1. We have moved to a new forum system. All your posts and data should have transferred over. Welcome, to the new Serebii Forums. Details here
    Dismiss Notice
  2. We're currently having an issue where e-mails sent to gmail accounts are not going through and are bouncing back. We're currently working to resolve this matter and apologise for any inconvenience
    Dismiss Notice
  3. Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
    Dismiss Notice
  4. If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders
    Dismiss Notice

Arbitrary Execution

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by Cutlerine, May 21, 2017.

  1. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    ARBITRARY_EXECUTION

    Apparently I don't have enough to be writing already, so here's a story about weird stuff happening and people trying to deal with it. I'll warn here that it deals with depression, hallucination, (remembered, undescribed) self-harm, and other bad mental health things; there will also be some strong language and violence. Updates will be every fortnight, if I write them in time. I'll post new chapters of this one week, and of Go Home the next, and so on.

    CONTENTS

    01: A Requiem for Past Selves
    02: The Price of Silence
    03: A Man of Wealth and Taste
    04: Partners
    05: Summer Lightning
    06: A Guide to Amateur Spycraft
    07: We Monstrous Few
    08: Dubious Beliefs
    09: Covert Operations
    0A: Difficult Conversations
    0B: To the Marrow
    0C: Missing Numbers
    0D: Human Error
    0E: Old Wounds
    0F: The Lines Are Now Open
    10: Rockets Rising
    11: The Monarch of the Breach
    12: Interview
    13: They That Have the Power to Hurt
    14: Arbitrary Execution
    Epilogue: Hail Giovanni
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2018
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    01: A REQUIEM FOR PAST SELVES

    You could say it starts with divine revelation. It would certainly make a good story if that was true, and like all good stories, the best part is that it actually almost is. You could also say that it started with bureaucracy, and although this is less interesting it does have the advantage of being much more definitely true.

    So let's start with that: paperwork and terror, the two pillars of the civil service. Here she is, alone at her desk in the middle of the night. The only one awake in the house. Secretive. Afraid.

    Her pen hovers over the form. Technically, this is fraud. Probably. But nobody's going to know, right? And isn't it worth it, considering?

    She doesn't quite have the nerve to do it just now, so she skips that part and goes on to the next. Address: that's much easier, there's no question about that. 146 City Road, Pewter, Lanmering Riding, Kanto, 88-7N-09. Okay. What's next? Age. Also simple: 19. Old enough that the next section of the form doesn't apply to her; it's intended for parents and guardians filling this out for their kids. (The reminder that she is nine years late to the party grates. But she will be okay.) So she can skip that and go ahead to – oh god, it's the financial stuff. Is she eligible for any of the following grants or bursaries? Eligibility can be checked online on the League website. She's already been there and looked around, but unfortunately she's too old for most of them. There's one, though. A Recognition of Material Disadvantage Grant, which despite the pompous and somewhat alienating name does probably apply to her: she's over sixteen, she can demonstrably not afford a trainer journey, she never had one when she was younger. She ticks the box and turns the page.

    If yes, please fill out a BN6 form, copies of which are available at your local Gym or League office, or digitally via the League website. “I have filled out and attached the relevant form”: she looks in her desk to make sure she still has it, nods nervously to herself, and checks the box.

    That's all this is, she tells herself. It's checking boxes. It's telling them what they want to hear. Proof of residence – okay, that's going to be tricky. That will contradict what she wants to put in that first box. Everything that ties her to this place has someone else's name on it. She thinks about it for a second, then opens up the Kanto government website, ancient laptop whirring noisily with the strain, and finds the form she's after. The thing is, that requires a witness, and she isn't sure she knows anyone sufficiently authoritative who she can trust with that. But if she could find someone, she could attach a scan of her passport, and then a copy of this form, too, and then none of this would be fraud and everything would, somehow, work.

    She feels her heart beating very fast and hard, like a fist pummelling the wall of her chest. Is she ready for this?

    No. She isn't. But she's going to have to do this sometime, isn't she, so she might as well get it over with.

    She saves the form to a suitably obscure folder to print later, then erases her web history (just in case) and closes her browser. Breathe. Okay? Okay. She turns her attention back to the form.

    Her eye goes back up to that first entry, right at the top of page one. Two words, block capitals.

    FULL NAME.

    Slowly, deliberately, marvelling at her own courage, she writes it out:

    ARTEMIS APANCHOMENE.

    *​

    And that is where it really begins. With an absurd name stolen from someone else's history, written almost-fraudulently across the top of an application for an Indigo Plateau League trainer card. If you're going to rename yourself, you might as well go all in, right? She could be a Katherine or a Niamh, an Abigail or a Tessa, even if she dared (which she doesn't) an Avani or Shreya or Radhika – but what the hell. She's not going to get this chance again. No reason not to shoot for the moon. In this case, literally.

    Artemis thinks about this as she rides the bus down to the Pewter Gym. She got the letter yesterday, after months of exasperating correspondence while League clerks demanded more forms and more clarification. By this point, there are probably enough copies of her deed poll floating around the Indigo Plateau offices to wallpaper the Champion's room. Still, she got the letter, Dear Ms Apanchomene, we are pleased to inform you that your application has been successful and all that, and now she's on her way down to the Gym to pick up the promised card. She could have had it delivered, but she's getting tired of waiting nervously by the door to snatch up letters addressed to MS ARTEMIS APANCHOMENE before her parents see the unfamiliar name and start wondering. Besides, she needs to speak to the officials at the Gym anyway. She's going to need a pokémon, after all, and right now she's not really equipped to get one herself.

    She supposes she could ask her parents. They are technically part of this too; this is after the arguments, the lines drawn in the sand, the compromises and conditions. But they don't really like it. They think it's too late really, that she missed her chance the first time around and now honestly she probably shouldn't be wandering the country on her own anyway. Besides, aren't you lucky to be able to handle school, given your (ahem) condition? You really shouldn't pass this opportunity up.

    So no, she won't ask them. She's done the negotiating, she's got her compromise, but she won't involve them any more than she has to. They don't want to be involved, and honestly that's not even such a bad thing. She's doing all this with her new name, after all. The one they don't even know she has.

    Artemis holds onto the strap as the bus sways around a corner and tries not to think about any of it. The future is right there in front of her, gigantic and utterly inscrutable. Once she has that card, she'll have the last thing she needs to throw herself into it. And after that, she's on her own.

    She swallows. It's the kind of decision that looks bigger and nastier the closer you get, like a mountain range that's fuzzy in the distance and jagged as hell up close. But she's committed now. The change of name is legal; she's already registered it with the bank and the university. In the end, sick with nerves, she approached her friend Chelle's mother, who is mostly oblivious to her daughter's friends but very kind, and after a brief and difficult explanation of the situation asked if she would witness the deed poll for her. It was far and away the most awkward conversation she's ever had, but it got results. And now it's official. Her name is Artemis, and sooner or later she'll have to stop lying about it, and so, well, here she is. No turning back.

    A lot of planning has gone into this. A lot of work, a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of money. Artemis clings onto the strap and hopes that it turns out to be worth it.

    The Gym is a long, graceful building in the heart of downtown Pewter, with several other less attractive buildings clinging onto its sides like barnacles on the flanks of a whale. It looks old, and it looks busy. Artemis sees trainers (all younger than her) and a startling variety of pokémon: bellsprout stomping flat-footed on forked roots and pidgey fluttering and cooing, sure, but also a lanky Mr Mime that moves like a broken puppet and a polished-looking scizor nearly as tall as she is. Its pincers look like they could shear through solid concrete.

    She takes a breath. Okay? Okay. Let's go.

    Inside, the Gym looks less old than dated; the ugly stone cladding is probably meant to indicate that you can expect rock-type battles, but really it just gives the impression of having last been redecorated in 1976. Still, it's not exactly driving people away. The lobby is heaving, full of noise and strange pokémon smells, and Artemis has to wait in line for several nerve-wracking minutes before she gets to speak to the receptionist.

    “Hi,” she says uncertainly. “I'm … here to pick up my trainer card?”

    “Sure,” replies the receptionist. He is very polite. He doesn't stare too much, even though Artemis has come today as herself, not who she pretends to be at home. “What's your name, please?”

    “Artemis Apanchomene.” It's the first time she's introduced herself with this name, and it's exciting and also kind of terrifying, but she's practised saying it and doesn't stutter at all. The receptionist searches his computer, then his files, and comes up with a document. He asks her date of birth and address, and then, satisfied she isn't an imposter (more satisfied, in fact, than Artemis is herself), hands her a rectangle of laminated plastic.

    “Here you go,” he says, smiling. “It's official. You're a trainer.”

    Artemis smiles back, despite herself. It is official. She is a trainer. She has the card right here in her hand and okay, it's not the most flattering photo but who cares, right? It's here. This is happening.

    “Yeah,” she says, and then remembers herself. “Well – not quite. There's one more thing …”

    The receptionist nods understandingly.

    “You don't have a pokémon?”

    “Yeah. Kinda hard to be a trainer without that, you know?”

    “Yep, it really is. Okay, well, we don't have any at the moment – they always find partners fast – but we offer sessions with our Gym trainers where they take you out to catch one. Is that something you'd be interested in?”

    “Uh, yes please.”

    “Great. The next appointment I've got is Saturday at two pm. That okay with you?”

    Artemis starts.

    “So soon?”

    “I've got later ones if that doesn't work – Tuesday at eleven or four, Friday at―”

    “No! No, no, that's fine.” Artemis tries a smile. God. What is she afraid of? This is what she's been working towards, right? A trainer card, a pokémon. A ticket out of Pewter and the life she has here. “I just, um, I just thought you'd be all booked up for ages.”

    The receptionist nods again.

    “You'd be surprised,” he says. “Lots of people already have pokémon. Their parents help them get one or whatever.” He looks a little nervous there, maybe wondering why she, so obviously not a child, is here at all, but he covers it well. “Anyway, uh – Saturday at two, then?”

    “Yeah. That's great, thanks.”

    Artemis leaves, thankful to get out of the crowded lobby and into the cool spring air of the street, and tries to wrap her head around what she's just done. The card, she thinks: let's take that first. It's here, in her hand. ARTEMIS APANCHOMENE, 11/11/1998, 146 CITY ROAD, PEWTER. Photo and everything. Now, any time she likes within the next four months, she can let the League know she's going, and ten days later the money will be in her account.

    Or to put it another way, sometime within the next four months, she has to do this.

    She swallows, and gets on her bus. It's okay. She's got four days till Saturday, anyway. Enough time to think it over, and chicken out if she wants to. Not that she can. She won't get a second chance with the trainer journey thing, not with the League and not with her parents, and besides she has to leave, she has to. Leaving is scary, but staying is worse. Staying is only putting off the moment when everything comes to a head, and she's forced to go whether she likes it or not. Better to exit on her own terms.

    Artemis looks at her shiny new trainer card, now a little less shiny with handling but still hugely, unnervingly new, and then she puts it away in her pocket. She's only got a few minutes till her stop. It's probably time she started preparing.

    *​

    The days go both faster and slower than she was hoping for. On the one hand – heading out into the world to catch herself a pokémon? Hell yeah. Isn't that what everyone wants as a kid? It's definitely what she wanted, but things didn't work out that way. First there was the illness, then the recovery, and then just when her parents' grip on her started to slacken a little they found her scars, and then there was no chance they'd let her travel Kanto on her own. And okay, they might have had a point there; she really was in a bad way back then, she can't deny it. Now at last she has the chance again, and it's going to be amazing.

    But on the other hand – when she does this, she really has committed. To Artemis, to her new face, to a life that she knows she can never bring home. Once she catches that pokémon, it's time to get going, and that's where all those plans start turning into actions. And that's a change, a positive change maybe but also a big one, and Artemis would be lying if she said she wasn't afraid of that.

    She isn't even sure how she's going to handle this. Is she going to tell them? Probably not. They won't believe her. That's the thing about her: nobody ever has to believe anything she says, if they don't want to. Because she's just imagining things, right? Like she always does.

    She used to think that too. She fought this for so damn long, trying to convince herself that this like so much else was just in her head – but in the end, isn't this kind of thing always in your head? Who gets to decide whether someone's a girl or not, anyway? Surely only the person involved. So, to hell with it. She's a girl. Nobody will believe her, but she is.

    Next question: what is she going to do about it?

    And this is her answer. Get out of town, cut some ties, and decide what the hell comes next.

    It's not much of a plan, but it's escape, for a year at least. And Artemis really, really needs to escape.

    The stress takes its toll. She has at least one bad night, although nobody gets hurt and she sees nothing that she shouldn't. Artemis takes her meds, grounds herself as best she can, and sticks to her guns. Saturday is the day. Nothing's going to change that now.

    She spends most of her time in her room, reading articles about training online. Soon enough she'll have a whole country to wander; for now, she restricts herself to roaming digitally, devouring everything she can find about the nuts and bolts of pokémon training. She learns that flying-types don't just dodge ground attacks because they're in the air, but because they have an elemental resistance: don't waste your time trying to snipe with mud shots, even if you think a missile of packed dirt might logically smack that fearow out of the sky. She learns that geodude are capable of short bursts of speed if they hoist themselves up on the palms of their hands and use their arms as legs. She learns that certain ghost- and psychic-type moves like psyshock cause shrapnel or ripples on the psychic plane that spread through the minds of nearby observers, and that those with mental illnesses should be wary of getting too close to the point of impact.

    Everything she reads, she remembers. It's easy if you have the knack for it, and Artemis always has done. Now she needs that skill more than ever: she has to make this work. Otherwise, well. This won't be much of an escape, will it?

