Tag Archives: rationalist fiction

Chapter 104: Secrets

“Sabrina seems tired.”

Red glances at Rei, who sits casually in the carseat beside him with her gaze out the window, then looks back at his notebook and finishes writing out his thought before closing it with a sigh and a nod. “I haven’t seen her this exhausted since after the Hoenn incident.”

He’s still not sure what his relationship with Sabrina’s ex-student is these days. “Co-conspirator” seems the best one that fits; they’re not exactly friends, not exactly peers, and not exactly coworkers, but once in a while Giovanni or Sabrina want something done that requires a psychic, and both seem happy to offer their employee/student to the other if the job requires more than one, or if the other is busy. It’s often a great learning opportunity, and many of the tasks involve putting Red in new situations, facing new challenges for his growing abilities. He’s helped test young psychics in Viridian to see if they had the Gift and get a sense of their abilities, and once even helped diagnose someone who was hit with a mental attack. It felt strange handing someone the same form Psychic Narud gave him a year ago.

Today they’re interviewing psychics who have had The Dream.

It’s hard not to think of the words in capital letters after they’ve shown up in the media that way for weeks, and some part of Red insists this is totally normal given how momentous it all is.

He barely paid attention to it all until it started hitting entire cities, and then Agatha’s interview made it impossible to ignore as the “new central narrative of their time,” to quote some pundit or the other… and if he’s being honest, he’s getting a little sick of living through so many of those, even if this one is relevant to his interests.

Maybe he just wants some breathing room before the next massive and/or mysterious potential calamity rears its head.

Last week was the anniversary of the start of his journey, and the three of them all went back to Pallet to have a small but warm celebration with his mom, Daisy, and the Professor… as well as a surprise visit from Leaf’s mother and grandfather, who were fun to finally meet. Once he (more or less) finished peppering them with questions and answered a number of theirs (it was mildly shocking, despite everything, to hear that both Professors had read not just his papers but the loose collection of writing that passed for his blog), the conversation turned to what’s been going on in Kanto and throughout the island chain, which the Junipers of course followed on two different levels.

Eventually Leaf asked if it’s always been like this and she only just started noticing once she started her journey, and Daisy complained that her journey only had one world-changing discovery during it, while Professor Oak admitted that his own coincided with a fair few, but not so close together, which Cedric agreed with. Leaf’s mother said hers had basically none, which in retrospect she’s rather happy about.

None of course were anything like the Hoenn incident. It’s hard to know how much of what’s happened since can be truly traced back to it, and whether the incident itself was the result of some other series of events set in motion long ago, but Red wonders how much of his life is going to end up shaped by it.

“It set her back a lot,” Red says. “And then there was the ditto thing.”

“So you think it’s just been catch-up?” Rei says.

“She’s finally finished her Challenger backlog.” Red remembers mentioning her shift in focus to Blue a few weeks ago, who just smiled and implied it was part of some deal he’d struck with her. “It’s kept her busy on top of everything else.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

He turns to see her eyes on him now, and lowers his shields enough for a tentative probe that senses her curiosity, layered over a deep worry. “I don’t think she’s had it yet, if that’s what you mean. Not unless she’s sleeping in other cities, or she got it without the rest of us.”

“She could have been one of the initial ones, when it was just going to powerful psychics.”

Red smiles. “You don’t really believe that.”

“Believe what?”

“That it was just going to ‘powerful’ psychics at first, because you consider yourself one and you didn’t get it either.”

Rei smiles back in acknowledgement. “The only alternative that makes sense is fame, and yet we’re supposed to believe one of the most famous psychics in Kanto didn’t get it?”

“Why would she lie?”

“To you, you mean?”

“To anyone, at this point.” Red doesn’t ask why she’s so curious, given that her days of obsessing over Sabrina are supposed to be behind her; he’s been curious too.

“What if she got a different dream than everyone else?”

“Has that happened to anyone?”

“Would we know if it had?”

“Wild speculation, then.”

“If you have a better hypothesis…”

The car slows to a stop, and they step out in front of a small house with a white picket fence and a well kept lawn. Cerulean South is just as Red remembers it, mostly suburbs that stretch out in every direction, and he feels a quick squeeze in his chest as he sees the road he, Blue and Leaf traveled down to the bike store where they met Aiko.

But just a quick one, and then he’s breathing again as they walk up to the house and ring the bell.

It takes a minute for the young man to answer, and when he does it’s with a furtive look through the chain link lock before he opens it more fully.

“Hello,” Rei says. She always does the talking at first; she’s older and looks more professional, which makes sense to older folk, and she’s also not famous, which means those people who know Red by sight (mostly younger psychics) are less likely to ask him questions about himself if he’s not the one who starts talking. Instead he just focuses on his notebook unless he has a question to ask. “Mr. Garcia? I’m Rei, we spoke on the phone.”

“Yes, come in, please…”

They enter the man’s home and sit on his couch. Red accepts tea, mostly because it seems like the sort of thing that would calm their host’s obvious nerves. His features are drawn, his gaze constantly either a million miles away or darting nervously around, and he twitches occasionally, head tilting in an almost desperate attempt to hear something, or convince himself he can’t hear anything.

Red’s seen it all before, but not this bad. The Dream can often have that effect on people, but usually it’s temporary, particularly since a lot of psychics just amnesia themselves of it; there’s been a rush on lessons for that and other lessons in Saffron as laypsychics who’ve only marginally explored their powers are suddenly much more interested in ensuring it’s not used against them again.

“So,” Rei says after declining her own offer of tea. “Tell us what you hoped Leader Sabrina could do for you.”

“Well, I’m ah, not sure. I’m a sensitive, like I said, not a full psychic… I ah, wish I could just… forget, you know? If it’s possible at all… I heard it’s possible… I thought surely, she could…”

The pleading in his tone makes Red’s stomach clench. He still remembers what Narud said about one psychic giving another amnesia; like surgery done with fingers, or similar. Whatever Mr. Garcia heard, it’s clearly not as deterring… or maybe his experience is just that bad.

“It’s possible,” Rei says, tone neither flat nor sympathetic, merely delivering logistical information. Red asked her once, way back when they were trying to crack “perfect lying” together, why she doesn’t try being more friendly, and she gave him an assessing look and said that she forgets how young he is sometimes, and he decided not to ask for clarification until he could figure out whether he said something insulting or if she did. “But it would be a risky procedure that most psychics would not wish to attempt, even skilled ones. We will, however, ensure Sabrina knows of your suffering.”

“Thank you.”

“Meanwhile, we would like to learn what we can about your experience in more detail.”

“Yes, yes of course. Well, to start it’s been… ah, like I said, the first dream, in Goldenrod… it was bad, but not, you know. Wrecked my concentration for the rest of the week, but the important business was already done… drank a bit more after the meetings to help me sleep, and by the time I came home, it was… easier. To put it behind me.”

Garcia swallows, then drinks some tea, swallows again. “The second time was like… it was… it’s like, because I tried so hard to forget before, I got punished. And now it’s etched in there.” He taps his temple. “To make sure I don’t, this time.”

“But the dream itself was the same?” Rei asks as Red makes a note to point out whether recognizing that a whole city got it clearly points to bad luck rather than any evidence of fault. “Please think over your answer, and don’t hesitate to voice uncertainty; you’re the only person we know of so far who has experienced it twice, and even the slightest difference may be useful to us.”

“It… I’m sorry, I’ll take a moment…” He closes his eyes, mouth set in a firm frown as Red finishes making another note about how they should put out a general call for psychics to record themselves while sleeping in case they talk in their sleep during the dream.

As the silence stretches out, Red can’t help but send out a tentative, instinctual psychic feeler that picks up on something like… pain.

Red almost pulls back, but Garcia doesn’t shift to any of the exercises he mentioned knowing to reduce unwanted psychic contact, so he feels the way Garcia is struggling against strongly aversive thoughts.

Not painful the way an embarrassing memory or recollection of grief is painful… more the pain of dread, of a potential hopelessness that’s only held at bay by a lack of close examination. Once he understands it, Red quickly pulls his thoughts away as Garcia starts to speak again. “I think so, it’s… hard to tell, but the second time was… more forceful. It was like… things were clearer, but… maybe that’s just because I—”

“Remember, no filter, no second guessing. Just share whatever notions come up. Yes or no: was it more forceful?”

“Y-yes.”

“Was it more desperate?”

“Y…no. I’m not—” He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. “If I have to choose, no. Not more desperate. I’m not sure how that fits with it being more forceful, but…”

“It’s alright. Remember, it doesn’t have to make sense.”

“Did it feel like the same projector?” Red asks, writing the question out as he says it. “I know that’s hard to tell from just two samples, but again as best you can tell—”

“Yes, same projector. Their thoughts were… distinct. Strong. It really was like hearing words, not just getting ideas and impressions. I’m more sure than I would be with just anyone.”

Red frowns as he makes a quick note, then flips to another page and crosses out one of his hypotheses before returning to his current one. “And… was the order of the dream the same? Like did it all happen in the same sequence of words, impressions, feelings, whatever?”

“Oh. No?” Garcia considers another moment, then shakes his head. “N-no. It was subtle, and… some things stayed in the same order, but I have… two versions in my head, for the sequence of both.”

“But nothing was added to the second one, or obviously missing?”

“No.”

He’s getting more confident, which is heartening to see, but thinking about the dream does seem to still cause discomfort. Rei probably sensed it too, one way or the other, because she gives him a sympathetic smile before saying, “We have one last request, if you’re feeling willing. We’d like to experience this dream ourselves as best we can, despite not having had it.”

Garcia understands immediately, knuckles turning white as he clenches his hands around each other. “Oh… I…”

“Preferably twice each, so that Red and I are not merged at once and influencing each other’s impressions.”

“I… I think I…”

Red feels a tightening in his chest as the man’s stutter gets worse, and with rising alarm realizes the older man is on the verge of tears. “Hey, uh, I think it’s okay actually. From what you’ve described it doesn’t seem like it was different enough to be really necessary.”

Garcia’s whole body sags, and he takes a deep breath. “A-alright, then.”

Rei’s irritation is only evident mentally, but all she says is, “I believe that’s all, then. Thank you for your time.”

“One more thing,” Red quickly adds. “Uh, I mean I’m not claiming to know anything here that you don’t, but if you’re thinking that any of this is, like, a punishment or something…” Red remembers, suddenly, the young man in Vermilion City during the storm, who felt Zapdos’s pressure as divine punishment for something he was guilty about and grieving over. “Since entire cities got it both times you did, I think it’s probably just bad luck?”

“Luck,” Garcia sighs. “Right.” He sounds… tired, rather than relieved.

Before Red can decide to add something else or not Rei gets to her feet, and he quickly finishes his tea before joining her while Garcia pushes himself up as well, seeming a little surprised that it’s actually over so quickly. After unlocking the door he pauses and turns to them, seeming to build up his courage. “You will… tell Sabrina? Or… others, about my…”

“Yes, of course.”

“Th-thank you. I’ve been getting… desperate, lately. Had th-thoughts of… of training a drowzee, to… to—”

A shot of alarm races through Red as he realizes what’s being confessed, thoughts scrambling for something to keep the man from admitting he’s thinking of breaking a renegade law, until to his relief Rei puts a hand on Garcia’s shoulder, gently squeezing. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Sir. We’ll do our best to figure something else out.”

It’s the most compassionate thing Red’s ever seen her do, and the man looks ready to cry again as he bobs his head, then whispers, “Thank you.”

Rei gives his shoulder a light pat before pulling her arm back, and he opens the door for them. Red gives one last small wave, and then they step out of the house and start walking in a random direction together, simply seeking privacy to discuss what they learned before each teleports back to their respective cities.

“Thoughts?” Rei asks after a minute.

“I’m becoming more and more convinced Agatha was right with her first guess,” Red says. “When I look at the evidence, the best explanation that fits is that an individual is doing all this.”

“Go on.”

Red reviews his notes, ticking each point off on a finger. “It’s never repeated in a city, and it’s never hit the same place twice once it stopped targeting individuals. Why do that? The second dream wasn’t exactly like the first in minor details but not major ones—”

“Allegedly.”

He frowns at her. “Come on, in that state could we really have trusted what he re-experienced?”

“Perhaps not, but it still might have been valuable.”

Red thinks through all the previous times he experienced the memories of someone’s dream through merger and shrugs. “I can’t imagine how, given the way it all fades into a background blur of impressions for me anyway.” Which, after seeing Mr. Garcia, he suddenly feels thankful for. He doesn’t feel like he particularly needs another traumatic experience in his life right now, curious as he is to know what having the Dream himself would be like.

“Mm. Well, you’re right that trauma responses are hard to predict. I’m sorry, I interrupted you as you were saying…”

Red checks his notes again. “Right, there’s also the ramp up from individuals. It’s like someone hoped that just telling some important people would be enough, at first.”

“There’s nothing stopping a hypothetical spirit or god from being mistaken about something, or poor at planning.”

“Sure, but what actual value does that explanation add, then? It’s meant to answer the question of how someone can know what the dream insists is true, and how they can transmit it like this. But if it seems like it’s making errors similar to what a human would anyway, then we shouldn’t be as impressed. Whatever sent the dreams either didn’t realize they would be hitting the same person twice in Cerulean, or they didn’t care, or they didn’t have the ability not to and still cover the city.”

“Your focus is on the wrong part of the explanation. There’s no actual reason why a non-human entity should be expected to not fall into any of those categories.” Rei shrugs. “Your models implicitly assume any non-human entity is infinitely more benevolent or capable along some dimension, rather than more capable along one or two, and that seems irrational to me.”

Red scratches his neck as he tries to fit the concept of it into his brain. It feels wrong somehow, but he can’t really think of why, and has to admit it might just be expectation. “Alright, yeah, that might be fair. I still say it’s more likely to be a human with a uniquely powerful projection though.”

“Which you believe they’re hiding because it would mark their circumstances more similar to yours.”

Red shrugs, not bothering to deny it. It’s hard not to sympathize with someone who has a unique psychic talent that others might fear, even if they weren’t putting themselves at risk to spread some vital truth… or rather, something they believe is a vital truth. He doesn’t know how they became aware of the Dream’s threat themselves, but it must have been convincing enough to have them risk their own anonymity, which is an extra weight on how persuasive the threat is.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems far more reasonable to me that a human wouldn’t want people to know who they are than a spirit or whatever. If anything knowing it’s not a person would make the message more convincing, so if they understand anything about human psychology—”

“Which they might not.”

“—sure, which they might not, but then how did they know to target the most famous psychics first? Even putting aside the projector’s city-wide power, some people just don’t like the spotlight, which yes I personally relate to, but it’s still true.”

“Mm. Isn’t there a movie being made about you?”

“Hey, that was Blue and Leaf’s idea. I can feel uncomfortable about it and still agree it’s a good idea.”

“But surely the rational thing to do would be to become comfortable with it once you recognize it’s a good idea?”

“No, I can have different parts that each have a valuable perspective on something, and I can feel a certain way and still recognize—oh you’re messing with me aren’t you.”

“Just a little.” Rei slows to a stop and unclips a pokeball, and Red matches her. “I’m off to Viridian. Do let me know if Sabrina has anything interesting to add.”

“Same to you with Giovanni.” He wonders if she actually would, given he’s her boss rather than her teacher, but if she does he’s happy to reciprocate, assuming it’s nothing he thinks Sabrina would mind being shared. “Until next time.”

A few minutes later he’s knocking on Sabrina’s office door, then entering as she calls out to come in. The Leader does look tired, and more than a little distracted… but there’s something else, too. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s almost like she has more drive than she used to. He’d be worried she’s entering a manic phase if she wasn’t still so clearly in control of herself.

“So?” she says as he sits and accepts his second tea cup of the hour. “Is it bad?”

“Very, Sensei. I know it shouldn’t be done lightly, but if you saw him yourself I think you’d agree that he needs help.”

She sighs. “I’d rather wait at least a week to see if he starts to recover on his own, particularly if he can find a psychic therapist, but after that… I’ll see what I can do. Any new insights into the dreams themselves?”

“I can send you my notes—”

“Your takeaway is good enough for now.”

Red nods. “Nothing really meaningful. He says it’s more urgent now, but… that could just be from having had it before.”

“Of course. Well, it was worth a try—”

“Actually, Sensei, there is something else, but it’s not directly from Mr. Garcia.” She raises a brow and gestures for him to continue. “I’ve been thinking about this since Agatha’s interview, and after talking to Rei about it I’m pretty convinced that this doesn’t seem to be a supernatural source.” He quickly summarizes his points from before, then adds, “I didn’t mention this to her, but if it is a psychic with a unique ability, or a semi-unique one, like we talked about… well, would you have any guess for who it could be?”

Sabrina’s gaze shifted away from him at some point while he was talking, and she’s still looking into the distance, hands steepled on the desk. Red waits, though he does send out a psychic feeler to confirm that her shield is fully solid.

What’s unsettling Red at this point isn’t how long it’s taking to answer, but why she didn’t just lie.

She should have, if she’s protecting someone’s identity. Spending this much time thinking over her answer, however, would make it hard to believe if she said no now, even if she claimed to just have been searching her memory; she doubtless has had this thought already before he brought it up.

And she should know this, and yet she’s still seemingly paralyzed by some thought or emotion or decision.

“Sensei,” Red says after a moment of mustering his courage. “Why do you think you didn’t get the dream?” It’s the closest he can come to asking if Rei was right about Sabrina lying about it.

The Leader’s eyes flick to his, then away again, then back, and this time they hold. “I don’t know. But I suspect it’s because the one sending the dreams is… one of my ex-students.”

Even expecting it, the confirmation halts Red’s breath for a moment, then sends his pulse racing as new questions start to crowd his thoughts. “Have you… mentioned them before?”

“Yes, though I didn’t mention they had this ability. Because they didn’t, at the time. But it still seems likely to be them.”

“Who are they?”

“Not someone you would know.”

Something suddenly clicks, and Red asks, “The one who disappeared after Hoenn?”

Sabrina stares at him for a moment, then another, again too long. “What makes you say that?”

“I don’t…” It takes him a moment to piece together the intuition. “You’ve been a certain way, ever since then. Half grieving, I think.” He recognized it well enough, good as she was at controlling it. “But you’re not anymore. I thought it was just because of the new mystery of the dreams, but… how do you… why do you suspect it’s them?”

“The best evidence I have is that I didn’t get the dream, and that Saffron hasn’t either.”

Red blinks. “You think they’re avoiding you? Does that mean they were never really lost?”

“It’s… hard to say. I thought we were on good terms. But given all this… how much trust could there really have been?”

Red doesn’t know what to say to that, besides, “At least they’re alive.”

“Maybe. And I could be wrong, of course. It could be a coincidence. I’ve been trying to sleep all night, just in case it’s Saffron’s turn next, but it’s hard to fall asleep when I’m anticipating what might happen if I do.” She shrugs. “I can amnesia the expectation to help me fall asleep, of course, but I want to experience it knowing what it is, wake from it with my full memories intact.”

Red tries to decide whether he should be tactful or inquisitive at the moment, but he’s still not sure what might be comforting rather than presumptuous; he doesn’t know enough about the situation, or their relationship, and asking might be digging. “Blue and I were, you know, on the outs for a while. Maybe there’s still a chance of mending bridges? Especially if you don’t know why they’re upset with you…”

“I can guess.” Sabrina smiles. “I appreciate it, Red, but the situation is rather complicated, and I’m not really in the mood to discuss it. Ask what you want to ask.”

Red smiles back, a bit self-conscious but also grateful. “Do you know what they want? Why they’re doing this?”

“If you’re asking whether I think we can trust the dream, it’s hard to tell without having the dream myself, but… yes. I think so. Whatever they learned, it was enough to make them put themself at serious risk.”

Red leans forward. “I was right then? It’s someone like me?”

For some reason that makes her laugh, brief but with a startled quality that makes it warmer. “Not like you, no. But not entirely unlike, in terms of secrets.”

“Maybe I can reach out to them, let them know what we’ve been planning!”

Again Sabrina pauses, expression sobering before she sighs. “If you can find a way to contact them, I wish you luck. But they might avoid you out of principle given that you know me. And no, I can’t tell you any more about why that is. I’m sorry, Red, I don’t mean to be mysterious, but some things are private.”

“I understand.” Mostly. “Still, if they have any other friends that you haven’t checked with recently…?”

Sabrina shakes her head. “They’ve lived a fairly isolated life. Most of their interactions with others came from their psychic abilities, which were quite powerful. Since they weren’t taught not to invade people’s privacy, they had many acquaintances that they knew quite well, but never got particularly close to any of them.”

“Sounds lonely.” Something about this description is tickling the back of Red’s mind, and after a moment he gives a wan smile. “Reminds me a bit of the story Leaf’s been writing, actually.”

“She writes fiction too?”

“Yeah, been publishing it online. I don’t know where she finds time, but it’s about a half-human psychic pokemon who’s sapient and gets raised in a lab—”

The next few moments can be measured in heartbeats, but feel eternal.

Sabrina’s eyes went wide at the words half-human psychic pokemon, wider than he’s ever seen them, wider than when he told her his secrets, and she sucked in a sharp breath at raised in a lab, mouth going slack.

It lasts just a second before her lips close, her features smooth, and her posture shifts back toward relaxed attentiveness, all so smoothly he would have missed it if he blinked.

“—that learns… about people through…” Whatever Red was going to say next has been blown out of his mind by the shock of seeing Sabrina react so strongly, and the suspicion of what she’s just done.

Red, you are the worst liar!

It’s barely even a decision, in the end.

And then…

“…through those working in the lab around it.”

“Interesting,” Sabrina says, and sips her tea. “That does sound lonely, yes.” Sabrina’s gaze is distant again, and after a moment she frowns and shifts. “I’m sorry, Red, I’ve just remembered a call I need to make. Thank you for the debrief.”

“Oh, sure.” He’s still curious about her student, but whether there’s really a call or not, he knows a dismissal when he hears one and heads to his room for a shower.

He’s just taken his shoes off when the partition drops, along with the amnesia’d memory of Sabrina’s reaction.

“Oh shit,” Red breathes as he drops onto his bed. “Holy shit. Holy fuck.”

Sabrina’s student was a lab experiment.

There are labs studying psychics, probably helping develop unusual psychic powers.

Because of course there are.

And of course Sabrina would know about them maybe she even comes from one that’s why she can see psychic colors sometimes and she amnesia’d herself mid-conversation because she was reacting too much so it must be super secret, way more secret than what they’ve already told each other, and holy fucking shit what is he going to do with this information?

Who did she suddenly remember she had to call?

What would she do if she knew Red knows?

Suspects. I don’t know anything.

Her reaction replays in his memory, and he feels something twisting in his gut. He could be wrong, but… he doesn’t think Sabrina would have reacted like that to just an unusual or interesting story idea. Maybe he’s wrong about a lot of it, maybe it’s not ongoing and just somewhere she and her friend were raised together or something. Hell, Sabrina might have helped shut it down.

But the idea of a psychic going around secretly projecting a warning instead of outing himself makes even more sense, with this explanation.

He’s halfway through taking out his journal when he realizes it might be a terrible idea to write any of this out, then remembers that there’s someone else he should be talking to and pulls out his phone.

“Hey Leaf, are you free? Yeah I’m fine, just want to talk. In person. Yeah, been a while since we hung out at the ranch, right? Exactly. Great, see you soon!”

A minute later he’s on the roof, and a few seconds after that he’s at the ranch. He looks around, then starts pacing as he waits, then summons Charmeleon and practices some battle maneuvers. After two months of fairly frequent battles with wild pokemon, his starter now stands as tall as his shoulders, tail long enough to curl around its body. It’s a little disconcerting, sometimes, to be able to meet that fierce blue gaze so easily now.

“Been a while since I could keep berries out of your reach, huh boy?” He feeds Charmeleon some poffins, other hand rubbing the base of his pokemon’s crest bone. “Not that I ever really could, with your climbing powers.”

Charmeleon gives a crooning-growl as he licks Red’s palm clean, and then there’s a distant pop as Leaf arrives nearby.

“Hey, Red!” She withdraws her abra and walks over with a worried smile and furrowed brow. “I’m assuming I interpreted that call right and this isn’t just a hang out?”

“Yeah.” It’s always good to see her, and while the circumstances don’t allow him to take much time enjoying her company, he can’t help but just smile for a moment, happy to see her and be near her. She also looks tired, and he knows that along with all her other work, she’s been helping with local incidents too. It makes him worry about her, but he knows she can take care of herself. So he sends her that mental impression, and she returns his smile.

Over the past few months they’ve had a few more moments like the one at his mom’s apartment after the tower, moments where he felt like he could say something, or should say something, about how he feels. But instead he’s just projected parts of it, careful to use his partitions to keep from sending the whole thing at once. It feels easier not to break his promise and check how she feels as long as he can be open about his own, now and then. She’s also seemed to appreciate it, so the idea of doing anything more explicit feels… scary. “Sorry, were you busy? Because—”

“I can chat for a bit,” she says as she unclips a pokeball. “Though I have to get back soon for a meeting.”

“How soon? This might be important.”

Leaf bites her lower lip. “I can probably make it there so long as I leave within about twenty minutes? I can’t really risk more, since it’s with my Fuchsia friend…”

Ah, Mom’s informant. “And you can’t really call and tell them you’ll be late, yeah… well, that should be enough for covering the basics at least. It’s about your story.”

Leaf’s hand pauses from where it’s moving from her belt to an outstretched position. It’s only for a moment, but he was watching it, and her voice is carefully controlled when she says, “Go, Raff!” and then “What about the story?”

It’s a struggle not to send his senses out, to sample her mood at least. He and Sabrina’s other students have taught Leaf what they could for completely non-psychic defenses, and she’s good at them, so a full merger might not be particularly helpful anyway if she’s actively trying to keep him out.

Still, he’s curious enough to almost try before reminding himself that he promised not to. The thought that Leaf might lie to him feels like a stone in his gut, probably all the heavier because of how many things he’s been keeping from her.

He watches her take out a training tool (and toy), basically an elastic and tough cord that pokemon can play tug-of-war with. It’s mostly meant for fighting pokemon, but they’ve found that others enjoy it too; both starters are already looking at it with anticipation, and a quick command from their trainers has them gripping the ends in their mouths and pulling.

Normally they’d be cheering their pokemon on, but there’s an awkward silence between them now, and after another moment Red decides to just be straightforward. “Alright, so I’m not really sure how else to say this, and I get that there might be some things you can’t tell me. But… uh… is your story inspired by something you’ve been looking into?”

Leaf raises a brow. “When you say ‘looking into,’ what exactly do you…”

She trails off, and, before Red can say anything, sighs and rubs her eyes. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do this part well with friends. It feels gross.”

“I know what you mean,” Red says, maybe a bit too earnestly. “I’m sorry too, I don’t know how else to ask, but I think it’s important. When you started it you said it was just something you were experimenting with to help people empathize with pokemon better, and I’m not saying that’s like, a lie or anything, but if, uh, if there really were like, secret labs training psychics—”

“Oh!” Leaf bursts into laughter, and for a moment Red feels sweeping, glorious relief… until her laughter cuts off, and her eyes widen as she stares at him. “Oh… Swords of Justice, there are secret psychic labs—

“No no, that’s double counting!” Red holds his palms out, one still slick with Charmeleon’s saliva. “I have no evidence that there are, if you just made it up then it’s probably nothing, it’s just… uh, maybe I shouldn’t say—”

“Red this is important!”

“I know, but—wait, is it important because you do know something, or—”

She tries once again to keep her face blank, but Leaf is no Sabrina, and after a moment she mutters “Fuck!” and covers her face with both hands. “We never tell anyone about this.”

“Agreed. Definitely not going in the second movie.”

She starts giggling, and then they’re both laughing as Charmeleon and Raff continue to tug at the rope, jaws occasionally gnawing for better purchase.

“This… is why society needs… meta norms around secrets,” Red says between breaths.

“Oh yeah,” Leaf gasps, arm across her belly. “Just make talking about it a global holiday.” She giggles. “Or else just asking what someone’s meta-honesty-norms are would give information away!”

That sets them laughing again, and once it finally tapers off, they stare at each other for a moment until Red gives a helpless shrug. “So who goes first?”

“The one who has the least risky secret, I think.” She gives a wry grin. “Should we use a number scale?”

“You know what, sure, why not. What’s a 1?”

“A 1 is like, your friend will be exasperated at you for being a gossip. And a 10 is… something that will destroy the world if it gets out, I guess?”

Red’s smile slips, then fades entirely. “Right. And a 5 would be something that… brings about a region’s downfall?”

“That sounds more like, uh, an 8?”

“I think that would be all regions, if a 9 is… what, all life is at stake, but the planet will probably be fine?”

“I guess that sounds right. So a 7 is one region’s downfall, and a 6 is… multiple cities?” Leaf frowns. “If we keep doing this it’s going to make the number itself a metadata leak.”

“We could give the numbers to someone who doesn’t know what they represent, then just have them tell us whose was higher? They might get curious though, then we have to lie to them—”

She snorts. “Blue would probably roll his eyes but not ask questions. Also it would be easy to just write a script that would do it for us.”

“Right—wait, I’m an idiot, I can just amnesia myself after you tell me something if it doesn’t relate to what I thought!”

“Permanently?”

“Uh… not really…”

Charmeleon growls and falls onto all fours as Raff, feet digging into the ground and leaves rustling, starts to pull the rope harder. The flame on Charmeleon’s tail flares, and Red is alarmed enough to merge with his pokemon to check if he’s still in a playful mood. “Uh, not sure why but he’s maybe getting a bit too riled up for this.”

“They do get more competitive the closer they are to evolving. You should find some other charmeleon for him to play with.”

Close to evolving. He knows his pokemon just has a couple of feet of growth left before that becomes possible, but hearing it put that way makes it seem right around the corner. “Yeah, will do. Meanwhile…” He unclips two balls and holds one up as he sends a calming wave through his merger until his pokemon relaxes and lets the rope drop from his jaws, “Charmeleon, return! Go, Ivysaur! And before you say it, yeah, I still haven’t named him, sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize to me.” Her teasing expression fades as she checks her phone. “I really do have to go soon. Look, you’re right, your powers make telling you first the obvious right choice. But if you do decide not to tell me afterward, it’s going to be hard to justify why I shared the info with someone, and I won’t be able to lie about that either. Do you understand?”

“You’re saying it might draw more people into it.” And that whoever she wouldn’t be able to lie to, it would be someone as close to her as he is. While he’d like to think that’s not actually true, he knows there are plenty of others she would probably feel just as bad lying to, like Blue or his mom.

Red lets out a breath, rubbing his face. “Yeah, I get it. I’m actually still processing some stuff that I did actually learn and I’m not sure what the full scope of everything is. Maybe it’s better to actually just… both forget this for now?”

“That… might be the responsible thing to do, yeah.”

They both stand silently for a moment, staring at each other, and he doesn’t need to merge to guess her thoughts: “Responsibility sucks sometimes.”

“It sucks so much!”

“But we can both keep looking into it right?”

“Oh, totally! And if we find something out that wouldn’t be breaking someone’s confidence—”

“We could share that,” Red finishes, and smiles. “I wasn’t exactly looking for another project, but maybe my mom can h—really?

“I’m leaving!” Leaf declares, withdrawing Raff and summoning her abra while turning her back on him. “Goodbye Mr. Verres!”

“Wait, at least tell me—”

“Fuchsia!”

“—aaand she’s gone.” He turns to his ivysaur, who just unceremoniously lost his play partner, and picks up the other end of the chord. “Well boy, now we just have to decide if we should ask the Professor. If you win, I won’t.” Ivysaur cocks his head, then braces his feet against the ground… only to drop his end of the rope as soon as Red pulls.

He stares at the slack rope for a second and shrugs. “Well, guess that settles it. Just need to figure out some meta norms around secrets first… and hopefully not get any new ones to hold onto meanwhile.”


“I want to help.”

Blue blinks sleepily at the violet-haired girl standing outside his door. “Help with… Satori, right? Help with what?” It’s barely seven in the morning, and he went to bed around midnight after a strategy debate on how to better protect Fuchsia’s northern and southern tips went long past dinner, followed by a long walk and training session with Eevee beneath the full moon.

Satori doesn’t look like she got much sleep either. “Your project.” Her torracat is sniffing in the direction of his room, and takes a step inside before suddenly stopping and stepping back, probably from some mental nudge.

He rubs some sleep from his eyes. “I have a few of th—oh! My abra?”

“Yes. Red said you’re trying to do something like a reverse of my own goal, and suggested collaborating with Jason. He showed me your email about searching for psychic pokemon that have adapted defenses against Dark pokemon, and I began experimenting. I believe your abra would make a good test subject, first to—”

Blue’s sleepiness is rapidly fading as he tries to keep up with the exposition dump, and by the end he’s grinning. “Yeah, got it, one minute!” He slides the paper door closed and takes a step toward his dresser, then turns back and opens it again. “You’re free now, right? That’s why you came in person?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, one sec.” He closes the door and hurries through his morning routine, sending a message to his friends with one hand as he brushes his teeth with the other. Once he checks his schedule and confirms that he doesn’t have anything for a couple hours, he steps out while buckling his pokebelt on. “Let’s head to the training rooms. And start at the beginning for how you got involved.”

“Very well,” she says, and falls into step beside him as he strides toward the stairwell, being careful not to go down them too loud given how many others are probably still sleeping. Living in the gym’s trainer compound is nice in some ways and annoying in others. “But I don’t know what constitutes the beginning, for you.”

“By reversing your goal you mean you’re trying to keep your bond when your torracat evolves into a Dark type, right?” Blue vaguely remembers hearing about this and thinking this would be great for psychics but unlikely to help Dark people. “How does this help with that?”

“As I said, your email to Red was thought provoking, along with his and Jason’s investigations into how ghost and psychic phenomena are related. I began merging with a wider range of psychic pokemon specifically to see if any have unique defense mechanisms against Dark types that haven’t yet been exploited in light of the… how did you put it? ‘The self-perpetuating blindspot of not using Psychic types against Dark opponents?'”

He’s not sure he’s ever used the phrase ‘self-perpetuating,’ but… “Close enough. You found one?”

“Xatu was the first lead. Did you know they have natural anti-Ghost defenses?”

“I know wild ones can have Ghost attacks, sure. But it doesn’t really help them against Dark pokemon, since they shrug off most Ghost attacks anyway.”

“From a battle trainer’s perspective, this may be true. But it means you would focus on their Flying attacks instead, if you had to fight against one, yes?”

“Well, yeah. And I’d have to be pretty desperate to use a xatu to fight anything that would resist even that.”

“As you say.” They step into the bright morning air and start to make their way across the gym compound, where a few other early risers are already doing various chores or training their pokemon. “But Jason and Red have been making strides in delineating the boundary between psychic and medium abilities, without consideration of combat utility, and it’s become more clear how the ability to use Ghost attacks at all is a sign of some difference between one psychic and another.”

“Like a ‘ghost sense’ instead of just a psychic one? Wait, this is one of the first things Red researched with the spinarak, right?” He only remembers it because it came up in the notes Red sent to the production company making the movie about their journey. “He didn’t realize there’s not just one type of psychic particle at the time.”

“Only tangentially related; it would not have been evident through that alone, or his later research with the abra. But after a conversation with Sensei he became convinced that this sense is more broad, and may be visual.”

“Visual?” Blue frowns, hopes sinking. “I don’t get how that would be better than just using their eyes, if they have them? My abra knows I exist by now, or at least knows something like me exists even if it can’t sense my thoughts. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? For both of us.”

“Meowstic were the key; despite the similarities, both genders have different natural capabilities, complemented by expanded sensorium. Extended mergers with females showed broader electromagnetic range, as well as what we’re now calling spiritual sense. This does in fact help them detect dark pokemon from a distance, though it is hard to interpret this reliably, and they still can’t use their psychic abilities on them; only attacks of other kinds.”

“Got it, so if we figure out what female meowstic do, and someone creates a TM that imitates it—”

“This morning I managed, through my male meowstic, to see a dark aura.”

Blue stops cold on the threshold to the front door, then turns to look at her. “What the hell is a ‘dark aura?'”

She holds a hand out and waves it vaguely around him. “An energy field that I believe you and Dark pokemon ambiently have, which presumably keeps you from being affected by psychic abilities. What some Dark pokemon can project from themselves in attacks.”

“How do you even… wait, does Red know about this?”

“I left him a message. He should see it when he wakes, but I was too impatient to wait.”

He almost comments about how her impatience didn’t keep her from waking him up, but he’s glad she did. After a moment he steps aside so she can leave the building as well, then starts walking again. “How has this not been figured out before?”

“Gifted do not generally look through our pokemon’s vision.” She sounds mildly apologetic, almost embarrassed. “It is… disorienting, to see through multiple eyes, more so than other senses being expanded. On occasion it can be valuable for brief periods, but our preference is to keep our senses separate while linking our thoughts for communicating impulses and notions. If we link to psychic pokemon, of course, then their psychic senses are where we focus our attention, as they are as useful to them as vision is for us. It also feels more like a natural expansion rather than taking more focus the way paying attention to another set of eyes or ears does.”

The second half of this doesn’t mean much to Blue, and he tries to reorient to the bottom line. “So… okay so, you were saying meowstic can see dark auras, but psychics don’t use their eyes so they don’t know that?”

“Not ambiently, or else of course someone would have noticed by now. It takes intense concentration. Xatu can as well; as I said, they were the first lead, but we were unsure what they were reacting to due to their spiritual sense, and they do not naturally hunt dark pokemon.”

“But the spiritual sense isn’t necessary?”

“No, male meowstic demonstrated it’s not, as only females have it. And if it’s not for them—”

“It might not be for abra.” They’re almost to the training rooms, and Blue is already running his fingers over Tops’s ball. “What do I need to do?”

“First I’m going to get used to merging with your abra. But I suspect your abra will actually need to evolve to learn this.”

Blue stops for the second time in two minutes, frowning, then pulls his phone out. “Then evolving him just became a priority.”

“Who are you calling?”

“Red. Trust me, he’s going to want to be awake for this… and there’s something I think he can uniquely help with.” Sorry buddy. He’d hoped to protect his friend from the potential fallout of Koichi’s training philosophy, if it turns out to be true, but…

Chapter 104: Secrets

“Sabrina seems tired.”

Red glances at Rei, who sits casually in the carseat beside him with her gaze out the window, then looks back at his notebook and finishes writing out his thought before closing it with a sigh and a nod. “I haven’t seen her this exhausted since after the Hoenn incident.”

He’s still not sure what his relationship with Sabrina’s ex-student is these days. “Co-conspirator” seems the best one that fits; they’re not exactly friends, not exactly peers, and not exactly coworkers, but once in a while Giovanni or Sabrina want something done that requires a psychic, and both seem happy to offer their employee/student to the other if the job requires more than one, or if the other is busy. It’s often a great learning opportunity, and many of the tasks involve putting Red in new situations, facing new challenges for his growing abilities. He’s helped test young psychics in Viridian to see if they had the Gift and get a sense of their abilities, and once even helped diagnose someone who was hit with a mental attack. It felt strange handing someone the same form Psychic Narud gave him a year ago.

Today they’re interviewing psychics who have had The Dream.

It’s hard not to think of the words in capital letters after they’ve shown up in the media that way for weeks, and some part of Red insists this is totally normal given how momentous it all is.

He barely paid attention to it all until it started hitting entire cities, and then Agatha’s interview made it impossible to ignore as the “new central narrative of their time,” to quote some pundit or the other… and if he’s being honest, he’s getting a little sick of living through so many of those, even if this one is relevant to his interests.

Maybe he just wants some breathing room before the next massive and/or mysterious potential calamity rears its head.

Last week was the anniversary of the start of his journey, and the three of them all went back to Pallet to have a small but warm celebration with his mom, Daisy, and the Professor… as well as a surprise visit from Leaf’s mother and grandfather, who were fun to finally meet. Once he (more or less) finished peppering them with questions and answered a number of theirs (it was mildly shocking, despite everything, to hear that both Professors had read not just his papers but the loose collection of writing that passed for his blog), the conversation turned to what’s been going on in Kanto and throughout the island chain, which the Junipers of course followed on two different levels.

Eventually Leaf asked if it’s always been like this and she only just started noticing once she started her journey, and Daisy complained that her journey only had one world-changing discovery during it, while Professor Oak admitted that his own coincided with a fair few, but not so close together, which Cedric agreed with. Leaf’s mother said hers had basically none, which in retrospect she’s rather happy about.

None of course were anything like the Hoenn incident. It’s hard to know how much of what’s happened since can be truly traced back to it, and whether the incident itself was the result of some other series of events set in motion long ago, but Red wonders how much of his life is going to end up shaped by it.

“It set her back a lot,” Red says. “And then there was the ditto thing.”

“So you think it’s just been catch-up?” Rei says.

“She’s finally finished her Challenger backlog.” Red remembers mentioning her shift in focus to Blue a few weeks ago, who just smiled and implied it was part of some deal he’d struck with her. “It’s kept her busy on top of everything else.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

He turns to see her eyes on him now, and lowers his shields enough for a tentative probe that senses her curiosity, layered over a deep worry. “I don’t think she’s had it yet, if that’s what you mean. Not unless she’s sleeping in other cities, or she got it without the rest of us.”

“She could have been one of the initial ones, when it was just going to powerful psychics.”

Red smiles. “You don’t really believe that.”

“Believe what?”

“That it was just going to ‘powerful’ psychics at first, because you consider yourself one and you didn’t get it either.”

Rei smiles back in acknowledgement. “The only alternative that makes sense is fame, and yet we’re supposed to believe one of the most famous psychics in Kanto didn’t get it?”

“Why would she lie?”

“To you, you mean?”

“To anyone, at this point.” Red doesn’t ask why she’s so curious, given that her days of obsessing over Sabrina are supposed to be behind her; he’s been curious too.

“What if she got a different dream than everyone else?”

“Has that happened to anyone?”

“Would we know if it had?”

“Wild speculation, then.”

“If you have a better hypothesis…”

The car slows to a stop, and they step out in front of a small house with a white picket fence and a well kept lawn. Cerulean South is just as Red remembers it, mostly suburbs that stretch out in every direction, and he feels a quick squeeze in his chest as he sees the road he, Blue and Leaf traveled down to the bike store where they met Aiko.

But just a quick one, and then he’s breathing again as they walk up to the house and ring the bell.

It takes a minute for the young man to answer, and when he does it’s with a furtive look through the chain link lock before he opens it more fully.

“Hello,” Rei says. She always does the talking at first; she’s older and looks more professional, which makes sense to older folk, and she’s also not famous, which means those people who know Red by sight (mostly younger psychics) are less likely to ask him questions about himself if he’s not the one who starts talking. Instead he just focuses on his notebook unless he has a question to ask. “Mr. Garcia? I’m Rei, we spoke on the phone.”

“Yes, come in, please…”

They enter the man’s home and sit on his couch. Red accepts tea, mostly because it seems like the sort of thing that would calm their host’s obvious nerves. His features are drawn, his gaze constantly either a million miles away or darting nervously around, and he twitches occasionally, head tilting in an almost desperate attempt to hear something, or convince himself he can’t hear anything.

Red’s seen it all before, but not this bad. The Dream can often have that effect on people, but usually it’s temporary, particularly since a lot of psychics just amnesia themselves of it; there’s been a rush on lessons for that and other lessons in Saffron as laypsychics who’ve only marginally explored their powers are suddenly much more interested in ensuring it’s not used against them again.

“So,” Rei says after declining her own offer of tea. “Tell us what you hoped Leader Sabrina could do for you.”

“Well, I’m ah, not sure. I’m a sensitive, like I said, not a full psychic… I ah, wish I could just… forget, you know? If it’s possible at all… I heard it’s possible… I thought surely, she could…”

The pleading in his tone makes Red’s stomach clench. He still remembers what Narud said about one psychic giving another amnesia; like surgery done with fingers, or similar. Whatever Mr. Garcia heard, it’s clearly not as deterring… or maybe his experience is just that bad.

“It’s possible,” Rei says, tone neither flat nor sympathetic, merely delivering logistical information. Red asked her once, way back when they were trying to crack “perfect lying” together, why she doesn’t try being more friendly, and she gave him an assessing look and said that she forgets how young he is sometimes, and he decided not to ask for clarification until he could figure out whether he said something insulting or if she did. “But it would be a risky procedure that most psychics would not wish to attempt, even skilled ones. We will, however, ensure Sabrina knows of your suffering.”

“Thank you.”

“Meanwhile, we would like to learn what we can about your experience in more detail.”

“Yes, yes of course. Well, to start it’s been… ah, like I said, the first dream, in Goldenrod… it was bad, but not, you know. Wrecked my concentration for the rest of the week, but the important business was already done… drank a bit more after the meetings to help me sleep, and by the time I came home, it was… easier. To put it behind me.”

Garcia swallows, then drinks some tea, swallows again. “The second time was like… it was… it’s like, because I tried so hard to forget before, I got punished. And now it’s etched in there.” He taps his temple. “To make sure I don’t, this time.”

“But the dream itself was the same?” Rei asks as Red makes a note to point out whether recognizing that a whole city got it clearly points to bad luck rather than any evidence of fault. “Please think over your answer, and don’t hesitate to voice uncertainty; you’re the only person we know of so far who has experienced it twice, and even the slightest difference may be useful to us.”

“It… I’m sorry, I’ll take a moment…” He closes his eyes, mouth set in a firm frown as Red finishes making another note about how they should put out a general call for psychics to record themselves while sleeping in case they talk in their sleep during the dream.

As the silence stretches out, Red can’t help but send out a tentative, instinctual psychic feeler that picks up on something like… pain.

Red almost pulls back, but Garcia doesn’t shift to any of the exercises he mentioned knowing to reduce unwanted psychic contact, so he feels the way Garcia is struggling against strongly aversive thoughts.

Not painful the way an embarrassing memory or recollection of grief is painful… more the pain of dread, of a potential hopelessness that’s only held at bay by a lack of close examination. Once he understands it, Red quickly pulls his thoughts away as Garcia starts to speak again. “I think so, it’s… hard to tell, but the second time was… more forceful. It was like… things were clearer, but… maybe that’s just because I—”

“Remember, no filter, no second guessing. Just share whatever notions come up. Yes or no: was it more forceful?”

“Y-yes.”

“Was it more desperate?”

“Y…no. I’m not—” He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. “If I have to choose, no. Not more desperate. I’m not sure how that fits with it being more forceful, but…”

“It’s alright. Remember, it doesn’t have to make sense.”

“Did it feel like the same projector?” Red asks, writing the question out as he says it. “I know that’s hard to tell from just two samples, but again as best you can tell—”

“Yes, same projector. Their thoughts were… distinct. Strong. It really was like hearing words, not just getting ideas and impressions. I’m more sure than I would be with just anyone.”

Red frowns as he makes a quick note, then flips to another page and crosses out one of his hypotheses before returning to his current one. “And… was the order of the dream the same? Like did it all happen in the same sequence of words, impressions, feelings, whatever?”

“Oh. No?” Garcia considers another moment, then shakes his head. “N-no. It was subtle, and… some things stayed in the same order, but I have… two versions in my head, for the sequence of both.”

“But nothing was added to the second one, or obviously missing?”

“No.”

He’s getting more confident, which is heartening to see, but thinking about the dream does seem to still cause discomfort. Rei probably sensed it too, one way or the other, because she gives him a sympathetic smile before saying, “We have one last request, if you’re feeling willing. We’d like to experience this dream ourselves as best we can, despite not having had it.”

Garcia understands immediately, knuckles turning white as he clenches his hands around each other. “Oh… I…”

“Preferably twice each, so that Red and I are not merged at once and influencing each other’s impressions.”

“I… I think I…”

Red feels a tightening in his chest as the man’s stutter gets worse, and with rising alarm realizes the older man is on the verge of tears. “Hey, uh, I think it’s okay actually. From what you’ve described it doesn’t seem like it was different enough to be really necessary.”

Garcia’s whole body sags, and he takes a deep breath. “A-alright, then.”

Rei’s irritation is only evident mentally, but all she says is, “I believe that’s all, then. Thank you for your time.”

“One more thing,” Red quickly adds. “Uh, I mean I’m not claiming to know anything here that you don’t, but if you’re thinking that any of this is, like, a punishment or something…” Red remembers, suddenly, the young man in Vermilion City during the storm, who felt Zapdos’s pressure as divine punishment for something he was guilty about and grieving over. “Since entire cities got it both times you did, I think it’s probably just bad luck?”

“Luck,” Garcia sighs. “Right.” He sounds… tired, rather than relieved.

Before Red can decide to add something else or not Rei gets to her feet, and he quickly finishes his tea before joining her while Garcia pushes himself up as well, seeming a little surprised that it’s actually over so quickly. After unlocking the door he pauses and turns to them, seeming to build up his courage. “You will… tell Sabrina? Or… others, about my…”

“Yes, of course.”

“Th-thank you. I’ve been getting… desperate, lately. Had th-thoughts of… of training a drowzee, to… to—”

A shot of alarm races through Red as he realizes what’s being confessed, thoughts scrambling for something to keep the man from admitting he’s thinking of breaking a renegade law, until to his relief Rei puts a hand on Garcia’s shoulder, gently squeezing. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Sir. We’ll do our best to figure something else out.”

It’s the most compassionate thing Red’s ever seen her do, and the man looks ready to cry again as he bobs his head, then whispers, “Thank you.”

Rei gives his shoulder a light pat before pulling her arm back, and he opens the door for them. Red gives one last small wave, and then they step out of the house and start walking in a random direction together, simply seeking privacy to discuss what they learned before each teleports back to their respective cities.

“Thoughts?” Rei asks after a minute.

“I’m becoming more and more convinced Agatha was right with her first guess,” Red says. “When I look at the evidence, the best explanation that fits is that an individual is doing all this.”

“Go on.”

Red reviews his notes, ticking each point off on a finger. “It’s never repeated in a city, and it’s never hit the same place twice once it stopped targeting individuals. Why do that? The second dream wasn’t exactly like the first in minor details but not major ones—”

“Allegedly.”

He frowns at her. “Come on, in that state could we really have trusted what he re-experienced?”

“Perhaps not, but it still might have been valuable.”

Red thinks through all the previous times he experienced the memories of someone’s dream through merger and shrugs. “I can’t imagine how, given the way it all fades into a background blur of impressions for me anyway.” Which, after seeing Mr. Garcia, he suddenly feels thankful for. He doesn’t feel like he particularly needs another traumatic experience in his life right now, curious as he is to know what having the Dream himself would be like.

“Mm. Well, you’re right that trauma responses are hard to predict. I’m sorry, I interrupted you as you were saying…”

Red checks his notes again. “Right, there’s also the ramp up from individuals. It’s like someone hoped that just telling some important people would be enough, at first.”

“There’s nothing stopping a hypothetical spirit or god from being mistaken about something, or poor at planning.”

“Sure, but what actual value does that explanation add, then? It’s meant to answer the question of how someone can know what the dream insists is true, and how they can transmit it like this. But if it seems like it’s making errors similar to what a human would anyway, then we shouldn’t be as impressed. Whatever sent the dreams either didn’t realize they would be hitting the same person twice in Cerulean, or they didn’t care, or they didn’t have the ability not to and still cover the city.”

“Your focus is on the wrong part of the explanation. There’s no actual reason why a non-human entity should be expected to not fall into any of those categories.” Rei shrugs. “Your models implicitly assume any non-human entity is infinitely more benevolent or capable along some dimension, rather than more capable along one or two, and that seems irrational to me.”

Red scratches his neck as he tries to fit the concept of it into his brain. It feels wrong somehow, but he can’t really think of why, and has to admit it might just be expectation. “Alright, yeah, that might be fair. I still say it’s more likely to be a human with a uniquely powerful projection though.”

“Which you believe they’re hiding because it would mark their circumstances more similar to yours.”

Red shrugs, not bothering to deny it. It’s hard not to sympathize with someone who has a unique psychic talent that others might fear, even if they weren’t putting themselves at risk to spread some vital truth… or rather, something they believe is a vital truth. He doesn’t know how they became aware of the Dream’s threat themselves, but it must have been convincing enough to have them risk their own anonymity, which is an extra weight on how persuasive the threat is.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems far more reasonable to me that a human wouldn’t want people to know who they are than a spirit or whatever. If anything knowing it’s not a person would make the message more convincing, so if they understand anything about human psychology—”

“Which they might not.”

“—sure, which they might not, but then how did they know to target the most famous psychics first? Even putting aside the projector’s city-wide power, some people just don’t like the spotlight, which yes I personally relate to, but it’s still true.”

“Mm. Isn’t there a movie being made about you?”

“Hey, that was Blue and Leaf’s idea. I can feel uncomfortable about it and still agree it’s a good idea.”

“But surely the rational thing to do would be to become comfortable with it once you recognize it’s a good idea?”

“No, I can have different parts that each have a valuable perspective on something, and I can feel a certain way and still recognize—oh you’re messing with me aren’t you.”

“Just a little.” Rei slows to a stop and unclips a pokeball, and Red matches her. “I’m off to Viridian. Do let me know if Sabrina has anything interesting to add.”

“Same to you with Giovanni.” He wonders if she actually would, given he’s her boss rather than her teacher, but if she does he’s happy to reciprocate, assuming it’s nothing he thinks Sabrina would mind being shared. “Until next time.”

A few minutes later he’s knocking on Sabrina’s office door, then entering as she calls out to come in. The Leader does look tired, and more than a little distracted… but there’s something else, too. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s almost like she has more drive than she used to. He’d be worried she’s entering a manic phase if she wasn’t still so clearly in control of herself.

“So?” she says as he sits and accepts his second tea cup of the hour. “Is it bad?”

“Very, Sensei. I know it shouldn’t be done lightly, but if you saw him yourself I think you’d agree that he needs help.”

She sighs. “I’d rather wait at least a week to see if he starts to recover on his own, particularly if he can find a psychic therapist, but after that… I’ll see what I can do. Any new insights into the dreams themselves?”

