Leaf gets off the bus, and finds herself in the shadow of Mt. Moon as it blots out the sky. She and the most of the other disembarking passengers make their way to the pokemon center at the foot of the mountain, a bastion of peace and comfort for travelers on their way up or down its slopes. The majority of the crowd heads for the front desk, but Leaf finds the cafe and looks around until she spots a familiar face at one of the tables.
“Hey Ryback.” She slides into the chair across from him.
“Hi, Leaf. Good to see you again.” The paleontologist tucks his phone away and lifts his coffee cup. “Get you something?”
“I’m okay.” She takes out her notebook and puts her phone on the table in case she needs to start recording. “Thanks for coming.”
“No problem at all. We owe you guys a lot. I saw that interview you did, very modest.”
She opens her mouth, then closes it when she realizes she’s about to say something modest again. “Well, I won’t pretend I’m not here to bank on that gratitude a bit.”
“Figured as much. You said this was about a story you want to write, but did you need to come halfway up the mountain to talk about it in person?”
“I’m hoping I can convince you to take me farther up the mountain, actually, if the conversation goes well.”
He raises his brow. “I’m listening.”
“First things first. Would you mind telling me everything that happened when you left us at the Outpost that night? Off the record. I just want to get a sense of things.”
Ryback shrugs. “Sure. Let’s see, was dark by the time I got back up to camp, and I missed the meeting with all the bigwigs. Went to check with the cleanup detail, then helped Rob look over the damage at a couple of the digs as best I could with just the lamplights. When the meeting ended I spoke with the site leader-”
“Dr. Zapata, right?”
“Right. Told her you guys were safe and asked how the meeting went. Got a summary, helped her with some new security protocols that were decided on. That took up the rest of the night, I think, and I went to bed after updating our logs.”
Leaf watches the older man’s face the whole time he speaks, listens to his voice. She doesn’t know if it’s her imagination, but he sounded… too bland. Not rote, exactly, just emotionless. Consciously emotionless.
“Can you give me some timestamps for all that?” she asks when he’s done.
“Sure. Got there around 8:20, met with Dr. Zapata about an hour later. Coordinating the new security was finished around 10:30, was in bed by 11.”
“So about two hours, all told.”
“Yep. Is that important?”
“Just getting a rough sense of things.” Leaf finishes scribbling the numbers down on her timeline, and glances at the note she made back in Cerulean. Red got his notification about Yuuta’s execution at 11:17PM. Assuming Leader Misty began the execution proceedings after leaving the meeting around 9:30, two hours would be almost four times longer than the average she looked up beforehand.
Zoey was right: there’s something off about this.
“Do you know what the Leaders did after the meeting?”
“Giovanni stuck around to talk to people, but I believe Brock left shortly after.” Ryback’s face darkens. “Misty stayed to oversee Yuuta’s execution. I stayed away from that. Didn’t know him that well, but a year of working together… it’s still hard to think about.”
“Yeah, I get it. Do you know if she did anything before that though, or is that all she stayed for?”
“I think that was it. But I wasn’t involved, like I said.”
Leaf nods. “Do you know who was involved, that I could talk to? Ranger Sasaki, maybe Paul?”
“Yeah, probably them,” Ryback says. He doesn’t look quite so distant now that her questions are narrowing in, and she catches him looking at her speculatively before he takes another sip. “Sasaki’s not at the site now though, you’d have to go to her outpost. I don’t mind giving you a lift to talk to Paul, but he won’t be off duty for another few hours. You really want to go all the way up the mountain just for that?”
“If he doesn’t have the information I need, then I’d like to be able to ask others.”
“And what information is that, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I do, actually,” she says. Ryback’s eyebrows rise, and she smiles. “Sorry Ryback, but I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
The paleontologist turns his cup in his hands. “That bad, is it?” he asks eventually.
Leaf is quiet a moment. Zoey Palmer made one thing clear about the story leads she shared: they’re not gifts, where Leaf has exclusive rights to publish on them and Zoey has to ignore them. She gave Leaf a helping hand, pointed her in directions to investigate, but ultimately if Zoey felt she had a story to publish, she would publish it. Leaf is on a timer.
A headline flashes in Leaf’s mind, one of Zoey’s more famous pieces. It revealed corruption in one of the League’s safety boards, but rather than just singling out the corrupt overseers and asking for better oversight, it insinuated widespread corruption that just didn’t seem founded by the facts at hand. Nevertheless, it fed into a lot of anti-League sentiment and increased her readership immensely.
She can’t even accuse Zoey of impure motives. She seems to believe what she writes, and just happens to focus on the stories that fit her ideology. Which means that great reporter though she is, Leaf is worried about the same thing happening here. She doesn’t want people like Ryback and the others at the dig site, the mission of the site itself, to be smeared by whatever a bad actor or two were doing.
“I don’t know how bad it is, actually,” she says at last. “But I think from what I suspect, it’s the kind of thing you couldn’t have missed if you knew enough to help me. Which means either you don’t, or you purposefully left it out of your summary of the night, probably because you were told to. So if I do end up piecing the information together, I don’t want you to be involved unless you choose to volunteer it, which you didn’t. So, the less you know the better.”
Ryback chuckles. “Thanks for the consideration, Leaf, but assuming there is some conspiracy going on, if I fly you up there and you start asking around about whatever you want to know, wouldn’t the people think I’m involved anyway?”
“An article on the dig site?” Dr. Zapata asks. Leaf can hear her frown over the phone. “Didn’t the interview you did recently already cover everything?”
“I don’t mean the incident,” Leaf says. She’s standing outside the Center, watching Ryback smoke a cigarette by the edge of the mountain. “I want to do a piece on the site itself, the people who work here. I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about the importance of projects like this, and it ties into my article on the Pewter museum.”
Leaf holds her breath as the director silently considers. “Alright, I have no problem with it,” Dr. Zapata finally says. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s duties, you have my permission to ask around and interview whoever consents.”
“Thank you! I’ll try and stay out of anyone’s way, but I have one more favor to ask.”
“Is there a room I can rent, by chance? It would save me a lot of time if I can spend a few nights there.”
“Hmm. I think that can be arranged. We’ve replaced the damaged buildings and added another two to house some extra staff, but they won’t all be here until the end of the week. You can take one of those until Friday: no need to pay for the bed as long as you keep the room in good order, but any meals you take in the cafeteria will cost you.”
“That’s fine, thank you! I’m on my way up.”
Leaf closes the call and waves to Ryback, who begins walking back toward her. Twilight is beginning to fall around them, and she feels a chill coming on the air as the sun starts to set behind Mount Silver in the distance.
Ryback flicks the smoldering butt into a trash bin. “So?”
“She said it’s okay.”
“Well, alright then. Anything you need to do before we’re off?”
She tightens her backpack straps. “Ready when you are.”
The flight up the mountain is exhilarating, and only mildly terrifying. Leaf has only ever flown on a pokemon once before, and it was a fairly tame, straight shot between cities. She clutches the pommel of the pidgeot’s rear saddle as the wind whips her hair and clothes around, even shielded from the front by Ryback’s body. The pommel grip is more for comfort than anything, since the straps around her waist and legs do most of the work of keeping her secure.
