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"Log twelve, day fifty-two."
"Treecko evolved after his nail-biting victory at the tournament yesterday, which won us the whole thing. He proved his sheer talent by taking his dodging skills, refined from several weeks of dodging Swift, and refining them into Detect through observation of Absol, the ace of the other finalist. I even scanned him with my pokedex to confirm that he does indeed know Detect. With the new move, he dodged what would have been a game-ending blow to knock Absol out. Does that count as a win worthy of a grant increase for the lab?" The recording pauses for a moment. "You did say any prestige I bring to the lab means more money from the League, right? Anyway, Grovyle is pleased with his evolution, but it has brought its own set of problems. The sudden increase in mass his body has undergone combined with the reduction in mass from his tail has left him unbalanced. I was hoping instinct would correct this, but apparently not. It's not a huge issue, as Grovyle is nothing short of a kinesthetic genius and is already back to fighting condition. I suspect in the next week or two he'll be back to his previous level of acrobatics and then some."
"In other news, Vulpix used Convergence in battle for the first time yesterday. It took nearly fifteen seconds to charge up between Vulpix's exhaustion and the stress of the battle, but with Zinnia's Shelgon holding that monster of an Absol still, Convergence wore Absol down enough for Grovyle to secure the win. The move's destructive power is incredible, and it doesn't seem to suffer from the same sort of backfire effect that other charged experimental moves of ours have. I'll have to research the cause of its stability more. Maybe more fireballs charging slowly is the cause? When we know more, we can begin on more moves."
"Lastly for this one, I kind of regret not going over history more during my prep time. I've been focused so hard on training my team that I've ignored everything else, and some idle browsing of Pokepedia last night was a kick to the head. I knew about the main regions and some rough history, but I still have to remind myself sometimes that this isn't a kids game, but real life. I had no idea that there were other regions like Fiore, Almia, Oblivia, Ferrum, Ransei, and a few even smaller ones I can't remember. No idea if they were in any pokemon games or not, and if they were, I didn't play them. I guess it makes sense that Professor Oak didn't seem suspicious when he heard I was from some small, isolationist land devoid of pokemon, kind of like an especially barren Orre. Ransei in particular stuck out to me."
"Ransei caught my eye for being the only region currently engaged in warfare. If Pokepedia is correct, they've been in a civil war raging between a fluctuating number of warlords for years, something I was not expecting at all. The mass embargo and travel ban placed on them from every major region doesn't seem to have slowed things, either. I expected the worst as I read on, but something seemed off. The casualties are practically nonexistent for a place embroiled in war... I can't help but morbidly wonder why? Military tech has obviously stagnated compared to what I'm used to, as America had a hulking military industrial complex, but some well-trained pokemon could cause death on a scale only surpassed by doomsday weapons like..."
There is almost ten seconds of silence, followed by the sound of Lee clearing his throat. The sound is dry and uncomfortable, making Birch's own throat itchy. And doomsday weapons..?
"Like, uh... Well, it doesn't really matter. Anyway, I guess there is also the flipside that factors the feelings of the pokemon in as well. I have no doubt a pokemon could slay a man easily, so the question then becomes 'would they want to?' and I'm guessing no in most cases."
"Hey! Did you have to run so far ahead!?" A young voice familiar to the professor calls in the background of the recording.
"That's it for now. Lee, out,"
"Log thirteen, day fifty-six."
"A lot has happened in just a few days. I've updated both the training routines and diets of all my pokemon here recently, as I realized that we've been focusing a little too much on specialized subjects and ignoring the fundamentals. Updating the diets was pretty straightforward, as all that I really needed to do was increase the serving size to scale upward with the effort that everyone is putting into their training. I'm still trying to better my cooking ability so that a strict vegetarian like Grovyle can better enjoy his food, but I'm struggling a bit to find a mix that is both properly nutritious and pleasing to the palate. It doesn't really help that Grovyle refuses to complain and insists that whatever I give him is fine. I can appreciate trying to make things easier for me but come on."