    When Saturday does come, it almost sneaks up on her, somewhere in the midst of the hours lost down online rabbit holes. She makes tea for everyone in the morning, as the old routine of the house dictates, and when she brings the cups to her parents she is reminded that today's the day.

    “It's not too late to back out,” her dad tells her. “You know that right, ――?”

    He says her old name but she carefully doesn't hear it.

    “Okay, dad,” she says. “I'm not doing that, but, um, thanks for the reminder I guess?”

    He raises his eyebrows at her. Paternal. Slightly condescending.

    “You're sure you want to go through with this?” he persists.

    “We've been over this,” she says. “I'm going.”

    And she does. At one pm she leaves the house; at one twenty she's at her friend's house, where she changes clothes and faces (“Thanks, Chelle, I owe you”; “'S nothing, Artie, good luck!”); and then, at two, she presents herself and her less-shiny, still-new trainer card at the Gym.

    “Hi,” says the receptionist. “It's … Artemis, right?”

    “Yeah,” she replies, surprised. She supposes she's probably quite memorable, although for all the wrong reasons. “Yeah, that's me.”

    “Here to catch your first pokémon?”

    “Yep.”

    “Okay, let me see … sure. Take a seat, and I'll send Jerry over to get you.”

    “Okay,” says Artemis, suddenly feeling weak with nerves. “Okay, um … thanks.”

    The receptionist sees her fear and does his best to smile encouragingly.

    “No need to worry,” he says. “You'll do great.”

    She manages a smile in return. It's not a very convincing smile, but hopefully he gets the idea.

    “Thanks,” she says. “I appreciate it.”

    The Gym is not so busy today. A few trainers, no pokémon extraordinary enough to really draw her attention; one kid has one of those mossy geodude that can learn the odd grass move, but they're not exactly rare. Artemis picks up a magazine from the table and begins to leaf through it, looking at glossy photographs of trainers and pokémon. She can't quite concentrate on any of the text right now – too nervous, or too excited, or both – but the act of turning the pages helps to settle her a little.

    “Artemis?”

    She looks up from her magazine to see a boy a depressing number of years her junior standing next to her. He can't be a day older than fifteen, and this is the guy who's going to be showing her the ropes. Great.

    He also looks nervous. Artemis supposes she'd better get used to that. She's tall and bulky in the kind of way that argues strength, and her hair is all wrong for a girl; she's going to end up unsettling some people. It's okay, she tells herself, although of course it isn't really. She's big enough to intimidate, and that will help protect her. As if that were all that mattered.

    “Yeah,” she says. “That's me.”

    “I'm Jerry. This is Leroy.” He indicates the rhyhorn at his side, a big, squat creature that looks almost flattened by the weight of its stone armour. “We'll be helping you catch your pokémon.”

    “Okay, cool.” Artemis stands up, and immediately both she and Jerry become extraordinarily aware of her height. It's quite something. Even her family was surprised, when it first became clear she was just going to keep right on growing: neither of her parents are more than average height, although her grandfather Nikhil is supposed to have been something of a giant. “Um,” she says, trying not to stoop. “So … where are we going?”

    “Uh, yeah, okay,” replies Jerry, trying in return not to stare. “We'll be going out to the woods. Viridian Forest, you know, it's gonna be full of trainers this time of year, so we'll be heading out west instead. There are some good spots round there where we can usually find something.”

    He recalls Leroy – too heavy for the bus, he explains – and leads Artemis out of the Gym and along to the bus stop, a few dozen yards down the street.

    “What kind of something?” asks Artemis, doing her best to keep the conversation going. This is clearly a question that Jerry is more familiar with.

    “Well, it all depends,” he says. “There'll probably be some rattata and pidgey out there, but honestly we don't normally recommend them as a starter – too nervous, so they're kinda difficult to manage if you've never worked with pokémon before. What we'll be looking for are things like mossy geodude, blackwing spearow, nidoran – basically stuff in the sweet spot between 'strong enough to kick your a*s' and 'too weak to battle'.”

    It's not very funny, but Artemis laughs anyway, out of a sense of duty. Jerry's trying, damn it. She should too.

    “Okay,” she says. “Sorry, you probably get that question every time.”

    Jerry smiles.

    “No, it's fine. I mean, it would be weirder if you didn't ask. Everyone wants to know.”

    They get on the bus, and Jerry holds out a hand to stop her paying.

    “Hang on,” he says. “I got this.” He touches a card in a clear plastic wallet to the reader, and the driver waves them through. “League privileges,” he tells Artemis, as they take their seats. “It charges it to the Gym's account.”

    “Is that okay? I mean, I'm not League―”

    “But you are working with us today.” Jerry shrugs. “Brock's rules. He doesn't think it's fair if you have to pay to come get your first pokémon.”

    Artemis can see a little bit of the kid in him there, peeping out from behind the Gym trainer persona. He swells a little as he speaks, proud to be associated with one of Kanto's top trainers. She almost smiles, only she doesn't want him to think she's mocking him.

    “Right,” she says. “That's nice of him.”

    “He's pretty great,” agrees Jerry eagerly. “You'll see when you battle him.”

    “That's … probably not gonna be for a while yet. I don't think I'll be ready for a Gym challenge any time soon.”

    “Well, y'know. Fortune favours the bold and stuff.”

    Artemis thinks that that's kind of a silly maxim, correlation and causation being what they are, but she doesn't say anything. Jerry is being nice. He doesn't have to be. No one does.

    “Maybe,” she says, and lets the thread of the conversation fall.

    Outside, the buildings move at an angle; they are coming down the hill on which the Gym is built now, turning west along Longdean Street, past the old video store and the bowling alley. Artemis hasn't been to this part of town in years; she's moderately surprised to see the video store's sign is still up and the FOR SALE notice still in the darkened window. She would have thought something else would have moved in there by now.

    Pewter in the summer. Traffic, heat, sunlight turning the backs of streetlamps and the metal fittings of windows into lines of white fire. Someone walking an ivysaur that's got all lively with the heat and light and keeps running ahead of them down the street, constantly on the verge of knocking something or someone over.

    This weather should hold. Artemis has checked the forecasts, and it's going to be one of those summers. A good time to find her feet and get used to travelling, before the cold of winter starts to set in.

    It's starting, she realises. This is it. This is day one. By the time she gets back home, she's going to have a pokémon.

    She watches the street, the cars and cyclists and windows glinting in the light, and feels a slow smile creeping across her face.

    It's starting. And she's beginning to feel like she might be ready for it.

    *​

    Here is the compromise she has worked out with her parents: she can go, if she can (a) fund it herself, and (b) secure herself a place at university for the following year. (A) was tricky, but the League grant sorted it out; the regulations are set up so that people in Artemis' position get the chance to go without depending on parental funding. She's heard that this is down to the Elite Four's Agatha, who's supposed to have started her career going up against a similar kind of parental reluctance as Artemis is, but maybe that's just rumours.

    (B) is much easier. Artemis is good at schoolwork. There's a knack to it, and she has it; that's one of the reasons it took so long for anyone to notice that there was anything off about her mental health. If you're really unwell, you're not supposed to be able to cope with life. Never mind if you're barely managing it, if you're seeing ghost people and making it through each day by the skin of your teeth; if you're coping at all, you must be okay. Until you start bleeding, and even then you're obviously only after attention. So: the place at university. She got that, and she got it deferred as well. Easy enough. She doesn't know if she'll take it up, of course, but like so many things about Artemis, her parents don't need to know that. Yet.

    She will tell them everything, one day. She thinks. Or maybe she won't. Either way, right now there is a lot about her that she can no longer contain but which she doesn't dare reveal.

    Which means, basically, it's time to make like a big damn hero and run away from her problems. Sitting here, watching Pewter thin out around her as the bus reaches the outskirts, Artemis finds that the guilt barely even registers. She has to get away: there's no shame in it, that's just a fact. Something's got to give, and she'd much rather it do so without pushing her relationship with her parents past the breaking point.

    “This is our stop,” says Jerry, interrupting her thoughts, and she follows him back out into the summer heat. They're on the corner of a long, curving road lined on one side with expensive-looking houses, and on the other with fields sloping up towards the woods to the west. Everything looks unreal in the glittering light, like a still from a movie, or maybe it looks too real. Artemis isn't sure she's the best judge of that kind of thing.

    Jerry lets Leroy out of his ball again, to stamp his feet and squint around fiercely at their surroundings. Artemis wonders if he recognises the place. How smart is a rhyhorn, exactly?

    “Are you ready?” asks Jerry, smiling up at her. “Here, I got something for you.”

    He fishes in his backpack and brings out a few poké balls – just ordinary ones, the kind Artemis has seen more times than she can count, but today they seem different and she stares, stupefied.

    “For me?”

    “Yeah. It's your starter, you're gonna do the catching.”

    “I don't know how good I'm gonna be at that.”

    Jerry shrugs.

    “Guess you're gonna find out.” He says it cheerfully and probably means well, but it feels to Artemis almost like a threat.

    They cut across the field, heading uphill towards the forest. From here, the Pewter traffic seems distant and muted; in its place, Artemis hears birds and crickets. She can't remember the last time she heard them so clearly.

    She looks at Jerry and Leroy, and sees the way they match paces, Jerry automatically slowing every time Leroy starts to fall behind. The two of them seem very well matched, and suddenly it seems ridiculous to her that she could ever hope to achieve that kind of relationship with anything.

    Some of this must show on her face, because after a minute or two Jerry offers an awkward attempt at reassurance.

    “I wouldn't worry,” he says. “Most people do manage to catch something.”

    Artemis wants to say that that's not the most persuasive way to put it, but it seems a little mean-spirited, so she holds back.

    “Yeah?” she asks, instead.

    “Yeah. It has to be you, see. You gotta make it clear to the pokémon that you're the one asking to partner with it. If it doesn't want to work with you, it's probably gonna be hard to capture it, and it definitely won't respond to training. There's a good chance it'll just smash its way out of the ball, too.”

    “They can do that?”

    “Not immediately, but yeah. Most poké balls are really more of a convenience thing, for like transport and stuff. It's really hard to catch something that doesn't want to be caught.”

    Artemis imagines a poké ball exploding in her pocket and a geodude, a spearow, a psyduck bursting free and running off back to the wild. She swallows. It will be fine. Most people … well, okay, maybe she isn't most people, but hopefully she isn't such a jerk that whatever she catches is just going to abandon her like that.

    They reach the shade of the trees, and the light quickly fades to something less eye-melting. Artemis blinks a few times, trying to adjust. She should probably invest in some sunglasses before she leaves town.

    Leroy sniffs deeply and shuffles his heavy feet among the fallen leaves. Jerry smiles and rubs his head affectionately.

    “Yeah, okay, dude,” he says. “I know you like the sun, but it's warm enough here, okay? We got pokémon to catch.”

    The two of them lead Artemis deeper into the woods, moving at what feels like random but which she suspects might just be some indirect way of covering more ground. She needs to learn this stuff, she tells herself. She can't fail, can't come crawling back home. This has got to stick.

    Time passes, which is maybe the only thing that reliably happens out here in the forest. Artemis sees a chocolate-brown wood rattata and a couple of spearow, but none are interested in fighting or finding human partners; they vanish behind trees or into bushes as soon as they catch sight of her. Or maybe it's Leroy. She's pretty sure rhyhorn only eat grass, but hey, he intimidates her, so she imagines anything smaller than him must be straight-up terrified.

    “Hold up a sec,” says Jerry suddenly. “There. D'you see?”

    Artemis looks, but has to admit that she does not.

    “No,” she says. “What am I looking at?”

    “That rock.”

    Now it's been pointed out to her, she can see it: a mossy little boulder, far too regular in shape to be natural, and with a weird lump on one side that looks like folded arms.

    “Okay,” whispers Jerry. “Here's what you do―”

    But Artemis never hears what she's meant to do. It's not that she isn't paying attention, but that at that moment, in a split second at half past three on a summer's afternoon, night falls.

    After that, the geodude doesn't seem particularly important any more.

    *​

    Both of them stand there frozen for some time. Artemis feels the old fear bubbling up inside her, a kicking, thrashing energy that saps the strength from her muscles and makes her hands shake uncontrollably, but she manages to hold onto her voice, just, and she whispers to Jerry:

    “S-sorry, but are you … are you seeing this?”

    “Yeah.” He sounds almost as scared as her, which is frankly not comforting. Leroy is crouching at his heels, eyes blazing and horn upraised, lowing into the sudden, unnatural dark.

    “Okay,” says Artemis. “Okay.” This is a good start. She has not hallucinated in some time, and in many ways it's good to know that she hasn't started again now. On the other hand, if this is real, then something much, much worse than mere hallucination is going on. “What do we …?”

    She trails off, hearing music. Or – is that music, exactly? It's definitely noise, definitely organised into some kind of rhythm, but she can't identify a voice or an instrument. It's high and sweet and beautiful in all the wrong ways, ways that make the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

    “You hear that?” asks Jerry.

    “Yeah,” she replies.

    Neither of them move. Both of them know that this is not a sustainable course of action.

    The birds and the crickets have fallen silent. The only sound now anywhere in the forest is the music, or almost-music.

    “I should check that out,” says Jerry slowly, reluctantly, fighting his own voice to get the words out. “I – I'm a Gym trainer. I … You stay here. I'll be back.”

    Artemis can hear the terror in his voice, the please don't leave me on my own, and she can't not respond. She shakes her head and touches his arm.

    “That's one of those lines that when you hear it in a horror movie, you know the person's gonna die,” she says. “No. We should stick together.”

    Maybe she's better at faking it than she thought, or maybe it's just his nerves, but Jerry actually laughs a little.

