• Welcome to Thousand Roads! You're welcome to view discussions or read our stories without registering, but you'll need an account to join in our events, interact with other members, or post one of your own fics. Why not become a member of our community? We'd love to have you!

    Join now!

Pokémon The Loser

Ch. 1: Scotty Doesn't Know New

Homestar!

Bug Catcher
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
Synopsis:
Sometimes, people do drastic things to make changes in their life. For Mike, who has been struggling with obesity since he was a child, that change was training. He sets off for Unova and hopes that a life of hiking, fighting, and roughing it will finally let him realize his dream.

[CW: Language, violence, sexual themes, and explorations of mental & physical health.]

Thanks for asking! Personally, I can take it, so serve up whatever you like! For the sake of reducing clutter, I would prefer spelling/grammar/general editing notes within Spoiler Tags (thanks, WildBoots! Good call!).


Chapter 1
Scotty Doesn't Know

Author's Note: The word 'halfie' was used at the end of Ch. 1 (and potentially in other places prior to Ch. 6) without my knowing or understanding of its status as a slur. I cannot apologize deeply enough if I have inadvertently offended anyone. It has been removed, and will not reappear.


"Here, lemme get it," Mike offered. Scott moved aside with a grumble of thanks. Mike had noticed that his friend was now in quite the mood, having become more and more heated on the drive from the airport. He was finishing yet another diatribe about some trainer or other who decided to lie, or run, or fight. Or, at least, Mike hoped he was finishing it.

"Sick of shit like that, man. Fuckin' trainers." Scott's words had a ring of finality to them. Mike lifted the knob and threw his shoulder hard against the door. It relented, swinging open to bang against an already beaten-up wall.

"I hear you, Scott," Mike replied. "Glad I never was one before." He watched Scott's reaction to his emphasis. Yet again the intention seemed to miss.

"Yeah, I can't imagine having to issue you a ticket." Scott moved to the only remaining seating in the empty room - a very old, threadbare sofa - and sank into it. Mike tried not to roll his eyes as he went to stow the six pack they'd bought in the similarly empty fridge. Mike hadn't skimped out today; He and Scott would drink full-strength, full-calorie beer the way Arceus intended.

"You live like this?" Scott's question from the other room made Mike's mind up. Scott had absolutely no idea. And yet—

"It's as good as I'll get for a few months." Mike couldn't help drawing out the game. The whole affair was now completely ridiculous to him. Scott had to know. Mike's social media presence had been completely relentless. Photos, videos, live feeds, the works. He pulled two cans from the six pack and returned to the living room.

"What I'm trying to say," Scott continued, "is that I'm not really changing shit, you know?" Mike blinked into the distance a few times. Scott wasn't done. "I patrol Routes and ref battles and fuckin' play babysitter to homesick trainers, and where is it getting me? What's it doing for the Region? I was more helpful as a scrub at Burgh's."

"So quit!" Mike shot it at him, trying to shut him up.

"And do what," Scott returned, "go back to the gym circuit? Grind tournaments?"

"Sure! Join me, and you can complete my training," Mike paraphrased in as deep of a growl as he could muster. "With out combined strength, we—"

"Alright," Scott spoke, throwing his hands up, "I give up. Something's going on. Join you?"

"Yes!" Finally!

"Mike, you've been talking like you're gonna..." Scott began, but he faltered, looking around the barren apartment they were in. "Do... the... trainer thing?"

"Hell yeah, mother-fucker!" Mike smiled like an idiot. He'd been waiting all day to get any sort of response from his friend. Scott, however, didn't do much more than narrow his eyes.

"Bouffa-shit," Scott finally spoke. "I officially call B.S."

"Wanna bet?"

"Twenty bucks," Scott tossed out, "you're full of—"

"I'll see you and raise my left fucking nut," Mike spat before Scott had even finished.

"I concede, god-damn," Scott reeled back a little in his seat. "Seriously?"

Mike grinned and wordlessly returned to the kitchen. After putting the beer cans down, he found some thick parchment envelopes on top of the fridge. He brought them back to his friend, whose response seemed to indicate some recognition. Mike handed them over with a wide grin.

Scott opened the first and began to read.

Dear Michael Tapersson,

Congratulations! Based on your independent class and course grades, plus lab-specific preliminary test results, we here at Juniper Laboratories, Inc. are excited to offer you a position in our Training Program™! Included in this program will be one of our very own hand-raised Starters™, maybe even a Snivy, Tepig, or Oshawott!

Program:

A.C.E. TRAINER'S PROGRAM - AUTUMN 2020

Orientation Location:
JUNIPER LABS, INC., 1000 JUNIPER STREET
NUVEMA TOWN, UNOVA, R-001-USA


Orientation Date and Time:
MONDAY, AUGUST 17th, 2020
9:00 AM EST


See the enclosed paperwork (or attached .PDF file) for the full terms of our agreement. You will need to fill out, sign, and turn in these forms no later than the Friday before your class begins. Please bring your own survival supplies (see included/attached SURVIVAL CHECKLIST for mandatory and suggested items), and any extra items as you see fit. We will include a small selection of Pokémon survival items (see included/attached POKÉMON SURVIVAL KIT CONTENTS) but encourage you to supplement that list after you obtain your Starter™ Pokémon.

"The moment you choose the Pokémon that will accompany you on your journey, your story will truly begin. During your journey, you will meet many Pokémon and people with different personalities and points of view! I really hope you find what is important to you in all of these travels… That's right! Befriend new people and Pokémon and grow as a person! That is the most important goal for your journey! Let's go visit the world of Pokémon!"

- Professor Aurea Juniper, Ph.D.

Dear Mike,

Your test results were fantastic. Are you sure you haven't trained before? Since you're also an older trainer, I've gone ahead and placed you in the A.C.E. trainer program. Don't worry about the money: we're awarding you a scholarship for the difference. I usually have a one-on-one with everyone in that program to make sure they get a good starter and know about the ups and downs of the region. Lots of shake-ups after the widespread organized criminal activity late last year.

Unfortunately, to make sure we get time to have our talk, I rigged the raffle a little bit. You will be the first to pick your starter on day two. Hopefully the Tepig is still available, but they usually go like hot cakes, and we've only got one this quarter. And yes, I do read those essays. We'll talk about your particular challenges a little, too. I'm sure I've seen trainers heavier-set than you climbing mountains. By the time you hit Victory Road you'll at least be strong.

In summary: A.C.E. program, personal meeting, #1 on Day #2, only one 'Pig, don't be a quitter.

See you soon!


- Prof. Aurea Juniper, Ph.D.

"Wow. You were serious."

Mike didn't try to hide his pride, kicking his feet up on a packed box and flashing his pearly whites. He popped a beer open before handing it to Scott, who traded him the letters for the alcohol. Mike gave the personal letter from the Professor another quick once-over as his friend drank.

"Congrats, Mike," Scott said, more to his drink than to his friend. Mike was less focused on the paper and more on his buddy sitting on the other side of the couch. Today was the first time he had seen him in the flesh in nearly five years. They had both grown up, but while Scott had grown out only figuratively (excepting a small beard, which Mike was quite jealous of), Mike had grown out literally. He thought he could feel the barely hidden judgement from the moment he'd picked him up at the airport. Now, though, for the first time since he opened the door, he didn't feel it. The sneaky hate spiral of anxiety loosened its coils.

Scott finally looked up, a little bewildered.

"That explains," Scott gestured vaguely at the part-empty, part-packed apartment, "this." He and Mike shared a chuckle. "So that's, like, two weeks from now. How are you gonna get to Unova?"

"What, you can't fly me? What happened to Alto? I'll fuckin' ride a Swablu." Mike's joke caused Scott to nearly snort beer out of his nose. As it was, he still wound up soaking his beard.

"She evolved, and also she's mine," Scott coughed out, mopping his face. "She could take one of us, sure, but not both." He absently touched an Ultra Ball at his belt as he spoke.

"Ah, three person limit," Mike slapped his gut. Usually those jokes killed, but Scott's humor was suddenly gone. Mike pretended not to notice and opened his own beer. "Wanna smoke?" He nodded at a box marked 'DEFINITELY NOT DRUGS', which definitely had a small plastic bag of dried greenery on top. Scott thought about it for a moment before shaking his head.

"If you were a trainer, I could arrest you for that, you know."

"Not in Cali, you can't!"

"That passed?"

"Yeah, baby, like a year- two years…? A year ago." Mike reached instinctively for his phone, but decided being right wasn't necessary.

"Nice. But they still test us Wardens up there."

"Damn, really? Those poor kids. Do you want people to huff Koffing? Because that's how you get people to huff Koffing." This at least got a smirk from Scott, but Mike was still perplexed. "Damn, Scotty. Tough crowd tonight, huh?"

"I've got a lot on my mind. More now."

"You and me both. You first."

"Well, I came to see my best friend, who I've known since the womb, and he's about to run away."

Mike reached over and tenderly took Scott's hand, fluttering his best Deerling eyes.

"Why, I do declare," Mike mocked. Scott smiled faintly and jerked his hand away.

"Didn't I tell you I'm—"

"Ace isn't aromantic, you pig, now love me."

"Mike. Please. Ease off the jokes for, like, five minutes." Mike opened his mouth to retort, but his brain caught up with it and stopped him. He knew he was trying to make a very awkward evening better with humor. But he also knew that Scott enjoyed his contemplative moments. Mike obliged.

"Mike," Scott finally spoke, "when are you gonna grow up?"

Mike froze, not quite sure what to make of that remark. Coils tightened in his chest. His stomach felt as if it hit the floor. Scott recovered first, and did so quickly:

"Fuck, I'm sorry, that—"

"No, no, it's—"

"didn't come out right at all, I—"

"alright, it's…"

"mean, if you're serious… this is—"

"Huge."

"Huge."

"What I meant," Scott started after a moment, and Mike watched him sit and think his words out. He ignored the anxiety as it wrapped ever tighter around him and did his best to focus. It was all he could do to stop from running away. Or yelling. Monologues tried to prize their way into his head, rapid-fire, but every thought he stopped as hard as he could by focusing. Being there. Listening.

"I have known you a long, long time, Mike. Since we were little. You have always wanted to do everything, and be the best at everything, but you…" Scott paused, something processing behind his eyes that Mike couldn't fathom.

"But you never really committed to any of it. You would get so good, so quick, at whatever you picked up. And I envied that. I had to work so hard to do in a month what you could do in a week…

"And…"

"... And?" Mike prodded. Scott shifted uncomfortably. "And I… never stuck with it? What?"

"This isn't gonna be a video game." Mike felt Scott slip into something other than being a best friend. They weren't sharing a conversation anymore. "You're not going to be able to save and turn it off. You'll be toughing it out in shit weather for weeks on end. You'll have to forage and hunt, or else pack and pay out the nose for it. Both usually. And with a half-dozen Pokémon, for God's sakes. How long were you interested in hookah? A month? Yo-yo tricks. Maybe six weeks. Football, remember the flag football league we did? How much you loved it?"

Mike didn't answer. He couldn't answer. He couldn't do anything. He very gently put his beer down on the floor, pushed himself off the chair, and moved to the closet. Scott and Mike both let the silence hang for ages. Mike turned back to see that Scott had buried his face in his hands.

"And how many times have you started a diet?"

Mike dropped a very heavy lock box between Scott's feet. A loud bang made his friend jump, seemingly breaking the train of thought. Mike swung a large backpack off of his back unceremoniously and knelt down to the box. A key ring came out of his pocket and the box opened. He turned the box to face Scott, whose eyes widened. Inside he was greeted with an untarnished trainer ID card, several opened envelopes with governmental-looking typefaces, a few other carefully folded papers and receipts, and several large stacks of cash.

Scott reached for the green metal card, which had 'MICHAEL TAPERSSON' etched on the top corner in thin, silvery text. LCD panels for various values lay dormant beneath. Mike didn't avert his gaze as Scott popped the badge compartment open. Mike's ID number was also etched into the metal, and eight uniform slots beneath waited to be filled.

"That's from my car," Mike reached around and pointed at a bill of sale, "that's from my trading card collection," a handwritten receipt and cashed check, "all my glass and my bed made up that stack, this one is mostly savings and furniture, and this…"

Mike waited. Scott finally looked up from examining the ID card and was greeted by a particularly rude gesture, "is for you."

"Why the fuck would you sell—" Scott started.

"I said I was serious!"

"But why now? You're twenty-three!"

"So are you! And you still do it!"

"Because I've been doing it for a decade! I put in my time and it paid off. You can't expect to jump in and make this your life!"

Mike blinked. It seemed to make Scott genuinely mad. "Scott, you think I want this to be my job?"

"What the fuck else am I supposed to think!? You jump to come get me from the airport and sprung this on me. I'm the only one who could do it out of anyone we knew, and—"

"Wait, I posted all about it, did you not see—" Mike immediately went for his phone and pulled up his latest post. Scott stood up and his friend met him half-way, sharing his screen as a short, looping video loaded: A hand turning a green card back and forth so it caught the light and swept a reflection across itself. Beneath was a long string of text:

Hey everyone! Nice to see some new followers!

It's official! Yours truly passed the trainer exam with flying colors, and turns out I'm not a master criminal (background check came back clean). It's insane to think I never did this as a kid. All that studying would have been right up my alley. We leave in a week! Get HYYYYPE!


Scott took the phone and furrowed his brow. He apparently hadn't been keeping up. He scrolled through the small wall of hashtags to another post: a picture of a plane ticket with several thick artificial lines sloppily drawn through important information. Then a picture of a backpack next to various bits of survival gear and general Pokémon healing items, all meticulously organized and thrown through a black-and-white filter. A picture of Mike's old car, where the two had gotten stoned too many times to count when Scott had taken a year off between training and joining the Wardens.

Scott finally found the first post and clicked play on a video of Mike's face, which looked… A little bloated, comparatively. The video was a month old.

"Okay, so, uh, hi everyone. This is Mike. I've, ah… I've had enough. If you know me, you know I've been fat since… forever. And it sucks. It really sucks. I've tried a million different things and it has never, ever stuck. But I can't do this anymore. So welcome to… Whatever this is? I don't know. We'll think of a name. But I need, like… I need to be held accountable, somehow? And I need something to really, really change. So the first part is where you come in! I'm going to be making weekly… Daily? Ehhhh weekly posts here, about what I'm up to and what I'm doing, which is gonna be training! I'm gonna do the Pokémon Trainer thing, finally. I mean, what better way to lose weight, right? Living in the wilderness, hiking everywhere, wrangling some monsters... Sounds like a workout, right? So if you wanna keep in the loop, go ahead and follow me here and at hashtag 'The Loser Project', and let me know what you think! I'm trying to decide which region to go to, but I really have wanted to visit Unova. Yeah, so, uh… Stay tuned!"

"You look different," Scott looked up at Mike and really sized him up. Then back to the video. "Mike, you started already, yeah?"

"Yeah, mostly incline treadmill and calorie counting. I've been breaking in some hiking boots and a pair of Running Shoes, too." Scott's face seemed to go through several different little changes. Mike could almost feel him unwinding the misunderstanding in his head.

"So this isn't, like, a business venture?" Scott's question caused Mike to bark out a laugh.

"No! I'm not that crazy," Mike replied, "I got my degree and I'm debt-free. This is just… something I need to do. I need a break, and I need to not be fat anymore. This is, like, my 'backpacking across Europe'. But hopefully more intense. And also with more cool critters. And less, uh, me."

Scott compared the pictures again, holding the phone side-by-side with his friend. "You look great, Mike. I hadn't even noticed." Mike smiled, and he even noticed that his paused face's smiling cheeks were suddenly too big on the screen. Too round and puffy than what he saw in the mirror.

"How much have you lost," Scott asked, finally mellowing out.

"Good question!" Mike snatched his phone, pulled in his friend, pulled up his camera, and started to record.


Scotty Doesnt Know Bumper.png
"Hey everyone! Welcome back to The Loser Project! So this is Scotty, my best friend."

"... Hi?"

"He's a Warden, he's freshly back from Unova, ladies: he's single-"

"Shut up, man-"

"And he asked me a great question! I don't think I've actually posted any news about specifics yet! So I was, like, 378 pounds in my first video- act less surprised, you're my best friend."

"Sorry!"

"But I also started hiking around and eating less and stuff that day, because I'm gonna be hiking everywhere and, like, climbing trees for fruit and shit. So! Four weeks: how much do you think I've lost?"

"Way to put me on the spot."

"Guess!"

"Uh… 15?

"… No? 20?"

"32 pounds as of yesterday."

"Fuuuuuck me, really?"

"Yeah."

"Holy shit."

"Just in case anyone thought I wasn't serious: there you go!"

"Rude."

"Anything you wanna say to my twelve whole followers?"

"Hi, mom."

"Hi, mom!"


Mike dropped character and stopped the recording as the two slipped into a chuckling fit. They were both delighted the next morning to find that, after having tagged Scott, his mother indeed became a follower.

Mike liked to think that he and Scott had come to a new understanding after that night. He agreed with Scott's comments, even if they were painful: he had taken a long time to grow up and figure things out. Pokémon had always fascinated him, but he had been lazy. He stayed in school, coasted by on average grades, and got lucky when he got into Sacramento State. His degree in English was safe, sure, but not noteworthy. He didn't stand out, but that had been fine.

Had been.

Scott had told Mike that he wanted to come home and sniff out some rumors going around. Supposedly, there was new region forming with Sacramento - or possibly San Francisco - at its heart. Scott was on the cusp of quitting the Wardens - and possibly law enforcement as a whole - altogether.

Mike invited him to crash at his place with ulterior motives; Scott's prior experience as a six-badge champ-in-the-making would be invaluable. Mike traded food, board, and rides in his parent's van for training tips, skills, and secrets.

They went over his survival gear and made several runs to the Poké Mart outlet in the state capitol. Lots of returns and exchanges were made, which Mike would later be eternally thankful for.

They spent one evening pouring over the manual for his Trainer ID, with Scott showing him examples of use on his own blue and gold Warden ID. Mike knew how to enter bet information and match outcomes from his Trainer Basics class at the community college, but it was much easier to understand with a real example in his hands.

Mike and Scott spent a whole weekend at a campground, with the old pro overseeing and critiquing the assembly of the newbie's tent and cooking gear. Mike was instantly jealous of Scott's well-used but well-cared-for cot. After he said so, Scott donated it to him on the spot. With it came two old item balls, which had been too expensive for Mike to buy more than one older model for his clothing trunk. He marveled the next morning as his bulky tent, cot, and sleeping bag vanished in one flash of light, and his rations and mess kit in another.

Scott took a day to "practice being in the wilderness," showing Mike how he would personally set up camp. He introduced his team one at a time. Mike recognized some of them, especially a hulking ooze containing a 'baby.' He hadn't seen a Reuniclus before, but knew instantly who it was.

"Mito!" Mike bellowed as the being materialized. The little eyes within lit up, a tiny smile pulling as wide as it could. There was a snap in Mike's head as if someone had connected two stubborn Legos together, and a rush of exuberance filled his mind.

It is I, the Reuniclus responded, oozing drama as its voice echoed through the two boy's minds. Mitocondria! The Powerhouse of the Team! Gelatinous, bulbous arms flexed, their forms taking cartoonish, muscular shapes as it posed.

"Mito missed you," Scott spoke, once the false echo died away from their heads, "if it wasn't perfectly clear."

Mike noted how his friend had a little routine with each one. Scott and Mito exchanged a complicated hand-shake that sounded like he was playing a drumset made from Jell-o. He delivered an incredibly firm headbutt to a red-crested lizard, the force of which set Mike's teeth on edge. Scott picked at Alto's large, downy wings, allowing the Altaria to groom him in return. With each new face came a new ritual, and with each one Mike got a glimpse at some different shade of his friend.

Scott's team practiced drills and showed off tricks late into the evening. He even let Mike lead a sparring match, commanding the eager-to-please Scolipede against the rest of Scott's party in turn. Mike thought he did okay, but Scott led him in 'etiquette drills' for nearly an hour afterwards, citing it was the only thing he noticed that really needed fixing. They practiced greetings, challenges, and salutes - especially salutes. Mike and Scott clicked two Pokéballs together countless times, trying to find the sweet spot between too timid and too strong.

Scott helped Mike clean his apartment and move his remaining belongings to his parents' house. They spent the last few days before Mike's departure squeezed into his old bedroom. The bed was too small, so Mike slept on the floor, but this only amplified the nostalgia they shared. They quizzed one another on types, moves, city names, and people of note long into their evenings. On the last night, as they finished checking and repacking Mike's survival gear, Scott pulled a small parcel from his luggage.

"Mike, I wanted to, uh, apologize."

"We're good," Mike replied, not looking up from a bowline knot he was practicing, trying very hard to iron the shape of it into his brain. "These two weeks have been more than enough of an apology. And the cot, and the balls, and-"

"No, Mike, they haven't." Mike looked up. He couldn't decide whether to be concerned about his friend's shame or excited about the mystery in blue tissue paper he was holding. "Even after that first night here, I didn't believe you were super serious about, uh… all of this. About training. Or about losing weight. I've gotta admit, I was humoring you for the first few days. And it was, uh, fun. To relive those pre-trainer jitters, and to teach you stuff."

"I could kinda tell," Mike said, a little sheepishly, "but I still needed to know, and you didn't teach me wrong, right?" he widened his eyes in mock panic, raising his voice, "right?!"

"No," Scott laughed, "no, I didn't. But I also didn't believe you, and that wasn't very cool. And I also said some... fucked up shit the first night we were here, and I really am sorry about it."

"So you got me… What is that, a book?" Scott finally cracked a smile. "I can't read on planes, I always get sick."

"No, not really a book," Scott replied. "We confiscate a lot of stuff, and I wondered if we had one of these. They almost always get returned to their owners, but this one, uh, couldn't be." Mike pulled a face, to which Scott shrugged.

"Anyways, you have really, really impressed me. The survival stuff and the knowledge, sure, but… Mostly because I noticed you always spent your mornings hiking before the trails got hot as balls. And you were never cleaning your plates like you used to when we went out to eat…" Mike knew this was very difficult for his friend; they were both notoriously stubborn people, and they both - in their own way - hated to be wrong. He did his best to hide his glowing pride, but couldn't help a smile.

"I believe it now. I believe you now. And I also wished I had one of these when I started my journey." Scott handed over the parcel to Mike. "The Wardens insisted I say it was from all of them, but… Mike. You deserve this. You've earned it."

Mike gently pulled the tape away from one side and unwrapped the tissue, eventually revealing what looked like a new, black leather phone case. It was too heavy to be empty, so he popped it open to reveal the top of what appeared to be a thick, black cell phone. He pulled it out and almost bellowed in delight. His shocked silence was only maintained by extraordinary and visible restraint.

"Fuck you, no way!" Mike finally hissed, "you did not get me a fuckin' Pokédex."

"Yeah, man. I couldn't believe it, either." Mike was examining every inch of the device. Barely any blemishes or scratches, a screen protector in good shape, and authentic - as far as he could tell. He went to depress the large white button on the front, but a noise from Scott stopped him.

"Nonono, It needs to go straight to Juniper. Seriously, don't fuck with it until she can format it," Mike nodded and gingerly replaced it into the holster, "last thing we need is whoever used to own it suddenly showing up across the country. I mean, in Unova, we'll know. But anyone around here might freak." Mike immediately proceeded to delicately examine the phone case with the tips of his fingers, making a show of it. As if somehow, any second, it could explode into a million pieces. "They actually put one of those plastic tab things in the battery compartment, so, like, not that gentle, moron. But... yeah."

Mike snapped the lid of the holster shut and tried to force Scott to take it back. His friend withdrew immediately, throwing his hands up.

"Scott, no, this is too much," Mike insisted.

"Hey, if it makes you feel better, say it was a gift from the Route Wardens. But it's yours."

"These things, they're, like, for VIPs and researchers and shit, I can't-"

"Mike, seriously. It's nothing. Usually we just give them back to the Lab, but I've been pulling strings all week and they made an exception."

"Wait, how many people were involved with this?"

"Well," Scott thought for a moment, "the Wardens, the surviving family, and Juniper. Who thought me giving it to you was, and I quote, 'much more lovely' than anyone else doing it."

"Aw, she ships us." Scott returned the finger so graciously given two weeks ago. "This comes with a favor, doesn't it?" His question was met with a smile.

"Yeah. Don't be a fuckin' quitter."
 
Last edited:
Ch. 2: You've Got a Friend In Me New

Homestar!

Bug Catcher
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
Chapter 2:
You've Got a Friend in Me​


"Hey everyone! I just wanted to take a second and thank you all for the well-wishes! This is my last video in California foooor… A very, very long time? A few months? Thirty seconds because I totally forgot to make a shoutout or something - anyways! We're here at the airport! Next stop, Unova!"

Mike used to be the kind of person who never slept on Christmas Eve, or the day before a vacation, or before any special event, really. But after hours in a plane and even more hours on a bus, the hotel bed - a last luxury he allowed himself - had swallowed him up. When his phone's alarm clock woke him up the next morning, he found that he had done little more than kick off his shoes before passing out. The time difference weighed on him as he forced himself through a meticulous shower and thorough set of self-grooming rituals. Shaved, trimmed, clipped, and squeaky-clean, Mike made his way downstairs to a continental breakfast.

Today was a special day, therefore it was a cheat day, he reasoned. He didn't go too far overboard: a little extra creamer in his coffee, cream cheese on his bagel, and a cup of cereal, sans milk, for the shuttle. He very recently had his diet's success reinforced by the plane ride. Usually he dreaded squishing himself into the painful seats and meekly requesting a belt extender. When he found he hadn't needed the extra buckle at all, it made him swell with pride.

