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. Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
    Dismiss Notice
  3. If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders
    Dismiss Notice

Electric Sheep

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by JX Valentine, Jan 1, 2016.

  1. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Updated: August 20 (Extra #4)

    Warning/Author's Notes: This is a Nuzlocke fanfic of Pokémon White. While the violence doesn't really get that gruesome this time around (I mean, yes, there is blood and fighting) and while it's not exactly a dark fic, there's still character death. If you want a happy fun fanfic where everyone lives in the end, you ... really do not want to read this fic. Sorry.

    The only other things you'll probably want to know about this fic is that A) yep, it's also posted on FFN and 2) it's a sci-fi in that it's set in the not-so-far future of Unova. The first chapter hints at that, but it's really further chapters where you'll understand where in the timeline this takes place. (Sorry about that!) But yes. Think of it like Chobits meets Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? meets 1984 meets Pokémon. Or in other words, it's pretty much what you'd expect from me. And I have no regrets.

    Tl;dr, thanks for reading (and waiting, those of you who've been keeping an eye on my Tumblr), and enjoy the show!

    Rules:
    [spoil]
    1. Standard rules apply. (Fainting = death, only one capture per route, etc.)
    2. No dupes. That includes evolutions.
    3. Only the first Pokémon encountered per route may be caught.
    4. Exception: All gift Pokémon, including the elemental monkey, must be boxed immediately, and they don't count towards the above rule.
    5. Exception #2: HM servants are fine but cannot be used in battle and also do not count towards the above rule.
    6. No buying items until the Elite Four, and even then, I can only buy one of each item in each town. Any item I want to use before then must be found on the ground.
    7. No legendaries (except Zekrom).
    8. The game is over when all of my Pokémon have fainted.
    [/spoil]

    Chapters:
    Note! Chapter organization got really messed up later on in the thread, so please check this list for the definitive set of chapters (in the correct order). Sorry for the inconvenience!
    [spoil]One: Nuvema
    Two: The Professor's Laboratory
    Three: Route 1
    Four: Accumula
    Five: Route 2
    -- (Extra #1: Accumula Outskirts)
    Six: Striaton
    Seven: Striaton Gym
    Eight: Dreamyard
    Nine: Amanita's Laboratory
    -- (Extra #2: Downtown Striaton)
    Ten: Wellspring Cave
    Eleven: Route 3
    Twelve: Nacrene
    -- (Extra #3: Nacrene Center)
    Thirteen: Nacrene Gym
    Fourteen: Pinwheel Forest
    Fifteen: Skyarrow Bridge
    Sixteen: Halcyon Labs
    Seventeen: Castelia Gym
    -- (Extra #4: Halcyon Tower)
    Eighteen: Castelia
    Nineteen: Desert Resort
    Twenty: Route 4
    Twenty-One: Nimbasa City
    Twenty-Two: Lostlorn Forest
    Twenty-Three: Nimbasa Gym
    Twenty-Four: Route 5
    Twenty-Five: Driftveil City
    Twenty-Six: Cold Storage
    Twenty-Seven: Driftveil Pokémon Center
    Twenty-Eight: Driftveil Gym
    Twenty-Nine: Route 6
    Thirty: Chargestone Cave


    Temporary Extras
    Project Galatea[/spoil]

    PM List:
    (Currently open! Please feel free to ask if you'd like to be on it~!)
    [spoil]Shattersoul[/spoil]

    Pokémon List:
    [spoil]Door’s Team
    1. [Knives] Audino (F)
      Calm — Capable of taking hits.
      Ability: Healer
      Caught: Level 8, Dreamyard
      Status: Real
    2. [Huntress] Herdier (F)
      Serious — Somewhat of a clown.
      Ability: Intimidate
      Caught: Level 9, Route 3
      Status: Faux

    Door’s Box
    1. [Queen] Liepard (F)
      Careful — Quick to flee.
      Ability: Limber
      Caught: Level 25, Route 16
      Status: Faux
    2. [Neptune] Ducklett (F)
      Brave — Very finicky.
      Ability: Keen Eye
      Caught: Level 22, Driftveil Drawbridge
      Status: Faux

    Door’s Graveyard
    1. [Scout] Watchog (M)
      Lax — Often dozes off.
      Ability: Illuminate
      Caught: Level 4, Route 1
      Died: Level 21, Nacrene Gym
      Status: Faux
    2. [Boomer] Darumaka (M)
      Impish — Likes to relax.
      Ability: Hustle
      Caught: Level 18, Route 4
      Died: Level 27, Driftveil City
      Status: Faux
    3. [Red] Yamask (M)
      Impish — Loves to eat.
      Ability: Mummy
      Caught: Level 19, Relic Castle
      Died: Level 25, Route 6
      Status: Real
    4. [Needles] Whirlipede (F)
      Adamant — Likes to thrash about.
      Ability: Poison Point
      Caught: Level 20, Lostlorn Forest
      Died: Level 25, Route 6
      Status: Real
    5. [Storm] Tranquill (F)
      Impish — Likes to thrash about.
      Ability: Big Pecks
      Caught: Level 12, Pinwheel Forest
      Died: Level 28, Chargestone Cave
      Status: Faux
    6. [Prongs] Deerling (M)
      Rash — Quick to flee.
      Ability: Sap Sipper
      Caught: Level 22, Route 6
      Died: Level 26, Chargestone Cave
      Status: Faux
    7. [Jack] Dewott (M)
      Careful — Good perseverance.
      Ability: Torrent
      Caught: Level 5, Nuvema
      Died: Level 33, Chargestone Cave
      Status: Real

    Geist’s Team
    1. [Antares] Pansear (M)
      Timid — Sturdy body.
      Ability: Gluttony
      Obtained: Level 10, Dreamyard
      Status: Faux

    Belle’s Team
    1. Servine (M)
      Ability: Overgrow
      Status: Real
    2. Liepard (M)
      Ability: Unburden
      Status: Faux
    3. Tranquill (M)
      Ability: Super Luck
      Status: Faux
    4. Panpour (M)
      Ability: Gluttony
      Status: Faux
    5. Belle also has a rotation of Matrix-issued pokémon, such as patrat and sandile. Assume all of these are faux unless otherwise noted.

    Blair’s Team
    1. [Toto] Herdier (F)
      Ability: Vital Spirit
      Status: Faux
    2. [Wilbur] Pignite (M)
      Ability: Blaze
      Status: Real
    3. [Tarzan] Pansage (M)
      Ability: Gluttony
      Status: ???
    4. [Alice] Munna (F)
      Ability: Forewarn
      Status: ???

    Gym leaders’ pokémon are typically faux unless otherwise noted (and made a big deal about).[/spoil]

    [Note: The story had originally begun in this post, but for the sake of organization (as in, because lmao, character counts), it is now located a couple posts below. Sorry for the inconvenience! Please use the table of contents to jump right to it!]
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
  2. Shattersoul

    Shattersoul Maniac

    Hello. I've been meaning to post a review for this one for a bit, but never got around to it. For now, I procrastinate no longer!


    The first thing that jumped out at me was the setting. A super-futuristic setting, that uses artificial Pokemon, and terminator-esque escorts? The base for something amazing is already there. I can only imagine that much later a few artificial being would go rogue. All in all, this gives off a facaded dystopia feel (Looks good on the outside, but full of corruption). Judging by what you were basing it on, this is exactly what you were going for.

    While it's pretty hard to get more details out of a single chapter of a multi-part fic, I can't help but notice the similarity between Door's acquisition of her Pokemon and the protagonist of generation three. Both of them are forced to rescue a downed research from a hostile, (in this case, a mech and his psycho owner), and end up bonding with one on the fly

    I can see this going somewhere, and look forward to later chapters.

    (Question: This is based off of a playthrough? I assume that only controls which pokemon Door possesses and which ones get killed permanently and forcibly dismantled?)
     
  3. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Aww yeah, productivity! 8D

    Pretty much, yep! It’ll definitely be more apparent the closer the characters get to Castelia City (because hot damn, the thing that Castelia is based on), but I definitely wanted a Blade Runner-esque atmosphere with a dash of Oceania here.

    I hope at some point to go into the government aspect of all of this (because aww yeah, dystopia), but I have to admit right off the bat that the main focus is on the evil team that sprouts up from something related but not entirely the state’s fault. I feel like the general thing to take away from the status of the state is that they realized they royally messed up the environment, and they’re holding the region together as well as possible—as in, this is the result of the government apologizing for the sake of avoiding full-on political unrest. There’re still plenty of people in Unova who are upset with the way things have gone (Door is like a younger, less-informed version of that sentiment), but the damage that’s been done is so extreme that the best the state can do is reassure the public and offer them compromises left and right. The end result is that extremely artificial trainer’s journey for a vintage, tourist-like experience. This is coupled with the fact that the Companions themselves—an optional but strongly suggested part of this experience—are meant to corral trainers onto set routes, away from the “danger zones” (really the only pieces of wilderness left in Unova).

    Tl;dr, it’s a dystopia, definitely. Yet it’s not so much a totalitarian dystopia (like you see with Big Brother/Ingsoc and whatnot) as it is a dystopia run by a bumbling and apologetic government. Which is probably going to be why their actions will be ever-present, but they themselves will not. (This should also explain Door’s comment about the police—most of them are hella incompetent to the point where they don’t really do anything.)

    So! Huzzah Word-of-God info? 8D

    As for artificial beings going rogue… 8) 8) 8)

    Omg, I have to admit, I didn’t even think of that, but you’re right. XD Not that that’s a bad thing, or anything, amirite? Buuuut it probably reveals a little more than intended that my favorite gen to play through is Gen III.

    (I mean, I really like the way Gen V’s setup goes—with the starters literally being a gift and the battle taking place indoors and whatnot—but alas, couldn’t figure out a way to make that work here.)

    Thank you! :D I’m glad you liked it, and I appreciate the review! Thanks for giving me an excuse to talk at length about fics. XD

    It is indeed! It’s a Nuzlocke run—part one of two, to be exact. (The other part takes place in X and will either be an extended part of this fic or a sequel in a separate thread. I haven’t decided yet, but hey, still pretty early in the game, no pun intended.)

    On the positive side, this means that a lot of the Pokémon you’ll see will be pretty common ones or ones that a lot of folks don’t use for their Unova fic because I just had really hilarious luck at times. On the negative side, this also means there might be a lot of character dismantlings because I had really hilarious luck at times. (ʘ‿ʘ✿) Sorry in advance for those of you who might not be super-cool with character deaths! On the positive side, the vast majority of them won’t be for real pokémon?



    Next chapter will be out pretty shortly! I'm working on the code as we speak, so ... I'd say by the end of the night. *nod*
     
  4. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

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

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

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

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

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

    A voice.

