“Hey boss, I think I see him,” Bode says.
The leader of the Darkmoon Demons rises from his crouch to join Bode at the mouth of the alley. “Yeah, that’s our guy.” Their mark is going down the steps from an apartment building, buttoning up his jacket against the cool wind. It makes Wax wish he has his leathers on, but they’re too identifiable.
The gang left their jackets with the bikes on Cycling Road to avoid notice when coming into Fuschia. They did their best to stay under the radar during the day, holing up in a hotel room and only sending people out on food runs.
Now it’s past midnight, and everyone’s tucked nice and cozy in their beds. “How long since someone else came out?” Wax asks.
“Must’ve been ’bout five minutes,” Bode says, keeping his eyes on the street. “Lot of them left together, earlier, but just a couple people here and there lately. Figure their night’s just about wound down.”
Wax watches their mark walk down the street toward them. Not only does he not have anyone with him, the man doesn’t even have a pokebelt. Perfect. They’re all willing to get their hands dirty and risk some jail time, but Wax doesn’t want anyone getting a bounty on their head.
He turns to his boys. Each is intense and focused, some shivering a bit, though he can’t tell if it’s from the cold, or adrenaline as they psych themselves up for the coming fight. “Listen close,” he says, voice low. “This should be easy money. Break a few bones, grab his wallet, then we’re out. Long as he survives, the heat won’t be so bad and we can avoid the cops. But no one touches their pokeballs, got it? If we get the local Gym and trainers on us we’ll never make it out of the city.”
“What if he’s got a pokemon on him?” Jasper asks.
“If he’s got a ball in his jacket or somethin’ and it opens, Bode and I will handle it. Any of you so much as reaches for your belt, I’ll kick your ass and tell Blackfire to torch your jacket. I don’t run with no Renegades. We clear?” They all mutter and nod, clearly impatient to get going. He feels the excitement growing in himself too, and grins. “Alright, let’s fuck him up.”
The night suddenly lights up in flashes, explosive sounds making them all flinch and reach instinctively for their belts. But instead of a squad of cops and their pokemon descending on them, there’s just smoke. Lots of it, surrounding the gang in a thick haze. Wax’s relief is quickly replaced by confusion. Smoke bombs?
He almost screams when someone nearby him does, and he sees Lam fall to the ground, quickly lost in the roiling smog. He stares wildly around, trying to see what’s happening as one after another the others drop, crying out briefly before going silent.
Wax is about to run for it when Bode’s voice cuts through his panic.
“Wax! Wax it’s Koga! Look!”
Wax follows Bode’s pointing hand, and cranes his neck up to see a figure on the roof of the building beside them. It’s hard to make Leader Koga out with the smoke stinging Wax’s eyes, but no one could mistake these tactics after all the rumors that were going around that Fuschia’s gym leader was cleaning up the streets. A weezing floats beside him, jetting out more smoke down into the alley. Oh fuck me, they were right, we should have stayed the fuck away-
“Drop your pokeballs. Now.”
The voice has a mechanical hiss to it, some sort of gasmask, and Wax reaches for his belt. He could send out his houndoom and make a run for it… it would take Koga at least a few seconds to give chase, maybe he can find another alley, jump in a dumpster…
Wax forces himself to take a deep breath, the acrid stench of the smoke almost making him choke. “Koga! This is none of your business! We didn’t use our pokemon, you’ve got no jur-cough-no juris-” Wax breaks off coughing as Koga raises his arms and grips his weezing, then leaps down two stories and lands softly, his descent slow and smooth. The ninja master is shrouded and hard to see through the smog, but as his silhouette approaches, Wax backs up involuntarily. “You’ve got no authority,” Wax chokes out, trying to catch his breath.
“Screw this!” Bode says and bolts for the opening of the alley.
“No you idiot!”
Bode doesn’t get two steps before he cries out in pain and falls, clutching his leg. Then he’s gone, the whole world a haze of smog. Wax can just make out the opening of the alley thanks to the streetlights.
His whole body is trembling as he looks back at Koga, who’s lowering his arms back to his sides, something long and thin held in one. A small sword? There’s a shadow moving through the smog, passing over the bodies of his gangmates. Wax keeps his feet very, very still, not wanting to spook whatever pokemon might be around him.