"Since Vulpix's pyrokinesis is growing leaps and bounds every day as evidenced by her successful use of Convergence, we've decided to pull back slightly and return to her physical conditioning. If you're wanting to see the move in action, take a look at my Battlenet profile and I'm certain it will be there at about 20 different angles, all equally grainy. While Vulpix was the fastest member of my team for quite some time, she's begun to fall behind both Grovyle and Corvisquire recently. Considering Corvisquire's mastery of Extreme Speed and Grovyle's almost religious use of Quick Attack, I suppose it's not too surprising. Anyway, Vulpix has remained healthy as expected and continues to grow at a wonderful pace. While I had suspicions about her being stronger than myself pound for pound just a few weeks ago, I know she's stronger than me now."
"Onto Grovyle, the one you haven't seen in action yet. Like I said, he recently evolved during a local tournament at Dewford. His opponent was a monstrously powerful Absol owned by a teen boy named Andre. I'm not joking about how powerful this pokemon was, professor. He could cross a field one-hundred feet in diameter in literally the blink of an eye without using any speed enhancing techniques… Or if he was using a speed enhancing technique, then he has it mastered to such an incredible level that there is no visible aura. I don't even want to think about how long that would take. I'm getting off topic here, back to Grovyle. He evolved after pulling off a narrow win and gained an instinctual knowledge of how to use a number of cutting moves with the leaves on his wrist. Leaf Blade was the first one I observed, then he learned X-Scissor in what seemed like no time at all. To help round out his repertoire, I'm going to begin teaching him how to use Slash soon. I still need to figure out a good ranged move for him. As for his conditioning, he still throws his all into whatever training I set in front of him and is growing powerful enough to give Vulpix a challenge even with the type disadvantage. He's a stunning pokemon and my regret for 'stealing' him is swiftly dwindling."
There is a pause in the recording followed by a tired sigh.
"Finally, there is Corvisquire. I don't know what I'm going to do with this bird. I know that he had a prior trainer, he's too strong and has too varied a technique pool to not have, but his reluctance to let me touch him has some very worrying connotations. I've tried multiple times without success to get him to agree to a physical checkup, and he's rebuffed me every time. He won't even tolerate human medical staff at Pokémon Centers getting close to him with the intention of helping, meaning that the Nurse Joy on duty has to call in her Chansey or Audino to do the job. At the very least he doesn't look put off by my mere presence anymore, so there is some improvement. If what I fear happened to him is true, then this is the easy part and the worst is yet to come… In regards to his training, he steadfastly refuses to fall behind Vulpix or Grovyle and I believe that is what is currently driving him to listen to me. Our experimentation with Swift is coming along slowly but surely. The technique seems most responsive to Corvisquire thinking out a set of commands for it before it is even launched, sort of like a programmable missile. Improving the speed and power to tolerate tight turns or target changes is boiling down to practice, practice, practice. Once he has this down to a comfortable level, I'll begin teaching him about Dark-type energy and how to infuse it into his attacks. I'm probably going to need to recruit Vulpix's help for this since I don't have a frame of reference for what the actual feeling is like, but we'll figure it out. After doing a bit of research into his evolutionary line, Corvisquire's next form, Corviknight, should have a larger concentration of Dark Type lineage than his current middle stage even if it's still not to the level of a true subtype. That in mind, I fully expect Pursuers to be battle-ready by the time Corvisquire evolves."
"With our business in Dewford complete, we've chartered a cargo ship to take all of us to Slateport, and from there we will head to Mauville. That's it for this one. Lee, out."
"Log fourteen, day fifty-eight…"
There is no noise coming from the recording other than the faint drone of an air conditioner. Leaning back in his office chair, Professor Birch waits patiently.
"We… I… Am I doing something wrong? I didn't ask for Grovyle to get thrashed in a hopeless fight. God dammit! I'm not doing this right now. Fuck, this isn't some stupid diary. I'll do this report tomorrow when I can think."
The recording abruptly cuts and begins the next one, making Hoenn's Pokémon professor frown.
"Log fifteen, day fifty-nine."
"We were dealt a pretty devastating loss yesterday. Another trainer in his twenties made short and brutal work of Grovyle with his Donphan. I panicked during the battle and was barely able to help. Apparently, I've been doing this for a long time and just didn't realize it until Zinnia very bluntly pointed out."