    “Yeah, okay,” he agrees. “Which way is it coming from, d'you think?”

    “That way, maybe?”

    “Sure. Leroy?”

    The rhyhorn stamps and sniffs, agitated. His head swings back and forth like a battering ram.

    “C'mon, buddy,” says Jerry, reaching out to stroke his head with what to Artemis looks like the kind of bravery that loses a hand. “It's gonna be okay. Probably just a ghost or something. C'mon now. C'mon.”

    The words stop forming sentences, but it's not important; Jerry keeps his voice quiet and soothing, and in a minute or two Leroy has calmed down. He's not happy, obviously, his eyes are flashing and he keeps snorting like an angry bull, but he's willing to follow.

    And after that there's no waiting any longer. The three of them steal through the untimely midnight, trying hard to not be seen or heard by god knows what, and as the music gets louder they begin to hear another noise beneath it. Something long and low and deep. A grinding sound like a knife being sharpened, if the knife was the size of Jupiter.

    “There's something up ahead,” says Jerry, the sudden noise making Artemis jump. “Oh – uh, sorry. But – d'you see it?”

    “Yeah,” she replies. “Yeah, I see it.”

    A red light, shining between the trees. It looks like it's a little way off. Artemis chews her lip.

    “Uh, as like a professional Gym trainer,” she says, “what do you … I mean, any ideas?”

    “Um … no?”

    “Okay.” She swallows. “Just thought I'd ask.”

    They pick their way between the bushes towards the light. Neither is entirely sure this is a good idea; in fact, both are certain that it probably isn't, but at this point viable alternatives are looking a little thin on the ground.

    Leroy snarls, a loud grating sound like stones smashing together, and Artemis almost starts out of her skin.

    “Jesus―!”

    “Sorry!” hisses Jerry. “Leroy! Please, buddy, we gotta – we gotta be careful here, okay? Careful.”

    He growls a little, and he certainly doesn't look calm by any stretch of the imagination, but he stays quiet. Jerry wipes his forehead and apologises again.

    “Sorry.”

    “It's okay,” says Artemis. “I think we're getting close.”

    The light is flickery and its illumination uncertain; still, she thinks she can tell that whatever it is that's glowing, it's big. She doesn't know if this is more or less encouraging than if it were small. Probably it's less, but she's here now, and okay she feels like a small man is trapped inside her chest and trying to beat his way out with his bare fists but she's here, and it's there, and there's not so very far to go until she at least knows what it is that's scaring her so badly.

    “I think he's okay,” says Jerry, with a last look at Leroy. “Let's … keep going.”

    He couldn't sound much less enthusiastic if he tried. Artemis tactfully ignores it. She stays alongside him as they push through a thick tangle of bushes, and then suddenly they have emerged onto a bare hilltop and she sees it and her eyes go wide and the world seems to fall away beneath her.

    There is a spire of red light bridging ground and sky.

    It burns like nothing she's ever seen, surface spitting sparks and forks of red lightning that flare and die to the beat of that unearthly music. It may have a top, but she cannot see it; it seems to just go up and up and up, disappearing among the stars that have become massively, absurdly numerous, as if all of Kanto's light pollution had been eradicated at once. The base is too bright to look at, but Artemis smells something like burning, although she can see no smoke.

    Distantly, over the swell of the music and the awful rumble of the grinding, she hears Leroy bellow and flee. She thinks he has the right idea, although she doesn't seem to be able to follow suit. Now that she looking at the thing, she cannot seem to move.

    Breach, whispers the spire of light. There has been a breach.

    Its voice is cold and clear and very distant. Artemis knows without quite knowing how that it is speaking from somewhere further away than there is space in the world.

    She feels her mouth moving in response. It takes her a little while to realise that she is apparently speaking.

    “What are you?”

    The answer is unintelligible, a series of shapes and images flashing before her mind's eye in a way that makes no sense: globs of splattered colour, squares, punctuation, numbers, a newborn baby all bloody and fresh, something that might be the astrological symbol for Venus.

    “What is that?” Artemis hears, and dimly she categorises the voice as Jerry's. “What does that mean?

    The spire flickers and burns and keeps on singing its awful song.

    Me, it says simply. I am who I am.

    Artemis wants to scream, but doesn't; feels like she will fall, but doesn't. She can hear her blood rushing in her ears, vibrating with the music of the spire.

    “What do you want?” she asks, horrified, pleading, and the spire shifts the key of its song slightly.

    Nothing, it says. I am here because I was called. I will be here until I am uncalled.

    “But why?”

    I did not ask. The spire contracts, expands, belches out sheets of red sparks that hang unnaturally in the air before dying. I am of the breach. I am vaunt-courier. I am omen.

    “Of what?”

    Of breach, it says. Of breach. There has been a breach.

    Its glow intensifies suddenly, red staining the grass and bloodying the sky―

    And then everything is over.

    Something releases her. Artemis falls to her knees in the clear light of day, shaking and trying not to cry, and beside her she hears Jerry being violently and copiously sick. The stars are gone. The sun is back.

    In the distance, far below in Pewter, the cars go back and forth like nothing ever happened.


    SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES [CONFIDENTIAL: AUTHORISED ACCESS ONLY]: ENTITY DESIGNATED BE-17-01. SEE APPENDIX FOR DETAILS.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2017
  3. DreamSayer

    DreamSayer Dreamzone Trainer

    Okay, I got into this story with an open mind and not knowing exactly what to expect. So I decided to have a look and I couldn’t stop reading it until I was done.

    The premise, as far as I could infer, is about this girl whom had a late start at becoming a trainer due to illness and some parental issues and she’s likely wound up in something far more sinister and mysterious than she could imagine. I can’t say that I haven’t seen this before, but it’s unique enough to stand out from the bunch.

    Artemis, the girl with the not so top shape health is our main character. She has some interesting attributes like being taller than the average person and also shows signs of being insecure. Such is what you’d expect from a relatable character. I cannot personally say how much I can relate to her (I’ve never met similar experiences first hand) but I can at least see what you’re going for with her. Her story is probably the coming of age type and I can see plenty potential for character development and growth for her.

    I’m not a big fan of how she basically changed her identity, in a literal sense, and basically does some things on a whim. Her interactions with Jerry were funny at times and never boring. Although, I rose a brow when he shouted Jesus because going by context, Jesus couldn’t have existed in a pokemon world. That aside, I doubt he’s going to be a recurring trainer.

    Before that whole Breach part, I was under the impression that this would be a normal trainer journey story. But I can now tell that it’s far from that. A trainer journey story, but with supernatural/paranormal and possibly scifi touches added to them.

    This story is really interesting and I would very much like to see how this story will grow in the future. You have a great thing going on here. See it through to the end.
     
  4. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine ██████████

    So I nearly went on and on for literal pages about how interesting I think Artemis is, but to spare you the massive literary analysis, allow me to summarize: she’s very fascinating.

    And that’s by and large because a lot of her character is told through implication. For example, take the beginning. I found it endlessly fascinating that we start off with her choosing her name. We don’t know anything about her at that point, save for the fact that she’s undergoing a total reinvention of herself. And that’s the point. It becomes especially apparent when her father uses her dead name and asks her if she really wants to go on this journey—almost disapproving of her decision to do so. (I mean, it’s also apparent in how uncomfortable she is in her image and how she feels no one will believe she’s a woman, but I mean this is the strongest moment aside from the lack of anything to this story before we see her sort out her identity.) It all almost seems like a string of metaphors. Who Artemis tried to be before she was Artemis is both dead and currently irrelevant. Artemis’s parents approve of her the way any young adult’s parents approve of their children’s “unconventional” dreams and identities. In short, she starts her journey not to find herself (because she literally just has) but instead to figure out where to go from there.

    Also? I both love and am afraid of how relatable Artemis is. Metaphors and depth aside, when you take her at face value, either way, she’s this character who has finally pushed herself to go after something she wants. There’s the whole thing about her lack of self-confidence (how she reacted to being scheduled with Jerry on Saturday, namely, and how much she had to remind herself that she had been excited for this so, yes, she needs to do this), but also, there’s this:

    That? Is a fantastic depiction of the ungodly spectrum that is mental health. It’s real. It’s a painful thing. And it paints this picture of Artemis that isn’t just breakdowns and hallucinations (read: the standard portrayals of mental health issues in media) but instead a woman who understands that she’s not completely whole and understands what it means to deal with this in the face of a world that demands that people are 100% functional to be valuable. (It’s not just the real world, is it? No one ever talks about mental health in the Pokémon world.)

    And this is an essay too. Oops.

    Moving right along, though, because there are so many other things to talk about besides Artemis, there’s also the plot. I like how you started things off. The pacing is, as always, excellent, but you start off building up this perfectly ordinary, coming-of-age style to-do. And, heck, we even expect that the first couple of chapters would be smooth sailing because that’s just how these things work. You don’t hit a wall of shenanigans until, like, chapter three, ordinarily.

    But here? Hot dang, that final scene. It’s like every other part of this fic up until then was leading us into a false sense of security, and then boom! Everyone’s eighty-foot-tall glowing, red, singing lesbian of death. (Or at least it’s Tumblr’s, and I wish I could find that post atm, but whatever.)

    And the way you described it too, with apocalyptic visuals (the black sun, the red spire, sudden night) combined with the creepy af repetition of “there has been a breach” … the story, in other words, went from zero to sixty real quick and ended with a fantastic, Slenderverse-style cliffhanger with a side order of danger. This can go a million ways from here (especially since some of the glitches are notorious for being of the “scramble everything we touch into a million broken pieces” variety), and I am absolutely interested in seeing which one it settles on.

    In short, I think this is the first fic of yours in which I’m getting in on the metaphorical ground floor, but yes, absolutely, I will keep my eye on this.
     
  5. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    That's always good to hear. Thank you!

    Sorry, but I think you may have missed the subtext here. I know I haven't explicitly said the word yet, but Artemis is trans, and in a place where she is kind of out and yet not, to various people at various times. Most of what seems odd to you about her actions is probably explicable by that; she isn't doing anything on a whim. She's a particular kind of person in a particular kind of situation, and so she acts in particular ways.

    As for the whole Jesus thing, well, I figure that's probably personal preference, to be honest. There are plenty of religious buildings in the games that seem to draw inspiration from a variety of real-world religions, and anyway I find it really hard to take people saying things like “Arceus” as an expletive seriously – which is to be fair my problem and not a problem with that interpretation of the games. It just means I tend to move more towards things that real people might say as a result.

    Yeah, that was the idea: set up a trainer story, a little different perhaps but familiar, and then break everything with the introduction of ♀ . at the end. I'm glad you liked it!

    … I mean I don't think I'd ever object to having people put time and effort into interpreting my fiction. Thank you, seriously. While I wanted Artemis' story to open as if it was going to be a standard trainer fic, I took a few chances with how I set things up, and it's good to know they paid off.

    That's pretty much exactly what I was aiming for! I do intend to fill out her past a little more, but really it'll just be solidifying the hints that were dropped in this first chapter. I wanted to stress the trainer fic angle in this first chapter before the big twist, and it seemed to me that what carries the first chapter of a trainer fic is the character of the trainer themself, so I figured I'd begin with exactly that: Artemis as trainer, as Artemis. There are a lot of reasons someone might go on a cross-country journey, and I figured that since anything I write is going to have a trans woman protagonist, I might as well lean into it a little and make it work.

    The way I look at the world of Pokémon is usually that it's a child's-eye view of the world – that's why everyone seems so nice, or sometimes just weird and incomprehensible. That's how a kid would see these people, and how these people would interact with kids. But there are things that maybe a kid wouldn't notice: like, everyone in the pokémon world appears to them to be super healthy, physically and mentally, to the point where any illness is so unusual that it's a defining character trait, as it is with Wally. (And of course going on a pokémon journey magically fixes this, because this is the ultimate goal, obviously, because everything is fixable and everyone can become functional and if it isn't and you can't then you're not doing it right.) What I wanted to do by shifting the focus to someone a little older was to open up the possibility of looking at that world through different eyes, and make things that don't necessarily show up in the games' idyllic-childhood-summer-holiday perspective much more visible.

    It is absolutely my favourite eighty-foot-tall glowing red singing lesbian of death too. The post you're talking about is actually the inspiration for this story; I saw this version with the awesome fanart attached a year or two ago and thought that's such an incredible image, I have to write about glitch pokémon at some point and make a scene like this the starting point. Except that up until a few weeks ago I couldn't think of what that story might be, so I just sort of kicked the idea around a bit and hoped I'd come up with something in future.

    I'm also glad to know the twist worked. I had a few different ideas for how to get to what I wanted to write about, but in the end I figured that if something is inherently disruptive and alien, I might as well go for broke and make it really damn disruptive. If you're gonna smash reality, you might as well smash genre, too.

    Thanks for your thoughts! Seriously, this is a spectacularly lovely and thoughtful response, and I'm really pleased that my big two gambles, Artemis and the twist, paid off the way I hoped they would. You'd think I'd have got used to this by now, seeing as how for a few years now I don't seem to have been able to write a new story without making it in some way riskily different from the last, but I guess the new-fic jitters never really die. Hope I keep your interest!
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2017
  6. Isn't the best way to start a morning by reading a fanfic?

    Well, holy sh*t. That was an amazing start.

    Firstly, Artemis. I at first thought that she was changing her name because she was hiding from something, like she had committed a serious crime and was running from her past self. However, as the story went on, I worked out through the subtle hints that she was trans and had a family that wasn't acceptive of LGBTQ+ ways of thinking. That is an awesome way to start. Then add the hallucination thing and you get an extremely flawed, deep and original character from the get-go. Well done on that!

