Tag Archives: rationalist writing

32 – Multiple Perspectives (Guest: TK17)

Daystar and Alexander are joined by special guest Duncan Sabien (TK17) to discuss multiple perspectives in fiction, including common pitfalls and benefits.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

Special guest: Duncan Sabien, aka TK17, Curriculum Director at CFAR and writer of Animorphs: The Reckoning.

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Time Stamps

1:30 Archetypes vs Whole Characters

5:34 Choosing Who Gets what Scene

14:45 Shifting Focus and Disorientation

25:06 Different Character Dialogue

35:30 Differentiating Characters

Links

Animorphs: The Reckoning by Duncan/TK17

Metropolitan Man by Alexander Wales

Shadows of the Limelight by Alexander Wales

Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

Magic Color Wheel

Odyssey by Vance Moore

Daystar’s friends as magic cards, circa 2012:

View post on imgur.com

 

60 – Animorphs: The Reckoning (Guest: TK17/Duncan Sabien)

Today we’re joined once again by Duncan Sabien, aka TK17, to discuss his incredible rationalfic, Animorphs: The Reckoning. It was recorded shortly after the story finished and includes questions on not just his writing process, but the various decisions that went into changes made from canon, so spoilers ahead!

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Links:

Duncan’s “How the MTG Color Wheel Explains Humanity”

Animorphs: The Reckoning AMA

Duncan’s Previous Guest Appearance

Chapter 100: Collaboration

All in all, the research community doesn’t take the news well.

“I don’t understand how the Professor can be okay with this!”

Artem paces around Red’s room, more riled up than Red’s ever seen the older researcher. The mood is infectious, and even while keeping his psychic senses to himself Red struggles to stay seated and just let his legs bounce.

“It’s not that he’s okay with it. It’s just that he can’t overturn the Champion on his own, not when it comes to safety from pokemon.”

“Since when did research fall under that?”

Red raises a brow. “Since the research involved potentially creating pokemon.”

Artem pauses in his pacing, opens his mouth, closes it, scowls, and resumes pacing as he mutters, “We were being careful.”

We were, sure. Not that it wasn’t cool to see the idea catch on and spread like that, but once others started doing it, there’s no way everyone was. ”

“So you agree with the decision?”

“Didn’t say that.” Red runs a hand through his hair. “It would be one thing if we knew for sure that unown could create pokemon, but continually fail to understand or replicate it.” It’s not like he hasn’t had plenty of experience with that. “But suspecting without being able to test…”

Red grimaces as the wordless frustration spreads through his chest. Artem sighs and nods before resuming his pacing, and Red tries to focus on what he should do now.

If the origin of pokemon is really just another type of pokemon, Red’s work would be far from over, since the obvious next question would be where unown come from. But at least he’d have a direction to look in; it would make all the other avenues that have been hovering at the back of his thoughts—abiogenesis, natural selection, panspermia—discardable, freeing up thought and research time toward an avenue with an actual expectation of answers somewhere along the path. Figuring out where one creature comes from, no matter how unusual, is a very different thing from figuring out where the thousands of others do.

In truth though, with his partition down Red is more conflicted than he lets on. With full access to all his memories, the news that research would be restricted due to potential danger makes him think of his own secrets. They may not fall as cleanly into the Champion’s purview (the sakki, maybe, but the rest would likely be a civilian matter), but it does show that people like Lance are willing to keep potentially dangerous truths from being known.

It should make him feel better, particularly when he remembers his response to Giovanni that day, after being asked what it would take for Red to hide a discovery on the origin of species:

If someone learned how to make their own pokemon, for example… they might create a legendary, or a dozen…

His own words make it hard not to understand the Champion’s perspective. But Artem doesn’t seem to be in the mood for a real discussion just yet, which is understandable given he spent so much time on the unown experiment just to be told he can’t continue it.

Still, sitting here being gloomy about it won’t help anything. “On the plus side, there’s no ban on experimenting with metamon.”

Artem pauses in his pacing and turns to Red, frown shifting as his lip twitches upward. “You mean ditto.”

“Metamon is the better name,” Red insists. “Ditto already means something.”

“So does farfetched, but context makes it clear what people mean.”

“Well, Professor Oak says metamon.”

Artem rolls his eyes. “I swear if this turns into another barrierd situation—”

“Hey, we’re not Unova.” Sorry Leaf. “And metamon isn’t nearly as bad as ‘Mr. Mime.'”

“I don’t care how bad the name is, I just want it to be consistent.

“I get it, but name quality matters too. If we leave everything to popular preference we’re more likely to get stupid names, like Sirfetch’d.”

“Wait, what would you call it?”

“Absir’d.”

“…Alright, that is better. But metamon isn’t.”

“Is too. And,” he goes on before they get caught in a loop, “The fact that they can transform into any pokemon opens a lot of questions about their biology that might still teach us something about pokemon. It’s hard not to get excited about that.”

“Sure, but we’ll have to wait for those who have one to discover everything.” He eyes Red. “Unless the Professor…?”

Red’s fledgling optimism fades as he shakes his head. “There are only a couple dozen that were captured, and they’re all being very carefully distributed. The lab has one, of course, but…”

Artem sighs and keeps pacing. Red is a little relieved his friend didn’t ask why Red isn’t there already.

It’s been a while since Red felt torn about his decision not to work at Pallet Labs. Now that he’s got some original research under his belt, and more citations than nearly any other first year researcher, the idea of going home feels less unearned (though he still feels annoyed by how that happened even after the churned out correlation studies ended up being a bit useful). He’s been back many times since the day he learned free teleportation, and the more often he goes the more he finds himself missing the clean halls, constant sound of friendly debate in the cafeteria, and easy access to the various experts all working on their own interesting things. He could be satisfied, he thinks, accepting a junior position there and knowing it wouldn’t just be from nepotism.

But it would still be a junior position, helping others in their research. Sure, he’d have a voice at the table, and knows the others there well enough to be fairly confident his thoughts will be respected. In a way it would be a dream come true.

Just not the dream.

And he doesn’t need to be at the lab to send them his ideas, which he’s already done. Instead he has to pursue the ideas that he’s uniquely suited to, create new opportunities in the field that those in the labs can’t.

“You know,” Red says after a moment as he pulls his phone out to check the announcement again. “This says no one’s allowed to experiment with unown creating pokemon. But it doesn’t say we can’t study them at all.”

“What, are you suddenly fascinated by the sounds they make?”

“No, but I’m also not trying to sneak around the ban either. I was just thinking, what would I want to do if we discover that the unown do create pokemon?”

“Right, find out where the unown come from. But what new info do we have to figure that out?”

“Not new info, but the network is still there. We’ve been using them to track unown movements and they took it upon themselves to try monitoring for abiogenesis. I bet they’re as frustrated as we are, but still interested in doing something meaningful if they can. We should give them a new direction before they move on to something else.”

Artem’s pacing slows, face thoughtful. “Something besides tracking them, you mean? We’ve gotten lots of good data from that, but it’s the kind of work that requires hundreds of people all contributing data little by little, nothing active or exciting. And we still don’t have any insights from it yet, other than confirming that they originate and congregate at ruins.”

“Yeah, and we can’t follow them beyond the regions to check if there are others in the wilderness, but we might be able to tell if we find enough psychics willing to camp out at ruins and monitor any that appear.”

“You think, what, they’re the same ones leaving the regions and teleporting back?”

“Either that or the number of unown in the world is rapidly increasing, and has been for years. It’s not absurd to think of, but it would be good to test both ideas if we can.”

“So the psychics monitor memories of the appearing unown, while others go along for recording and protection?” Artem scratches the light stubble growing along his jaw. “Yeah, maybe… we could also—”

Red’s heart jumps into his throat as their phones buzz, the sound impossible to mistake for anything else. Before he can take his out to check the notification, Artem already has his in hand.

“Tier 1 east of Pewter. Some trouble coming down from Mount Moon.” He looks at Red, not needing to ask the question; he knows Red has been there, and so can teleport over.

With so many trainers busy on Cinnabar Island, or recovering from the battles there, the rest of Indigo has rallied to help at the various incidents that have popped up in the days following. Psychic trainers who can freely teleport have been in particularly high demand, as CoRRNet has struggled from the lack of able trainers to spare sending extra to Tier 1s, especially since, with many of the strongest trainers in the region kept busy, the Tier 2s have needed more quantity to make up for the weaker participants.

Which is why in the past week Red has assisted with two different Tier 1 incidents and one Tier 2. He’s mostly been acting as support, but still battled his share of wilds at each.

And saw his share of casualties.

“I should go,” he says, throat dry. Artem nods and hurries to gather his things, and Red pulls up his checklist to make sure he doesn’t forget anything.

“I’ll start scouting for interest.” His friend sounds guilty, and Red knows he’d come if he could. “Maybe see if there’s a few people in WCN who have explored any ruins before.”

“Sounds good.” Energized electronics, crammed canteens, pouch of pokeballs… His travel bag hasn’t seen much use since Lavender, but maybe he should put a battle bag together for sudden incidents. “I’ll make a post about it once I get back.”

“Cool.” Artem is standing by the door, shifting his weight. “I’ll be nearby, probably.”

“See you soon then.”

“Right. Be careful, yeah?”

Red forces a smile. “I’ll try.”

Artem nods, closes the door, and Red is alone.

He closes his eyes, skin flushing hot and cold, and quickly summons his ivysaur before he lets himself drop onto his bed, taking deep breaths as he stares between his feet, anxiety and dread swirling through his stomach and up his chest.

Some days, when his depression is bad enough, it can get hard to remember all the ways he’s improved over the past few months. Other times, however, it’s very clear how much easier it is for him to function without his partition up. He even occasionally thinks he’s close to being truly “healed,” or at least no longer really debilitated by his grief.

Until last week. It was the first time he didn’t have his partition up when an incident alert came, the first time he had to decide whether to go into a dangerous situation or not with the full weight of his memories quickly helping him imagine everything that could go wrong.

The resulting panic attack quickly disabused him of the idea that he’d gotten through the worst of Aiko’s death.

As his Ivysaur walks over and presses against his legs, Red feels himself curling into a ball, whole body drenched in sweat as he forces his breathing to stay a steady, even cycle. He tries to ground himself, first in his body, then in his setting, eyes moving over everything he sees, hears, feels… I’m sitting on my bed, I don’t need to leave, nothing is attacking me…

His ivysaur’s bulb is close to his face, and Red takes a deep breath of the unique scent, using it as yet another grounding point and reminder that he’s safe. One of the first things he did when he got ivysaur and wartortle was spend some time with Blue and Leaf, learning from their experiences with their own pokemon, but before buying them he also researched what unique value he might have access to, both as a psychic and for his own different goals and lifestyle than theirs. His collaboration with the What Comes Next group in Celadon gave him the idea of aromatherapy.

He reaches down to stroke behind his pokemons’ ears, and Ivysaur gurgles happily as it settles against him. He’d like to bring Pikachu out too, but while much more cuddly, the mouse is also more attuned to Red’s stress, and got very twitchy during his last panic attack.

So he just sits with his Ivysaur for a while, waiting until the feeling of safety is more concrete and he can breathe easier. It takes a few minutes before he feels more solid and present in his body, but the ball of anxious dread is still in his stomach, and the thought of getting up to go to the Tier 1 makes it spread, disrupting his breaths for another few cycles.

If it was just a risk of danger, Red’s pretty sure he would be able to talk himself into going. What really keeps him paralyzed is the idea that he might be put in another situation where he has to make an impossible choice. Memories of Aiko running ahead of him, of Leaf’s shock and Blue’s anger, crowd his thoughts, and it’s hard not to just bring his partition back up.

He can get through this if he gives his less traumatized self more control. With the partition up it’s so much easier to be optimistic, to just not think of those possibilities and focus on what he wants or needs to do.

But that’s a solution from his less integrated days. If he gives up control now, his partitioned-self would probably suggest he try working it out anyway unless Red amnesias this whole incident, which he’s not willing to do. Partitioned Red would notice something off anyway; he can hide the emotions, but not his body’s lingering reaction to them..

It’s a relief to be on the same side, even if they still disagree about things. Sometimes partitioned Red will even do things like read guidelines used by firefighters for determining safety levels for burning buildings, or emergency triage protocols, both for the knowledge and because he knows his unpartitioned self cares about it.

More than that; while sometimes it can trigger stressful memories or what-ifs to read about life-and-death scenarios, when his partition is up and he’s just experiencing things through it, the overall experience of reading guidelines the professionals use is actually rather soothing.

It also opened up opportunities, according to Dr. Seward.

Once Red feels a bit more grounded again, he takes his phone out and plays one of the recordings from past him with his partition up.

“Hey Red. If you’re listening to this one it’s probably because you’re feeling stressed about another tough choice you might have to make.” He remembers nudging his partitioned self to keep things vague in case he ever needs to listen to these around others. “Maybe just thinking about what people will think of you, in general. I get it. I mean I don’t get it as much as you do right now, but I remember those feelings too, and they suck.” He hears his past self sigh. “It’s okay to be scared of making the wrong call, or being shunned for whatever choices you make when all the options suck. I can’t promise it’ll be okay, but… just try to remember why we’re doing this, alright? It’s because we can make a difference. We’ve done it before, saved a lot of lives, prevented more cracks in the world. Maybe someday it will make more sense for us to be like Bill, but we’re also learning too much from field work to give it up now. Remember Lavender? That sucked too, but how much further back would we be if we hadn’t been there? Not to mention what might have happened to the others. We developed psydar because we had to during the storm…”

The twisted ball in his stomach relaxes little by little as Red listens to more examples, things that were harder to remember when his mind was crowded by all the potential bad outcomes. He even smiles as his past self mentions that they wouldn’t even know they were psychic if they hadn’t been blasted by their spinarak.

“…end of the day, just focus on what you can decide when you can decide it. Remember what Giovanni said about allowing himself to be human? Whatever you’re struggling with right now, maybe not doing it is the right answer. Maybe doing it is, but in a certain way that some others won’t understand. Whatever the case, as long as you can keep learning from the decisions, that’s what matters most. And… no matter what you decide, you know that some people will always be on your side. Mom, the Professor, Dr. Seward… Leaf, probably…”

Sabrina too, and probably Giovanni. But partitioned Red doesn’t know about why that would be, and it’s enough to be reminded that the category of people exist at all.

“…and me. I may not always understand, because, you know, the amnesia. But whatever we deal with, we’ll do it together. Good luck.”

Red lets out a long breath as the knot finishes unraveling until it’s just a weight in his stomach. He still dreads what’s ahead, but it doesn’t feel like more than he can handle, or like it will automatically end in catastrophe.

Aware that every minute passing is another he could be helping at the incident, Red still takes a moment to gather his thoughts and introspect on whether he wants to respond in some way. Dr. Seward said writing would let him remember things more clearly, voice was the most convenient and added more emotional data, and video was the least convenient but maximized the potential impact. So he starts a video recording and aims the camera at himself, trying to push down his self-consciousness and muster a smile.

“Hey, Red. If you’re listening to this one, you’re, uh, probably wondering if you’ll ever feel better about whatever’s stressing you out right now. I just want you to know, whatever you feel… you probably have a good reason to feel it. It’s okay to be worried. But you’re going to feel better. It just happened to me. It’ll happen to you too. Oh, and partitioned Red, if you’re listening to this to remember what it was like to feel panicked so you can make another recording that might help… the mention of people who will stick by us was really good. There are some others too, so feel free to just say that, ‘and others too,’ as an extra reminder, in case I’m further gone next time. I know that probably feels annoyingly mysterious, but… you get it. Thanks again, for everything.”

Red ends the recording, gives it a name, then takes another deep breath and feeds Ivysaur a poffin before withdrawing him and grabbing his hat on the way out.


Leaf smiles as she sees the dots appear in the distant sky, hand tilting her hat to keep the setting sun out of her eyes. The flying pokemon and their riders quickly grow as she watches, and she waves once they’re close enough for her to make out who’s who. Blue and Elaine are in the front, and wave back before starting their descent to the Trainer House roof.

It’s amazing seeing how big Zephyr has gotten, particularly since he and Crimson used to be the same size. Leaf thinks her pidgeotto is close to evolving after a particularly intense battle south of Fuchsia yesterday, but she’s not sure Crimson will catch up anytime soon unless things get worse around here.

Nearly two weeks after the battle at Cinnabar City, most of the Fuchsia gym members are still helping reclaim the island, which means more and more locals have been called on to help the rangers. She’s in the city too often not to help out when she can, though thankfully that’s only meant a couple battles so far.

Each lost life feels extra harsh, with her project underway, and each day that passes before it finishes feels heavier.

She grips her hat tight as Blue and the others land, waiting for the buffeting wind to fade before she runs over to hug them as they dismount. “Welcome to Fuchsia!”

“You weren’t kidding, the Safari is beautiful.” Elaine looks back out toward the wilderness to the northeast as her hands move automatically to unsaddle her mount. “We saw so many pokemon as we flew over, whole herds of tauros and a family of kangaskhan, and I think I saw a dragonair in one of the far lakes…”

“You said there’s a chance we’ll be able to get admission at some point?” Maria asks. It’s been a while since Leaf saw her without her big floppy hat, but she seems to be trying out sunglasses as a new fashion choice, which, when combined with her dark clothes and flying helmet, makes her look like the world’s youngest (and cutest) member of a biker gang.

“I think it’s especially likely now, assuming the project stays in the sweet spot… well, kind of bitter spot… of needing more support, without losing so many rangers to other duties that it’s put entirely on hold.” Leaf holds her hat again as Glen and a couple of people she doesn’t recognize descend, then gives him a hug once he hops down. “Glad you could make it,” she says, happy as always to see him moving so much more smoothly these days.

“Not getting left behind just yet,” he says with a distractingly charming grin.

“I thought field tests would still be a ways off?” Blue asks as he finishes caring for Zephyr and withdraws him.

“Before, yeah, but our timelines also got thrown up in the air, what with the new pokemon.”

The fact that they turned the second half of her birthday into a tense and frightening night, and caused horrifying amounts of pokemon and human death, didn’t stop part of her from getting excited about the possibilities ditto/metamon might represent.

They copy the pokemon’s natural instincts, but not its conditioning! she texted Natural as the information on them trickled out. Not just one type of pokemon, every pokemon they transform into!

If we can figure out how, maybe we can code it. It was early morning for him, which is normally when he would still be asleep, but he’d been as glued to the news feed as her. We need a copy of its pokeball data from someone that caught one.

They might not release that to the public.

Then we’ll get it another way! Maybe the project will have enough pull to get a copy?

And so it did, a new wing being formed specifically to focus on the new pokemon’s potential application to their goal. It was staffed by an even broader pool of talented programmers who coordinated with various labs and other organizations trying to learn more about them, not to mention figure out how to train them. The Rangers were even able to secure a specimen for the team to examine, on occasion.

Natural in particular went into a frenzy once he got a copy of the ditto’s code, though he wasn’t on that team, being a relative unknown who kept his personal life private. Leaf was uneasy about that, and considered asking him how he got the code, but after what she trusted him with following the incident she’s not sure she’s one to throw stones. In truth she was more worried about the way his sleep schedule seemed to shift later and later each day as he obsessed over the new pokemon, but other than basic check-ins she’s had too many other things on her plate to also start managing how others use their time.

Like her plan to uncover the Fuchsia ninja clan, assuming it exists.

After walking the city and talking to locals didn’t get her anywhere, she decided the best way to find Laura’s informant, or at least someone who might work with them, is to set a trap.

Her reasoning is simple: there’s no way whoever’s been regularly stopping criminal activity in Fuchsia would do so by just randomly wandering the streets and waiting until they spot something. Not unless there really is a whole clan running around the city every night, and that would make it harder to stay unnoticed.

At first she thought they must have someone inside various criminal organizations feeding them info, but that wouldn’t explain the corporate crimes that get stopped too. And it’s not like all major crime gets stopped, and if there’s a pattern to it, it’s not one Leaf or Laura could figure out.

She considered reaching out to some of the gangs herself, maybe just posting on their message boards to see if anyone would be willing to talk off the record about their experiences. Laura talked her out of it, since the gang members would see it as a trap and anyone working with the ninja who might be monitoring their forums would get tipped off that someone’s looking into them.

But there was nothing stopping Leaf from making a few fake accounts and leaving cryptic hints about a planned robbery.

Leading to that idea was the realization that Laura’s informant isn’t primarily motivated to take down Silph; the vendetta was borne out of a desire to protect Fuchsia. Which means they’re probably more likely to react to something that could be a big enough threat to the city.

In practical terms, that means a handful of potential high-value targets; government buildings, pokemon centers, entrances to the safari zone, and of course the gym. Most criminals wouldn’t be crazy enough to hit the latter, and there’s not much value to them in government buildings… well, not unless it’s something much higher level than the sorts of street gangs that were already chased out of the city. The Safari Zone is one option, but that might involve the Rangers, and Leaf doesn’t want to set up a false crime that, if seen by anyone and reported, would waste their already limited time and resources.

That doesn’t leave much; a lot of valuable pokemon might be stolen from a pokemon center, of course, but they have moderately high security. Same with robbing supplies from trainer markets, or any other store that might have lots of high value items…

…but upstream of all of them are the warehouses that goods get shipped to when they enter the city.

So Leaf spends the night with Blue’s group, showing them around the city and getting to know the trainers that Blue picked up in Saffron until the sun sets and it’s time to say goodnight. Instead of teleporting back, however, Leaf makes her way to one of the warehouse districts by the docks, where storage balls containing everything from Silph merchandise to Pokemon Center supplies are being held before distribution.

It only took a bit of footwork to scout out where the best vantage points to intervene in any attempted robberies would be, and after that she just had to find a place she could set herself to watch for anyone that might use those vantage points.

This turns out to be the roof of an apartment building nearby, which only takes a few minutes of fumbling with her bag outside to enter as someone else does. Once settled on the edge of the roof, she lifts her binoculars to watch the warehouse district.

The city is well lit, but not in the places she needs to be watching, and so she reaches up to switch to thermal imaging.

The world immediately darkens as most of the ambient light disappears, leaving a smattering of dots that glow bright white as they move from place to place. Each is a person or pokemon, their silhouettes surprisingly sharp in contrast to their surroundings, though there are a few fire pokemon that give off so much heat she can barely tell their species. There are also far more flying pokemon than she would guess, and for a moment she just stares at them, zipping above the city like shooting stars.

Then she turns back to her target, or at least where she thinks it should be; some buildings are dimly visible, but many are cold dark blocks. It takes another switch back to normal vision to make sure she’s looking in the right places, then she swaps back to thermal to settle in and watch the darkness for anything unusual.

Before long it becomes easier to find landmarks. While street lamps are stationary white pinpricks rather than glowing illuminators for their surroundings, she can still track their positions, and any ventilation in the buildings tends to be hot enough to glow too.

It’s a fascinating alternative way to see the city, and she wonders with a jealous pang if this is the sort of thing Red and other psychics see when they fully merge with pokemon that have different ways of seeing the world than humans.

The thought has her summon Raff to keep her company, and once he’s settled beside her she puts one earphone in to listen to a podcast on aerial coordination maneuvers as she waits.

And waits.

And waits.

And waits, stretching her arms one at a time, then her legs.

And then waits some more.

The next episode (matching poffin flavors to different pokemon tastes) has just started when a mechanical voice behind her says, “Leaf Juniper.”

She yelps and drops the binoculars, rolling onto her back and preparing to command Raff to defend her when she realizes who’s standing right behind where she was perched.

Leaf scrambles to her feet, pulse pounding in her ears, but the figure just stands there, watching from behind their mask. Just a few inches taller than Leaf, and just as Laura described, wearing a dark outfit that makes their silhouette hard to discern.

“Are you… how did you…?” Raff, the useless lump, sniffs curiously at the newcomer, then settles back into place.

“You’re not the only one with binoculars. Also thermal imaging, I’m guessing?” The voice is disguised by the filter, but Leaf can still hear the amusement. “When I saw you up here, just a single white spec sitting perfectly still for half an hour, I thought you might be a cop, or one of Silph’s people. But you’re working for Laura Verres, aren’t you?”

“I…” Claiming not to know who Laura is would be stupid, gods this whole thing was stupid, Laura was right she’s not ready for this sort of thing… “I’m here alone. I mean, on my own. I was… following a tip, about some criminal activity—”

“Liar. You’ve been asking around the city about me. Kind of annoying, given you also caught Silph’s attention with that. Or did you not consider that people who know more than random drunks might take your interest as evidence itself?”

Leaf swallows, not even needing to answer. She hopes her blush isn’t visible through those dark goggles, but if they see infrared then her face is probably burning like a charizard’s tail. “Sorry.”

“You’ll make it up to me,” the figure says with complete confidence. “After all, we have the same enemy, even if you don’t know it yet.”

This utterly fails to set Leaf at ease. “We do?” Oh, right.. Get your head in the game, Leaf. “We do. You want to take Silph down.”

“I want him taken down,” the masked figure corrects. “I don’t care who does it. Thought Laura would, figured legitimate means might do the trick, but he’s got too much power for that.”

“I won’t do anything Laura wouldn’t. Can’t, even.”

“Oh really? Would Laura have stolen data from the lab under the Casino?”

“What are you talking about?” Leaf asks, after what she hopes is a just-long-enough pause. Her heart, which had been starting to slow a little, is kicking in her chest again like an angry ponyta.

“Or maybe Laura had a hand in that too. She was with you at the station, after.”

This is just speculation. Unless… Leaf’s blood turns to ice as she remembers, too late, that the person in front of her might be a psychic. Just because the one that ran from the police in Celadon was dark doesn’t mean this is the same person!

“You don’t have to admit to anything,” the figure says as Leaf considers a number of dramatic options for escaping, including just running past the figure. “I’m just here to let you know, we can work together… if you’re more careful, going forward, than you have been. Or else you’re just likely to cause more problems for me.”

“What do you want me to do?” Leaf asks, focusing as best she can on the exercises Red taught her to throw off psychics.

“For now, nothing. Your investigation in Fuchsia is over. But in exchange, I have a new target for you.”

Leaf hesitates. “Silph?”

“Not quite. That info that got leaked from the Celadon lab put some pieces together; I used to think there were a lot of organizations Silph was working with and against, but now? Now I think they might be mostly all the same one, and the relationship has been souring.”

“What? Why would Silph work with another organization and against it at the same time?”

“That’s what we’re going to figure out. Who, exactly, Silph’s been battling in the shadows… and whether the enemy of our enemy is our friend.”


After his initial meeting with Sabrina, Blue expects Koga’s invitation on his second day in Fuchsia to be a similarly blunt dismissal of any attempt to jump the line or alter his gym culture. From what he’s seen online and heard from others, it’s the most traditional gym in Indigo, and when he arrives on site he gets that impression immediately reinforced.