“I can send you my notes—”

“Your takeaway is good enough for now.”

Red nods. “Nothing really meaningful. He says it’s more urgent now, but… that could just be from having had it before.”

“Of course. Well, it was worth a try—”

“Actually, Sensei, there is something else, but it’s not directly from Mr. Garcia.” She raises a brow and gestures for him to continue. “I’ve been thinking about this since Agatha’s interview, and after talking to Rei about it I’m pretty convinced that this doesn’t seem to be a supernatural source.” He quickly summarizes his points from before, then adds, “I didn’t mention this to her, but if it is a psychic with a unique ability, or a semi-unique one, like we talked about… well, would you have any guess for who it could be?”

Sabrina’s gaze shifted away from him at some point while he was talking, and she’s still looking into the distance, hands steepled on the desk. Red waits, though he does send out a psychic feeler to confirm that her shield is fully solid.

What’s unsettling Red at this point isn’t how long it’s taking to answer, but why she didn’t just lie.

She should have, if she’s protecting someone’s identity. Spending this much time thinking over her answer, however, would make it hard to believe if she said no now, even if she claimed to just have been searching her memory; she doubtless has had this thought already before he brought it up.

And she should know this, and yet she’s still seemingly paralyzed by some thought or emotion or decision.

“Sensei,” Red says after a moment of mustering his courage. “Why do you think you didn’t get the dream?” It’s the closest he can come to asking if Rei was right about Sabrina lying about it.

The Leader’s eyes flick to his, then away again, then back, and this time they hold. “I don’t know. But I suspect it’s because the one sending the dreams is… one of my ex-students.”

Even expecting it, the confirmation halts Red’s breath for a moment, then sends his pulse racing as new questions start to crowd his thoughts. “Have you… mentioned them before?”

“Yes, though I didn’t mention they had this ability. Because they didn’t, at the time. But it still seems likely to be them.”

“Who are they?”

“Not someone you would know.”

Something suddenly clicks, and Red asks, “The one who disappeared after Hoenn?”

Sabrina stares at him for a moment, then another, again too long. “What makes you say that?”

“I don’t…” It takes him a moment to piece together the intuition. “You’ve been a certain way, ever since then. Half grieving, I think.” He recognized it well enough, good as she was at controlling it. “But you’re not anymore. I thought it was just because of the new mystery of the dreams, but… how do you… why do you suspect it’s them?”

“The best evidence I have is that I didn’t get the dream, and that Saffron hasn’t either.”

Red blinks. “You think they’re avoiding you? Does that mean they were never really lost?”

“It’s… hard to say. I thought we were on good terms. But given all this… how much trust could there really have been?”

Red doesn’t know what to say to that, besides, “At least they’re alive.”

“Maybe. And I could be wrong, of course. It could be a coincidence. I’ve been trying to sleep all night, just in case it’s Saffron’s turn next, but it’s hard to fall asleep when I’m anticipating what might happen if I do.” She shrugs. “I can amnesia the expectation to help me fall asleep, of course, but I want to experience it knowing what it is, wake from it with my full memories intact.”

Red tries to decide whether he should be tactful or inquisitive at the moment, but he’s still not sure what might be comforting rather than presumptuous; he doesn’t know enough about the situation, or their relationship, and asking might be digging. “Blue and I were, you know, on the outs for a while. Maybe there’s still a chance of mending bridges? Especially if you don’t know why they’re upset with you…”

“I can guess.” Sabrina smiles. “I appreciate it, Red, but the situation is rather complicated, and I’m not really in the mood to discuss it. Ask what you want to ask.”

Red smiles back, a bit self-conscious but also grateful. “Do you know what they want? Why they’re doing this?”

“If you’re asking whether I think we can trust the dream, it’s hard to tell without having the dream myself, but… yes. I think so. Whatever they learned, it was enough to make them put themself at serious risk.”

Red leans forward. “I was right then? It’s someone like me?”

For some reason that makes her laugh, brief but with a startled quality that makes it warmer. “Not like you, no. But not entirely unlike, in terms of secrets.”

“Maybe I can reach out to them, let them know what we’ve been planning!”

Again Sabrina pauses, expression sobering before she sighs. “If you can find a way to contact them, I wish you luck. But they might avoid you out of principle given that you know me. And no, I can’t tell you any more about why that is. I’m sorry, Red, I don’t mean to be mysterious, but some things are private.”

“I understand.” Mostly. “Still, if they have any other friends that you haven’t checked with recently…?”

Sabrina shakes her head. “They’ve lived a fairly isolated life. Most of their interactions with others came from their psychic abilities, which were quite powerful. Since they weren’t taught not to invade people’s privacy, they had many acquaintances that they knew quite well, but never got particularly close to any of them.”

“Sounds lonely.” Something about this description is tickling the back of Red’s mind, and after a moment he gives a wan smile. “Reminds me a bit of the story Leaf’s been writing, actually.”

“She writes fiction too?”

“Yeah, been publishing it online. I don’t know where she finds time, but it’s about a half-human psychic pokemon who’s sapient and gets raised in a lab—”

The next few moments can be measured in heartbeats, but feel eternal.

Sabrina’s eyes went wide at the words half-human psychic pokemon, wider than he’s ever seen them, wider than when he told her his secrets, and she sucked in a sharp breath at raised in a lab, mouth going slack.

It lasts just a second before her lips close, her features smooth, and her posture shifts back toward relaxed attentiveness, all so smoothly he would have missed it if he blinked.

“—that learns… about people through…” Whatever Red was going to say next has been blown out of his mind by the shock of seeing Sabrina react so strongly, and the suspicion of what she’s just done.

Red, you are the worst liar!

It’s barely even a decision, in the end.

And then…

“…through those working in the lab around it.”

“Interesting,” Sabrina says, and sips her tea. “That does sound lonely, yes.” Sabrina’s gaze is distant again, and after a moment she frowns and shifts. “I’m sorry, Red, I’ve just remembered a call I need to make. Thank you for the debrief.”

“Oh, sure.” He’s still curious about her student, but whether there’s really a call or not, he knows a dismissal when he hears one and heads to his room for a shower.

He’s just taken his shoes off when the partition drops, along with the amnesia’d memory of Sabrina’s reaction.

“Oh shit,” Red breathes as he drops onto his bed. “Holy shit. Holy fuck.”

Sabrina’s student was a lab experiment.

There are labs studying psychics, probably helping develop unusual psychic powers.

Because of course there are.

And of course Sabrina would know about them maybe she even comes from one that’s why she can see psychic colors sometimes and she amnesia’d herself mid-conversation because she was reacting too much so it must be super secret, way more secret than what they’ve already told each other, and holy fucking shit what is he going to do with this information?

Who did she suddenly remember she had to call?

What would she do if she knew Red knows?

Suspects. I don’t know anything.

Her reaction replays in his memory, and he feels something twisting in his gut. He could be wrong, but… he doesn’t think Sabrina would have reacted like that to just an unusual or interesting story idea. Maybe he’s wrong about a lot of it, maybe it’s not ongoing and just somewhere she and her friend were raised together or something. Hell, Sabrina might have helped shut it down.

But the idea of a psychic going around secretly projecting a warning instead of outing himself makes even more sense, with this explanation.

He’s halfway through taking out his journal when he realizes it might be a terrible idea to write any of this out, then remembers that there’s someone else he should be talking to and pulls out his phone.

“Hey Leaf, are you free? Yeah I’m fine, just want to talk. In person. Yeah, been a while since we hung out at the ranch, right? Exactly. Great, see you soon!”

A minute later he’s on the roof, and a few seconds after that he’s at the ranch. He looks around, then starts pacing as he waits, then summons Charmeleon and practices some battle maneuvers. After two months of fairly frequent battles with wild pokemon, his starter now stands as tall as his shoulders, tail long enough to curl around its body. It’s a little disconcerting, sometimes, to be able to meet that fierce blue gaze so easily now.

“Been a while since I could keep berries out of your reach, huh boy?” He feeds Charmeleon some poffins, other hand rubbing the base of his pokemon’s crest bone. “Not that I ever really could, with your climbing powers.”

Charmeleon gives a crooning-growl as he licks Red’s palm clean, and then there’s a distant pop as Leaf arrives nearby.

“Hey, Red!” She withdraws her abra and walks over with a worried smile and furrowed brow. “I’m assuming I interpreted that call right and this isn’t just a hang out?”

“Yeah.” It’s always good to see her, and while the circumstances don’t allow him to take much time enjoying her company, he can’t help but just smile for a moment, happy to see her and be near her. She also looks tired, and he knows that along with all her other work, she’s been helping with local incidents too. It makes him worry about her, but he knows she can take care of herself. So he sends her that mental impression, and she returns his smile.

Over the past few months they’ve had a few more moments like the one at his mom’s apartment after the tower, moments where he felt like he could say something, or should say something, about how he feels. But instead he’s just projected parts of it, careful to use his partitions to keep from sending the whole thing at once. It feels easier not to break his promise and check how she feels as long as he can be open about his own, now and then. She’s also seemed to appreciate it, so the idea of doing anything more explicit feels… scary. “Sorry, were you busy? Because—”

“I can chat for a bit,” she says as she unclips a pokeball. “Though I have to get back soon for a meeting.”

“How soon? This might be important.”

Leaf bites her lower lip. “I can probably make it there so long as I leave within about twenty minutes? I can’t really risk more, since it’s with my Fuchsia friend…”

Ah, Mom’s informant. “And you can’t really call and tell them you’ll be late, yeah… well, that should be enough for covering the basics at least. It’s about your story.”

Leaf’s hand pauses from where it’s moving from her belt to an outstretched position. It’s only for a moment, but he was watching it, and her voice is carefully controlled when she says, “Go, Raff!” and then “What about the story?”

It’s a struggle not to send his senses out, to sample her mood at least. He and Sabrina’s other students have taught Leaf what they could for completely non-psychic defenses, and she’s good at them, so a full merger might not be particularly helpful anyway if she’s actively trying to keep him out.

Still, he’s curious enough to almost try before reminding himself that he promised not to. The thought that Leaf might lie to him feels like a stone in his gut, probably all the heavier because of how many things he’s been keeping from her.

He watches her take out a training tool (and toy), basically an elastic and tough cord that pokemon can play tug-of-war with. It’s mostly meant for fighting pokemon, but they’ve found that others enjoy it too; both starters are already looking at it with anticipation, and a quick command from their trainers has them gripping the ends in their mouths and pulling.

Normally they’d be cheering their pokemon on, but there’s an awkward silence between them now, and after another moment Red decides to just be straightforward. “Alright, so I’m not really sure how else to say this, and I get that there might be some things you can’t tell me. But… uh… is your story inspired by something you’ve been looking into?”

Leaf raises a brow. “When you say ‘looking into,’ what exactly do you…”

She trails off, and, before Red can say anything, sighs and rubs her eyes. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do this part well with friends. It feels gross.”

“I know what you mean,” Red says, maybe a bit too earnestly. “I’m sorry too, I don’t know how else to ask, but I think it’s important. When you started it you said it was just something you were experimenting with to help people empathize with pokemon better, and I’m not saying that’s like, a lie or anything, but if, uh, if there really were like, secret labs training psychics—”

“Oh!” Leaf bursts into laughter, and for a moment Red feels sweeping, glorious relief… until her laughter cuts off, and her eyes widen as she stares at him. “Oh… Swords of Justice, there are secret psychic labs—

“No no, that’s double counting!” Red holds his palms out, one still slick with Charmeleon’s saliva. “I have no evidence that there are, if you just made it up then it’s probably nothing, it’s just… uh, maybe I shouldn’t say—”

“Red this is important!”

“I know, but—wait, is it important because you do know something, or—”

She tries once again to keep her face blank, but Leaf is no Sabrina, and after a moment she mutters “Fuck!” and covers her face with both hands. “We never tell anyone about this.”

“Agreed. Definitely not going in the second movie.”

She starts giggling, and then they’re both laughing as Charmeleon and Raff continue to tug at the rope, jaws occasionally gnawing for better purchase.

“This… is why society needs… meta norms around secrets,” Red says between breaths.

“Oh yeah,” Leaf gasps, arm across her belly. “Just make talking about it a global holiday.” She giggles. “Or else just asking what someone’s meta-honesty-norms are would give information away!”

That sets them laughing again, and once it finally tapers off, they stare at each other for a moment until Red gives a helpless shrug. “So who goes first?”

“The one who has the least risky secret, I think.” She gives a wry grin. “Should we use a number scale?”

“You know what, sure, why not. What’s a 1?”

“A 1 is like, your friend will be exasperated at you for being a gossip. And a 10 is… something that will destroy the world if it gets out, I guess?”

Red’s smile slips, then fades entirely. “Right. And a 5 would be something that… brings about a region’s downfall?”

“That sounds more like, uh, an 8?”

“I think that would be all regions, if a 9 is… what, all life is at stake, but the planet will probably be fine?”

“I guess that sounds right. So a 7 is one region’s downfall, and a 6 is… multiple cities?” Leaf frowns. “If we keep doing this it’s going to make the number itself a metadata leak.”

“We could give the numbers to someone who doesn’t know what they represent, then just have them tell us whose was higher? They might get curious though, then we have to lie to them—”

She snorts. “Blue would probably roll his eyes but not ask questions. Also it would be easy to just write a script that would do it for us.”

“Right—wait, I’m an idiot, I can just amnesia myself after you tell me something if it doesn’t relate to what I thought!”

“Permanently?”

“Uh… not really…”

Charmeleon growls and falls onto all fours as Raff, feet digging into the ground and leaves rustling, starts to pull the rope harder. The flame on Charmeleon’s tail flares, and Red is alarmed enough to merge with his pokemon to check if he’s still in a playful mood. “Uh, not sure why but he’s maybe getting a bit too riled up for this.”

“They do get more competitive the closer they are to evolving. You should find some other charmeleon for him to play with.”

Close to evolving. He knows his pokemon just has a couple of feet of growth left before that becomes possible, but hearing it put that way makes it seem right around the corner. “Yeah, will do. Meanwhile…” He unclips two balls and holds one up as he sends a calming wave through his merger until his pokemon relaxes and lets the rope drop from his jaws, “Charmeleon, return! Go, Ivysaur! And before you say it, yeah, I still haven’t named him, sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize to me.” Her teasing expression fades as she checks her phone. “I really do have to go soon. Look, you’re right, your powers make telling you first the obvious right choice. But if you do decide not to tell me afterward, it’s going to be hard to justify why I shared the info with someone, and I won’t be able to lie about that either. Do you understand?”

“You’re saying it might draw more people into it.” And that whoever she wouldn’t be able to lie to, it would be someone as close to her as he is. While he’d like to think that’s not actually true, he knows there are plenty of others she would probably feel just as bad lying to, like Blue or his mom.

Red lets out a breath, rubbing his face. “Yeah, I get it. I’m actually still processing some stuff that I did actually learn and I’m not sure what the full scope of everything is. Maybe it’s better to actually just… both forget this for now?”

“That… might be the responsible thing to do, yeah.”

They both stand silently for a moment, staring at each other, and he doesn’t need to merge to guess her thoughts: “Responsibility sucks sometimes.”

“It sucks so much!”

“But we can both keep looking into it right?”

“Oh, totally! And if we find something out that wouldn’t be breaking someone’s confidence—”

“We could share that,” Red finishes, and smiles. “I wasn’t exactly looking for another project, but maybe my mom can h—really?

“I’m leaving!” Leaf declares, withdrawing Raff and summoning her abra while turning her back on him. “Goodbye Mr. Verres!”

“Wait, at least tell me—”

“Fuchsia!”

“—aaand she’s gone.” He turns to his ivysaur, who just unceremoniously lost his play partner, and picks up the other end of the chord. “Well boy, now we just have to decide if we should ask the Professor. If you win, I won’t.” Ivysaur cocks his head, then braces his feet against the ground… only to drop his end of the rope as soon as Red pulls.

He stares at the slack rope for a second and shrugs. “Well, guess that settles it. Just need to figure out some meta norms around secrets first… and hopefully not get any new ones to hold onto meanwhile.”


“I want to help.”

Blue blinks sleepily at the violet-haired girl standing outside his door. “Help with… Satori, right? Help with what?” It’s barely seven in the morning, and he went to bed around midnight after a strategy debate on how to better protect Fuchsia’s northern and southern tips went long past dinner, followed by a long walk and training session with Eevee beneath the full moon.

Satori doesn’t look like she got much sleep either. “Your project.” Her torracat is sniffing in the direction of his room, and takes a step inside before suddenly stopping and stepping back, probably from some mental nudge.

He rubs some sleep from his eyes. “I have a few of th—oh! My abra?”

“Yes. Red said you’re trying to do something like a reverse of my own goal, and suggested collaborating with Jason. He showed me your email about searching for psychic pokemon that have adapted defenses against Dark pokemon, and I began experimenting. I believe your abra would make a good test subject, first to—”

Blue’s sleepiness is rapidly fading as he tries to keep up with the exposition dump, and by the end he’s grinning. “Yeah, got it, one minute!” He slides the paper door closed and takes a step toward his dresser, then turns back and opens it again. “You’re free now, right? That’s why you came in person?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, one sec.” He closes the door and hurries through his morning routine, sending a message to his friends with one hand as he brushes his teeth with the other. Once he checks his schedule and confirms that he doesn’t have anything for a couple hours, he steps out while buckling his pokebelt on. “Let’s head to the training rooms. And start at the beginning for how you got involved.”

“Very well,” she says, and falls into step beside him as he strides toward the stairwell, being careful not to go down them too loud given how many others are probably still sleeping. Living in the gym’s trainer compound is nice in some ways and annoying in others. “But I don’t know what constitutes the beginning, for you.”

“By reversing your goal you mean you’re trying to keep your bond when your torracat evolves into a Dark type, right?” Blue vaguely remembers hearing about this and thinking this would be great for psychics but unlikely to help Dark people. “How does this help with that?”

“As I said, your email to Red was thought provoking, along with his and Jason’s investigations into how ghost and psychic phenomena are related. I began merging with a wider range of psychic pokemon specifically to see if any have unique defense mechanisms against Dark types that haven’t yet been exploited in light of the… how did you put it? ‘The self-perpetuating blindspot of not using Psychic types against Dark opponents?'”

He’s not sure he’s ever used the phrase ‘self-perpetuating,’ but… “Close enough. You found one?”

“Xatu was the first lead. Did you know they have natural anti-Ghost defenses?”

“I know wild ones can have Ghost attacks, sure. But it doesn’t really help them against Dark pokemon, since they shrug off most Ghost attacks anyway.”

“From a battle trainer’s perspective, this may be true. But it means you would focus on their Flying attacks instead, if you had to fight against one, yes?”

“Well, yeah. And I’d have to be pretty desperate to use a xatu to fight anything that would resist even that.”

“As you say.” They step into the bright morning air and start to make their way across the gym compound, where a few other early risers are already doing various chores or training their pokemon. “But Jason and Red have been making strides in delineating the boundary between psychic and medium abilities, without consideration of combat utility, and it’s become more clear how the ability to use Ghost attacks at all is a sign of some difference between one psychic and another.”

“Like a ‘ghost sense’ instead of just a psychic one? Wait, this is one of the first things Red researched with the spinarak, right?” He only remembers it because it came up in the notes Red sent to the production company making the movie about their journey. “He didn’t realize there’s not just one type of psychic particle at the time.”

“Only tangentially related; it would not have been evident through that alone, or his later research with the abra. But after a conversation with Sensei he became convinced that this sense is more broad, and may be visual.”

“Visual?” Blue frowns, hopes sinking. “I don’t get how that would be better than just using their eyes, if they have them? My abra knows I exist by now, or at least knows something like me exists even if it can’t sense my thoughts. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? For both of us.”

“Meowstic were the key; despite the similarities, both genders have different natural capabilities, complemented by expanded sensorium. Extended mergers with females showed broader electromagnetic range, as well as what we’re now calling spiritual sense. This does in fact help them detect dark pokemon from a distance, though it is hard to interpret this reliably, and they still can’t use their psychic abilities on them; only attacks of other kinds.”

“Got it, so if we figure out what female meowstic do, and someone creates a TM that imitates it—”

“This morning I managed, through my male meowstic, to see a dark aura.”

Blue stops cold on the threshold to the front door, then turns to look at her. “What the hell is a ‘dark aura?'”

She holds a hand out and waves it vaguely around him. “An energy field that I believe you and Dark pokemon ambiently have, which presumably keeps you from being affected by psychic abilities. What some Dark pokemon can project from themselves in attacks.”

“How do you even… wait, does Red know about this?”

“I left him a message. He should see it when he wakes, but I was too impatient to wait.”

He almost comments about how her impatience didn’t keep her from waking him up, but he’s glad she did. After a moment he steps aside so she can leave the building as well, then starts walking again. “How has this not been figured out before?”

“Gifted do not generally look through our pokemon’s vision.” She sounds mildly apologetic, almost embarrassed. “It is… disorienting, to see through multiple eyes, more so than other senses being expanded. On occasion it can be valuable for brief periods, but our preference is to keep our senses separate while linking our thoughts for communicating impulses and notions. If we link to psychic pokemon, of course, then their psychic senses are where we focus our attention, as they are as useful to them as vision is for us. It also feels more like a natural expansion rather than taking more focus the way paying attention to another set of eyes or ears does.”

The second half of this doesn’t mean much to Blue, and he tries to reorient to the bottom line. “So… okay so, you were saying meowstic can see dark auras, but psychics don’t use their eyes so they don’t know that?”

“Not ambiently, or else of course someone would have noticed by now. It takes intense concentration. Xatu can as well; as I said, they were the first lead, but we were unsure what they were reacting to due to their spiritual sense, and they do not naturally hunt dark pokemon.”

“But the spiritual sense isn’t necessary?”

“No, male meowstic demonstrated it’s not, as only females have it. And if it’s not for them—”

“It might not be for abra.” They’re almost to the training rooms, and Blue is already running his fingers over Tops’s ball. “What do I need to do?”

“First I’m going to get used to merging with your abra. But I suspect your abra will actually need to evolve to learn this.”

Blue stops for the second time in two minutes, frowning, then pulls his phone out. “Then evolving him just became a priority.”

“Who are you calling?”

“Red. Trust me, he’s going to want to be awake for this… and there’s something I think he can uniquely help with.” Sorry buddy. He’d hoped to protect his friend from the potential fallout of Koichi’s training philosophy, if it turns out to be true, but…

If he’s honest, he’s been starting to lose confidence in his ability to beat Janine. Sure, he might get the battle with Koga anyway, since he’s fulfilling his end of the bargain… but if he doesn’t leave Fuchsia a stronger gym than he found it, if his ideas aren’t at least somewhat adopted… he’s going to feel like a failure.

We’ll figure this stuff out together.

Chapter 103: Interlude XXI – Warnings

+WorldNews, +UnovaNews, +KantoNews, -Celebrity, -Civic, -League

00h 27m 58.7k – New tangela evolution discovered in Sinnoh; Rowan claims “pattern” found

01h 44m 108k – Tier 2 declared in Vermilion, Surge calls for aid

00h 55m 73.3k – “Less ditto found every day” claims Cinnabar ranger

13h 32m 319k – Nacrene city on high alert after string of unown spotted

05h 13m 49.2k – Suspected renegade activity in Castelia, seven dead

17h 53m 101k – Fifth psychic reports shared dream of unown danger, joins warning against research…


Kazue Silph has three rules he never breaks.

The first is never to go into business with family or friends. At many points along his journey, from a small business owner to a major chain to the predominant market in the Indigo regions, he’s had friends, relations, and friends of relations reach out to present him with job applications, joint business proposals, and investment opportunities. He turned them all down without consideration, though he was happy to pass along those that seemed promising to other companies. He’s given away millions of dollars over his lifetime, but always with no strings attached and no expectation of return or service.

A successful business, he learned early on, must always be about efficiency, first and foremost. It can, within limits, have values, but personal sentiment or favoritism will act as a rot, and even deep family bonds can be ruined over the smallest, most impersonal business decisions. He’s spent considerable energy and time ensuring nepotism is as difficult as possible within his corporate culture, but he believes the policies have paid for themselves.

The second rule is to always work toward what the market needs, not what it wants. There have been plenty of enticing opportunities to expand his business into other areas beyond trainer supplies, but to do so would have risked redirecting money from a sure bet to an area other competitors were already crowding, and likely with a much wider talent pool available. At best the company would make more money; at worst they would chase fads and lose not just money, but time and focus, which are much more valuable to him.

Society would always need trainers to survive, and trainers would always need supplies. Everything else he shifts production or resources to would reduce their availability and quality, and cause more trainers or their pokemon to die. Money is just a byproduct of the real value business can create for society, but the resources and power to change the world requires focus.

The third rule is the most important: never make a business decision while angry.

“Send him in,” President Silph says, and a few moments later the door opens to admit Lance, the Champion of Indigo.

Kazue still had a full head of hair, if a bit thin on top, when Lance began his Johto journey. While the businessman’s trainer days were long behind him, it seemed obvious that a child of the famous Dragon Clan, descendents of one of the region’s oldest warlords, with a dratini as his starter, would go far. So he paid little attention to Lance showing up on the news throughout the years, thinking that fame pointed cameras in the young dragon trainer’s direction as much as merit… until he and his journeymates deflected a Beast on their own with a clever, and risky, use of a controlled landslide.

After that it was less surprise than it otherwise might have been when Lance reached Victory Road just a couple years after starting his journey. The reigning Champion has shown the same mix of daring and careful calculation in office that first made him catch Kazue’s attention.

“Thank you for seeing me,” Lance says as he comes to stand in front of the President’s desk and bows, then places his hands on the back of a seat rather than taking it. “Neither of us has much time to waste, so I’ll get to the point.”

Kazue puts on an expression of polite curiosity. “I appreciate that, Champion. What can I do for you?” The fact that the meeting was requested to be in-person makes it fairly clear what this is about, but he still can’t admit that without giving out information; he’s not positive which piece of technology, exactly, has leaked to the Champion, though given the recent news, he’s fairly confident he knows.

The thought makes his pulse quicken, and he takes a deep breath to calm himself. At the end of the day, this is just a business meeting like any other.

“I’m sure by now you’ve heard that other regions are allowing pokemon genesis research. I have been struggling against those who would have Indigo follow their example, but I cannot deny that we would be at a distinct disadvantage if their efforts bear fruit, especially given some private information I’ve been made aware of. I’ve begun negotiations with the other island regions to potentially coordinate some limited, focused, and safe efforts by the various Leagues. Cynthia is currently the only holdout, but I am confident that she will change her mind in time.”

“I applaud your ability to adjust to new circumstances,” Kazue says. “Though if your goal is to stay abreast of other regions, you know my thoughts on regulation and innovation. It is one thing to win a race begun late, another to win it while hobbled.”

“I won’t deny the practical effects of your philosophy, especially given your many accomplishments. But our goal is not explicitly to be the first to create new pokemon, and if we learn how to by unleashing another event like the ditto outbreak, the cost could well exceed the reward if we don’t manage to contain it. Other regions may gamble with their people’s wellbeing, but Indigo will not.”

Lance punctuates the media-perfect speech with a sharp smile, yellow eyes gleaming with something predatory. “And of course, we are not incapable of learning from others’ mistakes.”

Kazue returns his smile, reassured to see the glimpse of the Champion’s ruthlessness applied to matters beyond pokemon battles. “Or benefiting from them more directly.”

“Which is why I knew you would understand when I heard you’ve been developing a pokeball that could catch the Stormbringers. Perhaps even Rayquaza, should it ever attack.” Lance’s shoulders straighten. “I want you to make it available for the League, and only the League.”

President Silph taps his fingers against his desk as he meets that fierce yellow gaze for a moment, then says, “No.”

To his credit, the Champion is an adept negotiator for one who has never worked in the world of business, and doesn’t even blink. “We’re prepared to help negotiate and support some reasonable changes to regulatory laws and taxes, as long as they’re not preferential to your company.”

“Tempting as that would normally be, it isn’t enough. Those laws should be changed for the good of the region, while you’re asking me to give up what I expect to be the most powerful technological achievement of the past decade. Do you even know how much it’s valued at?”

Lance only hesitates for a moment. “Potentially, priceless.”

“Correct. But potential is hard to put a number on, so I’ll reveal that our estimates put the final auction for the first masterball to end, at least, in the hundreds of millions.”

The Champion pauses a moment to absorb that, and Kazue lets him. They both know the League couldn’t afford more than a few at that price, not without drastic cuts in trainer assistance programs… that or a dozen other smaller initiatives and regulating bodies fit under the umbrella.

“You would truly sell such a powerful tool, and potential weapon, to the highest bidder? With no consideration of whether they will be able to even properly utilize it?”

Kazue does not often waste time lecturing people on basic economics anymore, but for those as powerful as a region champion, he’s willing to make an exception on the off chance Lance will be persuaded. “That is what the market is for, Champion. The masterball is worth far less in the hands of a mediocre trainer than it is in a skilled one, and thus those who are skilled, or those willing to patron a skilled trainer, will be willing to pay more for it.”

“And what of their character or goals? Money doesn’t distinguish a Leader from a Renegade.”

Kazue spreads his hands. “Money doesn’t, but you’re suggesting we distribute it by trust, and money can often be a way to quantify trust. Stock investment, providing grants, even the basic act of hiring are all ways of using money to show confidence and trust.”

“An untrusted person may gain access to a lot of money through deceit or antisocial deals.”

“They would have to be deceitfully trustworthy first, for the financier to believe in them, which can be said of those considered altruistic as well.” Kazue shrugs. “We can debate philosophy if you wish, Champion, but my answer is still no. I will not make yet another product, designed and built by some of the greatest scientists and engineers of our era, into an object of charity, limiting the return both for them and our investors.”

Lance frowns slightly. “You’re thinking of the goggles. I understand if you’re frustrated—”

“Frustrated? Perhaps.” Kazue flicks a hand to the side as if drying it of water. “There, I have set it aside. What else do you believe I am, Champion?”

Rather than walk into the trap, Lance remains silent, wariness transmuted by status and dignity into a patient, puzzled frown. But it cannot save him; he is the one who needs something from Kazue, and so all his attempt to save face can do is waste their time.

Lance is a skilled negotiator, but even Kazue’s clerks would be able to smell the need on him; to the President’s experienced eye, this goes even beyond that. Lance isn’t just in need, he seems desperate in some carefully controlled way, and Kazue wants to know why. Knowledge is valuable, and if Lance is actually afraid of something, he likely has good reason to be.

A company can have values, after all, and still survive. If Indigo is in danger, it is more than fiduciary duty that would compel Kazue to act; with major operations in every city of Kanto and Johto, Indigo is Silph, and Silph is Indigo.

“I believe you are standing on principles,” the Dragon Master says at last, “that I may be blind to. But there must be some arrangement we can reach—”

“I understand that you came yourself as a sign of respect.” Kazue keeps his voice firm, but not angry. Never make a business decision angry. “But you are wasting both of our very valuable time. Delegate this task to someone better suited to negotiation, or else drop the charade that you are here to barter as an equal.”

That upsets the Dragon Master, and Kazue holds up an apologetic hand to soften the blow; just as he doesn’t want to make a decision angry, he doesn’t want those he negotiates with to either. True positive-sum trades cannot be those regretted once emotions cool, and anger often drives people to justify negative-sum interactions. “I mean this only in our current situation, and perhaps in our projected, ongoing interactions. Time and again, regions have treated corporations like mine as little more than pokemon; useful tools to be trained into providing valuable goods and services for them. Our ability to trade freely is limited, as if our method is completely unrelated to our outcomes, and when we lobby to attain more freedoms from regulations that would allow us to be more efficient, we are called corrupt, or treated as though we are attempting to corrupt.”

“Your grievances—”

“No, Champion. Not grievances, not frustrations. Principles was closest. You came into this room and asked me to limit the profit we could earn by our invention, as if profit is a choice, as if it comes from coercion that I might refrain from. Our plan is an open auction, which makes every dollar we might gain the result of free, individual choices. You object to this?”

“I do.”

“Then you show the common belief, on some level, that profit itself is an unjust pursuit, simply because the excess value a seller accrues can be counted, while the value a customer gains cannot. Have you considered whether we plan to simply use masterballs ourselves rather than sell it? Hire the best trainer we can find as an employee, and then sell the captured legendary? Until you understand why that is not our plan, you will not understand why your approach today has been wrong from the start.”

To his credit, Lance takes a moment to absorb all this, and Kazue lets him. If he didn’t hold some respect for the Champion he wouldn’t have bothered with the lecture, and it seems that Lance recognizes this himself before he stirs and takes a breath.

“As you said, our time is valuable,” he finally says. “If there is truly nothing that would convince you to do this, then I will accept it. If there is something you want, and it’s within my power and mandate, I can at least try.”

“As a first step, tell me what has you so concerned. Not the vague reasons, the specific predictions or warnings you have reason to believe are true.”

Lance sighs, but to Kazue’s satisfaction seems to have taken his words to heart by simply saying “The psychic dreams that have been reported in the media. There are more, and by trusted sources.”

Meaning by those among the League, probably. “I confess to not having considered the articles worth reading.”

“I don’t blame you, but the simple version is that there is a threat that appears bigger than any other we’ve yet faced, coming at an unknown amount of time.”

“One that will need legendary pokemon in the hands of trainers to defeat,” Kazue guesses. It should be terrifying, but all he feels is tired… and frustrated. For a moment he thought Lance might have learned of whatever experiments Giovanni has been working on, thus freeing Kazue to act on that knowledge without breaking their agreement.

Instead it seems yet another threat is on the horizon, and he finds he is unsure how to internalize an even bigger threat than the Hoenn titans represented. The company suffered massive losses as a result of the incident and aftermath, though they were lucky enough to be able to weather the storm better than others. Of course they were asked to provide humanitarian aid afterward, and of course they did… which just further limited the scope of new, expensive projects they had planned to start developing as the Silph Scope and masterball entered their last stages.

He told marketing to create an ad about that, perhaps earn the company some understanding of what the losses would result in in terms the public would understand, even be dismayed by. But the death count was high enough that he was convinced it would be taken poorly. Still, he feels it like a rock in his boot to think of all the potential lives that might be lost just because they end up developing such powerful technologies any later.

Sakaki understood, of course. Commiserating with him after the Hoenn incident was one of the few times lately that Silph felt they were genuinely allied again in years.

But that hasn’t changed the arc of their partnership, and for that Silph does feel regret. There are far too few equals for those in their position, and further fewer in such different areas of influence that candid conversation is possible.

“It seems likely, yes.” Lance is quiet for a beat. “I know enough about negotiation to understand that I’ve just made my position worse.”

“True enough. If other regions know this, my expectation of how much others will be willing to bid is even higher than expected. I do appreciate the candor, but it only highlights how—”

“There’s more. But it hasn’t been made public.”

“Neither has what you just told me.”

“This is different.”

Kazue’s hands come together as he considers the Champion for a moment. “You want a concession first. Because it has potential business applications?” Not that the previous revelation didn’t, but they would be relatively invisible compared to, say, a secret that would lead to Silph pivoting more visibly in anticipation to some new technology or threat.

“I’m not a businessman, but I know that all knowledge has value… and if I trust you to do one thing, it’s to make use of such information to generate more for your company.”

It’s a compliment, but a backhanded one given the way the Champion once again frames this as a bad thing. Or maybe he’s just worried about favoritism.

Kazue closes his eyes for a moment and breathes in and out until the anger fades to sullen coals. “And if corporations like mine do have the opportunity to use this information to create new products, or refine those we have, don’t you think this would benefit the region as well?”

“Of course. But I must consider how others would react as well.”

“I can have an NDA on my desk and signed within three minutes. I understand wanting a stronger negotiating position, but—”

“No, you don’t.” Lance’s whole body language has shifted, lost something, gained something. The Champion is back in control, somehow, and Kazue feels his first trickle of apprehension; he’s made a mistake somehow, underestimated something… “I don’t fully understand your perspective and values, or the wisdom of them. But nor do you mine, and so I must ask; is there anything that would change your mind? Have you spent even five minutes considering it?”

Kazue’s hands clench, then unclench as he takes another breath. “I thought I made myself clear—”

“You did, and so I’ll skip to the bottom line. We cannot allow these ‘masterballs’ to be sold to another region. Any bidding must be limited to Indigo.”

Calm, he must remain calm. “This meeting is ov—”

“In what world,” Lance says, and his voice is calm, deep and solid as the earth. “Did you think the League would not treat another region gaining a Legendary pokemon as an existential risk?”

“Another region, Champion?” He hates the quaver in his voice, the barely contained fury sounding like weakness. “Or another trainer? There are only a handful of organizations in Indigo who could outbid the League, and who below you would you trust with it?”

“If the League wins the bids, the masterballs will belong to the League. Someone else may prove themselves the strongest trainer by then.”

The words are stated without hubris or irony, and for a moment the absurdity almost makes Kazue laugh. “You’re only the strongest battle trainer. An experienced hunter—”

“Would have no experience fighting Legendary pokemon.”

Calm, calm, calm. “You can’t do this. The charter—”

“Your lawyers are the best money can buy, so I’m sure they were right to inform you that the courts would decide in your favor given what you knew at the time. I’m also just as sure that will change once the new information is revealed.”

Kazue chokes back the wild threats that come to mind, knuckles white around the arms of his chair. Before he can regain control of himself, come up with something else to say, the Champion has released the back of the seat and straightened.

“I’ll send a more skilled negotiator to discuss what we can do for you in return, in thanks for this great service to Indigo’s safety. In light of what you’ve shared about the true cost this limitation will have, I’ll be sure it’s not our most skilled negotiator.” Lance’s smile is warm, the bow of his head respectful, and then he leaves, cape just barely clearing the door before it closes.

Kazue sits frozen for a minute, part of him still in shock at what the Champion had said, another part disbelieving that he had let it happen, and another racing through things he should have said, things he could do to deny the enemy their prize, to protect against such flagrant abuse in the future. Threats to shut down the masterball research, to suspend operations of any kind, would have to be a last resort so long as he can’t trust the information not to be stolen or leaked the way the goggles schematics were.

After five minutes have passed his alarm chimes to indicate his next appointment, and his hand moves automatically to alert his assistant to reschedule his afternoon. He almost makes the call to Sakaki then, but decides to go to his private spa for a soak and massage first.

Never make a business decision angry.


Divxddd: yo

Divxddd: what i miss

Jigglethesepuffs: these sad fools still have hope

Divxddd: lol

Passifist: Hey they can turn it around

Ioutrankyou: assuming Tal wakes the fuck up and GUARDS

Ioutrankyou: THE

Ioutrankyou: HOOP GODDAMN U TAL JUST INTERRUPT ONCE IN UR LIFE

Divxddd: looooooooooooooooool

Jigglethesepuffs: that was a nice juke tho

Divxddd: true

Ioutrankyou: GOD

Divxddd: hey wheres kit doesn’t he have money riding on this one

Ioutrankyou: DAMN

Ioutrankyou: aojaifhasldqkjajkalfagbqiasklsadj

Passifist: Kit’s napping said to wake him before the last match ends

Jigglethesepuffs: Think this is it

Jigglethesepuffs: unless they pull off a miracle

Passifist: ya

Passifist: i’ll call him

Ioutrankyou: its absurd that Tal still has a contract

Ioutrankyou: absolutely absurd

Ioutrankyou: this guy’s worse than half the pugs I run into

Divxddd: Half the pugs you run into aren’t playing against pros

Ioutrankyou: doesn’t matter

Ioutrankyou: garbage excuse to not do basic shit

Ioutrankyou: even you could have guarded that

Divxddd: lol thanks I think

Passifist: Well that was weird

Jigglethesepuffs: ?

Passifist: Kit’s up but he’s freaking

Divxddd: lol must have bet a lot

Jigglethesepuffs: freaking about what?

Passifist: no not about the game not sure tbh was saying something about a dream

Passifist: nightmare i guess

Divxddd: bout what?

Passifist: think he’s been reading too many creepypastas

Passifist: something about unown are going to merge into a supermon or something

Divxddd: you know given how this year’s going that’d fit

Jigglethesepuffs: wait I think I read that one

Ioutrankyou: guys

Ioutrankyou: guys i think its happening

Ioutrankyou: holy shit did you SEE THAT

Ioutrankyou: HELL YEAH

Divxddd: woah

Ioutrankyou: HELL

Ioutrankyou: YEAH

Passifist: replaying, I missed it

Jigglethesepuffs: same

Ioutrankyou: fuck you Liquidforce

Ioutrankyou: cheap ass surf spamming scrub

Ioutrankyou: tried to hide in the grass as blastoise lol get rekt

Jigglethesepuffs: Alright that was solid

Divxddd: ya

Divxddd: gonna take a few more of those to even odds though

Passifist: So I just looked it up, cuz it sounded familiar to me too

Passifist: Its not a creepy, i mean there are tons about unown but this is different, there’s been dozens of psychics all over the island who are saying they had a dream like this

Divxddd: like what

Passifist: unown creating or summoning some mega mythic pokemon that wipes us all out

Divxddd: Kit should make sure he pees before bed

Divxddd: been doing it for years, never get nightmares anymore

Ioutrankyou: he should get the fuck on is what he should do

Ioutrankyou: missing all the good shit

Jigglethesepuffs: isn’t Kit psychic?

Divxddd: wait, really? is he?

Passifist: Ya he is

Divxddd: woah

Ioutrankyou: so what?

Divxddd: bit of a coincidence

Ioutrankyou: no it’s not

Ioutrankyou: i mean yeah, that’s all it is

Ioutrankyou: bet plenty of non-psy had that nightmare too after hearing psychs being drama queens about it

Ioutrankyou: unown are creepy af

Ioutrankyou: dreams don’t mean shit

Divxddd: our dreams don’t, but psychics might

Ioutrankyou: ffs

Passifist: looks like it wasn’t just random psychics to start with, it’s been big names

Passifist: some wrote out what they dreamed without comparing notes

Ioutrankyou: again, so what

Ioutrankyou: some similar phrases and all the differences will get ignored

Ioutrankyou: come on people this is basic shit

Jigglethesepuffs: funny you mention that

Jigglethesepuffs: there is actually one thing in particular that they all seemed to remember, including the ones that wrote their dreams down

Divxddd: ?

Kitandpals: “it is coming”

Ioutrankyou: fucking finally

Divxddd: yooo that’s creepy as fuck

Ioutrankyou: hey log on, we can get a queue going in case the match ends soon

Jigglethesepuffs: you okay Kit?

Kitandpals: no

Kitandpals: i don’t know

Kitandpals: it was so vivid, i’m still shaking

Ioutrankyou: well log on anyway you’re still better than a pug would be

Passifist: dude stfu a sec

Passifist: you didnt hear him

Passifist: do you want to do voice Kit?

Ioutrankyou: u stfu

Kitandpals: I dot know

Kitandpals: *don’t

Ioutrankyou: all acting like fucking babies over a goddamn dream

Ioutrankyou: and TAL IS NOT BLOCKING

Ioutrankyou:THE GODDAMN

Ioutrankyou: HOOP

Jigglethesepuffs: what else do you remember?

Ioutrankyou: AGAIN

Jigglethesepuffs: if it’s okay to ask

Ioutrankyou: FFS

Divxddd: its over

Ioutrankyou: yeah fuck it

Ioutrankyou: gonna hop in a game

Ioutrankyou: you guys coming or what

Kitandpals: Not sure. Confusing, shifting sights

Kitandpals: unown

Kitandpals: a whole world of them

Ioutrankyou: sigh

Kitandpals: and there was amin there

Kitandpals: *a mind

Ioutrankyou: there’s no use dwelling on it, play a match and take your mind off it instead

Kitandpals: crazy thoughts, hungry thoughts

Kitandpals: wanted what it saw to be more like it

Divxddd: what it saw?

Kitandpals: our world

Jigglethesepuffs: damn

Passifist: What’s “it?” How do you know it’s coming?

Kitandpals: dont now

Kitandpals: *don’t know

Ioutrankyou: alright I’m in queue and hopping channels you guys join me when you’re done w/ group therapy or wtvr

Jigglethesepuffs: Ignore him Kit

Divxddd: Imma join queue too but staying here this is fascinating

Kitandpals: I don’t know. It was like big capital letter words n my head

Kitandpals: It was all really clear its not fading but the words are most clear like someone said them outloud and woke me up but there was no one in my room and it didn’t sound like a voice it was just the words

Kitandpals: I don’t know what to do or feel right now I’m fucking scared guys

Kitandpals: It still feels so real

Jigglethesepuffs: You’ll be okay, there are others who had the same dream

Kitandpals: I know but

Jigglethesepuffs: they seem okay

Kitandpals: that makes it worse

Kitandpals: that makes it so much worse


The streetlights make Saffron look like a series of washed-out photos through the drizzle, every color faded and every corner shadowed. Masaki Terasoma (codename: Looker) walks from one snapshot to the next, hands on pokeballs beneath his damp coat and eyes wandering restlessly. Lea keeps her nose in the air, the mightyena’s dark coat making her nearly invisible in the gloom as she sniffs for any alarming scents, while his toxicroak slinks through the void between streetlights like the smudged thumbprint of some sloppy darkroom attendant. Above them Sever flies in nearly silent loops as the crobat listens for anything and everything that might come for them.

Some might say having three pokemon as bodyguards in the middle of the Saffron City is paranoid. If it wasn’t three in the morning, he would probably be getting plenty of odd or concerned looks from fellow pedestrians. But there aren’t any of those, because late night meetings reduce foot traffic, which makes it easier to spot if someone’s following or preparing an ambush.

Paranoid was left behind months ago; Looker has been in Kanto for nearly four months and there have already been three attempts on his life. Or at least, it’s safest to assume there have been.

It’s hard to tell, exactly, what counts and doesn’t. Whoever picked the locks on his hotel room (scrape marks along the doorframe around the latch, likely caused in frustration when the door still refused to open) may have just been trying to rob him, or even just rob the room without knowing who was in it. The fearow flock that swarmed him midflight to Saffron may have been a coincidental attack by wilds (ratio of fearow to spearow matched average records of local flocks). And the peanuts might have ended up in his food by accident; the chef seemed genuinely apologetic and embarrassed (and background check showed nothing of interest).

And yet, safe as he may be, part of him clings to the notion that he’s being targeted. Illogical as it is, he wants evidence, ethereal as it would be, that he’s on the right track. That he’s finally found something important.

Which is why he was suspicious when he got the message asking for a private meeting a few weeks ago. It was relayed from a relatively trustworthy local source, but sources could be compromised. It didn’t tell him to come alone, but did specify that he only bring along someone he completely trusts, which could have been a clever psyop meant to lower his guard, since he doesn’t trust anyone completely.

But there was an obvious choice. Agent Matsuda (codename: Notebook) has only been with Interpol for a few years, but he has an impressive record stamping out corruption in Indigo before then; if he’s compromised, Looker could only hope it’s in directions other than the ones that would impact their mission here.

Of course, if he participated in a generations-spanning interregional renegade network, “sponsoring” detectives like Matsuda is exactly the sort of thing he’d do to get someone trustworthy on the inside of investigations. But he knew the investigation would require some risk, and if he couldn’t depend on his local partner then he’d likely be dead already anyway.

That meeting was more fruitful than he dared hope at the time. This second may be even more so.

“Building looks clear,” Notebook says in Looker’s earpiece once he’s about a block away from his destination, and he mutters acknowledgement before walking past it, then around, then back, until he can do a full circuit of the warehouse himself.

Only then does he send his mightyena in, and a moment later he hears two barks, followed by three, followed by another three.

“One person. Female. Two pokemon. Going in.” Looker turns off his mic and sends a whistle to Sever to circle the building before entering with his toxicroak.

Laura Verres is standing with her back to a wall, arms folded across her stomach. He can tell she’s nervous from across the room, but it’s the normal amount of nervous, the expected amount, and so he only gives the warehouse the usual sweep before approaching her and her tangela. Her primeape is lurking on the stacked boxes above, the quiet snort of its breaths punctuating the echo of his steps.

“Good to see you again, Detective.” Her voice is soft as the rain on the pavement outside, and he notes with approval that she’s also keeping both hands on the pokeballs at her belt. “Wasn’t expecting a response so soon.”

Looker shrugs. “Your lead was better than you had any reason to expect. Fuji’s story doesn’t add up.”

Her face remains calm, but he sees something in her eyes. Triumph? Hurt? Maybe something else too. He doesn’t know her well enough to tell for sure, but he knew during their first meeting that part of her hoped she was wrong about the old scientist; he respected the fact that she went through so much trouble to check anyway.

“Tell me.”

He considered not, of course, unsure what she would do with the information. But an investigator is only as good as their sources, and given what she’s managed to piece together on her own, Laura Verres could turn out to be quite a valuable source indeed.

Still, the same things that tend to make sources valuable can often make them volatile.

“I will, once I get some assurances.”

“I won’t report it, if that’s what you mean.” She seems more exasperated than offended. “So far as he’s concerned, I’ll act as I normally would, and continue helping him spread his ideas. But there are others I’ve gotten involved, or have considered getting involved, and if he’s dangerous in some way, or being around him is, I need to know.”

“You mean Leaf Juniper. Possibly your son as well?”

“Just Leaf.”

“That story she’s putting out online, is that involved in all this somehow?”

Verres raises her brow. “You’re reading webserials now?”

“I like to be thorough.” Her brow is still raised, and he shrugs. “Alright I skimmed it. If it’s some kind of code, I can’t make heads or tails of how.”

“Me neither. He’s been pretty worked up about it though, so it may just be something he really believes in. So, is he dangerous?”

“If he is, you’ll leave this entirely in our hands?”

“Of course not. But so far as acting on your information goes, it’s your info, and I’ll respect that… assuming you’ll try to do the same in return.”

“You know I can’t promise that.”

“I wouldn’t have believed it if you tried. I’m not looking for a promise, just a sense that you care.”

Looker nods. He similarly wouldn’t have believed her if she claimed to be willing to subordinate herself entirely to Interpol; he’s starting to believe she’s one of the rare breed of true investigative reporters, willing to put their career and safety on the line to uncover the truth, and they don’t tend to trust police, no matter how separated from the source of potential corruption they’re investigating. “I looked into some financial records that are far more extensive than your source managed to take. Fuji’s been off the grid for nearly fifteen years, but he’s only been on Silph’s ‘payroll’ for about half of that.”

“You could have missed it, if they changed up how they paid for everything.”

“Could have, yeah. But that’s also around the time he started dropping those breadcrumbs that Professor Oak picked up. So my two main guesses are, either he suddenly had a change of heart about working for Silph around the time Silph changed how they were managing him, which could make sense depending on how and why. Or, that’s actually the point when he started working for Silph at all.”

“Which would mean he did what for the years before that? Vacation?”

His smile is as wry as her tone. “Maybe. But this pattern isn’t new.”

It takes her a moment, eyes darting between his, then to the side, then back. “The renegades under the casino.”

“And others, in other regions. Sometimes it’s easy to make up job histories, particularly for random civilians. Gets harder for those who have been in the public eye—”

“—or with a specific set of skills that only a handful of organizations would hire for. The researchers there?”

“Right. Most are from other regions, but of all the people hired to work on secretive projects, some seem to be less ‘hired’ and more…” He shrugs. “Kidnapped? Recruited? Traded?”

“It’s nothing illegal though, is it?”

He grimaces “No. We’ve stretched the laws in Celadon because of the Renegade involvement, but those paper trails all lead to other regions, some of which are less cooperative with interpol and others which are, frankly, too corrupt for me to trust.”

Laura shakes her head. “Whoever was involved in that can’t be involved with Silph if it was stealing from them. How sure are you that it’s connected to what’s happening with Fuji? It feels like you’re making some leaps.”

He crosses his arms. “There’s no reason the strategy would be limited by one particular organization, or even type of org. If an even moderately competent person or group could be doing something without risk that would be an advantage to them, it’s best to assume they are doing it until there’s reason to believe they’re not. But,” he says to forestall a predictable rebuttal, “That’s part of why I need your help. You’re in the best position to learn something more about Fuji’s history and situation, maybe get him to guess about some of the other missing scientists. I don’t believe he’s been as silo’d as he says, and anything you can tell me might shed light on the others, even if they worked for a different organization. If so I’ll let you know.”

“I don’t know how much longer I have. Silph may not have any proof that Fuji’s broken NDAs, and I don’t know if they have any more legal screws to turn that they haven’t already, but they could just move him to another location, or order him to stop talking to others.”

“Why would he listen? Didn’t his whole rebellion start in the first place because he doesn’t want to keep helping them? And with Oak involved now, they must know it wouldn’t go well for them if they try to do anything public.”

“He seems to think it’s important that he stay on the project.” She gives a helpless shrug. “Says he has to be involved, even if he doesn’t think it’s right… that anyone else ‘might get it wrong,’ which I guess he sees as even worse somehow?”

Looker considers that, then gives a begrudging nod. “I can see it. Alright, then do what you can and we’ll try to find out more on our end.”

“I tried looking it up, but couldn’t find a straight answer; what’ll happen to Fuji, if he’s worked with renegades and hasn’t told anyone?”

Looker snorts. “Indigo’s twisted itself around and around on this one. Short answer is, as long as he hasn’t seen renegade activity with his own eyes or heard a direct confession or report of it, he’s clear. If he has and hasn’t reported it, it’s aiding and abetting.”

“You don’t sound happy about it.”

“Nothing personal against Fuji, I have no idea what he’s done or seen yet, just think it gives people too much wiggle room. But there are worse problems with the whole system.”

“Such as?”

It still amazes him that so few people see it, even those like Ms. Verres, who has no history with the gyms, and is skeptical of those in power by trade. “That as long as someone has seen something and reported it, they’re totally clear.”

Laura frowns. “There would be records, an investigation…?”