Eventually she feels safe enough to look around without getting vertigo. Her coat keeps the worst of the air’s chill away, and her goggles keep her eyes safe as she marvels at the sweep of the land beneath them, sloping down from the mountain. She cranes her neck to see the distant gleam of Cerulean City, and the bay beyond it.
They climb in sweeps and fits, gliding between updrafts and only flapping to get through dead air. When they finally reach the dig site, Leaf closes her eyes and braces herself as the pidgeot brings them down. The landing is surprisingly soft however, just a couple hops and a few flaps of its wide, long wings.
It takes her a few minutes to get her land legs back, during which she thanks Ryback and asks him if he wants to give her an interview for the article.
“Sure, I guess so,” he says as he strokes his pidgeot. “I figure you’ll slip whatever questions you really want to know in with all the other stuff, but if others decide to do it too, no harm in that. Let me know when you get four or five of them already.” After another minute of grooming and feeding, he seems to know when his pokemon has gotten enough rest, because he steps away and withdraws it in one smooth motion. “Come on, I’ll show you around… again.” He smiles. “The buildings this time, ‘stead of the dig. Our last tour got a bit interrupted, anyway.”
Leaf starts interviewing people that very night, just taking the time to find her room and put her stuff away before wandering around the break rooms and introducing herself. Some of the people recognize her from the incident or Zoey’s interview, and a few express interest.
“Security is pretty standard,” an ACE trainer says, scratching his neck. “Talking about it shouldn’t be an issue, though I’ll have to get it cleared.”
“Sure! I read your Pewter piece, after I saw your interview about the attack.” The geologist smiles. “I’d be happy to talk about the kinds of fossils we’re finding here!”
“Oh, yes, worked plenty of digs like this in my time,” says an older man who introduced himself as Albert. “This one’s run better than most, for sure. That night was tragic, but don’t let it give you the wrong impression. Zapata runs a tight ship compared to some of the idiots I’ve worked for.”
Leaf smiles and nods and writes down names and availability times, then moves on to the next building, then the next, until she has over a dozen volunteers ranging over every aspect of the dig.
Well, every aspect but one. The new security from Viridian, specifically tasked with guarding the dug up fossils, don’t seem keen on the idea. They’re friendly enough, some mingled with the other site staff, but most kept each other’s company. There’s a definite air of separation to them that probably comes from only being on-site for a couple weeks, and not knowing anyone else that well.
Since they weren’t on-site the night of the incident anyway, Leaf isn’t particularly interested in them, but it might seem strange if she doesn’t ask them too. She’s a bit relieved that they all say no, since it frees her up to pursue others. She’s serious about the dig site article and plans to write it as well as she can, but her “real” story is looking more and more substantial as the night goes on.
Buried in the general questions she asks are a few that help her narrow down who’s in a position to know if something unusual happened with the renegade’s execution. Ranger Sasaki isn’t on site, as Ryback said, but she’ll be the last person Leaf speaks to, once she has a better idea of what to ask.
She checks in with Laura as she prepares for bed, summarizing everything she learned and listening as her mentor lists out all the possibilities.
“The most important thing to clarify is whether Yuuta is actually dead,” Laura says. “That’s the primary fact that shapes the story. In all likelihood he is, and maybe there was some other problem. But if he’s alive…”
“You think he escaped? That they’re trying to save face?”
“Or he turned out to be someone important, politically.”
“That would be…” Leaf tries to find the words and fails. “I don’t know, ‘irresponsible’ doesn’t seem to cover it. If it were just one person who had to keep the secret, maybe, but this many?”
“How many is ‘this many?’ Remember not to jump ahead of what you know. At the very least, who needs to be in on this?”
“Misty. Ranger Sasaki. Maybe a couple ACE? They might have been intimidated, had their jobs threatened…”
“Right. So it’s possible he’s alive, one way or another. But more likely he’s dead, and there’s something else that caused the delay.”
“Or the same things caused it. He tried to escape, or there was some last minute intervention attempted by someone high up, both of which failed.”
“Sure. What else could have taken up the time?”
Leaf slips under the covers, cold feet grateful for their warmth as she fluffs the pillow behind her head and lies back with a sigh. “Umm. An interrogation? Some questions they wanted to ask him about his plan or conspirators?”
“If there was more than one person working the job, that could be worth hiding. Especially if it was someone from ACE. Make sure you check the staff roster just to make sure no one was quietly taken off it since the incident.”
“Will do.” Leaf yawns. “What about Yuuta? Should I look into him myself too?”
Laura chuckles. “Let’s talk about it tomorrow. You should get some sleep.”
Leaf is about to argue, then realizes how tired she is. “Alright. Have a good night.”
“You too, hon.”
Leaf closes the call and tries to sleep. Her thoughts are too busy racing from one topic to the next to settle down however, and eventually she pulls her phone back out and opens it to browse the web and distract herself from her story.
At first she stays on the lighter stuff, happy to to be entertained by amusing pictures and videos. But eventually she starts checking more serious topics, and before long her sleepiness is gone as she reads about a scandal with some Silph Co. executive in Fuchsia, a Zapdos sighting north of Pewter, and…
She sits up, pulse spiking. There’s a Tier 1 occurring in Celadon, right now. She taps the headline and scrolls up as the live thread continues to update with pictures, public messages, and a running tally of suspected casualties.
She watches a short video clip, shaky and far off, of someone recording a living wave of sludge pouring over a street below their apartment. A flood of grimer and muk, rising out of the city’s canals and sewers, covering the streets with poisonous waste as they spread outward.
Leaf quickly calls Laura back, heart in her throat. “Laura! Are you okay? I just saw-”
“I’m fine, Leaf, I’m safe. It’s on the other side of the city from me.” Laura’s voice sounds breathy, and Leaf hears the sound of feet on stairs. “Thanks for calling hon, but I’ve got to go.”
“Go, go where? Are you evacuating?”
“No, I’m heading to the roof to get a better view!” Laura says.
“I’ll be perfectly safe, don’t worry, I just want to see it myself if it does get this far, in case I end up writing about it!”
The sound of a door being slammed open. “I’m here. Go to bed Leaf! Don’t tell Red, he’ll just worry! Goodnight!”
The call ends, leaving Leaf frozen for a moment before she pulls up her internet and checks a map of Celadon. It’s the largest city in Kanto, so it’s hard to guess where Laura might be, but the hazard zone that’s currently marked on the map only takes up about a tenth of the city in red, with a quarter in varying shades of yellow and orange. She could be anywhere in the other three-fourths of the city… hopefully that’s what she meant by the “other side of the city.”
Leaf gets out of bed and starts pacing, eyes glued to the live update feed. She wants to call Red, but his mom asked her not to… she doesn’t know if he’s asleep or not, but she’s sure his work training all the abra to prepare them for his experiment is exhausting, and she really shouldn’t worry him and make him lose sleep over nothing…
She should sleep too, she knows that. But… how can she, knowing what’s going on there?