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

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

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

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

    [CHAPTER ONE: NUVEMA]

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

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

    “Not this again,” she muttered.

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

    And Door would have exactly none of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “H-hey! Hey!” she called.

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

    “Need help?!” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This man was a Companion.

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

    “The poké ball,” he droned.

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

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

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

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

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

    “Oshawott, Tackle!” Door shrieked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “That’s Tepig’s.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Not a trainer?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Yes,” he replied slowly.

    Just to her door?”

    “Yes…?”

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

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

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

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

    “Uh, Door?” he asked.

    “Yeah, Geist?” she responded.

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

    “Nope!” Door answered.

    “Are you sure? You seem to be—”

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

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

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

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

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

    Thus, a half an hour later, Doreen Hornbeam’s journey began with her almost getting fired.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2017
  5. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    [CHAPTER TWO: THE PROFESSOR’S LABORATORY]

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

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

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

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

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

    “…I’m going to have to…”

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

    “…call your father.”

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

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

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

    “This morning, yes.”

    “And he’s coming?!”

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

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

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

    “Well…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “No no. This won’t do,” he said.

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

    “Perfect, right?” Linus said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “And Tepig?” Ted asked softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What?!” she squeaked.

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

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

    Thus, Door’s journey actually began … because she was duped into it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
  6. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    [CHAPTER THREE: ROUTE 1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Ugh, gimme a break,” Door muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Oh,” she said faintly. “Huh.”

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

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

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

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

    “Excuse me!” Opal said.

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

    “What is it, Opal?” Geist asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Crap!” Door cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Then, the ball shook once.

    Twice.

    Three times.

    And stopped with a click.

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

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

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

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

    Holy crap.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017
  7. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    [CHAPTER FOUR: ACCUMULA]​


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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I’m sorry?”

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

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

    “What?!” she barked.

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

    “Curious,” Geist said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “About why you hate them so much.”

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

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

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

    “Fair enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

    “What’s this?” she asked.

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

    Door eyed him suspiciously. “And you?”

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

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

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

    With Opal.

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

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

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

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

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

    He blinked at her. “What?”

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

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

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

    …or that he wasn’t a Companion.

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

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

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

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

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

    “Of course I did.”

    “From fifty feet away.”

    “I throw remarkably well.”

    “And it’s registered to me.”

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

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

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

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

    “What about her?”

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

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

    Door blinked. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Okay,” she said, “I’m curious.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Geist pressed his lips together and shrugged.

    She knitted her eyebrows together. “Seriously?”

    He nodded and shrugged again. “Unfortunately.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Door furrowed her eyebrows. “They?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And her glowing, hazel eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “What was that all about?” Door gasped.

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

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

    “I don’t know,” Geist said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “May we help you?” Geist asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Purrloin, Scratch,” N told it calmly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But this time, Door knew better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Yes,” he said.

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

    “Why would you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I guess not,” she said at last.

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

    Three long scratches stretched across Oshawott’s face.

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

    —​

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

    What kinds of new responsibilities did that bestow on her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “So why does that matter?” Door asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Door?” he asked.

    “Jack,” she said.

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

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

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

    But in that moment, she knew this didn’t matter. The way the oshawott’s face lit up was an answer enough.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
  8. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    [CHAPTER FIVE: ROUTE 2]

    “What about Patrat?” Geist asked.

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

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

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

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

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

    “And Patrat isn’t?” Geist asked.

    “You know he isn’t.”

    Geist chuckled. “I do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “What are you doing?” he asked.

    “Roughing Patrat up a bit,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Fine,” she growled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Gone,” the Companion answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Well,” she said, “here we go!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Wait, what?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blood. Not sparks.

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

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

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

    “What are you doing?!” Blair yelped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blair stiffened. “Let’s?”

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

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

    “That was responsible of you,” he said.

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

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

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

    “Scout,” she said.

    “Sorry?” Geist replied.

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

    His name is Scout.”

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

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

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

    His name is Scout,” she repeated.

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

    “That’s a great name,” he said.

    “Yeah,” Door said. “I know.”
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2017
  9. kingferret53

    kingferret53 A duel well fought..

    I check serebii every single day. I check the forums maybe once a month. The fanfictions used to be my favorite. Alas, they fell out of favor due to barely getting updates or stories I wasn't interested in. Until now.

    I am in love with your idea. It's similar to others I have toyed with in my head, but I never thought to combine it with pokemon. I am longing for the next chapter with indescribable impatience. I cannot wait to see where this goes. And I didn't even notice any errors that were noteworthy.

    Although I do have one request, if at all possible. Could it be possible for a list of the characters' pokemon and rather they're real or fake? I was baffles by some of them. Like the lillipup. If that's part of the mystery then I understand. Lol
     
  10. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    [CHAPTER SIX: STRIATON]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Empathy. Real.

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

    “Hmm? For what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Sure. Why not?”

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

    “Huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “All right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Hey!” she shouted.

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

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

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

    She shook her head. “Nope. Gotta.”

    “Very well, then.”

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

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

    “Why would I be … ah, ‘pissed’?”

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

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

    “Did you learn from that experience?”

    “Well, yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Please. I’d like to know.”

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

    “And you’re not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Really?” Door asked with a snort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Hey,” she said. “Thanks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Geist?” she said.

    “Yes, Door?”

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

    “Ah.”

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

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

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

    “I was told they dream of electric sheep.”

    “What?”

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

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

    “Of course.”

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

    Right at the frolicking pokémon.

    “No way,” she breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Scout!” she shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “So what do I do?” Door asked.

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

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

    Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Now!” Door cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Um,” she said.

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

    Door swallowed. “Um.

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

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

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

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

    “Dream mist. I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Oh, it was real.”

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

    “What?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “What, monsters?” Door asked.

    “No, actually, bombs.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Why, yes.”

    “Not just in your front yard.”

    Amanita’s smile returned. “Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

    “Activity?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And then, it hit her.

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

    “That’s right,” Amanita replied.

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

    “Any particular reason why?”

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

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

    “Condition?”

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

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

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

    “Seriously?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Me too,” she muttered.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2017
  11. kingferret53

    kingferret53 A duel well fought..

    I cannot believe how fast I finished that chapter. Ugh.

    Thanks for letting me know which we faux and what was real!

    I didn't see many mistakes worth mentioning, except one. I'm not sure if it is truly a mistake or not though. But in the story, it states that normal pokemon are gone, replaced with faux pokemon. So, why would the gym leader say that fauxkemon were allowed? If real pokemon are as uncommon as it states, then shouldn't the gym leaders expect to never see one?
     
  12. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Haha, good to know you had fun! ;D

    No prob. :D Thanks for pointing out that it would be hella helpful in a Nuzlocke fic to keep a running count of who has what and what isn't dead yet!

    This is actually a really excellent question, one that I really should answer in the text at some point (if I haven't already because lmao, sometimes I can't even remember my own details).

    So! To answer, it's because Unova itself doesn't have a population of real pokémon, but other regions do. For example, Kalos in the first chapter is explicitly mentioned as having gardens, which is a euphemism for park-like spaces artificially maintained and specifically geared towards housing and fostering populations of real pokémon. Putting it another way, Unova is a cyberpunk dystopia struggling to switch to a solarpunk utopia, but Kalos is a fully solarpunk fantasy land. However, Kanto and the other Japanese regions never really experienced the destruction of their natural landscapes the way Kalos and Unova had, largely due to a huge difference in cultures. They still have fauxkémon and Companions, but they're more products than pieces of the environment. As in, you don't find fauxkémon wandering around in the wild in the first four main game regions; you literally buy them from the store and treat them like virtual pets.

    Likewise, just as Ash can freely travel to any region and participate in as many leagues as he merry well pleases, trainers from all over the world can travel to Unova to participate, and in doing so, some bring teams consisting of real pokémon. The rule Sage mentioned is vital, then, because as Door pointed out, fauxkémon are stronger or otherwise more resilient than real pokémon, which means battles against them can get pretty brutal. Standard rules, however, allow the use of fauxkémon, and if an early gym leader includes that in their rules, it's generally assumed that they've set their teams to an easier level (as in, they've programmed their fauxkémon to have power limiters). The farther you go in the region, however, the more this rule implies that there's going to be more and more of a challenge because the gym leader will be less and less likely to have set their teams to have the aforementioned limiters. Additionally, some tournaments outlaw either fauxkémon or real pokémon, depending on what kind of challenge they'd like participants to tackle, and some early gyms import real pokémon and outlaw the use of fauxkémon to make things easier for new trainers or foreign trainers with low-leveled real pokémon.

    Tl;dr, while it's true that Unova doesn't have any real wild pokémon, it's also true that other regions still have stable populations, and Unova doesn't bar foreign trainers from taking on their league.

    Thanks for the question (and the review)! :D I have a lot of fun answering stuff about the worlds of my fics, so feel free to ask if anything else sounds weird.

    Otherwise, see you on Friday~! ;D
     
  13. Shattersoul

    Shattersoul Maniac

    Eww... I just realized
    that if by mistake a poor
    tourist brought a pet in

    The consequences
    would be quite... bloody painful.
    Are there warning signs?

    And how would the strength
    of already durable
    pokemon compare?

    What would be tougher?
    An Aggron of false metal,
    or a living one?

    (It's haiku week.
    I've decided to change things
    plus it is funny.)

    Still, the story is
    really good: I'll surely keep
    reading it. good luck!
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2016
  14. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    If you're like me, however... 8D


    Whoops!

    "...Well that was quick."

    (I am already having entirely too much fun with her name. I suspect you and I have that in common.)

    PFFFF. Love it.

    (It's a journey. :D)

    Because adorable. That's why.

    [​IMG]

    Door = best tour guide.

    IT IS TOTALLY SOMETHING, GEIST

    I GUESSED RIGHT :D

    Cute!

    Cute!!

    The hallmarks of immaturity and dweebishness.

    I don't even know if "dweebishness" is a word but damned if I didn't just use it.


    Anyway. LOVE this setting to small pieces. Glad I finally got the chance to check this one out. :D
     
  15. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    First and foremost, review response!

    [spoil]
    Haha, thanks! Sorry to hear that the fic section’s been kinda slow in terms of action as of late. It’s true that a lot of the good stuff these days consists of fics that take a bit to gain their momentum, but totes not forcing any recs on you or anything. Unless you want them. ;D

    But in any case, thanks for the compliment! :D Sorry that the next chapter’s going to be up a bit later than usual, though. On the road, so I’ll be missing the Friday upload time. However! There’s definitely going to be another chapter soon, and I hope it won’t disappoint!

    As for your other request…

    Absolutely! In fact, let this be the Official Electric Sheep Fauxkémon Tally (until I get off my arse and edit posts so the first one can have enough space to contain the table of contents and other stuff, anyway)!

