The moment my alarm clock begins to ring, my hand is out there to silence it. Then, the rest of me catches up with thoughts like 'wait, I didn't set my alarm clock', 'how the fuck am I in bed because the last time I checked, I wasn't at home because I was dead in the street' and 'these aren't my winter pajamas'. Then, after a few seconds of blue-screen, that little itty-bitty bit that remembers the whole story boots up and kills the confusion dead.
Alright, let's lay out the facts.
First of all; I was dead. Now, thanks to the machinations of a creepy Random Omnipotent Being of questionable morality, I'm not. Yeah, I'm just getting past that one myself, though how much of it is the 'not dead' bit and how much is me trying to ride the head trip of having two sets of memories vying for dominance inside my skull is kind of up in the air right now.
Second; there's a Pokémon staring at me right now. An actual factual real-life goddamn Pokémon. One of the starters from Sun and Moon; a Rowlet. Grass/Flying-type, damn cute, and his name is Leven, which proves that I am just as much a nerd in this life as my last.
My second action of my new life is to reach out and give him head scritches, the Owl Pokémon chuffing and whirring with pleasure as I found the good spots.
I smiled at my little starter. Hard to think of something so cute having the potential to evolve into something cool… after a dorky middle phase. Of course, it wasn't like humans were all that different in that respect…
"I see you're awake."
I jerked back, my head spinning around hard enough to set the vertebrae crackling as I tried to get a look at whoever was in the door. Of course, given that I'd had most of my weight balanced on one elbow while turning off the alarm clock and giving my starter a good morning scratch around the facial disc, the same action threw me off balance, sending me falling to the ground, Leven just missing being a bird pancake by this much.
My mom entered the room, shaking her head at the display of splayed limbs and ruffled boxer shorts. "You're ridiculous, you know that?" she said, toeing a bit of discarded laundry out of the way as she came over to me. "I swear, Delaine, you're flightier than a Rapidash sometimes."
My response was an extremely intelligent sounding, "Mugh?"
'What the fuck' was a more accurate summation of my mental state, because the gears had ground to a halt at this new wrench thrown into the mix.
She was supposed to be dead, like she'd been for the last twenty years. Outside of photographs, I couldn't even remember her face, much less her voice. And yet, here she was, filling the pages of my memories and currently trying not to burst out laughing at the look on my face.
Different life, different rules, another part of me said reasonably.
Yeah, except a 'different life' wouldn't come packaged with the same name, the same body – okay, about five years younger than before, but otherwise identical –, and the same parents, but with the side option of 'not automatically a shitshow' and 'Pokémon' thrown into the mix.
AU, the reasonable part pointed out.
Ignorant of the chaos of my mental processes, my mom kept talking. "Anyway, Delaine, there are a few requests for your services today. Old Lady Myer's managed to break her washing machine again, the wind farm has a couple generators that need tuning up, and Professor Acacia asked for you to come out and 'make use of your youthful energy in a non-criminal fashion'. I'll leave it to you to interpret what he means by that."
I detangled my limbs and got up off of the floor. Great, I'm a side quest god. At least I'd probably get paid. "Probably run around the plains area, taking notes on every wild Pokémon I see, so he doesn't have to," I replied. Not that I – either of me, I supposed – really minded. Driving was relaxing and, while I hadn't captured any Pokémon to fill out my current party of one, there was always the chance that I would.
Someday, maybe. It was Orre after all, land of blighted sands and not much else. 'Wild Pokémon' were something of a rarity, at least without going out towards the border regions to the north or the east. Though then you were technically going after Kalosian or Unovan Pokémon, so maybe the point still stood.
I twisted around, letting the kinks in my spine work themselves out. "Anyway, quick change and get going."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Mom asked.
I blinked. "Uh…" Was there some kind of morning ritual that had slipped my mind?
"Breakfast? Y'know, most important meal of the day, vital part of the metabolic process, that thing you get cranky and weak without?"
Oh yeah. "Do we have hash browns?" I asked hopefully.
"Sure," she said. "Want some bacon with that?"
I nodded and my mom shook her head again.
"Seventeen and you still act like a kid," she said around a smile before she went back downstairs.
"Best method to attaining and maintaining eternal youth," I quipped to the closed door. Besides playing the games of an extradimensional jackass, of course. Not bad for someone who was twenty-three yesterday. Considering I had memories of two different lives, did that technically make me forty or did only the higher of the two original numbers count?
I pushed a hand back through my hair. Dammit, I forgot that I'd worn it long before I turned twenty. And I couldn't just shave it all off because then everyone that knew me would start asking questions.
…well, at least in this life, I'd figured out how shampoo and conditioner worked. Thick mess as my hair might be, this time around it was silky rather than the usual explosion of frazzled frizz. Maybe part of that was because Orre wasn't even close to matching Michigan's humidity, despite its many – and did I mean 'many' – other flaws.
