“What’s he doing here?”
The words felt hot and spiky in Blue’s head, but come out cold, a controlled burst of contempt that causes the ex-Leader to flinch. Not much, just a tightening around his eyes, a momentary deepening of the perpetual frown his lips seem set in. Or maybe that’s anger of his own, and Blue is giving himself too much credit.
Duncan doesn’t respond, nor does he seem particularly upset. He simply looks at Koichi, as if waiting for the man to answer himself.
After a moment, he does. “Same as the others. I am here to teach, and to learn.” As in recordings Blue watched long ago, Koichi’s voice is deep, coming out of his thick chest with force behind every word… but there’s something else there, too, that he never heard in the old videos. Something almost hesitant.
“There’s nothing you have to teach that anyone should learn.”
Koichi’s eyes tighten again, and this time he drops his gaze. It’s Duncan who asks, “Do you really believe that?”
Blue rounds on him, anger joined by a sense of betrayal. He was starting to like Duncan, but defending Koichi, letting him in here to begin with…
He notices that Glen is back, approaching from the side and looking at Koichi with confusion. As a non-Kanto native his friend probably doesn’t even know who he is, and it reminds Blue that maybe Duncan doesn’t fully understand either. “Of course I do. He’s everything a Leader shouldn’t be, ran Saffron like a petty warlord who conquered it for status and had no idea how to actually rule, and worse, wasn’t willing to share power when it became obvious he needed help from others. The League almost had to step in before Sabrina beat him.”
“You won’t find anyone here who disagrees that he was a terrible Leader in many ways,” Duncan says, voice calm. Of course he knows who he is, others here would have told him… “But you keep saying ‘nothing’ and ‘everything’… you really can’t think of anything of value he might have to teach? Multiple things, even?”
It feels like he’s arguing with Red, suddenly, and the thought shifts Blue from anger to suspicion. He’s set up and walked into enough verbal traps to recognize that tone, and once he’s looking for it he sees what Duncan is getting at. “What, battling? Sure, he’s a great trainer. So what? There are plenty of them.”
“And how much time do they spend training others directly? The ones in Gyms or the Rangers have a lot of other duties, and those outside of them charge quite a lot, if they’re not busy with other things themselves. Koichi has been teaching here for weeks, completely free of charge.”
“And that makes it okay? Free lessons don’t matter if what’s being taught is dangerous, if anything that makes it worse!”
“Dangerous how? You think I’m okay with the things he did while Leader? You think anyone here is?”
The words take Blue aback again, calmly stated but still with an underlying iron. Putting it that way forces him to pass judgement on the people around him, people he’s never met, and forces him to think it through. Does he think that? If not, what is he actually worried about?
“It doesn’t seem likely,” Blue admits. “So why don’t you explain what’s going on here, exactly?”
Duncan seems to relax a little, then turns his body slightly so that he’s not facing Blue as much as he is both him and Koichi. “I’ll let him speak for himself. Just wanted to make sure you were in the right mindset to listen.”
Koichi’s eyes are still tight in his otherwise impassive face, but when Duncan nods at him the older man takes a deep breath, then lets it out. “As I said before, I am here to teach and learn. Not just karate and pokemon battles. I can teach others how to avoid the mistake I made. How to avoid becoming the kind of Leader I was.”
Blue stares at him, then glances at Duncan. Multiple things to teach. Right. “You think I’m in danger of becoming this guy?”
“I didn’t say that,” Duncan says. “Few people would, and I doubt you’re one of them. But different mistakes can still benefit from the same lessons.”
“Your anger is justified,” Koichi says, drawing Blue’s attention back to him. “I do not ask you to release it. It is natural that the things we do will reflect on us, and I did those things, and I do not have… excuses. Reasons, but misguided ones. Nothing that offers mitigating circumstances. I was a flawed person who caused harm rather than accept my shortcomings, and even though I’ve been given another chance, I know I will have to face suspicion and anger like yours forever, as part of the price for what I did. I only want the chance to become someone else. To be the someone else that I have already begun to become.”
Blue studies the ex-Leader, trying to decide if the words are part of some rote apology. His expression is closed, his tone awkward, but Blue doesn’t hold that against him; a smoother speech would have been just as suspect, and Koichi always came off as a proud and confident man.
But it’s not particularly convincing, either. “So you’re telling me you’re not trying to get back into a position of authority?”
“Yes. After I was removed from the gym, I realized that I could let my anger and self-loathing keep me cut off from the world… as I did, for months afterward… or I could try to return to it. So I gathered my money and opened my own school. Even offering free classes, I had no students. I sought battles, went from incident to incident, to show that I still had value, both to others, and to myself. Despite my help, I was given no respect, no esteem. Those whose lives I saved thanked me, but hesitantly, and uncomfortably. I was tolerated at best… useful, instrumentally, but left alone at the end of each day.”
The words still came stilted, with pauses of varying length between sentences, and this one goes on for so long that Blue thinks Koichi will stop despite the way his jaw flexes. Eventually it stubbornly sets, and he continues. “When it became clear to me how far the shadow I cast had spread… to other regions, through new generations, always my past would come out sooner or later… for months, I fell into true despair. I had few family members left who would speak with me, but I was eventually convinced to seek help. I realized my belief that what happened to me was an unfairness in the world, rather than the result of my own mistakes, was keeping me from growing. From acting to atone for the harm I caused.”
“That’s what this is supposed to be? Atonement?”
“Yes,” Koichi says, gaze down. “My leadership weakened Saffron City, and cost its trainers valuable time, and effort, and pokemon. I knew the gym would not trust me, for good reason. But when I saw the call for instructors here… I had to try.”
“Being new to the region, I didn’t know who he was,” Duncan says. “It came up in seconds from a background check, of course, but the fact that he was offering to work for free, to accept any rules imposed, made me take it seriously.”
