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The Deprogramming

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Arkadelphiak, Aug 4, 2018.

  1. Arkadelphiak

    Arkadelphiak ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)




    —Ginsberg’s Theorem

    This fic is literally cancer, man.

    So, getting sucked into a Pokémon video game sounds great, right?

    In a deconstruction, the answer is always no. Let’s start with tons of clichés . . . and let’s see how good my satire skillz are. Then I’ll turn all that nonsense into a technothriller. Seriously. Prepare thyself for explicit language, some violence, death, merciless mockery of my friends’ fics, minor drug use (i.e. a chapter dedicated to a cocaine joke), and thermodynamics. Depending on how disorderly I let this fic get, it may need a Mature rating; we’ll see.

    The reason I’m writing this is because I can’t get it out of my head. It’s bothered me for y-e-a-r-s, and now I want it out. I need to move on with my life. Think of this as a really weird comedy with some vicious twists beneath. If it ever gets popular, I hope to turn it into original fiction. So picture —not pry open— one of your Pokémon game cartridges: inert, plasticky, lifeless . . .

    And let me show you otherwise.

    T H E

    D E P R O G R A M M I N G


    M A M A N

    _______________________________ Part I: Master of Ceremonies _______________________________

    Garbage In

    First Impressions

    Make Goldenrod City Great Again

    New Frontiers


    Scientific Progress Goes 'Crack'

    Glitter Glue


    The Oracle of Goldenrod

    Tower of Babble

    The Blame Game


    The Net

    Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar

    Snake Eyes

    ___________________________________ Part II: Heat Death ___________________________________


    Garbage Out

    The Oracle of Mount Silver

    The Monster of Goldenrod


    Absolute Zero

    Imposter Syndrome

    A Bolt from the Blue

    No Silver Bullet

    No News is Good News

    The Golden Rule

    Effeuiller la Marguerite

    Zero-Sum Game


    De Novo
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2019
  2. Arkadelphiak

    Arkadelphiak ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    _______________________________ Part I: Master of Ceremonies _______________________________

    The future belongs to those who can manipulate entropy.

    —Frederic Keffer




    “. . . Ouch. Is this thing on? Hello?”

    Tap, tap.

    “You don’t know me, but . . . you’re probably wondering why we’ve hijacked all your radio broadcasting transmissions. Well, this is a deprogramming. Nobody move. Grab some Fresh Water and get comfortable. You must listen to this.

    That being said, I really don’t mean to offend you, but . . . you are my property.

    I’m dead serious. I own you. About a decade ago, I bought this video game for seven dollars plus tax. I was cheap and you were at the bottom of the secondhand video games barrel. It was meant to be, I guess. Maybe you belonged to a little kid. Or a really sad adult. Who knows?”


    Ouch. Hey, Marcus, can you c’mere and fix this thing?”

    . . .

    “Thanks. So, uh, I’ve got a bad history with video games. Destructive, really, but that’s spoiling the whole d*mn story. See, I’m a bit of a postmodern Prometheus. I created a monster. But this— this wasn’t just any monster. This thing ruined my life.”

    . . .

    . . .


    . . .

    “Sorry for all the rambling. I’m wasting your prime time, after all. But now I can’t stop asking myself . . . what good was it anyway? Spoiler alert: we’re all gonna die of heat death at the end of this painfully finite existence. I can’t stop it; you can’t stop it . . .

    All we can do is sit here and deprogram ourselves. Let’s get started.”


    This story is completely true. It might have happened in the past or near future, and cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but it happened. And it began at midnight, since nothing good can happen at midnight.

    “. . . Dammit.”

    The protagonist of this strange tale woke up. Her neck lolled back, leaving her to stare at the tacky popcorn ceiling. She laid there on the sofa for a few seconds, blinking hard. That damned lab report had put her to sleep again. Grumbling to herself, she patted the air until her hand found the nearby lamp. She made it click and watched through the shade as the lightbulb flickered . . . and died out.

    “Great,” she sighed into the sofa cushion.

    She buried her palms into her eye sockets. She grumbled some more, cursing all her poor life decisions for some reason, and yanked open the bottom drawer of the lamp’s dresser. The contents slammed into the face of the drawer.


    She cringed at the unmistakable demise of a lightbulb. Her fingers started to roam the front corners of the drawer with the lightest pressure, searching for a surviving lightbulb. Glass shards were everywhere. Upon reaching the back of the drawer, they bumped into a foreign object.

    To her surprise, she pulled out an obsolete toy: a Nintendo DS.

    The cheap, glossy coating pooled all the weak moonlight into each corner. Surprised that the ancient hinges allowed it, she opened up the toy. Her reflections stared back from two dusty screens. Between its original owner, her secondhand usage, and an assassination attempt from her mother, it had survived a lot. It had lost its luster years ago.

    But she was too old for video games. She was an adult.

    The self-proclaimed adult felt a migraine beginning to develop and sighed. She leafed at an open book with the free hand, pretending to be productive, and shut it with yet another sigh. She stared around at the dark room. How was she supposed to get anything done in complete darkness?

    Well, she thought, I guess I could use this thing as a light . . .

    Her eyes wandered back to the Nintendo DS.



    “Mmm,” she mumbled. “Dead.”

    Of course, a Nintendo DS wasn’t going to provide enough light. She grumbled even more, straining out of the sofa. She dropped the toy onto the hard cushion where she once sat. The wobbly hinges swung it shut with a loud clap. She tried to ignore her cringe.

    Before she made it into the kitchen, she paused in the doorframe. Something felt off.

    The protagonist turned back to the dead toy sitting there, all alone. It must have been in that drawer all this time. She hadn’t played with it in countless years. Maybe a decade, even. She had beaten the entire game and even hacked— well, we aren’t that far in the story yet.

    Groaning to herself, she went back into the drawer and rummaged until she found the power adapter. She plugged it into a wall outlet, then punched it into the charging port on the back of the toy.


    Its bright orange light came on in thanks. It wasn’t dead, after all.

    “Hope you’re happy,” she mumbled.

    But she still needed to do something about the migraine splitting her brain in two. And, speaking of brains, it was ironic that hers put her in so much agony. She was going to become a neuro-oncologist someday.

    She entered the kitchen. Rather than ruin her night vision, she kept the lights off and went to the medicine drawer. She pulled out a sheet of partially opened painkillers, then got an empty glass off the counter and filled it with sink water. The protagonist stared at the gigantic red pills in a sleepy haze. Even after swallowing one, she wouldn’t be in good enough condition to continue those dreaded oncology studies. Cancer was not her friend. But they had a complicated relationship. It was a matter of life itself, and frankly, she didn’t—

    “Goo-ood morning, Miss Kotone!”

    . . . Was that a voice?

    Of course not. Kotone, still staring at the glass of water, figured that the migraine was messing with her auditory system. She popped out a pill, put it on her tongue, and swallowed it with a splash of water.

    “Miss Kotone?” the voice said again, loud and clear.

    Her eyes doubled in size. The pill occluded her trachea in an instant. Kotone put a hand to her throat with an airless gasp. Her brain, fuzzy with panic, raked itself for a solution.

    Dislodge obstruction via Heimlich maneuver: start with a fist, press between navel and xiphoid process, place other hand over fist, ram into abdomen—

    Kotone repeatedly jammed her fist into her gut to no avail. Her lungs spasmed. There she was, with a bright and beautiful future ahead of her . . . and she was choking to death on a painkiller. Pathetic.

    “Is it really morning? Should I be saying good night? That is what you humanoids say, right?”

    The little voice coming from the living room made her realize something: the sofa’s blunt edge might help her dislodge the pill. Kotone staggered across the cracked linoleum and back into the den, reeling with oxygen deprivation, and lowered her shoulder. She sprinted at the sofa with all her might, aiming her abdomen right for the corner. She crashed into it and dragged the sofa a few feet over.

    The pill, propelled by a rush of air, popped out of her windpipe and back into her mouth. She spat the gritty pill onto the cushions beside the Nintendo DS. Kotone stood there with both hands on the backrest, hyperventilating. That was going to leave a nasty bruise.

    “Uh, Miss Kotone? What was that?

    “Oh sh*t,” she breathed, remembering she wasn’t alone. Kotone scanned every possible inch of the room, meeting empty air. She looked at the black window nearby and saw nothing but a terrified reflection. “Who are you?” she shouted, digging her nails into the fabric. “What’re you doing in here?

    “I live in here,” the voice said matter-of-factly.

    Kotone looked down, realizing the voice was coming from inside the Nintendo DS. She blinked and made no effort to move. This entire situation was completely mindboggling. Was this some sudden manifestation of exhaustion? Encroaching schizophrenia? Was the universe telling her to give up and succumb to its inevitable heat death, albeit trillions of years in advance?

    “I know you are there,” it snapped. “Please open this thing up. I have to talk to you.”

    She sighed at the ceiling with shut eyes. And then, only then, did she resolve to pick up the console. She put her thumbs between the plastic halves and hesitated. Would this thing try to electrocute her? There was only one way to find out. Kotone tilted back the top screen at an agonizing speed. As she peered around the edge, two tiny eyes stared out from the bottom screen.

    “Miss Kotone?”

    They looked nearly as shocked as Kotone did, and her eyeballs were nearly popping from their sockets. Neither of them seemed sure of what to say. With agonizing slowness, Kotone brought a pointer finger to her chest and cocked her head.

    “Are you . . . talking? To me?”

    Kotone never expected a response as the words travelled into the microphone.

    “Of course!”

    She squinted and leaned in, focusing on the pupils. They eased forward in interest. Two white irises held a black pinpoint in their centers. She tapped the screen right between the eyes. They blinked and reared back.

    “Miss Kotone?”


    “You probably should not do that to your toy.”

    Kotone recoiled her finger from the screen. It had a reasonable point, but this thing was so . . . warmly. It waited on her words with a strange reverence. But how exactly does one carry on a conversation with an inanimate object?

    “Who . . . are you?” Kotone asked at length.

    “I am an old friend.”

    She twisted up her face, then frowned and looked off; she didn’t really believe that. She found it hard to believe this was all the work of a migraine, either. “. . . Uh, okay then. But how d’you know my name?”

    It must have been smiling. “Everyone knows your name.”

    “No,” she said, turning back to face it, “not everybody. You’re scaring me. This shouldn’t be happening.”

    “Oh. I am sorry. I do not like being scary,” it said, looking down for a second.

    Something more complex floated behind the primitive pixels. And its voice was unlike any other: it sounded perfectly genderless, yet faintly masculine.

    I should document this, she thought. Maybe I’d get a Nobel Peace Prize for a talking machine . . . I can see it now: Sentient, Secondhand Nintendo Product Beats Turing Test . . .

    A renegade thought hit Kotone, in between the throbbing migraine and the insistent little voice. She surveyed the depressing little living room with a morose expression.

    Maybe Nintendo would make me their spokesperson . . . then I’d get rich and famous and never have to work again. Yeah. Perfection. I’d buy a private island in the middle of nowhere, and . . .

    “Miss Kotone? Hello-o?


    “Okay. This is not getting us anywhere. Let us try small talk. You humanoids like that, right? What are you reading?” it asked politely, stealing a look at the wilted textbook nearby. That tattered thing was far older than them.

