And So It Begins
Theme Song: Right Now by Van Halen
Details are important. Life exists in the details, in the moments. Moments are everything. For me, one moment changed everything. In that moment, I was just minding my own business, browsing the net as usual, when I got an IM from my mom. “Honey, I know you’re looking for work. Found this listing, might be worth checking out.” With a mental shrug, I opened the link.
“Quicksilver Adventures. Travel, Excitement, Wonder. Offices everywhere.” I’d never heard of them, but what could it hurt to send them my resume. Figured maybe I’d hear back, get some office job answering phones for prospective tourists. My phone rang literally a moment later. “EssJay? Just read your resume! Looks very nice. Would you be available to take a personality test ASAP?”
“Sure,” I said. “Is it online?” After getting the link and promising to do it in the next hour, I hung up and logged in.
Strangest damned thing ever. The personality test was all about pop culture, ranging from video games to tv-shows to roleplaying games to movies. Not that it wasn’t cool, and seriously geeky, but not what I’d been expecting at all. I figured it had to be a joke, but (just in case) I finished it up and sent it off to Quicksilver, already composing a sternly worded “Haha. Very Funny Mom.” note. But as soon as the little sending widget appeared, my monitor rippled, shivered, and transformed into a swirling vortex. I may have made an unfortunate noise at that point, as, with a roar, I was sucked into my computer monitor, along with half the junk on my desk top.
I found myself floating in blackness, clutching my keyboard defensively, as a voice said “Ah! Hello. I’m Quicksilver, and I’m happy to say you’ve been selected as one of our special class Tourists.” I may have said something snarky at this point, but the voice just laughed and explained what it called ‘The Rules’.
Ten years in some exotic setting. Ten years in another life. No time would pass back on Earth. I’d be returned to the moment I left. Die in setting and I’d be returned to Earth at the moment I left. Make it all the way through and I’d be rewarded.
I asked what the catch was, of course. Momma didn’t raise no fools, but the voice just laughed some more and said, “No catch. No catch! I’m doing this purely for my own amusement of course, I assure you! Still, I won’t drop you into Hell or anything. In fact, we’ll start off pretty simple for your first trip.” And then a Pokédex appeared in front of me, floating in midair, alongside a wheel with 8 sections marked with the names of Pokémon Regions (and a Free Pick space) and another with numbers between 10-17. A stack of poker chips, 20 of them in 50 Choice Point denominations (I didn’t bother asking what a Choice Point was) filled a floating punchbowl. 1,000 CP. Great.
Once the screen of the Pokédex there was a list of ‘Free Stuff’ that I got just for showing up… my Earth Wallet & Cellphone (they appeared on a table that had also just appeared… both of them illuminated by a spotlight that originated at an empty point in the darkness… and the table was top up to me and slowly rotating), One Set of Earth Clothes (those fell out of thin air and slid off the table onto ground that was still invisible despite the fact that the clothes got their own follow spot), a Pokébag (Used to store the things a traveler might need, Bigger on the Inside, hanging on a coat-hook that was apparently attached to nothing), Pokégear (A Pokémon themed PDA, Can be Muted, landed beside the poker chips in the bowl), Pokédex (A list of all the extant species of Pokémon and their details, Already Filled and in your hand), Pokéballs (x5, Standard. Used to catch Pokémon. They scattered as they hit the table, rolling hither and yon), Potions (x3, Bandaid in a Bottle… they too went tumbling), Hat (Red, kinda floppy… landed on my head). Well, this was a promising start.
I looked up to confront this cosmic joker, only to find myself utterly alone. Shit. Well, I guessed the only way out was through.
Spinning the wheels I ended up in the Hoenn Region (My second to last choice, since I’m not much for hot tropical climates, but maybe I’ll come to like it. I’d have rathered Sinnoh or Unova, but at least it’s not Orre. Desert, ick.), with an age 16 (a little older than I’d have liked, but keeps most of the growing pains and hormonal flux out of the way… and years younger than my current self), kept my Gender Female (Duh… I mean, who wants to pee standing up anyway), and looked at the list of potential backgrounds… All of them, aside from something called ‘Drop In’ came with local memories, the memories of the me that existed in this world, the me that had lived as close to my life as was possible in Hoenn… poor thing. At sixteen I was top of my class and top of my game, cheerwise, but psychologically? I was a mess. I wasn’t ready for someone else’s memories in my head, no matter how close to mine they might have been, so Drop-In it was. That it didn’t cost any of my limited supply of Choice Points was a plus.