Even the buildings feel like a piece of ancient culture, each one built in the old style of wood and paper walls that made reconstruction easy after pokemon attacks, with large open spaces between the administrative entrance building and the various classrooms around the compound. Between them are small ponds, rock gardens, and various types of arena. He knows there are modern training facilities underground, but the overall effect is a mix of the utilitarian Vermilion and cultivated Celadon gyms, particularly since the uniform he sees on various gym members is a dark montsuki embroidered with the gym badge.

Though the ambiance is different from either. There are a few distant sounds of battle coming from various directions, but there’s no drill instructors yelling orders, nor pockets of people engaged in quiet conversation. Overall his walk toward the center of the gym feels… peaceful.

The Leader’s building is much like the others, though it’s raised a little higher and looks more detailed and stylized. As he approaches, Blue pauses outside of it to watch as a pair of non-trainer gym employees clean an arena, carefully digging up sections stained with acid or toxic sludge and safely disposing them in a marked canister before replacing the arena floor with fresh soil. Some of the arenas are stone, but those would put ground types at a disadvantage, and this gym no doubt expects to see many of them from people coming prepared to counter the Poison type focus.

Blue’s fingers brush the balls on his belt. If Rive evolves into a rhydon and Tops into a kadabra, he’ll have a solid pair of offensive counters for Koga, and with a magneton or two he’ll have powerful defensive counters…

But it’s Nin that he thinks will really be his ace. If he can get the golbat to evolve into a crobat, it’ll be able to resist Koga’s Poison types while still being able to sweep.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t been training Nin or Rive much since he was preparing to face Sabrina. Such an abrupt switch in focus feels strange without the payoff of having gotten a badge, but her offer was too good to pass up.

He has his suspicions about whether she actually intends to experiment with Koichi’s theories, or if she already knows the outcome and is just putting him to a test before she reveals what she knows. Of course that would only make sense if there’s some truth to it, unless she’s just yanking his chain… but he didn’t get that vibe from her.

Instead she seemed to be assessing him in a way that no other leaders have, including Erika. Whatever she has in mind for him when he returns to her gym, he has a feeling it’s more than just the answer to his question and a Mastery Challenge.

He makes his way inside the Leader’s building and finds himself in an entrance hall with space for boots and coats, along with a small nook with a flowerpot in it. The whole area makes him feel like he’s stepping into someone’s home, not a Leader’s office. What if someone’s in a rush to get from one place to another?

Well, in those cases they probably just ignore it.

Right. Everything’s so peaceful here that he’s having trouble imagining it in a state of emergency, but at the end of the day it is a gym, and a pretty respected one at that. Koga’s held his gym longer than any other Leader in Kanto besides Blaine, and like Blaine is relatively isolated compared to the rest of the Leaders, making the amount of land under his protection larger than most. Fuchsia does have an unusually high concentration of Rangers nearby to help with threats to the city, but most have a primary duty to the Safari Zone rather than nearby incidents, which means it’s up to the Gym Members to form the backbone of any defense of the city and nearby towns.

Koga is a man that not only commands respect, but deserves it. Blue takes a breath, preparing himself to return to the demeanor and perspective he learned in Erika’s gym, turning himself into more of a refined trainer, or at least one who’s able to demonstrate appropriate respect. Not that any Leader is likely to put up with disrespect, but how the respect is shown matters.

Finally he knocks on the wooden portion of the door, then opens it at the “Enter” that comes through to find Koga himself sitting at a low table with his legs folded beneath him, tea set on another table beside him while his attention stays focused on a laptop monitor. No receptionist, no waiting room. Just a large living quarter, and a few other rooms along the walls.

By most metrics of evaluating status, it’s the most humble he’s ever seen a gym leader. But like all the others, something about the man in front of Blue is more than what he appears. The calm strength in his posture, the sense of both focus on his work while being aware of his environment, the simple comforts of his surroundings, all reinforce Blue’s knowledge that he’s walked into the room of a man of power.

He wonders, vaguely, when he’ll start having that effect on people, and then wonders for the first time if he already does to some degree.

“Welcome to Fuchsia, Trainer,” Koga says once Blue has closed the door behind him. “Please sit.”

“Thank you, Leader.” Blue bows his head as he sits, mirroring Koga’s posture and hoping the conversation doesn’t go on too long; seiza hurts his ankles.

“Tea?”

“What kind?”

“Shincha. Fresh, not stored from a previous season.”

As if that matters, since storage puts things in stasis anyway. Still, it’s pricey stuff, and Blue bows his head again to show his thanks. “I would love some.”

Koga pours Blue a small cup, turning away from his computer for the first time since Blue entered. “You’re resting too much weight on your legs.” Once Koga puts the pot down, one hand lifts the cup toward Blue while the other taps his own stomach, eyes meeting his. “Engage your core to hold your weight up.”

Blue straightens as he takes the saucer. “Like this?”

“Less rigid, or your shoulders will soon grow tired. Do not focus on just one part of yourself; let your awareness spread through your body, while holding your goal gently in mind, and you will find a position that feels more natural.” He sips his tea as Blue tries to follow this advice, then nods and turns back to his monitor. “You can also sit zazen, if you would prefer. I know the rumors about me, but I don’t judge people by things as inconsequential as that.”

Blue considers a moment, then says, “I might, if this starts feeling bad. For now I want to try getting this right.”

Koga nods again, takes another sip of tea, then puts it down and types something out on his laptop. Blue blows on his tea as he waits, breathing in occasionally to enjoy the rich scent until the Leader finishes, then closes the laptop and gives Blue his full attention. “So. Are you just here for a Mastery Challenge, or do you have some other interest in my gym?”

Blue smiles as the Leader opens their conversation with a trap he prepared for. He also learned at Celadon how well a cup of tea can help give extra thinking time, and so takes a sip and runs through his prepared response before he sets the cup down.

“I won’t pretend I wasn’t running from one badge to the next when I started my journey. And obviously once I slowed down it was to get more involved in Vermilion and Celadon. But at Saffron I focused on developing myself and my pokemon, and forming new connections. That’s all I want here; if it turns out your gym has more to teach me than others, I’m open to staying longer, and if you’re interested in what I’ve done at previous gyms, I’m of course happy to talk about that anytime.”

Koga’s gaze is as intense as Sabrina’s, and after a moment he asks, “Does that mean you would say no to an early Mastery Challenge?”

Well, shit.

It’s got to be a bluff. There’s no way Koga, of all Gym Leaders, is going to let Blue jump straight to a badge match after just arriving…

“You’re skeptical. Perhaps it will help if I clarify that this is not a free offer; there is a problem I cannot solve myself, and cannot ask anyone from my gym to solve. You are an outsider who may actually possess the traits and skill necessary. What I propose is a straightforward exchange.”

Blue hides his smile behind another sip of tea, fighting to control his excitement before he lowers his cup again. Forget the early badge challenge, there’s no way he’s turning down the chance to solve a problem for a Gym Leader!

“I wouldn’t be opposed in principle,” he says, voice level. “But I’d like to hear more about the problem, first.”

“It’s my daughter. Janine is intelligent, resourceful, strong willed… and arrogant. She acts as though her position as future Leader of Fuchsia is guaranteed, and yet her focus has fractured. She has neglected the duties of a potential Leader for her own priorities of what a Leader ‘should be,’ without yet even experiencing the demands of the position.”

Blue listens in carefully concealed fascination, aware that he’s being confided in and unsure why. Koga doesn’t strike him as the sort of man who’d share personal family drama to just anyone… how desperate is he, exactly?

“Respectfully, Leader, couldn’t you just…”

“Defeat her? For another few years at least, yes. But those are years she is spending unwisely, and eventually she will have an opportunity to ascend to Leadership that I will have no say in.”

“What, you think she’s going to Challenge another Gym Leader?”

“Perhaps, if she grows impatient enough. But we would both prefer she replace me in Fuchsia, assuming she is worthy.” Koga takes another sip of tea, gaze dropping for just a moment before returning to Blue’s. “And my own plans are being delayed, so long as she is not.”

Blue blinks. “You want to retire? No… you plan to ascend. How many powerful pokemon have you been hiding, exactly?” He’s too excited by the even juicier gossip he just got freely handed (which of course he wouldn’t be sharing with anyone, if he wants the positive relationship with Koga that’s clearly being offered) to maintain his respectful calm, thoughts already racing over all the current Elite’s teams. “If you think you have a chance, I’d bet on you over Bruno and Will.” The Johto psychic replaced Karen after her injury against Zapdos, and while he’s strong, Koga probably has some good counters against him. “Maybe Lorelei too. But you’d have to be hiding something really monstrous to beat Agatha or Lance.”

Koga merely watches him, brow slightly raised, and Blue grins and holds a hand up. “Not that I’m actually expecting an answer. Either way, I’m looking forward to the matches.”

“Matches that will happen sooner, if I have reason to believe Janine defeating my Second would be cause for celebration.”

“Right.” Blue straightens his back, feeling a mild ache on his ankles and waist, and does his best to consider the situation from Koga’s perspective. “So if you need me to talk to her… I mean, I’ve got ideas for what gyms should be more like, and would be happy to pitch her on it. But that’s no guarantee, so I’m guessing it’s not what you want. It also doesn’t sound like you expect me to get stronger than her anytime soon, to demoralize her or whatever.”

“If you are capable of becoming her equal, or better, and that demoralizes her, then I won’t consider that a failure on your part.”

Blue would call that cold, but… he gets it. “But you don’t think that’s likely.”

“No. You are a skilled trainer, but I judge Janine will still be your better for a while yet. That doesn’t mean you cannot provide a decent challenge to her, however, and I may be wrong about your potential. What matters is not whether you can, however; it’s whether she thinks you can.” Koga pours himself more tea, then offers it to Blue, who lets him refill his cup. “Especially if I make it clear I expect you to.”

Blue raises a brow, then finally gets it. “You’re going to make it seem like I’m your successor.”

Fuchsia’s gym leader nods. “I expect you to be working hard while here regardless. Combined with my public favor, I suspect she will quickly realize that you can, in fact, surpass her, and hope this will force her to reprioritize the path to Leadership itself. I want her to be so busy training her pokemon and others’, bonding with gym members, studying gym logistics, all the things it takes to become a Leader, that she has no time for anything else. Will you do this?”

“To be clear, you want me to lie about my intentions here? Make it seem like I am considering staying and becoming Leader?”

“Yes,” Koga says, no shame in his voice. “And if Janine focuses on her gym duties again, or you beat Janine in a pokemon battle even once, I will allow you to Challenge… for Mastery, of course, but also Membership, if your time here does change your mind.”

Blue smiles. It’s not quite the agreement and role he forged with Erika, but it’s unique and prestigious in its own way, and he’s got no objection to some deception for a good cause.

Also, this would make three secret agreements with three different Leaders. He may not be able to show them off, but it still feels as good as getting a badge when he repeats what he said to Sabrina: “That sounds perfect, Leader.”

Chapter 99: Interlude XX – Change

Gifted.

It was a concept Natsume carried with her as close as her name for as long as she could remember. There was no “talk” about the gift, no explanation for what it was, what it meant. She learned about it the same way she did how to hold a spoon, by simple observation and gentle guidance. She learned how to bend the spoon the same way, around the time she was learning her letters. In their home, there was barely any talking at all; why use words, when sending and sharing feelings and notions was so much more direct?

Losing them was like losing parts of her mind. Learning to live without them was impossible without relearning how to learn.

She stayed, for a while, with a man who had a kind and perpetually worried face. She could feel that he cared for her, but it was abstract compared to her parents’ love, and laced with worry and grief. He took care of her, tried to encourage her to speak more, but he wasn’t like her. His mind was like a picture; her mental fingers touched it without being touched. It wasn’t what she needed.

Eventually someone came who was, and little by little she regrew around the parts that were missing, felt their absence without suffering their lack… though there was suffering, too, as she was made, little by little, to understand what she’d lost. The kind man, who she later understood was her father’s brother, held her many nights as she cried.

But still she barely spoke, making her wants and needs known through her gift. She pitied those who had to resort to speech for all their communication needs, felt no desire to use it herself. Every word felt like dragging meaning and feelings and thoughts from a deep pit, misshapen and painful. Each time she managed it felt like leaving her parents further behind. No one seemed to understand; even others like her were too immersed in the world of the ungifted, preoccupied by concepts of separation and privacy.

You cannot simply immerse yourself in another’s thoughts without asking,” her sensei explained, the words emphasized by a projected sense of support and patience. This was not their first conversation on the topic, but he never became upset with her. “Even asking is considered rude, and even if they say yes, they will not mean forever. If you keep trying, people will not want to be your friends.”

So? She asked without words, sending back her wariness of such people. Why would she want to be their friend, if she couldn’t understand them and they didn’t trust her?

The next session she was introduced to the empty people. A creature that looked like a man, but with nothing inside; who spoke without thought; who smiled without feelings.

It was all she could do not to run, screaming, from the room.

What kept her rooted in place was the utterly horrifying thought that perhaps the man was, in fact, a real person… and that the fault lay in her own gift. If the man was real and it couldn’t sense what he was feeling or thinking, how could she trust it to tell her what anyone really thought or felt?

How could she trust her memories of her parents’ minds, and what they shared with hers?

She’d pitied non-gifted, for not knowing. For having nothing but hope, some words, some gestures, to believe in their parents’ love. It seemed far sadder than her own losses, to never feel that love directly, know it as true as her own.

Once her own certainty was stripped from her, chaos reigned. Order was all that could save her, and so she threw herself into her gifted lessons, took every idea she was given and turned it around in her thoughts, examined it from every angle, and when her brain felt too small to hold it all she used paper, and when the paper too small she taught herself to type, and from there she had access to the whole of the world’s knowledge, sterile and abstract as it still seemed without a mind behind it.

She had little interest in other subjects, but some of the research involved psychology and history and math, and so she threw herself into learning those too, which involved learning still more things first. It was slow, and difficult, and she realized she needed a sensei for something other than her gift, and so, painfully, began practicing her speech.

Eventually, frustrated in part by the lack of others’ ability to communicate clearly, she developed a more direct way to transfer a concept from one mind to another. Her sensei was surprised, then delighted and proud. No one had done something like this before, apparently, and suddenly the way she was treated changed.

Before she had been considered slow and stupid and broken, because she didn’t talk, because she didn’t want to talk. Now people were interested in her, intrigued, excited. More gifted wanted to meet her, to experience what she could do. She was introduced to psychic pokemon minds, which felt even easier to communicate with, and lauded as a prodigy.

It wasn’t long after that before the man appeared.

He was another empty person, but his dark eyes still seemed to peer into her mind when he met her gaze and asked her what she wanted, and what she would do to get it. She answered honestly, and he told her about a special, private school for the gifted, one of his philanthropic projects that combined cutting edge research with an environment that fostered both personal and psychic growth.

She was only eight, but she agreed immediately, and after a couple conversations, her uncle did too. She said goodbye to her second home and went to her third with eyes forward.

She had to learn everything anyone knew about the gift, everything everyone knew, and if that wasn’t enough she’d learn more. She’d figure out how it works and how accurate it is and in the end she would know that the love her parents felt toward her was real.


Had it not been for the Hoenn incident, the battle for Cinnabar City would be the most frightening in Sabrina’s life.

Part of that is how unknown the stakes are; failing in Hoenn would end civilization on the island, perhaps the world, and while the danger posed by the shapeshifters doesn’t seem quite as obviously large, they still seem likely to change the world if left unchecked.

But that’s abstract, a fear for the lulls and space between breaths. In the moment, her old enemy chaos reigns once again.

Sabrina watches from atop her bronzong as the trainers fight below her, alert for another discrepancy among the minds of the wild pokemon attacking them. She senses one just as a raticate starts to turn into an ivysaur, and sends a psychic blast from Bronzong down on the imposter, keeping it disoriented until a nearby trainer can swap to a magmar and bathe it in flames.

But the distraction costs them when a sandslash, normal to Sabrina’s senses, emerges under the magmar, pulling it underground and out of withdraw reach. Sabrina quickly has her bronzong confuse the wild pokemon long enough for the suffocating magmar to counterattack, the glow visible through the soil for a moment. But even with the sandslash dead it struggles to breathe or dig its way free, and she quickly withdraws her mind rather than feel its suffocation, the trainer too busy fighting another wild to save it.

She sends a pulse of mental comfort and resolve to her, a holding-shared-grief-for-later, and then there are other threats to face. Sabrina sends out attack after attack through her bronzong for another minute, then guides it higher. The bell-shaped pokemon slowly rotates beneath her feet as it ascends, giving her a wider view of the battle.

The stampede is staggered, each wave coming from a different direction and composed of a varying mix of pokemon. The perimeter they’ve set up is between the city’s proximity sensors and the most dense portion of its suburban borders, as tightly knit as they could make it while leaving as few buildings unaccounted for as possible. All have been evacuated, but the property damage would still be substantial.

Luckily, with the whole island turned out and extra assistance from various gyms, there are enough people at hand to keep each other in line of sight. The dark makes it harder to coordinate which parts of the perimeter need extra help, but that’s what watchers like Sabrina are for.

“Another cluster heading east. Reduce to one trainer per ten meters, everyone else head there.”

“Two growlithe heading west, form a wall.”

“Trainers by the grocery store, weaker pokemon out first. If you’re out then rotate with others.”

There’s too much happening at once to stay on top of it all, and she alternates between going high enough to see the pools of light beyond the perimeter and low enough to help with the battles again, trying to keep her attention on the big picture. Every few minutes she wonders how the other sections are doing, if they’ve already broken or let some of the transforming pokemon through, before she pushes those thoughts away with long practice to focus on what’s in front of her.

Trust is hard for you. I understand. I’ll never be able to prove myself with my mind, but neither will most people in the world; there isn’t enough time to merge with them all. So you’ll have to learn to live with that uncertainty, if you want to be part of a society that trusts each other to try and keep everyone safe.”

They fail. Often.”

Yes. At many things. If people didn’t, trust wouldn’t be necessary.”

High again. “Incoming group of magmar, prepare for a few changers among them!”

Low again as a trainer is killed to disorient the group of identical magmar until others can catch them.

High again to scan the line and say, “Another mixed wave, return to standard.”

Back to low, then high, again and again, until her bronzong is moving slower with exhaustion and the trainers are down to their last few healthy pokemon when she finally sees nothing coming in the furthest lights.

“I think we’ve got a breather,” she says as she guides her pokemon down to settle on the roof of a tourist shop. “Rest up and heal, prioritize Water types.”

She hops off her mount, legs a little wobbly, and sprays some ether onto its metal body. The dim light makes it hard to tell how quickly it’s absorbed, but she can sense when Bronzong’s thoughts quicken and clear. Its body is too alien to feel as though it’s her own, but she can still sense the thrum of energy that goes through it, and decides to give it a minute of real rest rather than immediately climbing back up to start patrolling again..

She uses that time to meditate, slipping quickly and neatly into the calm, quiet place that’s always waiting for her inside, when she looks for it. For some it’s a grassy field, for others it’s their bedroom, but for her it will always be a memory more than a place; an immersed and complete sense of love between her parents and her.

Sometimes, particularly when she was younger, she would wonder if she only imagined it. But when she’s reliving it, it feels as real as anything.

Her muscles begin to relax, and her racing heart is just beginning to slow when her phone chimes an alert for a high priority call and kicks it back into high gear. She lets out a frustrated sound and quickly opens a new channel on her earpiece. “Yes?”

“Hey Sabrina. Word from the boss.”

Archer. The last time she spoke to the administrator it had been to browbeat him for the way his subordinates in the Casino started killing civilians who fell into it; Giovanni said he already dressed him down, but she felt that one of her students nearly getting killed also gave her the right, and she didn’t have much sympathy over the fact that he lost a number of people he worked with daily there, and nearly died himself.

Just thinking about what happened that night brings up a flash of anger, but she controls it with long practice. She doesn’t know everything Giovanni has going on around the region and beyond it, but he’d assured her that Tahu was helping weed out the truly dangerous renegades, rather than just those who were unlucky or made mistakes.

She didn’t touch base with Giovanni before coming to the island, but he would know this is where she’s needed, just as she knows he’s likely been busy coordinating his people to learn as much as they could about what’s happening however possible. Having one of his top administrators reach out to her at a time like this is like having him reach out directly, given how busy they both are.

“Is everyone at the mansion safe?”

“For now.” She lets out a breath, but the next words make her suck it in again. “The pokemon can imitate humans, but not clothing, and according to Naoto they don’t get much smarter.”

Sabrina tries to control her expression before remembering that there’s no one around. If Naoto has access to one of the new pokemon, and they’ve already been experimenting with them… “Archer, was this us?”

“Don’t know any more than you. Boss wanted to coordinate letting the secret out ASAP.”

She grits her teeth, then lets another long breath out. Now isn’t the time to pursue this, the priority has to be getting the information out. It wouldn’t be the first time they had to invent a reason for her to know something Giovanni deemed valuable to the public, but it would be tricky in a situation with such a new threat, particularly since all her movements on the island have been fairly public… unless… “There’s a ‘rescue’ planned?”

“Yep, a guy named Kota is riding to your part of the perimeter on a gogoat.”

Sabrina knows Kota; most of the lab workers would only leave the grounds for vacations, but Kota’s a Cinnabar native, and would regularly travel to the island’s various towns or the city on errands. When she first visited the lab a decade ago he was already in his mid-40s, and she’s worried about someone his age pulling a stunt like this.

But after a moment’s thought it’s obvious why they chose him. A ruse like this would shine the spotlight on whoever’s involved for a bit, and they’d want to keep scrutiny off everyone else at the mansion and lab. So she just says “I’m on it” and hops onto her bronzong, hoping another wave doesn’t arrive meanwhile.

Luckily her section of the perimeter is spared, and after a few minutes she spots Kota riding up the main street. She sets down in his path, far enough that they won’t be seen by the defenders on the perimeter, and he slows to a stop beside her.

“Good to see you again, Sabrina,” Kota says with a wan smile as he takes his cap off and scratches his short white hair. “You know the plan?”

They’ve never exchanged more than a dozen words, but the familiarity doesn’t bother her; Kota was never one for formalities or titles, and even acts like Giovanni and he are old friends. “The basic gist. You have one, then?”

He pats a pokeball on his hip. “Rhea caught it. They did what experiments they could on short notice, took samples, all that.”

“What do we know?” How much she’d be able to find a reason to share is a different matter, but it’ll help to learn as much as possible. Plus, she’s curious.

“They can transform once they touch something, and they can transform into people, but they don’t get smarter, just stare and smile and babble a bit. They tried teaching it basic language, but nothing worked, and Naoto said it’s basically still a pokemon.”

“Basically?”

“He said it’s also kind of like a baby, but…” Kota shrugs. “Seemed uncomfortable, didn’t want to talk about it much.”

Kota doesn’t seem uncomfortable, which is interesting given it’s presumably him that it copied, or soon will, but since he’s a deft hand at psychic shielding she can’t tell how much of his calm is a mask. “How long can they hold a form?”

“Not sure. Once this one pulled at its restraints a few times it transformed back into the jelly and slipped out of them. Also, there’s almost no cooldown on switching, a few seconds, maybe.”

“Does it have to switch once it touches something new?”

“Ah, no, they tried forcing them to transform into weaker pokemon. Mostly didn’t take, though the boss said they might be ‘judging by size or something like it,’ which, yeah, we only used stuff like caterpie and rattata. There’s testing, and there’s being stupid, am I right?”

Sabrina absently nods, mind already racing through all she’s learned and what she can do with it. “Let’s keep this simple, then. One breaks through as some kind of flier, dives at you. Transforms, doesn’t seem like a threat right away, gives you time to call it in. Less coincidence of me finding you, and I’ll have an excuse to merge with it while it’s in human shape.”

“Sure thing, just tell me when and where. Oh, and Naoto did say if you plan to merge with it to warn you that it can be, ah, ‘unsettling’ is the word he used. Like I said, he seemed uncomfortable talking about it.”

“And you? Did you get the chance to merge with it?”

“Oh, sure, but I’m not in the same class as you two, you know. All I got was surface stuff.”

She just nods, unsure how to react to Naoto’s warning. On the one hand, she’s had much more experience merging with pokemon than he has. On the other, he knows that, and he warned her anyway. “There are buildings people are using to act as spotters nearby. You have a flier?”

“Nope, scared of heights,” he says matter-of-factly. “The roof of that motel isn’t too high though, and I think I can make it up there from the inside.”

Sabrina follows his gaze, worried about cameras but also feeling an itch to get back to the perimeter before another wave hits. “Make sure there’s no surveillance up there, and if there are then find another place nearby.”

“Not my first mission, girl.” When Sabrina turns back to him in surprise, he just winks. “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll listen in on the chatter, and when the next wave starts to quiet I’ll call out. Work for you?”

She nods, more amused than chastened. “Works for me.”

“Righto. C’mon boy.” He squeezes his thighs and tugs on its reins to guide it toward the motel, and Sabrina guides her bronzong up and toward the perimeter. She looks back in time to see Kota withdraw his gogoat at the motel entrance, then walk inside.

She spends the next few minutes floating along the perimeter, occasionally touching down to check in on trainers and make sure everyone is okay. She trusts most to have called for support if they weren’t, but it also helps improve morale, and she can tell by the intermittent brushes with the many minds below her that tonight morale is in high demand.

She reaches one end of her section before doubling back, listening as new waves hit the other parts of the city perimeter. By the time she reaches the opposite end her people have spread out twice to cover new gaps in other sections. “Command, my line’s looking pretty thin,” she says after switching channels. “We should retreat to close up more.”

“Copy that, Sabrina, we’ll put out the order as soon as the latest wave hitting the western perimeter is over.”

And if we get hit meanwhile? “Understood.” She swaps back to her local frequency and tries to think of ways to plug the gaps, but every alternative to the straight line she considers would have the opposite effect, or leave other parts randomly exposed…

Ten minutes later another alert goes out, and this one is headed between her section and the one to its west, which is being headed by Ariya. Cerulean Gym’s second is already in the thick of it when Sabrina arrives, and the sight of the oncoming pokemon through the pools of light outside the perimeter makes her swear under her breath, heart hammering despite her efforts to focus on deep, steady breaths.

It looks like the whole island is coming at them.

“Command, we need support now. There’s no way my people will be able to keep this wave from breaking through!”

“Local sectors are moving in to reinforce now.”

Sabrina doesn’t respond, already heading off the attack by landing between two trainers and summoning every pokemon on her belt: kadabra, barrierd, xatu, hypno, swoobat. Nothing too strong, nothing that would be disastrous if turned against them, but hopefully enough to buy them some time… particularly with her merging with them all at once.

The experiments with exeggcute that led to Red’s new partition had other effects for her and her people; each time they practiced merging with the exeggcute together, it became easier to do alone, and that in turn made it easier to merge with multiple other pokemon at once.

