”

    “What N is trying to say,” Hilda interrupted, “is that one of the most important things about being a trainer is being aware of both a pokémon’s physical and emotional states. It’s no use trying to force a pokémon to battle when it’s struggling to control its emotions. Your watchog might have been ready to battle physically, and sure, I’m certain it was ready to rip another pokémon apart, but in that kind of state, it’s entirely uncontrollable. When your watchog lost it, you couldn’t guarantee that your commands would get through to him, and he could have done serious damage. You did a lot better with your oshawott, but that’s because you’re in tune with him.”

    She walked forward, her posture and expression relaxed and forgiving. Door didn’t move; she merely furrowed her eyebrows as her idol approached her and reached for her oshawott.

    “May I?” Hilda asked.

    The champion didn’t wait for a response. In the next moment, she pulled Jack out of Door’s arms and into her own, and she cradled the oshawott in one arm like a baby. Her other hand drifted up and began rubbing Jack’s stomach, which elicited happy barks and flailing limbs from the oshawott.

    “He feels so warm,” Hilda observed. Then, looking up, she locked eyes with Door. “Let me guess. You’re more in tune with real pokémon than fake ones, aren’t you?”

    Door stiffened and stared at the champion for a few beats. Then, she frowned and looked away, opting to fix her eyes on a spot on the road. Hilda’s shoulders slumped, and she shot Door a quizzical look. Then, after a heavy sigh, she glanced up at Geist instead.

    “Geist, was it?” she asked. “Am I right about your partner?”

    The Companion folded his hands behind his back and exhaled. “It wouldn’t be appropriate to answer on my trainer’s behalf,” he said.

    Hilda gave him a small smile. “It’s okay. We’re all friends here, and I’d like to help Door as much as possible.”

    Without moving her head, Door crossed her arms and glanced at Hilda. She didn’t say a word. She only waited for Geist to respond.

    “Well,” he said. “It’s true. Door feels uncomfortable with fake pokémon.”

    “Companions too, am I right?” Hilda asked.

    “I’m afraid so.”

    The champion cocked her head and gave him a wry smile. “Kinda figured, looking at you.” She straightened her posture and glanced at Door. “You know, though—and this is a tip that’s meant in general, not just in the case of Companions—the most valuable thing you can have on a journey is a friend. Don’t discount someone’s support, just because they’re robotic. N is right. Even fauxkémon can feel, on a level. Companions too, and both only want to help you on your journey.”

    Hilda gently placed Jack on Door’s shoulder. Door tilted her head away from the oshawott to give him room, but she couldn’t look the champion in the eye. She couldn’t even speak. In her chest, that hot bubble of rage was back, and it was taking all her willpower not to snap at Hilda King over it. She wanted so badly to tell her all the reasons why she thought fauxkémon and Companions were creepy. She wanted to tell Hilda King about how she was the granddaughter of Halcyon Labs’ CEO and that she hated how much Companions and fauxkémon dominated her life. She wanted to tell her about Opal’s over-enthusiasm and how annoying it was to have Geist give her advice on things she already knew. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t because all of this would be inappropriate to tell the champion of Unova, the one woman she had looked up to for most of her life. So she remained silent and shaking as she reached up and pressed Jack to her shoulder. Hilda, seemingly unaware of Door’s discomfort, scratched Jack under the chin and smiled at them both.

    “Give it some thought,” she said. “But if you ask me, Geist is worth listening to. He had a lot of great advice in that battle there. I have no doubt he’ll have great advice for you when you challenge the Nacrene Gym.”

    Door gave her an uncertain look. “How … how did you know?”

    Hilda smiled. “Why else would a trainer be in Nacrene City?” Then, her smile faded slightly, and she lifted her chin. “Word of advice, though. The gym leader of Nacrene City is the granddaughter of Lenora Hawes, one of the toughest gym leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure of battling. You’d better believe that she made sure her granddaughter’s just as tough as she was. The entire Hawes family was always like that. Smart both on the battlefield and off, and hard as nails either way.” She lowered her chin and stared deep into Door’s eyes. “Which is to say, don’t let your guard down in Nacrene Gym. N gave you a taste of what to expect. Got it?”

    At that, Door nodded, and when she spoke, her voice was low and soft. “Thanks.”

    Hilda’s smirk returned, and she snorted out a small laugh. Her hand moved up to stroke Jack’s head once before she turned and started walking away.

    “And think about what I said about friends on your journey,” Hilda added, her voice raised slightly. “Just because they’re not flesh and blood doesn’t mean they’re not valid, okay?”

    “O-okay,” Door replied. “I’ll think about it.” It was a lie, of course, but she wasn’t about to tell the champion of Unova the truth.

    Luckily, Hilda didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she grinned and bowed her head, then lifted a hand to wave at Door.

    “Atta girl,” she said. “N and I had better get going. Places to be and all. Don’t you worry, though. I’m sure we’ll see each other again. Until then, take care, good luck, and don’t forget what I said.”

    “I-I won’t,” Door replied. “Thanks, Miss King.”

    Hilda threw a glance over her shoulder with a smile. “Hilda. Please.”

    Door responded with her own awkward smile as she said, “Hilda.”

    With that, Hilda gave Door one last grin over her shoulder and walked away. N cast his own gaze towards the young trainer, with a steely-eyed expression that made Door shudder, before falling into step beside Hilda. Door stood, watching them silently until they disappeared around a bend in the High Line, and then, she relaxed her shoulders and shut her eyes for a moment.