    “A book.”

    “Of course.”

    Kotone and the houseguest stared at each other in the silence.

    A book,” it noted. “How interesting.”

    “. . . Yeah. That one’s, uh, real hard. It puts me to sleep a lot.”

    “Really? Without directly using Hypnosis or Sleep Powder? Fascinating! Why would you do that to yourself?”

    “I’m . . . gonna be a neuro-oncologist someday.”

    “A . . . er, what?”

    “It’s a type of doctor. I’m gonna cure brain cancer. I guess.”

    “Oh! Why?”

    Kotone raised an eyebrow. “You know a lot about me. I'm surprised you don’t understand my family dynamics.” She sighed. Her sanity might have been in question, but she let her curiosity do the talking instead. “Uh, why don’t you . . . have a seat?” she said, then walked toward the front of the sofa, guiding the power adapter cable around it.

    “I will attempt to do that.”

    She set the Nintendo DS down onto the coffee table, then sat down facing the toy. She put her chin in her palms and balanced her elbows on the tabletop, staring down at the screens. “Call me crazy for talking back to a machine, but can I tell you a secret?”

    “I am not a— er, absolutely.”

    “My parents are making me do this. All this brain cancer stuff. I mean, sure, that’s nothing new; parents do that all the time to their kids. I’m just . . . just so fucking miserable. And then—”

    Say no more!” the houseguest exclaimed.


    “I can help you with that. Really, I can.” It swam up to the top screen for a better vantage point, looking Kotone right in the eyes. “Please let me help you,” it said in a rush. It was almost breathless. “Come in here. With me. All of your problems will go away.”

    Kotone, annoyed that her guest had interrupted her tragic backstory, stared at the Nintendo DS in confusion. “I’m not sure if I understand what you mean.”

    You. Me. In here.”

    “Like,” she said, unable to suppress the disbelieving tone, and pointed at the Nintendo DS, “in there? Inside a video game?”

    “Exactly! What do you think?”


    She removed her glasses, leaning back into the sofa cushions, and rubbed the lenses on the edge of her shirt. She held them under her thumb for a few seconds, trying to come up with something to say. “I don’t really want that,” she said tentatively.

    The eyes widened, but continued to watch her.

    She slipped the thick frames back on. Kotone’s incredulous expression stared back from the top screen, superimposed over the tiny eyes. “I mean, that’s real nice,” she said as enthusiastically as she could. “But, y’know, impossible. Uh . . . like, I’m real sorry and I hate to tell you this, but basic physics renders that entirely—”

    No-no-no! You are so wrong!”

    It dawned upon Kotone that she had just been dissed by an inanimate object. It wouldn’t be the last time, either. She blew off an exasperated laugh. “You can’t defy the laws of physics, pal. What’s your name?”

    “Defy? I have all that taken care of. What are you talking about?”

    “I am talking,” she enunciated ever so slowly, “about real life. Like . . . common sense. Don’t be stupid.”

    They stared at each other in a sudden silence.

    Kotone glared at the eyes, then the Nintendo DS itself. The situation’s absurdity finally kicked in. “Oh, what on Earth am I doing?” she cried, digging both hands through her hair. “I’m talking to a machine!”

    “You are not talking to a machine,” it said in annoyance. “You are talking to me.”

    “Then who the h*ll are you?

    A nasty little hiss came from the tiny speakers. “That requires a very delicate explanation,” it declared. “And a couple of hours. But I can assure you that it makes a fascinating story—”

    “Stop.” She held up a hand and cupped her forehead with the other, as if that could prevent her brain from splitting open. “I’m sorry, but I don’t care who you are anymore. You and this migraine are absolutely killing me. And I’m ninety-nine percent sure that you’re a hallucination.” She sighed. “I’m not a kid, y’know. Do I look like a kid to you?”


    Do I?

    “I cannot answer that question.”

    “Well, you’re in luck. Here’s the answer: I don’t. And y’know why? Because I don’t have the time to sit on my ass all night and talk to imaginary friends. I don’t care about stupid video games, either.”

    “Then why not just throw me away?” it pondered aloud.

    Kotone crossed her arms and leered, glancing at the trash can. “That’s actually a good idea.”

    The eyes doubled in size. “Wait, no-no-no—”

    Kotone snapped up the Nintendo DS, clapped it shut, ripped the power adapter out, and tossed it back into the drawer. She kicked the drawer shut, rattling the cheap lamp in the process. It wobbled dangerously, then dove for the floor. Kotone lunged and barely caught it in time. She swore at the Nintendo DS around the lampshade, cursing it for ruining her night, and set the lamp back in its place.

    Muffled complaints came from the bottom drawer, then silenced after a moment.

    Good. Stay in there and be quiet.

    As you can see, things were not going as planned for either of the protagonists. Kotone, mildly convinced she was developing schizophrenia, decided to schedule an appointment with her physician in the morning. She spent five minutes in the kitchen psyching herself up to swallow another painkiller. She glanced suspiciously around the doorframe at the dresser, and swallowed the monstrous pill with a full glass of water.

    She survived, believe it or not. But her curiosity overrode her desire to lie down and forget about everything. If she was developing some disorder, there was nothing she could do right then.

    There was nothing barring her from antagonizing her ‘hallucination,’ however.

    So, Kotone pulled the bottom drawer back open and removed the toy. She held it shut and let herself savor the power trip. This was the most interesting thing to happen to her in years, but she wasn’t going to admit that. Feeling unusually kind, she plugged the power adapter back into the Nintendo DS. Kotone opened it up and discovered two eyes glaring up at her from the bottom screen.

    “Two can play at this game, you know.”


    “Go ahead. Turn on this toy.”

    Kotone raised her eyebrows. “And, what,” she simpered, “you’re gonna suck me inside a video game or something?”

    A long smile with lots of teeth glinted below the eyes, then vanished. “More or less.”

    “Isn’t that a little too cliché for your taste?”

    “I have no sensation of taste,” it droned.

    Thrilled at the opportunity to make a fool out of an inanimate object, Kotone loomed over the Nintendo DS, staring down the eyes. “Then do you want me to click something? Look, I haven’t played with this d*mn thing in years. I’ve probably forgotten how to—”

    “No, just turn it on. On.”

    She scrutinized the tiny set of eyes. “That’s all you want?”

    “Yes, of cour— wait. Did . . . er, you read the Health and Safety Precautions booklet?”

    She wanted to laugh at the ridiculous question, but found herself staring blankly instead. “Uh, nobody reads those things, pal. What’s wrong with your voice?”

    “Hmm. Maybe it does not matter?”

    There were plenty of things that mattered to Kotone, and they all were more important than playing with a kiddie toy. She glanced at the clock and gaped at how much time she’d already wasted with this thing. She shut her eyes, feeling the migraine throbbing behind them. She took a deep, meditative breath.

    “Just a click?” Kotone asked with limp shoulders, turning back to the toy.

    “Just a click. A tiny click.”

    “. . . Whatever.”









    Touch the Touch Screen to continue.

    The chapter title is a reference to the computer science concept of "Garbage In, Garbage Out." Or in layman's terms, "bad input equals bad output." Make of that what you will.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2018
  3. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    I'm enjoying this one. Person gets sucked into a videogame isn't exactly new, but the execution's pretty novel (i. e. having the DS be a sentient character) and the back and forth between Kotone and her DS is pretty sharp. It's definitely an intriguing opening.

    The humor's definitely one of the stronger points of the chapter. The scene with Kotone Heimliching herself or most of her interactions with the DS have good comedic elements that carry a lot of the chapter for me.

    I don't really have much to critique for the opening chapter, as the style is one I generally enjoy, devoid of a lot of fluff, but it's all build-up at the moment, so I'm hoping you've got a good story to back it up.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2018
    Arkadelphiak likes this.
  4. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Hello! I came by because Firaga Metagross recommended you in the Reviewers Board. And it's always fun to see stories like this popup!

    Right off the bat, I understand your reason for this. "I can't get it out of my head" is definitely something I understand =P

    A few nitpicks:
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if the same person is talking across multiple paragraphs, shouldn't there be quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph?

    Also, I'm pretty sure you can type out "dammit" and the swear filter won't censor it.

    Stuff I picked up from reading?
    And here I am, playing on my GameBoy Advance SP and Playstation 2 ._.

    Man, I really feel for her, having to go through medical school on the order of her parents. I'm fortunate enough that something like that has never happened to me, but I see a number of people it does happen to and it's not a great time.

    Bruh, you're talking to an inanimate object who is currently defying the laws of physics. What do you expect?

    Haha, I love this part. The reaction and the timing are priceless =P

    Dangit, Kotone, I thought you would have known better than to start talking to the toy you just shut up >_<

    As the above reviewer said, I like this! You've got an intriguing first chapter, and a unique execution with characters (or character) that seems fairly relatable so far. And who would have known that reading the health and safety precautions booklet could have changed a life? Maybe I should have actually read mine <_<

    I don't have much else to say other than good job! I look forward to more =)
    Arkadelphiak likes this.
  5. Arkadelphiak

    Arkadelphiak ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.

    —Neil DeGrasse Tyson



    “This is the Director of the Radio Tower, emceeing tonight’s Variety Channel! We’ve got a real treat for you! So, get yourself real comfortable and— oh! My apologies! We interrupt your regularly scheduled radio broadcasting for a weather alert.”

    . . .

    “Thanks, sir. Goodness gracious! Route 34 is currently experiencing a . . . a little bit of a rinse, you could say. Please avoid Route 34! Severe thunderstorms with heavy lightning activity have been reported in the area. We traced it back to migrating Gyarados in the adjacent waters. They’re all likely in their seventies. Likely. As an obvious reminder, please don’t bother ‘em! They’re feral and completely uninterested in your diplomacy!

    Well, sorry to keep you waiting. That wraps up our weather alert for the Goldenrod jurisdiction.

    This is DJ Mary, signing off! Back to you, sir!”


    The body of water bordering Johto’s Route 34 was dubbed “the Seething Sea” by the locals. It was a popular migratory path for Gyarados and Magikarp during this time of the year, hence the name. That tract of land, nestled between Goldenrod City to the north and the Ilex Forest to the south, held a tension in its humidity: it was infamous for its random acts of violent weather.

    Two meaty Gyarados, eye-to-eye and mere inches away, hissed at each other. Their massive dorsal fins flared. A cluster of whiskers bristled in front of their dark, red eyes. When it came to their clan’s politics, the two of them bickered like an old married couple. They were compelled to add lightning this time, citing something about metaphors.

    They kept using Thunderbolt after every, single dramatic statement. Naturally, the other Gyarados in their clan were getting sick of this. But all they could do was frown as their intellectuals ripped thunderbolts from the clouds above. What was once a series of small, gray drifters had churned into a dark mass moving inland. No wonder the humans hated diplomatic Gyarados.

    They were making decent progress toward a resolution, actually . . . until some overachiever pulled out Thunder from his arsenal.


    The massive lightning bolt struck a little too close to shore. It rattled the atmosphere and stunned the opposing Gyarados for a moment. Then she roared, lunging at her guilty mate. Five of the biggest Gyarados clamped down on the offender, restraining him for her. Her subordinate, possessing Thunder of all things? Inconceivable!