Looker thinks back to the cool, assessing gaze of Leader Erika when she stared him down in the police department, pushed him to limit his efforts even after learning that her city had renegades hidden in it. “That assumes the leader or ranger starts one.” He sees the realization hit, and his grin is hard. “Hell of a loophole, isn’t it? All anyone has to do is find one corrupt leader or ranger, and a whole city could take turns telling them when they see any renegade activity and be totally safe from the law.”


Joining us tonight is Elite Agatha, one of the foremost experts on mental and spiritual phenomena. We’re honored to have you on the show, Elite, and grateful for any light you can shed on this growing mystery.”

By that you mean you want some reassurance, right?”

Well… If possible, I think a lot of our listeners would appreciate that, yes. With everything that’s been happening over the past few months…”

Of course. This is just one more thing to worry about in a year where every season seems to bring a new one. But I’m worried that for most people, it’ll be one too many.”

One too many…?”

One too many worries. It’ll bounce off, slide into ‘someone else’s problem.’ Even if there weren’t so many other major changes to adapt to, this is nothing tangible, nothing they can do anything about. Just a vague worry that some people they’ve never met are having bad dreams. Unfortunately, since it may well be the most important thing to worry about, I’m not sure I’d want to reassure people even if I could, which I can’t, so it’s all moot anyway.”

To be clear, you’re saying that you believe these dreams are more of a threat than Rayquaza, the renegades, ditto—”

And everything else happening in other regions, yes. And that’s because it’s unknown, utterly unknown. We have no idea why it’s happening, if it’s pointing to something real, or if we should trust it even if it is.”

I see.”

Do you, really? Because you’re not gibbering in the corner, so I have doubts. Maybe you will once the interview’s over and you can take your professional mask off, eh?”

I… suppose I should say instead that I think I see. Maybe you could explain that last part, about trusting it?”

I don’t think it’s sunk in for everyone that this is the most public and obvious sign in living memory that humans are not alone in the universe. Whether it’s a spirit, a god, or even beings from another world or dimension, this message is coming from something other.”

You really believe that?”

At first, no. I thought it was just some particularly powerful projector, a psychic good at projecting that is, creeping around outside the houses of famous psychics while they slept. Simplest explanation to fit the evidence, at the time… but now? No psychic in recorded history could send a dream to an entire town at once. Could be this is the first. I’m sure that’s what Oak would say. But then, why would they? I think it’s something else, and that something else is sending us a warning.”

I see.”

Now you do, yes, or are starting to. Looking a little pale. Need some water?”

I’ll be alright, Elite, thank you… I suppose the next obvious question is, whether it’s a person or something else, why would the dreams lie? In either case, actually. What do you think the dream projector wants?”

If their intentions are honest, it’s clear to me they’re sending us a warning about the unown. Whether they want us to kill them or capture them or stop experimenting with them, I can’t say. It may be possible they don’t know themselves. Or perhaps it’s a test.”

And if not honest?”

Then we should do the opposite of the thing they want us to do, of course. But there’s a third possibility that’s more likely, and less clear; they may just be too alien for an idea like honest or dishonest intentions to be relevant questions. Their message may itself not reflect something real or meaningful to us.”

I s… I think I see. Why just the islands?”

Maybe the threat is focused here. Maybe we’re the only ones that can stop it.”

Have you had the dream yet, Elite?”

Oh yes, weeks ago. Kept quiet, figured saying anything would play into the hands of whoever did it, but now it seems moot.”

And you feel convinced of its authenticity?”

Assuming they’re not deceitful, I’m convinced the projector believed what they projected, if that’s what you mean. Spirit or alien or god, they could still be wrong, or mad.”

Doesn’t seem like a particularly good option either.”

No, but I’d take a few sleepless nights for the world’s gifted over getting eaten by the thing it’s afraid of.”


Cyrus stands above the Ruins of Alph, eyes roaming in a steady pattern in the skies above for unown that might appear. Being so close to Violet City, Alph has been more active than most unown ruins, practically crawling with mystics and researchers, thrill seekers and protestors, so catching any that appear closer to the ground is difficult. Many seem convinced they’ll be the ones to figure out the secret of the unown, but it’s clear that no one knows what they really are, and without that knowledge they’re flailing in the dark.

Unlike Cyrus, who has never seen more clearly.

It was the dream that showed him the way, as he knew it would. There’s been no apparent rhyme or reason to when and where they would appear, but once he realized it wasn’t repeating at a location he came to Violet City, a major metropolis where resident psychics haven’t reported experiencing it yet. He visited the ruins by day, capturing unown with a steadily improving success rate, and going to bed early each night to ensure he slept through as much of it as possible.

He only had to wait eleven days before it came to him, and every other psychic in the city. And what he saw filled him with a deep existential terror… until he woke to reflect, and felt only awe.

Unlike the rest of the world, whose hysteria has only continued to increase. It wasn’t so bad when news articles popped up speculating about what it meant for a handful of famous psychics around the islands to get the same nightmare; a curiosity to be talked about over lunch with friends, and grist for the conspiratorial corners of the internet.

Then whole towns and cities of psychics began to get it, and the net went wild with speculation, fueled in no small part by the more pedestrian psychics themselves, who lacked the restraint and uncertainty of their betters.

But with Elite Agatha’s interview, even governments have started taking it seriously… in opposite directions. Some are calling for a complete ban on not just pokemon genesis, but unown research altogether, while others are pushing for more research to counter the hypothetical threat.

Even worse, there’s no rhyme or reason to who falls on which side of the battle lines; there are researchers and Professors on both, as are Leaders and Elites within the same region trying (for the most part) and often failing to dance around the issue. Meanwhile politicians are shuffling further and further toward the edges as they try to keep up with a public that, despite Agatha’s prediction, has turned out to be quite worried about a supernatural existential threat that they can neither see nor hear.

But all of that pales in relation to what it’s done to psychics, who have been drawn forcefully into the center of the cultural crossfire. Each one he knows has been peppered with questions about the dreams by everyone else, whether they’ve had them or not. No one seems to be blaming psychics themselves yet, but he’d almost prefer that over the desperate fear that’s allowed a few unscrupulous “mystics” to cash in on the phenomenon.

He resisted at first from pitting his voice against the chorus. But seeing so many wallowing in fear and skepticism was unbearable when he knew he could offer them something else.

Hope.

All his life he’s known something was wrong with the world. With the people in it. With the way society has managed, against all odds, to survive…through the pain and suffering of children they send into the thresher’s maw of nature, itself an indiscriminate charnel house of pain and grief.

Cyrus’s older brother was full of hope and will and an unstoppable drive to see the world. He was dead just a few months into his journey, shattering their parents so thoroughly his grandfather had to put the pieces back together, leaving Cyrus to handle his own shock and grief. Therapy was no help, insisting that he express his feelings while also pushing the idea that it was something to be accepted, what their family was going through. Like it was okay, as long as it was normal.

It wasn’t okay. None of it was. But no one understood that; they thought they did, thought they were all grieving for the same reasons, but Cyrus’s grief wasn’t sufficient. Only action would stop the pain, and not just his.

But his parents never truly recovered, turning into weeping and hollow versions of themselves, fearfully hypercritical of anything he tried to do to prepare for his own journey. When his psychic powers developed he realized that no amount of knowledge or preparation would convince them that he would not fail as his brother did… and yet he was still young enough to think that if he could be good enough, be happy enough despite his own grief, he could remind them they still had a son left. That life could still be good. He would try projecting his joys to them, his hope and desire for things to get better.

It was never enough.

His hair began to gray as a teenager, and few enough things in life gave him any joy that he stopped trying for his parents’ sake. Still, he thought perhaps he could do it for others; where his powers had failed, perhaps other methods would succeed. He joined organizations dedicated to helping those recovering from grief and injury, made connections among different professions and organizations, began forming interdisciplinary teams to identify what would keep people from having as much trauma after crises, or help them recover faster.

Sometimes it seemed he could do some good, here and there. They identified people’s needs that added resilience, things like robust social networks and economic safety, and did their best to facilitate and reinforce them where they could. But most regions had their own unique traumas, whether seasonal or unpredictable, citywide or erratic in destructive scope, and every tragedy would undo much of their work.

It took him years to realize that no matter how much good someone experiences, sometimes a single bad enough day can ruin their lives. For those not sufficiently chained by the biological drive to live, bad enough events can end them.

And still he tried, will flickering and fading, until he read a book by the author Terry Pratchett, in which a character said:

I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother floatzel with her cubs, a very endearing sight, I’m sure you’ll agree. And even as I watched, the mother dived into the water and came up with a plump magikarp, which she subdued and dragged onto a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby buizel, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”

For the first time in his life, it was like someone else was speaking to him. Showing that he wasn’t alone in recognizing how broken the world was, and how flawed whatever powers or forces brought it into existence this way.

Because there’s so much that could be better, if just a single thing were different. And he despaired, not at the duty to become the creator’s moral superior, but to ever having the ability to change what it had wrought.

He thought insufficient knowledge was the answer, at first, then insufficient will to move on, then an overabundance of emotion; that people felt their pains too deeply. He considered trying to become the most powerful trainer in the world, or a politician able to unite every region under his rule, or starting a religion that could inflame the hearts and minds of all humanity… but still it seemed there was nothing that could possibly change the fundamental problems in the world.

The flame inside him, still driving him to find a way to fix the crack in his family, began at last to gutter and die.

Until the Hoenn titans arose, and changed his conception of what was possible.

Each had the power to change the world in an extreme way. Each showed a lack of ability to regulate, a lack of intelligent deliberate purpose. Humanity panicked because they thought their world came close to ending, but no one seems to have understood the potential for what almost happened.

A new world’s beginning.

A worse one, perhaps, with so much water or sunlight that more suffering became the baseline. But any society born or acclimated to such a world would surely also consider it the norm, and take for granted that its ending would be tragic.

None would have traded their world for this one, better though it is. Perhaps they would, for a world without flaws.

Many regions have myths of ancient and powerful gods and spirits, masters of some (occasionally competing) domains of reality. But few carry the deep implications of Sinnoh’s. He grew up on stories of Dialga and Palkia creating Time and Space, of Uxie, Mesprit and Azelf gifting humanity knowledge, emotion, and willpower, of Arceus creating all of reality itself with a thousand arms.

Like most others, he believed them myths, or legends gone from their world. Hoenn’s myths turned out not just to be real, but still present, and even stronger than the stories indicated.

What new reality could Sinnoh’s create, if guided by a human mind?

The secret, he’s sure, lies with the unown. It wasn’t widely spread how the Hoenn incident ended; people assumed Rayquaza saved them by chance, or out of benevolence, and that the registeel, regirock, and regice there were released by the earthquakes. All of which may be partially true.

But Cyrus was hired to help those in Hoenn after the incident, where he met and counseled a boy named Wally. The boy’s shields were extraordinary for his age, but they meant nothing once his feelings of guilt overcame him.

Cyrus assured the boy that he did nothing wrong, and meant every word. The glimpses of genius that allowed Wally to influence the living myths were hard to understand, but it was enough, combined with the dreams to know what he had to do.

There’s another pop, and then that entrancing sound from somewhere distant, almost too faint for him to hear… but not for his golbat.

Wing Attack.

His pokemon darts away, faster than those of any competing unown hunters in the area. He runs by them as he chases his pokemon, vaulting low walls and weaving between pillars as the others are still looking around for the unown. It’s remarkable how few thought to train their pokemon specifically to find the sound they make, and of those who did, how few chose pokemon well known for speed and hearing.

He passes by a researcher who’s using a loudred to orient to the unown’s noise, but by the time she sends her pidgeot after it there’s already a small black figure falling in the distance. His golbat follows it down, occasionally batting at it with his wings to keep it from recovering and flying away, and Cyrus expands a ball as he gets close.

He thought it would take weeks, maybe months, to shake off the decade of rust on his trainer skills. In the years since his younger self trained daily, determined to prove himself to his parents, the only pokeball he held was the one with his teleporter in it.

But the fire in him now is stronger than that ever was, and weeks of retraining his body were almost a formality; the skills of throwing and catching, of split second evaluation and decision, were all there waiting for him, and the two balls expanding in his palms feel like they never left.

The pidgeot and his golbat almost collide as they both attempt to batter the unown down. The researcher behind him is still catching up to him, and he sends a mental command ahead for his golbat to Supersonic it. As the bird veers away, one wing flapping so hard it nearly flips over and crashes into the ground, he reaches the unown and points the lenses forward, nudging his golbat to keep it in range until he hears the two pings and throws.

By the time the researcher arrives he’s already leaving with his new C unown. It’s his third one, but that’s alright; what Wally did required one of each, but he has greater plans.

Plans that will birth a new world.

Chapter 102: Conviction

Hey everyone, traveling again this month and next, so edits and updates may be a bit delayed. To my Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarussian readers, all I can say is that I hope this chapter provides a spot of light in the darkness, and that you’re all here again next month, and many more after. That goes for all of us, I guess.

Slava Ukraini.


Chapter 102: Conviction

Once Red and Artem shared their ideas with the other unown researchers in the What Comes Next network, and consensus arose on how paired researchers and psychics weren’t even necessary given how many people would be at the ruins in general, the next question became which ruins they should visit. Kanto has so few that they debated going to Johto instead, but Red’s free teleportation would make the most remote trip the most valuable for return visits, so he decides to go for the most isolated while Artem hops on a train heading westward.

Which is how Red ends up once again on a boat to the Sevii Islands, this time a small skiff rather than a luxurious cruise ship. The sky is gray with pockets of blue where the sun occasionally shines through, and he expects rain at some point, but all he really has to do today is make it to the island and set a teleport spot, so he didn’t let the weather deter him.

The Tanoby Ruins are hard to spot from a distance, but as they round the southern bend of Quest Island the ship’s captain helpfully points to the tiny islets the ruins are nestled on from east to west.

“Monean, Liptoo, Weepth, Dilford, Scufib, Rixy, and Viapois. Most of the buildings have fallen apart to time or pokemon or some storm or another, but each has at least one main chamber that’s underground or built into a cavern.”

“And that’s where the unown spawn?”

“Sure, but not just there, they’ll pop up all around here. ‘Specially lately; used to be I’d get just one or two jobs per month to bring people to the ruins instead of a dozen, and the rest of the trips were for trainers heading to the battle tower.”

Red turns to where it sticks up from the northern end of Quest Island. “That’s one of those places for underground pokemon battles, right? I mean, figuratively.” He remembers Blue talking about it once or twice; most regions have one, usually far from any major cities where the leagues have less direct influence.

“Well, it’s a bit too obvious for even that, eh? But they’re not ‘sanctioned,’ true enough. With just enough land here to build a small town, but no one interested in living near unown ruins, it made the perfect spot for it.”

“Right. I guess it would be unsettling to have one pop into your room one night.” After hearing the sounds they make firsthand, and spending a few hours listening to recordings of all kinds just in case he discerned some hidden pattern, he’s not sure cheap land would entice him much either, even with the ability to teleport offsetting the isolation.

As if summoned by the topic, Red sees Pikachu’s ears twitch, and follows his pokemon’s gaze to the sky, where a distant black shape floats by. It’s too far for him to make out its noise or even what letter it is, let alone do a mental merge, but he can at least track the direction it seems to be going in, and takes his pokedex out to add the trajectory to the WCN app, where thousands of thin lines show other projected routes for observed unown, including how many and what letters. Once he’s done he slides the timescale back, first a few days, then a few weeks, and finally to when the app was created a few months ago, watching lines vanish and reappear.

Still no pattern that he can make out. But hopefully getting a better understanding of where they’re going beyond the regions’ borders will help. After he floated the idea around, others have already tested and confirmed that most freshly appearing unown have a few moments of lingering memory of where they were before, making it clear that they’re teleporting in from somewhere else rather than being “born” that very moment.

He’s still playing with the map as the captain cuts the boat’s speed and starts to aim it toward the docks at the base of the nearest islet. Red does one last mental sweep to make sure there aren’t any dangerous pokemon around, then calls Wartortle back to the boat and returns him to his ball. “Thanks for the ride.” Red steps onto the dock, then resummons Wartortle so he can rest before bringing Kadabra out too. Pikachu finally jumps onto the dock beside him, sniffing around before dashing off to explore the rocky path that leads up to the rest of the tiny island.

“Sure you don’t want me to stick around? Know you said you can teleport back, but if you want to visit the other islands…”

“My pokemon can take me, just didn’t want to risk the long swim over.”

“Alright then, good luck to you.”

Red waves as the captain puts the boat in reverse and eases it away from the dock, then focuses on his kadabra, who’s doing a mental sweep of its surroundings. Unlike its younger form, Kadabra isn’t inclined to flee at the first sign of danger, his mood more of a careful wariness. Red lets his pokemon finish getting used to their surroundings, then deepens the merger and connects all the information from his own senses together with his current emotional state.

Firm stone beneath his feet, the strong scent of the ocean, the sound of the waves, sun on his skin, the feeling of excitement from being here, so far from the mainland and ready to explore the ancient mystery of the ruins… all of it merges into a unique memory that he can recall and use to return at will.

Once he feels like he has the memory down in sufficient detail, and enough time has passed that it feels like a memory and not his current experience, he walks a few steps off the dock with Kadabra, then puts a hand on his pokemon’s shoulder, focuses, and teleports back to the dock.

Satisfied, he checks on Wartortle, gives him some extra treats and water, then leads the two up the path, where Pikachu is still scouting ahead. A path has been cut into the side of the islet to ensure it’s not too steep a climb, but he’s still breathing hard by the time he makes it to the top and takes in the ruins for the first time.

Brown, mossy stones jut out of the ground in various places, some seemingly at random, others clearly the remains of some building’s foundations. A few structures are still standing, but even those have holes in the walls, and none have roofs. He can faintly make out the ancient etchings in some of the stones, thin unown shapes of all kinds forming words that can no longer be understood.

Sitting on one of the worn stone walls is a girl dressed in a purple shirt and beige cargo pants, attention on the sketchpad in her lap. She looks a few years older than Red, and beside her sits a houndoom on one side and a jolteon on the other, while a sandslash rests half-submerged behind her.

There’s also a kabutops walking around them all, maybe on patrol for threats. As Red and his pokemon approach, it glances over and seems to take their measure before the girl says, “Relax, Tops.”

Despite her pokemon all being natives her accent is distinctly Galarian. Her kabutops (seemingly grudgingly) returns to its patrol, while the rest of her pokemon stay relaxed, with just the houndoom raising a head to glance at Kadabra before lowering it onto its paws again.

The girl smiles, and he’s just starting to wonder why she looks familiar when there’s a pop sound, and an O unown appears between them, a few meters off the ground and to Red’s left.

They both react together, Red rushing forward while the girl leaps off the crumbling wall, pulling a ball off her belt (wait, what?) as he expands two from his pouch. Their pokemon startle as well, though with no clear threat the two trainers swiftly leave them behind; Red almost sends a mental command for Kadabra to use Confusion if the unown starts to fly away, but the unown is simply doing a slow rotation midair, giving them both time to reach it from nearly opposite ends.

“Don’t catch it!” she yells.

“You can go first!” Red yells back as he runs under it to cut off a potential escape route. “I just need to merge with it!”

“Okay, just don’t do anything to scare it off!” She braces her arm. “Go, Pidove!”

The gray bird appears in front of her, and she quickly kneels to tie something to its feet. Red decides to save his confusion for later and just focuses on the unown’s thoughts, hoping he can pick up some traces of memory of where it was before…

The now-familiar “window” opens in Red’s mind, showing him a second visual field of what the unown sees… which, as usual, he can barely process.

Inside what looks like their single large pupil are in fact multiple, all crowded together to give a uniquely kaleidoscopic vision where multiple different perspectives, with varying range and color sensitivity, are crowded together. It also doesn’t help that the unown’s circular body keeps spinning in circles even as the eye rolls.

Still, even all that isn’t enough on its own to really give Red difficulty; what does is the sucking sensation that the other creature’s “mind” seems to constantly experience, a drain that Red’s unpartitioned self recognizes as somehow similar to what it’s like to partition memories. Except the unown’s memories aren’t going behind partitions, so far as he and other psychics can tell; just fading.

This has always been taken as the experiential side-effect of not having much memory capacity. Still, Red expected it to feel more passive, or like the fragmenting of a dream, or simply vanishing from one moment to the next. Instead the impression of his thoughts being pulled is distinct, attention not just collapsing but compressing to fit his sensorium into the unown’s limited body. He quickly releases most of the merger so that his mind settles almost entirely back in his own senses, then begins regulating the merger the way he’s practiced with his own unown, purposefully degrading the “window” of its vision until it’s a flat, low resolution monochrome.

He’s just in time to catch the last of the unown’s pre-current memories before they’re gone, but what he sees is an unrecognizable blur that vaguely looks like… the top of a forest?

And then he hears a quick musical trill, and turns to see the girl playing a blue ocarina. Her pidove flies up toward the unown, whose circular body spins away midair, and the chase is on.

But the pidove doesn’t attack, instead just following its slower prey as the unown loops around in erratic arcs above their heads, until finally its wanderings take it too far for Red to maintain the merger.

The eerie noise it emitted takes another moment to fully fade, or maybe that’s just in Red’s head. He stares after the two pokemon for a moment, wondering if the girl is going to call her pidove back… but instead she’s tucking her ocarina away, and miniaturizes its ball to put in her pocket instead of her belt (which seems to have customized pokeballs for the other five, tops alternating purple and yellow). “Thanks for not catching it.”

“Uh, no problem.” Red thinks back to that glimpse he got of the unown’s memory, trying to remember some detail that would help discern where the forest was. But there were no mountains, no lakes, no coastlines, no landmarks at all. A total bust. “I figured you’ve probably been here waiting for a while anyway, but… what about your pidove? What was that command you played?”

“Just something I’ve been working on to track the unown.” She walks back to where she was sitting by her pokemon and Red follows, watching as she picks her notepad up and brushes dirt off the pages. “Aw, shinx. It smudged.”

He catches a glimpse of a color pencil sketch and turns toward where she was facing to confirm that she’s been drawing the chain of tiny islets to the west, sunbeams peeking through the clouds to highlight the ruins on each. She must have been sitting here since morning to catch them all as they occurred, maybe multiple days. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault.” She smiles at him and holds a hand out. “Nice to finally meet you, Red. I’m Lulie.”

Red shakes it, mind automatically jumping to make the connection with her Galarian accent. “ReasonisFun? What are you doing in Kanto?” She has a sizeable following online, but in fairly different circles than Red, who only met her once she got involved in What Comes Next.

“Why wouldn’t I be, it’s where all the fun stuff is happening!” She considers a moment. “Tragic and dangerous too, of course, but you’re not about to leave, are you?”

“No,” he admits. He’s still going to most nearby incidents to help out while Cinnabar continues to stabilize, and though it often messes with his schedules and sleep, he hasn’t considered stopping. “But that’s because all my friends are here.”

“That’s fair. But I’ve got friends here too, from back when I first visited.” She takes a new pokeball, also the default red, out of her bag and clips onto the empty space on her belt where her pidove was. “Besides the pokemon, I mean, though I think they’re happy to be back home.”

Red looks at her pokemon again, then back at her. “You’re not psychic, are you?”

“Nah, I’m just good at reading vibes.”

He can’t tell if she’s joking or not, but now he’s curious about her pokeballs. If she’s color coding, he’d expect the houndoom to be in a red ball, but the only one on her belt is the one that she just put there. “Purple are for your houndoom and kabutops, yellow are for sandslash, jolteon, and…?”

“Two out of four. Yellow are Jolteon, Houndoom, and Agarment, while purple are Slashy and Tops.”

It takes him a moment to realize Agarment breaks the nicknamed/non-nicknamed pattern rather than being a pokemon he’s never heard of. “What’s Agarment?”

“Abra.”

Her deadpan delivery is betrayed by a slight twinkle in her eyes and curve to her lip that makes him replay everything, and then he laughs. “That’s terrible, and also Leaf is going to love it. Just to make sure, Slashy is the sandslash?”

“Yep, and Tops the kabutops.”

“My friend Blue has an abra named Tops.”

“Huh. Weird name for an abra.”

Red snorts and decides not to tell her about how long all his abra spent named after their teleportation sites just yet. “So what’s in the regular ball?”

“Another pidove. Your post back in April about how to herd or follow unown on mounts got me thinking a few steps ahead; what if we can just figure out where they go instead, and find them there? There are plenty of pidove in my hometown, and they’re excellent long distance fliers with incredible memories. So I caught a bunch, trained them to follow unown, and bought a bunch of trackers.” She takes her pokedex out (also purple, with yellow trim around the screen and buttons) and taps a few times before showing him…

A personalized version of the WCN map, thick colored lines indicating where her pokemon have tracked the various unown she’s sent them after. Three of them are still being drawn in real time, blinking every second as the fronts stretches further out, often in loops or bends. “Woah. How far will it go?”

“The weakest I caught was still able to fly over a thousand kilometers in a day.”

“This is great! If there’s a pattern, we might even be able to follow it and get a confirmed sighting of them creating pokemon!”

“Sure, that too.” Lulie starts picking her colored pencils back up from where they rolled around. Her jolteon stretches its neck out to pick one up that rolled near it, then holds it up for her, and she smiles as she rubs its head and takes it.

Red helps her pick up the rest, then sits next to her as he continues studying the flight paths. “By ‘that too,’ you mean there’s something else you’re doing it for?”

“To better understand their behavior in general. I’m not sure what getting a confirmed sighting of a pokemon appearing near an unown would actually do at this point.”

“Well I know the evidence seems really convincing, but it would still be important to get observed confirmation!”

“Why?”

Red blinks. “Why… is observation necessary for confirming a hypothesis?”

“Would seeing the pokemon appear near an unown do that?”

Her tone is light and curious, and it makes him smile as he remembers all the times her curiosity online has led to people, himself included, stepping back from their reflexive responses to think things through more carefully. “Ah, no. It wouldn’t ‘prove’ anything, because we can’t prove things like that by observation. But it would lend confidence to the idea, and make our predictions stronger.”

“How?”

“We’d have at least one confirmed example that pokemon can be created by… no, that they could appear near where unown are.”

She grins at the correction. “Sure, but again, what would that change?”

“Hmm. Well right now we don’t know for sure if that can happen. Once we see it, we would.”

“Pokemon probably appear all the time near rocks, and we don’t think rocks have anything to do with it unless it’s a Rock type. I get that unown are much rarer than rocks, so it feels less coincidental if an unown is near a pokemon that appears, but ‘pokemon could appear near unown’ isn’t a useful scientific theory.”

“I think I get what you’re saying; we can’t prove stuff, black swannas can exist, and all it would take is one pokemon appearing nowhere near an unown to invalidate the idea. But until that happens…”

“You believe it would increase the odds of it being true. But induction isn’t how science is done.”

The sudden confidence is a sharp contrast to the earlier curiosity, and his skepticism blooms in response. “What makes you say that?”

She gestures at the ruins. “Why are you here?”

It takes him a moment to realize she’s not changing the subject. “To study the unown.”

“You can do that through books.”

“Right, I want to learn something new about them. Make new observations.”

“Keep going. Did someone tell you to learn something new about them? Is someone paying you?”

“No, I… want to know because I’m curious.”

“Huh.” Lulie looks up briefly, hand absently rubbing her houndoom’s back. “I feel like my curiosity always comes from somewhere, but I’m not sure if that’s actually true… it also sometimes feels like it’s just there, as a passive thing that doesn’t require a specific trigger. But as an emotion, it’s variable; sometimes I feel mild curiosity, sometimes strong curiosity. Is it different for you?”

“No, that sounds about right. Sometimes I see or hear things that make me notice a mild curiosity, but the strongest emotional response always comes from things that might be related to specific topics, like psychic phenomenon or the origin of species.”

“So why are you here, specifically, studying the unown in particular? The way you’re framing things is that you want to know something, right?” He nods. “But science is never going to give you proof that you’re right. So what is it you’re actually trying to do here?”

Red frowns. “Science may not be able to prove a specific model right, but it can prove which are false so we know which are less wrong.”

“Exactly!” she exclaims with a wide grin, and he’s not the only one who startles. “Woops, sorry boy.” She strokes the houndoom’s head, then turns back to Red. “So according to Popper, science—”

“Wait, according to who?”

“Karl Popper. He was a philosopher who wrote about the problem of induction, and why falsifiability is what distinguishes science from non-science. What makes science so powerful is its ability to falsify some set of competing theories, which means you first need at least two competing explanations to do science. If the explanation you have fits all the observations, then more evidence won’t make it any more true, so there’s no value in any further confirming evidence.”

“I know falsification is important, of course, but… he was against any retesting at all? What about peer review?”

“When someone runs an experiment to falsify something it can be important for others to check their work, of course. But if the theory properly explains the phenomenon, what’s the point of doing another test? You’d only do that if it doesn’t match some observation, which again means there’s a problem. That’s what motivates all scientific advances: solving problems. Sometimes practical, like how to build a better pokeball, sometimes theoretical, like where pokemon come from.” She smiles. “So what explanation are you here to test?”

He sits beside her to think about it, and she lets him, going back to her sketching. Red pulls a tin spoon out of his pocket and tosses it toward Kadabra to play with, watching for a while as his pokemon catches it midair and begin to levitate and bend it around. Red watches him for a bit as he spends a few moments appreciating how nice it is to meet someone else willing to launch into conversations and debates like this. He knows Blue would hate it, and remembers the way others have reacted when he did similar, but he’s already really glad he came to this island in particular.

Once Kadabra is regularly cycling through its mental exercises, Red starts to consider his potential explanations for pokemon genesis, then discard them one by one.

Unown create pokemon around them by accident, no other factors are important.

Unown create pokemon around them given certain other conditions.

Only groups of unown create pokemon around them… only certain amount of unown…

“Ugh,” he says after a minute. “Everything I come up with can’t be falsified by observation. I could come up with some more deliberately rigid explanations, but I have no reason to believe they’re true yet.”

“Noticing that is an important first step! There’s no time to test or critique every hypothesis or argument, which is why coming up with good potential explanations, ones that would actually help us discard it or competing theories, is such an important part of the process. That’s why all the greatest scientists are celebrated for their creativity in coming up with good explanations to test, or clever experiments to isolate the false variations of similar ones.”

Red considers this a moment, and realizes she’s right. It also gives him a new lens through which to view his own fumbling experiments, and how lacking a meaningful explanation for the potential experimental outcomes in his “psychic particle” experiments limited the value of what he was actually testing against. By contrast, his most recent discovery of indoor teleportation was accidental, but forming a gears-level explanation from the ground up was so useful that it not only could help reproduce the effect, it also helped Tatsumaki use kinesis through walls.

“I think I get it. So what are the explanations that you’re hoping to test against, if you can?”

She turns to another page in her notebook, then shows it to him so he can read:

1) The knowledge of pokemon biology is contained in meteorites that carry their genetic material from other worlds.

2) Unown are a conduit for knowledge from another world. That knowledge is what creates the new pokemon, which already exist in that other world.

3) Unown contain the knowledge to create new pokemon themselves, and different combinations of letters combine with different surroundings objects to spontaneously create life.

4) Living pokemon genetics contain the knowledge of ancestral pokemon, and some environments or circumstances trigger a reversion.

5) Pokemon genetic knowledge did not evolve anywhere, created by unimaginably intelligent designer—but then where did designer originate?

Red blinks, then blinks again, trying to decide where to start before picking, “You believe in parallel worlds?”

“Well sure, it’s the best explanation for what happens to single photons in the double slit experiment.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of that. Something to do with quantum mechanics, right?” He almost asks why it’s the best explanation, then decides he doesn’t care as much right now and can look it up later. “So if pokemon come from other worlds, what does it mean that unown contain the ‘knowledge’ to create them? I’ve been inside their heads, so to speak, and they’re even dumber than magikarp.”

“I know you know what memes are from that lecture you gave everyone about Pokemon types–”

“–it wasn’t a lecture, I was just saying–”

“–it was totally a lecture, Red, it was like ten thousand words, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I actually enjoyed it! But the comparison of memes to genes is more apt than I think even Dawkins knew; he wanted to describe ideas the way we understand genes, but really it’s genes that are the embodiment of memes. When I say ‘knowledge,’ I don’t mean just memorized facts. Real knowledge is any information that preserves and replicates itself.”

“Because if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be able to be learned,” Red murmurs, trying to think of what this has to do with pokemon… “Ah, that’s what you meant by the comparison to genes. They contain ‘knowledge’ about biology. How many bones to grow, where, how thick, what shape, it’s all in the genes, along with skin, muscle tissue, metabolism, everything. If it doesn’t survive the environment it’s in and outcompete others, the genes die, and the knowledge of how to turn atoms into those particular biological containers, die with them.”

“You’re quick,” Lulie says with a smile. “I thought you would be. See, a good explanation doesn’t have adjustable parts. If pokemon appear around an unown, one explanation is that the unown ‘created’ it, but that’s no different than saying that pokemon are naturally occurring around the unown, or that Arceus created them and unown are just its eyes in our world, or that all the unown are parts of a different god who did it and Arceus had nothing to do with it. Until you have a way to test specific explanations with observations that will leave better ones standing, the observations themselves aren’t guaranteed to create any new or real understanding.”

Red slowly nods, watching Pikachu walk over to Jolteon for some mutual sniffs. “So the actual process is to first notice there’s a problem, which can be as simple as when two things you think you know, or see, contradict. But instead of following that with observations to make hypotheses, I should first come up with explanations.”

“You do come up with explanations first. All observations, all learning, is theory laden. We form explanations for things constantly, consciously or subconsciously, and what we think we know affects how we interpret information and make sense of it.”

“Right. That’s why two people can hear the same facts about something that happened, but come up with totally different explanations for why it happened, and their models might actually update in opposite directions.” That always annoyed him; it just seems wrong for two people to get the same information and not move closer to agreement rather than farther.

“There are other factors too. Sometimes two people will observe the same exact thing happen in front of them, but their attention is on different things.”

“And they’ll remember different things, which will also lead to different expectations going forward, which in turn might lead to biases.”

“You mean like confirmation bias?”

“Worse. If someone only sees or reads things that reinforce a certain belief, that might make it harder to accept something that seems to disagree with all they already believe. But taking awareness into account too… what if they don’t even register the counterevidence as counterevidence at all? That would be pretty rare though, like the starting perspectives would have to have diverged drastically, or the information about something they’ve developed a lot of attentional blind spots around.”

“Ugh. Sounds like what happens in politics a lot.” She sighs. “But yeah, this is why it’s important to think not just of what models people have of reality, but also where their awareness naturally goes. Every expectation we have is the result of an explanation our mind is using to predict what will happen next.”

“Yeah, that’s what predictive processing–” A distant pop makes them both leap up again, this time without spilling Lulie’s notebook.

“I don’t see it,” she says, spinning around to look in every direction as she unclips her red pokeball and takes another tracker out of her pocket. “You?”

Red’s senses are already stretched outward, and he starts running around the ruins in case it’s inside one of the buildings. By the time he senses it behind one of the crumbling houses it’s already flying up and away, not giving him time to glimpse its memories.

The ocarina sounds behind him, and Lulie’s second pidove launches into the air after the already-distant black speck.

Red jogs back over to her as she minimizes the ball and swaps it for another full one from her bag. “How many of those things have you got?”

“Just eight left. Never was able to send more than seven out in a day, but so long as it doesn’t rain I’m hoping I get lucky.”

“Will the pidove come back here, or do you go to them?”

“Depends; the ones that follow unown out over the ocean will turn back when they’re near their halfway flight time and rest on the roof of the battle tower until I pick them up. The ones that end up going more north or west will make their way to Cinnabar, Pallet, or Fuchsia.”

“Nice. Have you posted about this yet?”

“Just started, now that I can show how effective it is.”

Red grins. “With your following, this’ll take off big.” He should probably buy some pidove… not that they’re anywhere near as rare or hard to catch as abra, but they’re also not native to any of the island regions. “So which of your hypotheses are you expecting to invalidate by tracking them?”

“Oh, I’d be surprised if any of them would. Personally I think it’s too early to falsify any by observation until we have a better understanding of all sorts of things. Whether unown are somehow a carrier for the genetic knowledge pokemon contain or not, I’m also interested in the unown themselves for their own sake. Why they act the way they do, the unique properties they have, what sort of environment, if any, they evolved in. Exploratory research is useful to create new theories or decide which to test.”

“I totally get that, it’s why part of me is so frustrated by the research ban.”

Lulie shrugs. “Only matters if I intend to do that sort of research in a region that’s banned it. There are others that are just going ahead, you know.”

Red worries his lower lip. “Yeah, but… what if it really is dangerous?”

“Then that’s just another problem we’ll have to solve.”

Her words resonate within him, stirring the part that had been mostly, if uncomfortably, appeased by his talk with Giovanni. He wants it to be true. Would have probably agreed a year ago, and he knows it’s the sort of thing Blue would say.

But…

“I feel like that’s the sort of thing Archie and Matsubusa believed.” Salvage teams still haven’t found the stolen submarine to confirm Archie’s death, and neither renegade leader or any of their people have been seen or heard from, despite being Interpol’s most wanted criminals for months. “That they could figure out how to revive Groudon and Kyogre, and if there were any problems controlling them they’d figure that out later.”

“Yeah.” Lulie’s smile has faded, and she looks pensively up at the sky as her hand reaches back to stroke Slashy’s snout. “To be clear, I’m not saying all knowledge should be spread to everyone. All problems are solvable, but that doesn’t mean we’ll figure the solutions out on time. Still, the research should be done. If someone besides those two had learned what they did, maybe they could have stopped them or the legendaries even sooner.”

The parallel to the other regions already continuing with unown research goes without saying. “So, we should be trying to research whatever we can, and if something dangerous is discovered, then we shouldn’t share the knowledge until we can reasonably ensure it’s safe?”

“That seems nearly impossible. I’d say that it’s more about who you trust to tell than anything.”

Well, he can hardly argue with that given what he’s already decided, twice. Still, Red sits silent, thoughts turning to what they’re doing here as he uses psychic commands to train his pokemon in agile movement around the ruins. What’s more potentially dangerous, her tracking, or his memory searches? He has no idea. Red told Artem he’s not trying to sneak around the ban, but while what he’s doing isn’t technically research into pokemon genesis, they don’t know that it won’t contribute to it.

What would he do, if he discovered something important here? He couldn’t tell Sabrina or Giovanni, and even Professor Oak might feel compelled to obey their Champion, despite disagreeing. And he can’t just rely on himself to know what others might do with his research, since any piece of knowledge might be the key to another’s discovery.

But that’s true of any research, really… as he already learned, the hard way. Hell, even Tatsumaki’s discovery might just be another thing that people get scared of psychics about. The list is getting rather long, all things considered, and after a certain point it may just be a choice between stop doing anything he finds important or risk discovering something that might lead to bad stuff happening.

“Still bothered?”

Red turns to see Lulie watching him, and despite her not being psychic the words weren’t a question. Good at reading vibes, huh? He lets his senses withdraw from Kadabra’s and throws a treat out for his pokemon. “I guess I’m just trying to come to terms with the risks of all this. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, actually; figuring out what ways any of my research might lead to bad outcomes.”

“Well, I understand why, but while you’re at it, why not also figure out what ways any of your actions might lead to bad outcomes?”

“What, all of them?”

“Sure. Is there any reason to only care about research in particular?”

Her tone makes it clear she’s suggesting something intentionally impractical to make a point, but Red just gives her a wan smile. “Let’s just say I have good evidence that my research is more likely than not to cause problems, compared to all my non-research actions.”

Lulie’s eyes widen slightly, and this time she’s the one that stays silent, drawing pad forgotten as her eyes turn upward. Red merges with his pokemon one at a time, sending them through the ruins, treating it as an obstacle course, until finally she looks back at him and says, “I feel like you just admitted something rather personal, and important, and you believe it enough that I don’t feel inclined to doubt it. So, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, I think.” Really he shouldn’t have said it at all, if he’s being as cautious as he should be, but somehow he trusts her not to gossip. Some of his own “vibe” reading, maybe.

“I’ll admit to being curious, but understand if that’s all you want to say. Meanwhile, I should remind you of the good you’ve done too.” She pats the yellow ball at the back of her belt. “I was only able to afford Agarment here because of you.”

“I had some help. But… yeah, I think I did need that reminder.” He tries to let that sink in, and once it does he feels himself breathe a little easier, his worries about being a walking infohazard for psychics fading a bit. Much as it might feel lately like all he’s done is discover dangerous things, he knows he’s done more than that. “Thanks.”

“Anytime. So what’s your plan to figure out where pokemon come from?”

Red smiles. “Finding ways to test your ideas seems good, actually. The fourth one reminded me of ditto.” Part of him still stubbornly insists that metamon is the better name, but there’s no denying the tide has turned in the past few weeks. “There are stories of clefairy coming from the moon and ghosts from the afterlife, but as far as we know, minior are the only pokemon that aren’t really from our planet at all, right? Or at least, they form in the stratosphere before falling to earth. Has anyone tested whether ditto can transform into them?”

“You’re thinking, what, that because they’re not from the planet, they’re a completely different genetic branch from whatever ditto can imitate? Hmm.” She checks her pokedex, brings up the page on ditto, and starts to scroll. “Nope, they haven’t gotten around to testing that one yet.”

“Then it’s time I write up some competing theories of my own.”

Lulie grins. “And meanwhile, what’s your plan with the unown?”

“Well, I know you’re against knowledge by induction, but I still think it can be valuable. Let’s say unown really are important, in some way, to new pokemon appearing. If we want to get a sense of the range in which new pokemon might be spawned, then obviously just one observation wouldn’t do much; we wouldn’t have any sense of how relatively close or far it is from the potential maximums, or minimums for that matter. But with a hundred observations, unless there’s absolutely no trend at all, we could get a frequency curve that could be very useful.”

Lulie just stares at him a moment. “You want to make a hundred observations of pokemon genesis, when no one’s even managed one yet?!”

It starts to drizzle as they argue, and Lulie withdraws her houndoom as they find shelter beneath some trees, chatting late into the day and building up their knowledge together, one data point at a time. When Red finally says goodbye and teleports home, it’s with new conviction.

He wouldn’t experiment in any way that might create pokemon… but he would continue trying to learn where they come from, and decide what to do with that information later if he has to.


The division within Fuchsia gym starts slowly, and without any deliberate effort on Blue’s part.

For one thing, he and his friends are famous enough to naturally attract aspiring trainers wherever they go, to the point where he finds himself having trouble actually keeping track of everyone these days. It takes effort to spend “personal time” with others beyond Glen, Elaine, Lizzy, and Maria; he feels the most comfortable being himself around them. But he pushes himself to do it anyway, remembering how important it was to befriend each of them on a more equal level. He wonders where he’d be now if he hadn’t gone to the Saffron dojo that day; maybe worried to even attend classes.

Novelty also likely plays some factor in how popular their group becomes; after finally having the blessing from a gym leader to do what he wants, Blue can at last continue what they started in Vermilion. While he starts iterating on the Objection system, Glen and Elaine work together to develop a set of group training scenarios; Search and Rescue, Hold the Line, and Titan Takedown.

(That last one is the most unique, and soon draws the most sign-ups. Since they don’t have actual legendaries to practice on, the scenario features an asymmetric battle between one trainer using their most powerful pokemon and three to five using weak ones. Though it comes with an added risk to the pokemon involved, people seem as genuinely excited to try to work together taking down the “Legendary” as they do to play the villain; much debate was had over whether they should be able to ‘catch’ it, and in the end Blue decided that since no legendary has been caught yet, they would battle as though taking them down is the only option.)

And then of course there was Koga’s speech, and the way he occasionally visits to observe the “unofficial” classes they run with anyone that wants to try the scenarios. It’s hard to compress all the things they learned in Vermilion into a few lectures and practical tests, but the scenarios are different enough from regular battle matches, and the experience of those at the gym so wildly varying, that they make safety the priority and let the participants learn most of the rest live.

But still, all of that could be seen as auxiliary gym activities… until a couple weeks after starting, Janine began to post notices of private, one-on-one battle training. Not just with her; most of the veteran members of the gym also make themselves available, and far beyond what’s normally available in most gyms. Not only do they double their available times for single matches and coaching, they also post their training times, and stage them in public places where anyone who wants to observe can do so… always coincidentally at the same times that the group scenarios or lessons are scheduled.

It feels like years ago, now, but Blue still remembers what Red told him just before leaving for the cruise convention… along with the burning conviction that’s so rare to see in his friend.

“This is your chance to do something really different… prove that you can win, reveal your secrets, and then win again anyway.

The memory has nudged him, now and then, to say more rather than less, to show his secrets not just to those in his inner circle, but to the world, in the hopes that it strengthens every trainer without costing him his dream. It still feels like a gamble, every time, but one that on net he’s glad he takes.

But he hasn’t tried to preach something similar, knowing it would bring a lot of backlash from other battle trainers; for all that he’s accomplished, he’s still young, and the more experienced trainers would believe he’s just trying to get others to show him their secrets in exchange for his own paltry few.

And yet without really intending to, it seems he’s managed to push the Fuchsia gym culture onto a path that might normalize that mentality. Janine knows she can’t beat him in offering more than what gyms traditionally do, but she can double down on that tradition, with added perks.

Which is why, while some trainers are attending both, there’s been a definite drop-off since Janine’s lessons started, to the point where they’re actually having trouble forming teams for each scenario with the smaller pool of skill and pokemon available.

All told, despite Janine beating him twice more since their first match, Koga’s plan is working out wonderfully, and the Leader is sure to allow him to Challenge soon.

“So why do I feel like I’m losing?” Blue complains to Elaine as they make their way to the training rooms to practice with their psychic pokemon. Blue hasn’t given up on getting Tops into fighting shape, and doesn’t plan to, but he has to admit that a kadabra alone wouldn’t bridge the gap between him and Janine. “And I don’t just mean because I am, obviously.”

“Let me guess,” Elaine says. “At this point even getting the badge and leaving would feel like failure?”

He grunts acknowledgement. And for multiple reasons too, not least of which is that he’s losing hope that the starting animosity from Janine will turn into a more friendly rivalry over time. For reasons he can’t quite understand, if anything the Leader’s daughter seems to actually hate him more now, despite his attempts to apologize for their rough start and befriend her. “The worst part is, her training will actually help people become stronger than ours. Not in every situation, but in their ability to win trainer battles and gym challenges. And that means the scenarios will die out as soon as we leave.”

“Makes sense to me. How many people get a gym’s badge in a year, a few dozen at most? Meanwhile, you’re the first person to change the culture of a gym without being its Leader. Of course you want to keep stacking that story.”

Blue sighs as they enter the elevator and start heading down. “I only want to because I’m right though. The Indigo League’s been around for nearly a century, if focusing on individual trainer strength was enough to keep the region safe then someone would have taken a Stormbringer down by now.”

“Preaching to the choir,” Elaine gently reminds him. “But however wrong it may be to focus on individual trainer strength alone, we can’t deny that her training will help with both trainer battles and wild battles.”

“Well, no, but ours helps against trainer battles too!”

“Mmm. If I were to think up numbers for it, which I have, I’d say her training boosts Battle Power against trainers by 10, and ours against wilds by 10. But while ours boosts power against trainers by 2, maybe 3, hers boosts power against wilds by at least 5.”

Blue frowns. “Are you pulling those from a game?”

“Nope.”

“Alright, well—”

“I’m describing how it’ll be reflected in my game.”

“You’re making a game? I’m in it?”

“Of course!”

“Wait, if it’s your game why not give my training a boost?”

“I can’t do that, silly, it has to be realistic. There are modifiers for the two of you, but I think they come out about equal, and then she’s got a Second and Third on her side.”

Which has certainly tempted Blue to go to the lessons himself, as a sort of “we’re not so proud that we don’t think we can learn from you too” (not to mention the help it would be in his own battles against them), but they’re still working out the schedule rotation and he needs to be present for most. “I still think our scenarios should boost trainer battles by more. They’re not even battling wild pokemon!”

“Neither are we, just pretending they’re wild.” She pats his shoulder as they pick a training room and close the door behind them. “It’s okay, Blue, you have plenty of other perks.”

“I do?”

“Yep! First off, you have Showman, which gives you advantage when speaking in front of a crowd, which gives you a higher chance at earning bonus reputation. You also have Battle Calm, which—”

“Wait, how did you…?”

Elaine blinks. “How did I what?”

Blue feels the back of his neck burning. “Uh, nothing. Just something I’ve heard before, I think?”

“Maybe! I thought I made it up, but you’re always super chill when you fight, so I gave you immunity to reaction penalties from stress.”

“Is that… good?”

“Yeah, it’s one of your strongest perks! That and the Legendary Reflexes and Heroic Name—”

“Okay, okay, I’ve got a lot of perks. I’m satisfied.” He smiles and unclips Tops’s ball. “Thanks. Where are you finding the time to even make a sim, anyway?”

“It’s not digital, it’s a tabletop RPG! You know, pencil and paper, character sheets, stuff like that. It’s what I’ve been working on with Marcus.”

“Oh. I thought you guys were, you know. Dating or whatever.” He half expected that’s why Marcus was so quick to join up with them in Saffron, but he couldn’t exactly call the older boy out on it, especially since he’s actually a good trainer.

“Ah. No.” Her cheeks are pink as she unclips a pokeball too, and Blue is about to summon Tops when she says, “I’ve, um, got my sights set on someone else.”

Shit. Blue still remembers that kiss on the cheek during the storm, now and then, and hoped it was nothing meaningful. That didn’t stop him worrying about it off and on for months, of course, and yet he still has no idea what to say. “Um.”

“But I’m pretty sure he just sees me as a friend.”

“Right.” He doesn’t dare be too relieved, yet, and sure enough…

“Maybe because he’s still focused on another girl. I know it’s stupid to keep hoping, and I’m not rooting against them, exactly…”

“Wait. Another girl?” Does she think he and Leaf…? Or maybe—

“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”

“It is?” Blue asks, feeling a little faint. He’s been talking to Maria a lot lately to get extra help training their psychic pokemon, but—

“Well, thought it was. He talks like Bretta is going to ask him out any day now, or else he will.”

Oh!” The relief is short-lived as Elaine gives him a quizzical look, and now it’s his turn to blush. “Right,” he quickly adds, hoping it’s a more normal response. And then, for good measure, “Yeah.”

“You think Glen’s still focused on her too, then?”

He should just lie. It would be so easy. But what if he’s wrong? In this case he wouldn’t just look foolish, he’d be misleading his friend.

“I actually have no idea,” he admits after a moment, very badly wanting to summon his pokemon and start the training. Instead he starts tossing the ball back and forth. “And it doesn’t seem like my business.”

“Right.” She starts to play with her ball too. “I just thought you were at least keeping track of things like that. For, you know. Drama-avoidance reasons.”

Blue grimaces, but says nothing. He’s read about the way romance among journeymates could lead to problems between them (despite the incomprehensible insistence of basically every movie to shoehorn it in, which is one of the many reasons he prefers films about trainers his own age) but the whys and hows have always been a mystery to him, and he’s never really wanted them not to be. As far as he can tell, romance just makes people go crazy in fairly random and uninteresting ways.

Sometimes heroic ones, too, but those would always be more interesting without the romantic motivation, to him, and observing the ups and downs of Daisy’s romantic life so far has convinced him further that the whole thing is more trouble than it’s worth, even if things seem to be going well with her current girlfriend so far.

She’s still looking at him, though, and finally he says, “I’m just trying to focus on what would make everyone a better trainer. So long as it’s not causing a problem, meddling with people’s personal lives would just be a distraction, for me and others.”

“I get that. And I do appreciate it. But you’ve earned the right to nudge, now and then, you know? If you think it’s getting to be more of a distraction than saying something would.”

Is she asking him to tell her to stop thinking about Glen? It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing someone would be able to do, at least according to movies, but then they’re not reliable in all sorts of other ways. “I’m younger than everyone else in the group. Why would I have any more to say on this than you all?”

“It’s not that you would, exactly. I mean, I don’t think people are going to ask you for dating advice. But if it’s affecting our training, I expect you to notice, and… well, we wouldn’t want to disappoint you.” She shrugs. “I guess I should just speak for myself, but if you think I’ve been slipping behind because I keep trying to make sure Glen is keeping up…”

She’s right, he has noticed that. He just didn’t say anything because he figured she’s doing it out of friendship. “Would you do the same for others in the group?”

“I’m not sure. Lizzy and Maria, probably? Maybe not the newcomers, if I’m being honest. I like Marcus and Alex, but I didn’t spend that much time at the dojo, so I’m still getting to know them.”

Blue nods. “You are, a bit. Falling behind I mean. But you’ve been improving in other ways too, and… there are more important things than pokemon training sometimes.” He sighs. “Honestly, it’s been a bit of a relief. I’d probably be doing it more myself if you weren’t.”

She lets out a breath, then nods. “Well. That does make me feel better. But I’m actually worried this is all just my past debt coming due for all the motivation I got after meeting him.”

“What do you mean?”

Elaine gives him a faint smile. “You probably didn’t realize, because we all met at around the same time, and… you didn’t know me too well at the start. But a big part of why I was always so eager to work hard and do more was… I wanted to impress Glen. I mean, I wanted to be impressive so that he’d notice me. Not to say I didn’t care what you thought too, or about getting a badge, or being a good trainer. All of that mattered to me. But I never felt so… energized, and cheerful, and focused.”

“You were pretty energetic back then, but you still are, too, most of the time. I just figured, you know… the things we’ve been through, they haven’t really left any of us unchanged.”

“Sure, that’s been part of it too. After what happened to Glen beneath the Casino… I could barely think straight until he woke up. But I’ve also been feeling some heartache, and occasional jealousy, and… trying not to let that get in the way of things has been hard.”

Blue frowns, staring at his abra’s pokeball. How did he miss that? “Sorry. Not just because that sounds like it sucks. I had no idea.”

“Don’t be, I wanted to keep it hidden. I might have just confessed to Glen if I wasn’t so worried about making things awkward and ruining things for the group. But I’ve been wondering… what if I stop trying to help Glen and still can’t keep up? It’s harder to motivate myself to train these days than it is to work on a game about training. Doesn’t that mean I’ve lost it?”

