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Pokémon motivating objects [oneshot]

kintsugi

golden scars | pfp by sun
Location
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
  5. custom/meloetta-kint-muse
  6. custom/meloetta-kint-dancer
Eleven months after beginning her pokémon journey in Nuvema Town, Bianca published her first research paper under Professor Juniper. Four years later, the Pokémon League asks her to defend it.

In which I ramble about science for a little bit, and also try to write to a prompt for the first time in forever. Ohana means some people get left behind.

crit preferences: anything goes!



motivating objects



Incoming call: Dad
Accept | Decline


Bianca stares at the pop-up for a full two seconds before she fully processes what she’s looking at. Then, she inhales a slow but steep breath, and weighs her options.

She’s got more than enough reasons to decline. But with him they always feel like excuses instead of reasons. Professor Juniper’s going to show up any minute—Bianca had agreed, quite hesitantly, to the professor’s offer to treat her to dinner in honor of the special occasion, and it’d be rude to keep her awaiting once she arrives. She could be tired after the long shuttle ride to the League Summit, and too distracted to check her email for missed videocalls. She could be rehearsing her opening remarks for the hearing tomorrow. Could be. Should be.

The hearing is a black hole that consumes her any time she so much as thinks in its general direction. As soon as she arrived at the hotel she’d unpacked her laptop and sprawled across one of the suite’s comically enormous beds, scrolling through every file under U:\Network\Users\Bianca\grad\research\pokémon sapience, searching for anything that might help in an errant line of questioning tomorrow. That was three hours ago.

The trip down memory lane had been an uneasy one, and not just because she made this folder before the IT department had explained the rules about putting spaces in folder names. Rather, it’s the same mild repulsion she has whenever she sees a picture from her trainer days, the gut-wrenching pull of that uneasy smile and gawky knees and ill-fitting shoes. Professor Juniper is convinced that she’s ready for tomorrow; obviously this honor is a result of her hard work and intellect. But alone with the photocopies of her old lab notebook, Bianca can see, with the same certainty with which people recognize their own handwriting, the uncertain, unscientific phrasing of her initial experiment (are pokémon capable of long-term planning?), and she can’t help but wonder if nothing’s changed.

At least this folder is just for her to know. At the hearing tomorrow they’ll get the real thing, the conclusion that’s been peer-reviewed and lovingly polished. When Bianca is called up tomorrow she’ll be Doctor Harlacher, and while to some it’ll be immensely clear that she’s two months fresh from receiving her doctorate, most of the room won’t be able to tell. This is what Professor Juniper has told her, and this is what Dr. Harlacher can believe, even if Bianca can’t, even if—

Incoming call: Dad

The window’s stubborn on her screen, blotting out the fifteen-odd documents she’s been listlessly tabbing through all afternoon.

He hasn’t called her in months. It’s not like she’s tried very hard either. Life gets busy, you know?

But now, pinned down in the moment, her heart races. Would a grown-up Bianca decline, because Dr. Harlacher will need to present tomorrow as the poised, confident, intelligent researcher that everyone is expecting? Or would she answer, because Dr. Harlacher wouldn’t be thrown off by something as simple as a call from home?

Phrasing it like that makes her choice obvious. She rolls into a sitting position and angles herself so that the bedside lamp won’t give her a backlight. Her hair’s a mess, but that’s probably a good thing here—Dad never trusted people who looked too prim, too proper.

Her hand is forcibly steady when she mouses over to ‘Accept’ and clicks.

“Hey, Dad,” she says when her webcam light blinks on, trying to channel as much warmth into her voice as she can.

She’s braced for an askew xTransceiver shot that’s got half of her childhood home in the foreground, and her father barely in frame. Maybe it’ll be pointed at the sofa clutter, a pile of car parts on the cushions where she used to sit, some empty soda cans scattered around the trim with the crumbs. Maybe she’ll see the leaky splotch in the roof above the kitchen, which her father had scowled at and patched a thousand times while it resolutely continued to drip and grow. Bianca had been painfully aware when she walked in here that this hotel suite was about the size of her parents’ entire house.

She’s so steeled to modulate her reaction that when a spectacled young man looks back nervously at her, his pale brown hair just a little shiny in an overhead fluorescent light, she’s too shocked to react.