"Evidently, I have little in the way of a cohesive style-of-battle. Looking back, I can see it and I think I realize what exactly went wrong. Those pokemon games I told you about? While the player versus player aspect was very competitive, the actual storyline of them was not. Why would it be? It was made to entertain children. My own way of playing them both as a child and adult was to overlevel my pokemon to a disgusting degree and stomp the CPU trainers. I think I've been trying to do that here as well and it's finally backfired. I have been relying too heavily upon the sheer power of my pokemon and contributing too little to the actual battles myself. Zinnia was very… thorough in her dressing down of me. She pointed out my panic when the going gets tough in battles and confronted me about my overdependence on Vulpix. I suppose it all stung my pride and I apologize about the previous recording."
"Thankfully, our argument didn't shatter our traveling group. For as irritating as she is, Zinnia is still very much a powerful trainer that I can learn from. Although she didn't apologize for her harsh words, she did apologize for coming off as more hostile than intended. I'll leave out the details of why she was so upset since they were rather personal, but she's offered to assist me in the refining of my own battling ability as an apology that I accepted."
"She and I visited the famous Slateport marketplace today and I have to say that it definitely lives up to the hype. There was quite literally everything there. I wasn't terribly interested in any of the knickknacks or other souvenir style junk, but some grooming gear and a few other minor supplies were appreciated. This is also where I found my fourth pokemon, a Shinx."
"She's such a tiny little thing, Professor. Just barely large enough to fill my palms when I put my hands together. The breeder here in Slateport said she was a premature live birth and that he expected her to stay a runt for her entire life. This… Is actually a situation I'm familiar with. One of the cubs at the zoo years back was premature and she was given a very low chance to live beyond several weeks. This was years ago when I was just beginning my courses on zoology and the cub in question was hand raised by my soon-to-be mentor. She went on to live and grow into a healthy adult, so my mentor, Aasir, thought it necessary to teach me how to care for such a cub. I'll be putting everything I learned into practice here. Additionally…"
There is the sound of someone shifting in a creaky chair in the recording, then a faint sound that Birch leans in and strains his ears to hear.
"Baby Shinx, she's… so much like them that it's almost painful to look at her. So many behavioral cues from her would match one-to-one to a lion cub. She's still so young that little in the way of a personality has emerged from her yet, and a selfish part of me almost wants her to stay this way forever. As she grows, the animalistic side of her will be tempered by intelligence and it'll distance her from how she is today. I bought her on pure impulse and now I think that maybe I shouldn't have. This might be some sort of unhealthy coping mechanism and Shinx doesn't deserve to be caught up in that. I wish that the zoology courses I took went over the psychology of primates a bit more, so maybe I could self-diagnose this shit and pretend that I didn't make a dumb decision."
Birch pauses the recording and gently rubs his temples with his fingers. After massaging away some of the impending headache, he looks at his computer and at the other audio files lined up after the current one with trepidation. "Lee, what am I going to do with you?" He murmurs.
It's obvious to the professor that the experiences the younger man went through are still haunting him, holding him back. He's a kind, wondrous, unique trainer with the potential to turn the entire world on its head, but he's going to crash and burn before he gets that far if he doesn't sort through his issues.
Birch bites his lip and looks up at the ceiling as he reclines in his chair, tracing a faint pattern in the ceiling tile above with his eyes. He could always… mandate that the younger trainer received counseling to remain under his employment. In most places, such a thing might trigger a medical confidentiality complaint, but as the regional Pokémon professor, the only person that Nigel Birch truly must answer to is Steven Stone... But on the flip side, letting Lee go would be a horrific blunder if the scarred man refuses to see reason. He could potentially wander into the clutches of someone less than kind, and all of Lee's enormous potential would be outside of Birch's reach. Still weighing his options, Birch presses "play" on the recording from his lab trainer and keeps listening.
"Well, what's done is done and I'm going to stick to it." Lee's voice is more confident now. "I don't know if she'll ever be battle ready, or even if I want her to be battle ready, but I'm going to raise little Shinx to be as happy and healthy as possible."
"With that in mind, I'm going to resume normal training with my team tomorrow. The only good thing to come out of my episode yesterday was that I talked to Corvisquire for a while. I told him bits and pieces of my past and he seems more agreeable today. Hopefully this little bit of extra common ground is just what I need to begin cracking his shell. Grovyle is recovering well from his injuries yesterday and should be back to full capacity in about half a week. Finally, the thing worrying me most at this moment is Vulpix."