    Side note: The following list just covers names, species, and whether or not they’re real. I took hilariously bad notes while running the Nuzlocke, so while I know what move was used in each battle, I don’t quite have in my notes what level each member was at what point or what their full movesets were. I’ll also have to go back and fill in natures, abilities, and the like, as when I was putting my notes sheet together, I was like, “Lmao, I don’t need to write those down. I’ll just consult my game for reference!” And although my game is right there, alas, writing quickly. D:

    [spoil]Door’s Team
    [Jack] Oshawott (M)
    Status: Real

    [Scout] Patrat (M)
    Status: Faux

    Belle’s Team
    Snivy (M)
    Status: Real

    Blair’s Team
    [Toto] Lillipup (F)
    Status: Faux

    [Wilbur] Tepig (M)
    Status: Real

    Gym leaders’ pokémon are typically faux unless otherwise noted (and made a big deal about).[/spoil][/spoil]

    That said, heeeeey, folks who may be reading this! Thanks for your patience when it comes to the hiatus and all. (Real life shenanigans. Long story.) We're now back in business, meaning we're back to posting weekly ... meaning aaaaaay.



    [CHAPTER SEVEN: STRIATON GYM]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “We called ahead,” Geist explained.

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

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

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

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

    “We’re in a French restaurant.”

    “Beyond that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “And if I sent a fire-type?”

    “Water. Like your pokémon.”

    “And a water-type?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I guess two days,” Door replied.

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

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

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

    “Spirited,” Sage commented. She tilted her head and reached into her own pocket. “I like that. All right, then! I won’t hold back, and neither should you! Brioche, go!”

    Sage tossed her poké ball to the center of the field, and Door followed suit. With a pair of flashes, two pokémon materialized on the battlefield: Scout and a puppy that looked exactly like Toto in every way. Door stiffened, remembering Blair for a second. She balled her hands into fists and hoped, at least, that this battle would end far, far differently.

    “Whenever you’re ready, challenger,” Sage said. “I’ll let you have the first move.”

    “Hold on! Door!”

    She broke her gaze away from the battle to glance towards the tables. Geist rose to his feet, his eyes locked on Scout.

    “I forgot to mention!” he called. “You’ve been using Scout for a lot of battles lately! That means he’s probably learned new moves by now. If Professor Ironwood taught you anything about the pokémon common to this region, think back on everything you know about patrat!”

    Sage chuckled, drawing her challenger’s attention back to the battle. “Your friend’s observant.”

    “He’s also got a point,” Door replied. Then, throwing her hand forward, she commanded, “Scout! Try Sand Attack!”

    Without even questioning the order, the patrat spun, swiping his paw down into the floor. The motion was clear to Door: Geist was right. Scout did know more moves. And that realization lifted her spirits, even though Scout’s paw did nothing more than grind against the floor. She didn’t entirely expect Scout to turn the floorboards into the dirt and sand needed for the technique she had ordered; in fact, she was convinced that nothing would happen at all. But now that she could see she hadn’t entirely wasted her turn, a new plan was quickly forming in her mind.

    “Not a strong start,” Sage quipped. “Brioche! Let’s show her how to really prepare for a battle! Work Up!”

    The puppy dropped itself low to the floor and emitted a steady growl. Red light swirled around its body as it visibly tensed, and its growl grew louder and louder. Then, at the last second, Brioche snapped back to its full height, threw its head back, and howled, and the light around it burst into a brilliant, red aura. To Door, the creature looked like it was on fire, and with that thought in mind, she ground her teeth together and took a step back. She knew what Work Up did. She had even seen pokémon in televised tournaments use it now and then. But now, faced with a pokémon that was using it to prepare for a strike against her, she had to shake off her nervousness before even thinking about fighting back.

    And then, she poured all her hope into a guess.

    “Scout, you’ve got to take that lillipup out quickly!” she shouted. “Use Crunch!”

    She didn’t expect anything to happen. She really didn’t. But then, to her shock, Scout opened his mouth wide, and a white light burst from his fangs. Before anyone could move, he barreled right for the lillipup, closing the short distance between them until he smashed his teeth into its shoulder. The puppy emitted a mechanical squeal as Scout’s jaws crunched straight through its fake fur and into its metal exoskeleton, and Brioche’s front legs flailed desperately against Scout’s tiny body. Then, with strength Door didn’t even know he had, Scout lashed once and released, sending the lillipup flying into the wall behind Sage. It slammed hard into it, leaving behind a dent as it crashed to the floor. When it struck the ground, it struggled back to its feet and blinked a few times, but before it could move back into the ring, Savory threw an arm into the air.

    “Stop!” Savory announced. “Brioche is out-of-bounds! Match goes to the challenger’s patrat!”

    Sage chuckled again and drew Brioche’s poké ball into the open. The puppy vanished with a flash of red light, and its trainer paused, grinning at her challenger.

    “My, my,” she said. “You’re a lot stronger than I would have thought for someone who’s only been a trainer for two days.”

    Door thought back to N and Blair and Amanita’s snivy again, and she shrugged at Sage’s comment. “It’s been a really long two days.”

    “So I see.” Sage pocketed Brioche’s ball and drew out a second one. “Well, Mademoiselle Hornbeam, I made the mistake of underestimating you once, but I’m not doing it again! Pomme, go!”

    She tossed the next ball into the ring. Door steeled herself, taking another deep breath as she waited. This was it. The grass-type. The gym-trained grass-type, no less. She couldn’t possibly risk sending out Jack at this point; given how little he had battled compared to Scout, Door knew he wouldn’t be able to stand his ground. So silently, she prayed that Scout’s victory against Sage’s lillipup wasn’t just a fluke.

    The light streaming from Sage’s next poké ball burst and faded away, and Door found herself staring at a green monkey. As the pansage glared at Scout with large, dark eyes, a confident smirk played across its cream-colored muzzle, and it lifted one mitten-shaped hand to send a challenging gesture towards Scout.

    And in that moment, Door decided that this match had to end quickly too.

    “Okay, Scout!” she shouted. “Open up with Crunch again!”

    Scout launched forward, white light swirling around his buck teeth once more. Yet despite the threat Scout posed and the short distance between them, the pansage didn’t move, not even to let its smirk fade. It was only at the last second that the pokémon shifted, holding up its left arm to block Scout’s attack, and when the rodent’s teeth clamped down on the monkey’s arm, it didn’t even squeal. It simply stood there, legs braced against the floor, as it held Scout at bay using just one arm.

    “Pomme, throw it use and Work Up!” Sage commanded.

    In what looked like a mockery of Scout’s move against its teammate, Pomme swung its arm down, threw the patrat off his feet, and tossed him across the field. Door tensed as she watched Scout tumble, her breath catching in her throat until he came to a stop just an inch from the very edge of the field. Then, she exhaled slowly and watched as, across the way, the pansage engulfed itself in a familiar red aura. Its eyes glinted, and its smirk grew more vicious as the monkey let out a low growl of its own. Pomme was certainly more of a challenge than Brioche, and because of that, Door hesitated, thinking hard about how to tackle this opponent without getting Scout knocked out.

    Tackle this opponent.

    Tackle.

    Door’s eyes fell on the pansage’s arm. Even through the red light surrounding it, she could see the faint sparking emitting from the break in its “flesh.” That alone gave her an idea.

    “Scout!” she said. “Tackle! Approach it from the right!”

    “Pomme, don’t let it get close!” Sage countered. “Vine Whip!”

    The two pokémon moved almost simultaneously. Scout bounded forward on all fours, rushing towards Pomme in an arc. At the same time, Pomme twirled to swing its tail in an arc around itself. A green light flashed from the tip of the pansage’s tail, and the leaves adorning it twisted and lashed outward into a lithe, green vine. Grabbing it with one hand, Pomme smashed its new whip into the floor just inches from Scout’s face, splintering the boards instantly. Scout leapt over the whip and continued bounding toward Pomme, but the pansage swung its tail again to lash it at the rodent. Despite how close he was, Scout was still far too quick for the monkey, and once more, the tail slammed into the floorboards.

    Grinning, Door cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, “Keep it up, Scout! When you’re close enough, Crunch Pomme’s weak point!”

    Scout leapt over Pomme’s last Vine Whip and shot directly at the monkey’s broken arm. His glowing teeth clamped down on it, and he jerked his head, tearing it clean out of its socket with a loud snap. Sparks flew from the pansage’s damaged side as it reeled back and screamed. And then, it swung around, slamming its tail into Scout’s side. Scout was thrown off his feet, and seemingly on instinct, he released Pomme’s broken arm just before he crashed back down onto the battlefield. The arm clattered away, coming to a rest just outside of the ring, while Scout struggled to stand. His side had been torn open by Pomme’s Vine Whip, just enough to expose his slick exoskeleton, and Door hesitated at the sight of it.

    “Pomme, let’s return the favor!” Sage said with a grin. “Vine Whip the patrat’s weak point!”

    Door shook off her shock and threw a hand forward. “Counter with Crunch!”

    With its good hand, Pomme snatched its tail and lashed out, swinging it once again at Scout. This time, Scout was ready. He opened his mouth and crouched down, and as the vine slammed into his face, he twisted and clamped onto it with his glowing fangs. At the sight of this, Door grinned and balled her hands into fists. She could feel her confidence pouring back into her.

    “All right, Scout!” she said. “Toss it!”

    Scout spun, jerking Pomme with him until the monkey was ripped off its feet. Then, with a snap, Scout threw his opponent into the air as hard as he could, and Pomme shot like a bullet to the ceiling and smashed into a light fixture. Its body burst into a brilliant, white light as sparks rained down on the battlefield. Scout chirruped and dashed back to Door’s feet, narrowly missing the rain of electricity … as well as Pomme’s charred and broken body. The pansage slammed hard into the floor, and although its eyes flickered, it otherwise fell still.

    “Pomme is unable to battle!” Savory announced. “Match goes to the patrat, and with two victories against the gym leader, the challenger wins!”

    Door couldn’t help herself. She shouted once with joy, then swooped down to scoop Scout into her arms. Without thinking, she held him close, ignoring his squirming protests.

    “Oh man, that was awesome!” she shouted.

    “Indeed it was,” Sage replied. She strode forward, recalling her pokémon as she approached Door. “My goodness, that battle did a number on my pansage.”

    At once, Door froze, her smile fading quickly. “Oh. I … sorry. I-I didn’t mean to—”

    Sage chuckled and held up a hand calmly. “It’s all right. I’ve had Pomme’s core reinforced specifically because of how intense gym battles can get. The rest of him can be easily replaced.” She pocketed the ball and turned her sheepish grin towards Door. “I can’t tell you how many times Pomme has been overwhelmed like that. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He just wants to do his best for me.” Sage sighed. “I know it sounds barbaric, but it’s a comfort, really. No matter what happens, your best friend will always be okay.”