Blue’s stomach clenches at the thought that Elaine might quit, after everything she’s been through. Everything they’ve been through. But… “Elaine, if you’re worried I’m going to be upset—”

“Of course I am, but it’s not just that. When I think of how badly Aiko wanted to be a trainer, and how much good we’ve done, it makes me feel like… I have to keep going, for her sake. And if I could stop others from dying like that, but instead I just spend my days in Pewter making games…”

Blue knows he’s supposed to say something here, something like she wouldn’t want you to be a trainer for reasons like that. But he’s still shaken by the idea that he missed something so big in Elaine’s journey, and it threatens to throw everything he thinks he knows about her and even the others in his journey into doubt.

Or maybe that’s just an excuse to keep her with him.

More alarming is the thought of what else his friends might be going through that he might be totally blind to. Maybe he’s too young to understand the romance stuff, but while he still wishes it weren’t something he had to think about, at least now that he knows how blind he’s been he can ask Daisy for help. But if he’s mishandling the situation with Janine, which it seems he is, it could be for another reason that’s totally invisible to him.

How would he even know how to find out?

Pull yourself together. His friend is still standing silent in front of him, and he can worry about his own problems later. There are a few things he doesn’t feel or relate to that he’s managed to at least accept are real for others, and he reaches for some of that borrowed wisdom now.

“Maybe you just need a break,” Blue says at last. “We’ve been going pretty hard for months, and all the recent wild battles are wearing a lot of people down.”

“Not you.”

Blue snorts. “You said it yourself, a while back; I “double specialized” in pokemon battles, or something like that, right?”

But Elaine just gives him a sad smile. “I know you, Blue. You want equals with you, on your way to the top. If I spend a few months at home just fooling around, is there really going to be a place for me on your journey again? I don’t mean you’ll tell me to go away, but in your heart, will I still be an equal?”

“No one is,” he says, the words coming out before he can think. “I’m sorry, that’s not—”

“No, it’s okay.” She reclips her pokeball and walks over to the wall, pressing her back against it and sliding down, then patting the floor beside him. “Tell me.”

Blue suddenly wishes they were talking about romance again, but… she trusted him with her deep fear. He can’t do less.

He goes to sit beside her, rolling Tops’ pokeball between his hands. “I don’t know why I said that. I was trying to make you feel better, but it came out… bitter.”

“It’s okay to notice you’re not like others, Blue. In a few ways, at least. I’m just worried that’s going to keep you from finding real companionship.” She sighs. “But I guess it would, if those few things are important enough to you.”

Some leader he is; now she’s the one comforting him. But this isn’t even a loss, and… it’s Elaine. She’s been with him as long as anyone besides Red and Leaf, and through even more together.

“I know it might not be actually true,” Blue says. “I mean, there are probably a few trainers out there as good as me. Glen might actually be one of them, if not for…” He swallows down the ball of bitterness and sadness.

Elaine is looking at him in something like pity, but also worry. “Give him more time, Blue, he’s trying so hard, and—”

“I know. That’s part of why I admire him so much. But even people who are as good as I am at battles don’t have the same ambition, and without that it feels… different. I’ve met so many people I respect and admire and have learned from, including you, by the way, people with skills I don’t have, and insights, and all that good stuff. But for what matters most… it feels like sooner or later I’m going to walk a different path, or they will.” He smiles at her. “So don’t feel bad about going home for a bit, Elaine. You’re special to me, but not that special.”

She hugs him, and he returns the gesture, unsure if he’s made things better or worse until she says, “Just… don’t count us out yet. When you get to the top, and put out the call… we’ll be there, even if we couldn’t walk the whole way with you.”

“What if that just gets you killed?” Blue whispers, again without meaning to.

Elaine pulls back to meet his gaze. “Is that why it bothers you so much? When people can’t keep up, or fall behind?”

Blue shrugs, looking away. “I knew a long time ago that I’d be leading friends into danger they might not survive. Everything up until now, it’s… not weeding people out, exactly? Not consciously, at least. But I know that I don’t want people to come just because they like me, or are afraid of disappointing me. I want them to come because they believe as much as I do that taking the Stormbringers down is more important than anything, and are strong enough to actually make a difference rather than dying for nothing.”

For a second he thinks she’s going to hug him again, but then she just punches his arm and stands up. “Don’t borrow so much guilt ahead of time, Blue. It’s very noble of you, but it’s patronizing as hell.” She walks back to the arena. “Go, Ekans!”

Her pokemon appears and coils around, tongue flicking out. Blue gets to his feet as well, wondering if he should say something else, but then just goes to stand across from her and summon Tops. The purple snake goes absolutely still except for its tail, which rattles, and Blue watches his abra’s ears twitch, its body trembling with the effort not to teleport away despite its type advantage.

“You’re stronger than you think,” he mutters, wishing for the thousandth time that he was psychic. “I’ve just got to show you.”

“You talking to me, your abra, or yourself?”

“All of the above.” He takes the two sound emitters out of his pocket and holds them out to the sides, letting Tops orient to his position before beginning to tap out an attack. “And the rest of the world, too.”

Chapter 101: Gauntlet

Bah, juuust barely missed the 1 million word mark… next month it is! Also, I’ve recently started being a bit active on Twitter, for whoever might find that interesting. You can probably guess my handle 🙂

Hope those of you playing Arceus are enjoying it! I’m starting it tomorrow, and look forward to all the ways it will break my storyworld’s timeline…


Chapter 101: Gauntlet

“Those of you who have been to Vermillion or Cinnabar Gyms may think you understand battle safety. This intro class is to assure you that you do not.”

The instructor is dressed in a version of the Fuchsia gym uniform that indicates his status, and stands with his hands behind his back facing the two dozen students kneeling and sitting around him on one of the Gym’s larger rock gardens. Blue sits beside his friends and tries to focus on the lesson as people keep glancing at him.

“Vermilion likes to talk about the unpredictable nature of electricity. They teach good lessons on how various objects will attract or resist it, and on judging the amount of raw power a pokemon who can call down lightning can harness. Cinnabar Gym will hammer on similar points; that trainers of Fire pokemon must understand heat in all its forms, the way it rises and spreads, the temperatures at which various materials will combust. They do this because both electricity and fire are dangerous forces even when used by your own pokemon.”

Blue shifts his weight, still getting used to sitting seiza on the small wooden benches the gym has scattered around. They’re cushioned, which is nice, and keep his weight off his ankles, but they also throw off his sense of balance unless he sits properly. He sees Glen and Lizzy having the same problem, though Elaine and Maria seem fine. Conscious of eyes on him again, he does his best to keep his shoulders square and his back straight.

“What you’ll learn here is different. Whether your pokemon deals in poison, venom, or acid, the most important thing is not the ways your environment might affect their attacks; it is your opponent’s biology itself. There will be a few classes on ensuring wind patterns for poisonous gas, on which acids will be neutralized by what sorts of terrain and which will still be dangerous, but the majority will focus on how to tell when your opponent is close to death.” The instructor looks around, maybe checking to see if anyone isn’t paying attention, which seems unlikely after dropping that word. “This is important for wild pokemon you hope to catch, but also, of course, for trainers you face who may not be as well versed in determining just how close to irreparable damage they are… particularly if they’re too focused on winning, or are used to taking risks that paid off for them before.”

This time Blue isn’t sure if people are looking at him or if he just feels like they are.

“However, this responsibility comes with a perk.” Now the instructor is looking at Blue, who snaps out of a chain of memories his words brought up. “Oak here, at least, knows one way to use that to his advantage.”

I do?

He just smiles, mind racing until he focuses on which of his battles would be common knowledge first and works through those, after which it quickly becomes obvious. “Psychological warfare.”

“Precisely. Using poison pokemon or attacks in and of itself will often make an opposing pokemon or trainer wary. More than any other type, Poison types excel at zone control.” He turns to the easel beside him and starts drawing on the poster board. “Most pokemon will avoid smog or acid or spores, but that means even a miss can help you limit their mobility by careful planning. A master of Poison pokemon knows that time is their ally; setting up traps to catch even the most wary opponent takes patience, as does using defensive positioning to stay safe while they wear themselves out.”

He finishes drawing a few arena shapes, then starts indicating by cloudy shapes how smog could be used in each. Blue dutifully takes notes along with everyone else, and then they break into groups to try what they’ve learned. None of his pokemon can create poisonous smog, which leaves him to practice using Shimmer’s poison powder for aerial dispersal and toxic spikes from his newly evolved forretress for the ground. He’s practiced zone control with the others before, but not alone, since he figured if he was fighting alone other tactics would be better than dragging the fight out.

He can see the value of it now, however, and continues working out his strategies while deliberating on which of his pokemon can most complement and benefit from an opponent with restricted movement. Slower ones are an easy enough answer, but he’s sure there are better possibilities…

Eventually the class ends, and Blue chats with his friends for a few minutes before saying goodbye. He misses spending time with them between classes, but he’s been going to meet Koga every day since he arrived, which is part of why everyone at the gym has been paying more attention to him than they normally might. They seem to keep waiting for him to speak up in classes or activities and poke at why things are done a certain way, or suggest something else entirely be done.

So far, he’s managed to keep himself from any of that. The path he’s taking in Fuchsia so far starts with humility and reception; Koga advised him that it would make the most favorable impression, and Blue is sure the Leader meant both for his Gym members and for himself.

Not that he hasn’t had ideas already, of course…

“Well? Found some way to save the gym yet?”

Blue turns to find Janine leaning against a pillar, arms crossed. She’s wearing the gym uniform, but has a purple scarf around her neck, and he smothers a smile as he takes a breath and fully faces her, hooking his hands in his pockets. He wondered how long it would take before his first meeting with her, and knew it had to come from her initiative.

“Save it from what?”

“Whatever Father thinks is so wrong that he’ll break from a decade of careful preservation and refinement.”

“That sounds like something you’ll have to bring up with him.”

“Don’t play dumb. You two worked on that speech of his together.”

He wondered if she’d bring that up; the other reason people keep looking at him, he suspects. “What makes you say that?”

She rolls her eyes. “‘Our gym needs to both preserve the traditions that have served us so well, while still adapting to the challenges of our new age?’ He might not have said your name, but saying it after you show up and having all these meetings makes it a clear endorsement of what you’ve been doing at the other gyms.”

Blue crosses his own arms, now, brow raised. “Is that a problem?” He’s genuinely curious; despite what he agreed to, he doesn’t particularly want to become the Fuchsia Gym Leader, which means that if Koga’s worry that Janine will likely succeed him if he leaves the gym is accurate…

…she’ll be one of the Leaders under Blue’s purview as Champion, while Koga is one of his Elites. Ideally he leaves the city with a good working relationship with both of them.

“We’ve done just fine without them,” is her only response, and Blue can’t help but raise his brow.

“Huh. I didn’t expect you to be more traditional than your dad.”

“Is that a problem?”

She gets his inflection down perfectly, and he can’t help but grin before shrugging. “Only if it keeps Fuchsia from being better. You can’t think everything’s perfect as it is, right? How do you know I wouldn’t point to the same things you would?”

Janine snorts. “If that were so, Father wouldn’t be paving the way for you. He’d have just listened to me already.”

Blue watches her for a moment, then nods. “Alright, I get it now.”

“Get what?”

“Why he doesn’t want you to be Leader.”

She hides the flinch well, but he still sees it. Maybe he shouldn’t have confirmed it so blatantly, but he’s not interested in beating around the bush for weeks either.

“And why’s that?”

“If he wanted you to know, he’d tell you. Figure it out yourself; you don’t need me, after all, remember?”

He walks away, half expecting her to follow but not needing her to; he made his point, and knows a perfect exit line when he says it.

Ideally, he leaves the city with a good relationship with both of them. Meanwhile he’s probably going to piss off one or the other sooner or later.

Still, it’s gratifying when she steps up beside him (surprisingly quietly, he didn’t hear her move) and matches his strides. “It won’t matter what my father wants if I beat him and undo any changes you make anyway.”

He shrugs. “By then I’m hoping you’ll see the benefits, and keep the ones that work.” Now. “If not, I’ll just have to beat you and take Leadership myself.”

Janine’s gait doesn’t falter, but Blue catches her shocked look in his periphery before she laughs. “What kind of con are you running here, Oak? Everyone knows you’re aiming for Champion.”

No use trying to hide that. “You’re right, I’m going to become Champion first. Then I’m taking a page out of Giovanni and Brock’s book, and settling in somewhere I can make a bigger local impact.”

She doesn’t have an immediate response to that, and her expression is schooled as they pass over a bridge that crosses the moat surrounding the small island where the main arena is located. Blue’s shoes scuff the sand on the other side, but Janine’s steps are as silent as before, and he looks down to watch how she shifts her weight onto each foot, trying to imitate her.

If she notices she doesn’t comment, instead looking around as he stops. “Did you bring me here for a match?”

“Just thought it would help avoid eavesdroppers.”

She frowns. “Why Fuchsia?”

“Why not Fuchsia? It’s as far out of the way as you can get without going to Cinnabar, so I wouldn’t be bumping elbows with others. It’s got the Safari Zone, which is a pretty damn important resource to protect and is likely going to only get more important as my friend Leaf’s project develops. And it’s just a beautiful city. I miss the Pallet Beaches.”

She didn’t seem to expect him to have an answer to that, or maybe she’s just having trouble believing they’re having this conversation. He watches her jaw flex, then relax. “This is my home.”

The words come across as a threat, not a plea. “Kanto is mine, and Fuchsia is in it. Why would I leave it in the hands of someone stuck in the past?”

“Oh fuck off, you don’t even know me.”

“And you know me?”

They stare each other down across the middle line of the arena, and after a few seconds he sees the older girl get it. Maybe not all of it, but enough that her eyes suddenly narrow, and dart to the arena, then around them.

There are people watching them. Not blatantly, but curiously, as they make their way from one place to another. No doubt wondering if they’re going to battle, or just what they’re talking about.

Either way, the word will spread.

“If I were to challenge you to a match right now,” Janine asks, voice low. “It would puncture whatever story you think you’re building here.”

“Funny thing, a few weeks ago I would have agreed with you. Now?” He unclips a ball and carelessly spins it on a finger while his other hand rises to cup around his lips, like he’s imparting some secret. “Even when I lose, I win.”

He’s exaggerating a little, of course. The thought of losing to Janine, particularly in such a public way, makes his stomach clench. But it’s incredibly unlikely that he’ll beat her his first time, not without more intimately understanding her strategy and tactics. So long as he can get her to agree to more than one match, and frame the narrative properly, what is he really losing that’s worse than his loss to Brock was? And that “failure” turned out to be quite an opportunity.

She watches him balance the spinning pokeball, then walk it across his knuckles once it slows, and knows that she understands that turning away now would make it look like she’s the one that declined a battle challenge.

“This sort of pageantry has no place in a proper Gym,” she says after a moment, sounding like she’s talking through half-grit teeth. “It might have worked for you in the others, but it won’t matter here. And all I need to do to stop you from making it matter here is being the better trainer, which I am.”

“No, you’re just the stronger one. Maybe you’re even better than the Third or Second, maybe even better than your dad. But better than me?” He bounces the ball to his other hand and starts tossing it back and forth. “That’s going to take more than just one battle to determine.” He smiles. “Or else you can enjoy being Leader for a couple years before I come back for the title.”

For a moment as her expression hardens he thinks he might have overstepped, and then she grins, and something in the shape of it makes him know he did. “Three on three, to the faint.”

Shit. “Of course.” Practice matches don’t tend to skirt the line for major injury that close, but negotiating now would make him seem less serious about all this. Besides, it’s not like she’s going to maim his pokemon just to discourage him.

“We’re not doing it here, though. ”

…Is she? “Afraid of an audience?”

Janine just snorts as she walks away, and after a moment Blue follows, sending a quick message to Koga to cancel their meeting. Once he puts his phone away he watches Janine as they walk, reevaluating her with everything he’s learned.

Not as interested in public perception as he hoped, and also quicker to anger. Not that he’s one to talk. Still, it makes sense that she’s taking it as a personal attack rather than a friendly rivalry. She’s got the skill to feel justifiably patronized by him throwing a gauntlet down without even getting to know her or the gym.

Now he just has to make sure she doesn’t break his nose when she throws it back.

He looked up her most used teams, of course. From what he could tell, and what she might know of his pokemon, she’s likely not going to use her anti-Psychic and Ghost pokemon, since he doesn’t have any that are fighting fit for a battle like this. On the other hand he hasn’t been shy about using his Ground types, so even if he doesn’t have to worry about her skuntank or drapion, she’s still got plenty of choices; he particularly noticed how well she tends to use toxicroak and roserade to take down anti-poison walls and weezing as a status inflicting wall of her own, with scolipede and crobat to act as sweepers.

Not the easiest list to narrow down, but he came as prepared as he could be.

They enter the main training hall and head to the elevators. Even their doors match the simple, warm wooden aesthetic, but once they’re inside it’s cool blue metal, and a few moments later they step out into a corridor as hi-tech as any other in Kanto. Janine steps over to the PC beside the door, and he looks away while she logs in and swaps the pokemon at her belt.

Once she’s done Janine leads him past the training rooms, some of which Blue has already spent time in, and toward the arenas. “Will you need any water for your team?”

“No,” he says, surprised by the offer and wondering if she picked a team for either arena type, or if she’s just that confident. Maybe he should have said yes to increase the odds of her bringing a tentacruel out for his magneton… but Rive would be at a huge disadvantage, and he doesn’t have enough of a water roster to really make up for it.

So they enter an earthbox arena, similar to the one where he fought his challenge matches in Pewter. Janine turns the fans by the door on to keep any smog from escaping before they put their masks on and take their positions on the platforms.

“Ready. Countdown if you are.”

“Sure.” He had some lines prepared for a public battle, but they’d be a bit silly to say here, particularly given how upset she might be. He feels the battle calm descend as he takes deep breath, mind focusing on nothing but the fight ahead. “Three, two, one, GO AEGIS!”

His forretress materializes together with Janine’s Galarian slowbro. Huh. Unexpected, but I’ll take it. As a Poison/Psychic pokemon it won’t have much to use against Bug/Steel.

“Sa!” he shouts to Aegis into a spin, bits of her metal carapace breaking off and flung onto the enemy side of the field, where the slowbro responds by—

—belching out a stream of fire.

Blue’s hand is already out to withdraw Aegis as she twitches and spasms, cursing under his breath. Galarian slowbro are the only pokemon in the whole family to not disproportionately favor special attacks, so of course she used a TM to teach it one anyway for exactly situations like this, where her opponent would assume it’s a physical attacker.

Thankfully he has a decent response as Rive comes out next, immediately shaking off the sludge that gets shot over the rhyhorn’s rocky hide. Blue knows better than to respond with a Ground attack when she’s still probably got a weezing or roserade to swap into, so he goes for Rock Throw, which scores a satisfying hit against the weezing she replaces her slowbro with.

“Smog!”

“Tar!” The attack misses, but Blue is prepared for a drawn out slugmatch. Sooner or later one of these attacks will poison Rive and start the clock ticking, and she’ll probably use Will-o-Wisp to add a burn soon as well, but if he can last long enough that she sends out a—

“Shadow Ball!”

Blue’s thoughts pivot, entire battle strategy reforming as the “wall” reveals itself to be another special attacker. He has no one better to switch into the oncoming ghost attack, and so he just lets his pokemon resume its offensive as it’s hit by the dark sphere. The rock throw lands with a satisfying thud, but Rive lets out a grinding roar of anguish as it endures the mental assault, visibly trembling and twitching. Combined with the potential for poison he’ll have to be withdrawn soon, but that weezing needs to go down

“Tar!”

“Go, Blaziken!”

What

Rive ejects another chunk of its rocky hide at the newly summoned enemy, who mostly shrugs the blow off. Blue’s battle strategy attempts to flip again, but there’s nothing for it to flip to.

Part of him suspected she might use a non-Poison pokemon to throw him for a loop, this isn’t exactly a standard gym battle and they never set a rule that she’d have to use only Poison types, but… a blaziken? Why pick that? Sure it gives her more options against any Steel walls he might have, but it’s just as susceptible as Poison pokemon would be to Ground or Psychic attacks…

…which makes it one of the last type combinations he’d expect her to use.

The blaziken is already rushing forward to attack, leaving bloody footprints over the spike-laden ground, and Blue has a split second left to decide between trying a Ground attack or swapping, and after the last two fakeouts he’s half convinced this is one too so he goes with his gut and yells “Ba!” as he grabs the handrails for stability.

The shockwave knocks the blaziken to its knees and coats it with earth, but it rolls forward and kicks Rive hard enough to send cracks through his hide and Blue has to swap to Nin, even knowing that as soon as he does—

“Return! Go, Slowbro!”

“Sas!”

“Psychic!”

The cone of supersonic noise only hits for a moment before his golbat is pummeled out of the air. Slowbro tend to be resistant to confusion, but he’s got no better play than to hope for the best, and it’s at that thought that reality hits him and he withdraws Nin.

“I concede.” The words hurt coming out more than he expected; he didn’t even take down a single pokemon. Hell, he barely damaged them. Despite what he said aboveground, part of him is still very glad he didn’t get handed such a total loss in front of others. “Nice moves.”

Janine just withdraws her pokemon and vaults the wall of her platform, heading for the door without a word as she takes her mask off.

“Thanks for the lesson,” he says, making sure his sincerity is at the forefront of his tone as he removes his too and hurries to join her.

She pauses, seems to debate a moment, then turns her head toward him as he catches up. “What lesson?”

“Expect the unexpected.”

Janine snorts and keeps walking, but doesn’t make any particular effort to leave him behind. “That should be basic to any competent trainer.”

“Poison is usually a defensive type, and you went with an offensive team even when it looked like it could be otherwise. More specifically, you chose pokemon that aren’t your usual best so I don’t get experience fighting your real team next time.”

“You still think there’ll be a next time, after that?”

“Sooner or later.” He shrugs. “Up to you which it is.”

He can’t see her expression, but he does his best to take her silence as a victory.


“Just focus on what you want for them,” Leaf says to the room full of psychics, eyes closed as she follows her own instructions. “Your pokemon are your partners. They rely on you, and care for you more than their own lives. They’ll always be there for you, and never let you down. Think of how much you’d care for a person that was so devoted, what you’d want for them. To be safe, and avoid suffering. To be happy, and flourish, and reach their full potential.”

Her hand strokes Raff’s head as she speaks, and she feels her affection for him grow as he nuzzles her palm. She hopes the feeling is helpful to Sabrina’s students, who are trying to learn to memorize and generate the same level of deep emotional care that allowed her to help with the marowak ghost. By their fifth session she was worried the lessons would get repetitive—or at least, her part in them, she’s not sure what they do when she’s not around—which is why she started alternating the focus of each. She started with her feelings about pokemon in general, then switched to what she felt for the abra that seemed to work to keep them from fleeing, then her memory of what Red projected from her to the marowak ghost, painful as that was to remember.

Since she’s not psychic herself she has no way to even check if they’re making progress, which is why she started asking them to fill out daily forms of how they feel about pokemon before they go to bed each night. Just a number is enough, though she invited them to expand on it with any thoughts they notice that seem new or unusual.

Today she’s hoping to broaden everyone’s connection to their own pokemon, through the deep love she feels for hers, under the hypothesis that there might be some spillover effects to pokemon that aren’t theirs. Not that it would be bad for them to care about their own pokemon more too, of course, but she’s curious about the barrier between how much affection people feel for their pokemon compared to others. She still remembers the conversation with Red and Blue at the start of their journey, and while some of the quick and strong bonds people form does seem like an obvious consequence of ownership and familiarity and affection, the same way people care about their friends and family more than strangers, it still seems like the dropoff for other pokemon is sharper than it should be (could be?).

She knows it’s possible, at the very least, thanks to her own feelings, and those of people like Natural and others who have reached out to her over the past year, some even admitting that reading her writings on the topic changed the way they feel about pokemon, even those that aren’t theirs… though she hasn’t noticed anyone who doesn’t have pokemon mention such a change, so far at least. All of which makes it hard to resist using this opportunity to try getting some deeper understanding of the bond between people and pokemon.

Still, she tries not to lose sight of the real reason she’s here… even if she finds it strange that psychics, of all people, might need these lessons.

“I don’t need to tell you that the creature in front of you is as real as you are; unlike most people, you can intimately feel its suffering, its joy. Let yourself lean into whatever natural desires you have to protect your own pokemon from harm, and imagine the pokemon you want to project onto is a future pokemon of yours.” She spends some time moving through those mental motions herself, first picturing each of the pokemon she caught before she caught them, then imagining how she feels about them now, followed by thinking of what new friends she might make in the coming years. “If you can imagine that, and how you will probably feel about them, it might help you embody a similar feeling sooner, before you’ve even caught them.”

Doing these lessons has had an interesting effect on her own experiences. A similar thing happened when she wrote about her feelings and philosophy about pokemon; making them so explicit forced her to delve into the content of every shade and nuance of emotions that felt natural to her, every notion and thought that might tangentially be related to or build the worldview. It was surprising how each article kept revealing more depth and detail to what she already seemed to feel or “know” to herself, or at least refined it.

After all that, she didn’t think her feelings about pokemon had a new way to grow. But doing the same thing even more directly, communicating the ideas to people right in front of her, out loud, while focusing on the sensations in her body as she does it… all seems to layer a richness over the expanded awareness she got from making the ideas explicit for the articles.

The experience has made the lessons worthwhile all on their own, and she draws in a slow breath as she imagines all the friends Raff has yet to make once she introduces him to them, how much joy he seems to get when playing with other pokemon, and feels her love for him swelling to fill her chest.

“Your pokemon have a lot to teach you about enjoying life, and seeing it from new angles. You just have to be willing to spend the time with them. Share yourself with them, figuratively or literally, and listen, and feel.”

She lets the last of the breath out, and opens her eyes, to check the time. Two minutes to go, which is close enough. She gives everyone another minute in the silence, then says, “That’s it for today. I hope it was helpful.”

“Very,” Satori says, and gives Leaf a rare smile, hand stroking her torracat. “Thank you, Leaf.”

Leaf grins. “You’re welcome.” She likes Satori; she’s distant, a bit like MG—Maria—used to be, but she seems to be more invested in the classes than anyone else, and not just because it might help her with her own personal project of creating such a strong bond with her pokemon that it would persist beyond its Dark evolution.

She stays behind while everyone else leaves, intending to catch up with Jason, but is surprised to see Rowan waiting too. He’s usually first out the door beside Tatsumaki and Daniel. Her surprise turns to shock when she gets a closer look and sees he’s quietly weeping.

“Are you well, Rowan?” Jason asks, and while there’s concern in the medium’s voice, there’s also a note of something like caution. Leaf noticed that the others treat Rowan a bit oddly, but she’s not sure she really gets why.

“Yes,” Rowan says, and takes some tissues from inside his robe to mop at his eyes. “I’m just… it’s beautiful, what you can do, Leaf. I think… I might have understood it, for once.”

“Oh, are these happy tears?” She grins, relieved. “That’s wonderful, Rowan!”

“Yes…” He hugs his espeon, who waves her tail, split ends twitching. “Yes, it is… I’m so lucky to have my pokemon, and I know I can do better for them…”

Leaf beams at him, but notices that Jason doesn’t seem as thrilled. She only has a moment to wonder why before Rowan suddenly takes a deep breath, then lets it out and bounces to his feet with a grin.

“That was great,” he says, wiping impatiently at his eyes. “I’m going to see how easily I can remember that series of partitions and do it again.” His espeon rubs at his leg, and his grin fades a little as he quickly withdraws it. “Thanks, Juniper.”

“Uh, you’re welcome,” she says, but he’s already leaving, and closes the door behind him without another word. She turns to Jason, who’s staring after Rowan with a resigned expression, and Satori, who is stroking her torracat with a slight frown. “Was that…?”

“As he said, his partitions,” Satori says. “Personality editing. It’s been… disconcerting, at times, but Sensei says he has not done anything obviously harmful yet, and it is his mind to experiment with as he sees fit.”

Jason nods. “I believe he’s trying to catch up to Red, in terms of creating new forms of partition manipulation, but in his own way.”

“Ah.” She’s not sure she totally got all that, but she can ask Red later. He hasn’t come to her lessons yet, which has been understandable, though also a little disappointing. His unique abilities mean he needs them the least, but at the same time she thinks that philosophically he’s the most likely to actually change his perspective if he spends more time focusing on these things. “What about you, did you two find it helpful?”

“Yes, I believe so,” Satori says with a smile. “I believe I will be ready to evolve Pela sometime in the next month or two.”

“Oh, that’s great!”

“I have too,” Jason adds. “I’ve found this compassion you generate similar to what I’ve found helpful to embody when dealing with Ghost pokemon, and it is interesting to add another layer onto that, from another angle.”

“That sounds great. I’ve been meaning to ask you about that, but I have to head out now. Let’s catch up later?”

“Of course.”

“Take care, Leaf.”

“You too!”

She withdraws Raff and heads out, but instead of going to the roof to teleport she makes her way down to the street while taking her phone out to order a cab to Lavender Town. She registered her second one to Fuchsia once she started going there regularly, and Sabrina gave her an abra registered to Saffron as part of her thanks for the lessons to her students, but cheap as abra have gotten Leaf didn’t expect to see Laura often enough to justify getting another to keep her Lavender teleport.

It’s not the price that bothers her so much as the implications of owning so many abra. She likes to get to know her pokemon, and the ones she takes care of at the ranch, understand their personality, but there are only so many hours in a day, and abra are… not the most interactive pokemon. She feels bad enough for Psyguy, whose whole life seems to be feeding and sleeping and teleporting her when she needs him (along with her occasional attempts to engage him in play, which he just seems confused by), and even worse for how little she’s engaged Aiko and Sabrina’s abras, defaulting them to a “life” spent mostly as oblivious energy. Acquiring yet another one before she even gets to know the others would feel neglectful.

So she gets in the cab when it arrives and sits back for the ride, catching up on her messages and checking the news along the way. Today it’s full of reports and articles about the latest pokemon discovered in Sinnoh; yanma don’t normally have an evolution, but a couple days ago one trainer’s suddenly evolved into an undiscovered species. At first people thought it was like the temporary evolution of Steven’s pokemon, but it didn’t revert back, and today another trainer’s evolved into the same one.

All told, “yanmega” is the ninth new pokemon that’s been discovered since the Hoenn incident, more than half of which have been somewhere on the island chain. It seems to confirm the idea that the increased activity of unown is what’s causing new pokemon to appear, which generates interest even for non-researchers… though less excited interest, and more fearful. Most articles she’s seen (not aimed at battle trainers at least) concern the chances of another major incident like what happened on Cinnabar, or even Lavender.

To the relief of many, the marowak ghost appears to have been one of a kind so far. The ditto, meanwhile, were uniquely capable of hiding and disrupting the ecosystem until there were enough of them to cause a stampede. Most new pokemon aren’t powerful or generated in high enough numbers to cause such an immediate and major shakeup of their environment; there have even been theories that the majority of new pokemon that come into existence aren’t noticed by humans at all because they’re killed off somewhere in the wilderness before anyone encounters them. It would also explain why the majority of the past few decades’ discoveries have been pokemon generated from manmade objects or ecosystems.

Still, at this rate of genesis the odds of new pokemon causing Tier 2 or higher incidents may rise until they’re a seasonal incident, at least somewhere in the world. Various regions haven’t finished recovering from the ecological shifts Groudon and Kyogre caused, and if the ditto had shown up in Hoenn, where the worst of it is still running the local rangers and league ragged, there’s no way they would have contained it properly. Not without outside help, which would open those regions up to similar risks from even their own “normal’ incidents.

All of it puts more weight on her project going well. So much so that sometimes she has trouble sleeping at night, or even playing with her pokemon, worrying over how she should be spending that time making sure she’s doing all she can. For a project that’s already far bigger than her, and beyond her capabilities in many ways, that leaves her mostly double and triple checking her own work and trying extra hard to catch up in the areas she’s still learning.

It’s also made her work in the investigation feel less important, even while it’s more interesting (and exciting). For now she has a good excuse; she did manage to actually learn things, after all, even if some of it was less from competence and more perseverance. But after she shares what she’s learned with Laura, she knows she’ll go back to worrying about whether the investigation into the conspiracy, big and important as it feels, actually matters compared to all the human and pokemon lives that would be improved by completing the program.

She wonders if this is how Blue feels all the time. If so, it could explain why he’s so focused on his goal, even more than she and Red, with their various side projects. Is it pleasant for him, living like that? Does he ever have other things he wishes he could do, or do they not even register to him in the first place? Somehow she never thought to ask him.

Well, nothing’s stopping her now, and she’s almost there anyway. Leaf writes him a message, then reads it over while imagining his perspective as best she can before doing some edits to make sure it doesn’t come across as patronizing, then hits send as the cab stops.

“Thanks,” she says as she gets out, then starts walking the last couple minutes beyond the road to where Laura’s new house is; she apparently decided to change her rental to one that’s a little ways beyond the town proper. The walk gives Leaf time to appreciate the changes around her since the last time she was here.

Lavender Town in the springtime is much prettier, but more than that its entire vibe has changed from a quiet place for mourning to a lively community. She imagines that has as much to do with the circumstances as the weather, but either way it’s nice not to be hit by any particularly strong memories from that visit.

It helps that she also keeps her gaze from lingering on the tower. She considered visiting the rangers at the tower while she’s here, but isn’t sure if she wants to face the memories there just yet… not while she still wakes from nightmares, now and then, of burnt and bloody cubone and marowak bodies piled like garbage…

She resolves to decide how she feels after she speaks with Laura.

When she reaches the right house and knocks, Red’s mother opens the door almost immediately and gives her a hug before inviting her in and serving lunch while Leaf summons her three abra.

Laura starts with small talk as they eat delicious meatless burritos, which gives Leaf the opportunity to surreptitiously study Laura up close. Red’s mother seemed distracted the last few times they spoke; Leaf imagined it was due to other parts of the investigation going well, but trusted her to share it when she’s ready.

Now Leaf wonders which of them is having more trouble sleeping; Laura looks more tired than Leaf’s ever seen her.

Tired, but focused. The fact that Leaf asked for an in-person meeting at all made it clear something important happened. By the time she refills both of their tea cups, she gets a message on her phone, then nods to Leaf and says, “Okay, we’re good to talk.”

Leaf blinks. “Did you just…?”

“Anti-spying measures,” she says with a small smile as a door opens somewhere in the house. A moment later a handsome dark skinned man with a goatee and a shaven head walks into the dining room, hands latching his pokebelt on. “Thanks, Asim.”

“Of course. Nice to meet you, Miss Juniper.”

“Um. Hello,” Leaf says trying to keep from staring. She doesn’t recognize the name or his accent. “Um. Who…?”

“Just a friend of Sam and mine.” Laura turns to him. “This shouldn’t take too long.”

“No rush, I’m going to the trainer house to see if anyone’s worth a match or two.” He nods to Leaf, then walks past them and out the door.

Leaf stares after him, then looks at Laura, who just gives her a small smile.

“Like I said, just a friend. He helps make sure we don’t have any unwanted listeners.”

“He’s psychic?”

“And good with tech. So what brought you here? News on the ninja clan?”

“Not… exactly.” She takes a breath. “I, uh, met your informant.”

Laura’s eyes widen, and Leaf quickly summarizes what happened (still embarrassed by the fact that the informant got the drop on her, though she knows that’s absurd if they really are a ninja and probably even if they’re not). She expects Laura to chastise her for the risk she took, but instead she just seems too preoccupied by the revelations her old informant passed along.

“Silph’s battling an organization that’s separate from the informant,” Laura murmurs. “And also has worked with… which means… Leaf, what do you think would have happened if Yuuta wasn’t killed? Assuming he didn’t spill any information either way.”

“Well… nothing, I guess. If we assume that he didn’t have anything else to reveal, the case would have just… faded, right? If someone hired him to steal the fossils, we’d probably never find out.”

“Right. And if that was the point?”

“Then… Silph killed Yuuta so people would investigate who hired him? But why not just tell people?” Leaf blinks. “Oh. Because if it’s an organization they’re also allied with… that would be an act of war. Instead of… whatever weird alliance they have.”

“Or the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. No organization is truly monolithic; I actually believe Silph when he says he doesn’t know about some of the stuff that was revealed. Why would he? He’s got a business to run, and a massive one.”

“That’s another thing, though; who’s big enough to be a real rival to Silph? Is Devon operating in Kanto?”

“Only minimally. It’s a good question, and there are a few companies I’ve looked into, but none fit the sorts of things that were found to be stolen under the Casino.”

“Have we learned anything else about them, by the way? Who worked there, what they were doing?”

Laura smiles. “You think they’d tell me?”

“Have you asked?”

“Leaf, I’m a reporter! Even self-employed, the police don’t talk to us, not unless someone’s got a chip on their shoulder, or some agency is screwing things up so badly that one of their officers or detectives wants to leak something that’ll put pressure on them to shape up.”

“What if you offer to trade info or something? There’s got to be something in all the data we got that could be useful to them.”

Laura opens her mouth, then closes it, frowning slightly. Leaf waits, expecting to hear some answer as to why that isn’t workable, and finally Laura sighs and drinks some tea as she rubs her forehead. “I… may have a bit of a fear of talking to the police over any of this.”

“Wh—oh.” Leaf feels like an idiot. “Sorry, I totally forgot.”

“No, it’s nothing to be sorry about. You’re raising good points, and I haven’t… actually considered the idea. Just avoided the possibility out of fear.” She shakes her head. “There’s no reason to think that Silph has people in every police department, but my gut insists it’s not worth the risk.”

“Your gut is probably right. I was just saying stuff, I didn’t just forget what you went through, I didn’t consider the risk. And it’s not like I’ve been totally open with the police.”

Laura chuckles, but upon remembering the events that led to her saying that, Leaf’s thoughts are already considering a new possibility.

“Hey, what about Looker?”

“The Interpol detective? He’s probably safe enough, but they’re not going to have much to say or do with something like this, not unless we had evidence of interregional crime.”

“What if we do, and just don’t know it?”

Laura blinks. “That’s… possible. But for the best chance of them connecting any dots they might have the other half of, I’d have to hand over everything.” She thinks for another moment, then nods. “I’ll think about it. Thank you, Leaf.”

She beams, feeling happy to have helped. They talk some more about what possible points of investigation Leaf could use to find out more, and after a while Leaf smiles.

“You know, I was half expecting you to say this is all too dangerous and to walk away from it.”

Laura smiles. “Would you have listened? Sorry, that’s unfair. You’ve been, overall, very sensible.”

Thank you.”

“Even if you did get caught and are lucky my informant just wanted to chat.” Leaf squirms, and Laura laughs. “But overall, I trust you to know what you can handle. You’ve been through a lot since we last talked about this, and I’m the one that asked you to look into my informant in the first place. I’m not going to pull you out just as you get results.”

“But they don’t want me to keep looking into them. What if they get mad?”

Laura shrugs. “You might learn something just by working together. Just be careful; they were right to say your earlier investigation probably tipped Silph and any other interested parties off. In fact, be sure to keep looking like you’re looking for them, otherwise—”

“People might think I succeeded, instead of thinking I gave up.” Leaf smiles, happy for the explicit encouragement to keep working in the investigation. “I’ll be careful. More careful, I mean.”

“I know you will. That’s why I’ve agreed to introduce you to my newest informant, assuming you agree.”

Leaf blinks. “Your… what, the one that lives here? When? Today?”

“Sure, if you have time and he’s up for it.”

“Oh, yeah! Totally!”

Laura smiles and stands, taking her phone out. “I’ll step into the other room and call him, if you don’t mind cleaning the dishes?”

“Sure!”

Leaf hops up and gets to work, excitement making everything go twice as fast. She finishes before Laura returns, then goes to check in on her pokemon. Psyguy nibbles the food she offers, but the other two don’t seem hungry.

When Laura returns, she goes to latch her pokemon belt on, and Leaf automatically moves to do the same. “He said yes?”

“He did.”

“Who is he?” Leaf asks, excitement building as she withdraws her abras. The rooftop meeting with the informant has a surreal feel in her memory, and she’s getting it again as she thinks of how much deeper into the investigation she’s about to be admitted. She’s not sure how many people she’d admit this to, but while Leaf has always known she enjoyed learning new things, she’s also found she likes knowing secret things. Not just any gossip, but important things. It feels wrong, somehow, but she can’t deny the sense of importance she feels as they step outside and Laura locks the door behind her before leading them toward the town.

“His name is Dr. Fuji. He’s a little… odd.” Laura’s voice is cautious, but also sympathetic. “He’s been through a lot, and has lived a secret, isolated lifestyle for years. In a way he reminds me of Mr. Sakai, though not in any obvious way.”

Leaf’s excitement starts to cool as the reality of the situation reasserts itself. “What’s he been hiding from? Silph?”

“No, that’s… more complex. He’s apparently been working for Silph, but only because he doesn’t trust anyone else to work on the project and get it right.”

“What project?”

Laura doesn’t turn her head, but Leaf sees the way her eyes glance around them again, clearly a reflexive check as her voice lowers further. “He calls it a masterball. A pokeball that combines and surpasses all the specialized tech of the others.”

Leaf blinks. “You mean… higher mass limit than even heavyballs, and longer lock on range than quickballs?”

“Effective underwater, elemental protection, the works.”

“That’s amazing!”

“It is. They’re meant to be a weapon against legendaries, not just the Stormbringers but in case of another Hoenn incident.”

Despite her words, Laura’s voice is grim, and Leaf frowns at her. “So what’s the problem?”

“It’s also meant to completely overwrite the pokemon’s identity. It would turn them into biological machines; no trace of anything but basic survival instincts and reflexes.”

Leaf feels a chill race up her spine. Masterball… It would be a lobotomy, as good as death. Why…?

But she knows why. If it’s meant for legendaries, the goal would be to minimize any chance whatsoever of them not being conditioned. Particularly after Groudon apparently shook off whatever conditioning came from his own capture.

Or maybe that’s just how he acted even with it.

It takes Leaf another moment to remember that most people don’t care about pokemon the way she does, and only then does she really get it.

“Would that… work on people too? Would that be legal?

“That’s Dr. Fuji’s worry. It’s not meant to, of course, which is how it might skirt the laws; changing its coding enough to capture a human in the first place is already against the law. But there’s very little incentive to do that with a normal ball, given what it does to people…”

“Until now.”

Perhaps next someone will make a ball big enough and catch the earth, or throw it far enough and catch the sun. It is folly.

“There’s more, other tech involved that Dr. Fuji doesn’t have full knowledge of. He thinks it’s going to also incorporate new material being developed to be resistant to psychic abilities.”

Leaf’s shock chases away the previous thoughts. “That exists?” Would a helmet of it protect someone from a psychic? Maybe only from the sides or back?

“He seems to think so, but… I’m honestly a little unsure.” She lets out a breath. “Investigations like this are always difficult.”

“Like… this?”

“With an unreliable informant. Oh, I believe him about most things, or I wouldn’t be in so deep. But most isn’t all, and getting any details wrong could be disastrous, not just at the point where a story gets published but even before that.”

“Is he just unreliable because he’s… depressed? Or is it something else?”

“You’re thinking of Mr. Sakai. Like I said, it’s not that bad. If Dr. Fuji is ever obviously out of touch with reality, I haven’t seen it. But he does have mood swings, possibly from years of isolation. Sometimes depression, other times a manic energy, but not a happy one. Intense, even angry at times.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry, I never felt any sense of danger from him. I can’t really imagine him hurting anyone. And maybe he’s completely justified in what he’s feeling. But from the perspective of a neutral observer, he’s too unusual to be a credible single source.”

They reach the house, and after a quick knock and a brief wait, Leaf gets her first look at Dr. Fuji.

The old man who opens the door is pale and skinny, with tufts of white hair around a bald crown. He blinks at them a moment, then peers beyond them, then steps back to invite them in without a word.

Leaf enters and stands awkwardly to the side, unsure of whether she should introduce herself until he closes the door and turns to her. “Leaf Juniper.”

“Hi, yes. Dr. Fuji. Nice to meet you.”

He takes her proffered hand, but carefully, and releases it quickly. “You’ve got Cedric’s eyes.”

“You’ve met my grandfather?”

“Just once, long ago.” He turns to Laura. “Thank you for coming, Laura.”

“Of course,” Laura says, and takes his hand as well. “I’ll put some tea on, shall I?”

The older man frowns. “Nonsense, you’re my guests. I’ll make the tea.”

“No offense, Doctor, but your tea is a little… overly suited to your tastes.”

“Hmph. You’re saying I steep it too much.”

“You’re just a little out of practice playing host.” She smiles. “You can practice on me the next time I come by, but let’s spare Leaf that while you two get acquainted.”

Dr. Fuji sighs, but nods. “That would be lovely, thank you.”

She sweeps past toward the kitchen, and after a moment Fuji follows, leading Leaf past the entrance parlor, where laundry is drying over the couch and chair… or at least she assumes that’s why they’re there. The house in general looks like someone’s been living in it for years without company, though she sees signs of recent half-hearted cleaning; there’s a broom and dustbin leaning against the corner, and the dining room table is half covered in a mess of books and plates and pokeballs and half covered in those same things, but stacked into piles.

It’s only once she reaches the table that she sees the pokemon; a cubone, a lickitung, and a pikachu are in the living room, which seems to have been converted into a playpen for them.

“Aww,” she says, grinning as she approaches the pikachu, then pauses. “May I?”

“Please. They’re friendly, and don’t often get new company.”

Leaf crouches and reaches out to pet the ‘chu, who nuzzles her hand, sniffing curiously. This area, she notices, is relatively clean, considering the fact that pokemon live in it. “What’s his name?”

“Custard.”

She grins. “Because he’s yellow and sweet, or because he likes to eat it?”

He chuckles. “Both.”

“How long have you had them?”

“Oh, a few years. I… needed company, you know.”

“I do.” Now the lickitung approaches, and she hesitates as its tongue waves around in front of her. She’s always been a little grossed out by them, and feels herself wanting to step away from its reaching tongue.

But she knows it uses the tongue because its other senses are so bad, and watching its dull black eyes look to her right and left as it wags its tongue closer and closer makes her feel a well of sympathy for it. She reaches a hand out to stroke its tongue, and while it’s no less gross than she expected (though drier, thankfully), the way it seems to relax upon exploring her hand makes her feel good about the decision.

“Most don’t find them a very pettable pokemon,” Dr. Fuji says, handing her a wetwipe from somewhere on the table, which she gratefully takes despite knowing their tongues emit antibacterial enzymes (when they’re not emitting a paralyzing one for battle, at least). “Do you have one?”

“No, this is actually the first I’ve met. I just… felt sorry for it.” She tosses out the wipe, then goes to greet the cubone, which is sitting in the corner, eyeing her warily. “Is this…”

“One of those from the tower incident, yes. I only acquire pokemon who aren’t fit for combat, despite the best efforts of pokeball training… this one seems to have been particularly traumatized by the loss of its parents.”

Leaf closes her eyes a moment, reliving those soul-rending moments in the tower, seeing the heaps of bodies, hearing the mournful cries… and then she takes a breath, and crouches down to gently stroke its bonelike “mask.” It goes still for a moment, then uses its club to push her hand away.

It makes her heart ache, and she wants to pet it again somewhere else, find the right thing that’ll help it relax… but instead she just carefully stands and steps away to show she’s not a threat, then goes to play with Custard again. As she does she sees the older man smiling at her.

“You certainly live up to your reputation.”

“Do I? Which one?”

“Laura told me you were with her son in Vermilion, when Zapdos hit it. And your experience in Celadon, when Groudon woke… I can only imagine how frightening that must have been.” He watches her as she rubs the pikachu’s fur. “I’d understand why you might not want to write about such experiences. But I am curious to know how you feel about legendary pokemon, whether your compassion has limits, given their destructive power.”

Leaf takes a moment to collect her thoughts. She’d been a little prepared by what Laura told her about Fuji’s concerns for the master ball project, but that just means she has to find a new way to put her thoughts into the relevant words. “Honestly, I have struggled with that. It’s not like they chose to be the way they are, and they’re not… I mean, there are some pokemon that are, for lack of a better word, cruel. It’s their nature, they didn’t choose that either, but getting them to stop hurting others would require changing what they are. So far as we know, legendary pokemon don’t seem to be ‘trying’ to cause pain, they just… do.”

Laura joins them with a tea tray and biscuits, and Dr. Fuji insists on pouring for them. Leaf takes one of the rich chocolate cookies and dips it in her tea as it cools. It’s so tasty she eats nearly the whole thing in two bites, then looks down at Custard, who sniffs at it. A quick glance at Dr. Fuji confirms it’s okay, and the pikachu eats it from her hand, cheeks showing just a brief flicker that sends a pang of ghost pain down the side of her body that Red’s pikachu shocked when she caught it nearly a year ago.

“I understand,” Dr. Fuji finally says. “Or, I think I do. Let me know if I have it wrong. Your ideal solution, given all the power in the world, would be to render them harmless. Not just them, but all pokemon, if you could. No more need to capture them, let alone fight them.”

Leaf nods. “Yes. And not just harmless to us, to each other. Make it so everyone can subsist on other diets.”

“Interesting… and very possible, given the extent of TM technology. But it would be a massive undertaking, to change their genetic code as well such that their children would retain it. And these pokemon would need to be more ecologically fit, to outcompete and outbreed their unaltered competition… unless you hope to capture every pokemon in the world.”

She smiles. “I’m idealistic, but still sane, I think.”

“Idealistic is too often a pejorative. What you are is ambitious, and I salute you for it.”

“Hear hear,” Laura murmurs, and lifts her cup as he lifts his.

Leaf feels warmed by more than the tea as she takes another biscuit. “Well, I have less ambitious plans for the meanwhile.”

“So I’ve heard. But are they similarly concerned for the welfare of the legendary pokemon?”

“Not directly. For those with Pressure, I hope my plan will remove the effects on wild pokemon, though, so… without the stampedes, it’ll be easier to just hunker down and let them pass.”

“Would you want them captured or killed, eventually?”

Leaf meets Dr. Fuji’s gaze, biscuit soaking in her tea. “If they’re captured by the masterball, it sounds like they’d be as good as dead. Worse, that sort of reprogramming would be used for more than just legendaries.”

Dr. Fuji gives her a slow nod, but doesn’t say anything more, still waiting for her answer.

Leaf has felt tested since the beginning, but nervous as she is about disappointing, she’d rather fail in a way that makes it clear she doesn’t think the question has an easy answer than “guess the password” with a belief she doesn’t have. So she sighs and strokes Custard’s fur.

“I don’t know. I guess I was being a bit naive with what I said about the Pressure… even without stampedes, the storms would do a lot of damage, so people will probably always want to capture or kill them. And the storms would still kill a lot of wild pokemon, especially if they’re not stampeding to stay ahead of them.” She eats her tea-soaked biscuit, which helps a bit. “I don’t know if there’s a good answer. I want to believe every problem has a solution, but… if I care about people, and wild pokemon, including the legendaries… I can’t come up with an answer that doesn’t rely on technology we don’t yet have.”

“I agree,” Fuji says, and gives a sigh of his own as he stares into his cup. “The masterball will be used if it’s completed. It may even work, and I can’t say that it would be a worse thing than killing them, or that that itself concerns me at all. In fact, I might breathe easier in a world where the legendaries were dead than captured… particularly if the masterball is used. But you understand the true problem. It is hard to root for my own project’s success, knowing what the next use will be once the Stormbringers are caught. Or perhaps even before.”

Leaf frowns, unsure what else they might be used for—the Beasts, maybe, or Titans if their mass storage limit is really that much higher?—but instead she focuses on her real curiosity. “So what can we do to help? If you’re being forced to work on it…”

Dr. Fuji shakes his head. “At this point, my contributions are minimal. It will be finished with or without me, and even if its creation is completely stopped, someone else will create it sooner or later.”

“Is that a sure thing? The recent unown research ban—”

“It’s not the same. Silph has poured too much time and money into this to let it go without a fight… and what’s more, they believe in the project. This isn’t just a better pokeball, to them. It’s the road to peace and safety, for the whole region.” He shrugs. “They’ll charge millions for each, because that’s what they’re worth. But the first ones made will be made for the legends, and the public has no reason to care for those. The what ifs and maybes for after won’t matter to them if it brings an end to our worst nightmares.”

The table is silent after that, and Leaf stares at the biscuits, suddenly not hungry for another one. She sips her tea, finds it at the right temperature, and drinks the rest. When she’s done, she still doesn’t have any thought of what to say, and Laura is just as quiet.

“So that’s it?” she asks at last. “I’m not saying you’re wrong, but…” She’s not used to hearing about a problem just to give up on it, either, and if there’s really nothing they could do about this one, why did he ask to meet her?

“I’m curious to know,” Dr. Fuji says, “How you would feel about a person with the power of a legendary.”

Leaf blinks. “Well… my friends and I talked about this a while back. Who could be trusted with that much power, how other regions would react to even a Champion having one…”

“Not a human with a legendary pokemon. That could be taken from them. A human with legendary powers.”

Leaf blinks again, frowns. “Like in Power Force?”

“Power…?”

“Oh, it’s a show, um, a cartoon, where certain people get the powers of pokemon. Not a legendary, but…”

“Yes, like that. Would this person deserve the rights of any other person?”

“Of course!”

“Even if they could use those powers for great harm, without being caught?”

Leaf hesitates again. “That’s… how would we even know if they did or not? Or how wouldn’t we know, if they were that powerful?”

“I don’t mean caught as in knowing it’s them. Apprehended. Stopped.”

She looks at Laura, who seems as curious about the line of questioning as she is. “I don’t know. I think at that point they’d be treated like a Renegade anyway, so their rights would be basically gone?”

“Yes. I think so too.” Dr. Fuji refills her tea cup, then Laura’s, then his. “What about a pokemon as intelligent as a person?”