The rural roads were thankfully far removed from the routes. The trip from Accumula to Nuvema was short, barely half an hour, but on foot he knew it would take the better part of a day. He tried to imagine where the route was. Beyond the apple orchards? Further? Occasionally he'd see - or imagine - a flash of light somewhere out in the woods.

He wondered if anyone else on the shuttle was making the same trip. It was nearly full; he had squeezed himself close to the window so as not to take too much of the elderly woman's seat next to him. He smiled to himself at the thought of her training: hiking for hours, or belting out orders, or setting up camp. He wondered if anyone else here was having similar thoughts of him, and the smile faded.

A few passengers got off at a quaint little strip mall. A middle-aged couple departed for a rocky beach. There was just one stop left. Everyone began to recognize one another; The remaining passengers - seven including himself - were all bound for Juniper Labs. They each seemed to take turns making fleeting, excited eye contact with one another.

"I might be the oldest new trainer here," Mike muttered to the elderly woman next to him. He winked at her wry grin. True enough, the rest of the shuttle contained a grab bag of teenagers.

"No, I gotcha by a few years," she returned the wink. Mike feigned shock, to which she chuckled. "Surprised?"

"Yeah, you don't look a day over twenty."

"Cállate," she gave him a good-natured scowl, "I could be your grandma."

"Meet me in the middle here; Podrías ser mi madre."

"¿Hablas español?"

"Mi español es terrible, pero... ¿hago lo mejor que puedo?" He struggled with that quite a bit, which surprised him somewhat: he used to speak Spanish almost decently. "'I try my best?' Was that right? Necesito practicar." She laughed.

"We'll stick to English." The two shared a snicker.

They, like the others who had paired or tripled up, chatted away the last stretch of the journey. Riding up through wooded hills and past a few lovely little houses, they finally arrived at a large facility. It was clearly modernized, but great pains had been taken to apply shiplap, square edges, and the outward appearance of simple fisherman's architecture. The appearance of a large, plain, wooden 'Juniper Labs, Inc.' sign spread a hush over the shuttle. The dirt and gravel road they turned off of gave way to smooth, fresh pavement. They were unloading themselves beneath a covered entryway in short order.

"May I?" Mike offered a hand to his new friend departing the shuttle. The scowl he received wasn't so good-natured this time. She motioned two fingers at her face.

"¡Mira Mira!" Mike obediently looked her in the eyes. "I'm not that old yet. Don't you forget it." He raised his hands in apology and made way for her to exit. Mike decided now was the time to fade his way over to the group outside of the doors. He knew there was no disappearing, even if the crowd wasn't so much younger than he was. Still, he worried instantly that he had overstepped with his new friend.

They were very early, it seemed. Automatic doors were still shut, giving an occasional jolt against their locks as someone passed through their sensors both inside and out. Behind sheets of pristinely clean glass laid a strangely sterile reception area, and beyond that--

A harried woman throwing on a white coat came from within to unlock the doors and usher them all inside. Orders were given and lines were formed. He found himself in the A.C.E. line, almost alone.

He handed his trainer ID over to the aide behind the desk, who took it to be activated. Then he signed a few forms he needed to be caught up on in addition to the standard releases. He traded anxious small talk with the aide as he signed, but a large, stout, sleeping candle in his lap roused itself and glowered up at the disturbance.

Eventually he was given directions to the room where the orientation would be held. He eventually found himself at the back of a small classroom or auditorium, with perhaps a hundred seats leading down in tiers to a stage bearing only a podium.

He was still one of the oldest in attendance, but not by much. Several young trainers-to-be milled around a table near the entrance, which was covered in lovely pink boxes. Mike averted his near-automatic course for the donuts and helped himself to coffee instead. He'd abandoned his cheat day already, now wildly self-conscious. He could feel - or at least imagine - the people next to him staring. He took a deep breath and allowed himself some cream and sugar. A compromise.

He planted himself in the back of the room, in a corner, and tried to relax a little. He was beginning to feel overwhelmed, on top of everything else, and the coffee was not doing much to help his tumbling stomach. He hated being like this. Anxiety had clawed at him for most of his life, and the feeling of some unseen serpent wrapping around his chest was far too familiar.

Eventually an aide introduced Professor Juniper. She walked out to a gentle shower of applause as a screen rolled down behind her.

"Welcome, everyone!" The applause roared back to life as she smiled behind the podium. The screen was illuminated with the words:

'Congratulations Trainers!'​

"Today marks the official first day of your personal adventure as Pokémon Trainers!" More applause. She raised her hands to hush them.

"So I have to cover some essentials, especially after everything that happened last year." The energy of the room shifted. Mike was a little unsure of what she was talking about. "Let's start with the not-so-good news." She clicked a small remote, and the screen changed.

'Updates on The Region, August 2021'​

"Given the invasive and destructive nature of..." Mike tuned it out almost as soon as it began. He pulled out his phone and started to surreptitiously look at his blog, checking back in whenever the slide switched. It was college all over again.

Click!

'It's as easy as 1-2-3 to find a Warden!'​

Even as a non-trainer, that number would be impossible to forget. He hammered out a quick reply to a comment.

Click!

'First Three Gyms'
'Recommended Path to Success!'​

Striaton, to Nacrene, to Castelia. Of course. He double-checked the volume was on silent before playing a video.

Click!

'Cheren - Aspertia City Gym Leader'​

Mike almost missed it, tearing himself away from some Glameow kittens tumbling over each other. His stomach lurched. Who the hell was that?

The slide was accompanied by two pictures. The first was a serious-looking man only a little younger than Mike, with a thin purple and gold badge pinned to his collar. The second struck Mike as a stylized schoolhouse renovated into a Gym.

"Aspertia's quite a ways from here, so I recommend securing some quicker form of transportation if at all possible. I believe some privately owned planes can take you directly there, but a boat from Castelia will suffice for most people." Mike's stomach flipped as something familiar began to wind around his chest again. This all was news to him, and very expensive-sounding news at that. Why hadn't Scott mentioned any of this?

Click!

'Roxie - Virbank City Gym Leader'​

"From there, your best bet is to head to Virbank on foot, to train yourself up for Roxie." That brought whoops and applause from a few trainers in the room. Mike saw on the left was pictured a wild young woman mid-strum, mid-yell, seemingly mid-performance -- or battle. On the right, a small, Pokémon League Seal-emblazoned entrance to what Mike guessed was an underground gym.

Virbank was on the other side of the Region. How the hell was he going to get there?

"Alright, alright," Juniper waved a hand at some excited kids singing an unfamiliar song together "Settle down, please! Almost done. Next up: Castelia!"

Click!

'Burgh - Castelia City Gym Leader'​

A flamboyantly dressed man, and a gym composed of various green shapes and shades. It was finally a familiar face.

"Burgh is particular - he will only offer the third badge... And up, if you decide to skip him for whatever reason. This is also why you should get to Aspertia as soon as possible, if at all possible.

"Anyways! That's the first three gyms covered! From there the order is pretty straight-forward:"

Click! Several silhouettes, connected by a mostly single line.

"I remind you all that, should you anticipate making a League challenge..." Mike was gone again. He pulled up the app connected to his bank and looked at his savings. Then another app to look at plane tickets. Wasn't there a train system? Yes, but of course, it was a glorified theme park now. It was all Mike could do not to swear under his breath.

The crowd surged with a wave of noise, which ripped Mike away from his phone once again. "As always," she continued after a moment, raising her voice into the mic, "Ace trainers are first. Days one and two of the lottery have already been decided."

Click!

'Day 1: Tuesday (2/18/20)'​

Five names were listed beneath the header. There were some excited squeals and cheers from the front row, where Mike now noticed about half a dozen identically-dressed people sitting together. He felt a little relieved to see that half of them were of relatively close ages to himself.

"If you see your name on this list, congratulations! Go ahead and gather around that door back there," she pointed, "and we'll be heading out to the nursery shortly! Aaand perfect! I see five heads. Looking sharp, Aces! It was lovely to meet you all, and I wish you the best of luck! Miss Peterson here will be presenting the day two lottery results and giving you further instructions. See you all soon!" With that, the Professor handed off the clicker to the aforementioned aide. Mike watched as Professor Juniper, without breaking stride, scanned the room and found his gaze. She smiled wide and began to march up the aisle he was closest to.

"Hi, Mister Tapersson! Follow me, we'll walk and talk!" It took Mike a moment to process what she just said, but he eventually pushed himself to his feet and began to follow.

He was not ignored by the group, not in any sense of the word. As the Professor spoke to them, five pairs of eyes stole fleeting looks at Mike. Each had their own curiosity, or scorn, or wonder. Mike suddenly realized he was being measured up. He lingered a few feet outside of their circle, trying his best to feign indifference. After a few more moments of scrutiny they all paid him no heed. He completely missed whatever it was Professor Juniper was explaining to them. He didn't think it was too important to him specifically.

Most of his focus was taken up by his own silent measurements of the others. Especially of a curvaceous, short, curly-haired woman who looked to be his contemporary. When she turned to sneak a second glance at him, he made a point of looking anywhere else. His cheeks burned for a moment and he couldn't help a small, stupid grin. He only really snapped back to reality when he awkwardly tried to follow the group as it moved.

"Mister Tapersson! You're coming with me, remember?" Mike turned on his heel without breaking stride and followed the already marching Professor in the opposite direction. He caught himself up with some difficulty.

"So, welcome to Unova!" She beamed at him for a moment, and Mike couldn't help but smile back. "Any troubles with travel?"

"Not yet," Mike replied, "Uh, kinda worried about getting to Aspertia, though. That was news to me."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," she fished for a key in her jacket as they rounded a corner, "We can figure something out, hopefully. Just in here!" She twisted a key in the door handle, jiggled it a bit, then swung the door open for them. Mike led the way into a spacious but quite cluttered… office, he decided. A live-in office, he figured, from the faint smell of something cooking. A spacious entryway led back to several machines, various cluttered tables, and desks stacked high with books and electronics. In another room, only somewhat divided, he could see a spotless table and the hint of a kitchen.

The Professor passed him, going straight to two chairs along a narrow, messy table. She pulled a chair out for Mike, who sat, and she followed suit opposite him with a deep sigh.

"Mister Tapersson, I must admit, I'm glad you're an adult," the two shared a chuckle together. "I know I picked this job, but still, teenagers can be exhausting."

She gave a gentle little set of whistles over her shoulder before pressing on. "So! Mr. Tapersson. I need to cover some basics, some exceptions, and technical stuff before we get into things. Water?" Mike hadn't even noticed a fluffy grey Pokémon's arrival until the Professor motioned down to it. He thought it was a Cinccino, but wasn't sure. It offered up one of the two bottles it was holding, and Mike accepted it.

"Yes, please. Thanks!" Mike directed his thanks to the grey and white... "He- or she- that's a Cinccino, yes?"

"Yes, Yancy is my favorite little boy this week!" She also took a bottle as they both watched the Cinccino with quiet delight for a moment. Yancy used the condensation from the bottles to meticulously wash its paws and groom its face, oblivious to the two of them. "They adore cleaning, so we keep a few to help with janitorial costs."

"Clever!" Mike offered a hand down to Yancy. The rodent stared at it for a moment before proceeding to clean it with the same rigor. Its small tongue felt exactly like a wet microfiber cloth.

"Good boy, Yancy," Professor Juniper cooed. "Now, Mike, let's get down to brass tacks…"

Professor Juniper proceeded to lay out how a usual Ace meeting would go: The talk about careers and how to handle their education, what classes to take and the like, would all be skipped. They would focus instead on Mike's personal goals, previous experience, and especially how he could get to Aspertia with any sort of haste.

"Be honest, Mister Tapersson," Professor Juniper had lowered her voice a little, even though they were alone. "How much are you working with?"

"About five thou," he spoke. They both pulled different faces with similar, anxiety-induced intentions. "But that's entirely liquid," he continued, "after supplies and fees and all that."

"That still isn't ideal," the Professor mused, "most Unovan trainers account for a thousand dollars a month. On the low end."

"I know," Mike replied, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, "but I- I dunno, it was as much as I could get together. And I needed this. If I have to pack up early, fine, but I can't not do this. I'm here, right?" Juniper's gaze felt like she was reading his soul. Not unkindly, Mike noticed, but still quite thoroughly.

"Any way you slice it," she finally continued, "getting from here to Aspertia within a week will set you back at least five hundred dollars." Mike's eyes widened.

"Five?"

"Five. Heaven forbid you take a plane, or a taxi, but you could be there in two days if you did." She snapped her Xtransciever open, scrolling through it in silence for a moment. "An associate -- Skyla, you've heard of her of course -- she's cleared her schedule this week just for such an event. We could try to split the cost with some other---"

"Nnnno," Mike forced it out painfully, "I could use the exercise, anyways. If it's all the same, I'll make the walk to Castelia." The Professor frowned up from her device.

"You won't meet many other trainers," she explained, "and probably none from the program. After you do your final check-in at Accumula Center, everyone else is going to make a Combeeline for the other side of the region."

"I did the program digitally, remember?" The Professor nearly nodded. "I'll survive, I think. And I'll be more than prepared for Cheren. Or whoever runs the Striaton Gym, if I really want to dawdle."

"If it seems like a party's forming to split the cost, I'll let you know, alright?" Juniper's offer brought a little smile to Mike's face.

"That's more than kind, thank you. Now, what else is there to cover? Starters?"

Professor Juniper lit up at the subject's change to Pokémon. She produced some pamphlets as she talked, throwing various training guides and packets in a loose stack on the table. Yancy leapt up and compulsively straightened the pile as the Professor made it. Juniper briefly went over his non-Ace starter options, which he was still allowed to choose from. They were both much more interested, however, in the three new species available to him.

"Let's go with this, actually," the Professor said, taking back a book and offering a pamphlet in exchange. It was divided into three columns, each one for a specific starter Pokémon he was now allowed to pick from. "So these little guys and gals are a tricky bunch, Mister Tapersson. But nothing I think you can't handle, of course!"

On the right of the pamphlet was pictured a 'Sandile,' a somewhat silly-looking reptile with a large mouth and even bigger eyes. In the center was a 'Solosis,' which Mike instantly felt drawn towards due to his fond memories of Mito. The left held 'Litwick,' which he recognized as the sleeping candle in the lap of the aide who checked him in when he arrived.

"Tell me a little about all of them, I guess?" He was becoming a little bewildered with the information dump, but still keen to learn more. The Professor smiled.

"Of course! So, Sandile can be nasty little... cretins, honestly." She pointed at its picture over the top of the paper, "but they are food motivated as a rule, and that's very useful for training. They're classified as ground and dark, so watch out for that mean streak. They're only for Ace trainers for that reason, and also because they are very strong - even while young. Mistakes and injuries can easily happen for anyone not cautious enough."

"I assume they eat a lot, too?"

"Yes, and they eat almost anything." Juniper furrowed her brow, remembering some story Mike could only guess at. "You can just get some vitamin powder to add to the cheap stuff and they'll forage for the rest. I highly recommend letting them free feed, when you can. They're diurnal, which will line up-"

"I'm sorry, diurnal?"

"Oh! Awake during the day."

"Thanks!"

"Of course! So, yes, they make for good traveling partners. They don't walk very fast, but if you're on loose-ish ground they can dig to keep up with even a steady jog. And, of course, they are ferocious. Brilliant battlers - and even better garbage disposals." Mike chuckled. "Don't let my disdain fool you, they're offered as a starter for many good reasons.

"Next, I think you're familiar with this one," Juniper smiled, tapping the cute green circle on the page. "Scott made an impassioned case to be an exception to my usual Ace-only rules, and I'm glad I relented."

"Speaking of!" Mike produced the Pokédex from his hip holster, "before I forget!" He handed it to Juniper, who took it and looked it over a little mournfully.

"Oh, that poor girl," she spoke, more to herself. "I'll have this taken care of for you, Mike. It'll take some time, so you can expect it waiting for you at the Center in Accumula." She passed it off to Yancy. "Put this on my computer desk, please!" He squeaked a response and bounced away obediently.

"Thank you very much, by the way!"

"Of course! It's actually standard for the Ace trainers to receive one, but because we weren't expecting you to do so well, we didn't have one ready. You should really thank your friend. It was his initiative that got you taken care of.

"Anyways, Solosis," she continued, "such quirky little things. They float, and fast enough, so no issue following you around all day. Their coating allows them to survive almost any weather with ease, they eat a simple diet; anything unprocessed that you and I would eat, really. Honestly they would be perfectly acceptable starters for any trainer if they weren't so smart."

Mike laughed, "that's really a bad thing?"

"Absolutely," the Professor emphasized, "in some cases they're nearly as smart as their trainer. It's like trying to train a child. Have you seen two toddlers try to boss each other around? Again, we're talking about thirteen-year-old trainers here, so it's a no-go for them. Ace trainers can typically figure them out, and I occasionally make an exception for older or more clever non-Aces.

"Now these are newer. We don't usually put in Pokémon that require anything besides training to fully evolve, but we wanted to give it a whirl," she continued, pointing to the purple-flamed candle, "Litwick. We've just started giving these out in the last year or so, and from what we can tell they're very 'love them or hate them'. Not much in between. First of all, they're nocturnal; that makes things difficult until they have adjusted a little, for you and for them. Many settle into a crepuscular rhythm, where— sorry, a 'dawn and dusk' rhythm, where they and the trainer can at least compromise.

"Also, they don't sustain themselves off of food. They are is exhausting, in more ways than one. They'll nibble on things, especially dried fruits, jerky, bits of charcoal, but they primarily eat energy. More specifically, while they're not free feeding, they're going to be eating you. We notice that-"

"I'm sorry," Mike interrupted, "but they- they eat what?"

"Yep. They will drain your energy, and they'll need to in order to survive. Like I mentioned, you're going to constantly feel like you need a little more sleep. We notice that trainers with Litwicks will save on Pokémon food, but spend nearly as much in extra rations, so it's-"

"Hold on," Mike paused, smiling, continuing to connect dots in his head, "so they eat your energy, and that in turn makes you need to eat more-"

"I know where this is going and I strongly caution you against that line of thought."

"Professor," Mike protested, "how much more perfect can you get?"

"Oh, Mister Tapersson," she shook her head, "there's no shortcuts to these sorts of things. You're not the first to-"

"It's not- it wouldn't be a shortcut," Mike clarified anxiously, "but I mean, I'm already watching what I eat. I'll be hiking every day. Imagine what adding that on top of things could do!"

"I will increase your caloric deficit by nearly five hundred a day as a baby." Juniper's hard numbers had the desired effect, causing the spinning gears in Mike's head to lurch to a stop. "Until it learns to free feed, that will only get worse. Trainers with Litwick routinely adhere to the 'freedom fifteen' rule. They almost always show up in Castelia quite pudgier than when they left here. I can't imagine how somebody struggling with obesity will handle- I'm sorry," she had stepped a little too far. Mike's previous admiration for her was beginning to erode. He had to remind himself that she wasn't his friend; she was a Professor.

"It's a recipe for disaster if you ask me," Juniper summed up flatly, but not harshly. "Think about it: how tough has your diet already been for you?"

Mike did think about it. He couldn't not think about his diet, most days. He promised himself that, should he become smitten with one of the little candles tomorrow, he would at least think twice.

A phone call woke Mike up the next morning. He lurched out of his tiny dorm bed and found the phone with his eyes half-closed. A voice, no more awake than he was, reminded him that he was first in line for starter selection that day. He met the other four trainers at the entrance to the nursery shortly thereafter, with an apple in one hand and a coffee in the other. Not a breakfast of champions, but the dainty breakfast meant he could have a much sturdier lunch. Two Ace trainers were dressed to their matching nines, alongside a young girl and - to Mike's delight and swooping guilt - Mira. The two smiled good morning to each other.

"I'm sorry about--" Mike began, but Mira hushed him.

"You worry too much, I can tell," she replied, "you're fine, dear." Mike started to say something else, but was cut off.

"Perfect timing, Mister Tapersson." Juniper raised a mug to them as she hustled over. "Good morning all! Congrats to our day two crew!" She popped the last of her power bar into her mouth and fumbled for some keys. After choking down her breakfast, she launched into an explanation of their nursery.

They were ushered into a containment room, then out the back of the lab. Mike instantly felt 'nursery' was an understatement, but also had no idea how to describe it short of a nearly-fenceless zoo. Securing the second set of doors behind her, the Professor returned to the front of the group and led the way down a dirt path. She began to explain the layout and their methods, noting that all of their starters were raised both by humans and their natural parents. Well-handled, but not at all ignorant of their natural skills.

As Mike was trying to soak in the various structures and enclosures - a small stand of trees, a sand pit, a cave mouth, an artificial river, and this, and that, and -- Juniper gently pulled him back to the task at hand. Literally: she took his arm and guided him to a vaguely familiar old man wearing a leafy, noodly, lizardy fashion statement. Mike placed the face and lizard as the same duo who had led him to the A.C.E. trainer line the day before.

"Welcome back, Mister Tapersson. So! Of our specialty starters," the Professor explained, "we only have this little guy left." She reached out for the snoozing snake-ish thing draped over the man's neck. It looked up and reluctantly moved to the Professor's hands with a soft hiss.

"This is a Snivy, if you've never met one," the Professor showed off the specimen to the small crowd. An upturned nose and yellow-lidded eyes surveyed them all for a moment before attempting to clamber up Professor Juniper's arm to her neck. She began to alternate her hands so that it was continually occupied moving to the next. The Snivy did so slowly, but persistently, and with a constant look of disdain. "They're usually a little more lively than this one; I must admit he's a bit, uh, lazy." She grinned, "More than a bit, really: watch." She finally allowed it to progress, and the snake made its way up and around her neck. It snapped its eyes shut and went limp.

"He's out cold," Mike whispered, not daring to disturb the Snivy. It gently began to snore.

"So, Mister Tapersson, of anything we have, this is the only species we will run out of today. We only had one of each of the other specialties this season; this little guy is one of two." Mike felt his already thin hopes for a Tepig vanish, but he honestly expected as much.

"Booo," Mike chided, "where's the bacon?"

"Someone already brought it home," Mike lit up at her riposte, which also elicited a few chuckles from the others. "So? How does a sleepy Snivy sound?" She shimmied as she alliterated and the snake roused itself with an irritable hiss. They all laughed that time.

"I will... pass. But thank you!" After he declined, Juniper turned to each other trainer in their turn. Not surprisingly, no-one was interested in the lazy little thing. Mike noted a sense of relief from both the Snivy and the older volunteer who received it back.

"So, even if everyone else picked the same thing, there will now be enough to go around," Juniper explained to the group, "which means we don't have to wait for anyone in particular anymore! Miss Redding," she looked to the youngest girl, "I'd like you to go see Miss Everett over there," she pointed to a white jacketed woman near a small pond, "and she'll help you around, okay? Great! Mister Tapersson, stick with me; everyone else may roam as they please and I'll be around to check up on you. If there isn't a door, you're free to explore!"

The girl excitedly ran off to the aide while the two ace trainers each went down different dirt paths, barely containing their own joy. Mike looked to see which direction Mira would go, but she stayed put.

"Misses Martinez, I'll be helping Mister Tapersson first, but do you have a question?"

"Yes, thank you," Mira produced a picture from a sturdy-looking purse. "My grandson got one of these adorable little devils from you when he started training, and I don't think I saw them as an option on my brochure. Do you happen to have them still?"

Mike and Professor Juniper found themselves looking down at an excited young man posing with a Sandile. Both were smiling so wide that it was hard to tell who had more teeth.

"Oh, well, this is a Sandile, but..." Juniper studied Mira for a moment, "Hm. Mister Tapersson, is a Sandile on your radar at all?"

"It's not off of it." Mike winked at Mira.

Professor Juniper first took them over to intercept a few aides and their feeding buckets, which were filled with bone-in cuts of fresh meat. Then she led them over to a large, empty sand pit surrounded by a low stone wall. She unlocked a door and ushered them out to the middle of a concrete platform, which was bare save for a large sink on its closest edge and a dented metal pole on the furthest edge. The Professor instructed Mike to take the tongs from his bucket and rap the pole several times, which he did.

The result was spectacular: The sand seethed in a dozen places. Each 'ripple' produced a pair of large black eyes, which proceeded purposefully through the sand towards the platform. Their speed surprised Mike, but he forced himself to stay put. The closest set of eyes disappeared a few feet from the edge. Mike leaned to see where it had gone and almost collided with a black and brown blur that leapt from the sand. The Sandile landed with a dull 'thwap' next to him, and immediately fixated on the bucket, loosing a surprisingly high-pitched grunt.

"Oh my God they honk," Mike spoke with glee. He dipped his tongs into his bucket and produced a rib of something. As he did, several more Sandile erupted from the sand around them. Soon they were surrounded by eager 'honks', the crunch of bones, and many contented reptiles. Distantly they saw the sand still swirling. Even larger, pointed, pitch black eyes sat on a long red snout. Mike would have thought it was comical, if they weren't so unerringly fixated on him.

"That's the last of the juveniles," Juniper remarked, pointing to a particularly aggressive one that Mira was doting upon. "He's always last and always grumpy about it. The rest of them are quite affectionate, actually. They like a good pat, so slap them around a little if you like!" Mike laughed at this, immediately intensifying the petting he had already been giving out. He hadn't expected to enjoy them so much, but found a certain charm to their strange noises and placid - yet appreciative - demeanor. At least, when they weren't hungry.