    That is, she shut her eyes until Jack began vibrating. Door’s eyes snapped open, and she looked at her pokémon, just in time to see him take on a brilliant, white glow. Her eyes widened, and she pulled Jack off her shoulder and held him out at arm’s length. She felt the heat of his evolution, the way his body stretched and grew heavier with every passing second, and she watched as he grew longer, as his fur grew wilder, and as his limbs grew lankier. Eventually, she had to put him down, and when she did, she stumbled backwards several steps until Geist caught her. All the while, she couldn’t take her eyes off Jack. Not until the white light burst, and he threw his head back and bayed. And there, right where her starter had been, was a taller, leaner otter. A dewott.

    Jack snapped his eyes open and his head forward, and he regarded his trainer with a confident growl. She, meanwhile, couldn’t speak, but her Companion could.

    “Dewott,” he recited. “The discipline pokémon. Scalchop techniques differ from one dewott to another. It never neglects maintaining its scalchops.”

    As if to illustrate, Jack plucked one of the shells off his hip and twirled it in his paw. When he raised it to eye level, he grabbed its hinge and brandished it like a sword. His trainer straightened, eyebrows rising a little more until she smirked and crossed her arms.

    “Well, I’ll be,” she said. “You look awesome, Jack.”

    The dewott barked, twirled his shell, and clipped it back onto his hip without taking his shining eyes off his trainer. Her smirk widened in response.

    “So. Hilda says Nacrene’s gym leader is tough,” Door continued. “Ready to see how tough she is?”

    Jack barked one more time, prompting Door to start for the pokémon center.

    “Great! First thing in the morning, bright and early, right at sunrise, let’s take on the Nacrene Gym!” Door said.

    She marched to the pokémon center doors with her dewott barking and jogging behind her. Meanwhile, her Companion touched his temple briefly, stopped, and flung his hand up to signal his partner to stop.

    “Door!” he called “Wait! There’s something you need to know about the Nacrene Gym! It—”

    She walked right into the pokémon center without even stopping to look back at Geist. For all intents and purposes, she simply acted as if he hadn’t said anything at all. Realizing she was ignoring him, Geist lowered his hand and sighed.

    “It … doesn’t open until ten,” he muttered.


    > CORE5.txt

    > Author: Lanette Hamilton

    > Notes: From the audio research notes of Lanette Hamilton. Transcript only; sound file has been lost. File transcribed by Bebe Larson.

    LANETTE: —16:24, follow-up on Project Galatea, re, hardware configuration. Today’s OS tests revealed that a significant amount of RAM is needed for our purposes. Solution: divide and conquer. We’ll use a multi-core system, with each core containing a separate drive dedicated to specific processes. One will be dedicated to necessary software for bodily movement; the other will be dedicated to storing data, backups, and software needed to support the LFA system. I’ve named these the digital and memory cores, respectively, for clarity’s sake.

    For the time being, I’m housing the LFA system in a third core of its own. The last thing I want is to put too much weight on the memory core and risk shutting down the connection. If that happens … well, it wouldn’t exactly mean that everything will be for naught, but it would be rather inconvenient, considering the entire point of Project Galatea and all.

    Also, I suppose I should make it official. These cores aren’t really motherboards, although I think the best way to describe them would be to call them such. They’re more like … well, it’s something else entirely. Super motherboards, if you will. Something that I thought I had designed to withstand the strain of the LFA system and unit management on its own, but … well, here we are.

    [clears her throat] So. Official definition. Core: noun, spherical components within an android unit, equivalent to the motherboard. Each core takes on a specialized function that works in perfect balance with the others to create a complex system that both enables the unit to function and allows them to operate at the speed of human thought, even when not engaged with the LFA.


    Okay, that’s terrible. Revise later.

    [end recording]

  14. Minty Electric

    SS Egg 1
    (Odd Egg (S))
    Level 15
    May 26, 2019

    “You know, the Nurse Joys in this region aren’t that bad.”

    That was the only thing Rosa Alvarado had to say as she finished stitching closed a bite wound on a tympole’s back. She had never actually received formal medical training, but literal decades with the International Police taught her a thing or three. So when Hilda King called in a favor and asked her to patch up Natural Harmonia Groupius’s pokémon in a hotel bathroom, what else was she going to do? Turn down a request made by the champion herself?

    One narrow-eyed glare from N made her wonder if that was what she should have done.

    “What?” she asked. Her hand snaked up to the sink to grab the scissors, but she didn’t take her eyes off N’s face.

    “The pokémon centers in this part of the region are full of artificial pokémon,” he said. “I can hear their voices, but I can’t understand them.”

    Rosa snipped the end of the thread. “And that means … what?”

    “He means he doesn’t think the Nurse Joys in this neck of the woods know how to take care of real pokémon,” Hilda replied. She sat on the bed, her chin resting in a palm. “To be honest, I can understand why he’d be hesitant, but it’s a little silly. Of course they know how to take care of real pokémon. Lots of people from other regions take on the Unova circuit, which means fighting the first two gyms.”

    “True,” Rosa replied as she set aside the needle, the thread, and the scissors to scratch under the tympole’s chin. “But I get it. Those trainers are usually so strong they walk all over the gym leaders. They don’t really need much more than a bandaid most of the time.”

    “Thank you,” N said.


    Rosa stood and crossed the bathroom with the tympole in her arms. When she reached N, she held his pokémon out. The pokémon was fast asleep, still under the Sleep Powder sedative Rosa had administered, so when N accepted the pokémon in his arms, he was able to do so without it fussing. He held it close, lowering his eyes to the stitches on its back with a frown.

    “Although?” Hilda asked with a raised eyebrow.

    “You’ve seen Amanita Fennel’s reports, right?” Rosa asked, casting a glance to the champion. “About the recent Dreamyard incident?”

    “No, but I’ve heard a few things from N. Something about real pokémon appearing in Unova again?”