“Okay… okay you win, here…” Wax undoes his belt and lets it fall to the ground. “We just wanted to make some quick cash, you know? No big deal, a few potions and a night at the hospital and he’d have been fine, we weren’t gonna kill-”
“The name of your employer. Give it to me.”
Wax gapes at the figure. “I-no man, you got it all wrong. We were just looking for someone to rob-”
There’s a snapping sound, and something slithers against Wax’s ankle. He screams, jumping away and cowering against the wall, one leg raised off the ground as if to present less targets. “Alright, alright! It was Pat Uzuki! He said head into town, get to this address around this time, showed me a photo, I’m sorry-”
“You will never come back to this city. Go, and tell the rest of your kind that Fuschia is not for you. If I see you here again, I will feed you to my arbok.”
Wax simply stares, shivering. My pokemon… Then the last sentence registers, and he remembers that dry, smooth slither between his ankles.
He bows repeatedly as he stumbles backward, groveling his thanks as he keeps his eyes scanning the ground for that shadow. His foot bumps against Bode’s still figure, and Wax hesitates. Bode and he have been running together since they were punks. If Koga really feeds people to his arbok…
“Leader Koga… what about the others-”
“GO!” the ninja thunders, and in the smoke Wax sees the shape of a long, thick serpent rise up. Its hood flares out, and it hisses-
-and Wax is running out of the smoke and through the streets, ignoring the bewildered stare of their mark as he runs for the city limits without another look back, gasping apologies to Bode and the others between breaths of sweet, clean air.
The quiet of Kamal Chadha’s office is unbroken by his keyboard’s clacking, just as it’s uninterrupted by the tick-tock of the old fashioned clock above the door, or the muted wind outside. Each is a soothing testament to the quiet’s value.
His eyes flick between two monitors, collating the previous month’s sales reports for Silph’s upcoming regional conference. He always looks forward to them, learning from the other managers and district directors’ successes and failures. He’s particularly excited for this year, when he would be one of the major speakers. He and his people worked hard to bring up Fuschia’s sales, and it shows.
Kamal’s hair is kept short, his nails neatly trimmed. His tie is a silver grey that matches his hair, and at his neck hangs the Golden Wheel of his church. He came to Kanto at the age of seven when his father, an engineer, was headhunted by Silph Co. Kamal had been just a bit too old to easily assimilate to the new culture, and his accent and skin tone had not helped. While other children played after school, Kamal studied at home under his mother’s approving gaze. His family wasn’t shunned, but rather treated with polite aloofness by their neighbors.
Things got better as the decades passed. An influx of foreigners and improved communication technologies led to a more multicultural region, and the younger generations treated him no different than anyone else. But by then Kamal had already internalized the sense of “otherness,” and his focus on his work continued through his middle age, keeping few close friends and pursuing his passion for business. He dallied in romance here and there, but remains a bachelor at fifty-six despite his mother’s incessant cajoling.
In truth, he rarely feels lonely. When he first became a manager, his whole store had become his family. A man can only dedicate time and effort to so many things before one starts to suffer for it, and his work had never suffered.
Kamal’s office phone rings, and he glances at the ID. Building security. He finishes the last few lines of the current column one handed as he picks up the phone. “Yes?”
“Sorry to bother you Mr. Chadha, this is Marissa at the front desk.”
Kamal thinks for a moment before he summons the face of the young security guard. “Yes, hello Marissa. Is everything alright?”
“Quiet night down here, but my husband seems to have misplaced his keys. He’s stuck outside the house, and it’s another half hour until my shift is over. Will you be leaving the office before then, or can I lock up and go a bit early?”
Kamal checks the time. When had midnight come and gone? “I think I’ll be staying the night, as a matter of fact. You go ahead.”
“Are you sure, sir? I can wait for the relief to arrive.”
“Quite sure. Trin is still doing the rounds outside, right?”
“Then go let your husband into the house before he falls asleep on the lawn.”
He hears the smile in her voice. “Thank you sir. Have a good night.”
Kamal hangs up, then goes back to work. He’s not in the least bit tired, and the idea of going home and dithering about until he’s sleepy doesn’t hold any appeal. Course set, he types for another five minutes, then gets up to take a quick break.