The next thing I had to pick was my Starter… Everyone in the Pokémon world begins with a Starter. Starters were your friend/pet for life, your primary battle-buddy. I splurged for a Male Ralts with the Egg Move “Mean Look” (a little pricey, but worth it. Mean Look kept enemies from running away, a vital trick if you’re trying to catch them all.) I’ve done enough Pokécatching to know that Gallade (the second evolution of some male Ralts) are the only Pokémon that get Mean Look and False Swipe (the only attack move that could not lower a Pokémon’s HP to zero… since a fainted Pokémon couldn’t be caught for ‘REASONS’) as well as Hypnosis (put enemy Pokémon to sleep) and Thunderwave (Paralyze enemy Pokémon). Sure, Gardevoir (the female version) is cuter, but Gallade is… dashing. [150 (rare) + 50 (Egg Move)]
After that came a list of Skills and Abilities, some of which were discounted thanks to my choice of background. They ran the gamut from what I could only think of as stat boosters to skill packages to out and out psychic or spiritual powers. The descriptions were sparse and there weren’t any hard numbers, but the things they seemed to offer ran from useful to the things dreams were made of… and the prices were justifiably monstrous. Buying the entire list would have cost 3800 Choice Points… I had 800 and there was also Gear left to buy after that.
In the end, I selected three of the things on offer, spending 500 of my remaining points to get such delights as Physical Fitness (A body that is healthy and strong, not quite in the Captain America range, but close… I’d take it!), Free Running (Toss in the dexterity and situational awareness of that girl from Mirror’s Edge? Yes please.), and the mother of all awesomeness, Savant (Perfect memory, mental math like a calculator, and spatial awareness tacked on to absolute marksmanship with a firearm? At a discount? I was sold!) [100 (PF) +100 (FR) +300 (Savant)]
Which left 300 for Gear… with options ranging from the relatively commonplace bicycle, parachute, laptop, welding torch (why?), and handgun, up to a sniper rifle and personal helicopter. I didn’t need most of that, but the Laptop sure sounded nice. It was a ruggedized solar-powered item with access to the PokéWorld’s version of the internet. (Sure, I might be able to scrounge up enough dosh to buy it on my own, but I was going to be doing a damned lot of hiking about until I could get enough cash for a bike and I freaking knew those were for sale. Never actually seen a laptop for sale in PokeWorld. Better get one now.)… but even better sounding was a set of three Masterballs for 100 Choice.
Why a Masterball, I hear you asking? What do you need Masterballs for? Bike’s much more practical, it was true. I couldn’t be certain I’d ever freaking find a Legendary, but I was gonna be ready when and if I did. And three for the price I’d have paid for one? Fuck yeah!
I also splurged for the Hidden Machine Collection (50 Choice Points… hey big spender!). Hidden Machines were used to teach basic utility skills to Pokémon and I had to be able to give my little fuzzy dudes Surf and Fly and Rocksmash and Cut. Seriously important. Don’t wanna go begging, now did I? And it was pretty cheap. I wondered if I’d be able to use them again down the road. 50,000 Pokébucks set me back another 50 Choice… I know, I know, it’s just money, but I’d rather have it than not. I doubt people are just going to hand it over and the more time I had to spend working odd jobs the less adventure there would be. Had to see how far it goes. Pokeballs seemed kinda expensive at 250 a pop in the games, but that might be because they actually are pricey as fuck… then again, Lemonade was like 50 PB… so was this like, 500 dollars in yen? Seemed likely. Damn… but I didn’t have much to spend 50 on, so better than nothing. I also picked up the Thrust Pack (Double Jump? Long distance Wall Run? Allow me to fall a good distance and land okay? Yeah, that’s worth it.)