    The eldest Gyarados loomed over the whimpering one, eager to discipline. A ball of white-hot plasma grew in her throat. The minor cringed and shut his eyes. A Hyper Beam to the face was imminent. But a small flash in the sky, brighter than any lightning, caught the disciplinarian’s eye.

    It happened instantly. With that tiny click from Kotone’s ancient Nintendo DS . . .


    The Gyarados watched a small rift tear through the night sky, then spit out a humanoid shape. The rift sealed up and left the small human to plummet from the sky. She and her screams disappeared into the water with a small splash.

    The matriarch froze. The Hyper Beam dissipated in her throat. She nodded at another Gyarados, pointing her snout at the dissipating ripples. The male sighed and rolled his eyes, then swept under the water with his tailfin until he brushed the human. With a gentle pressing motion, he coaxed her to the surface.

    The human broke the surface, took a single gasp, and realized that this wasn’t her living room. She was, in fact, surrounded by a cluster of moderately-hostile sea serpents. She screamed and slapped at the water’s surface, aiming for the nearby shore. The eldest Gyarados snorted at her poor swimming form, then turned back to the one she was arguing with. The telltale heat signature of a Hyper Beam reappeared in her throat.

    “Shit! Shit, shit, shit!

    As for our protagonist . . . well, her migraine had vanished. But getting sucked into a video game wasn’t quite so simple. Her glasses were currently plummeting toward the ocean floor, so it’s fair to say that all her problems hadn’t gone away yet. Kotone could hardly see three feet ahead; her farsighted vision took over.

    It took a minute, but Kotone managed to paddle her way to shore. Waves slapped her face repeatedly. Her foot unexpectedly caught the sandbar. Streaming with water, she steadied herself and surveyed the land in disbelief. Wet grassland on her left, thick forest on her right. The air was sizzling with static electricity. Thunder rumbled overhead. The world seemed to sputter; the clouds jittered back and forth, then resumed their rolling boil. The world wasn’t quite sure what to think of her sudden appearance. But the world kept watching.

    “. . . No-no-no . . .”

    She whimpered, taking a few steps out of the water. She started hyperventilating.

    “This . . . can’t be real?”

    There was a distant, disembodied scoff. “Of course this is real.”

    Kotone spun around, agape. She knew that voice. It was everywhere and nowhere, all at once. But she was unable to find the source. She squinted and saw nothing but sea serpents —absolutely not Pokémon, she reminded herself— in the distant water.

    “It is real because it worked. It really worked. As a matter of fact, you should be thanking me.”

    Kotone smeared her wet bangs away from her eyes. “Thanking you?” she shrieked in disbelief. “For what you’ve done to me?”

    “Yes,” it admitted, sounding closer.

    Kotone spun around again, but no one was there. She backed out of the water, looking over her shoulder frequently. “Get me out of here,” she yelped. “I don’t want this!”

    The voice paused. “No, no, no, let me clarify. You really do want this. Believe me, I know what I am doing. Please, just relax and—”

    Shut the fuck up!” she screamed, throwing her arms around at the sky. “Just shut up! This is all wrong!

    “Miss Kotone, I—”

    She screamed and crouched down on the sand, head pressed between her knees. “No-no-no,” she whimpered. “I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming, I’m just dreaming . . .”

    The mysterious stranger watched Kotone sit there and sob for a few moments. It wasn’t exactly sure what to do; frankly, it was shocked that it had gotten this far in the first place. So, it sat there and did nothing, stricken with guilt, as rainwater soaked through every inch of Kotone’s clothing. It mentally flipped through the only points of conversation it knew.

    “You . . . did at least try to read that Health and Safety Precautions booklet, right? It sounds really important.”

    Shu-ut up,” she stammered.

    They were quiet for a few more moments.

    “You know,” the houseguest said in a gentle voice, “I have been waiting for this day for a very, very long time.” It paused as Kotone wept a bit more and smeared the various salty liquids off her face, then it began again, even softer. “I know this is a real bother, but I need to talk to you about some things, Miss Kotone.”

    She glanced at the nearby foothills, inspecting some nearby shrubbery in hopes of spotting the culprit; yet, nothing was there. “Talk to me? Couldn’t you have, like, done that without sucking me into a video game? What have I done to deserve this?”

    The mysterious stranger was silent. She did have quite a point there.

    By then, Kotone had assumed that some handsome-yet-troubled man was behind this. That seemed reasonable, after all. Perhaps he wanted to sweep her off her feet and force them to live happily ever after. Something, something, true love. Either way, this was a real inconvenience for everyone involved.

    Kotone was beginning to get her senses back. She shivered and brought her knees up to her chin. The more she scanned the area, the more she wondered how the hell she’d end up getting out. There was no magical portal. No wishing well. Just sodden, sandy grasses as far as the eye could see. Wrinkles from a nasty, venomous frown began creeping up to her eyes. She didn’t have time for this— this was a children’s video game, after all.

    “By the way, what if I don’t want to play a part in your fantasy?” she pondered aloud. Her eyes narrowed, out of focus. “You never gave me a choice.”

    There was a guilty lapse in conversation. “Yes, I am highly aware that—”

    “That what? That you’re completely at fault here?”

    An even guiltier pause. “Listen, Miss Kotone, I am trying very hard to—”

    Aaugh! Shut up!” she exploded. Kotone, who had finally reached her boiling point, got up off the ground and crossed her arms, scanning the area. She was done with the idle prater. “Just shut up and come out here. I know you’re hiding in some bushes.”

    “Uh . . . I would rather not come out right now.”

    Kotone ground her teeth. “You’re pathetic,” she spat. She threw out her hands in a new direction. “You think you can do this to me? You think I’ll let you just ruin my ****in’ life? Quit hiding and face me like a real man,” she said, brandishing her petite fists as if she could actually win a fistfight.

    Silence— then, a defeated sigh.

    “You do not want me to do that.”

    Yes, I do.”

    The houseguest was pensive for a moment. Another sigh was emitted. “Well, for your information,” it grumbled, “I am right beneath you.”

    Kotone froze. Huh?

    The houseguest’s voice was too close. It had gained far too many decibels. Kotone flinched and looked down at the blurry, muddy grassland beneath her feet. She blinked out rainwater and rubbed her eyes. But something was beginning to phase up through the ground, failing to disturb the tiny wildflowers. A black, oily liquid appeared first, followed by two dinnerplate-sized eyes, which zeroed in on Kotone.

    “What the fuck?” she gasped. Her legs staggered back automatically. “What are you?”

    It slowly extended up from the puddle. Lightning flashed, highlighting something that resembled a gooey, black moray eel. It rolled its neck around, balancing out a heavy spine. It loomed over Kotone, thirty feet tall and hardly uncoiled. There had been a reversal, you see. The houseguest had gained far more than the advantage of size.

    Kotone’s entire face whitened. She froze as the thunder rolled over them. The eyes, glowing white in the darkness, looked down on her. That monotone voice betrayed nothing of the monster’s gruesome appearance.

    It is critical to mention that Kotone, as wonderful and talented or whatever she was, had a single phobia: snakes. She wasn’t going to admit it, but, like many, she would have preferred a handsome man whisking her off into the sunset. Anything but this.

    Gifted with at least one iota of common sense, she turned and fled —screaming with blind terror, no less— in the opposite direction. Her ophidiophobia was at full throttle. The monster sighed and sprouted a tentacle from its body. It tensed up and shot after Kotone, wrapping around her torso and reeling her back through the mud.

    Aaugh! Lemme go! Please!

    “I told you not to make me come out,” it said, much like a disgruntled parent. “Please stop trying to run away. I just want to talk to you.”

    Kotone found that increasingly hard to believe; those teeth looked more like they wanted to mince her up on the spot! It pulled her back in front of it and released her, but kept a snare on her ankle. She thrashed against it for a few moments before realizing it was futile. She wailed and buried her face in her hands.

    “It is just me,” the monster insisted. “Your old friend.”

    It took a few seconds, but Kotone regained enough composure to continue swearing. “Why the fuck are you doing this to me?” she yelled, trying to prevent her voice from lapsing into more screams. She shook her head, still gaping. “Who are you?”

    Time seemed to freeze after that question. You see, that was the worst possible question to ask.

    Stricken with disbelief, the monster gasped. It slowly recoiled, shaking its head. Its eyes went vacant for a few seconds. A substantial wrench had just been thrown into its plans.

    “Are— are you saying you have no idea who I am?

    Kotone struggled against the snare on her ankle, nodding as she fought back tears. “I— I don’t even know you,” she insisted. “What’re you talking about?”

    The two of them, equally dumbfounded by this turn of events, could only stare at each other.

    “Look at me,” the monster said, getting closer. “Look at me. Do you recognize me at all? Do you remember me, from all those years ago? From Emerald and Pearl?”

    In the resulting silence, Kotone watched the hope drain off the monster’s face.

    “You . . . really did forget about me,” it stated, aghast. “Unbelievable.”

    The monster had to think about this. It remained frozen for a few seconds, then let off a depressed sigh.

    “Just let me keep talking to you,” it said, leaning in too close for comfort. “We have some very important things to discuss; I can introduce myself later. Please have a seat.”

    Kotone’s mouth went ajar. Her eyes flicked all over its horrifying face. Unable to match its stare any longer, she glanced at the ocean, noticing the blue serpents had stopped their fighting. Even in the lowlight, she could make out confused expressions on their faces.

    No,” she spat, turning to the monster. “You are not the boss of me. I want out of this stupid, fucking video game. Now.”

    It scoffed. “You are stuck here with me whether you like it or not.”

    In a fit of terror and rage, Kotone flailed about aimlessly. The snare tightened slightly, letting her trip. She smacked into the wet grass. “Let me go!” she screamed, scrabbling back. “I fuckin’ hate you! Aaugh! Lemme go!

    “You are very lucky that I do not have a dresser nearby,” it said with the faintest trace of humor.

    Kotone countered with the one thing she was best at: she ripped loose another angry scream.

    The monster got back in her face, craning down to eye-level. A low sound emanated from its throat. “I,” it began in a restrained tone, “have waited a very, very long time for this. Do you really think I am going to let you out that easily? You have to be taught a lesson.”

    “I don’t need a lesson from anyone,” Kotone snapped. She jabbed a finger at it. “Especially from the likes of a monster.”

    The monster’s eyes widened. Then it hissed, its face peeling back and exposing thousands of needle-like teeth. It salivated a bright, glittery liquid behind its teeth. “Actually,” it said scathingly, “you should restrain your judgement. You made me a monster.”

    Kotone was too stunned to even breathe. Her pointer finger recoiled. Her beautiful future was now in the hands of this self-righteous leviathan. She shrunk away, covering her face. The monster leaned in to smile at her. Countless slurps sounded as its gooey mandibles stretched apart, bursting with countless spiny teeth.

    “And,” it hissed, “as I was saying—”

    Kotone screamed bloody murder, just as the world conveniently started spinning around her.


    “I told you it was gonna rain.”