I sighed, dropping the train of thought as I grabbed my clothes for the day. T-shirt... basic black and passing the dual 'no-obvious stains/smell' test, check. Pants… possessed of halfway-decent pockets and lacking holes anywhere embarrassing, check. Socks, non-holey and matched in color and texture, check. Track jacket, red with white stripes running down the sleeves and thick enough to handle wind, dust, and sand, check. Pokéball belt, all kitted out for any – admittedly unlikely – captures, check.
I snapped Leven's ball free from it and recalled my starter, clipping the occupied ball back on before grabbing my hat off of the door hook. My boots would be downstairs, waiting for me by the door.
Was there anything else?
Hat. Shoes. Bag. Keys. Motorcycle would not go without keys.
"Motorcycle later," I scolded myself as I picked up the scent of bacon. "Breakfast now."
Let's just make this clear; just like in my last life, I didn't come from a rich family. In the last life, that was mostly thanks to my dad funneling every dime he ever made into his farm, including the money he got from the government for the support of his disabled kid. In this one, it was a side-effect of my mom trying to keep everything going on a nurse's salary and largely succeeding.
Both times, the house I grew up in reflected this, usually by being filled with a mismatch of outdated technology and décor last produced fifty years back. Unlike my dad's horde of random crap, however, my mom's was halfway decent, with only the slightest smell of must to indicate that this was a 'homey' place. The fact that both of my childhood homes were possessed of camouflage shag carpet was just one of life's little bonuses.
Following the sound of sizzling, I poked my head into the kitchen. Mom had her back to me, her attention fixed on the skillet in front of her. Knowing how badly things could go wrong if I interrupted her, I just grabbed a mug – with the legend of 'Coffee Is The Real Nurse Joy' under a pink cross – from the cupboard and poured myself some milk before sliding it into the microwave. Then, while that was heating up, I found the hot chocolate mix and the coffee.
"That looks interesting," Mom said, sliding a pancake onto one of the plates.
Huh? "Pancakes?" I asked.
"Turns out we didn't actually have hash browns," Mom said sheepishly. "Going to have to make a run to the store sometime this week. But what are you making?"
"Uh… hot chocolate with a shot of coffee." Not a drink I'd favored in this life, apparently. Probably never came up, since this world's education system seemed a lot kinder than the hellhole of tests and homework that the United States favored and thus didn't require an early morning infusion of caffeine to survive.
My mom took the mug out of my hands and took a drink. "Mmm, that's good," she purred. "I'm keeping this."
"What? It's not like it took you more than two minutes to make."
Point. I quickly put together another, this time in a mug with a series of squished-looking Dittos in various colors and poses that said 'My Face Is Stuck Like This, Come Back After My Second Cup'. "It's the principle of the thing," I said.
Mom raised her eyebrow at me from over the rim of her mug. "You do know that comebacks work better right after there's something to come back from, right?"
I stuck out my tongue at her before attacking my breakfast, eating as fast as the end goal of 'everything actually ending up in my mouth' would allow. As soon as my plate was clean and rinsed, I strapped my boots on and grabbed my hat and bag. Pulling my key chain off of the wall hook, I gave my mom a lazy salute. "See you later!"
As far as hometowns go, Chrysoprase isn't bad. It's got that balance of 'small town charm' and 'abandoned area exploration opportunities', though those are mostly reserved for the old mines and crystal caverns. Sure, it might not be big enough to show up on most atlases of the region, but unlike the majority of Orre, its got enough reliable wells that we don't have to ration water outside of the really bad years and, thanks to our relative speckitude, criminal activity is at a near nil.
Considering that this is Orre, home to two criminal teams and maybe ten cops total, that's one hell of an endorsement.
Chrysoprase, like maybe a third of the towns in Orre, had started out as a mining town. Mostly semi-precious gemstones in the feldspar and quartz ranges. Chalcedony, moonstone, agate, vermarine, onyx – not the Pokémon, though a few had been taken up residence in the caverns –, sunstone, jasper, aventurine, and, yes, chrysoprase. Let it never be said that the common man is good at naming shit.
Unlike Pyrite, which was a smashing success of capitalism that eventually collapsed in on itself as the demand for stone and ore faded away and left nothing behind but the rusted ruins of equipment, no jobs, a thriving criminal element, and a massive underground city, Chrysoprase never really took off at all. If there had been trade lines open with Unova or Kalos, maybe it would have been a different story. But in Orre, there was simply no market, because when you live in a desert hellhole, your priorities are usually centered somewhere other than 'pretty rocks'.