She links with each mind one at a time, incorporating their thoughts without merging senses, which feels strange to do with so many relatively smart pokemon, like having six sets of awareness without six sets of senses to feed them information. It’s not her preferred way to do battle, but she can’t handle even three full mergers at once, let alone six, and all she needs them to do is synchronise their actions.

Only a few seconds have passed since she summoned her team, but the first pokemon in the wave are nearly in striking range. REFLECT, she sends, and a dome of force propels a leaping raticate back through the air. LIGHT SCREEN, and the pokemon around her team are coated in a shimmer, the closest thing that humans can detect of what Mazda sees.

The rest crash into the barrier, some immediately spilling around while others try to crawl under. She has her bronzong snipe those while leaving the rest to the other trainers, particularly Ariya, whose pokemon surgically focus on taking out the fire types before they get too close.

For the third time today at least, Sabrina wishes she had her strongest pokemon with her. Not just for their power, but for the familiarity of their minds, the ease of impulse and response and reaction that all blends nearly seamlessly together.

But she has to make do with pokemon from her 4-badge teams, and so the barriers start to falter after just a dozen seconds. She disconnects from her kadabra just before he gets attacked, trusting him to defend himself or die trying, and instead focuses on finding the not-right minds, the doubled-instincts that give away the transforming pokemon.

There, and there, and a third under…

She almost misses the one above, a simple pidgey that flies lower to the ground than any normal one would. It’s passed the perimeter and almost out of range before bronzong slaps it down so hard its wings break, and she knows with resigned certainty that others will have made it past where she’s not as close, let alone other parts of the perimeter without powerful gifted.

Trust them, even though some will fail. If you crave certainty so much, then be certain, but certain in different things; that they will fail your trust, that you will fail your trust, but also that you will only ultimately succeed if you trust them anyway. Not individuals who betray you, but the masses who haven’t, yet, and the ones who you think might have.

Words that helped her when she was young and in despair. Words that helped her make sense of Rei’s betrayal, and see past it to continue working with her in some mutually beneficial fashion. Words she hoped would help Mazda, when they felt even more isolated than she ever did.

They were enough for her. Clearly they weren’t for Mazda.

“Pidgey on the ground behind us,” she calls out. “It’s a transformer, capture it before it shifts!” She can already feel its thoughts changing, the second layer of instincts melting away. She needs to go capture it, before it gets away—

Its thoughts suddenly vanish, and she almost turns around in alarm and surprise—did it transform into a Dark pokemon?—before someone calls out, “I got it!” and she realizes no, it was just a dark trainer doing as she asked, keeping her and Ariya free to focus on the battle in front of them.

She’s lost two of her pokemon now, but thankfully she’s been able to single out the transformers enough that none of them got copied. A scream of pain to her far left indicates that not everyone was so lucky, or maybe they’re just breaking through on the strength of the stampede alone; Ariya leaves to attend to it, and Sabrina realizes she’s been down on the ground too long, lost sight of the overall battle.

A few more precious seconds spent stabilizing the area, then she withdraws her pokemon (even the dead ones, in case the enemy can transform from corpses, no one’s tested that yet as far as she knows) and lifts off again. The perimeter seems secure, though it’s thinner where the scream came from, and she urges her bronzong in that direction despite its renewed weariness.

Later, she wordlessly promises through her own growing fatigue. Rest later.

Bronzong’s thrum beneath her is mournful, but it continues on.

Once Ariya’s section is stabilized Sabrina returns to hers, and though it was hit less directly, she ends up losing three more trainers before the wave is done. She only sees one of them fall, the rest just candles in the sea of minds that get snuffed out.

The gaps between each of them have grown to the point that most are exhausted running back and forth to any area new clusters approach, and when she finally feels safe enough to call for rest, a few of the trainers sag into sitting or kneeling positions before they start summoning their pokemon to let them rest and heal too.

Sabrina almost forgets Kota in her own desire to be still a minute, but his voice on the general channel snaps her back to attention. “Hey, I’ve got one here! On the motel roo-SHIT!”

Despite knowing it’s an act, she feels a kick of adrenaline as she commands Bronzong back into the air. “I’m on my way,” she barks on the open channel. “Everyone else hold position!”

Even expecting it, the sight of the extra Kota on the roof beside the real one is disturbing, though she’s not sure if it would be more or less so if he wasn’t naked. Its expression sends a deep unease down her spine to settle in her stomach, and its thoughts are a strange mix of instinctual impulses to search and touch things, and… simply put, arousal, or rather, searching for things that would be mateable.

She doesn’t waste words once she arrives, simply hopping off her bronzong when it gets close enough and unclipping a great ball from her belt before realizing that it wouldn’t work.

She freezes, long enough for the copied Kota to turn to her, eyes wide and mouth flapping open and closed, and she can faintly hear the wet babbling sounds it makes as it takes a step toward her, arms reaching.

Sabrina immediately takes a step back and cuts her mental link from it, almost sending an impulse to her bronzong to attack it before remembering that this wouldn’t work either. We should have thought of this, we were too distracted—

The real Kota suddenly steps up to the copy with a folding chair and slams it over the head with a crack.

Sabrina jumps, and it takes a moment to remind herself that it’s not a person, as evidenced by its reaction; rather than crumple or fall, the copied Kota sways for a moment, skull visibly dented as blood starts pouring down its neck. Its expression goes from a mindless smile to a slack puzzlement, then screws up and puckers until it looks alarmingly close to bursting into tears.

Until Kota smashes the chair down again, and this time it collapses into a pile of purple goo about as high as her knees and wide as a coffee table. Sabrina stares at it, then quickly holds the ball out toward the goo until she hears the ping, and throws.

She half expects the greatball to get stuck in the gelatinous form, but instead it bounces off, sending a ripple through it for the brief moment before it all disappears in a flash.

She looks up at Kota, who’s examining the chair, expression calm. The blood that was on it a moment ago has turned into a cloudy pink stain that’s flaking off even as she watches.

“Was worried I dented it,” he says matter-of-factly as he sets it down. “So, what did it feel like? The inside of its head, I mean.”

She feels her neck grow warm and climbs back onto her bronzong. “I have to get back.” As soon as the bronzong is in the air, she clicks through each channel to get a sense of what’s happening and hears—

“—too big,” Taira says. “Scouts say this is the final wave, but it’ll be bigger than the rest.”

“If they hit us, we’ll collapse,” Misty says, voice frank. “We weren’t prepared to take on the whole island.”

“Us too,” Sabrina adds. “My trainers struggled with the last wave, and I’m sure some have been getting through.”

“Bring the hammer down,”Blaine says.

“Leader, are you sure—”

“Nearly. All points, confirm no sightings of long-range transformation.”

“None,” Sabrina says. “Contact only.”

“Same here”

“And here.”

The confirmations come from every sector, and finally Blaine says, “Good enough.”

“Understood,” Taira says, voice crisp. “Stand by for aerial bombardment.”

Sabrina feels a mix of relief and dread, and switches to the local channel.”Hold fast everyone. Help is on the way.”

They wait together in the dark, the wind swirling her hair around her face as her gaze stays on the distance, straining to make out any sign of movement. If the horde comes first… if the support doesn’t make it in time… everyone below her would likely die. And so would she, if she commits herself to helping.

Trust them anyway.

The first sign are the flashes of light. She turns to see lines of energy illuminating the sky, raining death down in blooms of yellow and orange. More and more of them umbrella up, and before she can register how close they’re getting, a trio of dragonite fly by so fast that they strip leaves from trees.

A moment later the Draco Meteors start to land closer by, the explosions demolishing houses and stores… and pokemon by the dozen. Some of the explosions are in thick enough clusters of pokemon that she can make out the survivors at the edges who scatter in every direction.

A trio of salamence goes by next, and then another three dragonite. By the time the last explosion fades, Sabrina has remembered to breathe, and it’s in relief as much as anything, even as she prepares to fight, because now that no dragonite spontaneously arose from the wilds she knows they’ll be okay.

The remnants of the stampede are far fewer, and less coordinated than before, and are repelled without much difficulty. Once it’s all over, Sabrina informs command that she’s caught one of the new pokemon and will give a debrief soon.

Once that’s done, she uses her secure line to Shaw.

“Something go wrong with Kota?” he asks by way of hello.

His voice sounds rougher than usual, but as he dispensed with pleasantries she decides to get to the point too. “No. What’s going on over there, Shaw?”

He pauses a moment. “You talk to the boss?”

“He’s busy.” Probably. “I’m on my way, just thought I’d ask first.”

“Might not be a good idea.”

“I won’t be missed—”

“No, I mean your teleport point might be over rubble right now.”

Sabrina pauses, surprise mixing with her growing anger. “This was us, then?”

“What? No. Not on purpose, at least.”

She shakes her head. “I’ll teleport elsewhere and fly over.”

He sighs, says “Right,” and ends the call, which surprises Sabrina. Despite her confident words, she’d expected more pushback, and technically Shaw outranks her when it comes to the mansion and lab.

Your teleport point might be over rubble.

She shakes her head, then starts searching for a working PC to refill her belt. She also calls Naoto, hoping her fellow gifted will fill her in along the way.


The first thing she notices at the mansion are the hooded light posts set up around the new, massive, rubble filled hole where most of it used to be.

That’s the second thing she notices.

The posts keep the area illuminated without making a noticeable glare from a distance, allowing those stationed around it to remain vigilant for new signs of the transforming pokemon. There are precious few non-dark, non-psychic people left on-site, but Sabrina can sense the worry threading through their thoughts as she searches for Shaw.

She finds him and the rest of the remaining mansion residents set up in a series of storage structures, each just barely large enough to accomodate the people or things in them.

“Expect a massive hunt over all of Cinnabar,” Zach says. “The Rangers were talking about dividing the island up into square-kilometers for thorough searches of any nests.”

Shaw grimaces, flexing the fingers of one hand in a way that makes it clear it’s the one he temporarily lost. The doctors weren’t able to reattach his eye, apparently, but while the older man isn’t particularly handsome, the eyepatch does add a dashing flair to his strong, square features. Or maybe she’s just looking for bright spots; the news of what happened here tonight still leaves her feeling off-balance, her earlier anger evaporated. “Even pulling strings, there’s a lot of risk someone outside the know will be assigned the land containing the mansion.”

“Depends how they divide things up,” Sabrina says as she steps forward, the others making room for her. “Gym members and rangers will make up most of the search parties. Between Erika, Blaine, Giovanni and I, we can probably get this sector.”

“Probably isn’t good enough, but we’ll hope for that and plan for failure.” He studies her a moment. “Is there something else you needed here, Leader?”

Using her title means he’s pissed with her, or just feeling in need of distance. She can understand, given the night he’s had. “No. I’m just… I wanted to see it.” It sounds so frivolous, said out loud, but she spent ten years traveling back and forth to the island, and it’s hard to wrap her head around it all just being… gone. Not just in disrepair, temporarily vacated, but wiped out, nothing but the ruined remains of the mansion above crushed rock and concrete…

Shaw seems to understand, however, and simply nods. “Don’t worry, we’ll leave someone here for it, just in case it comes back.”

Mazda wasn’t on her mind just then, and she stares at him, unsure what he meant by the comment. She and Shaw were never close; her own familiarity with Mazda saw to that. She understands it, understands his professional opposition and distrust of her, but this seemed almost cruel.

Unless it wasn’t meant to be.

Trust them anyway.

Sabrina forces herself to nod back and step away, walking until she finds herself at the edge of the rubble. Once she’s there, facing the hard reality of what happened and what it means for the future, she realizes that some part of her really held out hope that, somehow, things might go back to the way they were… or maybe, a better way. That she and Mazda could move freely about together, and travel back to the mansion or lab once in a while, for old times’ sake.

As she lets the last of the fear and tension of the night’s battles go, weariness and sadness take their place, and the memories start to wash over her. The first time Mazda flew. The first time they walked out into the sunlight, hand holding hers, and cried, as human as any of them. The first time she named them, and their gratitude and fascination at having a name rather than a label. Their fear and anger and grief, when Dr. Fuji left. Their pain at being stuck for so long in one place, only accessing the wider world through memories and screens.

The first time they spoke together, mind to mind. How thrilled and nervous she was, how in awe of the strange creature that could only communicate through psychic connection.

The kinship she felt, for this being that was so like her younger self.

How much of that was a lie?

She closes her eyes against the tears until the burn fades. She can’t know when Mazda first learned how to hide his true feelings, but she has reasonable guesses. Sometime after his desperate threats, almost certainly. Sometime before their last meeting, obviously, unless he formulated his entire escape plan and decided to go through with it spur-of-the-moment, once the opportunity presented itself.

Why didn’t you trust me?

A stupid question, but one she can’t help thinking time and again. The more she’s relived those final months, the more she thinks Mazda developed the ability to lie around the time they became more optimistic about the future, more positive in general. At the time she thought it was just the increased freedom the suit provided them, the increased time spent outside, the proof that the lab was, little by little, working toward their freedom.

But of course that’s exactly when such a ruse would be most beneficial to begin. She thinks everything that came before was genuine, but she also wants to believe it, and she knows better than to put too much trust into such a pleasant theory. For all she knows, Mazda was never her friend at all.

Trust them anyway…


It takes three days to do a complete, sector by sector sweep of the island. Three days of teleporting to Cinnabar as soon as the sun rises, then back home after a nightly debrief. Once again she suspends all her duties and classes to attend to the emergency, and tries not to think of all the work that’s continuing to pile up without her. At least she has a public excuse this time.

They do manage to have Erika’s gym cover the sector of the mountain with the mansion on it, which the Leader personally oversees and reports finding nothing on. Sabrina could tell Erika had questions about it, but they’re all in the dark about some things.

Two more nests are found, but after the last section of the island is swept and no new outbreaks of the transforming pokemon are found, they feel confident that, for now at least, the situation isn’t about to explode. The island stays on high vigilance, however, and a region-wide League meeting is scheduled to discuss next steps.

They’re rare enough that Sabrina only remembers it happening once in her past six years as the head of Saffron. All eight Gym Leaders are present, along with Champion Lance, Ranger General Taira, and Professors Elm and Oak. The latter looks simultaneously more tired than he did at the Lavender Tower debrief, and more excited. She can sense it more than see it, a buzzing energy that lifts her own spirits and sharpens her focus, but he has a spring in his step as he and Elm set up the computer and projector for his presentation. Without any Seconds, assistants, or other staff in the room it feels almost empty compared to how often each of them has their own people around.

“Hello everyone,” he says once everything is done, and what little chatter there is between Brock, Misty, and Erika fades. “Since it will get annoying to keep referring to the new pokemon without a name, the first order of business is semantic.” He sighs. “As usual, the race began on the net before anyone even fully knew what we were naming, but on the bright side the most popular ones aren’t too bad.” He clicks on the first slide, which shows trendlines for a dozen different words on the net. “As of now the leading three are ‘metamorph,’ ‘metamon,’ and ‘ditto.’ That last one is pulling ahead, so I’m going to abuse my power over this meeting and try to normalize my own preference.”

A light chuckle makes its way around the room as the Professor clicks to the next slide, which is labeled “Metamon Biology.”

“Metamon are, in almost every way, a defiance of classification. Their entire bodies appear to be made up of cells that follow basic instincts: copy, mate, feed, reproduce, and that last part is different from the second. But rather than each cell being independent, they make up individual organisms; one piece of a metamon that gets cut off will wither and die, though we’re not entirely sure why, as they don’t have a circulatory system or consistent organs that would indicate why separation would be deadly.”

“But the reports say they reproduce by separating bits of themselves,” Lance says, brow furrowed. “What makes those bits different?”

“Still unknown. It’s not just lack of organs that make them a mystery; their bodies seem to be made up of stem-cells that they can repurpose at will once they’ve sampled the DNA of another living organism, but that alone is an insufficient explanation for how they can so precisely mimic their targets. When transforming into, say, a blastoise, parts of them simply liquify into something that resembles water as close as their biology will allow, ready to be weaponized through their attacks. This costs them mass, of course, but seems to have no effect on their overall health.”

“Where did they come from?” Giovanni asks. “Not geographically, I know we’re still searching through those caves, but do we have any idea what substance they arose from?”

“None,” the Professor says, and sighs. “Their own DNA is an absurd, impossible, chaotic mess that we’re still trying to understand, with fragments of plant, mammal, reptilian, avian, and even mineral life forms. At first we thought that was just a result of their transformations, but even freshly born metamon are like that… though the parent may be passing the accumulated DNA of its transformations down.”

“The science of all this is fascinating,” Koga says, sounding sincere. “But I hope you will forgive me moving to other matters, such as the likelihood that this pokemon will be trainable.”

The Professor runs a hand through his hair. “We’ve only had a couple days, but what we’ve confirmed is that we’ve found a true nightmare scenario, worse than falinks and even exeggcute. These things have one mind, such as it is, but their copied form introduces an entirely new set of instincts that their original ones get channeled through. There’s little enough for the training programs to build on when they’re in their basic form, and trying to get them to retain it once they transform is going to take a while.”

“But it’s possible,” Sabrina says, not quite a question.

“I’m not ready to declare it impossible, but it would take a major breakthrough to do it anytime soon. Luckily Bill has grown fascinated by the challenge, but he said it’s too soon to give estimates… which, knowing him, means it’s on the order of months at least.”

“Containment,” Blaine says, voice hard. “I want my island back. What do we need to do?”

“Catch them all,” Oak says, face devoid of humor. “A single metamon could potentially start duplicating if it can find a mate, though thankfully not just any mate will do, which is why we have some chance of actually doing it.”

“Meaning?”

“Remember what I said about mating and reproduction being different; from the two small nests we found in the wild, we can confirm that the eggs created by the copied pokemon appear to create normal children of the species the metamon mated with. Their own reproduction only occurs afterward, in a parasitic process of separating a portion of themselves into the eggs to absorb the embryo and grow into a new metamon.”

“So they can only reproduce if they mate with egg-laying species?” Erika asks.

“That’s our current guess, though they can mate with others.” He clears his throat. “In fact, when placed in a contained habitat with a single pokemon, as long as no other pokemon of the opposite gender were around, the metamon first copied the pokemon, then transformed into the opposite gender of the same species.”

The room is silent for a moment before Misty mutters, “The net’s going to have a field day with that one.”

“Say again, Misty?” Lance asks from the other side of the table.

“Just thinking of the possibilities, Champion.”

A chuckle works its way through half the room, and Professor Elm raises a hand. “Just to clarify, they can probably be impregnated or impregnate non-egg-laying species as well. But if so, their transformation almost certainly keeps any children from coming to term, which is why laying fertilized eggs would be their fastest method to duplication.”

Ranger General Taira leans forward, face thoughtful. “There are plenty of those, to be sure. While obviously a threat to the local wildlife, this species represents boundless potential opportunity. The implications for breeding alone… under careful monitoring and observation, the destructive post-mating behavior could be interrupted such that each ditto—sorry, Professor, metamon—doubles our breeding stock for rare pokemon.”

“Good as that is, the real prize would be using these things against legendaries,” Erika says. “They’re equalizers the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

The room is quiet again, but Sabrina doesn’t detect any real surprise this time. No one in the room would be where they are if they weren’t the sort that would already have considered it.

“It would be hard to get one close enough to touch a Stormbringer or Beast,” Misty muses. “But the Titans…”

“Surely they couldn’t become that bi—”

Blaine claps his hands together, and everyone turns back toward him. “Doesn’t matter. Too dangerous without knowing how long they can stay transformed and whether they copy abilities like Pressure.”

“Aren’t they weaker than the copied pokemon, though?” Misty asks. “Can we confirm that yet?”

“We can,” Professor Oak says. “And reasonably predict it. They retain the same mass when they transform, and so copies of smaller pokemon are more likely to be tougher than the original, while larger pokemon are less so, sometimes drastically less. A copied snorlax collapsed after a single hit that barely fazed the original.”

“But they can obviously mimic the properties of other pokemon,” Koga says. “Fire, electricity, claws as sharp as any genuine pokemon. A group, all wielding these metamon, might be able to take a titan down.”

Surge stirs. “If their mass stays the same no matter how big they get, they’ll be able to be returned to their ball, and if the transformations persist… you’ll have trainers with legends on their belts.”

“Leaders and Elites, surely,” Brock says, brow furrowed.

“You think that will matter to their neighbors once those legends are used to expand their borders?”

“Gentlemen,” Erika says before Brock can respond. “While this debate is arguably long overdue, perhaps we should table it until we have a better idea what we’re dealing with. If these metamon can transform into pokemon that powerful, and they can persist in that form for long, then we should definitely have that conversation, but meanwhile there are other things we need to discuss.”

“One in particular,” Blaine says. “Had my people check outposts all over the island, spotters, ranger cams, looked over everything. Unown were spotted flying patterns near the caves a week ago.”

“Shit,” Misty mutters.

“Experiments are still being done in controlled settings,” Professor Oak adds. “But combined with what Wallace reported after Hoenn, at this point the odds of coincidence are shrinking.”

“What experiments? Where?”

“Independent, mostly. The What Comes Next initiative has been bearing fruit, or rather in this case, has grown branches from which fruit can grow. The researcher that assisted in Lavender, Artem, took it upon himself to study an unown Red purchased in isolation with objects for weeks at a time.”

“So far there has been no effect,” Elm says. “But this kickstarted a community effort; people have been collecting different number of unown with a variety of objects to see if any of them result in abiogenesis, and if so how many were required, what sorts of objects, how long it took…”

Blaine frowns. “Even if none do, it would not disprove the hypothesis.”

“Worse,” Giovanni says. “If certain letters are needed, there will be millions of combinations untested. If letters relate to objects, billions. If environments outside the lab are needed—”

“—it’s even worse than that,” Oak interjects, voice wry. “Maybe only wild unown can do it, and even with the right combination of letters and objects we won’t see anything. All that is why no lab could justify such an expensive and time consuming line of research, not while being thorough. But people are doing it anyway, because it’s important, and someone has to, just in case.”

There’s a contemplative silence, and then Erika stirs. “A bounty. Collectively paid by multiple institutions, for the first individual or group that demonstrates it with sufficiently scientific documentation.”

“Hmph.” Blaine shakes his head. “Less a bounty and more a lottery.”

“And yet it will encourage more to try, at no cost if none succeeds.”

“It’s a good idea,” Elm says. “Though we should be cautious not to incentivize it too much, and draw excessive time and effort away from more promising avenues.”

“Something that can be decided later, by those with the knowledge and interest,” Lance says. It’s the first time the Champion speaks besides his question to Misty, and his strong voice always takes Sabrina by surprise for how deep it is. His gaze sweeps the room before he adds, “Assuming it’s allowed at all.”

A third silence, contemplative, approving, surprised, disapproving, a medley of subtle undercurrents combined with each. She can feel Professor Oak struggling to hold himself silent, though his face has gone blank.

No one else speaks, either out of deference or curiosity, and after a moment the Champion continues. “With respect to the Rangers’ ethos,” he nods at Taira, “by my perspective the world has too many pokemon in it already. The ability to purposefully create more could lead to massive destabilization, particularly if any of them lead to the creation of new pokemon as strong as legendaries. Hoenn should stand as a reminder, as Giovanni said afterward, of our fragility.”

The words are delivered well, but underneath it there’s something pained and angry. Sabrina wonders if any of the others suspect just how much their Champion has been struggling with his helplessness in Hoenn. She knows others there that day feel some portion of it too, herself included, but not like Lance.

It cracked something in him. Resulted in something other than change or growth, something destabilizing.

She’s no therapist, but she recognizes it from her own feelings ever since she learned that Mazda left.

For now he’s hiding it as well as she is, however, and so she hasn’t mentioned it. If another few months pass and he doesn’t seem to be improving, she will. Maybe visit Steven and Cynthia, get a sense for how they’ve been.

“I agree with your caution,” Taira says. “While our mission includes the protection of pokemon ecosystems, few rangers are happy when new species arise, as they tend to destabilize habitats until some new equilibrium is reached. That said, knowledge is power, and we don’t like being surprised either, as happened in Lavender Tower. If we knew for sure that wild unown can create new species, it would make sense to put effort and resources into tracking their movements, maybe disrupting swarms.”

“Won’t matter if we disrupt them in the wild while people are churning new pokemon out in labs,” Surge says. “The habitats will be safe, sure; up until a region uses it to expand their territory or something breaks free.”

Sabrina doesn’t look at Giovanni, though she badly wants to know what his expression is. Probably blank, or thoughtful, but she still itches for a glimpse, however misleading, into his true self.

“It’ll make little difference if we disrupt them within our regions if they’re still creating new mons out in the wild,” Misty says. “Assuming the Hoenn incident is what ‘woke’ them, we need to figure out how to put them back to sleep.”

The fourth silence, and this one goes on the longest. Lance’s expression is thoughtful, and when he looks at Professors Oak and Elm, he sighs. “I imagine you have things to say.”

“Only,” Professor Oak begins, then pauses, tone thoughtful. “Only that it would be a mistake to believe that if we do not pursue this knowledge, no one will.”

Professor Elm nods, but Giovanni shakes his head.

“It’s another clock,” he says, voice dull. As always Sabrina isn’t sure how much of what he shows is what he wants to show, but news of Mazda’s escape was the only time she heard his tone hold such… defeat. “Another race against time, and each other. Sam, what if this is it? Not the legendaries, not the myths, not even these new transformers. If unown are the source, or close enough to be the same, and we let that power out into anyone’s hands… it would be a new age, beyond anything we could predict. We haven’t even found the tools to survive this one, and you would have us leap into another before we even know what it would mean?”

Professor Oak has listened with brow furrowed as he watched Giovanni. Now he clasps his hands, staring down at them. “And you propose we study them in secret first? Look before we leap, or slide, into that new age?”

“I propose we not give a power to everyone that is beyond anyone’s ability to predict.”

“Some might have said the same of pokeballs.”

“And for all the lives they’ve saved, uncounted more might never live if we fumble now.”

Sabrina listens quietly, as fascinated as anyone in the room. This is the closest she’s seen Giovanni come to justifying his methods in public, not counting that sufficiently vague What Comes Next video.

“And who would lead this secret research?” Sam asks, sounding genuinely curious.

But Sabrina senses something more.

He knows.

No, he suspects… something. She can’t tell more without a merger, but Misty’s in the room, and she’s not one of theirs.

Giovanni doesn’t need any warning from her, however. “The League. They’re the only ones who are trusted enough by the public, and who might take things slow enough to avoid catastrophe.”

Everyone looks to Lance, whose gaze is distant. She can sense him dipping further into the memory of Hoenn that ever hovers in the back of his mind.

He shakes it off with a shake of his head. “For now, we have to focus on Cinnabar. Further research into the unown will be halted until we have a more firm plan on what it might lead to.”