"Over the past week, I've noticed that she has been having trouble sleeping. I've given her another physical and found nothing out of place, but several times I've noticed her napping during the day or struggling to sleep at night. I've asked her what is going on, but she just insists that it's nothing and I should not worry. Her skill with her telepathy continues to grow and I imagine it will only be several months before we are able to have full conversations. I'm hoping she can tell me what's eating her before then."
"Circling back to my conversation with Zinnia, it did make me stop and think about what I actually want out of being a trainer. Battling is certainly fun and all, and my Pokémon are well-suited to it, but I don't see that being a long-term lifestyle for me. After much mulling over it, I think I am going to do what I did back home and pursue a career as… Well, not an animal handler but a pokemon caretaker. I'm still torn on if I want to be a breeder or a researcher, but I'm sure the choice will become more clear as time goes on. In preparation, I've begun using the resources given to me by the Rustboro trainer school so that by the time the league year ends, I will have enough of a grasp on the subject matter to take an entrance test into the trainer school University courses. Uh, I don't want to seem too pushy but the performance back in Dewford was enough for a pay bump, right? I'm not going to count on any scholarships or anything and it's pretty much a universal rule that academia is expensive."
"And that's all for this one. Lee, out."
"Log sixteen, day sixty-six."
"Quite a bit has happened in the last couple days, so I'll try to condense it down. Zinnia and Brendan have been assisting me with building my own procedures in battle. Zinnia in particular has thrown herself into this, likely seeing it as some sort of challenge. We've had our pokemon sparring day in and day out with a medley of different conditions attached so that I'm forced to have a style or procedure to fall back on when things become uncertain. It certainly highlighted Zinnia's brutal style and Brendan's slow and steady approach so much that I feel like a bit of an idiot for missing it. In lieu of direct battle, I found that I quite enjoy the use of different status ailments in order to keep an advantageous position, which is apparently pretty common if what Zinnia says is anything to go by."
"Onto my team. Shinx has been an absolute sweetheart and I'm glad to have her. Her physical examination showed that her small size and weak muscular structure are the only issues she's had. A few days after the fact, I did take her to the local Pokémon Center to get a second opinion just to be a hundred-percent safe. Nurse Joy agreed with my prognosis, so I've begun taking corrective steps. Rather than feed her with store-bought formula, I returned back to the Slateport market and purchased Miltank milk to use instead. The formula would be fine as a stopgap, but genuine milk has the correct mix of fats, sugars, vitamins, enzymes, and antibodies needed to promote healthy growth on top of just plain being easier to digest. Miltank milk is not perfectly optimal but trying to source Luxray milk has proved to be an expensive pain in the ass. After taking Shinx' weight into account, I've also been adding a small bit of additional protein to promote muscle formation and an even smaller amount of powdered copper mix to assist in electrical flow."
"Sorry if I ramble a little bit off topic here, but having both an infant and an Electric Type has opened up even more avenues of research for me. I never knew that mammalian and some types of reptilian pokemon can both give live birth and lay eggs."
Birch blinks. "Huh? Do animals not do that?"
"That's just such a… Strange adaptation. There's a lot of conflicting information in the sources that I've read regarding the phenomena, how some people say egg-born pokemon are weaker than live-born, or the inverse, or that there is no appreciable difference at all. I've definitely noticed that purebred, live-born mammal pokemon fetch a very high price in the breeder market…" There's an inaudible grumble in the audio. "While not super high on my list, that's something I'm probably going to study in the coming years. Circling back to the fascination with Electric Types, I was expecting something like a secondary nervous system used just for the transmission of electricity in the body of fleshy Electric Types. I was actually pretty surprised to read that electricity flows through the bloodstream and the circulatory system of most. The tiny nodes of copper particles in the red blood cells used to transfer bioelectricity up and out of the body without interacting with anything sensitive is a genius bit of evolution. My heart goes out to the electric pokemon with copper deficiencies and blood-related birth defects. I can't imagine that accidentally locking up your muscles all the time is pleasant at all."