Kamal considers himself a man of simple pleasures, but his office is his major indulgence. At the top of the sixteen story Silph building, it takes up a quarter of the floor. A beautiful painting of a ninetales is on the opposite wall, and a bronze solrock lamp hangs horizontally from the ceiling, splaying light out in a sunburst pattern. Decorations aside, it also functions as a home away from home: connected rooms lead to a kitchen on one side and a bedroom on the other, fully stocked with minibar and entertainment systems.
It’s the former he heads to now, turning on the lights and mixing himself a drink. When he finishes, he takes a glass out onto the western facing balcony to drink in the unusually cool summer night.
Fuschia spreads out beneath him like a cluster of stars fallen to earth. With the safari preserve to the north and the ocean to the south and west, the city is an island of light in a sea of darkness, an opposite reflection of the sky above.
Surprising how quickly a new place could feel like home. He was transferred to Fuschia about eight months ago, and of all the places he lived, both growing up and in the course of his career, none made him feel so at peace just looking out at it.
He wonders if his predecessor felt it at all. Frank Moore was a competent city director and sometime acquaintance, but resigned after a nervous breakdown. Kamal sent some well wishes, but was too busy dealing with his own sudden promotion to discover the personal details. Frank had been getting along in years, and managing all the stores in Fuschia can be stressful work.
Kamal watches the sparks that come and go in the distance, racing over the bridge, or “Cycling Road,” that connects the peninsula to western Kanto and Celadon City. He’s been thinking of riding across it soon, for the exercise and the experience. The view of the ocean on every side is said to be lovely, and some of the restaurants that line the sides of the bridge are very popular.
When the stiffness in his legs and shoulders fully fades, he finishes his drink and steps back inside. He refills his glass and debates going back on the balcony, then puts the bottle away and returns to the office. It’s only after he sits down at his computer that he notices the young woman on the couch.
Kamal’s heart clenches in his chest, and he nearly spills his drink as he shoots back to his feet. “Who- how did-” He stammers to a stop as he recognizes her from the news. “Mistress Koga? You startled me…” Kamal slowly sits back down, pulse racing as he lets out a shaking breath. “What are you doing in my office? How did you get in the building?”
“I picked the lock after the security guard downstairs left.” The young woman’s short purple hair is drawn back, making the clean angles of her face look severe. She’s dressed in dark, form fitting clothes that almost resembles body armor, and a purple silk scarf is tied around her neck. “It was easy. You should have gotten better ones.”
He does his best to push away his lingering shock, squaring his shoulders and resting his arms on his desk as his heart rate slowly returns to normal. “Thank you for informing me of that. I’ll be sure to do so. Now please explain why I shouldn’t have you arrested for trespassing. Are you applying as a security consultant? If so, I don’t approve of your methods, and I doubt your father would either.”
“My father is my business. We are here to discuss yours.”
Kamal blinks, and understanding washes through him. Not security, then, but some other position. She isn’t the first person to approach him looking for an inside track on a career at Silph, but he’d never had one break into his office to do so before. If she thought he would be impressed of her dedication or some other such foolish thing, she’s badly mistaken.
Leader Koga has clearly spoiled her. A shame; he always seemed a competent Gym Leader. But Kamal supposes everyone has their weaknesses.
“I’m sorry, but this is my office, and you do not dictate the terms here, no matter whose daughter you are.” He takes a sip of his drink. The spike of fear and adrenaline is still bitter in his mouth, and he grimaces. “If you call my secretary during normal business hours and schedule an appointment, I would be happy to see you when I’m available.”
Janine seems to relax somewhat as he speaks, and he frowns at her. “However, I’m still informing your father of this. And if I ever find out you’ve snuck into this or any other building again, I will be forced to call the police. Do you understand?”
She nods, staring at him.
“Goodnight then.” He turns back to his monitors and begins drafting an email to Leader Koga. He notices in his peripheral that she still hasn’t moved, and seems to be twirling some dark grey cylinder between her fingers, like a very long flute.
“If the new security guard arrives before you leave, I won’t intervene on your behalf.”
“He won’t see me.”
The tube is still spinning, and Kamal begins to feel real anger stirring in him. “Do you want me to call the police?”