    Next, the writing style. I love how you can paint such a vivid picture with it. It works perfectly with the story you're trying to tell - it's fluent, it's descriptive and it really shows how interesting the main character and environment around her are.

    Oh, but I haven't talked about the plot twist yet. That was heckin brilliant. Not only is it awesome that you executed it in such a way so that we were expecting something to happen, but not this early and suddenly (which meant I got a really pleasant surprise when things started going badass), but you also utilised a glitch Pokemon that I didn't even realise existed, and the fact that it says "there has been a breach" perfectly reflects on how a glitch is required to find it in-game.

    Overall this is shaping up to be an awesome fic and I'll definitely be keeping my eye on it!
     
  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    I mean that's never a bad thing to log on and read. Thank you, seriously! I'm glad you're enjoying the ride.

    Aw, you're too kind. I don't know about original -- I know way too many Artemises for her to feel all that original to me at least -- but I'm glad the whole character-through-implication thing worked out. As is usual for me, I started out writing a whole lot more and then told myself to cut it down brutally, and I never quite know when it is that I've cut enough or too much, so I'm always happy to hear that I seem to have ended up easing up on the backspace key at around the right moment.

    Cheers! One of the big draws of the Pokémon franchise for me is the setting, and it's usually something I end up lavishing attention on. Always good to know that that's something people like.

    Hey, well, thanks for responding, and I'm glad to have caught your interest! Also that I introduced you to ♀ ., which is a thing that I feel more people should be aware of because it's always seemed to me to be one of the glitch pokémon with the most narrative potential, what with it being an eighty-foot-tall spire of crimson light shining through the dark that plays glitch music at you. One thing I do want to do with this story is have fun playing around with some of my favourite RBY glitches and exploits, because man those games were broken, and it was absolutely beautiful. Everyone knows about missingno, of course, but it's time for ♀ . and Jacred and their buddies to get their turn in the spotlight.
     
  8. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    OH GEEZ.

    (Right, so this is the first thing I’ve read of yours. I think I understand now why you’re almost universally considered the best author on the forum.)

    Right. Well then. Let’s get started.

    *stares long and hard*
    …now hang on…
    …you don’t mean to say…
    *Takes deep breath.* Right, well then.
    [SPOIL]If I ever need reassurance that I am what I think I am, I should take a long, hard look at just how damn much stuff like this resonates with me holy crap. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to make my chosen name official. :x

    Also… um… on a somewhat silly side note… I’m not usually one to take inspiration from fictional characters, but reading this legit gave me the motivation to go through with something I’d been putting off for a month? Like, I got home from work and was like, “I should finally call that surgeon” “...nah.” “Artemis changed her name and went on a Pokémon journey, what’s your excuse?” “...frick.”

    *Hides forever from embarrassment.*[/SPOIL]

    Anyway, I think one of my favorite things so far is just how much detail is put into the way everything works, from the Pokémon trainer registration to the League offices. Also all the Pokémon subspecies! I’m a total sucker for Pokémon biology and I love the way it’s presented so matter of factly here, like of course there are regional variants, here are some of them and also here are some of the unique things about them like this Geodude here.

    I love this. It’s a sentiment you don’t often see, but yet so relatable--wanting something but then being super anxious about the idea of it actually happening and instinctively wanting to push it off even though you do want it.

    AND THEN **** GOT REAL.

    I already knew from Jax mentioning it on Tumblr that this was gonna involve Female Symbol, which is a hilarious coincidence because just a few weeks ago I had mentioned its existence to Delirious Absol when talking about her glitch-Pokémon-centric fic. Long story short, it’s my favorite glitch Pokémon, so seeing it show up in a fic almost immediately after talking about it was an amazing treat.
    I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone else in the thread WHAT THIS SOUNDS LIKE.
    Seriously this is such a terrifyingly insane and amazing way of conveying its name and my mind is blown.

    I also liked the fact that you took the moment to have Artemis confirm with Jerry that they were both definitely seeing the same thing, since it had been established that she’s suffered from hallucinations in the past. Not that I thought you were gonna do the trope of “look at all this awesome terrifying stuff except psyche it’s not real hahaha” but it’s still nice to have that trope shot down before it could even get off the ground.

    Man, I just… have absolutely no idea what direction this story is gonna go now. With a first chapter like that there are just infinite possibilities and I couldn’t even begin to predict what you’re gonna do with it. However… there is one hint. And that hint is the name of the fic itself. Arbitrary Execution. The most unholy of all glitches. Ordinary glitches warp the game. Arbitrary execution turns the game into a totally different game.

    Long story short: hell yes. I am keeping a close watch on this.

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  9. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    ... wow. I don't know what to say. This story has got some positive responses so far but that's, uh, that's really something. Thank you! <3

    That's even more something. I mean, that's the best effect anything I've ever written has ever had on anyone, ever, and I'm just ... beyond delighted that it's been helpful to you that way. I write about people like Artemis for people like Artemis and because I am a people like Artemis, and I guess I've always hoped that maybe someone who needs a story like that would stumble across mine, so I'm really heartened to know that you got something like that from this. <3 Best of luck!

    Thanks! I really like the pokémon world, but I've always taken it to be kinda representational, like a map -- settlements usually have more than four or five houses, for instance. So I try to scale things up in my fanfics, and then that just leads to the creation of yet more detail because once you've got a world more like ours, you end up with questions about how things that are very simple in-game like the League would work in a more complicated reality. I find it endlessly interesting to try to come up with plausible answers to those questions, so most of the detail in my stories is pure self-indulgence, but I'm glad other people seem to like it.

    Mine too! ♀ . just has so much potential as a story element. I've wanted to write about it for years but wasn't able to come up with a plot till recently.

    Cheers! I've been doing a lot of thinking about ways to represent that particular kind of fractured glitch aesthetic you only got with glitches on the old Gameboy in a world that's not only not digital but represented in text rather than in images, and this was one of the solutions I came up with. Glad you liked it!

    Yeah, mentally ill people and trans people are both groups whose views and experiences are disproportionately denied, so I kinda wanted to open this story by saying, as explicitly as possible, yes, Artemis is mentally ill and trans, and yes, what she sees is real, to as you say shoot that one down before it even gets anywhere. And anyway, even leaving its ethics aside, I've never seen the appeal of the twist but it was all a vision! kind of story. It always feels kinda like a cop-out to me, like the author came up with something fun and then for whatever reason couldn't follow through.

    I was wondering if anyone was going to mention that! Yes, that's my big clue. Arbitrary code execution is what made my idea for a story about glitch pokémon into an actual plot -- because I've always felt that like eldritch abominations, like time travel or genetic engineering or any other plot device, aren't actually interesting in and of themselves; you have to make them do something at a bare minimum, something that has an impact on people. Arbitrary execution was my way of making that happen. And since I've got a vested interest in preserving the mystery, that's all I'm going to say about that for now. :p

    Thank you for your response! I'm really glad you liked it, and more so that you got something good from it, too. Hope you like the mysteries to come just as much!
     
  10. Psychic

    Psychic Really and truly Staff Member Moderator

    This was such a pleasant way to get back into the fic scene.

    First, can I jump on the bandwagon and say how excited I am to be reading a fic with a trans main character? It took me until the line "Who gets to decide whether someone's a girl or not, anyway?" (which, for the record, is a glorious line) and oh, is that exciting. There's also just so much fascinating background in terms of her mental health struggles and seeing hallucinations that I want to learn more about. Plus you have so much juicy character stuff, like her relationship with her parents and her insecurity, and the way you portray that feels so fully-realized and genuine.

    I really like the world you've created. So far, what we've seen of how training is set up makes sense and feels like a lot of thought was put into it. The older-than-your-average-trainer character also feels good and awkward (as it probably should), and the cringe from that has been pretty great. I also love all of the Pokémon variants - it makes sense, and it's really rather delightful. It leaves me wanting to see more of them!

    The amount that you portray through inference, in a way that feels perfectly natural, is honestly really impressive. It doesn't feels like the information, whether about Artemis or the world around her, is being shoehorned in. Your writing feels smooth and flows really well. It feels like a window into the mind of a real person in a real world having real thoughts.

    Lastly, this glitch. I had never heard of ♀ . before (thank ya'll for linking to the Tumblr post and the Youtube video), and I am excited both by its potential and the way you portrayed it in this chapter. The sudden change to night and seemingly never-ending tower of red light are really striking visuals, and I may need to reread this scene with the audio. I have no idea what this breach is or what it means, and who exactly the glitch is trying to convey this message to. (Artemis? Why? Does this have to do with her seeing ghosts? Hng.)


    This line was initially confusing, and I thought there were some missing words or something at first. Maybe just add commas to make it "He looks a little nervous, maybe wondering why she, who is so obviously not a child, is here at all, but he covers it well."


    Overall really strong opening, with a super interesting protagonist and a great set-up for a mystery (which also makes for a fantastic visual). Reading this was a pleasure, and I look forward to more!

    ~Psychic
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2017
  11. [Imaginative]:[Clockwork]

    [Imaginative]:[Clockwork] X-treme trainer

    I'm kicking myself for not having read more of your writing, because this is electric. Artemis is fascinating, a complicated tangle of shaky mental health, the urge to be kind, and of course her recent public lean-in to her gender identity. All three make her an initially captivating character, but it's the last one that makes me most excited to see where this goes (give or take a glitch pokemon, of course). I'm interested to see how you portray the pokemon world as a whole in reaction to this. We get a hint of this with her parents and the tragic way she sees Jerry's basic politeness as a special favor instead of just, y'know, basic politeness. But I'm very interested in seeing what happens beyond that, especially since this is the first fic I've read with a trans character.

    But of course that's just one part of her character. I can't relate to Artemis's specific situation, but so much here--the anxiety, the self-doubt--jumps off the screen in a startlingly familiar way. Her analyses of every interaction are sad enough, but when informed by all of the reasons she knows people could be judging her, they're downright heartbreaking. Despite all this, your prose still knocks every scene out of the park, making me laugh out loud multiple times even when all of these scenes were at best uncomfortable for Artemis. In particular, her thoughts on Jerry were a riot, although I get the idea she/you would have me rolling if she spent enough time with any character.

    I'll hold off commenting too much on the pokemon-related plot since the third-act curveball you threw us may or may not upend the groundwork you laid before. I will say that the journey set up was genuinely pretty exciting, and if it continues that direction I'll be a happy camper. If it understandably gets thrown out because of the world-ending disaster, I'll also be excited, even if all I know is that the fic will probably involving brushing shoulders with glitch pokemon. Either way I'm excited, is essentially the point here.

    I basically just gushed and parroted other people's reactions, but I really did enjoy this a heck of a lot, and it's been so long since I followed a chaptered fic that I'm really excited to see where this goes!
     
  12. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Cheers! I mean, it's kind of just the niche I appear to have stumbled into -- for the past few years now I don't think I've written any cis or entirely mentally healthy protagonists -- and as with all niche interests I'm glad that it's something people are actually into. Hooray for validation!

    I love variants too, so we'll totally be seeing more of them, both different species of familiar genera and a few more normal pokémon who have responded in unique and sometimes unfortunate ways to specific environmental conditions. It's also good to know that the older-than-average thing worked out; Artemis didn't work as a ten-year-old for all kinds of reasons, and I wanted to make sure that that had the consequences it ought to have in a world where spending a year or so wandering the country at the age of ten is a normal part of growing up. I really like building worlds that make logical sense, especially for some reason worlds blighted by bureaucracy, and fitting all these little ideas together into a cohesive whole has been a lot of fun.

    Well, thanks! I don't have a specific response to that, I'm quoting it mostly because it's a really nice thing to hear from someone. <3

    We'll learn more about breach -- and the ghost people, for that matter -- soon enough, but for now can I just say how delighted I am that I'm introducing ♀ . to a bunch of people? Because I've always thought it was one of the most potentially spectacular glitches, when viewed from an in-game perspective, and it's so nice to be conning other people into thinking that too showing that off to people who haven't thought of it before.

    Good point. That was one of those lines that struck me when I was reading it back as sounding fine if you knew where the stress was, but somewhat opaque otherwise, and I guess I sort of decided in the end that it was okay on its own. With a couple of weeks' distance, I think I can now see how to reword and repunctuate that to make it easier to read.

    Neato! I'm glad you like her, and also that I've got that particular tone right: that one where things are funny and not, and maybe only funny because if you didn't laugh you'd feel worse, and yet also funny because sometimes things are funny anyway, even when they're bleak. It's always seemed to me to be the prevailing tone of real life, at least for people like Artemis, and the urge to represent it properly in fiction is one of the things that keeps driving me to write, so it's excellent to hear that I'm hitting that goal.

    Also, it's good to know the analyses are going down well. I find the cutthroat politics of conversation really interesting, so I tend to write about them a bunch, but I'm always a little uncertain whether or not anyone else is going to get as much out of that as I do. Once again, hooray for validation, I guess.

    Yeah, the thing about doing a journey fic that gets warped into something else at the end of the first chapter is that you kind of have to start out writing a journey fic, and that meant I had to come up with a way to make even my fake journey fic somehow interesting. It's not a thread that's going to be ditched completely -- Artemis desperately wants and needs to get out of Pewter, after all -- but I think I can say without giving too much away that yes, the whole glitch thing is going to throw a considerable spanner in the works.

    Anyway! Thank you both so much for responding; I'm really glad this has caught people's interest. Man, this sudden burst of reviewing activity has been such a lovely thing, both as a reader and a writer. Next chapter on Sunday; until then, thank you all for reading!
     
  13. PhalanxSigil

    PhalanxSigil BONK!