Blue looks at Koichi again, then away, unsure how to feel. This whole thing feels wrong, but… he can’t argue against the points they raise. It would be a waste for someone of Koichi’s skill as a trainer to not teach, was a waste even before he was ousted.
And if he really is trying to change, to be a better person…
Blue realizes a small crowd has joined Glen in watching from a distance. Not obviously, just a handful of people lingering within listening distance without any obvious activity to do. He wonders, suddenly, if this is a test by Duncan… but if so, is it for him, or for Koichi? Maybe both?
Either way, he said he wanted Blue to learn to lose. He’s not sure if Duncan knows what Surge’s gym is like, but it definitely taught him the value of admitting when someone makes a better argument. Still, Blue’s not sure he’s convinced.
“Maybe this isn’t the right place to have this conversation,” Blue offers.
“It’s alright,” Duncan says. “One of the conditions to his staying here is that at any time, if someone’s been here a week, takes one of his classes, and still wants him to leave, he leaves.”
Blue glances at Koichi, whose gaze is on the floor. “Just like that?”
“Just like that. There’s an exception for people who battled him as a Leader, but I’m the one that carved that out to avoid some understandable attempts to get revenge.”
It seems like a stressful condition to work under, but it does more to appease Blue’s worry than anything else, and it’s not hard to remind himself that Koichi deserves it. “Well, I guess it’s not my business unless I stay, then.”
Duncan smiles and turns to Koichi. “Thanks.”
The ex-leader nods and walks away. Blue frowns at his broad back, then looks at Duncan. “Was that me learning to lose?”
“In part, maybe. The way I see it, he teaches that just by being here, since the first lesson is learning what being humbled looks and sounds like. Not ‘humble’ in the milquetoast way we often say it, the cool humility everyone feels good about, I mean having actively been humbled, and continuing to actively be humble, as a verb.”
“Assuming he’s not just pretending.”
“That’s where split-and-commit comes in. If someone gets accused of something that they deny doing, but no evidence was gathered yet, you could find any number of reasons to either believe or doubt the accusation, and you’ll probably be influenced by things like how likeable they are, or how credible the accuser, or how much pressure you’re under to believe or doubt. I’d rather take both possibilities seriously and commit to either that turns out to be true.”
“This isn’t like that, though. He did do those things, it’s on video, he admitted it!”
Duncan’s eyes flash anger before his expression goes blank, and he lets out a slow breath. “That’s not what you said. The accusation that he’d deny is that he’s pretending about wanting to make amends for what he admitted he did. Like that didn’t occur to me. Like I just didn’t imagine that he might be faking sincerity, or decided to ignore it anyway. You see how that’s treating me like an idiot, right?”
It takes Blue a moment to beat back his defensiveness. It’s possible Duncan made a mistake, of course, but if so he didn’t do it thoughtlessly. “Yeah. Sorry. So… you’re saying that when he showed up, you decided to treat both possibilities like they were true. Maybe he’s being sincere, so you’ll give him a chance, or maybe he’s not, so you’ll watch him carefully and not give him power and put conditions on what he does?”
“Right. I get why some might not want to take the risk, but I’ve got plenty of people here who can watch him and tell me if he’s causing a problem. If I decided to just turn him away it would have been because of fear of public backlash, not because I honestly think he’s one of the actually irredeemable people. Maybe he is, but he’s at least willing to put the work in to make up for it, which is more than I can say for most people who fuck up. Either way it’s been long enough that he deserves a chance to prove himself.”
It is, Blue has to admit, a sort of courage that he’s not sure he has. One he’s not sure he can afford, if he wants to be as widely respected as he needs to be; a single wrong call, and his judgement would be questioned forever.
But if Koichi’s training turns out to save a dozen lives, and those dozen lives save a dozen more… if some of them are the sort of people who sign on to Blue’s goals, or someone with Koichi’s skills can help those goals succeed…
It’s hard to know for sure ahead of time, and he realizes how strange it is that he’s willing to risk his life repeatedly to gain people’s respect, but not his reputation if he might lose it. Dying a martyr is better than the alternative, but it would still make him a failure if he doesn’t take the birds down with him.
Glen approaches at last, looking warily between Blue and Duncan. “So, uh. Guess I missed some stuff?”
The redhead smiles. “Just some trampolining and a challenge. You came in time for the exciting part.” He starts leading them away. “Everything go okay on your end?”
“Oh, yeah, you guys are all set… wait, challenge as in a battle? Now?”
“Yep. We’ve got a second building around the block where our battle arenas are, too dangerous to have them in here.”
As they follow him toward the exit, Glen turns to Blue. “Guessing this was your idea?”
“Kind of a mix. I challenged him, he added stakes. If I win I get one of his pokemon. If he wins I stay for at most three months.” He’s less enthusiastic at the thought than he was before seeing Koichi. What if there are others like him here? Or someone even worse?
“Three months! You expect getting a Challenge match to take that long?”
“Maybe. But this place seems interesting enough to check out in any case, and training my abra will also take a while.” He’d probably lose a lot of Duncan’s respect if he backs out now, but going from “worrying what everyone thinks of me” to “worrying what one person thinks of me” only seems like a minor improvement… and assuming Duncan meant what he said before, he wouldn’t want Blue to stay if he felt he was misled anyway. Plus, if he ends up training here then he’d have the right to ask for Koichi to leave if he thinks he’s out of line.
What decides him, ultimately, is that he already shook on it. Going back on his promise to battle any Stormbringer incident was bad enough, and stepping away from this commitment wouldn’t feel nearly as justified, despite some part of him trying to find similarities in how much he knew what he was committing to beforehand. He’s received far too many trainer challenges to feel bad about not accepting them all, but he’s never backed down from one once he has.