And shit… I’d over spent… how was that possible? I had only 1000 Choice Points… where had negative choice points come from… Must not have been paying attention… I was just guessing that I’d have to forgo the Thrust Pack… then the screen of the Pokédex shifted to a section called Flaws & The Future. Turned out I could take flaws, just like in some RPG’s, to get extra Choice Points. Who knew, right? The section explained that I could take up to two of the nine on offer, which meant I could, in theory, end up with an additional 600 Choice Points… but it specifically stated that Flaws would override Skills and Backgrounds…. and those 300 pointers were serious bad juju.
I had to have one flaw, didn’t I? Crippled would defeat the Free Running. Silenced would drive me bonkers. Scared? No thanks. Cursed? Yikes. Marked or Wanted might not be too horrible, but… honestly, it was gonna be hard enough making friends in this strange new world, I didn’t need some unavoidable doom making it that much worse. Hunted and Damned…. Super duper mega eeep. Nonono… I was good with my annoying Zubats, courtesy of the Flaw labeled ‘Swarmed’. Plus, a steady supply of Zubats would provide training practice and a good metric for progress, no matter where I went, right? [-100]. As for the future? Assuming I survived? Maybe I could find a way to bring some of my old world friends into the game at a certain point.
I went through the vending options, feeling a little overwhelmed. “What about my friends… my family… my pets?” I asked thin air, but then I remembered… no time would pass. They’d be waiting for me when I returned from my little 10 year daydream. I was a bit scared. Could I cope with being all by myself for 10 years? I’d miss everyone horribly. Would I even be myself when I returned? Could I pass up this opportunity? I couldn’t. Not and be true to myself. And it wasn’t like I was leaving them behind, right? They’d never know. It would be like not inviting them to watch a movie with me… right?
I confirmed the last choice and then said, “Hey, you gave me my cellphone and wallet, right?” I was hoping Quick was somewhere in the darkness, lurking and listening. “They won’t do me any good there. Can I take… like, a copy of all the files on my computer in a format that could be used in Pokéland? I mean… I have a backup of all of the important stuff… my game notes and writing in my wallet… but I’d… I dunno. I’d feel better with them with me.” Quick appeared, looking like the Question, hand on his chin, apparently considering my request, then laughed.
“Sure. That seems reasonable. Can’t understand why so many people want to bring Angry Birds with them anyway.”
And then the world went away and I was standing outside Littleroot Town in Hoenn, on Route 101, watching a bunch of Taillows pecking away at an outnumbered and wildly flailing Ralts. I waded into the birds, smacking them away with my backpack and checked on the little green… thing… creature. It was bleeding a little and that brought the stunning realism of the place into sharp relief. I’d been expecting… I dunno… something like the Anime, I guess. Not that I’d watched a full episode ever, but I’d seen clips and stuff, and I’d certainly played a bunch of the games… over a thousand hours actually, across the 6 generations… or is it 7… I hadn’t been expecting everything to be pixelated or anything, but still… I wasn’t expecting the high fidelity of absolute realism. The grass looked like grass (albeit really tall grass) and the trees looked like trees and my skin… was tanner than I’d expected it to be. And I was apparently Japanese.
I looked down at myself… and blinked. I’d been expecting my own body, I guess. Just in better condition. But it wasn’t like that. I was… farmgirl buff. Toned. Toned like I’d never been before. And my face. I felt it and it felt different. Younger certainly. But also the shape was a little different… and the eyes were bigger. Bigger than anything an Earthling would have, but not cartoonishly large, I guess. A compromise between Anime and Realism? Hard to say. I checked in my bag, noticing with interest each item. I’d have to study them more in depth, but right now I was looking for… yes… potion. Three of them. I pulled one out and handed it to the Ralts. “You know what this is?”
He… somehow I was certain this was indeed a male, nodded, then grinned up at me and jumped like a tiny greenish Michael Jordan and snatched it from my hand and tried to gnaw on it. I chuckled and took it back, then sprayed his wounds, watching as they closed up in seconds. “There, all better. Stop picking fights with birds.” I told him, then pulled the hat out of the bag and dropped it on his head. “Looks better on you than it would on me.”
