Death. War. Destruction. The world of the future lies in ruins. I got the chance to go back and stop it from ever happening, only to discover that I was the cause. This is how I destroyed the world.


9. Becoming a Trainer

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step ~ Confucius


"I can still remember the day I first became a trainer; the grass was green, the sky was blue, and my pants were brown with the realisation of what the world is truly like."

- Blake Rogers, 39th Johto League Champion. (June 16th, 3011)


Honestly, Littleroot Town was not what I was expecting.

Given that Adryan had told me it was a little town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by lush forests and greenery, I found myself amazed when we reached a large town, with large modern buildings towering above the city's limits. We'd passed over Oldale Town completely, with Adryan electing to fly us both over on Irenui, as there was apparently some sort of quarantine set over the town. Apparently a chemical or gas had leaked within the town's small laboratory, and they were reacting as if the plague had come to snare them up completely.

Nestled within the north western corners of the town was a large steel complex with a multitude of bay windows decorating its semi-circular frame. It was three stories high and I could see a number of solar panels covering the roof. Behind was a large open forest, which Adryan told me branched into smaller, specialist areas for every pokémon within to be looked after.

Within my mind, I built up an image of the professor in charge. I told myself he would have had to been extremely experienced to handle so many pokémon at once, as well as keeping them all safe and stopping them from fighting and preying on each other whilst in his grounds.

We stepped towards the large doors guarding the laboratory's entrance which opened with a soft hum. There was a dull tune that could have only been described as elevator music that reached our ears within the large room we walked into. Within there were a number of chairs set to the right hand side, as well as a small bookcase. On the left were doors leading off into various other parts of the place, and dead in front of us was a desk with a slim brunette woman typing at a computer in a bored manner.

"Hello?" I walked towards the desk, drawing the woman out of her computer-stupor with my greeting. She spun round on her chair and glanced me over, taking in my no doubt messy and world-weary appearance.

She however wore a crisp black suit with a white blouse underneath, unbuttoned enough to show her cleavage. Tearing my eyes away, I wondered whether she was actually hired for her skill at computer literacy or just for something the professor could ogle.

"How may I help you sir?" she asked politely. Obviously I must not have looked as bad as I thought, or the woman was completely professional. She pressed a pen to her lips, tapping it against the pink lipstick coating them.

"I need to register as a trainer," I told her, leaning on the desk slightly. "Do I need to see the professor or-"

"You will need to see him," she interrupted me, even as she pulled open a desk drawer and rummaged through. "But first you'll need to complete these forms," she explained, handing me a stack of at least ten sheets of paper stapled together. "Most details are all recorded electronically now, but we still need paper copies as back up." She handed me a pen and smiled. "Hoenn's electrical power sources aren't exactly indestructible after all."

I nodded, thanking her as I made way to a chair and sat down. The words on the paper blurred together in my boredom, and I slowly made my way through them. I glanced over at Adryan, who was busying himself trying to find something interesting to read. In the mean time I filled out the details I could, stopping at a certain few. Could I give my real age? They wanted my birth date; I couldn't very well say I was born sixty-three years from the current year, could I? I frowned, giving my real birth day and month, though worked out the appropriate year. After that it became more confusing, and I waited until Adryan sat beside me to ask him for help.

"I need help with some of this," I admitted, tapping the pen against the paper stack. He glanced over at me and lifted a brow, nodding for me to elaborate. "I don't have a home address, or a next of kin, for one."

He looked at me blankly for a moment. "What do you mean you have no home address?" he asked, taking the papers from me and reading them through.

"I, uh-" my brain stopped short, thinking of a decent enough excuse. What could I say? 'My home isn't built for another few decades,' didn't seem like a very believable tale, after all. "Where I was staying last got destroyed," I explained, choosing my words carefully. "An onix burrowed underneath the street and completely wrecked it; there's nothing left."

He nodded, crossing a leg and leaning the paper on it. On the small box wanting my address, he simply wrote 'n/a'. Of course it would have been such a simple answer that stumped me.

"Next of kin?" he asked, tapping the pen against his leg.

I shook my head. "I'm an orphan." That at least, was true. "Never really knew my parents, so I've got no family that I know of. Everyone else is dead."