    Rosa nodded. “Exactly. It’s been happening for the past few months. That’s going to lead to some big changes around this part of the region. The Nurse Joy in Striaton’s already adapting.”

    Hilda frowned, examining her friend’s face. “You look rather serious about that. Isn’t this a good thing?”

    “Well, it would be, but…”

    Rosa shifted her gaze to N. He nodded, prompting her to continue, and with a deep breath and a heavy sigh, Rosa glanced back at Hilda.

    “N’s noticed it, and I’m sure you have too,” Rosa said. “An up-and-coming radical organization holds a rally in Accumula. Shortly afterwards, thieves attempt to steal a musharna from the Dreamyard. Sound familiar?”

    The corners of Hilda’s mouth dropped a little more as she eyed her company. Then, she tilted her head in her hand.

    “Of course it does,” she replied quietly.

    “What do you think it means?” N asked.

    Hilda shrugged. “I dunno. But for now, I guess it means we keep an eye on Nacrene Museum.” Then, shifting her glance up at Rosa, she added, “Better get the Hawes family on the line. It’s time to reel them in too.”


    The gym was not open. Geist held his tongue about this, and for that, Door was thankful. Of course, she had no doubt he knew that the gym wasn’t open that early in the day, and for that, she decided to give him the silent treatment all morning. Yet, at the very least, she was thankful he didn’t offer any form of “I told you so.” She didn’t even acknowledge him when he suggested that if she wanted to train, she should go a little further west, to the fields between the outskirts of the city and the remnants of Pinwheel Forest. But she followed his advice anyway because she had nothing better to do.

    That was at seven o’ clock. One bagel, a cup of coffee, and an hour later, and Door was standing on the outer edge of a field, just outside Nacrene City’s gate. Jack stood next to her, and Geist lingered on the path behind them with his arms crossed. Door took a sip of her coffee and peered into the grasses, watching carefully for any sign of movement. Geist, meanwhile, brought a hand to his temple and let his eyes flash over the field.

    “Door,” he said, “I’m detecting a pokémon not far from where you are now. If you head south for about five—”

    She didn’t wait for him to stop. Instead, she cocked her head back and downed the rest of her coffee, and once her cup was drained, she crumpled it with one hand, stuffed it in her pants pocket, and walked into the tall grass without a word. Jack followed her, but Geist sighed and crossed his arms again.

    “And you’re not listening again,” he muttered. Then, a little louder, he said, “Door, hold on. Let me tell you about this pokémon, all right?”

    “I’ve got it,” she said.

    Ahead of her, she could see the grass rustle softly. Her eyes narrowed, and her body tensed as she motioned for Jack to move forward. Flashing a grin at his trainer, Jack rushed ahead and disappeared into the grass. As Door watched him go, she became aware that Geist was right beside her, so when she looked down and saw his hand holding out a poké ball for her, she wasn’t entirely surprised.

    “Pidove,” he said. “Female. Impish nature. Likes to thrash about. Capture level seems to be beginner.”

    “Yes, great, thank you,” Door responded as she swiped the ball out of his palm. Her voice was dripping in venom and sarcasm, neither of which he seemed to detect.

    “She’s a pidove, Door,” Geist continued. “Her types are normal and flying?”

    Door stopped and thought about that for a second.

    “Oh,” she said.

    As if on cue, a gray blur burst from the grass and ascended quickly until it reached a point several meters in the air. The moment it stopped, Door could see it for what it was: a pidove, just like the one N had used in the battle against her a night ago. It—or she, according to Geist—fixed her tiny, glassy eyes onto an unseen target far below and flapped her wings rapidly. A rush of air slammed onto the ground, flattening both the grass and a smear of blue against the earth. Jack howled beneath the attack, and even when the winds stopped, he struggled to stand on the flattened patch of earth. Door slapped her face at her own oversight. A flying type. Of course.

    “Door,” Geist sighed, “you fought one of these things last night. Literally last night.”

    “I was lucky then, Geist,” she growled. “N’s pidove just Quick Attacked into Scout’s mouth. This one…”

    She looked up at the bird circling Jack. The pidove seemed to be waiting for something, as if she was judging the dewott and attempting to predict his next move.

    “This one’s just staying up there,” she murmured.

    “I … Door, are you serious right now?” Geist asked. “There is more than one way to get a flyer down. For one, you can shoot it down. Think about what I told you last night. About Jack and why you should have switched to him.”

    She stopped for a second, then shook her head and frowned. “I know, Geist. I’m getting there! Jack, Water Gun!”

    “Door, hold on!” Geist cried.

    Geist’s protests came a second too late. A jet of water shot into the air from the tall grass, but Jack’s move didn’t even come close to the pidove. Instead, it simply stopped a few feet into the air and rained down on its source like a fountain, driving Jack to cry out.

    Behind her, Geist sighed. “Pidove is too high for you to hit her. You’ve got to wait until she gets closer and then strike.”

    Door whirled around and glared at Geist. “First, you want me to hit her with Water Gun, and now you don’t?! Make up your freakin’ mind already!”

    “Look out!” Geist snapped.

    He grabbed her and shoved her around until she faced forward, just in time to see pidove enter a nosedive towards the grass. Door reeled back, jumping in her Companion’s hands before regaining composure and stepping forward.

    “Jack, Water Gun now!” she shouted.

    As the bird dropped closer to the earth, another jet of water blasted out of the grass. The pidove screeched and flapped its wings frantically, attempting to break out of the dive, but the blast struck her full in the chest. She screeched one last time before plummeting away from the jet and to the ground. Her body landed with a thud, and at once, the pidove stopped screaming.