Leaf takes another biscuit. “I thought about this too. With all the new pokemon appearing, some of them breaking rules that we thought existed… and Latias and Latios seem really smart… I would hope at that point it would be obvious to even the most stubborn speciesist that they should be treated like people, but I know there would probably still be some insisting on a divide.”

“So if such a pokemon were to arise, you would insist it be given all the rights of a human, despite its power?”

“Of course! If it’s intelligent enough to communicate with us, and has even somewhat human values, it should be possible to treat it just like anyone else.”

“What if it hurts people anyway? Would you be in favor of capturing it?”

She frowns. “If it hurts people it should be treated like a person that hurts people. We know what pokeballs do to humans, and should assume it would do the same thing to it. So no, absolutely not, and it shouldn’t take empathy toward pokemon for others to realize why that would be wrong.”

Dr. Fuji suddenly smiles. “I imagined you would feel that way, but it’s still good to hear it. Now I must ask…. would that be something you’d be willing to try and prevent?”

Leaf blinks. “Of course, if I can. Do you think there’s something else I can do, besides what I am already?”

“Perhaps. You see, I think fiction has an incredible power to open our eyes to new perspectives, empathize with people beyond those we normally might. To that end, I’ve spent some time writing a book. A novel, written from the perspective of an incredibly powerful pokemon with human level intelligence, struggling with its place in a world of unintelligent pokemon and powerless humans.” He shrugs. “I have a few drafts, here and there, but I think it’s missing something. I’m not much of a writer, I’m afraid.”

Leaf has read stories written from a pokemon’s perspective before; it’s a particularly popular type of children’s story. But this sounds like something different, more mature. “That sounds great, Doctor, but… why me? I’m flattered, but… I’ve written about mythology, articles and blog posts, news stories, but never fiction.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Laura says, speaking for the first time since the tea was served. “Your writing is excellent, and you’re a fast learner. You also know how to set scenes and write dialogue in engaging ways. Your first draft wouldn’t be a masterpiece, but few are, and you can certainly write well enough for that.”

“You also don’t have to commit to anything now,” Dr. Fuji says. “But if you have time to read over some of what I’ve written, maybe give some feedback, I’d appreciate it. I think you have what it would take.”

Leaf looks back and forth between them, then drops her gaze as she considers it. She thought she was past adding new pursuits and learning new skillsets, now that she found what she believes is her real, true life project. And she’s already been worrying about how she can justify spending time on things other than it…

But this seems like something really valuable, and maybe even something she’s uniquely qualified to do, or at least particularly qualified. People have wondered for millennia if they’re alone in the universe, imagined of finding others capable of higher thought… sometimes with hope, sometimes with fear. If she can help people empathize with such a pokemon, maybe by the time one is discovered, she could avert a truly terrible disaster.

She smiles, giving Custard one last scratch between his ears, then looks back up at Dr. Fuji. “I’m in. I also have an idea; the pokemon should be a Psychic type. I have some friends who I think could help get the authenticity down, and it could also help with the reader practicing empathy through the pokemon learning it.”

Dr. Fuji is grinning wide, and toasts her with his tea cup. “Miss Juniper, you’ve read my mind.”

Chapter 97: Raw Data

“You’re coddling it.”

Blue turns away from his abra and the pokedoll it’s attacking to frown at Koichi, who’s watching them from the edge of the arena pit with a passive expression. The ex-Gym Leader has clearly just finished showering and changing into his streetwear, duffel bag slung over one shoulder.

Blue spends a few seconds deciding whether he should dismiss the statement with a simple “thanks for the advice,” or just ignore it altogether. Koichi is clearly on his way out of the rapidly emptying dojo, and as far as Blue has seen in his time at the dojo, quickly backs off from any indication that his presence isn’t wanted.

But the bait is too strong, particularly since Blue is still having trouble training Tops; the abra is growing, but not quickly, and still hasn’t shown any real connection to Blue. Just a set of stimuli that sometimes gives him food is what Red said, and so far that still seems to be the case. They solved the orientation problem by buying a device that emits a constant, high frequency sound that Tops can hear, then training Tops to keep himself between the sound and enemy pokemon, but it would involve a lot of movement on Blue’s part if he needed to use it in a real battle.

“What do you mean?” he finally asks.

“I watched your battle, earlier. You’re not letting your abra get hurt. Just hit and swap.”

“Of course not, it can barely fight!”

Koichi seems about to say something, then closes his mouth, shrugs, and starts heading for the exit.

Blue watches the broad shouldered man leave, fighting his instinct to follow. In his first week at the dojo he attended one of Koichi’s fighting lessons (in part out of curiosity and in part because he wanted the ability to ask for him to leave the dojo), but it was pretty tame; the ex-Leader taught a range of jiu jitsu kata, ramping up in speed and complexity until the veterans were warmed up and the novices (including Blue) weren’t able to match them. After that Blue was paired up against other novices so they could try and disable each other’s ability to either reach for their belt or move away.

It didn’t go well. Blue would bet on his reflexes over nearly anyone else’s, but few of the motions he learned were familiar, and muscle memory has to be trained. As a result he ended up getting knocked on his ass a lot, or hitting the mat face first while one of his arms was forced into some painful position.

Before long he was struggling to keep his anger and frustration off his face, and thought of pretending he had somewhere else he had to be so he could leave early. He tried to justify the urge by convincing himself that the “novices” he fought were enjoying humiliating him… but as they all swapped partners, he couldn’t see any difference in how he was being treated compared to the others; if anything, a couple of his sparring partners were overly apologetic and concerned after they took him down.

Blue was also distracted by the way Koichi himself went from pair to pair to give pointers and occasionally demonstrate something. In his place, Blue would have avoided any contact with others rather than risk someone claiming injury and using it as a reason to boot him from the dojo. Instead the ex-Leader seemed focused on his work, and though he didn’t appear to take pleasure in it, he also showed no impatience or anger. Each movement seemed, to Blue’s untrained eye, to use just the right amount of force.

After his lesson Blue begrudgingly recognized that he had no grounds to ask for the ex-Leader’s removal. He also better understood why learning to lose is such a valuable thing to do; he saw it in the other students, the way their acceptance of their failures allowed them to keep trying things they knew they would fail at, again and again, until they succeeded.

Blue used to be like that. He can’t remember when, exactly, he lost it, but he’s determined to get it back.

Still, he doesn’t trust Koichi, and he’s kept an eye on him just in case he spots something that, even if it’s not reasonable grounds for removal, would give some hint to what he’s really doing here. This could be another opportunity to do so.

“Wait. What were you about to say?”

Koichi turns back to him, then asks, “What do you know of adverse improvement?”

“It’s what makes pokemon grow faster when they fight.”

“That’s a definition. I asked what you know about it. How it works.”

Red might know, but Blue only studied it for a bit before concluding that the practical effects were pretty straightforward. “No.”

“It’s not just about fighting, and not just for pokemon. Humans experience it too.”

Blue raises a brow. “Uh. I feel like I’d know about that… or are you actually only, like, 20?”

Koichi shakes his head. “This is the problem. You learn part of the whole, and misunderstand. You’ve journeyed for a year now, yes?”

“Almost.” About a couple months short, which reminds him that it will be Leaf’s birthday soon…

“And yet some of your pokemon, those you’ve had since the beginning, are nearly as strong as those who have been training for years. Why?”

Blue crosses his arms, starting to get impatient. “Because they’ve seen a lot of battles and spent a lot of time in training, like I said. What’s the part I don’t understand?”

“That part. Your answer is incomplete; you’ve been fighting with your abra a lot, and yet it is not growing. Most abra do not grow quickly from battle. What makes them different?”

Blue finally starts to actually consider what the ex-Leader is saying, and remember that he’s speaking to someone so good that they nearly had to be dethroned by an Elite.

What does he know that I don’t?

“Just to be clear, how obvious is this supposed to be?” Blue asks after a moment. “I can say stuff like ‘they usually run from battle’ or ‘they don’t naturally know any attacks,’ but it sounds like you’re talking about something most trainers don’t know.”

Koichi considers a moment, then puts his bag down and walks over to lean against the wall around the arena’s edge. “It’s not a conspiracy. People just don’t like to talk about it, and when they hear it most will reject it out of hand. People who talk anyway become… unpopular. But it weakens us when we train pokemon that aren’t aggressive.”

Blue lowers himself to sit on the edge of the balcony, feet dangling above the pit of the arena as he tosses some berries down to Tops. The abra sniffs, then begins to crawl around to find them. “So being aggressive? That’s the secret?”

“You were skeptical that it works for humans too. What do you think?”

Blue bites his lower lip, thinking of all the times he fought with Red or some others at school. It wasn’t often, maybe half a dozen times, but he didn’t notice any growth spurts after…

Oh. You’re coddling it. “It’s about being injured? Badly?”

“It’s about life-and-death struggle. Triumph against something that seeks to kill you.”

Blue frowns. “I dismissed that, it’s too common. Beating wild pokemon—”

You don’t beat them. Your pokemon does.”

He remembers his shiftry (with the usual painful flashback to that moment in the tunnels, the crunch and snap of woody flesh) and the way he had trouble training it right after capture. The pokedex has been updated now so that information is front and center, but it’s an unusual enough situation that he’s not sure how often it might come up. Still, he can’t remember feeling afraid for his life even then, though he does remember the weary triumph once his plan to catch it worked.

“How do you know it works on humans?”

“Grew up in a rough neighborhood. The point is, abra are hard to train because they have no fighting instinct. They need to learn what it’s like to get hurt, and not run away. To be in a real fight for their life, then overcome it.”

Blue wants to reject the idea out of hand, but he knows that’s coming from his personal dislike of Koichi. He’ll have to check what the ex-Leader is saying, maybe ask Gramps, but… he hasn’t been able to get much help from Red lately since he’s been working on his teleportation thing, and if true then this is a solid lead.

“You said trainers pretend this isn’t true? Not just keep it secret, I know many would do that for an advantage, but you were openly trying to talk about this and no one listened?”

“Yes. I saw the new mentality spreading during my own journey, the idea that pokemon should be treated as friends, not hurt more than necessary—”

“That a problem for you?” Blue asks, feeling a shadow of Leaf and Aiko’s imagined anger.

Koichi’s already neutral expression goes flat. “Meaning I like hurting things?”

“Or don’t care. You didn’t just beat your challengers’ pokemon, you were brutal to them.” Blue wonders where Duncan is, and whether this conversation is only happening because they’re mostly alone. There are a few others spread out around the dojo practicing on the various equipment or courses, but no one’s within earshot.

“I was—” Koichi cuts himself off, then takes a breath. “I was wrong to do that. But I’m not a sadist.”

Blue watches him for a moment. The first time he spoke there was something else there, the first real emotion Blue’s heard from the ex-Leader. “So why did you do it?”

Koichi takes another breath, letting it out more slowly. “Told myself it was because I needed to show people I was right, that more dangerous battles would make their pokemon grow faster. It’s why I fought my way to Leader to begin with. Thought I could learn the political stuff, the city strategizing, the logistics, all the rest of what came with it. I was wrong, and I was too prideful to ask others to help. Pride was at the root of it all. I wanted to show everyone, the Leaders, the Professors, the Elites, that they weren’t as strong as they could be.”

Blue just listens, rapt. As far as attempts to justify himself go, this isn’t as self-sympathetic as he expected, and it’s fascinating just hearing the other side of such an infamous story, true or not. “Until Sabrina showed up.”

Koichi’s jaw tightens, just for a moment. “Yes.”

Looks like storytime is over. “That’s it? Just ‘yes?’ You wanted to prove a point, and she proved you wrong. Or are you going to blame type disadvantage for your ace?”

“She didn’t—” Again Koichi cuts himself off, and Blue catches the anger there before the ex-Leader’s face goes blank again. “I am grateful to Sabrina for putting an end to my destructive spiral.”

“Come on, just say what you wanted to say.”

“You would not believe me.”

“Then why are you bothering to talk to me at all?”

Koichi doesn’t seem to have an immediate answer to that, and after a moment he sighs. “I have no evidence. But Sabrina’s alakazam was far more powerful than it should have been given her age and experience as a trainer. I believe a skilled enough psychic could train their pokemon more quickly by projecting the necessary feelings onto them during battle.”

Blue’s eyes widen even as he shakes his head. “No way. If that were true the strongest psychics would dominate all the Leagues. Even if Sabrina’s in the top percent…” He trails off as he remembers that most psychics don’t become trainers at all, making the actual number who might try this out fairly low. And there are six of them currently in the Indigo League… the thought feels less crazy the more he thinks of it, but he pushes against it anyway.

Koichi must read something in his expression, because he shakes his head. “Told you. People don’t want to believe it.”

“It’s not that.”

“You weren’t thinking of how doing this might make people turn on you?”

This time it’s Blue who doesn’t have a response. He still remembers the reaction from his training partner in Cerulean Gym, when Maturin got a little too bloodthirsty. While most people aren’t as against trainer battles as Leaf, no one looks kindly on pokemon being badly hurt in a trainer match, whether their own or someone else’s, even when the stakes are really high…

Which, if Koichi is right, would put him in an impossible situation. Some might listen, test it themselves, and find it true… but anyone who admitted to putting their pokemon through harsher battles for strength might get huge public backlash… even agreeing that it’s possible would make people suspicious.

If word gets out that Blue even thinks this might be true, most people would assume he’s been doing it from the start. Especially combined with rumors of him hurting his shiftry or opponents’ pokemon… It could destroy his reputation.

Red can probably do it.

Blue’s breath stills for a moment. Red may not be as good as Sabrina yet, but he can do things she can’t, and he’s smart. If Blue had to put money down, he’d bet on his friend figuring it out, assuming he’s driven to… and he would be, it could be a huge discovery…

…but he also might not understand the damage it would do to try and publish it. It would make him a powerful trainer, might make Blue’s pokemon even stronger, but even without pokemon getting excessively hurt when a psychic does it, just publishing a paper on it could damage Red’s career if people thought he was advocating for it, or even if he was making it more likely for people to do in secret…

Blue’s eyes close. He can’t do it. His friend has no sense for PR or navigating the social side of the world, if Blue suggests something like this to him it could ruin him. He has to think things through to protect his friend from himself… also, Leaf would be pissed at them if it leads to people letting their pokemon get more hurt on purpose. It would be even worse if people learn the idea came from Koichi.

Speaking of which…

Blue opens his eyes. “Why are you telling me all this?”

Koichi regards him with a slight frown. “You asked.”

“No, originally you came to me and told me I was doing it wrong.”

The older man shrugs. “I can’t unknow what I know. You’re struggling with something, and I’m here as a teacher.”

“That’s it? You just wanted to help?”

“Yes. I understand that might be hard to b—”

“Stop, spare me that stuff. I’m not even saying it’s not true, let’s just take for granted that I distrust you but am willing to listen and am not just looking for excuses to get you kicked out of the dojo, alright? Saves time.”

Blue might be imagining it, but it seems like some tension leaks out of Koichi’s stance. “Fine. You pressed me because you didn’t believe my answer, and now want me to give you another. But I have nothing else to say, whether to convince you or not. Believe what you want.”

Blue watches Koichi and tries to decide whether the ex-Leader is trying to manipulate him. Erika would say to follow the status differential; if Blue were to follow his advice, champion it (whether before or after becoming Champion), and weather the storm of public opinion afterward, Koichi would be vindicated. Blue would essentially be gambling his own status to redeem the ex-Leader, to some degree at least.

But Koichi isn’t doing a lot of talking. He could try to convince Blue that of anyone out there, an Oak has the best chance of surviving the social backlash, especially if he can get Gramps on board. He’d play on Blue’s goals, point out how much stronger trainers would be if they used this knowledge. But maybe he recognizes that talking too much and trying to convince him too hard would be a bad move against someone as suspicious as Blue.

And, of course, the older man might just be sincere. More bitter than he’s letting on, but not trying to do anything but live out a quiet, useful life with the skills he has.

Duncan would say he should split and commit to both possibilities; that Koichi is just trying to help, and that Koichi is trying to manipulate him. In the latter case, he shouldn’t be too credible about this, or indicate whether he’ll follow the advice, or else Koichi might use his openness to the idea as blackmail. Hell, this whole conversation could be recorded. But he also shouldn’t close himself off to the possibility of future help… Koichi is, ultimately, a great teacher, and if he has some bits of unpopular or hidden truth among many other bad ideas, Blue wants to learn them.

“I’ll think about it,” is all Blue says. “I don’t believe it, something like that would be talked about more even if it’s wrong, but thank you for trusting me with it.”

Koichi’s surprise is as subtle as his other expressions, a mild lift of his eyebrows. Then he simply nods, and picks his duffel bag up to leave again.

Blue watches him go, then turns back to the arena pit where Tops is, the last piece of food uneaten beside him. The abra, like most of his kind when sitting still, looks like he could be asleep. When he evolves he would stand on his hind legs, his tail would grow and thicken, and he would become swift and dangerous, particularly given the metrics Blue had analyzed when he picked him out from among all the other abra they caught. If he can get Tops to become an alakazam, he would truly be a monster, probably stronger than Sabrina’s.

But for now he just looks like a child napping after a meal, chin drooping down toward his chest, so passive and unwilling to fight… no human in history has ever been killed by an abra, and the thought of ensuring Tops gets hurt more during training just to strengthen him faster makes something twist in Blue’s gut.

He would truly be a monster…

Maybe he could test it with a different pokemon…


Red wakes about an hour before his alarm to rapid knocks on the door. A quick pulse of psydar tells him it’s Tatsumaki outside, and once he gets his bearings, pulls his clothes on, and opens the door, she barrels in, rubbing her hands together and pacing his room, looking simultaneously more exhausted and animated than he’s ever seen her.

“I feel it,” she says without preamble. “It’s a, there’s a… a field, a remote projection of the telekinetic sense. It’s like it’s accessed through some extra mind or something, or like an environment separate from air—”

Red’s alarm quickly shifts to excitement, tiredness fading as he takes her words in. “Wait, slow down. You felt what, exactly?” He reaches for his notebook, remembers it’s by his bed, then invites her to sit as he gets it. Instead she just keeps pacing.

“The field! But not a field, just the kinetic… ugh!” She throws her hands up. “I don’t know why I came here first, you’ve never felt it!”

“Aaand we’re breathing,” Red says, hoping it works as he takes a deep breath himself. Not because he’s annoyed, he’s too excited to be. He slowly lets it out, then breathes in again, and this time Tatsumaki matches him, slowing her steps until she’s standing still. After a third breath she’s still frowning slightly, but she seems calmer. “Okay, just… describe it.”

She does so, using terminology Red has studied but never experienced. From what he understands she’s talking about something like the field that psychics use to guide the telekinesis they then empower, the imagined shape in reality that they want to push force through.

By the time she’s done, Red’s barely contained excitement is close to spilling over, and he’s grinning wide. “Okay, this is it, this is exactly what I thought might happen! Thank you so much, now we need to do it again just to make sure, then see if you can teach someone else to do it, and—”

“Verres, wait! There’s more, I already did it more than once, I first felt it a few hours ago.” Tatsumaki begins to pace again, and Red realizes she’s been working through the night. “I’ve been playing around with it since, trying to see if I could find the extra space myself, and I can, it’s like it’s been there the whole time and I didn’t even notice it because it’s so sideways!

“Is that…what does that mean?” Frisson races over him as his excitement and awe mix. “Are you saying you can teleport?”

“What? No, it’s unbound psychokinetic sense! Look!”

She leaves the apartment, closing the door on a baffled Red who stares blankly at it for a moment… then realizes what she’s about to do a second before the lamp on his desk scoots a finger’s breadth closer to him.

Red still startles, but he’s grinning by the time she comes back in. “That’s awesome!”

“It’s more than awesome, it sets a new precedent! Sabrina mentioned knowing someone who could do it, but I didn’t think I could actually learn it. I tried for a year before giving it up as just some individual quirk… but now, who knows what other special abilities might be transferable?”

Red feels a nudge through the partition. “Have you told anyone else yet?”

“No, Sensei needs her sleep and no one else here has as much a right to know as you.”

The words warm him, but he’s already thinking of what to do next, scribbling down his thoughts as soon as they form. “Okay, so we’ve confirmed that psychokinetic senses are used to teleport… but that would imply pokemon have massive telekinetic range, and yet—”

“No, distance still reduces the force you can fill the field with, remember? Personally I can’t make sense of things further away than I used to, there’s something out there but it’s like fumbling through the dark with thick gloves on. But when I have a fresh memory of what’s nearby it’s easier, and through glass it’s no problem at all. Well, not no problem, it took me hours to manipulate the field once I could even sense things, that’s what I’ve been working on this whole time, but it’s not harder once you know how.

“Huh. So… they’re all different, distinct abilities, then? One to sense minds, another to sense things, and another to project force… but we’ve been confusing the sensing things with the projecting force up until now?”

“Something like that, sure. That’s why I’m going to focus on trying to extend my clarity of things far away. It probably has nothing to do with the ability to teleport, but still, what if it’s a piece of the puzzle?”

Her excitement is contagious, and for a moment they just grin at each other before she says, “I’m going to compare what I sense with what my pokemon do next, and when Sensei is up I’m sure she’ll have more ideas. You get to work on whatever this does for indoor teleportation.”

“Right. Wait, shouldn’t you, uh, sleep first?”

The look she gives him is answer enough, and then she’s gone like her namesake, the slam of Red’s door probably loud enough to wake someone else. Red sits on his bed and wonders why he’s not happier. His hypothesis just got a massive part of it validated, he feels vindication and excitement but… something’s off…

A nudge reminds him of the question his unpartitioned self had him ask, and a moment later…

…it’s down, and he lets out a slow breath. One more step toward figuring out how to teleport indoors, and another potential jostle to the house of cards.

It’s been two weeks since his meeting with Giovanni, and most of his “free thinking” time since then has been spent alternating between replaying the Leader’s words over in his head to try to figure out what they meant for the future, trying to focus on how he can maximize the odds of the best outcome.

He talked to Dr. Seward about it without revealing anything specific, and she took the idea of him having dangerous knowledge that might lead to massive changes in society with what would be flattering equanimity if he wasn’t sure she’d have the same reaction to him saying he learned how to turn into a pokemon.

Do you know what a good outcome here actually looks like?” she asked. “Imagine you wake up tomorrow and this problem is completely resolved. What does that look like? How would you first notice?”

He recognized the “miracle question” from previous sessions, but this one was harder to answer. He wouldn’t notice it upon waking up; it wouldn’t affect his morning routine, or what he’s doing with his life, or who he interacts with. He would just be…

Safety,” he finally realized. “I would feel safe about the future, about doing my research and not worrying about the outcome.”

She slowly nodded, gaze sympathetic. “It’s a tall order, and hard to achieve in a world like ours. I know you’re talking about social safety more than anything, and that’s something you don’t yet have a good sense for. So what can you do to improve that?”

The memory sends Red to get his laptop. As Leaf’s project continued to find new successes in the Safari Zone, more people have been talking about it. He knows that sooner or later someone else might make the connection, that the house of cards might fall before Giovanni and Sabrina and others are ready for it, and premorteming what happens then led him to recognize another area he’s failed to take into consideration.

Other psychics.

He doesn’t know what the world will look like once the truths get out, but he remembered reading in history how dark humans used to leave towns and villages together to form their own if the persecution got bad enough. It twists his gut to think about ways this might play out today, even if things don’t get that extreme, but it’s possible he’ll need to rely more on other psychics than his friends and family, or if he assumes that they’ll stick by him, that other psychics will need him after being unable to rely on theirs.

So Red opens his contact list to find the psychics in Indigo that he hasn’t yet reached out to, does a bit of research on their social media, then starts a new message:

Hey there! Sorry to bother you out of nowhere like this, I saw that you do verification work for a number of cities and wondered if you’d be up to chat about it? I haven’t learned much about what that work is like, and am curious to know what your day to day is like…

Not everyone responds, and he knows fewer would if he wasn’t famous, but he’s still surprised how easy it’s been to make new friends.


Leaf wakes on her birthday to warm sunlight seeping in through the curtains, and allows herself a luxurious stretch and a few minutes of peace before she reaches for her phone. She looks around the room, and realizes how much more it feels like her room now. Aiko feels present without filling the space around her, and the mix of their aesthetic tastes more in harmony than discord.

It’s just a number, but she’s Aiko’s age now. It’s a number they never would have shared, and by next year even that will be gone.

She smiles at the slight sound of Raff snorting in his sleep, then reaches for her phone at last. Two lovely messages from her mother and grandpa are at the top of her notifications, as they’ve already been up for half a day back home. She basks in their love for her, sends them thank you messages, then finds the well-wishes from strangers that have already poured in.

Most are short and to the point, but some are longer, and every so often a new one pops up. There are quite a few direct expressions of appreciation from people who have benefited from the abra catching trick, as well as messages from those whose lives she helped save in Vermilion, or their friends and relatives. Many of the crew at Mount Moon send her a message as well, the longest by Ryback, and she even gets one from Mayor Kitto and Dr. Brenner.

She reads all of the ones by people she remembers meeting, then the longer ones from strangers, then starts to skim the rest, chest filling with warmth until she feels like she’s overflowing. Reality is waiting for her outside the door, but the outpouring of affection makes her feel, for the moment at least, like everything is right in the world.

A year ago today she’d woken up determined to leave for Kanto, no matter what her mother said. She hadn’t been sure it was the right decision; only that it was the decision she would be the most disappointed in herself for not making, in the years to come. The months since then have been filled with fear and pain and grief, but whatever the future holds, reading everyone’s messages of gratitude for her existence, she feels confident that it was the right choice, and worth the hardships.

When she feels like she can’t hold any more positivity, she swings her legs out of bed, showers, changes, and heads downstairs to start the chores…

…only to find that the supplies are missing.

Leaf frowns, wondering if Mr. Sakai started without her (he does that, sometimes, particularly if he wakes up early and has trouble going back to sleep), but all the supplies are missing, despite the therapy group not being scheduled for today. She hurries outside, only to stop as she steps on the porch, grinning so wide her face hurts.

Spread out around the ranch are half a dozen people with bags, summoning the pokemon into their pens and then filling the new feeders that were placed in the ones that have already gone through the first version of the “release” program. She spots Maria right away, thanks to her wide black hat and the honchkrow flying above her like a shadow given wings; the quiet girl spent a week surrounding it with duskstones once it grew too big to roost on her shoulder or head. Leaf identifies the others through their pokemon too; Zephyr is flying a wide circle around Blue, and she spots various other flying pokemon above Elaine, Glen, and… Jason?

She looks around but doesn’t see Red, then realizes he might be in the back of the ranch. She starts walking to the nearest person to help, then decides she’d just take the gift and instead moves around the building to see who else is here.

Red is indeed there by the pond, as is Lizzy. Mr. Sakai is there too, watching them with one hand loose on his hip and a puzzled expression.

“Leaf, did we hire new workers?”

“No, Mr. Sakai, it’s Red, Blue, and the others.” Her sympathetic smile suddenly fades, and she looks at him side eye. “I wonder how they got in to take the supplies…”

He manages to keep the act going for another moment, but then the corner of his lip hitches upward. Leaf hugs him, and he slowly wraps his arms around her. “Happy Birthday, Leaf. Thank you, for everything.”

She feels her eyes burn, and they stay together for the few minutes it takes for Red and Lizzy to finish and approach.

“Happy Birthday, Leaf!”

The synchronized chorus makes her grin again, and she hugs them one at a time. Afterward they travel around the barn collecting the others for more of the same, and when she returns inside she sees that Mr. Sakai has been setting out breakfast.

The eight of them talk as they eat, catching each other up on their various projects and future plans. The gifts come out after, all from one big container box except for Elaine’s, which is an improv Coordinator Contest party game stored in its own container ball. Each is wrapped up in such fancy paper that Leaf takes her time unfolding it from the boxes, the first of which contains a pocket-sized book of puns from Glen, the next some incense from Jason, then a long coat from Maria (black, of course), and from Lizzy a machine she’s never seen before.

“It’s basically a low level EM emitter,” she explains, beaming. “Well, the prototype for one, with some tweaks. From my tests it should be like a soothing bath for most nearby electric pokemon.”

Leaf grins as she looks it over, noting the basic switch and painted on settings by the dial. “Lizzy, this is awesome! Thank you!”

“Don’t forget to send me data on how well it works. And for which pokemon. And for how long!” Blue elbows her. “You know, if you want.”

“Me too,” Red adds.

“Of course I will.”

Blue meanwhile is lifting out a bigger box than the rest, and she carefully opens it to reveal an incubation canister… with a pearly white egg inside. “From Gramps and Daisy and me,” Blue says with a smile. “You’ll have to wait to see what it is.”

There are a couple dozen pokemon that have already come to mind. “Ahh, this isn’t a gift, it’s torture!” She slaps his arm, then gives him another hug before turning at last to Red, who holds out a smaller package than the rest.

“From my mom and me.”

The box is too thin to be anything she can think of, and she curiously peels back the layers, noting that Red is studiously avoiding eye contact. The box beneath is fancy, and she quickly opens it before sucking in a breath. Inside is a thin gold chain with three gems; a firestone, waterstone, and leafstone, each the size of her pinky nail.

“They’re pretty cheap when they’re that small,” he says before she pulls him into a tight hug.

Leaf can feel his heart beating against her chest, and kisses his cheek before pulling back. “It’s beautiful.”

His whole face is pink, but he manages to meet her gaze and smile. “Figured it would look good for the next Cruise Convention.”

She grins. “Has Bill asked us to go again?”

“Nah, but I figured we can try to get on without him.”

“Ahh, there’s the status swing,” Blue says as he slings an arm around his friend’s shoulder with one arm and uses the other to wipe a “tear” from his eye. “I’m just so proud…”

Red struggles out from under his arm as the group laughs, and Leaf turns to the others. “Thank you, everyone.”

“No problem,” Elaine says, scooting her chair to give Red and Blue’s ongoing struggle more space. “What do you want to do next?”

“Hmm.” Leaf picks up the ball for the improv game and studies the decorated lid with a smile. “I wouldn’t mind trying this out?”

They head to the front of the ranch and set it up; inside the container ball is a huge unfolding foam stage with various equipment for tricks and performances, as well as a foldout “judge’s table.” A brief debate ensues over who would be the first three judges, and to Leaf’s surprise Maria doesn’t volunteer; instead she, Leaf, Red, Elaine, and Glen are the first contestants while Blue, Lizzy, and Jason end up sitting at the table.

Mr. Sakai is their lone audience member, sitting on the porch and holding up a sign provided by the game that simply reads “You’re the best!” There are others too, all of which he has stacked beside him, and after a moment Leaf decides to start releasing some of her pokemon to sit with him. Soon the rest of them do too, and they have a small “crowd” gathered to watch, though most are more interested in exploring the porch. Mr. Sakai looks happy with Joy snuggled up to one side of him and Raff on the other.

For their first contestant, Maria has her honchkrow catch balls out of the air as she juggles them, then drop them back down for her to catch again and keep juggling. The juggling is more impressive than anything the pokemon does, as she sometimes manages seven balls at once and the number keeps changing, but her pokemon seems to be well coordinated in taking the balls and dropping them at each of her whistles. Leaf applauds hard once she’s done and the judges hold up scores of 7, 7, and 8.

“That was great, I had no idea you juggled!”

“It’s how I taught myself coordination, before my journey,” Maria says, looking embarrassed but pleased. In the bright sunlight, without her hat to hide under, it’s easier to remember she’s a few years older than Leaf.

“How have you been?” she asks as they watch Glen summon his dodrio, then begin attaching colorful streamers around each head. “Are you still studying with Jason?”

“Yes. It’s been a fascinating challenge to develop a new sense.” They watch the dodrio start to twist its necks around in hypnotizing patterns until the colorful tassels tied to them start to form a whirling rainbow. They applaud as the judges show 9, 7… and 5 from Blue. Glen sends a rude gesture to him, who shouts back “Function over form!”

“It’s just receptive though, right?” Leaf asks as the two begin bickering over whether the maneuver would be useful in confusing enemies while Elaine takes the stage. “Isn’t that what being sensitive—sensitive? A sensitive?—means?”

“Jason doesn’t agree with the implications of the label. He says sensitives might not be able to do the more ‘external’ things that a full psychic or medium can, but that I can learn some of the rituals he does, if I’m willing.”

“I assume you are?”

“Yes. His religious beliefs are very different from what I was raised with, but I find his sincerity… calming.”

Leaf files the potential subtext away for later. “You do seem more relaxed than I’ve ever seen you.” It’s a tactful way to put it; Maria seemed to be opening up before what happened at the Casino, but afterward returned to the reserved girl Leaf first met… worse, she had a frazzled energy, and seemed to be missing a lot of sleep. The boys didn’t seem to notice, but Elaine admitted to being worried too.

She’s looking worried again as she takes a glance around the green lawn. “Uh, just to check, is it okay if this place gets a little dug up?”

They all turn to Mr. Sakai, who shrugs. “Grass regrows.”

It’s a simple statement, but Leaf still feels an echo of grief.

Elaine flashes a thumbs up, and summons her dugtrio. Leaf shakes the pall off and watches as Elaine’s dugtrio leaps into the ground, grass and dirt flying for a second before it disappears beneath the soil. Elaine starts to stomp her feet, and soon her pokemon begins to dig a pattern out, pausing every so often to dig deeper before coming up at another spot.

It seems random at first, but Leaf realizes after a moment that it’s spelling something. She starts to move, and the judges get up and start to walk around as well, until they’re more or less gathered in the right place to see the letters T I N.

“What does it say?” Mr. Sakai calls. It’s always odd to hear the otherwise quiet man raise his voice.

“Trainer in need!” Glen calls back as he studies the globally recognized acronym. “This could be really useful if you’re stuck underground, though I guess it would only work if you’re close enough to the surface for your pokemon to hear you…”

“Could use speakers against the wall? Might attract wilds though…”

The judges at least seem fairly impressed, and hurry back to their table to hold up a 9, 8 and 10. The applause goes on for longer than ever, and Elaine’s face is red by the time she returns from the stage.

“I was processing a lot,” Maria says as Red moves to take her place, and it takes Leaf a moment to remember what they were talking about. “Maybe most of what’s helped has been the meditation, the time to just sit with my thoughts and the ability to slow them when I need to. But it feels easier to think through the fears.”

Leaf wants to ask what fears, but isn’t sure if this is the right setting to get into something potentially heavy. So she just says “I’m glad to hear it,” as Red mounts the stage and calls Pikachu over before turning to the judges.

“Remind me if psychic powers are allowed in coordinator competitions?”

Blue cups his hands around his mouth. “You know they’re not!”

“But we’ll allow it!” Lizzy adds.

“What?!”

“I want to see what he does!”

Jason murmurs something, which prompts an “Of course you’d say that,” from Blue, and as they argue it out Leaf watches Red play with Pikachu, letting him run up and down his arms, bouncing off the ground to come back to Red and race to the other side as he spins.

He also looks more relaxed than ever, and it suits him. He could be quiet and thoughtful when they were starting their journey, but those times were rarer than the nervous energy that seemed to be his norm. He still gets it sometimes, along with the passionate zeal that sends him scribbling in his notebook or talking too quickly about all sorts of things, but from where she’s standing he seems more in control of himself.

It feels good watching him play with Pikachu, a warm, buzzing ball in her chest, similar to how she felt upon seeing his gift. She’s not sure what to do with the feeling, but she enjoyed the way his face flushed at her kiss.

It was also a huge relief to be able to call him after David asked to be looped in. The meeting with Sabrina seemed to help ease David’s concerns, and the next day he told her that Giovanni even sent him a message complimenting him on his discovery and thoughtful response. That part gave her a mixed feeling, but it seemed to further reassure her friend, and things have gone back to normal between them. The project’s success with tauros has galvanized the team like none of their previous ones did, and they’ve moved ahead to kangaskhan since, which David’s been a great help on.

She and Red have helped each other out in so many situations that it seems obvious that she’d feel like she can rely on him, but there’s something extra comforting about the memory of how quickly he was able to bring such powerful people in to help them. It’s something she would have expected from Blue’s social skills, but thought Red wasn’t deft at. Or rather, knew Red wasn’t deft at… but he’s grown.

His and Pikachu’s movements become more energetic, and Leaf wonders if he’s actually doing his performance already before Red suddenly strikes a pose, subtly different from the others. He crouches down, arms in a reverse V, and Pikachu runs up the left, past his head, then down his right just as Red jumps up and lifts his arm, his pokemon leaping off his upraised palm as Red launches him skyward.

The argument at the judge table stops as the yellow rodent flies through the air like an emolga, limbs and tail outstretched, and halfway through the arc a blinding flash of electricity hits the ground beneath it, paired immediately with a (relatively) quiet clap of thunder.

There’s a moment of surprise, and then Leaf whoops and applauds along with the others. Beyond the difficulty of teaching Pikachu such a powerful attack, it was a simple trick, but it must have taken some practice… and it looked cool. Leaf could imagine Red developing it after picturing some obscure situation where it would be exactly the sort of thing he needed.

Lizzy and Jason give it a 9 and a 7, but Blue looks torn between being impressed and suspicious. “I used my powers!” Red admits with a smile. “But just to get the timing right on the attack!”

Blue sighs and holds up a 6. “This is with a penalty!”

“I’ll take it!”

It’s finally her turn, and she calls Raff over and takes a pokeball out, expanding it before holding it out to her ivysaur.

He stretches his vines out to take it, and when she points he turns and starts to stretch them further in front of him until the ball is being held a solid four meters forward.

It’s not quite steady, and there’s no wild pokemon to test it on, but it’s approaching something close to what the best trained rangers can pull off with theirs. She bows to their applause and the 7, 7, 9 she receives, and then she, Glen, and Red take the judge seats.

Jason’s exhibition is hard to judge, as it involves two gastly swirling together and blending into what looks like one, a spinning dark ball with too many staring “eyes” and shining “teeth” and hanging “tongues.”

“I have no idea how hard that is,” Red admits, looking a little queasy. Glen gives an 8, and Leaf shamelessly copies him, followed by Red. Jason seems happy enough with it.

Lizzy takes a minute carefully positioning two of her magnemite around her, then stands between them, says a command Leaf can’t hear from here, and suddenly what looks like a cage of electricity surrounds her. Leaf isn’t the only one to cry out in alarm, but Red is grinning, and after a moment Leaf realizes Lizzy is too. Somehow the electricity seems to be arcing around her like a hundred glowing hairs without touching her.

It only lasts for a few seconds, but it’s enough to earn her three 9s. Blue starts to set up as everyone talks about what she did and how.

Leaf notes that Blue looks more serious than he has so far, or maybe just nervous. As they quiet down to watch, he stands at one end of the stage with Maturin, takes a deep breath, then barks a command.

His pokemon spews a stream of water out in front, strong and heavy enough to create a long line of it along the ground. She then shoots out an ice beam, freezing the water along the ground, and Blue takes a running start and leaps onto it.

He holds his arms out as his shoes skid along the ice, body balancing first one way, then the other as he slides nearly to the end of the stage… then stumbles and falls off it.

It’s not a far distance, just enough for him to tumble once before he comes to a stop, but everyone starts toward him before he sits up, hands out to show he’s alright.

Leaf sighs in relief as she sits back down, and Glen is frowning beside her. “Well I was going to give him a 1 as payback unless he clearly beat Elaine or Lizzy, but now it would just feel mean.”

“Hey, maybe it was supposed to happen,” Red suggests, and holds up a 7. “Still looked cool.”

“Cool,” Leaf repeats and nudges him, then holds up a 6. “But impractical.”

“Eh, I guess it deserves a 5.” Glen holds his card up, and people applaud as Blue finishes brushing himself off and calls Maturin to him and heads toward the pond.

They decide to follow him, leaving the game out for now, a small herd of pokemon following and chatting until they’re all spread out beside the water, watching as their various aquatic pokemon swim in it while some others go to drink. Blue seems subdued, and Leaf eventually decides to ask if he’s really okay, which quiets everyone.

“Yeah.” He looks around, grimaces, then shrugs. “Just annoyed. I did it once perfectly, wanted to practice it more, get it so I could do it three times in a row… but also wanted to be okay with failing. Still feels bad.”

“You knew it might fail, and you tried it anyway,” Glen says, voice firm. “I think that’s progress.”

“Feel like I’m missing some context,” Jason muses, and Mr. Sakai nods, though his gaze is on the pokemon.

“Been struggling with public failure lately. Learning to fight at the dojo helped, I think, and the whole vibe there is pretty good for not judging people who fail at things.”

“What does that feel like, anyway?” Red asks with a slight frown.

“What?”

“Judging people for failing.”

“What kind of question is that? Everyone does it.”

Red shakes his head. “I know people don’t get prestige if they don’t succeed. I get why success matters to how you see someone. Accomplishments matter to me, too. But why would someone be judged for trying something hard and failing? I just don’t get it.”

Blue shrugs, looking peeved. “I don’t know what to tell you, Red, that’s just how it is.”

“Not for me.”

“Well sorry we can’t all be as smart as you.”

The words come out sharper, and Leaf’s heart starts to pound. This is it, they’re going to get into another fight…

But when Red speaks, his voice is more curious than angry. “Do you respect people less when they challenge for a gym badge and fail than if they never challenge at all?”

Blue seems too thrown off by the question to hold onto his scowl. “That’s… no. If they’re at least trying… I get why you don’t, Leaf, I’m just saying that if someone puts themselves out there, to most people that’s worth respecting.”

“So everyone doesn’t look down on all failure.”

“Gym Battles are hard,” Glen says. “They get more respect from trying than they lose from losing.”

Red nods. “Seems like the same thing to me.”

Leaf’s pulse has relaxed, and she enjoys the conversation and breeze as she watches the pokemon play in the pond. At one point she takes out her phone to see what messages she’s missed, and spots more birthday wishes from Natural and Laura and some of the Safari rangers and programmers, and as the warmth fills her again she feels it replace the lingering panic that came from Blue’s sharp tone.

For today, everything’s fine.


It isn’t until after lunch that the alerts come, almost simultaneously, something like five then six then eight shrill tones all at once.

Most of them freeze. Blue twitches, then catches the glass that Maria drops when she jerks in surprise. Glen is walking with the birthday cake, which they voted to eat now instead of after dinner by a slim margin, and stumbles, which almost sends it flying until he lunges his arms out and bends his knees to stabilize. Red has a moment to appreciate the look of surprised pride on his face, and then he registers what he’s hearing and sees everyone else do the same.

The knowledge plunges his whole body into dark, cold depths, erasing all the warmth of the day from his skin, snuffs it out within his chest, washes it from his cheek where Leaf’s lips imprinted some. Dark and wet and cold, aching feet and a hoarse throat and the feel of cloth slipping from his fingers.

“No,” Mr. Sakai breathes from where he’s sitting. “No.”

It unfreezes some of them, and Leaf reaches out to take the thin man’s hand as Glen straightens and Blue puts Maria’s glass down, taking his phone out with the other hand.

“No,” Mr. Sakai repeats again, and Red realizes he’s not afraid or despairing so much as confused, looking around at them all as if asking why they don’t understand. “It’s Spring.”

The words bring both relief and confusion. Had they all assumed it would be another Stormbringer? It was the highest alert, and as he looks around again he sees that most of them had…

But not Blue, who’s already frowning at his screen.

Zapdos was late, maybe this time it’s early…

“Is it local?” Glen asks, and steps behind Blue to look. “They would use that alert if we need to evacuate…”

“It’s from Cinnabar Island,” Blue says, which makes everyone stare in surprise.

“The volcano?” Elaine whispers.

“No, it’s… it says pokemon attack, but there’s no tier estimate.”

“What pokemon?”

“They don’t know.” Blue drags his gaze from his screen to look around the table. “It’s a new species.”


Congrats to /u/blasted0glass and /u/davidgretzschel (and probably some others I missed/forgot) on Reddit for correctly figuring out the essentials of why teleportation didn’t work indoors 🙂

 

Chapter 95: Eliminate the Impossible

“So I think I’ve got it,” Red says to Sabrina and her students as soon as she enters the dining room where the rest of them are gathered.

Everyone’s attention sharpens on him as she smiles and takes her seat at the head of the table, but no one’s thoughts feel particularly surprised; they probably assumed as much, given this is the first time he called an “urgent meeting” and they all know what he’s been working on.

But lack of surprise isn’t the same as lack of skepticism, and he feels Daniel’s as he asks, “You’ve replicated it?”

At one point it might have irritated Red, but he understands it, and is too excited to be annoyed. He can tell that excitement is having an effect on the room overall. “No, but I have a hypothesis that fits all the facts, and I know how to test it. But I can’t do it myself, which means I need you guys.”

All of us?” Tatsumaki asks as she orbits a variety of lollipops around her head, occasionally guiding one into her mouth for a moment. “I can’t even do free teleportation.”

“We don’t know for sure that it’s necessary,” Satori comments. Her torracat has grown since he arrived in Saffron, and now that it’s unable to fit in her lap while she sits in a chair, she instead sits on the floor so it can curl around her.

Red nods. “I don’t think it is, and the more people are willing to try the higher the chance of the test working.”

“Uh… I don’t think that’s how science works,” Rowan points out, and a moment later his expression shifts from skepticism to avarice. “But if there’s a chance we can get it to work, we’re in!”

Red waits before responding, and sure enough the young man’s expression changes again, this time to an aloof disinterest. “Assuming your explanation makes any sense, of course.”

Jason gives Rowan a concerned look, but doesn’t comment. It’s become normal for the partition specialist to do this even in public now, and Jason told Red that when he expressed his concern to Sabrina, she simply shrugged and said that as long as he doesn’t become dysfunctional or dangerous in some way, it’s his mind to evolve as he sees fit. “I’m also curious by what you meant,” the medium says, attention shifting back to Red. “Why can’t you test it yourself, given that you’ve done it already?”

“Why don’t you just explain your theory?” Sabrina interjects. “In case that answers the question, and potentially others.”

Red nods and uncaps one of the markers for the whiteboard against the wall. “When I first learned about the inconsistencies in teleportation, it didn’t make any sense to me that an abra wouldn’t teleport somewhere they’d already registered and teleported to if someone built something there, even if it wasn’t an enclosed space. It felt particularly weird to me because they could teleport from spaces that are more enclosed than the places they’d teleport to. The problem was with my mindset; I was stuck on teleportation as a mechanical process that I could observe. But why think that when I can’t even observe psychic phenomena?” He’s writing as he talks, and feels the pulse of interest from Sabrina. “Noticing my confusion wasn’t enough, I had to really boggle at what I was ‘seeing’ when teleportation occurred.” This time it’s Jason whose mind touches the room with understanding. “And once I did, I wrote out every factor I could think of that might contribute to the process of teleportation.”

He finishes the last assumption, then steps back for all of them to read.

Assumption 1: Pokemon will only teleport to places they have been before, imprinted as “safe,” or that their trainer has been before.

Assumption 2: Teleportation is a single discrete action: either it works or it doesn’t.

Assumption 3: Pokemon teleport by simple memory of locations.

Assumption 4: The melded psychic experiences everything their pokemon experiences.

The room is quiet. Even those that seemed the least invested are intrigued by the puzzle he’s challenged them with, and Red feels it when Sabrina gets it. It makes sense, given their interview.

But she doesn’t say anything right away, letting the others think it through as well, and within a minute Satori speaks. “They’re checking for safety?” Her hand brushes her torracat’s back, and she nods before he can confirm it. “Yes, it makes sense. I should have thought of that.”

She says it without any particular self-recrimination, but Red feels enough for both of them. It’s so obvious in retrospect, the sort of thing he bets Leaf would have figured out right away if she was psychic, or if he’d explained the process and problem in detail to her. “Exactly. Every teleporter develops the ability as a safety response, the entire process of ‘registering’ a location is a deliberate check for safety. Of course they won’t teleport somewhere that’s significantly different from when they registered it, and we should know that from the way they won’t teleport into space that’s already occupied.”

Daniel frowns. “That’s a mechanical limitation, a physical impossibility. We don’t sense any fear when they fail… or refuse, I guess… oh. But you’re saying either way, you think there’s a sense that the abra is using to check.”

“A sense that humans can’t recognize,” Sabrina adds, smiling. “Just like the ability to see psychic light.”

“But you didn’t sense any deliberate check when you returned to your old bedroom?” Jason asks.

“No, I didn’t sense anything unusual.” He’s gone over and over that memory, those brief few seconds between recognizing something was odd, understanding what was different, hoping he could freely teleport, then attempting to… but though he spent the entire time fully merged with his abra, he just got the customary check of familiar safety for a teleportation that, this time, was coming from his own memory instead of the abra’s. “But there’s another thing that I keep thinking of. The way you described teleportation’s psychic colors, Sensei, that it shifts to galo before emitting a burst of it. If I’m right about the way the colors reflect distinct psychic abilities—”

“Then psychokinesis is involved,” Tatsumaki says. “And you believe you didn’t sense it because you’re ‘missing’ that ability.”

“Right. I think my memory of my room as a safe place was strong enough, as the only reference frame, to overcome my abra’s instinct. Once it got there, though… I mean, I probably freaked it out with my celebration, and then there was a stranger there… or maybe it’s as simple as realizing it was teleporting to an indoor space, which I didn’t focus on as part of my memory of it. Or something else I’m not thinking of, because I’m still not sure what exactly abra prioritize. But it makes sense, right?”

He looks around the room. Everyone seems thoughtful, and finally Sabrina nods. “As a hypothesis, yes. Still, as Jason said, you’re the one who did it. Why would we succeed in sensing something you haven’t?”

“For now I want to confirm this hypothesis. If I am, doing it again should be easier for everyone.”

“Should it?”

Daniel frowns at Sabrina. “What, you think only Verres can do it?”

“Why not? He has a unique psychic ability, and he has done a few things that no other psychics have. It’s reasonable to tie each of those accomplishments to that ability—not to say you haven’t worked hard, Red—and it’s highly unlikely that he would be able to do yet another seemingly impossible thing that’s unconnected to that uniqueness.” She folds her hands, gaze meeting Red’s. “Is there any reason to believe we could do this without your absolute mirroring?”

Red caps the marker and puts it away, then sits. “Well, for one thing, I think you might be putting too much weight on the ability over the mindset. I know this is an argument we’ve had before,” he says with a glance at Jason, who smiles. “But even if my quirk isn’t learnable, we shouldn’t assume that everything I can do with it is only able to be done through binary capability. I believe you, Jason, Daniel, and Satori have all become almost as good as I am at mirroring, Sensei.”

Sabrina considers this a moment, then nods, and looks to her students on either side of the table. “As of now, this is our collective priority. Whatever else you’re working on, do it in your off hours. Yes, that includes you Tatsumaki and Rowan. That you can’t do free teleportation yet is just a matter of practice. If it’s possible for a human to recognize what their pokemon is doing at the moment of teleportation, I believe it will likely require the same level of deep merge that leads to free teleportation, so just consider it a bonus benefit to work you’d have to do anyway.”

Jason rotates the beads around his neck. “We should record all our attempts, just in case each psychic can only do this once.”

“Better yet, carry one of these in a pocket.” Red takes out small tracking devices, copies of the one Professor Oak gave him after learning about Red’s feat. “It’s hard to determine pokedex location by height unless it’s extremely high or low, so unfortunately mine’s record could be explained by me teleporting onto my roof. With these there will be digital records of the exact coordinates you teleport to. Combined with video footage, it should be easy to prove that you ended up indoors at the moment of teleportation.”

Everyone takes theirs, some putting it into their pocket right away while others, like Sabrina, examines it. “Are they always on?”

“Uh, I think so, yeah.”

Tatsumaki’s orbiting candy falters for a moment, and she immediately takes hers back out of her pocket and puts it on the table with a frown. Sabrina smiles and sets hers down as well. “For the sake of privacy, then, let’s leave them in this room. Just come to pick one up if you’re going to try indoor teleportation. Any questions?”

Red looks around, but everyone seems lost in thought. Jason is the first to stir and look at him. “So we are simply going to be attempting to merge fully with our pokemon as they teleport, and search for any sense being used besides those we’re familiar with?”

“Essentially. Or maybe approach it from the other direction, and try teleporting somewhere unsafe while merged with your abra to see what it feels.” He hesitates. “I did this a lot for my other experiments, but I can’t recall feeling anything from mine. Still, replication would be good.”

Another silence descends, and after a minute Sabrina nods. “Dismissed.” People begin to leave, the last of which is Sabrina, who smiles. “Well done, Red.”

“Thank you, Sensei.” It’s a relief to finally have something to show for the days of agonizing over this, even if it’s not a full replication yet. He feels good about this hypothesis, though… “You’ve been teleporting longer than anyone else here, so if you don’t end up sensing something while deliberately looking for it, I may have to consider the idea that it’s not something they consciously do. Do you know anyone who can merge with a pokemon so deeply that even their subconscious thoughts are felt?”

“Isn’t that a contradiction? Surely it would be mirrored in the subconscious as well.”

Red sighs. “Probably. Still, maybe upon reflection someone would notice.”

“Perhaps. I’ll reach out to Elite Agatha, as well as Leader Morty.” And with that she’s gone, and he’s alone.

Red sinks his head on his arms, letting himself rest for a minute. The meeting went well, and he finds himself hungry; he hasn’t really eaten much lately, and particularly didn’t eat much during dinner at the ranch last night.

He feels a wave of sadness just remembering it, and forces himself to stand and walk to the fridge. He might as well eat now, and figure out what he should do while the others test his idea… maybe get back to finding a way to merge with wild unown…

Red barely has time to assemble his sandwich, however, before he gets a call, and smiles as he sees Leaf’s name. “Heya! How’s your—”

“Red, how soon can you come to Fuchsia?”

It takes a moment for Red to register her words, but her tone is enough to have his smile fade and his heart leap. “What’s… I’m not sure, the flights take… no, I can teleport to Vermilion and fly from there… thirty minutes?” He feels his pulse in his neck as adrenaline spreads through him, thoughts of Stormbringers or lower Tier events racing through his mind. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“Sorry, it’s… not that kind of emergency. But, um. There’s someone here who wants to talk to you, and it’s probably best done in person.”