Yes, he’d go through with the challenge, and as he said, if he loses then the dojo letting Koichi in would suddenly be more directly his concern. Duncan at least earned a bit of trust in pinpointing what Blue’s been struggling with so well, and offering good advice.
He considers his friend a moment, and what it would mean to have a more honest relationship. “Think it would be good for all of us, really.”
Glen’s back stiffens, for a moment, before relaxing. He doesn’t respond as they follow Duncan out into the brisk afternoon air, then down the sidewalk.
“They’re doing some cool stuff,” Blue continues, a little more cautiously. “And with the extra focus on physical training—”
“I know,” Glen says. Their voices are low, but not so low that Duncan probably can’t hear them from up ahead now that they’re away from the noise of the dojo. “Already thought about it. Figured, if we’d be here a while anyway… but I don’t want you to stay here just for me. If you were thinking of going on to another gym, you should.”
It feels like a fist squeezing between his ribs, but Blue forces himself to say, “I was.”
Glen lets a long breath out. “Right. I get it.”
“That doesn’t mean I—”
“Blue, you can’t stay here just for me. Let’s be honest, what we did in Vermilion was good, even great, but you didn’t need me in Celadon even before I was… hurt.” Glen swallows. “You can’t stay just for me. You’ve got too much else to do, and I need to find my own way to keep up. You can’t let pity—”
“Stop, Glen. You were a hero in Celadon, I want you with me, it’s not pity.” Blue struggles to find the words, wishing he’d taken some time to think about what he wanted to say… “And what does that even mean? I don’t know why everyone gets so hung up over pity, like who came up with a bad word for caring about each other, like people aren’t supposed to support those they care about, it’s fucking dumb. You’re a great trainer, and if you need some time to get back to a hundred percent, I’d be an idiot to go without you.”
They walk in silence for a minute, passing by more warehouses until they see another one of the dojo logos above the door of a building up ahead. “Thanks,” Glen mutters, voice rough. “But we both know that there are costs to you holding still too long, and we don’t know how long it’ll be before I’m back to normal. I know you’ve got some good reasons to stay, like training your abra, and maybe doing stuff here… but if you put managing my feelings over your goals, I don’t want that, just… don’t you dare lose this battle for an excuse to stick around for my sake.”
They reach the door, and Duncan turns to them as he opens it, smiling slightly. “Puts me in a bit of an awkward spot if I win, now.”
“It’s fine,” Blue says. “You can just say that by losing I’ve learned my lesson, and I’m free to leave whenever.”
“Right, of course. That was my plan all along.”
A gentle chime partially pulls Red out of his meditation, the alarm tone specifically chosen to avoid making the transition as jarring as his morning one. He takes in one last breath, reaches out to lift his pencil over his notebook, and begins to pull his partition down.
Strangely, the clearest mark of his growing psychic skill is that it’s no longer as easy or quick as it used to be. Before, as long as he hadn’t stretched himself too far, it would lower or snap back into place almost immediately, like clenching and relaxing a fist. Now it takes explicit effort to move it either up or down, though not much.
Doing it this slowly, there’s no clear point at which he stops being his partitioned self and starts to be his whole self. Emotions shift first, the world taking on a different “hue,” but he still feels mostly like himself, aware of the changes and confused about why they’re happening, except he knows why they’re happening, they just feel so incongruous to his thoughts that they surprise him every time. Then the new thoughts follow, memories and insights he’s blocked from his partitioned self, and it would feel okay to label this the moment of transition, except there’s still some stability left over, a protective wall that the partition gives him by keeping things at a safe, dissociative distance.
When that ends, it’s always hard to tell if it was fading little by little or abruptly or in stages. Still, he takes a moment to confirm that his thoughts and mood are “stable,” and that he’s still grounded in his breathing, before lowering the partition that holds the Lavender memories away.
Not all of them, and not all at once. Over the past few weeks he’s managed, little by little, to isolate exactly what he’s looking for, so that all he gets when he eases it down is—
twisting, inverted, chaotic swirling glimpses of
Red blows his breath out, doing his best to let the thought go.
Deep breath in…
despair, gone, lost
Pain steadily grows in Red’s temples, and he feels the world tilt under him as his thoughts are swept away in the memory. The shape in his mind is clear, but the disorientation pulls until he’s forced to partition the memory away again.
It’s not as hard as it was last time. The steady breathing continues to ground him for just long enough even as he feels his focus unravel. For a few breaths he just lets his scattered thoughts continue to roil and shiver and vibrate along every strand of thought that forms, each one dissolving a moment later, until he starts to feel himself stabilize.
He looks down at his notebook, where he’s written in an untidy scrawl,
twistyinsidesnow skysad maro?lookfade
Then checks the last page from when he tried this yesterday:
look ingfade to worldistorted seefadesad towergroundsky fade
And the one before that:
seeskyfade warpedwhitefade swarmseefade
Nothing really new, but he still takes the time to write out each individual word, then does his best to connect them where they seemed to be part of the same thought, even if they weren’t written back to back. It feels a bit wrong, like he’s trying to force random data to fit a pattern, but it’s possible that the deeper meaning was scrambled in the first place by his own imperfect experience… and it’s not like it makes any real sense as written, or like he’s taking the letters and trying to form new words with them.
Once he’s finished however he still has no idea what any of it means. Luckily, he doesn’t need to figure it out on his own.
After searching online and explicitly asking around, he was able to find other psychics who have merged with wild unown and noticed odd flashes of… something, that they normally don’t get any hint of with captured unown, and doesn’t seem present in any accounts of mergers with wild unown from before the incident. No one else has yet reported an experience quite as difficult as Red’s, but they probably didn’t merge with them through a rampaging ghost either.