“Then why are you still here?”
“I’m waiting for the poison to start working.”
Kamal stares at her. “That’s not funny, young lady.”
She doesn’t respond, those amethyst eyes still steady on his, and the bitterness on his tongue is suddenly hard to ignore. He feels a chill, and then flushes as his heart gallops back into a panicked frenzy.
“What- what did you-”
“I wasn’t sure if you’d refill your glass when you came back in, so this was my backup plan.” She stops her fingers, and the “flute” becomes identifiable. It’s a blowgun.
“I’m glad you took another drink though. I’ve used enough darts tonight, and this gives us more time to talk-”
He grabs his office phone and throws himself backward, hitting the floor and pressing the emergency number. “Help, please send help, I’m being…” There’s only silence in his ear. The line is dead.
He’s in the middle of reaching for his cell when the crazy bitch calmly walks around the desk and aims the blowgun at him, one end at her lips. He freezes, and after a moment she draws it away a bit and perches on the edge of his desk. He notices a facemask of some kind hanging from her neck.
“As I was saying, we have time to talk. I want to know who told you to bribe the mayor, and if you answer me, you get the antidote.”
Kamal feels the world shift. This isn’t some random murder by a sociopathic child. But how does she know about that? No money was even transferred! Doesn’t matter right now. That she has a reason for her actions means there’s a glimmer of hope for him.
“I’ll tell you,” he says. “Just let me get to a hospital, and I’ll tell you everything! Please, I can feel it!” He clutches his stomach, a pang of pain making him want to throw up. She’d likely shoot him with a dart if he does though…
“I find that highly unlikely. You’ve just ingested arbok venom. Most venom is harmless when swallowed, did you know? But arbok use a neurotoxin so potent it’s also poisonous. Just takes longer to act. You should lose consciousness in fifteen minutes or so, and any pain you feel is just in your head. So we have time.” She taps the blowgun. “The dart in here will be considerably quicker depending on where it hits.” She puts it to her lips and aims for his chest.
“Wait, wait! Okay!” His skin feels cold and clammy, and despite her words he feels a fire in his gut. She might be lying about the poison’s effects… he’d never heard anything about arbok venom as a poison. Or his body might just be reacting to the stress of the situation. Either way, he doesn’t think the blowgun is a bluff. “There was no bribe! I just reminded Mr. Ramsey that election season is coming up, and how the new safari regulation would affect tourism and local businesses. Nothing illegal was done!”
Janine rolls her eyes. “Yes, because I clearly care so much about legalities. I already know all this. I asked you who told you to do it.”
“No one, it was my idea!”
“Possible, but I don’t think so. There’s been a concerted effort to soften Fuschia’s anti-poaching laws for over two years now. On top of that, resistance to the new regulation has been popping up from all sorts of unlikely directions. It’s possible you’re just concerned with the impact on business, but my bet is you’re a patsy. So give me a name.”
Kamal tries to quiet his panic so he can think. If she wants a name, he’ll give her one. “Okay… I’ll tell you. It was Dylan Omaki. He’s a friend of my late father’s who likes hunting in the safari, and asked me to do it as a favor. Please, I didn’t think any harm would come of it-”
She’s shakes her head. “No one above you in Silph goes by that name. You’re going to have to do better than that.”
“It has nothing to do with Silph! I swear, that’s the truth!”
“Mmhm. And did Mr. Moore also know this friend of your father’s?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Like I said, this isn’t new. It’s just a coincidence that your predecessor was doing the exact same thing?”
Shit. “I don’t… it must be-”
“And the gang I stopped from beating up a union leader tonight? ‘Mr. Omaki’ tell you to facilitate that too?”
He feels cold. “How did you kno-” He clamps his mouth shut, furious with himself as he sees the smug smile on her face. “I had nothing to do with that.”
“I believe you. But you know who ordered it done, don’t you?”
Kamal looks away, a drop of sweat sliding down his neck. He’d been uneasy about that whole business. Dealing with unions is always frustrating and tiresome, but this has been the most stubborn leadership he’s ever encountered. When he explained the recent difficulties with his superior, they assured him they would handle it. He didn’t ask questions. In truth, he didn’t want to know the answers… he was just grateful for their help.