Mike spent some time with each one, save for the irritable one that had Mira's attention, but none of them really called to him. They were all quite cute, and he could see catching his own somewhere down the line, but he wanted his first Pokémon to be a lifelong partner. A true friend. Which he didn't see in any of these admittedly lovely little creatures. They lacked a little something he was looking for. He knew they weren't people, and he shouldn't be looking for anything too clever or bright. All the same, the lack of anything behind their little reptilian eyes made Mike's decision for him. And, sadly, against them.

"Any winners?" Mike shook his head at the Professor's question. They exchanged shrugs and washed themselves up. "We've got an aide for the buckets, go ahead and leave them there. Misses Martinez," she called over her shoulder, "I really shouldn't leave you in here alone, especially not with… Huh." Mike followed her gaze to where Mira was standing, purse in hand. The Sandile she had been bonding with was hissing angrily. His gaping maw, still streaked red from raw meat, sent violent imagery swimming in Mike's mind. Mira hissed back a string of curses that Mike only half understood.

In a flash the lizard lunged, but Mira proved quicker and swung her purse up to meet it.

"Bad Niles!" she barked, fishing around in her bag. The Sandile gave a honk of surprise, before rounding back again on Mira. It was met this time with a few spritzes of water from a spray bottle Mira had pulled from her bag. The two glared at each other, locked in a stalemate. Again the Sandile opened its mouth to hiss, but was met with another squirt.

"No!" Mira advanced on the reptile. "You were doing so well! I was so proud!" More hissing. Mira punctuated, "No! Biting! Mama!" with squirts from her spritzer.

"Did she say 'Niles'?" Professor Juniper softly asked.

"Yeah, I think so," Mike replied. They both became aware of a deep, rumbling, syncopated growl. The wickedly pointed eyes, now having crept to the lip of the platform, were clearly entertained.

"Well, Bertha approves," Juniper nodded at the beast half-hidden in the sand. It emerged a bit more and used its nose to prod 'Niles' towards the old trainer, who was now offering some small treat from her purse.

"You know, they do need a firm hand," the Professor mused. "I'm smelling an exception to my rules, I think."

They left the three to bond, making their way back up and out of the enclosure. Juniper led him next to what seemed like a large greenhouse. As an aide held the door open for them, Mike noticed a green blob trying to float away. He reached out and grabbed the Solosis without hesitating. It didn't resist his touch, save for a small wave of surprise that it washed over him.

"Good save," Juniper noted, waving off the aide's apologies. They took the Solosis back inside. At least two dozen others were gently floating to and fro, using their budding powers to plant seeds, water sprouts, and collect harvests. What Mike recognized instantly as a Reuniclus came over and accepted the sphere. There was a very gentle 'click' as the gelatinous being made psychic contact.

Thank you, Mike, an ethereal little voice sounded in his head, this one is always trying to get away.

"You're welcome," Mike replied aloud.

Kids, am I right? The small figure in the green ooze jiggled with laughter. The rest of its body was eerily still. With a small flick of its tiny inner appendage, the figure within turned the ooze without back towards a planter box and picked up a watering can.

"We keep the Solosis in here for two reasons," Juniper began to explain. As she babbled about the lack of roof outside and benefits of tending plants, Mike felt increasingly more uncomfortable with the tiny little pokes and prods he could feel in his head. It was like a dozen little somethings were playing - literally playing - with his feelings. He felt his throat squeeze with sadness, then a tickle of laughter, then a sneeze, then a spark of rage, one after another after another as they explored him. He was very quickly unable to do much more than stay on his feet.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Mike," the Professor finally seemed to notice the tears beginning to well up in Mike's occasionally contorting face. "Lay off, everyone!" The sudden absence of the stimuli was almost worse, somehow. Mike was now completely frozen. A different, but familiar, something caught his attention.

You seem very, very tense, Mike. He looked to the Reuniclus - who he suddenly knew as Janet - and allowed her gentle mental touch to open his mind. She was much more delicate than Mito had been, and he felt calm and ease wash over him in waves. I see, came the voice again as it further comprehended him, I am sorry you were brought so low, but I feel like you will soar ever higher for it. You are not usually one for those thoughts, which is good, but know that those thoughts may come regardless. Perhaps you would allow me to make some changes in here?

"No, thank you," Mike accidentally said aloud. He'd heard about 'psychic therapy,' and all of the things that could go wrong with 'fixing' so much so fast. Janet nodded solemnly.

"No messing with my trainers, Janet," Juniper warned, "they have places to be. He can't afford to be comatose for a week. Besides, you're retired."

That doesn't mean I'm dead. Mike thought the little figure in the gel heaved a sigh. But I see it is his wish as well. I wish you the best, Mike. Also, I believe a Solosis would make for a good fit. Trust me, they are much more enjoyable 'solo'. He gave a small smile at her terrible joke. However, I very much appreciate your approach. Go and find yourself a little someone who you love and who loves you.

Mike tried quite hard to enjoy the greenhouse, but he found himself much too wound up to appreciate the Solosis. Several of them attempted to reach out, much more gently this time. A soft little psychic touch named Kubler-Ross conveyed her name and was able to form simple sentences. Another, called Hobbes, orbited his belly. He was unable to speak yet but enamored with Mike's own spherical shape. Freud demanded entry into his mind, and when Mike refused, spat the only words he knew at him. Many of them were rude, yet all of them were somehow botanical.

Each and every one of them had exactly what he had thought he was looking for, but too much of it. They were all individuals that were much too willful, too solid in themselves already. Mike wanted to learn and grow with them, but they all seemed a little too far gone on their own paths. None of which played nicely with Mike's own philosophies.

Mike retired for the afternoon shortly after. He looked up the local sunset time and set his alarm for roughly then, which is when Juniper said he could see the Litwicks awake. He eventually flopped into his little dorm's bed, too wound up to sleep but too anxious to do much of anything else. He wondered if he should let Janet poke around? He ultimately decided against it, slipping away into a much needed nap.

He awoke before his alarm went off and pulled himself out of bed. He made his way to the cafeteria and helped himself to quite a large plate, reasoning that he skipped breakfast and lunch. He wasn't the only one there, but aside from the little girl from earlier that day sitting across from a very happy-looking ice cream cone, he didn't recognize any faces.

Sunset was fast approaching as he made his way into the nursery. He found an aide and got pointed towards what seemed like an old, abandoned house planted right next to the fence line. A second aide was there already, looking through dusty windows and making notes on a pad of paper. He let Mike, still in a bit of a daze, inside.

The inside was badly lit and rather dusty. There were crooked shelves, scattered dilapidated tables and chairs, and three different almost empty mantelpieces. On each of these surfaces was at least one, if not two or three, of the stout white Litwicks he had seen before. All appeared to still be asleep. Something about the room seemed to force a yawn from him. Unlike the bombardment of inputs that were the Solosis, these were all… taking something from him. He found it tiring, but also strangely uplifting.

Whenever he passed a candle, he saw their purple flames swell to varying degrees. Some much brighter, finding something delicious about him, he supposed. Others barely shimmered and must have poor taste, he reasoned, smiling to himself. Coming to the back of the room, he examined an old landscape painting. Some sort of thrift rescue if he had to guess, as it had nothing to do with anything else.

T h e y

L i k e

Y o u

The letters flashed one at a time in his mind, rapid-fire. He registered the phrase with abject horror. He was so strangely at ease that he hadn't noticed the swelling light above him, the source of the new 'voice'. He looked up to see what appeared to be a chandelier swaying violently above his head. Its bright violet flames popped and crackled. From it issued a high-pitched, tinkling, screeching laugh as it rocked to and fro. It seemed utterly amused with its prank. Mike had no clue what-

Brrrrring! Brrrrring!

Mike screamed as his phone's alarm went off behind him, marking the sun's departure. He had completely forgotten to turn it off. The whole house filled with tittering laughter amidst the electronic din. He whipped around to find that one of the Litwick was holding his phone in its little paws. They were both shocked: Mike by being robbed blind by something that couldn't even reach his knee, the Litwick by the buzzing, vibrating, glowing device in its paws. It let out a squeak every time it buzzed, and its disdain was met with more laughter and a blaze of purple candlelight. The whole room was feeding off of their confusion.

Mike knelt down and, resisting the urge to rip his phone away from the poor thing, held out a hand instead. The Litwick disposed of it immediately, and Mike shut it off. The laughter dissolved slowly, like a nightmare begrudgingly ending.

"That must have scared you, too, huh?" Mike looked at the one visible yellow eye as the Litwick frowned up at him. "Hey, I thought ghosts weren't supposed to be scared?" Mike winked. The Litwick smiled a bit, leaned to one side, exposed its second eye, and tried very hard to mimic Mike. It succeeded after a few attempts and some gentle coaching.

That

One

Especially

The message was less terrifying this time, gentler, but still a surprise. A fresh wave of giggles and shimmers rippled around the two as Mike jumped, but this time the merriment included them.

He and the Litwick spent several minutes on the floor, winking back and forth with glee and pulling faces. He could see a unique little silliness in her eyes and demeanor that struck a chord with him. He wondered if any of the others would share that. As soon as he decided to get up and look, the little candle whimpered.

Mike paused half-way up, then lowered himself back down. The Litwick smiled, lifted her fringe, and winked again. Now that was interesting. None of the other starters he'd met today particularly cared whether or not he moved on. It liked him. Not food, not his brain, not attention, but him.

Mike pushed himself to his feet, to which the candle gave a sad little cry. He had to take a lap around the house and think about this. He visited with several other Litwicks, and saw that they each had that tricky-ish glint in their eyes. Most of them, though, felt as if they had a cruel intent. Some were aloof. Some simply refused to show their faces, content to pretend to be real candles.

All the while, the first Litwick followed him. He tried to ignore it, he really did. He felt he was on the cusp of making a very bad decision.

Mike suddenly span around, threw his arms wide, and yelled "Boo!"

The Litwick following him gave a little shriek and vanished. Then, just as quickly, she reappeared in a fit of giggles. Several other Litwick tittered away around them. A low, chortling sort of rumble came from the being on the ceiling.

Mike knelt down and scooped up his very bad decision with glee.

Sometime later, Professor Juniper heaved a sigh from the doorway. "You know, you'd think a Professor would see this more often." Mike looked up from the floor where he had been snuffing the Litwick's flame with his fingers and watching it relight. He could feel it feeding off his worry of burning himself each time he did so. Especially the first attempt, where it had played dead. Mike thought the whole affair had been a riot when it finally winked at him from where it had fallen.

"I know what you said," Mike replied, "but I want to choose all of my Pokémon for good reasons, not just because they're there or they're quote-unquote good." He took the little waxy arms in his fingertips, squishing them into discs. The Litwick giggled, flapping its misshapen 'hands' as it waddled in circles. "I love this little thing. I can't tell you what struck me about this one, but it did, and it did hard. Also, the creepy chandelier told me this one likes me."

"What chandelier?" Mike looked back to find that the strange, black and purple chandelier was gone. But only for a split second; It returned in a burst of flames and let out a screech that made even the Litwick jump. The noise dissolved into thin laughter and dancing light. The Litwick slid into the same fit of giggles and flickers, followed eventually - albeit hesitantly - by Mike.

"I'm sorry, Mister Tapersson," Juniper giggled, "but Vincent - the Chandelure - he loves that prank. I assure you, an aide a day gets it, so don't feel too bad."

"So was the whole thing a bit?" Mike felt a little hurt at the possibility that he had been lied to. He looked up to Vincent with puppy dog eyes.

No, the Chandelure hissed in their minds with a wide grin, Isn't it obvious?

Mike smiled back. He returned to his new best friend, and offered to pick them up. The Litwick happily accepted, and the two made their way back into the open air. The Professor left the door open behind them, so the others might wander about and feed, she explained.

"I'll call you Robin," Mike said after a moment, "since you robbed me. And, boy or girl, it works! Okay, Robin?" It didn't quite get it yet, but smiled at Mike's upturned voice.

"She has been known to do that," Professor Juniper offered. "She's incredibly good at getting into places she shouldn't be, and taking things that don't belong to her. I can't believe one of the aides hasn't started calling her Robin already. That's a brilliant name for her."

"I think so, too. What about you, Robin?" This time she reacted to the name a little, looking at his mouth as he spoke. He sang it to her in silly ways as they walked, and she smiled and made creepy little sing-song-esque noises back.

"Robin will be waiting for you at the front desk in the morning, she really should be allowed out to feed tonight," the Professor explained, returning a scanned copy of his adoption paperwork some time later. "I also wanted to clarify what I said earlier. I don't often see a trainer and a Pokemon bond so well, and so quickly. Lillipup like everyone anyways, likewise with Vanillite and Tympole, and everyone's usually ecstatic to get a specialty starter, but… It's nice - and surprisingly rare - to see it both ways. Congratulations, Michael." His name caught him by surprise. The two shared a warm smile.

"Thank you, Aurea."

"Professor."

"Noted."
 
Last edited:
Ch. 3: The Long and Winding Road New

Homestar!

Bug Catcher
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
Chapter 3:
The Long and Winding Road


"So today is supposed to be day one…

"And here I am…

"At four in the fuckin' morning…

"Is it too early to start? Can I go yet? Will anyone be awake? I
want my Pokémon where's my bayyyy-beeeee"

"Oh yeah! I picked - drumroll…

"A Litwick!

"I mean, of course, right? It eats your calories, like… What a ffffantastic thing for me.

"I need to stop swearing. How am I supposed to be a
good parent with such foul fuckin' language?

"So it's five now. Five, uhh…

"Five-twelve in the morning. I can't get back to fu- freakin' sleep.

"We're just gonna go bathe one last time.

"That's pay-per-view only, you perverts. See you soon!"


"The front desk…

"... is not…

"... opeeennnnn- oh, shit, uh…"


"Hello? Who's there?"

"Hi Professor!"

"... Mister Tapersson? What are- it's-"

"Six, I know, I was just-"

"What on earth are you recording?"

"It's for my, uh, for my weight loss... blog... thing."

"Oh! I've been meaning to follow that, actually. Hello world!"

"Wh- Cool! That would be nice, Professor! I didn't know you cared."

"I adore a good origin story! Let me guess, you were looking for Robin?"

"I mean, can I take her this early?"

"I don't see why not! I'm up anyways. I'll be right back!"

"... She is seriously the best. Ten-out-of-ten."

This is Robin.
Robin is a Litwick.
Robin needs a special harness so she doesn't disappear.
Because she's a ghost.
Robin doesn't like the harness.
Because she likes being a ghost.
Poor baby.
Look at that widdwe faaaaace!
So angery.
I promise she likes me!

#Litwick #BabyLeash #StarterShowcase #JustGhostProblems

"Come on, Robin," Mike called, giving the thin silver-chained leash a little tug. The Litwick lurched forward, surprised at being able to be pulled at all. He felt terrible having something so obviously clever on a leash, but knew he would feel worse should he lose her. Professor Juniper said it was a temporary measure until he got his Pokédex, which thankfully would be able to track her.

"Wiiiiihhhhhh," the Litwick whined, rubbing sleep from its eyes. They had been slowly trudging along like this since leaving the lab. Mike had decided that he wanted Robin to walk by herself for at least one solid hour, but anxiously checked his phone. The seven remaining minutes felt like ages when he was putting his new little friend through so much stress.

"I know, baby. I know." Mike murmured, pausing and waiting for Robin to catch up to him. She came level with him, stopped, yawned, and slumped against his leg. Her already tiny flame snuffed itself almost immediately. Mike couldn't stand how absolutely adorable she was and pulled off his backpack.

"Okay, I can't resist you anymore," Mike relented. Robin's mouth swapped from a frown to a little smile. He took a moment to find a place for her to sit on his bag, opting to strap her into the open top of his backpack. She snuggled in as Mike re-clasped her striped leather harness. It was sturdy but light, made from the hide of some dark and normal type from overseas. Mike couldn't remember the name, except it was comically appropriate for a restraint. Being unable to do a thing to either typing, it was a more than capable way of keeping a ghost close.

"Watch my back, ok?" Robin roused enough to give him a somewhat quizzical look. Mike winked. She smiled and, using an arm to raise her waxy fringe, winked back. Within moments she was out cold, and Mike slung her and the bag gently back on.

Route 1 was quaint, Mike thought. Borderline easy. He had been told it was a mostly straight shot and - if pressed - could be done in a day. He had gotten himself used to a daily five mile hike, but this was many times that. It also wasn't a hike, he mused, happy to plod along a flat dirt path. He could tell the humidity here would be a challenge. Mike pulled a rag out of his back pocket and gently blotted his face as he marched. His eyes were already stinging from sunscreen-laced sweat.

He couldn't help but notice that the path was practically groomed . There were few places for anything to hide, save for the dense tree line to either side. He occasionally passed an orchard, or a fenced-off field of one crop or another, all either ready for harvest or close. One of those crops was definitely corn - which he knew from sampling. He almost didn't spit out the raw, sweet grains that popped against his teeth. Mike allowed himself the theft of two ears from a plant close enough to pick without actually trespassing. The rest were various grains that he couldn't identify. He couldn't see beyond these crops, let alone the road he had traveled in on. It must be blocked by yet more trees.

Mike very much enjoyed the illusion of wilderness. He enjoyed even more that, once or twice, an orchard's branches would hang just far enough over a fence. Feeling a little guilty at his continuous thefts, he committed himself to only taking one apple at a time. After one for either pocket, of course. He made a note not to track his exercise calories today, and to call it even against the debt of the fruits.

As the day pressed on, he felt Robin tug the cover of his backpack over her head. Even with a fresh coat of sunscreen, the late summer heat was beginning to burn his ears and arms. He reached back to poke at Robin, who was softer than before but still felt stable. She was a fire-type, but she was also seemingly made of wax, and Mike didn't know whether to relax or worry. Something tried to squeeze inside his chest, but had a hard time clinging on. Exercise, he reminded himself, releases endorphins. A gentle mantra of sorts, for when it felt less true. Exercise releases endorphins. He smiled, remembering how his younger self had balked at the idea of training...

"My parents are sending me to Unova!" Mikey heard Scotty's downstairs yell clearly through his bedroom door. Scotty had been talking about training for the last few months, and it was exhausting to listen to him. They were best friends, sure, but couldn't he talk about anything else?

Footsteps banged their way up the stairs. "Shoes!" called Mikey's mom, and the footsteps briefly receded before beginning again, somewhat quieter. Mikey practically threw a book and some papers out of his bag onto his desk. He sat just before the door opened, and tried to act surprised when it did.

"Wh- oh, hi Scotty." Mikey tried to sell being sucked into a math problem. Scotty was grinning ear-to-ear, which was admittedly rare. Mikey almost wanted to be excited.

"My parents are sending me to Unova!" Scotty repeated, holding out a letter in his hand. "Read em' and weep!"

"Weep for what? I totally thought you could." Mikey looked for a moment, then turned back to his papers and began to copy out a quadratic formula. Just to do something.

"Are you actually doing homework?" Scotty looked over Mikey's shoulder. Then at Mikey. Then he leaned over and turned on the desk lamp. "This might help, dumba- uh, dumb-butt."

Mikey snorted. "That was so fuckin' lame," he hissed through a grin. Scotty flinched at the curse. "Just be quiet, dad doesn't care anyways, just mom."

"Did you not hear me, Michael ?" Scotty looked at the paper Mikey was writing on. "That isn't even right."

"Yeah it is," Mikey scowled at the page, pointing with his pen as he spoke: "negative-bee plus-minus the square route of-"

"The square route of The Great Depression ?" Scotty's comment forced Mikey to check what he was actually writing on. English homework. A subject he actually liked. And he has used a pen! He fumed silently for a moment, scribbling it out.

"Dude, you can, uh, just tell me to go home." Mikey was cut to hear the hurt from his friend. Whether or not it was what he wanted. A coil wound around inside his chest, squeezing differently than before.

"No! No, tell me about the letter," he replied. He was curious, after all. Unova was apparently an amazing region. So much older and cooler than La Diega, and who could even remember that one in… Arizona? Texas? He didn't want to go to any region, or train at all for that matter. If he had to pick, though, Unova would have been his choice.

They spent the evening looking over the A.C.E. acceptance letter, searching maps on Mikey's computer, learning about Unova, and generally joking around. Mikey felt… surprisingly jealous, he admitted to himself. That thing kept coiling up in his chest, slowly squeezing him tighter the whole evening until dinner. Food always helped, but it didn't relent as they readied for bed. Mikey only knew one other way to help abate it: humor.

"All that walking is just, like, stupid," Mikey spoke, rolling to look over the edge of his bed sometime later. Scotty insisted on sleeping on the floor nowadays, wanting to 'get ready.' "I'd take a cab."

"You hate walking, though," Scotty retorted, "I do track and field. I love it. You forget your gym clothes on lap day."

"What are you trying to say, I'm fat or something?" Scotty snorted, trying not to laugh too loud. They were definitely up too late already. "You're a big shot but I'm just big , huh?"

"Wow . Way to put words in my mouth."

"Yeah, ' Mikey's pretty good at putting stuff in mouths ,' that's all I'm hearing!" They both stifled snickers at this.

"I'm gonna miss you, man," Scotty eventually sighed after a long string of similar jokes. "This is crazy! I leave in, like, two weeks ."

"Good riddance." This earned Mikey a thwack from a pillow as he chortled.

"Go to sleep!" They both froze at Mikey's dad's order, at least until Scotty was blindsided by one last pillow. Both of them had to suppress a genuine giggle fit, lest Mikey's dad come and ruin their fun.

Eventually, Mike was caught up to by the two Aces who had also won the day two lottery. The boy and girl were 'young and spry', Mike thought to himself with a smile, as if he were wizened. Not quite out of highschool, if he had to guess. The sun was high and everyone was a little tired, so they slowed to his pace for a while. They - Manny and Danielle, fraternal twins from somewhere in Pennsylvania - were both enamored by the Litwick on his back. Neither had the 'courage' to pick one, they claimed, but they thought Robin was adorable. Mike invited them to stop for lunch so they could let their Pokémon stretch, and the two accepted with glee.

Robin was roused and eventually coaxed into producing an Ember into a pile of sticks and dry leaves, which proved to be a team effort. She did not want to be awake, thank you very much. Soon a fire was crackling and a pot set above it was filled with water to boil.

The two trainers produced their own starters: Manny had chosen a Solosis, which he called "Ziggy the Zygote." It was put to work with filling their tin cups. The little sphere's outer 'jelly' quivered from the telekinetic exertion, but it managed not to spill too much as it placed the cups in a neat-ish line in the shade.

Danielle had chosen a little scoop of a Pokémon that she fittingly called "Gelato". She clarified that it was a Vanillite at Mike's request. It blew out a weak gust of cold air over each cup before making a show of disliking everything about the current situation. Danielle had to eventually recall it, lest it melt from the fire, the sun, or its own humorously passionate melodrama.

Each trainer pulled out a different lunch and settled in the shade to eat. Mike gave out his 'ill-gotten' apples from the morning. The Aces - both too short to reach the fruit still on the branches - graciously devoured them. They all sat together for an hour or two, hydrating a little too well, awkwardly deciding where and how to relieve themselves, and in the meantime musing about how deserted the route had felt so far.

They each had theories, but the smartest one - offered by Danielle - was that the Aces from the day before had set to work on the route with gusto. This made the most sense. Mike had barely even seen a handful of Pokémon since he started walking, and they had all been quite skittish.

The trio filled their canteens and broke camp; The fire was doused, snuffed, and buried, and - as a parting gift - Gelato did his best to freeze Mike's canteen. It somewhat succeeded in creating a slush, which was more than a delight to Mike. The Aces each wanted to get their hands on a Lillipup, so Mike agreed to give them some space to do so. He had thought of catching one himself. He had a soft spot for canines...

"Ember!" Mikey whipped a laser pointer around at one of the small squares of metal he had set up. The family Growlithe, Zippo, spun to find it nearly as fast. He barked up a string of coals which rattled the target as they struck. Each found its mark, much to Mikey's glee.

"Good boy!" Mikey tossed a small treat to Zippo as he jogged over to snuff out the embers. He'd found himself much more bored than usual this summer, senioritis kicking in well before his last school year started. To alleviate it, he'd asked if he could whip the Growlithe into shape. A condition of his dad's permission to train up the family's lazy pet was that Mikey repair any burn scars on any surface. There were thankfully very few so far, and only on the grass.

"How's Zippo?" Mikey's mother slid the back door open as she called to him. The Growlithe bounded over to her and - as far as Mikey could tell - attempted to jump directly into her soul. She laughed and loved on the pup in her arms.

"Good! He learns fast, watch," Mikey replied. At his whistle, Zippo raced back to sit in the middle of an old hula hoop. Mikey reset a few 'stations' of his makeshift training ground as the Growlithe waited, nearly perfectly still. It focused on the 'trainer', panting but alert. Another whistle came from Mikey, and it rose to a crouch, ready to sprint. With a series of commands, the dog made its way with haste through an obstacle course.

"Agility!" It weaved through several empty soda cans which each wiggled from how close the turns were cut. "Quick Attack!" It turned to an orange blur that intercepted a tossed bean bag. "Take Down!" It slammed through a wall of empty boxes, landing with a hard tumble in the grass. "Ember!" A laser pointer lit up a different target, which rattled from the shower of sparks. " Good boy!" Zippo barked with joy, bounding up to Mikey who met it with open arms and plenty of pets.

"Wow ," Mikey's mom laughed out, crouching to join him in Zippo's snuggle-fest. "You're a real Pokémon! Yes you are!" They took turns rubbing, patting, and feeding Zippo.