“Hey, Bianca—or, belated congratulations, Dr. Harlacher,” he says in the kind of voice that Bianca recognizes as being hesitant but rehearsed. “Long time no see.”

“Jay?” For a selfish few seconds, her confusion is replaced with anger and irritation. And then she sees the full contact name—Dad, Lab—and realizes that all of her anxiety has been for nothing.

Former self-appointed “Lab Dad” Jay Torres is more gaunt than she remembers, and there are frown lines ingrained firmly into his forehead now. But he’s certainly still got the same expression as he did when they were in class, with bags under thoughtful eyes, an effortless warmth radiating from his smile. The room behind him betrays the sort of organized chaos that she remembers from him: from notebooks to imaging equipment to coils and coils of cables, everything’s got its place, but there’s just so much of everything. There’s even his old klang up on the wall behind him, its gears ticking past one another slowly in slumber.

A different wave of nostalgia washes over her, the kind that smells like chalk dust and musty library shelves full of newspaper scans and the gluten free cookies that Jay brought in on Mondays.

Jay’s voice breaks into her thoughts. “Sorry, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so I’ll cut to the point. I, uh, heard that they were making some moves with that paper you’d published ages ago. Delayed gratification behaviors in domesticated and non-domesticated pokémon species.” The ‘uh’ sounds more than forced, given how quickly the entire paper name rolls off his tongue. “It turned out great, Bi. You were always the best of us. But then I heard a few weeks ago about the League’s interest in implementing sapient species laws, and I saw that you were being listed for expert testimony, and …” He pauses, bites his lip, and frowns. “Please. You can’t.”

“I can’t?” She’s too confused to sound angry.

“At this rate I have no doubt that people will look back and recognize you as a cornerstone for the field. But the conclusions on sapience in that paper were fundamentally flawed.” Jay seems to interpret her head tilt as anger, because he quickly backtracks: “Well, ‘flawed’ is perhaps not the best word to use here, but I’m afraid of the long-standing repercussions if the League starts passing policy with this study as a basis.”

Bianca exhales shakily. She’s already Dr. Harlacher in this sentence, repeating in a polished, almost callous, voice what Professor Juniper had already reassured her of: “The League is considering a wide swath of tests for their sapience trials, and certainly no sane researcher would advise against selecting anything less than a comprehensive suite of data. We pride ourselves on our past, current, and future collaborations with top-level researchers across the country, and Nuvema Institute’s contribution will be fractional at best.”

(“A significant fraction,” Professor Juniper had added in a more hushed tone, her eyes betraying her pride.)

“Comprehensive?” Jay flusters, and then stops. “Have you considered what the outcome of the hearings tomorrow will be?”

The question sounds so much like one her father would ask—those smarmy intellectuals, never stopping to think about how it’ll affect us regular folk—that she can almost hear his heavy breathing in the other room. Dr. Harlacher replies almost on reflex, “The League will institute new protections for pokémon nationwide. Based on the tests, the League will identify which pokémon species are considered sapient enough to understand and provide consent. Trainers will have to provide proof of informed consent upon registering captures of sapient pokémon species. Sapient species will also be permitted to file for release at any time, without input from their trainer.” She blinks twice, to steady herself, and then she’s Bianca again: “It’s a small step for pokémon rights, but I’m quite proud to be a part of it.”

There’s genuine distress in Jay’s eyes now. “You’re proud—” But then something in his voice goes softer, and it’s like they’re back in the library, deep underground, comparing class notes and trying to prepare for whatever witchcraft is on Juniper’s final exam. There’s a whiteboard with neat, purple notes interspersed with scrawling corrections in red, and Jay’s urging her to flip the problem, look at it from a different point of view until the solution appears. “Are you concerned that a species could be incorrectly labeled as non-sapient, and would lose the legal ability to consent as a result? Or that intelligent members of a declared non-sapient species would not be adequately represented in this policy?”

“I mean, that’s a genuine concern in everything we do, isn’t it?” This time it’s definitely Bianca answering, with a nervous laugh before and after her words, like a parenthetical. “In this case we purposefully set the bar much lower, since I think anyone would agree that it’s much more important to accommodate false negatives over false positives. I was the one who fought for that, remember?”