    Door gave her an uncertain look. That did sound barbaric to her. Why would anyone want to let their friends battle in the first place if they were just going to get injured that badly? Back in the days of Hilda King’s first journey, there were regulations and rules and restrictions put in place to prevent real pokémon from getting injured. In Door’s opinion, ever since fake pokémon became the norm, people forgot how to have a proper battle. Sure, the rules and restrictions were never lifted—and they were observed whenever a foreigner brought a real pokémon into a match—but no one cared if battles between fake pokémon got extreme. So now, battles didn’t have the same spirit that they used to. And Door thought that was a shame.

    Still, she said nothing as Sage stood before her and shrugged.

    “In any case, that was a great battle, young lady,” she said. “What you did with Pomme’s arm was particularly clever, and tossing Brioche out of the ring was a fantastic idea. My only criticism is don’t be afraid to use a variety of techniques. You were relying on Crunch quite a bit throughout your second match. A great trainer knows how to hold back their power and rely on a variety of moves to outwit their opponent.”

    Door took a deep breath. She remained silent, even as the temptation to point out the fact that she won nagged at her mind. Instead, she watched as Savory and Sumac joined their cousin on the battlefield. Sumac drew out of his pocket a small, velvet cube the size and shape of a ring box, and cracking it open, he presented its contents to Door. She glanced down and took in the sight of the object: a small piece of gold in the shape of three diamonds in a chain. Each diamond was inlaid with a different jewel—sapphire, ruby, emerald—and as Sumac held it up, it glittered in the remaining light of the dining room.

    With a sharp inhale, Door mentally put a name to this object. Of course she knew what it was. She had seen it in so many pictures, and she secretly envied the people who had the opportunity to hold it. So, as she placed Scout on her shoulder and reached for the trinket, her hand began to shake … and continued to shake even after she grasped its warm surface between her fingers.

    “Nonetheless,” Sage continued, “you battled well, and in recognition of your victory against the Striaton Gym, we, the gym leaders, present you with the Trio Badge. Congratulations, Door Hornbeam.”

    Door swallowed hard. “I … I can’t believe it. I finally…” She looked up and couldn’t help but crack a grin. “Thank you. It was an honor battling you.”

    She held out a hand for Sage to shake, and as the woman grasped it and pumped it once, she smiled broadly.

    “Now, if I recall correctly, my cousin always offers the challenger a second, bigger reward,” she said. “A meal on the house, perhaps? I’m sure we could—”

    “Excuse me! Terribly sorry!”

    Door and the three gym leaders turned their heads to Geist, who stood at the edge of the battlefield. In his hand was a communication device. Its screen was still glowing from recent use. Glancing at his face, Door noticed that he was looking at her with not an expression of elation over her victory but instead a solemn glare.

    “Door, we need to go. Now that you have the Trio Badge, that should get us into the Dreamyard,” he said.

    “What’s going on?” she asked. “I mean … I won. That’s a good thing, right?”

    “Oh, it is,” Geist replied, “but I just got a call from Dr. Fennel. Something’s going on over there. It’s covered in a fog of dream smoke.”

    “Dream smoke?” Door whispered. She looked back at the gym leaders to find them exchanging glances.

    “I can’t go,” Sage said. “Not with my pokémon out of commission.”

    “And I’d better stay here to man the restaurant,” Sumac added.

    Savory didn’t even need a cue. He was already taking off his apron, and the moment Sumac finished, he tossed it at him. “I’ll go. Don’t worry about it.”

    “Wait, what?” Door said. “I mean … isn’t it important for you to stay at the gym?”

    “On the contrary. As gym leaders, it’s our responsibility to lend a hand whenever something unusual is happening in our city, especially if it’s not yet clear whether or not the police should be involved.” Savory walked forward and put his hands on his hips. “Are your pokémon ready for another battle?”

    “Sure,” Door said with a blink. “I’ve got one other pokémon, and Scout seems tough enough.”

    The patrat punctuated this thought with a slow blink and a rumbling bark, and Savory responded with a smirk and a gentle pat on the rodent’s head.

    “All right,” he said. “Then let’s go.”
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2017
  16. kingferret53

    kingferret53 A duel well fought..

    Lmao, she caught an audino! That's freaking hilarious!!

    I knew Geist was a companio! I kinda wish the reveal would have been done later in a shocking sad twist or something though. Lol

    I am obsessed with this story. I am working on a book that involves A.I.'s with freewill and I love how you've potrayed the companions and pokemon as false to our eyes, but real to their own. Makes one wonder how wild fauxkemon interact. Do they hunt? Eat? Sleep? Drink? Do they breed or defend their territory?

    And I am quite curious how you'll handle mega-evolution. Which I hope you'll include, despite not many fifth generation having one or that it was even in the fifth gen. Like, can only fauxkemon mega-evolve? Or only real? If fauxkemon can, then how? Regular evolution alone would take on a lot of energy, even for a real pokemon. Much less mega-evolution. How do fauxkemon even get energy? Pokecenters only? Come to think of it, how do they heal? Are the covered in a bio - organic skin? If so, would they be considered alive?

    Lol, sorry for all the questions, I'm quite curious though. I really hope this story keeps evolving into a deep fiction questioning morality and what's real and not. I love it!!
     
  17. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Aww yeah, it’s the weekend! And you know what that means~! 8D

    But first, review response!

    Ikr? I thought it was too because I was totally aiming for a musharna or something (idk, super-wishful thinking), but then…

    …Well. I don’t want to give away spoilers. ;D

    Haha, if you’re hoping for shocking, sad twists at all, rest assured there will be some. This fic can’t be entirely fun and games, after all. ;D

    Aww, shucks. Thanks so much! Gotta say, though, I am super-down for anything involving AI and free will. Keep me updated on your book. 8D Will it be posted here at all, or is this legit, like, a self-published endeavor? (Feeeel free to tap me via VM to avoid derailing the topic and to give yourself enough space to talk at length about this project. ;D)

    As for your question, awesome one there. To answer, they don’t eat or drink, although predator pokémon will still hunt after prey. Like, you will totally see a liepard stalk and “kill” audino, but that just results one breaking the other, not in feeding or anything. No digestive systems, after all.

    Likewise, they don’t actually breed, but they can mimic courtship behaviors if left in the wild for extended periods of time. Otherwise, the fauxkémon populations remain steady simply because new ones are manufactured and released on a regular basis. It kinda helps that the same people who run the storage system are also the ones responsible for fauxkémon. Because of that, it’s easy for that company to keep tabs on how many of pokémon X are in Route Y by keeping track of how many trainers have caught them on any given day. So if a bunch of people catch patrat in Route 1, that pings the system, which in turn tells Halcyon Labs (the folks behind the fauxkémon) to send the League more patrat. The League records how many patrat have been made in order to keep track of population stability, then releases the patrat into the wild for other trainers to go out and catch. Totally an egg-free process, in other words.

    However! They do “sleep.” And by “sleep,” I mean they retreat to battery stations hidden throughout each route (usually in fake rocks, trees, or burrows) to recharge. Even pokémon with the abilities Insomnia and Vital Spirit do this; they just don’t look like they’re sleeping when they do, whereas other pokémon will actually shut their eyes and mimic the breathing patterns their living counterparts go through when asleep. Fauxkémon are programmed to follow the same sorts of sleeping patterns as their living counterparts (meaning there are diurnal and nocturnal fauxkémon), but generally, the poké ball overrides this behavior and forces the fauxkémon to sleep whenever its trainer lets it (or whenever it runs out of battery).

    And also, they totally defend their territory as well. Granted, they’re programmed to go easy on humans (unless a human is wandering too close to the boundaries of the safe zone), but towards each other, they will totally fight one another for the sake of keeping a hold on their respective territories. It adds to the realism the League’s trying to create and maintain with each route. *nod*

    Haha, I have to admit, due to a lack of Key Stones and Mega Stones in Unova (like, legit lack of ‘em), mega evolution won’t be a thing in this leg of the story.

    However, Electric Sheep spans two books (like … it just kinda does because unlike other fics I’ve written, it literally is impossible to finish the story in one go), the second of which takes place in Kalos. And there, mega evolution will definitely be a thing.

    Evolution in general is an interesting concept because it’s complicated for real pokémon but actually kinda straightforward for fauxkémon. Comparatively, anyway. There’s much less biochemistry, is what I mean.

    To start things off, an explanation. Unlike real pokémon, fauxkémon have software, yeah? Well, that software is like a video game with no interface for the stats screen. So battling for Door is a lot like watching your Pokémon game when you have no HP bar and no access to the Pokémon menu. But! Fauxkémon still record “stats”—as in, levels and how much experience they need to get to the next one. (Levels have no relevance to their battling capabilities.) They gain levels very similarly to how in-game pokémon do it as well: just by battling a lot of other pokémon and keeping count of how many they’ve defeated.

    For most fauxkémon, if the level they’ve recorded matches the level they need to evolve, then they undergo evolution in the same way a Transformer, well, transforms, in that their bodies are partly reconfigured from parts they already have. I say “partly” because there’s also a little bit of teleportation tech running within their main core (yet another reason why it’s useful that the storage system admins and the teams who create fauxkémon are the same people), so some parts are beamed in from the Halycon Lab factories, free of charge.

    There are, of course, other types of evolution than this, so as a quick run down:

    Stone evolutions involve fauxkémon whose evolutionary level is set to 0 according to their software (meaning they can do it at any time). The only thing preventing them from doing it is the fact that the stone is actually a vital component needed for their next form, either because the element stored inside it is integrated into the next evolution or because the stone itself is broken down and used somehow.

    Hold item evolutions work basically the same way as the above, except the evolutionary level is x+1, meaning their software will check on each “level up” to see if the fauxkémon is in physical contact with the necessary item. If they are, then evolution is triggered.

    Move-specific evolutions and other off-beat evolutions (like inkay’s) are similar to the above, except the pokémon’s software checks for conditions other than hold item.

    Trade evolutions (including hold item trades) require the use of a PC in order to complete. Basically, what happens is that in the middle of trading, the trade machine sends a signal to the Halcyon factory, which responds by importing the large amounts of data and parts needed for the evolution in question, simply by tapping into that same line.

    Happiness evolutions. Probably one of the most uncomfortable to talk about, but they can also happen at any time. In that they’re triggered by the trainer, not the pokémon. As in, if the trainer decides they want a swoobat or a leavanny, then they tell their woobat or swadloon to evolve, and they do, no questions asked.