Various people look disappointed or relieved, but before anyone can say otherwise Lance turns to Blaine. “Let’s go over our plans to secure Cinnabar, and track if any of the new species has left the island…”

Sabrina listens with only half an ear, thoughts on the argument Giovanni made. Keeping dangerous knowledge secret is what he’s worked so hard for, but all the while he’s tried to, carefully, use it for good.

And he has. Inventions through his collaboration with Bill and Silph, secret as those are and rocky as the latter has become lately. Research that’s been leaked from dangerous methods, made clean by independent, “lucky” breakthroughs. Targeted interventions around the region, putting people where they need to be, rehabilitating renegades…

But they’ve also resulted in the deaths beneath the casino, and probably more. She suspects he had some hand in the Hoenn incident, though she knows(?) he also genuinely tried to stop it. And Mazda…

She can’t regret that they exist. And any blame for how things ended were as much to do with her as Giovanni. She should have done more, showed more trust, argued more on their behalf…

Sabrina’s gaze stays on Giovanni as he listens, also seemingly distracted, to the containment plans. Sooner or later they would have to reveal the secrets Red shared with her, and she wouldn’t be able to hide behind the fact that Giovanni told her it was the right thing to do.

She has to be able to believe it herself, argue it herself, and if necessary, reflect back his own words: Trust them anyway.


Once all is said and done on Cinnabar, she heads back to her Gym to see that Tetsuo and Keiji have managed her schedule for her, bless them both. She thanks them sincerely, reminds herself to give both another raise, and goes to her first meeting of the day.

“Good to see you again, Mr. Oak.”

“Good evening, Leader. How was Cinnabar?”

His voice is a mix of sympathetic and fascinated and frustrated, and she smiles despite herself. “I was wondering if you would show up, actually. Riding your arcanine, maybe trailing an army of extra recruits.”

Blue shrugs, looking both embarrassed and pleased. “We were in the middle of celebrating Leaf’s birthday when the alerts went out. Ended up crowding around the TV to watch the battle for the city, spent the night stressing and worrying about what would happen next. Wanted to help, of course, but Zephyr isn’t ready to fly that far, and all the commercial transport was busy.”

She nods. “Well, while the sentiment is appreciated, it wasn’t pleasant. There will be plenty more opportunities for heroism in your future, I’m sure. In any case, what did you want to speak about? I can’t assure you complete confidentiality, of course, but I’ll do my best within what I deem reasonable.”

He’d specified in his request that he had a potentially dangerous question involving training his abra, which had of course intrigued her Second, but the request for confidentiality had made it hard to insist he discuss it with one of those lower in the gym’s hierarchy first. If whatever he’s considering needed to be kept private, he’d of course want to reduce how many people he told it to.

If she hadn’t already invited Blue to speak with her when he arrived in the city she would wonder if he’s just angling for private training lessons or tips, but entitled as he might have become through fame and glory, she doesn’t think that’s his style, and his group has done enough novel things that she immediately took the request as a serious indicator that he might have discovered something new, and dangerous.

Inside, some small part of her protests that she’s holding enough secrets, that one more may just be too many, that the more she takes the higher the chance she lets one slip. A year ago she would have said she was the best psychic in the world at shielding and keeping secrets; even mergers rarely led to glimpses of anything she didn’t want to let out. But Red, Mazda, even Rei were all humbling reminders that there’s always someone more capable. Rei managed to focus her attention so powerfully on what she wanted that Sabrina couldn’t read beyond what seemed obvious, and Red’s empathic reception was so strong that she’s sure he got a glimpse of her feelings toward Mazda when they met, even if he didn’t understand the context… and as for Mazda…

She shakes off the line of thought to dull the stab in her chest. If she can learn to mold her partitions the way they and Red did, she can hold as many secrets as she needs to.

“First I should probably check… do you know that Koichi is in the city?”

Sabrina feels her brow rise, and takes a moment to reorient her thoughts. “I did, yes. Mr. Sabien came to me when considering whether to allow him to teach at the dojo.” It only takes a moment for her to connect the dots. “Ah. He’s tried spreading his ideology again, then? And you’re considering trying it for your abra.”

“Considering is a strong word…”

“I’m sympathetic, Blue, truly. But even if you can get your abra to grow stronger, faster, what’s the point if you’re still struggling to get it to protect you?”

“Well, I was thinking about that, and realized maybe I don’t have to.”

Now she doesn’t try to hide her surprise. “You want to train a pokemon explicitly for trainer battles?” It’s not unheard of, of course, but is frowned upon enough that she doesn’t expect it of someone so high profile. It also can revoke a trainer license, in rare cases where the person’s focus turns more to gaining money or status than becoming a stronger trainer; the League decided long ago not to subsidize those simply trying to game the system.

But it makes sense to do for a particular pokemon, if he doesn’t expect it to easily acknowledge his presence enough to protect him against wilds…

“I think I can get it to follow its own instincts in wild battles well enough.” He sounds a little offended. “I don’t plan on being dead weight.”

“Of course, I apologize for the implication,” she says, and means it. “Even still, you’d never be able to use it to its full potential.”

“You mean as well as a psychic could.”

It’s such a strange thing to say, a redundant thing, that she just raises a brow, waiting for him to elaborate. But he doesn’t break his gaze from hers, and eventually she just sighs. “I’m not here to coddle your ego, Blue. Everything I’ve experienced has shown that psychic pokemon are most effective when used by psychics. What other explanation do you have for why they’re so rare among non-psychic Leaders and Elites?”

“I’m not doubting it’s easier to get a psychic pokemon to its peak fighting power, as a psychic. But if everyone gives up because they’re told to, how much should I really care about what others failed to do?”

She considers this a moment, then nods to acknowledge the point. “It’s not my place to tell you what you can and can’t do. Part of every generation’s journeys is to ascend beyond the expectations of what came before. So long as you abide by the rules of my gym, you can continue to train here on whatever you wish.”

“Is that an answer to my question, then?”

“You never actually asked it.”

Blue frowns, but nods and breathes out. “Is it true? Do pokemon get stronger, faster, when they believe they’re fighting for their life?”

She was wondering if he’d also imply the accusation she’s sure Koichi levelled against her using such methods in her meteoric rise to topple him, but as far as she can tell he sounds simply curious.

She’s not one of those psychics (like Tahu) who will claim to be good at “reading people” even without use of their gift; for her, dark humans have always been an endless enigma, some part of her still insisting there’s nothing inside them but autonomous meat (the thought brings an image of the copied Kota’s empty smile, and she flinches away from the memory of its mind before swiftly hiding it behind amnesia for now). Even Giovanni isn’t an exception; rather, he’s the one person that proves how capable of guile and subterfuge humans can be, the epitome of why dark people are untrustworthy.

Except she does trust him, because she has to. Not to be “good,” but to have things that he cares about, things that he will do anything to pursue, behavioral trends that she can model and predict with some accuracy. That she happens to agree with his goals and not mind his methods is beside the point; she knows he’s a liar, that he’s likely lied even to her. But everyone lies, and most do it for far lesser purpose.

She plans to look afresh on Giovanni’s goals and methods regardless, and wonders suddenly if she should do the same of Blue.

“Do you know how I lost my parents?” she asks, seized by a whim.

Blue’s expression shifts from surprise to caution, and whether that’s sincere or not, she finds herself modeling his reaction as wary. “Only that they were killed by pokemon. Your bios don’t have much info on your childhood other than that you were raised by your uncle, and were a psychic prodigy from before you could even speak.”

Her lip quirks. She’s tried a few times to correct the public record on what she was like as a child, but ironically she’s never been able to find the words. “Not just any pokemon. It was Raikou.”

Blue’s eyes narrow, for a moment. “I’m sorry.”

She simply nods her thanks, as is expected, and wonders, as always, what the tell signified, senses reaching reflexively, uselessly out. “I’ve heard about your goal. Your real goal, beyond becoming Champion.”

The way his body goes still is another tell, but it’s not tension so much as… relaxing, she thinks. “And you understand.”

It’s not a question, though it should be. For all he knows she’s bringing it up because she wants to warn him off a path of vengeance, or caution him against overly ambitious goals. Blue doesn’t spend time with her the way he reportedly did Erika and Surge, and she hasn’t spoken to Red about anything like this.

“I do,” she says, and tries to imagine what Blue Oak would be like in ten years. Or even five.

Strong enough to beat Lance?

Maybe.

Willful enough to keep trying until he does?

Yes. And she wouldn’t be the first to underestimate the young Oak. In five years, the unown question would likely be resolved, one way or another.

But what if he reaches Victory Road in three?

Or two?

Or one?

She’s one of the few things in his way. What if she decided not to be? What would Blue do with the power and prestige of a Champion?

And who as Champion would respond better to the revelations of what Red, and maybe other psychics, can do?

“I’m glad to hear it,” he says, sounding more cautious than anything. “But you still haven’t answered my question.”

“So I haven’t.” She spends a minute studying the young man in front of her, which he seems unbothered by, weighing possible choices, possible futures, before saying “I’m afraid it’s not one I can answer, as I haven’t tested it myself.”

“Ah.” He nods, and dark as he is for once she can understand what he’s feeling as well as if she could see the barrier rise between them. “Of course.”

“But maybe I will, in time.”

He blinks.

“After all, the world is becoming more dangerous. We might need every edge we can get.”

“Yeah. So then—”

“I also want to apologize for not going through my backlog of challenges as quickly as I’d originally estimated.” She feels even more guilt over that now, maybe because of the mention of Koichi. Is she being as neglectful of her duties in Saffron as he was? Putting too much onto her subordinates, rather than not enough?

She’s been spending some of the time she could have been catching up on her backlog searching for Mazda. She’d teleport to various places around the island and fly around, casting her mental senses as wide as they would go in the hopes of finding them.

A hopeless plan, and one that would likely end badly if she found them; it’s not as though they couldn’t find her, if they wanted to.

And still she continued, hoping she’d sense them, even if they fled after. Just to know for sure that they survived. That they’re okay.

No more. She has to come to terms with what happened, even if she never gets closure. “I’ve been busy,” she says, but “How about this. You keep training here, if you’d like, until I finally get through my backlog. Or, you can go down to Fuchsia, and challenge Koga.”

He’s frowning at her, but not, she thinks, in anger. “I guess I could do that.”

“You think you could beat him, I take it.”

“Of course.”

“Then do so. By the time you come back, maybe I’ll have had time to not just work through my backlog, but also try out Koichi’s crazy idea. Sound good?”

And there’s that smile, which she knows as sure as anything her gift has ever shown her is real; not just hungry, but grateful. The smile of someone who has found an ally in their life’s goal. “That sounds perfect, Leader.”

Chapter 98: Interlude XIX – Remnant

At first it seems to be a stampede like any other.

The rangers are assembled and outside nineteen seconds after the first wave of assorted forest pokemon trip the proximity alarms, more than enough time to summon their pokemon and watch the approach. Ira and Rashard summon their fliers and take off, Rashard in the direction the pokemon are coming from so he can give advance warning of what else is on the way, Ira straight up and then in a circle around the outpost in case more are moving past it beyond the sensors.

Outpost C17 is situated on one of the plateaus on the side of the volcano facing Cinnabar City, its sensors spread out to the slopes on every side. All the trees and brush within the perimeter have been cleared, but the various paths leading up and down the mountain have more growing beyond them, and it’s from between the dense pines along the western slope that a variety of pokemon are streaming toward them.

Ira looks around to make sure nothing else is surrounding or moving past them and waits for his bird to make a full circle before tapping his headset to swap to Rashard’s private channel. “Swarm coming from the northwest, looks like the front of the wave.”

“There’s some muk and magmar coming,” Rashard responds on the general line, and Ira sees the rangers below start swapping a few pokemon to prepare for them. “Not just a couple, there’s… a whole cluster of magmar moving together!”

Ira frowns even as he gently guides his charizard into a slightly wider circle. Magmar are rare, and territorial; they barely tolerate their own hatchlings sticking around too long. What’s a whole group of them doing moving together in a swarm?

And what caused a swarm of such mixed pokemon? Cinnabar only grew from a town to a city once the island was declared mostly safe from any particularly destructive or temperamental species… they didn’t feel an earthquake, and if a magma pocket is seeping out somewhere the magmar wouldn’t be running…

He shakes off the line of thought; it’s Rashard’s job to figure that out. His is to focus on the area around the outpost, and get the word out.

He sets his earpiece to the local CoRRNet channel. “This is C17 to adjacent posts, we’ve got a possible Tier 1 in progress, anyone else seeing anything?”

“Confirmed C17, stand by… C16’s not picking anything up on proximity.”

“Ditto that for C18.”

“C19 here, we’ll send eyes out just in case. Do you want preliminary support?”

Ira is already completing his first lap now and sees that the fighting has started, tanks in front keeping the front line engaged and turning those that come after against each other while a few others contain those that try to go around… but the next wave coming looks even bigger. “If you guys are clear, we can use the help.”

“You got it, sit tight Ira.”

“Thanks man.” He spots a family of rattata dashing past unchallenged, but doesn’t swoop down until an arcanine leaps around a blast of water from Steven’s blastoise and just keeps running past; if it gets to a more densely wooded area and starts a fire, it would start a whole new wave.

It takes just a few seconds to catch up to the arcanine, but that’s enough time for it to start bounding down a narrow mountain road. As he closes in, Ira considers his options. It’s not advised to fight while mounted on a pokemon unless you don’t have any choice; the weight of the rider tends to disrupt their ability to maneuver and dodge, and of course you might get killed by attacks from the wild pokemon.

Instead he looks ahead until he spots a relatively straight part of the path, then uses his legs to guide his mount into a silent glide as he expands a greatball and holds it out, leaning over as far as his saddle straps will let him. As long as the arcanine doesn’t change directions it’ll be captured in fifty meters… thirty… twenty… ten…

The ping of the lock makes the arcanine’s head jerk around, fire already dripping from its fangs as Ira throws the ball and slaps Brightwing’s back to send them into a dizzying bank and climb. He feels the heat through his boots for just a moment as Brightwing roars, more in challenge than pain; her wings keep flapping smoothly and he judges the damage not too bad. When he twists around to look, the arcanine is gone.

He sees the glint of the greatball bouncing down the path and sends Brightwing into a dive, one hand held up to catch the ball as it rolls off the cliff and into the open air. It lands in his palm with a satisfying smack, and he tucks it into a saddlebag as he guides Brightwing back up toward the plateau, one hand stroking the shoulder bone at the base of her wing. That’s my girl.

As he climbs he continues the sweep around, checking to see if anything else got by while he was distracted. All he spots are more field and forest dwellers, and when he returns to the scene of the battle he sees more rangers are there now, another couple flying in from nearby even as he circles overhead.

But even with the reinforcements, the rangers are being beaten back.

“What the hell…?” Ira cranes his neck for another look at what looked like Steven’s blastoise fighting another blastoise. Where would it have come from? “Rashard, we’ve got a blastoise here.”

“The fuck did that come from?”

“You didn’t see it?” Is it possible it came from somewhere else while he was chasing the arcanine?

“They’re kind of hard to miss, man.”

Renegade attack? No, there’s no one on the ground but rangers.

He changes direction anyway and swoops closer to the sparse trees at the edge of the plateau, but just sees more of the same pokemon coming. When he wheels back around, however, he gets another shock; there are now two araquanid fighting each other.

There are no wild araquanid in Kanto.

“Hey, there’s a wild araquanid here now!”

“Are you shitting me? You sure that’s not David’s?”

“It’s fighting David’s!”

“Well it didn’t come from this direction, all I’m seeing are natives!”

Ira curses and swaps to the general channel, then winces as his ear is assaulted by the frantic voices of those below.

“I’m telling you it changed right in front of me!”

“Must be a zoroark!”

“In Kanto?!”

“It’s not reverting!”

“Electric types out, now!”

“Left side is being overwhelmed!”

“Hey, hey, I just saw it, that rattata turned into a raichu!”

Steven watch out!”

The wild raichu(?!) sends a burst of electricity out in every direction. Steven’s blastoise and the one it was fighting both get shocked, and Ira reins his pokemon into a hover, wings flapping hard to keep them airborne as they watch the chaos unfold below. He can barely believe what he’s seeing even as he watches it happen; about a third of the pokemon brought out to counter the wild opponents swiftly end up facing copies of themselves, seemingly just as strong.

The other wild pokemon are still trying to rush through while attacking everything in their path, and within a few wingbeats, Ira sees the first ranger fall. The sight snaps him out of the shock, and even with the reinforcements still on the way he realizes with a chill that this situation isn’t in their control.

Protocol is clear: they’re facing something completely unknown, and even small surprises can be catastrophic, let alone whatever the fuck this is.

When he finally gives the order his voice is loud and strong, immediately silencing everyone else on the channel.

“Code White! Retreat to Cinnabar City!” He swaps to the local outpost channel. “All points, retreat to Cinnabar City, we have a Code White!”

The rangers below shift to a fighting retreat as they make their way back to the relative shelter of the outpost. Ira sees that the hopefully-only-injured ranger is being carried by two others, then trusts those below to take care of themselves as he swaps back to just Rashard’s channel. “How far out are you?”

“Midway up and they’re still coming. Think I see signs of spread, too, mostly south.”

Ira turns Brightwing that way. “Still nothing unusual?”

“Nothing Code White worthy, just some odd clumps. What are you thinking?”

“Honestly man, I have no idea what I just saw. If it was an illusion it was a damn convincing one, and if not then…” Then what? What did he actually see? “Somehow pokemon are changing into others as they fight. If that’s true…”

“Anything we throw against them, they’ll just turn into. Damn. You know what that means?”

“That we need to keep our strongest pokemon away from them,” he says as the thought occurs, heart sinking into his stomach. Without Blaine and the others at the gym being able to go all-out, there’s no easy end in sight.

“That too, but look… the pokemon we’re seeing below, how many of them have already changed into whatever they fought?”

Ira feels another chill, this one reaching all the way up to the nape of his neck. He looks down to watch a family of rattata race through some undergrowth, far from the outpost and anyone that would stop them.

Or what looks like a family of rattata.

“New plan,” Ira says. “We’re going to search until we find something that’ll help command figure out what’s going on. Rest when you need to; it’s a marathon now, not a sprint.”

“Aye aye, Sir.” Rashard has a few years on him, and ever since they were growing up together has tended to act as an older brother. Even after they moved to Kanto to do the gym circuit together, he’s never taken Ira too seriously, doling out any praise with an ironic or patronizing tone.

Despite that, there’s no irony in his tone now, and for some reason it reminds Ira of a night a few years past, not long after they both stopped chasing badges to start families. His friend, slightly tipsy as they shared drinks on his porch, put an arm around his shoulder and confided that he knew Ira could have reached the top if he kept going. That he’s got the heart and mind of a champion, even if he never has a plaque on Indigo Plateau.

That’s what Ira thinks of as he flies Brightwing in the direction his friend went, hoping whatever storm has come to the island is one he and his people are ready for.


At first, the fact that Shaw got to keep his job after Mewtwo’s escape seemed too good to be true. Part of him even wanted to argue with Giovanni, do the honorable thing and resign, but the smarter part told him to shut up and accept it, especially since he did everything he could short of breaking the chain of command to keep the experiment from leaving the island alive.

It was only in the weeks that followed, when he wasn’t assigned another position and the lab repairs remained a low priority, that he considered the idea that keeping this position may be the punishment.

If so, it’s not one Dr. Light shares, though for a while after the escape her position seemed even more perilous than his. By the time Shaw returned from searching for the experiment (or its drowned corpse) her physical injuries had long since been treated, and she was just sitting in the mansion staring ashen-faced into the distance. He knew Giovanni only reserved extreme punishments for failures in character rather than competence, but Shaw imagined she shared his uncertainty over whether the situation counted as one or the other. Sabrina was no help, seeming too shocked and upset over Mewtwo’s escape to care much about what Giovanni’s response would be. Privileges of her station as a fellow Leader, he supposed.

Instead, when the boss finally had the chance to come to the island, he just calmly listened to their reports, gave curt feedback, praised them for doing the best they could in an unforeseeable circumstance, and left with the most basic of instructions: keep the location secure and recover any data left over. Once the latter was done, Dr. Light and her staff, along with most of his, were transferred to other facilities.

That was months ago, and the remaining skeleton crew in the mansion above the ruined lab still hasn’t received news of what they’d be doing next. Giovanni said there aren’t spare resources for a full repair operation, which Shaw took to mean that without Mewtwo there the lab had lost most of its value.

The payments for him and his people are still coming through, however, and they have more free time to visit the city, so it’s not all bad. Sometimes Shaw wonders if they’re just there in case Mewtwo returns, and other than a sense of restlessness and vague ongoing worry, things could have been much worse.

So of course they eventually become much worse.

“Report.”

Giovanni’s voice and expression are as calm and collected as ever. Shaw used to wonder sometimes if the man ever feels anything, but after the experiment escaped, before he came to take their full reports, he saw it on the video call: the anger that made the Leader’s jaw rigid, the futile frustration that had his hands clenching and unclenching. Worst of all was the way one hand kept going up to rub over his short hair; seeing Giovanni Sakaki make such obvious self-soothing gestures was a bit like seeing the Leader without his clothes on.

But the loss of the experiment was (probably) the worst day of Giovanni’s life, and whatever is happening on Cinnabar now doesn’t warrant any of the tics Shaw observed that day. At least, not yet.

“What do you know so far?”

“All that’s reached us is that some new pokemon is creating a threat of unknown proportions. Is it Mewtwo?”

“No, not from what we’ve picked up on the CoRRNet radio chatter; they’re saying pokemon are transforming into other pokemon. Called for a ‘Code White,’ whatever that is, and are evacuating to the city.”

Giovanni’s hands steeple, brow furrowing as he stares down at the table. “Newly formalized protocol following the Lavender incident. Code White means more than just encountering an unknown pokemon; it’s for circumstances that go entirely against any expectation or plan. A blank canvas… which this circumstance would fit. They’ve confirmed the transformations? Multiple eyewitnesses?”

“That’s what they’re saying. So what are the protocols, exactly?”

“The rangers will do everything they can to protect people in the local area without engaging. They’ll call for experts immediately, and formulate a plan with at least one Leader, one Professor, and one Ranger of at least rank 7 or above present.”

Pretty weighty, then. Shaw approves. “Should we assist?”

“If a dozen trainers might tip the balance, yes. Continue to monitor the situation, but your priority is still keeping the mansion and lab secure.”

“Yes Sir, though…” Shaw’s hand below the table counts the pokeballs in his pouch through the leather. He doesn’t try to stop his own nervous tic; whatever’s happening on the island has the feel of something big, and he doesn’t like not knowing what to expect. “The two may be related.”

Giovanni’s surprise is only expressed in a heartbeat of silence. “How?”

“Remember that weird activity Min reported over the past few days?” He doesn’t actually know if Giovanni reads every single report he gets in that short a timespan, but it feels polite to start with that assumption; the seismographer was pretty insistent that her readings were important, so Shaw flagged the report as such. He trusts his people, or they wouldn’t still be on his team, even in potential exile.

“The increased amount of pokemon tunneling?”

“Right. From tracking subterranean movement, her thought was that some sandshrew were using the labs as a nesting site.”

There’s a beat of silence before Giovanni says, “From what I recall she was worried that the more sandshrew dig around the labs, the higher the chance of widening cracks and destabilizing the structure. What’s the connection to the Code White?”

“It’s not the worry I’m second-guessing, it’s the initial hypothesis itself. It was based on the fact that a larger number of pokemon have been recorded tunneling away from the lab than toward it.”

This time Giovanni’s response is immediate. “You think a new pokemon might have appeared in the lab and began transforming into wild sandshrew that they encountered there.”

“We left a lot of blood, tissue, and bone samples down there. I know the experiment never showed any sort of shapeshifting abilities, but… you pay me to be paranoid, Sir.”

“I do.” His boss studies his interlaced fingers for a moment, then looks up. “Have Min review the data again, this time comparing intensity of the vibrations. If a portion are smaller—”

“Already done, Sir.” Shaw knows his boss used to hate being interrupted, but he encourages people to do so if they have a good reason, and only reprimands them if they don’t. “There are smaller readings, so there are at least some newly hatched sandshrew, but there are also more large readings than there should be.”

Giovanni’s fingers squeeze for a few breaths, then relax. “More than just paranoia, then. Which means we need to move to confirm or falsify this quickly. Take a preliminary repair crew down to bring power back online, specifically for the lights and cameras. You have two psychics still there, correct? Take one to scan for danger. Do not bring any pokemon down with you.”

Shaw’s stomach clenches for a moment at the thought of one of his pokemon being turned back against him. “Yes, Sir.”

“Any direct observations would be useful, and if you can capture a specimen then do so, but don’t engage any groups, and retreat at the first casualty.”

“Understood.”

“And Shaw… nice work, and be careful. I’ll be awaiting your report.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Giovanni ends the call, and Shaw quickly relays their new orders to his people, picking those with the most non-pokemon combat skills to form the away team of the 15 people left under his command. Once they’re gearing up and Min has started reviewing the data, he goes to visit the closest thing to a peer he has left at the mansion.

Zach’s room in the mansion is dark, with curtains drawn over all the windows and the only light coming from the monitors. Shaw’s Chief Information Officer was one of those who lived in the lab below, and had to give up a lot of personal equipment when they abandoned it. He spent a lot of time after relocating to the mansion making sure his room was just right, and only recently stopped sending a new request for more computers, furniture, monitors, and various other things every day. The last few times Shaw was here things even seemed to stop subtly moving from one place to another.

When Shaw enters the room/office, the balding young man is walking on a treadmill set beneath his standing desk as he types, gaze moving between four monitors; two horizontal ones flanked by two vertical. Shaw would like to blame their location for the fact that the man is wearing pajamas as he works, but he regularly did so while they were in the lab as well; the one time Shaw brought it up, Zach got (or acted) offended and insisted they were his “work pajamas.”

He’s good enough at his job that Shaw decided not to raise the issue again, particularly since he didn’t have a good answer to Zach asking who, exactly, he was supposed to be trying to impress; they both knew Giovanni wouldn’t care.

“Here about the Code White?” Zach asks with barely a glance. “It’s a mess, isn’t it? Think it’s our fault? Told you we should have burned the whole place out if we weren’t using it. Not because I thought this would happen, but it’s the principle of the thing, you know?”

“I do, but it wasn’t my call.”

“Sure, of course, I get it. Sucks when a higher up won’t let you do what you know is best, right?”

Shaw resists the urge to sigh. “If this is about having everyone switch to your operating system—”

“It’s not mine, it’s open source—”

“—the answer is still no. It would require too much retraining, and meanwhile the loss of efficiency and increased errors aren’t worth the benefits.”