    Door tensed, one hand worming through her hair to grab her head. “Oh crap!” she hissed. “Did I kill it?!”

    Geist walked forward, entering the grass. As he motioned for Door to follow, he glanced back at her with glowing, blue eyes.

    “Relax,” he said. “She’s a fauxkémon. It would take a lot more than a fall to kill her, but the fall did knock her offline for the time being. Come on, before her system automatically reboots.”

    Door relaxed her shoulders, then nodded and followed Geist. A rustling at her side signaled Jack’s presence, although Door couldn’t see him through the tall grass, and the three of them pushed forward until Geist led her to a flattened patch in the field. There, at the center, lay the pidove with one wing twisted under her body. Her eyes were glassy and black and lifeless: offline, definitely. With a deep breath, Door tossed her poké ball and watched it smack the bird on the shoulder. A red light swallowed the pidove and drew her inside, and as it snapped shut and rolled onto the ground, Door kept her eyes on the ball until it lay still. Then, she started forward, picked it up, and examined it carefully.

    “See? That wasn’t so bad,” Geist said.

    She frowned at the ball. “What wasn’t?”

    “Taking advice from me.”

    Door shot him a glare. He stood a few steps from her, hands folded behind his back and an awkward smile on his face. His eyes had faded back into their usual dark brown—no light, no signal that he was analyzing her. Somehow, that made her feel a little less uneasy about being stared at by him.

    “Shut up,” she said as she pocketed her poké ball. “Anyway, this pidove. Let’s call her—I dunno—Storm, I guess. If Storm’s offline, fine. I’ll train her later. But in the meantime, Jack, let’s get back to work.”

    The dewott saluted and barked, then unsheathed one of his shells. Door started forward, walking deeper into the grass in search of pokémon. At first, all she could hear was Jack’s footsteps, but it didn’t take long for Geist’s to join them.

    “Door,” he said, “if I’m going to be traveling with you, then perhaps we should—”

    “You’re not,” she replied.

    His footsteps slowed. “Sorry?”

    “You’re only going as far as Castelia City,” Door said. “Once we get there, we find Halcyon Labs, I drop you off with my grandmother, and I go back to Amanita’s and take her up on that nice offer she gave me for escorting you. Technically, I don’t even have to earn this badge. We could push forward and get to the Skyarrow Bridge by nightfall and then Castelia City by tomorrow, but Belle’s both flippin’ crazy and a trainer, and gym challenges are a nice way to test my skills against trainers who know what they’re doing. Point is, I’m not on a journey, you’re not my Companion, and to be perfectly honest, I’m looking forward to dumping you off with Grandma Brigette and forgetting I’d ever met you.”


    Door stopped short. She whirled around again to face Geist.

    “What?” she asked. “What do you mean ‘fine’?”

    He exhaled and slumped his shoulders, and his expression morphed into one of sadness. “Door … believe it or not, we Companions are capable of responding to emotional stimuli. We can get hurt, and from that, we … understand our world, in a way. It might not be the same way you see your world, but it’s similar. And not to brag, but from what I’ve been told, your great aunt designed me to specialize in exactly that. I can’t help but think like a human, and that comes with … well, with having some semblance of emotions.” He placed a hand over where his heart would have been, had he been human. “I understand why you’re uncomfortable with Companions, and all I can say is I can’t force you to like me or the situation you’re in. As I’ve been telling you, it’s my job to do all that I can to guide you, but if that’s not possible, then fine. Do what you will.”

    She stared at him for a few beats. And then, she shrugged, turned back around, and walked deeper into the grass. “Cool.”

    Geist jumped. “I … really, Door?!”

    Responding only with a toothy smile, Door began climbing a slope. She had no idea where she was going; she simply chose to climb that hill for no other reason than to have a vantage point from which she could spot pokémon without Geist’s help. But as soon as she reached the top of the hill, she realized it wasn’t unoccupied. At the very peak of the hill sat a pillar-like stone, and before it stood a young woman and a watchog. The woman stood quietly, her arms crossed and her dark eyes locked on the watchog, but the watchog flung itself over and over again at the stone. Its claws, curled into fists, bashed against the surface of the pillar, and with each strike, cracks laced up its face from each point the watchog struck. Door took one look at the attack and knew immediately what it was.

    “Oh. Rock Smash,” she muttered.

    “Sure is,” the woman said.

    Door jumped. She was standing a good distance away from the woman, and she didn’t think she spoke that loudly. For both reasons, it came as a complete shock to her that the woman heard her nonetheless.

    As if she could sense Door’s astonishment, the woman turned her head to grin at the trainer. Her coarse, blue dreadlocks brushed up her bare, dark-skinned shoulders, and the white beads at the tip of each braid clattered together, breaking the awkward silence.

    “Hello,” she said. “I was watching your capture a few moments ago. Nice job.”

    “Uh, thanks,” Door responded. “Look, um, I didn’t mean to interrupt anything, so—”

    “You didn’t,” the woman replied. She tilted her head, her eyes glinting in the morning sunlight. “Sophia Hawes.”


    “That’s my name. And you are…?”

    “Door. Door Hornbeam.”

    “Door. I’ll remember that.” Sophia returned her gaze to the watchog and the rock. “You know, Door, whenever two or more trainers’ eyes meet, they’re obligated to battle.”

    At that, Door ground her feet into the earth and smirked. “Oh yeah?”

    “Yes. Normally.”

    Door relaxed. “But?”

    “Mm.” Sophia lowered her shoulders. “May I ask why you’re in Nacrene City?”

    “Just passing through,” Door replied. “Why?”

    “Are you only passing through?” Sophia asked.

    Door rubbed the back of her neck. “Well … I guess I’d like to get Nacrene’s gym badge, but the gym is closed at the moment.”