The words should calm him, but his mind is already racing through all the sorts of conversations that might have her sounding like this…

He feels a moment of disorientation as the partition weakens enough for his hidden memories to surface, all the secrets he’s keeping hidden even from himself popping up alongside his fear and worry about being discovered. He ignores it as best he can and brings all of his attention to bear on figuring out how much trouble he might be in.

That Leaf is the one who called him narrows it down pretty fast; it can’t be Bill’s secret, or his ability to lie, or what happened under the Casino, and that only leaves one thing. They talked about what might happen if someone gets suspicious about the part of Aiko’s code that originated from sakki, and if Leaf is asking him to come talk then whoever brought it up must not have been satisfied…

Which means it’s time to enact some of the plans he made while pre-morteming this eventuality.

“Can you speak freely?” he asks.

“More or less.”

Meaning she’s probably not around someone right now, but she doesn’t want to trust anything to the phone. “How much do they know?”

“Nothing, just suspicious. And it’s not everyone, just one guy, David.”

“He needs an explanation?”

“Yeah. A good one.”

Meaning not just more evasions. “I’m in the middle of something,” Red says after a moment of thought. “Could it wait until tomorrow afternoon?”

“Yeah, I think so. Are you… okay?”

“Fine.” Is she picking up on the partition being down even over the phone? No, probably just predicting that he would be panicking. “Worried, but we’ve been lucky it hasn’t happened sooner, really. How about you?”

“I don’t know. Also worried, maybe more than worried. The project is showing such promise… plus I have no idea how people will react. Red, is there something I’m forgetting?”

He hesitates, realizing what she’s really asking is whether he has a plan she doesn’t know about. “No, but can you trust me to hold off on explaining for now?”

“I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

And that our stories match. That’s a reasonable worry that he didn’t consider, since he assumed… “You can’t avoid talking about it for a day?”

“I think it would be easier without a complete brush-off.”

“Okay.” Shit. “Alright, so… does he know you’re reaching out to me?”

“I just said I had to make a call.”

“Right. So you can confirm that he’s not the first one who knows, which is true, and he’s probably guessed, and you can let him know that he’ll get the full story tomorrow, but past that it’s probably best to just say it’s classified.”

There’s silence on the other line, for a moment too long, then another.

“Leaf?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah. I mean, no, obviously, I just…guess I’m still wrapping my head around this…”

There’s something in her voice, not quite an uneasiness, but enough hesitation to make him reevaluate how his confidence and words must seem to her. Like there is a conspiracy, maybe, that she’s been kept out of. “I already got my panicking out of the way when I premortemed this. I sound more confident than I am, and if you have a better idea I’m open to it, but I’m going to talk to Sabrina.”

“Oh.” There’s a pause. “And you think she’ll…”

“I hope so.”

“Right. I don’t have a better idea, so… good luck.”

“Thanks. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

As soon as the call with Leaf is done, he calls Sabrina, hoping she hasn’t left the building.

“Yes, Red?”

“Hi, uh, I need to talk to you. It’s important.”

“Is everything alright?”

“Right this moment, yes.”

There’s a pause. “I’m on my way back down.”

“No, I’ll come to you, if that’s alright? You’re in your rooms?”

“Yes. That’s fine, come on up.”

She sounds distracted, even worried, so Red says goodbye and closes the call with one hand as the other grabs his sandwich. He eats it as he walks to the elevator, and it’s gone by the time he reaches Sabrina’s room, untasted and forgotten as soon as he’s sitting on her comfortable couch while she sits on the other end, watching him with worried, searching eyes.

“So, yeah, like I said, there’s something I need to tell you.” His heart is beating fast and hard, and he takes a calming breath. “Part of me wishes I’d told you sooner, but I was hoping it could wait until you learned how to perfectly lie.”

Before he first met Sabrina, when her amazing psychic abilities and trainer skills were just abstract things to him, what he most admired about her was how quick she is. “Like you have.”

She says the words with just a faint undercurrent of emotion, surprise without shock, curiosity without disbelief. When Red simply nods, Sabrina takes a breath, expression wavering a moment, then firming. “Show me.”

Red knew this day would come, and made the partition he needs weeks ago. He closes his eyes, dropping his shields and setting it up in just the right way as he brings all the other partitions up…

His next breath is easier, and he opens his eyes to find Sabrina watching him intently. What was she waiting for again?

Tell her to ask you where you met.

Red blinks, then frowns as the thought from his unpartitioned self automatically sends his thoughts toward his first meeting with the Gym Leader. What’s so strange about that?

Tell her.

“Uh. Ask me where we met?”

He feels her thoughts touch his, senses her curiosity and trepidation, and underneath them an even deeper worry that borders on fear, which she’s doing her best to control and doesn’t show at all in her face or tone. “Where did we meet, Red?”

He does his best to ignore her shared feelings and just focus on the truth. “Here in Saffron.”

He feels her shock, so strong that her expression actually shows it, eyes wide as she sucks in a sharp breath. The merger deepens, and he feels his hands tighten on the arms of his seat… no, her hands on her seat, even as his own confusion starts to blend with the worry he felt.

She doesn’t believe him, but why? He can clearly remember their first meeting here, the way he bowed to her and thanked her for having him as a student… wait, how did they… right, text messages. She texted him before he went on the S.S. Anne, and…

…something’s missing. He can’t remember his decision to accept. He can’t even remember their conversation, the details of the agreement… and still he can feel Sabrina’s surprise, feel it shifting to calculation and admiration and even her own worry, all combined with a deep bitterness over—

The merger ends, leaving him with vague impressions of her friend, the one she lost during the incident. He can’t make sense of them beyond the understanding that she was both afraid of and for her friend, and that she assigned them to learn how to lie to a psychic for his sake. There’s more, her friend wasn’t normal…?

Then it hits Red that he amnesia’d his memory of meeting Sabrina away, and it’s hard to think of anything but what else he’s forgetting, before suddenly the memories all flood back, each partition dropping until he’s his full, unpartitioned self again. He lets out a heavy breath as he puts his shields back up.

Sabrina just watches him for a moment longer, slowly regaining control of herself. Eventually she slumps in her seat, looking more tired than he’s seen her since just after she got back from Hoenn. “When did you learn how to do this?” she asks, voice soft, and Red suddenly gets the sense that a wrong answer here might ruin everything.

“Not until after Rowan taught me how to use my new partition to induce amnesia.”

It takes her a moment. “After the incident.”

It’s not a question, but he still says, “Yeah.” She seems relieved, but… “Though—”

“There’s no way to know that for sure, yes. But I believe you. I remember how your thoughts felt, upon my return, and if you could do this then, and only pretended to need to learn from Rowan… well, perhaps you would have in order to throw off suspicion for just this moment, but such thinking is virtually endless.”

Red swallows, then nods, deciding not to question it. Her gaze is distant, and he instinctively lowers his shield to touch her thoughts, but her own shield is firmly up.

She’s learned enough about his sensitive shield to feel it, however, and seems to shake herself as she refocuses on him. “I have many questions, of course, but this isn’t what you actually wanted to talk to me about.”

“No. But uh, it could probably be talked about first? If it needs to be?”

“Let me hear the rest first. If it’s important enough to derail this, then it should be derailed.”

“Right. So um. I can… psychically… make a pokemon lose all its conditioning.”

Sabrina stares at him a moment. She seems about to speak, pauses, then asks, “When you say all its conditioning…?”

“The actual mental state,” Red says, pulse painfully quick, “Is a total freedom to do anything. No limitations, just… acting on instinct.”

Sabrina closes her eyes, lets out a deep sigh, and covers her eyes with one hand as she rests her head against it. She doesn’t speak for nearly a minute, and Red just quietly watches her, feeling more and more like this might have been a mistake. He tries to think of what to say, but his thoughts are circling uselessly, and he has to resist the urge to take his notebook out to try and give them a direction to move in.

“Who else knows?” the Gym Leader finally asks.

“Blue, Leaf, and a handful of others who were training with him in Vermilion.” He feels a touch of unease giving up their names, but he understands why she’s asking. “I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t gotten out by now.”

“Battle trainers are almost as good at keeping secrets as psychics.” She finally lifts her head up, face weary but gaze calculating. “You used it under the casino?”

Part of him had hoped she wouldn’t guess that, and yet again he’s not surprised by the speed of it. Their survival against trained renegades must have looked miraculous by most experienced eyes. He takes a breath, then says, “Yes.”

“I appreciate your candor, especially knowing that you could convincingly lie about it if you chose.”

She doesn’t seem shocked or horrified. “And I appreciate that you asked, knowing that I could have.” He clears his throat, wishing he’d asked for some water. Well, no reason not to get it now. “Could I have something to drink, please?”

The question has some effect on Sabrina that Red can’t quite place, and she nods and goes to the fridge to fill a pair of glasses. He shifts, uncomfortable in the near-silence. It’s one thing he appreciates about these apartments, the whole building set aside just for them to ensure enough distance for both audial and psychic privacy.

He wonders if he’ll be asked to leave, like Rei, then reminds himself that he’s risking much worse than that and feels his stomach flip. He starts to second guess himself for admitting what he did to the renegades’ pokemon, but no, he can’t “come clean” now and risk it coming out later.

Sabrina returns with a glass for him, which he takes with thanks and begins to drink from. Once she’s seated and sipping from her own glass, he wonders if he should say anything else. Her expression is still deep in thought, and he decides to let her process this at her own pace.

Perhaps a minute passes before her gaze returns to him, and she simply asks, “What do you want from me?”

It’s a strange thing to ask, given what he revealed, but at the same time Red understands why she’s asking it. “I’m not sure,” Red admits. “I’m not asking for protection, exactly. I just thought… this is something that’s going to affect all of us, and I trust you to know better than me what the best way forward is. I figured you had a plan for something like this—”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, you were asking us to figure it out, the perfect lie I mean. You must have been prepared for the knowledge to leak in case we did?” Unless she expected to compel them all to silence, somehow, which… might not have been too difficult, come to think of it.

Sabrina watches him a moment, then gives a slight smile. “Yes. But this is… rather different.”

“I know. I hope it’s not too much at once.”

“It may very well be. That psychics can lie to other psychics will destabilize a pillar of society, and turn suspicion against many powerful people who are in part where they are because of that lack of suspicion.” He almost asks if that includes her, but no, she won her position through battles. “The ability to turn pokemon against humans will turn that suspicion into fear. Given the circumstances that force this topic to come up, I believe the best option, for now, is to share the latter without the former. Is there any way to plausibly make it so that your ordeal beneath the Casino is when you first discovered the full extent of this ability?”

“I don’t think so,” Red says. “The others who saw it—”

“In Vermilion, yes. But surely they didn’t understand the full implications? Or else Blue Oak commands far more respect and loyalty than I imagined.”

“Um. Maybe it’s a bit of both? I haven’t asked about it, really, to avoid drawing people’s attention to it.”

“Understandable. But the program?”

“Yeah, that’s hard proof I’ve been doing this for a while. But… it is true that the Casino is the first time I actually used it on someone else’s pokemon in battle. I didn’t know what it would do, how guidable they would be once the sakki was on them… I was just… desperate.”

He relives those moments again, the pain and darkness, the fear, both his own and Lizzy’s and Elaine’s and Leaf’s and—

“I understand,” Sabrina says. “And it will help that you used it explicitly in self defense, against renegades.”

Hope and fear tug at opposite ends of his stomach as he imagines actually telling people what happened. “Then… you think I should go public?”

“Perhaps. This is not a decision to be made lightly, and I’ll probably spend the rest of the week speaking to some other trusted…” Sabrina trails off as he fidgets, then sighs, face resigned. “Unless you have more bad news to share first?”

“There’s… someone who might need to be talked to by tomorrow.”

“Ah. The real reason you decided to speak to me now.”

She still sounds more resigned than upset. “Yeah. One of the coders working on Leaf’s new program doesn’t buy the idea that our friend Aiko wrote it anymore, or thinks it’s potentially dangerous… I’m not sure what to do, but I figured if a Gym Leader told him it was being looked into and handled…”

“You want me to mislead him into thinking this was all sanctioned. To imply that those at the highest levels of the region know about it, and to set his worry aside.”

Red forces himself to meet her eyes as he nods, feeling cold sweat on the back of his neck. Her tone was flat, and he can’t help but think that this is it, the moment she’ll tell him no, that this isn’t right, that he’s on his own…

Instead the Gym Leader merely continues to speculatively search his gaze. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

He tries not to let her curiosity make him too hopeful. “Ever since I could do so while hiding it from my partitioned self.” For weeks he essentially rode around in his own head as a mostly-silent passenger, observing and adding the occasional thought or suggestion in reply to his partitioned self’s thoughts or concerns while the majority of his focus was on what to do about all this… not just for his own sake, but for all psychics. Part of his planning included worst case scenarios, including using all his money to flee the islands, undergo disguising surgery, and live out his life in another part of the world.

Desperate, foolish thoughts. But some were also constructive, and eventually he reached a conclusion that was difficult to accept, and frightening, but inescapable.

“First I thought of what the main problem is with us, psychics I mean, having these new powers, and the answer is it makes people feel unsafe. What makes people feel safe are governments and leagues, rangers and leaders. I think people may not be sure how to react, but will take their cue from those they already trust to keep them safe. So we mostly don’t have to worry about convincing the average person to not worry about psychics… I mean, I think they will anyway, and that will still cause problems, but… mostly we just have to convince those in charge?”

“I see. A reasonable plan, though it raises the crux of the problem. Do you know what an infohazard is?”

“Yeah, Giovanni talked about them. Something that, once you know it, causes you harm.”

“Essentially. What do you think of the concept?”

“To be honest, I didn’t really agree with him. It’s largely theoretical, right? Like, I know some argue that certain lines of thought can qualify by leading people into an existential crisis, but… there’s nothing we know of that will reliably cause people, in general, harm through simple exposure. Maybe we could call certain lies infohazards, like if people are led to believe something will heal them that ends up hurting them, but the implication, from what I remember, is that infohazards are about real knowledge, or knowledge that could be real.”

“And you don’t think real knowledge shouldn’t be known.”

Red hesitates, recognizing the trap. “I guess I haven’t acted like someone who believes all truth should be known. I… used to believe that. I think I still do, but…” Bill mentioned that he’s sabotaged other projects that he worried might create a general artificial intelligence before they figured out how to align it properly. That would make knowledge of how to build one, without the proper safeguards, an infohazard, wouldn’t it? “It’s not that I think the truth would harm people, it’s that I’m worried about how they’ll act because of it.”

“Is that terribly different?”

“Yes!”

“Even if they’re right to act that way?”

Red’s breath hitches, and he sinks his face into his hands as he’s forced to confront the thought he’s put off again and again.

What if society would be right to fear psychics?

It was bad enough when the possibility of perfect liars was raised. At worst that would just make psychics as untrustworthy as darks; Blue told him about the ex-Fighting Gym Leader being at the dojo he’s training at, and that he felt guilty for thinking that if only the man wasn’t dark he could more easily trust him by just getting a psychic to tell Blue if Koichi is sincere.

But the sakki is different. And Leaf’s fears, about influencing people’s beliefs… he can’t just pretend to know that it’s not possible, or that everything would turn out alright.

What if psychics shouldn’t be allowed to be Leaders, or trainers, or even researchers?

And what if he’s responsible for ending all of that?

There’s a tearing sensation between his ribs, and the sob that escapes him feels like it rips a hole in his chest. He begins to block the flood of emotions, to cut himself off from them and keep himself from breaking down in front of Sabrina, but a moment later he feels her hand on his hair and he’s lost, fear and dread and grief washing through him.

“I d-didn’t… I-I didn’t m-mean to—”

“Shh, I know. I know.”

She pulls him against her side, and for a time he just cries out all the fear and loneliness and dread he’s kept behind multiple partitions since he killed the renegades.

There’s no hiding from it anymore. He may have used their pokemon to do it, they may even have deserved it, but he used pokemon to kill them, sure as if he’d given the verbal command. If he’s not branded a renegade, it would only be by technicality.

And it’s worse than that, so much worse, because he has the potential to do more harm than any renegade that ever lived. He doesn’t even need to train a pokemon to break its conditioning, doesn’t even need to leave evidence.

And if he has the ability to teach others how to do the same thing… people who might actually use it for evil purposes… hell, if just knowing it’s possible leads to a psychic renegade figuring it out themselves and using it to secretly kill people, maybe dozens of people, maybe hundreds…

Maybe he should be feared.

Maybe they all should.

Please, I’m sorry, I just wanted to do research!

What keeps coming back to him, again and again, is Yuuta’s face as the votes for his branding were voiced, his pleading as Red first hesitated, then gave in and sealed his fate.

Counting him, Red’s killed three people. He failed to save Aiko, and the people in the apartment building, and all of that pales in comparison to how many psychics he’s condemned because he didn’t stop to think about the consequences of what he was doing. Because he found something new and exciting and he experimented with it in front of others, released an infohazard into the world with no way to contain it.

I just wanted to learn!

“Shh…” Sabrina strokes his hair as he tries to apologize again, which only results in him crying harder, face buried in her shoulder as he clutches her tight. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I promise.”

The words are a liferaft that he clings to along with her, and for a time the fear and grief consumes him, all of him but the shard that holds onto her, feeling her hand in his hair. He wants his mother, but she’s not here, and he’d be afraid to tell her even if she was. So he accepts Sabrina’s comfort, and lets himself believe her words.

Little by little he calms enough to even his breathing, and by the time the tears have stopped he feels embarrassed. He loosens his grip, and Sabrina gently pulls away, then returns with some tissues, which he takes to wipe his face, cheeks burning.

She sits across from him again, seemingly unconcerned by the wet patch on her shoulder, and takes another sip of water as she lets him finish resettling himself. Once he drinks from his own glass he feels ready to continue.

“Thank you, Sensei. If there’s… I’ll do whatever you suggest, if…” He clears his throat and drinks again before setting his glass down. “What should I do?”

Sabrina is quiet for what feels like the longest minute of Red’s life, and when she finally speaks it’s only to say, “Nothing.”

Red raises raw eyes to stare at her. “You mean…?”

“Just that. I appreciate your trust, and am glad you came to me. There may be some hard days ahead, and some difficult choices, but… right now, anything else you do has to be incredibly, carefully, extensively calculated.”

“But… the programmer—”

“I’ll speak with them,” she says, and for the first time since he heard from Leaf, something in his chest unclenches. “Your plan, generally speaking, is a good one. I would like to make it as true as possible, however, which means we’ll be speaking with some others about this.”

Some of the tension returns as he considers what that might entail, but of course he expected it even if Sabrina agreed with his plan. “Other than you, the second safest person I considered telling was Professor Oak—”

“The Professor?” Sabrina asks, brow furrowed. “Really?”

“Uh, yeah. He’s always been very supportive of me, and I know he’d want to help.”

“Ah.” Sabrina’s face clears. “That’s understandable, but…”

“What?”

“If your criteria in telling me is that I have just as much to lose and am already comfortable with keeping potential truths hidden for safety, the Professor fits the opposite profile. He’s not gifted, has no gifted family, and is dedicated to seeking and disseminating truth. Worst of all, he’s not dark, and might reveal the information at an inopportune time… to a psychic, it’s true, but we can’t assume all of them would be as careful as we need to be.”

Red bites his lower lip. He had worried about whether the Professor would feel duty-bound to spread the knowledge… and whether he would judge Red more for not sharing what he learned to do more than for what he did with it. “It’s been hard to justify not telling him already. Keeping him out of the loop while pretending it’s an official secret feels… wrong.”

“I understand. How about this; we ask another, similarly respected leader first, and see what they think?”

There’s only a couple others who Red can think of, in Kanto at least, who meet that bar. “Who…?”

“Leader Giovanni. I plan to tell him regardless, but I think you should meet with him as well. In fact, I was considering introducing you to him before the Hoenn incident derailed so many plans.”

What? Is that what Sabrina meant when she spoke about rewarding loyalty? “But… I mean, I would be honored to meet him of course, but… he doesn’t have any psychic family either, and… he also seems committed to spreading the truth.”

“He’s committed to spreading reason,” Sabrina corrects. “Which often involves spreading truth. But I’m very confident he will see the reason in withholding this particular truth, for now, and being strategic in how it’s spread.”

It takes Red a moment to realize where that confidence likely comes from, but when he does it’s enough to make him feel like he’s fully waking up, finally, from the emotions that overwhelmed him:

There are other secrets the Gym Leaders know that they keep from the general public.

Of course there are. It was the height of egotism for him to think he was the only person to ever discover something new and dangerous. Hell, he learned a dangerous truth that he kept hidden before he discovered his own, and he suddenly wonders how many others know Bill’s secrets. The most analogous one that he didn’t even consider was the existence of pokeballs that can hold humans.

But he did consider it to some degree, specifically wondering whether someone else had discovered sakki. It’s part of what made him feel so guilty, imagining that someone was out there using it for evil, and that by keeping his own discovery of it secret he was selfishly guarding his own safety rather than ensuring people could better protect themselves. He just didn’t really believe it, because…

Because it seemed so horrifying? Because it would compel him to act?

He’s not sure, but either way he feels ashamed of the thought, and all he says is, “If you think he’s the right person to tell next, then I’m ready.” Normally the thought of getting to talk with Leader Giovanni would be exciting, make him run for his old notebook to review all the questions he’d like to ask him… but right now, all he feels is a cold stone in his gut as he imagines what the man he respects so much will think of what he’s done. And what Professor Oak would, when the truth finally reaches him and he realizes Red didn’t trust him enough to tell him first.

Sabrina clearly picks up on this, and responds with a wave of reassurance as she stands. “I’ll arrange the meeting. Meanwhile, just try to relax, and let Leaf know that I’ll contact her.”

Red takes a deep breath, then lets it out. “Okay.” He knows it’s a dismissal, and so he finishes his water and stands as well.

“You have a meditation class soon, don’t you? If you need to cancel it—”

“No, I’ll be alright.” Red closes his eyes, and when he opens them again the world feels lighter, his body less tired. He smiles at Sabrina. “Thank you again, Sensei.”

She’s looking back at him with mild fascination. “What exactly are you thanking me for? What do you remember of our conversation?”

“Uh… your help? You said you’d talk to Leaf about the programmer.” He remembers crying, can still feel the rawness in his eyes… “It was a big relief, because… I’ve been worried about how people will respond to sakki.” It is scary to think that they might cancel Leaf’s program or be angry about what Red might do with it, and though his stomach clenches with worry as he imagines Professor Oak’s eventual disappointment or condemnation, he’s a little surprised by the severity of the regret and fear he remembers. Of course, that’s the point of his unpartitioned self using it to keep them productive.

He feels Sabrina probe his feelings, and allows the mild merge before she withdraws. “I see. Very well, then, you seem fit to teach. I’ll speak with you later.”

Red nods and returns to his room, where he calls Leaf. “Hey.”

“Hey, Red. Thanks for calling me back so fast.”

“Of course. How’d it go?”

“Alright. He seemed suspicious, but willing to wait. We’re… friends, or at least I hope we still are. He’s willing to extend a bit of trust.”

“Great. Sabrina says she’ll talk to you soon.”

“Oh, thank the Swords.” Leaf sounds almost faint with relief. “So… does that mean she’s going to be the one revealing the discovery?”

“I’m not sure, actually, but she’s all filled in. She’s going to talk to other people now, sort of feel them out… I have to get ready for a class, but she’ll probably be able to answer your questions better.”

“Okay, thanks for talking to her. I feel better already, though I know it was a lie at the time… ugh. We should talk more, later, I know you have to go.”

“Definitely.”

They say their goodbyes and Red hurries to shower and change for his lesson, which is an intermediate class on meditating where he teaches the psychics and non-psychics how to identify negative thoughts, particularly those with a negative emotion attached, and find related, countervailing positive thoughts and emotion. Then they learn to sit with negative emotions, examining their source and function while practicing calming techniques until, little by little, growing comfortable with them before switching to the positive, then back, and back again, until it’s easy and effortless, until they can hold both feelings together.

It’s often as useful for him to practice techniques like this as it is for his students, and never before more so than today. By the time he’s done he feels even calmer about everything than he did after his talk with Sabrina.

That calmness lasts right up until he reaches his room, and sees Rei standing outside his door.

Chapter 94: Tilt

After sharing what he learned from Sabrina with the Pallet Labs so they could explore evidence of psychic-color-cones, Red spends an afternoon reading through and typing up a copy of the notebook he’s been writing in since he began his journey, all the way from the beginning. Once he finishes, he begins a new one with a list of experiments he wants to run next.

There are a lot of old ideas that are still appealing and interesting to him, all the way back from the first night leaving Pallet Town where he wondered about the bonds that form between people and their pokemon. But ultimately he has to cut things down to what seems immediately relevant to his psychic research, which leaves him with a handful:

First, what’s up with teleportation and walls? Seriously, does it involve traveling through actual space or not? Own experience with it doesn’t shed any light on conundrum. Experiments are unusually rigorous for psychic research, likely due to practical value, but no underlying mechanism is understood.

Second, medium cleansing ritual? Jason and Agatha’s advantages with ghost may be inborn, a matter of mindset/training, or due to some seemingly random things they both do. Counterexamples are psychics with ghost affinity from cultures without medium practices, but still worth testing.

Third, if psychokinesis particles distinct from psychic ones can the difference be measured? One travels farther? One pierces walls. (Can an object be levitated over a dark pokemon?) Glass limitation mental, according to Sabrina’s report…

Those he can’t test himself, unfortunately, but he’s already enlisted Tatsumaki’s help with it. She seems less standoffish than she used to, maybe because of familiarity, or maybe because of what he’s accomplished since arriving at Saffron. In any case she’s definitely interested in developing her abilities, and seems to regard his experiments as a way to possibly do that, since it was his experiments and practice with Rei in mirroring a state of mind while projecting it at the same time that saved them in Lavender. Even if all the research fails to reveal anything new about the fundamental nature of psychic phenomena, some of it might still produce useful findings.

He knows he could blow through them in a couple days if he wants to, but instead forces himself to formally write a short paper on each, which means a preregistered methodology and hypothesis, recordings of each attempt, documenting the data, and evaluating the outcomes.

At first he’s able to find this an exciting and interesting process, one where he feels proud for embodying the virtues he (likes to think he) holds, eager curiosity coupled with methodical rigor.

By the second week he finds himself procrastinating and putting off new experiments because of the attached process, and almost anything else he can do feels more appealing than writing another damn paper.

After five days of barely getting any work done he has a therapy session, and decides to take a break from grief work to instead bring up his flagging work enthusiasm. Dr. Seward invites him to talk a bit about what motivates him to do it the hard way, and after saying a few things about demonstrating good research practices and appearing “virtuous” to Professor Oak and others, he feels an upwelling of indignation that grows every time he thinks about the body of literature that does exist, and how limited it is. It bothers him how lacking real psychic research is, and how many seem unbothered by that.

Dr. Seward listens to him rant about how few psychics document their experiments and how few scientists are psychic or approach their beliefs about psychic powers with the same attitude they treat other scientific pursuits for a while before dryly suggesting that this might be something he can lean into for motivation. This turns out to be surprisingly effective.

Also effective are more practical ways to reinforce diligent work, such as scheduling calls with other young researchers to work at the same time and then discuss what they did afterward, as well as setting pseudo-public deadlines for sharing his completed work with others. Dr. Seward warned it might backfire and just add more paralyzing pressure, but instead it turned out to be particularly motivating as each deadline approached.

Another thing that slows him down are the requests by others for help in their own research, along with the people who reach out to ask questions about his own work, or just for advice. At first he was more than happy to help share his thoughts or explain something about his experiments, but it starts to get repetitive and tedious to repeat the same things to different people, especially since the volume of them has only continued to rise. He spends some time fretting over it, then remembers the idea they had in Vermilion of hiring a secretary and decides this is another problem that money can solve for him. It takes a while to find one and come up with a system by which he wants his incoming messages filtered and grouped, but once he does it feels like he gained at least an hour a day.

Still, some of the experiments just take time, particularly the ones that can (and should) be split up into stages. Red tests the cleansing rituals by first trying to merge with gastly while in the shower, in case simple contact with running water is what matters. When this has no apparent effect on the invasive emotional spillover, he pulls his thoughts back and leaves the shower, dries, writes out his experience, then dresses in a robe and sits on the floor with a water bowl, censer, and ladle, imitating everything he saw Jason do as best he can without making any attempt to change his mental state. Once the ritual is done he tries again, with no effect, and then repeats the ritual, again to no apparent effect.

After that he tries deliberately invoking the boggling mentality that he developed while trying to mirror Jason’s, essentially emptying his mind as best he can of any preconceptions and just being as receptive as possible. This does seem to make things easier, though it’s hard to quantify, and when he tries to combine it with the ritual he doesn’t notice any difference. Still, he dutifully writes up another separate paper for all five.

The teleportation experiments are the most time consuming, as he first has to get enough large pieces of cardboard to form an enclosure, then keep trying different configurations of walls and ceilings around either himself or his teleportation point. A lot of it involves just replicating what previous experiments have done, but he also tries his own mix of adjustments, such as leaving a shape just big enough for the abra to move through, then just big enough for himself.

He also has to let his abras rest, as they can’t teleport more than a few times in a row without getting exhausted. He cycles through them, bringing everything with him to each location they’re registered at and setting things up all over again, and by the time he ends up back in Saffron he has a small audience of four abra recuperating out of their balls as he finishes up the experiments he planned.

None of it works. Whatever limitation decides that abra can’t teleport into even semi-enclosed places, it seems airtight (so to speak). He knows it’s not just a mental limitation too, there’s an experiment with someone who didn’t know that teleportation isn’t supposed to work indoors that still didn’t work when it was tried, and all this just makes him boggle all over again at how weird teleportation is, and how fundamentally unlike other “psychic powers.” He even catches himself trying to justify why it’s actually a Ghost ability before realizing that he’s just falling into the same “typing” heuristic he keeps criticizing others for; considering it a Ghost ability doesn’t actually help explain anything about how it works.

After a couple days he moves on to another aspect of teleportation that’s been thoroughly experimented on: what counts as “attached” for what gets teleported with a pokemon or person. Plenty of people have tried to break the “one person per pokemon” teleportation barrier (the monetization value of “commercial teleporting” is less now that abra are relatively cheap, but it would still be a multi-billion dollar industry), but no one’s understood yet what the pokemon itself is thinking when it distinguishes its trainer and their clothes or bags and a stranger.

Red thinks he might as well try it, and spends hours merged with his abra as they teleport, both alone and with him, then with him and various volunteers of varying psychic ability. They definitely distinguish individuals with minds; he can hold a potted plant in his free hand and get teleported with it, but not a bellsprout. The best he can put into words, as he writes his paper, is that abra distinguish their trainer as “family.” The familial bond is safe and important, what allows them to carry their children to safety until they’re old enough to teleport themselves.

When he tries it with his mother, however, she doesn’t get teleported with him, and he finally decides to throw in the towel. He’s spent nearly a week on teleportation experiments alone, and the only thing he’s gotten out of it is that full, deep merging with any of his abra now feels completely familiar and effortless.

By the second week of April he has nearly a dozen papers written that cover each of his brief exploratory experiments, all without a single real breakthrough or meaningful result. He stares at them a while, neatly listed in the pokedex under his name beside his few previous studies, and can’t help but wonder if people will think he’s just trying to pad out his list of papers. He decides to take a break from research for a few days and goes to bed early, feeling a little fried and at a loss for what to do next.

Until, that is, his following training session with Blue, when his friend brings Zephyr out to show off his new and final form.

“Congrats, Blue!” Red smiles as the pidgeot has to bend his neck a little to scoop the fruit out of Blue’s palm. The plumage on his head has grown nearly as long as Red is tall, and it’s strange to remember the way he used to fit comfortably on Blue’s shoulder. “Been battling with him a lot lately?”

“Yeah, the dojo we’ve been training at, which you still need to come check out by the way, has plenty of Fighting types. He’s just barely big enough to ride, the learner’s license guy said to make sure he keeps growing as I do since I’m just below the comfort mark.”

“Weight isn’t a problem?”

“Nah, look at those wings! He can Sky Drop a machamp. So long as he grows a few meters in the provisional period, I can get the full license.”

“Nice.” As Red gives Zephyr a pet, he remembers Leaf’s surprise way back when they started their journey that a specific gym leader was responsible for flying licenses in Kanto. That regulation was one of many that changed after the Hoenn incident; after Leader Surge said he was too busy to maintain the duty, Indigo’s interregional government decided to spread the responsibility out to the new Travel Agency it was in the process of rolling out to oversee issues arising from all the added teleportation sites people were registering. “You must be excited to start getting around faster.”

“Hell yeah. It’s no teleportation, but being able to head to Aiko’s ranch, or even swing by home for a visit any time I want, for free? Not to mention exploring new places, since Glen and Sumi already have their license, Sumi is actually an amazing flier already, she’s been teaching the rest of us how to do really tight turns and … what’s up?”

“Huh?” Red asks, torn from suddenly racing thoughts. I could reach out to the network… maybe pay some taxi pilots a retainer…

“You’ve got that look, like you just remembered something.” Blue grins. “Or just had an idea?”

“Yeah,” Red says, and grins back. “Is Sumi’s flier big enough to carry two?”


The answer is no, but it turns out not to matter. Some quick research shows that ever since the unown started randomly flying around the islands, even single riders have trouble catching them. While not particularly fast, they are maneuverable; unlimited by things like mass and wind and the safety of their rider, and able to change directions at the speed of thought, most trainers can’t keep them in range long enough to even get a lock, let alone hit them with a ball.

Which means that while Artem’s coordination of unown sightings pays off in a big way, even if one of the volunteers watching the skies in Lavender or Pallet or Cerulean or somewhere else Red has a teleport registered calls him tomorrow, the hard part would still be ahead of him.

Sending pokemon to injure them until they can’t maintain their flight is what most trainers have attempted, but it’s difficult to get pokemon to consistently target the unown, since their abstract shapes don’t register as threats and they don’t fight back. No one’s ever had to fight unown before, so it’s never been an issue, but even with new programming to train pokemon to attack them it’s hard to reinforce the behaviors in meatspace.

None of which matters for Red, since he doesn’t want to injure or capture the unown; he wants to merge with them while they do whatever it is they’re doing.

“That means no stunning, sleeping, confusing, freezing, not even a big weighted net to keep them in place,” Red says. “What do you think? Is there any flier in particular you’d recommend?”

“Hmm.” Dr. Madi sips his coffee with one hand as the other taps at his keyboard computer to bring up test data that hasn’t been entered into the pokedex yet. In the process of discovering the mechanics of pokemon flight, his old supervisor became one of the leading experts on Flying types (and other pokemon that fly without the particle). He’s continued to run experiments that broaden their understanding of them, which made him an obvious person to ask after his appointment with Dr. Seward brought him back to Pallet Town. It’s a Saturday morning, so the labs are quieter than usual, but it still feels nostalgic for Red to be here again. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since he came to pick up his charmander… “Well, swellow and crobat are pretty agile, though keeping you in range of the unown for a prolonged period may be taxing. How well would you be able to guide them?”

“Honestly, not well once the merge starts,” Red admits. “Which is why I first thought of being a passenger.”

“I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but what about a helicopter?”

“I did, yeah… I could give a pilot a bunch of abra, have them register in the same places I am, have them constantly available for who knows how long so they can drop everything and teleport with me to a sighting, summon the helicopter there, and take off, but as a first option it’s— ”

“Expensive,” Madi acknowledges, voice sympathetic as he continues to scan the spreadsheets showing max speed, acceleration, turning arc, and other factors of various pokemon in various weather conditions and with different amounts of weight. “How close is your charmeleon to evolving?”

“Uh, I’m not sure. It’s nearly my height?”

“That’s a shame. Charizard are pretty fast, and they’re not as slowed by riders as bird pokemon.”

Red frowns, trying to ignore the stab of doubt over his choices. Maybe he should be training his pokemon more, or at least the ones that would be too expensive to buy evolved versions… particularly since he just spent weeks on experiments with nothing to show for them. But that’s hindsight speaking, and he’d still want to perform the experiments at some point if he hadn’t done them now, and doing them sooner means others who are curious might save time not attempting themselves (though a few others should try just in case) and—

“Hey, what about aerodactyl?”

Red blinks. “Aren’t they super expensive?” He expects a ping of aversion from Unpartitioned Red, these days most major expenditures either get a nudge for or against, but this one seems to evoke ambivalence. The impression he gets instead is that having a super-fast flying pokemon might be worth the price, if it stands out from others…

“Yep, and not recommended for first time fliers. But they’re absurdly fast and maneuverable given their weight, so if you can find a pilot with one—”

“—a second passenger wouldn’t affect them much. That sounds perfect.” He hesitates. “Do any trainers with aerodactyl work for taxi companies?”

“I’ve never heard of one,” Dr. Madi admits. “They may be ideal for multiple passengers, but they don’t have the stamina for long trips, and the margins on short ones probably aren’t too high since they take a lot of upkeep. You’d probably make more as a pilot just selling it for a more common mount. They haven’t been around long enough to be with any retired trainers, but there might be some with injuries that make them unsuited to battle? Best I can think of for now.”

Red nods and checks the time, then stands. “I should head out. Thanks for this.”

“Of course. If I get any other bright ideas, I’ll pass them along. Good to see you again!”

Red waves and heads out the door, then through the echoing white halls until he can take an elevator down to the rear exit. Beyond it lies rippling green fields where most of the lab’s pokemon are bred, raised, studied, and trained, and as he walks out into the crisp afternoon air he summons Pikachu and Charmeleon so his pokemon can frolic around the new environment as they walk together.

He didn’t spend much time here before his journey, instead learning to feed and care for the lab’s pokemon in more controlled settings, but he knows the general layout. It takes about ten minutes to find one of the breeders who supervised his basic care training, Sophie, who smiles as he reaches the ramada where her outdoor office is set up.

“Been a while, Verres. Didn’t expect to see you back as a buyer so soon.”

“Still wouldn’t have, but Blue twisted my arm.” He smiles to show that it didn’t take much twisting.

“Sounds like a win-win to me, keeping you in the family business while ensuring you get a good deal. Hey there little fella!” She bends to scratch pikachu’s fur, fingers gentle as they trace the scar along his back. “Not so little, really. And there’s Earnest… or whatever you’re calling him now?”

“Uh, just Charmeleon still. His nickname was Earnest?”

“That’s right, you weren’t around long enough to take care of the rarer pokemon. Yeah, he really got focused on whatever he was doing compared to his siblings.”

Red wonders if he should try the old nickname on, but it doesn’t feel right, somehow. “Is his family out today? Maybe he can visit them.”

“Oh, no, they tend to like staying in their caves during winter, so we rarely bring them out unless it’s time for mating or a new brood.” She stands, and Pikachu skips back over to Red while Charmeleon investigates the wooden pillars of the ramada. “The others are out and about, though.”

He sends a mental nudge to his pokemon to come along as he follows her to the lake first, where various water pokemon swim below and along the surface. A pair of attendants are nearby, one running tests on the water whom Red recognizes and waves to, and a new face who’s running health checks on a poliwag. Among the various pokemon around them, it’s easy to spot the three squirtle playing atop and around the floating brown shell of a blastoise, which draws his attention to the rest of the family nearby; specifically the two wartortles lazing around in the shallows.

“They’re usually more energetic, racing around the lake, but—”

“They get less active when it’s colder,” Red completes with a smile, and Sophie nods.

“It’s been nice to have a few days without groundsnow, so we’re letting them enjoy it while they can. Shelby’s on the left, Snaps on the right.”

“Thanks.” He already received a file on each of them, their history and measurements and stats, the sorts of documents he spent a lot of time writing up as an intern. “And it really doesn’t matter which one I take?”

“From what I understand, your discount agreement would give us first right on breeding and resale, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Then nah, either works.”

Red almost asks which of them seems more attached to their family, but that’s the sort of thing he can check himself, and is part of why he wanted to come meet the pokemon rather than just going off the data. So he sends an impulse to Pikachu and Charmeleon to stay away from the lake (not that Charmeleon needs it, but Pikachu is curious and Red doesn’t want him to alarm the Water types) and walks over to his two potential new partners as he sends his thoughts out, feeling a bit like he did last time he was at the Lab to pick his starter.

Red can tell even without merging that both pokemon are fairly relaxed, in the general mental state he’s familiar with from helping out at Aiko’s ranch. As he gets closer their attention shifts to him, but without any alarm or fear, just curiosity… and from Snaps, a touch of wariness, Red thinks.

He confirms it by doing a proper merge, first with Snaps and then Shelby. Snaps, the senior of the two, is more prepared for potential hostility. Not expecting it, just… prepared. Shelby meanwhile is already just accepting him as part of the scenery, more interested in sniffing for food. There’s none of the protective wariness in him that his brother has, and for a moment Red deliberately focuses on the feeling of family as he swaps between the two. Which is more likely to miss them? Which would enjoy the potential excitement of going off to see new places more?

There’s no clear answer. The pokemon clearly have emotional states, but that kind of abstract imagining is beyond them. There’s only the now, and in the now both are content… one slightly more so than the other, or rather he would be if he had some tasty algae to snack on.

“I’ll take Snaps,” Red says, and as Sophie goes to speak with the caretaker, thoughts of letting Snaps “say goodbye” come and go; he’s not sure even a projection would help communicate what’s about to happen properly, and might just agitate the family without purpose. He reminds himself that the pokemon will be back to visit.

Hopefully.

“Return!”

The wartortle is sucked back into its dive ball, which gets handed to Sophie, and they make their way toward the small grove near the edge of the enclosed area. Red swaps Charmeleon for Butterfree before they start wandering through it to look for the saurs. The parents aren’t currently out to act as a convenient beacon, but Sophie explains that lately the family has found a patch of grass that they enjoy getting sun in and soon they reach a clearing where three ivys and four bulbas are being fed by another caretaker Red doesn’t know.

The oldest ivysaur is a female that’s even larger than Raff, her bud reaching as high as Red’s chin. She’s nearly twice the price as her siblings, not just for her age and gender but also considering her stats; higher agility and less prone to tiredness than the average at her age. Still, he doesn’t want to jump from being too tight with his money to too loose with it, so Red only gives her sleepy mind a cursory merger before focusing on the younger two.

One comes up to Red as their emotions blend, and he shares the ivysaur’s curiosity at the new smells he brings with him. Red hasn’t had enough experience with ivysaur mergers to share the smells themselves, but he can tell that’s what the ivysaur is reacting to.

He holds his hand out for it to sniff while the other ivysaur just continues munching on berries. Neither of them seem quite as playful and curious as Raff, though the one that approached him is closer… but he’s not sure that’s what he should be aiming for; it’s not like he has the time to play with them the way she does. Or rather, it’s not like he makes the time the way she does.

The two are roughly equal in combat capability and price, so he decides to go with the more stoic one, in case someone more like Leaf comes along looking for an ivysaur. Its nickname is Shade (apparently it liked to stick close to its parents when it was younger), and once the caretaker returns it to its ball and hands it to Sophie, they make their way back to her office, pausing a couple times as Butterfree or Pikachu examine some tree or flower bush.

“Do you guys plan on breeding any aerodactyl, by any chance?” he asks. “Ones that would be for sale?”

“Ha! Oh, you’re serious.” She shakes her head with a grin. “Not on my watch. They’re ridiculously fickle breeders. There’s the dedicated hatchery on Cinnabar Island, of course, but they only sell a couple every year at most.”

Red decides not to distract himself by researching aerodactyl more and falling into his massive knowledge hole on pokemon breeding so he can solve an indirect problem that might solve the real one. Not just yet, at least. “Crobat?”

“Already fully evolved? Would cost you quite a bit. What do you need such fast fliers for?”

His explanation carries them all the way back to her ramada, where she sets up the PC for the trades and takes his pokedex to transfer ownership after he signs the appropriate documents. “Huh. Wanting to stay in range of a flying pokemon without hampering it…” She shakes her head. “Definitely not a normal problem, though some of the field researchers might have ideas even if Madi didn’t.”

“Yeah, I made a forum post to solicit advice. When I think back to other field experiments I’ve tried, like using spinarak webs to catch pokemon while I slept in Viridian, or the sounds from Dark pokemon to scare abra into a trap, I was playing off of the natural tools and weaknesses the pokemon had. But unown don’t have any natural predators, and they don’t behave like any other pokemon.”

“Have you tried reaching out to Rangers, see if they’ve had to do things like this before while herding pokemon, maybe?”

“Herding? Huh.” He makes the payment, part of him wincing slightly at the cost, then lines the balls up to begin the new owner training programs. “That’s a good idea… ” He thinks of Blue and his friends maybe all flying together to pen the unown in… but they’d have to keep up with them too, and in the air the unown would be able to evade in three dimensions rather than two.

Still, it is a good idea. “Thanks, I’ll look into it.”

“No problem. Take care, Verres, and don’t be a stranger.”

“I’ll try. I mean, I will, and I won’t—”

She laughs and waves him off, and he clips his new pokemon to the empty spots he left on his belt then returns Pikachu and Butterfree before he waves goodbye and unclips Saffron’s ball to teleport back.

After a moment he changes his mind. He’s not in a rush, with nothing else planned for a few hours, and he should practice free teleportation again, as he usually does when he has some spare time. So he swaps Saffron for Pallet, then prepares to teleport to the roof of the town’s Pokemon Center so he can practice in relative privacy.

As soon as he merges with Pallet, however, he notices something odd.

Abra minds are fairly unique in a lot of ways, one of which is that they’re both the most and least confused upon being summoned out of their balls. Programming helps most pokemon get over the disorientation of going from one location to another in a relative instant, but abra are very used to it, only really startled by abrupt shifts in temperature and light; this in turn is exacerbated by abra’s naturally extreme awareness of what environments are new to them. Their first order of business when in a new environment is to assess for safety, then “imprint” the location in a way that allows them to teleport back to it if needed.

Pallet definitely hasn’t been to this location before, and yet he’s not treating it like a new location. Red almost dismisses this—they’re still within Pallet Town, after all, so maybe the smells and sounds are similar enough—but no, he’s spent too much time looking out for the exact note of confusion he feels to ignore it that easily.

Part of the extreme ease and depth of his merger with his various abra after his experiments came from bringing each to different locations and teleporting back to the same one over and over and over again from just a couple meters away. It made it extremely clear that even slight differences in location register as different, and how. And really, there’s virtually nothing about this place that’s similar to the roof of the Pallet Pokemon Center.

What makes sense to Red, given just how sensitive abra are to location, is that they’re not using familiar senses at all, but rather something else entirely that tracks their position in space relative to a fixed point. Hell, even a higher elevation is enough to trigger a sense of vague unease in the abra until they know it’s safe. He’s not sure what they are using, maybe they’re orienting to something like their first remembered location or the center of the earth itself, but given that teleportation somehow manages to alter not just their location but their orientation and velocity from one moment to the next (objects on the earth’s surface are rotating faster closer to the equator than the poles, and yet teleportation works across continents without negative effect (in fact some of the first experiments with teleportation involved testing farther and farther “leaps,” with synchronized timing to measure whether it took any longer based on distance crossed))…

All these thoughts flash through Red’s mind in a wordless few instants, along with the now-familiar doubled sensations of his and his abra’s bodies, summing up to a simple, clear note of unambiguous confusion.

His abra shouldn’t feel familiar in this location.

But he is.

Which means it’s not the abra’s own sense of location that’s giving it the sense of familiarity and safety.

It’s Red’s.

Which means…

Red grins, and closes his eyes, and focuses on the most clear, most definitively safe environment, the most solid spacial point in his memory.

Teleport, he commands, the thought instantly shared between him and his fully merged abra, and he feels the shift in every sense, from warm sunlight and cool wind on two sets of skin to nothing, from dim light through closed lids to relative blackness, from grass to carpet, from outdoor smells to dust and linen, from faint sounds to absolute quiet.

Even months removed, he knows these smells.

Red starts laughing before he even opens his eyes, and sees his room around him, just as he left it. He picks Pallet up and hugs him, dropping the merger as he spins them around in an excited dance.

They did it. They did it. Free teleportation!

He laughs again, dancing in a small circle as he lifts his stoic abra up and down, so excited that he doesn’t hear the rapid footsteps until his door suddenly gets yanked open and he turns to stare at the shocked and frightened face of a stranger.

Oops. Too late he remembers that his mom rented the house out, sans their bedrooms. This must be the tenant staying in the guestroom.

“You… how…?!”

“I’m so sorry!” Red is still grinning like a fool as he puts his abra down and bows. “I didn’t mean to scare you! I’ll go right away, I just got so excited and didn’t think… I just figured out I can freely teleport!”

The man is still staring at him, mouth hanging open, and Red is about to reassure him that he’ll leave right away and not do this again when the man looks at the window, then him. “But… but we’re indoors!”

Red blinks at him, then looks around, grin fading.

The door was closed. The window was closed.

He teleported into an entirely enclosed space.

Somehow he forgot that he’s not able to do that.


“Oh yes, must have been a dozen of them,” the old man says to Leaf, eyes bright. “Leaping from roof to roof so quick, I thought they were pokemon!”

“A dozen, huh?” Leaf dutifully writes this down, suppressing both her excitement and her skepticism. “You were able to count them?”

“Ah, no, I just meant there were a lot, you know, more than a few!”

“And did they move as a group, or single file?”

“Mm, single file, you know, each leaping one after the other.”

“I see. And I’ve heard they each wore long red scarves, is that true?”

“Oh yes!” The man nods confidently. “That’s why I thought they were pokemon! Scarves were red as a greninja tongue!”

“And did you call anyone?”

“Eh? Ah, no, they were gone so fast. And I thought, well, there’s no law against jumping on rooftops, is there?”

Disturbing the peace, maybe, or trespassing? “Not specifically, that I’m aware. Anyway, I should head out. Thanks for your time.”

“Oh, sure. Come on back if you have any more questions, I’m here most nights.”

David sees Leaf stand and finishes his drink, then joins her at the bar’s doorway. They summon their pokemon together, her ivysaur and his meowstic, and as they walk along the street David casually asks, “You made up the part with the scarves, I take it?”

“Yeah. Something about him made me skeptical.”

“A bit too happy to have someone to talk to, I’d say.” David’s tone is sympathetic. “Older guy like that, sitting alone in a bar, probably used to being the one who strikes up conversation until the other person leaves.”

“Probably.” Leaf sighs. “Still, it’s possible he did see something. After all this time, I was bound to find someone eventually, right?”

“Or you were bound to ask enough people that, statistically, someone’s going to lie about it.”

Leaf nods and glumly follows the middle aged man down the sidewalk toward the next bar. It’s the third week of her almost nightly “tours of the city,” and after starting from the middle and working her way south first, she’s now making her way up toward the northern district, which seems to have a more active nightlife.

Overall, it’s hard to say whether all this time has been worthwhile. As Captain Takara noted, she’s too famous these days to get away with being a “curious foreigner” the way she was in Pewter, which combined with the nature of the investigation means she’s had to bury the questions she’s really interested in among all sorts of others about the city. In the past three weeks she’s heard people grumble about how the city’s reconstruction from the Hoenn incident is taking too long, praise the mayor’s new business initiatives, and whisper all sorts of theories about why crime in the city has been so low.

Not that everyone whispers about it, plenty of people attribute it to some change in policing or random chance, but the ones that do are the most interesting. As it turns out, there are a handful of rumors about people going around chasing gangs out of the city and stopping crime through vigilantism, but no one has claimed to be a first-hand witness until the man she met tonight.

Of course, Leaf could ask the local police about it. But even assuming they’d talk to her, that might draw attention that she’s trying to avoid… and besides, she’s still wary of talking to them after what happened in Celadon.

It took about a week, four nightly trips through the city in total, for Ranger Kyra to figure out what Leaf is really interested in. They’d gotten to know each other a bit in that time, enough for Leaf to trust the older woman and confirm what she’s really looking into. The ranger seemed curious, but not especially so, which Leaf has been grateful for. Her willingness to continue to chaperone Leaf has also been appreciated, and it took another week of Leaf insisting on treating her to dinner before the ranger accepted.

Kyra’s schedule can be erratic, however, and David has come to fill in the gaps for nights when she’s not available. He’s a programmer in his early 30s that attends the daily conferences, one of the people Leaf initially met online as he began to collaborate on her project with Natural and the others. It’s been nice getting to know him in person; he’s not a trainer, is also new to Kanto, and he’s always happy to teach her about anything related to computers or programming, or what it’s like working for Devon Corp. While he hasn’t particularly seemed to enjoy himself in the group’s brief trips into the Safari Zone, he seems happy enough to walk the city with her for a few hours at a time (and plenty of opportunities to rest). He expressed an interest in seeing more of Fuchsia last week, and when she explained that she travels the city whenever Kyra is available to chaperone, he offered to accompany her on the nights when the ranger is busy.

They reach another bar and Leaf spends half an hour talking to another couple people before David suggests they call it a night, which sends a sudden stab of dread through Leaf. “Could we, uh, visit one more?” He raises a brow, and she immediately feels bad. She’s always been worried about imposing on his or Kyra’s time before. “Nevermind, you’re right.”

“What’s up?”

“Nothing—”

“Hey.” Leaf looks back at him to find his patient, kindly gaze on hers. “You were distracted at the meeting today, and looked like you didn’t sleep well. Now this. Something going on at home?”

Leaf bites her lower lip, sighs, then nods. David takes her shoulder and steers her back into the bar, and this time they sit at a table together. “What’s up, Leaf? Is Mr. Sakai having a bad day?”

She closes her eyes, feeling tears well up briefly. “You can say that. Today was Aiko’s birthday.”

“Oh.” He lets out a breath. “Shit. I’m sorry, kid.”

She nods, eyes still closed. Aiko’s aunt reached out last night to see how she and her brother were doing, and Leaf cautiously reported that he seemed to be fine; nothing unusual that morning or during dinner.

He was not fine this morning.