“I was hoping you’d be more on the level than Mr. Moore was. It’s really starting to piss me off.”
The fire in his belly is gone, replaced with a block of ice. She’s here on a vendetta, and he was dangerously close to saying something he shouldn’t. Kamal takes a deep breath and sits up, and Janine stands and steps back, gaze wary.
“I won’t say any more. You can let me die and deal with the investigation of my murder, or you can give me an antidote and walk away. But this interrogation is over.”
“That’s it? Just like that, you don’t care if you die?”
He looks her in the eye. “I’d prefer not to, but I won’t let you intimidate me.” Some measure of calm returns to him, and he’s pleasantly surprised to discover as he says it that it’s the truth. I will not betray my family.
Janine meets his gaze silently. “I misjudged you,” she says eventually, voice quiet. “Nothing in my research indicated a spine of steel. I thought you’d be as easy to break as your predecessor.”
Kamal’s eyes widen. “What?”
“Like I said, he was involved in similar things. Corrupting city officials. Buying off Safari Rangers. Hiring thugs. Nothing solid enough that I could let the police handle it, but clear abuses of power. He had to go.”
Kamal’s fists clench. “What did you do to him?”
“Not much. A history of minor mental issues already set the foundation. I added some stimulants to his nightly drinks to disrupt his sleep cycle, then switched them to hallucinogens. Eventually I began to appear to him in disguise. He thought I was a demon, come to punish him for his sins. Told me all sorts of interesting things. But not what I needed. I suspect he didn’t know.”
She says all this casually. Almost dispassionately. As if breaking a man’s mind and destroying his life was of no consequence. Kamal feels his nails digging into his palms. “You’re a monster. A sick, twisted child.”
Her eyes narrow. “Two rangers at the safari were killed by poachers last spring. The suspects were a group of thugs from out of town, very similar to the ones I ran into tonight. They were tied to the scene by eight witnesses at various points. The rangers’ pokemon had been transferred from balls found in the gang’s possession. They claimed someone had sold the balls to them empty.” Janine crouches down to make it harder for him to avoid her gaze. “How many years do you think they were sentenced to?”
Kamal stares at the wall, feeling sick.
“None. Out of nowhere, an army of lawyers descended and tied the case up for months. In that time, all the witness either changed their story or moved away from Kanto. Every. Single. One.”
She stands. “I can’t prove the witness intimidation. It took me awhile to trace it, but the money that paid for the defense attorneys came from Mr. Moore. Nothing illegal about that, is there? But those rangers deserved justice. Their families deserved justice. This city deserved justice. And since some powerful people seem intent on preventing that, we’ll have to take what we can get.”
The room feels cold, and Kamal is starting to feel groggy. Panic tries to send protests and denials up his throat, but he doesn’t let them pass his lips. Kamal wonders if the new security guard arrived yet. Would he call up when he does? Kamal’s hand rises to the wheel on his necklace, gripping the cool metal in his hand. Its gold-plated prongs dig into his palm a bit, and he savors the sensation, focusing on it to keep alert. “And killing me? That’s justice?”
“I have little against you personally, Mr. Chadha. But I think you work for immoral people. And I cannot allow you to continue spreading their tendrils through my city.”
“This is ridiculous. You’re just a kid-”
“I’m fifteen. In your world that’s not old enough to be more than a cashier or sales clerk, but in mine I assure you, it’s of little impediment.”
“Your world. You mean pokemon training. You’re not an officer of the law. Not a judge. Not an executioner. If you think I’ve done some crime, take me to the police, I’ll sign a confession to whatever you want-”
“What, hand you over to people your superiors can manipulate and buy off? And what would a confession from you be worth, even if it weren’t under duress? You’re just a hand. I want the head.”
“You won’t get it from inside a jail cell.”
“No one saw me enter, nor will they see me leave. Your security cameras are laughably easy to avoid. And there will be little in the investigation to point to foul play. No one will go to jail for your death, least of all me. You accomplish nothing by dying but dying.”
“You can let me go. I’ll resign, like Frank, move away. I’ll never bother you… your city… again.”
She shakes her head. “You would just be replaced, and I’d have to do this all over again. I need to send a stronger message to your bosses this time. Or you could tell me what I want to know.”