"Sorry," he said reflexively. He stared at it a moment longer before scrawling across the boxes with haste. "I'll put myself down as that, if that's alright with you?" he asked, even as he filled in his own details. "It's just so that if someone finds you dead somewhere in the wilderness, they can at least call someone to let them know, and then they make all the hard decisions." He looked at me, eyes serious and hard behind his glasses. "If you die, your next of kin has to decide what to do with your Pokémon."

I nodded, understanding his meaning. He clicked his tongue, scanning through the rest of the form, writing in a few details here and there for me. He stopped and glanced up, beginning to ask questions for the rest.

"Okay. Hometown?"

I frowned. Officially, my home base was named 'area seventy-four'. Somehow, I doubted that would be recorded anywhere. My mind raced, trying in vain to remember the location's name. I knew it was near Lavaridge somewhere...

"Kismet Plains," I answered, chewing my inside lip. I wasn't a hundred percent sure on the name, but given that Adryan nodded and included it reassured me the location was real.

"Okay," he whispered, lifting another sheet to glance at it. "Date you became a trainer's done, so is your current pokémon," he spoke, more to himself than me. "Age: seventeen?" He looked up and offered a grin. "Heh, by your age I was already trekking through Sinnoh."

I fixed him with a level stare. "Congratulations. Have a peanut."

He snorted, shaking his head in amusement. "Peanuts are gross," he countered, flicking me on the head with the pen. "Alright, parents' names?" he asked, looking back up to me.

I shrugged. My mother died in childbirth, and my father was killed by a ninjask when I was four. I related these details to him, and he nodded in understanding, saying nothing on the matter as he filled in the boxes with simple 'unknown's.

"Alright." He nodded, flicking through the pages to the final one. "Final few details, then you can just sign it." He glanced between me and the paper, grinning once again. "Region of birth?"

At least I could answer that honestly. "Hoenn."

He scribbled the answer into a box. "Criminal record?"

Yes, I'm a murderer, cannibal and trained tactically enough to kill everyone in this room in sixteen different ways. "No."

"Ah," he grunted, tsking disapprovingly. "Shoplifters and druggies like you should always admit to their crimes," he chided me, glaring at me in good humour. "If you're going to kill me in my sleep, I'd at least like to know you've done it before. That way I can turn you in and escape with my life!"

I smirked at him. "And where would the fun in that be?"

He chuckled. "Sadist." He flicked the papers again, staring at the answers given. "Gender?" he asked. He looked at me as I lifted an eyebrow in bemusement. "Right, female," he said, thankfully circling the correct, 'male' choice. "Orientation? Definitely lesbian."

I sighed, and snatched the papers back off him. "That wasn't in there, you dolt," I said as I smacked him across the head with the papers. "Besides, why would it be? Unless I've been murdered by a group of savage females, and they decided that I must have slept with them all and been murdered in revenge." I signed the very end of the papers, smirking as Adryan laughed to himself. I quickly glanced through the papers once more, making sure he hadn't changed anything or made a joke somewhere in there. My pokémon list was unsurprisingly sparse, and I saw the small circled 'no' under a question I hadn't seen. I read it twice before glancing up at Adryan as we walked to the reception desk. "What's a 'level three risk' pokémon?"

He laughed once more at me, this time in disbelief. "Where were you raised? In a stream by a pack of mightyena?" he quipped, chuckling at his own joke. "Level three risks are pokémon that can be viewed as dangerous towards whole town communities. Most of the time they're psychics, ghosts or dragons. Irenui's one because she can create and hide within sandstorms. Level four are those that can be destructive if untrained properly, like most dragons, as well as a few more powerful pokémon like metagross and tyranitar. Level fives are the most dangerous; they're things like gyarados and onix, that could flatten a whole town even if they didn't mean to."

It made sense, yet at the same time, it didn't. Was there any real need to declare each and every pokémon someone held on their person? I voiced this question to Adryan, who shook his head in bemusement.

"Of course they've got to know," he said and tapped me lightly on the head. "If someone happens to come across your dead, mutilated body, they can begin to identify you by the pokémon on your person. Aside from that, it's a safety net for each and every town; they know the trainers that pass through are all eligible to use the pokémon they hold."

I blinked. "Eligible?"