That feels like a low blow, and from the way that Jay’s face crumples, she knows it is one.

But it’s true. She remembers writing out the methodology in a sunny spot outside of Juniper’s lab, and she remembers above all defending to Jay why the bar had to be so low, even if, like he’d repeatedly pointed out, her own pokémon had proven themselves far smarter than the modern research gave them credit for. You had to start with the small victories, because as soon as you messed something up, the failure would follow you everywhere. Someone as effortlessly respected as Jay would never understand that.

She can’t help but glance at the notebook scan under this pop-up, where the first draft of her test procedure is scrawled between her deciduous pokémon physiology intro notes and an all-caps reminder to CALL HILDA. There’s a revised version three pages over that doesn’t sound as childish, as unprofessional, but this one still has the core:

  1. Determine a motivating object for the species of pokémon.
  2. Place subject in test environment, with quantity one (1) of the motivating object visible and readily available.
  3. Explain to subject that the operator will leave the testing environment for ten minutes. Explain that if the motivating object is untouched during this time period, subject will receive an additional [totaling quantity two (2)] motivating object upon the operator’s return.
  4. Leave test environment for ten minutes.
  5. Return, observe, and reward as necessary.
The premise had been straightforward, at least to a budding, eager-to-impress researcher: which pokémon could delay gratification? One of a pokémon’s primary benefits from training, or even from pokémon-human partnerships in general, was that humans were capable of complex strategy, which tended to rely on opponent analysis and long-term planning. Wild pokémon often had scuffles, but wilds tended to fight in a more straightforward, instinctual style that favored quick bursts of raw strength rather than strategic analysis. There were, of course, several potential explanations for this phenomenon, but—

“A good trainer needs to be able to plan ahead, and identify what you can lose to create an opening. That’s your problem,” Hilda had said, not unkindly, after Bianca’s third loss to Skyla. “You want to keep your pokémon safe when they’re on the field, but they aren’t on the field to be safe. If you’d left your musharna in against Skyla’s swanna, your serperior would’ve been fresh, instead of taking a Hurricane to the face. You have to understand when to sacrifice.”

Bianca hadn’t been able to take that advice to heart, at least not until while she was off the gym circuit, trying to write a research proposal that would adequately impress her heroes. Knowing when to sacrifice was what made someone an intelligent strategist, so it could also be what made an intelligent pokémon. It seemed simple enough that it was at least worth trying. She’d just never thought that it would get this far.

“Are you concerned that human perceptions of sapience might not be universal? Your study relied on motivators, but are you concerned that your study might’ve failed to find a sufficiently motivating object?” Jay asks quietly. He nods at the dozing klang behind him. “For example, Cash doesn’t seem to conceptualize physical ownership of property, because klinklang chains require neither food nor large amounts of territory, and their primary resources are intellectual. And beyond that, even if you found a suitable motivating object, it’d be difficult to convey that you’re purposefully withholding it and expecting an exchange, because klinklang share all resources across their chains to guarantee the most informed outcome.”

When Bianca doesn’t respond, Jay presses further: “And presumably designating sapient species via these methods requires testing on a wild population—since, given Dr. Anderson’s inclusion on the list of expert witnesses, Anderson, Bloomfield et. al’s conclusion that trained pokémon are inherently more intelligent than wild pokémon is relevant to the League’s considerations. Would you be concerned that this test and similar ones unfairly bias towards pokémon species that already have a strong presence near human population centers, as they’ll be more comfortable in a human-occupied testing environment, and more likely to perform in a way consistent with their typical behavior? Or that the very similarities that led them to prosper near human population centers in the first place would self-select for communities exhibiting behaviors that humans consider relevant for sapience testing?”

These are the questions she wished Professor Juniper had asked her when they were practicing for the panel. This is the kind of grilling she wants tomorrow, even though she knows that the people at the hearing aren’t here for doubt. She isn’t sure if she adequately explained the consequences to the pokémon she tested with. She isn’t sure if the pokémon she’d used as subjects had respected her enough to listen to her explanation. She certainly isn’t sure if recognizing long-term consequences should be a necessary requisite for sapience—given that the idea from this test had come from her own inability to strategize intelligently enough to be a top-tier trainer.