    “I see.” Sophia lifted her chin. “Then before we battle, I should warn you about what a fight against me would mean.”

    “Huh? I don’t … I don’t get it,” Door said slowly. “What are you talking about?”

    “She’s talking about the fact that she’s the Nacrene gym leader,” Geist told her.

    Instantly, Door frowned and shoved her hands into her pockets. She didn’t have to look away from Sophia to know that her Companion was standing next to her. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him, his hands folded behind his back as usual.

    “Stop sneaking up on me!” she hissed.

    Geist shrugged in response, but Sophia glanced back over her shoulder and grinned again.

    “It’s been a while, Geist,” she said. “We’ve started to miss Amanita’s intellectual company.”

    “Dr. Fennel’s been quite busy lately. She sends her apologies,” he replied.

    She chuckled. “Well. My family sends our regards nonetheless. Now, is this young lady Amanita’s new assistant?”

    “I’m afraid not,” Geist replied. “Sophia, this is Door Hornbeam, granddaughter of Brigette Hamilton-Hornbeam. She’s escorting me to Halcyon Laboratories, but in the meantime, she would like to challenge you to a gym battle. At your earliest convenience, of course.”

    “Is that so?”

    The smile on Sophia’s face widened. Her arms fell to her sides, and her fists rested by her hips.

    “Ishtar,” she called. “You did well, but stand down.”

    At once, the watchog stopped and twisted around to face its trainer. From the soft glow in its eyes, Door knew right away what it was: a fauxkémon, just like Sage’s team. It turned those glowing eyes up to its trainer’s face, and she jabbed a thumb to the side. With a small nod, the watchog leapt onto all fours and bounded to the edge of the hill. As soon as her pokémon was out of harm’s way, Sophia reached down and plucked a poké ball from her belt. Door could hear the whir of it expanding in her hand, but Sophia didn’t throw it right away. Instead, she bowed her head.

    “Door,” she said, “it’s not enough if all you are is strong. I trust you’ve already visited Striaton Gym?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Door replied.

    “Good.” Sophia tossed the ball up in the air, but not enough to release its pokémon. Instead, she simply caught it again and continued tossing it as she spoke. “In that case, I accept your challenge. I hope you’re ready.”

    “What?!” Door swallowed and looked around, at the open hillside. “Here?! But … don’t we have to at least be in Nacrene City first?”

    Sophia chuckled and paced away from Door until she stood next to her watchog. Then, turning, she thrust her poké ball forward, allowing it to open at last. In seconds, a herdier appeared on the field and crouched low to the ground with a growl. Door stiffened at the sight of it, unable to parse what was going on.

    “Gym leaders can host a battle anywhere they want,” Geist explained. “It doesn’t matter where the battle is. What matters is whether or not a gym leader can adequately judge a trainer’s worthiness of their badge in the space they choose. Why else do you think the Striaton gym leaders were able to get away with having their gym be in a restaurant?”

    “Your friend is right,” Sophia said, her chin raised slightly. “That having been said, this will be a standard battle, no time limit, and you’re free to switch pokémon if you’d like. There’s just one catch, however.”

    Door blinked. “Catch?”

    With a nod, Sophia added, “Normally, at the Nacrene Gym, we test your intelligence—your problem-solving capabilities in the face of adversity. We do this by forcing you to find the location of our gym floor through a series of puzzles. However, seeing as this battle won’t be held in the gym, this will have to be a … special case.”

    “Special case how?” Door asked.

    Bowing her head again, Sophia smiled. “Our first turn will be the same as usual: you move, then I move. This way, you’ll have a chance to get the upper hand for the rest of the battle. After that, I’ll give you a riddle. Answer correctly, and my pokémon will only use Leer. Fail to answer correctly in thirty seconds, and my pokémon will use one of their three other, more dangerous moves. Your Companion may help you, but he may not answer for you. Understand?”

    Door raised her eyebrows. Was she for real? “I … guess so.”

    “Then do you agree?”

    With a confused smile, Door shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

    “Good. Then please send out your first pokémon so we may begin.”

    At that, Door bit her lip. Jack was in decent shape, but glancing over at Sophia’s watchog, she stopped herself from sending him out first. She had no doubt Sophia’s herdier was just as artificial as her watchog, and with that thought roiling in her head, Door couldn’t help but remember her battle with N—or, more specifically, all the blood Scout had drawn. Storm needed repairs and was thus out of the question, and Huntress, while tough, hadn’t yet battled enough to catch up with Door’s other pokémon. And given that Knives was also real, that meant Door had only one option left. Drawing Scout’s poké ball from her pocket, she let her eyes linger on it and silently reminded herself that this wasn’t going to be like the battle against N. She wasn’t going to lose control of her pokémon, and she wouldn’t have to worry about seriously injuring her opponents. Everything was going to be fine.

    “Scout, let’s go!” she said, whipping her arm forward.

    In a flash, Scout materialized in front of her. He stood tall and stiff, as if he had already forgotten about the battle against N. Upon seeing Sophia’s herdier, he tilted his head and clicked his teeth together.

    “Okay, Scout,” Door said. “Remember our first gym battle? Let’s do it again. Open with Crunch!”

    Sophia planted her hands on her hips and inclined her head. “Neith, counter with Leer!”

    Counter with Leer? While her pokémon stormed forward, Door pressed her lips together. How could a non-damaging move be used to counter an offensive one like Crunch? She watched carefully as Scout crossed the distance between himself and his target and bit down onto the herdier’s back. Neith yelped as Scout picked it up in his mouth and tossed, but it crashed into the ground, rolled, and righted itself on its feet as if nothing had happened. Instead, it fixed its red eyes on Scout with as intense a glare as Door had ever seen on a herdier’s face. Scout took a step back, dipping his body low with caution.