    Well! Depends on what you mean by “energy.” If you mean battery power, besides the aforementioned recharge stations for wild pokémon, there are two ways for trained fauxkémon. The first is that Nurse Joys just automatically do it whenever you hand over your team. The second is by recalling your pokémon and letting your poké ball’s internal battery do it (or your Companion’s, if you have a Companion equipped with portable batteries). The second method is far slower and more inefficient than the pokémon center method, so it’s really in a trainer’s best interest to make it to the next city as soon as possible. Luckily, as Unova’s more developed than it had been fifty years ago, it’d be unusual if a trainer was too far from a pokémon center at the end of the day.

    Ah, healing. That’s an interesting topic. Before I get into it, lemme address the second question first.

    For the most part, most of a fauxkémon’s system is inorganic, yet can still be healed. This might seem unusual, but hey, this is the same universe where you can heal your porygon’s wounds by making it drink lemonade. What separates a fauxkémon from its real counterpart, including fake porygon, is the specific makeup of the subject in question. Fauxkémon come with “cores,” or internal computers that map out their exact behaviors, among other things. That’s in contrast to real pokémon, even porygon, who all possess some level of free will and an often inexplicable way to maintain this. (Pokémon minds and nervous systems are a subject of perpetual mystery to the research community. Like, how does something like beldum think? Where is its brain? What is its brain?) That and say you have an oshawott. A real one will be made of flesh and blood, but a fake one will usually be made of a metal skeleton surrounding a whole lotta hardware and topped off with a skin-like compound. 100% fake, in other words. (Unlike Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, in other words.)

    So when a fauxkémon gets healed, what is usually actually meant is that they’re taken in for repairs (or a trainer repairs them on the road). But! There’s a rather interesting little asterisk attached to this note.

    While extensive damage and routine daily checkups require actual, hands-on maintenance (performed at any pokémon center and amounting to exactly what you’d think—like, actual people sitting down to hammer out dents, replace broken parts, and so forth), it’s possible to do a quick fix by technomagic shenanigans. You kinda sorta saw it going on when Geist healed the munna in the Dreamyard, and you sort of see it canonically with the game’s healing machine. (Yes, yes, I know that’s a game mechanic and shouldn’t be taken literally.) But long story short, Companions have the ability to convert certain items, such as bottles of fresh water and potions, into healing charges of different strengths, which they can then apply to pokémon via the transmission pads on their palms in the form of light. Relevance? It’s like a hyper form of UV of wound care, a la this. For real pokémon, what this does is push their bodies’ own healing abilities into overdrive, so while wounds may take a bit of time to fully heal (the munna’s bruises didn’t vanish instantly, for example), it still happens so quickly you can watch it. For fauxkémon, they have their own “internal healing system” too, but it’s more like they’re self-repairing. The light Companions shine on them just triggers them to do it.

    Of course, it’s also possible to heal without a Companion. Pokémon centers have machines that do essentially the same thing, and Companion-less trainers can go to any shop to trade in their healing items for cubes that emit the aforementioned light when activated. It’s just that it’s more convenient when you have a Companion do it because they can heal your team on the side while you’re battling—meaning healing’s a free turn if you have a Companion.

    Haha, no worries about the questions! Keep ‘em coming! :D All of them have made me think more about this world. Like, that last one especially had me hammering out details I kinda had but never really developed fully, so!

    In short, thank you for the review, and don’t hesitate to keep on asking~! ;D

    That all said, aaaay, chapter! As a side note, for those of you who aren’t familiar with my general body of work, I just hope you enjoy. For those of you who are, please note that I am sorry for exactly nothing here. 8)

    (Chapter to come in the next post because haha, I broke the character limit.)
     
  18. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    IT’S SATURDAY BUT HEY. 8D

    [spoil]
    This may just be the most impressive review I’ve ever gotten, ngl. XD

    (Readers, this means I’m challenging any and all of you to reviewing in iambic pentameter. Or a limerick. ...Actually, do a limerick. That’d be great.)

    Anyway! To answer your question, there’s absolutely forewarning there. Unova’s ecological disaster was pretty well reported because some folks aren’t Hoenn. :D *flee!*

    No, but really, yep, it legit made international news when Unova accidentally drove everything into extinction. Doubly so because that money they needed to establish some kind of natural growth in order to not die had to come from somewhere. They owe Johto, like, a metric ton of money right now, ngl.

    So pretty much, tourists would know going into Unova that it’s full of animatronic pokémon, and some, like the foreign trainers I’d mentioned in the earlier post, go there specifically because of the animatronic pokémon. (Novelty and a challenge!) But! When it comes to folks bringing pets in, there’re actually three bits of info working in tandem to prevent pets from being brutally massacred by fauxkémon:

    1. The cities are actually pretty strictly divided up. You’ll get a slightly better look at it in the Nacrene chapter, but the Unovan government understood that trainers and tourists don’t really want to deal with locals or each other. So you have routes that specifically channel trainers from area to area (based on what would interest a trainer the most) and other roads that channel tourists from safe spots to safe spots. Likewise, battles tend to happen outside of the city on routes, and tourists who aren’t there to train can easily bypass those through the car system Door had mentioned waaaay back in chapter two. (Short explanation of that: Either driver-controlled or driverless, magnetically-levitated, electric taxi. If you’re rich, you’d be able to afford the driverless variant. If you’re well-off, you can have a driver-controlled taxi. And if you were as poor as Door and Geist, you ****ing walk. Luckily, only native Unovans and Companions are that poor.) Or tl;dr, trainers don't normally interact with tourists that much.

    2. Unova’s reputation as being a crime-stricken region is an effective ordinary tourist deterrent. 8D No, but forreal, you’ll see this more in Nacrene too, but Unova is not really known as being the most ideal tourist destination to begin with. And given that real pokémon are rare there, if you travel with a real pet, then there is a very, very good chance that you’re gonna get robbed. Unless you’re in the safe area or all of Nuvema (which, okay, is one giant safe zone anyway). This is kinda why there’s a lot of focus on tourists who are trainers and the facilities for them: because as that’s where the money is, Unova bends over backwards to please them. But that’s all relevant because it means that the majority of the tourists who do come with real pokémon are the kind who can pretty much fight off anything anyway.

    3. And this is also why folks travel with Companions. XD Usually, if you’re with something that looks human but not quite right, that means you’re with a Companion, and if you’re with a Companion that looks like that, you are most likely a trainer. (Non-trainers have Companions also, but they tend to look a little different. For example, you already know about research Companions, but a civilian Companion will always be dressed rather fashionably and in extremely impractical ways for traveling because those Companions are owned by rather wealthy clients who like to keep them as decorative butlers.) On top of that, most Companions actually act like Geist, so most of them will be very willing to tell you when you’re about to battle something that you shouldn’t be battling (like someone’s pet).

    So tl;dr, it is really, really hard to get a pet hurt. *nod*

    That said, your other question is an excellent one! And the answer to that is … the difference is negligible by that point. Think of it like having a graph where one line is a straight one going up diagonally, and the other is a curve getting closer and closer to it. When talking about weaker, fleshier pokémon, there is a huge difference between the two, but the tougher skin or stronger general body structure a pokémon has, the closer it is to being on-par with a fauxkémon. Eventually, with the right training or the right pokémon, you can have something that can withstand being stabbed by two or more rows of knives all at once. But because fauxkémon are actually designed very deliberately by humans, they tend to be ever-so-slightly better at the not-dying thing. So if you took a real aggron and compared it to a fake, the real will have slightly more brittle skin because its skin is made of metal that might not be completely free from imperfection, whereas the fake aggron will have skin made from the same kind of metal but with all the imperfections forged out of it. Also, the typical fauxkémon skeleton is a highly durable titanium alloy, soooo … it kinda has a one-up on the real one there too. Just in terms of defense, that is. In terms of strength, it literally depends on how well you train them because their strength’s just about the same. *nod*

    That all said, thanks so much for the awesome review and for the equally awesome questions! Here’s hoping this next chapter won’t disappoint~! ;D

    WELCOME BACK TO MY WORLD, SIKE. 8D

    Omfg, I forgot how amazing Professor Oak is in the anime.

    Haha YOU HAVE NO IDEA. But on the other hand, it gets super awkward when writing indoor scenes. Like, “Door started walking towards the … wait, ****.”

    Luckily, you will see more of Linus and narrative shenanigans about Linus. 8D Eventually!

    Yeeeep. She’s kidding exactly no one.

    WHICH IS AN EXCELLENT EXCUSE AS ANY.

    Chargestone Cave = Five Nights at Ferroseed’s.

    Haha, we should be lucky there aren’t any dams in Unova, else Door’s inability to give a **** would catapult the fic into PG-13 range just based on language alone. (“And here we have a dam. It’s a dam, and I don’t understand why you’re so fascinated by a dam, so just take your dam pictures so we can continue on this dam tour until you get to the dam gift shop, where you can buy your dam plastic crap to commemorate the fact that you are, in fact, so deprived of joy in your life that you would give a damn about this. ...Wait, crap, that last one isn’t a pun.”)

    HE’S KIDDING EXACTLY NO ONE TOO. 8)

    *epic high five!*

    Jack totally is. 8D He’s made me like the oshawott line, just because TINY OTTER WHO NUZZLES THINGS FOR FUN.

    TEPIG TOO. Unova babby starters, in general, are ridiculously adorable I can’t even.

    And here we have a perfect summary of Door’s entire character. :D

    After writing the word “dam” so many times, this amuses me more than it really should.

    Thank you~! Glad to see you around (and hear that you like my setting)! 8D Believe me, I am soooo not done showing it off, either. 8D 8D 8D[/spoil]

    THAT SAID, DID SOMEONE SAY IT’S TOTALLY STILL FRIDAY WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?



    [CHAPTER EIGHT: DREAMYARD]

    A thick, pink cloud hung over the Dreamyard. Literally, a thick, pink cloud, like a vicious cross between cotton candy and fog. Door hesitated for a moment as she stood outside the gates to the abandoned laboratory, and she did so entirely because she needed a moment to take in the fact that she was staring at a cloud of bubblegum barely confined within the boundaries of a dilapidated, brick wall guarded by a single, willowy tree.

    And then, Savory tapped her on the shoulder. “Miss Hornbeam?”

    “Apologies, Savory,” Geist said. “Miss Hornbeam is unused to the kinds of anomalies you would find around Striaton. Nuvema City is comparatively quiet, so I’ve heard.”

    Door jabbed a thumb towards the cloud and sent Geist an incredulous look. “This happens often?!” she squeaked.

    He sent her a sideways glance and replied, “Well. Not here, it doesn’t. Tuesdays at Dr. Fennel’s, however—”

    “If the both of you are done,” Savory said, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “the longer we spend messing around out here, the longer it’ll take to clean this up.”