    Okay, first off, clearly a lot of people are commenting on your use of a trans character, and I'm totally on the bandwagon when I think it's really cool that you're doing this, but what I'm most interested in is the world-building aspect that you've clearly sunk some time into crafting for this world. Not a whole lot of people go into detail about how one funds a pokémon journey, let alone has an example of some clauses that could help a less-well-off trainer get started, and as someone who has a little bit of experience writing about things like this, that's a super cool detail. Not to mention, going back to the trans aspect of Artemis' character, I like the little detail about having to worry about the presence of her birth name on the application. This is a common problem with trans students in college regarding graduation, so even though I haven't really experienced this sort of thing at all, it's those little details that add a hint of realism to the story.

    Also, I love the little bait-and-switch at the end. Hey, I, along with everyone else here, thought this would only be a story about a person on a journey while dealing with gender-identity issues, which would have been more than enough on its own. But nope, this is you we're talking about, of course there's a supernatural twist like this. I don't think it's a coincidence that of all the symbols you chose to emphasize, it was the symbol of Venus, often associated with femininity, that you singled out. Other than that, the sudden blackness, the spire of fire, and the fact that it's there because of a breach (dimension-hopping shenanigans, perhaps?) is enough to leave me very intrigued by this whole thing.

    And she just wanted to catch a geodude!

    I'm super excited to keep up with this one. This first chapter was one of the most fascinating I've read in a while, and I look forward to what's coming next.

    -Phalanx, out.
     
  14. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Thanks! I'm the kind of person who can't look at a story without thinking well okay, but if x, what about y? what does magic really mean for these people? what about the class politics? which, in addition to being a good way to ruin a book you're trying to read, is also the kind of impulse that makes me put together all the little details that go into making a believable world. As for Artemis, well, I guess I follow the same philosophy with character, really. Material experience is sorta the ground of definition, the way I see it.

    Well, I mostly chose to emphasise that because it's one of literally only two legible signs in its name, but yeah, I guess it kinda ended up being more apt than I had planned. I was always going to use ♀ ., and I was always going to have a trans girl as protagonist; these two things just happened to slot together just right, I suppose. Still, it's always nice to know that taking a gamble on a twist ending to a first chapter paid off.

    Will Artemis ever get her geodude? Find out next time, on ... Arbitrary Execution. Anyway, I'm glad you liked this; there's plenty more mystery and skulduggery and other words ending in -ery to come, and I hope you continue to enjoy it all!
     
  15. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    02: THE PRICE OF SILENCE

    The thing about Emilia Santangelo is that really, she's just a lawyer.

    Sure, she works for the League, and she has a couple of pokémon, but one is a leftover from her trainer journey and so old she spends most of her time asleep, and the other is more of a personal assistant than anything else. Battling with either would be a spectacularly bad idea.

    So she's not really a trainer, and though she has had some forensic training – it comes with this particular job, which she refers to in public as 'legal advisor with special investigatory powers' and in her head, off the back of years of bad movies, as 'fixer' – she isn't really a detective, either. You want to know the ins and outs of government law? You got the right person. Anything else and, well, she'll give it a shot, she's experienced enough now at thirty-seven to have learned to improvise, but privately she'll be counting the seconds till she makes a mistake. And then when she does, she will quietly and unobtrusively fix it and get back on with her work. She is, after all, a professional.

    Still. When she gets the call from the Indigo Plateau that night, her first response is a certain amount of anxiety.

    “Lori?”

    “Hi, Em,” says Lorelei. “Sorry to bring you in on a weekend, but something's come up.”

    “Not a problem,” Emilia assures her, slipping automatically from her friendly to her professional voice. “I'll get the next flight.”

    “This is … more urgent than that.” Lorelei is very professional, always has been, but there's the slightest hint of a strain to her voice. “We've contacted Sabrina. You can expect hs.zaiah in a few minutes.”

    Right. So: serious, then. The League doesn't burn its favours with the alakazam Consensus lightly. There's an agreement between the two bodies, which the League has down on paper and which the alakazam and kadabra maintain as a dream trapped in a length of carved bone, and when there are real risks to the public good the kadabra consent to coming down from the hills and bending their powers to the assistance of the Kantan people. As with so many alliances, however, the reason it works is because it isn't tested too often. The League, for the most part, doesn't ask, and the kadabra don't answer. Everyone ignores each other, and nobody gets hurt.

    Except tonight, clearly. Something very, very big must have happened. Big enough for the Consensus' envoy at the Saffron League offices to step in and offer to teleport Emilia to the Indigo Plateau.

    “All right,” she says, voice neutral. “I'll make my arrangements.”

    “Good. I'll let you get ready. We've got a lot to discuss.”

    Lorelei hangs up. Emilia looks at her phone for a minute, a little nervous, a little excited, mostly hoping that this time there won't be any corpses involved, and then starts gathering her things.

    “Hey, Effie,” she says, stopping by the large pot plant in the corner of the room. “I've got to go, okay? It's work.”

    The plant does not respond. It is a large, meaty sort of flower that smells faintly of rotting flesh even through the crisp scent of the air freshener that stands on a nearby shelf. Emilia closes her eyes, takes a breath, and tries again.

    “Effie?”

    This time the flower wobbles, just a little. A visitor might think it was a draught, but Emilia knows otherwise. Effie is very old, barely ever uproots herself any more, but she's not gone. Not yet. With vileplume, you know it when it happens.

    “I have to go,” she says. “You'll be okay, right?”

    No response. Emilia sighs and pats Effie's thick stem, heedless of the smell that sticks to her fingers.

    “Okay,” she says. “I'll be back soon, I promise.”

    She straightens up, businesslike again. She wipes her hands and puts a few things into a bag.

    “Nadia,” she calls, and hears a twittering answer from the other room. “Clear tomorrow's schedule, would you? I have a feeling this is going to be an all-nighter.”

    Hs.zaiah knocks, the sound of their claws on the door echoing loudly in the night. Emilia nods to herself, slings her bag over her shoulder, and with just one last glance at Effie, she leaves.

    *​

    “Okay,” says Brock. “I'm sorry to have to ask, but I'm going to need you to go over exactly what it was that you saw.”

    Artemis is back in the Gym, sitting at a table in a spartan room somewhere in the depths of the staff-only area. She has her hands clamped as tightly as she can around a mug of strong, sweet tea, in the hope that this might stop them trembling too much. It's not going so well. So far, she's spilled it on her fingers twice.

    On the other side of the table is Brock Chambers, head of Pewter's Pokémon Gym. This seems almost as weird as what happened out there in the woods. Artemis did think she'd meet him one day, as part of the Gym challenge, but not so soon, and not like this. He doesn't look like a Gym leader right now. He looks like someone who didn't get enough sleep to handle something this weird.

    “I … there was this light,” she tells him, and he leans forward, nods encouragingly. “Like – a beam, I guess, going up into the sky. Red. Kinda like lightning – crackling. And it … there was music. I think it was music. I don't know. And a noise like something grinding.”

    Brock nods.

    “Okay,” he says. “You said it was dark?”

    “Yeah.” She wishes Jerry was here to help out with this. Unfortunately, he took to the spire even worse than she did; it was all she could do to get him back out of the woods into town. She was terrified, but he seemed physically ill, and when someone called the authorities the ambulance that arrived took him away. He hasn't been back since. “I mean no, not just dark, it was night.”

    Brock frowns, ever so slightly.

    “I'm sorry,” he says. “I don't follow.”

    “I mean it was night. It was still three o'clock or whatever, but it was night.” Artemis takes a breath, tries to calm her thoughts. Find the words. You can do this, Artie. Why was it night? “The stars,” she says. “The stars were out. Like it was night time. That didn't happen here?”

    “No.” Brock looks thoughtful. “We've had no reports of anything else from anyone, even in the blocks closest to the woods. Whatever happened, it only happened on the hill.”

    “That – that doesn't make any sense.”

    “No,” he agrees. “It doesn't.”

    He rests his elbows on the table. His forearms are tanned and bruised with handling rock-types that don't quite know their own strength. Above them, his face is carefully soothing, questioning.

    “So it suddenly turned to night,” he says, “and then this light appeared?”

    She shakes her head.

    “It was already there. I think. We heard the music first, and then we just … followed it. We didn't know what else to do. When we got closer, we saw a light, and then when we got out of the woods we saw what it was.”

    “It being this 'spire' you mentioned?”

    “Yeah. That.” Artemis tries to take a sip of her tea, but as soon as she tries to lift it she can feel the tremble in her hands threatening to tip it, and she puts it down again. “I'm sorry, I really don't know what we did―”

    “You're not being accused of anything,” says Brock firmly, looking somewhat embarrassed. “Uh – sorry if that's the impression I've given. I'm just trying to figure out what happened. One of my trainers is in the hospital and his pokémon is missing.”

    Artemis closes her eyes. Yes. Leroy. That's her fault. She couldn't find him. She should have done, she knows, and if she was any bloody good she would have done, but after the spire she could barely even walk straight, and it was so hard to get Jerry to do anything …

    “I'm sorry,” she says again, feeling the inadequacy of it keenly. “I couldn't find him. All I could do was―”

    “You did the right thing,” Brock tells her. “There's nothing in those woods that poses any danger to Leroy, believe me. He can look after himself, and I've got the bruises on my shins to prove it. You got Jerry back safely, and that's the important thing.”

    He sounds like he means it, although also like he's struggling to remain professional in the midst of a conversation he doesn't know how to have. Artemis would very much like to believe him, but she isn't sure she can. The spire was called, it said. Who else was even there to call it? She must have done something, must have broken some kind of rule or said something wrong, and then that awful demon lightshow turned up and put Jerry in the hospital.

    “Okay,” she says, hating how thin and weak her voice sounds. “Okay.”

    Brock does his best to smile. Artemis wonders if this kind of thing is in his job description, or if it's something that was sprung on him once he'd signed the contract. Gym Leaders are trainers first and foremost. She can't imagine any of them have much experience dealing with situations like this.

    “I have one very important question,” he says. “Please be honest with me here. Like I said, you're not in any trouble, we just need to know.”

    Artemis feels a nameless dread rising in her stomach. Nobody ever said that sentence and meant it.

    “What is it?” she asks, hesitantly.

    “Did it say anything to you?”

    She stares. He knows. He must do. Otherwise how could he know?

    “What is it?” she asks again, only this time she means something different. “You know, don't you? You've heard of it? What is it?”

    Brock raises calloused hands, trying to calm her.

    “Hold on a moment,” he says. “I didn't say―”

    “But how would you know it could speak if you didn't know?”

    “I …” Brock sighs, rests his head on his fingertips. “Ah, sh*t.”

    Artemis watches. He's given the game away, and he knows it. Now what?

    “Sorry.” He pulls himself together and sits up. “Um – okay, I'll level with you, I'm not used to this cloak-and-dagger stuff. I can't tell you what it is. Before you say anything,” he adds quickly, seeing her open her mouth, “let me explain, I can't tell you because I don't know.” He takes a deep breath. “The League deals with a lot of weird stuff,” he says. “Anything that seems vaguely supernatural, people assume it has to do with pokémon and shoves it in our direction. I don't know everything about all these cases – hell, about most of these cases. I just know that I'm meant to ask you if it spoke to you. Okay?”

    Artemis calculates. He might be telling the truth. He might not. He does seem genuinely unhappy about it, which is a point in his favour.

    “Okay,” she says, relaxing her shoulders a little. The shaking is starting to stop. She doesn't feel good, exactly, or even normal, but she feels a little less like she might die. This, by her standards, counts as better. “I guess that's okay.”

    “Thank you.” Brock looks relieved. “Now, about my question …?”

    “Yeah, okay. It spoke to me.”

    “Right. And what did it say?”

    The alien voice echoes through her head, cold and distant. Breach. Breach. Breach.

    “I don't know, it didn't make much sense. Something about a breach? It called itself an omen, or a … a courier of some kind, I dunno.”

    “Breach,” repeats Brock. “It said that?”

    “Yeah.” She wonders if he knows what that means. Maybe it's just another thing he's meant to ask, in the event that he ever meets anyone who's seen a colossal spire of talking red light. God. That's what happened, isn't it? It sounds so silly when she puts it that way. And yet there's nothing silly about it at all. “Yeah, it did.”

    “Anything else?”

    “It said it was called,” replies Artemis. “Someone called it. I guess I thought …”

    Her hesitation speaks volumes. Brock shakes his head vigorously.

    “I know what you're thinking,” he tells her. “You can stop right there. It's not your fault, I can promise that. There's no way you could have called it.”

    His kindness is his undoing. From what he's just said, Artemis is pretty sure he must know more than he's letting on. That's okay. It just means she probably can't trust him, is all. Nothing personal, but authority figures with an interest in covering up the nightmare in the forest are not people she cares to associate with. And if he's lying, she feels a little better about pressing for more details.

    “How do you know?” she asks simply. “I mean there's no way of knowing. Is there?”

    Brock pauses, clearly torn. When he speaks, it's with genuine regret.

    “I can't tell you,” he says. “I really can't. But it wasn't you, I can promise you that.”

    While he speaks, he reaches under the table and fiddles with something, and then a second later takes his hand back.

    “Okay,” he says, in a completely different voice. “I turned off the recorder. Now look, I'm going to have to swear you to secrecy on this anyway, but this is even more secret, understand? Someone else is going to come and talk to you about this, and you can't let them know I told you anything. Got it?”

    “Uh – okay―”

    “Good.” Brock takes a breath. “I'm doing this 'cause I don't want you walking out of here thinking it was your fault,” he tells her. “And I'm only going to tell you enough for you to be sure of that. So take it from me, off the record – I think I know why this happened, and I think I'm going to be having some strong f*cking words with the people responsible, none of whom are you.” He looks deadly serious. “I can't say any more than that.”