Zach shakes his head, and the treadmill speeds up as his frustration makes him walk faster. “That attitude is exactly why it’s so important to break the hold Bill has on commercial PCs, not to mention, you know, closing the security risk of using an OS created by one of the world’s best hackers—”

“If Bill wants to screw with us he’d be able to do it in a dozen different ways I know about and probably a hundred more I don’t. And,” he quickly adds as Zach prepares to respond, “This isn’t what I came to talk about. We’re heading into the lab to see if it’s the source of whatever’s out there.”

That slows the CIO’s steps. “Damn. You bringing the power back on?”

“Floor by floor, so I need you to shut things off as we go and give us warning if the cameras pick anything up in rooms besides ours.”

“Right. Yeah, you got it, just give me a minute to prepare.”

“You’ve got ten.”

Zach is already focused on the task, and Shaw leaves him to it so he can finalize his own preparations. The mansion’s armory isn’t too dissimilar from the type you’d find in a ranger outpost, with a wide variety of suppression tools like sleep powder bombs, stun guns, and net launchers, but there are a few more dangerous tools available too.

He picks up a tactical crossbow and tests the string tension. Its 60 kilo draw power might stop a sandshrew with a single broadhead bolt, but not a sandslash… the real reason he’s thinking of bringing it is in case it helps against whatever might be turning into sandslash. Is it just a visual resemblance, or does it perfectly imitate their tough hide?

He puts the crossbow back and picks up a powdergun instead. A dead specimen might still be valuable, but a live one would be their best way to find weaknesses.

Shaw meets his assembled team at the hatch above the stairwell they used to escape the lab: Leon, an ex-ranger who started looking for more lucrative work; Rhea, a renegade from some impoverished region she doesn’t like to talk about; Naoto, a psychic psychologist and police consultant from Hoenn that Shaw used to work with before he got into some trouble with the law; and Kit, the only electrical engineer from the lab that was left behind. Like most of the tech folk, he’s one of those in Giovanni’s employ who joined up because he wanted to be part of something greater than himself.

Lopez and Min are also there, the former to guard the door and close it if anything looks like it’s coming up and the latter to watch the seismometer for them and act as coordinator. Shaw makes sure everyone is ready, though they look practically naked with empty pokebelts. He has Naoto do one last check for any minds below, then sprays his own repel on and tells Kit and Leon to open the hatch.

A pitch black square greets them, and Shaw snaps some glowsticks and tosses them in. As they bounce and roll their way down, Leon heads down alone with a netgun in one hand and an air quality monitor in the other.

“We good?” Shaw asks once he reaches the lowest glowstick.

“Oxygen is a bit low, but still safe to breathe for now.”

“Alright, let us know if it noticeably dips any further so we can re-evaluate. Rhea, watch our back and ceiling. Naoto, maximum spread, call out any changes at all. Same to you, Min. And Lopez…”

Shaw is quiet for long enough that his second raises a brow. “Boss?”

“When any of us come back up… ask us something only we would know.”

“Shit. Tell me that was a joke.”

Shaw looks around at the others and notes the extra signs of fear or nervousness. Other than Kit, whose eyes are wide as pokeballs, the rest are good at hiding theirs, but Shaw has had a lot of experience judging body language, and some are automatic. “There’s no report of them copying humans yet, but I’ve got no reason to think they can’t.”

“Wait, wait,” Naoto says. “You think copying a human would make them sapient?”

“I’d rather be prepared for the possibility.”

“What if they get our memories too?” Rhea asks, voice calm despite her ashen face.

Leon gives a brittle laugh from below, the stairwell making the sound echo slightly. “Then we’d be pretty fucked, wouldn’t we? They could already be impersonating any of us.”

It’s not often that Shaw realizes he hasn’t been paranoid enough. “Clothes. They may not be able to copy that, not without making it part of them. Everyone take off a shoe.”

“So we’re going in with full horror-movie logic?” Kit asks as he sits down to pull a shoe off. Others start to unlace their boots or tug one off while standing, Leon coming back up to join them.

“Right, and we assume whatever can go wrong might go wrong.” Shaw examines each shoe one by one, not really sure what he’s looking for but assuming that the transformed body parts wouldn’t be able to maintain their shape if detached. “My premortem for how we’re most likely to fail are that they’re dark in their natural form, so we won’t detect them until they’re already on us. But we have no idea what they’re capable of, so past the initial encounter any number of things might happen, and we have to be prepared for each.” Shaw finishes running a nail along Lopez’s shoe, watching a faint white line appear in the material. If it’s an exact molecular copy of the object then that doesn’t mean anything, but there’s only so much he can do in that case anyway. He hands it back, then takes his own off for them to pass around. “Any last questions?”

“Priorities?” Leon asks.

“Personal safety, team safety, team member safety, power regeneration. That’s until we find something useful; if we manage to capture something we’ve confirmed is one of them, then getting that ball back up here will become the top priority.”

“Damn. Don’t think I can remember when personal safety took priority.”

“Situations like this, if something goes wrong the chances are it goes very wrong, and one person escaping to report what they saw matters.” He gets his shoe back and laces it on. “Anything else? Let’s move, then.”

They descend, passing from one island of bright white light to the next as Shaw steadily throws a new glowstick down every half a minute. The path gets claustrophobically tight at some points where temporary repairs they made on the way out have eroded over time. Luckily they only need to make it to the first floor before they can leave the stairwell, and once they reach the doorway Shaw cracks two glowsticks at once, then tosses both through as soon as Kit opens the door.

Naoto still hasn’t detected any minds nearby, and so they file through afterward and take their first look around. Everyone is silent, perhaps remembering the entrance to the lab back when they used to travel through it every day or two. A thin layer of dust has settled over everything, and the floor is littered with various objects displaced from the security desks by the quakes.

As they approach the scanners, Shaw sees Kit reflexively start to put his gear onto the non-functional conveyer belt. “Nothing wrong with keeping good habits,” he says to alleviate some of the young man’s embarrassment. “Zach, how’s the signal strength?”

“Fine,” Zach says through his earpiece. “Four by four, maybe four by three?”

“We’re passing by entrance security now, let me know if I drop to two on either.”

A few more glowsticks and the rest of the floor is fully lit. Shaw feels a knot of tension release once they confirm that there’s nothing on the floor with them, and only then do they make their way to the next floor, where the first backup generators can be accessed.

There were a lot of conversations, debates, and arguments about the lab design back when it was being built, and even afterward as it was expanded. While he didn’t quite get what he wanted (an admittedly extremely expensive and space consuming full power station on each floor that could supply energy to the whole lab) he’s glad that Giovanni at least agreed that an independent grid on each floor would come in handy. Using batteries instead of pokemon is a tradeoff in efficiency and longevity, but in a situation like this it turned out to be a lucky break that he’s grateful for.

“Bringing power back on floor one now,” Shaw says as Kit installs the battery. It takes a few seconds for the lights to start turning back on, followed by various appliances and, unfortunately, an alarm—the one for a structural integrity warning.

“Zach!”

“Yeah, yeah, most subsystems are booting back up! One more sec… okay!”

The alarm shuts off, leaving merciful silence behind. The others relax, and Leon mutters, “Hope that didn’t spook whatever was below us.”

Shaw looks around until he spots a camera dome. “You have eyes?”

“Just got them, though a few cameras aren’t working. Do a quick tour to make sure nothing’s on fire, would you? Water system’s got nothing, and that alarm went off because of cracks in the foundation; any more damage to the structure might bury you guys in there.”

With that cheerful thought they walk the first floor again, more quickly this time but with a careful eye toward the walls and ceiling. There are cracks, but nothing big enough to signal imminent danger yet.

Once they finish Shaw takes out a container to restock on glow sticks, then leads them to one of the internal stairwells to head down to the next floor. A drop of sweat traces a brow, and he wipes it away knowing that more will follow, both because of the hot, stale air and the ongoing tension. If they make it as far as the main generators it would be a relief to get the climate controls back online, assuming it’s still functional.

The second floor goes much like the first, though there are more cameras broken here and one of the stairways has filled with dirt, the pressure of which was enough to spill through its door to fill a hall. They head back to the one they used and go down to the door that leads to the third floor, which is when Naoto pauses.

“Pokemon are about two floors below us.”

“Inside, or out?”

“Both. Sandshrew family for sure, but… a few of them are… strange. Twelve in total.”

“Strange how?”

“It’s hard to describe. Wild pokemon are all sensations and instincts and emotional reflexes at once, but for these they all seem… layered.”

“Alright, let us know the moment one is heading upward. Weapons ready everyone, and step softly.”

Leon opens the door, and they immediately notice the difference in air quality. “Oxygen’s getting low,” he says, holding the monitor through the gap.

“Masks on.” Leon closes the door and everyone spends a few minutes taking out and equipping personal air masks. Shaw sets a 40 minute timer to give them some warning for when their tanks will start to get low, and Leon, seeming happy to have a hand free, waits for a confirming nod before he opens the door again, more fully this time.

When Shaw tosses the glowsticks through, they immediately see the difference in this part of the lab. Desks and chairs have claw marks on them, some completely broken by whatever roughhousing they were subjected to. There’s scat on the ground and more holes in the walls, as well as the floor now, broken concrete and soil scattered around each.

“Watch your step,” Leon says, voice dry even through the muffle of his mask. Shaw takes care with his next set of glowsticks not to drop any down to the next level, but as they travel further it starts to get difficult to find even footing.

“Running through this would be dangerous,” Rhea notes.

“There’s a supply closet nearby,” Kit says. “Should be mops and brooms in there.”

Leon shakes his head. “If we start cleaning we’ll be down here for hours.”

“It’s a good idea,” Shaw says before a debate begins. “And it doesn’t have to take that long. All we need to do is clear a path for now; we’ll have more people with us if we need to turn this floor into a staging ground.”

So they detour to the supply closet and Shaw, Leon, and Kit begin to sweep while Naoto and Rhea keep their hands free and eyes outward. It should feel ridiculous, or at least surreal, but all Shaw feels is vulnerable; his gaze keeps getting drawn to the holes in the ground, and he gives them as wide a berth as possible, spraying more repel along the floor by each. Even with Naoto on lookout, he can’t help but feel like they know too little about what they’re facing to really be safe.

“Zach, how are the floors above us looking?”

“Zero activity. Which, you know, is why I haven’t said anything.”

Shaw does his best to suppress his annoyance. “I’m making sure we’re still connected.”

“You’re still coming through about four by three.”

I never checked Zach’s clothes. Or the others in the mansion, but now’s not the time to indulge such a tail risk, particularly since he doesn’t even know whether a sapient clone is possible, or whether clothing can’t be copied and separated. He feels the paranoia rising up and focuses it on what he can control right now. “Min?”

“Nothing new yet; a couple small vibrations leaving, one that entered, but all still below you.”

“Any news from Cinnabar?”

“Blaine has mobilized the gym,” Lopez reports. “The island has almost fully evacuated to the city, and some rangers found the origin point for the stampede that started all this. It’s not far from here, near some caverns.”

Shit. “If any sandshrew tunnels connect them to the lab…”

“It’ll be a while before anyone’s ready or willing to explore inside it,” Lopez says. “But yeah, it might be a problem. Is there anything we can do about it right now?”

“No,” Shaw admits after a moment as he rubs a hand over his forehead. One thing at a time. “But let Giovanni know.”

As they sweep a path to the power room they near the cafeteria and start to find empty food bags and cans scattered all around. “This explains why they’re nesting,” Leon says as he sweeps some ramen bags to the side. “There was enough food stored to last us for a month if we got stuck down here.”

“Does that mean they’ll abandon this place when they’ve eaten it all?” Rhea asks.

“Maybe, but we have a bigger problem meanwhile.” Distant and muffled though Naoto’s voice is, the worry in it still makes Shaw tense. “This much available food would put most pokemon in a prolonged breeding mode.”

Shortly after that ominous pronouncement they reach the power room and bring the floor power back online… except this time most of the lights don’t switch on.

“Zach?”

“I’m barely getting any cameras either. Some of the lines must have gotten cut.”

“It might be safer to shut it down,” Kit murmurs. “Though we haven’t seen any exposed wires…”

Shaw considers it, but just for a moment. “I’ll take what I can get for now, and the battery won’t last long anyway. Just be careful what you touch, everyone.”

“Still, this changes things,” Rhea says. “Without power this floor isn’t particularly safe as a fallback point, and if the one below it is similar then there’s less reason to go floor by floor.”

“I’d rather confirm that each floor is clear before we go below it.” Shaw’s fingers start counting pokeballs in his pouch again. “Even a few extra cameras might help Zach spot something useful.”

Still, the lack of a secure fallback point would be a problem if they need to run. Shaw starts tossing glowsticks through the holes in the floor as they make their way back along the path they cleared to the stairs, and when they go down and open the door there’s already light waiting for them.

“The ones below us can sense us moving now,” Naoto warns.

“Any coming up?”

“No, but I can faintly sense the ones below them now too… there are a lot, Shaw. Dozens, two or three floors down, maybe in between floors too.”

“Would playing predator sounds keep them away?”

“No,” Leon says. “Not with their nest below and so many of them. It’s more likely to prompt a mass attack.”

He figured as much, but had to make sure. “Alright everyone, keep walking slow and gentle. The glowsticks should keep them away, but we’re going to walk wide around any holes in case some get adventurous, or in case copied versions don’t share the same aversion to light.”

They’re passing through the major labs now, broken glass littering the floor along with more signs of sandshrew habitation. It takes a few extra minutes to sweep a weaving path wide around the various holes in the floor, especially because Naoto keeps pausing, which makes Shaw’s pulse jump as he prepares to order them to flee.

But they make it to the backup generator without incident. Unfortunately once the battery is removed from its container ball and plugged in, they once again only get a handful of lights, along with another alarm.

“Which one is that?” Leon asks, voice barely audible over the din.

“Insecure containment of hazardous materials!” Kit yells back before Shaw can answer. “We should be fine with the masks!”

Shaw leans his broom against the wall, hands itching to hold more useful weapons as he looks to Naoto, whose eyes are closed in concentration. “Zach?”

“I’m working on it!”

The generator room’s light is on, but beyond it is darkness broken only by glowsticks in the hall beyond and some of the rooms they passed through. Shaw watches that darkness until his eyes burn from lack of blinking, only letting his lids drop once the alarm cuts off.

“Got it! The damn thing was—”

“Not now! Naoto?”

“They’re on high alert,” the psychic says, voice strained. “Lots of… vigilance and panic… they’re worried about their eggs and hatchlings…”

“No one move,” Shaw says, wishing for the dozenth time at least that he had a pokemon on his belt, just one… “We wait until they relax.”

If only he could do the same. Every minute that ticks by has his muscles grow more tense rather than less, particularly after Naoto comments, “They’re moving, but not toward us yet.”

“Where?”

“Just… wandering. Restless.”

Another drop of sweat stings his eye. Shaw does his best to blink it away, then checks his oxygen. About half gone, meaning the 28 minutes left on his timer has less of a buffer than he initially wanted it to. “Slow, deep breaths everyone.”

Another five minutes pass before Naoto lets a slow breath out. “I think… they’re starting to relax. But not all of them.”

“We’ll wait another five minutes.”

It only takes two before Min speaks up. “Incoming vibrations on your level.”

“Which side? How many?”

“Northeast, at least two big ones, at least three small, maybe as many as seven in total.”

Not where they are, but close. “If we wait here and they come through, we might get surrounded. We’re making our way back to the stairs. Quick and quiet, let’s move.”

They start to walk, Shaw leading the way from one glowstick to the next as he tosses more of them out. Behind him he hears someone spraying repel along their path, and they reach the stairwell just as they hear the scratching of claws against concrete.

They close the door and spray more repel along the floor, then take a moment to catch their breaths. “See anything, Zach?”

“Yeah, new hole just got dug in the wall not far from the second chemical lab. Four sandshrew, two sandslash.”

“Do they look… normal?”

“So far as I can tell.”

So nothing conclusive yet. He turns to the others. “How much air does everyone have? I’m at 31%.”

They sound off, Kit being the lowest at 27 and Rhea the highest with 35. Shaw resets his timer to fifteen minutes. “Alright, new plan. If they leave we head down one more floor, otherwise we head back up to rest and resupply. Naoto, you said the majority of minds are two below us, on the experiment’s floor?”

“Yes, I think that’s where the nests are, unless there’s more below that.”

“Then we’re going to go down one, find a hole, and take a peek through it before running back up. Giovanni said to be careful, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to catch any by surprise down here.”

No one says anything, but Shaw can tell they’re relieved even through the masks. After a couple minutes Naoto says, “They’re heading down, somewhere in the middle,” and Shaw leads them to the next floor.

“This is it everyone. Weapons ready, prepare for engagement.” Shaw waits for everyone to hold up their weapons, then nods to Leon.

The ex-ranger opens the doors, and Shaw throws twice as many glowsticks through as usual, all four in different directions and distances. They spot a sandshrew right away thanks to the farthest glowstick, and it immediately retreats, scurrying away from the light.

Shaw spots a hole and heads straight for it, sweeping away more broken glass, loose paper, and pokemon droppings. He kicks aside a chair that’s in the way, then drops his broom and steps right up to the hole to drop a glowstick in as the others set up a perimeter around him.

What he sees takes a moment to register, and as his eyes widen and his breath stops, a visceral horror claws up his stomach and out of his throat in a sound of fear and disgust he wouldn’t recognize as coming from him if he didn’t feel the lingering desire to shut his eyes and turn away.

“Incoming!” Naoto yells, snapping Shaw out of his paralysis. “There, there, and there!”

“Move!” Shaw releases a pair of pokedolls, then follows the others back the way they came. A sandslash rushes out of the dark from their side until Leon’s netgun sends it rolling across the ground in a tangled heap, claws slashing at the thin steel chains until they start to snap. Another crawls out of the hole Shaw was looking down and immediately attacks the pokedolls he left behind, while a third starts tunneling out of the floor by the stairs, only to get blasted in the face with sleep powder from Rhea.

“Capture it!” Shaw yells as he stops by the netted sandslash, blasting it with his own sleep spores before holding a greatball out. It’s just pulling free when the powder kicks in, and his greatball snatches it out of the remains of the net.

“Move, Shaw, more coming!” Naoto yells as he tosses his own empty netgun aside and pulls out a pair of stunspore bombs, tossing both down a corridor that looks empty to Shaw.

He snatches his greatball up and runs for the stairway, where Kit releases another pokedoll to give Rhea cover as she captures the sandslash slumped in the new hole.

Once he’s through the door Leon slams it shut, and they’re all racing up the stairs as Min calls out seismic activity warnings.

A minor quake sends them all stumbling to the sides of the stairwell, and sends an ominous groan through the concrete around them. “Up, hands on the railing!” Shaw hooks his weapon to his belt and holds onto the rail beside him as he pumps his shaking legs up the stairs.

Once they get to the top floor, gloriously well lit and relatively free of debris, they start running for the main staircase out. “Vibrations in pursuit, passing through the third floor now!” Min yells.

“Lopez, we’re coming up!” Shaw makes sure everyone is on the stairs before he shuts the lab doors behind him and follows. “Open the hatch!”

For a moment they’re still running in the dim light of the stairwell, and then bright sunlight is shining down around them. Once he’s through he collapses beside the others in the grass, tearing his breath mask off and gulping in lungfuls of clean air.

Lopez bangs the trapdoor closed behind them… then turns on Shaw with a stun gun aimed for his chest. “What’s something only Shaw would know about me?”

Even through his lingering horror and exhaustion, pride and relief are enough to make him grin. “That you… got reprimanded twice… for late reports… during the last Interregional Coordinator Contest.”

Lopez frowns, then lowers the stungun. “Shit, all of the answers are going to embarrass me, aren’t they?”

Leon laughs, and that sets the others off. Still breathing hard, Shaw pushes himself up to face the only one who’s still looking worried, gaze on her screen. “Are they still coming?”

“I think they stopped at the second floor. A couple might have gone up from there, but no more are moving further.”

“I’ve got them on camera,” Zach says. “They’re milling around, but don’t seem to be about to pursue.”

Shaw lets himself relax even more, enjoying the cool air on his sweaty face as Leon asks if Lopez is going to ask the rest of them questions.

“None of us lost sight of each other while we were down there,” Kit says.

“Still, orders are orders.”

Lopez frowns, then holds his stungun up again, aimed at Leon this time.

“Orders rescinded,” Shaw says, and pushes himself up. “Kit’s right, and we need to report in. Anyone injured?”

They shake their heads and start rising too. Rhea’s gaze studies his face as she brushes grass off her pants. “What did you see, Shaw?”

The question brings him back to that moment, and his stomach clenches. “It looked like a sandshrew nest, but… wrong. A second after the glowstick landed, they all started… changing. Melting into some pink and purple goo, even some of the babies. It… or maybe they… were everywhere, surrounding the eggs… inside the eggs, one of them was feeding on the yolk of one while another detached some of itself into one…”

He trails off while the others stare in shock and horror and disgust. “You saw all that in a few seconds?” Leon asks, voice low. He doesn’t sound skeptical.

“I saw it all in a moment. The rest of the time was… processing.” Shaw thought his time working homicides and watching the results of all the failed experiments that came before 3.14 would have kept him from feeling what he’s feeling now, but the queasy disgust only grows the longer he thinks about it, and he starts walking toward the mansion, shaking his head to clear the images away. “Come on. Giovanni needs to… know about this.”

Giovanni needs to do something about this is what Shaw almost said, holding his tongue at the last moment. He trusts his boss with a lot more than his life, but he knows the cold and ruthless pragmatism that drives him. There’s a chance the Gym Leader would see this as an opportunity, but if he orders Shaw to do anything other than destroy what’s down there to the best of his ability, then for the first time in over a decade Shaw would have to disobey.

He hopes the loss of the experiment taught Giovanni some humility, some understanding that he can’t control everything, and for some things shouldn’t even try. He knows Giovanni has to reach further than anyone else dares to do what has to be done.

But after what he saw, and what it might mean for the world if it isn’t stopped, Shaw won’t let him make the wrong call a second time.


Cinnabar City is home to about 90% of the island’s population, and it doesn’t take long for the shelters to fill with the other 10 (or at least, the other 9.999). By the time the rangers have finished corralling people from the various tourist lodges, pokemon centers, farms, and fishing villages around the island, the sun is a few hours away from setting, and Ranger Wendy has had a chance to fully examine the city’s defenses, as well as evaluate its preparation for the first official Code White.

It is, she notes for her report to the Ranger Union, probably one of the best places to have encountered an unknown phenomenon of this scale.

She’s only been stationed in Kanto for a few months as part of her regional exchange training and she’s fairly impressed with the local talent. They’re not as good as Almia’s rangers, of course, but the ones on Cinnabar are a cut above the rest. Being so uniquely isolated means everyone stationed here needs to be more than fairly impressive; when substantial backup is at best a few hours’ flight away, the locals end up handling most things on their own.

Fortunately, it seems they can. Unfortunately, the point of a Code White is they have no idea how to compare what’s happening to “most things.” With wild pokemon transforming into the ones they fight, including full access to their abilities, the usual tactics and strategies go out the window.

But the isolation is probably also what led to Cinnabar Gym’s unique culture; there aren’t many places with a mandatory draft for times of emergencies, but without neighbors to turn to, Leader Blaine asserted decades ago that those who want to live on Cinnabar have to be ready to defend it, and the city’s mayor and population agreed.

“All of which is to say,” Wendy summarizes to her phone as she joins the crowd of rangers, gym members, and others making their way into the meeting hall, “Whatever happens here, I think they’ll have the numbers to deal with it.”

On the screen, Principal Lamont tugs at his beard, brow creased. Normally Wendy would be reporting to her mentor, but with the seriousness of the situation she was transferred directly to the head of Almia’s ranger academy. “That’s assuming numbers end up being what’s needed. Are Oak and Taira there yet?”

“Yeah, he teleported straight in, so we’ll be good to go with whatever plan they’ve got. Honestly though, I’m not sure what they’ll be able to add. Seems obvious that we have to avoid using any strong pokemon, and let the newbies step in on this one.”

“Well, sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. Ditch the uniform and grab a coat, Professor. Unless of course you’re just motivated to show off what you can do?”

Wendy rubs her neck as she feels it grow warm. “I know, I’m just here to help with small stuff and learn from the locals, but this is too big to sit aside on!”

Her old principal chuckles. “And the best way you can think to help is by fighting?”

She bites her lower lip as she heads up the stairs into the meeting hall. Principal Lamont has been teaching rangers since the Union first started; she knows that question was meant to get her to think about what her actual mission is. “Only if there’s no way to coexist with them. So… I should probably be thinking of that, first.”

He smiles. “Good luck, Wendy. I know you’ll make Almia proud.”

“Thank you, Sir. I’ll report back soon.”

“See you then.”

He ends the call, and Wendy tucks her phone away to enter the building. The location doubles as a pokemon contest hall, which means there’s plenty of seats for everyone; she runs up to the balcony level and squeezes through bodies until she reaches one near the front so she can see which big names are already on stage.

Leader Blaine is there, along with Professor Oak and Ranger General Taira. It’s Wendy’s first time seeing the Kanto Ranger General, who stands a little taller than the Professor, and nearly as tall as Blaine, while his shoulders are hunched at least. Her short black hair combined with her black and red uniform makes her an imposing contrast to the two older men.

Particularly Leader Blaine, with his bald head shining in the bright lights and the cane planted between his feet. She’s heard it’s just an affectation, that he can move as quick and limber as the slightly younger Professor. Others say one of his legs was incurably injured and continues to pain him, but that he just powers through it when he needs to. Either way, combined with his white coat and round spectacles, and the knowledge that he was an accomplished researcher before heading Cinnabar Gym, it’s hard not to see him as more of a professor than a gym leader.

Until a few minutes pass, and the seats are nearly full, when he raps his cane against the floor once, twice, three times. By the third, the hall is so silent that Wendy can hear her own breaths.

“Code White protocols have been met,” Blaine says, voice leathery but strong. “There’s new data to share.”

With a gesture behind him, where a dark skinned ranger standing to the side of the stage approaches, greatball in hand. He seems a bit nervous, or maybe just taken aback by the Leader’s abruptness. Wendy certainly is; she heard Blaine didn’t like to waste words, but she expected at least a small introduction or speech.

“Hey everyone, I’m Ira,” the ranger at the front of the stage says. “I was at C17 when—”

“Speak up, man,” Blaine says. “And get to it.”

“Yes, Sir.” Ira takes a breath, then holds up the greatball. “When I threw this ball, it caught an arcanine. Once I got back to the city I had a chance to scan it. It looked like an arcanine in the dex, but there was something wrong. It was classifying it as a new species, with lots of the genetic—” Blaine clears his throat, and Ira glances at him, then shrugs. “Point is, this is what it turned into a few seconds out of the ball.”