"Oh, right," he said, running a hand through his hair. "You see, with each level threat of a pokémon, there's certain limits, tasks if you will, that you need to have passed to hold that pokémon. To have a level three risk pokémon with you in a town or populated area, you need to have at least four gym badges, two coordinator ribbons, or have had the pokémon for at least eighteen months. Otherwise, it's obvious you wouldn't have the talent to control the pokémon. Say if I let Irenui loose in this town and I couldn't control her? If she decided to whip up a sandstorm and kill everyone in the town, I'd be accountable for their deaths."

I nodded my understanding. Obviously, I would have to get enough badges to allow me to use any of those type of pokémon by my side in inhabited areas. There wasn't much chance of me becoming talented enough within the year to obtain coordinator ribbons, and I definitely did not have eighteen months to complete my goals. I could stick to lesser threat pokémon, but at the same time, I wasn't entirely certain I could manage to complete my task with the likes of current-time hoppip and rattata.

"What about the level four and fives then?" I asked. "Can any of those be allowed out and about in areas of life?"

He shook his head. "Not unless you've got even more qualifications. For level four, you need at least eight gym badges, five ribbons or to have spent three years training the pokémon. Even then, you need to get explicit permission from the town's mayor, person in charge or police force. Most will let you, though a lot more will charge you for the privilege." He folded his arms and blew hair from his face. "Level fives? You've got almost no chance. You need to either have won a region's league, hold twenty badges, have ten ribbons or have spent eight years training the pokémon. It's obvious why though; a gyarados can flatten a town if it so much as feels the tiniest bit annoyed. The general rule of thumb to class a level five is if it's bigger than a house, or has many horror stories and myths around it, it's gonna be a five."

I stood still as I considered it all. I wasn't sure how well I could do against the gyms of a region; from what I had gathered listening to random travellers across my journey it took an average of a year to obtain eight badges. Whispers had told me that the current world champion had obtained the entire region's collective of twenty badges within eighteen months, though had spent a further five years training in every other region before she challenged the title. I didn't have that amount of time, but surely once my task was complete, I could train for the fun of it?

I smiled distantly at the thought. In my future, I had never given much thought to my own life; everyday held the chance I wouldn't live to see the next morning. Granted, it was the same regardless, no matter any person's location or time, but within my upbringing, the chances were incredibly more so. I found myself imagining a far-off future where I owned my own large house and land, where I was happily married, though no matter what, I could never see my wife's face. It was like my brain was telling me I had yet to meet her, though the figure was undeniably one which was instantly aesthetically appealing. Within the dream I had a few children running around, as well as Xander and Loki happily living the life of retirement.

I snapped out of the reverie abruptly. How had I changed so much that I was imagining my future including pokémon? Had I really bonded with them so quickly that I wanted them to be with me the remainder of my life? Pokémon lived on average, forty years. Even if my goals were complete, my strange vision of the future wasn't likely to include all of my team that helped me achieve everything.

Strangely, I felt extremely sad and numb at the thought. It was like I wanted to cry at the thought of something that was going to happen, regardless, to a bunch of creatures I would have been killing guiltlessly only a month ago.

The new world was changing me, fast, and I wasn't sure how much I truly liked it.

"Yo," Adyran said, waving a hand before my face. "Still there?" I blinked and shook my head, long enough for him to smirk at my inattention. "You kinda spaced out for a bit there. Go anywhere nice?"

I shrugged. "It was... unique." I stared down at the papers in my hand, finding that I had been grasping them like a holy scripture the whole time I thought of my future. It was like they were the key to my goal, the first step in creating what I found my heart strangely wanting. I shook my head, searching for something to distract myself from the strange longing that was now built within me. "So do you own many high risk-level pokémon?" I asked of Adryan.

He blinked and shook his head. "Just Irenui for now, though I've got another pokémon I'm training that'll evolve into a level four risk when he's ready to evolve."

"You must have a number of badges then," I said, jumping into logical conclusions from our conversation.

He grew a modest smirk and instantly turned a shade of pink, even as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I guess you could say that," he mumbled humbly. "I've been a trainer since I was ten, so going on ten years now. I started out here in Hoenn, though it took me almost two years to obtain the eight badges I needed to enter the league."

My eyebrows jumped up my face. Two years? I'd built a picture in my mind that Adryan was an extremely talented trainer; I'd never thought of him as a novice trainer struggling with battles, in my mind, he always seemed to have been as talented as I knew him.