“His sister came to spend the day with him. She doesn’t usually spend much time at the ranch, she’s got her own life, but she said they should mourn together.” Leaf lets out a watery breath. “Anyway, she’s probably waiting for me to get back before she heads home. Maybe even expecting me for dinner, so I should go back.”

“Hold on. If she’s still with him then she probably won’t mind another few minutes. How are you doing?”

Leaf takes a moment to let the question stir her emotions up, gives them a chance to radiate out like spikes from her chest, to sink her head heavily onto her folded arms. “Not great,” she admits in a low croak. It was easy to keep the feelings away, as long as she kept focused on other things. But returning to the ranch… to that room, to the likely sounds of weeping… or somehow worse, silence…

I’m sorry, Aiko…

“That’s understandable,” David says, voice low and soothing. “I’d be surprised if—”

“It’s not that,” she forces out, his sympathy somehow making it worse. “It’s… I feel like I’ve moved on. It’s been five months, and… I can’t forget her, I’m living in her room, having meals with her dad every day, but…” Guilt twists in her, and she forces the admission out. “I forgot it was her birthday. She told us back when we were celebrating Red and Blue’s, and I remember making vague plans around then, but… until her aunt called yesterday…”

She feels hesitant fingers touch her shoulder, then squeeze. “That’s nothing to blame yourself for. Hell, even my dad doesn’t remember my birthday most years unless my mom reminds him. You didn’t even get the chance to celebrate one with her, right?”

Leaf shakes her head, feeling a sob rise in her throat before she pushes it back down.

“Have you spoken to your friends about it?”

“No. They’re busy, Blue’s got to catch up on his training after working on his flying license, and Red’s still trying to replicate the indoor teleport…” It was an amazing discovery, one that only a few people actually believe happened. There’s the one witness, of course, and she trusts Red, but to most people it’s just too unusual to be believed until he can do it again in controlled conditions, especially since the witness might have simply been tricked; she’s seen comments online about how he probably opened the window from outside, snuck in, then closed it behind him. It was his house, after all.

“Mhm. Well, I know your friends are busy guys, but I gotta think they would want to be with you if you were feeling like this. Is there something more to this?”

She shakes her head again. “I don’t want… it hasn’t been that long since…” She’s talked to David about some things, but not this. No one outside of Blue’s close friends knows how bad things got between him and Red. How fragile their rekindled friendship might be. “They haven’t said anything. I don’t want them to feel guilty too, if they forgot.” It’s not a lie, at least, just a lesser reason.

“But you miss her. And the only person you can share that grief with is her father, who didn’t know her the way you did. That’s gotta be a lonely feeling, Leaf. It’s okay not to put others first at times like this.”

Probably. But it’s not worth bringing back that distance between them, that anger and hurt. “Maybe.”

David lets out a sigh and squeezes her shoulder again before drawing his hand back. “We can stay out as long as you’d like, kid. I’m not in a rush to get home.”

“No.” She rubs her eyes and lifts her head up, sniffing. “I should go. But thank you, David. Really.”

He hesitates, gaze searching her face, then nods, and they head outside. “I’ll see you tomorrow. And… feel free to call me, if you need to chat or something.”

“I will.” Maybe. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, kid.”

She brings her abra out and teleports back to the ranch, letting the salty air of Fuchsia out in a gust before taking in a fresh breath of the open fields around her. When she turns toward the ranch, she sees lights on upstairs and wonders if Kasumi is still here. When she goes inside, however, she hears different voices upstairs, and hurries up the steps, heart leaping.

“—think I heard… yep, there she is.”

Red and Blue are setting the table, wearing simple, somber clothes; Red’s usual hat and jacket are conspicuously missing, and Blue is wearing a simple black button up shirt. Neither are wearing their pokebelts, and she remembers that bright colors, particularly red, are considered inappropriate for mourning here.

She turns to see Mr. Sakai and his sister in the kitchen. Both their eyes are puffy, and Aiko’s father is moving slowly, face drawn as he shuffles from place to place, but he looks at her as he sets the food down, and gives a watery smile. “You’re just in time. Don’t forget to wash up before it gets cold.”

Leaf’s paralysis breaks as she nods and hurries to do so, then quickly changes and takes her belt off before joining them. The meal is somber as everyone eats the bowls of simple rice with beans and chopped vegetables, and once they’re done Kasumi lifts her glass, eyes wet.

“To my niece. She always had something kind to say, and worked so hard—” Her voice breaks, and she takes a breath. “I never knew just how hard.”

They drink, Leaf through a tight throat, and then Blue goes next, voice low and intense. “To Aiko, who saved my life, and others’, when we were underground. For teaching us a new way to own our mistakes, and learn from them.”

They drink again as fresh tears line her family’s faces, and Leaf’s vision blurs. She wipes them clear, and speaks as clearly as she can, though her voice is rough, and wavers at the start. “To my friend, who made me feel less alone in what I cared about, and who shared her d-dreams with m-me.”

Leaf can barely swallow, and it’s like a dam breaks in her chest, all the grief of Aiko’s death suddenly fresh again. She can hear the others weeping too, and it takes a few minutes before quiet descends, and Red clears his throat.

“To Aiko. Whose determination moved us all. And was only matched by… by her heart.”

They sip their drinks again, and Leaf has to clear her eyes again as she thinks of the way Aiko broke down and cried when she received her refurbished pokedex, and the quiet patience in her voice when she told her father she was leaving. She knows Red must also be thinking of how she died, and wants to hug him, but holds herself back for now.

Mr. Sakai is quiet for so long that Leaf almost thinks he won’t speak, until he whispers, “To my daughter. She never complained. About the work. Or me. She just wanted. More.” His mouth works, silently, and then he repeats, “More,” and drinks, and sets his glass down, tears slipping from under closed lids.

They sit in silence for a while, and Leaf stares at the table, wishing she could hug Joy, wondering if there’s something else it would be appropriate to do. She’s bone tired, and part of her wants to go to bed, but the thought of whose bed it is causes fresh tears to flow for another indeterminate while.

Kasumi is the first to stir, and starts to clean the table. Blue stands too, and a hollowed-out looking Red, whose partition, she suddenly intuits, has likely been down all night as he lets himself fully be with his grief. Mr. Sakai stands to help, but his sister quickly ushers him to his bedroom, and they hear quiet murmurs, and some brief, joint sobbing.

The three work quietly to clear the table and wash the dishes before Kasumi returns. “I think he’s asleep,” she murmurs, and reaches out to hug Leaf, then Red, then Blue. “I’ll stay on the futon tonight, to see how he is tomorrow. If he follows the pattern of how he was after Ema… his wife… tomorrow he’ll likely be back to normal, more or less.”

There’s a heaviness in her voice, but no bitterness. “Is there anything else I can do…?”

“No, dear, you’re doing more than enough. And you two. Thank you all for coming.”

“Of course,” Blue says, and Red nods before they go to collect their things. Leaf helps her set up the futon, then follows Red and Blue downstairs to say goodbye.

By some unspoken signal, as soon as they’re outside and under the stars, they move for a group hug. For a while they just stand quietly together under the stars, as they did in this same place that night nearly half a year ago before she and Red went off to sea, and Blue and Aiko and the others went below the earth. The last time they were together, before the storm that blew them apart.

It’s Leaf that breaks the hug, not because she wants to, but because she knows the other two won’t. Not as long as they think she might still need it. She takes a few deep breaths, then clears her throat. “When did you guys…?” Another stab of guilt, that they remembered and she didn’t…

“Miss Sakai asked if we were free for dinner around noon,” Blue explains. “Got here maybe half an hour before you did.”

Red picks up on her surprise, whether psychically or just by her expression. “You didn’t know? You weren’t planning on bearing this alone, were you?”

“I didn’t…” Leaf forces the words out. “She’s the one that reminded me, yesterday. I didn’t think…”

“Idiot,” Blue says, but affectionately. She can’t tell if he guessed why she didn’t bring it up to them. “How’s everything down south? Going okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, fine. Another test tomorrow, on tauros.” They’ve been experimenting with a handful of pokemon, each one needing custom code. It still makes Leaf feel ill, sometimes, particularly when she remembers how angry she used to get at pokemon experimentation… but at least she knows this really is for the pokemon’s sake as much as humans’.

“Cool. You guys still going to need us?”

“I think so. That’s still the plan, I mean, last I heard.”

“Well, we’ll be there. Can come down anytime, now.”

“I’ll head down sometime this week,” Red says. “After that, same.”

“How’s the teleporting going?”

Red makes a face. “I know I should just be happy I can do free teleportation now—”

“Or any teleportation,” Blue mutters.

“—that too, sorry. It’s just, figuring out what I did, exactly, and failing to replicate it, has kind of sucked the fun and victory out of it. After duplicating the exact steps and conditions leading up to it failed, even I’m starting to doubt what I experienced, like maybe the window was open and me teleporting in made it fall closed or something, even though I know that shouldn’t make any difference, I tested for stuff like that, so did others.”

“It has to be something with your state of mind, right?”

“That’s what I keep thinking, but I’m having trouble figuring out what it is. My best guess is not knowing for sure it’ll work, so it can only happen the first time someone teleports, but it’s hard to find psychics who haven’t done it at least once these days, ironically, and when I tried it with a non-psychic it didn’t work. Having psychics invoke amnesia also didn’t work, maybe because they can’t do it to their pokemon and that’s important too somehow, but using a new pokemon also didn’t work.”

There’s a threadbare frustration in his voice that makes Leaf reach out a hand to squeeze his arm. “You’ll get it, sooner or later. Don’t run yourself ragged meanwhile.”

“He hasn’t been sleeping much,” Blue adds.

“Hey, that’s not…” Red trails off as they both stare at him, and he sighs, running a hand through his hair before admitting, “…entirely true. Once I fall asleep I get enough hours, as long as there’s no alarm, but I’ve had trouble with racing thoughts at night. It’s hard to move on to anything else, with this kind of discovery teasing me just out of reach. But I found a workaround yesterday, actually.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I just make myself forget I did it, when I want to sleep.”

Blue shakes his head. “I don’t care if it’s sour grapes or what, that will never stop being creepy to me.”

“You should meet Rowan sometime. Speaking of which, I’ve got a meeting to get to.” He doesn’t make a move to leave, however, and neither does Blue. After a moment Red awkwardly asks Leaf, “You’ll be by tomorrow for your session with Sabrina, right?”

They’re reluctant about leaving me alone. She remembers the way she cried upstairs, and feels a prickle of embarrassment… but just a prickle. “I will. Come by again anytime. You know you’re always welcome.”

They take the dismissal, and hug her again once each before Blue summons Zephyr and mounts up, taking off with big, buffeting gusts of wind. Red summons an abra, and Leaf raises a brow. “Now that you don’t need one for each city, have you sold the others off?”

“Not yet, they might still come in handy.” For experiments, she guesses. “You’re going to ask me about the nicknames, aren’t you?”

“Just saying, doesn’t make sense to stick with the labels if you just use one to go everywhere. And don’t you dare stick the one you keep with that!”

“What, Everywhere? It’s a bit presumptuous, unless I take a year or two to travel.” His smile fades after a moment. “You’ll really be okay?”

“I will. And if I’m not, I promise to call.”

“Good. I’m just a thought away, you know?”

That makes her smile for the first time all night. “You are. Come by soon, Raff still hasn’t met your ivysaur.”

“I will. Night, Leaf.”

“Goodnight, Red.”

She watches him disappear, and hugs herself as she lets her eyes slip closed, lets the emotions sink in and fill her for a moment as the tiredness returns. Today took her by surprise, in a lot of ways. Life in the past few months got so busy, so full of new emergencies and new normals, new experiences and new routines, that things like simply mourning her lost friend felt like something that happened to a different her, in another world. Now that she’s here, she wonders how long before the grief feels distant again, and she’s back in the stream of day to day, with just the occasional sad thought or extra long night staring up at the ceiling.

Not long. Maybe it would take a couple days, but things are moving fairly quickly at the Safari Zone, and teaching Sabrina and other psychics her mental state has been challenging, and exploring Fuchsia always brings some novelty even if it doesn’t bring her any new answers. Soon this pain would scab over again, and feel like a footnote of her life again instead of tangible, immediate reality.

Maybe she would even be like Mr. Sakai, back to “normal” as soon as she wakes in the morning.

Leaf walks back to the porch, but instead of climbing the stairs simply sits, rubbing her arms against the chill as she decides to stay out a little longer.


When Leaf arrives at the meeting the next day, there’s just a couple empty seats left, and she quickly goes to the one next to David. “Morning,” she says with a tired smile as she pets the white tuft of fur between his meowstic’s ears. “Before you ask, yes, I’m okay, thanks. And thanks again for the talk last night. Didn’t get much sleep, obviously, but my friends did end up coming over.”

“That’s good,” David says, studying her face a moment before he turns back toward his screen, looking distracted.

Leaf blinks, wondering if she’s being rude. She meant to express gratitude and reassure him, but maybe he thinks she’s giving him the brush off. She really didn’t sleep much last night, and is having trouble trusting self-assessments or thoughts. “How was your night?”

“Fine. Just did some work.”

Maybe she’s misreading him too. Or maybe he really doesn’t want to talk right now. She lets it go until later, knowing he can’t complain if she pokes him to open up a bit after he did the same, and soon the meeting starts.

Warden Takara reviews the plan to cordon off an area of the Zone, release a captured and re-programmed tauros into it, observe its behavior, and slowly but surely give it more freedom as they expose it to more scenarios, including socializing with wild tauros eventually. It’s no different than what they’ve done already with rattata and nidoran and venonat, but tauros are significantly more rare, powerful, and aggressive, which makes the stakes higher and adds additional considerations. The programmers in the room, and those watching through livestream, have a few hours to do some final overview of the code while the researchers and rangers review the planned activities and safeguards.

Leaf is something of a general purpose member of the team, being only somewhat knowledgeable in each of the various fields at play. Sometimes she feels like she’s only really here because the whole thing was her idea, but no, that’s just her tiredness and negative thoughts at work. She’s made suggestions that the others have found valuable, and at the very least is the closest thing to a “manager” the project has, since she knows everyone working on it and has been following all the changes and versions from the beginning.

She decides to review the new changes pushed last night, and finds another thing to bring up to David. “Hey, nice work with this new error-control segment. Looks a lot more elegant and thorough.”

David gives an awkward laugh, “It was nothing. I just… had some free time, thought I should try to do more, you know? Feels like I haven’t been pulling my weight.”

“That’s not true at all.” Leaf hides her frown, though she can’t help but keep watching David, troubled. He’s usually somewhat overmodest, but there’s still an off note in what he said, or the way he said it.

Maybe she should poke him now rather than later. If something’s wrong, she owes it to him to help if she can.

“Hey, mind if we take a walk? I want to talk about something.”

He looks surprised, and hesitates, which only worries her more. Finally he nods, and they slip outside the conference room, taking a brief walk down the hall toward one of the sitting areas by the big windows facing the Zone. They sit in awkward silence for a minute as he strokes his pokemon’s fur before Leaf realizes she’s supposed to say something.

“Sorry. I’m only at like 70% right now, and this seemed like a better idea before I did it. If you don’t want to talk I’ll understand. I just… you helped me last night, so… if there’s anything I can do…”

David’s face is blank at first, the expression sitting oddly in his otherwise easygoing features. He scratches the stubble along his jaw, then lets out a long, slow sigh.

“Right. So. Here’s the thing, Leaf… I didn’t want to bring this up until I had something more concrete, but I noticed something odd about the pokemon you registered at the start of all this.”

It’s Leaf’s turn to force her expression blank, while inside her pulse kicks into high gear, some of the tiredness fading as adrenaline hits her system. “Odd?”

“I think some of the others have too, but no one’s really wanted to talk about it. And when I looked into their code… well, I wondered how you got it to be so similar to wild pokemon’s without the very program that the data was used to create.”

Shit. She thought they covered their tracks well, but… “As I said, Aiko was the one who was working on this before I picked up the torch. It was just an idea, when I thought of it, she’s the one that—”

“It’s a convenient excuse, and I’m not saying it’s not partially true, at least. I believe she was working on it, and somehow found a way to alter the conditioning, or rather gave the pokemon permission to ignore it. But… I’m sorry, I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead. But I don’t care how genius your friend was, a team this big is still struggling to replicate her work? We’ve made strides, done it even better in some ways, but that kind of blanket sidestepping of the conditioning is too clean.” David sets his jaw in a stubborn angle, fingers tight in his meowstic’s fur. “I don’t know who she’s acting as the cover for, if it’s Bill or one of the others on the team or someone else entirely, but what she or they were doing was dangerous. I think you’re trying to make the best of that work, but until I know who was behind it, it feels suddenly like we all might just be getting used.”

Leaf keeps her expression as neutral as she can while thinking over her contingencies. She thought it would be Bill or Natural who first noticed and asked her about this, but as David said, maybe they noticed but didn’t care. Or maybe they’re more willing to believe that a young and determined programming genius was able to pull off what the sakki did. It was always a risk, but one she knew had to be taken if this project would be possible within a decade, rather than however long it would take for her to learn to duplicate the effects on her own without asking anyone else for help. Assuming that was even possible for someone with her programming talent; she’s no Bill. She’s not even Aiko.

“Are you going to quit?” she asks, voice quiet. If he does, he might go to the media, or raise his concern with Warden Takara… or even go to the police.

He lets a breath out. “I’m not sure. But I want to know the truth, and I’m pretty sure you know it.”

Leaf keeps her gaze on the window, trying to hide her fear. Here’s the first card, tilting out of position. What Red feared might happen as soon as the full scope of what psychic abilities can do gets known to the general public, what he realized he’d inadvertently started when the others in Blue’s training group learned about sakki. She thought it might be one of the others that let it slip, or hoped they’d have more time. Time to get farther with the program, show the good it can do.

Maybe it wouldn’t change much. Psychics are already afforded a lot of trust, combined with a lot of careful litigation and oversight to prevent abuse. Maybe this would just cause more of the same.

Or maybe it would bring the whole house down.

Chapter 93: Qualitative Research

“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.

mourning

snow

and

sky

and

Deep breath in…

despair, gone, lost

And out.

swarm

see

fade

see

swarm

see

fade

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?”

“Yellow.”

“Oh.”

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.”

“Like ultraviolet?”

“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?

Later, focus.

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…?”

“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.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Satisfied?”

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.

Chapter 92: Authenticity

Blue hoped that riding on Soul would get less uncomfortable with practice, and while it has to some degree, his legs are still sore and his back still stiff when they arrive in Saffron.

But when he dismounts people stare, particularly nearby kids, and maybe they still would have if he’d ridden his bike once they recognized him, but it’s much easier to notice him on the arcanine in the first place compared to on a bike wearing a helmet.

So he does his best to stand straight despite the aches and pains until he finishes removing Soul’s saddle and rubbing him down, the big red mutt panting hard as he looks around, gaze sharp and nose twitching. As Blue runs the brush over Soul’s heaving sides, Bretta and Liz finish packing their bikes and gear away and enter the Trainer House first, followed by Sumi and Slava, who are arguing over when to take their day trip to Johto via the city’s magnet train station.

Elaine seems to linger, moving purposefully slowly to match Glen’s pace, and Blue tries to ignore the stab of sympathy that guts him. For as long as he’s known him, Glen could bike farther and faster than any of them, and would barely be winded by the time they arrived wherever they were going.

Now he’s moving like he has to think through every action, and there’s a slight tremor in his hands.

If Glen notices that Elaine is going slowly for his sake he doesn’t say anything, simply withdrawing his container once his bike and pads are in it and then following Slava and Sumi. Elaine gives Blue a look he can’t quite decipher, but he nods to her, recognizing the pain at least.

A young girl whispers something to her parent, who nods, and she runs over. “Excuse me, can I brush him?”

She’s staring at the arcanine with wide eyes, but she seems absolutely fearless of it, and Blue smiles. “Go ahead.” He hands her the brush, and she uses both hands to run it along his fur as he directs her. “Do you like Fire types?”

“Yeah! What’s his name?”

“Soul.”

“Is he your sweeper?”

Blue grins, recognizing a future competitive trainer. “More of a bruiser. He helped me beat Erika.” He opens his jacket to show the four badges within.

“Cool!”

Once Soul’s fur is gleaming, and he’s had a chance to catch his breath, Blue takes the brush and tells her she can pet him, if she wants to. She grins wide, and Blue laughs as she sinks her whole body face-first into the arcanine’s fur, seeming to enjoy the heat he gives off. Blue feeds his mount some strips of steak and lets him lap at a container filled with water until the girl’s mom recognizes that he’s done and tells her it’s time to go. They both thank him as he withdraws Soul and waves goodbye.

His legs feel like two pieces of aching rubber by now, but he manages to keep it together long enough to walk into the Trainer House and casually lean against the wall beside everyone where they’re lined up to get their room assignments.

A lot more work than riding a bike, but worth it.

As he lets his wobbly legs rest, his gaze tracks the people in the lobby, most of whom take a moment to look them over. But while a few linger on him, many of the looks are perfunctory, gazes quickly returning to the screens around the room. Blue glances at the nearest one, which shows Brendan and May helping with the resettlement and construction work that’s still ongoing in the Sevii Islands.

Blue knew they were coming to the region, showing off the speed of their legendary pokemon… no, that’s not charitable. It’s a mission of unity across the islands, a thank-you tour for the help the other regions gave to Hoenn… symbolic, mostly, but he can’t exactly judge them on that.

It still depresses him, watching them fly around on such powerful and unique pokemon, though he’s as riveted as anyone else in the room. New info about Latios and Latias is sparse, even all these weeks later. Apparently Brendan and May never caught them in balls, and claim that they’re not “tame” so much as “curious, sometimes playful, and occasionally in a helpful mood.” The psychic dragons won’t do certain things no matter how much they’re “asked,” including let anyone else approach them; the two trainers are still trying to understand what they’re willing to do and what they’re not, with the help of various researchers and professors.

Eventually the segment ends, transitioning to a review of the trainers currently making their way through Victory Road. Blue checks the names that show up, and smiles as he sees Donovan has hit third place, with Reza now in first with only a couple losses on his record. His legs feel a little more up to walking, and he steps behind Glen at the back of the line.

“Well?” his friend asks. “Meeting with Sabrina today, or tomorrow?”

“No plans yet. Haven’t even reached out.”

“You going to just say hi when we visit Red?”

It crossed his mind. “If she’s there, sure. I plan to check the gym classes and everything first, though.”

Glen snorts. “Sure, don’t want to seem too presumptuous. How’s the movie deal coming?”

“Gave my interview to the writers the day before yesterday.”

“Congrats, man. How much did you exaggerate?”

“Hey, Red and Leaf are going to give their side of the story too, remember?”

Glen nods. “So just for the parts they weren’t there for.”

Blue grins. “Those are the parts you’re there for, so we can agree to overlook each other’s exaggerations if you want. Who do you want to play you?”

“Myself, obviously. No one else is handsome enough.”

“Now who’s being presumptuous? You don’t know what kind of talent we can pull in.”

“Alright, if you can get Daniel O’Clery, he can play me.”

Blue recognizes the name from some movie Leaf and Aiko wanted to see back in Vermilion. The pain there is briefer and duller than it might have been a month ago, and doesn’t completely drain his amusement. “Isn’t he like, 25?”

“Eh.” Glen shrugs, accent growing thicker for a moment as he reaches the counter and hands over his ID. “I’m strangely fine with it.”

Once they’ve all gotten their room assignment, they make plans to meet for dinner and break toward the boy and girl dorms. Blue drops his things off in his bed, then enjoys a long shower, thoughts still on the first thing Glen asked him before they started talking about the film. Despite how lighthearted the exchange was, Blue can’t help but wonder whether his friend is jealous.

Blue remembers his justifications for Challenging Erika ahead of everyone else, and for going to Lavender while they finished getting their own badges. He still thinks they were the right call.

But then Glen failed to get his fifth badge.

For the first few days after waking from his coma, Glen was still sleeping a lot, and when he was awake he was often confused, not remembering the earthquake at all. He threw himself into physical therapy like a man possessed, and regained a lot of his coordination and stamina… but not enough to beat Erika.

His decision to move on from Celadon without trying again, even though Erika said she would allow a rematch within a week, shocked Blue. Glen insisted that he could return easily and get his badge later, and that meanwhile he didn’t want to slow everyone down. But despite his words, Blue noticed him withdrawing into himself more than he used to, not joining in with the friendly ribbing as often.

Blue tried to talk to him about it a couple times, but his friend brushed it off. It’s Elaine who helped him understand; from Glen’s perspective, he’s glad he helped save Maria and the rest of them, even if he can’t remember it, but he lost weeks of his life, weeks in which the whole world changed around him, critical decisions made and groups formed, and worst of all…

Worst of all, he fell behind. When they met, Glen had three badges to Blue’s two. They earned Surge’s more-or-less together, but when he woke, Blue was finished with Celadon Gym and Glen wasn’t. If he hadn’t stuck around, if he hadn’t gone on his trip to Lavender, if he’d just shot straight for his next badge, Blue would have overtaken him entirely by now.

Instead Glen is stuck needing to rematch Erika, and there’s a non-zero chance Blue will have beaten Sabrina by the time he gets his fifth badge. If their roles were reversed, it would be eating at Blue.

And while Glen isn’t quite as competitive as Blue is, he’s close enough that Blue can guess that he’s worried he won’t be able to keep up.

Worse than that is Blue’s hidden worry that he won’t.

Blue sighs and turns the water off, then dries himself and changes before heading back to the room. “Message came in for you,” Slava says from where he’s sitting on his bunk. Glen is lying in his bed, eyes closed, and Blue does his best to ignore the drawn look on his friend’s face.

“Thanks.” He hangs the wet towel on the bedpost, then checks his phone.

“Well?”

Blue turns to Glen, whose eyes are still closed. He briefly debates playing dumb, then says, “She asked if I’m free within the hour.”

Glen holds his hand up, eyes still closed, and Slava sighs and fishes some bills out of his wallet before handing them down to Glen. “Bet every gym leader has you on watch, now. Soon as someone sees you enter the city alarms start going off at the gym. Emergency meetings get called, protocols laid out…”

“Ha, ha. You make me sound like a Stormbringer.”

“About as disruptive,” Slava says. “Going from the last two gyms.”

“But less destructive,” Glen allows. “You’ve only destroyed one arena.”

“When did I… Oh. To be fair Brock did the destroying himself, I just showed him why it was necessary.”

Glen snorts. “Bet Misty feels relieved you didn’t try anything there.”

“Or left out,” Slava adds. “Could send her a shirt. ‘Blue Oak came to my gym and all I got was a lousy badge challenge.'”

Blue rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning. “I’m gonna go, hopefully I’ll be done in time to make the meetup.”

“Right, see you later.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks.” Blue starts pulling socks and shoes on. He realizes how nice it is to get off his feet for a moment, and mutters, “Shit.”

“What?”

“Nothing, just not looking forward to getting back in the saddle.”

Glen tosses him the money Slava lost. “So take a cab!”

Blue tosses it back. “I can’t take a cab the first time I show up at the gym.”

“You’re right, what will the history books say?”

Slava shifts his voice to resemble a documentary narrator. “‘The Young Oak, butt still sore from his journey—'”

“Bye guys.”


Blue takes a cab, but only until he’s a couple blocks away from the gym. Then he finds an alley to summon and saddle Soul in, puts on his riding gear, and rides the rest of the way. He arrives at the gym with a flourish, Soul skidding to a halt in a patch of snow, and Blue waits until his pokemon has melted it before he dismounts and strips them both down again as people who stopped to stare continue walking by.

Keeping his gaze straight, as if unaware of the looks he draws, Blue strides in and toward the front desk. He doesn’t even have to introduce himself before the receptionist gives him directions toward Sabrina’s office. He takes the elevator to the top, walks down a fancy hallway that reminds him of a high class hotel, and after a “Come in,” he enters to see the Gym Leader at her desk typing on her computer. It’s a fairly lavish room; nothing that can match Erika’s outdoor office, of course, but not as utilitarian as Surge’s either.

“Good to see you again, Leader,” Blue says, and represses a sigh of relief as he sinks into a very cushy chair in front of her desk.

“And you, Mr. Oak,” Sabrina says, gaze still on her monitor. “First things first; this is a courtesy meeting. What you’ve done at Vermilion and Celadon make it so that not meeting you would seem like a snub, and after how long you spent with Erika in particular, I don’t imagine that was unintentional.”

Blue isn’t quite sure how to take that; it works in his favor, obviously, but if she’s highlighting that it’s just a courtesy… “Well, I appreciate you playing along.”

“I don’t mean to imply you’re not special, this isn’t a power move,” she says, still focusing on her paperwork. “It feels strange being formal with you after everything that happened in Lavender. I’m just explaining why I’m not going to accept a Challenge from you anytime soon.”

“Ah.” Shit. “Even for membership?”

“You don’t need membership to do what I assume you’re planning to do here.” Her gaze flicks toward him. “Do you actually want it?”

“Dunno, actually.” In some ways it would be a downgrade from what he was at Celadon Gym, where he operated in a unique and unstructured unofficial capacity, but he didn’t really expect other gyms to let him have the same status. “Depends how long I’ll be here, and it might help to understand how your gym works from the inside. I figured you’d be too busy to work together more closely.” And from what he’s heard this gym is more traditional, like Brock and Misty’s; a primary focus on pokemon training, with special classes for Psychic types, and some extra unique classes for the trainers themselves based on what Sabrina and her people value or are specialists in.

Sabrina’s virtue is supposedly Discipline, but he’s always thought that felt among the more tacked-on ones… though being in her presence has him thinking twice, as she continues to work even as they converse. He remembers Leaf saying Giovanni does something similar, and wonders why Erika didn’t do it; it’s very effective at making him feel less special than he did before, despite her frank acknowledgement otherwise. Though maybe that’s just from knowing he’s not going to get an early match.

“Whatever you do, I’m afraid it won’t involve me. I still have a lot of work to catch up on, and what happened in Lavender didn’t help things. If you want to change the culture at my gym, I trust Tetsuo and Keiji enough to curtail whatever you might do that concerns them, or that they think would concern me.”

“Right.” Damn it, that means he’d have to answer to and negotiate with two people rather than one… and they would be deferring to a hypothetical Sabrina rather than asking the real one. No matter how well they could predict what she might say, they’re going to be extra conservative, and his charisma in arguing his points will be much less effective.

She’s watching him rather than her monitor, now, probably guessing at his thoughts even without her powers working on him. “Not that I’m trying to drive you away, but you still need three more badges aside from this one. You could always come back later.”

“The others I have left are all pretty far, and other than Viridian, this is the last badge that everyone in the group is missing.” And I can’t teleport. He largely feels that he’s left behind his bitterness about being dark, especially given the advantages it’s given him, but if he could just register an abra here he could pop back over whenever Sabrina might have an opening. As it is…

“Well, you’re also welcome to save me for last,” Sabrina says with a brief smile, focus back on her computer screen. “Most dark trainers do.”

“I’ve considered it,” he admits. “But—”

“That’s all the more reason not to, for you. Making your most difficult badge any easier isn’t your style, which means it’s Giovanni you’ll be challenging last, right?”

“Heh. Guess I’m not that hard to read, dark or not.”

“You’re definitely part of a type, and it’s not about being dark. I’m sorry I can’t do more for your aspirations, at the moment, but I think you’ll manage well enough.”

It sounds like a dismissal. Blue tries to think of something else he can say, then just nods, suppressing a sigh. “Thank you for the meeting.”

“You’re welcome. I look forward to our match, whether it comes sooner or later.”


The next few days pass quickly as the group attends some basic classes at the gym, along with some low level challenge matches. Red meets up with them on occasion to catch lunch and do some training, and a couple days after they arrive Jason and Maria return from Lavender. The group seems happy to see Maria again, who has changed somewhat; after the casino it was like she lost a lot of the confidence she’d gained over the months of journeying with Blue, but there’s a new serenity to her, or rather an old one gained anew.

The classes are interesting, a lot of them about how to better anticipate an opponent’s moves when they can read your pokemon’s thoughts and feelings, or even yours. The latter parts apply less to Blue, of course, but to offset that advantage, he starts attending Dark classes to train his abra and the gastly he received in thanks for his help at the tower.

It doesn’t go well.

He tried a few times on his own, following some guides online. An abra’s second strongest sense is sound, followed by smell, so he named his Tops and began taking him out of his ball to wear in a back harness when he’d walk around the Celadon gym on occasion, letting him get used to Blue’s smell, the sound of his voice, and the feel of his body as a physical thing. It worked, to some extent; Tops doesn’t startle when touched by Blue, responds to commands pretty well, and will sniff around to find him if Blue sits quietly in the same room with him… though Blue suspects that’s mostly just for food.

But he doesn’t orient to him at all. The ‘dex says that abra don’t instinctually act to protect others, and having a protective orientation—the kind of passive, automatic inclination that results in things like shifting to stand between a trainer and any sensed enemies—is difficult for them. Without that, in real combat, even the much suppressed instinct to flee simply leaves Tops paralyzed with fear no matter how gentle and encouraging Blue tries to be, or how much of his own fear he tries to inject into his voice.

“Yep,” Red confirms on Blue’s fourth day in Saffron. “To Tops’s senses, you’re not really there. You’re just a set of stimuli that sometimes gives him food… sorry, sometimes means food is going to appear.”

“Great,” Blue grumbles. They’re sitting in Red’s apartment at the building Sabrina’s students live in, both of their abra sitting on the rug using their weak kinesis to push a ball back and forth between them. Pikachu and Eevee are napping in the corner, and they can distantly hear Maturin splashing around in Red’s tub. “So what do I do?” Tops is the abra he chose to keep from the dozens he, Leaf, and Red caught north of Cerulean; in the top percent of all the pokedex metrics. He could grow into an incredibly powerful pokemon… but none of that matters if he won’t fight for Blue.

Thankfully Red knows him well enough not to suggest training a different psychic pokemon instead, one less dependent on its sixth sense. “Well, there are classes at the gym specifically for this sort of thing…”

“I know, I went to one.”

“Just one?”

“Yeah. I don’t want to show up again and still have no idea what I’m doing, you know?”

Red blinks, brow furrowed. “It’s… a class specifically for this, though. You think you’re going to look bad in front of other dark trainers struggling with the same thing?”

“I might not look bad, exactly, but I won’t look good. At least Tops will follow my voice commands; my gastly won’t even do that half the time!”

“What happened to not wanting to discourage others? I’d say seeing Blue Oak struggle a bit would be very encouraging to a lot of people with the same problem.”

Blue runs a hand through his hair. He’s right, Blue knows that, but… things have changed. “Struggling is fine. But if I try and fail…”

Red is frowning at him. “See, this is what I was worried about. You’re more worried about PR than you are the truth.”

“What? No I’m not, I’m not lying to anyone.” He remembers his trip to the gym, suddenly, but no, that’s different, all he did was show what people would have seen if the summon had just come a couple hours later… “I’m just making sure I’m prepared, so I don’t fail.”

“So you don’t fail publicly.

“What, I’m supposed to just parade around my failures?”

“That would be pretty awesome, actually. Just record the whole process, from start to finish, and show how you learn from it. It would probably help a lot of people.”

Blue watches Tops invisibly nudge the ball back toward Red, who uses his hand to roll it toward Bill, who shoves it back toward Tops. Blue is sitting in the third point of the triangle behind Tops, hoping to get him used being between Blue and danger. “I’m being stupid, aren’t I?” It feels like a tug-of-war is going on between his chest and stomach. Sabrina’s decision, understandable as it is, has been bothering him, probably more than it should have.

“Yeah, but you’re smart enough to know it, which is the first step toward wisdom. Now use your wisdom to tell me what you think of my new prospective purchases.”

“Right.” Blue takes his phone out to pull up the list of pokemon Red sent him as candidates to round out his belt. “Okay, so first off, your Grass and Water choices are obviously solid, but they’ve got to be expensive, even if Gramps is giving you a discount. Is he?”

“Didn’t ask for one.”

“Now who’s being dumb? In any case, for a lot less you could get pokemon almost as good. Gloom are going for like, a twentieth the price of ivysaur, and a poliwhirl would make a decent land Water replacement for wartortle.”

“I already have a weepinbell and kingler, so I’m not just trying to fill slots, but focusing on getting stronger additions that I’m not likely to catch myself. I’m fine with paying more for things I’m unlikely to ever replace, and as a plus to getting these in particular, I’d have you and Leaf to help give me advice on training and raising them.”

Blue nods. “Well, see if you can get a discount anyway. As additions to your team they’re definitely good ones. Can’t say I wouldn’t like having a set myself.”

“I thought you were over not buying pokemon?”

“I am, this is just a price thing as I weigh what I’ll need going forward. I’m happy enough with Soul, and don’t particularly need Fire types for anyone else coming up, nor Grass until Giovanni, and for him I’d want something that can deal with Steel too.” Giovanni would almost certainly use excadrill.

“Can’t you use some Ground TMs on venusaur?”

Blue’s brow shoots up. “You really have been looking into their battle potential, huh?”

“I mean, yeah, if I’m going to spend this much money…”

“I get it, no need to get defensive.” He grins. “Was just impressed. You’re right, you could, but torterra’s would be stronger, and it could set up more field hazards. Nothing against venusaur, it’s got its own strengths, I’m just talking about team comp… but this is off topic, the competitive scene’s a different world from what you’re prepping for.”

“Yeah. So any objections?”

“Nah, your reasons are solid.”

“Cool, because I had one more bonus reason.”

“What’s that?”

Red smiles, rolling the ball back and forth between his palms, then sending it to Blue’s abra. Tops’s ears twitch as he hears the ball approaching, and he holds his paws out to send it away with a burst of kinesis. “Long term investment. I won’t be using all my pokemon often, which means I can rent them out to breeders.”

Blue chuckles. “Putting your money to work, huh?”

“Yeah. I figure they’ll pay for themselves within a few years.”

“Clever.” Blue scrolls down the list of pokemon Red’s considering buying, as well as evolution items. He spots moonstone, probably to help Red’s nidorino evolve, but… “I don’t see thunderstones for Pikachu?” The pokemon in question twitches from where it’s napping, looks over at them, then curls up again.

“Right, I was thinking I’d keep him in this form and start ordering some food from Alola.”

“Ah.” Yeah, the islands’ psychic raichu would serve Red better, but… “It might take a while, considering he’s gone his whole life without it so far.”

“I know, but I figure it’s worth a try, and a year of it isn’t much more expensive than the thunderstone would be.”

Blue nods and keeps looking down the list. “Nothing in the real top end, that I’m seeing?”

“Yeah, goes back to the whole variety thing. Strength is nice, but I can’t get both if I blow the whole budget on a dratini or larvitar.”

“I get it. Hm. Having trouble with your tanks?”

“Yeah. Nidoqueen is bulky, and venusaur would be too, but—”

“They’re still more bruisers, yeah. Well, how about cradily?”

“I already have enough Plant types.”

“Shuckle?”

Too tanky, unless you disagree?”

“Nah, you’re right, against wilds most pokemon will just ignore them once they’re in their shell… you could get a forretress, or steelix, or, of course, a chansey or snorlax, but not sure if you have the budget for one on top of the ivysaur and wartortle. Maybe if you get a bulba and squirtle and raise them yourself?”

“Maybe. I don’t do as much training these days, and part of the point of this was to spend money I have a lot of to save time that I don’t.”

Blue nods, and then there’s a knock at the door. “Come in,” Red calls, and Leaf enters with a smile.

“Hey Leaf! Shit, is it time already?” Red gets to his feet and withdraws Bill, and Blue does the same with Tops.

“No, but I figured it’s better to be early than late.”

“Right, yeah, hang on, let me go get dressed…”

He disappears into his room, and Leaf goes over to pet Pikachu, who twitches an ear. “Heya Blue.”

“Heya Leaf. Is this your first time here for the, uh reflection lessons?”

“Mirroring, yeah.” She frowns as she hears the splashing. “Is someone else here?”

“Maturin.”

Leaf grins. “Not much chance for bathing in trainer houses, huh?”

“Yeah, she enjoyed swimming at the Celadon Gym, figured she’d miss it.”

“Where’s everyone else?”

“At the gym, if you want to say hi later.”

“Maybe, depends how long this takes. I’ve got a question, by the way… any idea how long before you’ll be in Fuchsia?”

“Uhh, no. That’s… up in the air, actually. Sabrina said she won’t be taking my challenge anytime soon.”

“Oof, sorry.”

“Why?”

“Weeeell… there’s been a bit of a breakthrough with my program.”

She’s grinning, and Blue stares. “Wait, really? What? When?!”

“Not long ago, I wanted to tell you guys in person…” Red emerges from his room, expression making it clear he heard everything. “More and more people have been working on it, sharing code and building off each other’s work, and my friend Natural pushed an update that I tested out on Dewy a few days ago.”

“Dewy?” Blue asks. “One of the ranch pokemon?”

“Yeah, a rattata that was so strongly conditioned by its capture program that it basically stopped doing anything unless it’s ordered to. Just stands there, waiting for a command to eat or follow or fight.”

“And it worked?” Red asks, voice low with awe.

Leaf swallows, eyes misting. “It worked. Dewy started… started moving around, and sniffing… sniffing the others… and when I put food in his pen he ate it, all on his own…”

“Leaf, that’s amazing!”

“Congratulations!”

Leaf waves them off, smile watery. “I hardly did anything compared to all the people who’ve been working on it lately. But, oh, it gave me so much hope…”

“So could Dewy be released, now, theoretically?”

“Theoretically, yes. There’s still a lot of testing to do, to see how much of his wild behaviors are back… and it’s not a general program, it was specifically built for Dewy. From what I understand of Natural’s code he just took what we needed from new scans of it after you used sakki, Red, and slotted them in.”

“Ah,” Blue says, and turns to Red. “So you’d need to do that with every pokemon that they want released, so they could design a new program for each one…”

“Uh, I’ve kind of already been doing that,” Red says a bit sheepishly. “But don’t downplay this, Leaf, it shows it’s possible, proves that it works, that pokemon can be not just permanently unconditioned, but quickly and cheaply!”

Leaf nods. “The Rangers are very excited, and want to try it out in the Safari Zone in a couple weeks.”

“Why the Zone?” Red asks.

“Only ‘controlled’ wild environment, I’m guessing,” Blue says, and Leaf nods. “Is that why you asked when I’ll be in Fuchsia?”

“Yes. They want to keep it an internal matter, for a while, but from the conversation I had with them, a few trusted trainers could be called in as supplemental assistance.”

Blue tries not to get too excited, but… “Protected access to Safari? Hell yeah, I’d help.”

“You’d still have to follow the rules.”

“I know, I know. Still, if it means getting a shot at the inner zone, I’d be crazy to pass up on it.” Then he remembers… “What about the others?”

Leaf looks apologetic. “I’m not sure. I asked, and they said they’d let me know later… they know who you are, obviously, but maybe if you vouch for others… I think it might depend on how many. It can’t look like we’re taking advantage.”

“Right. Of course.” A leaden ball forms in his gut as he thinks about going on yet another adventure without the others… without Glen, who might not be up for it.

In the beat of silence that follows, Red clears his throat. “We should probably head out.”

“Yeah.” Leaf smiles. “I’ll let you know when I hear more.”

“Great. Thanks, Leaf. And congrats again.”

They collect the rest of their pokemon and head out, parting ways at the elevator. Blue wraps his scarf around his neck as he walks out of the apartment building, feeling snow drift down onto his hair, and walks aimlessly down the street for a while, just letting his thoughts wander as his feet do. The sun is directly overhead, keeping Blue from getting too cold, and after a few minutes he decides he’s hungry, going to a nearby cafe and ordering a sandwich and smoothie.

As he waits for his food, a few people recognize him, and one even comes up to ask for his autograph. Blue gives it with a smile, and soon a couple more people approach. He chats with them about their day; one works at Silph and has a son who’s on his journey, another is a trainer with two badges who’s been following his journey “from the start,” and the third is an artist and avid League fan who shows him some shirts she’s designed, one depicting the entire island chain united under the words What Comes Next, another showing his win in Celadon, Soul glowing on the field as his head tips back in a roar. It’s surreal, in a way, but by the time he leaves with his food his feet feel light as air.

Once he finishes eating he decides to call Glen, who picks up after a couple rings.

“Hey, how are things at the gym?”

“Not bad when I left, but I’m not there, actually.”

“Want to head over?” Blue was thinking of taking another class for dark trainers, but despite what he said to Red the idea robs him of most of his good mood. He’d rather do a class with Glen.

“Uh, maybe a bit later? I’ve actually got a meeting first…”

“Ooo, a meeting, huh?” Is Glen being vague on purpose? He doesn’t sound embarrassed, exactly… “What kind?”

“One of the groups I met through What Comes Next. They do training, both for people and pokemon.”

“What, here in Saffron? Why aren’t they part of the gym?”

“Apparently they, uh, have a different philosophy.” Blue can hear his friend’s shrug. “Anyway, it seemed worth checking out. A big focus on self-development and supporting each other, not too different from what we do. And what we did at Vermilion.”

Blue frowns. “How did I not hear about this before?”

“Well, they only formed up after the incident. They reached out to me about my energy drinks once I linked my site to the forums, and I only got to know more about them in the past few days.”

Right, and Blue’s been busy with other things since then. He vaguely remembers Glen boasting about someone being interested in his formula, before Lavender, but he never followed up on it. “So you’re going to see them now?”

“Yeah, I figured while I was in town, why not, right?”

“Right.” He thinks about the classes he could go to, particularly the one for dark trainers, then makes his decision. “Well, want some company?”

“You sure?”

“Sure I’m sure.” He needs to reconnect with Glen, get more involved in his side projects. Blue unclips the container ball with his bike in it. “Just tell me where to meet you.”

The address Glen gives leads him to a wide, unmarked two-story building in the warehouse district that seems to take up an entire block. Or at least it appears unmarked at first; when he gets closer he sees a small banner above the door showing a vaguely draconic silhouette wrapped around a fist.

“Dragonfist?” Blue asks. “Sounds like a superhero. What did you say this place was, again?”

“A place to train. The guys in charge use a lot of Dragon and Fighting types.”

Dragon and Fighting? Weird combo, Fighting pokemon can cover Dragon’s Ice weakness while the Dragon pokemon cover everything else, but the same could be said for Rock, or even better, Fire… but this place might be important to Glen, to his continued recovery, so Blue keeps his thoughts to himself as Glen opens the wide double doors.

Blue is immediately hit with a unique combination of smells; floor polish and sweat, metal and wood and foam, and over it all the faint aroma of some lemon-scented cleaning product. Blue walks in and finds the temperature not much warmer than the outside, and looks around to see the entirety of the warehouse is open around him, with just a few sectioned off rooms at the corners and along the walls, and no second floor.

Blue feels a wave of nostalgia for Surge’s gym as he sees people moving through obstacle courses or training their pokemon. A door opens to Blue’s left as someone walks into the corner room, and through it he catches a glimpse of people deep in some discussion as a pair of them stand in front of poster boards. It really does feel like he entered a small gym.

Except there’s less pokemon training than in a gym, and more the sorts of things he’d expect to find in a fitness club. Exercise weights, for one thing, and the obstacle course isn’t being run with pokemon, just people moving in a uniquely efficient and fluid way…

“It’s called parkour.”

Blue turns to see a vaguely familiar Unovan boy approaching, not much older than himself, with bright red hair and lean, muscular build. “I think I’ve seen a few videos of it online.”

The boy grins. “Yeah? Which ones?”

It’s the grin that completes his memory. “I think I’ve seen you in one or two of them, actually.”

“If any were in Lumiose City, probably. I spent some time in Kalos before I came here.” He clasps hands with Glen. “Thanks for coming by.”

“Thanks for inviting me. Hope you don’t mind me bringing my friend.”

“I’m—”

“Blue Oak. I’ve seen some videos of you, too, specifically Glen and your Vermilion matches, after I found his site. I’m Duncan Sabien.” He holds his hand out, and Blue grips it. “Kiyo is in that office, Glen, if you wanted to talk to him about the bulk orders before anything else.”

“Right.” Glen turns to Blue. “It’ll just be some boring stuff about ingredients and shelf life… why don’t you hang here till I’m back?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll keep him company,” Duncan says, and Glen nods and jogs off. As Blue watches him go, his gaze once again starts to take in the sheer variety of activities being practiced. His heart leaps as he sees movement above, and cranes his neck up to see people walking and climbing along the beams that crisscross beneath the roof.

The motion was someone falling until just their hands grip the suspension bar, and his heart leaps into his throat as the figure swings back and forth, then releases herself forward in a somersault.

Before Blue can cry out the woman plummets… then bounces back up into the air and catches hold of another scaffold, applause breaking out as she pulls herself back up.

“Trampoline,” Duncan explains, seeming to enjoy his shock.

“That was intentional? Why?”

Duncan seems about to respond, then pauses. “That answer has layers. The surface one is that we get a lot of people here who work as stunt doubles in movies, or who want to.”

“Huh.” He watches as someone else drops down, then bounces back up. “Okay, that makes sense. What’s the second layer?”

“Some are working to get over a fear of heights.”

Blue blinks. “And that works?”

“Sometimes. The third layer is preparation. I’ve been pushing for trampolines to be included in more standard trainer kits.” He sees Blue’s raised brow. “I know, there’s already a lot of competition for what’s worth the mass to carry. But even large trampolines are relatively light, and just think of how many times you’d have benefited from having one to get somewhere higher!”

Blue purses his lips. “Honestly, can’t really think of a time.”

“Really? What about helping people get down from a high place more easily, or saving them from a bad fall?”

“Uh… my friend fell out of a tree once, but there wouldn’t have been time to take a trampoline out and set it under him.”

“Oh.” Duncan shrugs, seeming a bit disappointed. “Well, it still might come in handy someday. Plus, there’s another layer.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s sooo fun!”

Blue laughs. “I’ve actually never even been on one.”

The other boy turns to him with sudden wide-eyed intensity, and Blue abruptly knows what’s going to happen next.

A minute later they’re at a big trampoline, waiting for a couple people in line ahead of Blue to finish some impressive mid-air twists, flips, and corkscrews, sometimes multiple in the same jump. Blue starts to get excited, and once it’s his turn he slips his shoes off and braces his legs before carefully stepping out onto the taut elastic mat. It barely sags beneath him even once he reaches the center.

“Okay, so what do I do?”

“You know what to do. Don’t worry about the stuff you saw, just enjoy yourself first!”

Blue hesitates, then bounces his weight a bit, then a bit more, until his feet start to leave the mat with each movement.

Feeling a little more confident, he bounces harder, then bends his knees and leaps up, stomach lurching as he hangs in the air for a second, then drops back down and does it again, then again, until he’s purposefully trying to go higher each time.

It is fun, engaging muscles he doesn’t often use and evoking a feeling of freedom that’s hard to understand. Maybe it’s just something about being able to jump so high, higher than he ever could on his own no matter how hard he trained…

He decides to try a maneuver someone before him did, angling himself to fall onto his back so he can bounce back up onto his feet. He doesn’t bounce as high as he thought he would, however, and ends up half-falling awkwardly onto his side.

“Keep your back straight when you fall,” Duncan instructs as Blue pushes himself back up and starts bouncing again. “And lift your legs, knees slightly bent. Right, like that. Arms to the sides… there you go. You want your whole back to hit the mat at the same time.”

It takes Blue a few tries, during which he lands in awkward crouches or stumble-bounces to the sides, but ultimately this is nothing compared to the fine motor control he developed learning his pokeball tricks. Soon he shifts every muscle of his body until he gets them just right, bouncing effortlessly from back to feet, then even swapping to do it with his chest and stomach, understanding that he wants to do the opposite and spread-eagling just right to bounce his torso and hips all at once.

“Nice! Want to try a kaboom next?”

“A what?”

“Backflip from the back drop.”

“Sure!”

“Okay, this time slap your heels down and tuck your knees to your chest just after your back lands, and use the momentum of your feet bouncing up to flip yourself over.”

Just then, however, Blue notices the small crowd that’s gathered to watch. He thinks of how he tumbled around during his mistakes and is tempted to stop instead… but no, that would look bad too.

Instead he brings all his focus into his body, feeling the way it shifts as he bounces onto his back, then again, not trying the kaboom just yet as he imagines the timing…

…then drops his heels and tucks his knees as they flip up and over, arms pinwheeling as he lands on his feet. His balance is off, and his next bounce sends him toward the edge, but he manages to catch himself and vault onto the pads around the trampoline rather than faceplant.

There’s some scattered applause, and Blue grins and bows before he goes to put his shoes back on.

“Not bad for a first try,” Duncan says.

“Thanks.” There’s something in the other boy’s gaze, though, something assessing. Blue almost asks if everything’s okay, but the redhead is already turning to take a water bottle and a towel from a cubbyhole beneath the trampoline and handing them to Blue, who thanks him again and moves to sit as he wipes his face and drinks.

His legs feel a bit rubbery, but not as bad as when he was riding on Soul. As he recovers, he looks around the warehouse again and notices large words stencil-sprayed above the entrance in block-letters. It’s written in Unown, but he doesn’t recognize the words. “What’s that?”

“Être fort pour être utile,” Duncan says in a Kalosian accent. “Be strong, to be useful.”

“Personal motto?”

“The motto of a man I admire. For us it’s more of an oath, kind of the base layer under everything here; what we do to improve ourselves is in service to society.”

Blue grins. “I like it.”

“I thought you might. Of course, there are other ways to be useful, which is why we focus on learning too, on knowledge and wisdom and reason. But if a Stormbringer hits this city, every extra person who can defend themselves is one less person that will need to be defended… and who can help defend others.”

“I couldn’t agree more. The only thing I don’t get is… why this separate club? Why not join a gym, or train as rangers?”

“Eh. Rangers serve a very specific set of roles, and gyms have their own rules and cultures. I wanted to make my own, let others experiment more, try things really outside the box if it seems like it might work. Some gyms are more open to that sort of thing, but this seemed easiest.”