He braces his arm and releases the greatball’s contents in a flash. When it clears, there’s… a puddle of purple goo on the stage.

Wendy leans forward, along with half the hall, trying to understand what she’s looking at. A baby grimer? No, it’s too light, more of a pinkish-purple…

A moment later it quivers and swirls, forming a vaguely lumpy blob. There are murmurs throughout the hall now as the blob seems to wag its upper half around, and the cameraman at the foot of the stage steps right up against it to get a closeup.

“For those that can’t make it out, it’s got a pair of small black eyes, something like a mouth, and that’s it. As far as I can tell it has no internal organs, and while it didn’t try to attack me, it doesn’t follow basic commands or do much of anything, really.”

“Technicians are working with another specimen already,” Professor Oak says. “We’re hoping to push a pokedex update by the end of the night so it can identify these things when they’re caught, but the training algorithms might take longer, since we have no idea how its physiology works, let alone the neurology.”

Wendy feels a bit of jealousy that some people have already caught the new pokemon while she’s been sitting in a safe outpost by the coast, but reminds herself of what Principal Lamont said. She’s a ranger, not a trainer; she should be focusing on more than capturing and battling.

If she stops viewing the strange blob as a threat or battle resource, what else could it be? Well, obviously it would be massively valuable scientifically… that company that’s been trying to perfect cloning technology must be pulling their hair out right now.

She’s still thinking of it as a resource though; rangers are supposed to value pokemon for their role in the ecosystem, and ways they can enhance human lives. I guess it’s kind of cute, in a living plush-doll sort of way? She’s not sure what hugging one would feel like, but as long as it’s not cold and slimy…

“Tactical data is limited,” Blaine says. “For now, assume this thing is anywhere on the island. Assume it can get off the island. Any trainer engaging in any battle against a wild pokemon has to be ready to swap to a counter to whatever they send out, then swap to a counter to that, until we know how quickly or often they can change forms.”

“Also,” Professor Oak adds, “To answer the question I imagine is on everyone’s mind… we don’t know yet if they can turn into humans. But from what we’ve studied of the data so far, the transformation is not perfect. It would be a mistake to call it superficial; so far they’ve mimicked every power their targets possessed. At the same time, once injured—or for those who’ve transformed into tougher pokemon, once their hide is pierced—they seem more frail than their targets.”

“That may not be consistent,” Leader Blaine says. “Data is too limited to jump to conclusions.”

Professor Oak holds a conciliatory hand up. “Of course. But combined with the logic that a complete transformation would result in them losing their ability to change further, I’m advising against paranoid speculation. Our next test once we have a new subject is to cut some fur or nails from it before it transforms back to this state, to see if it reacts with pain, or if the removed matter reverts sooner. In addition, the fact that the copied pokemon do not act like their trained counterparts suggests that they copy our pokemon’s instincts, but not their memories.”

“At this point we’re considering a full quarantine for Cinnabar,” General Taira says. Her voice is velvet wrapped around an iron fist, bringing to mind the ancient clan of warriors and leaders she shares a name with. “But less drastic methods are still being debated. In the meantime, all efforts are going to be aimed at city patrols and perimeter defense.”

Wendy is only half-listening. Transforming pokemon that share all their target’s instincts… the transformation isn’t permanent so they aren’t really clones like that company wants to make…

People are talking among themselves all around her while the Ranger General shares instructions on how to form groups and receive orders for local defense, then the tentative plans for moving outward once they’re sure the city is safe.

“One last thing,” Ranger Ira says. “My friend and I tracked the first stampede that we know for sure had these things in it to a series of caverns. We’ve marked it on the map; it may have come from somewhere else and moved there, or came into existence at more than one place at the same time, but we’ve sealed the caverns off by collapsing the entrances and there’s a rotating shift watching it to make sure we know if anything else comes out. If you have a strong flier and want to sign up for that, come find me.”

“Dismissed,” Leader Blaine says, and people start standing and streaming out. Wendy, however, has a sudden thought, and dashes down the stairs and to the stage. Nothing gained by being timid she reminds herself when her worries catch up with her feet, and moves faster against the outflowing tide of bodies.

Oak and Blaine are talking about something while Ira and Taira talk about something else. Neither pair seems to notice her, probably because a lot of others are milling around the stage talking or looking for an opportunity to speak with them. Instead Wendy climbs onto the stage and approaches her fellow Rangers, which gets their attention.

Taira’s gaze is like a pair of legweights, and Wendy falters for a moment before taking a deep breath and soldiering on. “Good evening, Ma’am.” She gives her best salute.

The Ranger General’s response is casual, almost dismissive, but her voice is only curious. “Yes, Cadet?”

“Wendy, Ma’am,” she says, though the Ranger General’s tone didn’t invite details. “From Almia. I had a thought… why are we concerned about these pokemon?”

It’s Ira that answers, tone quizzical, but also serious. “I saw what these things can do against a prepared line of trainers. It might be easier when we know what we’re facing, but unless they have a weakness they’ll always be nearly as strong as anything we send out against them.”

“Yeah, I get that. And, Sir, I’m not trying to minimize how rough that must have been for your people… but these pokemon seem like they’ll naturally adapt to any ecosystem. We don’t know what set off the stampede today, but it might not have been because of them. Is it possible that the best move here is to just… let them be?”

The two are silent for a moment, and Wendy realizes that the Professor and Leader are also watching her, now. She feels her neck grow warm again, but doesn’t lower her gaze.

Eventually Taira’s lips quirk into a slow smile. “Almia, you said? Is Principal Lamont still there?”

“Uh, yes Ma’am, he is.”

“He taught you well, Cadet. It’s certainly something we’ll keep in mind… but first, we need to make sure they aren’t disrupting the ecosystem, and we need to make sure everyone is prepared to face them.”

“Of course, Ma’am.” Well, she said her piece. Now all she can do is try to help out. “Um, also, you said for Ensigns and below to report to their direct superior, but I’ve been here on exchange and have just been rotating…”

“I’ll take her, if that’s alright with you, Ma’am.”

Taira nods to Ira, then looks back at Wendy one last time. “Take care, Cadet Wendy.”

Wendy salutes again, then follows Ira off the stage, heart soaring. She did her duty as a ranger, and now she’ll get to see some action; whatever the days ahead have in store, she’ll make Almia proud.


“That was when we decided to retreat and consider our options. Any suggestions as to what we do now would be appreciated, but it’s my assessment that this location is no longer defensible without a coordinated effort to reclaim and rebuild the lab… or, barring that, purge it entirely.”

Naoto listens as Shaw’s pronouncement is met with silence from the various heads of the other departments in the organization. Maybe it’s taking them a moment to absorb what they’ve heard, or maybe they’re waiting for Giovanni to speak first. The teleconference is without video, so none of them have any body language to go off of, but the quality of the silence feels weighty, and Naoto imagines Giovanni staring down at his steepled fingers, brow slightly furrowed.

Or maybe he’s muted himself so he can shout some curses or smash a chair. Surely at some point enough setbacks would provoke a passionate response from their dark leader?

Naoto was a psychologist before he attempted one too many studies that skirted the ethical line. He was fascinated by the way people’s thoughts and feelings changed from little things in their environment, slight differences in tone or expression. Being able to share his subjects’ thoughts and moods gave him unique insights into what they really felt, rather than relying on absurdly noisy self-report surveys, or clumsy and time consuming brain scans.

He’s grateful that he was able to find employment with Giovanni’s organization after his curiosity got the better of him a few too many times. It’s all thanks to Shaw; the security chief vouched for him to the Gym Leader, said they’d worked together before, which they had, and that Naoto would be “invaluable.” After the nightmare of seeing his career and life descending into ruins, the word was like a shot of pure hope through his veins. Getting the job, in the end, was more; a rebirth, in a lot of ways. A change of name, some changed physical features, a new history, a new life.

And not a bad life, for all its limitations. The work has been fascinating, in its own way, even if the constant presence of dark colleagues, not to mention their utterly opaque leader, has been a constant itch that he’s found hard to live with at times. Right now, other than two people on perimeter watch and one to keep an eye on the hatch, the remaining dozen people at the mansion are gathered in the meeting room, all of which are dark. Combined with the lack of visual stimuli, the itch to know what everyone is thinking is nearly unbearable.

But he has borne it, and resisted the urges to return to his previous experiments. After Shaw put his own dependability on the line for him, Naoto knew he couldn’t let him down, nor the Leader they both serve that he’s come to respect as well, in his own way.

“Can we fill the air system with spores?” comes a suggestion at last. Dr. Light, of course, is familiar with the lab.

“Same problem as trying to just burn them out,” Shaw says. “We might catch some, but the rest will retreat into the surrounding earth.”

“Flood it?” comes a voice Naoto doesn’t recognize.

“Might work, if we had a lake we could redirect.”

“What if we use their transformation properties against them?” someone asks. “Send in nothing but voltorb and electrode?”

“A chain reaction?” Giovanni muses. “Risky. Even assuming it works for some, others might survive and escape… not to mention it would probably bring the whole lab down on anyone in there. Perhaps as a last resort.”

“We could drop poisoned food on the lower levels?” Kit asks, voice low, and Shaw nods and repeats the suggestion.

There’s silence for a moment, then Giovanni says, “A good idea if we had more time, and if we already had a sense of what poison wouldn’t be detected by sandshrew while being potent enough to incapacitate whatever these things are for a prolonged period. The one you caught, Rhea, will be thoroughly examined, but in the meantime we need other options that ensure their destruction.”

“So you agree with purging the lab entirely, Sir?” Shaw asks. If Naoto was forced to guess (and he can’t help himself anyway) he’d say Shaw is… relieved.

Not that he blames him. From what Shaw reported seeing, Naoto can’t imagine sleeping soundly in the mansion ever again.

“I do. Regardless of how the battle for the island as a whole turns out, we cannot allow more of these things to breed in secret. There are a number of ways we could potentially contain them, but not quickly and not quietly; with the island on high alert, new construction or renovation below the mansion would be noticed.”

“I agree, Sir,” Shaw says. Yep, definitely relieved. “Which is why I’d like to suggest we use the lab’s failsafe.”

Silence again from the telecom, while everyone in the room goes still. Naoto wonders if they’re finally going to learn what doom was hanging over them all those years…

“Shaw.” It’s Dr. Light, and she sounds… frightened? “Are you sure?”

The chief of security’s lip twitches. “I am, Doctor. What’s down there is… worse than the experiment, I think. Maybe worse than anything else humanity has faced.”

“Can someone explain what they’re talking about?” another voice Naoto doesn’t recognize asks. Not surprising given how segregated their cells are; he wonders how many people are in other research labs, if any, and how many are just on Giovanni’s personal staff or part of the Viridian Gym.

“There’s enough explosive packed into the walls of the lab to utterly demolish it,” Giovanni explains. “And probably collapse the mansion into the ground.”

Silence again, and then, “Okay, seems like a good option. How does that work, exactly?”

“Dr. Light and I both have keys that could trigger it,” Shaw says.

“Then why not just evacuate and… wait. Are you talking about a literal key?”

“I am.”

The call is silent again as Lopez swears under his breath, and Rhea’s hands clench into fists. “Shaw,” Leon mutters, only for their boss to cut him off with a sharp chop of his hand.

“It was meant to stop whatever the lab created from escaping,” Shaw continues after a moment. “This feels like it qualifies.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions, Shaw,” Dr. Light. “We still don’t know for sure what from the lab might have caused it to appear, or if it even originated there at all. If you blow up the lab we may never know!”

“Then maybe we shouldn’t know.”

“That’s the most thickheaded—”

“Doctor.” The word comes out almost tenderly, and if Naoto didn’t know better he’d think there had been something between her and Shaw. “Thank you. But it’s the only way to be sure.”

For his part, Naoto feels an odd tearing in his chest. If Shaw is serious, and he’s understanding the system right, he plans to walk down there and just blow himself up.

The man who gave Naoto a second chance would go to his death to keep the island, and possibly the world, safe. Of course he would; that’s what his job has been all this time.

It’s not fair.

“Before things get any more dramatic,” someone says, voice holding a slight drawl. “It sounds like those things are basically loose on the island at this point. It’s unfortunate for the local ecology, but destroying this ‘nest’ will not stop the spread that has already begun.”

“Just because it won’t eradicate them doesn’t make it worthless,” Shaw says. “It may slow the spread to a manageable level, give the rangers a fighting chance to contain it entirely.”

“I still think—”

“Hey, it doesn’t matter!” Zach explodes, voice definitely loud enough to be picked up on the call. Naoto was so focused on himself that he didn’t realize how much tension the CIO must have been holding in. “Whose dumb idea was it not to make the damn thing remote? Give me an hour and I’ll whip up a way to do it from a distance! No one has to die!”

If anyone else had spoken out of turn, let alone (probably) insulted Shaw or Giovanni, they would probably have been swiftly led out of the room, but Zach can get away with more than most. Probably because he’s still wearing those damn pajamas, and getting mad at him would just feel strange. “It was a tradeoff,” Shaw says. “The risk of external trigger was too high. I don’t want to die, but I would be pretty surprised if you could make this thing work remotely in a week, let alone an hour.”

“Oh please, a little servo to turn a key—”

“Is just the last step. The key has to be turned within seconds of a password being put in, a lever being cranked, and a living-body-temperature handprint being placed on a scanner, along with a voice command and a retinal scan.”

Coming from anyone else, Naoto would think Shaw was exaggerating. Zach practically vibrates with mixed feelings that he would normally be fascinated to try to dissect, but after a moment he just sags back, hand over his eyes.

“You’re sure about this,” Giovanni says in the ensuing silence.

It’s not spoken like a question, but Shaw still nods. “Yes, Sir.”

“If this is from some sense of guilt, I want you to know that I am ultimately the one who—”

“No, Sir. With respect, it’s just… the right call. It’s our mess. We need to clean it up, no matter what.”

No one seems to know what to say to that.

“The stampede has spread through a quarter of the island, and will reach the city soon,” Giovanni finally says. “Once all eyes and ears are on it…”

The Gym Leader just trails off. Maybe even he has never asked someone to literally sacrifice themselves before, or had to find the words to accept it. Or maybe he just feels guilty. Naoto’s heard how ruthless Giovanni can be, but he and Shaw go way back, and by all accounts their boss doesn’t like wasting good talent.

Good talent. Like that’s all Shaw is.

“Wait,” Naoto says, throat dry and voice low. Too low for anyone but Rhea beside him to hear, let alone Shaw or Giovanni.

“That will give you time to evacuate the mansion,” Giovanni says. “And perhaps time for us to come up with an alternative—”

“Wait!” This time everyone turns to him. He swallows and takes a deep breath. “Wait, just… hold on a fucking minute, alright? If there are explosives in the walls, why don’t we just… you know, set them off with other explosives?”

“They’re secured against that,” Shaw says, voice patient. No, controlled. He’s hiding what he’s feeling, Naoto knows he can’t be this accepting of his own death, no matter how he’s acting. “The chance of them going off by accident was reduced as much as possible, and even if some of them are set off, the rest will just vaporize rather than explode.”

“How do you even know the explosives will all work, then? Half of the security cameras and lights were down!”

“It can be set off from three different floors, including the third, where damage was just starting to get bad. Ultimately I don’t know for sure, but even if some were damaged I think enough will work.”

“You hope enough will work, so you’re going to bet with your life. Well fuck that! I’ve got a better idea: let me do it.”

Shaw stares at him, neck muscle jumping.

“Weren’t you listening?” Zach asks, voice a mix of bitterness and contempt. “You need a—”

“Yeah, I heard, I need his hand and his eye, right? And some codes or whatever.” He turns back to Shaw. “Fine, so tell me the codes and give up a hand and eye. Not your life, you noble ass. Hell, if I get them back to you fast enough you can probably even get them reattached!”

“This is getting morbid,” someone on the call mutters. “Who is that, anyw—”

Their voice gets cutoff, and a moment later Giovanni says, “Continue, Naoto. I take it from that last remark you’re not talking about trading your life for his?”

“Of course not. I’ll just do what you dark people can’t, and teleport out.”

He almost smiles at the stunned looks on everyone’s faces.


It takes all the ground pokemon they have half an hour to dig a hole straight down into the top floor of the lab. It’s enough time to evacuate the mansion, though they end up leaving much behind, and enough time for their local doctor, with assistance from some others who teleport in, to set up a makeshift hospital nearby and perform some quick surgery.

“Once we remove the hand, put it in this pouch to keep it warm,” one of them explains to Naoto, who’s feeling a little light headed after being handed a small glass jar with his friend’s eye floating in it.

“Right, pouch. Sure.”

“You alright? If you need to throw up, or some medication for lightheadedness, say so now.”

“No, I’m good,” he says, like a fool, then, “Yes, actually, that would be great.”

He says his “goodbyes” once they get word that the city is fighting off the stampede, which mostly comes in the form of everyone wishing him good luck while not saying that there’s a high chance he fucks up and gets himself killed. Rhea hugs him, which comes as a surprise, as does Kit, which doesn’t, as does Leon, which does even more. Zach grabs his hand and shakes it, once, without saying anything, then walks away. At least he changed his clothes.

Finally he’s standing beside Shaw’s bed, fully geared out, ready to run to the trapdoor and down the stairs. “The eyepatch looks pretty cool,” he offers.

“Come here, you idiot.” Shaw pulls him into a hug sitting up from the reclining chair. “Thank you,” he whispers, and Naoto squeezes him harder.

“You bet. See you soon, huh? I’m looking forward to your applause.”

Shaw shakes his head, but he’s grinning as he pulls back. There’s one last minute of waiting as Zach swaps between all the cameras on the first few floors, then says, “You’re clear.”

They’ve numbed Shaw’s arm, so he doesn’t feel it when they cut his hand off. Naoto doesn’t even look, just holds the pouch out until he feels the weight of it inside, seals it, then runs for the square of darkness in the grass below the darkening sky while everyone else rushes away from the plateau the mansion is on.

At first it’s easy; down the main stairs, into the first floor. Through the first floor, no sandshrew or weird blobs in sight, around the big hole in the ground that’s his ticket out of here.

Assuming there’s at least half a second of delay between the key turning and the explosives going off, anyway. No one actually seemed to know, or at least they weren’t saying if they did.

Down the inner stairwell, past the second floor, and into the third, where the air is much clearer thanks to the giant hole in the ceiling that lets in the beautiful colors of the sky above. May be the last time I see it, he uselessly thinks as he follows the directions to where Shaw told him the secret compartment would be.

He’s just approaching it when he feels the two sandshrew and the sandslash approaching, their minds sharp with focus… on him. They heard his rapid, heavy footsteps, and are coming to fend off the intruder.

He releases a pokedoll, then summons his tangela. It was given to him as part of his job, years ago; he’s never been a real trainer, but Giovanni expects nearly everyone in his employ to at least have some capability to defend themselves. Despite his lack of diligence, he’s done his duty with Moss over the years, and feels a sharp pang of regret as he summons her for the last time.

“Defend,” he yells, voice cracking, and then he’s using the key to open the heavy plate guarding the interface to the explosives. Once it’s off and falls with a clang, he sticks the key in the final spot so it’s ready to be turned, summons his abra, and says, “Ready!”

Zach starts reading commands to him, and he types them out into the keyboard embedded in the wall. Once that’s done he carefully takes out the glass jar and turns it so that the eye gets scanned, then starts typing the next part.

It’s around then that the sandslash arrives. He doesn’t look back as he feels the ground tremble and crack beneath his feet, knowing Moss will take care of him, and if she doesn’t they’re both likely dead; more are coming.

He hears the fighting intensify behind him as the two sandshrew arrive, and despite himself looks back as he opens the pouch and takes Shaw’s hand out, trying not to think about how it feels.

Instead he’s greeted with the sight of Moss being savaged by her three attackers, though she’s holding her own all the same, vines keeping them restrained and regrowing almost as fast as they cut and chew.

One of them, however, is rapidly turning pinkishpurple.

Naoto looks away and shoves the hand against the pad, his own fingers holding Shaw’s in place so it gets scanned. Meanwhile his other hand triggers the recording of Shaw’s verbal command from his phone. Once the screen asks for the last command, he shoves the hand and phone into his pouch and starts typing…

…just as a vine wraps around his ankle.

He doesn’t stop, each finger moving slow and steady to make sure he doesn’t mess up as his whole body twitches with adrenaline and fear, distantly wondering if he’d have freaked out by now if not for the drugs.

The final command finishes just as the vine around his ankle loosens and fades away. Naoto grabs the key, puts his hand on his abra’s head, and looks back one last time, unable to help his curiosity.

What he sees makes him scream, twist the key, and send the impulse to teleport to his abra.


His teleport point is close enough that he hears the explosion almost immediately, and it’s the first real sign that he survived.

The next is his gorge rising, causing him to throw up on the grass, eyes shut against the last image he saw. His whole body is shaking, and he lets himself collapse beside his puke, letting himself not care about anything for a while.

The sound of running feet makes him grope for the jar, afraid suddenly that he crushed or forgot it, but there it is, cool and solid. He hands it to someone without looking, feels them take the pouch off his waist, and lets another pair of hands lift him up and wrap a towel around him as he just shakes and breathes.

Some time passes before he feels well enough to notice that he’s surrounded by people who are just sitting with him. Most are staring at the dust cloud, which is mostly invisible in the rapidly darkening sky.

“It worked?” he croaks, and someone hands him water, which he eagerly drinks.

“It worked,” Leon says. “Half the plateau sank in. Mansion’s still standing, somehow, but it’s wrecked to hell.”

“Half the plateau,” Naoto distantly repeats. “Good.”

He prays that will be enough to kill it, but knows he’ll still see the copy of himself in his dreams, staring at him with wide, blank eyes, mouth twisted in a strange, wide smile.

Chapter 96: Moral Reasoning

A spike of alarm sends Red’s pulse thudding through his ears as Rei turns to fully face him, then offers a respectful nod. He stares at her across the short hallway between the central corridor and where she’s standing in front of his door, and all he can think to say is, “Hi.”

“Hello, Red.” She’s no longer dressed in the elegant kimonos she used to, instead wearing a formal suit that, combined with the pokebelt at her waist, makes her look more severe and professional. Despite that, a pair of colorful kanzashi still accessorize her hairbun. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Uh… yeah.” Is it? “What are you doing here?”

She raises a brow. “Sabrina didn’t tell you?”

He blinks, then takes out his phone and checks his messages. There is indeed one from the Gym Leader:

I’ve informed Giovanni, who wants to speak with you. He’s sending a familiar face to bring you to the meeting; after Rei left my school she began working for him. Don’t be alarmed, and let me know when you’re back.

“Yeah, she did.” Red didn’t wonder much about what happened to Rei after she left, mostly just relieved that she didn’t get a renegade brand. “How did you…?”

“End up working for Leader Giovanni? Sens… Sabrina recommended me.”

“Huh.” I notice that I am confused. “And you’ve been happy with that? I thought you’d want to continue your psychic studies.”

“I’ve found other ways to do so. What I really wanted was to learn Sabrina’s secret, as I told you.”

“Right.” Red remembers that day clearly, when they were walking toward the gym together to propose the idea of merging with people who entered the cafeteria. The way she so casually admitted it to him, someone she’d previously admitted to not trusting. “So… does that mean you have?”

Rei just smiles. “Are you ready to go?”

Fair enough. “Uh, give me a minute.” He walks past her to enter his room (feeling a little awkward about closing the door behind him without inviting her in) and quickly changes into warmer clothes, still thinking about the last time he saw Rei. She seemed willing to accept her fate so long as she got to talk to Sabrina before leaving the school, and if Sabrina actually recommended she work for Giovanni… well, it seems Rei’s trust in her was rewarded even more than he originally thought. It’s one thing to forgive someone for working against you, but to then recommend them to a prestigious job?

He notices his confusion again, and wonders what Rei might have offered for a chance to learn her secret, and what it has to do with the Viridian Leader.

Maybe he’s about to find out.

Red grabs his pokebelt and snaps it on before rejoining her. “So, where are we headed?” he asks as he locks the door behind him.

“I know you can do free teleportation now, do you have a strong enough memory in Viridian?”

He thinks of his rooftop meeting with Donovan. “I think so.”

“Good.” She heads for the elevators, and he follows. “Congratulations, by the way, on that and the indoor teleportation.”

He glances at her. “So you believe I did it?”

“From what I remember, the pursuit of knowledge was as close to a sacred value as you hold. Unless you’ve changed radically since I left, I don’t believe you’d lie about something like that.”

“Uh, no. I wouldn’t. Thanks.” As they enter the elevator it starts to really sink in that Rei is here, beside him. Instead of what happened afterward, he flashes back to the look she gave him when she realized that he had outed her, so calm and accepting, only to turn pale with fear as Tetsuo accused her of being a renegade… “Rei, listen—”

“It’s alright,” the blonde says, voice and face serene as ever. “I told you before that you were free to tell the others, and you still kept my intentions private until my actions spurred you to share them. I can’t say the resulting house arrest was a pleasant experience, with what was hanging over me…” She trails off, for a moment, before taking a breath. “But I was mostly confident that if I made my case, after such an extreme act, Sabrina would listen. I hold no grudge against you; in a way you were my backup plan.”

“I… what?”

“If I approached her directly, she might have just denied everything. My hope was that her discovering that I was willing to tell someone else about my suspicions would make her too worried about what else I might have told others, who I would have even more reason to trust than you.”

He can’t help but stare at her as the elevator doors reopen. “That’s… really manipulative.” A coal of anger starts to burn in his chest when he thinks of how much he agonized over whether he should tell the others…

“Do you hold a grudge against me? If you didn’t before, does this change things?”

“I…” They’re walking on the roof, now, and could really stop at any point to teleport. So he stands still to consider the question, searching his feelings for nearly a minute. She doesn’t rush him, though her outfit doesn’t seem particularly suited to the cold.

What did Rei do to him, really, that he should be angry with her? She didn’t lie, even if she didn’t tell the whole truth. She put him in an awkward position, but not out of malice, and if asked ahead of time whether he would want to know something true even if it makes him uncomfortable he would have said yes. So in the end…

“I guess I don’t. Even knowing this. Though,” he admits after a moment’s further thought. “That may be because of leftover guilt.”

“Or maybe you just lack the confidence to hold a grudge. Have you ever?”

Red thinks of Blue, and the months he spent angry with him. “Yes.”

“Truly? Someone’s apologized to you for a harm they’ve done, and you refused to forgive them?”

Red blinks. “Is that… what a grudge has to be?”

“It’s the only way I know to differentiate it from feelings of justified anger, though some grudges may be justified as well. I suppose it depends how sincere the apology is, or how unforgivable the harm.”

Red eyes her, unsure where she’s going with this. “You haven’t apologized.”