"Yeah," he chuckled at my expression. "I was a newbie, and I wasn't all that good then. The mentor programme wasn't really up then, so I was just wandering around and learning everything for myself. I made a few friends and had a travelling group for a while, but..." he paled considerably and looked sick at something, "well, sometimes you realise travelling on your own can build you up and protect you more. I started off with Irenui, and it took me forever to get her to listen to me completely; even when I entered the league with her, she was still a feisty, arrogant trapinch."

I did a double-take. "She was still a trapinch after two years?" I thought pokémon cycled through their forms extremely quickly; I had known the trainers of my time to take a base-level pokémon and evolve it into its final form within a few months.

Then again, it wouldn't surprise me if they were being pumped full of steroids at the same time.

"Uh-huh," he grunted with a nod. "Pokémon don't always evolve that quickly, you do realise? Some can evolve quickly, like most bug types, some at a moderate speed, like the starter pokémon the regions give out, and others can take a long time. Of the top of my head, the ones that take the longest are rhyhorn and snorunt; they can take just under four years."

My breath caught in my throat. There was yet another flaw with my so-carefully laid out plans. If some truly did evolve after such large amounts of time, what were my chances with saving my future?

"Well after that, I went to Kanto," Adryan continued to explain. At least he was unknowingly distracting me from my internal dilemma – though it did seem he was the cause for most of them. "Took just over a year training there, then I moved onto Johto for another year. Spent two years in Sinnoh after that, and when I finished there, I was sixteen. And I still had no idea what I wanted to do," he admitted with a small laugh. "Actually, I'm still not totally sure, to be honest. But I started going over the regions again, beginning to train my pokémon with coordinator stylings – I'd seen them used in Sinnoh at such a higher level than anywhere else, and it inspired me to do the same. At the same time, I collected all the badges from each region, though I worked backwards. Four years later, I'm back in Hoenn, with the full set of twenty badges from each region."

My eyebrows shot into my hairline and I'm sure my jaw dropped to the floor. "You have eighty badges?"

He shrugged. "Most trainers about my age have about the same. In fact, after ten years, most trainers have well over a hundred, and have a few championships under their belts. I only went to the four biggest regions, and I've only actually ever managed to win one championship, and that was in Johto, which is supposedly the easiest one. Aside from that, I usually just finish in the top eight." He sighed and dropped his shoulders in defeat. "I got the winning funds from it, but I've saved them away. I want to win a championship in Hoenn and challenge the elite four and champion. Maybe after that, I'll go on to challenge the world champion." He shrugged. "I think that's the goal now, though it's subject to change at any given moment."

I was shocked into awed silence for a moment. "," I managed to utter.

He laughed sheepishly. "Well, that's most of my history over and done with. Now, come on." He nodded towards the reception desk. "We've got to give your papers in, unless you just wish to stand here and chat for another ten minutes?"

I caught myself and gave a small, embarrassed grin. The receptionist looked up at me with a small smile when she saw me approach again and accepted the forms with professional courtesy. She flicked through them quickly, mouthing words as she read the answers before pressing another smile onto her lips. "That's brilliant, thank you," she said, placing them next to her computer keyboard. "I'll get your records typed up in just a moment. If you'd like to take a seat again and wait a moment, I'll let the professor know he needs to come down and meet you."

I nodded and murmured an intelligent, "Uh... yeah," as she twisted her chair round and went back to work. I made my way back to a chair and found Adryan already sat down, reclining like a slaking within a new, crisp sofa. I blinked, only then just aware that he wasn't actually at my side while I spoke to the woman. I pressed fingers to my eyes and squeezed long enough for green and gold spots to appear in my vision. I was getting sloppy and careless. Before I came here, I would have been completely aware of every movement. I need to start training again, not only my pokémon, but myself.

"It's the simple things you miss when you're travelling," Adryan said to me as I said beside him on the sofa. He grinned and sunk further into the sofa, ending up lying down and staring up at the ceiling. "Irenui's comfy and all, but there isn't much that can beat a nice, comfy sofa. Except maybe a nice, comfy bed."

I looked at him from the corner of my eye. "You're also spreading your travel-sweat stink over it, you realise?"

He shifted his eyes to look at me. "Well how else would you like me to mark my territory? I can't exactly lift a leg and piss over it, can I?"

I couldn't help but laugh at the mental image I produced. Only when I was just starting to get comfortable did I hear my name called, and I rose, grumbling to myself. Of course, the professor would have to arrive just as I didn't want to get up again. Though when I set eyes upon him, I found myself startled with his experience.