Blue looks around, brow raised. “I doubt anything about setting all this up was easy. And you did it in what, two months?”

“Easiest to get what I really want, rather than a facsimile.” Duncan clarifies. “Besides, the League hierarchy has enough power as it is. You never know when parallel structures might come in handy.”

Blue grins. “So this is a gym, basically.”

“Oh, no, the League charter is very clear that there can only be one gym per city.” Duncan smiles as he looks around, then points, and Blue sees a small group of men and women practicing kicks and punches, even sparring in hand-to-hand combat. “As far as the city is concerned, this is a dojo.”

Blue laughs. “Does that mean you aren’t going to challenge Sabrina, someday?”

Duncan shrugs. “Maybe. If I prove my methods are better. She’s in charge during a major crisis, of course, but as long as we can still respond to nearby incidents on our own and she’s not making major mistakes…”

Blue nods, suddenly excited about something new. “You must be a pretty strong trainer, given your philosophy.”

“At least strong enough to pull my weight.” He smiles. “You want to battle.”

“I would love to battle.”

“One question, first.”

“Shoot.”

“Why did you freeze up, before you tried the kaboom?”

Blue turns to Duncan to find the other boy watching him with that assessing gaze again. “What do you mean? I just wanted to practice the backfall a bit more first.”

“You wanted to get it right the first try.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

Duncan nods, eyes weighing him a moment longer before he looks away. “I see.”

“See what?” Blue asks, starting to get a bit irritated.

“Before you saw the crowd you were… happy. Playing. You were focused on getting things right, too, but it was fun for you. Once you saw people watching, it was like a light went out. You did it on your first try, but not perfectly, and instead of trying again, trying until you got it right, you just stopped.”

“I was tired.” The words come out automatically, defensively, and the look Duncan gives him is so scornful that Blue’s anger flares until shame at his own evasion extinguishes the flame. “But you’re right, that’s not why I stopped.”

“The stuff you’ve done, it’s clear you’re cultivating a legend. I don’t know what for, or what the ending to the story you’re trying to tell is. Most obvious guess is being Champion, but in a way where that’s just a step rather than the goal. And you probably can become Champion. You’ve clearly got the talent.”

“Thanks,” Blue says. “Though I feel a ‘but’ coming.”

“That’s quite a gift,” Duncan says, lips quirked, then nods toward the obstacle course nearby. “See that girl there?” Blue watches the indicated young woman vaulting up and down a series of low walls. Her body seems to almost float above hands and feet that propel her up and down from one side of the wall to the other as nimbly as a mankey. “She was panting and struggling for weeks, and ended up on the ground more times than I could count. You’re a natural athlete with amazing coordination, but you’re not good enough to do what she’s doing now without kissing the mat a few times, and if that would stop you from trying then your talent isn’t as valuable as her grit.”

“You think I can’t do hard things?”

“No, but I know fear when I see it. I doubt it’s just stage fright, not with how you act on camera. So it’s got to be fear of fucking up when you haven’t had time to prepare, to practice. Or, to be more specific, to rehearse.”

Blue’s anger returns, along with a trace of bitterness. “It’s different, for her. People aren’t going to remember how much she messed up.”

“I literally just told you about it.”

Blue waves his hand. “You know what I mean. Three people came up to me for an autograph just an hour ago while I was getting lunch. This is… it’s not the same.”

“It’s not the same because you’re trying to get people to think a certain way about you. You’re cultivating an image, a pseudo-relationship with you as their future Champion.”

“Sure, I guess.”

“Just one problem: if you’re not being honest with someone to preserve a relationship, it already doesn’t exist.”

“What?” Blue looks at him, pulse speeding up. Did Glen mention something…?

“The relationship, the one you think you’re preserving with the lies or evasions, it’s already gone. Maybe it never existed at all, and all you’ve ever had was a front. You have to look for the natural overlaps between you and others, and build from there. Nothing else is sustainable. Whatever you ask has to be asked freely, openly, and whatever people give you, the same.”

Blue drops his gaze, studying the pattern on the black rubbery ground. “I know.”

“Do you?”

“Yes! I just… I can’t meet everyone, one on one. I can’t spend time with them all, show them—”

“Doesn’t matter. One person or a hundred, it’s the same thing. Was I right before? About you wanting to be Champion, not just for the title, wanting to do something with the position?”

“I… yeah.”

“Then as long as you’re afraid of the region seeing who you truly are, whatever you hope to get is already beyond your reach. If you just want fame and fortune, sure, people will throw that at you whether you wear a mask or not. But if you’re actively keeping an illusion going instead of building from what’s real…” Duncan shakes his head. “You’re rolling the dice, again and again. On a long enough timeline, they won’t come up in your favor.”

Blue’s stomach twists. “What I’m trying to do… it’s important. And hard. No one’s done it before. What if I’m not good enough?”

“Then you have to really look at whether you should be the one doing it. Or else you’re just sabotaging the thing you claim to actually be fighting for.” He nods at the people doing parkour again. “We make videos, sometimes, showing off all the cool stuff we do here to put online, like the ones you saw. But we also make videos of people messing up as they learn. It doesn’t look as cool, so they don’t get as many views. But if we don’t show both sets of videos, we’re not being honest about what we’re asking of people.”

“And you want the right sort of people to come,” Blue guesses, smiling slightly. Red would like this place.

“Right. Other places I’ve been part of would get people who just saw all the cool stuff, came to try it, got frustrated, and left. We get a lot fewer of those. And sure, maybe some people get scared off, think it’s too hard for them, when if they had come they might have stuck it out. But it’s a tradeoff either way, and I care more about not wasting the first group’s time, and ours, than scaring off the second group. If they’ve got the heart for it, they’ll come.”

The words are like a bucket of ice water on Blue’s head. If they’ve got the heart for it… Isn’t that what he tried to do when Zapdos came? He thought he’d learned this lesson, from Amy, and TaroChie, maybe Vlad and the others… But it’s not quite the same.

“Ever since the incident, everything seems… too much,” he murmurs. “My goals were big even before then, I knew people would think I was insane for what I planned to do, but I was determined to do it anyway.”

“Seems like you still are.”

“Yeah. But it doesn’t feel like enough, after what happened. don’t feel like enough.” Blue turns to Duncan, who’s still watching the people in his dojo. “Is this, for you? Enough?”

The redhead is silent for a while, scratching at a scab on his knee. When he finally answers, his voice is low too. “I wonder that myself, sometimes. I don’t have all the answers, and what you asked earlier, about challenging Sabrina… becoming a real Leader… I’m not sure if it’s what’s right, for me. I could be wrong, but I suspect it would just feel like more of the same. Quantitatively bigger but… not enough to become something fundamentally more, or meaningfully different. But if there is something bigger I should be doing, I don’t know what it is, yet. All this…” He gestures at the dojo. “Raising the competence waterline… it feels like the best I can do, for now, while I figure it out. I still mess up. Still learn from it. As long as that’s true, maybe it’s the best I can do for now.”

“It’s already more than most.”

“One person doing more than most won’t fix the world.”

“Right. For that you need others.” Blue takes a deep breath, then slowly lets it out as something eases in him. “I’m glad I came here.”

“Me too. You can buy a trampoline at the entrance on your way out.”

Blue laughs. “That’s what all this has been about, huh?”

“Trampolines won’t fix the world either, but they’re still worth carrying around.” Duncan’s smile fades to something more serious. “You’re welcome to join us here whenever. You and the rest of your people.”

“Heh. Looking to absorb us?”

“Would that be a bad thing?”

“No. It might be just what we need. Or maybe just what I need. For a little while, at least.”

Duncan is watching him. “How about this: if I win our match, you don’t leave until I say you’re ready to leave, or three months, whichever comes first.”

Three months?! Well, he might have to wait that long to face Sabrina anyway… but it would be longer than he’s stayed in any city before, and if Leaf is right about the Safari Zone… “And if I win?”

“You get one of the pokemon I fight you with, your choice which.”

Blue blinks. It’s an elegant wager, ensuring that the harder he makes it for Blue, the more he puts on the line… “One of your dragons?”

“Fuck no,” Duncan laughs. “I’m not crazy.”

Blue laughs too, and holds his hand out. “Deal.”

They shake on it, and stand to walk toward the open arena at the center of the stadium. Along the way they pass some trainers all dressed in karate gi beside their fighting pokemon, listening to a tall, muscled man instruct on something. As they get closer the students all bow, and the man bows back before everyone begins to disperse, and Blue frowns, then slows to a stop as he catches sight of the side of the man’s face. “Is that…”

“Oh, perfect timing. Let’s put our match on hold for a minute… hey, Koichi!”

Blue stares in growing anger at the man who failed utterly in his role as Saffron Gym Leader, but brutally clung to it anyway until Sabrina bled him of his supporters and dethroned him.

“Koichi, this is Blue Oak,” Duncan is saying, and despite the heat in his chest Blue has to resist the urge to step back as the man’s stony expression turns toward him. He’s in his early forties, but looks older, deep lines creasing his face and grey hair starting to lighten the black at his temples. Despite that, his body is as thickly muscled as a machamp’s, and he looms over six feet tall as he approaches. “I’d like him to learn how to lose, and I can’t think of a better teacher.”

Chapter 91: Interlude XVIII – Discoveries

The memorial service for the fallen rangers and pokemon takes about an hour. Laura sits beside Red and his friends throughout it, and waits at a respectful distance afterward as he says goodbye to Blue, Leaf, and Jean. The quiet girl, Maria, has apparently decided to stay in town for a while and learn more from Jason, who in turn is spending some time with his family. She gives Blue a hug before he climbs onto the back of his arcanine, then Leaf, who hugs her back and gives Red one last smile before teleporting away, and then it’s just her and her son, walking back to her apartment through the snow.

She’d be a lot happier about Red asking to stay with her for a while if she wasn’t involved in such a potentially dangerous investigation.

But he wants to stay close to the tower while research continues on whatever new ghost they discovered, and after yet another close call, she can’t send him away. She eventually got used to waiting for Tom to heal after he was injured in the line of duty, but she isn’t sure she’ll manage it for Red. Maybe it’s different with children, or maybe because losing Tom made it clear that she could lose her son too. But at least the physical injuries Tom and Red endured up until now were understandable.

Red’s latest injury was whole new territory for her, and for him, and for other psychics as well, according to Agatha. After they first brought him to her place, Leaf and Blue sat with Red in his room while Laura cried silent tears into her hands and the Elite made tea for her in her own kitchen (which she would have been more embarrassed about at any other time).

Thankfully the symptoms weren’t worrisome, so far at least, but the cause was mysterious even to psychic doctors, and that made it extra frightening. In the end, everyone’s made of blood and bone, tissue and ligaments, cells and atoms. According to Agatha, Red’s injury was to his “soul.”

“Or his mind, if you prefer that word. According to the brain scan his hardware’s fine, but the software’s got a bug in it,” the Elite said in her usual blunt tone, then handed Laura a tissue along with her tea before putting a hand on her shoulder. “Just keep his thoughts off it as best you can, Laura. I’ll check in on him from time to time, make sure he’s healing right.”

She didn’t have the words to express her gratitude, and still feels a mix of hope and shame that the Elite would take such a personal interest in her son’s wellbeing, old friend of Sam’s or not. They’d only met a few times over the years, and never had particularly long or intimate conversations. But selfish as it felt, she didn’t even consider turning the offer down, simply nodding and drying her tears so she could put on a brave face for the children.

Children. More than their official emancipation months ago, it’s their accomplishments that make the word feel like it no longer quite fits.

That, and other things.

“So,” she says as they walk, trying to keep her voice casual. “I’m glad you and Blue are getting along so well again.”

Red gives her a surprised look, but nods. “Yeah, since Celadon things feel mostly back to normal.” He shrugs. “We still haven’t talked about it, but I don’t feel like we need to.”

Laura shakes her head, remembering Leaf’s exasperation when they discussed it once. Boys. She might normally caution against letting things like that stay buried where they might blow up again at an unexpected moment, but she has another focus right now… Keep his thoughts off it, Agatha said. Easy enough, while they’re together at least. “You and Leaf seem to be getting along well too.”

She’s sure she kept her tone the same, and she didn’t feel him brush her thoughts with his psychic senses (though she knows that’s unreliable), but the look he gives her is still one of cautious resignation. “Mom…”

“She’s a very smart young woman.”

“Mom!”

“You disagree?”

“Of course not.” Now he’s blushing, much to her delight.

“You should have invited her over to lunch. We can get some fishless sushi.” Laura worries sometimes about Red’s decision to follow Leaf’s diet; much as she respects Leaf’s beliefs, it’s hard to trust that supplements could really cover everything a growing body needs, so she’s happy that Red is willing to eat pokemon as long as she’s already buying it anyway. But she’s happy to cater to Leaf’s preference if it gets the two to spend more time together.

“She has stuff to do at the ranch.”

“Of course.” Laura nods approvingly. “A very hard worker, too. Why not ask her to come by for dinner then?”

She sees him hesitate, considering it, and innocently adds, “I’ll be busy after dinner anyway, if she wants to stay for longer.”

“Maybe tomorrow,” he says, cheeks still pink, and she takes it as a victory.

Once they get home she fixes some lunch for them, surprised by how much she enjoys it. She’s never been much of a homebody, and was always happy to let Red make food for himself once he resolved to learn how. Still, for an hour at least it’s like they’re back in simpler times, and she cherishes it while she can.

Then his plate is clean and he’s off to the guest room to work on his research with a quick “Thanks!” and that’s also like old times. She makes sure there’s leftover food in the fridge in case he gets hungry, then goes to put her pokebelt back on.

“I’m heading out to meet a friend, I’ll be back in a few hours!”

“Okay! Love you!”

She smiles, says, “Love you too,” and holds onto the warm feelings until she’s fairly sure she’s out of his psychic range. Only then does she let her thoughts shift to her upcoming meeting.

In the time since she arrived in Lavender, she’s only gotten one communication from the mysterious researcher. A few days after she paid a courier to slip the initial message under his door, she saw a slip of paper on his porch and waited until the dead of night to get it while wearing a mask, worried all the while that some neighbor would report her to the police for robbing him. Once she circled the town a few times to make sure she wasn’t followed, she checked the note to discover it was the same one she’d left, and turned it over to read:

Thank you for your concern, but I am fine. My only wish is to be left alone.

This was not the worst potential outcome, not even close, but it also wasn’t a great one, as it means she can’t get more information without violating his stated preference… and because it doesn’t actually distinguish his situation from one where he’s forced to live that way. Maybe he really is an extreme loner, or maybe he wants to be left alone because of some threat.

She had a courier slip one more note under his door with the contact information of a specially purchased burner phone on it, “in case you change your mind,” then went back to watching his house from afar. Maybe he would try to leave town, disappear somewhere else. That would be informative on its own; wanting to be left alone is one thing, but moving to an entirely different place just based on what Laura has done so far is not, by Laura’s estimation at least, something done by someone with nothing to hide.

But he stayed where he was, and as far as she could tell from some occasional surreptitious monitoring, made no major differences in his routine. Eventually the cost of the hotel she was staying at began to feel excessive, and she had to make the choice between going back to Celadon or finding an apartment in town.

She went with the latter. Without her job to go back to, living in the city would be expensive, and while she could try getting work at another agency, none would be more willing to fight the legal and financial pressure Silph has been focusing on her. The lawsuit she’s dealing with is bad enough that she doesn’t blame them… it’s not often that she has to do anything directly but ask for extensions and go to brief hearings, but even aside from the time and money cost it causes constant stress whenever she thinks about it.

Sure, there are some sites and organizations that have reached out in support and asked her to join them. But all of them are either too small to fund this sort of long-term investigation, or too big for her to trust with such a sensitive one. Sam’s money is helping keep her afloat, but she has to be careful how she spends it to make sure it’s not wasted.

So she left the hotel and got a short lease at an apartment. Cheaper for a long stay, and more importantly, it was a public move. If she’s being tracked, which she has no reason to think she’s not, then Silph will see she’s taken up residence in the same town the secretive researcher is living.

Silph might think that’s a coincidence, but she doubts it. Overall it’s a risky move, but she doesn’t have a lot of options, and if he or the researcher react, Laura might learn something.

And, of course, it let her continue to spend hours outside his place every day, hoping to get a picture.

Laura reaches the cafe and slips inside, wrinkling her nose as she passes under the strong smell of the ofuda hanging above the door. She looks around as she unwinds her scarf, then smiles and walks toward the familiar head of salt and pepper hair.

Sam looks as tired as she’s ever seen him, not counting the times he was recovering from Pressure. The difference is the spark in his eyes, the curve of his outer lips, even while he stares at his computer screen in concentration… like he can’t quite manage a frown while he’s so excited.

“Anything new?” she asks as she bundles her coat and scarf in her lap and sits.

“No, just reading over reports.” He picks up his coffee mug and sips from it without taking his eyes off his screen. “Did you know that proportionally, the Tower and outlying graveyard have more ghosts around them than gravesites with the same or even more buried bodies? Or had, I should say.”

“I did not,” Laura says, and waves off the waitress when she comes by with a questioning look. “Though it seems obvious now that you mention it, since cities would have much bigger graveyards but none are ‘known’ for having lots of ghosts around them. Is that helpful?”

“Probably not for this mystery, but I definitely want to get more eyes on this place to monitor how quickly the population regenerates. Maybe we can learn something about what makes it special.”

“Higher frequency of visitors, maybe? It’s both a cemetery and a tourist site.”

“Mhm. Or it could be the altitude, or something about the material used to build the tower, or maybe it’s all built on some spiritual leyline like Agatha says.” He sighs and lowers his monitor with a click. The cover has some faded stickers of pokemon on it, placed there years ago by Blue. “Still can’t tell when she’s pulling my leg. So, you said you finally got a clear shot? I thought he never leaves, keeps the curtains drawn, all that stuff?”

“Normally, yes, and I don’t mind telling you that it made for some very boring stakeouts. But a little over a week ago…” She finds the photo on her phone, then hands it to him. Sam leans forward to examine the face of the mysterious researcher. “Apparently the one thing he can’t get from home is a dentist visit.”

Laura took the photo after magnifying her camera as much as it could go, but her setup was far enough to not be seen from his house, or anyone else watching his house, so what she ended up with is a photo that still shows the researcher from a distance. The man looks to be a Kanto native in his fifties, mostly bald, with a fringe of white hair that goes around the back of his head. He’s wearing a simple blue button up shirt that outlines a skinny frame.

He has an old fashioned wide brimmed hat on, similar to the one Mr. Silph wears, and his eyes are downcast, as if deep in thought… or perhaps from being unused to the bright sky above.

For a long moment, Sam just stares at the photo. Laura watches his face, the tension in the brow, the narrowing eyes, the press of his lips. It’s a look of both intense examination and hope.

And, as Laura watches, dawning amazement.

“Sam?” she asks after a minute.

“It…” He trails off, licks his lips, takes another sip of coffee. “It could be,” he whispers. “It could be him.”

Laura blinks, then blinks again. Him. Not one of them. “Dr. Fuji?” she murmurs, unable to hide her skepticism. What would the odds be, that among all the scientists and researchers that are supposedly missing, the one that Sam knew best, the one that he specifically mentioned to her at the beginning, would be the one she found first? He’s not the only one from Kanto, and Laura didn’t even know it might be him when she came here…

“Yes. I can’t be sure, of course. If it is him, it’s been at least twenty years since I’ve seen him, and it shows. He hasn’t aged well.” Sam meets her gaze. “But… there’s something familiar about him.”

Laura’s skepticism is joined by sympathy. She understands that Sam wants it to be him. That he blames himself for not doing more to be there for his old friend, for not trying harder to find him when he fell off the radar. She takes his hand and squeezes it. “I hope it is.”

Sam returns his gaze to her phone, then slowly hands it back. “How far is he from here?”

“About a ten minute walk.” Her stomach sinks. “Why?”

“I want to go see him.”

Laura takes a moment to pick her words. “That’s a terrible idea.”

Sam’s brow rises, and then he smiles. “What was the first thing you thought to say?”

“It wasn’t coherent, just a wordless sense of panic.”

“Ah. That bad?”

“Sam, I’ve spent the past months trying to learn as much as possible without risking scaring him off or letting Silph know I’m aware of him. I don’t know if they’ve got the place under constant surveillance or not, but if you show up there…” He’s Samuel Oak, he’s probably not afraid of being targeted, and for good reason. Maybe he could get away with it where she couldn’t. But… “We just don’t know enough about the situation. You might get him killed.”

He looks away, not ashamed or upset, just thoughtful, and sips from his mug. She considers getting some coffee herself, or better yet some tea given the way her stomach is churning, and then he turns back to her.

“Alright. You’re the expert here, and if you think it’s not the right time, I trust you. But what’s your projection for when it will be the right time? Do you have a plan for how you’ll know it’s okay to take bolder action?”

“That’s what I wanted your help with. I did some basic attempts at matching the face online to an identity, but had no luck. If you think this is him, I can try to reach out to people who might have seen him more recently than you, get some extra confirmation.”

“But what does that change? Particularly if he’s there by choice, as I believe he would be. If Silph is hiring scientists to work off the record for them it makes sense to kidnap those no one would miss, or who would be written off… but they might also target those with nothing else to lose, who would welcome a sense of purpose, security, even seclusion.”

“Which includes Fuji.” Not that she blames him. If she’d lost Tom and Red… she doesn’t even want to think about it.

“That’s my guess. What do we do if it’s true? I don’t want to invade his privacy if he’s there voluntarily, but there may be others who aren’t.”

Laura nods. “The way he’s situated it would make sense if different people were siloed so they don’t know anything about each other’s situation… but they still might pass information along to each other, even innocuously. He might not even realize others need help, nor how valuable what he knows could be. But your question was what it would change, and honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe you knocking on the door, strutting the white coat and the Professor title is the safest way to learn more.” She’s smiling as she says it, and can see he’s torn between denying the characterization and feeling caught out. “But I’d like to at least see what I can find out first. Whoever he is, he’s been safe in that house until now, and there’s no reason to think that’s about to change, especially if my note didn’t scare him off.”

Sam takes in a breath, then lets it out with a nod. “Okay. I’ll be teleporting back here every few days for a while yet, so once you’ve done all you think you can, let me know.”

“I will. Just give me as much information as you can about Fuji and those who knew him, and I’ll take care of the rest.”


After Sam leaves she orders some tea to go and heads to the local library, where she spends the next few hours working. She trusts Red, but still doesn’t want to risk him picking up on what she’s working on. The less he knows the safer they’ll both be.

She spends some time refreshing herself on the public information available on Dr. Fuji, especially any personal details that might be on the net that the Professor didn’t mention. Fuji never had much of a social media presence, and if there are any obvious clues that the man in town is him, she can’t find them. She examines the old pictures available and can’t tell if she really sees the similarities or if Sam’s confidence is influencing her. Eventually she moves on to examining the pictures of other missing researchers until night falls (earlier every day, it seems) and heads home through the dark, snow-covered streets, her hands tucked into the pockets of her coat for warmth.

She arrives to find a strange black shape floating around her living room.

“Hi, Mom. I bought an unown,” Red explains. He’s sitting at the kitchen table with his eyes closed, along with the young researcher she met at the funeral, Artem.

“Hello, Mrs. Verres.”

“Hello, and I see that, Red.” Now that it has turned around, at least, its round, unblinking eye facing her for a moment before it keeps turning away. “Is that a G, or a V?” She knows those two look nothing like the written letters, for whatever reason, but she can’t recall which is which.

“G,” Red says. “I keep them straight by remembering that the one with a little sideways V on it isn’t V.”

“Sideways?” Artem asks.

“Well, there’s only one position where it’s oriented like a V, and in all the others it’s either tilted or upside down… you’re right, I should say ’tilted.'”

Laura can see why these two became friends. “So why get a G?” There’s something distinctly creepy about the way it floats aimlessly around… and she can hear it, too, a faint vibration in the air. Or is that just in her head?

“It was the cheapest one on auction at the time. About two thousand.”

Laura blinks. “That was the cheapest?

“They went up in price for a while after the Hoenn thing,” Artem explains. “But have been dropping after that as more of them have been found and caught and people get bored of them not doing anything interesting.”

She watches the expensive pokemon float around some more as a small remnant of her past self worries that she made a mistake in granting his financial independence so young… but no, she knows he can afford this, and likely had good reason to buy it. “And is yours?”

Red sighs and opens his eyes. “Not really.” He rubs his face, while Artem checks the time, then starts writing in the notebook he has in front of him. “It feels different than the ones I sensed at Lavender.”

“Maybe because they were wild,” Artem muses as Laura finally moves to hang her pokebelt by the door and take her shoes off.

“Or maybe because they were with others.” Red stands and goes to the counter to pour some tea into a cup, then brings it to her.

“Oh, thank you Hon.” Her hands are still cold from the walk, and just holding the warm cup is pleasant. “Does that mean you might buy more?”

“It would be a waste if the difference is in whether it’s wild versus captured. I’m going to try meeting up with others who have one, first, then let Artem borrow it for his experiment.”

She turns to the other researcher. “What will you be testing?”

“Whether they create pokemon. Honestly, I’d barely call it an experiment, I just plan to put a bunch of unown in a room with a pokeball, some magnets and screws, a bag of trash, you know, things that some pokemon seem to have originated from, and observe them for a few months.”

She raises a brow and sips her tea. “Months? Continuously?”

“I’ll have help, others to swap with and make sure someone’s always watching the camera feed.” He shrugs. “I know it’s really unlikely, but it seems like an obvious thing to try that no one has.”

“It’s definitely worth testing,” Red says. “I just wish I could be of more help.”

“You’ve done enough, particularly since I know you’re still skeptical of all this.” Artem pockets his notebook, then stands and moves to take his own pokebelt from the hook by the door. “See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, let’s grab lunch.”

“Alright. Goodnight, Mrs. Verres.”

“Goodnight, Artem.” She moves to the door to close it behind him, then slide the deadbolt in. When she turns back around she feels a stab of worry at the sight of Red rubbing his temples. “Another headache?”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe you should hold off on using your powers for a few days.”

He shakes his head. “It’s not that. It’s these memories… remember when I told you about the way I kept re-experiencing my spinarak’s attack, in Viridian Forest? It’s like that, and I’m able to protect myself better now, but it’s also a much stronger effect, and… I can’t keep myself totally cut off from the memories when there might be clues in them.”

“Clues about where the marowak ghost came from?”

“Right. I didn’t get the chance to really merge with the unown outside the tower, but touching them at all meant I could recognize when I merged with the marowak that… it was connected to them, somehow. I hadn’t really thought about it because I was keeping the memory away, but the more I let myself remember the more I realize Artem might be right.”

He’s watching his unown with troubled eyes, and Laura feels some apprehension. “You don’t think it’s likely to spawn a pokemon out of my table or something, do you?”

“Hm? Oh, no. Probably not. But look at it a moment… doesn’t it seem…” His voice lowers. “Almost deceptively simple? And that eye, always watching…”

Laura raises a brow, concern shifting in a different direction. “Oookay, Red, I think it’s time to take a break.” She puts her hands on his shoulders and squeezes, feeling the tension there. “Why don’t you withdraw it so we can get some dinner? Maybe watch a movie? I think we can both use a break from work.”

“Yeah, alright.”

As he does so, her phone rings, and when she checks it she sees Leaf’s number. “Hello, L—”

“Hi Laura! Um, are you home?”

“I… yes, Red and I are here.”

“Okay, I’ll teleport over!”

Laura blinks, then grins. “You’re joining us for dinner?”

“Right! Dinner!”

“Okay, see you soon!”

“See you!” The call ends.

“Was that Leaf?” Red asks, pokeball still in hand. He sounds annoyed.

“As if you don’t know,” Laura says. “Why didn’t you tell me you invited her, Red, I could have—”

“But I didn’t!”

Laura blinks. He doesn’t sound annoyed now, or even embarrassed. Just confused. “Do you know why she’s coming, then?”

“No, I haven’t spoken to her since she left. I thought you invited her without telling me.”

They share a baffled silence for a moment, and Laura feels a vaguely familiar feeling in her thoughts. “Red Verres, are you reading my mind?” It’s times like this she wishes she’d given him a middle name.

“Sorry,” he says as the feeling quickly fades. “I thought you might have been teasing me, but if you’re serious, I’m a little worried.”

“Me too.” She replays Leaf’s tone in her head. Chipper, maybe even excited. She wonders for a moment if someone tricked Leaf, impersonated Red or Laura and told her to come… but why would they?

Then Laura gets it, and sees understanding come over her son’s face a moment later. “The investigation.”

Worry is joined by excitement, suddenly, and chases away Laura’s lingering tiredness. “Has she mentioned anything lately?”

“No, but we worked on it a bit on the day before we came here. We were narrowing down lists…” He trails off, then takes out his phone and starts tapping at it. “Do you think something happened that might have given her a new clue?”

“Let me know if you find something. I guess we’re ordering food in, tonight.”

But twenty minutes later he still hasn’t found anything. Leaf arrives just after the food does, still breathing hard from biking through the snow, and starts to take off her scarf and coat before Laura hands her a hot mug of tea. Leaf stops to gratefully accept it, takes a swallow, then sets it down to keep shedding layers.

“Leaf, slow down,” Laura says as she starts opening the various containers of food and sets them on the table. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“I know, just… excited,” Leaf gasps, still breathless from her ride over. She pulls her boots off, then sits with a sigh and takes a longer swallow of the tea. “Sorry for dropping by like this, but—”

“It’s fine,” Red says before Laura can, and she turns away to hide her smile at Red’s tone, picking silverware out of the drawers. Red joins her a moment later to take them from her and to the table, and she turns to get them plates. “This is about the investigation, right?”

“Yeah! Hang on, let me…” Leaf stands again and takes out a container ball, and a minute later Laura’s old battered laptop with the original files is on the table. “Okay, so I should start at the beginning… um… right, I got to the ranch, and as I started doing some chores, I was thinking about what happened here. Eventually that included wondering about Jason and Agatha compared to Red and Sabrina, and the way we classify them ‘psychic’ or ‘medium’ based on their specialties despite not really having a strict idea of what makes one different from the other.”

“Alright,” Laura says as she sets the plates out. “With you so far.”

“And then I thought about the way we label people’s skills in general, you know? And a sort of joke I made to Red, a few days ago, about how the person who visited you was a ninja hacker spy, or a hacker ninja spy, or whatever. And a thought occurred, something small like ‘huh, what made me start calling her a ninja,’ like I get why but I never really did anything with that thought, you see?”

“I think I’m starting to,” Laura says, hope expanding in her chest.

“I’m not,” Red admits with a frown. “Unless you’re saying… there’s actual ninjas still hanging around Kanto?”

“It’s not as strange as it sounds,” Laura explains. “Once in a while over the past couple hundred years some records would surface of a ninja clan, a group of families that survived since the times of the warlords. For generations they retained secret techniques for assassination, espionage, and pokemon training, until enough descendants just walked away from that life for the clan to die out, or transition to more modern lifestyles. Inevitably someone would decide to sell their family secrets for book deals or something, but there hasn’t been a new one revealed in, oh, thirty years or so. Still, there’s always speculation about how many are still around—”

“—since obviously those that are still ‘active’ are going to keep their existence secret.”

“Exactly.” She turns back to Leaf. “Did my contact do something that matched one of those ninja records?”

“No, nothing that I could find, at least.”

Laura blinks, hope deflating for a moment. “Then you think it is a new one?”

“I’m not sure, but… I decided to narrow the search down to Fuchsia City, just based on the records of where the data first started coming from.” Leaf shows Laura the time and location stamps on the initial files, and she nods. “Could be unimportant, of course, but it seemed worth focusing on for a while at least. So once I had this thought, I started looking through forums and blogs and news aggregators that mention the city, just generally looking for anything that might stand out, you know, but also using the word ‘ninja’ in the search… and look!”

She opens her phone, now, and shows Laura a collection of screenshots. Red gets up and comes around to look as well.

First a snippet on some biker forum warning people to stay away from Fuchsia, describing a “shadowy figure” that attacked him and moved “like a ninja.” Laura swipes to the next picture to see another similar post, and another after that. She goes back to look at the details and sees these are spaced out by months, each by someone different, all light on details or agenda other than to share a general message: stay out of Fuchsia if you know what’s good for you.

A new gang, Laura thinks, until she sees the fourth screenshot, which shows a headline about crime in Fuchsia being down. One that’s keeping outsiders away…? She remembers hearing news about this here and there over the past year, but her assumption had always been that Fuchsia was having a good few months, or a good year, or that Fuchsia’s tourism was doing a PR blitz, or that the media was focusing on some stats over others to make a story. Common crime reporting was never really an interest of hers.

But as she swipes to the next picture (a breakdown of what kinds of crime were lower: theft, robbery, assault) and the next few (a series of headlines on corrupt politicians and businessmen being arrested or exposed) she recognizes this is more than just some criminals policing their own.

“And the dates for some of that stuff? It matches some of the Fuchsia data in the files, or is close to when information sources cut off.”

“How long did it take you to find all this?” Laura asks. It’s only been about ten hours since Leaf left Lavender…

“Not long, most of it is other people’s work. I’m not the first person to notice all this, there’s a conspiracy site where others were already putting it all together… and more, a lot more, but that’s the verifiable stuff once I excluded all the rumors.”

“Rumors?”

“Some of the biker gangs were saying some renegade is going around killing or kidnapping their friends, while others claimed to have been among those attacked, and had their pokemon stolen. Some even claim it’s Koga who’s doing it, though there’s little agreement on the details… each incident sounds more fanciful than the last, with just a couple common themes.”

“So maybe one group got attacked, and the others took the story and added their own details to it?”

“That’s what I thought, yeah. There are also strange stories about why some important people in business or government suddenly quit and moved to another city, but nothing substantial.”

“Wait,” Red says. “Just to be clear, combining all this with our guess that the ninja hacker started her war against Silph in Fuchsia, the new hypothesis is… she isn’t just going after Silph, she’s a general-purpose vigilante?”

“Or she’s part of a group operating in Fuchsia,” Laura says. “One that decided to chase Silph past the borders of their city, and sent her to meet me. Or maybe she’s got more autonomy than that, and decided to chase Silph herself. Leaf, this is an amazing potential story all on its own. A ninja clan living in Fuchsia and cleaning up the city… well, given everything else going on, movie studios might be more interested than news sites, but it’s a great find.”

“Thanks! Like I said though, this is mostly other people’s work, they just didn’t have the other pieces to point them in the right direction. I’m thinking of reaching out to some of the people involved, even the bikers, and see what I can learn that they didn’t put online.”

Laura feels a stab of worry, but Leaf is already raising her palm. “I know, Laura, I’ll be careful. I already bought a burner phone and downloaded a voice modulator.”

Somehow hearing about the precautions makes Laura more nervous rather than less, but… she’s the one that involved Leaf in all this to begin with, knowing that she’d be safer under guided investigation than impatiently trying to find stuff out on her own.

Besides, she’s pretty sure Leaf stole something from the Casino and then lied to the police about it. Laura shouldn’t assume Leaf can’t be cunning on her own… though that particular example makes Laura nervous for different reasons. She hasn’t confronted Leaf about it because she wants the girl to be honest with her on her own… and because if she’s wrong, she imagines it would be terribly hurtful to Leaf that Laura didn’t trust her.

“Alright. Good idea wanting to talk about this in person, and if you’re going to keep an abra registered to the town for a while then feel free to come by whenever to update me.”

Leaf smiles. “I will. You should buy an abra too, Laura. You’re carrying a pokebelt around anyway, and now that the first generation are starting to hatch at the new breeding farms the prices are going to start dropping again.”

Laura thinks about her narrow budget and nods. “I’ll think about it.”

“No, you won’t. I’ll buy you one, Mom, Leaf’s right, it would just be dumb not to get you a couple in case of emergencies. I should have done it earlier.” He looks at Leaf. “Really, we should all have been spending money more freely than we have been.”

“Why haven’t you?” Laura asks.

“I guess I didn’t really internalize how much potential to earn more I have now. Even after the abra sales, it felt like… this one big windfall that I was lucky to get, and had to save for getting rare pokemon for research, or emergencies.”

“I had a similar thought,” Leaf admits. “We were in Vermilion after we got the money, and things were fine until Zapdos attacked. Then I went to the ranch and it felt like I might need the money for my project.”

“I get why Blue tries to avoid it, he doesn’t want people to think he just bought his way through the badges, but really he should be buying more pokemon just to have for traveling safely. Maybe that’s not as big a deal for him now, with the strong pokemon he has and the size of the group he travels with, but I’m definitely going to buy some stronger pokemon to round out my belt.”

Now that’s a use for money she can approve of. She looks at Leaf, who’s packing the laptop back away and says, “You are staying for dinner, right?”

“Oh!” She seems to suddenly notice the third place set for her. “I thought it was just an obvious cover, I didn’t mean to impose on family time…”

Laura looks at Red, who clears his throat. “You’re not imposing at all.”

Leaf smiles and sits, and Laura beams at him as she starts serving food. For tonight at least, her worries about the investigation are easy to ignore.


Two weeks pass while Red stays with Laura, occasionally teleporting away to Saffron for some psychic business or Celadon to help the police there hunt Renegades. Laura wasn’t exactly thrilled with that news, but the fact that he would be constantly with police and gym members reassures her, as does the recognition that he likely wouldn’t be asked to actually help apprehend anyone if they find someone.

He also keeps meeting with Artem and Jason as the investigations into the incident at the tower continue, while Laura does her best to prepare for a confrontation with the researcher. Overall they settle into a comfortable and peaceful pattern, though there are some moments of excitement that send Red in and out of the apartment for days, such as when someone discovers the code for an artificial pokemon in the data that was recovered under the Rocket Casino. Much of it is over Laura’s head, but between Red and Artem’s excited conversation she gathers that it’s an attempt to combine and expand on the process of TM editing and reverse-pokemon-storage to code an entirely new, if incredibly simple, organism into being from scratch.

They also spend some time together doing more pleasant things, like watching movies at night and discussing current events during meals. Sometimes she has to practically drag Red away from his research to give himself a rest, and sometimes he falls asleep with his head on her shoulder halfway through the film while his pikachu curls up on his lap. She doesn’t mind.

There are less pleasant evenings as well. Cerulean City got hit by a Tier 2 incident after a snowstorm displaced a family of dragonite, who killed over a hundred people before Brock, Misty, Sabrina and Erika captured them. She and Red followed the news together, and she could tell that a part of Red wanted to go help. She asked him if he had friends in the city, and he said no, but that Blue and Leaf did. She still remembers his insistence that he’s not like his father, and his actions have shown that more than once. But, glad as she was that he didn’t rush off into danger, there was also a feeling of melancholic gladness in knowing he’s not as different as he thinks.

Her own investigations continue apace, though maybe not swiftly enough to keep Sam from getting a little antsy. And given what might be at stake, she doesn’t blame him. A few times, she almost asks Red to take a walk with her, with the plan to pass by the researcher’s house and ask him what he senses from inside.

It would be unethical. She knows that, just as she knows that involving Red that way would be twice as bad as hiring some psychic without scruples. If she’s willing to do something like that, she might as well have asked her investigator to bend some laws. Using a psychic isn’t even necessarily safer, if the researcher turns out to be a sensitive like her, and notices someone touching his thoughts.

So she keeps that thought to herself, and dismisses others like having Red around when they finally confront the researcher to do for her what Leaf suspects Giovanni had a psychic do for him. High as the stakes might be, she’d never forgive herself if something happened to Red because of her, and there’s no other psychic she trusts. She considers asking Sam if he trusts someone, maybe even someone like Leader Misty or Sabrina, but she’s worried what his reaction might be. They would have to do this the right way.

One day she finds Red just sitting at the table with a round, smooth stone in his hand. She goes about her business, taking a bottle of salsa out of the fridge and getting some chips to snack on while she works, but once she’s finished preparing some dip and he’s still sitting still she feels a bit of concern, unsure if he fell asleep in his chair.

“Taking a break?”

He opens his eyes and sighs. “Not really. I think I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough.”

“Red, that’s wonderful!” She decides to eat here instead, and offers him some chips, which he takes without any real enthusiasm. She studies him closer, concern returning stronger than before. “You’re not acting like it’s wonderful. Are you having one of your bad days?” It’s a question she used to ask him a lot, once he finally started recovering from Tom’s death. Inconsistently, but it was still a huge relief compared to the way he acted before. It feels strange asking that question again after so long, but she knows it fits with whatever he’s going through better than she realized at the time.

“No, it’s not that. I meant it when I said I think I had a breakthrough. I’m just struggling with what it means.”

“Tell me!”

He munches on a chip, then nods. “Remember that psychic particle I theorized existing, hidden in the ‘other’ classification of pokeball data?”

“Vaguely?”

“Someone at Pallet recently noted that unown have a lot of it. She was right, I checked with my own, and it struck me that they’re the simplest pokemon we’ve ever encountered, so simple that they almost feel artificial, even more so than porygon—”

“Porygon?”

“That’s what people are calling the Casino’s artificial pokemon. Its body is really simple, and from some images people generated from the data to imagine what it would look like if given real form, it almost looks like a low resolution image of a creature rather than a real one.”

“Maybe because they didn’t finish it?”

“Maybe. We’ll see if it’s viable soon enough. Anyway, unown are like porygon: the bare necessities for a complex living organism. But they have tons of ‘other,’ even more than ghosts!”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Laura admits. “Unown may be biologically simple, but they’re obviously psychic, right? They move by floating around, and the way they communicate… assuming that’s what they’re doing…”

“But the same thing can be said of gastly. It’s not enough to explain the difference, or at least, not while we know so little about how their psychic abilities work and the relationship with the particle. When I merged with the unown and put it in a dangerous situation, it tried to get away, but didn’t fight back.”

Laura nods, already having learned after they started showing up randomly that unown are one of the rare few pokemon that don’t fight at all. “And?”

“And it should! It has telekinesis. I feel it using it to float around, so it’s not like it can’t, and it clearly recognizes threats… it just doesn’t care. Which struck me as weird when I considered that Charmeleon’s ‘other’ increased when I gave him the TM for Shadow Claw, and all the abra in my experiment also increased theirs when I used the Psychic TM on them.”

“So? Just because unown have the ability to fight doesn’t mean they have the instinct to.”

“Sure, maybe they evolved to use their powers just for evasion, like abra. But the thing is, all those papers that came out noting random correlations between ‘other’ and different things? They found nothing to publish on unown. Because unown are almost entirely uniform. It’s actually incredible how similar they are to each other, even the different letters… some have slightly different mass, but they’re so simple we can actually factor out the differences and compare their abilities incredibly well.”

“Alright.” She dips another chip and munches on it, watching him as he turns the rock over in his hands. “So what does this have to do with that?”

“I can’t do telekinesis. Like, at all. I’ve merged with a dozen different psychic pokemon and even a couple other people as they used their own, and I’m just not able to do it.” He sets the rock down and takes another chip. “The thing is, most ghosts can’t either unless you use a TM on them.”

“Alright. I think I follow all that, but I’m still not sure what it has to do with…”

“Jason and Agatha also aren’t particularly good at it.”

“Huh. Does that mean you’re not actually a psychic? You’re a medium, like them?”

“I don’t know. I glimpsed something fundamentally different in the way Jason and Agatha interact with ghosts, but I think it’s just about their beliefs compared to their abilities. When I met Jason and Maria, yesterday, I could tell that Maria has developed to be more than just sensitive; she has very weak psychic abilities too. Still, she was able to mimic Jason’s mental state when interacting with his ghosts as easily as I could with my mirroring ability. I might be like them, but with such a different frame of mind that I’m more like other psychics.”

“I think I get it. If ghosts and psychics are just different concentrations of a pair of phenomena… and there are some other pokemon that can naturally use Ghost type attacks but not Psychic ones, or vice versa… you’ve been measuring two different things?”

“From the very beginning. It makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean what does telekinesis really have to do with other psychic powers, other than that they’re both controlled mentally? That spinarak outlier in my first experiment must have been one that was really, really weak at kinesis but not weak at projection. So its ‘other’ looked way too small for how powerful its Night Shade was.”

“Do any TMs work on unown?”

“No.” Despite the answer, he seems pleased she asked the question. “That’s part of the problem, they’re too simple, and they have no fighting instinct anyway, so who would bother developing one? So I need to find another way to test my new theory.”

Laura nods, then realizes something. “You don’t seem to be having headaches any more.”

“Getting better. Agatha and Jason have been teaching me some stuff, and Dr. Seward helped me manage some more of my feelings so I don’t need to rely as much on the partitions.”

“That’s great.” She puts a hand on his. “I don’t know if I say this enough, Red, but when I think of all you’ve accomplished in such a short time… well, we’ve already had the conversations about your safety, and I know we still disagree over the incident with the clefairy, but I still wanted to say that I’m very proud of you. Your father would be too.”

He ducks his head. “Thanks, Mom.” His hand squeezes hers back, then he looks up. “Is there a ‘but’ coming?”

She laughs. “No. Or at least, there wasn’t, but now that you ask… how much longer do you think—”

“Oh, yeah, I’m heading back to Saffron in a couple days, I think. Blue is heading there, and—”

“No need to explain at all, I was just curious.” She smiles, relieved and saddened, and that night after they watch a movie and he goes to bed she makes her final preparations.


The day Red leaves it snows over Lavender again. Laura has finished speaking to everyone she can find who knew Dr. Fuji and showed them the picture of the researcher. About a third of them say it might be him. The other two-thirds say they think it is, but can’t be positive. One woman, his old neighbor, starts to tear up as soon as she sees it. “I’m so glad he’s okay,” she says in a watery voice. “That poor man, I thought he’d…”

“You’re sure it’s him?” Laura asked, heart hammering.

“Oh, yes. He’s changed, but those eyes… I’d recognize them anywhere.”

You could hardly make out his eyes in the photo, but Laura thanks her for her time and assures her that she’ll pass along well wishes.

She meets Sam outside the pokemon center he uses as his teleportation point, and they travel together to the researcher’s house. He’s dressed in a hat and trench coat rather than his usual white, and she in a sweater to keep off the chill. His gaze seems to note her backpack, in which she’s stored containers holding all the possessions she brought to Lavender, then snag on her pokebelt.

“New mon?”

“Red bought me an abra. Took a quick trip to Saffron to register it there.” Her feet crunch over the thin layer of ice on the sidewalk. “How’s the research coming? You look better rested, which I take to mean it’s slowing down.”

He grins. “I may have gotten a stern talking to from some of my staff. I wanted us to join the race to create the first living porygon, but was convinced we were stretching ourselves too thin already, and that the fact that I was even seriously considering it was a sign that I needed more sleep.”

“I’m glad you listened.”

“Oh, I still needed some prodding after that, but the point was well made. How about you, any progress with the lawsuit?”

“Next court date is in a week, where the judge will rule on whether I have to show a third party arbiter what I’ve been researching to determine whether it falls under the category of things that need to be turned over. I’m trying not to think about it.”

“I’m sorry. I wish I could help, but—”

“I know, it’s not really your area.”

“And President Silph isn’t my biggest fan at the moment after I built and handed out so many of his company’s goggles, though how much I’ll care about that after this visit depends on what Dr. Fuji has to say.”

Assuming it is him, Laura doesn’t respond. She doesn’t want him to get his hopes up, but it all still seems too convenient, and the thought makes her antsy. Still, they’re going to go through with it regardless, and she’s been as cautious as she could.

When they arrive at the house, Laura sees the car idling across the street. The sight of it reassures her, though she tries not to feel overconfident. If whoever’s in the house needs to be rescued, the car can help them make a getaway. If, however, they react poorly or call for help, she and Sam can teleport away.

Laura hangs back while Sam steps up to the door and knocks. The street is quiet, snow already piled up on the lawns and making an effort to cover the walkways. The sun is still up, giving the day a grey light through the clouds, and Laura’s breaths are loud in her own ears.

After a minute, Sam knocks again, louder.

“Does he ever answer?” Sam asks, not bothering to keep his voice down.

“No.” The ofuda from weeks ago is still above the door, though the ink on it has faded and the cold has sapped any scent that might have remained.

The Professor waits another minute, then knocks once more and says, “Minoru. It’s Sam.”

The world is silent. Laura glances around, heart still pounding as she continues to imagine the person inside calling someone, who sends the police or worse…

“I’m fairly sure it’s you in there,” Sam continues. “And I’m not going away until you tell me to, or prove me wrong.” There’s a beat of silence, and when he speaks again, his voice is strained. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there when you needed me. I know it’s no excuse, but I—”

The door opens, and Laura, who has been feeling a bit like she should maybe step away and give Sam some privacy, snaps her head around in shock as the researcher stands in the doorway staring at him.

The silence returns, heavier than ever, until Sam sighs, “Minoru.”

“Sam.” The older man’s face creases, and he takes a deep, shuddering breath. “You came.”

And then he seems to notice Laura, and blinks watery eyes at her before he says, “Ah. You’re the one who left the note?”

Laura swallows, then steps forward, hand out, while the other slips into her pocket and presses the record button of her microphone. “Laura Verres. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Fuji.”

He stares at her hand, then breathes in and reaches out to take it. His grip is even weaker than Red’s, like he’s being extra careful not to exert too much force. “The pleasure is mine. With just a few minor exceptions, it’s been a long time since I met someone new… and a longer time since they knew who I was.”

“That’s why we’re here,” Sam says. “To figure out what’s happened to you and the others. Are you alright, Minoru? Is someone keeping you here?”

“Ah. That’s… no, no. I’m here of my own will.” He smiles at them, though there’s something about it that pricks at Laura’s already suspicious thoughts.

“Does that mean it’s safe to speak inside?” Laura asks, and holds up a note she’d prepared ahead of time. Surveillance? If there’s a camera in the doorframe or something they would probably see it, but there’s nothing she can do about that.

But the researcher doesn’t seem alarmed, or even to really take the precaution seriously. “Oh, yes, I’m sorry, I’ve long since lost all my manners… come in, come in out of the cold…”

Laura and Sam exchange a look, then do so. It’s strange being on this side of the door; the small house looks fairly clean, though it has a musty smell that makes Laura want to open some windows.

Well, why not? She does so, looking around for any clues, though to what she’s not sure.

“Can I get you anything?” Dr. Fuji is saying. “Tea? Coffee?”

“No, I’m alright… Minoru, how did you end up here? What happened to you, all those years ago?”

Laura has finished opening some windows a crack, which lets the icy air in but immediately helps the air feel clearer. “Sorry, I have my own question first… Dr. Fuji—”

“Ah, ‘Doctor’ sounds so formal for an old man in a house. I haven’t been a proper researcher in years. Call me Mr. Fuji.”

She’s not sure that’s how that works, and by Sam’s frown he’s unsure how to take the comment as well. “As you wish, Mr. Fuji, I have a question… are you really him? Could you say something that Sam would recognize only you would know?”

“What a strange thing to say. Who else would I be?”

“That’s what I would like to know,” she says evenly. “If you could, please?”

“Ah, very well. A question, Sam?”

“The last time we spoke, by voice, what did you say to me?”

The man frowns and scratches his neck. “You realize that was nearly ten years ago? To be honest, I haven’t the foggiest. Something about not worrying about me, I’d guess… I was in a bit of a dark place, back then.”

Sam looks at her, and she can tell the answer wasn’t quite satisfying, but also didn’t really confirm anything. “Alright, I’ll pick something more memorable. What did you tell me, when I tried to talk to you after Amber died?”

Fuji flinches back like Sam punched him, gaze dropping to the floor and lower lip trembling briefly. “I was out of line, Sam. I was hurting, too much to see that you, you were just… just trying to help…”

The Professor’s face softens, and his voice is gentle as he lays a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “It’s alright. I forgave you for it long ago. Just tell us, so she can be sure.”

Fuji nods, and turns to her, though his gaze stays elsewhere. “I couldn’t think straight, after my Amber died. Sam tried to empathize, told me about losing his own little girl… I said… I said he still had his grandkids, and he didn’t understand. Would only understand when he lost them too.”

His voice has dwindled to a whisper by the end, eyes filling with tears, and Sam grips his shoulder a bit more tightly, then guides him to the small table in the kitchen to sit, while Laura searches for some tissues, shock quickly shifting to sympathy. She makes do with a roll of paper towels, which Fuji takes with a mumble of thanks and wipes his face.

“Thank you for confirming that,” she says. There’s a chance he told someone else, of course, ideally it would have been some minor thing he’d have no reason to tell anyone rather than a big regret that he might have shared while feeling guilty, but the reaction seems genuine enough, and she hadn’t been that skeptical once she saw the way he reacted to seeing the Professor. That’s where her real curiosity, and caution, feels focused. “I have to ask, now… were you expecting us? Or at least, the Professor?”

How are you the one I found? she doesn’t ask, again thinking of the unlikely odds that led her here given the scope of what she’s been investigating.

“Oh, not exactly,” Fuji says, and folds the paper towel into neat squares. “But I hoped! I spread rumors about myself, you see, on the web. Little things, here and there, to remind people of me, to get someone to wonder if I was still alive, to wonder where I’d gone, all without saying it clearly myself. I thought, if anyone like Sam saw them, he might have the interest and the clout to dig me up.”

Sam and Laura stare at him in shock, for a moment, then each other, then back to him. Laura hadn’t even considered that, and she should have, as it’s the obvious reverse question: Why were you the one Sam brought up when he started this investigation?

“Did something happen, then?” Sam finally asks. “You needed help, but couldn’t just message me directly?”

“Yes, you see, I have a friend I’ve been worried about, and I couldn’t risk someone knowing I reached out directly. But now that you’ve found me, that’s all changed. I can tell you about the most horrible thing I’ve ever worked on, in secret, for years.”

Laura isn’t sure she understands why anything would have changed just by them finding Fuji—it sounds like he’s speaking of retaliation, but he said he’s not here under duress—but Professor Oak is already asking, “What is it?”

Fuji leans forward, mouth set in a grim line and eyes gleaming with anger. “There’s no official name yet, but for now it’s just called the ‘Master Ball.'”