    “Scout, don’t worry about it,” Door said. “You’ve got this. Now, use—”

    “Riddle number one.”

    Door hesitated, her eyes flicking from her pokémon to Sophia. A grin spread across the gym leader’s face.

    “I told you the rules, Door,” she said. “Are you having second thoughts?”

    “What? No!” Door responded.

    “Good. Then riddle number one. Thirty men, and ladies, two. They stand about with nothing to do. Dressed in black and dressed in white, yet with one small move, they begin a fight. What are they?”

    Door flinched. Thirty men? Two women? Black and white? What was all of this? She didn’t realize Sophia was serious about that twist. Who had ever heard of riddles in the middle of a gym match?

    Scout looked back at her. His face was just as blank as it always had been, but something about his expression almost seemed … concerned. Worried. Door bit her lip at the sight of it.

    “Time’s up. The correct answer: a chess set,” Sophia said. “Neith, Bite!”

    “What?! Wait!” Door cried.

    Before she could protest, Sophia’s herdier bounded across the field, opened its jaws, and leapt onto Scout. He screamed as Neith’s fangs sank into his arm, and in the flurry of confusion, the two pokémon tumbled onto the ground in a heap. Scout thrashed in the dog’s grip, his voice screeching in intermittent bursts until the herdier finally let go and bound back to its starting position. At the same time, Scout rose shakily to his feet, claws scratching at a ragged tear in his arm, right where Neith had bitten.

    “Oh my God,” she muttered. “Sophia’s really not kidding.”

    In response, Geist grasped her shoulder gently, leaned down, and whispered, “Let me help you.”

    Door shrugged him off. “I can do this myself. I-I was just caught off-guard, that’s all. I don’t need anyone to look up the answers for me.”

    “It’s not cheating, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Geist replied. “Besides, I’m not looking up the answers. I’m good at riddles. Just trust me, okay?”

    “Riddle number two,” Sophia announced. “Without fingers, I point. Without arms, I strike. Without feet, I run. What am I?”

    Door bit her lip again. Her eyes fell to Sophia’s herdier, then Scout, then the glistening metal peeking out from beneath Scout’s ripped fur. In her head, she went over the riddle again. What points without fingers? A sign? But what type of sign strikes and runs?

    How much time did she have to answer these?

    “You won’t be able to win this battle if you don’t answer,” Sophia said. “You have ten seconds left.”

    Geist rested his hand on Door’s shoulder again, but this time, his touch was heavy. “A clock!” he said. “It has hands that point to the time, it strikes every hour but doesn’t have arms, and its gears run, even if it doesn’t have feet. You’re thinking of a clock.”

    Sophia crossed her arms and lowered her head. “While that answer is correct, it’s not Door’s. I said you can help her, not answer for her. And on that note, time’s up, Door. Neith, Bite again!”

    Door didn’t have time to react. She could only watch as Sophia’s herdier stormed towards Scout and leapt upon him once more. Again, the two pokémon fell to the ground, and again, Scout thrashed in Neith’s grip. The only difference was that instead of one arm, it was the other, but otherwise, the herdier trotted back to its place as it had a moment ago, leaving Scout to rise shakily to his feet.

    “I’m sorry, Door,” Geist breathed. “I didn’t realize answering for you would prompt that response.”

    “Forget this!” Door barked as she turned to face him. “This all is a bunch of crap! Who’s ever heard of a gym battle with riddles in the middle of it?! I mean, if she’s not going to take battles seriously, then maybe I shouldn’t either! Scout, Crunch!”

    With a grateful bark, Scout rushed forward. The herdier didn’t move to defend itself, and to Door’s surprise, Sophia only watched silently. So, in the next second, Scout’s jaws clamped down hard on Neith’s neck. Scout rose up, lifting Neith in the air to shake the herdier roughly, and even then, it made no move to protest—not even to howl in pain. With one final snap, Scout tossed Neith away from him and over the side of the hill. Door could hear the herdier crash, its body crunching against the earth, and with one glance over the edge of the hill, she could see its bent and twisted form rolling down the slope until a red light engulfed it. When she shifted her gaze back to the gym leader, Door was shocked to see Sophia grinning back at her.

    “Now you’re getting it,” she said.

    “Getting what?” Door snapped.

    “Thinking critically,” Sophia responded. “Ishtar, go!”

    “Don’t let her get in an attack or a riddle,” Geist said quickly, “and don’t forget that as a watchog, Scout’s able to use more than just strong offensive moves.”

    At his advice, Door’s eyes widened. Then, for once, she nodded and took his word.

    “Scout, Confuse Ray! Right now!” she ordered.

    As soon as Sophia’s watchog approached the exact same spot Neith had stood a moment ago, Scout stomped ahead and threw his stubby arms towards his opponent. From the tips of his claws, a cloud of golden lights swirled outward and engulfed the other meerkat. Each orb exploded into a brilliant flash of yellow, but despite how blinding it was, Ishtar burst forth and lunged at its opponent. Sophia’s pokémon slammed full-force into Scout, driving him backwards several meters until he came to a stop mere feet from Door. The other watchog, meanwhile, wobbled back to a spot close to where it started, and there, it wavered from one foot to the other in a desperate attempt to stand still.

    “Hopefully, that will help you,” Geist said, “but you should consider switching Scout for another pokémon soon. He’s taken three attacks already, and Retaliate is especially powerful if it’s used immediately after a pokémon on the user’s side faints.”

    “I know, but if I can just get in a couple more Crunches…” Door muttered.

    “Riddle number three,” Sophia announced. “I will disappear every time you say my name. What am I?”