    The scene was dark. The sky was interspersed with flashes of lighting and distant thunder. The air was well-brined with rainwater. Two men were walking toward Azalea Town in the early morning hours; they were arguing like the old fools they pretended not to be.

    I told you,” the little old man repeated, “that it was gonna rain. I told you that the Gyarados were passing through today.”

    He and the taller man were nearing the dense, leafy ceiling of the Ilex Forest, where the sloshy grasses under their shoes waited to turn into moss. The Gentleman was carrying a pink creature —a pet of the old man— in his arms. The pet’s head bobbed up and down in contented silence— it still hadn’t noticed the rain dribbling down into its drooling mouth.

    The old man paused, then held up his hands in offering. “So, now I gotta hear myself get told: why’re we out here without an umbrella?

    The Gentleman didn’t break his silence.

    The old man gritted his teeth. He had no idea why he was so angry about the Gentleman not listening to him, but he’d be damned if he let the man wriggle out of this with an intact ego. “You make me so damn mad. It’s ‘cause you never listen to me, y’know that?”

    “It’s for your own good.”

    The old man was currently in a battle of niceties. His gentlemanly sensibilities were fighting the urge to blister the Gentleman with I-told-you-so’s. “Ooh,” he hissed, his Azalean hospitality reeling the profanities back, “you may think you know what’s best for me,” he snapped, waggling a finger below the Gentleman’s nose, “but I can’t wait for the day you’re wrong.”

    The Gentleman’s eyebrows went up. He patted the Slowpoke, using the delay to taste-test his array of responses. “You know I can’t help it.”


    “It’s in my programming.”

    He was right. The taller one wasn’t a gentleman: he was a Gentleman. He was the type to give a complete stranger the clothes off his back. He embodied the very essence of geniality because he was programmed with that exact purpose, and nothing more. He was a simple, programmed man.

    “You aren’t even listenin’ to me,” the old man grumbled, “you uppity piece’a—”


    The entire world lit up, illuminating their faces. The sky went completely white. The thunderheads froze, seizing even the lightning in place. And, just like that, the world sizzled with purpose again. It stirred up its programming with a urgency that warmed their ears. It was a feeling from well-over a decade ago. Neither of the men could breathe. They turned to look at each other, frozen in time and space —and something else— as rainwater dripped into their eyes. They too, had a purpose again.

    “It’s back on,” the old man found himself stating.

    The Gentleman shook his head in disbelief. “I thought she’d forgotten all about us.”

    “Me too.”

    The Gentleman’s thoughts were spinning about: why would Miss Kotone turn on the video game after so long? Why now? What was going on in her world?

    These thoughts brought his line of sight back up to the sky, which went back to black. Immediately afterwards, a great ripping sound startled the Gentleman. A massive flash of light, brighter than any lightning, occurred just beyond the brim of his derby hat. He swerved around, completely missing the rift that had torn across the sky. A tinny little scream followed en suit.

    “I don’t like this,” he mouthed to himself.

    Some sense came back to the old man, bringing him to pull out his Pokégear from a satchel. He went straight for the radio functionality.

    And I swear,” the Director of the Radio Tower babbled, “I told her that— I— wait, I— I— no, I . . . ah! Breaking news! Miss Kotone has turned the game back on! Yep! According to our preliminary scans, she’s stock-still, possibly waiting for the perfect opportunity to grace us with her presence! I cannot wait! What about you? We’re taking calls right now, folks, so phone in with your thoughts!

    There was something in the Director’s voice that commanded attention, even when he yammered with a druglike intensity. Whether it was a nuance of programming or not, it was beyond the point. It had lost the magic from years ago.

    “Sounds worse every day,” the old man mumbled.

    The world seemed to sputter; the clouds jittered back and forth, then resumed their rolling boil. The world wasn’t quite sure what to think of being woken up after such a long nap. But the world kept watching. And, of course, the Slowpoke still hadn’t noticed a thing.

    Something just seemed wrong, however.

    This type of good sensibility had wrangled the Gentleman into submission. The hairs on the back of his neck were itching to stand at attention. There was something new in the air. We should leave, he thought. He grabbed the old man’s arm, anticipating a Teleport out of there. But, to his surprise, absolutely nothing happened.

    Why, you ask? Well, the Gentleman wasn’t wrong. But did he have any business telling the old man what to do?

    His eyes narrowed at the incoming dismissal on the old man’s lips. “I swear,” he cut in, “if you think—”

    A bloodcurdling scream split their conversation in two.

    That complicated things a bit. The pet Slowpoke, jostled by the Gentleman’s violent flinch, caught the old man’s eye.

    A deeply-concerned expression had crept up onto its face. It watched the distant beachfront with an uncanny understanding. The old man followed its line of sight. The Gentleman noticed their stares and followed their gazes, but failed to see anything. His vision wasn’t as sharp as the old man’s.

    “What’re you looking at? I don’t see anything.”

    Flickers of violent light in the cloud bellies lit up the creature. It was about thirty-feet tall, and half-way phased up through the ground. It was serpentine, yet wormy. The wet whites of its eyes flashed for a moment, drawing the old man’s eyes down its line of sight. There was something wriggling in its arms, the old man realized, as the light vanished.

    “Hello-o? What can you see?” the Gentleman whispered. He squinted to no avail. “It’s too—”


    The Slowpoke squirmed in his arms, making tiny squeaks. The Gentleman put a hand on its scruff, hushing it. The peach fuzz stood up through his fingers. The old man glanced at it, then returned to the thing in the creature’s arms. The wailing and flailing and whatnot kept getting worse. Something was going to happen.

    “I still don’t see anything,” the Gentleman reiterated, annoyed at being dismissed.

    More lightning this time. The creature leaned in closer, opening its mouth. The old man, still barely able to see, figured it was trying to eat the squirming thing it caught. More screams ensued, until an unmistakably female scream yanked him out of the trance. There was a human in its feelers, and she was making all the screams.

    The little old man gasped. He turned to the Slowpoke and yelped out a single command.


    A well-timed Teleport had intervened by then.

    The world slammed back into place. A light drizzle was falling in the clean air. Thunder rumbled at a safe volume in the distance. Of course, that peaceful little scene was shattered by Kotone, who was caught mid-scream. She landed face-first in soggy ground. She harvested her face from the dirt and looked up, meeting the eyes of two old men and a pink four-legged thing. The humans were wincing from her banshee-tier theatricals. They mentally dropped their plans of going home for the night.

    She froze for a second, then scrabbled backwards. The blood came rushing back to her face, pooling up in her cheeks with an unnatural flush. “Don’t hurt me,” she rasped in English.

    The older man looked confused at the nonsense coming out of her mouth.

    The Gentleman put a hand over his mouth. “Ma’am? Are you okay?” he asked in Japanese. The pink creature in the crook of his arm smiled vacantly. Glimmers of Psychic energy rippled the air around it, distorting the path of falling raindrops into unnatural arcs. His programming kicked in by then; he put the pink creature down, then squatted to her level.

    She just stared at him. Her brain was too shell-shocked for much of a conversation at that point, but these men seemed genuinely concerned for her safety. Her face crumpled with a sob. “Please,” she whimpered in Japanese, her face crumpling around the word, “don’t let that monster g-get me again. I’m— I’m gonna—”

    “Ma’am, you’ve got to get out of this rain,” the Gentleman interjected.

    “But it’s gonna—”

    “You’re shaking.”

    Kotone took deep breaths, staring at the older man’s face. It’s all a dream, she thought. It’s all a dream . . . you’re gonna wake up on that nasty sofa again and then you’re gonna . . . gonna . . .

    “Are you okay?” the older-looking one asked. At that point, the squishy creature standing by his ankles winced from Kotone’s previous screams.

    . . . Gonna what?

    She couldn’t stop thinking about the eyes of that monster. It wasn’t a silly little Pokémon. It was something more. Kotone started shaking. She swallowed at the lump in her throat. “I, I—” she sputtered, then broke down into sobs, covering her face with her hands. “Oh, I’m gonna die— I’m gonna die—”

    “No, you’re not,” the old man reassured her. “Shh. Listen to my friend. You gotta get outta this rain first, young lady.”

    The Gentleman smiled a perfectly-programmed smile. “You’re safe with us, ma’am.”

    He fished around an interior coat pocket and produced a handkerchief. He wordlessly offered the cloth as his pale blue eyes analyzed Kotone’s entire face.

    At the sight of such an offering, the tears re-surged. Kotone lifted herself up and wrapped her arms around him, burying her muddy face in the man’s chest. He stiffened in surprise and awkwardly patted her shoulder. The man wasn’t quite sure how to deal with this much affection. Noting the encroaching stains in his dress coat, he sighed.

    “. . . I’m Melvin,” he said, still mystified at what was happening. “Who are you?”

    All she could do at the moment was weep into his overcoat. Her shudders rocked them both.

    “Ah, well, my friend and I here,” he paused to gesture at the perpetually-grumpy man, “were headed back to Azalea Town. Do you live there too? Do you want us to walk to back home? Where are you from?”

    Kotone didn’t want to respond. She stared at the soggy grassland with half of her face buried in Melvin’s overcoat.

    “Canada,” she mumbled. Kotone topped everything off with a garbled sob.

    Melvin, with a raised eyebrow, turned to the old man. “Cana-wha? Isn’t that a Cerulean suburb? Why’s she all the way out here?”

    Honestly,” the old man muttered while rubbing his eyes, “I reckon she’s the victim of a cruel prank; y’know, someone used a nasty move on her and put her in a fugue state—”

    “Stop talking,” she rasped. She sniveled a bit, coughing from her scream-wracked throat. “The monster will hear us.”

    They didn’t have much of a response to that kind of statement. Kotone pulled away from Melvin and stared back at them.

    “Monster?” the old man echoed. “Are you talkin’ about those all Gyarados way out there?” he said, tossing a hand at the choppy ocean. “They’re not gonna hurt you.”

    The old man looked off, away from the two humans, all the way back toward the oceanfront. The dark shape was panicking, flinging its head back and forth and scouring the beach. A distant hissing emanated from the area. He squinted harder, just as it decided to dive off into the ocean. But, unfortunately, he wasn’t quite sure if he imagined it or not. He turned back to the maniac.

    “There’s no such thing as monsters, ma’am.”

    He’d lost a great deal of belief in that statement and unfortunately, it showed.

    “Do you have any idea what you just rescued me from?” she gasped. She prepared to lecture these two men, then backpaddled. “Hold on— do you have any idea who I am?

    Neither man seemed to have an answer.

    “I am the protagonist,” she declared. She strained against the Gentleman’s not-so-gentle grasp, eyes wide and bloodshot, nodding up and down with an intensity that made the old man take a step back. “I’m Kotone Iwamatsu and I am your owner.”


    “And I’ll do anything to get out of here,” she continued on through the incoming hyperventilation. Her throat was terribly raw from all the screaming. “Just get me as far away from that thing as possible,” she reiterated, pointing in the opposite direction of the ocean.

    “Ma’am, we don’t have any monsters. Okay? I mean, we got a bunch’a Pokémon out here past the Ilex Forest, though,” the old man said in an attempt to reassure her. His small eyes scrutinized her beneath prominent eyebrows. “You okay?”