In my mind, I had built up an image of the professor. Though upon seeing him, I had to say, he was nothing like what I had pictured. If anything, he looked as if he were dressed for a picnic, given his dark green shirt and shorts, black flip-flops further increasing the illusion. He had a somewhat portly build, and his face too had a definite curve to it. His brown hair was a shaggy mess, and equally brown eyes stared at me with amusement.

The only thing that defined him as a scientist was the white lab coat he wore, though I was starting to believe he had simply wandered in here and stolen one.

He laughed and stuck his hand out. "Not what you were expecting, huh?" I smiled and shook my head, shaking his hand as he introduced himself. "I'm Professor Birch, head researcher at this facility. I specialise in pokémon habitats, so I'm usually out in the field, hence the lax clothes. I've never liked shirt and ties anyway."

I smiled at his joke, aware that Adryan had decided to remain on the sofa. At least I was becoming aware of my surroundings now, though I knew it was only because of conscious effort.

"This is all formality, really," he said as he pushed open two white swinging doors. "People supposedly feel better starting their journeys if someone is there to explain everything to them, rather than just being given a pamphlet and being let loose on the wild. Personally, I don't think there's really anything I could tell you that would be of any true use on your travels, everything is always best learnt in the field, regardless.

"Anyway," he cleared his throat as we reached an office room overlade with clutter. Various styrofoam coffee cups were present everywhere within, and the wire mesh dustbin in the corner was near enough overflowing with scrunched up paper balls. Once again, I found myself wondering how this man became a professor, though I found myself somewhat pleased that even in such a profession, he was able to be himself. It gave me further hope that even as a trainer, I could still be myself, and not simply a mindless drone that went around screaming commands and making a fool of myself.

He pushed aside a stack of papers to reach his desk and pulled the computer screen closer. His hand clamped around a coffee cup and he shook it, testing the weight of its contents. He shrugged and drained the cup moments later, causing me to grimace instantly. Just how long had it been sat there? It obviously wasn't hot, and given the amount of similar cups within the room, I had to wonder just how old it was.

"As you can probably tell, this is my office. I would tell you to take a seat, but I'm afraid I lost the chair somewhere underneath all my paperwork."

He laughed sheepishly, though I smiled and shook my head. "It's alright, I'm fine standing."

"Good, good," he said, pressing a few commands onto his computer. "Well, I'll keep this simple," he said, spinning on his chair to face me. "According to the data you've given us, you're seventeen. Which means I don't need to treat you the same as the little kiddie-kids that come here for starter pokémon. Any extra pokémon over the carry-limit of six have to be sent here at the first possible occasion." He looked up at me and held his hands together on his lap. "No matter what, never use more than the six other pokémon in a trainer battle. You're free to have the seventh out, though if it's more than you can handle, be wise about it. Do, please try to train it even a little first before you send it here though," he pleaded, exasperation in his voice. "I can't tell you the amount of times some little idiotic kid has sent through a pokémon they've just caught and never trained. They have no idea about humans, and suddenly they're let out in a facility full of them and other pokémon. More often than not, they panic and attack everyone and everything in sight. And the trainer who sends it is responsible for any and all damage in such a circumstance."

I frowned. "Why would kids be capturing more pokémon than they can train though? Are they all so simple-minded to think a new, untamed creature isn't going to attack them and everyone?"

Professor Birch sighed and shook his head. "I honestly don't know. So many kids go out with the mentality that the more pokémon they capture, the better the trainer they'll be. The ones that survive learn that being a trainer involves actually training the pokémon you own, not simply hoping they can do your every whim and desire on command."

"They're feral creatures, at the end of the day," I said in agreement. "People don't seem to realise that, like a pet, they have to be trained to do everything." I didn't mention that just over a week ago, I was one of those people. "It's stupid and near-suicidal to think you can capture everything and anything and become the best with no effort at all."

"Exactly!" the Professor said, throwing his arms into the air. "Myself and the other professors of every region are continually appealing to the schools to teach more on this subject. But no matter what, there's always one or two kids that decide they know best. I do wish it didn't have to come to their friends' deaths at the hands of their pokémon to make them realise."