Still, with enough people sharing what they glimpsed he’s hoping they can gather enough common points to find some real patterns. If he’s lucky, they might even get some clues to understanding what exactly happened at the tower, and whether it had anything to do with the unown. If it turns out to be a coincidental three-way-merger Red is going to be disappointed, but not by too much given that this seems useful enough. There’s already enough similarities in what the others have reported that they’re learning new things about the unown.
Red can’t remember the experiences himself with his partitions up, but from their collected notes, the impressions of “looking” or “seeing” definitely feel, as much as the various psychics’ human brains can understand them at least, to be purposeful. It makes sense that a pokemon existing as, essentially, a huge eye would primarily be focused on looking at things, but it isn’t as passive as how people experience “looking at the world” to be, while still not quite being the focused searching that happens when looking for something particular. It’s been a hard distinction to draw, but with enough consensus that it’s very clearly there, and all the more startling when compared to the neutrality Red gets from his own tamed unown.
This raises an old mystery: what are they doing, exactly? There’s no apparent feeling of analysis, of evaluation, of checking what’s seen against something else. As one of the psychics put it, ‘”They don’t seem to be looking for something, just actively observing what’s around them… almost like a camera programmed to constantly swivel so it’s taking in as much of its environment as possible.” It would make more sense if they were identifying food or threats, but neither seems to be the case.
And then there’s the feeling of loss, of fading… it’s no wonder they’re untrainable given they have virtually no capacity for memory, not even retention of the things they see. But still, there’s something distinct about the feeling compared to the loss of moment to moment memories his tame unown has. Almost like the memories of the things seen are constantly being lost as they’re being acquired.
It’s hard to consider all this and not want to bring his partitions down so he can re-examine his memories of his own encounter, but treating it like exposure therapy, sampling them while in a relaxed state and processing them a little at a time, seems to be helping his unpartitioned self deal with the memories more easily. Or at least that’s the impression his unpartitioned self is sending him right now… and that he’s not up for another try anytime soon.
It’s a frustrating pace to be forced to investigate something so fascinating, but luckily there’s no shortage of those. Red finishes writing up his observations until another alarm goes off, then gets dressed and returns his various pokemon to their balls except Pikachu, who walks beside him as he heads to the gym for his appointment with Sabrina.
He’s been there pretty frequently in the week since Blue and his friends came to town, but Red’s been too busy to join them as often as he did in Vermilion. They also apparently found a “dojo” in town that Blue won a hitmonlee from in a battle against its pseudo-leader, and despite Blue insisting it’s “your kind of place,” Red hasn’t found the time to check it out just yet. He still remembers his first conversation with Sabrina, and is wary of taking on too many different projects. He already has plenty, some of which are too important to drop, like teleporting to Celadon to accompany the police now and then as they search for more renegades in the city.
It’s not as stressful as he thought it would be, probably because he’s gone out a dozen times already and they still haven’t found anything. He’d feel worse about dropping his guard if he didn’t get the same impression from the officers; one even commented over lunch that after what happened at the casino, anyone else hiding labs or renegades in the city would be an idiot to keep them there, and Red doesn’t think whoever hired them was an idiot. Well, not that kind anyway.
It’s also been strange seeing the effects of that night continue to play out. Once people’s attention began to shift from rescue to recovery to prevention, there was some to spare for ‘lesser threats,’ and as it turns out secret renegade organizations are not something people feel particularly less threatened by than giant world changing legends.
Red can see their point, given his own journey. He’d read that most trainers only encounter renegades once or twice in their whole career; for his group to have had direct contact with two within their first year is a hell of a statistical anomaly, and fits in with a broader uptick in Renegade judgements across the island. Given what happened in Hoenn and Celadon, the question of whether something big is going on, something that’s causing more and more people to encounter renegades, is hard to avoid asking.
And the idea being floated as an answer, that renegades are organizing and fighting together, is almost completely novel, more familiar as the plot of some action film than reality… until now.
So there’s been a push in multiple cities within Kanto and Hoenn to relax regulations on weapons for self-defense. Red knows that Maria and Lizzy and Glen have avoided attempts to pull them into advertisements or interviews aimed at pushing certain products, but sooner or later someone’s going to offer something they can’t refuse.
No one’s calling for allowing civilian pokemon to use subduing attacks, but grey areas exist for unaimed attacks like Sing (which Red finds rather frightening given what the consequences of being judged to have misused it might have been for Leaf) and the price of jigglypuff, and others who can disable with singing, already fairly high, have skyrocketed. Red wonders if another renegade attack would tip things over the edge toward non-police pokemon having such training.
Meanwhile a revolution in self-defense weapons has accelerated; stun guns and sleep spray have new designs that give them longer effective range, with commercials explicitly billing them as a way to target a renegade from behind one’s own pokemon. The obvious question, of course, is why a renegade wouldn’t just use one themselves, but Red still bought his own pair just in case. They might even be effective against certain pokemon, though in an actual battle it’s hard to imagine something more useful for his hands to be holding than balls, either in preparation to capture or swap his own.
He’s not really expecting to face another Renegade anytime soon, but he wasn’t the first time either, and it’s a small expense compared to the stronger pokemon and items he’s been watching the auctions for.
Before long he’s back out of the cold and inside the gym lobby. As he’s about to head upstairs, he sees on one of the monitors that Sabrina is still in a Challenge match. He joins the small crowd to watch as her opponent sends a houndoom out against her exeggutor. Rather than swapping away from the double type disadvantage, she has her pokemon set up Reflect and Light Screens as it tanks a flamethrower, then sends it on a stomping tantrum that results in a dual-KO. When another Dark pokemon comes out, this time a shiftry, Sabrina meets it with an alakazam that starts to use her signature battle technique: rapid dodges that seem almost precognitive, while sending back attacks from every direction.