The League will repeat her tests, of course (or fund Professor Juniper to do it), with a broader, more-resourced team to properly identify the sapient species in Unova. But repeating a flawed test doesn’t mean its results will get any less flawed.

Dr. Harlacher won’t tell them that, of course, and even if anyone asks she’s received much training on how to respond properly. But Bianca has been assured that no one tomorrow will be asking.

Belatedly, Bianca realizes that Jay’s still waiting for an answer she doesn’t have. “I can’t tell you that our science is foolproof. And I’m not going to say that in the hearings either. But my job is to do the best that we can.” She’s Dr. Harlacher in this sentence, for sure—Jay wouldn’t know, but these are words she’s rehearsed a million times. “After the Plasma incidents, I started to realize that there definitely are grey areas in how people currently relate to pokémon. But, you know, most people after the Plasma incidents …”

—They make awkward eye contact across the screen as Bianca remembers a few seconds too late that Jay had picked industry over academia. Instead of a postdoc, he’d conducted research in pokémon battle potential at P2 Labs, under then-renowned Dr. Nikolai Colress—

“… I suppose you’d know better than anyone,” Bianca finally manages.

“Not a good look, yeah, when your only non-academic job reference decides to become a terrorist over winter holidays and repurposes three years of your research into a city-destroying freeze ray.” There’s a wry sort of humor in Jay’s words, but it doesn’t go all the way down. “Sorry I missed your thesis defense. I was busy complying with a very thorough subpoena, and I technically wasn't even invited. All things considered, I can’t blame Juniper for not keeping in touch.”

She’s never admitted it, but Jay was probably the first person who ever really believed in her. Even Elesa or Professor Juniper felt like they were standing up for someone else in Bianca’s clothes, an idea of a fearless woman that felt like it fit anyone else but Bianca. Female, blonde, soft-spoken, prone to wearing floral prints to lab—most people in her classes wrote her off as Juniper’s pet diversity candidate. And before that, it wasn’t like Hilda or Cheren ever thought she was going to be a real trainer. And before that, it wasn’t like her parents ever really—

So that’s got to be why she’s shifting in her seat now. Her hesitation is coming from sympathy and respect for Jay, her own self-consciousness. But Dr. Harlacher will need logic tomorrow.

Would you do it? If you were in my shoes? The question dies quickly; she already knows the answer, and she doesn’t want to add his disapproval to the pile. Instead, she says, “They won’t change their minds even if I renounce my work, you know. If I recuse, it just means that I won’t even get a say in the legislature they pass.”

“Bianca. You’re still telling yourself the same old lie, aren’t you? That you’ll never be important enough to accomplish anything. So small. So harmless.” Jay’s voice softens. “But look at you now.”

“It’s more complicated than that. I’ve got people relying on me. I can’t just get up there tomorrow and …” And do what, even? It’s not like he knows either.

“I know,” Jay says after she can’t finish her sentence, and there’s enough warmth in his voice that she can almost believe him. “For old times sake, though. Could you flip the problem? What questions would you want to be asked tomorrow, so that you can prove that you’re smart enough to speak for yourself?”

She wants to be mad at him. It’s not fair, and it’s definitely not the same. Dr. Harlacher had to fight tooth and nail to get people to take her seriously, and sometimes Bianca doesn’t even know if she should take herself seriously, and this isn’t just about one false negative.

A dozen excuses flood through her mind all at once, but none of them strike her as answers.

“I—”

There’s a knock on the suite door. Professor Juniper’s here.

“I’m sorry,” she says, flashing a pained smile. “There’s a dinner I’ve been invited to, and—”

“I understand,” Jay replies, and this time it sounds like he’s lying. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Harlacher.”

He waits for a few seconds, and after Bianca says nothing else, he shifts in his seat and the webcam goes dark.

※​

Bianca hasn’t been at the League Summit since Hilda’s installation as Champion, when the main hall had white sheets draped over ashy scorch marks, red tape blocking off the crumbling upper floors. They’ve cleaned up a lot since then. Somewhere along the way, the marble halls were restored to their ancient beauty, and there’s nothing left now to suggest that, less than five years ago, the walls here witnessed the battle for Unova’s soul.