Memories flood her mind, first of the attack on the mountain, then the forest fire. There are trainers and civilians and pokemon in Celadon right now, fighting and dying, and there’s nothing she can do about any of it.
Not that there ever was in other pokemon attacks she heard about, of course. She even had people she cared about caught up in them. She worried then and she’s worried now, but that’s not what has her pacing around the room. It’s a sense of frustration, a desire to do something that she never felt before becoming a trainer.
After being in emergencies herself, and gaining some measure of power… it feels wrong, somehow, to not be part of one. To not be helping.
She thinks of Red and Blue’s promise to each other, to go and help if any of the Storm Birds attack a nearby town or city. Before she thought they were a bit crazy, and just hoped they could find some other way to help out while avoiding any danger.
Now, though, she knows she’ll be right there with them, running straight into harm’s way.
Leaf is exhausted, but she can’t force herself to sleep. She wishes she could have Joy sing to her, but the noise would travel through the walls, and anyway she wouldn’t be able to get her back in the ball afterward.
But maybe Joy can help another way. Leaf summons her wigglytuff, and wraps her in a hug, closing her eyes and sighing as her pokemon cuddles back against her. Its fur is so soft and warm that Leaf feels the knot of worry inside her relaxing slightly.
When she was young, after dad left, she took to sleeping cuddled up with Wilby, the family’s herdier, to keep the bad dreams away. Her mom had complained about Wilby getting hair all over Leaf’s bedsheets, but relented when she saw how much more well rested Leaf was afterward.
Wilby may be back in Unova, but Leaf has her own pokemon now. “Okay, Joy,” she says, returning to bed with her pokemon and tucking them both in. “Just rest here with me a bit.” Her pokemon seems happy to cuddle up under the blankets, and after a moment of shifting around to get comfortable, deflates her body into a soft, malleable pile of fuzz.
Before long Joy’s wide eyes slip closed, and Leaf feels herself drowsing beside her. The occasional worry continues to shoot across her thoughts. Is the rampage over now? Did it spread to other parts of the city?
She reaches for her phone on the nightstand, but her hand drops to her chest as she’s finally pulled down into a warm, comfortable sleep.
“So you switch off with two others?” Leaf asks a paleontologist the next morning.
“Is there a time slot you each have?”
“Yeah, normally Fara takes sunrise to lunch, I’m the afternoon guy, and Will has nights.”
She scribbles this down. “Got it. So, what do you usually do on your time off?”
Later, with an ACE on security: “Do you all run drills in case something goes wrong?”
“Of course, once a week,” the woman says. “That’s why the response was so quick during the attack. We specifically had a plan in place in case pokemon burrowed up from under us.”
“Of every kind?”
“No, just those that could dig. We didn’t foresee a paras colony driving some pokemon that could dig in front of them to the surface. Obviously a mistake, in retrospect, but we’re better prepared now.”
Leaf smiles. “Well, you all did fantastically regardless. So what’s the chain of command up here?”
Later still, with a geologist: “How do you guys decide where the fossils go?”
“Oh, that’s all done by the funders once we report what we’ve found. They hash it out among themselves, then pass down the orders.”
“Do they ever ask for advice, or suggestions?”
He laughs. “No, not really. We give some anyway, and they actually do listen once in awhile. They’re paying us for our expertise, after all.”
Leaf nods and scribbles, then moves onto another topic, another interview, where she can scribble and nod some more. Hour after hour, with whoever’s on a break or off the clock for the day.
She’s a bit tired from last night, but luckily she didn’t lose the habit of waking up early while in Cerulean, since the dig site is up and working by the crack of dawn. Leaf rose to find her wigglytuff fast asleep beside her, and woke Joy up for some breakfast before withdrawing her and calling Laura, who assured her she was fine. Leaf checked the news of the incident, a bit relieved that the casualty list wasn’t bigger, then prepared for her day of interviewing the site staff.
Schedules. Routines. Duties. Again and again, Leaf asks who does what, where, and when. She builds her picture of the dig site piece by piece, until she has a good idea of what the site should look like on any typical day.
The problem, of course, is that the one she cares about most was anything but typical. She slips questions in here and there to probe what each person she talks to was doing on the night of the attack, who they were with and when. The more she knows, the easier it’ll be to reconstruct what happened.
In terms of her major questions, her first real clue came from Albert. He was in the meeting with the Leaders, and confirms that Misty went to see Yuuta right after, which in turn confirms Leaf’s timeline.
“Do you know who went with her?” Leaf asks, barely able to contain her excitement.
“Well, the Ranger went, but other than that, don’t think anyone else from the meeting did.”
So it’s down to Misty and the Ranger… and whichever ACE was in charge of watching Yuuta.
But when she tries to get that info, however subtly, there’s nothing. She pokes and prods a bit more than she intended, but it isn’t until she asks to see the staff roster that Dr. Zapata sends a message asking to see her.
Leaf goes to her office with some trepidation, knocking on the door and entering when prompted. “Hello, Director. Is something wrong?” Leaf asks as she slides into the chair across from her desk.
The older woman finishes typing something on her computer, then turns to Leaf and adjusts her glasses, leaning back a bit. “To be honest, Leaf, I’m not sure. How has your stay been so far?”
“Good. Informative. I’ve been learning a lot about the site, the people who work here, the mission. Did I bother someone or interfere with their job?”
“No, no complaints. I’m glad you’ve been finding your stay productive. I do have some concerns, however.”
Leaf folds her hands in her lap. “Yes?”
“I asked a few of the people you spoke with what you talked about. I hope you don’t mind, but I was curious. At first it all seemed fine, but then one or two people came forward themselves, either people you interviewed or those nearby who overheard. Can you tell me why you asked Mr. Pao about our site’s recruitment practices?”
“Oh, sure.” Leaf relaxes a little. This was far off from what Leaf feared. “I was curious to know what it takes to be hired here, the kinds of qualifications that are needed.”
“And this is important to the article?”
“Probably not. I actually don’t know if most of the stuff I’ve been asking about will be in it yet, but I want to get as complete a picture as I can before I start writing.”
“I see.” The director is quiet for a moment. “And the questions on our ‘chain of command?’ It sounds like you were quite extensive.”
Hm. That question was a bit harder to answer. “I’m sorry Director, I don’t understand. What’s this about?”
“When you asked for permission for this project, it sounded like you were interested in a day-in-the-life sort of article, or a general kind of human interest story with the dig site set as the focus. I agreed because I didn’t see the harm in it, and because you helped us during the attack. But ultimately, you’re a stranger to me.” The director’s gaze is intense, and Leaf struggles not to blink or look away. “And if a stranger came to the site and asked the sorts of questions you’ve been asking, I would assume something much different about their intentions than a simple article on paleontological digs.”
Leaf’s throat is dry. “What would you assume they were writing about instead?”
“Do you know what corporate espionage is?”