"Anyway, I have high hopes for Shinx and she is an absolute delight. I don't have much in the way of an update for the rest of my team. Vulpix continues to improve steadily and is the one adapting best to the new tactics that I am implementing considering that she can simply pluck the information from my head. Grovyle, being a battle savant, is adapting equally quickly. Corvisquire required some convincing to adopt a new battling style. Previously, I had him battle largely as a mindless thug, and changing that has required flattering his intelligence by saying that a smart pokemon like himself deserves a more sophisticated battling style. It works… Most of the time. Besides that, the individual training of all three continues to progress."
"I meant to shoot you a call regarding this, but it was in the middle of a rainstorm and my only thoughts at the moment were getting inside and getting warm. Brendan and I had a run-in with Aqua."
Birch stiffens, making the plastic computer mouse in his hand groan quietly when he squeezes it.
"It was just a pair of thugs this time. Both had weak pokémon and were defeated quickly by Grovyle and Brendan's Marshtomp working in tandem. After the confrontation, the police were called and carted both off to jail. What worries me was the equipment they were carrying. They were trying to break into one of the enclosed docks here in Slateport and had some sort of electronic lock picking device that Officer Jenny said was bleeding edge, as in far too expensive for common gangsters to afford. Magma and Aqua are beginning to move. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but please push your contact with League law enforcement to do something. Letting them run around unchecked is going to be disastrous."
"Finally, during our last day here in Slateport, I competed in the local Battle Tent as a test of my battling skills without my pokemon acting as crutches. It was pretty hard-fought, but I and a spunky little Electrike powered through three matches and won. I have to say, I do feel a little proud of myself. After that, the owner of the place, Scott, showed up."
"Scott?!" Birch exclaims in alarm, rewinding the recording several seconds to make sure that he heard correctly.
"-After that, the owner of the place, Scott, showed up."
"Oh no…" The pokemon professor mumbles. He drags a hand down his face and sighs. "Don't tell me…"
"He presented me the award for winning the challenge and openly said that he was scouting Brendan, Zinnia, and myself for the Battle Frontier."
The professor groans. "Scott, you meddling, bloodthirsty…" The descriptors become increasingly rude until Birch stops himself and remembers that he was in the middle of reviewing his lab trainer's logs.
"I'm not quite sure how to feel about that, knowing that he's going to be watching from here on out, but I suppose there's nothing I can really do about it. Tonight is the last night we'll be spending in Slateport, and then we'll begin the trip to Mauville in the morning. The path to Mauville is apparently somewhat mountainous and the only civilization between Slateport and Mauville is a small little town called Mist Village. We'll probably stay there a night or two along the way. That's about it for this one. Lee, out."
With the last audio log over, Birch stands from his desk and idly strolls out into the laboratory proper, his mind whirling with several different thoughts. He passes by several of his lab aides, who all smile and greet him, but he's too distracted to return the courtesy. His feet carry them to the rear door of the laboratory which leads out into the pokemon pasture.
Birch steps out onto the rear porch and slips his hands into the pockets of his lab coat, watching the various pokemon out and about. He looks down at the edge of the porch, where the concrete ends and the grass begins. Vividly, he remembers the day that he met Ash Ketchum over a month ago and the subsequent fiasco of the lab's electrotherapy unit being overloaded and destroyed. The Kanto-born trainer's powerful Pikachu is something else.
On that day, on the rear porch and completely out of place, there was a puddle of vomit, some scorched grass, a neat pile of loose orange fur, and the signs of a struggle in the depressed grass… Or the signs of something as large as a grown man convulsing uncontrollably. If Birch remembers correctly, then Lee and Vulpix were resting in that spot when the electrotherapy unit exploded.
Behind the professor, he hears the rear doors of the lab open and close again, followed by faint, almost inaudible footsteps. In the corner of his eye, he sees Medicham stoically take the spot to his right and stand as still as a statue.
After several long minutes of silence, Birch sighs for what feels like the millionth time today. "I know we've talked about it before, but do you think I really should be meddling that much? I don't want to be one of those people like Scott. Should I really be pushing Lee into doing something like that against his will? You can lead a Ponyta to water, but you can't make them drink after all. I still feel like he has to make the first step himself."
The Psychic and Fighting dual-type at his side says nothing, instead just holding up the professor's cell phone for him to take.
Birch stares at the offered device. Then he takes and unlocks it with a swipe of his finger. "Sorry Lee, but I'm adding another condition to my sponsorship…"