I pulled out my gear, studying it, confirming that the nearly bottomless bag did indeed contain some kind of strange crystal that looked as if it could plug into my Pokégear. I tried it and indeed, my data appeared to be there in all its digital glory. I chuckled, then found the music folder and dropped the data into the gear’s music app. “Ten years without my tunes? Without my audiobooks? I’d go crazy.” I considered, then set it to play “Ready Player One” instead of music. “Right. AJ, you coming?”
The Ralts looked up at me, pointing to itself and said, “Raaalts?”
I nodded “Yup. Ralts. You AJ. Me SJ. You, come on. I’ll buy you a… snack in Oldale.”
Getting used to the world of Hoenn wasn’t easy. Took me days to stop reverting from Japanese to English, weeks just to get used to walking everywhere, and months to get used to people calling me Shiko Jin, which is what my Trainer Card said my name was. I also quickly began to regret signing up for the Zubat Harassment Conga. Anytime AJ and I were outside during the night we’d be attacked. Sometimes twice a night if we were someplace near the caves they called home, but they were always there. The little differences were also a hassle. The Japanese style toilets took a bit of getting used too, especially in the small towns. The lack of familiar foods too. And the prices. Arceus Christ, the prices. I took up challenge fighting just to make ends meet. Picked up some nice gear along the way, but I wasn’t trying to complete the Dex or anything.
I was hunting for specific Mon and trying to level AJ into a lean, mean, Fighting-Type machine. Picked up a Poochyena because they’re cute, and a Zigzagoon for pretty much the same reason, plus they can use Surf and Cut and Rock Smash when they level up, but I wanted my favorites, and I was going to find them. I made a list, half from memory, half from the picture files and notes from back home. I wasn’t certain things would be the same, but I was pretty certain most things would be. I needed an Abra. I needed a Magikarp. I needed an Aron. I wanted a Zangoose. I wanted a Bagon and a Beldum… and I wanted the Regis. Didn’t know if I could get them… or any of the legendaries, but I was going to try. Especially if I could get Rayquaza or Deoxys. I had ten years. And nothing better to do with my time.
To that end, I cultivated my reputation for hunting and catching dangerous Pokémon. Especially rogues. The games and animes don’t talk about them a lot, but apparently that’s a big thing. Dangerous fire monsters attacking wooden towns. Insane ghosts haunting supermarkets. Swarms of frickin Zubats! My team evolved and grew. AJ became a Kirlia around the same time I picked up my Magikarp… Doomwaffle… and if you think training one of those things to become a freakin Gyarados is hard in games, you’ve no idea. The reason they just flop around is because they can’t freaking breathe air! You’ve got to have a lot of fights in water… and they’re freshwater, not seawater. Toss them in the sea and they do okay, but they get kinda… slimy in salt water. But I persevered. Taught my Zigzagoon… who I named Ziggy because I’m an idiot, to Surf, but he was just too small to ride. Finally picked up a Spheal… named her Bubbles… couldn’t ride her either, but I could hold on as she bounced over the waves.
I want to claim I went through the Gyms like they weren’t no thing, but the reality is different. They really weren’t no thing. Getting those badges? Yeah. Not a big deal. And it costs Pokébucks just to try. You’re not really saying “I beat the master of Petalburg Gym”. You’re saying “I was good enough to qualify there.” It’s nothing like the games. It’s a business. People come and watch you challenge the gym leaders… and they mock you when you lose. After that first time… I didn’t lose. I was… ruthless. I trained all the time, my newfound strength and stamina meaning I could go practically anywhere in Hoenn and (without a home) I did just that. Just me and AJ, Doomwaffle (which was a name I was beginning to regret), Ziggy, and Lilith… the Mightyena. What a bitch.