"You did all this in a week?" She asked, measuring Mikey up. He nodded with a smile

"Yeah, Zippo's a quick study. And it was fun!" He scritched and scratched the Growlithe behind the ears, causing a back leg to thump away merrily. "His cough is gone, too. I read online that they'll get backed up if they don't, y'know, breathe fire every once in a while."

"Mm-hmm! I'd do this myself if I didn't work so much," his mother heaved a sigh, "I miss it a lot, Mike."

"I know," he spoke, smiling. She turned her eyes on him with a hint of sadness. He felt a coiling in his chest, but didn't look away.

"And I really regret that you never did it," she said, as if to open, read, and shut a book all at once.

"I know, mom."

When he began to walk again, he found that extending the short reprieve may have been a bad idea. His swollen feet seemed to squish with every step, and plodding along turned from the reflective therapy it was in the morning to near agony in the heat of the afternoon. This was relieved somewhat when the trail began to fall apart into patches of waist-high grass and thick brush loaded with not-quite-ripe berries.

Their assumptions of the trainers from a day before were thankfully wrong; Mike had to shoo nosy Lillipup and Watchog away fairly often. Each time he tried to rouse Robin, but she barely gave any of the wild Pokémon a glance. She would inevitably cling to Mike's pant leg and whine, and he would begrudgingly lift her back to her bag-perch.

Late in the afternoon, as the dirt road began to re-solidify, Mike noticed the Litwick was much more awake. He strongly suspected Robin of merely being lazy. So, the next time she refused to do much more than glare at a Watchog, he didn't pick her back up. Instead, when she eventually grabbed onto his jeans, he insisted on walking as normal. She gave shrill little giggles as they went, her flame sputtering to life and snapping in the gentle breeze that had picked up.

The grass gave way to the dirt path from before as the sun began to sink in the west. The ocean air was crisp, cool, and strong. Mike found all of the open camping spots exposed and unappealing. He passed the two Aces from before. They were happily playing with their starters and, to Mike's delight, two little Lillipup. They waved to each other, and he pressed on.

The tree line to his left broke and revealed a small set of stairs down a cliffside. Beyond that was a bay, and beyond that the opposite side of the bay was thickly - but naturally - wooded. As he approached the stairs, a smaller cove within the bay revealed itself. In its calm waters he saw and heard another trainer, an Ace, considering the uniform. They were nearly up to their waist and making beautiful casts towards the cove's mouth. On their back was some large, blue-striped fish. He saw with delight that their - her, he guessed - hair wasn't mussed by the breeze, nor was her tent. He checked a sign by the stairs, which warned mostly of where to camp on the beach and where to find water along the short cliffs, before making his way down.

"Hello!" Mike called out to the somehow familiar curly-haired figure. "Mind some company?" The fisherwoman turned to him and he was hit with a pang of recognition: it was the Ace who nearly caught him checking her out a few days before. A little more frazzled, a little more windswept, but just as pretty.

"You're gonna wade out in those ?" She called back with a grin. Mike's stomach flip-flopped as he examined himself. He was sweaty and filthy from the walk, which wasn't news to him, but was suddenly and horribly embarrassing.

"I, uh- no, I mean," Mike floundered, pointing his thumb over his shoulder, "to- to camp?"

"Hey, you're the extra Ace! Go ahead, I'll be right there." Mike nodded with a smile. She reeled in her line, stowed the hook, and began to slog in his direction.

"I said go ahead," she clarified as she got closer. Mike hadn't moved, a little dumbstruck.

"Oh!" He felt his cheeks flush, and not from the sun. "I guess I didn't hear. Uh, thanks, and yeah, I'm Mike."

"Stephanie," she replied. They shook. "I gotta know your story. And get the hell outta these." She looked down at her rubber waders, awkwardly - but adorably - shuffling her feet in the shallows for a moment. Mike laughed as she struggled her way to dry land. Robin detached from Mike's pant leg to follow her - or more specifically, the not-quite-dead Basculin she was carrying.

"Oh hello !" She turned and addressed the little candle that was squeakily calling to her. Mike smiled at Robin and her new friend before starting to set up camp. He didn't notice what was properly going on until Stephanie gave her own startled squeak.

Mike turned from his half-erect tent to see Robin next to the Basculin on the ground. Her flame was engorged, rippling with violent shades of violet as the fish's writhing intensified. The two trainers watched as the poor thing flapped, shook, shuddered, croaked, and - disturbingly suddenly - stopped . They made eye contact, sharing the harrowing moment in silence. Mike had to break it.

"Think it'll taste different?" His morbid question roused a snort.

"Oh yeah," she remarked, "now we can't make soul food." Mike and Stephanie shared a horrible little laugh together as Robin poked at the now dead Pokémon.

After having set up his tent properly, giving himself a quick towel bath, and throwing on a new shirt, Mike pulled a log over to her fire pit to serve as a chair. Just one, somewhat purposefully. He fluttered with nerves at what - to him - was a brazen act.

"Oh, thanks!" Stephanie had poked her head out of her tent at the noise. From the looks of it, she either was or had been similarly freshening up. "I'm just getting jammies on. Doubt I'll go back out until butt-fuck-o'clock in the morning."

Mike snorted. "Sure, take your time," he replied with a smile. She returned it before retreating and zipping her door shut. Mike looked over to Robin, who was chewing on a fin contentedly. "I'll swap you something for some fish," he called out, "I'd, uh, like something not shrink-wrapped for dinner."

"Counter-offer," she called from inside the tent, "I have, like, zero idea how to, uh… prep? Clean? Gut? Let's go with ' prep' a fish."

"What the hell do you Aces learn at school?" Mike's not-quite-faux-exasperation drew out a giggle from the tent.

"I took the online survival class," she remarked, which only baffled Mike further. "I know, stupid idea. I figured I could just, like, look it up."

"Well, when you get out here, you c-can, uh, hi. Hello." Mike had stuttered to a halt as she emerged. He didn't have a lot of experience with women, so seeing a girl in pajamas was a novelty, even if it was just leggings and a comfy-looking flannel. He noticed the loose-fitting shirt was done up one button lower than some may find decent. Not him , but some. He'd blame the fire for his cheeks this time, he thought, smiling and trying not to look in any one place too long.

"I can what, nerd?" She sat next to him with her own little grin. Her taunt brought Mike back to the task at hand.

"You can watch a master at work," Mike recovered with a confident little smirk. She made a little noise of false wonder as he got up to pull a cutting board and filet knife from his kit...

"Careful with the belly," Mikey's dad spoke as he watched over his shoulder. The boy held the now dead Whiscash in the lake by its mouth. While his left hand adjusted the fish, the right tried to find purchase with his knife.

"When am I ever, Dad?" Mikey undulated his gut momentarily, then ran the sharp blade along the underside of the fish. He did as his dad had shown him the day before, rinsing the body cavity in the water, freeing the guts with his fingers. He'd seen his dad do this on a dozen camping trips when he was younger, and usually would help somehow. Asking to be in charge of dinner was completely new. There was something firmly adult-ish about it to Mikey, which was nice. It's exactly what he was looking for after the particularly ludicrous string of college parties leading up to the summer.

"I thought you were squeamish?" His dad chided. Mikey laughed but didn't reply. "Okay, now they don't have scales, but slime comes off almost the same way. So what next?"

They continued much in this fashion, through each step in processing the day's catch. Removing the slime, de-finning and deboning, prepping, and into the pan over the fire.

They sat in silence, enjoying the hiss of oil on meat. Mikey was dangerously close to actually salivating as he worried over the cuts in the pan. His dad smacked Mikey's hand with his own spatula.

"Patience, young Kricketot," his dad mocked. "It'll cook. It needs to cook all the way through, unless you want worms."

"They might help," Mikey rubbed his belly as his dad snorted.

"The only thing that's gonna help that is you, kiddo." There it was. Mikey had been dreading that for a while, hating these conversations. He wilted in on himself a bit, but tried not to show it.

"You really gotta lose that weight," his dad eventually spoke.

"I know." Mikey's reply was quiet.

"I mean," his dad continued, checking the underside of one of the cuts, "I just... I want to see you live. Get out there and enjoy life, you know?" Mikey didn't reply. Instead he got up to grab some seasonings.

"I was heavy when I was your age, too. Not that heavy, not like you, but I didn't do the trainer thing, either."

Mikey knew that. It wasn't news to him. He salted the fish.

"But you're heavy, Mike. And I worry about you. I don't want you to miss out on things."

Same old story. Mikey peppered the fish.

"I feel really bad. I lost weight and I started seeing a lot of women, Mike."

Same old song and dance. Mikey flipped the fish slowly, laying them away from himself, careful not to splatter the oil.

"And I don't… I don't want you to die before me."

Mikey stopped.

"Nobody wants to bury their kid, kiddo."

Mike turned to his dad, with a hurt inside of him that he wasn't expecting.

"Holy shit, Mike," Stephanie blurted out through a mouth full of fish. Her genuine shock only made Mike smile wider. She took another large forkful as Mike set about stripping the stolen corn he had roasted.

"Yeah?" She gave a small but emphatic nod in answer.

"Yeah, this is bomb," she spoke through another mouthful. He gave a laugh.

"Try to taste it," he chided with a wink, "oh, and watch out for bones. I think I got them all, but you never know."

"I'll eat the damn bones," she shot back. He laughed anew. "Seriously, this is amazi- Oh yeah, there's one." She picked it out and flicked it into their fire. Robin and Champ - Stephanie's Tepig - followed it through the air, both of them nearly drooling. There was plenty of fish to go around, but Stephanie insisted on their starters eating after the trainers had eaten. 'For discipline's sake.'

After they both enjoyed some dinner, they fed their starters. Mike did his best to hide his jealousy of the well-mannered little pig, which was gently trying to play with the Litwick. Robin was doing her best to ignore the Tepig as it charred the bones and scraps of the Basculin. Her best was more than good enough to allow her to eat in near-peace, considering she could simply disappear. Eventually Champ realized that he could instead nab the food Robin was preparing, which was much more entertaining than trying to pick on her directly.

"So, Mike," Stephanie spoke, standing and disappearing into her tent for a moment. "I have a confession to make." She emerged again with a bottle of wine and a grin. "I'm a total wino. Care to join me?" Mike felt his heart flutter.

"Uh, of course," he replied, trying to hide his nerves with bravado. He gulped down the last of his water from his tin cup while she uncorked the bottle. Stephanie ensured the both of them received a sturdy pour before leaning the bottle against the log and sitting again. Mike couldn't help but notice she was a little closer.

"What shall we toast to, my dearest?" Mike threw on a grandiose affect, which Stephanie fell into as well. Each straightened up and held their arms as elegantly as they could muster. What he intended to be a quick and simple joke turned into a game, much to his delight.

"Well, I say ! I hadn't thought of it," she replied in an airy posh tone. "Shall we toast to summer evenings?"

"To summer evenings," Mike cordially offered his cup. They clinked them together and sipped. "Mmm! To fisherwomen!" Stephanie nodded delicately at his addition.

"To fisherwomen!" Clink! They sipped again. She thought for a moment, still holding her cup aloft. "To Professor Juniper!"

"And to Aces!" They smiled and clinked. He hadn't drunk much on his diet, and he could feel warmth already spreading in his emptier-than-usual stomach. "May they never teach survival properly," he offered with a wink. She shot him a look, then returned to her character. Clink! Drink.

"To Feebas," she offered with a smile. Mike was completely lost.

"What on earth is that, my good woman?"

"It's a cute little thing that I desperately want," she articulated, "a grey-ish fish that turns into the most lovely Po-"

"Soup," Mike finished over her. She snickered and pushed him.

"Pokémon," she reiterated, her character sliding a little, "they turn into Milotic. They're gorgeous, and very strong. I've wanted one forever, and Feebas only live in a few weird places."

"This cove being one of them?" Clink!

"Mm-hmm." Drink. They both were sliding back into normalcy. Or perhaps something else. She refilled their cups.

"What else," Mike mused, casting about for something. "To... happenstance? Serendipity?"

"Is that a Pokémon?" She almost sold genuine disbelief, but couldn't contain a small smile. "Yes, to Serendipity." Clink! Drink. "And to the opposite, for not having caught a Feebas and fucked off already."

"Language, dearest," Mike chided, sliding back into his accent.

"Oh! What a silly ass I am!" She almost made Mike snort out his wine. They both laughed. She dropped the character somewhat, placing a hand on Mike's thigh and asking, "so, why don't you tell me why you're out here, and we'll toast to that next?"

He took a little downward look at her hand, his heart fluttered at her touch. He decided to focus back on her. "Well, uh, what do you want to know?"

"You're an honorary Ace," she replied, withdrawing the hand but turning to him. "That's weird. It's not unheard of, but it always means something . Spill!" Mike shrugged, sad to have the hand leave but glad to have a better view. Firelight was beginning to dance on her dark skin as they lost the sun. She was a little flush, like he felt he was, and her eyes were focused on him. On his eyes. He was lost for a moment in his drink, in the heat, in that deep hazel...

"Uh," he eventually forced himself, after what felt like an eternity, "I, uh, did good on the test?" He smirked. He wished he had a better answer that wasn't so private. She raised a brow.

"That's it?" She withdrew a bit, hands on her cup. It sobered him somewhat.

"Well, no, but that was, uh, a major part of it," Mike gathered himself, remembering his essay, the Professor's letter, and their talk in the lab. "She really liked my essay, and I did well on the test."

"What did you write?" A small smile of encouragement. He felt weirdly protective of his motives, even though he ran a blog kind-of sort-of all about it. Nobody here knew that, though, besides the Professor. She would be the second.

"So, I've always been heavy," he started, as if he were revealing some grand secret.

"I mean, me too," she offered.

"You're not , not to mention you're gor-" He caught himself, acutely aware of the wine, "you're very, uhm- you're not ' me big.'" She smiled and blushed a bit. "Sorry. You're very pretty, and I'm, uh, a lightweight. Funnily enough." She grinned into her cup as he swirled his own.

"Thank you," she replied, soft and genuine. He felt unsure of how to continue, and could tell she felt similar.

"Anyways," he pressed on, "I had this moment where suddenly I just… I dunno, it all clicked together in my head. I guess I snapped, but not in a bad way? And I decided that I was done fuckin' around.

"So I, like, had this hairbrained scheme. I never did the training thing, and-"

"Me, either," Stephanie added, "obviously. Sorry, continue."

"No prob! Anyways, I never did it. But it - this," he gesticulated, nearly spilling the dribble left in his cup, but not pausing as she gasped and giggled at it, "is all about hiking, and camping, and being out in the wilderness, right? So I thought: 'if I only pack what I need, and completely remove myself from being able to binge eat, and spend all day walking and training up a bunch of Pokémon, how could I not lose weight?'

"So I bought this book on how to ace the new trainer's exam, and it sucked , so then-"

"Was it 'Trainers Training Trainers?'" Stephanie interrupted.

"Yes!" They both lit up, elated with their common loathing.

"It was so bad !" Stephanie touched his arm as she said so. His heart jumped once more. She emptied the last of the bottle into their cups, which was barely a gulp each. "Like, I get it, you're writing for thirteen-year-olds, but it barely helped with the exam!"

"The writer intended it for La Diega and Orre, where apparently it's much easier I guess? Hence the reviews being so good." Stephanie gave a knowing nod at Mike's explanation. "Unova's got a lot of unique species and regulations and stuff. Anyways, after that, I just binged a bunch of videos and took a course at the local community college. Turns out I was way over-prepared."

"Yeah, same here," Stephanie chimed in.

"So I demolished the test, and Juniper apparently loved my essay, and all-of-the-sudden I get enrolled in their Ace course. I have no idea exactly why, besides her wanting me to get a different starter. I said I wanted that Tepig, actually." Champ drowsily looked up at the word 'Tepig' to find Mike pointing at him. He snorted at the trainer. Mike snorted back.

"Ohhhh , yeah, that makes sense," Stephanie added. "You'd never get a shot at one of her specialties without being an Ace. And she seemed a little put out when I picked him, but I have wanted my own little piggly-wiggly for ages , so tough titty ."

"I'll trade ya." He didn't entirely mean it, but the humor made it worth saying. Stephanie and Mike were both surprised when Robin span around to shoot her trainer a dirty look. Mike knew that the Litwick had a mediocre-at-best grasp on English, but perhaps she could read his intent? He immediately felt terrible. Robin's yellow eye narrowed and Mike felt something tug on his chest as her violet flame grew. Was she eating his regret? It certainly felt like it.

"She did not like that," Stephanie laughed as she spoke, "and besides, no deal."

"I'm sorry Robin! Daddy didn't mean it!" Mike's soothing did nothing, and Robin turned to wander away. She proceeded to test the limits of the leash and harness for the rest of the evening; she was attached to a long post screwed deep into the earth, which wiggled slightly if she pulled too far but otherwise proved steadfast.

"Anyways," Mike returned to his explanation, "turns out there was a kicker! A friend of mine is a Warden, and he was able to hook me up with a Pokédex from their lost and found. Which are reserved for Aces in this region, right?" Stephanie nodded. "So that means everything's on the up-and-up, if anyone ever bothers to ask."

"So, Juniper likes you," Stephanie summed up, "you write well, your test was good, and you're well-connected." Mike shook his head with a smile; he was obviously being picked on but the facts still made him feel nice. "And you're a blogger ! It all makes sense now."

"Oh, shut up," Mike spoke, looking up at her. There was a sudden urge inside of him that he hadn't felt in a long time. She was sitting there, very close, smirking, eyes glowing with mischief. The feeling may have been right, but the timing felt a little off. He hesitated.

"Okay," she cut the moment short, "that's nice, but I wanna know what the snap was." She put an unfamiliar emphasis to the word 'snap.'

"What do you mean?"

"What made you go through with all this?" Stephanie tried to drink from her cup, but it was empty. She gently tossed it into her pile of dishes with a clatter. Mike placed his in his own mess of a mess kit.

"With what, moving to the opposite side of the country, selling everything I owned, and deciding I wanted to act like a kid for a few months?" She nodded. "Well…"


—​

"... it, I dunno, it was a lot of things." He pushed the memory back down where it belonged. Fuel, but not the fire. Important, but just to him. He tried his best to not show the moment, but he knew he lived with his heart on his sleeve. Stephanie gave a little frown. He decided to share some truths.

"Well, I just got my degree." He began.

"Congrats," she replied with an admiring smile. He was glad to see it back.

"Thanks. And I don't have any debt. I have a little put away, I'm single, I-"

"Oh," Stephanie's grin was a little more coy than before, "Why, Mike, are you trying to seduce me?" She closed the distance between the two on the log. Mike's heart was hammering in his chest. He was suddenly very aware of her; the smell of her skin, her curls gently resting on his arm, her leg pressed against his, the wine on her breath.

"Well," he returned, with charm unexpected, "is it working?"
 
Ch. 4: Thnks fr th Mmrs New

Homestar!

Bug Catcher
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
Chapter 4:
Thnks fr th Mmrs

Mike had an incredibly hard time waking up. Robin, who had been left out on her leash to wander, managed to make her way into the tent with him. She half-dozed next to his head, clutching a square of folded paper, her flame burning strong - yet unnaturally dim. Mike finally rose from his stupor to the feeling of something pulling in his chest. It was almost like the coils of anxiety, but as if they were being tugged towards the Litwick's flame. It wasn't exactly uncomfortable, but it did have the effect of making him feel as if he hadn't slept at all.

"Robin," he mumbled, prodding her gently, "are you... eating?" The candle roused itself. Mike could only just make out her yellow eye through his bleary vision. He succumbed to sleep. A moment later, he jerked himself back awake, and met her gaze again.

"Can you stop?" Mike forced the question through a yawn. The Litwick tilted her body slightly to move her fringe and better see her trainer eye-to-eye. Mike felt as if she knew she was being spoken to, but had no idea what he was saying. Remembering something from the night before, he thought Stop as hard as he could, and tried to imagine 'stop-ish' thoughts: Running, then stopping. Eating, then stopping. Holding his breath. He found it was quite difficult to think 'stop-ish-ly,' but after a few moments Robin's eyes widened in recognition. Her flame promptly sputtered and died, leaving only a wisp of fragrant smoke. The pull in Mike's chest subsided instantly, but the grogginess would take longer to throw off. Not to mention the pinch of dehydration. He hadn't gotten that drunk, but he did forget to drink anything but wine.

Mike also clocked a familiar, very intense feeling: Hunger. The desire to recklessly stuff his face with anything he could get his hands on. A single-minded drive to eat, eat, eat. His stomach growled as dread began to grip him. Robin may indeed have been a very big mistake.

He forced himself to drink a long pull of water from his flask. He found his phone and punched various foods - and two and a half glasses of wine - into his calorie counter. Needing to kill the all-consuming gluttony somehow, he added the apples he'd said he would discount. He wound up only slightly over. The fish and corn were less calorie-dense than the canned stew and toast he would have had. He had intended to guilt away his hunger, not reinforce it. He didn't even need to enter eight hours of walking to know he had a ridiculous surplus to work with.

The sun was higher than he expected when he emerged from his tent, and with a pang he saw that he was alone at the campsite. The sun was already quite high, which did nothing to help his shock and guilt. The night before came rushing back in a tumble of emotion. Where was Stephanie?

Robin squeaked behind him, having followed him out. Mike ignored her and looked around the cove for any sign of his… he didn't know what to call her. But he knew she wasn't there. No tent, no trash, and only his pieces of his mess kit remaining. His kettle was sitting in the ashes of a fire, still warm, and - he noticed with a swooping mix of thankfulness and sadness - filled with fresh-ish coffee.

Robin was now pulling on his leg as he tried to set up his own mess kit. He was too absorbed in abating his hunger and trying not to feel too jilted to notice the irritation building in his little friend. He worked silently to get a pan ready; to get eggs, bacon, and bread out; to change into something fresh. Mike didn't acknowledge her until she and shrieked at him from within his clothes trunk as he opened it again. He had no idea how she managed to get into it - perhaps when he had grabbed some fresh underclothes earlier? But her leash was still attached to her harness, so it must have been some time when his back was turned.

"What?!" He boomed back, bewildered and frazzled and already at the end of his rope. Robin recoiled with a whimper and tried to vanish. The only thing that gave her away was her striped harness and faint, anxious hiccups. Mike immediately felt even worse, and tentatively reached in to lift her up.

"I'm sorry, Robin," he murmured, picking up the disembodied harness. He pulled her into a hug, squishing her somewhat soft body against his chest and face. "That wasn't very nice of me. I don't- uh, well, jump scares suck. It's not your fault, it's okay. I was ignoring you. I'm sorry."

Mike knelt and held her quietly for a moment. Robin gave a few gentle little sobs as she faded back into reality, her little arms wrapped around her trainer's face. She finally pulled away and slapped him with the little square of something she was holding. He laughed, knowing he deserved it. She did it again, and he snatched it from her.

"Stay out of my stuff, you little—" Mike caught himself, seeing his name written in thin violet ink on the neatly folded paper square. It wasn't his at all. His heart fluttered with excitement as his mind ran wild. He turned it over, looking between it and Robin, and suddenly realized why she had been trying to get his attention all morning. He opened the letter with hands that began to tremble, coils gripping him tightly as ever.


Mike,

Thank you for being a gentleman last night. I enjoyed our dinner and wine and stuff! I woke up early to fish the low tide and immediately caught myself some 'soup.' I'd leave you my number, but people out on these routes can be total creeps, and I don't want someone stealing this and spamming me with dick pics.

I'm so
sorry for bailing, but the sun isn't even up yet, and I promised some friends I'd meet them in Accumula for lunch today. They're also my ride to Castelia, and if I miss it I've gotta leg it the whole way. I have no idea if I'll see you again, but I make a habit of treating myself to The Pallet on Friday evenings. They're a Unovan chain of cafes with open mics, cozy seats, and great wine. Maybe we'll bump into each other sometime?

See you soon (I hope)!

Stephanie

xxx

Those three little kisses made Mike's whole week.

The remaining walk to Accumula was much worse than the day before. The terrain was similar: sturdy path, leading once more through what seemed like purposeful patches of grass and scrubby shrubs. The walking, however, was agony. Even with all of his preparation, Mike found that his feet were more tender than he ever felt before. His calves eked out a low wail of pain and his thighs twitched and burned. He found himself chuffing, "Thank you Scott, thank you Scott," his cargo wonderfully lightened by Scott's gifts. He didn't plan on tracking food at all that day, content to shovel fuel into the cumbersome engine he felt he had become.

The thankfully light Litwick made herself at home in the top of his bag and - save for the occasional whimper or yawn - slept the day away. Mike strongly envied her. She didn't have to walk, and didn't have to tangle with the tumult of emotions from the night before. If she was sleeping - which Mike was certain she was from the occasional tiny snore - she must not have been too offended from his raised voice earlier. That thought looped another coil around his chest, adding to everything else that was already hampering his breathing.

They didn't stop for lunch, out of Mike's fear of not being able to move again. Sometime past noon he finally saw the edge of Accumula. It was, as he remembered, a town built into gentle hills and valleys. Very nearly a city in its own right, but not quite. He could make out loosely packed red brick buildings, their tops staggered strangely by the various swoops and dives in altitude. In time they found the final stretch of path, which dissolved into gravel, which abruptly became smooth pavement.

They made their way past a raised town square and directly for the Pokémon Center now opposite them. Mike had made good time; most of the cafes and restaurants lining the square were quiet, and Mike would be able to snag a gratuitous meal in relative peace. Not quite yet, though. He desperately needed his 'Three S-es;' A shower, a shave, and to use a real toilet.