“And you haven’t expressed anger. In any case, we’re allies now, so I’m glad to hear you don’t hold any ill will. If an apology would help, then I’m sorry I disrupted your exeggcute experiment.”

Allies? Red supposes it’s true, given the risk to all psychics, but he feels like she means more. Wait, does she even know about that? How much did Sabrina or Giovanni tell her? “Just for that?”

“I assumed you would want sincerity.”

This has been a weird day, and it’s probably going to get weirder, so Red decides to just nod. As he said, he can’t bring himself to feel angry with her anyway. “Apology accepted. I still managed to learn a lot from it, in any case.”

“I would be happy to hear more about it, sometime, as well as other ways your powers have developed. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” He unclips his abra’s ball and summons it. “We’re going to Viridian Gym?”

“Have you been there before?”

“No, but I can teleport to the roof of the southern Trainer House.”

“I’ll meet you there, then. Our final destination is in the city, but not the Gym.”

With that she summons her kadabra and teleports away. It takes Red a minute to feel through his memory of those moments when he met Donovan’s skarmory. It’s difficult at first because his remembered fear gets in the way of communicating the safety his abra needs to teleport, but eventually he can concentrate enough on the triumph and safety he felt afterward that…

…and with a brief wrenching sensation, they’re suddenly there.

Red looks around and finds himself alone on the trainer house roof, admiring the city for a moment. Back when he first became able to teleport, it took him a while to get used to how awesome it was to be able to instantly travel to another city, and after his first free teleportation he’s been too focused on reproducing it to enjoy the ability. Now, however, knowing he has a few minutes at least until Rei meets him here, he closes his eyes again, focusing…

And a moment later he can smell the ocean. He opens his eyes to find himself at the Pallet Beach, just a fifteen minute walk from his old home. The piers are still being repaired after the incident, and the water line is higher than it used to be, but the boardwalk is the same, and he’s still filled with nostalgia as he looks around and takes in the sights and smells. After a moment he returns his abra and makes his way toward a colorful stall along the winding path that divides the shrubs and grass to the north from the sand dunes.

He waits in the short line behind a young woman with a growlithe at her side, its red coat covered with a yellow jacket that declares it an emotional support pokemon. Her hand never leaves its fur as she steps forward and orders a drink in a hesitant tone, and once they’re both gone and Red orders a hot chocolate, he summons Pikachu. The two walk over to a bench, and he spends a minute petting and playing with his pokemon’s ears before just sipping his drink and looking around again, noting all the things that have changed since he was last here with his mom and dad.

It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to, thinking about it. He wonders if it’s the partitions keeping him from feeling the grief, and after a note of reassurance from his unpartitioned self, lets them drop.

The world shifts, but not by much. The memories grow edges, but not sharp ones. He thinks of riding on his dad’s shoulders while walking toward his smiling mom, and finally feels… okay.

Not great. But instead of the debilitating emptiness of a hole in his chest, his sadness feels less sharp, and mixed with a bittersweet joy.

Red takes a deep breath, then lets it out, deciding to keep his partitions down for a while longer, just getting used to being in full control of himself again after his brief but intense chat with Sabrina. In a way he’s enjoying the fruits of months of private, lonely labor.

If a year ago someone had offered him the ability to think about two things at once, he would have promised virtually anything as payment. Being “awake” behind his partition every day, riding around in his own head as his partitioned self interacts with the world, isn’t quite that… but it’s nearly as good. He doesn’t think as quickly or as efficiently, for one thing, and the two “threads” can’t communicate with each other particularly well when the partition is up. He also gets bored fairly easily, with nothing to read or do besides think and revisit his memories, and ends up spending a number of hours each day just coasting along with his partitioned self, almost like playing a full-body sim that he has restricted control over.

So, nearly as good… and good enough, for what he needed. Enough to let him spend hundreds of hours over the past couple months processing his memories, his life, his feelings, without interrupting his day to day life. Enough to better understand his grief, both over his dad and Aiko, and the differences between them.

The most important difference is that he has more today than he had when he lost his dad. Tomio Verres represented one of the three pillars holding up Young Red’s reality, and what Red finally realized after his grief over Aiko reopened the same wound is that the pillar was more than Tomio himself, both as an individual and in his role as Red’s father. It meant more than just safety either.

The pillar was confidence that the world made sense. It was the bedrock belief that the world was understandable, that danger in it could be studied, planned for, and warded against. When it fell, when even his father’s seemingly endless font of knowledge and preparation and strength wasn’t enough, it showed him that no one’s was, that the world was intrinsically a random and dangerous place, and that his mother or Blue or the Professor or even all of Pallet Town could disappear next, and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.

The counterswing he went through was entirely too strong an update, given that it resulted in him essentially giving up on learning or doing anything ever again. Once his partition unknowingly developed, and he started attending sessions with Dr. Seward that helped keep the worst of it at bay, he had space to think again. It was easier to regain an interest in the world, and his passion to learn everything he could about not just pokemon but everything could be seen as, in part, a desire to avoid having the same thing happen again.

Red runs his fingers through Pikachu’s fur as he sips his chocolate and thinks over the structure of his life now. He has more pillars, for one thing, and though few are as thick and sturdy, the multitude of them make for a more robust structure. Thinking of losing his mom, or Professor Oak, or Blue or Leaf, or his other friends and mentors, all make his stomach clench and his breath come shorter… but the world would keep spinning, and there would still be more to it. His desire to know the world wouldn’t be any less. His curiosity over pokemon, how they work, where they come from, wouldn’t disappear. His passion to understand his own mind, how it works, how it fails and how to improve it, wouldn’t feel any less important. If anything it might get stronger.

All these pillars might wobble or crack if enough of the other supporting structures in his life changed. But the weight would resettle again, over time.

Unfortunately, realizing all this doesn’t help him understand whether he swung too far after accepting Professor Oak’s offer, particularly since one of those new pillars is what’s being shaken now. What would his younger self say if he knew that his need to understand and learn more about how reality works might cause all psychics to be shunned from society? No more trusting them for determining renegade guilt, no more psychic trainers with their unique abilities and flexible traveling, no more psychic doctors…

If young Red had reason to believe it, he might well have turned down Professor Oak’s offer.

And Red knows—or rather, he feels—that that can’t be the right answer either. Whatever the consequences, he rebels at the very idea that wanting to learn more about the world, for any reason, is wrong.

But it scares him. The thought of facing Giovanni, of owning up to what he’s done, of being told by the Leader what the consequences would be, feels more frightening than anything he’s ever done in his life, dulled by the passing of time as they’ve been.

And in part that’s because he knows that the Viridian Gym Leader wouldn’t say something thoughtlessly or without due confidence. If Giovanni says he has crippled psychics throughout society, turned people against them, made them unlikely to ever be trusted as trainers again, or worse…

He takes a deep breath, rubs Pikachu’s head, and sips his hot chocolate again, guiding his attention to the taste of it spreading over his tongue and the feel of his pokemon’s fur. The grief and sadness over Dad and Aiko may never fully leave him, but he has finally managed to come to terms with them. In one sense it’s too bad he’s just replaced them with another crisis, but in another way it’s just in time. He’ll need to spend more time moving forward as his whole self, and the lessons he’s learned along the way to reaching this point are the same ones that he has to use to keep himself from falling apart again.

So he enjoys his hot chocolate, for a minute, and practices relaxing his pulse each time a spike of stress sets his heart to pounding, grounding himself in the flow of breathing the familiar scents in… and out. In… and out.

When he feels more stable, he swaps Pikachu for Abra and teleports back to Viridian. Even knowing it will happen, he marvels over the fact that the flimsy thermos cup and the hot chocolate in it came with him, and spends his elevator trip down thinking over the obscure and convoluted rules of teleportation, and whether the others are working on testing his hypothesis yet… until that train of thought is soured by recognizing how proving indoor teleportation might just make things worse. Would psychics not be allowed into people’s homes anymore if people knew there are some who can teleport through walls? Should he tell Sabrina and the others to stop trying to prove it?

No, Sabrina’s thought about that already, surely. But she didn’t know about the perfect lying or sakki then… for all he knows she’s already told the others to hold off on their tests.

The lingering taste of chocolate is suddenly cloying, and he tosses the cup in a nearby trashcan. He wants to stomp his foot and scream over the unfairness of it all, and is tempted to bring his partitions back up, but instead he just closes his eyes and focuses on what he’s feeling, trying to get a better handle on why the thought of calling Sabrina and telling her they shouldn’t test his hypothesis makes him feel so conflicted.

Cold air against his skin… the press of the ground against his feet through his shoes… his hair brushing his forehead… and a vague, wriggling cloud in his torso, somewhere between his stomach and his heart. When he asks himself if it’s on his side or against him, neither feels quite right. He tries speaking out loud, muttering some prompts under his breath as he stuffs his hands in his pockets to keep them warm.

“I don’t want to set people against psychics.”

He feels the words resonate, but not in a strong sense.

“I don’t want people to get hurt.”

Same reaction, maybe even a little more faint.

“I don’t want people to be scared of me?”

No reaction. He says it again, surprised, imagining people’s frightened reactions… but no, he doesn’t think this is something they’d react badly to. In retrospect that’s obvious, since they’ve already heard his claim and haven’t. Maybe if they see it happen, feel it’s more real, that would change.

He’s not sure what else to ask, for a moment, and then imagines making the call again, feels the cloud expand, the wiggling sensation strengthen.

Red swallows, and whispers, “I don’t want to stop the research.”

The cloud “tightens,” turns into a ball of lead in his stomach, and he knows that’s it. He doesn’t want to give up on knowing if his hypothesis is right, doesn’t want to give up on whatever other secrets might come from this discovery. Proving the distinction between telekinetic and telepathic powers? Better understanding the Lavender ghost’s abilities?

And he’s already claimed to have done it. If he gives up now, people will think he’s a liar… or someone else will discover it anyway, and keep it secret.

He’s still mulling over how reasonable this is when a car pulls up to the sidewalk with Rei inside. Red enters beside her, and she inputs a new address that sends the car back onto the street.

Despite her sitting quietly, Red’s thoughts are derailed by her presence, old curiosities returning (and acting as a welcome distraction). “So what do you do, these days?”

“I’m afraid I can’t say much about my work for Giovanni.”

So much for allies. “But you’re still interested in research, right? Or, I mean, developing your abilities?”

She smiles slightly. “I am, yes. And part of my work gives me the opportunity to do so.”

“Anything interesting you’d be free to share?”

“Screening,” she says, and shrugs. “I have a talent for beating psychic shields, and I’ve been training it further.”

Red remembers her desire to sneak through the Saffron Gym Second and Third’s shields, and how Tetsuo dismissed this as expected. “Who have you been testing yourself against?”

“Some other Viridian Gym members. Outside of Saffron, this city has the most psychics in the Indigo League.”

Red knew that thanks to the networking he did for his research, but… “Are they a challenge, for you?” Most psychic trainers don’t spend as much time developing their abilities as non-trainers.

“Some are. Perhaps you’ll meet them.”

The car leaves the city proper and enters the suburbs to the east, more and more space growing around each building until they’re passing some of the larger homes surrounded by rolling green hills on every side. The car turns toward one, and follows a winding path up a hill, past the perimeter sensors, and to the front of a three story manor built in the traditional style. Once the car parks, they step out and up the patio steps, passing a pair of people trimming the hedges on either side. Red almost fails to register them, gazing up at the house in a mix of worry and anticipation, but for the fact that their belts have ultra balls and they don’t register to his psydar, which is when he belatedly realizes he’s been taken to Giovanni’s private home.

He sends his senses out further and finds a few others spread out through the building, but sees no one else as Rei leads him down a hall and up some stairs. Eventually she stops at some double doors and silently gestures him past. Red takes a breath, then walks past her and opens the doors.

The room feels like a blend of Professor Oak’s home and lab offices, with a dark but colorful patterned rug, and round, cushy brown seats, but mostly unadorned walls and much of the room taken up by various computers and a couple different replicators. A single portrait is hung on the far wall, and when Red gets closer he sees with some surprise that it looks like a real painting.

Within the frame is a mature woman with short grey curls, dressed in an elegant kimono and just enough jewelry to make her look rich without seeming ostentatious. The painting itself seems like enough for that; the background makes it clear that the portrait is modern, being set in the current room, which must have been quite an expense considering its size and how much easier a photo would have been. The woman’s gaze is piercing, mouth set in a grim line, as if impatient for the artist to finish their work.

She also bears a resemblance to the man below it; the Viridian Gym Leader is seated in the same functional leather chair as the one in the painting, though it’s set behind an open leg desk made of some dark wood. The other similarity is the cream-furred persian lounging at their feet; it’s hard to tell its age, but thanks to pokeball tech it could be the exact same one. Red wonders if the woman is Giovanni’s mother, or perhaps grandmother, and notes his own surprise. The Leader doesn’t seem like a particularly sentimental person, and while Red’s never heard anything about his family other than that they were old money, and in retrospect that makes it more curious how absent they’ve been in the public eye.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Leader,” Red says once he’s standing before the desk. “Properly, I mean.”

“I’d hoped it would happen sooner rather than later.” Giovanni gestures to one of the two chairs in front of his desk, and Red sits, finding the seat as comfortable as it looks. “I meant to speak with you more after the event in Lavender, but as usual something got in the way. I believe we have briefly spoken before, however.”

“Right, when I was in Viridian Forest.” Red sent him a thank you message for that the next day, but hadn’t gotten a response, and wondered if he’d even remember it. It’s hard not to fanboy and start babbling about how much he admires Giovanni, but the intimidation he feels from speaking with the Leader so privately helps keep him in check, along with the knowledge of what they’re here to discuss. “So… um. How much do you know? I mean, what can I do for you?”

“You’re wondering why I invited you here after you already told Sabrina everything. It’s an understandable worry, but in case it helps you relax, it’s not because I intend to interrogate you. If you could lie to her, you could lie to anyone.”

Giovanni’s smile is faint and wry, but Red feels himself relax a little. He’d also been wondering, briefly, if he’ll feel anyone try to skim his surface thoughts or emotions like Leaf accused Giovanni of doing to her, but even aside from the point just made, it would be stupid to try that on a trained psychic.

Unless the ability to merge with someone without them feeling it is another secret psychic technique that’s been carefully concealed from the public.

Red can hardly argue with that possibility, and resolves to keep his shield up. “So… what did you want to talk about?”

“A number of things, starting with…” Giovanni turns back to his monitor and drags the mouse around for a moment, clicking, then rotates the screen toward Red, who sees…

A breathtaking sight. Low quality as it is, the view of the earth from space, or rather a portion of the southern hemisphere from what must be a satellite in moderately high orbit, makes Red forget where he is for a moment, lost in the whirls of cloud over ocean and the peeks of brown and green land beneath them. It’s a sight that always fills him with wonder, an engrossing sense that there’s so much more to the world than what he’s seen, a tantalizing reminder of all the unexplored places and undiscovered pokemon still waiting beyond the reach of civilization.

He almost misses the thin, wavy line above the nearest cloud, dismissing it at first as a hair on the screen or an artifact of the photographing process. When he recognizes what it is, for a moment he feels a surge of horror until he remembers that the distance to the camera is what’s making it look so relatively large; according to the reports Rayquaza’s body is longer than any other pokemon’s, but not visible-from-space long.

“When…?”

“Three weeks ago. There are only a few hundred satellites with cameras in orbit, many of them less than a decade old and each immensely valuable to all sorts of different goals and projects. But since the incident, for the first time in history each one of them, controlled by regions all over the world, have been coordinating on this one task. We needed to know where it went, and whether what happened in Hoenn is really over. It hasn’t been spotted below cloud cover since then, however, and seems content to just… float around in the upper atmosphere. Perhaps that’s where it’s been all this time, but we’re still hoping to learn more about it, particularly in case it’s been permanently re-awakened in some sense that we haven’t yet seen.”

Red wonders why he hasn’t heard about this, then realizes the connection. “This is being kept private?”

“As best we can. It was considered… better, for morale, that people move on with their lives rather than stay in fear of death dropping from the sky at any moment.” Giovanni shrugs, tilting the monitor back toward himself and staring at it for a moment. “More than they already do, at least.”

Red can see the argument for that, but… “But you don’t believe that. That’s what you were warning about, in your speech. What comes next.”

The Leader’s lips curl in a slight smile. “Hard as this may be to believe, I am not as confident as I may often appear. I try, in fact, to only act as confidently as I feel. Any more or less would be deception of one sort or another, and while deception can be useful, in this case… I genuinely do not know. Perhaps a reprieve from fear will allow people to better recover and rebuild. You and your friends’ efforts, for example, have turned my words into more of a reality than I’d dared hope at the time. But perhaps that absence of fear will lead to complacency, sooner or later.” He clicks on his mouse again, then folds his hands and turns his full attention back to Red. “You see the problem.”

Red does. “Sometimes secrets are kept because we’re not sure if the truth will cause more harm.” It’s a relief to get more confirmation that, while he can’t know for sure if his secrecy was the right choice, he at least doesn’t know for sure that it was the wrong one either. “So how do we tell which one is which? Isn’t the default inaction going to bias us toward secrecy? Especially if it comes at a cost to ourselves?”

Giovanni’s smile doesn’t grow, but it does seem a bit warmer. “I see why Sabrina trusts you, and I’m glad you trusted her.” His smile fades as he steeples his fingers and sighs, and Red suddenly realizes something a bit alarming. From what Leaf described, and what Red saw at the Lavender meeting, the Gym Leader is constantly reading and responding to messages through his phone. Having Giovanni’s full attention adds even more pressure and import to a conversation Red already thought was maxed out on both. “That is to say, you’re asking the right questions. I wish I had better answers. I’ll pose another question to you in return: if there is something that will do much good, but carries some risk, should you do it?”

“Uh… that’s what trainers do every day, isn’t it?”

“Indeed. But what if the risk is to others?”

Ah, right. Psychic research that might get all psychics driven out of society, for example… He feels a renewed stab of guilt. “I guess it depends on how much risk, and how much good. Leaf clearly feels that what she’s doing is the most value that the sakki can do—”

“Hold that thought. The name, you chose it?”

“Oh. Uh, no, Blue did. There was actually a lot of argument about what it should be called, but the first applications were seen in battle, so…”

Giovanni nods. “It’s certainly… intimidating. But for the purpose of reducing people’s fear of it as much as possible, why not pick another?”

Red blinks. He hasn’t even considered renaming the sakki… but it makes sense. “Do you have a suggestion?”

“You don’t want it named after yourself, I take it?”

“I… guess that depends on how it’s perceived? But of course I can’t know that ahead of time…” Red shakes his head, feeling more regret than he feels comfortable with. “Better not. It’s not like my name is famous enough to help it be less scary.”

Giovanni nods. “The work Miss Juniper is doing with it seems promising, if we can connect it to that instead of battling. Though the technique is psychic in origin, its mass-produced state will make its most common occurrence and association the capability of releasing pokemon back into the wild… something to do with ‘freedom’ or ‘instinct’ seems appropriate.” He sees Red’s smile, and raises a brow. “Yes?”

“Nothing, just… one of the suggestions when people were talking about it was ‘ultra instinct.'” Giovanni doesn’t seem to get the reference, and Red feels heat creep up his neck. “Not that I think we should call it that… um… nothing really comes to mind.”

Giovanni nods. “Something to think about. I apologize for the interruption; you were saying, about risk and value?”

It takes Red a second to remember through his embarrassment. “Right. Leaf would probably say, if it works to help people safely release pokemon, it might be worth the suspicion it puts psychics under. But… she doesn’t know about the ability to lie, which would also keep psychics from being cleared in suspicious circumstances.” He lets out a slow breath. “I guess if it leads to her ultimate vision coming true, and most wild pokemon actually become tame… then that would be worth it. The amount of lives it would save…” He thinks of Dad, and Aiko, and the boy in Viridian whose name he’s already forgotten. “Even if it leads to psychics being unable to become trainers anymore or something, it’s hard to imagine that leading to more death or suffering for people, not to mention the pokemon themselves.”

“You say ‘if.’ But many things are possible, and—”

“Rational beliefs are based on what’s probable,” Red finishes, and shares a brief smile with the Gym Leader. “I’m not really a math person, but even if I was I’m not sure how I’d calculate the odds of her plan working against the risks. It’s not like she’s inventing, like, a megapotion or something that is guaranteed to save lives if only she can get the formula right.”

“Let us take some straw examples, then. I presume you would balk at sending one person in to save nine if there was a less than 10% chance of success?”

Red stares at Giovanni, trying to decide if he made that comparison in ignorance or not. The Gym Leader’s expression hasn’t changed at all, and after a moment Red wonders if it matters. It’s an important question, and the presumption is correct, as he proved with his own actions. “Yes,” Red says quietly.

Giovanni nods. “Is 11% enough, then?”

“I… on paper, yes.” Red’s heart is beating faster, and he feels Aiko’s shirt slip from his fingers as she pulls away from him…

Focus. He uses his partition, just a little, and takes a deep breath, grounding himself. “Yes, it makes sense to take that risk if there was a way to know the numbers that precisely.” When trying to put a number on his past self’s confidence that he couldn’t save Aiko and the others, it had been much worse. But then, he was deliberately grading himself harshly, knowing he had no real experience in recognizing when a building might collapse due to earthquakes and fire. “But I wouldn’t force anyone to do it.”

“Ah, but would you agree to the risk if there was a chance of collateral damage?”

Red blinks. “What do you… like, on top of the risk to the person doing the saving?”

“No, perhaps the person doing the saving is at risk, but at no higher a rate than others who would normally not be in danger. So let us suppose that if nothing is done, the nine will die, and if something is done, the nine will likely die, but may not, and the one who must act to try and save them has an 89% chance of costing someone their life in the attempt, evenly distributed among all people in the city.”

“That’s… harder. I get that in some situations you can’t really ask permission, and… I mean, if it’s a risk to everyone then what do you do if even one person says no? There’s no way Rangers could function if every rescue attempt they made with any risk at all to others couldn’t be done.” He hesitates. “Though… 89% is really high.”

“How low does it need to be, before the risk is acceptable?”

“I’m not sure.” He tries to think it through. “To be clear, whether there’s collateral damage is only dependent on whether they try to save the nine, but those dice are rolled independently?”

“Correct. It is not a guarantee that nine lives will be saved, only a near guarantee that an additional person will lose their life if the attempt is made, and a guarantee that nine lives will be lost if no attempt is made. If you want the full odds, it would be a slightly more than 1% chance that both the nine are saved and no collateral life is lost, and a slightly less than 80% chance that both the nine lives are lost and the collateral life is lost if the attempt is made.”

“And a roughly 10% chance that either the nine die but the one doesn’t, or the one dies but the nine don’t.” He sighs. “It’s still worthwhile, on paper, but even if each person in a city has a low chance of being the unlucky one, it may be unreasonable to ask them to be okay with the risk, for such a low chance of saving the nine… there would be externalities, like, people would be afraid of rangers and scared of cooperating with them out of worry that being more involved increases their own chance of death, whether that’s true or not…” Red rubs his temples, not wanting to admit defeat but not wanting to babble and waste the Leader’s time. “I… don’t know.”

He feels like he’s failing an important test, an opportunity to prove himself… but Giovanni simply nods. “There aren’t always easy answers. Let me propose another alteration: what if no one in the city is safe?”

“You mean… instead of putting one person at risk to save nine… anyone can be one of the nine? I’m not sure how that… hm. I guess no one would feel ‘safe’ even if the chance wasn’t taken… so now there’s an 11 percent chance that only one person dies, and people might feel more okay to risk the 80% chance of one additional death, since it’s unlikely to be them, while the reduction from nine to one death feels more likely to save them… Yeah, I guess… that does change things.”

“From the way you reasoned, it seems it only changes things because it changes how people are likely to decide for themselves. But would you make this decision for them, if it was up to you instead of them?”

Red thinks it over, and after a moment identifies the hesitation he feels. “Would they know it was me?” He hates himself for asking, but it feels relevant to the reason he’s here.

“Yes,” Giovanni says, and while his voice is as confident and strong as ever, his gaze is sympathetic. “Each time nine people die, some portion of the city might blame you for not taking the risk. When an extra person dies, all their families might hate you for taking the risk that killed their loved one, wondering whether they were the tenth. And while people might celebrate those rare occasions where only one person dies, or the even rarer full victory, the gratitude would be impersonal. No one will know for a fact that you saved them or their loved ones, only understand in a vague way that their lives had been in some minimal danger.”

Red’s heart is beating faster again as he thinks of Mr. Sakai. In a way, Red is really very lucky that Aiko’s father is the way he is. If he had been more… present… if he had a stronger reaction, blamed Red… it might well have shattered him completely.

“It is a difficult decision,” Giovanni continues, voice slightly quieter. “And the margins are awfully low… over a hundred iterations of this, the choice to take the risk each time would save roughly ten people over simply standing back and letting the nine die each time. If nine hundred people are going to die over the years anyway, would ten lives saved matter so much? Especially if it might cause people to hate you?”

Red clenches his hands, staring down at the floor as he thinks of what he told Leaf their first night together. That each death isn’t just a single event, that they send cracks throughout families, friend circles, communities. Depending on who it is, a single death can ripple out through the years, leaving children lying in bed and staring up at the ceiling all day, spouses crying into their arms at the dining room table when they think their child is asleep…

“Yes,” Red whispers. “They would matter. It would be… worth it.”

Giovanni is silent for a moment. When Red glances up, the Gym Leader’s gaze is on his own hands, still steepled. “So I believe as well. For good or ill, the thought of just standing aside… it is not in me.” His gaze rises to Red’s. “Nor is it in you, I think.”

Red’s heart clenches, suddenly feeling he’s misrepresented himself, that Giovanni didn’t know… “I… no, I… in Vermilion, my friend was…”

“I know what happened to Miss Sakai and Mr. Riley. It was a small part of a rather exhaustive post-incident debrief, but it’s not every day that a Second dies, and Leader Surge was understandably distraught.”

Red has trouble imagining the tall, muscular Unovan that way, but he knows that’s stupid of him. Even Giovanni probably cries now and then, as hard as it is to imagine. “Oh.”

“You weren’t blamed, if that’s what you’re thinking. ”

It hadn’t been, but his next breath still comes a little easier. “That’s a relief to hear. But then, why do you think I wouldn’t…?”

“I could mention your style of thinking and argument, but in truth it’s your actions that speak the loudest. Not just your other activities during the storm, which I looked into after you arrived at the cafe to become Sabrina’s apprentice, but something from even further back. Can you guess what it is?”

Red thinks back over his journey, a little bewildered. Could it be something he did in Viridian Forest, or on Mt. Moon? But no, that’s just more of the same and less impressive than the night of the storm…

Giovanni’s lips quirk. “If it helps, I’m cheating, just a little.”