Getting my Abra took the longest time. I didn’t like wasting Pokéballs (those things are really pricey) so I waited, and waited, and waited. Picked up a tranq rifle from a ranger in exchange for dealing with the Slugmas trying to burn down the local bamboo plantation. Might be cheating, but that’s what brains are for. With the normal Pokémon, that’s what nets and physical strength are for too. Getting it to stop biting me every time I woke it up for battle was also a challenge they don’t cover in the game. Turns out they like gummy candies and pretzels. Who knew. Named her Fancy.
My team was getting a bit full round this point, but after 5 years… just after I’d thrown a Second 21 party for me and some of the friends I’d made who totally didn’t understand the concept of a 21 year old throwing a party to get drunk at… I had my Gallade (AJ), my Gyarados (just Waffles now), Fancy the Kadabra, Lilith the Mightyena, Ziggy the Linoone, and Bubbles the Walrein. I had to make room. Reluctantly, I found a good home for Lilith with a pooch fancier with a big ranch and I released Bubbles back into the sea. That left me with four, though Ziggy was getting a bit old for fighting, he was still good for snuggling and playing around with.
I began hunting my heavy hitters. A Bagon I could evolve into a Salamence and a Beldum I could evolve into a Metagross. I was still aiming for Rayquaza and Registeel, but knew I’d need a top tier team to get there. Not that I could tell how powerful my friends were. The Real Pokémon world doesn’t have handy stat and level guides. Had to guess. And that meant taking risks. I also began running into the Teams. The games make it seem like they’re all local, but they are in the same way terrorist cells are. They’re trading with each other all the time… and they didn’t take too kindly to my research or my turning them down when they tried to hire me to capture Latias and Latios. Or when a group of us “Concerned Citizens” shut down their attempts to raise Kyogre and Groudon.
Eventually, by year 8, I figured I was ready. My team was five strong, Rocky the Metagross, Freya the Salamence, AJ the Gallade, Waffles the Gyarados, Fancy the Alakazam (turns out, you don’t need to trade a Kadabra to evolve it. You have to give it a second spoon. Who knew?). Ziggy was with me for moral support, but he would have been punching waaay above his category to try and take down a Legendary. I tested myself against the Final Four. 6 times that year. Failed each time, but was getting closer, even though they were learning my routines too. Then I broke through to the Champion on my 7th try, 8 days after my 9th arrival-day. The fight went on and on. I was hampered because I didn’t have a full six roster unless I sent in Ziggy, and he wasn’t a spring chicken. And I lost. Came down to the last mon for each of us, Rocky against the Champion’s Milotic. I tell you, I could not have been less prepared to go up against a leader with all Water Pokémon, since I had almost nothing typed to defeat his minions, but I almost did it. I’d try, one more time… right before the year was up… but for now, I had three masterballs that needed filling and the team to get me where I wanted to be.
I’d thought about hunting a Jirachi, or a Celebi… or maybe heading across the sea to one of the other regions and finding one of their legendaries, but I always kinda wanted a giant steel robot, so I tracked down a Relicanth and used it to bribe Wallace (the Champion) to bring along his Wailord and promised to show them something cool, very cool… as well as promising him that he’d get to see RegiIce. We dove down, down, down, into the depths of Route 134, searching until we found the Secret Chamber. I have to say… Not a huge fan of being that far underwater, nor of caves to tell the truth, but we found it and I deciphered the ancient language of Braaaaiiille! And we unlocked the secret chambers. Then it was just a matter of following the legends and my memory, perfect ever since I’d arrived in this world, to the domain of the three titans. Together, we managed to capture Regirock, though it took quite a number of tries, but we’d agreed we’d turn him over to Professor Birch for study. Next was RegiIce, where I watched (and shivered in the cold) as Wallace managed the capture by himself. It was a matter of pride. I bid him adieu, then went hunting my own Regi… Registeel. It was a short fight.