One thing’s new for sure, though: molded into the marble at the end of the hallway, the Hero of Unova stands tall, wind whipping at her hair and flowing into a white dragon around her, feathery wings outstretched. Reshiram’s not quite life-sized and Hilda’s larger than life; together they arch around the entrance to Unova’s Hall of Justice. Their twin gazes are pupilless, stony, and blind. Craning her neck up at them, Bianca can’t help but once again feel hopelessly out of her depth.

Years ago, just once, when Lenora had begun to suspect the true nature of Nacrene Museum’s newest acquisition, Bianca had been allowed to hold the Light Stone. It had probably been the coolest thing she’d ever done, the closest she’d ever come to being up on that pedestal. For a tiny, selfish moment, she’d let her fingertips close around the smooth stone, felt the coldness in her palm, prayed that she was the one brave enough to be the hero.

But it wasn’t her place, and it never had been. The stone had remained inert in her hands, and she’d been changing out the mulch in the snivy pen while Hilda and Cheren stormed a castle and saved the world. Reshiram had understood that waiting for the Hero of Truth was better than settling.

Now Hilda’s crossed the horizon to explore new lands, and Cheren’s wrapped up in training the next generation, and Bianca’s left waiting on the bench outside of the hearing until she’s invited in, alone with nothing but her thoughts.

Jay’s explanations for why pokémon would fail the test are the ones she should be considering, if she should be devoting any more time to doubting at all. They’re the most in-line with Professor Juniper’s research, with the previous understandings of wild social hierarchies, with all the clean and tidy reasons that can be quantified and discussed in a polite environment. But the hearing’s a black hole, and she’s slipped past the event horizon. Bianca’s thoughts gravitate to a version of the test where she’s the one sitting at the table, eyes glancing nervously around the room, the sinking feeling of unbelonging roiling in her stomach. Test-Bianca has a smile drawn over her lips like a second skin. A man in a lab coat walks in. He—

In one world he slaps her cheek so hard that her vision becomes a field of shooting stars.

In one world he places a human-motivating object, a marshmallow, in the center of the testing area.

“I’m sorry. I love you,” her father says, while her cheek throbs, while the marshmallow sits innocently there. “I won’t do it again, baby. Trust me; you’ll see.”

For a while, she believed him, until one day, she couldn’t. Not the part where he loved her, or that he was sorry; that much was probably still the truth. But a dirty dish in the sink, a too-late night out with her friends, a stressful day for him at work—she’d waited and waited. But he’d always found a reason to do it again.

Having explained the rules of his game, he leaves the room.

In one world, she stares at the marshmallow.

In one world, she snatches it up and runs all the way to Nimbasa before he catches her, and she keeps running still. Her lips purse; her brow furrows; she hoards knowledge and the few victories she can scrape until she shapes them into a pedestal.

That pedestal is what Jay’s asking her to topple today. That thin, rickety stack of careful papers and sleepless nights that she’d tried to summit, so desperately and so hungrily that she didn’t even notice until she was halfway across the country and her father was yelling at her in a windswept fairground. She never had Hilda’s brash courage or Cheren’s calculating drive. And though she’d proven that training wasn’t the only way to matter, she’d never been able to shake the feeling that everyone else always saw her for less once she walked away from the badges and the glitz. She came into the research field with no connections besides Professor Juniper, years late to the game. And now she’s being asked to lose the backup to her backup.

Last night, after Jay left and ‘Call ended: Dad, Lab’ hung ominously on the screen, she’d wracked her brain a little longer, wondering if after dinner she’d have the energy remaining to call her father for real, if there was a way to phrase what she’s doing currently in a way that wouldn’t open herself up for some derision, some hurt—

That’s all she has to do, right? Demonstrate that she’s capable enough of forward thinking that she can accept stomach a punishment in the short-term to receive what everyone else agrees is a greater reward. Call her father. Believe that Juniper won’t turn away if she embarrasses the lab today. Wait for the second marshmallow. Trust when someone else says that something better will come. The truth’s all there in black and white, hanging down from Reshiram’s marble feathers, cold and clear to the touch. It’s easy, and it’s obvious. Right?

“Dr. Harlacher?” The door opens, and an official-looking man in a suit looks at her expectantly. “Please come inside.”