    Kotone didn’t even know where to start. “I —no, I am not okay— have been sucked inside a video game.” She wiped some tears away. These men were being so dismissive. Her mouth flattened into a firm line. “Were you even listening earlier? Do you have any idea who I am?”

    Melvin held up his hands helplessly; the old man raised his eyebrows. He fiddled with the Pokégear in his palm, then brought it up to her face.

    “That’s Miss Kotone’s resting place,” he declared, holding a finger on the tiny screen, all the way over in Kanto. A pixellated representation of her avatar blinked repeatedly. “You,” he continued and pulled the wrinkly finger over to the west, deep into Johto, “are here with us. Which brings my next question: what’s going on?

    Kotone made an exasperated noise. “But I— I really am the protagonist,” she said, so stunned that tears welled up. She put her hands on her chest. “I swear on it. I’m your Kotone. Kotone Iwamatsu. I’m the protagonist.”

    The old man’s face twisted up; but not with pity. “Uh, I really hate to tell you this, but . . . no. You’re not. She’s been standing on that random Kanto Route for the past ten years.”

    The real Kotone couldn’t help it; tears fell down her cheeks during her silence. She felt her legs give way and found herself waist-deep in wet grass. A rattled breath left her mouth. “That’s not fair,” she mumbled as more tears dribbled down. “That’s not fair.”


    Melvin bent down, putting his hands on her shoulders. “We’re going to help you,” he said with surprising sternness. “Please stay calm.” His expression softened. “I want you to take a deep breath. Okay?”

    Kotone had enough medical expertise to believe him. She sucked in a rattled gulp of air.

    “Now, please tell me: are you okay?” Melvin asked as the older man looked on. “This isn’t normal, you know. Did someone hurt you? Do we need to take you to the Pokémon Center?”

    Her eyes were glazed over with shock. “I . . . I know you’re not gonna believe me, but . . . I— I’ve just been sucked into this video game by a gigantic monster and I don’t know how to get out. I don’t belong here.” Kotone sniffled and tried to hold back her sobs. “And you don’t even believe me,” she wailed at last. She put a hand over her eyes.

    “Ma’am, please, don’t cry again,” Melvin said, helping her up. He began easing her along the dirt road. He walked them perfectly parallel to a set of maglev tracks that ran all the way from one horizon to the next.

    Kotone could do nothing but oblige.

    “Let’s get somewhere dry. We’ll help you get back home. I’m sure you live close by.”

    The old men walked a stunned Kotone toward a distant Magnet Train stop, which looked more like a modestly-built bus stop than anything. The sprinkle of raindrops perforated their silence. The pink creature was happily seated in a set of geriatric arms.

    “You’re gonna be okay,” the older man eventually declared, slapping a gruff pat on her back. Kotone stumbled, her shoes sliding on the mud, and nearly face-planted into the ground. The only thing stopping her was the grip on Melvin’s coat sleeve.

    “Sorry ‘bout that,” was all the old man offered.

    Kotone glared daggers through him. However, the pink, squishy creature in the crook of his arm caught her attention again. Its eyes watched her every move with a slight delay. The dopey, toothless smile on its face grew.

    Is that really . . . a Pokémon?

    The faint moonlight highlighted its features, kickstarting her memory. A Slowpoke was staring into her eyes. A Slowpoke, for crying out loud, that didn’t even exist! A Pokémon! It was nothing more than flashing pixels on a game screen!

    “No way,” she whispered.

    The older man noticed Kotone’s staring. “Name’s Dasher. He’s my pet for teleportation purposes.” His face scrunched up in confusion at her reverence. “Uh, you’ve never seen a Slowpoke before?”

    Kotone was too stunned to even shake her head. Whatever voodoo that monster had done behind the scenes had worked. This was real.

    After a few minutes of walking, the three of them crammed into the small bench, huddled beneath the thin roofing of the Magnet Train stop. They were far away enough from the ocean that the downpour was reduced to a fine mist. Melvin assured Kotone that the Magnet Train would arrive on time and take her far, far away from this place.

    Kotone gave the entire situation a bit of thought, now that she could think rationally.

    If she ever managed to escape this video game, the doctors would likely label her a schizophrenic. Definitely delusional, at least. She pressed her fingers into her eye-sockets, trying not to moan.

    Imagine all the therapy they’ll put you through.

    Not only that, the cost of all the therapy was spinning through her mind. Kotone would get shunted through the healthcare system and lose her opportunity to become a doctor. No one would want to associate with her ever again: it was effectively professional suicide. All of a sudden, being spirited away from all her problems wasn’t quite as bad. The pressure on her eyelids lessened; but Kotone was far from content. She hesitated. Internally, she was dying to convince these men that she was the real deal— and, that a dangerous and unstable monster was behind all of it. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath.

    “You know,” she began slowly, aiming her words at the old man’s crusty ears. “That thing I saw . . . wasn’t a Pokém—”

    Naturally, the old man scoffed at her claim. “As I’ve been tellin’ you,” he grumbled, “the nastiest thing you’ll run into ‘round here is a Gyarados.” He leaned back into the seat and expelled a huge breath.


    “Just calm down. There’s no such thing as monsters, okay?”

    The old man had a reason for being so crochety. There was only one group that could help this weirdo, and the old man wasn’t keen on getting them involved. The girl didn’t know it, but she’d gotten herself tangled up in one helluva mess; the old man didn’t know it, but she couldn’t have picked a worse way to get sucked into a video game.

    The man’s eyes were trained on the watery horizon. Kotone averted her eyes.

    Now only partially resigned to her fate, she had just enough energy to curl up against the glass paneling. The panicked flush began to exit her face through her cheek, all pressed up against the glass; there was nothing left of the great Kotone Iwamatsu but a mass of diluted cold sweats. All she could do was whisper beneath the constant pitter-patter of rain. Her pleas, swerving between English and Japanese, begged the monster not to find her.

    This was all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.


    She had literally, literally slipped from its feelers. The monster was ready to kill somebody.

    Her scent, intermingled with the rain, had simply vanished. In a fit of accusatory rage, the monster had gone after the nearby Gyarados, thinking they had a part in Kotone’s disappearance. Some of them had been bleeding from their arguments. The monster followed their scent far out into the sea. The monster sprung up from the depths and, like lightning, bent over them in a flash. The wake from such a movement spilled over the colony and spun numerous Magikarp around in its leftover vortices. The monster, more liquid than solid, sprouted a couple of thin legs.

    How dare you?” it spat.

    Dumb with terror, all the Gyarados and Magikarp could do was stare back at that thing. It had burning eyes and a serpentine body like theirs, but resembled nothing from their world. It wasn’t a Pokémon. It couldn’t be a Pokémon. Right?

    “Where is she? What did you do with her?”


    The shapeshifter muttered and hissed, suddenly dribbling multicolored saliva from its mouth. Except it wasn’t saliva. It was some kind of corrosive fluid that glittered with all the colors of the rainbow. It looked like fizzling static contained in a liquid. It spattered onto the water with a hiss. The monster was so angry that it didn’t even notice.

    “Give the human back to me, and no one gets hurt.”

    It sprouted a razor-sharp feeler and whipped it back, threatening to slice a Gyarados in half.

    “Which one of you used Teleport?”

    But the monster, in a moment of clarity, paused. It realized there was no way these Gyarados could have taken Kotone away. They had no teleportation abilities. They weren’t even that hostile. The monster’s eyes doubled in size. Then they rolled down, discovering the mess it had made. The monster blinked, clearly for emphasis more than anything. The hissing cut off. It actually seemed to fear the glittering liquid.

    The shapeshifter produced several more sets of limbs. They cut into the water as if it was a solid, scraping away all the liquid it could find. It had powers like that of a Ghost-type Pokémon: it phased through the elements without making a single ripple in the water. It thoughtlessly bent the game’s laws of physics.

    The Gyarados had never seen anything like it.

    The monster’s eyes were wide with panic. It knew it was wasting precious time. It reabsorbed as much fluid as it could. Seemingly satisfied after a few moments, it scanned the land and turned around, preparing to dive into the ocean. The Gyarados watched it mutter to itself, then look back at them. It froze upon realizing that it had offended the Gyarados. This was a major breach of etiquette.

    One of the meatier Gyarados —the disciplinarian’s mate— hissed at it. That was a bad move.

    The monster displayed a mouth of countless, haphazardly-placed fangs and let off a shriek ten times louder. “Just stay out of this,” it hissed at their taut, terrified faces.

    The matriarch knew she had to do something. She floated closer, opening her mouth. The shapeshifter’s face lit up from the emerging Hyper Beam in her throat. She faltered for a second at the monster’s gruesome appearance and endless throat. The beam of blistering energy exploded out and torched the side of its face. Other Gyarados, emboldened by their leader, joined in with a rain of Thunderbolt and even Thunder. The world lit up in deafening white.


    Under most circumstances, such a savage blitzkrieg would cripple another Gyarados. As the light faded, they realized the monster was still floating there with murder in its eyes. Its skin was already blackened beyond recognition.

    All I keep asking of you,” it reiterated with a snarl, “is to stay out of this.”

    Without a single splash, it rapidly descended into the ocean depths and vanished.

    The Gyarados were unusually still. None of them knew what to say. This was something so, so far beyond their control. They held a moment of silence for the human. Humans were squishy and very overconfident; smart, but . . . not smart enough to survive something like that. The matriarch scanned the shoreline, knowing they could do nothing for the innocent little human. But when she looked at the water in front of her, she realized that the monster had missed a few droplets.

    The glittery fluid shone of its own accord, sizzling and eating at the water itself.

    Welp, I hope you weren't yearning for Kotone to get whisked into the sunset by a handsome man. This ain't that kind of fic. Special thanks to my Bulbagarden friends for making sure I clarified all the worldbuilding details of this weird-ass story. EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS to all the reviewers who've helped me improve this chapter!
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
  6. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    Hey, I finally got around to reading your next chapter and I'm definitely intrigued by the direction it's taking. I think having this amorphous creature be a forgotten thing from one of Kotone's past games works and provides a good basis for conflict where the creature tries to get Kotone's respect/recognition/or something. In general, I like how the game world is built around the game being abandoned for ten years, but still working, kinda like an old animal crossing save file. Having "Kotone" be in stasis for ten years and not being the same as actual Kotone also has potential for some cool plot elements in the future.

    I don't really have much in the way of criticism; I think the prose works fine and the dialogue does a sufficient job of providing some characterization. In particular, I like the added use of game text, for lack of a better phrase. Overall, excited for the next chapter.
  7. The Teller

    The Teller King of Half-Truths

    Hello there! Just your average everyday Teller stopping by for a quick review. So, just for your information, this will be just about the first chapter. Anyway, let’s go!

    Firstly, any fic set in Johto is automatically a win. And then the opening scene is just depressing. Whoops. But I’ve already committed to this, so further in I go.

    That has got to be the most fragile lightbulb I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of lightbulbs in my life. I am also mostly blind, coincidentally.

    So, funny story: I just did this like a couple days ago. I fished out my old DS, as I was intending to play HeartGold soon, it was dead, I fished out the charger, plugged it in, charged it overnight, and it actually whispered ‘thank you’ to me when it thought I was sleeping. True story. So I totally relate to this scene. Also, thanks to being glued to a screen most of the time, I also get frequent headaches, so that part’s relatable, too!