Focus Blast after Focus Blast is shot at the shiftry as it dances from foot to foot, trying to get an attack of its own in while avoiding defeat. It doesn’t last long, nor does the next pokemon, and within minutes Sabrina has won the match.
Red dutifully claps alongside the other onlookers, then heads for the elevator rather than sticking around for the post-match speeches; he’s heard enough of them by now. Some of the other students have speculated that she’s just trying to get through the backlog as quickly as she can by ensuring each match is over quickly, only using three pokemon at most and fighting aggressively without quite tipping over into recklessness. It’s hard for Red to blame her after seeing how tired she is all the time, but he wonders whether those at the gym who come to battle her feel cheated of a “real match,” and reminds himself to ask Blue next time he sees him.
He leans against the wall beside her office door and reviews the questions he’s prepared as he waits. Ten minutes later Sabrina arrives, and Red raises a hand in greeting. “No rush if you want some time alone first?”
“I’ll live. Come on in.” She unlocks the door and enters, and he follows her in before moving toward the more comfortable sofa chairs to the side of her office rather than her desk. After sitting he watches her unlatch and hang up her pokebelt before joining him with a slow sigh.
“Long day?” Part of him is worried about asking such a personal question, but over the past month he’s become more comfortable with Sabrina. She surprised him after the incident, and again in Lavender, with her seemingly genuine concern for him, and has treated him less like a student and more like a friend since. Actually, if he thinks further back to just before the Hoenn legends awoke, the change really started after her return from the hiatus, when he told her about Rei. “Or another long night?”
“The latter. I seem to have lost the ability to influence my dreams, which is a problem when so many are nightmares. Thankfully I can still end them quickly, but that leaves me awake more often than not.”
“I’m sorry. I wish I could help, but I rarely dream. That I remember, at least.”
She smiles. “It’s alright, I appreciate the thought. So, you said you had some questions that might help your research?”
“Yeah.” It was Dr. Madi, still mentoring him from Pallet Labs, who suggested he try some qualitative studies into his confusions and curiosities if he’s stuck on what experiment to run on next, and he has been meaning to circle back to some of the things Sabrina mentioned when they first met. Reviewing all the information available left him with a lingering dissatisfaction over the way the other psychics have studied things, and that means he needs to start at the basic observations and see if he can’t ask the right questions to point him in a new and interesting direction. “Before I try designing new studies, I figured I should make sure I understand what we know as best I can. Could you tell me more about the colors you’ve seen when observing psychic phenomena?”
Sabrina considers him a moment, then nods. “Alright. Keep in mind that the experiences are brief and inconsistent, and impossible to accurately record. I’ve tried categorizing what I see, but it’s… difficult, even after I studied some color theory while trying to make sense of it. Do you know any?”
“Uh… blue and red makes purple? That sort of thing?” An old memory hits him, suddenly, of Blue’s mom once calling that out to get them to come to dinner. “Well, what I learned in school. Pigment primaries are magenta, cyan, and yellow, and represent the colors we see when light bounces off something. Light primaries are red, blue and green, and represent colors from directly luminous sources. For light, white is the combination of all colors, while black is the absence. For pigment, it’s the opposite.”
“A good enough place to start, but as is often the case with the things we learn as children, the truth is somewhat more complicated. Ultimately, light exists as various different wavelengths, and our eyes have ‘rods’ that detect brightness of light, and ‘cones’ that detect the wavelength… or more accurately, the proportion of different wavelengths, independent of intensity.”
“Wait, explain that?”
“Intensity of light affects the signal our cone sends us when we perceive a wavelength. It’s an imprecise analogy, but think of heated metal. As you heat it, it will shift from dark, to a dull red, to a brighter red, to orange, to yellow, to white, and even to bluish white if it’s sufficiently hot. The same way heat intensity changes the color of light given off, light intensity affects the signal our eye sends us when it perceives a wavelength, and those signals are how we actually perceive color. That’s why we need two cones, at least, to have any consistent perception of color.”
Red nods, hand moving automatically to take notes. He’s not sure the relevance of this yet, but realizes that researching light should have been one of the things he did as soon as Sabrina told him how she sees psychic phenomena. “Is that why monochrome is called that, despite being black and white?”
Sabrina smiles. “Perhaps. So, to be more accurate, it’s not the signal that our cones send us that truly represents color; it’s the proportion of signals. Each cone can perceive limited, but overlapping, sections of the full light spectrum, and sends a signal for each wavelength it perceives depending on how far from its most sensitive, optimal wavelength it is. The first cone may send a strong signal when a wavelength closer to its optimal is received, while the second cone sends a faint signal, and that proportion is, ultimately, color. Most humans have three cones for red, blue and green light… that is, three cones which are optimally attuned to react to three specific wavelengths of light, and to a lesser degree will react to similar wavelengths on either side of those three. Purest red is seen when the ‘red wavelength’ is sending the ‘red cone’ the strongest signal, and the other two cones are barely responding at all to that wavelength. Colors outside those our cones are attuned for are seen as mixtures, which is why yellow can be achieved by either perfectly mixing red and green light, or by overlapping a circle of red light and a circle of green light. The same signal proportion is sent to our brain, and so the same color is seen. Where the signals are most oddly mixed, we occasionally see colors that don’t ‘exist’ as independent wavelengths, such as purple.”
“Wait, what do you mean?” Red asks. “Purple isn’t a real color?”
“As a ‘color,’ purple exists as much as any other, since all colors are just our attempt to classify perceptions of different combinations of wavelength intensity. But there is no individual wavelength of light that we perceive as purple; the closest, as seen when observing light split by a prism, is blue, followed by violet.” Sabrina holds a hand up to stall his next question. “It is easier, remember, to think of wavelengths, and wavelength combination proportions, as being perceived as colors, and not think of colors as ‘having’ wavelengths.”