    “No, that's – that's okay,” says Artemis, a little shakily. She feels like someone has just drawn back the curtains on a window looking out onto something strange and terrible, and just as quickly let it fall again. She feels – well, she doesn't really know how she feels. Unstable. Uncertain. Fearful. All of those things, and none. “Thanks. I – I know that you're taking a risk …”

    Brock shakes his head, waves her gratitude away.

    “It's fine,” he says. “What am I going to do, let you think that you did it? You've had a hard enough day without that.” He sighs. “Okay. Let's, uh, get back into character for the tape. Last thing I said was―”

    “'It wasn't you, I can promise you that.'”

    He looks impressed.

    “Nice one. Ready? Turning it back on in three … two … one.”

    Artemis sniffs.

    “Okay,” she mumbles. “Okay.”

    “All right.” Brock has gone back to his professional voice. “Sorry to keep pressing the issue, but is that all it said to you?”

    “Yes. Something about being a courier, but I think I said that.”

    “Yes, you did.” Brock clears his throat. “Nearly done now. Do you remember what happened to make it leave?”

    “No. It just … went. Said something like it was called, and that it would stay till it was uncalled. Whatever that means.”

    Brock nods as if this is not complete nonsense.

    “Okay,” he says. “Well, that's very helpful. I'm sorry to have taken so much of your time.”

    She shakes her head. This is much easier, now she knows that she and Brock are just performing for the recorder.

    “Oh, it's fine. I want to help.”

    “We appreciate it. I appreciate it.” Brock riffles through the papers he has in front of him and pulls out a sheaf. “I'm going to have to ask you to sign this,” he says. “Read it through, of course, but what it says is essentially that you're going to keep this secret. The League will have to mount a full investigation and we'd rather not spread panic before we need to.”

    Artemis takes the proffered contract and stares at it. I, the undersigned, do undertake … It goes on and on, in complex legalese that makes her tired to read.

    “I don't think anyone would believe me anyway,” she says, turning the page. She lets Brock think that this is because what she saw was impossible, rather than because anyone she might tell would assume she was hallucinating.

    “You're probably right,” he agrees. “We will of course arrange for you to get that starter pokémon too, don't worry about that. Something good. Courtesy of the League.”

    Artemis looks up sharply.

    “'Something good'?”

    “Yes.” Brock shrugs. “It's the least we can do.”

    It sounds like a bribe to her, but okay. She's going to have to sign the contract anyway. She might as well take their pokémon too. All she's hearing here is that they really, really want her to keep quiet.

    “Well,” she says. “That's very kind of you.”

    “Hey, we were all rookies once. Nobody wants to spoil the start of anyone's trainer journey.”

    She finishes reading through the contract. It seems okay, to her inexpert eyes; she doesn't seem to be signing away her firstborn child or anything. She asks for a pen, and awkwardly scrawls a signature that she hasn't quite got the hang of yet.

    “Thanks,” says Brock, taking the contract back. “I think that's everything then. Come on, we can leave.”

    As he gets up, he makes a subtle motion that Artemis would have missed had she not been looking for it, and flicks the recorder off again. He holds the door for her, and she abandons her undrunk tea to follow him out.

    “Like I told you, someone's going to come to speak to you about this,” he says, as they walk down the corridor back to the lobby. “League, but not anyone you know. Tell them what you told me, and everything will be fine.”

    “Coming to … wait, d'you mean to my house?”

    Brock stops, raises an eyebrow.

    “Yeah. Is that an issue?”

    Artemis feels a deep, gut-wrenching shame tighten its coils around her belly. She'd almost forgotten this. She'd almost forgotten what makes her different.

    “I'm not … out to my parents,” she mutters. Each word has to be forced out, like toads crawling up from her throat between her teeth. “Even my surname is – I mean they don't … can I come here instead?”

    Brock hesitates, flustered.

    “Um, uh, sure, I guess so,” he says, nodding a little too much and a little too fast. “I'll get a message to the right people. We'll call you in. Do we have your mobile number?”

    Artemis nods.

    “Good. Good.” Brock starts walking again, turning his face towards the lobby to hide his embarrassment. “We can sort out your pokémon then, too. We'll have several prepared. I'm sure at least one will accept you as a partner.”

    “Okay. When is this going to be?”

    “Not sure. Soon.” Brock opens the door to the lobby and motions for her to go first. “Within two or three days at the very most. I'm going to lean on them as much as I can, and I think they'll want to speak to you as soon as possible, anyway.”

    They come to a halt by the lobby doors. It's still bright out, though several hours have passed. June is in full swing.

    “So yes,” says Brock. “We'll call you. Or of course you can call or drop by if you need anything. This is, well. This is serious. It's lucky that neither of you were badly hurt.”

    “I'm not sure I'd say Jerry got away without being hurt.”

    “Yeah, I said that neither of you were badly hurt.” He nods meaningfully. “It could have been a lot worse. You did good getting Jerry out as quickly as you did.”

    “Oh.” Artemis blinks. “Thanks. Um – will you let me know if – when you find Leroy?”

    Brock looks surprised, but nods.

    “Sure,” he says. “I've got Edwin out there now searching for him. We should find him by the time it gets dark. If nothing else, he'll come home to be fed.”

    “Okay.” Artemis tries a smile. It just about sticks. “Thanks, Mr Chambers.”

    Brock winces.

    Brock,” he corrects her. “Please. I'm not old yet.”

    “All right,” she says, half-laughing. “Thanks, Brock.”

    “Better.” He smiles. “Are you all right to get home from here? We can call you a cab.”

    “No, I'm fine, thanks.”

    “Sure? It's the League's money, not mine.”

    “I'm sure. I need to, uh, stop off somewhere on the way, anyway.”

    Possibly he sees what she means there. He looks embarrassed all over again and rushes his goodbyes. Artemis returns them as best she can while stuck on the wish that she hadn't said that, and then she leaves, out into the cool of early evening.

    She checks her phone and sighs. Six missed calls from home. This is going to be fun to explain.

    Well, whatever. After everything else that's happened today, this really can't be all that hard.

    *​

    Artemis has a bad night, a really bad one, like she hasn't had in a long time. Dealing with her parents is fine, just a matter of lies and what trans woman isn't good at lying to her parents, right, but hours after in the dark of her room the ghost people come to visit.

    They are big and shapeless in their bulky white suits. They crowd at the foot of her bed, staring with grey eyes, silent but for the hissing of their respirators.

    They point, and through her fear Artemis remembers what she's been taught, that they need her eyes and ears to live, and so she goes instead to her fingers, concentrating on what she can feel and touch: the smooth cool of the bedsheet, the grainy wood of the cabinet, the metal of the bedstead. She finds things she knows are real, groups them by senses: bed, cabinet, wardrobe, sight; car, siren, wind, hearing.

    It won't banish them, but it lets her ride out the storm. Eventually, the ghost people have to shamble back into her subconscious and leave her alone.

    She's relieved, but only until she falls asleep and has a nightmare about the spire. This isn't the kind of night that does things by halves.

    *​

    Emilia was absolutely right. It was an all-nighter, and to make matters worse she had to do it all with the after-effects of being teleported halfway across Kanto churning up a storm in her guts and knocking out her sense of balance. Humans aren't really meant to be subjected to massively powerful fields of psychic energy, she decides, although the fact that she is the kind of person who gets seasick just watching the waves might also have something to do with it.

    Still, she got through it all: the briefing with Lorelei, the emergency meeting of the Elite Four afterwards, the drafting of the initial steps to be taken in the morning to contain the matter. She arrived at the Plateau at quarter past eleven and didn't get out again until after six, a massive bunch of confidential documents in her bag and the beginnings of a headache thumping at her temples. She thought about getting some sleep on the flight down to Pewter, but there was too much to read.

    And very interesting reading it was, too. Emilia is beginning to get a sense of why they called her. She's been working with the League for over a decade now, and directly with Lorelei for the whole seven years she's had the Elite Four position; when something like this happens, you want people you can trust, and for Lorelei, that evidently means Emilia Santangelo. By the time the plane touches down on the airstrip north of Pewter, bouncing across the tarmac in that godawful way small aircraft do, Emilia is starting to put the pieces together. Lorelei's been careful, obviously; she's technically the head of what the League coyly refers to as 'anomalous resources', and though she's as friendly with her as ever she won't offer her one word more than she has to. But she's given her enough for Emilia to know that this breach event, as everyone keeps referring to it, is not an isolated occurrence.

    It's a worrying thought. Whoever transcribed the interview with the witness made it very clear that she was terrified. And while nobody has given Emilia any concrete information on what 'breach' means, exactly, the fact that this entity described itself as an omen really doesn't bode well.

    More is coming, she's sure of it, and whatever it is, it definitely can't be good. But it's not her job to fight this stuff, just to make sure that it stays under wraps, so she tries her best to leave the worrying to Lorelei and her anomalous resources and concentrates on the task at hand.

    The first order of business should be to call the witness, Artemis Apanchomene, but it's still only quarter past seven and though Emilia is used to irregular hours, she doesn't believe in inflicting them on other people, especially if it's a Sunday and the person in question is recovering from witnessing some sort of cosmic abomination. That will have to wait until later. Instead she takes a cab to the Gym, which, after a moment to compose herself in the cool of the early morning air, she enters.

    Brock is waiting in the lobby, looking like he hasn't slept all night. Neither has Emilia, but she knows how to hide it, and she can see when he stumbles up out of his chair that she must look disconcertingly competent to him. She smiles, trying to set him at his ease, and shakes his hand.

    “Good morning, Mr Chambers,” she says. “I'm Emilia Santangelo, legal adviser to the League. Lorelei should have told you I was coming?”

    “Yeah.” Brock blinks the tiredness from his eyes. He looks very young, although Emilia has noticed that she thinks that of more and more people these days. He can't be more than twenty-five. “I'm – well, you know, Brock. Are you a legal adviser or a legal adviser, if you catch my meaning?”

    Emilia raises her eyebrows, and calculates her next move.

    “Officially, the first one,” she says. “Unofficially? Well, it's up for debate.” That gets a smile, which is a good start. By all accounts Brock is not a very political kind of guy. He'll appreciate it if he feels she's being as honest as she can. “This is Nadia, my assistant.”

    Nadia chirps. She is a natu, currently sitting in her usual position on Emilia's shoulder – a spot she has occupied for so long now that all of Emilia's jackets have dents in the right shoulder.

    “Nice to meet you both.” Brock stifles a yawn. “Sorry. Been up all night. Lot of phone calls to make, and after I was done it wasn't worth going home for the ten minutes till you arrived.”

    “Yes, I understand. I don't think anyone at the Plateau has slept either.” Emilia looks around. There's no one else here; most of the regular staff must not be in yet. Has Brock been sitting here alone all night? Poor guy. “I won't take much of your time,” she says. “I know you must be exhausted.”

    “I'm all right. Just want this over with.”

    She nods.

    “I understand. First of all, I've brought the pokémon you requested. If you could see that someone looks after them until Ms Apanchomene arrives, I'd be very grateful.”

    “Right, sure.” The act of taking the poké balls from her seems to wake him up a bit, and he invites her in with an offer of tea or coffee. Emilia accepts, and follows him down the corridor to the back of the Gym. The balls are handed off to a burly man whose name she doesn't catch, and then she and Brock are left alone in his office, a small room with several geodude sleeping in a heap in the corner.

    “Sit down, sit down,” says Brock, and she does. She smiles, and thinks very strongly, are you ready?

    Nadia rustles her wings unobtrusively, and Emilia takes her notes out of her bag.

    “Now, Brock,” she says, judging correctly that he would prefer she use his forename. “I've read your report, and a transcript of the witness' statement, but I need to ask a few more questions.”

    He looks faintly surprised, but otherwise agreeable.

    “I thought I gave a pretty full account of everything,” he says. “I'm happy to answer you, of course, but would you mind telling me what exactly you're looking for here?”

    “Honestly, I'm not sure myself,” lies Emilia. “You know how it is – you get your instructions, you're damned if you can make any sense of them, but Lorelei comes down on you like a ton of bricks if you screw it up.” She shrugs. “I just know what I'm supposed to ask, is all.”

    Brock sighs.

    “Yeah, I get that, believe me.” He rubs his forehead. “Okay. Shoot.”

    “All right. First of all, I'd just like you to talk me through your report, from the moment Ms Apanchomene and Mr DeWitt arrived to the moment that they left.”

    This is simple enough. Brock launches into his explanation, sometimes wandering in his fatigue, sometimes needing to be prodded back on track. Nadia doesn't pick up anything here, but Emilia isn't expecting her to. The only purpose to this question is to get Brock comfortable and slightly bored, ready to be asked something more important. Emilia listens, nods, asks for clarification that she doesn't need, and makes a show of taking notes.

    “Thank you,” she says, when she's done. “Now – what can you tell me about Mr DeWitt?”

    “Jerry?” Brock blinks. “He's just a kid. Did well in the League challenge and the battling circuit, and now he's an apprentice here. Gym scholarship, you know? We put him through school and he works here part-time.”

    “He's going to work here afterwards?”

    “For a few years, sure. After that, it's up to him. I think he'll go far if he stays, but it's early days. Look, he definitely doesn't have anything to do with what happened―”

    “I know, I know,” says Emilia. “I'm not claiming that he does. I just have to ask, Brock. You know how it is.”

    “Yeah. Right. Sorry.” He sighs again. “I'm a little on edge. He's still in the hospital.”