I shrugged. "It's natural selection at it's best." It sounded incredibly harsh, but it was true. Every species could only prosper with the advancement of their species. If it took such harsh events to teach everyone what they had always been ignorant to, at least they would have the knowledge to pass on. "It's better that they die and teach others, rather than survive and show many more that you can abuse and bully your pokémon into listening to you."

The professor snorted sadly a moment. "And here I thought you just dressed like that for show. You truly do have a soldier's mentality, don't you?"

I nodded, a small smile on my face. It was one of the few times I could feel truly in place, only when I talked about a soldier's way of life did I feel that I wasn't deceiving everyone I knew with every word I spoke. "It's why I've left it so late to become a trainer. I originally enrolled in every sort of army training I could, as early as I could. I managed to get recruited extremely early on – the local army trainer was near enough my guardian." I shrugged once more. "You see a great number of things, but at the end of the day, it teaches you exactly what you need to survive. Maybe trainers should have to go on some sort of forced army training before they set out?" I suggested, simply speaking what came to mind. "At least, if nothing else, the new trainers would know how to defend themselves and survive in the wild. And maybe they'd even develop enough respect to listen to what's being told to them, as well as respect pokémon enough to not abuse them. You're a special kind of idiot if you think abusing a creature that can breathe fire isn't going to have consequences."

Professor Birch laughed and rubbed his chin. "I agree with you there. Though you do bring a valid point; if everyone trained a year or two with the military, at least new trainers would have knowledge of the outside world. It could also push up the trainer age, so that less ten year olds rush out and get themselves killed." He placed a hand under his chin, propping his head up as he thought about it. "I may just have to approach the government with such an idea. I don't suppose if it happened, you'd want any credit for it?"

I shrugged. "I'm not totally bothered, to be honest. If it happens, it happens. If not, it doesn't. Either way, right now, I don't really want to be much more than a trainer, not a political agent attempting to change the world."

"Well, I'll make sure you're named as the main idea behind it, regardless," he promised me. "If there is a political shit-storm, there probably won't be enough interest in you for them to go after you for a story. If it succeeds, you'll most likely receive a few government checks for the idea, as well as a few more for you to claim it was never your idea in the first place."

I smirked wryly. "Ah, the old government act of self-promotion, huh?"

He chuckled. "Afraid so. If you come up with a brilliant idea, they'll pay you as much as you like to let them take credit. If it falls through, they'll make sure you take as much of the fall as you can. Either way, they make sure they come up smelling of roses." He sighed and shook his head, spinning round to look at his computer screen. "Once you trust a pokémon enough, you can leave it out with you at night to look over you and fend off any approaching wild creatures. Your best bet for this would be a nocturnal creature, something like a hoothoot or a zubat. Darks and ghosts would be brilliant, though they do take a while to become trustworthy. And even then, they're not completely so."

I smiled and fingered a poké ball on my holster. "I already have one of those; a sableye." The professor turned his chair to meet me with a surprised look, and I found my smile broaden. "He's harmless really – to me at least. He's never actually attempted to harm me, in fact, he's only done so when he thought I was stopping him from eating or having fun."

Professor Birch laughed once more. "You sound like you've become attached to him. Sableye are strange creatures," he said with confidence. "They're both ghost and dark in nature, yet can often be neither. Most dark and ghost types are malevolent and always out to cause pain and suffering – sableye always just seem to want to cause mischief and mayhem. In fact, the only other pokémon of darkness that is anything similar is absol; they have the ability to sense natural disasters, and will try to warn as many as they can. The only true aspect of darkness they hold is that they become more powerful in the dark, and females are prone to mood swings when there's a full moon."

I nodded with his words. Even in my time, absol always sought to help everyone and everything they could. In fact, they were one of the few creatures we didn't actively hunt. Every time one appeared, it was always with a warning that something would happen. Once we realised this, absol were always revered – even when the odd one or two actually caused damage, they somehow always managed to escape total blame and fear. If nothing else, the creatures had become something similar to our guardian angels – even if they did have a tendency to eat the pokémon we bred for food.

He caught himself and gasped, looking at his wristwatch. "Well, it seems I'm becoming distracted as I'm talking to you. I've got about six other trainers waiting to get their licences, as well as a meeting later to discuss the lab's financial state for the next year."

I smiled in both amusement and pity. "That sounds truly fascinating."