The Pokemon Center was likewise none too crowded. The PokéMart outlet at the front showed the only sign of real life, with a few young trainers and an Ace he didn't recognize milling about the aisles. Mike trudged towards the check-in counter and tried to book himself a room without so much as a second thought to what he was supposed to be doing here. The nurse lit up a little at his name and began to explain something he knew was important.

"Please," Mike interrupted with a comically exaggerated wheeze, "can I come back later?"

"Oh! Of course sir," the nurse replied with quick, articulate cheer. She launched into a speech that was clearly well-rehearsed. "The evening seminar will begin here around seven, which is where you'll receive your activated Trainer Card. Rooms start on the second floor, up the elevators or stairs to your right," she pointed over one shoulder. "Just swipe a payment card or scan your ID at any door with a green light and you're good to go!

"Each night's stay beyond the first per week is only forty dollars or four thousand Poké. That also comes with two meals per day in our cafeteria, which is down that hallway to your left," she pointed over the other shoulder, "first door on the right. Meals are included for up to six Pokémon. Thank you for using the Accumula Town Pokémon Center, we hope to see you again!"


"We survived! Just! Uh, anyways, I just wanted to let the world know we weren't, uh, dead. By the way, I get why they're called 'Nurse Joys.' How anyone could endure a trainer's—"

"Wih!"

"stink and still be that happy—"

"Li-wiih!"

"to see them must be—"

"Liwi-wick!"

"What, you booger? It's a phone. See?

"Look! Hello! That's y—"

"Wiiiiih!"

"Hey!

"Give me that!

"Robin!

"The ball, where's your stupid…

"Hold... Still!

"Okay. Oh-kay... is this still… Oh yeah... I'm posting this... for sure… God damn am I out of shape…"


Two of his three S-es later, Mike decided he wasn't quite ready for a shave and collapsed into a rather-too-small bed. Robin, not at all happy with her firm reprimand for stealing Mike's phone again, was busy trying to push her way through the door. The Litwick was not at all content to be holed up inside. Her paws flailed feebly through the door, but her harness held her fast from escaping. Mike sucked in his gut so he could watch her from where he lay, smirking as she whined and wiggled in vain.

"The sun isn't even down yet, goober," he chided. She didn't react. He pushed some pillows behind his back to prop himself up a little better. "Hey, Robin," he called, "it's okay. We'll go out later." Robin turned slightly at her name, but otherwise didn't cease from her escape attempt. She began to jump up towards the handle, tiny arms flailing fruitlessly. Mike heaved himself back up onto his sore feet and went to double-check the deadbolt.

"No, Robin," he sighed, testing the knob, then flipping a latch shut on the door, "you barely know your name. We'll figure out free-feeding soon, but for now, nap-time."

"Liiiiiiiihhhh," Robin whined, exasperated. She leaned her forehead through the door to the point where the harness sat on her shoulders. Her mouth, much to Mike's chagrin, was still on his side of the door and loud as ever. He recalled her in a flash of light and returned to his tiny bed. He was out before he hit the pillow.

The orientation was barely useful, but Mike attended anyway. A bubbly aide of Juniper's met the small group. She was someone vaguely familiar to Mike. He felt as if Scott and he had covered her in one of their pop quizzes, which made her either a former gym leader or a strong trainer. Or both. She distributed a stack of Trainer Cards with some difficulty, fumbling the devices more than once. Their eager recipients were quick enough to catch them, save Mike, who worried over a small corner scuff for the rest of the tour.

The aide then led a short tour of the Pokémon Center; the PokéMart outlet, the wall of computers and complicated electronics that made up the PC System, the front desk (for the second time), the Cafeteria, the front desk (which Mike, finding her adorable, almost didn't point out that they had already seen twice now), and the elevators to their simple lodgings. At each point she emphasized how all Centers followed this style, and that the trainer rates for staying covered almost everything not Mart-related.

"Okay, so, front desk again, which means we're all done!" She fixed their small group with a cheerful grin. Mike returned it, possibly the only one in the group to do so.

"Hey, gringo," a familiar voice hissed in his ear, "act like I was here, will you?"

"Capiche," Mike replied, barely able to stop his smile widening.

"Any questions?" The aide's voice was so full of hope that Mike almost made one up. Everyone took that as their cue to leave, but after a few paces Mike realized he did have a question.

"Excuse me, uh," Mike floundered for the aide's name. He wasn't entirely sure she had said it.

"Oh! Duh, sorry," the aide replied, realizing the same herself. She then cupped her hands to her mouth and called out, "I'm Bianca, by the way! Feel free to— aaaaand they're not listening. Anyways! Heeey! I have a feeling you're Mike, right?"

"What gave it away?" Mike knew very well what gave it away.

"Uh," she stumbled, having been caught, "actually it was the s-smell?"

"The what?!" Mike couldn't help but exclaim with joyful bewilderment. He had not expected that reply at all.

"No! N-not like— I mean— you smell like—" She pulled her somewhat ridiculous green hat down over her head, "it's weird, this is weird, it's to-tal-ly weird."

"Yes, I agree," laughed Mike.

"You smell like the Litwick habitat," Bianca finally got out, which Mira must have heard given the cackling that erupted behind them, "it's like this oily, smoky, cheap-lily-scented candle smell. It's not bad! You smell great, I swear— I mean— oh wow please let me dieeee."

"You're free to die in just a sec, I promise," Mike laughed out, "but first, Professor Juniper said I could get my Pokédex here?"

"Right, thank you!" She flipped open a small green purse and dug around for a moment. She soon pulled out the holstered device Scott had given him a few weeks ago. She handed it over with a wide, albeit frazzled, smile. "Congrats, by the way!"

"Uh, thanks?" Mike didn't hide his confusion.

"On your weight loss!" He was instantly flattered, and both loved and hated the feeling. She glowed as she continued, "The Professor showed me your blog! We think it's a-ma-zing! You can totally see it in your face!"

After an awkward round of 'thank-you's and 'excuse-me's, Mike extricated himself. He joined Mira, who had been shamelessly eavesdropping and was grinning widely. The two made their way towards the front door.

"You never said you were losing weight," she replied, with a tone that felt like she was his offended grandmother.

"You never pulled the '¿Qué te están alimentando?' routine," he shot back with a smirk.

"Didn't think I had to." Her off-handed retort and side-eyed measuring up cut Mike a little deeper than he expected. He never liked other people making the fat jokes; that was his sacred ground. "And lay off the Spanish, gringo. Your accent is terrible."

"Wh—!"

"I like you already," she continued, unabashed. "You try too hard. Unless you want to practice, save it." Mike wasn't used to someone shooting so straight with him, besides his mother. He flushed with embarrassment.

"Noted. I- I'm sor—"

"Cállate. Come, let's eat. 'You're wasting away.' Apparently."

They made their way to the cafeteria, gossiping about their first few days as they went. The set-up reminded Mike a little too much of his college's dining hall: stacks of dishes still damp from the washing machine, a mess of hot tables with various inoffensive fare, a few stalls where you could get omelets or burritos and other messy foods hand-made, and always too few chairs for so many tables.

The most major difference was the addition of a separate room with a few serving tables and stalls specifically for Pokémon. Mike and Mira toured it out of curiosity. They understood immediately why it warranted a separate room, as they were hit by a peculiar but not horrifically unpleasant odor as they opened the doors. The Pokémon dining hall included various grades of kibble, mats of grasses and small brush in disposable trays, vats of chum, raw cuts of meat, a stall with various live seafood, and another stall which held a staff member in a hazmat suit, a bin of compost, and a small silo with a wide spigot. The silo was labeled with various hazardous symbols and a list of 'recommended Pokémon.' The odor from several yards away was enough to send them scurrying back to whence they came.

Mike hated eating like this. Portion control was hell at restaurants anyways, but a buffet? He might as well write the whole day off. Which, after having recouped some sleep, he was intent on not doing. Mira watched with vague curiosity as he entered a mess of different energy bars and trail mixes into his calorie counting app. He was relieved to find he wasn't over budget, even after halving his walk's distance, 'just to be safe.' His macros were a complete mess, but that didn't matter to him. Mira scolded him for his high sodium and carb intakes, intent on 'giving an authentic abuela experience.'

They ate, and gossed, and poked fun at poor Bianca, but Mike kept his night with Stephanie close to his chest. Though it was clear enough that he wasn't doing a good job of hiding anything.

"You're certainly smiley," Mira insisted after Mike cleaned a (rather small) plate. "Talk to your dear, sweet abuela."

"Okay, okay," Mike rolled his eyes, "I get it. No more Spanish."

"I'm more offended by the grandma stuff," she said with a wink. Mike now felt even worse. "But I'm glad that's hit home, too. Anyways, you're glowing about something."

"Thanks, it's the sunburn," Mike returned in a ridiculous voice, fluttering his eyes. She smirked but otherwise ignored it.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you got lucky." Her comment was both so deadpan and so close that Mike choked on his decaf. She gave a loving little titter. "Well don't you work fast!"

"I— we didn't—" Mike was too busy coughing coffee out from the wrong pipe to argue much more. After mopping himself up a bit and clearing his throat, he finally replied: "nothing happened. I mean, not much."

"Oh dear, I didn't think you could get much redder," Mira chided, "So? Who was it? I think there was only one girl your age. Oh, I'm sorry, unless—"

"Nah, that narrows it right down," Mike confirmed.

"So it was her. The short one with the long curls?" Mike nodded his response. Mira leaned forward almost confidentially. "She passed me up this morning with a very similar look on her face." Mike grinned down into his lap, where he was gripping his phone as if it might ring any second. It wouldn't, he knew, but he could hope.

"She didn't say anything about needing to leave last night," Mike mused aloud. Mira made a face at that, to which Mike elaborated: "She said she wanted to go fishing, but— here." He fished out the carefully stored letter and handed it over. Mira read it, completely inscrutable.

"I don't know what to make of 'catching soup,'" she replied. Mike explained the joke, which involved a lot of embarrassing recreation. "You two are losers. Anyways, this is cute. Sincere. Weird, of course, but all in all I think it's a good sign." They swapped smiles. Mike found that her opinion was somewhat reassuring, but not entirely.

"Hey, wait," Mike looked up, "I had to cover your ass for the tour. How'd you see her?"

"I was here for lunch," she replied nonchalantly, "which was just as terrible as this. Go to a café tomorrow, trust me. Niles, that brute, he's running me ragged. I overslept for the evening orientation, but it's for kids. I'm not stupid. I was surprised to see you there at all, Ace."

"Surprised and lucky," Mike replied. Mira gave a conspiratorial little smirk in return. They rose to see if there was anything left worth picking at. Mike had been judicious for their first round, but he remembered how miserable he felt that morning and abandoned his diet. No, he thought to himself, we're not abandoning it. We're feeding Robin. Don't be stupid. They each picked at their second plates for a while, both of them hungry but neither content with the fare.

"How will you be getting to Aspertia," Mira asked sometime later. Mike started pushing a very sad floret of broccoli around his plate, not wanting to think about it.

"Uh, I won't," he replied, "I can't— I didn't expect to need to." Mira frowned at him.

"I wish I could help," was all she could say. Mike nodded glumly into his plate.

The two said their goodbyes sometime later, getting off the elevator on the same floor and sharing a tight hug outside of Mike's door. She was leaving first thing in the morning, and with Mike intending to catch up on some much-needed sleep, this would be the last they saw each other for a long time.

Mike called her back and showed her his blog, then called her back again to swap numbers, then she called him over for another hug, and finally he went inside.


"Alright everyone, new to live streams, but yeah, so, uh, happy Friday! I just did my first on the road weight check this morning! And…

"Well, I didn't really gain anything, at least. I'm up a third— a third-ish of a pound. Which is much better than I thought we would be doing.

"Robin is a very hungry little girl. Does, uh, does anyone know exactly how much they eat? Is there an app for that? I swear Professor Juniper said something about it but—

"Oh hey! Hi Juniper! She says: 'I thought I told you? It's roughly five hundred kay-cals.' Kay-cals? Kilocalories? What the heck—

"Oh. New comment, new person. 'Kay-cals are just calories, hope you are doing well! Love—' Aww! Hi Scott's mom!"

Mike spent most of the next day not doing very much of anything. He woke up late, groggy but not nearly as exhausted as the day before, and forced Robin to stay awake until he had finished breakfast. His legs were sore and his feet were very tender, but - loathe to spend any more than he needed to - he insisted on traveling the town by foot.

He stopped in a few different stores, longingly perusing their merchandise, but remembering that he would be out forty dollars that evening should he want to stay another night in civilization. It was either that or set up camp on the outskirts of town, which - while financially tempting - seemed like a physical impossibility. They had to camp on a Route, and the closest proper campsites were a few miles in any direction. Far too much walking to even consider.

Remembering Mira's suggestion, he took a light lunch at one of the eateries on the town square. Sitting under an umbrella, the heat was almost bearable. He nursed a diet soda and nibbled at a salad with one hand, the other wrapped around his new Pokédex. Mike sat there for a few hours, losing track of time and becoming acquainted with the device. Robin sat asleep on the table, which - if any of the few other pet- and Pokémon-laden outdoor tables were any indication - was completely acceptable.

"At least it's just wax, right?" Mike's joke drew a polite smile from his waiter. Robin had shifted to follow the umbrella's shade, leaving a faint white trail on the dark metal grates of the table.

The Pokédex certainly seemed useful. Mike was bombarded by information, but only about his Litwick. He saw that she was already identified as 'Robin,' and as belonging to himself, along with various other tidbits: Her 'level,' which seemed to be an indicator of relative strength; several statistics, all quantified somehow; Her 'ability,' which was listed as 'Infiltrator,' answered a lot of questions he had about her mysteriously popping up in places he didn't imagine she could get to. He silently thanked Juniper once again for the harness. The little machine even tried to quantify her personality. Nothing about her felt particularly 'modest' so far, but 'highly curious' felt bang-on.

Little waxy hands appeared around the side of the device, gently trying to tug it away. Mike was more than ready to be robbed this time, and - with a rush of relief - realized she could now be tracked. He made sure to set the tracker as his home screen, and even synched the Pokédex to his phone for good measure.

He ordered a charcuterie plate and another diet soda, logged the plate, and spent a lazy afternoon flicking through his Pokédex and his phone. He was worried sick about his money, and consequently his time. He looked at his bank account, scribbled down some numbers onto a notepad he'd snagged from his room, then checked his funds now available on his ID. Fifty thousand Poke was nothing to sneeze at, but it really didn't give him too much more to work with.

"So," Mike spoke to Robin, whose lone visible eye was half-way open, "if we wanna stay inside the whole time, we have about five months." He circled a number on his notepad. Robin's focus honed in on where the pen met the paper, apparently noticing the phenomenon that was ink for the first time. "And if we only sleep there for the one free night, and try to spend twenty dollars a day on supplies, we can double that. Ish."

"Lih," the Litwick mimicked his inclusion. She reached for the pen, which Mike gave to her.

"And it takes about two months per gym, if we're very good," Mike spoke slowly, purposefully, taking the end of the pen and helping Robin to write a '2.' "Two," he spoke as they drew. She marveled at the symbol she made.

"So if we have ten months," he helped her make ten little circles, "and it takes two months to get a badge," they circled two of the dots, "how many badges can we get?" He remembered how he 'spoke' to her the morning before, and had thought very, very hard about each step of the simple problem.

To his great surprise and elation, she circled four more sets of two dots.

"Five badges! That's right!" The two beamed at each other.

Then she circled the whole thing.

And his math problems.

And everything else he had written on the sheet.

It had still been more than he expected from a baby starter. He tore off a sheet so that she could doodle freely, and she filled it with little circles in short order. It was a good distraction from the coiling anxiety in his chest.

Ten months felt like very, very little time. Especially when every lost battle could also be a lost day. He had anticipated to just enjoy his 'vacation' of sorts as long as he could, but he had wanted at least a year. How was he supposed to make any real diet progress in less than a year? Or training progress? Or anything progress? The thought threw another loop into the coils. Robin stopped scribbling and looked up to him, cocking her head.

"You feel that, huh?" Mike reached out and rubbed his little friend. She smiled, and returned to doodling. As she did so, her flame ignited, and he felt something else familiar in his chest: a tug in her direction, as if the flame itself had grabbed at the coils and was gently pulling at them. Unwinding them, ever so slightly. The difference wasn't spectacular, but it was noticeable, and he was suddenly incredibly grateful for his new friend.

"I worry too much," he muttered with a smile. Saying so unfortunately didn't make him worry any less. Otherwise, he thought, her flame would have gone out. "Which I think you're gonna enjoy, huh?"

"Wih!"

"You don't have to be so happy about it."
 
Ch. 5: Run, Rabbit, Run (With the Glenn Miller Orchestra) New

Homestar!

Bug Catcher
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
Chapter 5:
Run, Rabbit, Run (With the Glenn Miller Orchestra)

Leaving Accumula felt harder than getting there in the first place. Mike had spent a few days lingering and ‘picking on’ trainers, as Bianca had once accused him. He would while away his mornings and evenings in the Center’s lobby, waiting for the tours to finish before offering to have a quick battle. “We gotta break in your trainer card,” he’d say, so often that it felt like a motto. Bianca didn’t seem to hate it, except for the fact that Mike’s Litwick had a terrific edge on most of the other starters.

Robin the Litwick proved to be an avid and eager little fighter. She and Mike were still an awkward pair, but so were the rest of the trainers. Lots of Lillipup, tons of Tympole, a variety of Vanillite, and even a few arrogant Aces fell to their combination of intangibility, flame, and gusto.

Robin was quick to attach the names of her moves to her instinctual techniques. Mike made a point of calling out her moves as she did them (with help from his Pokédex). When she began to execute them on command, Mike poured the praise on thick. Her cleverness and love for praise made learning a cinch, and within two days her knowledge of her moves was ironclad.

Mike, for his part, memorized the types and match-ups that his Pokédex was so keen to spit out. Even with her limited pool of attacks, he found that he’d choose the best one more often than not.

However, they still weren’t able to bridge the communication gap, save for the short names of ‘official’ moves. Any attempt to guide, maneuver, or strategize was completely lost in translation. Mike was well aware that the frustration wasn’t one-sided, given the nasty looks Robin would occasionally shoot him after an order. He found himself lamenting lacking the money to purchase a technical machine that might allow her some telepathy. Then again, what good would that do if she still didn’t understand English?

Most of the remaining trainers that came through were much younger, right around the legal training age of thirteen. Excitable and passionate, they often leapt at the chance for a fight with an ‘Ace.’ They marveled at his Pokédex, which Mike was sure to allow each of them to use. He took to carrying the complimentary notepad and pen from his room at the center, so that trainers could scribble down any of the information they desired from the little computer.

As far as Mike was concerned, sharing his ‘dex was a win-win: he filled out the machine a little more, they could train their starters a little better, and everyone had a good time.

Mike always made sure to keep the stakes low, if they existed at all. He would even offer to fight ‘off the books’ if they didn’t want to get money involved. Unregistered battles were technically illegal

“But, y’know, our starters are all too weak to really hurt anything. Besides,” Mike explained to a particularly reluctant young woman, “we’re out in the open. No sense in hiding, yeah?” He had taken to fighting smack-dab in the middle of the town square, which today drew a small crowd of local looky-loos. Mike smiled at the girl, who relaxed and grinned back.

“And,” an adult cut in, a bronze seal flashing on his chest as he walked, “we’d rather you practice in town, anyways.” The warden made his way over and greeted them all. Any coils that had been added to Mike’s anxiety by his skirting the law unraveled themselves in moments. From then on, he noticed at least one warden would show up each day. They would referee the matches, pointing out little slips in form or missed opportunities, and generally keep the peace if and when a trainer got upset about losing.

Mike found to his delight that he, without fail, managed to cover the cost of his lodgings for the five further days he was there. On Thursday, a full week after his arrival, he took up his usual position near the Center’s front desk.

“Hey, Tiff,” Mike called. The older nurse slid her cash drawer shut before leveling her impatience at the man.

“Where’s my baby,” Tiffany demanded as she straightened out a display of town maps. Mike obliged, releasing Robin onto the counter. The little candle literally and figuratively lit up to see one of her favorite ‘Joys.’ The two spent some time cooing at each other as Mike scanned the lobby for Bianca. She ran late as a rule, but after fifteen minutes of playing with one girl and idly flirting with the other, Mike felt like something was wrong.

“Bianca’s running later than usual,” Mike mused as the two worked to try and style Robin’s waxy fringes. They often picked on her during their lulls, reasoning that she needed to get used to human touch. The Litwick in question, albeit a little annoyed, allowed them to shape and mold her ‘hair.’

“Bianca? Oh, she’s done,” Tiffany replied, “she’s too young for you anyways, sugar.”

“Wh— Ew!” Mike retched, which drew a giggle out of the nurse. “She’s, like, twelve.”

“I’m just sassin’ ya, dear. I know you’re here to bully the babies, but they’re all gone now.” Tiffany cocked her head at Mike. “To be honest, I think Bianca appreciated it.” He looked up, curious to hear more.

“Yeah?”

“Mm-hmm.” Tiffany split up some of Robin’s wax and began to braid it. “We get one or two every season who wanna stay around an’ pick fights. But you’re gentle with ‘em. You don’t make ‘em bet, you let ‘em see your ‘dex; you’re a good little teacher.”

“Thanks,” Mike replied, unable to hide his pride, “I was gonna be one, got my degree and everything, but I decided I wanted to try this before I settled down. So that— It’s nice to hear, thanks.” Tiffany beamed back at him. She pressed the ends of the Litwick’s waxy braid together so it would stick.

“Alright, hun, all done!” She turned her smile to Robin, who gently shook her head. The braid flopped from side to side with surprising ease. Mike enjoyed being able to see both of her little eyes, each so full of delight.

Given the news, Mike spent the rest of the day shopping and preparing for Route 2. It was about as long as the route before, as the ‘krow flies. Various incoming trainers from that direction - who were few and far between - remarked on the ease of the downhill trek. That always threw a coil around Mike’s chest. The last route was flat; how would he handle this one?

Robin, however, was restless. She had been adapting to their crepuscular rhythm with particular gusto. She loved to fight and loved attention, and she only partook in those things when she and Mike were awake at the same time. When Robin finally realized that they weren’t going to be fighting that day, she had a small meltdown in the middle of a thrift store. She seized the legs of the jeans Mike had found - a true rarity given his size - and set fire to them. After a lot of stamping-out and a loud scolding, Mike returned her for the rest of the trip. He also wound up begrudgingly buying what would soon be shorts.

On his way back to his room at the Center, he stopped in a tiny mom-and-pop-ish bookstore. He found the mouseish owner and asked him for their section on ghost-specific training. Mike was led around a few turns in the packed, barely-organized labyrinth until they found a shelf loaded with ‘TRAINER’S GUIDES’ of all shapes and sizes. The owner left Mike to his search, and - with nothing to guide him - he started to pull various ‘spooky-looking’ books out of the collection.

The orange-and-black books, which he hoped were halloween-ish, turned out to be mostly for dark- or fire-types. He skimmed a few of the latter, but found very scant entries on Litwicks - if anything at all. The purple-ish books skewed much more in his favor. Eventually he narrowed down his choices to three different ghastly tomes, which he leafed through quickly.

Mike eventually settled on a newer-looking violet paperback. On its front, in blocky yellow letters, read The EASY MEDIUM: How to Handle HARD to Train Ghosts. The humor of which sold Mike immediately. At a glance, a solid third of it was devoted to general care, tips, and resources for ghost-types. The rest included the most common specters of Unova, which left plenty of room for each to be given ample attention.

When Mike took it to the counter, the owner tittered about the publisher and authors with delight. He pointed out that a long-standing member of the Elite Four penned the forward for their region’s edition. If Mike hadn’t been sold before, he was now.

He sat in the cafeteria some time later, helping himself to a second omelet and worriedly logging the excess. He’d spent most of the first plate skimming a section entitled ‘What to Eat When You’re Being Eaten.’ He’d been good so far about sticking to a five hundred calorie excess, but the more he read, the more he worried. Seeing as he was probably the primary source of nutrition for the Litwick, he was more than likely underfeeding himself. At least, according to the various charts now at his disposal.

As he picked and perused, he flipped deep into the book to find the section on Litwick. To his great joy, he found an entire section for the species labeled ‘Basic Communication.’ He began to read - and eat - with gusto.

“Intentions (by which we mean your immediately present thoughts and urges, both conscious and unconscious) form an important set of signals for ghosts. Litwick are no exception; they can read most beings’ intent with ease. As pattern recognition is to human beings, intention cognition is to ghosts.

“As a reminder (for those who have forgotten or skipped Section I): In order to set up traps, scares, pranks, and generally evoke an appetizing emotional response, most ghosts have evolved to be able to clearly sense what you are
currently doing and thinking about - as well as what you are immediately about to do. We sum up this phenomena as “intention cognition,” and will make extensive reference to your “intent” within this chapter.

The intention cognition phenomena present in ghosts is most akin to a psychic’s combination of telepathy and genuine precognition, however the former should never be mistaken for the latter. Whereas psychics and other telepathic Pokémon can easily open up a two-way avenue, communication via intent alone will only be trainer-to-ghost.”


- The Easy Medium, Section II, Chapter 3: Litwick, Lampent, and Chandelure

“Alright, alright- it’s recording. Stay there…

“Okay! Ready, Robin?”


“Lit!”