    “Ah! Of course.” Geist motioned to Savory. “Lead the way, then.”

    With a huff, Savory reached into one of his pants pockets and drew out a poké ball. Tossing it into the air, he announced, “Cut!”

    The ball cracked open, and a flash of white light shot at the tree. The pokémon Savory had released moved too quickly for Door to watch. One moment, she was staring at the ball, and in the next, the top half of the tree slid off its trunk and crashed onto the ground at their feet. Door jumped, glancing from the tree to Savory, just in time to see a pansear land on his shoulder. Savory stopped, studying the tree with a frown.

    “That was a new spindle tree,” he said. “Someone’s been through here recently.”

    Spindle tree. That’s right. Door had heard of them but for whatever reason, Nuvema never really grew them. They were thin trees, genetically modified to resemble old berry bushes from the old days, back when Unova was far greener than it was then. Most towns had spindle trees to create more of a challenge, something a little extra that the kids with fake pokémon and equally fake trainer’s licenses could chew on, but others—like the gym leaders of Striaton, Door guessed—used them to guard places. And they were exceptional at that job: thorny, hardy, fire-resistant, and liable to snap a sharp, scraggly branch off on one’s arm. Not at all easy to clear, in other words … unless one had pokémon that knew a very specific move designed to cut straight through their well-guarded but spindly trunks, anyway.

    But even then, that only allowed passage for a good fifteen minutes before the tree grew back, and sure enough, even as Savory, Door, and Geist stared at the tree, a sprout was beginning to form on its severed trunk. Savory shrugged his pansear off his shoulder, and without waiting for another command, the monkey shrieked, flung itself at the trunk, and sheared off the sprout before it could shoot back up into a fully grown tree.

    “How can you tell?” Door finally asked.

    “Trunk was green,” Savory responded as he helped his pokémon back onto his shoulder. “It didn’t have enough time to turn white again.”

    “You can tell in this fog?” Door scoffed.

    “I’m guessing that’s why we’re waiting,” Geist said, cutting Savory off before he could acknowledge Door.

    Savory didn’t seem to notice Geist’s interruption; he only nodded to his comment. “Taking inventory. Door’s got a patrat that’s already been through a rough battle, and given the fact that she’s faced Sage, I assume her other pokémon is a water-type that she hasn’t used.”

    “Right. An oshawott,” Door said.

    “I’ve got a pansear and a lillipup that are ready to battle, but I don’t have any healing units,” Savory continued.

    “Why not?” Door asked.

    “Rushed out the door and forgot.”

    “That’s very…”

    He leered at her. “Stereotypical for a fire trainer?”

    Door held up her hands. “Inconvenient! I was gonna say inconvenient!”

    Savory relaxed, but his frown didn’t waver. “Yeah, well, besides, I figured you had at least one. Your Companion did order two bottles of fresh water right before the match, after all.”

    “Okay, what does that have to—” Door jolted. Her mind took a second to process what Savory had said, and then, swiveling around to glare at Geist, she snapped, “And now you’re being open about it?!”

    “Being open about what?” he asked.

    “That you’re a Companion!”

    Geist gave her a sheepish smile and held up his hands, and Door leaned a little closer to see what he was showing her. They were subtle, but they were there: the edges of the panels hiding the transmitter pads in his palms. He even tapped a spot on one of his wrists to open them up, and her eyes narrowed as she stared at the round, white screens beneath them.

    “What the hell was all that about back in Accumula, then?!” she demanded. “When I asked you the first time if you were a Companion, why did you pretend you weren’t?!”

    He frowned. “I do apologize, Door, but I didn’t outright tell you whether or not I was because you had just finished explaining why Companions made you deeply uncomfortable. So instead, I asked you why you thought I was a Companion. That wasn’t technically a denial.”

    She had to admit, he had a point. Except she wasn’t about to say that out loud, so instead, she merely continued to glare at him.

    It took a few more moments for Savory to ask, “How in God’s name did you not know that was a Companion?”

    “If I recall correctly, which I have been designed to do, you didn’t either the first time we met,” Geist replied. “Incidentally, the tree grew back.”

    Savory growled and shrugged his pansear off his shoulder. For a second time, the monkey screeched, launched itself at the tree, and sliced it in half. This time, however, the banging of the tree against the ground was accompanied by a whimper from the other side. At that, Savory held up a hand, as if to stop Door and Geist from advancing.

    “I was right,” he muttered. “There is someone there. You! Come out with your hands where we can see them! If you have pokémon with you, make them lead!”

    And then, the last voice Door had expected to hear squeaked from the other side.

    “I-I can’t! My Companion…”

    “What—crap,” Door hissed. She pushed past Savory and launched herself at the hole. “Blair?! Blair! Hold on!”

    “Door?!” Blair squeaked.

    Before either of her partners could stop her, Door vaulted over the stump of the spindle tree and rounded the corner of the wall. On the other side was Blair, who in turn was just barely holding up Opal. As she approached, Door felt a cold, sick feeling well up in her stomach. Opal wasn’t active, and Door could see why right away. Any Companion would have a difficult time operating with a gaping hole in their stomach, right where their power cells should have been.

    “Blair … crap,” Door whispered.

    She slowed to a stop, and her eyes flicked to the trainer. Blair stood shakily beneath the weight of her Companion, with one of the android’s arms wrapped around her thin shoulders. Tears streamed down her face as she stared helplessly at Door.

    “What happened?” Door asked quietly.

    Blair shook her head. “I … I saw the cloud. I-I went in to see what was going on … and then … and then…” She swallowed hard.

    Door reached out to grab Opal and help Blair set her on the ground. As soon as the Companion’s weight was off the trainer’s shoulders, Door reached out to pat Blair’s arm awkwardly.

    “Hey. Everything’s gonna be fine. I’ve got the gym leader with me. We’ll figure out what’s up, okay?” she said. Then, throwing a glance over her shoulder, she shouted, “Yo! Little help here?!”

    The fog swirled behind her and parted to let Savory and Geist through. Geist stood back, freezing as soon as he saw Opal’s condition. Savory, meanwhile, took a few more steps forward and knelt beside her.

    “Jesus,” he muttered, resting a hand on the edge of the gaping hole in Opal’s chest. “Did you see who did this?”

    Blair forced herself to nod. Then, she pointed to the right, deeper into the Dreamyard, and bit her lip. Door narrowed her eyes and rose to her feet, and then, without a word, she turned and dashed in the direction Blair was pointing.

    “Door!” Geist shouted. “Wait! You don’t know what’s in there! Savory—”

    She didn’t stop. Rather, Door dashed forward, into the pink cloud, even if she could barely see anything in front of her. Tall grass whipped at her legs, and rocks and broken tiles felt like they were reaching up and grabbing her feet. But still she ran, deep into the Dreamyard on the hunt for something—anything—that could have done what it did to Blair.

    And then, without warning, a red blur shot at her from the side. She stumbled, reeling back just in time to see the blur pass her and disappear into the pink. A chattering growl rushed around her, one she could recognize immediately: a patrat. Her heart beat furiously as she listened to it, desperately keeping track of where she thought it was. How strong was it? Could the thing use Crunch? Door slipped her hand into her pocket, fumbling for Scout’s poké ball, but even when her fingers closed on it, she hesitated. Scout had just been through an intense battle, one that left him battered and torn. Could he stand another one?

    Before she could answer, the chattering stopped right behind her, and her stomach felt like its bottom dropped out. Swallowing hard, she turned, her foot scuffing against the ground.

    And the moment she faced the way she had come, a patrat shot at her face, mouth open and screaming. Door flinched, stumbling backwards as her arms flew up to shield herself, but the attack she had been expecting never connected. Instead, she heard a thump and felt a warm object squirm at her feet, and when she opened her eyes, she saw Savory’s pansear pinning the patrat to the ground. Door took another few steps backwards and scanned the pink fog for any sign of Savory or Geist. Her eyes fell on a tall, shadowy figure just to her right, and part of her relaxed … until she heard Geist’s voice coming from her left.

    “Door! Get out of the way!”

    She jumped, stumbling backwards just in time to see the man in black—the Companion who had helped steal Geist’s snivy—appear out of the pink cloud to reach for her. Another set of arms circled her waist, and before she could protest, she was lifted into the air and carried several feet back in one smooth leap. Then, whoever held her kept going, bounding in a wide circle around the man and the two pokémon until coming to a stop deeper in the Dreamyard. As soon as she was brought back down to the earth, Door twisted in her captor’s grasp to see Geist glaring into the cloud.

    “Shh. Starr, that Companion … he’s scanning for us. If he can’t pick up on our voices, it should take him a few more moments to locate us,” he said. Then, lowering himself a little more, he added, “Listen. I know you don’t trust Companions, but right now, you’re going to need me. Companions are designed for situations like these; I can detect them just by their heat and electrical signatures, rather than by visuals.”

    “Them?” Door whispered.

    Geist nodded. “Starr hasn’t moved. His partner, Belle? She’s on the roof.” He paused to point upwards, at a spot just above where he and Door had started. “Savory’s pansear is pinning Patrat to the ground. I’ve given him the order to keep it busy until you’re ready to battle. Savory himself is protecting Blair with his lillipup behind us.”

    Door flashed an incredulous look at Geist. “You gave Savory’s pansear an—”

    “Yes. No time to explain that,” he said quickly. “I’m detecting that Belle’s purrloin is right beside her, and that’s not all, either. I think I know what’s causing this flood of dream smoke.”

    “A munna?” Door asked.

    Geist nodded. “Held down by the purrloin.” He flicked her eyes to her. “Door, Scout isn’t in any condition to battle two pokémon. I could lend you Savory’s pansear or … we can go with an alternative I’m not sure you’ll like.”

    “What’s the alternative?”

    “Jack.”

    “I can’t—” Door hissed.

    Geist snapped his hand over her mouth and sucked in a breath through his teeth. By the way he was staring at the fog ahead of him, Door guessed he was scanning the area for Starr again. Then, when he was satisfied, he relaxed, albeit just slightly.

    “I thought you wouldn’t like that,” he whispered, “but listen. Jack can keep his distance. He knows Water Gun now. Hold onto him, and I’ll carry you and tell you where to shoot. We can keep Jack safe and fight off Belle and Starr at the same time. Sound like a plan?”

    Door slumped her shoulders and stared at Geist for a second. She glanced toward the spot where he said the munna was, and for a second, she thought about her situation. That munna had to be real. This was the Dreamyard, the new cradle for real, flesh-and-blood pokémon. There was no way she could let those two thieves ruin the future of Unova, just like that.