Red slowly nods. “Wavelengths are the territory, colors are the map. So if we only see purple when given a signal proportion of, say, 3-0-3 from our three cones, but there’s no single wavelength that will give that signal proportion, a combination of two different signal proportions, like 0-0-3 plus 3-0-0, or 1-0-2 and 2-0-1, will turn into what we see as purple.”
“Precisely, and this is why the color spectrum is often depicted as a circle, with red and blue wrapping back toward each other to show purple between them. To us, nothing else exists past those wavelengths, but the combined wavelengths at either edge is how pure purple is achieved.”
“Huh. So does that mean you have a fourth cone? Or is that impossible?”
“Tetrachromats do exist—”
“They do?! What color is their fourth cone attuned to?”
She smiles. “Not as exciting as you expected?”
“Yeah, I mean… I can already see yellow, so… or at least I think I can? Wait, no, I get it,” he says as her smile widens. “If they have a yellow cone, that means they can see a single wavelength signal proportion as yellow, instead of only being able to see yellow as a combination of red and green? So they can better differentiate more shades of yellow than I can, and probably more combinations of colors where yellow is included.”
“Correct, though it’s worth noting that this ability is limited by technology. If you and a tetrachromat look at any image on a phone or computer monitor, you would see the same things, as they all are made to work by displaying some combination of red, blue, and green light. The test for tetrachromacy must be done in person, and the benefits are minor; ultimately they can see all the same colors we can, but some will be more ‘vibrant’ than they are for us. Only a small percent of women have the yellow cone, and of them an even smaller percent have it active. I am not one of them, nor do I have any other fourth cone myself. But my mind has learned to recognize the signal that those brains attached to the appropriate cones do receive.”
Red blinks, finishes writing, then looks up. “What do you… pokemon?”
“Yes. Many pokemon, primarily psychics, have a fourth cone that detects a wavelength of light we not only have no name for, but which exists outside the spectrum of light we can perceive.”
“Actually, humans have a lens in our eye that explicitly blocks ultraviolet light. It’s not particularly safe, but some who have had it removed due to cataracts reported seeing ultraviolet light, which they interpreted as a whitish-blue-violet color… which we might be mistaken to assume is one we can observe as well, if rarely. Again, it’s hard to really know without having the subjective experience ourselves.”
“But what they see… it’s just their blue cone lighting up?”
“More or less. An attempt to interpret a new wavelength proportion that activated on the edge of its receptive limits, such that the other two cones were not active at all. This leads me to the hard part of what I’ve tried to do, which is make up new words for the colors I’ve seen.”
“So they really are entirely new colors.”
“You’re striking at the heart of the problem already. What does that mean, a ‘new color?’ Think of the color spectrum again, as it’s often depicted. Where would you place ‘gold’ on it?”
Red stops writing for a moment, frowning. “Dark yellow? But no, that’s not really it. It’s… a ‘deep’ yellow… I mean, I’m trying to use words to describe it, but if I saw a full spectrum I could probably point to it? Somewhere in yellow-brown… but the material itself adds something that light probably can’t imitate.”
“Brown is another good example. When painting you can mix all three primary colors, but brown light is like purple in that it doesn’t exist as a single wavelength proportion cone signal. To create it you’d have to play with what colors do exist until you have something our eyes see as brown, but that still does not make brown a distinct wavelength.”
“Okay,” Red says, writing quickly. There has to be a shorter way to say single-wavelength-proportion-signal…
Non-imaginary color? Unpartitioned Red suddenly offers.
No, that would imply that purple is made up…
Numbers can be imaginary and still be ‘real’ enough to solve equations involving negative square roots, don’t see why colors can’t be “real” and “imaginary.”
Red blinks, feeling an odd mix of indignation and excitement. He’s heard the term, but doesn’t actually know what an imaginary number means… Have you been studying math without me? Are we better at math now than we used to be?
Right. Sabrina is watching him patiently, but he’s aware that he’s using up her valuable time. “So the distinct wavelengths are hard to describe without using common color reference points. And you tested to ensure they weren’t ultraviolet or infrared light? Oh, this led to that research on testing psychic emissions, right?”
“Yes, other than a very slight heat change that was incredibly hard to detect from background fluctuations, we couldn’t discern psychic light at all. The closest thing I could find to try and put a name to the colors I was seeing came through studying chimerical colors. Just like our rods can get overloaded by bright lights, leaving an afterimage, our cones can become fatigued from oversaturation, leaving colored afterimages in opposing shades. In this way we can see impossibly saturated and dark colors, or add an illusive glow to colors, that don’t properly exist in any spectrum. It’s hard to describe, but if you search online you should find some images to stare at for long enough that you’ll see them yourself.”
“Got it.” Red finishes writing, then reviews what he’s written to make sure he isn’t missing anything. “So here’s the first main question I have, that I don’t think needs an answer to whether the colors are really ‘unique’ or not… did you notice any marked difference between the colors around someone when they were using telepathy, and the colors around an object being kinetically manipulated?”
Sabrina nods. “The names I’ve come up with for them, telo, galo, and kino, are as similar as, say, blue, indigo, and purple, but still distinct, and of course there are other shades between them.”
Red hurries to scribble the answer down so he can jump to his next question, excitement kicking his pulse into high gear. “And did you have any guesses for why the colors were different?”
“No, though I did notice patterns for which is produced when, if that’s what you’re asking. Kino tends to be visible around objects being manipulated by kinesis, as the name implies. Similarly, telo can be seen around creatures using projection. And galo surrounds ghosts nearly constantly, but is also sometimes emitted by other pokemon.”