The mines were still there if one cared to explore them, full of crystals left behind by the miners. The larger ones were structurally important, as the massive spikes of iridescent crystal were still supporting the ceilings long after wooden spars had rotted to little more than nothing, and the smaller ones were either too deeply embedded or flawed to bother with.
There was allegedly a crystalline Onix hiding in there, but I'd yet to see it during any of my visits and none of the adults seemed to give the rumor any credence. Then again, Old Lady Myers of the Perpetually Broken Washing Machine counted as an adult and Shinies were a thing, so who really knew in the end. It would show itself to whoever it wanted in the end, I supposed.
The only concrete point of interest in this town was the Pokémon Lab and that wasn't even in the town. Hell, if you were a reasonable human being who wasn't a health nut, it wasn't even within walking distance.
Generally, that worked out for everyone. Professor Acacia liked Pokémon better than people and most of the residents preferred personalities who didn't showcase their annoyance with mankind like a forehead tattoo.
I'd save him for last. Old Lady Myers would only take a few minutes, barring something truly catastrophic being caught in the innards of her appliances, and the wind farm – really just a couple of repurposed windmills that used to pump water before more efficient systems came around – were relatively high priority.
"How did you get a pair of Go-Goggles caught in here?" I held up the item in question. Water dripped off of the lenses, but they didn't look otherwise damaged by their trip around the spin cycle. Considering that these things were made to survive sandstorms, it wasn't that big of a surprise.
"Oh, I don't know," Old Lady Myers said, a hand curled under her chin. "I don't even use the things. You can keep them though. Little bonus," she added with a wink.
I shook my head even as I accepted them. It wouldn't be worth it even if I was fishing solid gold Nuggets out of the thing every other week. "Please try to clean out your pockets in the future, okay?" I asked.
I had a feeling she purposefully ignored my requests.
The wind farm was less aggravating, if only because there was a puzzle better than 'what's stuck in your washing machine this time' to figure out. Though I could honestly say that I'd enjoy said puzzle better if I wasn't trying to solve it from thirty feet above the ground.
"I can't see anything wrong with the motors," I said, tucking away the penlight I was using to look around the inside and shutting the cover with a 'clang'. "And everything is alright from below."
"So that means the flaw is somewhere between the farm and the town's transformer," Daniel the electrician mused as he activated the lift, the electrical motor humming as we were lowered back down to the ground. "Somewhere in the caves?"
"Wild Pokémon have been known to gnaw on wires," I conceded. "You want me to go take a look?"
"Yeah. Probably a Ground or Rock-type, so my Luxray wouldn't be able to do much, much less Ticker," he agreed, lifting his hat to reveal a tiny Shiny Joltik nestled in the frizzy mess that Daniel called his hair. "You sure your starter is up to it?"
I fingered Leven's occupied Pokéball. "I have a feeling he's pretty close to evolving. Besides, type advantage goes a long way, y'know?"
Daniel, being one of the people to beat that fact into my ass on many occasions, grinned. "Sure. But be careful down there. You only have Leven to rely on, after all."
I smiled as I planted my feet back on solid ground. "Please. If you can't rely on your starter, who can you rely on?" I asked, walking backwards towards the cave. When Daniel merely shook his head and turned away, I turned back around and pulled my hat down tighter on my head.
The thing that had sent me to this world had wanted a show. Adventure. Intrigue. Even if this was merely the 'tutorial' level, there was an ominous feeling crawling up my spine and not one I could attribute to any powers I was aware of having.
"Worst comes to worse," I told myself as I slipped into the darkness and let the ghostly glow of my Aura-filled hand light my path. "At least I can always punch my problems in the face."
Most of them anyway, an unhelpful inner voice added as daylight disappeared behind me.
Speaking as the kid who lived under lights out rules roughly on par with the average prison, using Aura as a flashlight was maybe fifteen percent better than trying to navigate a dark house via a backlit handheld video game. Considering that that particular incident had led to the discovery of human teeth – baby teeth, sure, but also baby teeth not from to the only child in the house –, exploring a cave potentially home to a superpowered wild animal was actually not the creepiest situation I'd ever willingly thrown myself into.
I'd released Leven, my starter flying just above and behind me as we followed the electrical lines deeper into the cave. There had been a little bit of damage, but nothing a bit of electrical tape and applied Repel couldn't patch up.
We'd still yet to find the culprit though –
I held up my free hand and, though I could feel Leven's wings flapping behind me, the movement was as silent as it always was. Which meant the faint flapping I was hearing was coming from something else.
I reached back onto my belt, grabbing an empty Pokéball before increasing the brightness of my Aura light. A batlike shape ducked behind a stalactite and I fought back a groan.
"Zubat. Of course," I muttered before forcing down the frustration. "Hey! You can't go messing with those wires!" I called out.