    Nadia, thinks Emilia, make a note: visit him later. The natu shuffles her feet in acknowledgement, and Emilia continues aloud:

    “Yes, I'd heard. I'm sorry.”

    “Thanks.” Brock shakes his head. “Sorry. Where were we?”

    “We were done with that question. Next one.” This is the part that matters, now that he's been softened up a little. “What can you tell me about Ms Apanchomene?”

    “Hm? I really don't think she has anything to do with this, either. She was just here to get her first pokémon. Doesn't have the first idea what any of this is.”

    LYING, says Nadia, a single solid word that lands in Emilia's mind like a heavy boulder crashing into still water.

    Right, then. Just as she thought. Nadia's done her part; now it's up to her to figure out what exactly the lie is here.

    “Is that so?” she asks. “Do you know anything about her background?”

    Brock frowns.

    “Well, no,” he says. “But she was scared out of her mind. You got the interview, right? If she'd had any kind of idea what she was looking at … no, no, she couldn't have known anything.”

    Emilia waits for a second, but Nadia does not respond. Okay, truth then. Try a different approach.

    “And you didn't tell her anything?” she asks.

    “Are you kidding? Of course not. She was traumatised enough already. I didn't need to go making anything worse. And anyway, you know that stuff's all top secret,” he adds, a little too late.

    HERE.

    Emilia is inclined to agree. Brock's first instinct seems to have been protecting the kid, to which his duty to the League came second place. That's not a bad thing, exactly, and she doesn't think he's done anything terrible, but something might have come out that shouldn't have. Something that requires her expert attention.

    “All right,” she says. “Like I said, I just have to ask.” She scans her notes and goes back to the fake questions. “Last one,” she tells him. “I've got the names of the ambulance and police crew who responded to the emergency call. I'd like to know if there's anything you can tell me about them …”

    The questioning goes on, but the interrogation is already over. Emilia speaks and listens on autopilot, her brain already considering next steps. She'll need to investigate the hillside where it happened, of course, but that's more Nadia's job than hers, and that can wait for a little while yet. First, she figures, it's about time she met this Artemis Apanchomene.

    *​

    Brock's estimate was conservative. Artemis gets the call at ten am on Sunday morning, just three hours after she dragged herself out of bed to sit in the kitchen and pick weakly at the internet like a kid at a scab.

    “Hello?” she asks, moving to the front of the house where the signal's better. “Who's this?”

    “Good morning, sir. Is Artemis Apanchomene there?”

    Something winds around Artemis' chest and yanks itself tight. Her breath catches and her cheeks boil, and through the fog of shame she reminds herself to expect this, that this is what she signed up for. Better get used to it, Artie. You're looking at the rest of your life, right here.

    “Th-that's me,” she manages, doing her best not to stammer and finding that her best isn't good enough. “I'm―” She glances at her mother reading on the sofa. Definitely within earshot. “I mean, that's me.”

    “Oh.” The speaker's shock is palpable. Artemis forces herself to pay attention to it, to memorise the way it seems to ripple through the silence. She has to learn these things. If she's going to prove she can do this, she has to learn. “Uh … sorry about that. My name is Emilia Santangelo. I'm with the League.”

    “Oh,” says Artemis. She doesn't know why she's surprised, but she is, a little flutter of unease stirring in her guts and rising to mingle with the rest of her discomfort. “Okay, so this is about yesterday.”

    “Yes. I understand you've requested to meet at the Gym. I'm here now, as it happens. Is this a suitable time for you?”

    “Um, sure. That's fine. I'll come over right away.”

    “That would be very kind of you. We'll speak more in person, then. I'll see you soon.”

    “Right. Bye.”

    “Goodbye.”

    Artemis lowers her phone and fiddles with her knuckle, trying to settle her nerves. It's okay, right? Yes, it's okay. Emilia is intimidatingly well-spoken, but all she has to do is tell her what she told Brock and then it's over. She gets a pokémon and she can forget any of this ever happened.

    Except that you can't forget something like that, can you? Never. That stays with you. Even leaving aside the nightmares, it was so … impossible. It shouldn't have been able to happen, and it did, and somehow Brock wasn't surprised. Something's going on, she's sure of it. Maybe it isn't her mystery to solve, and maybe she doesn't want it to be – but it wouldn't hurt to see what she could get out of Emilia. Right? It's not like she'll give away anything really important, anyway. This is her job, after all.

    “Who was that?” asks her mother, and Artemis blinks as she surfaces from the depths of her thoughts.

    “Oh, the Gym,” she says. “Someone cancelled and they have an open slot today, so they offered it to me.”

    “You think you'll catch something this time?”

    Artemis tries to convince herself that this is not intended to hurt her, but it's a difficult argument to make. You're hearing things, Artie. She's just concerned for you. Sure, that's one possibility. She might also be hinting that Artemis should know when to quit.

    “Yeah, I think so,” she says, keeping her voice bright and cheerful. “Anyway, they're waiting on me, so I better go now.”

    “All right, ――. Good luck!”

    “Thanks. See you later.”

    She makes the trip again, to Chelle's (“Hey, Artie, you okay? You seemed kinda out of it yesterday”; “I'll tell you later, Chelle, I gotta go”) and to the Gym, and today she finds the lobby quiet and empty. Someone is logged in at the computer on the front desk, but nobody's sitting in the chair. Artemis looks around, nervous, and sees a woman in a dark suit approaching with a welcoming smile and a natu on her shoulder.

    “Hello,” she says. “Ms Apanchomene?”

    “Yeah. Uh, just Artemis is fine.”

    “Of course. Emilia Santangelo.” She shakes Artemis' hand. Her nails are perfect burgundy rectangles. Artemis' fingers feel thick and clumsy against hers. “I'm a legal advisor for the Indigo League. This is my assistant, Nadia.”

    Chirp, goes the natu. She has that unsettling stare that natu always seem to have, like she's looking right through you. Artemis smiles briefly at her and returns her attention to Emilia, who is just as intimidating but much less spooky.

    “Hi,” she says. “So … I mean I get that this is about yesterday, but what exactly is it that you need from me?”

    “Just some questions,” replies Emilia. “I promise I won't keep you long. I know you spoke to Brock yesterday, and honestly I'm not expecting to find out anything new, but, well, the Elite Four pay my wages, so if they want me asking questions that's what they get.” She smiles again. Her teeth are perfectly white and perfectly even, between two perfectly lipsticked lips. She's so full of charm and poise she's practically leaking it onto the floor, and all that grace sets Artemis' nerves on edge, despite her friendly demeanour.

    “Okay,” she says, nervously. “Ask away, I guess.”

    Emilia takes her back down the corridor that leads to the room where Brock questioned her yesterday. She wonders where he is. Maybe out investigating the hill up in the woods. From what he said, it seemed like that sort of thing came under League jurisdiction.

    “You're just starting your trainer journey?” asks Emilia.

    “Yeah. I mean, I was going to, yesterday, and then … everything happened.”

    Emilia gets that look on her face that adults get when something reminds them of their journeys. A little wistful, a little self-deprecating.

    “I remember mine,” she says. “My starter was an oddish. Effie. Still have her now, actually. She'll be waiting for me to come home, once this is all wrapped up.”

    She says it like this is the kind of thing you sort out in a day. Artemis isn't convinced. Whatever this is, whatever breach might be, she predicts that that spire is going to have Emilia running around for some time.

    “You think it'll be sorted soon?” she asks her.

    “Hm? Oh, definitely. The League deals with all kinds of strangeness on a daily basis. Here. After you.”

    She opens the door to what Artemis can't help thinking of the interrogation room, and Artemis takes up the same seat she occupied yesterday. Emilia sits opposite her, and though Artemis watches her hands closely she does not put either of them below the table, not even for a moment. This conversation, it seems, is off the record.

    “Okay. Can I offer you anything to drink? Tea, coffee? All right, then.”

    Emilia puts a notebook on the table in front of her and uncaps a fountain pen. Artemis watches, vaguely aware that something is happening behind the scenes but unable to understand what or why. She looks at Emilia more closely, and sees – well, nothing. She just sees a woman, thirties, dark-skinned, enviable eyebrows. Whatever she's looking for, Emilia isn't showing it.

    “Are you ready to begin?” she asks. Artemis nods. “All right. Now, I've been brought up to speed on the statement you made to Brock yesterday, but I'd like you to go over that again for me, now that you've had some time to recover from the shock of it.”

    This doesn't seem unreasonable. Artemis wonders if maybe she's just being paranoid. It's certainly possible; she has been paranoid in the past. The ghost people are proof enough of that.

    “Um, okay,” she says. “So, the Gym does like appointments with trainers to help you catch your first pokémon, right, and I came in yesterday for one of those …”

    She can see the value in repeating it. Her story's a lot more coherent this time, without the panic vibrating up and down her nervous system. It's still frightening, and she's definitely not going to stop dreaming about it any time soon, but it's manageable. Slowly, it's starting to make the change from 'incoherent nightmare' to 'a scary thing that happened'.

    Emilia is an attentive listener. She asks questions, makes notes and offers sympathy and breaks when Artemis gets to the worst parts. Some of this is her professionalism, sure, but it can't all be. Artemis finds herself warming to her a little.

    “All right,” she says, when Artemis is done. “Thank you, that's been very helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to talk about this.” She turns a page in her notebook, inspects something for a moment, and looks back at Artemis. “That's most of what I need from you,” she tells her. “All I want to ask you now is a little about the Gym response. Obviously we need to make sure that our Leaders and their staff are equipped to handle events like these in the event that anything similar ever happens again, and as an outside witness your take on the situation would be very valuable to us.”

    “Uh, sure, I guess.” It's comforting to know that the League is taking this seriously, Artemis supposes. She had a vague suspicion that maybe no one was going to believe her. “What d'you wanna know?”

    “How would you describe Brock's handling of everything?” asks Emilia. “Just to be clear, we're not looking for evidence that he's not doing his job. We have every confidence in him, it's just helpful for us to know what people outside the League think.”

    “He was great,” replies Artemis, honestly. “He really was, he … didn't have to be that nice, but he was. I don't know what else he could have done.”

    Emilia nods.

    “Mm-hm. What did he do exactly that was so good?”

    Artemis pauses. Is it her, or … no, it must be her. Look at Emilia's face. You're imagining things, Artie. This is just some kinda ridiculous review thing that the League has foisted on her and she's trying to get it out of the way so she can get on with the real investigation.

    Still. No need to let her know that Brock switched off the recorder for a while. She doesn't want to get him in any kind of trouble.

    “We-ell,” she says slowly, “he was just really … patient. He seemed like he really wanted to help. I guess I felt kinda responsible, and he went out of his way to assure me I wasn't.”

    There. The truth, but with all the incriminating bits cut out. She's actually quite proud of how she phrased it, especially with that natu staring and creeping her out like that.

    “Okay,” says Emilia, nodding some more. “Well, thank you, Artemis, that's very informative.” She smiles, and Artemis sees real kindness in it. “That should be all we need from you. Now we have it, we can get back to the really important issue here: your trainer journey.”

    Artemis starts. She'd almost forgotten why she came to the Gym in the first place. It all comes back to her at once, the Big Choice, the new life, the escape route, and suddenly she feels almost physically sick with the desire to get going. God. Just let her get out of this damn town already. Away from breach, away from spires, away from the cold mausoleum of home.

    “Hah.” She scratches her head. “I kinda forgot about that. Did you …?”

    “Yes, I brought the pokémon down from the Plateau with me.” Emilia's smiling again now, at the expression on her face she thinks. Pleased, and indulgent, but not in a patronising way. She likes her a little more for it. “They're being looked after in the other room. If you'd like to come with me …”

    Well of course she would, even if she feels like she's a little too old to display her excitement that openly, so up Artemis gets and follows Emilia into a different room, some sort of practice court with reinforced walls and crash mats. There's a guy in here who introduces himself as Edwin, another of Brock's trainers, and he indicates a row of poké balls laid out on a bench. Nice ones, too – the fancy commemorative kind, white and sleek with red bands.

    “Just got 'em all back in there,” he says, scratching at what looks like a recent burn on his forearm. “Tried to keep 'em occupied, but one stepped on another's tail and things got a bit, uh, rowdy.”

    “Thanks, Edwin,” says Emilia. “Maybe let them out one at a time, then? Give Artemis a chance to find one she likes and that likes her.”

    It's time. Nine years late, but it's time. Artemis steps forward, and knows that in this moment she is, after nearly two decades, finally doing something for herself.

    As far as feelings go, it's a pretty good one.

    *​

    Artemis' parents are less than thrilled with her choice.

    “I've never heard of that before,” says her dad, peering suspiciously at the foot-long newt clinging to her jacket. “What did you say it was called again?”

    “Salandit. Her name is Brauron.”

    “And you caught this?”

    “No, they'd got some more starters in stock.”

    “So you chose it?” asks her mother. “Wasn't there anything less … slimy?”

    There was, as it happens. Brock had said 'something good', and he meant it; Emilia brought a sneasel, a ralts, a petilil, a squirtle and a damn dratini alongside the salandit, in a collection of pokémon from all around the world and of varying degrees of rarity. It was a difficult choice, but the pokémon themselves made it easier. Neither the sneasel nor the petilil displayed the slightest bit of interest in her, and while the ralts seemed to like her he kept dipping into her head in way that made her uncomfortable; Artemis has enough trouble keeping her brain in order without any outside interference. The dratini was too intimidating, and besides a pokémon like that is a hell of a commitment, with a lifespan running into the hundreds of years. That left just the squirtle and the salandit, both of which looked, as far as a turtle and a sly-eyed salamander can, eager to come with her.