Next up was Rayquaza. Getting to the Skypillar wasn’t hard… I promised Wallace I’d show him how to find the Ice in exchange for the information, when you’re hunting a God you need every advantage, right? My team, thanks to liberal applications of bribery, grooming, poképastries, good tasting berries, and lots of potions, made it to the top. All I had to do was get the big Ray to attack and hold still long enough for the ball to lock on and I was golden. I was not expecting it to be so… loud. I dropped the master ball. Good thing Ziggy thought it was a game and scampered after it, chasing the ball all around the tower top as my team battled the quite enraged skydragon. Finally Rayquaza noticed Ziggy however, and loomed overhead of the utterly unimpressed ferretoid… who nosed the Masterball right towards the green giant as if asking “What? You want to play?” In a moment that could have been scripted by Rumiko Takahashi, the ball popped open and, with a woosh and a clatter, the skydragon was caught. Ziggy got much tummy rubs that night… but the fight wasn’t over.
See, the Skypillar is on the edge of space. Sure, it’s easy for me to say (and for you to think) “Yeah, yeah, edge of space.” But it is freaking really high up there. Only the ancient machinery of the tower keeps atmosphere there at all. And that’s where you can find Deoxys… who is one very very fast Mon. But since it’s not a very loud Mon, I wasn’t freaking out and didn’t drop my Masterball. Three up, three down.
The rest of the year went… well. I used my new “friends” to absolutely wreak havoc on the various teams. I wasn’t using Ziggy for anything but companionship by this point, and most of my team didn’t spend much time in their balls, unless they were injured… and I’d finally drummed up enough dough to buy a damned bike… as well as some basic combat gear to beat up the Team Trainers who really deserved it… but I knew my time was coming to an end. I had one last chance at beating the league and getting into the Hall of Legends, and I was going for it. With three gods on my team, I breezed through the Final Four, and Wallace and I squared off one last time. It was a good fight… but I still lost. Ah well. I had a heck of a party, blowing every last Pokébuck I’d managed to get my hands on over the last decade. As the party wound down way past midnight, I stepped out into the beach, Ziggy drapped across my shoulders, Fancy and AJ arguing in the background, the others asleep in a mostly dragon pile, and waited for the sun to rise one last time… and fought off some damned Zubats!
Three pillars rose from the sand around me and time shuddered to a stop. The pillars said… “Well Done. We are most… entertained. Your Flaw is hereby Revoked. Choose your fate, Return Home, Stay Here, or Move On to the Next Adventure.”
I tilted my head, thinking of the future, and the past. I missed home. But knew it was right where I’d left it. I knew I’d miss the people here… but not as much. I still thought of this a little as a game, and had tried not to grow too attached. I patted Ziggy’s sleeping head. “If I go, who will take care of my… friends?” I asked.
“You may take five of them with you, plus AJ. And you may, of course, keep all the skills, abilities, memories, and equipment you’ve picked up along the way.”
I looked out at my small cabin cruiser and raised an eyebrow “Even the boat?”
The Pillars displayed a grinning face, “Not a problem.”
I considered, then sighed, “Okay. Moving on, I guess. Any hints as to where’s next?” There wasn’t a response, so I turned to my friends and considered. AJ and Ziggy were coming. And Rayquaza and Dynamo (My Deoxys)… that was four. I considered long and hard the remaining five; Registeel, Gyarados, Salamence, Metagross, Alakazam. I said “Give me… twenty minutes more here?” The pillars said nothing, but the sound of the surf told me time had resumed. I called forth Waffles and had him bend over, kissing the giant fishdragon on the nose. “Go on. There’s a big sea out there, waiting for you. It’s calling your name, big guy. Go, find a nice girl fish dragon and make… I dunno, something better than Magikarp.” I can’t tell if he understood, but he swam out to sea, making his strange cry as he went. I tried not to weep.
Next, I went inside and shook Wallace awake. “Hey, Do me a favor. Find a kid who’s coming up and give her this.” I handed over the ball with Freya in it. “It’s my Salamence. She likes Anchovy Pizza.” And then, giving up my dreams of having a robot butler, I handed over Registeel’s Masterball. “And give this to Steven. I know how much he loves Steel Type.” Wallace wanted to ask, I could tell, but I just shook my head and headed outside again, stepping back into the pillars. “Okay, Boss. Next assignment ho.”
And the world went black around me.
Next: The Supplement
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