    Her nearly choking to death as a reaction to a disembodied voice, and actually having to go through the whole Heimlich maneuver to spit out the pill was…darkly humorous.

    I did feel that her flipping from “this is all a hallucination from overworking myself” to “this is definitely all real; also, how can I profit off this?” was a little too sudden. I feel like anyone would be stuck in “this isn’t real” mode for far longer than Kotone was, even if they do go the route of “well, I might as well have fun with this hallucination while I’m here.”

    I do like the complexity of Kotone admitting that she’s studying to become a neuro-oncologist solely because of her parents forcing her to. Her admitting it to a DS AI that she thinks is all a hallucination goes back to that dark humor again, which I feel should be a staple to this story. Another fine example is Kotone going back to the DS later, just to torture it some more.

    Well at least we all recognize the situation here.

    It looks like the start to a good story. We’ve got our protagonist here who isn’t going to take things lying down, and a mysterious entity who seems to want to help, whether the protagonist likes it or not. An interesting start. I hope you have fun getting the rest of the story out of your head!
  8. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter 1

    Well, this was an entertaining and amusing first chapter. The DS with eyes kinda reminded me of RotomDex until it grinned... in what I could only picture as a creepy Cheshire Cat. I'm not sure what I make of it. Friend or foe? Hmm... It could go either way (or basically be the Kyubey of the story?)

    This doesn't bode well for Kotone, does it? Sounds like she's had a very bad night, down to using a chair as a tool in a self applied Heimlich maneuver. I'm interested to see .how this plays out.

    Chapter 2

    Yikes, what on earth is that black snakey thing? At first I wondered if it might be a seviper or giratina, but the more it was described the less I thought so (plus Giratina isn't in Emerald!) Rayquaza, maybe? But that doesn't have teeth... Whatever it is, I think something's gone rather... wrong.

    The gyarados squabble was hilarious!

    Kotone really has found herself in a sticky situation. Poor girl's traumatised. As funny as this 'fic is, I really worry she's not gonna handle this very well. A very realistic approach to her sudden unfortunate situation.

    A couple of typos I spotted (which are very few and far between, I have to say!)

    Minor grammar error. This needs to be 'an'.

    Should this be 'you'?

    This is absolutely fantastic so far! I'm really keen to keep up with this, and look forward to your next update! =D
  9. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Chapter 6, in which Eris stirs **** up even more than she already has. :p I like that we get more hints into what Team Rocket's got going on in this world, although I think there's been a pattern so far of every hint getting expanded into an entire chapter where one or all of the following things happen: Kotone/Eris freaks out, other people freak out, everyone talks about how much they hate each other for some reason, very specific comedy jokes ensure. I'm still afraid it'll risk having the story feel like it's repetitve or dragging on. It still doesn't feel that way for me yet, at least.

    Eris's shorter and snappier dialogue in this chapter is interesting. I thought maybe she'd calmed down a little, but no, you show well that her impulsivity is ready to strike at any moment, haha. And I can definitely see it just being a result of the resentment she's harboring toward Proton and the others, plus her situation. I'm still enjoying her character as much as ever.

    Feiruz is super adorable. <3 And so are Eris's interactions with him, guh. Yeah, she tricks him, but she doesn't do it in a malicious way, and his innocence and confusion over it all makes it for an interesting, fun read. Of course, the tone shifts at the end of the chapter, where Eris and Proton duke it out with words, and the tension is delicious. That was one hell of a piece of dialogue to end on, tbh.

    See ya chapter 7! I'm starting to suspect Eris just isn't gonna fit in or be wanted in Team Rocket after all, and I'm excited to find out if that's the case. :p
  10. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Just a reminder that at new paragraphs, when the same person si speaking, there should be opening quotations.

    Every time I see this word, I think of Vizzini from the Princess Bride lol.

    Well, you DID deliberately antagonize and provoke it, so that's something.

    Ahahaha, Kotone doesn't seem to quite have the idea of romance, does she? Most people wouldn't equate "force" with "true love" =P

    Aww, poor Slowpokes and their delayed reactions!

    Also just another question: what language does Kotone primarily speak? The name sounds Japanese but when she initially spoke English, I got curious.

    And how did Kotone get away from the monster? Did they teleport out of there? With the narration and its breaks, I had a hard time telling exactly what happened--it looked like Kotone was caught up by the monster, and then she was with the two men and their Slowpoke.

    I think Kotone's reaction at being tossed in o the video game is relatable, and fairly well-done. Screaming like a hysteric while staring up at the creature of her nightmares seems reasonable.

    Having three sentences in the same paragraph all begin with "The monster" is repetitive and feels a bit stilted; finding other ways to begin the other two sentences would help it flow together a bit better.

    Also, maybe it's just me, but I feel like the monster's impression on me changed petty quickly. It seemed like a fairly amicable creature at first when it brought Kotone in and was trying to calm her down and speak to her. Once she slipped away, he goes on a murderous rampage. Comes across as a bit bipolar, but then again, he isn't human.

    All the glittery liquid--sounds like the game is corroding and dying. Is it the internal battery? Although i guess those aren't a problem on the DS games. Still, the last line is ominous and you did a great job of setting the atmosphere.

    I liked this chapter! I really enjoy you're writing style; aside from the small nitpicks I mentioned earlier, it flows smoothly and very well. And I like how the monster defies the game's physics--you definitely drarw our attention to that and it certainly makes it stick out a something very otherworldly. Overall, good job! Excited to see where this goes =)
  11. Arkadelphiak

    Arkadelphiak ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    Awww. You guys are great! I'm already a fan of Serebii.

    Hurrah! Yeah, I wanted to start the story with a lot of background. I felt that a hard reset or 'noob meets video game' scenario simply didn't have enough meat to it. And be sure to pay attention to that game text! It's not merely for aesthetics!
    Okay, that made my day. I've had another reader mention that the 'offensively bright' Nintendo DS loading screen makes a great nightlight. Although, if the game starts talking to you, be sure to throw it against the wall . . .
    Welcome to my sense of humor!
    The fact that you went for Kyubey is a good thing. I hope you like entropy.
    Oh, absolutely. Something has gone very wrong here.
    ayyy bb
    Aww, I have gotten some complaints about this. I'm trying a new style with the Director of the Radio Tower's speeches, so I really want to keep it. ):
    First of all, I'm so happy you've questioned her language skills!! She's actually trilingual (but not totally proficient in French). The HeartGold game is written in Japanese, whereas her Canadian heritage causes her to shift between English and French at times (she smarht). I have no idea how to speak Japanese, so I just went with it. As for her escape, Kurt noticed her in the monster's snare and ordered Dasher to teleport her away. We'll get another glimpse at that in the upcoming chapter. And yeah, screaming at everything new is fairly reasonable.
    ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.




    This was all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    When it comes to games, there is always an overworld; this is the place where the player interacts with the game’s environment. This flat plane of procedurally-generated flora and fauna is where the magic happens. The continent of HeartGold was surrounded by seas to each corner. Water spilled past the rectangular edges before dissolving into nothingness.

    But, everything in the universe rests in a balancing act— there is no sense in arguing otherwise. Naturally, the only way to balance this out was with an underworld. So, past that, past the literal edge of the world, was nothingness. And within that nothingness lived a monster.

    The monster simmered a few feet below the plane of the flat world. As a matter of fact, the world was flat. It was a massive, yet arbitrarily thin, transparent plane that was nigh-unbreakable. Buildings, grasslands, oceans, people, Pokémon . . . everything sat on top of it. It was the only thing separating the world from the black nothingness all around it. The world’s simple design made travel very easy for the monster: all it had to do was float underneath an area of interest, examine what was above it, then phase up through. It was too easy.

    But the monster wasn’t moving right then. The previous events replayed endlessly in its mind. It glowered at the happy little plane, trying to think. It had no idea where to start. Kotone could have gone anywhere, especially given the massive network of transportation systems in the area.

    All that work, all that waiting . . . for nothing.

    It hissed and hated itself even further. There was only one way to deal with this, and it involved a sizable depreciation of humility.

    One must note that this monster was unlike anything else in the game. For some reason, the monster could perceive small amounts of radio transmissions. And there was only one living thing that purveyed radio emissions. The monster, with the usual sigh, followed the sensations of radio transmissions: anything from a faint light, to a humming, a click-clack, and endless crickle-crackle. It moped onward beneath the continent until the monster knew it was underneath the Ruins of Alph. An ethereal glow of low-frequency electromagnetic waves made the monster squint a little.

    The monster shook its head, knowing it had a real headache in its future. It hated asking for help.

    With a sigh, it phased up through the bedrock in the lowest floor of the Ruins of Alph. Its head grazed the rocky ceiling. The monster crouched lower, feeling slightly confined in the small room. It examined the walls full of flat, stone eyes. The monster knew they were already watching. They just liked to play games.

    It sprouted a sharp feeler and dragged it down the dusty tiles, eliciting a shrill scraping sound.

    The eyeball right underneath its feeler blinked. Countless eyes flew open as their stony camouflage melted away.

    The atmosphere instantly cooled. The gaze of the many stared right on through the monster. Eight of the Unown immediately detached from the wall and swung into formation. A chorus of childlike voices chanted out of tune, growing in volume.

    W H O T H E R E

    The monster froze. It looked left and right, noticing the angry stares. The crypt lit up in a blinding rainbow of colors and shivered. Unown peeled off every conceivable flat surface and surrounded the monster. It offered a blank stare.

    G T F O

    They began to spin around it. The monster sighed. The air chilled further, growing a thin layer of ice crystals over the stone. The eye of each Unown inverted: the sclerae blackened and the pupils glowed white. The vault’s natural colors desaturated.

    The Hidden Power attack seized the monster. The air around it twisted and deformed as the hivemind tried to spaghettify it out of existence. Their psychokinetic touch tore at the monster’s oily membrane, but was unable to penetrate or cause any damage. Still sighing, the monster shook the attack off, baring a mouth full of needlepoint teeth at them.

    O H

    The attack dissipated, including the ice crystals. The monster rolled its eyes. The Unown were neither creative nor careful when it came to games. Their inverted eyes returned to normal.

    A Y Y Y Y Y Y Y

    Their inverted eyes returned to normal.

    G O O D T O F I N A L L Y M E E T Y O U

    The monster sighed, staring right on through the cluster of spinning bodies. It wasn’t good with formalities. “Hello, there. I need your help, Unown. I . . . think I made a mistake.”

    L O L W H Y

    Why?” it hissed, trying to make eye contact with one. “How can you even ask that? Stop asking questions. I have never meddled your problems. All I am asking for is a small transmission. Consider us allies.”

    M M K A Y

    They weren’t exactly jumping at the opportunity. They stared at the monster, analyzing it. The Unown had heard of this creature, in fact— it had quite the reputation. It was a phantom of mythical proportions, rumored to have inexplicable power. There had only been whisperings of a shadowy monster that lurked beneath the overworld. The Unown bid their time, trying to probe into its psyche. But it wasn’t very effective.