    But before she could say anything, Geist gasped, wrapped his arms around her, and jumped. She felt the wind of something pass beneath her, heard the slamming of a hard object into dirt, and watched as Starr’s black-clad back vanished into the fog. Geist landed on what felt like a crumbling walkway, far above where the two had started. Door felt its rotting concrete beneath her toes and was just slightly grateful that Geist refused to set her down.

    “Ugh, I’m getting so bored!” Belle shouted from somewhere in the pink. “Hurry up and fight, or are you and your Companion friend too spineless to be interesting?”

    “What do you even want?!” Door shouted. Her hand slid into her pocket, shoving aside Scout’s poké ball to grasp Jack’s. With a quick glance over her shoulder, she nodded to Geist.

    “What do we even want?!” Belle repeated. “Why, just a little bit of fun … and chaos!”

    “Great. A drama queen who can’t even come up with something creative,” Door replied as loudly as she could.

    “I heard that!”

    “That’s the point!”

    Door’s voice masked the sound of Jack’s ball expanding and opening in her hand, but it did nothing to smother the excited barking of the otter as soon as he materialized. Quickly shoving the ball back into her pocket, Door frantically covered Jack’s mouth as Geist shot them both a terrified look. Seconds later, he was leaping into the air, narrowly dodging a punch from Starr. He landed on the ground and dashed forward, still carrying Door in his arms, much to her surprise.

    “Patrat straight ahead!” he shouted. “Pansear, get ready!”

    With a nod, Door snapped her hand off Jack’s snout and wrapped it around his stomach. “Okay, Jack! Whenever I shout your name, shoot Water Gun, got it?!”

    Geist slid to a stop right over the monkey and the meerkat. Savory’s pansear looked up, a determined glint in his eye as he waited. At the same time, in response to her command, Jack gave her a confused trill but nonetheless saluted with a stubby arm.

    “Good,” she said. Then, pointing at the rodent at her feet, she continued, “Jack! Now!”

    “Pansear, jump!” Geist ordered.

    The patrat screamed as Pansear launched itself off its body and into the fog. As soon as the monkey was clear, Jack inhaled deeply and blasted a jet of water out of his mouth. In the confusion, the patrat had no chance. It squirmed in a frantic attempt to dodge, but before it could get to its feet, the jet of water slammed into its chest. To Door’s surprise, the rodent’s torso caved in under the pressure of Jack’s Water Gun, and before long, Door found herself staring down at a battered, unmoving faux patrat.

    “Whoa,” she breathed.

    “Strong little guy, isn’t he?” Geist asked. “That’s why we thought Jack would be ready for life outside the laboratory.”

    With a proud snort, Jack smirked at Door and thumped his chest with a stubby paw. She stared down at her pokémon and blinked. Were real ones actually that strong? Or did Geist’s orders to Savory’s pansear actually entail something more than “keep that patrat busy"? She had no time to think about this, as in the next instant, Geist was dodging Starr once more, and Door heard Starr’s fist crash into solid concrete. Geist landed on a platform above the sound and bolted forward, keeping his head turned as if he was watching something. Then, he leapt again, shooting to the side as he twisted Door around.

    “Incoming! Straight ahead!” he shouted.

    In response, Door clutched her pokémon tightly and screamed, “Jack!”

    The otter barked, drew in another breath, and shot a second jet of water out of his mouth. This time, the jet cut through the pink and connected to something with a smack, and a purrloin howled somewhere very close by. Once he landed, Geist set Door down and leaned over her, squinting at the fog ahead of them. Then, he pulled her back a few steps and pointed forward.

    “Door! There!” he shouted.

    With a short nod, she hoisted her oshawott up and aimed his head in the direction Geist was pointing. “Jack!”

    Jack complied, shooting one more Water Gun at the unseen purrloin. This time, there was no howl of pain.

    “Keep going!” Geist said.

    “You heard him, Jack!” Door responded.

    She held onto her pokémon tightly as Geist picked her up and swung her around. The stream of water shooting out of Jack drew an arc around them, cutting through the fog until it finally struck something just a few feet from where they were. A piercing screech sounded out of the mists this time, and through the thinning cloud, Door could see the dark form of Belle’s purrloin shoot away from them.

    “Hold it!” Door ordered.

    Jack cut off his stream, and the Dreamyard fell into silence, save for the distant growls of the cat. The sounds moved around the trio, continuing in a semicircle until it stopped just to their left. Door wrenched herself free from Geist and pointed Jack directly at the spot where the growls stopped.

    “Now!”

    “Door, no!”

    Geist grabbed her and twisted her a little more to the left just as Jack exhaled another stream of water. The blast curved, spraying the ground until it shot up … just in time to catch the purrloin squarely in the face. At once, the cat pinwheeled in the air and slammed into concrete somewhere in the fog, but Geist didn’t stop there. With one more twist, he narrowed his eyes at a point towards the sky and turned Door to face it.

    “Aim high!” he said.

    “Jack!” Door snapped, her voice straining.

    The oshawott pressed himself against his trainer’s chest, inhaled as deeply as he could, and shot out the strongest jet of water he could muster. This time, as it sliced through the air, the fog swirled away from it, peeling back just enough to let Door see Belle standing just a few yards from her. All at once, the thief’s eyes widened, and she reeled back, half-stepping away from the attack.

    Except she wasn’t quick enough. The jet struck her in the stomach and knocked her off her feet, sending her flying off the walkway. Geist’s arms circled Door’s waist again, and he leapt into the air, bounced off a crumbling wall, and bounded onto the platform Belle had stood on a moment ago. He set Door down and pushed past her, darting into the thinning fog until he knelt down by the fallen munna. It squeaked and shifted on the wall, crawling a little closer to the Companion as Door watched. The trainer held Jack close, her eyes on the psychic-type as her oshawott squirmed in her arms. As the tapir moved, its round body rocked into and out of Door’s view, and in the brief glimpses she could get of it, she saw the purple-blue bruises blossoming across its back.

    “Is it okay?” she asked.

    Geist shook his head and held a hand over the pokémon. His palm opened with a click, and the pad set inside it took on a white glow that washed over the munna. The creature squealed and leaned away from the light and into Door’s view, but the longer she watched, the more she saw the bruises shrink and fade.

    “One fresh water left,” Geist said as his palm closed. “Be careful.”

    “Be careful?” Door asked. “For what? The battle’s—”

    “Just beginning, you little twerp!” Belle snapped.

    Starr landed with a bang onto the platform, just in front of Geist and the munna, and Belle perched on his shoulders. The Companion’s stoic expression refused to break, but Belle, leaning over her partner’s head, clutched his scalp with one hand and reached for her belt with the other.

    “I’ve been going easy on you,” she growled.

    Then, she flipped off Starr’s back, landed behind him, and twirled ahead to place herself between him and munna. The stolen snivy’s poké ball appeared in her hand, and she brandished it with a flourish and a vicious smile.

    “We’re not going down without a fight,” she said. “You see, we want that little cutie pie to positively spew dream smoke. It’s gonna be necessary for our little plan.”

    Door scoffed. “Little plan? What little plan?”

    “One neither you nor your precious little Companion there will interfere with,” she replied. “Now, why don’t you two be good little pissants and back away from the munna?”

    Geist stood. His back was turned to Door, so she had no idea what his expression might have been, but judging from the way he tightened his fists, she knew he was ready to fight. And, glancing down at the very real pokémon at his feet, at the way it crawled—with effort—until it cowered behind him, she knew she had to side with him. Even if he was a Companion.

    So she stepped forward.

    Belle’s grin wavered at the corners, and her fingers tightened around the ball in her hand. “Oh, cocky, are we? Don’t make me laugh!”

    Just then, the fog thinned, as if a wind was blowing it away, into the interior of the Dreamyard. Starr turned his head slowly and narrowed his eyes at the ground.

    “It is coming,” he said.

    Belle lowered her arm and turned her grin to the ruined interior of the laboratory. “Finally. I thought I’d have to kick that little pig around more to get that stupid thing to appear.”

    “Geist, what is she talking about?” Door whispered.

    He held out an arm and watched Belle jump off the wall and into the lab’s interior. The fog swirled, compressing into a ball at the center of the yard as she approached step by step. Yet Starr didn’t move, didn’t bother following her. He merely raised a hand to his temple and let his eyes flash over the field.

    “Belle, that is not the musharna,” he said. “Step away from it immediately.”

    She didn’t. She stepped forward, walking slowly towards the cloud. It coalesced before her, shaping itself into a thin pillar before dispersing completely. At its center was not, as Starr had said, a musharna. At its center stood the man from Accumula.

    Belle froze, and even though her back was turned, Door could see her skin blanching. Starr leapt off the platform and started for his partner, while the silver-haired man glared down at Belle.

    “My dear Belle,” he drawled.

    His body dissolved into pink smoke and trailed away from her. The smoke split into thirds, and with a pink flash, the man reappeared—in three different spots surrounding her all at once. Starr reached out for his partner and circled his arms around her waist.

    “Repeat: That is not the musharna,” he repeated. “Warning: Illusion detected. Please be advised that—”

    The three men frowned. “You have failed. How very sad.”

    “Mr. Oppenheimer, sir! I can explain!” Belle called out.

    Starr’s arms tightened around her. “Repeat: Illusion dete—”

    All three figures tilted their heads and gave Belle a saddened frown. “I counted on you to fulfill a very specific mission, my dear. How could you disappoint me so?”

    Belle shook her head and tried to push forward, towards the figure directly in front of her, but Starr held her fast.

    “N-no!” she cried. “Mr. Oppenheimer, I swear, we didn’t fail! The musharna is here! It’s right here! I swear it is!”

    “How sad,” Oppenheimer sighed. “I suppose I have no choice but—”

    “Wait! No!” Belle yelled. She started forward, her hands reaching out for Oppenheimer’s robes, but before she could touch him, Starr swept her off her feet and slung her over a shoulder.

    “Belle deemed incapable of completing her mission,” he droned. “Mission incomplete. Aborting.”

    Starr leapt onto the crumbling wall of the laboratory and bounded away, and over the next few seconds, Belle’s shouts grew more distant and harder for Door to hear. Shortly after Belle and Starr vanished, the remaining pink fog faded away, and all three images of Oppenheimer flickered into nothingness.

    For a few moments, all was still and silent. Door stood, Jack squirming in her arms, as she listened closely to the wind for any sign of Belle. Then, the munna cried out, its song twisting into the air until a deeper voice answered it. Looking down at the interior of the Dreamyard, Door saw a large, purple-and-pink blob float out of the grass and hover in the exact spot where Belle had stood a moment ago. The munna squirmed off the platform and dropped towards the ground until a blue aura lit up around its tiny body and suspended it in thin air. It bounced once and glided towards the larger creature until, at last, it came to a rest on its back. Nuzzling it, the munna cooed and relaxed.

