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The Deprogramming

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

  1. Arkadelphiak

    Arkadelphiak ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    YOU CAN’T WIN.

    YOU CAN’T BREAK EVEN.

    YOU CAN’T EVEN GET OUT OF THE GAME.

    —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
    OR

    THE MONSTER OF GOLDENROD




    _______________________________ Part I: Master of Ceremonies _______________________________

    Garbage In

    First Impressions

    Make Goldenrod City Great Again

    New Frontiers

    Emerald

    Scientific Progress Goes 'Crack'

    Glitter Glue


    The Oracle of Goldenrod

    Tower of Babble

    Redux

    The Blame Game

    Pearl

    The Net

    Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar

    Snake Eyes



    ___________________________________ Part II: Heat Death ___________________________________

    Johanna

    Garbage Out

    The Oracle of Mount Silver

    The Monster of Goldenrod

    Duplicity

    Absolute Zero

    Imposter Syndrome

    A Bolt from the Blue

    No Silver Bullet

    No News is Good News

    The Golden Rule

    Effeuiller la Marguerite

    Ground Zero

    HeartGold

    De Novo
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2018 at 4:49 AM
  2. Arkadelphiak

    Arkadelphiak ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)


    _______________________________ Part I: Master of Ceremonies _______________________________


    The future belongs to those who can manipulate entropy.

    —Frederic Keffer


    I


    GARBAGE IN



    SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE


    “. . . 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?”

    SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE


    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.”

    . . .

    . . .

    Dammit.”

    . . .

    “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.”



    A FEW MONTHS EARLIER



    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.

    Crack.

    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.

    Click.

    Nothing.

    “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.

    Click.

    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?”

    “Huh?”

    “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?

    “Huh?”

    “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.

    “Huh?”

    “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?”

    Silence.

    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?”

    Silence.

    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.”

    “Okay.”

    “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.”

    Click.



    WARNING – HEALTH AND SAFETY


    BEFORE PLAYING, READ THE HEALTH

    AND SAFETY PRECAUTIONS BOOKLET

    FOR IMPORTANT INFORMATION

    ABOUT YOUR HEALTH AND SAFETY.


    TO GET AN EXTRA COPY FOR YOUR REGION, GO ONLINE AT

    www.nintendo.com/healthsafety/


    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 at 2:37 PM
  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 at 5:51 AM
    Arkadelphiak likes this.
  4. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Star Struck

    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


    II


    FIRST IMPRESSIONS



    “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!”



    A FEW MOMENTS LATER, ON ROUTE 34



    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.


    Boom.

    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 . . .

    Ping!

    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.



    FURTHER SOUTH ON ROUTE 34, A FEW MINUTES EARLIER



    “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.”

    “Uh-huh.”

    “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—”

    Ping!

    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—”

    Hush.”

    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 SPLIT-SECOND LATER



    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 like Disable 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.”

    Silence.

    “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.”

    Unbelievable.

    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.

    “But—”

    “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.



    MEANWHILE



    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?”

    Silence.

    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.


    Boom.

    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 15, 2018 at 5:24 PM

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