“Okay. Right hand!

“Right! Come on!”


“Wih!”

“Good! Now, left.”

“Wih…”

“Fu- yes, heck yes, okay…

“Both!”


“... Li-twi?”

“Now headbang!”

“Yeah-ah-ah-ah-ah!!!” “Wii-ii-ii-ii-ii-ii!!”

#DidYouKnow that Litwick (and a lot of ghosts, apparently), read intention to hunt? And they eat emotions? It sounds complicated, but basically it means that if you think super hard they can hear you and do tricks! Like this! Look at us go! #RockinRobin #MetalHeads

Mike wanted to make sure he had an early start the next morning, but it was all he could do just to open his eyes. Shortly before four he scrubbed, shaved, packed, and readied himself and his starter for the long day they were anticipating. He passed by the front desk just after five, his bag on his back and a groggy smile on his face. Robin, much cheerier than usual, had been allowed to wander without her leash. Nurse Tiffany was busy counting a cash drawer, but called out as they passed.

“Mike, c’mere,” she beckoned. Mike gave an exaggerated groan before thinking ‘desk’ as hard as he could at the Litwick. It slid to a halt, processed the incoming ‘intent’ with a little burst of purple flame, then scooted merrily back to her favorite nurse.

“Morning, Tiff,” Mike yawned, leaning heavily against the counter. Robin hopped up with ease, beaming at Mike and waiting for praise. He smiled weakly back at her and rubbed her unlit head. “What’s up?”

“You aren’t.” She smirked as she slammed the register drawer shut. “Look, I gotta be honest with you. I’ve been watchin’ you pretty hard these past few days.” Mike bobbed his eyebrows, to which he received a dismissive snort. “Not like that. Like, how you’ve been with everyone. Especially the newbies. You’re a good man.

“Now, I was hoping you weren’t leaving so soon: I only just got the go-ahead to ask, but looks like you’re on your way, so it’s now or never.”

“Where’s this going, Tiff?” Mike was slowly rousing himself, realizing these compliments and kind words were coming from somewhere.

“I got a favor to ask,” she continued. Mike nodded with a poorly-suppressed yawn. “A co-worker and good personal friend of mine usually has one of her kids take the other to Striaton for school. Her older son is busy and she’s on the clock all weekend. Justin’s begging to make the trip alone, but legally he’s too young. Barely.”

“Justin’s the kid?” Mike asked, still visibly bereft of his morning coffee. Tiffany nodded.

“Yup. He’s great. Eager - full of it, really - but smart. He’ll be a part of Juniper’s Winter Program, but until then it’s illegal for him to be out on the routes alone. His mother and I haven’t been able to find a solution. Until now.

“If you’re up for it, of course,” she added, almost as an afterthought. “Juniper’s trainers’re all background checked, yeah?” Mike nodded as he began to put two and two together.

“What, does he go to boarding school?” He was busying himself by lazily playing with his Litwick, thinking simple commands as hard as he could and watching her wave her arms or do little dances.

“Bingo!” She watched the two with a small smile as she continued, “Academy of Combat Enthusiasts, Striaton Campus. Big, ornate building on the west side of town. Can’t miss the place.”

“That makes much more sense,” he nodded, causing Robin to nod with ridiculous vigor. “And - not to help anyone’s decision-making - but these,” he pulled out the Pokédex from its protector at his hip, “are all GPS tracked and have emergency whatevers and junk.”

“Don’t I know it.” Tiffany’s smile broadened as she continued, “an’ since yer hell-bent on taking the long way to Castelia, that makes you the perfect man for the job.”

“Well…” Mike thought about it, as much as he could. He was going that direction, anyways. It would be nice to have more than himself to talk to - especially if Juniper had been right about the lack of trainers. “How old is this kid, again?”

“Justin’s almost thirteen,” Tiffany replied, not without some bitterness, “an’ he won’t let you forget it.”

“He sounds like a— Wait, wait...” Mike was squishing his eyes shut and concentrating. Robin finally understood and her flame bloomed into life. She gave a little giggle in anticipation. Mike reached out two fingers and started again. “He sounds like a de-light.” As he enunciated, he pinched the flame out. Tiffany gave an amused cluck of a laugh as Mike showered the Litwick with praise.

“I’m reopening your room for the morning, my treat. Go sleep on it an’—”

“Today would be free anyw—”

Go sleep on it and be back at nine.” Tiffany leveled a glare at Mike that strongly reminded him of his mother.

“Why do I have the feeling this isn’t an option?” Mike had already decided he wasn’t going to say no, but he didn’t particularly enjoy his loss of agency in the matter.

“If they can afford a boarding school, they ain’t broke,” Tiffany added, with no attempt at subtlety. Mike enjoyed that about her.

“You’re absolutely right,” he replied with a grin, suddenly in much better spirits. “This isn’t an option.”

A few hours and one much appreciated nap later, Mike and Robin returned to the Pokémon Center’s lobby in near-opposite spirits from their earlier visit. Robin’s glee with freedom seemed to be the only thing keeping her awake, and Mike’s exhaustion had taken a massive blow thanks to his sleeping in and the promise of payment.

There he is,” Tiffany nodded in their direction. Mike couldn’t help but clock the flash of surprise on the other woman’s - the mother’s - face. He was much more pleased, however, by the boy next to her, who he assumed was Justin. He was used to kids having zero grace when it came to his size, but Justin smiled broadly and betrayed nothing but joy. Perhaps because he was much more focused on Mike’s Litwick.

“Hi, I’m Michael," He said to the both of them. He and the woman shook hands.

“Rebecca,” she replied with a smile. Mike looked over to the boy, who was focused on Robin, who was focused on her reflection in the polished Center floor.

You can call me Mike, if you want to,” Mike spoke at the boy, hoping to prompt a response. Justin didn’t take his eyes off of Robin, as if she might disappear at any moment. Which, in his defense, she could.

“What about your Litwick?” Justin’s question drew Robin’s attention. She looked up and struggled through a yawn.

“This is Justin,” the mother introduced the son. Her voice was dripping with exhaustion and irritation in equal measure, making Mike assume that the boy wasn’t one for manners or tact. Which made him no different than any other kid. The two women immediately went back to a hurried conversation. They must have been switching shifts.

“Her name is Robin,” Mike returned his attention to Justin. The little kid shot him a funny look. “Well, she’s a bit of a thief. See, when I first met—”

“So are you Crobatman?” Mike suppressed a cringe and shot back his own terrible pun.

“No, but you’re ‘Just-in’ time for a butt-kicking.” Justin gave an exaggerated guffaw. Mike made a show of pointing at his eyes then pointing at the kid. Robin, to their surprise, mimicked the motion - albeit with her arms in lieu of fingers. All involved were trying their best to suppress grins and maintain their mock-irritation.

“Settle down, boys,” Tiffany called, “and c'mere, Mike.” He moved obediently over to the counter, quickly repeating the ‘I’m watching you’ motion over his shoulder as he went. He enjoyed kids, and felt like he was good with them. It was a large part of the reason he wanted to pursue education. Justin seemed to be no exception - so far.

“So,” Rebecca started, halfway through pulling on a pink Center uniform, “are you sure you’re alright with this?”

“Uh,” Mike hesitated, “I think so? But I—”

“Oh, thank you so much,” Rebecca barreled over him. “I know this is weird, but all of the trainers from the lab’s program are checked and double-checked, and I didn’t know what else to do. Tiffany told me there was a nice young man helping out the newbies from his class, and work has been so hectic lately. And Ben, his older brother - bless him - he just got a promotion. They usually do this every year, you know. Ever since Justin was six. The walk isn’t hard, but he’s not a legal trainer yet, and he really needs a—”

“Uh, Miss? Ma’am?” Mike interjected sheepishly.

“I’m so sorry,” she chuckled off some anxiety and settled herself. “Yes?”

“Do you mind if we go over some specifics?”

“Of course,” she clucked out a few more chuckles, “right, so what did Tiffany tell you?”

“Not much, just enough - I think,” Mike replied. “She has a friend who needs a favor - you - and that favor is getting Justin to school: the A.C.E. over in Striaton. I don’t think anyone else from the lab is taking the slow way, so I’m your guy if he needs a baby-sitter.” He called the last few words somewhat behind him, to which Justin balked his indignation. Tiffany and Rebecca laughed.

“I know we’re total strangers,” Mike continued, to clear the air, “but I am going the same direction, and I was planning on leaving today anyways. I’ll go ahead and give you my Trainer ID Number and Cell Phone number. Please don’t hesitate to call at any time! Justin seems like he’s got a good attitude and a good sense of humor, and my skin’s as thick as it looks.” He smirked at the self-depreciation. Mike noted that Rebecca did not.

“Sounds like you've got a handle on things. Anything else you’d like to know?” Rebecca asked, counting in her cash drawer.

“Does Justin have any medications he needs to take?” Mike, unable to help himself, slipped into responsibility.

“... No, he’s twelve," Rebecca replied. Mike shrugged, remembering the medical cocktail that Scott had begun trying at his age.

“Any allergies?”

“Keep him away from too much milk and he’ll be fine.”

“Disabilities, phobias, or—”

“Are you—” Rebecca laughed aloud at Mike’s sudden, clerical shift in demeanor, “were you a teacher or something?” She straightened her hat in the reflection of a blank monitor.

“That’s what I thought,” Tiffany cut in, emerging from a door behind the counter wearing much less pink. “He’s got his credential an’ all that, but wanted to do this first.”

“Just the degree, no credential,” Mike clarified, glowing with pride. “But yeah, that’s the plan after training. I never did it at his age.”

“Well, lucky me,” Rebecca smiled at him, “if I wasn’t comfortable before, I am now. Anything else?”

Mike hesitated. This would be the point where he would begin to haggle, but suddenly he felt incredibly guilty about asking for payment. He was going to be making the exact same trip he would have, just with an extra pair of eyes, ears, and hands. Plus, Justin was a soon-to-be-Ace. The kid could probably do this alone, were it not technically a crime.

“Nope,” he decided after a moment, “But you should know I’m a brand new trainer. I only have Robin over there.”

“Oh! He has a little Oshawott named Choppy. I almost forgot, here,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a Great Ball covered in scuffs and scratches. “He’s been taking care of the little thing for a long time, and he really needs some exercise if he's gonna shape up into Justin's starter, anyways. Justin!”

The boy trotted over, hands covered in a thin layer of wax, which went just past his wrists.

“What on earth,” Mike muttered with disbelief.

“She’s a ghost!" Mike snorted at the comment. "I was just petting her and whoosh! Then I wanted to see if she stole anything.” Another snort.

“Didn’t you have an Xtransciever?” Justin paled at Mike's question. They all turned to see it sticking out of Robin’s forehead. She seemed entirely unperturbed. Or, quite possibly, she was acting unperturbed.

Please leave Michael’s Litwick alone,” Rebecca gave an exasperated sigh, “you and Chop get up to enough mischief as it is.” With that, she handed over the ball. Justin went to throw it, but with a bark of, “not in the Center,” from several staff members, he pocketed it instead.

After a brief shopping trip - wherein Justin was quicker to point out essentials than Mike was - Rebecca bade them farewell and they were off. Their first stop was the Warden’s Station that separated Route 2 from the city proper. At Mike’s insistence, Justin kept his Oshawott within its ball until they cleared the gate. Once they were officially on Route, Mike was introduced to the spunky little otter and the four made their way up the gently sloping trail and into the woods.

Justin and Mike got on like a house on fire, where Mike was the house and Justin was the fire. The two bickered, picked, and argued with good humor as they marched through the trees. Mike loved every moment; he always wanted a little brother. He had two older sisters and wasn’t particularly close with either of them. Justin felt like a small taste of that reality.

Choppy was much like his owner, and even more like his name. As they trudged along, the Oshawott would charge forward to slash at flowers and slice at weeds. Each time he did, he’d look back to see who was paying attention. Mike couldn’t help but marvel at the swiftness and sharpness of the little shell, and how it somehow stuck fast to the otter’s stomach.

Occasionally they would be barked at by some brave little Lillipup or Patrat. After Robin made short work of one or two - her intangibility and flames making things incredibly one-sided - Mike allowed Justin and his Oshawott to mop up most interlopers.

Choppy would chase down and swipe at anything and everything, unless Justin was giving ‘strict’ orders. Those orders tended to simply be guided chasing and swiping, with the occasional blast of water for good measure. The Oshawott seemed to have a much firmer understanding of English than Robin did, though Mike noted that the latter wasn’t far behind. Where he and Robin still fumbled with basic strategy, Justin and Choppy could formulate hilariously ineffective plans. Almost.

“So this time,” Justin whispered, pointing to a fat, pink thing that Mike didn’t recognize, “you need to remember about its tongue. Tongue,” the boy stuck out his own to reiterate. He continued, pointing at his mouth, “Do - no’uh - tut-th - thuh tung”

“Osh!” The little otter nodded, sticking out its own tongue, and barreling off towards the… thing. Mike pulled out his Pokédex and pointed it towards the Oshawott’s prey.

“Lickitung, the Licking Pokémon,” came a happy, tinny voice from the Pokédex. “Being licked by its long, saliva-covered tongue leaves a tingling sensation.”

“No! Chop! Don’t touch the tongue!” Justin’s anguish pulled Mike away from the screen. He looked up to see that the Oshawott had misinterpreted its orders. The otter was whining and squealing, its little shell stuck to the huge pink tongue of its target, who barely noticed the intrusion.

“It says here,” Mike drolled, only half-looking at the chaos, “that it’s gooey saliva sticks to anything.”

“No, really?” Justin shot back with a nasty look. Mike grinned, scrolling to another trainer-submitted entry. Distantly he heard some thumping stomps, a rush of water, and a lot of strange, possibly tongue-obstructed gurgling.

“Ooh, apparently,” Mike continued, “ahem, ‘it is somewhat put off by sour things.’ I wonder why.” Justin yelled in frustration. Mike felt Robin stir from her perch in his bag.

“Make Choppy pull its tail,” Mike guffawed as he suggested it, “I wanna see if it reels in its tongue.”

Eventually the Oshawott prized its ‘scalchop’ off the walking tongue and routed the poor critter. Mike still hadn’t made his mind up about whether or not it was worth catching, but since he wasn’t sad to see it go, he felt that he’d found his answer.

Mike would only insist on Robin fighting when he heard the hiss of a Purrloin. He knew they were dark types, and knew that they had the upper hand against ghosts. He wanted to make sure that his Litwick had ample experience dealing with that sort of adversity. As well as plenty of practice being woken up to fight.

“Why haven’t you caught one yet?” Justin asked Mike for the fifth or sixth time that day. The two of them were presently watching Robin as she warily weaved closer to a large Purrloin. Mike admitted to himself that the unique calico-ish dappling was appealing, but he stuck to his guns.

“Because I don’t want one.” Mike’s simplicity seemed to irritate Justin.

“But, like, you keep fighting them— Get ‘im, Robin!” The Litwick had made a sudden leap, attempting to Astonish the poor cat. It hissed and kicked up dirt in response, not bothered by the scare.

“Yeah, it’s good practice for her,” Mike nodded to Robin, who was now hurling tiny Embers at the Purrloin. Or trying to, at least. The trainers deflated at the misses, until Mike realized that the flames were slowly circling around the cat. He whipped out his Pokédex to confirm a suspicion.

“That’s a Fire Spin,” Mike smiled, pointing at his screen. Justin looked quickly at the device, then back to the action with glee. “That’s new! Good job, Robin! Good Fire Spin!” The two boys watched as the flames ramped up their pace, swirling around the cat with alarming speed. It hissed and spat at the dancing lights, unable to move much without bringing itself pain.

“But that one’s huge,” Justin returned to his prior issue after a moment, “and it’s a scrapper! Look, it’s—”

“It’s a cat,” Mike remarked, as if cats somehow offended him. “I’m only gonna be a trainer once, and I don’t want something unless it’s, like, exceptional. Smart, or strong, or rare, or something.”

The cat in question, having been pelted with several true Embers within its prison, flopped onto its back in exhaustion and submission.

“Okay, Robin, that’s a clear faint, that’s enough.” Robin, familiar with the word ‘faint,’ doused its flames and returned to Mike’s side. The Purrloin didn’t move for a few moments, its body heaving with labored breaths. Suddenly it righted itself and bolted off clumsily into the thick woods.

The two stopped for a brief lunch at the base of a steep, crumbly ledge sometime later. As they ate, Mike wondered aloud at why the trail led almost neatly to a stop under the short cliff-ish structure. It was nearly impossible to climb, entirely too steep and studded with many loose stones and dirt clods.

“You can save a few miles through the woods. I mean, when you’re headed to Accumula,” he explained with a grin. “So trainers do it all the time, and the trail makes itself. That’s what Ben says.” Mike, who had a mild fear of heights, suppressed it with a knowing nod. Justin insisted on being boosted up to the top to demonstrate. He then slid back down the way he came with ease, none the worse for wear - albeit dustier for his trouble. He immediately went for his canteen, and Mike poised himself to strike.

“Okay, my turn.” Mike timed his deadpan perfectly: Justin sprayed a mouthful of water from his nose in two impressive jets.

After lunch, Mike insisted on the two of them reapplying their sunscreen - which Justin openly loathed just as much as Mike secretly did - before they continued. They were making remarkable time, even with all their stopping to bully the local wildlife. Justin continued to ooh and ahh over various interesting specimens: a very stripey Watchog they saw from a distance, a small pack of short-hair Lillipup, and every single Purrloin that Mike insisted on facing down.

As the sun began to sink towards the treeline, the two rounded what Justin announced was the second-to-last bend.

“Oh, uh, can I ask a favor?” Justin posed, suddenly timid. That was new to Mike.

“Shoot,” Mike replied, eager to humor the kid he’d been denying all day.

“There’s this, like, glade thing tucked away back there.” Mike followed a pointing finger, seeing a thin trail lead off into the woods behind them. “Ben and I go check it out every year. He always looks for Pokémon that aren’t super common out in the open, and I like seeing what trainers leave behind.”

“Leave behind?” Mike raised a brow. He had noticed small things left at campsites, but they were either trash, camping equipment, or simply not useful to him.

“Oh, yeah, that’s a thing. Have you heard of geocaching?”

“I have not!”

“Basically, people leave stuff for other people to find, but you have to swap something for whatever it is you take. Or you can just leave stuff, take a few things, whatever. Some trainers love to do it!” Justin fished around in his bag and pulled out a bright red, ornate Pokéball with a broken clasp. “I found this when I was ten!”

“Whoah,” Mike gently took it with genuine surprise, “aren’t these things—”

“Yeah! They’re super rare! It’s called a Cherish Ball! I wanna get it repaired one day, but even fixing one is pricey. Mom said maybe as a graduation present.” Mike gently returned it, now curious himself to see what all the glade-related fuss was about.

“Okay it with your mom first,” Mike replied, nodding at Justin’s Xtransciever. The boy snapped it open and called within seconds. After a few rings, Rebecca’s familiar face filled the screen.

“Hi, you two!” They both greeted her in kind. “Almost there?”

“Yeah, we’re a mile or two out,” Mike confirmed.

“He told me I had to ask about the glade,” Justin rattled off, “can we go, mom?”

“Sure, you go every year,” she shrugged, confused. “Oh! Mike’s never been, right. Yes, it’s perfectly safe. Apparently that trail widens out pretty quick. You should be able to make it there and back before it’s too dark, but feel free to camp if you need to. Classes don’t start until Monday.”

“That’s all I needed to hear,” Mike replied, smiling at Justin. “He’s been great, and Choppy’s gotten plenty of training. Are you sure this kid can’t catch anything out here? He wants me to start a zoo or something.” Rebecca frowned up at them from the screen.

“Yes, he’s only got one more month, he can wait,” she spoke, as if for the umpteenth time. “I’m personally okay with skirting the law on this - you’re a great little trainer already, Justin - but the Academy would confiscate it on the spot. He’d be in a heap of trouble and he’d have to release it. Not to mention there’d be quite a fine for any aider and abettor.”

“I haven’t caught a thing!” Mike raised his hands, as if that somehow proved his innocence. “Honest! But apparently he wants to be a crazy old cat person when he grows up.”

“Hey! You keep picking them out!” Justin shot back.

“I told you why—”

Children,” came a stern voice from the boy’s wrist. Mike stifled a giggle. “Alright, you’re racing the clock if you wanna go there and back tonight, so get a wiggle on. Call me when you get settled! Love you, hun!”

“Love you,” Justin replied with a grin. Mike bit his tongue and resisted the comedic urge to echo it back. Funny to him, sure, but definitely weird. He settled with waving. The Xtransciever automatically snapped shut when Rebecca ended the call. Justin was moving the second it did, incredibly eager for whatever the glade held.

The boy took the lead as they wound their way through tall, leafy trees. They tried following a thin path, but it dissolved into grass on more than one occasion, nearly leaving them lost. After a half hour of picking their way through, Justin made his way back to Mike, whose sore feet and aching calves were taking their toll.

“Through here,” Justin encouraged. Mike could finally see where Justin had meant to lead them. A break in the trees gave way to a wide clearing of short grass. There were a few circles of stones, having seen scant but still obvious use for fires. A neat stack of wood was left between the closest two. Seeing as the sun was hidden behind the trees, Mike insisted that they set up camp.

“Sure, sure, but let’s-”

“No ‘butt-lets,’” Mike chided, “help me get a fire started and then we can keep exploring.”

Mike hadn’t seen anyone work quicker in his life. Justin produced a bow drill and had a fire going in moments; the talent left Mike quite jealous, loath though he was to admit it. The man barely had his tent up and Justin was already nipping at his heels to go treasure hunting. Mike could no longer see the sun, but the bright streaks of red and gold reassured him. After pounding a final stake, he finally acquiesced.

“So it’s back here a little more, like, fifteen minutes tops.” Justin chattered away as he led, almost literally pulling Mike along. Which Mike would have enjoyed, as he was almost completely spent. Robin tagged close behind. She once again was the reverse of Mike; she slowly but steadily gained more and more vigor as the light dwindled.

They pushed their way through a tight web of branches, Justin following an almost invisible run of sorts. He pointed to various tracks and signs that Mike would have completely missed even if he was well-rested.

“See the nibbling here?” The boy dropped his voice and pointed at a thorny little shrub. It’s branches were riddled with uniformly sized missing chunks. “The teeth marks are too big for a Patrat, but too small for a Watchog. It’s gotta be a Nidoran! They’re rare around here but apparently Ben says they do live here.” Justin looked back with a bright smile. “Nidoran, right? Am I right?”

“How do I know?” Mike whispered as well, shrugging the question off. “I dunno what that is.”

“They’re little, like, rabbits,” Justin hissed, following the barely visible trail of barely eaten plants and small piles of round scat, “but they’re blue or purple, depending on the gender. And they’re poisonous, but it’s not, like, lethal. I don’t think.” They emerged into another clearing and froze.

“Are those—” Mike’s whisper prompted the boy to press a finger quietly on his lips in a ‘shut up you moron or they will run’ sort of way. After a moment, the boy nodded in answer.

In the middle of the glade was a small fluffle of blue and purple creatures, nearly a dozen total if Mike had to guess. The purple ones were larger and fewer; Mike could only see two of them. The colony sniffed at the ground over a large, loose circle, chewing on thorny weeds and grasses, somewhat oblivious to the two trainers. The boys stood stock still, appreciating the gentle crunching and leafy tearing sounds the creatures made.

“These are so rare,” breathed Justin. Almost two dozen large ears pricked in their direction. The colony of Pokémon became so still that, save for their rapidly sniffing noses, they could have been statues. Slowly, their snouts returned to their landscaping duties. Mike turned to see where Robin was and noticed with a jolt that she was nowhere to be found.

“Where’s Robin,” Mike mouthed to Justin. The boy looked around and shrugged. Mike pulled out his Pokédex, ensured the volume was off, and pulled up her tracker.

She was somewhere to the right of the two, moving slowly along the edge of the glade. Mike could only guess that she was getting ready to feed. He had an ambitious idea and tried to hold a picture in his mind.

A pile of colorful rabbits. Themselves. Robin on the other side.

He thought it very hard, and very ‘loud,’ until the image and words related to it drowned out anything else in his head. The dot on the screen representing Robin stopped for a moment, then proceeded to move in a straight line towards exactly where Mike was thinking. He couldn’t believe it was working.

“What color should I get?” Mike mouthed to Justin.

“Blue,” Mike thought he mouthed back. It was only one movement, it had to be blue.

Mike waited for Robin to get into position. A few of the creatures bristled and looked about as she passed, but the colony didn’t move except to find a new plant to eat. Mike studied the closest blue Nidoran, forming as strong of a mental picture as he could of it. Blue, smaller ears, whiskers, fewer spines. He held it in his head and once again ‘yelled’ the image.

Then he waited. He ‘yelled’ it again. He wished dearly that she could speak back to him and let him know that she got it. Any sort of signal would surely disrupt the group, and ruin any plan.

Mike looked down, found a twig, picked it up, and snapped it.

The colony turned their heads as one, a dozen-ish pairs of fearful eyes locking with Mike’s.

Fire Spin!”

The Nidoran scattered in all directions at Mike’s command, save for one, who was caught by a swirl of flames in an instant. Robin’s practice that day made the move’s execution much faster than it had been. Or perhaps she had been scattering her strange, vanishing flames around one while they waited. Screams and shrieks came from the center of the cyclone; it was thoroughly trapped.

Mike closed the distance quickly, fishing in his pocket for a crate of Pokéballs. He popped open the carton as he ran, picking one out of its spot and discarding the rest of the box. He’d grab it later.