Just putting it out there, I do not speak Pokémon. I can manage a handful of Aura tricks, navigate the finer points of Pokétech, and do things with a toolbox that would make some lesser mechanics shudder with envy, but pulling a Doctor Doolittle like that is a talent that belongs to the likes of N, not me.
But I'm not the idiot who thinks that just because of a lack of common language, Pokémon are stupid. Besides, it never hurts to be respectful to animals, regardless of relative intelligence. I'd learned that lesson a long time ago.
"You're a Flying-type. I can hear your wings," I continued, looking around the ceiling for the shadow. If the highly-probable Zubat decided to attack, I'd rather it not have the advantage of surprise. "You should know that messing with electricity isn't a good idea. Nobody wants you to get hurt."
There was a soft chittering from behind me, matched to the sound of leathering wings flapping.
I frowned. The cry wasn't quite right for a Zubat. Woobat?
Before I could think about it anymore, a pale fuzzy shape threw itself down from the ceiling at my head. But instead of the claws to the eyes I half expected, I merely got a face full of downy fur as tiny claws dug into the back of my hat.
"Chchchchcht," the facehugger squeaked, even as Leven added his own weight directly to the top of my head and started whirring and chuffing at the newcomer.
Ignoring the twin panics of 'can't see' and 'can't breathe', I forced myself not to tear the obviously terrified Pokémon off of me. "Ken you get offa mah face, please?" I mumbled, trying not to get a taste of whatever this mystery Pokémon had last rolled in.
The death grip loosened as oxygen finally became accessible and my latest headpet let me take it into my hands. Of course, thanks to my freak out disturbing my concentration, my Aura light had gone out, leaving me to guess at the identity of the Pokémon by touch alone.
"Well then, little buddy," I said soothingly, reaching up to stroke the fur between its ears, only to find that there was no such space, only smooth skin fusing the two organs together. "Hmm. Not a Zubat."
I felt down along the edges of its face, tracing along the cheekbone and the nose. "Not a Woobat or a Swoobat," I decided as no heart shaped nostril made itself apparent.
And by the power of the process of elimination… "So that means you're a Noibat!" I finally declared.
The little fuzzball made a pleased chitter and rubbed its cheek along my hands. I would be lying if I said my heart wasn't melting a little.
"You're kind of far away from home, aren't you?" I asked, scratching along the favored location. "Must be very scary, being all alone in a strange place."
Mmmn. I hadn't even seen the thing yet and I was already hopelessly attached. "Would you like to come with me then? I've got a few empty Pokéballs…"
Small claws dug into my jacket as the weight of the Noibat shifted from my hand to my shoulder. If I'd been standing in straight daylight, it might have been quite the sight to see me covered with all these adorable Pokémon.
"…Or that works, for now at least," I conceded, resisting the urge to shrug. I relit my hand, casting the pale blue glow of Aura around the inside of the tunnel again. "I've got to finish patching up these lines, but I'll be heading home to grab some supplies for my last errand. Might as well stop and get lunch for you two, yeah?"
Later, after finishing the repair work and checking in with Daniel again – "You better not make Flying-types your thing, otherwise you're never going to beat me," he'd joked on seeing the new Pokémon perched on my shoulder -, I headed back home for lunch.
Mom, credit to her, took the latest addition to my party well. "Suits you," she said the moment she saw the Noibat chowing down on some Pokéblocks and then she was back outside again, giving her own Pokémon a bit of loving before heading back to work at the local Pokéclinic.
There are a lot of ways to interpret that statement. I decided to go with 'cute and spooky', rather than 'double weakness against Ice' or 'alarmingly willing to eat a raw pepper'. The last was something I'd never done or would ever willingly do, mostly because I'm not 1) a Fire or Dragon-type or 2) crazy.
I reached out to scratch the Noibat's head again, the little Bat Pokémon leaning into my hand like the world's weirdest cat. Very soft and fluffy for a Dragon-type.
I set down an empty Pokéball on the table, ready to commence the sales pitch of why I – Delaine, small town loser of limited talent and prospects – would be an excellent trainer. However, the Pokémon was apparently satisfied with what it had seen so far and pushed the release button itself, dissolving into light and disappearing into the ball. The button blinked once before giving the tone signal of a successful capture.
"That was painless," I muttered, interfacing the ball with my laptop to get a look at her stats. Noibat, female, 1' tall. No preexisting conditions… well, there was only so much you could really get without a real exam. I snapped the ball free and released the little purple Bat, who looked around curiously. Apparently she hadn't expected to be out of the ball that fast.
Well, this was important.
"How would you like 'Barbara' for a nickname?" I asked, roughly one second before I got a face full of purple fluff as my Noibat hugged me as hard as her little bat wings would allow.
I'd take that and the excited chittering that followed it as a 'yes'.