Oh. Relief makes Leaf struggle not to smile. “I do, yeah. But I don’t have any ties to anyone that might be interested in that sort of thing. I wouldn’t even know who was interested in the kind of information I’ve been asking about.”
“And the monthly personnel files you requested, from the first day of the dig? This expedition is partially funded by Pewter. Why not check the-”
“-public records, I did, but they’re not recent or organized, and it’s just a lot less convenient.”
Dr. Zapata taps her fingers on her desk. “Whatever we give you would be stripped of all but the basics, to protect privacy. Just names and dates.”
“That’s totally fine. Does that mean you can do it?”
“What I want to know first is what you want to do with the info.”
“I just want to know who might have left, maybe contact them too. See where they are now, what they’re doing. Kind of draw connections between other, similar projects.” Leaf feels she’s close to babbling and shuts up.
“So you’re not headhunting?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
“Alright. I’ll send the files over by tomorrow.”
Leaf’s brow rises. “Thank you.”
Dr. Zapata smiles briefly. “I think you’re probably on the level, but I had to at least ask you myself. I was a trainer once, long ago. I know not to underestimate kids who go on their journey as young as you and your friends.”
Leaf flushes, both from the praise and a bit of shame. She doesn’t want to deceive the director, but… she’s not actually lying. And besides, if the story’s going to come out either way, she’d rather be the one to break it than risk Zoey’s broad strokes. “Is that all?”
“One last thing. Can you promise me that you really will be publishing an article on the dig site? I don’t care if it’s flattering or not, I can take a bit of disappointment. I just want your assurance that you’re not compromising the integrity of the site.”
Leaf manages a smile. “I promise.”
“Then you can go. Thank you for your time.”
“No problem. Night.”
Leaf closes the door behind her, thoughts racing. She’s relieved the director is so far off the mark with her suspicions, but it’s clear that Leaf will have to be as careful as she can moving forward.
“Usually I go through the day’s discoveries and catalogue them, cross check the request lists we have from our various funders. Once that’s sorted, there’s some quality assurance to do, in case someone gets clumsy between removal and storage.”
Leaf nods and scribbles. “Does that happen often?” she asks Rob.
“Oh, not particularly.” The Unovan paleontologist smiles and takes a sip of his beer. He has a full head of grey hair and a goatee that reminds her of her grandpa. They spent some time talking about cities they lived in back home before getting into the interview, sitting on fold-out chairs in front of his residence quarters as they watch the dig site wind down for the night. “Most of the fossils take a day or two to get fully up out of the ground though, so accidents do happen.”
“Gotcha. Wow, it must have been rough for you the day of the incident then, huh?”
He grimaces. “‘Rough,’ hell, that’s one way to put it. Not that it was the worst thing that happened that day, not nearly, but the damage to some of the digs was a huge headache. Took me most of the week to get a handle on it, and we lost a couple weeks of work, all told.”
“Ouch. When did you start damage control?”
“That very night! While everyone was cleaning up from the battle, me and a couple others were securing the digs. Most were okay, thankfully, but a couple were hit by the wave of paras, and of course the one at ground zero was completely destroyed. I had to get Zapata’s permission to go down into the mountain and look for anything salvageable before they plugged the hole up.”
“And did she give it?”
“Yeah, once she was out of her meeting. Just said I had to bring some ACE with me, but that was a chore and a half in itself.”
Leaf manages not to visibly perk up, pencil only pausing for a moment before she says, “How come?”
“Well, I had to wait for them to finish whatever they were doing. Their own meeting, looked like. Went to them right away, but Leader Misty and the ranger had them all holed up in a building, talking about something.”
“Huh. I wonder what it was.”
Rob shrugs, drinking again from his bottle. “No clue. I just hung around until they were done, then talked to Paul about going down in the hole. He said okay, and a few of us did some prep and went down.”
“How did he seem?” Leaf asks.
“Paul. How did he seem, after the meeting?”
“Distracted. Upset. We were all high strung that night.”
Leaf nods, gaze unfocused as she watches a machoke roll a boulder out of a hole. “I remember.”
He chuckles. “You kids went through a lot too, stopping Yuuta like that…” His smile fades, and after a moment he lets out a heavy breath, taking another swallow. “Ahh, let’s not talk about that. Bad business.”
“Yeah, no problem. Would you mind telling me who was at the meeting with Leader Misty though? I’m curious about it, want to know who I can talk to later.”
“Oh, sure, sure. Let’s see, ah, there was Paul of course, Kenny, Mei…” He goes on to list over a dozen names before he trails off. “Probably some others, but I didn’t really pay attention at the time.”
“That’s plenty, thanks. Do you mind if I ask you about it later, check some names with you?”
“Alright, but you could just ask them, couldn’t you? I’m sure they’d remember better.”
“I will! But I won’t be meeting them until tomorrow, and I have the list in my room. I can just text you some names to check, if that’s okay.” Leaf smiles. “So, what happened once you went down into the hole?”
He smiles back. “Ah, that was rough, let me tell you. The smell! Burnt fungus and dead bugs everywhere…”
“Hey there,” Leaf says to the group of ACE Trainers. “Mind if I join you?”
The four security staff look at her in surprise, then shrug or nod as Leaf approaches. They’re set up away from the dig site, three guys and a woman of various ages, all standing across from practice dolls as they train their pokemon in the morning sun.
“Thanks,” she says, and takes out her own pokedoll. “Go, Ruby!”
Her new venonat appears, fresh from its virtual conditioning. She begins to run Ruby through her paces, giving her treats often and restraining the urge to pet her fuzzy body. Not because it’s uncomfortable, though some dislike the texture, but she read that bug pokemon don’t often like the feel of being stroked when they’re still new to their trainers. Instead Leaf uses lots of verbal praise, especially when Ruby finally manages to link two commands in quick succession.
Leaf takes a moment to look around as her venonat eats its pokepuff. Two of the ACE are coordinating their growlithe and magmar together, while the other two train their butterfree and weepinbell separately.
She recognizes the woman as one of the ACE who helped with Yuuta. Leaf watches her train her magmar, but doesn’t approach or speak with her. After Ruby finishes properly following every order twice in a row, Leaf withdraws her and sends out Ledyba. She puts her venonat’s ball in her bag instead of her belt, since her recent captures put her over the belt’s limit of six.
At first she was irritated with the arbitrary limit, seemingly modeled after the standard League maximum that would never have any impact on her. Now she has to admit that the space between the balls on her belt are just wide enough to avoid any fumbling, and that adding extra slots, as some belts do, would come with drawbacks, such as being unable to sit in a chair without removing it. For now carrying the extras in her bag works okay, but it would eventually become unwieldy, and she’s not sure if she’ll turn to alternate solutions or just keep her active team limited to what she can carry with her. Blue, who is already approaching two dozen pokemon, has already deposited the ones he doesn’t plan on using for his match against Misty.
Leaf begins practicing some aerial maneuvers with her ocarina. Part of her hopes the noise doesn’t bother the other trainers, but she would welcome the excuse to begin conversing with them if someone brings it up. None do however, and she keeps to herself, merely waving goodbye when everyone begins to pack up and head back to the site. A couple wave back, including the woman.