    And in the end there just wasn't any choice at all. The salandit is so small, and the dark colours of her back are marbled so beautifully. Sure, the squirtle was cute too, but Brauron is something special, Artemis could tell right away.

    “Well, yeah,” she says to her mother. “But this is the one I liked. And she isn't really slimy, anyway.” She peels Brauron gently from her jacket and feels her coil her tail around her wrist, warm and dry. “Here, you can feel her if you like.”

    “I think I might pass.” Artemis is a little hurt by the look on her face. She had an idea that her mother didn't particularly like things that creep and crawl, but she didn't know it went this deep.

    Brauron plants her forefeet (with all their tiny, delicate, impossibly cute little fingers) on Artemis' knuckle, raises herself up and looks fearlessly at each of Artemis' parents in turn. Her eyes are a deep purple, gleaming with a clever light Artemis doesn't think you get in regular amphibians. This is the kind of salamander that schemes.

    Artemis can't stop looking at her. The marbled slabs of black and grey, the red sheen of the line down her tail. She almost glows with warmth and life.

    She's beautiful, and Artemis is quickly remembering her other reason for going on this journey. It's not just an escape, is it? There's the old enthusiasm too, dormant for nine years now but still there. She's going to travel Kanto with this amazing little creature, and it's going to be like nothing she's ever done before.

    “You're really doing it, aren't you,” says her dad, and something in his voice makes her look up at him from Brauron. He looks tired, and a little surprised. She realises with a jolt that on some level he was never expecting this day to actually arrive.

    “Yeah,” she says, bringing Brauron back to her chest, letting her climb onto her jacket to hang like a little furnace against her heart. “I am.”

    He sighs.

    “I guess you're thinking of leaving soon, then,” he says. They hadn't agreed a date. Artemis had been too focused on sorting out the paperwork and the pokémon to finalise that particular detail.

    “I guess so,” she replies. “Haven't really thought about it.”

    Her parents look at each other. Artemis isn't sure what that expression is, but she is suddenly aware that despite everything they really do still care. Even if that care might not survive the revelation she is hiding in her bag, in the clothes and make-up concealed from view by just a thin layer of fabric.

    She feels silly for forgetting. It's part of why she's going, isn't it? Because she can't bear to make things worse. She knows their politics, knows how deep the hatred goes, and she knows that if she tells them what she really is, what remains between them and her is over.

    She did consider that maybe she could change their minds. If they knew they had a daughter … but no. She knows, deep down, that she's really not all that convincing.

    Her mother reaches out and puts a hand on her arm.

    “All right,” she sighs. “Do you need any help packing?”

    Artemis shakes her head. Given what's going in her bag, she needs to do this alone.

    “No, I'm okay.” She hesitates. “I … might go tomorrow.”

    “That soon?”

    “Yeah. There doesn't seem to be much point waiting around, right? I have a year, I need to make the most of it.”

    “I guess not,” agrees her dad, slow, sad. “I guess not.”

    Later, up in her room, Artemis sits among the scattered remnants of her life, taking them apart and finding ways to fit the parts that matter into her backpack, and halfway through she stops and lets the skirt she's holding slip from her hands, overcome by a sudden wave of apathy. She looks at Brauron, perched on her dresser like a gargoyle, tasting the air with a long, dark tongue. She thinks of her parents downstairs, their faces and their tired, sagging shoulders.

    It's worth it, right? It has to be.

    She takes a deep breath, and blinks back a tear, and keeps on packing.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2017
  16. Yay! My current favourite fanfiction got an update!

    Well, I can say that while this chapter didn't have the massive plot twist at the end, it did really well to set up intrigue concerning what the Indigo Plateau is hiding, and that is making me really excited. Emilia is already an interesting character - she seems somewhat two-faced, like she can be extremely comforting but secretly be trying to do something much more malicious at the same time, and that's really cool.

    I also loved your characterisation of Brock. He's really likeable, and the fact that he actually stopped the recording - something which is against the Pokemon League rules - just shows how he really doesn't want to hide anything, but is being forced to.

    Also, Artemis is still really cool. Yep, that's just about it on that. Also I love how she got a Salandit - that's awesome!

    Overall, I'm still lovin' it!
     
  17. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Well, that's a compliment and no mistake. Thanks! I'm glad you're liking this.

    Hah, yeah, you can't really sustain twists on that scale for very long. It's good to know that even without the pull of a big twist ending like in the first chapter, the story's still stacking up, you know? Like, this chapter is really built around the three interrogation scenes, which I wasn't sure were going to be all that interesting given that it was basically just tactical conversation, and it's kinda a relief to hear that people like that. I know I do, but you know, tastes vary. I'm glad Emilia is interesting, too: that's all I can really ask of her yet, since she's obviously much less uncomplicatedly good than Artemis is. Hopefully we'll get a clearer idea of what her deal is as we go on.

    Thanks! There isn't a whole lot of in-game characterisation for Brock -- his dialogue is incredibly generic, and even the Fame Checker doesn't fill him out much other than to say he's likeable, well-respected, and doesn't often laugh but gets really into it when he does. Which always leaves you in a weird situation as a writer dealing with a canon character, because you've got a lot of freedom to interpret him but at the same time you aren't sure that anyone else is going to agree with the way you do it. Writing canon characters is always a little nerve-wracking, but that makes it worse, and it's nice to know Brock came across well.

    It is! I think the Alola pokémon are some of the best in terms of design concept and execution, but like I have certain reservations about the politics of the way the games treat concepts like the kahuna and tapu, so I've generally steered clear of writing any Alolan fic so far, which has meant I haven't had as many chances as I'd like to give page space to fantastic pokémon like wishiwashi, dhelmise and lurantis. Having the League buy Artemis' silence with a rare pokémon was a good way of both getting around that and characterising Indigo League politics, so it was a win-win for me.

    Cheers, that's really sweet of you to say! I'm really enjoying writing this, with all its cloak-and-dagger conspiracy theory nonsense and dangerous power relations, and I hope you continue to do so as well.
     
  18. Conquering Storm

    Conquering Storm Driver of the Aegis

    Hello! I've lurked around the Fan Fiction forum off and on for months, but this is the first time I've ever left a review. Before I get started, though, I'd like to say that I'm a huge fan of your writing. I read A Leash of Foxes and In the Bleak Midwinter some time ago, and I'm still in the middle of Time and Tide. All three are amazing – better than the vast majority of actual published novels I've read.

    Arbitrary Execution is definitely shaping up to be their equal. It's the first time I've read something of yours set in the seen-in-the-games Pokéverse, and I really love how you handle the nitty-gritty details that the games kind of pass over, like how Pokémon journeys are funded and how people get a starter Pokémon. (Like, of course not every kid starting off on an adventure is going to be able to get to the regional professor's lab, and why would the professor just give out Pokémon rare enough that you can't encounter them in the wild in-game?) World-building like that is what I adore above all in a story.

    I also love how you characterize all the characters (and I really feel like there should be a way to streamline that sentence). Artemis especially, but you also do a great job with the minor characters like Jerry. And if you ask me, you deserve a flippin' medal for how you've dealt with Brock. Here's a guy who has, like, zero personality in the games and not much more in the anime (no offense, anime!Brock fans), and you've made him into a wholly believable, three-dimensional character.

    Finally, I love how you introduce ♀ . at the end of the first chapter. It's a highly impressive bait-and-switch moment, but that's only a small part of what makes it so compelling – the best part of the scene is how amazingly well you describe it. It just creates such a clear image in the reader's mind, and it's so *flails arms in vague hope that this will stimulate my brain's language centers* just an amazing scene. And that whole thing about "there has been a breach"...I really can't wait to see where you take this story. It's amazing so far and seems likely to become more so.

    P.S. WAY TO SUPPORTIVE, ARTEMIS'S PARENTS. I get that you're not exactly happy about her going on a journey (or open-minded about her being trans) but did you seriously have to call Brauron "slimy"? (Edit: I feel like I should clarify that this statement is intended to be a joke. Not accepting that someone is trans is definitely worse than calling a Pokémon slimy. I didn't mean to offend anyone. I swear I'm not intolerant.) (Salandit is one of my favorite Pokémon, by the way, and I'm really happy it's in this story.)
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
  19. [Imaginative]:[Clockwork]

    [Imaginative]:[Clockwork] X-treme trainer

    Even in sort of a table setting chapter like this, I think Artemis's great and entertaining characterization keeps things moving and interesting. Beyond just the style, her distrust of the situation pushing against her natural desire to find reasons to like these people was especially cool, because it seemed like she only had the energy to really keep her distance from Brock when she had very specific concerns, and after they were taken care of she was free to just like him again (which seemed to extend to Emilia once Artie seemed to judge that the heat was off of her).

    In fact, I liked Artemis so much that the weaker parts of the chapter were consistently when we would switch to Emilia's perspective. They're good and probably pretty necessary, but Artie already feels like the beating heart of the fic, so as much I enjoyed Emilia's parts and the character herself, I was still excited to back to Artie. That being said, I don't know what you have planned for this fic (unless Emilia is being set up as the second main character, it feels like this story will explore a bunch of different points of view, which is something I actually really love), but I'm enjoying the writing enough to be confident in your ability to write any of these characters. I did really like Emilia's more gentle matter-of-factness if that's what you could call it, and Brock of course was sweet.

    Plotwise, I'm still not sure exactly what direction this will take, since those in the know are appropriately cryptic and Artemis still seems intent on going on a journey that, best-case scenario, is going to get very derailed very fast. I love salandit and the natural way you described its movement, even if its pagetime was taken up by that extra-bitter-slightly-sweet scene at the end. And I would say that that the parents' plot thread is what interests me the most right now. It feels like a ticking time bomb that gives me a lot of dread and just the tiniest bit of hope, so I'm anxious to see where that goes haha.

    So yes, despite being a little slower, this was strong just like the first chapter. I'm excited to for number three!
     
  20. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Hi! That's like an amazing compliment, thank you so much. Welcome to ... a more active existence on the forums, I guess? Anyway, I'm glad you like my particular kind of trying-not-to-seem-as-pretentious-as-it-aspires-to-be fiction, and also that Arbitrary Execution is what drew you out of lurking and into posting. <3

    Yeah, going to the professor's lab has never made sense to me -- in the games, it's always explained as something that's actually quite extraordinary. In RBY, you get a pokémon from Oak because you're a friend of the family; in GSC, because Elm knows and trusts you and wants you to run an errand for him; in RSE, because you rescued Birch and demonstrated skill as a trainer; in DPPt because your rival just dragged you out into Rowan's way and he decided he liked the cut of your jib (Rowan is, uh, less than professional in many ways); in BW because Juniper literally just commissions all three of the eligible kids in town to work for her and perhaps also because your mother appears to be a friend of hers; in XY because Sycamore selected a small group of talented individuals to help him with his research; and in SM because there was a festival coming up and also you were chosen by a local deity. The only time we ever see a normal person get their first pokémon is when Wally goes to catch his ralts in RSE -- and he goes to the local Gym Leader for assistance. That makes much more sense to me than hundreds of kids descending on one small town to get pokémon from someone who really has more important work to be doing, and that was the model I based the Indigo League system on for this story.

    That, and I have a weird fascination with bureaucracy, possibly just because there's so damn much of it to contend with everywhere you look. So obviously when it came to writing the mechanics of the Indigo League, there was gonna be paperwork.

    I'm glad you like him! <3 Yeah, in-game he's basically just a cardboard cut-out propped up on a geodude at the end of the Gym. When you fight him, he literally just says "Hi, I'm the Gym Leader, I believe in determination." That, uh, that necessitated some drastic character remodelling, to say the least. Which it would seem has had a very positive effect, so thank you.

    I think I get the gist of it. :p Seriously, cheers, it's so nice to know that people like this.

    I dunno, I'm trans and I think I'd be pretty upset if someone started insulting my fire newt. :p But all joking aside, I'm glad I'm hitting the right notes. Salandit is really interesting, even if haven't yet found a good spot for it on any of my teams in-game, and like so many pokémon that are interesting but which I haven't used extensively, writing about one here is hopefully going to be a way for me to discover reasons to really appreciate it.

    Cool! Good to know, because oh man, do I like my conversations. We're gonna have interdimensional monstrosities, sure, but what's an interdimensional monstrosity if you're not gonna talk about it? Also yeah, that's great that you picked that up. Artemis is always torn between her kindness and her distrust, and that is an exhausting place to be. In the end, more often than not, you just have to let yourself slide one way or the other.

    That's encouraging, I think! Artemis is undoubtedly the main focus, but Emilia is I guess something of a deuteragonist, if you'll let me get all Aeschylean for a moment. To tell the story I wanted to tell, I needed someone inside the system as well as someone who is very much outside it, as Artemis is -- and obviously, the interview with Brock from Emilia's point of view is important to the interview with Artemis from Artemis', because then you know what's really going on behind the scenes while Artemis doesn't. Emilia is obviously older and more confident (or so she tells herself) than Artemis, and her internal soundtrack of insecurities and fears is much quieter and her mental health in general much better, so I can see why her head is a less interesting place in which to sit. But that also means we haven't seen nearly as much of her as we have of Artemis yet, and hopefully there are a few bits and pieces on the way that will hold people's interest.

    Don't worry, there's plenty more Brauron on the way! After all, Artemis now has a pokémon, but she hasn't actually started training her yet. As for her parents -- well, we'll have to wait and see, I guess. Me as much as you, since I've only written a couple of chapters ahead at this point.

    I'm glad you liked it! Thank you both for reading and responding. The amount of support Arbitrary Execution has got is really kinda staggering. Next time: Artemis finally sets off, and Emilia does some detectiving.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2017

Share This Page