Kamal looks away, ignoring the fluttering of his heart. “I can’t.”
“Such misguided loyalty. Don’t you realize you’re a puppet? They knew something happened to Mr. Moore and sent you in case it happened again. You were chosen because you’re expendable. Little family, few friends. Replaceable.”
Kamal straightens his back and turns to her. “That is your interpretation. Mine is that they knew I would be the perfect person for the job. And I will not betray that trust. You will gain nothing by my death but my death.”
She meets his gaze for a moment, and this time she’s the one that looks away, peering out at the night through his window. “I’m sorry. You are worth less than nothing to me alive if you can’t give me what I need.”
Kamal tries to think of some other argument, something to save himself. But there’s nothing. He can’t convince her to release him, and won’t give her what she wants. He doesn’t know anything of what Frank Moore had done, but his activities in the city haven’t been anything worth killing over.
What of that business tonight? Beating up a union leader, she said. What other things like that have been going on?
He doesn’t know. It’s not his job to know. But he trusts that what has been done has been done for the good of the company, for its employees, and ultimately for the society it serves. He won’t help his murderess in whatever vendetta she has against his superiors. He can only wait for the poison to take its course, and hope that help comes before it does. If the new security calls and receives no answer, what would he do? Did Marissa even inform him that Kamal was staying? Surely she would…
Kamal closes his eyes and bows his head, grip loose around his wheel as he tries to control his breathing, and his fear. Arceus, First and Last, watch over your humble servant. Let me be as malleable as the gold of your wheel, so you can shape me into purity. If I have sinned, let me learn from my sins and change, as you change. And if Judgement is upon me, let me face it with courage.
The time passes, and Kamal once again begins to hear the alloys of the silence. The ticking clock. The muted wind. All that’s missing is the clack of his keyboard. He thinks of his past self, content and oblivious of what was coming. How strange and unfair, that life could be so utterly shattered in such a small time without warning.
He realizes that he can’t feel the wheel in his hand anymore, and a moment later that he can barely move his limbs. The tiredness spreads slowly, but noticeably now, and his fear returns, a coiling, frantic thing. It’s far too late to try an escape however: he doubts he could even stand.
The girl is staring at him. Is that pity in her gaze? Regret? The dying ember of hope flares up, but when he opens his mouth, he can’t form any words. He lets his hope fade away. She won’t save him now. He would just be a liability to her, a witness to her crime.
He wonders what she plans to do with his body. How she’ll cover up her involvement. Make it look like a suicide, maybe? Push him off the balcony? What will mother think? Imagining her reaction is agonizing, and in that moment he wants to tell Janine everything if only to spare his mother the grief.
But it’s too late: his consciousness is beginning to drift. Kamal thanks Arceus for the strength to hold out as long as he has, then lets the soothing sounds of the silence comfort him down into oblivion.
The night is cool and smells of salt as Janine travels south, passing from one rooftop to the next. She runs on her forefeet, a silent shadow leaping over the streets of her city. Seeing but unseen, hearing but unheard. It’s exhilarating. Freeing.
Especially at the apex of each jump. She leaps, eyes closed as she flies through the air, weightless for a split second before gravity pulls her back down. She tucks into a roll for the landing, and even that is quiet, her padded clothes muffling the impact and protecting her so she can easily spring back to her feet.
She’s taking a new route home, passing by some rumored trouble spots so she can ensure nothing is going on. Thankfully, all is quiet. It usually is: despite what the cartoons say, it’s really hard to randomly run into a crime as it’s in progress, even in the bad parts of town. Nights like this come from a lot of research, having good reason to suspect something will go down at a certain time and place. Even then she usually ends up staking places out all night for nothing.
At least those nights aren’t so exhausting. She just wants to go to bed and stop thinking for a bit. Her thoughts keep circling back to Kamal. Her failure is frustrating on a number of levels, but what bothers her most is how willing he had been to die. She had thought it possible, but hadn’t really believed he would. It worries her that her adversaries have such dedicated employees on staff. She copied his hard drive, and hopes to find some answers there.
The gap between this roof and the next is too wide to jump. As she runs, Janine tosses forward a pokeball and mutters “Go, koffing.”