They’re ready for Dr. Harlacher. All her life built up to this. The rest doesn’t matter.

Above the waiting door, Reshiram’s stone eyes spear through her, and she imagines dragonfire burning through her to reveal the truth.

In this moment, years too late, she can be brave enough for the Light Stone, curled up and waiting for the right person to come. Can’t she?

Bianca enters the room.
 
Last edited:

seatherny

Altareon made by Bluwiikoon <3
Partners
  1. marowak-alola
Huh, I was curious as to what other one-shot you'd released alongside your contest entry, and... Bianca isn't a whirlipede. I have been bamboozled. :sadbees:

For real, though, I'm glad you ended up doing something with the marshmallow test idea. The story perfectly captures the uncertainty that plagues social science research and the researchers themselves. For the latter, it's even better that, even in such a short piece, I feel like I got a realistic and in-depth view of a canon character I hadn't really thought about much before. Bianca's impostor syndrome is all too common in researchers, and there's a nice balance explaining both the personal and professional reasons as to how it developed in her, plus how it impacts her self-concept and actions. I also enjoyed the friction between Bianca and Jay during their phone call, and how they seem to have the type of friendship that involves challenging each other to try to be better, do better.

I thought we'd be getting a scene of the hearing proper, but I think the end is fitting, really, even if the execution feels a tad abrupt... Bianca has a long road ahead of her learn that wanting to be important and do important things can come at a significant psychological and social cost - and not just for herself. The point is that such uncertainty and self-doubt is going to keep following her, because there's never going to be an objective answer to the questions she's pursuing.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the research topic itself... Pokemon sapience is naturally a divisive topic, as it is for animals in the real world. I also loved Jay detailing how the League judging pokemon sentience could backfire, and the ramifications of rushing forward with such an idea. Even if it is important work, I agree with Jay that Bianca's study was not generalizable, nor was it comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, lmao. But it's realistic that one study that catches the attention of the right people at the right time can have tangible, long-term consequences.

1. Leave test environment for ten minutes.
2. Return, observe, and reward as necessary.

Curious if the part where the research participant is observed during the 10-minute interval was left out intentionally?

Anyway, just wanted to leave some thoughts. I enjoyed this as both a fan of sapient pokemon takes and a social science researcher. And because I'm rusty as hell at reviewing, I really want to take a stab at constructive crit before I go:

she remembers above all defending to the Jay why the bar had to be so low

jay.jpg

this blue jay approves of the typo and says thank you for the cameo

okay byeeee ily see you on Discord <3
 
Last edited:

kyeugh

you gotta feel your lines
Staff
Location
the freaking swamp
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. farfetchd-galar
  2. custom/gfetchd-kyeugh
  3. custom/onion-san
  4. farfetchd
yeowch.

there's so much to love here. the overall conceit is great and something i don't think i've read in fiction before, in fanfic or otherwise. bianca's inner turmoil is just so real. the interplay between her impostor syndrome, her craving for approval and recognition, and the need for rigorous results is just great; the social dimension of the scientific process goes forgotten too often. how do you know whether your reservations about your research are irrational self-doubt or reasonable and important self-criticism? when and where do you draw the line of "good enough"—when does something become better than nothing, the boons worth the curses? how many concessions can you make before you've obliterated your project and replaced it with something unrecognizable and worse? these are such real questions. i think they fit perfectly into the mythos of unova too, caught between truth and ideals, maybe trying so hard to serve both that you satisfy neither. reshiram's penetrating stare at the end really tied it all together for me. and i love the parallel drawn between reshiram and bianca herself here, it made the ending really powerful and satisfying to me:
Reshiram had understood that waiting for the Hero of Truth was better than settling. ... ... In this moment, years too late, she can be brave enough for the Light Stone, curled up and waiting for the right person to come. Can’t she?