She goes again the next day, hoping the same people are there. She’s happy to see they are, with one new addition. Leaf once again asks permission to join them. They agree, and she begins training with her pokemon again, intent on practicing some more complicated attacks that she knows her pokemon will struggle with.
For example, venonat only naturally use Stun Spore when facing down threats they want to escape from, which makes it hard to train them to do it on command. Leaf manages to get hers to use it on the mannequin by attaching a rope around the doll’s middle and dragging it toward her pokemon as Ruby keeps retreating, but Sleep Powder is a bit tricker. Venonat tend to use it on pokemon they want to feed on. Apparently the mannequin isn’t particularly appetizing.
“Sleep Powder!” Leaf commands again, brushing some hair out of her eyes as the wind blows from behind her. Ruby just shifts in place, antennae swaying as she tries to find some succulent morsel to incapacitate and suck the life from. “Ruby, Sleep Powder! Come on, I’ve got berries right here, but you need to put it to sleep first. Sleep Powder!”
Five minutes of this and Leaf doesn’t have to pretend to be frustrated. Eventually one of the ACE trainers notices. Not the one Leaf recognizes, which would be ideal, but the butterfree trainer. He watches Leaf and Ruby, then steps forward with his hand out.
“Oh, sure!” Leaf hands him the berries. “Thanks. I’m not sure what to do, the ‘dex says not to feed them and just keep the berries nearby so they get hungry, but…”
“Well, the quickest way to train them is to find some natural prey to offer,” he says. “The berries work okay, but since they don’t need to put them to sleep, you gotta really make them hungry to prime them.” He begins to mash up the berries with his fingers, then steps toward the pokedoll and spread the sweet innards all over the foamy exterior. He wipes his hands clean on its head, then steps back. “Okay, now try.”
Leaf sees Ruby’s attention focused on the pokedoll and waits. Maybe she’ll do it on her own… but after a few moments pass, Leaf says, “Ruby, Sleep Powder,” and the venonat hops forward, shimmying out a cloud of spores.
“Good job, Ruby! Good girl!” Leaf quickly throws a handful of berries in front of her pokemon before she decides to jump on the pokedoll and be disappointed. “Thank you,” she says to the ACE.
“No problem. Let me know if you need any more help.” He returns to his own training. Leaf does the same, but when everyone begins wrapping up for the day, instead of trailing behind like she did yesterday, Leaf approaches them and keeps pace.
“Hey, thanks again for the help. I’m Leaf.” She extends her hand.
He takes it. “Nice to meet you. I’m Omar, this is Mei, Alex, Nora and Jean.”
All people who were in the mysterious meeting, according to Rob. “I think I remember you,” Leaf says, waving to Nora, who nods.
“Yeah, she told us you were the one that stopped Yuuta,” Alex says.
Leaf smiles. “I had some help.”
“The thing you’re writing, is it why you were here that day?” Nora asks.
“No, my friends and I were just passing through. Curious about the fossils, but the idea for the article came after.”
“Well, you saved us all a lot of grief. You’re welcome to join our training anytime, after what you did,” Nora says.
Leaf flushes slightly as the others agree. She counted on Dr. Zapata feeling grateful to allow her up here in the first place, but hadn’t realized how much more that counted toward the site’s security. Maybe she can use that, be a bit more direct when questioning them.
“Do you usually train daily?” Omar asks.
Leaf smiles. “I try to, though sometimes it turns into more of a play day.” A couple of them chuckle. “I didn’t plan on it while I was up here, but after the Tier 1 in Celadon…”
The group nods, faces grim. “And we thought the cleanup here was bad,” Jean mutters. “Whole city probably stinks. Fuckin’ mess, that’ll be.” He catches dirty looks from a couple of his peers. “What?”
“It’s okay,” Leaf says, grinning. “I’ve heard the word before. My grandfather cursed like a Ranger recruit, and I spent most of my life with him. Mom wasn’t pleased when I picked it up.”
“Well, if you hang out with ACE grads long enough, we give the Rangers a run for the cursing.”
Leaf chuckles along with the others. “Sounds fun. Speaking of which, do any of you know Daniel? I was hoping to see him again, but he doesn’t seem to be on site. Is he okay?”
Everyone is quiet for a moment, and Leaf keeps her face innocently curious. Daniel was the only ACE Trainer that was listed as a staff member before the incident and not afterward who wasn’t on the casualty list. Maybe coincidence, or maybe something more. He also wasn’t at the meeting, as far as Rob could remember. Leaf never met him, but there’s no reason any of them would know that.
“He’s on break, I think,” Jean says at last. “Took some time off.”
“Oh, alright. Any of you have his email? It’s not important enough for a text, just wanted to say hi.”
The silence is longer this time. Leaf watches them out of the corner of her eyes, seeing people glance at each other. As if everyone’s waiting for someone else to answer.
“Yeah, I think I can find it,” Nora says. “I’ll get it to you later.”
“Thanks. Here’s my number.” She extends her phone toward Nora, who does the same, and they tap their screens to swap info as they approach the outer buildings at the site. “See you guys tomorrow!”
Leaf walks back to her room, gaze distant as she keeps replaying the expressions of the others in her head. It might just be her imagination, but those pauses were a bit too long, their expressions too emotive, for someone asking about a coworker who simply took some time off. She just wishes she knew what they were thinking and feeling.
Leaf has never felt any particular envy of psychics before, outside of wanting to bond with pokemon better. But now she has to admit that it would be a valuable ability for a reporter to have. She wonders if Zoey is one, keeping it secret so as not to tip off people she talks to and interviews. Laura might even be an untrained, low level psychic, if Red went so long without realizing he was one. Isn’t it a maternal trait?
In any case, not every good investigator has had psychic powers, however much it would help, and she’ll just have to confirm her hunches the regular way: corroboration of facts.
It seems strange that someone would be removed from a staff listing just because they took some time off work. The list of site staff must include others who took time off, even from the security staff. If she can find someone else and see if they were removed for the time they were gone, that would help.
As for why they would lie… Leaf can’t outrule the possibility that Daniel Levi was somehow involved with Yuuta. Wasn’t there talk of him not being a sole actor? If Daniel and Yuuta worked together, maybe he ran after the execution, afraid he would be found out. Or maybe he helped Yuuta escape.
Leaf has been asking around as subtly as she could, and she can’t figure out who was watching Yuuta during the meeting on the night of his execution. Paul was the last person she knows was with him, unless he lied to her when he recounted his night. But he never named who took his place, and Leaf didn’t want to press the point at the time, still wary of asking questions that would get back to Director Zapata.
It’s possible she’ll have to now. Maybe whoever replaced him was the last person with Yuuta before Misty and Sasaki saw him. Maybe there was another exchange of the watch. Either way, Leaf is willing to bet her hat that the meeting with the ACE Trainers had to do with Yuuta. Maybe Daniel was missing because he was still watching him, or maybe not. Finding out what happened to him, where he is now, is the most important step.