It opens ahead of her just before the end of the roof, and she catches the ball, clips it to her belt, then grabs her koffing in both hands and says “up” as she leaps forward, her pokemon held just behind her and above her head.
The warm, hollow body of her koffing inflates, extending her leap into a glide. Her feet hit the next roof running, and she lets her koffing go, withdrawing him over her shoulder and reclipping his ball to her belt. The next gap is small enough to jump on her own.
Four hops and another glide later, she’s able to swing over the side of a shop and land in an alley below, a couple blocks from her father’s house. Two meowth leap onto a dumpster as she passes near them, staring at her with shining eyes as the streetlight gleams on their coins. She walks the rest of the way to the house, removing her mask and hood, then stripping the peelable black paint from her pokeballs one half at a time.
The two story house is dark. Her father might be sleeping, or he might be on his computer or watching the news in the living room. She listens for any sounds as she mounts the front steps, but all she hears are the distant waves and the cries of the wingulls above them. The scrape of her key seems very loud as she opens the lock, and she’s careful in opening and closing the door so that it makes as little sound as possible.
She turns the bolt behind her and takes off her shoes and pokebelt as her eyes adjust to the darkness. Once they have, she begins to head for the staircase when she notices the figure on the couch.
Her heart kicks into high gear, and she has a moment of sympathy for how Mr. Chadha must have felt seeing her in his office. She’d learned from the best, after all.
When she’s sure her voice won’t shake, she bows her head and says, “Good evening, father.”
“Good evening, Janine,” he says without inflection “Where have you been.”
After a moment’s hesitation, she decides against lying. For all she knows he arrived just a minute ahead of her after shadowing her all night.
“I did my usual patrols, then went to watch over a union meeting where tomorrow’s protest was being planned. I figured another attempt would be made to disrupt it, but instead a gang of thugs from out of town waited outside to jump Hart McEvoy when he came out. I stopped them.”
“Stopped them. How?”
Her eyes have adjusted enough to make out most of the room from the dim light from outside, but his face is still in shadows. She struggles not to smile as she imagines him shifting the seat around for maximum dramatic effect.
Since she can’t meet his eyes, she just looks at the shadows of his face and folds her arms. “I asked them politely to leave. What do you think?”
“I think you are a foolish and immature-”
“There were six of them-”
“Do not interrupt me, Anzu.”
Janine winces. Her dad only calls her that when he’s particularly upset. As if that isn’t bad enough, his accent has gotten thicker throughout their conversation. Raised on the reclusive estates of the Koga clan when he was young, it’s already stronger than most others of his generation. She knows he’s self-conscious about it, even in private, and judges that he’s a handsbreadth away from lapsing completely into Japanese.
She bows her head. “I’m sorry, father.”
“I have warned you time and again of the consequences if you are caught using your pokemon against people. Is your life truly worth so little to you?”
“You risked it.”
“I was young and reckless, and I acted throughout the land, not all in a single city. If I was ever convicted, I would not be where I am today. I did not teach you my skills so you could make the same mistakes. I did it so you could protect yourself. ”
“So I should have just let them beat him?”
“Why did you not call the police?”
Janine snorts. “For what? Those magikarp? I needed to know who sent them.”
“They will say that Leader Koga attacked them with pokemon.”
“My pokemon attacked none of them. I used them for cover and to frighten, that’s all.”
“Then you did not need them at all. You put on a spectacle. That is not the way of the ninja.”
“There’s nothing dramatic about being darted unconscious before you even realize what happened. My way makes them frightened. They tell other criminals. It keeps them away from the city.”
“I’ve had to address questions about the crime in Fuschia already. It was not a criminal who asked.”
She saw that interview. It made her a bit apprehensive, but she already decided that if actual charges are ever brought against her father, she’d turn herself in. “Everyone likes a juicy rumor. The point is they won’t talk to the police, they don’t trust them. And they’re too scared of you to risk it.”
Her father’s voice is tight with anger. “Because of your vigilantism.”
“Yes, my vigilantism, which saved a man from being beaten. Besides, unless you’ve been following me all night, you should have an alibi at the gym. Or did Markus not approach you to help train his venomoth?”
Her father is quiet for a moment. “You arranged that?”