i really liked the throughline with bianca's father. in the context of her abusive upbringing, her fear of failure made a lot of sense to me. when talking to jay, she thinks to herself that he can't possibly understand that once someone like her makes a mistake, it will follow her around forever. jay may be privileged enough that he does enjoy a sense of security that she doesn't—but i felt like her upbringing played into this too, because bianca is someone who is conditioned not to expect forgiveness. for her, avoiding missteps was a matter of safety. just like her impostor syndrome, unlearning this is something that she will need to strive towards consciously—but how can you know when you've gone too far, given yourself too much permission? i thought this was an interesting parallel and i actually think that her experiences with her dad could have been drawn out a little more explicitly in places; you hint at this duality when she has the twin visions of being struck/receiving a marshmallow, and i loved that; i almost wanted to see her ruminate on this some more, although i can also appreciate the subtlety and maybe i'm just pining a little too hard for angst here, heh.

tiny nitpick:
“Frankly, it’s a small but extant step for pokémon rights, and I’m quite proud to be a part of it.”
i felt like "extant" was a bit of an odd pick here. i tend to think of "extant" as describing something that remains or survives despite having been otherwise diminished; i guess it doesn't mean this strictly speaking but in my mind it exists within the context of extinction, and i feel like that acknowledges a level of dilution in bianca's project that she wasn't willing to admit to herself yet at that point in the story. i might rephrase it to something like "a small but important step" or "It's an important step for pokémon rights. A small step, maybe, but it is a step, and frankly I'm quite proud to be a part of it" etc.

it was great to see bianca be the hero of her own story; she's one of the more compelling canon characters to me and you served her brilliantly here. thanks for sharing this thoughtful story with us.
 

kintsugi

golden scars | pfp by sun
Location
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
  5. custom/meloetta-kint-muse
  6. custom/meloetta-kint-dancer
Huh, I was curious as to what other one-shot you'd released alongside your contest entry, and... Bianca isn't a whirlipede. I have been bamboozled. :sadbees:
The whirlipede bit got cut sometime in revision hell, but in case you were worried about the quality content that was lost ...
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For real, though, I'm glad you ended up doing something with the marshmallow test idea. The story perfectly captures the uncertainty that plagues social science research and the researchers themselves. For the latter, it's even better that, even in such a short piece, I feel like I got a realistic and in-depth view of a canon character I hadn't really thought about much before. Bianca's impostor syndrome is all too common in researchers, and there's a nice balance explaining both the personal and professional reasons as to how it developed in her, plus how it impacts her self-concept and actions. I also enjoyed the friction between Bianca and Jay during their phone call, and how they seem to have the type of friendship that involves challenging each other to try to be better, do better.
thank youuuuuu! this means a lot, haha, esp coming from you. I'm glad you enjoyed! I feel like I do Bianca pretty dirty in EoE (which, tbf, everyone is done pretty dirty in EoE), and she already gets shafted pretty hard in canon imo, so it was nice to be able to take a look here. And, yeah, oof, it's a ogod thing that uncertainty is endemic to social science research and not just life! or anything! that would be super awkward otherwise.
I thought we'd be getting a scene of the hearing proper, but I think the end is fitting, really, even if the execution feels a tad abrupt... Bianca has a long road ahead of her learn that wanting to be important and do important things can come at a significant psychological and social cost - and not just for herself. The point is that such uncertainty and self-doubt is going to keep following her, because there's never going to be an objective answer to the questions she's pursuing.
I'm not sold on the ending tbh. In my head the emphasis on it being Bianca entering the room as herself, not as Dr. Harlacher, is supposed to be the sign that a decision was made, and now it's sort of up in the air for if the reader, like everyone else, can trust what happens next ... but I don't think it really panned out that way, haha. Open for suggestions if you've got them!
Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the research topic itself... Pokemon sapience is naturally a divisive topic, as it is for animals in the real world. I also loved Jay detailing how the League judging pokemon sentience could backfire, and the ramifications of rushing forward with such an idea. Even if it is important work, I agree with Jay that Bianca's study was not generalizable, nor was it comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, lmao. But it's realistic that one study that catches the attention of the right people at the right time can have tangible, long-term consequences.
I have gone way off the rails on sapience since my last story tbh; the deep end is just SO deep. one of the more interesting concepts that I've heard is basically this one--that there would be tests to establish sapience, and rights conferred to sapient pokemon that nonsapients wouldn't get--and, well, I am left with a lot of questions. I think the idea is that obviously pokemon like gardevoir and lucario are shown to be smart, so it'd be unfair to own them, but also obviously caterpie aren't and they're fair game sad gaia sounds, and it's great that there's a clean and obvious line in the sand.
Curious if the part where the research participant is observed during the 10-minute interval was left out intentionally?
kind of tbh! ["There’s a revised version three pages over that doesn’t sound as childish, as unprofessional, but this one still has the core:"]--I wasn't sure if it'd be realistic for Bianca to even entertain reneg'ing here, since that's a hugely destructive step here--so I wanted to seed the idea that there's reasons she'd already be on the fence about this, one of them being that the first draft (which was missing just basic, rudimentary things bc it was one of her first ever proposals) and the one she performed/now has to defend aren't all that different. have you improved enough to be markedly different, sort of thing. but for once i didn't really hammer that into the text very explicitly, sooooo.
Anyway, just wanted to leave some thoughts. I enjoyed this as both a fan of sapient pokemon takes and a social science researcher. And because I'm rusty as hell at reviewing, I really want to take a stab at constructive crit before I go:

View attachment 4938

this blue jay approves of the typo and says thank you for the cameo

okay byeeee ily see you on Discord <3
WE STAN JAY IN THIS HOUSE

thank you for stopping by!! I'm glad you enjoyed; fancy seeing you in these parts tbh! <3

yeowch.

there's so much to love here. the overall conceit is great and something i don't think i've read in fiction before, in fanfic or otherwise. bianca's inner turmoil is just so real. the interplay between her impostor syndrome, her craving for approval and recognition, and the need for rigorous results is just great; the social dimension of the scientific process goes forgotten too often. how do you know whether your reservations about your research are irrational self-doubt or reasonable and important self-criticism? when and where do you draw the line of "good enough"—when does something become better than nothing, the boons worth the curses? how many concessions can you make before you've obliterated your project and replaced it with something unrecognizable and worse? these are such real questions. i think they fit perfectly into the mythos of unova too, caught between truth and ideals, maybe trying so hard to serve both that you satisfy neither. reshiram's penetrating stare at the end really tied it all together for me. and i love the parallel drawn between reshiram and bianca herself here, it made the ending really powerful and satisfying to me:
I'm glad you enjoyed it! <3 The Reshiram throughline was something I'd conceptualized pretty early--white truth vs white lie. I also realized pretty early that I wanted this year's piece to be about imposter syndrome because, haha, zoroarks, but also, my god, mood. Unova is full of people who should be doubting themselves and don't, and people who I wish didn't doubt themselves and do. I felt like I did Bianca pretty dirty in eoe and it was nice to not do that; I'm glad that those things landed!
i really liked the throughline with bianca's father. in the context of her abusive upbringing, her fear of failure made a lot of sense to me. when talking to jay, she thinks to herself that he can't possibly understand that once someone like her makes a mistake, it will follow her around forever. jay may be privileged enough that he does enjoy a sense of security that she doesn't—but i felt like her upbringing played into this too, because bianca is someone who is conditioned not to expect forgiveness. for her, avoiding missteps was a matter of safety. just like her impostor syndrome, unlearning this is something that she will need to strive towards consciously—but how can you know when you've gone too far, given yourself too much permission?
For sure! For a while I wasn't sure how I wanted Bianca to change her mind here--I thought it was a little too idealistic, and also a really boring story, for her just to talk to someone who explains how she should feel--so developing the internal character a bit more helped with that, and I realized that "someone who is conditioned not to expect forgiveness" was more or less how I wanted her to see the pokemon who would've/did/will fail the test.
i thought this was an interesting parallel and i actually think that her experiences with her dad could have been drawn out a little more explicitly in places; you hint at this duality when she has the twin visions of being struck/receiving a marshmallow, and i loved that; i almost wanted to see her ruminate on this some more, although i can also appreciate the subtlety and maybe i'm just pining a little too hard for angst here, heh.
I'll ruminate on the dad bits. I was trying really hard to keep this short and cut probably 2k words in drafting, some of which were contextualizing her relationship with her father more--in short I thought their relationship is a lot more complicated than I could really focus on in just this story, since there was already a lot going on under the hood. There's definitely a version where those two threads get knitted together more, but I have yet to achieve it lol.
tiny nitpick:
Fixed the phrasing; I agree!

Many thanks for your thoughts here; I'm glad you enjoyed! <3
 
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