“I mean, seriously, where does she get off, always telling me to be careful?” Red asks. “She’s not even a trainer, and she’s running around a Tier 1 for a story?”
“Mmhm.” Leaf shifts her phone to the other shoulder, reminding herself to buy some new earphones. She sits on her bed, gaze on her laptop screen as she reviews her timeline for the night of the paras attack. She has a chain of supervision written out for who was watching Yuuta, trying to narrow down potential possibilities. “I think she just stayed on the roof, though. It was probably safe up there.”
“Yeah, right, until the grimer start climbing up the walls.”
Leaf grins. “Really? That’s what you’re worried about?”
“Hey, it happens!”
“I think you’re being a bit overprotective of your mom, which is, you know, totally understandable, but her building is like twenty stories up, and I’ve never heard of them going that high.”
“They can go through windows on the second or third floor and then take the stairs.”
“Right.” She plugs in an alibi corroboration from her notes with one of the ACE Trainers, putting him and another away from Yuuta at the relevant time. “In which case staying in her room would probably have been worse.”
Red grumbles something. “So how’s the research going?”
“Okay,” she says, and gives him a summary of what she’s learned so far. “I’m starting to appreciate how hard it is to figure things out by eye testimony. Some people who claim to have been at the same place at the same time are giving me very different reports of who they saw, or when they did things.”
“Yeah, hearsay is the least reliable form of evidence in court for a reason. I’m glad I rarely have to consider it for the things I’m working on.”
“Mmhm.” Leaf frowns at a pair of notes that put the same person on opposite sides of the dig. Are there two Michaels on site? She pulls up the staff roster. “How are our abra, anyway?”
Red sighs. “They’re fine, but figuring out a way to test their psychic strength is proving difficult. All they can do is teleport! I’m starting to think I’ll have to buy a TM to teach them some kind of attack. It’s not a bad investment, in any case. Think I should ask Bill if he has one lying around?”
Leaf barely hears him, distracted by a notification. It’s an email from Nora. “Hey Red, mind if I call you later?”
“Uh, yeah, no prob.”
“Thanks, bye.” She ends the call and stares at the message, which just contains an email address. Ostensibly Daniel’s.
Leaf lowers her phone and looks at her timeline again. She goes back to the beginning, checking through the whole thing again as one hand goes out to stroke Bulbasaur, who’s sleeping in his potted plant beside her bed.
Even if one or two people misremembered things… there are three facts she can clearly put together.
One, Daniel was the one watching Yuuta. Near certainty: there’s no one else it could be, unless multiple people all gave her bad info, accidentally or otherwise.
Two, Daniel disappeared afterward. No one, not any of the ACE Trainers, not any of the other dig employees, reports seeing Daniel all night. She’s less certain about this one: there’s a chance he didn’t disappear, but was for some reason detained, and those that detained him kept it secret or made everyone else keep it secret.
Three, Yuuta is dead… and was before Misty even got to him.
This one she’s the least sure about: maybe 70% at most. From the time that passed between the two meetings, it seems clear there wasn’t nearly enough for a full interrogation by the psychic Leader. Leaf still doesn’t know what she met with the site security about, but if Yuuta had escaped, the more likely outcome would have been an immediate manhunt.
Of course, there are other possibilities. Maybe Misty quickly sensed that Yuuta collaborated with one of the security, and called the meeting to find out which one. But there’s no account of returning to Yuuta after, and it still begs the question of where Daniel was. Maybe he stayed with Yuuta, but in that case what happened to him afterward? No, it seems more likely that he was involved somehow. Maybe Daniel ran and left Yuuta alone in the room, but then who was left to watch him during the meeting?
So. Daniel was likely gone by then. And Yuuta was likely dead, and thus not in need of supervision.
It seems solid. But Leaf knows she has to account for unknown unknowns, and drops her confidence down. Maybe 60%. Maybe 55%. She could be wrong in ways she hasn’t even considered.
Speaking of which… she opens Nora’s message and considers Daniel’s email address. Part of her was expecting the email not to arrive, for Nora to just conveniently forget to send it. Now that she has it, she’s wondering if she really is way off. Nora wouldn’t share it if something serious happened with Daniel, would she?
Then Leaf realizes she’s being silly, since just having the address is meaningless if Daniel isn’t in a position to respond. Leaf still has to follow through.
She types up a quick message, glossing over how she knows him and hoping that if she claims to remember meeting him briefly, he’ll just think he forgot in all the chaos that day. With such a thinner relationship however, instead of trying to check in on him she instead informs him of the article she’s writing and asks if he’s free to answer some questions for her.
Leaf reviews the letter twice to make sure it’s vague and innocent enough. She knows she’s being paranoid, but she can’t help but wonder who else might actually read the email besides Daniel.
Finally she sends it and gets back to the alibis. There are a lot of ACE trainers who she never managed to talk to, and she tries to figure out a way to get the info out of them to corroborate her theory.
She’s still thinking it over when an email notification interrupts her. Leaf stares at the screen, then slowly clicks the icon.
It’s from Daniel. Less than three minutes since she sent her own email, a little over five since Nora sent her the email address at all, and she already has a response.
It’s not paranoia if there really is a conspiracy, right? She knows she’s being silly. It’s a little past nine in the evening, plenty of people are up and have their phone at hand. Besides, Nora probably sent it after getting an “okay” from him in the first place, so he was up and not busy and expecting Leaf’s email. And the reason the others were so odd when talking about him wasn’t that they’re all in on some conspiracy: they’re likely just as in the dark as Leaf is, but know something weird happened with him.
The message, distilled to basics, is simple: “Hello, all’s well, a bit busy for any questions at the moment, thanks anyway.” It leaves nothing to really follow up with, and after reading it a few times, Leaf closes the email and goes back to stroking Bulbasaur. Her leg begins to bounce in place, and eventually she frowns, stretches, and starts to pace.
Let’s assume that was really Daniel and he’s fine and not on the run or anything. How does that fit into what’s probably true? Maybe Daniel didn’t actually work with Yuuta. Maybe he was dismissed for something else.
She looks back at her timeline. It starts as a single line, but branches off into multiple smaller ones after a major division splits it in two… the point at which Yuuta is either executed, or not, whichever the case may be. There are facts she’s still gathering to confirm which path is the right one, but until she finishes getting all the answers at the dig site, she didn’t dare risk contacting Ranger Sasaki to check about things like the execution itself or the transportation of Yuuta’s body.
Now, however, it seems she has few other options. Leaf believes she has the right cards: it’s time to play her hand, and see what a bit of bluffing can get her.
“Thank you for meeting with me, Ranger,” Leaf says as she enters Sasaki’s office the next morning. It took her about an hour to make her way down the mountain to the outpost. A can of repel, and Bulbasaur walking along beside her, kept away any wild pokemon, though she did have to send Crimson out to chase away some spearow that were circling them.
“Of course, though I only have a few minutes.” The Ranger offers her a seat in front of her desk.
“I’ll get right to it then. I just need to corroborate some facts for an article I’m writing on the dig site.”