“Good girl, Robin,” Mike called to her across the flames, shielding his face from the heat as he tried to get closer. He could clearly see the struggling Nidoran - thankfully the correct color - trying vainly to dart out of the vortex. On the other side of the Fire Spin sat his Litwick, waving her arms to maintain the flames. The creature within was too fast to aim at, and even if Mike could hit it with the ball, it would likely break out and bolt.

“Robin, we need it weaker, but gently,” he called out. He tried to think gentle thoughts. If they struck it completely dumb, it would be poaching. At least if they killed it, it could be dinner. He pushed dinner out of his mind, ignoring the clawing in his belly, and thought about… A pillow fight.

The Litwick leaned to the side, processing the imagery it was receiving, then nodded. She first reinforced the whirling flames, which had been shrinking away. Then she loosed an energy that completely scrambled Mike’s mind. He hadn’t expected a Confuse Ray, and had never experienced one either.

Each time he blinked, the figures in front of him were a little different. A purple Nidoran was throwing itself awkwardly into the water sloshing around it. A lit firework was moving towards him with a worried little frown. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. This time the blue rabbit was back, but it had once again stumbled into a wall of whirling blue rabbits, while a blue rabbit tugged on his blue-rabbit-colored pants. He pushed her away with his blue rabbit paws and blinked again.

A moment of normalcy. He kept his eyes open and wound up the orange in his hand, throwing it into the middle of the juicer where it collided with the lazily spinning blade. The fruit split open and spilled bright juice everywhere.

Mike, his mission done, decided to close his eyes and sit down until life made sense again. Somewhere in the chaos that was the real world, he heard a satisfying click.

“You got one!” Justin’s voice came from far away, footsteps rapidly approaching Mike as he sat on the ground. He decided to open his eyes. The Farfetch’d he’d been travelling with all day had a wide grin on its beak.

“That was awesome,” quacked Justin, “how on earth did you do that? Robin totally knew where to go and what to do! Were you talking to her? How did you do it? Can I—”

“I will explain,” Mike cut across the hyperactive bird-man, “after we get cack to bamp. I got caught in the foss-crier and my bomble got smutched.”

“... What?”

“Please - walk - me - help,” Mike choked out, pushing himself awkwardly to his feet.
 
Last edited:

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
✌️ Here for Chapter 1 for now, back for more later!

Overall thoughts:

I like the concept! (And the title is well-suited, too. Nice double meaning.) I don't think I've ever seen a pokemon story with an overweight protagonist. The only other example I can think of is mine, and it's just one tiny (less than 1k) section in a serialized piece.

The narrative voice here is breezy and fun, but I also definitely get the sense that the story also has the capacity to get real with Mike and his inability to get real. There were a few places where I hiccuped over word order, noted below. (I did see your note about preferring PMs, but then I lose the ability to quote. I hope hiding em in a spoiler tag reduces clutter enough for ya!) It didn't stop me from enjoying the story, though. I would probably keep reading even if we weren't doing a chapter exchange. Not too many fics that are interested in grappling with camping, and that's my shit--sign me up! (You might also check out TheNatureKing's fics. I think you'd resonate with his flavor.)

We definitely get a sense of Mike and what his goal is. We've seen he's already made some progress ... but if he's trying to lose a lot of weight, then he's still got a long way to go and lots of room to backslide. Or maybe even get into other kinds of trouble! I don't have a sense yet for the scope this thing will take. It does seem like potentially the tension between Scott and Mike will be an ongoing thing. Mike's need to make jokes seems like it chafes Scott, and Scott seems to be a proponent of "brutal honesty." Plus, as a warden, Scott likely has authority over Mike, and his duties might call on him to pressure his friend.

I'm not sure about the framing. The letters from Juniper definitely help sell the realistic tone and are a playful reimagining of the game intro, buuuut I feel like the story really gets started when Mike and Scott start talking, when we're in the present with a sense of space and sensory detail. Maybe some of the most important lines from her emails can instead be sprinkled in as intrusive thoughts?

The "playlist" note in the index is cute--I like that that ties together the sing lyrics titles. I kinda wish it were part of the intro somewhere, since the index text doesn't show unless you go looking for it. (It does show up in the preview when you post on Discord, though!)

hand-reared
This one gave me pause, I think because both can be body parts. Pasture-raised, maybe?

JUNIPER LABS, INC., 1000 JUNIPER STREET
Oh nooo. Is this because tree names are common street names or because the Juniper family is just that powerful? 🙃

Please bring your own survival supplies
👀 Alright, now we're talkin'.

If you want some good, good camping logistics (and characters with Body Image Struggles ™️ ) you should check out Broken Things. Persephone is very interested in making camping feel real and like a real drag. Her setting is similar to yours, too--Kanto/Johto/Hoenn/Sinnoh = Japan and she's got a fake region that represents Mexico (though the fic is set in Hawaii Alola).

Starter™ Pokémon.
In a previous paragraph, Juniper's letter mentions starters without the trademark.

I usually have a one-on-one with everyone in that program
The program? Unless ... does the lab host multiple training programs?

I'm sure I've seen trainers heavier-set than you mountain climbing.
For me, this would flow more naturally as "climbing mountains." (As-is, "you mountain climbing" kinda gels together into one clump.)

By the time you hit Victory Road you'll at least be strong, and I doubt you'll be very big.
The second part feels like more than what she can promise! If you cut it and keep just the first half, it would really hit that note of mentor/teacher trying to be supportive (and maybe trying too hard).

He popped a beer open with a hiss before handing it to Scott, who traded him the accolades for the alcohol.
I struggled over having both the pop and the hiss. "With a hiss" dangles a little, creating a little confusion over whether it's Mike or the can. I also wasn't sure about accolades. Was this the letters? His surprise that Mike is serious? The thing he's about to say in the next paragraph?

They had both grown up, but while Scott had grown out figuratively (especially a small beard, which Mike was quite jealous of), Mike had done so literally.
But it's more that Mike has ground out rather than up, right?

"She evolved, and also she's mine. She could take one or the other, but not both."
Love "and also she's mine." Says a lot about both their friendship and about how pokemon are treated in this setting. The second sentence was a little harder for me to parse--I wondered for a minute if I'd missed something.

Suggestion: "She could take one of us, but not both."

"Ah, three person limit," Mike slapped his gut. Usually those jokes killed, but Scott's prior mood about them had evaporated. Mike pretended not to notice and opened his own beer.
I like this beat. It shows how Mike deals with tension/insecurity: he deflects with a joke. And Scott is not having it. "Scott's prior mood about them" is a little clunky though. Maybe "but Scott didn't laugh this time."

"I'm a warden now, Mike. If you were a trainer, I could arrest you for that, you know."

"Not in Cali, you can't!"
Okay, two dollops of world-building at once. So California exists, meaning I guess that Unova corresponds directly to real-world New York. And there are wardens who oversee trainers. Interesting! I'm curious to see what you do with the wardens in particular, but I'm sure we'll get there in time, considering a major character is part of that world.

"Well, I came to see my best friend, who I've known since the womb, and he's about to run away." Mike reached over and tenderly took Scott's hand, fluttering his best Deerling eyes.

"Why, I do declare," Mike mocked. Scott smiled and took his hand away.
Two things here:

1) A small thing, but the sentence that begins with "Mike reached over" belongs with the next paragraph. I thought for a second that he was the one who'd just spoken.

2) I wasn't totally sure how to take this moment! They seem very much like dudebro boys, so it surprised me to see physical affection between them. And, don't get me wrong--I am so very down to see that subverted. But it did raise some questions for me about their history together because I don't know enough about them yet to tell how much is a joke. Is there a romantic past between them ... or no? Which one of them is ace (wasn't sure), and is this hand-holding joke (?) overstepping a boundary with regards to that identity? Was not sure.

"Mike," Scott finally spoke, "when are you gonna grow up?"
Ooof, ouch.

He felt coils tighten in his chest, his gut dropping underneath.
You can trim out the filter verb (he felt), making it "Coils tightened in his chest." The second clause was a little funky. I know you just mean that he feels tightness in his chest and, simultaneously, a dropping sensation in his belly, but "his gut dropping underneath" makes me imagine, like ... a character creation mode in a game where you dial up the character's weight and it sproing-oing-oings into place with cartoon animation.

"Fuck, I'm sorry, that-"

"No, no, it's-"​
"didn't come out right at all, I-"

"alright, it's…"​
"mean, if you're serious… this is-"

"Huge."​
"Huge."
The two styles of paragraph alignment here didn't do much for me. (Especially because they're such short bursts--it's too easy to skim past Mike's side.) I think it would read as them talking over each other for me if these lines came one after another.

He ignored his flush, the coils, the drop, and focused very intently.
This didn't quite land for me! I know it's referring to the previous paragraph, but it still hit weirdly as I read through.

"I have known you a long, long time, Mike. Since we were little. You have always wanted to do everything, and be the best at everything, but you…

"But you never really committed to any of it. You would get so good, so quick, at whatever you picked up. And I envied that. I had to work so hard to do in a month what you could do in a week…
I thought this could be all one paragraph and I would feel just fine about it. Maybe some body language though?

"This isn't gonna be a video game." Mike felt Scott slip into something other than being a best friend. They weren't sharing a conversation anymore. "You're not going to be able to save and turn it off. You'll be toughing it out in shit weather for weeks on end. You'll have to forage and hunt, or else pack and pay out the nose for it.
The "this isn't a video game" talk felt a little on-the-nose for me ... and also a little perplexing. If pokemon are real here, why would he think it would be like a video game?

I love the camping talk, though! Yay! My favorite take. Hunting is a little bit of a surprise and strikes me as potentially fraught, but I guess we'll see how that plays out! The cost of prepackaged camping food is also interesting--this seems like a setting that cares about money and class.

He felt himself very gently put his beer down on the floor, push himself off the chair, and move to the closet.
Again, I don't love the filter verb in this instance. It does make him feel distant from his own actions, but I'm not sure it's what this moment wants.

"And how many times have you started a diet?"
Ouch ouch ouch. Scott is a frenemy.

Though, this was a moment where I wondered what Scott cares about for himself, what he wants. In this scene, it feels like his job is to push Mike and to dodge an exposition dump to tell us about his past; in a few places, he felt more like an Earnest Helper ™️ than a person.

Scott hadn't properly examined one of the newer models before, and was completely enamored with it
This felt a little head-hoppy, the "enamored with it." It's a little too much information about Scott's actual thoughts in a chapter that otherwise stays close on Mike.

"But why now? You're twenty-three!"
A good question! I get that he was kinda putzing around when he was younger, but if it's normal for tweens to take up training, twenty-something is really late to start! Does this mean he'll be battling head-to-head with teenagers (and potentially losing to them)? Ouch.

A picture of Mike's old car, within which the two had gotten stoned too many times to count when Scott had taken a year off between training and joining the Wardens.
"Within which" is oddly formal compared to the rest of the text.

"So this isn't, like, a business venture?" Scott's question caused Mike to bark out a laugh.
Nice, yeah, that checks out. The setup in my settings is somewhat similar: trainers are like artists or athletes. Easy to start, hard to make it stick and make it profitable.

"No, I'm not that crazy," Mike replied, "I got my degree and I'm debt-free. This is just… something I need to do. I need a break, and I need to not be fat anymore. This is, like, my 'backpacking across Europe'. But hopefully more intense. And also with more cool critters."
Wait, so he already got a degree and then decided to stop and pursue training? How common is that?

I've been breaking in some hiking boots and a pair of Running Shoes,
Why are running shoes capitalized and hiking boots aren't? Do Running Shoes do something that running shoes can't?

"You didn't need student loans?"

"Military parents, baby."

"Fuckin' nice. I'm still drowning in..." Scott compared the pictures again
When did Scott go to school if he's been training for a decade?

"Anything you wanna say to my twelve whole followers?"

"Hi, mom."
"Hi, mom!"
This was a cute moment.

Mike liked to think that he and Scott had come to a new understanding after that night. He agreed with Scott's comments, even if they were painful: he had taken a long time to grow up and figure things out. Pokémon had always fascinated him, but he had been lazy. He stayed in school, coasted by on average grades, and got lucky when he got into Sacramento State. His degree in English was safe, sure, but not noteworthy. He didn't stand out, but that had been fine.
We slipped into exposition here, and I wanted a little bit more from some of these sentences. It doesn't have to be a full scene, just a little bit more concrete detail.

A weekend was spent at a campground, with Scott overseeing and critiquing the assembly of his tent and cooking gear.
Not sure about the passive voice here. But, aww, Scott is helping.

With it came two old item balls, which had been too expensive for Mike to buy more than one older model for his clothing trunk. He marveled the next morning as his bulky tent, cot, and sleeping bag vanished in one flash of light, and his rations and mess kit in another.
Huh, so you've got hammerspace, too. That takes off some of the rigor of the backpacking! Though I guess it is still a lot of walking.

He introduced his team one at a time, and Mike caught him glowing about his companions more than once
Not sure about "glowing about."

Mike recognized some of them; a large, green ooze containing a 'baby' that he once knew as a Duosion was Mito (Mike had actually named him for Scott as 'Mitochondria: the Powerhouse of the Team', but Scott only registered 'Mito'); an even larger blue amphibian covered in bulbs, named Tempo, which he assumed was a Seismitoad; Mike was nearly thrown on his back by Yo-yo, a large purple insect - a Scolipede, who he only knew before her evolution - who recognized him before he recognized her.
Some of these sentences are a bit too compressed and a little hard to parse. Rather than making it a list, I'd let each of these be their own sentences (or multiple sentences)--let them have space to breathe!

Suggestion: Mike recognized some of them. He'd met Mito as a Duosion, but the creature inside the green ooze was less of a lump now; baby was the word Scott used, both gross and totally appropriate. Mike had actually been the one who'd named suggested the name, Mitochondria: the Powerhouse of the Team. Mito was the only part that had stuck.

(Etc.)

Cute origin story on the reuniclus' name!

genetic defect that made its entire form sepia-toned.
"Form" feels stilted here. Body?

Scott led him in 'etiquette drills' for nearly an hour afterwards, citing it was the only thing he noticed that really needed fixing. They practiced greetings, challenges, and salutes - especially salutes. Mike and Scott clicked two Pokéballs together countless times, trying to find the sweet spot between too timid and too strong.
I like the reversal here--I rarely see anyone who isn't female-coded getting schooled on etiquette. The pokeball tap is cute--unsure when that comes up, though.

"We confiscate a lot of stuff, and I wondered if we had one of these.
Why was a pokedex confiscated?

"These things, they're, like, for VIPs and researchers and shit, I can't-"
Huh, this is consistent with canon, where dex-holders are uncommon and treated like potential prodigies, but in this context ... it's not totally clear to me what their role is beyond pokemon Wikipedia.

"Yeah. Don't be a fuckin' halfie."
The only definition I've got for halfie is a shitty way to call someone mixed-race. I'm not sure what it means in this context.

That's it for now! See you around soon.
 

Homestar!

Bug Catcher
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
I loved all of your kind words, amazing insight, critiques, and catches! Spoiler tags work beautifully!

As a note to your non-edit-y stuff: Yaaay I'm glad that things came off breezy and fun! That was exactly my intent, to write a story that feels like it really moves when it wants to, but can slow when it needs to. Something really alive!

As for the index, I intend it as a fun little easter egg! So I'm fine with it being "hidden." I'm so glad you found it, though!

Idk how to otherwise respond to edits and stuff, but as a general note: I did go through them all, and made a lot of changes!

Also holy shit I did not know 'halfie' was a slur beforehand. It was supposed to be a jokingly negative term for trainers who dropped out at/around their fourth badge. So, anyways, on to specifics!


Oh nooo. Is this because tree names are common street names or because the Juniper family is just that powerful? 🙃
Lore dump, but in TL the Professor of a region holds both scientific and political sway. Her getting her own street name for her own lab comes with the territory.

Two things here:

1) A small thing, but the sentence that begins with "Mike reached over" belongs with the next paragraph. I thought for a second that he was the one who'd just spoken.

2) I wasn't totally sure how to take this moment! They seem very much like dudebro boys, so it surprised me to see physical affection between them. And, don't get me wrong--I am so very down to see that subverted. But it did raise some questions for me about their history together because I don't know enough about them yet to tell how much is a joke. Is there a romantic past between them ... or no? Which one of them is ace (wasn't sure), and is this hand-holding joke (?) overstepping a boundary with regards to that identity? Was not sure.
2, Specifically: I cleaned things up to make it clear that Scott is asexual. One of my IRL "dudebro" friends is "aggressively bi" and we used to do dumb shit like that all the time (before I had to move away :cry:). I wanted to show something atypical and "close to home" in a sense. There is no romantic past between them. I'm personally not sure whether or not it oversteps, though an ace lady friend of mine and I also used to do shit like that. I'm smushing a bunch of things together into Scott and hoping they stick lmao

The two styles of paragraph alignment here didn't do much for me. (Especially because they're such short bursts--it's too easy to skim past Mike's side.) I think it would read as them talking over each other for me if these lines came one after another.
I have struggled with this for so, so long. I am putting it back as all being left-aligned, which was how I did it originally.

I thought this could be all one paragraph and I would feel just fine about it. Maybe some body language though?
I initially wanted this to almost feel like script dialogue, with new paragraphs representing pauses within it, however it did need a little clarity, which I went back and added.

The "this isn't a video game" talk felt a little on-the-nose for me ... and also a little perplexing. If pokemon are real here, why would he think it would be like a video game?
LORE DUMP!: The Pokémon games exist within TL! They're a lot closer to educational tools, and not quite so massively popular. They're more like game-ified homework.

Ouch ouch ouch. Scott is a frenemy.

Though, this was a moment where I wondered what Scott cares about for himself, what he wants. In this scene, it feels like his job is to push Mike and to dodge an exposition dump to tell us about his past; in a few places, he felt more like an Earnest Helper ™️ than a person.
I'll be honest: Scott is a conglomerate of a lot of my personal interpretation of well-meaning but tough-talking people in my life. I based this moment off of a mash-up of moments that specifically my dad had with me.

This felt a little head-hoppy, the "enamored with it." It's a little too much information about Scott's actual thoughts in a chapter that otherwise stays close on Mike.
One of my recent challenges is to not head-hop, so thank you for pointing that out! Fixed it, I hope!

Wait, so he already got a degree and then decided to stop and pursue training? How common is that?
In Chapter 2 we will discover it's not as uncommon as you'd think!

Why are running shoes capitalized and hiking boots aren't? Do Running Shoes do something that running shoes can't?
LORE DUMP!: Running Shoes don't do anything special. However, they're a brand name of PokéMart-backed shoes that come with a "replacement schedule." It'll come up again after Mike gets his first badge!

When did Scott go to school if he's been training for a decade?
(a la Timmy Turner) Uhhh... Internet?
The real answer is super lore-dumpy, but can be summed up as "it cost money to be a warden bcuz they actually educate their police in TL."

We slipped into exposition here, and I wanted a little bit more from some of these sentences. It doesn't have to be a full scene, just a little bit more concrete detail.
This is absolutely something I would change if I weren't so far ahead already, hahaha. But I'll make some changes/additions for my personal notes!

Some of these sentences are a bit too compressed and a little hard to parse. Rather than making it a list, I'd let each of these be their own sentences (or multiple sentences)--let them have space to breathe!

Suggestion: Mike recognized some of them. He'd met Mito as a Duosion, but the creature inside the green ooze was less of a lump now; baby was the word Scott used, both gross and totally appropriate. Mike had actually been the one who'd named suggested the name, Mitochondria: the Powerhouse of the Team. Mito was the only part that had stuck.

(Etc.)

Cute origin story on the reuniclus' name!
See above: We're too far out, and also I didn't feel like Scott's team was important enough to merit full introduction. This is ultimately Mike's story.

Why was a pokedex confiscated?
It was evidence :(

Huh, this is consistent with canon, where dex-holders are uncommon and treated like potential prodigies, but in this context ... it's not totally clear to me what their role is beyond pokemon Wikipedia.
This will get elaborated upon in Chapter 4!

The only definition I've got for halfie is a shitty way to call someone mixed-race. I'm not sure what it means in this context.
YEAH I JUST WANNA APOLOGIZE AGAIN. Holy FUCK. Do your research, Homestar, jfc.
 

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
First,
1) Asexuality stuff: I think what I need clarity on is whether Scott feels like Mike has crossed a line. Like, if it's clear this is there thing and Scott doesn't care, it goes down smoother. AND says more about their relationship.
2)
I'll be honest: Scott is a conglomerate of a lot of my personal interpretation of well-meaning but tough-talking people in my life. I based this moment off of a mash-up of moments that specifically my dad had with me.
Totally fair! My problem isn't that this is a dick move--sometimes the people who love us do a not-so-great job of it. My problem is that, at least in this chapter, Scott's problems and wants = Mike's problems. Like, the extreme example that comes to mind for me is the quintessential YA novel friend-of-the-protagonist who pushes the main character by rolling her eyes and going, "Ugh, I can't believe you're hiding in the corner. Why don't you just talk to him?" There is some conflict between them there, I guess? But there's a big difference between that and, say, Will in Stranger Things season 3, pushing against his friends talking about girl trouble, not to suggest what they should do but to try to get them to stop talking about girls for two seconds and play DnD with him. It still lets them banter and eye roll at each other, but one of those is more motivated and the other makes the friend character a satellite of the protagonist. I'm sure future chapters flesh him out more, but it would help a lot to get some small inkling here of what his own goals and motives are.

And on to Chapter 2!

So, this chapter introduces Mira, a maybe-future-rival (?), the lab, Mike's continual anxiety, and some pokemon personalities.

The pokemon stuff is cute but feels drawn out. We know Mike is going with the litwick, not just because of the calorie thing but because of the chapter title, so it felt unnecessary to make a show of him checking out the other pokemon. This is especially true since the sandile and solosis stuff really feels like a tour more than anything else. He's pretty distant throughout, so his lack of interest in the first two is muted, and his affection for the litwick doesn't quite land for me because it feels about as invested as the sandile and solosis sequences did. They're all sort of trickster types, so the litwick didn't quite stand out to me just for stealing his phone.

I think his anxieties are important to explore but could maybe be played up more. It seems like most of his anxiety is about being older than the other trainers there, and ... yeah, I too continue to wonder about that age gap. You're lampshading the age thing a lot, but I'm still puzzled how it's in the range of normal when, repeatedly, we hear that the program and the lectures are geared toward the younger trainers. On a similar note, I like that Mira defies a lot of trainer fic stereotypes, but I thought you could've gotten more narrative use out of her! Either we're never going to see her again (in which case I kinda want less of her) or she's going to be a rival later (in which case I want more of her). Does Mike's conversation with her make him realize anything about himself? Why is she invested in this (and can you put her wants/goals in conflict with Mike's at all so the rivalry is juicier?)

The trainer lecture was mostly skippable. You got the realistic feel but ... paperwork and lectures are still boring even when it's fantasy paperwork. The most important thing here seems to be the stress of needing to get to Aspertia ... but I wasn't quite sure why there was pressure to get there right away. I get that it's the first gym, but why is there a deadline?

I'd love to see a version of this chapter that kicks off much closer to the pokemon-picking, spends more time with Mike's thoughts and feelings with the litwicks, and maybe more time with Mira to show what her presence means for Mike's future!

Your prose is still pretty solid throughout. You had a couple especially wordy sentences (watch out for excessive prepositions and asides) and passive voice.

Litwick is definitely an under-represented pokemon in fic, so it'll be interesting to get to know Robin more. I can appreciate that pokemon here have a lot of personality, even though they generally seem to have an animal-like intelligence. I suspect Mike has bitten off more than he can chew there, and I look forward to seeing how that plays out.

But after hours in a plane
*on

The robbed hours weighed on him as he forced himself through a meticulous shower and thorough set of self-grooming rituals.
"The robbed hours" doesn't quite land.

He very recently had his diet's success reinforced when his seat belt fit around him on the plane. It had been the first time in his adult life, and he had dreaded the flight for exactly that reason.
I like this moment, but the order of these sentences is backward: we get the outcome and then the suspense/dread. I think you want to end on the uplifting note for this paragraph, since that's his takeaway.

The rural roads were thankfully far removed from the routes. The trip from Accumula to Nuvema was short, barely half an hour, but on foot he knew it would take the better part of a day. He tried to imagine where the route was. Beyond the apple orchards? Further? Occasionally he'd see - or imagine - a flash of light somewhere out in the woods.
I appreciate the little bit of scene-setting here. Though I'm still not totally sure I understand the relationship between these roads and the official routes.

He wondered if anyone else on the shuttle was making the same trip he was.
Cut "he was."

He smiled to himself at the thought of her training.
Suggestion: He smiled to himself at the thought of her being a trainer.

He wondered if anyone else here was having similar thoughts of him, and the smile faded.
Yeah, how about that one, Mike.

The shuttle only had a few stops as they wound through the small, coastal town.
*made only a few stops

Many had specials and offers on last-minute supplies.
Suggestion: Many offered specials on last-minute supplies.

He felt a little smug at his own 'preparedness':
I don't think this should be in quotes (and definitely not single quotes)--he DOES think he's prepared and he feels smug about it. The authorial irony here feels misplaced.

Then again, looking around, if any other trainers were on here, they all had surely done similar.
Suggestion: Then again, he realized as he looked around, any other trainers on the shuttle surely would've done the same.

Free access to the system was a novelty to him. Was it to them?
I'm confused whether this is a trainers-only thing (if so, why is it available for free when it seems like so much else about training is so expensive?) or an Unova-only thing?