    “Musharna,” Geist recited. “The drowsing pokémon. With the mist from its forehead, it can create shapes of things from dreams it has eaten.”

    “I know what a musharna is,” Door snapped.

    Geist shrugged and stepped towards her. “Just trying to help.”

    “Yes, well, you can—hey! Don’t!”

    Before she could squirm out of Geist’s grasp, he grabbed her by the waist again, jumped off the platform, and landed within the dilapidated laboratory, just feet from the two pokémon. Door twisted herself out of his grasp and hugged Jack close, but Geist didn’t seem to notice. He only walked forward, approaching the musharna slowly as he extended a hand.

    “Munna should be fine,” he said as he reached down to pet the musharna. “I gave her a little medicine, but she’s a tenacious one. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s back to being a handful within the hour.”

    The musharna shifted, tilting its body upwards as if to look at him. Door couldn’t quite tell whether or not it actually was; the creature’s eyes remained shut, even as it angled its face to the Companion. But then, the musharna’s eyes slid open and took on a faint, blue glow as it glanced from Geist to Door and back again. It huffed, heaving as a puff of pink smoke burst from the spot on its snout. As the puff drifted towards the tall, dark grass at the edges of the ruins, the musharna hummed a few notes and floated away from Door and Geist. On its back, the munna looked back and blinked at Door and Geist, then lifted a tiny, stubby paw to wave at them before it and its parent disappeared into the grass.

    “There they go,” Geist said. Then, he smiled at Door and added, “Nice work, by the way. You too, Jack.”

    Jack saluted at him and barked, but Door turned her head away. After a few seconds, she swiveled around and started back towards the Dreamyard gate. She was acutely aware that Geist was jogging after her, but she didn’t bother looking at him.

    “Door,” he began.

    Before he could go any further, Door quickened her step until she passed the crumbling wall of the abandoned lab, and on the other side, she found Savory and his pansear. The monkey perched on its trainer’s shoulder and stared at Door with a level of concern she didn’t know a fauxkémon could express, but as soon as Geist emerged, it broke eye contact with her and leapt from its trainer to the Companion.

    “Geez, he seems excited to see you,” Savory muttered. “So I take it you had a quite a battle in there?”

    “Pansear was great,” Geist replied. “He did everything I needed him to do. You’ve trained him well if he’s willing to listen to a Companion like that.”

    Savory shrugged. “Keep him, then. I’ve got another one, and he seems like he’s already fond of you.”

    “Me?” Geist gave the gym leader a small smile and reached up to pet the fire-type. “Oh no. I can’t. You know the rules. But if you don’t mind, perhaps … Door? Would you like a pansear?”

    Truth be told, Door had already tuned the conversation out. She wandered towards the grass, looking out over the sea of green. Real pokémon were starting to appear in the Dreamyard—that was what Amanita and Geist had said. If that was true, then that had to mean that somewhere in those grasses…

    “Door?” Geist asked.

    “Keep it yourself,” she told him.

    “Door, you should know the rules too. I can’t register pokémon in my name. Companions can’t carry pokémon of their own because they can’t legally obtain the licenses to do so. They can only carry pokémon on behalf of their trainers.”

    “Why? It’s just a toy.”

    Geist sighed. “Not this again.”

    Several feet in front of her, the grass began to rustle. She narrowed her eyes and tried to discern what was in it.

    “Not what again?” she growled.

    “That whole business about fake pokémon and real ones,” Geist replied. “It doesn’t matter whether or not this pansear is real, Door. What matters is—”

    “Do you have a poké ball?” she asked.

    He stopped. “What?”

    She held out her hand. “Mind if I borrow a poké ball? There’s a pokémon in here.”

    “Door, I don’t think—”

    “Look,” she said. “I don’t care if you keep that pansear for yourself. Savory seems to think it likes you, okay? And you’re not my Companion, so do whatever you want or ask Amanita if you can keep it. I literally can’t even care less. Now do you mind? I’ll pay Amanita back for it.”

    There was a beat of hesitation before she felt Geist place an object in her palm.

    “Door, I would highly recommend that you—”

    She expanded the ball and threw it at the rustling grass. It hit its target with a whack, eliciting a sharp cry from the hidden pokémon. She saw a bright red light, the silhouette of a stocky pokémon, reach up towards the sky before vanishing. As she waded into the field, she listened, straining her ears as the ball clicked and shifted the grass around it.

    Then, at last, she found the ball the moment it fell still. Whatever was in that grass, it was hers now, and her heart pounded in her chest at that thought.

    Smiling, she plopped Jack onto her shoulder and bent down to scoop the ball up. Then, wading back into the open, Door displayed the ball to Jack and let him lean down to sniff at it. As she stepped back onto the pavement, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride well within her. Her oshawott—her real, living and breathing oshawott—sat fascinated by the ball in her hand, the one that contained her second very real pokémon. This was it. This was the part where she was really, truly on her way to becoming a real trainer. And it was so very easy.

    “Thanks,” she said, although she meant it more for Jack’s rapt attention than Geist’s generosity. “Whatever’s in here, I know it’s going to be an amazing addition to my team. From here on out, you and me, Jack. You, me, and whatever’s in here will be absolutely unstoppable, right?”

    “I’m sure you will be,” Geist replied.

    Door snorted and glanced at him. He stared back with a small smile and a quirked eyebrow, as if she had done something thoroughly embarrassing. But she wasn’t going to let that bother her. She was a real trainer, after all, and what did he, the fake human being, know about anything?

    “Damn right,” she said as she held up the ball between them. “This pokémon went down without even the slightest fight. Clearly, that’s a sign I’m going to be an awesome tamer of real pokémon one day.”

    “Or it could mean that pokémon wasn’t going to put up a fight in the first place,” Geist replied as he tilted his head at her. “As I was trying to warn you, the pokémon that had captured your attention was…”

    “Something awesome, right?” Door asked. “Something that can be trained into a super-strong, intimidating beast of a pokémon, yeah?”

    “It was an audino.”

    The color drained from Door’s face, but her smile didn’t falter. After a few seconds, Geist put his hand on his hip and sighed again.

    “Audino. The hearing pokémon,” Geist recited. “Their auditory sense is astounding. They have a radar-like ability to understand their surroundings through slight sounds. This ability, combined with the species’ gentle nature and healing techniques, make audino ideal nurses. However, it also makes them difficult to train due to their aversion to loud noises, including those typical of a battle. Conclusion: not a good choice for a beginning trainer.”

    He turned away from her and began walking towards the Dreamyard gate, just as Door had moments before. Savory was already well ahead of them, leading the way back to Blair and Opal and the spindle tree. Door, meanwhile, stood where she was in stunned silence.

    “Come along, Door,” Geist said. “Dr. Fennel is surely waiting for us.”

    At that, Door’s expression faltered, and she bowed her head. Jack, breaking his focus on the ball, gave her an inquisitive whine as he patted her on the back, but Door only emitted a long, low groan of her own.

    “Why me?” she said.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2017
  19. kingferret53

    kingferret53 A duel well fought..

    Bill died? Was it in the experiment he does in generation one and the remakes where he combines himself with a pokemon?

    Not going to lie, I am surprised to see that he was modeled after Bill. That blew my mind. Do we find out more about the death of Bill?

    And a time machine? Will we see that being used?

    Do pokemon like pidgeot still hunt like magikarp? How does the Labs keep tabs of what pokemon have been "hunted"? How do they prevent the parts from littering the ground? What about pokemon that were created by humans or human influence like grimer, voltrob, muk, golurk? Do they have fauxkemon counterparts or no? If so, how do they keep the body of like, for example, grimer all semi-solid? Do they weigh the same as their real counterparts or more? If it is more, how do flying types stay airborne?
     
  20. AmericanPi

    AmericanPi Write on

    Yooo Jax, I kept promising myself to check out this story so I finally did. To be fair, I did it because I intend to feature this fic for the next FFQ's Editor's Choice. But check it out I did, and man, this fic is AWESOME!

    I'm not going to give an in-depth signature Review Game-style review right now (count the Editor's Choice segment of FFQ Edition 5 as your more in-depth review from me. XD). Well, I'll probably do it one of these days, but not now because 1.) this week's Weekly Review goes to a Shipping Fic, and 2.) I haven't finished reading all your chapters.

    However, I did read the first four chapters, and I'd just like to give you some impressions, if you don't mind! :D

    Door... uh... isn't very likable. If she's kind of a reflection of you, I'm really sorry, because you are pretty likable (it's just that Door isn't). In the first four chapters Door does little to make me root for her, other than be aware of how fake everything is. I mean, she's kind of cold to most everyone and snaps at people and Companions who are genuinely trying to help her. She isn't very positive, either, and doesn't do heroic things. Her opposition and awareness of the fakeness of Unova makes her an interesting character in her own right, and I can understand why she's so bitter about everything. That alone makes me hope that she finds a happy ending and a way to break out of that fakeness. Reminds me heavily of Winston Smith from 1984. But other than that, Door is pretty lazy and selfish, which reminds me heavily of... Winston Smith from 1984. Was Door's character inspired by him, by any chance? In short, I do wish Door gets some character development in the future, to the point that she's nicer, more hardworking, and less self-centered.

    I LOVE this setting you've created. Between this and "This Is..." you seem to be so damn good at creating interesting settings. I'm curious, though, as to what exactly happened that killed off all the real Pokemon, and why real Pokemon exist in Unova when apparently they've all been killed off. I guess these questions will be answered as I keep reading.

    Thanks for giving us all of your worldbuilding information, by the way. The information is not essential to the story, but it's neat and helps me understand the story better.

    Are Companions just humanoid robots, or are the Fauxkemon robots also called "Companions"? You weren't very clear about what exactly was a Companion in your first four chapters.

    As I was reading this fic, I was heavily reminded of a fic I'll write myself in the future, which takes place in a region with digitalized, mindless, and fake Pokemon. The region is locked off from every other region in the Pokemon World, because the morally ambiguous government (Team Obsidian) fears that the region's citizens would abandon the region completely if they know about the other regions and their real Pokemon. But then a morally ambiguous organization with knowledge about the other regions (Team Crystal) wants to create a region full of real, thinking, feeling Pokemon in order to create a better society. All with a subplot of the importance of using the Pokemon you like best and having fun when battlign Pokemon. Y'know, coincidentally enough Unova in your fic is very similar to Gomnos in my future fic. Crazily enough, I came up with Gomnos before I even heard about this fic, so yeah, interesting. XD

    ...I hope that wasn't annoying advertising. I was just noting the interesting similarities between your fic and mine...

    Anyways, I love this fic, and I'll definitely come back to it. I do kind of wish your chapters were shorter though, because I ended up spending hours reading this fic at a coffee shop instead of doing homework. Oops. XD
     

Share This Page