    The monster’s eyes narrowed. “Do you have any idea who I am?”

    H M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M

    A melancholy expression spread over the monster’s face as it waited for them to finish attaching the remaining M Unown. This was so unnecessary.

    M A Y B E

    Their chaotic dance was actually carefully calculated. They spun through the air, sloping gently down, and zipped back into the ring . . . undulating and spinning out into helices and various concentric shapes. The monster found itself admiring them.

    “Anyway,” it said, eyeing another pupil that darted off. “Can you do me a favor?”

    The Unown slowed down. They became silent. A couple of the heavy-lidded ? and ! Unown, drifting toward the back of the cluster, watched the monster carefully. They weren’t generous with the diacritical markings. A new word began to take shape.

    M A Y B E ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

    Punctuation? The monster was impressed. The Unown rapidly alphabetized themselves and froze, even as their pupils jiggled. The monster scanned the endless wall of Unown, surprised at how eager they were. Normally speaking, it took an arm and a leg to get their attention.

    The monster stared them down, unmoved even when some of the Unown stared back. Black pupils on both sides of the debate glittered with something far beyond simple malice. These two entities, though their senses of humor were diametrically opposed, held a grudging mutual respect.

    “As I was saying,” the monster reiterated. “I need you to broadcast a message for me. Nothing bad, nor difficult . . . something just in case.”

    Some of the pupils fluttered, watching and waiting. Their Psychic persuasion had wasn’t very effective on the monster.

    The monster sighed. “Just in case someone decides to stop and listen to me,” it grumbled.

    O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O H

    The monster merely glared at the Unown’s unfortunate implication.

    U G O T A S P E C I A L S O M E O N E ? ? ?

    “. . . You would not understand.”

    S U U U U U U R E


    The remainder of Kotone’s morning consisted of a panic attack. Dasher was curled up on her abdomen; she struggled to breathe against his deadweight. Kotone stared through the misting rains at the distant ocean. Fat, white tears spilled across the sides of her face. She sniffled every couple of minutes.

    The whole time, a tinny intercom inside the Magnet Train talked the silence away.

    It’s really quite strange,” the man on the radio continued. “Our analysts aren’t sure why she’s left the game on for hours, sans moving. Miss Kotone has never done this before. Let’s just hope she plugged the charger in, or we’ll have to wait another ten years for a visit. Ha!

    Her face pinched up in equal parts pain and frustration.

    Once again, this is the Director of the Radio Tower, emceeing our early bird special! I hope you’re having a de-elightful morning!

    This was all happening so fast. Melvin and the old man blathered about in the seats right behind her. For a couple of geezers, they made quite the racket; the occasional laugh or cough made Kotone flinch. This pattern repeated itself until she developed a constant shiver, accompanied by the mental picture of a gigantic serpent grinning over her. Wanting to teach her a lesson. She shut her eyes.

    I don’t know who or what you are . . . but I know I don’t deserve this . . .

    Kotone shuddered and jammed herself deeper in the seat. She rolled her head toward the window. She tried to gaze at the sky, but the faintest, diffused sunrise was orthogonal to her eyes. A blur of dark greens whizzed by. It took a few miles for the Magnet Train to get up to cruising speed. It shot past some sort of farm with a red roof and a picket fence; this suspended Kotone in a world of new feelings.

    Must have been the Pokémon Day Care . . .

    Seeing it in person made her frown. She vaguely recalled breeding massive numbers of Pokémon for a flawless one. It was pretty gross —in a biological sense, at least— since the offspring had to be bred with the parents . . . and so on. Of course, she eventually released them all in displeasure when they had less-than-perfect stats. Hacking was so much easier.

    The reality of all her blatant Poké-eugenics was beginning to dawn on her. Surely, hacking in just one flawless Pokémon was favorable to breeding hundreds of legitimate ones and discarding them. Right?

    Kotone bit her lip. Everything about this pained her in an unfamiliar manner. But what was it? Nostalgia?

    Kotone slid down in the seat and curled up against the vibrating wall, with the occasional involuntary shiver. She kept herself calm by watching the incoming horizon. She was going to get as far away from that monster as possible. She was going to get out of here. She had to. And when she did, she was going straight to the press and raising hell. She was going to win a Nobel Prize for being the first human to get sucked into a video game. Then she’d auction off the toy to the highest bidder. It would make her unimaginably wealthy and famous. Then, researchers would pry apart this damned video game in hopes of discovering its secrets.

    But that was the future, and sadly, it lacked a satisfaction guarantee.

    The skyline of Goldenrod City did not merely appear from thin air; the horizon became the approaching skyline. The very first object to puncture it was spindly and silver, surprisingly. The unmistakable silhouette of the Goldenrod Radio Tower glittered over everything as skyscrapers began to pierce through. Each tower was programmed to a stern exactness, unrestricted by fickle human physics. The Magnet Train slid on past the sprawling suburbia, eventually decelerating as it hit the city delineation. Kotone watched as everything morphed from agrarian to metropolitan. The maglev headed toward a train station in the middle of the city. It took just a few seconds to vanish into the terminal‘s black mouth. Kotone found herself staring at her bleary-eyed reflection. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the tunnel lamps overlaid in the darkness; they looked like monstrous eyes blinking over and over again.

    We have arrived at Goldenrod! Goldenrod! The accent is on the “o”!

    Kotone looked over the headrests, raising her eyebrow at the stock-still conductor. She was surprised at the array of tools on his law enforcement gear, as opposed to a conducting uniform. The Policeman blinked a few times and came back to reality. He cleared his throat, leaning into the microphone at his control terminal. “Approximate arrival in Ever Grande Central Station: ten minutes. Thank you for using the Magnet Train.”

    Kotone uncrossed her legs and stretched her muscles, trying not to disturb Dasher. Now was the time for action.


    The Director of the Radio Tower was something else. His signature building towered above the exit of Ever Grande Central Station, ready to dazzle tourists. Its robust body tapered upward ‘til it met the glassy observatory on top. It seemed to monitor the fickle metropolitan area, pumping out invisible streams of invaluable, electromagnetic entertainment.

    Kotone could feel it in her amalgam fillings. The back of Kotone’s head was flat against her shoulders, stared down by the Goldenrod Radio Tower. A ripple of vertigo swam through her guts, wiggling out through her knees. Kotone took a couple of deep breaths. She might have been shorter than the average human, but Goldenrod City didn’t care. It dwarfed anything and everything. Kotone didn’t remember at the time, but she was inexplicably intertwined with it: she had defeated Team Rocket and rescued the Director of the Radio Tower.

    Er, her avatar had done all that. She didn’t deserve that much credit.

    She was trying to remember why it looked so familiar, when, of all people, Melvin brushed right past her, shouldering others out of his way.

    “Huh? What’re you doing?”

    You see, Melvin and the old man had forgotten to explain the concept of Trainer Classes to their disoriented guest. She spent a long time ogling the endless stream of Melvin-imposters as they flowed around her. But the game had a couple hundred Non-Player Characters, or NPCs. How were there so many people in this simple little game?

    Kotone shook her head with a sigh and forced herself to keep walking. It was pointless to agonize over such mysteries if she wasn’t planning on staying in the damned game any longer. She, along with the real Melvin and the old man, exited the area and entered a street filled with golden light. And, naturally, angry political campaigners. She internally groaned at all the hecklers camping outside the station. She scanned the signpost next to her, which hung far above the bouncing political posters.

    “Where do we go now, Melvin?”

    He raised his eyebrows at the crowd. “Past all that, unfortunately.”

    A huge, tricolored poster wiggled in front of her face. Kotone scowled at the holder and craned her neck around them both. Colorful papers littered the ground with cautioning smiles. They were all superimposed with the portrait of a plain man and various political statements.

    Someone —possibly a Fisherman— handed Kotone a generic, tri-colored flier. The blue of the man’s hair, eyes, and finely pressed suit were superimposed on a red background, complete with beige highlights. Nowhere in the universe was safe from politics, it seemed.

    Why Can’t Mayor Marigold Make Goldenrod City Great Again?

    Kotone snorted and threw it into the nearest bin, not caring whether it was for recycling or not. It felt good to be so careless.

    “Well, I’m glad you finally got your introduction to big-city politics,” Melvin scoffed. He had known her long enough to figure her out, and smirked to himself.

    Kotone grumbled at him, adjusting her persona to the current scenario. She was far from a local, and, frankly, never intended to become one in the first place. “Look, Melvin, I’m no fan of politics,” she griped. “All I care about is biology. Just let me be a scientist in peace: that's my political stance.”

    That brief mention of scientist stopped the old man, a few feet behind the two, dead in his tracks. Kotone and Melvin, grousing uninterrupted, continued walking past the small corner shops. An incredulous look unfurled from the old man’s brow to his chin.

    “Uh, ma’am, did you just say that you're a Scientist, too?”

    Kotone came to a halt, with Melvin following suit. The second-to-last thing she wanted —the first being another visit from that monster— was to have her authority questioned. She turned around, mildly affronted, and unfurled her equivalent look. “Uh, yeah. You might as well call me a scientist. I’ve got most of the education.”

    “A Scientist?

    “Yep.” Her look dared him to question her any further. “A scientist.”

    This was quite the plot twist. But the old man was far from convinced, and there was plenty of validity behind his skepticism. His face crumpled in deep thought. “You don’t look like one, though.”

    Excuse me?

    “All of the Scientists in the world are males, ma’am. You’re not makin’ any sense.”

    Her mild affront graduated to moderate affront. Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t stand there and patronize me, old man. I’ll have you know that I have over three hundred confirmed—”

    Melvin,” he suddenly said, turning to look up at his housekeeper and ignoring Kotone’s hiss of frustration. “I just remembered. You gotta go get my groceries. The market on fifth street will be opening any second and you’ve gotta scoop up all their Apricorns before anybody else does.”

    This sudden diversion caught everyone off guard.

    The old man's housekeeper seemed confused at the sudden request, but ultimately deferred. He raised his silvery, groomed eyebrows and pretended not to notice the sudden pretense. “Whatever you say. Do you remember the Pokémon Center’s address?”


    The eyebrows went higher. “Alrighty, then. You sure you can take her there by yourself—”

    “I’m sorry, what? Do I look like some kinda Super Nerd?” the old man snapped. “I don’t let you mooch off me for your insolence. Go get my damn groceries. I’ll call you when I’ve dropped this girl off.”

    Kotone’s previous bristling lessened in the presence of theirs. Her eyes slid between the two, analyzing their faces. The old man had a stare that could penetrate lead, whereas Melvin’s own could see right on through. She watched as Melvin was given a choice: to snap back or merely lower his eyebrows and proceed.

    “That totally understandable,” he began, developing a fine hybrid of the two options. “I hope you both have a nice day— but,” he said, turning to Kotone, “mainly, I pray that you end up feeling better, ma’am.” The muscles in his crow’s feet twitched slightly as he turned to the houseowner. “And, with that, I guess I’ll see you later this afternoon . . . Kurt.”

    Kotone froze, eyes widening.

    A wicked smirk traveled up Melvin’s face. He spun around on one brown dress shoe and decidedly vanished into the crowd of people on the main street. It was uncanny, really. Within seconds, there were only two people left on the golden, concrete tiles. The newly-outed Kurt glared at Melvin’s disappearing silhouette. He tried to pull Kotone forward, but she was rigid with shock.