A few passengers got off at a quaint little strip mall, and only a middle-aged couple departed for a rocky beach.
This felt extraneous. If you're gonna keep it anyway, I'd reword: A few passengers got off at a quaint little strip and then a rocky beach.

"I might be the oldest new trainer here," Mike muttered through a smirk to the elderly woman next to him.
Lots of propositions here! You also have a lot of characters muttering through smirks or talking through smirks throughout the chapter--watch out for that. I'd cut the muttering--his words convey that already.

Each seemed delighted with the other's sass and banter.
This feels a little on-the-nose. You can show they're delightedly sassing and bantering through body language and through their words.

The dirt and gravel road they turned off of gave way to smooth, fresh pavement, and they were unloading themselves beneath a covered entryway in short order.
Suggestion: The dirt road they turned gave way to fresh pavement. In short order, Mike and the other passengers disembarked and gathered under a covered entryway, gazing up at the lab.

They, like the others who had paired or tripled up, chatted away the last stretch of the journey.
I wanted a lot of this chapter to be summarized and skimmed through much more quickly, but this was a place I wanted to know more about what they're saying. Like, Mira is clearly here just to lampshade the idea that non-teens also sometimes choose to drop anything and become trainers ... but her presence all by itself didn't answer a lot of my questions about why someone would choose to do this when it's so clearly geared at kids.

There was a small crowd of people nearer the doors,
Wordy.

He knew there was no disappearing, even if the crowd wasn't so much younger than he was, but he worried instantly that he had overstayed his welcome.
I'm not sure why or what specifically he means by "overstayed his welcome." He hasn't even talked to these kids, and none of them seem to have interacted with him at all at this point. I also don't see a contradiction in "He knew there was no disappearing, even if the crowd wasn't so much younger than he was." I don't think "even though" is the connector you want there.

Otherwise automatic doors were still shut, giving an occasional jolt against their locks as someone passed through their sensors both inside and out.
Cut "otherwise"--confusing and redundant.

Behind sheets of pristinely clean glass laid a strangely sterile reception area, and beyond that Mike didn't have time to tell. A harried woman throwing on a white coat came from within to unlock the doors and usher them all inside.
Suggestion: Behind sheets of pristine glass was a sterile reception area, and beyond that--a woman burst through the doors, still throwing on her white coat, and ushered them all inside.

but an unjacketed volunteer - an elderly man
I don't know why we need "unjacketed" here. Also, have you heard the good word about the em dash? (Or two hyphens with no spaces on either side, if you can't get an em dash to format right in your word processor.) Its function is to set off asides and interruptions like this one. Hyphens don't do that. :)

pulled him into the A.C.E. trainer line on the other end of the room.
It was weird to get this as an acrocym before we actually know what it means. Even after the acronym ... I guess I know what it stands for and that it entails classes, but I don't really understand how (or why) it's different from other trainer classes.

He produced his trainer ID for the aide when asked, which was taken to be activated.
Suggestion: He gave his trainer ID to an aid, who took it to be activated.

The aide received his profuse thanks warmly, but the large, stout, sleeping candle in his lap roused itself and glowered up at the disturbance.
I wasn't sure why he was sitting in order to have a litwick in his lap--I thought the aid had been rushing around? It seems like they're too busy in here to be sitting.

Several trainers that hardly looked thirteen milled around a table near the entrance covered in lovely pink boxes.
Again, wordy and lots of prepositions. Is all of this detail important?

He took a deep breath and allowed himself some cream and sugar. A compromise.
Nice.

The elderly woman found him
I was confused who this was--thought it was an aid at first. After sitting and talking so long on the shuttle, why didn't they exchange names then?

He planted himself in the back of the room, in a corner, and tried not to let himself spiral any further than he had.
The spiraling seems to really kick off in the next paragraph, not here. Spiral felt like a strong word to describe what we'd gotten from him so far in the chapter.

and the coffee was not doing much to help his tumbling stomach.
That checks out. Good decision.

He reminded himself that he both deserved to be here and even earned himself a scholarship. A scholarship! He felt the coils in his chest loosen.
This felt a little sudden, actually. I feel like when someone is really, really spiraling, even good news is hard to believe in. Regardless, I would break it into a new paragraph starting with "A scholarship!" to give it a little more impact.

"Wh- oh, yeah," Mike laughed a little, "that's- that was a scholarship, I guess. Juniper's orders."
I'm sort of confused why he got this scholarship to begin with. He's being sent out to compete against teenagers and then gets this additional boost.

"Who did you sleep with?" Mike almost choked on his coffee. The innocence of the question - the person giving it - the very idea itself?
"The innocence of the question" doesn't feel right--it's inherently not innocent, right? The following sentence about the joke tickling his fancy can also be cut, since that's obvious from his reaction.

Mike was glad to have not offended her earlier,
It seems like he did, though! Maybe "glad not to have offended her too badly"? (Also, you have a split infinitive there.)

Click: 'It's as easy as 1-2-3 to find a Warden!'
I don't know why this was bolded and underlined. I found it distracting.

"Given the invasive and destructive nature of a certain criminal organization,
It was weird for her to be coy and yet not name them. I think a more professorial approach would be to either be more general ("due to recent criminal activity,") or to let her be direct ("due to Plasma's recent destructive acts,")

there will be a higher concentration of Wardens and Officers."
😬 🚨

What's the difference between wardens, officers, and rangers?

it's translation.
*its

Click: 'Roxie - Virbank City Gym Leader', with two more photos.
The combination of the "click" and the single quotes was distracting. I don't see a reason for the single quotes in particular.

Though! I will be curious to see your version of Virbank! Even though it's such an important city for my characters, I have zero scenes set there. (I also never played BW2, so I've never even "been" there!)

… No, no, go ahead. We'll wait."

Mike's attention snapped up, trying to find where the Professor was pointing her unamused glare. A pile of the youngest trainers in the room fell silent under her scorn.

"May I continue? … Thank you. Next up: Castelia!"
You can cut this. It sounds like a real lecture hall, sure, but what does it give us except more characterization for Juniper? I'm not sure we need it at this point. Her interactions with Mike tell us more about how she treats him, which is more important for the story. AND I have to wonder how often we're even going to see her after this?

"Burgh is particular - he will only offer the third badge... And up, if you decide to skip him for whatever reason.
This stuck out to me. Isn't the point of everything in this presentation so far that the gym leaders basically have to be challenged in BW2 order? Isn't he always the third gym?

I'm pleased to present the results of the lottery! As always, Ace trainers are first, and days one and two have already been decided."
It was odd that there was so little reaction to this. It seems like this is the thing everyone is here for and should be excited about.

Misses Peterson here
This is the plural form of miss, not the long form of Mrs.

As the Professor spoke to them, five pairs of eyes took it in turn to measure him up in their own way.
Suggestion: While the professor spoke, the other five trainers turned to Mike, measuring him up.

"Mister Tapersson, I must admit, I'm glad you're an adult," the two shared a chuckle together. "I know I picked this job, but still, teenagers can be exhausting."

"Well, uhm, I hate to be more exhausting-" Mike started.

"No! Not at all, it's fine. What is it?"

"It's Tapersson," Mike winced, feeling that he was being persnickety. She nodded.


Professor Juniper proceeded to lay out how a usual Ace meeting would go:
Tripping a little over "a usual." Maybe "a typical"?

They're classified as ground and dark, so watch out for that mean streak.
I wasn't ready to make the assumption that dark = mean streak with her.

nasty little things,"
"such quirky little things.
Repetition.

eat energy. More specifically, while they're not free feeding, they're going to be eating you. We notice that-"

"I'm sorry," Mike interrupted, "but they- they eat what?"

"Yep. They will drain your energy, and they'll need to in order to survive. We notice that trainers with Litwicks will save on Pokémon food, but spend nearly as much in extra rations, so it's-"
I feel like what she should be emphasizing here and doesn't mention at all is that it could exhaust him. That sounds like it would be especially dangerous on the trail.

"Until it learns to free feed, that will only get worse.
And then ... is it "free feeding" on other living things? (In a setting where any old bird can become your friend, that feels a little grim to simply wave off.) Or feeding on other humans??

He had to remind himself that she wasn't his friend; she was a Professor. Someone who cared about trainers. Someone who cared about him.
This kind of goes in a circle. If he's trying to remind himself they're not friends, why is he reassuring himself that she cares about him as the ending note?

Mike did think about it. He couldn't not think about it, most days. He promised himself that, should he become smitten with one of the little candles, he would at least think twice.
How long is he at the lab thinking about this??

Mike was roused the next morning by a phone call to his small dorm room.
The passive voice isn't serving you here.

Suggestion: The next morning, a phone call woke Mike.

Not a breakfast of champions, but he'd have the calories to make up for it at lunch.
I was confused by this. Did you mean "he planned to eat a bigger lunch"? (How does he know what's for lunch? Is his strategy to eat less at the beginning of the day and more later in the day or??? If he's knowingly making up the calories at lunch, the apple-only breakfast seems like a useless gesture.)

she launched into an explanation of their nursery, which again felt less for Mike and more for the younger trainers in the group.
Again, if this is geared toward younger trainers, why is he even here?

a nearly-fenceless zoo
Dooooo they not each other?

noting as they passed a huge furry canine - a Stoutland, Mike guessed - that all of their starters were raised both by humans and their natural parents. Well-handled, but not at all ignorant of their natural skills.
The aside here disrupted the flow. I also think you want a colon between "parents" and "well-handled," not a period.

a vaguely familiar old man wearing a leafy, noodly, lizardy fashion statement.
*as a fashion statement
I also don't know who this old man is. Are we supposed to recognize him?

"They're usually a little more lively than this one; I must admit he's a bit, uh, lazy." She grinned, "more than a bit, really: watch." She gave up the task of keeping him away, and the snake made its way around her neck and was asleep in seconds.
"They're usually a little more lively than this one. I must admit he's a bit, uh, lazy." She grinned. "More than a bit, really: watch." She finally let the snake crawl up her arm and around her shoulders, where it fell asleep in seconds.

If it's fighting to get onto her arm this entire time, it's doing something that isn't lazy, right? Conflicted for me.

"Booo," Mike chided, "where's the bacon?"

"Someone already brought it home," Mike lit up at her riposte, which also elicited a few chuckles from the others.
Yikes. This is stressful if these guys are potential friends/fighters!

Also, this isn't really conveying for me that Mike was hoping for a tepig. He doesn't come off as disappointed.

The result was spectacular: The sand seethed in a dozen places. Each 'ripple' produced a pair of large black eyes, which proceeded purposefully through the sand towards the platform. Their speed surprised Mike, but he forced himself to stay put. The closest set of eyes disappeared a few feet from the platform. Mike leaned to see where it had gone and almost collided with a black and brown blur when it leapt from the sand. The Sandile landed with a dull 'thwap' next to him, and immediately fixated on the bucket, loosing a surprisingly high-pitched grunt.

"Oh my God they honk," Mike spoke with glee
This was a cute moment. This is where the chapter started to pick up for me.

"That's the last of the juveniles," Juniper remarked, pointing to a particularly aggressive one that Mira was doting upon, "he's always last and always grumpy about it.
... a particularly aggressive one that Mira was doting upon. "He's always last and grumpy about it.

Mike spent some time with each one, save for the irritable one that had Mira's attention, but none of them really called to him. They were all quite cute, and he could see catching his own somewhere down the line, but he wanted his first Pokémon to be a lifelong partner. A true friend. Which he didn't see in any of these admittedly lovely little creatures.
It wasn't clear to me why? I get that you're steering him toward the litwick, but I wasn't really convinced by his decision to choose one over the other. It needs a bit more internality throughout this section to sell his bond with/interest in the litwick.

The Sandile she had been bonding with now emitted a loud hiss from its gaping maw.
Wordy!

Suggestion: Her sandile hissed.

Also, the maw is the throat, not the mouth, just so you know.

"Good save," Juniper noted, not bothering to scold the aide or the Ace too hard.
Don't love "the ace" as an epithet. It made me wonder if we meant Mike or not. Also the "not bothering to..." clause can be conveyed with body language and her words instead. We can see by her actions that she's not scolding him.

Thank you Mike,
Missing comma.

"You're welcome," Mike replied, remembering how Mito spoke to him a few weeks prior. It was still... weird.
I wish this would've come up when we met Mito instead of here.

Mike felt increasingly more uncomfortable with the tiny little pokes and prods he could feel. It was like a dozen little somethings were playing - literally playing - with his feelings.
Mike felt increasingly more uncomfortable with the tiny little pokes and prods at his mind. It was like a dozen little somethings were playing - literally playing - with his feelings.

If they're pokes and prods, "that he could feel" goes without saying.

Mike retired for the afternoon shortly after. The psychic bombardment had been a little too much for him to handle. He looked up the local sunset time and set his alarm for roughly then, which is when Juniper said he could see the Litwicks awake. He eventually flopped into his little dorm's bed, too wound up to sleep but too anxious to do much of anything else. He wondered if he should let Janet poke around? He ultimately decided against it, slipping away into a much needed nap.
Aren't there other trainers waiting for him to decide so they can get their chance to pick?

The letters flashed one at a time in his mind, rapid-fire.
Does that mean the litwick line can read and spell? 🤔

one of the Litwick was holding his phone in its little paws.
Paws doesn't feel like the right word.

I assure you, an Ace a day gets it, so don't feel too bad."
Are there this many trainers in the ace program? And are there this many new trainers coming in and out of the lab all the time? All the talk of getting to Aspertia in time makes it sound like this is go time for new trainers and there won't be another.

Cheers! See you in chapter 3.
 

SGMijumaru

Hero in their dreams
Location
London
Pronouns
They/them, She/her,
Here for Catnip! For this session, I read the first three chapters of the story. I hope my words make sense here, because this was a bit of a tricky one to get my words out for! You've got a good, unusual fic here.

----------------------------------------------------------------



I’ve been in and out of Pokémon fanfiction for over a decade now, and surprisingly, never before have I come across one with a premise such as this. So kudos to you for coming up with something truly original, and sticking it to a lengthier story rather than a oneshot!

For the story itself, I most certainly enjoyed what I read of the first three chapters. I adore Mike as a main character – always with a lot of spirit, yet the furthest away from your typical shonen ‘talks-a-lot’ type character. I really appreciated his personality in descriptions, as well as his hearty responses to things. Something that maybe biased here, I have a friend who’s a lot like Mike in real life, so it was quite easy matching their voices because they were so similar. But that just meant the character was very realistic and easy to imagine. I can’t see others getting bored or put off by him anytime soon!

The quick drop of drama in the opening chapter really caught my attention, too. With the story’s premise and title, I was prepared to read something that would be humorous and comedy driven, as plus-sized characters usually are. So when it turned out to be taken rather seriously, I was doubly impressed. We’re stepping out into a real passionate training adventure, and there’s not an edgy protagonist or villainous team in sight, either.

What I wish then, was this story’s picky pace could make up its mind from the get-go. This isn’t a major problem that hurt the story, but thing I had the biggest issue with throughout (meaning I really didn’t have much to complain about!). We smoothly transition between the present and Mike’s memories whenever they become relevant, usually to skip the bloat of certain scenes. But there’s a particular memory in the first chapter, the one where Scott gives him a Pokédex, which feels like it drags on a bit. It very quickly glosses over a huge length of time with general summaries of their activity on a long outing, even giving a full team of Pokémon their own nicknames and descriptions, and then focuses on a single conversation between Mike and Scott to build the characters and their relationship… something I felt had already been done well from the start.

Or perhaps I’m missing something. Outside of the obvious established value of the Pokédex and why it’s a big deal as a gift, it doesn’t seem to be all that important later on. Mike isn’t even interested in Pokédex completion, so in the end, it felt like a scenario that didn’t fully pay off. Pretty fun to read, but something I felt could be trimmed or repurposed.

Chapter two was where I had the most issue with indecisive pace. I must stress that this one is purely out of personal preference; perhaps the chapter is perfectly fine, but for me reading it, I began to notice similar problems I have with general journey fics. To summarise, I feel like the direction and focus of this fanfiction is currently muddled, in that it isn’t fully sure what it wants to be.

On one hand, it serves to be a positive, drama-driven trip that delves through Michael’s personal goal and growth to overcome a serious weight issue he has had since childhood. He goes on through the meeting with Professor Juniper with smiles and curious comments, all the while recalling and thinking of nasty scenes with his parents and old friend that clearly act as his drive to take this journey seriously.

But then the story proceeds to act like an overextended standard Pokémon journey fanfic, complete with careful lore dumps on how the trainer and starter Pokémon system work, the gym progress, and more. Perhaps in an ordinary trainer fic, these scenes would be fine, but here in chapter two it felt a little wordy and overstayed its welcome.

Which is weird because I still enjoyed those scenes, especially when it came to the descriptions of the Pokémon. The noises they made, the way they’re taken care of, their showcases in general, were a fun scenario to picture, especially for a character like Mike. But then, almost as if recognising that the scenes were dragging on away from the main direction the story wants to take, the story glosses over the Solossis and their amazing telepathy abilities. And this is despite spending a lot of time on the Sandile. One would expect to gloss over the Pokémon Mike wouldn’t pick and put all the focus on the one he gets, but it doesn’t happen.

This story doesn’t trip up with bad wording or poorly executed bits that ever actually took me out of the zone. It just doesn’t know what it wants to be, which muddles its brilliant characterization into boastful lore dumps and the trusted tropes of a badge journey fanfiction. Both direction is well done and could easily be melded into either genre of fic, but together, they clash and bloat the progress and pace.

If you’re there for the journey, you have no evil team, battles, or interest in badges to drive you, but you do have an interesting protagonist and starter Pokémon. If you’re there for the drama, you have Mike’s memories and personal goals to drive you, but massive descriptions about selecting starter Pokémon and the trainer system popping up here and there.

I have to mention that I adored the portrayal of the Pokémon here too, and really wished they appeared more throughout. Granted it’s asleep most of the time, but with Mike keeping Robin outside of its pokéball, I would hope it gets treated more like a character and not his personal pet! What was done thus far was great, so that’s a hope going forward.
 

Homestar!

Bug Catcher
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
Thanks again, WildBoots! I've spent way too long dinking around with Ch. 2 - to the point where I even renamed the damn thing. I wanna get my thoughts on your thoughts out the door before I fall asleep and forget them all again 🙃
so the litwick didn't quite stand out to me just for stealing his phone.
Yeah, in retrospect, that is kinda sucky, huh? I've actually fluffed out starter selection a ton. To the point where this chapter should probably just split into two. There's way too much going on!

Either we're never going to see her again (in which case I kinda want less of her) or she's going to be a rival later (in which case I want more of her).
I don't even know what I'm doing with Mira yet

The trainer lecture was mostly skippable. You got the realistic feel but ... paperwork and lectures are still boring even when it's fantasy paperwork. The most important thing here seems to be the stress of needing to get to Aspertia ... but I wasn't quite sure why there was pressure to get there right away. I get that it's the first gym, but why is there a deadline?
I'd love to see a version of this chapter that kicks off much closer to the pokemon-picking, spends more time with Mike's thoughts and feelings with the litwicks, and maybe more time with Mira to show what her presence means for Mike's future!
This points out a weakness that I definitely have. I know why Mike is in a rush (financial issues), and it's a legitimate reason (imho) to be in a rush, however I don't convey that whatsoever until Mike brings it up with Juniper. To be fair, it isn't a huge issue until Mike finds out the gym order, but that's a good excuse for Mike and not a good excuse for me. If/when the Chapter finally splits into two, I'm deffo gonna elaborate on that sooner. Because I, too, want a more exciting Poke-picking chapter.

I don't know why we need "unjacketed" here. Also, have you heard the good word about the em dash? (Or two hyphens with no spaces on either side, if you can't get an em dash to format right in your word processor.) Its function is to set off asides and interruptions like this one. Hyphens don't do that. :)
Unjacketed: I was trying to give each aide or volunteer a distinction of some sort. Iirc, I did wind up dropping it.
em-dash: They start appearing en masse in Ch. 3 because that's when I finally programmed them in to auto correct 🙃

It was weird for her to be coy and yet not name them. I think a more professorial approach would be to either be more general ("due to recent criminal activity,") or to let her be direct ("due to Plasma's recent destructive acts,")
There are some strange people in this world who wanna both throw shade but also not give the target the pleasure of being named. Juniper struck me as one of those strange people.

😬 🚨

What's the difference between wardens, officers, and rangers?
You ask so many great questions about lore and I wanna sit here all day and answer, but that'll take out the fun and joy of discovery! ... Right? Ah fuck it.
Wardens: Branch of the police. They are trainers and for trainers.
Officers: More 'bog standard' police. Fewer Pokémon, more traditional armaments and power.
Rangers: Park Ranger meets Zoo Keeper meets Conservationist meets Pokémon Trainer.


You can cut this. It sounds like a real lecture hall, sure, but what does it give us except more characterization for Juniper? I'm not sure we need it at this point. Her interactions with Mike tell us more about how she treats him, which is more important for the story. AND I have to wonder how often we're even going to see her after this?
B-but my verisimilitude :cry::cry::cry:

It was odd that there was so little reaction to this. It seems like this is the thing everyone is here for and should be excited about.
Definitely added in some hootin' and hollerin', u rite

I feel like what she should be emphasizing here and doesn't mention at all is that it could exhaust him. That sounds like it would be especially dangerous on the trail.
Also slipped this in there, good call. Because it absolutely does.

And then ... is it "free feeding" on other living things? (In a setting where any old bird can become your friend, that feels a little grim to simply wave off.) Or feeding on other humans??
LORE DUMP!: When Juniper mentions free-feeding, she absolutely means "let the critter out sos they can eat them some other critters." It's also important to note that a healthy variety of regular animals coexist with Pokémon. Especially 'prey' animals.

I was confused by this. Did you mean "he planned to eat a bigger lunch"? (How does he know what's for lunch? Is his strategy to eat less at the beginning of the day and more later in the day or??? If he's knowingly making up the calories at lunch, the apple-only breakfast seems like a useless gesture.)
Yeah, that was super confusing and - honestly - directly from my own weird dieting vocabulary. I used to (and still) rationalize a small meal by saying I would "make up for it later." But that isn't even close to a thing a normal person would recognize. tl;dr: I normalized it to talk about calories.

Again, if this is geared toward younger trainers, why is he even here?
Personally, I thought Juniper wouldn't have a separate "come and get 'em" starter session for older trainers and younger trainers.

Unless you mean "why is Mike even at the lab?"
There's more than one way to become a trainer, of course. Mike wanted to 'do it right' in his own weird way. Call it envy of his friends, wondering what he missed out on, wanting the help and support of the lab at his back, what have you. He weighed his options and decided to go through the lab. There's also various other perks to doing things through Juniper's program, especially with his "Ace" status, which I have planned to come into play in Ch. 7.

To be honest, Mike's whole rationale isn't fully fleshed out in my head. In my defense, when I started losing weight, I didn't have a rhyme or reason either. I did something super weird, got help along the way, and wound up pretty successful. The consequences of Mike yolo-ing away his whole life savings is definitely going to be a plot point. So is his outdated information. I've sprinkled in one or two things to this chapter to reflect this.

Yikes. This is stressful if these guys are potential friends/fighters!

Also, this isn't really conveying for me that Mike was hoping for a tepig. He doesn't come off as disappointed.
Mike was crossing his fingers, but he also knew his chances of getting a Tepig were very, very slim. He never really had his hopes up to begin with, so he's not super crushed. That being said, I didn't really convey that, did I? I've worked a lot on Ch. 2 today, but if/when I snap it in two, I'll remember this!

Aren't there other trainers waiting for him to decide so they can get their chance to pick?
Idk if it came off as a throw-away line but:
"So, even if everyone else picked the same thing, there will now be enough to go around," Juniper explained to the group, "which means we don't have to wait for anyone in particular anymore!["]
I meant to imply that, so long as Mike picked before tomorrow, it didn't matter who/what anyone else that day decided to take. If that still seems unclear please lmk!

As always, thanks a ton for all of your help and kind words! I've been able to make a lot of changes and think about a ton thanks to your critique so far! Here's hoping I can be as helpful for CD in the future!
 

Homestar!

Bug Catcher
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
Thank you so much, Miju! That review definitely made my day. I'm glad that I've struck on an original premise, and that the execution so far is at least still enjoyable despite its flaws!

I definitely had the aim of blending humor and drama in a very life-like, conversational way, so it seems like that hit home for you :D
What I wish then, was this story’s picky pace could make up its mind from the get-go.
Chapter two was where I had the most issue with indecisive pace.
Yeah, pacing was (and is) a little strange. I've made pretty extensive rewrites to Ch. 2, which at this point is begging to be split into two separate chapters.

Or perhaps I’m missing something. Outside of the obvious established value of the Pokédex and why it’s a big deal as a gift,
There's definitely a lot of undisclosed utility that will slowly be trickled in through the following chapters, both written and yet-to-be written!

It just doesn’t know what it wants to be, which muddles its brilliant characterization into boastful lore dumps and the trusted tropes of a badge journey fanfiction. Both direction is well done and could easily be melded into either genre of fic, but together, they clash and bloat the progress and pace.
Yeah, it doesn't help that I'm not entirely sure what I want this to be, either. Mike's about as aimless as I am irl 🙃

I have to mention that I adored the portrayal of the Pokémon here too, and really wished they appeared more throughout.
They become much more of a focus once Mike starts building a team and battling! I promise them cutie patooties will be more central!
 
Top Bottom