“Have the number of different cones in the species you’re merged with been identified? Are we sure that psychic pokemon only have one extra cone?”
“No, even if I merge with a psychic, we don’t have a reliable way to emit single-wavelength light that matches those colors directly; we can only activate psychic phenomena and notice the blends.”
“But biologically, we could study those cones and determine how many different ones they have, right? How are different types of cones counted, there must be a way to distinguish them…”
Sabrina spreads her hands. “I’m afraid that’s outside my area of expertise. ”
Red makes a note for the Professor. It should be easy, right? Either by dissection or looking at a pokemon’s code… Based on what she explained about cones and color, his guess is that there are two “psychic” cones, and the ghost color, galo, is the combination of telo and kino, because ghosts are almost constantly using both kinesis and telepathy…
But he can’t jump to conclusions just because they fit his hypotheses. Even if he’s right, there are still other potential explanations besides the idea that the two forces are fundamentally different. “Okay, so… what would you say to the idea that you’re seeing different colors because you’re seeing entirely different phenomena?”
“It feels like a leap,” she says, seemingly unsurprised by his hypothesis. “They’re two very different types of abilities, it makes sense that they emit different energy signatures. And ghosts, of course, are a different sort of being entirely, that sometimes uses these abilities, similar to other pokemon. But no color is unique to a Type, as far as I could tell.”
“Just imagine that I’m right, for a second. Does anything you’ve seen disprove that? Do you have alternative hypotheses?”
Sabrina frowns slightly. “Every gifted can…” She trails off, gaze softening. “I’m sorry, most psychics have access to both types of abilities, and I still believe you could with more time and practice, or a new learning technique. If your model was correct, shouldn’t there be two distinct types of people, with only a few with access to both?”
It always comes back to labels, Red muses as he thinks over the conversation about Types he had with the others on their first day, and the debate online about whether “sensitives” count as psychics or not. After putting out a general question online, he’s found two other “real” psychics like himself, able to project and use partitions and everything, who don’t seem to have even a bit of telekinesis. It felt good to commiserate with them, and they were intrigued by his hypothesis of the two powers being entirely separate. When he suggested that they might find themselves having an affinity with Ghosts, one confirmed that he already works as a consultant for his region’s ghost troubles, as they don’t have a culture of “mediums” there, and the other seemed wary but willing to try interacting with them. “I’m not saying the powers are… ‘unrelated,’ exactly. But what if I just can’t use psychokinesis, at all, and never can? What else would you want to know, suddenly?”
“I would want to know if the opposite exists, people who can use only kinesis but have even less awareness than a sensitive.”
“There are pokemon like that,” Red points out as he writes. “How do you factor them in?”
“I don’t,” Sabrina says, voice frank. “Even setting aside the question of whether we should be categorizing humans together with pokemon, our strongest kinesis isn’t even a match for their weakest. Telepathically we’re a little more evenly matched with some, while still being vastly outstripped by most. That some pokemon can use kinesis but not telepathy seems more related to the fact that some pokemon can levitate without obvious methods of flight.”
“Heh. I’ve started calling that the ‘pokemon are just weird’ explanation.”
Her lips quirk. “It’s not a satisfying scientific response, I know, but there are too many mysteries remaining for the comparison you’re drawing to feel justified, to me.”
“But you think we can learn some things about ourselves from studying them, right?”
“I think you’ve proven that we can, and I don’t mean to dismiss the comparison out of hand. Obviously my own ability to see these colors came from enough mergers with psychic pokemon. But again, we understand so little about how pokemon use even their non-psychic abilities… until I observe someone with only telekinetic power and understand what the experience of using it is like, it feels premature to call it a distinct ability altogether.”
“Well, I didn’t even realize I was psychic until my journey started. I know that was due to special circumstances, but the tests are clearly fallible. Would someone with only kinesis even know they are psychic, if they were the reverse of me?”
“That… is an interesting point.” Sabrina tucks some hair behind her ear, gaze distant for a minute as she thinks. “With the standard set of tests we have now, I’m not sure. The kinesis specific tests should theoretically work for someone who hasn’t experienced any telepathy yet, but… first, they might not even be tested at all in that case, and second, it’s hard to imagine what it would feel like to manipulate things telekinetically without being familiar with telepathy already. Perhaps I shouldn’t assume that it would come instinctually to anyone without the latter. I’ll have a word with the Indigo testing organizations, make sure we’re being more deliberate. Thank you for highlighting that, Red.”
“Happy to.” He sees her check the time, and guesses, “That could be it for today?”
“If that’s all your questions on that topic, yes, I think I’d appreciate some time to rest before my next appointment.”
“Of course, though… I mean, I have a lot more questions. They can wait though! Actually… if it’s easier, I can just leave them with you to answer in your own time?”
Sabrina considers. “I think that’s doable, yes.”
Red smiles and tears a page out of his notebook before handing it to her. He watches her brow rise as she looks down the list of questions, and quickly adds, “No pressure, of course, and if any of them are too complex to write out that’s fine.”
“It’s very thorough, and some of these I don’t have an answer to, while others I might be able to check. I can answer this one now, at least: teleportation starts as telo but shifts to galo just before leaving a burst of it.”
Red blinks. “But… you said ghosts all show galo most consistently, right? But no ghosts can teleport… though that marowak ghost did shift around the room… no wait, that was just its image following the ‘bone’ body… right? I have to check with Blue again…” He sees her smiling at him and quickly bows. “Thank you for your time!”
“You’re welcome, Red. It was interesting, and I hope it leads to some new discoveries. I’ll send you my answers when I can.”
The sun is setting over Fuchsia City as Leaf flies over it, but there’s still enough light to see how different it is from the others she’s been to. Being so distant from the other major cities in the region gives it far less of a need to cater to tourists than Cerulean, and makes it less of a port city than Vermilion. There still are some docks and tourist spots, but they’re intermingled with residences, and there’s wide stretches of public access to the beach.