    Geist exhaled and leaned towards Door. “Too easy. In all those times we aren’t talking, what do we have instead, Door?”

    Door smirked. “Sweet, sweet relief.” Then, louder, to Sophia, she said, “The answer’s silence.”

    Sophia smiled. “Correct. Ishtar, Leer!”

    The watchog lifted its head and chirruped, only to wobble on its feet and slam its head into the ground. Door smirked at this. It was exactly what she was hoping for.

    “Okay, Scout!” she shouted, thrusting her hand forward to point at Sophia’s watchog. “Crunch!”

    Without hesitation, Scout leapt forward with his jaws wide open. His fangs snapped onto Ishtar’s head with a bang, and as his opponent flailed and screeched, Scout picked it up and shook it by the skull. He released, tossing Ishtar to Sophia’s feet, and as the watchog struggled to rise, its eyes blinked. With each blink, slowly but surely, it looked less and less confused.

    “Very good,” Sophia said. “Riddle number four. I eat, I live. I breathe, I live. I drink, I die. What am I?”

    “Too easy,” Geist said. “Door, do you remember Savory?”

    Door flashed him another smirk. “I’d figured that one out myself, thanks very much. Fire. The answer’s fire.”

    Sophia nodded. “Very good, Door. Ishtar, Leer!”

    “Scout, go in for another Crunch!” Door ordered.

    The two watchog moved simultaneously. Sophia’s flashed a red-eyed glare at Door’s, but this only made Scout stumble as he dashed forward with his jaws open wide. Another bang echoed through the clearing as Scout slammed his fangs down on his opponent, but this time, he lifted the other watchog up by its chest, growled, and shook his opponent like a rag doll. Then, he spat the creature onto the ground just to the left of where it had started.

    “One more ought to do it,” Door murmured.

    “That may be true, but don’t let your guard down,” Geist responded.

    “Relax,” she said. “I’ve got it covered! Yo, Sophia! Throw me a hard one!”

    Instantly, Door regretted saying that. A smile spread across Sophia’s face like ink trailing across a page, and the sparkle in her dark blue eyes told Door she already had a riddle in mind. A hard one, just as Door wanted.

    “Riddle number five,” she said. “Greater than God but worse than the devil. The poor have it, the wealthy need it, and if you eat it, you’ll die. What is it?”

    Door blinked. Reluctantly, she threw a glance over her shoulder at Geist, who shrugged.

    “What’s in an empty poké ball?” he said.

    “I dunno. Air?” Door asked.

    “Incorrect,” Sophia announced.

    Door looked at the gym leader with wide eyes. “Wait! Hold up!”

    “Nothing, Door. It’s nothing,” Sophia replied. “Ishtar, Hypnosis!”

    At once, the watchog swiveled its head towards Scout, and its eyes began to glow red. This time, Scout stared deep into them, unable to look away. Door took a step forward, but she could only watch in horror as her pokémon swayed on his feet and, finally, collapsed sideways into the ground.

    “Riddle number six,” Sophia continued. “When I am filled, I point the way, but when I am empty, nothing moves me. What am I?”

    Door cursed under her breath. She started forward, only to be grabbed by Geist.

    “What are you doing?” he hissed. “This is an active battlefield, and you only have thirty seconds to answer Sophia’s question! You can’t just run out there!”

    “Shut up!” she snapped. “Scout! Wake up! Come on!”

    “Door, your answer, please,” Sophia replied calmly.

    “Screw the answer!” Door responded. “Scout!”

    With a sigh, Sophia tilted her head. “Fine. The correct answer was a glove. Ishtar, Crunch, please.”

    Scout was still limp on the ground when Sophia’s watchog waddled to his side. It bent down, jaws open wide, as Door cursed again.

    “Wake up!” she screamed. “Come on, Scout!”

    Ishtar’s jaws snapped shut around Scout’s neck. It picked him up and shook him violently, just as Scout had with it and Neith. But when it released, it flung Scout hard … right into the rock pillar at the side of the field. His body crashed into it head first with a crunch, and as he tumbled to the ground, Door caught one last glimpse of his smashed-in face. Everyone—Door, Geist, Sophia, Ishtar, even Jack—fell silent at the sight of Scout lying in a crumpled, twisted heap at the base of the pillar. And as Door turned her head back to Sophia, she saw the gym leader stiffen with her arms pin-straight beside her and her eyes wide on Scout.

    “I’m sorry,” she said, “Door, believe me when I say I didn’t mean to have that happen. I suppose I went a little overboard.” She turned back to her opponent. “If you’d like, I could—”

    Door held up Scout’s poké ball and withdrew him from the battlefield. Then, she extended her hand.

    “Jack, you’re up next!” she said.

    With a bark, Jack bounded onto the battlefield. He glared at Ishtar, whipped one of his shells off his leg, and brandished it like a sword. It seemed as if he was just as oblivious to what had happened as his trainer was, because his expression was one of pure determination.

    Sophia furrowed her eyebrows as she glanced from Jack to his trainer. “Door … are you sure you’re okay to continue?”

    “Yeah, of course I am,” she said with a shrug. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

    For a few seconds, Sophia gave her a curious glance. Then, she shook her head. “All right. Riddle number seven. When you do not understand me, I am something. When you understand me, I am nothing. What am I?”

    Door glanced back at Geist, but he only stared at her with an expression of shock. Realizing he wasn’t going to give her a hint, she huffed.

    “Okay,” she muttered. “What are things that stop being things when I understand them? Questions? If I answer a question, would that—oh!” She smirked. “Riddles. The answer’s a riddle!”

    Sophia nodded slowly. “Correct.”