    “Wait a minute, Kurt? You’re Kurt?”

    He groaned audibly, knowing his morning had just been ruined.

    But Kotone’s jaw was still making its way downward— naturally, nothing could stop it. “You? The guy who made me all those Balls? I don’t believe it.” She scanned him over, noting that he was far shorter than she expected. In a surprising turn of events, it was Kurt who dared to have his authority questioned; she recoiled at his raised eyebrow.

    “What? You want my damn autograph or something?”

    She blinked, flustered. “Uh, well . . . no, I— I mean . . . I was, uh, wondering what you got rid of Melvin for?”

    There was a bubble of silence between them.

    Kurt shifted his eyes away from her line of sight and a sigh followed en suit. “Listen, ma’am. I want to get you some help. You’ve been scaring me and Melvin with all these ramblings. We wanna get you an intake into to a Pokémon Center, but . . . you and I both know that’s not gonna help. If you really are a Scientist,” he said, rifling through his satchel, “then that makes everything a million times more complicated. I really gotta get you elsewhere. I know some people who’ll take better care of you. And, uh, I don’t want Melvin to see this.”

    He finally whipped out his Pokégear and began texting with a single thumb. Kotone was surprised at how adept he was at it.


    Kotone and Kurt had entered a section of Goldenrod City with a lower elevation. It was tucked inside the shadows of skyscrapers. Sunrise was hitting hard, but, alas, it was still very dark.

    Kurt,” she whispered at him. “I— I, I know this doesn’t mean much to you, but I don’t recognize anything. I think you took a wrong turn.” She hoped he hadn’t picked up on the underlying panic in her voice. She had been too proud to question his motives, and look where that brought her.

    “I know where I’m going,” he exhaled.

    The encroaching daybreak brought its own set of problems. For Kotone, every lamplight or sporadic flash on glass was the eye of that monster. She soon broke out into a cold sweat, knowing she’d need some serious therapy in the future. Kotone wiped at the sweat on the back of her neck, and after retracting her hand, noticed that it was a milky white. She could only shake her head in disbelief. She flicked it off her hand, eyeing some movement in a passing alleyway. A black-haired teenager was beating the absolute shit out of his Sentret.

    I hope Kurt knows where he’s going . . .

    There were almost no lights at this point. Kotone scanned the area, noticing the distant mouth of a cavernous concrete structure. She triangulated her position and realized the game didn’t do it justice. It was gargantuan. A line of metal lettering hung over the abyssal entrance.


    Kotone shuddered. It was too easy to imagine a pair of glowing eyes over the building’s throat. She swallowed. “Hey, Kurt, l-look.” She got his attention and pointed at the sign. “I— I recognize this place. That means we’re basically—”

    The hairs on the back of her neck rose. Something was watching them.

    Her mind immediately went to monsters and razor-sharp teeth. Kotone spun around, discovering a man nearing them. He immediately stopped walking. From the limited vantage point, she watched a little smile creep onto his face. He beckoned them closer with a friendly wave. A sinking feeling bloomed in Kotone’s gut. He wasn’t a monster, sure, but that didn’t make her feel much better.

    “Good morning,” the new man called across the boulevard, echoing about. He took their attention as a cue to walk out of the shadows. A streak of feeble morning light illuminated part of his stern face. “Is that you, Kurt? How’ve you been?”

    “Pretty good, Charlie." Kurt couldn’t quite match the forced congeniality. "We were just lookin’ for you.”

    “Yeah, I got your message a while ago.”

    Kurt began to drag her toward the curb. Kotone gulped and sealed her mouth shut, hoping to stave off the inevitable conversation with this creep, but—


    Kotone broke into a horrified scream at the grin full of fangs that plummeted to eye-level. To her immense shock, a Golbat was now flapping right in front of her face. It leaned in far too close, forcing her to stumble back. The massive bat chirruped in amusement.

    “This thing’s friendly, right?” she croaked. Her eyes darted between Charlie and Kurt.

    Charlie wiped some of his strangely stiff hair behind an ear. He scrutinized her with a deeper frown, then shrugged. “He’s a sweetheart.” He gestured to the Pokémon. “I named him Feiruz. Kurt calls him Bat Man for some reason.”

    “Bat . . . Man?”


    Kotone didn’t have much of a response. She shook her head and held up her hands, wriggling her constrained wrist away from Kurt, all fear funneled into exasperation. “Look, who are you? What d’you want with me?


    The new man stuck out a hand. He grinned. “I’m Charlie, ma’am, like our friend here said. And don’t act so scared, okay? I just wanna talk to you about a coupl’a things, nothin’ too crazy.” He paused for a few moments, awaiting her hand. The frown reappeared like clockwork.

    “You’re supposed to shake his hand,” Kurt hinted after a few unprofessional seconds.

    Charlie was puzzled at her dismissal; this was a serious transgression of Goldenrod social codes. Of course, they had no way of knowing that they weren’t dealing with a local. “Uh, hello? You are that weirdo tryin’ to trick Kurt into thinking you’re a Scientist, right?”

    Kotone gritted her teeth. “I am a scientist.”


    Feiruz, eager to make a new human friend, used the quiet time to let off a happy screech and begin the short flap toward Kotone. He stuck the landing, then waddled up to her and purred against her jean-clad leg.

    Kurt bent down to pat his head, but retracted at the temperamental hiss. “Don’t hiss at me, asshole,” he snapped. He crossed his arms. “Don’t you remember I bought you a Haircut last week? Aren’t you supposed to be friendlier or something?”

    Feiruz, possibly acknowledging the previous acts of kindness, brought it down to a growl. Kotone was not sure what to make of their relationship.

    Charlie put his hands on his hips and grinned at Feiruz. A long black coat and hat made him nigh-invisible in the dawn. Kotone’s suspicions were running high, however. She remembered that there was an unsavory type of Pokémon Trainer which was infamous for utilizing the Zubat family, one commonly based in Goldenrod City . . .

    Her eyes narrowed. She frowned at Charlie, then at Kurt, then back to Charlie again. Her teeth were suddenly bared. “Hey, asshole,” she hissed at her new friend, “do you work for Team Rocket or something?”

    Charlie blinked and held his tongue.

    This level of innocence was enough for her to re-evaluate the situation.

    “Okay, listen up, Kurt,” she snapped, turning to him, “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but do you really expect me to work for fuckin’ Team Rocket? I’m not gonna cut off Slowpoketails,” she paused to gag on the programmed article, “and rob banks, or whatever.”

    Charlie’s expression went glum. “Oh boy, we’ve got an independent thinker here.”

    Kurt just stared at her, then to Charlie.

    “Mmkay,” Charlie droned. “Lemme fast-forward this proposition for you.” He pulled a business card from some inner breast pocket and held out the rectangle’s back. The red letters glimmered with the natural tremor of his hand.


    Kotone raised her eyebrows in disbelief. She’d finally found the hill to die on. “Oh, come on. Look at that name. Just admit that you work for Team Rocket already.”

    More silence. Feiruz chirruped and scooted closer to Charlie’s leg.

    She set her elbow on her forearm and put a cheek into her palm, sighing. “Ugh. Sorry. I just . . . I never wanted any of this, okay?” Kotone mumbled. She looked to each man in turn, holding her hands out in deference. “Nobody knows I’m the real Kotone. Nobody believes me. And that makes everything so much harder.”

    Charlie held up a warning finger at the mention of her name. “Man, you’re disrespectful.”

    Kotone clenched her hands at her sides, trying not to shake with rage.

    He wrinkled up his face, forcing a smile. “Let me be clear: you’re not Miss Kotone. There is literally no fucking way for that to be possible. Firstly, this is a silly little video game. Any fool could figure it out. Seriously. Secondly, any self-respecting—”

    Kotone threw up her hands and groaned. “Look,” she spat. “Gimme a break! I don’t want any of this! Okay? I don’t wanna go on a journey or save the world. All I wanna do is leave,” she strained, voice cracking at the end.

    He shrugged. “Well, you’re in luck. If you help us out —y’know, answer a few questions, this and that— then we’ll at least get you some proper medical care.”

    I don’t want medical care,” she spat. “I want to leave.”

    “Whatever. Just, let’s simplify this whole mess down and think of it as a trade: if you help us, then we’ll help you. We can surely work out something. Y’know, in the vein of mutual benefits. Let’s just consider it done and get a move-on.”

    That was almost too easy.

    “Hey, hey. Slow down. I haven’t agreed to anything.” Her eyes reduced to slits. “Can you people get me out of this video game?” she asked slowly, staring him and Kurt down. “I won’t do a damn thing unless you promise.”

    Everyone ended up glaring at each other in mutual distaste. The question remained, well, in question.

    Feiruz, now incredibly bored with their rapid-fire Japanese, sniffed out an old Soda Pop bottle and wandered off in search of its transparent, amorphously crunchy texture. He had somewhat of an addiction to eating bottles for some reason. Charlie watched him out of the corner of his eye.

    “Alrighty,” he declared, relaxing his shoulders. “I think my work here is done. So,” he began and turned to Kotone, his hands clasped in earnest. “It’s a deal? You’re gonna work with us, right?”

    The air was silent again.

    Kotone frowned. She really hadn’t thought this through. She racked her memory for Charlie’s face, hoping to catch him off guard, but found nothing. And even if she had, he’d have been a pixelated sprite. She couldn’t match a face like that.

    An identical frown appeared on his face. “Hello-o? Johto to . . . whatever your name is.” He went in for the handshake. His hand waited, fingers separating further. “It’s a deal, right?”

    Kotone’s eyes flicked from his hand to his face. She just glared.

    “Y’know,” Charlie said, shrugging, “we won’t help you unless you help us. And I’m gonna give you one last chance to agree.” As he spoke, the frown aimed at Kotone deepened. “We need you. We really do. And,” he added with crossed arms, “you won’t get this chance again. So don’t fuck yourself over.”

    You know you’re trapped, the world seemed to simper.

    Saying no to these goons was effectively throwing away her first chance to escape. Her line of sight travelled to the tiny glints of wear-and-tear on the ground. She set her jaw, tearing up. It took a little while, but a cold clarity eventually washed over her. Kotone unclenched her jaw and stuck out her right hand. The non-existent, human nerves from far away prickled with anticipation. A feeble, defeated pout was all she could muster.

    “I give up, okay? Okay? I’ll work with Team Rocket.”


    The smile that appeared on Charlie’s face was eerily reminiscent of Feiruz’s own. Kurt raised his eyebrows.

    “I’d also like to add,” she sneered in English at his disgusting grin, right as he went in for the handshake, “that I fucking hate you.”

    She drew up a fake smile, savoring the sensation of the totally-unnecessary insult. These fools had no idea what they were dealing with. But the sheer hate —and something else— in that throwaway sentence made Feiruz’s ears prick up. It was enough to yank his face away from the trash. The bottle between his teeth crunched in half. The men had no clue what she was saying but, alas, she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She just had to make matters even worse.


    And then a volley of Confuse Ray hit the back of Kotone’s head.

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