“Alright.” Sasaki sits down, her serious eyes lightened by a smile. “What can I help you with?”
Leaf takes a deep breath. Calm. Resolute. “First, I should say I know about Yuuta.”
Sasaki blinks. “I’m sorry?”
“I know about Yuuta. And Daniel Levi. I just want to confirm whether you have any leads, or if you have any comment you’d like to make before I publish the story.”
The two stare at each other, Leaf’s heart pounding in her chest. Don’t break eye contact, don’t look unsure.
“I’m sorry,” Sasaki repeats, slowly this time. “I don’t know what you’re referring to.” There’s no confusion on her face however: all hint of a smile is gone, and there’s nothing but resolute blankness before Leaf.
“I want you to know that I’m not here to embarrass anyone,” Leaf says, and has to take a breath to make sure her voice remains steady. “I first heard about this from others who were intending to look into it. I thought if I got the facts first, I could publish a story that just stuck to what’s true, and won’t unfairly implicate others who had nothing to do with it.”
Leaf meets Sasaki’s stare as best she can, wondering if the Ranger understands. If she had any part in the cover up, she would be implicating herself… but saving those who weren’t involved.
“Alternatively,” Leaf says. “If there’s a good reason for what occurred… something that would make publishing a story on it a bad idea… that’s something I’d like to know too. Can you confirm for me first that Leader Misty did execute Yuuta, as reported?”
“Miss Juniper.” Ranger Sasaki pauses, opens her mouth, then closes it and takes a moment before speaking again. “I really don’t understand what you’re talking about. If you have some accusation to make, or believe something improper was done, I would urge you to report it to the authorities, along with any evidence you may have.” She checks the time. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to.”
Frustration pins Leaf to her seat, trying to find something else to say. Eventually she stands and bows. “Thank you for your time.”
The walk back to the dig site is uneventful, giving Leaf plenty of time to ruminate on her disappointment. She wants to mope about it to Laura, but her phone goes to message, so Leaf just plays the brief conversation back over and over and wonders what else she should have done or said.
When she reaches her residence building, a man in a dark suit and tie is sitting in a fold-out chair beside the door. He stands as she gets closer, and she recognizes him from pictures online: Leader Giovanni.
“Um,” she says.
“Good evening, Miss Juniper. If you have a minute, I believe it’s time we spoke.”
Leaf stares. Her mind is drawing a blank on what an appropriate reaction to this should be, which leaves her with the most honest one: utter bafflement.
How long is a flight to here from Viridian? some part of her wonders. Or was he just in the area when Sasaki messaged him?
No one who passes by is rude enough to stop and stare, but Leaf notes that their strides slow, their heads turning constantly as they catch sight of the legendary trainer. “Shall we go inside?” Giovanni says after another few moments, and Leaf flushes, nodding and leading the way to her room.
She sits on her bed, leaving the one chair for him. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting you,” she says. Obviously. She casts about for something to say, still trying to get her bearings. “Were you in the area, or…?”
Giovanni sits in the spindly desk chair as if it’s a comfortable recliner, one leg crossed on the other knee, hands folded over them. His eyes are dark and piercing, and Leaf finds herself staring at his nose instead of meeting his gaze. “In a sense. I was passing through Pewter to discuss the recent Zapdos sighting when Ranger Sasaki messaged me.” He takes a phone out of the pocket of his suit, shifting it enough for her to get a peek at the lid of one of the balls on his belt. It’s unlike any she’s seen before, chrome grey with a circle of yellow around the top.
Leaf’s pulse quickens at his words. “Am I in some kind of trouble?”
He places the phone against his knee, screen facing him, and his gaze moves down to it. He occasionally taps, but doesn’t seem distracted from their conversation. “No, not at all. The ranger is under the impression that you have reason to believe something improper was done regarding the renegade you helped capture.”
Leaf takes a deep breath. Now is her chance to get some answers. She wishes it was Misty she could confront instead of Giovanni, but then, the Cerulean Leader is a psychic, so maybe this is for the best. Plus, she’s not sure if Giovanni actually knows anything or is involved, and if not he could be an ally.
She decides to start with the safest assumption. “I have reason to believe that Yuuta wasn’t executed by Leader Misty.”
Giovanni is quiet a moment, staring at his phone. Without looking away from it, he says, “Who do you believe executed him?”
“I don’t think he was.”
Now Giovanni looks up, briefly meeting her gaze. “Then what do you think happened to him?”
“My best guess is that he was already dead by the time she reached him. I think one of the site security, Daniel, was involved somehow. There’s also a chance that he escaped, but I don’t think that’s as likely.”
Giovanni is back to looking at his phone, fingers moving as he asks, “Why not?”
“Because the danger of a loose renegade is too big a thing to keep covered up. And I don’t think Leader Misty would do that, just to save face.” Leaf pauses, considering her words. “I hope not, anyway. But if you’re interested, maybe we can get to the bottom of things. You have a lot more power and influence, you could… ask around…” Leaf trails off as Giovanni continues to watch his phone. His inattention is starting to make her feel slighted, but also embarrassed for feeling as if her suspicions are worth the undivided attention of a Gym Leader.
No, these are more than suspicions. Don’t waver. “If not, I may just write up my article with the questions unanswered. I’d rather not, though.”
Giovanni looks thoughtful, as if weighing her words. Or maybe just reading an email. Eventually he looks up again, catching Leaf by surprise and holding her gaze. “Tell me honestly, Miss Juniper, do you care about the truth, or getting a story published?”
“I… are those two mutually exclusive? I care about the truth, obviously. But unless there’s a really good reason to keep it hidden, the truth only has value if others know about it.”
Giovanni watches her another moment, then looks back to his phone. Leaf feels herself relax a bit, but most of her body is still tense. She knows he’s not a psychic, Blue mentioned that he was Dark when discussing ways he looked up to him, but she still feels as though he can look right into her.
“I couldn’t convince you not to publish such an article?”
“I’d have to know why first.” Shit. It seems Giovanni is in on things, meaning he’s not a potential ally after all. Her stomach floods with acid as she remembers Laura’s warning about getting into political topics with her articles. This is a man who could make her life very unpleasant if he chooses to: losing access to the dig site is suddenly the least of her worries.
“Telling you in and of itself is part of the problem,” he says. “If you deem the reason insufficient, it would be worse than telling you nothing and letting you publish your article of half-truths. Would you be willing to take my word that there is a good reason to keep silent for at least a period of six months? I can offer some compensation for the time you’ve spent investigating, if so. Perhaps even purchase your investigation data, as it may contain things useful to us.” He’s still staring at his screen, even as he offers to bribe her into silence. Leaf is too distracted by the sudden rush of conflicting emotions to fit any sense of annoyance into things.
Does she trust his word? A part of her balks at the idea of expressing any lack of faith in him, but she pushes past that sentiment. The whole point of journalism, if it’s to have any civic value, is to make things so that people don’t have to just trust their leaders.