    “Well, in that case, Jack, Razor Shell!” Door ordered.

    While Jack dashed forward, Door realized Sophia hadn’t given her pokémon an order, but right then, she shrugged it off as meaningless. As far as she was concerned, the only important thing was the battle. She watched as Jack’s scallop sword flashed with a pale blue light and as Jack himself charged toward Sophia’s watchog. Jack howled and slashed, bringing his blade down across Ishtar’s chest. It ripped open a gash across the watchog’s body, and as Ishtar shrieked and reeled backwards, sunlight glinted off the dented, metallic flesh underneath its fake skin. At last, the watchog collapsed onto the ground.

    Then, Sophia exhaled. “Door … that was my last pokémon. Congratulations. I hereby declare you worthy of the Nacrene City gym badge.”

    At first, Door simply widened her eyes. Then, she cried out and rushed towards Jack. The dewott looked up with a grin as his trainer swooped down, grabbed his hands, and swung him around.

    “Did you hear that, Jack?!” she exclaimed. “We won! You were so awesome at the end! Just bang!” She let go of Jack’s paws to swing one of her hands down with a chop. “One hit kill! Of course, Scout was pretty cool too, but—”


    At the sound of the new voice, Door looked up to see a male research Companion rushing towards them. His eyes were glowing with bright, blue light as his porcelain face twisted into an expression of fear and worry. He stopped before Sophia and bowed, his lab coat rustling around his long legs.

    “Sophia, your father said I could find you here. Please, you must hurry!” he said.

    “Why?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”

    He lifted his head, gazing into her face. “A group of strange people in black clothes were seen running out of the museum this morning. They were carrying the skull of the dragonite skeleton between them.”

    Sophia’s eyes widened. “The dragonite skull has been stolen?!”

    “I’m afraid so, ma’am,” the Companion replied. “The group was last seen running towards Pinwheel Forest. That was less than fifteen minutes ago. If you hurry, you may be able to catch up with them and take back the skull. Your father has already enlisted the help of an International Police officer who happened to be in the area, but he thought you may be strong enough to lend a hand.”

    She nodded. “I can. Door, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a Nacrene badge on my person. Go back to Nacrene City, find the museum, and ask my father for one. Show him this as proof that you’ve met me.”

    With that, she drew two cubes out of her pocket and tossed them to Door. Catching them effortlessly, Door opened her palm and examined the dice-sized, white cubes in her hand. Both were marked with gleaming, black numbers: one reading 94 and the other reading 67. She knew what these were, of course. Professor Ironwood had stockpiles of them, and Door frequently resisted the temptation to swipe a few and sell them to her trainer friends. These were technical machines, little devices that were capable of teaching pokémon new moves, and in her palm, she realized she was holding Rock Smash and Retaliate.

    Closing her hand, she thought about what Sophia had said but then looked up with a frown.

    “Hold on,” she said. “Was one of the people in black a woman with really long green braids?”

    The Companion glanced at her. “Yes, in fact.”

    Door huffed. “Then I’m coming too. I took out both of your pokémon, remember? I’ve still got four on my team who can fight, and that woman and I have a score to settle.”

    Sophia shook her head. “No. I really insist that you go back to Nacrene City. You need to get to a pokémon center as soon as possible to see if they can help you salvage your watchog.”

    At that, Door’s frown deepened. “What? Why?”

    Geist’s hand came down hard on her shoulder, and when Door looked up at him, she found the Companion staring at her with extreme concern.

    “Door,” he said, his voice shaking. “Look at Scout’s poké ball.”

    Blinking, Door did as he said. She pulled Scout’s ball from her pocket, expanded it, and looked at it carefully. The ball didn’t appear any different than it usually did, except for one key exception: the button on its face was now glowing with a deep, dark purple light.

    “Do you see that light?” he asked quietly.

    “Yeah,” she replied. “What about it?”

    Geist straightened. His voice made a sound as if he was breathing in deeply, even though Door knew this had to be a mimicry. Still, she couldn’t help but begin to feel cold, as if she knew what he was about to say and dreaded it.

    “It means,” he said, “that Scout is dead.”


    > CORES6.txt

    > Author: Lanette Hamilton

    > Notes: From the personal audio research notes of Lanette Hamilton. Transcript only; sound file has been lost. File transcribed by Bebe Larson.

    LANETTE: —successful installation of the test personality core. Of course, for the sake of formality, a note of explanation. The personality core is a temporary core designed to house specialized software meant for testing purposes only. Seeing as I can’t install the LFA system at the moment for quite obvious reasons, I needed a placeholder that’s capable of responding in as close a manner as possible to the LFA’s target. It’s taken me a bit, but I was able to “teach” the core very basic personality traits—such as brave or docile or calm—by assigning certain actions and modifiers to each value. In theory, the unit will be able to mix and match these traits to create a more complex artificial personality, and, gods willing, respond to the tests more accurately.

    In this case, values set for the core are quirky, gentle, serious, mild, modest, docile, and—forgive me for taking liberties—wise and intelligent. That should do it, really. Or, well, it should do it in the sense that I’ll have a perfect emulation except not … well, not inclined to do anything irrational mid-test. Or, well, I know that the test dummy won’t be able to act outside of the testing parameters, but I mean … you know.

    Speaking of, at the very least, the dummy was able to move its chassis during initial testing, and all basic systems seem to be fully operational. Quite surprising for a first run, if I may say so myself. I was expecting at least a plethora of bugs besides the lag between order and execution or some issues with the analogs to the finer motor skills. But I’m not complaining. Once the personality core is installed, I’m hoping that the aforementioned comparatively minor issues will be ironed out. If not, at least the personality core can rule out the lack of an AI as the key issue.

    [end recording]


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