He chuckled and pressed a few commands onto his computer. "The only interesting thing is Davis – our newest accountant. He's forever giving us new budgets and ways to save and spend money, though has to tell us all by giving a big speech in front of us all. It's bad, but he has a stutter, as well as a lisp. We shouldn't laugh, but-"

"You can't not laugh at the same time," I finished with a smirk.

"Exactly," he nodded, chuckling to himself. "Right," he said, punching a command onto the computer. "Just stay still for a moment, and we're going to get your photo done for your trainer identification."

I didn't even manage to form a response before a camera appeared from the wall opposite me. It whirred into life with mechanical noise and flashed brightly enough to cause spots to dance in my vision. I knew I didn't want to see what I looked like in the picture.

"Okay, that's done," professor Birch said, distractedly. "That will be placed into your pokédex; it's got pretty much everything you could need to tell you about pokémon. You can use it as a form of identification, as well as proof that you're a trainer. Alongside that, you'll get a small trainer identification card that you should keep in your wallet or at least easily accessible on your person or in your bag. Lose one, and you can use the other to order a replacement. Lose them both and you'll have to travel back here and obtain two new ones, as well as file a missing report on them – I can't tell you the amount of times someone's used a stolen trainer i.d. to cause all sorts of mayhem." He spread his arms and gestured around the room. "Believe it or not, almost all this paperwork is simply from stolen and abused trainer identifications being used in some way or another. It's that bad, I've even had to sort them into piles according to how severe the crime is."

I blinked in surprise. It was mad to think about, yet when I glanced at the sheet atop one pile, it made perfect sense. Apparently the pile I read was for stolen identifications being used to buy both pokémon and items on the black market. That was confusing enough for me; I never would have thought you would need i.d. to buy from the black market. I could only assume that even criminals had a code of ethics.

"Here you are," he said as he pressed a small red machine no bigger than four inches by six inches. It was, in fact, pocket sized – at least for the large pockets of my combat pants. Atop it was a small green card that could fit into a wallet, decorated with a picture of me, as well as detailing everything about me, from my name, age, even to my current pokémon risk level restrictions.

"Once you prove yourself enough as a trainer, you trainer card and details can be updated," Birch explained as he stood and rummaged through a pile of papers on his desk. "They'll allow you to buy more off-limit items, such as steroids to boost your pokémon's abilities, as well as have higher risk-level pokémon by your side in towns. Until then, don't have any pokémon risk level three or higher outside of their poké balls in towns – the list of the risk levels is on your pokédex. That's simple enough to use, it explains everything you need when you first start up, and I've got a guide for it... here!" he exclaimed, holding a small booklet above his head like a trophy. "Read this when you get the chance," he said, placing it into my hands. "Use the pokédex as much as you can while you journey; it can record mass amounts of data not only for you to use, but also to be transmitted back to me, which I can then use to update everything we know about the pokémon."

I nodded, placing everything away in my bag for the time being. "Is that everything?"

"Yup!" Birch nodded enthusiastically. "Now you're able to go off and explore the wilds as a registered trainer."

"Can I get your number as well?" I asked. Despite my initial impression of the man; Birch certainly knew what he was doing in every regard to pokémon. He was a likeable guy too, and even if I used him every now and then for information, he was actually enjoyable to talk to. "I can let you know more directly about things that way, rather than through the pokédex."

"Ah, yes, yes, of course!" he said, patting his pockets for a pen. "After all, how else can I let you know about how your idea towards training is progressing? Here," he said, handing me a slip of paper with his number scrawled across it, "if you want to know anything the pokédex isn't showing, if you want to tell me something you think I don't know, or even if you just want a friendly chat, feel free to ring me on that number. I'll also be able to let you know about how well your pokémon are doing under my care and even point out a few things you can do to help your training along the way."

I pocketed the number. "Thanks professor," I said, noting our arrival back into the reception room. I scanned it quickly, finding Adryan still near enough oozing over the same sofa I left him on. I stuck my hand out and smiled at professor Birch. "You've helped a lot."

He laughed. "Only doing my job. It was good meeting you," he said as he shook my hand. "Take care of yourself."

I nodded. "You too." He walked off to collect another new trainer, and I found my fingers searching out the trainer i.d. that displayed my details. The small piece of laminated card said so much, but nothing like what I felt. It was my attachment to this world, my proof that I belonged.

If nothing else, it was making this new world feel like home.

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