Perhaps that’s also because there’s so much beach. The city clings almost like an afterthought to the peninsula’s northwestern coast, sprawling densely along it in both directions while the wilderness covers the rest. Where normally the tall buildings might give way to suburbs, however, here they just stop, with perhaps a kilometer of more clear space before the massive wall begins.
Normally, fences and walls are the things Leaf expects to see in small towns. Some strategies help them work better, such as shaped funnels to guide pokemon that wander nearby into guard posts rather than resort to their claws or teeth, but with all the pokemon that can dig under or fly or climb over them it’s often considered more trouble than it’s worth to concentrate forces rather than keep them spread and react to proximity alerts from sensors.
And while she can make out the different Ranger stations here and there, colored panels arranged to form numbers on the rooftops so they can be identified from the air, even without knowing about the Safari Zone beforehand it would be clear to Leaf that she’s looking at something designed to stop people, not pokemon.
The ranger in the saddle ahead of her taps his mount, and Leaf’s stomach lurches as the pidgeot tips its wings and starts to glide down in a wide, exhilarating loop. She closes her eyes for a dozen rapid heartbeats to keep from growing dizzy, then feels the bird lurch as it hops off the ground, glides a bit more, then lands, kicking up a plume of dirt as it shakes its massive wings one last time, then folds them.
Leaf slides down the back of the bird, then waits for the pilot to join her before helping her unlatch the saddle. Ranger Kyra smiles in thanks and lets her finish, moving instead to getting the pidgeot some food and water. Once it’s back in its ball they move together toward the nearby two story border checkpoint.
The wall is even more imposing from the ground, as is the knowledge that on the other side is mostly untamed wilderness. The rare pokemon discovered here, combined with the way the peninsula is shaped, struck some Ranger General as a unique opportunity to create a piece of wilderness that can be more-or-less preserved, its population more purposefully regulated. As long as they control the relatively narrow connection to the rest of the island, the only new pokemon that enter are those that can fly, burrow, or swim.
It’s the perfect testing ground for Leaf’s program.
The inside is nicer than she expected, more like a Trainer House lobby than the Ranger outposts she’s visited, maybe because there’s less expectation that they might get destroyed. One of the rangers is even stationed at a wide reception desk, and doesn’t seem surprised to see her.
“Miss Juniper is here to see Captain Takara,” Kyra says anyway, and the man nods and picks up his phone before confirming they can go up. Two short flights of stairs later and she’s being led through some hallways and to a wide meeting room. On the other side there are glass windows (one-sided, she read) that show the open fields on the other side of the wall. A moment later another door opens and a tall woman walks in wearing the special insignia of the Safari’s chief officer.
“Good evening, Miss Juniper,” she says, and holds out a surprisingly calloused hand for Leaf to grip. “Welcome to Fuchsia, and the Safari.”
“Thank you, it’s nice to finally see it. This is where we’ll be hosting the conference?”
“Yes, it gives us a bit more control over who might try to listen in. Word got out, as it often does, and it’s starting quite a buzz. Are you staying in the city, or…?”
“No, I’ll just set up a teleportation point for tomorrow.”
“Better that way, I think. If you get recognized, expect to be hounded. In fact, I’d like you to set your teleport point on our rooftop.”
Leaf looks at the sober captain in surprise. “Is the media coverage that intense?” She thinks she can handle a few reporters, she’s been dealing with them for long enough…
“It is, but that’s not the main reason I’m being cautious. You’re a celebrity in your own right, and anything involving the Safari tends to attract extra attention from those who want to learn its secrets. I don’t exactly expect you to get kidnapped, but you’ve attracted enough trouble that I’d rather stay on the safe side. I was going to suggest, if you were to stay the night, to just use one of the rooms here.”
“Oh.” Leaf isn’t sure how seriously to take all this, but she’d appreciate the concern more if it didn’t interfere a bit with her plans. “I uh, was actually planning a trip to the city tonight before I teleported home.”
Takara’s brow furrows. “Visiting someone?”
“No, no, just… exploring.”
“Hmm. It might be better to wait until the conference and experiment to be over.”
Leaf tries not to look like a spoiled kid by insisting otherwise, and ducks her head for a moment in thought. She could wait for all this to be done, but (if things go well) that could take weeks. She’s already learned all she could remotely for Laura’s investigation, and waiting even longer would just be wasting time.
“I hate to ask this,” Leaf says, tone apologetic but firm, “But could someone accompany me to the city if it’s that big a concern? I appreciate that you want to make sure I’m okay, but I don’t intend to live in fear, and unless you’ve heard of some specific threat…?”
The captain sighs. “No, nothing specific. But the last time some researchers visited the Zone one had his computer stolen, and the time before that a breeder had her drink at a bar spiked. She was physically fine, but couldn’t account for a few hours of time.”
“I see.” So much for the city’s lower crime rates, though for something this targeted she supposes the usual criminals and deterrents aren’t a factor. “I have to admit that’s a bit more worrying. Still, it’ll be dark soon, and no one knew I was coming tonight. I might not get another chance like this once the conference starts.”
Takara sighs, then nods and turns to Kyra. “You’re relieved for the night, other than to accompany her through the city. Ensure she teleports home by midnight.”
Leaf smiles. “I am, thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
The captain nods and shakes her hand again. “Tomorrow, where we’ll see if this crazy idea of yours really works.”
Leaf goes to the roof first, enjoying the sight of the Safari’s fields and forests and lakes in the golden light of sunset, then sets her teleport point and heads back down and toward the city, chaperone in tow, to see what she can learn about its potential resident ninja family from a bit of casual conversation.