The problem is she does trust him. Mostly. At least, she believes that he has good intentions, and that he believes there’s a good reason not to publish the article. She knows that him offering to pay her is supposed to be sinister, if this were a cartoon or movie or book, but really, if his intentions are good, he’s just being considerate. It’s a token of respect, for her time and effort.
“I’m sorry,” she says, and means it. “I would love to take your word for it, even without any payment. But I can’t if there’s any chance I’d look back and regret the decision. And… there’s one more thing I have to be honest about. There are others who are looking into this story. I don’t think even if I stay silent, they would, which would make the whole agreement pointless for you.”
“You can tell me who they are, and I can make the same offer to them. Is it Shunichi Morri? Mara Hawthorne? Zoey Palmer? Jon Urich?” He pauses between each name, still staring down at his phone.
Leaf steels herself. “I’m sorry, I won’t confirm or deny anyone. I learned of it in confidence.”
Leader Giovanni is silent for a long time, gaze down, fingers occasionally typing. Leaf swallows, hands folded together in her lap to keep them from moving restlessly about.
“Thank you for your honesty,” he says at last. “And I respect your convictions. I believe I’ll take a gamble, and tell you some of what is going on, in the hopes that you find our reasoning sufficient.”
Leaf hardly dares breathe. She reminds herself that she can’t automatically trust what he tells her.
Giovanni’s gaze is still on his phone, but his speech is clear and sure. “Renegade Yuuta is dead. Leader Misty didn’t have the chance to execute him, or even interrogate him: as you said, he was already killed when she arrived. The suspect is still at large. Mr. Levi is still being investigated, and is under house arrest. He was in charge of watching Yuuta at the time, and claims he was distracted by a false message asking him to report to his superior, Paul Newcomb. There was in fact such a message on his phone, but it came from a number that wasn’t Mr. Newcomb’s, programmed in as a second line. Both claim it was without their knowledge.”
Leaf gives herself a moment to process it all, repeating it to herself to commit it to memory. Now that she knows she was right (assuming he didn’t lie), her mind explodes with questions on the killer. What motive would someone have to kill a dead man? To prevent them from giving information away, of course. But the timing was too perfect, it had to be someone on site, right? “Any other current suspects?”
“None that I’m willing to share. But you understand why we do not want this information to come out during an ongoing investigation, I trust.”
Leaf frowns. If someone else still working around here is under investigation… “If the idea is to keep the investigation secret, why not make it public, charge Daniel, and make the murderer believe they got away with it?”
“That was suggested. Leader Misty was against the idea. She questioned him herself, and for now believes him innocent. She doesn’t wish to tarnish his name with a formal charge, even if it’s later recanted. Instead he has been removed from employment, and any investigations will reveal that he was lax in his duties. As in truth he was, to some extent.” Giovanni is still looking at his phone, tapping something into it.
Leaf’s thoughts keep racing, unable to help herself from trying to figure out which of the people she spoke with or saw around site might be it. She thinks of the new security at first, the ones who all refused to talk to her, then reminds herself that they weren’t here at the time. “Not to mention that there are also financial interests, including from your cities, that would be hurt if the whole site fell under suspicion, right?”
Giovanni’s gaze flicks up from his phone to meet hers. There’s a hint of a smile there, warming his strong, stark features for a moment. “Perhaps. I should say that Leader Misty is rather irritated with you, believing from your actions here and the impression you left on Leader Brock that you’re something of a trouble maker. I, however, believe that Professor Oak chooses his trainers more carefully than that.”
“I’m the daughter and granddaughter of Professors too, you know,” Leaf says, feeling slighted again. “Neither of them raised me to be reckless.”
“As you say. Indeed, I am counting on it. Now I must ask again for you to be honest with me, Miss Juniper. Does this satisfy your curiosity and ethical misgivings? Will you publish, knowing what you know?”
Leaf still isn’t sure, really. It sounds reasonable, but even if Yuuta is dead, letting a co-conspirator stay at large is almost as bad as letting a renegade run free without telling the public. He might well be another renegade! Certainly he’s a murderer, and a skilled one.
“I’m sorry, I’m still not sure I agree. There’s still someone dangerous out there, possibly at this very dig site. The people here deserve to know.”
Giovanni is silent again. Leaf waits, watching him watch his phone screen for a moment, then look up at her. She’s getting better at meeting his gaze.
“I understand your concern,” he says. “So here is another bit of truth that I hope will change your mind. I do not believe Yuuta’s murderer was working with him.”
Leaf’s eyes widen. “What? Why not? If he wasn’t worried about what Yuuta would say, or what Misty would sense when interrogating him, why bother?”
“Because their goal was exactly as you said earlier: to throw a wrench into the plans of those with interest in this endeavor. To cause a scandal, call for investigations, and embarrass the Leaders who are invested in this. To admit that this occurred at all would be giving them exactly what they seek.”
Leaf feels the pieces fall into place. “Your people! The ones in charge of fossil security, that’s not all they’re here for, they’re investigating the others too, aren’t they?” She wishes this was all on the record! The plot just keeps thickening, but Leaf feels her skepticism rising again too. “This person, he or she took an enormous risk just to sabotage the dig. They must have known that an opportunity like Yuuta would come up, too. How are you so sure that they weren’t actually working together? It seems much more probable that they were working with him and just wanted to tie up a loose end.”
Leader Giovanni smiles. This one is less brief, but it doesn’t touch his eyes, and leaves his face hard and cold. “When you live a life such as I have, Miss Juniper, you learn to recognize the actions of an enemy. And those such as myself have plenty of enemies. Now, I’ve shared quite a lot with you, as a token of trust. I ask a third time for your honesty.” His eyes seem to be boring into hers. “Will you publish, knowing what you know?”
Leaf meets his gaze, just barely, but inside she feels the shift. There are too many reasons not to now, she can’t in good conscience do something that might cause harm or mess up an investigation.
But maybe she doesn’t have to admit that just yet. She won’t publish, but she can keep fishing for info. “I still want to know more about how you can be so sure of their motives. Has something like this happened before?”
Giovanni is no longer looking at her, however. His gaze is back on his phone, silently reading whatever is on it. Leaf realizes suddenly that for all his activity on it, the phone hasn’t vibrated or made any sound since they entered the room.
The Gym Leader finally slips his phone in his jacket pocket, and he looks… satisfied. “I’m afraid that’s all the time I have, and there are other matters that need my attention. Thank you for speaking with me, Miss Juniper.” Before she can respond, he’s standing and headed for the door. “Leader Misty will be pleased to know she was wrong about you, and I trust I can count on your discretion in this matter. It would not go unrewarded.”
“What?” She’s on her feet too, taken off guard as he opens the door. “But I-” It closes behind him, cutting her off mid-sentence.
Leaf is left standing in her room, staring after him and feeling as though she missed something.
I was super tempted to end the chapter at the second line of dialogue in the final section, “I believe it’s time we spoke.” Not just because of all the busyness of the holidays, but for the sheer cliffhanger value. Consider me finishing the section here rather than another chapter my new year’s gift to all of you 🙂 Happy 2017!