“I suggested a time and date I knew you would be free. His request was genuine.”
“I have taught you too well. And now you do not heed me anymore, it seems. Have you outgrown my tutelage, Anzu?”
Something in his tone makes Janine’s chest tighten. She wishes she could see his face. “No, father. I will always value your teachings. But you cannot ask me to ignore my conscience.”
“As I ignore mine.”
“You know what’s going on, and you do nothing. What would you call it?”
“I would call it having sense. It is not just what you do, it is your methods. They are too brazen. You act without respect to the law at all. Would you have me take over the city? Declare myself mayor and gym leader?”
“Would that be so wrong? You’re ten times the man as that butterfree in city hall.”
Her father suddenly sounds tired. “It is not my place, Janine. We are no longer feudal lords, ruling absolutely by virtue of our might. I am Leader of the city’s pokemon trainers, and that is all. My responsibilities are to fight monsters, not people. There are civilian governments, civilian peacekeepers, civilian courts to deal with them. Our society could not function as it does if every trainer took the law into their own hands.”
“Then it’s a good thing they don’t. But that doesn’t mean I won’t, to protect my city.”
“It may not ever be yours if you continue like this.”
Janine lifts her chin. “Who else is there? Patricia? Lee? I’m your daughter. When you join the Elite Four, I’ll show them who your best student is.”
“I meant if you are branded a Renegade.”
“I won’t be.”
Her father stands and moves to the kitchen. He turns on the light before beginning to make some tea. After a moment Janine follows, stopping at the doorway. She’s so sleepy her eyes keep threatening to drift closed, but she’s not sure if she’s been dismissed yet. Once the water is set to boil, her father turns and leans against the counter, arms folded.
Her father’s face looks different in person than on vids. When she was young it had always seemed strange watching the great Michio Koga in interviews or on battle videos, so severe and cold. True, his face is sharp like hers, with a strong jaw and deep lines around his mouth. But it also holds character that doesn’t come across through a screen. An expressive vibrancy that makes even his current stern expression more heated than cool. Her eyes are drawn to the streaks of grey just beginning to form in his pine-green hair. They remind her of Mr. Chadha’s fully grey head, though they’re both about the same age. She wonders when they first appeared.
She meets his gaze warily. “So, what?”
“So, what did you discover.”
Janine smiles before quickly schooling her expression. Part of her has always hoped that deep down, her father approves of what she does, and is just worried about her. He can’t completely ignore the good she’s done, or she’s sure he would have forced her to stop. “It’s as I thought. The same middle man from last time, when Mr. Moore was involved in everything. So I went to his replacement, in case there was a connection.”
“Mr… Chad, was it?”
“I was right. It took a few bluffs, but he’s behind the same sorts of things. Unfortunately he wouldn’t name his superior.”
“So what makes you think there is a connection?”
“Two people from Silph being behind the same things is too much of a coincidence. There’s got to be someone above them guiding their actions.”
Her father shakes his head. “No, there does not. They work in the same business. They had the same responsibilities. They likely share many beliefs. In short, they had similar goals, resources, and values. It is not impossible that their corruption happened to take the same forms by coincidence.”
Janine frowns, replaying her conversation with Kamal over as best she could from memory. She has a recording of the conversation in her phone, but off the top of her head she can’t remember him actually admitting there was someone in Silph giving him orders, name or no name. “I suppose it’s possible…”
“Of course it is. So what did you do to this man, to force out this conspiracy that you made up in your head?”
She scowls. “Even if I was wrong, he isn’t innocent.”
“Answer the question.”
Janine looks away. “I drugged him.”
“My own mix. Mostly chloral hydrate in his drink. Made him think he was dying. Some rohypnol for his memory.”
Her father’s face is hard. “In his ‘drink?’ Alcoholic? Baka musume, you could have killed him!”
“Could have,” she says as her temper flares. “But I learned from the best.”
Her father goes still. Janine flinches as his arm twitches up-
-and takes the teapot off the stove beside him, some wisps of steam just beginning to rise. “One of these days you will go too far, Anzu,” he says, not looking at her. “And I will be forced to stop you.”
Janine lets out her breath, heart racing. She turns and heads for the stairs. “If I ever go that far, father, I’m counting on it.”