Cheating? He thinks of Leaf’s accusation again, and feels a moment of panic—can his mind be read through his shield and without him noticing, then none of his secrets are safe—until he remembers that he already revealed all his secrets.

But that’s not quite true, is it? Or rather, he didn’t reveal everyone’s secrets.

Red feels his eyes widen, and Giovanni nods and reaches out to activate the holo-phone on his desk. “Call Masaki S.” There’s a brief ringing as the projectors light up and display a hovering sphere with the symbol of a phone on it, which rapidly shifts to a nearly-full hologram of Bill’s head. Red can only see the back of it, or at least most of the back of it; the hologram fades to a bluish fuzz for the actual back of his head and shoulders.

Bill appears to be looking down at something, shoulders moving in such a way that Red can imagine his arms busy typing, which makes sense given that he can faintly hear the clacking of keys. “What’s up, G?”

G?

“Hello, Sonezaki. We have a guest; say hello, Mr. Verres.”

Bill looks up at Giovanni, then around, and finally turns; the base of the projector rotates with him so that the camera is pointed up at Red, who realizes Bill can see him through his eye screen.

“H-hello, Bill.”

“Red, hey. You’re getting looped in, huh?”

The words slow the shock that had still been spreading through Red as he wondered how Giovanni knew about Bill’s secret, instead revealing the obvious. He hadn’t known through Red, but through Bill.

“I… uh…”

“Figured you might be eventually. By the way, don’t even think about porting indoors here uninvited, if you can really do it. I’ve got security systems, you know?”

The words are said mildly, even carelessly, but Red feels his neck flush. “I won’t! I would never—”

“Yeah, yeah. You know there are bets on whether you really figured it out? I’m going to make bank on you being right, which would be nice if not for the fact that I expect I’ll have to spend more than that rebuilding my lab if someone invents a material that blocks it. I was tempted to work on it myself but thankfully I don’t let people walk around here, let alone psychics, and there are others who are going to be motivated to figure it out, and I’ve got more important shit to do. Speaking of which, what’s the call for?” he asks as he turns back to Giovanni, not giving Red time to respond to the stream of new revelations and thoughts.

“I just wanted to confirm that, as far as you know, Red still hasn’t revealed your work on human capture.”

“Yep, not a bit of it’s shown up anywhere online, not even rumors. And that’s a bit surprising given all the rumors there are about me, or the team of people pretending to be me, or the mental upload I supposedly did after dying years ago, or whatever. Far as I know he hasn’t breathed a word, unless it’s in those written journals of his, which would be the safe way to do it, but I’m not sure he’s that sneaky. Also he still lacks any motive.”

“Thank you. I’ll let you continue your work.”

“Late- wait, there was something I… Eva, any memo for G? Right! You still owe me that schematic.”

The Gym Leader’s lips purse slightly, though Red can’t tell if it’s amusement or irritation “I’m working on it.”

“I’m sure you are, but a timeline would be nice.”

“Six months at the most, on pain of a donation to the DS.”

“Ha, that’ll do it. Cool, later then.”

The hologram vanishes, and Red is left blinking and full of questions. He settles on the last one. “DS?”

“Disciples of the Storm. A cult that worships the Stormbringers.” The disgust in his voice is dry, but pronounced.

Red has vaguely heard of them; apparently their numbers have swelled beyond Kanto after the Hoenn Incident, new branches reviving worship not just there but in various other regions, whether they have weather affecting legendaries or not. The “storm” is metaphorical for some, apparently. “Why would you—oh! A deterrent for future you?”

“Quite a powerful one. I’ve found donations to good causes less motivating as a punishment to myself; it’s too easy to think, well, the money is going to a good cause, and so my failure feels less punishing.”

Red is still working through the implications of Giovanni knowing about Bill’s research, and now he’s additionally surprised by the knowledge that the Gym Leader needs to make these sorts of deals with himself at all. He always seems so driven, so iron-willed… “Who else knows?”

“A few others among the rich and powerful. Does that surprise you?”

“A little. It seems like the more people know the secret, the harder it would be to keep.” And Bill seemed adamant that anyone else knowing would put the project, not to mention himself, at risk… why would others deserve to be stored upon their death, and not Red’s mother?

Probably because they’re helping fund or research it.

Giovanni, meanwhile, is once again giving him a wry smile. “You might be surprised how big a secret can be kept, if everyone involved has aligned interests and sufficient motivation. A higher purpose can be a powerful thing, and for those unmoved by such, selfishness is often sufficient. Granted, extreme measures are often necessary; Bill’s ability to police virtual communication, or rather his assistant’s, is invaluable in ensuring certain people don’t heed the very human desires to confide in their loved ones or boast to improve their status. Still, there’s always a chance of disaster. Like all things, it’s a matter of balancing risk with reward.”

“But… how do you know others don’t also have the technology, and use it less ethically?” It’s one thing for Bill to create his own safety measures, but Red reminds himself that there’s a reason the research has been banned so far.

“We don’t.” Giovanni shrugs. “All I know is that some things are too important to do recklessly, and should be stopped when that recklessness is identified, while others of importance carry risk inherently. But which is which… you see? It’s the same problem, just worded another way. How many lives could we save, if we solve this particular problem? Should we still take the safest route? How many must be at stake to take riskier ones?”

“I get it,” Red says, voice low. “And because I didn’t tell anyone about Bill’s tech… you decided I could be trusted?”

“I decided it was safe to let you know that you are not, in fact, the first person to discover something potentially destabilizing about our society who decided to keep it secret,” Giovanni says. “Whether research is done in secrecy because of stigma attached to the methodology, or because of the potential outcome, it would be absurd to believe that all the things which would benefit society also happen to be things that are publicly acceptable.”

Red stares at the desk for a moment, thinking through the Leader’s words. It’s hard not to find truth in them, but… Trusting some people to make these calculations and take these risks only makes sense in theory. In reality, people do things for selfish reasons, and it would be foolish to assume that everyone is like Bill and Giovanni. “And if there are psychics influencing people’s thoughts? Or research that was doing more harm than good, or might lead to discoveries that would be used unethically? Who decides if that’s worth revealing to the public or not?”

“Those of us who know,” Giovanni says, palms out to the sides as if it’s the simplest thing. “Any one of us can blow the whistle if we believe the world should know.”

Of course. Red didn’t consider that, though it’s the most obvious answer in retrospect, and makes him feel better the more he considers it.

It also, however, drives home the fact that he’s now part of a real conspiracy. It’s not a psychic conspiracy, since people like Giovanni and Bill know, but he’s not sure Leaf would feel too reassured by that. Giovanni is dark and Bill isolates himself from the world, so he doesn’t really have to worry about someone making him enjoy hummus. Which isn’t to say they don’t have other reasons to worry about that sort of thing, but it’s not likely to feel as immediate a worry for them as it is to others. Anyone else in the conspiracy may be similarly shielded.

On the one hand that feels like it might make them more objective, but on the other it also might make them underestimate the risk. Their priorities are different, and while he trusts people like Giovanni to have good ones, that’s not the same thing as having the best ones, or the “right” ones.

“You’re still troubled.”

“Yes, Sir. I understand that he’s not psychic or dark, so the risk of him leaking info to a psychic is too high, but… does that mean there are no plans to tell Professor Oak? How long should I expect to keep secrets from him? Not Bill’s, I mean mine.”

It strikes an off chord in Red that the Professor would be excluded from knowledge like this. Not just because he knows the Professor would love to know it, and not just because he knows the Professor would feel hurt that he didn’t tell him. The truth is that he trusts Professor Oak, and his mother as well, to do what’s right.

Giovanni sighs. “Believe me, Red, when I say that I have deeply regretted not being able to recruit Sam to help with some of these problems, or at least to hear his thoughts on them. But the security risk is just too great; he spends much of his time meeting people around the region, and is too much in the spotlight for any major change in behavior to go unnoticed.”

“Right. That makes sense, but what about certain rangers or police? In Saffron I was helping look for more renegades hiding in the city, and while I don’t think there are any there, there’s no telling how many other secret labs there might be, doing research that people feel so protective of they’ll use renegades to keep it secret.” He wondered if some of the missing researchers his mom has been investigating would be found among the dead there, either held against their will or hired by whoever was running the lab, but if so he hasn’t heard about it.

Giovanni simply nods. “I do in fact plan to let the right people in law enforcement know. As for your friends, Blue and Leaf… do you trust them enough to share this?”

“I do,” he says, relieved that Giovanni isn’t asking him to keep it from them, too. “Though I’m not sure if Blue would be okay with not telling the Professor, and Leaf isn’t dark or psychic…” He rubs his face, feeling lost again.

The day Red reported Rei, he hid in the bathroom to try to reason out what he should do and invoked his internal models of the people he respected and trusted… and they gave him good advice. He did it again a few other times, and each time it felt like it helped, even if just to reassure him that his lack of confidence in what he should do was understandable and that making a mistake would be okay.

But while he was preparing for all this from behind his partition, as Partitioned Red went about his normal life, he found the mental models of others fell silent. Whether because the stakes are so big, or because his actions are too unlike any other he’s done before or can remember others doing, or something else, it seems he’s just utterly unable to model their reactions.

He never realized how much he depended on those inner models until they’ve gone so silent. Even thinking about abstract principles or guidelines they’ve reminded him of before, like be prepared or ask for help felt inapplicable or limited to what he’s already done.

The thought of what his parents, mentors or friends would say in a situation like this is just too inherently unthinkable. Maybe because he imagines they would find the idea of him doing what he did unthinkable. And that felt worse than even condemnation.

His thoughts trail off as he remembers Maria, and what happened under the casino. “I… forgot, there’s someone else… when I told Sabrina that some of the trainers traveling with Blue know about sakki, I forgot to mention that one of them knows what I did under the Casino.”

Giovanni’s eyes narrow, but he doesn’t respond. Red’s stomach starts to do flips and somersaults as the silence stretches out, the Gym Leader’s expression revealing nothing of his thoughts. One hand reaches down to scratch his persian’s back, causing its tail to curl and sway, and he gazes distantly past the wall to their side with a slight crease between his brow. It strikes Red, suddenly, that the room has no windows. Not that all rooms need them, but he always imagined rich people setting up their offices in rooms with good views whenever possible.

Red finally feels like he has to speak, but when he opens his mouth Giovanni holds up a finger and Red keeps his silence. It takes another tense minute before the Gym Leader stirs.

“I can’t guess which of the girls it might be, and so doubt any others could without more information. The police who interviewed them might, but they haven’t raised any flags that I’m aware of. Who is it?”

“Maria.”

“Hm. The quiet one with the hat, yes? She seems to have held the secret so far. Well enough that I think it will keep, for now.” He resettles in his seat. “Back to your friends. It’s understandable to feel conflicted, even guilty, for not sharing things with them. I feel it often myself, when keeping things from my fellow Leaders.”

Red’s curiosity kindles. “Do you… do that often? I mean, is it always about dangerous research, or…?”

It takes a moment for Red to realize how presumptuous he’s being, but Giovanni just smiles. “One thing I can share is that there is a project I attempted that might have defeated the Stormbringers. It required me to keep a number of connected scientific discoveries secret, as I didn’t trust others with them.”

Even now, Red feels a flare of indignation at the idea of keeping novel research private, especially given the potential scope of the discoveries if they made the Leader believe they could stop a legendary pokemon. It takes him a moment to remember how hypocritical he’s being, and by the time he does Giovanni has already registered his reflexive outrage.

“I know this flies in the face of your deepest values, and I have to admit that the project backfired… but not as badly as it could have, and I still believe I was right to keep the discoveries secret.”

“But how could you know that was the right call? There’s no way to know what millions of other researchers and trainers might be able to do with something you discover… if the discoverers of pokeball tech had kept it secret, we might all still be in the dark ages!”

“A solid point, but the counter-example is experiments for human storage. The risk of misusing technology is bad enough, but combined with the risk of causing new research to be banned and handed to criminal elements makes it seem obvious to me that some discoveries are better kept secret, for a while at least.”

“How long is a while?” Red says, worry doing more to tone down his indignation than his conscious attempts. He considers just shutting down his emotions to have the conversation rationally, but knows better; once the feelings returned, they would clash all the more with whatever he thought.

“I honestly don’t know,” Giovanni says, and leans back in his seat, gaze distant. “The world has become too attached to the status quo. Humanity was so weary of losing lives just to reach a relatively safe stability that, upon reaching it, it has turned timid. Rather than risk losing what we’ve gained, we look away from the cost to keep our slow and steady growth, and tell ourselves it will inevitably lead to a better world. The current rate of death and suffering is not accepted because we think it is correct, but because it is safer and more convenient to us than the alternatives.”

“What alternatives?”

“For one, the way we send our children out on journeys, somewhat prepared but unguarded. Why do you think we do that, instead of sending an adult with each?”

“I asked my dad that, when I was younger… I mean, I asked him if he would be coming with me when I became a trainer. He said he would do his best to prepare me, but that I would have to rely on my friends and myself, and that the rangers were out there to help in emergencies…” Red remembers feeling afraid, when he asked, and then reassured, and even excited. The idea of being away from home, adventuring with friends… he’d heard so many stories of people like Professor Oak and Giovanni himself doing the same thing. “Now I know it’s also from a lack of available trainers. There just aren’t enough people available to guard every group starting out in their journeys.”

“And did you ever consider whether that might itself be solved, if we take extra care for a generation or two and reduce the rate of new trainers but increase our population? Cede some territory to the pokemon that would encroach in that time, retreat from a few towns, and focus on retaking them later?”

“I… no.” It’s odd, now that it’s pointed out to him, how much he took for granted that trainers should start young. Even now some part of him rebels at the idea of having been thought incapable of going on his journey with Blue and Leaf without an adult watching.

Survivorship bias. Quite literally. “So… you’re saying society is focused too much on traditions?”

“Not just tradition for its own sake. It’s focused on maintaining a way of life that is nearly a paradise compared to what my grandparents experienced, and thus rejects any risk of losing it, even if it means literally feeding some portion of our children and siblings and parents to monsters.”

Red rubs his face again, feeling unprepared to argue this. He knows he can’t win a debate with Giovanni, a third of everything he knows feels like it came from him. But the twisty felt-sense in his stomach is hard to ignore, particularly since he knows what it means, or something like it. It’s how he felt when he thought of Rei’s plans to learn Sabrina’s secrets.

“I think it’s hard to predict what will happen with new research,” Red says, picking his words carefully. “So I don’t want to blame someone for getting a decision wrong, one way or the other. I don’t think I can tell someone if they’re choosing right or not, but if you don’t trust society as a whole to make the choice, then… it feels like society has no reason to cooperate with you? Bill can afford to live in his secluded home and focus on research because society as a whole is protecting him and creating things he needs. He’s definitely contributing back, maybe more than anyone else, but… it feels wrong to benefit from the group’s efforts while secretly undermining the agreements that make the group function.”

Giovanni is quiet for another minute, and Red starts to worry again that he’s said the wrong thing. What if Giovanni thinks he’s having second thoughts about reporting Bill’s secret?

Red reminds himself that this is the man who wrote about how curiosity should never be penalized, and how asking questions should never be taken as an indication of beliefs.

Unless, of course, that’s just how he wants to be seen in public. If he’s willing to break some principles, why think he won’t break them all?

But no, people can have values opposed to public laws. It took people of personal principle to stand up to the laws requiring all city inhabitants to follow any orders by Leaders and develop the civil branch of government.

“Another fair point,” Giovanni finally says. “But it does not change my lack of trust in the public’s ability to choose the path of least harm.”

Red latches onto that last phrase and rifles through his memory. “I know you’ve written about this, that reducing total harm and maximizing good as best we can is the ultimate moral imperative, but… isn’t that the sort of reasoning that leads some people to become renegades? We need certain unbreakable rules, right? How do you decide which to follow?”

“It depends what you mean by ‘unbreakable rule.’ For deontologists this is how all moral structure is built, whether the rules are from society or divinity or some inherent logic they believe leads to the most consistently moral world. By contrast, someone who follows virtue ethics has only their own internal moral compass as a guide, and determines what they must never do by the virtues they endorse… but neither can give particularly compelling arguments for why some laws or virtues should trump others.” Giovanni shrugs. “Personally, I’ve found that when you dig deep enough, all the most widely followed moral systems are ultimately not just consequentialist, but utilitarian. Even a religious deontologist, when pressed, will insist that their rules are those that will maximize well-being and minimize suffering, if only on a spiritual level or in another plane of existence. Both they and virtue ethicists are simply establishing shortcuts to guide them to what they believe will lead to the best world, particularly if everyone follows the same methods… and I find the idea of taking shortcuts in moral reasoning lazy at best and cowardly at worst.”

Did he basically just admit that he doesn’t see anything wrong with going renegade?

No, he just said that he would determine if it was wrong on his own, in each situation. After all, if Indigo went to war with another region the label would basically just be determined by whom you were using your pokemon to attack. Red distantly remembers reading about protests that occurred back when Surge became Leader, as some considered those who fight in wars to be little better than renegades.

“I don’t know if I could live like that,” Red admits. “It’s been exhausting trying to constantly determine if I’ve been doing the right thing on just a handful of occasions over the past year. Doing it with everything… don’t you worry about being wrong?”

“Of course, but one hopes the same can be said of any conscientious deontologist or virtue ethicist. It can be tiring to constantly wonder what truly constitutes the ‘most good’ and the ‘least harm,’ and when I was younger I struggled with decision paralysis many times. But I have learned to allow myself to be human; I reserve most of my deliberation for decisions that are the most important, and acknowledge that I will make mistakes. I commit to learn from them and update my understanding, so that I can do better. I do not see how the other moral systems, whether rigid or similarly flexible, are superior in any way other than convenience, and in maintaining a desirable status quo rather than risking change to it.”

It’s Red’s turn to quietly think for a minute as he tries to process what he’s heard. He’s not sure why he’s trying so hard not to be convinced; in essence what he wanted was to be told he’s done the right thing. But this feels like something more, a swing that might be too far.

But rather than acting as an authority, Giovanni is instead telling him not to accept someone telling him he did the right thing, even Giovanni. To instead think for himself and make his own determination.

But is accepting that argument itself just trusting an authority figure in another way? Especially if he’s already made this decision beforehand?

This is ridiculous. If he told us to just accept his word that it was okay, we’d probably be doubting that too.

Red acknowledges this, and also knows that Giovanni has been pushing for people to take on moral responsibility for their actions for years, and so is not just tailoring his response to Red’s situation. Still, this is the first time Red has felt so unsure about what that actually means, and if he ultimately can’t trust himself to make the decision…how can he trust himself to know that he can’t?

The thought threatens to send him into another spiral of meta-doubt, so he takes a deep breath and does his best to put the thought aside as he reaches for his curiosity, finds it, and wraps it around himself like a cloak. As long as he stays curious, stays open to learning, he believes he can move forward.

Where does this philosophy potentially break down? Where has it broken down for him? Or better yet…

“Is there anything you’ve seen or heard of that made you doubt this model?” he asks as he returns his gaze to the leader sitting patiently in front of him. The thought that he’s taking up a lot of Giovanni’s valuable time occurs, and he quickly reminds himself that the Leader asked him to come and could end the conversation whenever he wants. “Or a situation you’ve thought of that you’re still struggling to reach a decision on, even allowing yourself to make mistakes?”

“Of course. One thing that must be said for deontology and virtue ethics is that they make coordination problems much easier, assuming you can trust the other person to follow their code or virtues.”

“So… you’ve had trouble coordinating with other consequentialists?”

“I have, but notably less, I think, than two opposing deontologists would, or even two virtue ethicists with different virtues, though I’m less sure about the latter.”

“I think I get it, but… can you give an example?”

“I would prefer to keep such dealings private, but I can provide an impersonal one.” Giovanni holds up two hands, palms up. “The leaders of the two renegade groups in Hoenn faced their own coordination dilemma. Both knew that the other was researching a mythical pokemon. They had a commitment to leave each other alone, but it was dependent on both sides agreeing not to seek the actual means of reviving those pokemon. However, once they did discover the how, both also didn’t want to leave the means lying around for anyone else to take… and didn’t fully trust the other to honor the agreement. They hid how far along their research and efforts were from even their own teams, as they knew any apparent effort to secure their discoveries would be seen as defection from the ultimate agreement and invite retaliation.”

Red listens in rapt fascination, wondering why the motives and actions of the two renegade groups are still largely a mystery to the public if Leaders already know this much. “Why didn’t they just reach out to…” He trails off as the realization hits him. “If they contacted the League or Rangers about their enemy, the other side would have done the same.”

“And both would have been hunted down rather than listened to, as they had already defected from the overarching rules of society.”

“But it still would have stopped the incident! I can understand not wanting to destroy your research even if you know it can lead to a catastrophe, and can even understand not trusting it to the public… but if their calculation led to the incident, it’s hard to imagine a worse outcome!”

Even as he says it he knows it’s not true, and Giovanni raises a brow. “I believe your imagination is now supplying you with many counterexamples. As I said, this seems to me a failure of consequentialist thinking, when two people with power individually believe they are doing the right thing and have no common rule or virtue to turn to. It’s hard to know how close to true catastrophe we really came… but we did survive. Had someone else found the means to summon Groudon, would they have joined the effort to subdue it once they lost control? If the Hoenn League had the power of such pokemon at their apparent command, do we know they wouldn’t attempt to use it against a neighbor? Hard to imagine, perhaps, of those we know and trust… but they will one day be replaced, and sooner or later someone else might have seen them as weapons of war.”

Red takes another minute to process this before Giovanni speaks again. “Now I present the question back to you: is there any truth you could learn about the origin of species that would make you hide it?”

Red blinks at the sudden turn in the conversation, and tries to imagine that scenario. What comes to mind is the reaction in Pewter, after Leaf’s article came out. What if he learned something so shocking to people that they violently rejected it, or it caused some regions to go to war with each other? It seems bizarre to him, but he knows better than to assume that no one would have a strong reaction over a big enough truth.

“I’m not sure. I want to know it for my own sake, and think the world would be better off with the knowledge. There’s no telling what we might learn along the way, or how such a deep truth might affect our technology or training habits… I think something that fundamental might help us learn enough to be really safe from pokemon, even the legendaries.”

“So you believe it could, in fact, save the world.”

Red feels heat creep up his neck, but he knows Giovanni isn’t making fun of him. “I do.”

“Then nothing would persuade you not to release that discovery?”

“I guess it depends on what the implications might be, or whether the knowledge itself is dangerous. If someone learned how to make their own pokemon, for example… they might create a legendary, or a dozen.”

“So if the potential for destruction is too high, compared to ways to help humanity fight or subdue pokemon…”

Red reluctantly nods. “Then… yeah, I might keep it secret. Also, if Leaf gets her way, or Blue gets his… maybe it won’t be as necessary, and it would just be knowledge for its own sake.”

Giovanni nods, and Red finally feels like he has, at last, passed some sort of test.

So why does he feel so hollow?

“There are projects that I’m working on that you may be able to assist with,” Giovanni says, confirming Red’s suspicion. “And I believe you would benefit from them as well, if you are interested. You would, unfortunately, have to commit to secrecy about anything you learn unless cleared by others first.”

Red wants to ask how Giovanni can trust such a commitment, since Red might change his mind at any time if he thinks it would do more good, but then remembers his earlier comment about how anyone in the conspiracies can just speak out if they wanted to. “I… can I think about it?”

“Of course. I know you’ll be busy for the near future, in any case, and I’ll have to factor your new revelations into my plans as I decide how to safely disseminate the information and come up with a plan for eventual public knowledge.”

Red feels such immense relief at the Leader’s words that he sags back against his seat. There’s fear, too, and he wants to ask how Giovanni will go about it, wants to be more reassured… but he doesn’t want to seem as insecure as he is, and it’s enough to know that someone else, someone older and wiser and with good intentions, is handling it. “Thank you.”

“The gratitude is mutual. I know that, unlike your friends, you would prefer a less public life if it meant you could pursue your quest for knowledge, and respect you immensely, not just for keeping the secrets as well as you have, given your values, but for putting your desires aside to do what’s right, even if it costs you everything. I for one hope that it does not, and that you can someday enjoy the life of research you desire.”

Red feels his cheeks warm at the effusive praise, and finds his gaze returning to Giovanni’s. “What would you do, if you could? I mean, if you didn’t have to be…” He gestures vaguely around, meaning not just the office but the city and region beyond. “All this?”

Giovanni’s brow rises, and his gaze falls to his persian as he reaches down to scratch it again. The large cat begins to purr, and for a minute the deep, rhythmic thrum is the only sound in the room.

“I wonder that myself, sometimes,” Giovanni finally says. “What I would be in a world at peace. A world without any remaining uncharted wilds, where every god has been captured or killed, where people can live as long as they’d like. I’m not sure I have a good answer, but… I think, in another life, I might have been an explorer.”

Red smiles, imagining it for a moment before his confusion hits. “But if all the wilderness is charted…?”

“Oh, I think there will always be more to explore, don’t you?” Giovanni smiles. “After all, if pokemon really do come from another world… who’s to say we couldn’t reach it ourselves, someday?”

Chapter 82: Interlude XIV – Titans II

Ramin always considered himself lucky, even supernaturally so, which is why he took it as a form of cosmic irony that he ended up under the Rocket Casino.

First he was lucky in his career; if he’d been born in a region like Kanto, with its extreme response to Renegades, he would likely have been killed when he finally got caught assassinating members of rival tribes. Instead his regional government passed him to their global underworld contacts, and he was offered a very simple choice: death, or oaths of servitude made under the watchful eye of a falgir.

The second stroke of luck came when he was sold across the world to a master who needed more than just disposable warriors. He thought at best he would end up in some barracks, far from society as he awaited a kill-order. Instead, he received training. Not just for killing, both with and without pokemon, but also logistics, first aid, even cultural training to help him better acclimate to his new region.

And finally, after years of serving as a guard at various locations, he was eventually assigned a plum position under a casino in the biggest city in the region.

On paper he’s a guard for the casino’s money, but in fact the floor it’s held is above his, where the administration offices are. That floor itself is below another dedicated to storage and machine repairs; anyone trying to sneak downstairs would be caught and returned to the surface at that floor. It and the one below it were recently searched by the police, who thought the missing Silph tech was there. They didn’t find anything.

They might have if they went down one more floor to where Ramin works.

The secret lab’s electrical draw is hidden in plain sight by the casino’s, and the engineers and scientists who work there come to the casino as employees of it. It’s a convenient cover, as while Ramin’s shifts are still boring guard work, afterward he and the others get to enjoy everything the city has to offer. Well, almost everything. His social life is restricted by necessity, but he enjoys going to the movies and watching local pokemon matches. He’s even ahead in the office’s fantasy league; he drafted one of his countrymen, Reza, and the young dragon master is tearing his way through Victory Road. On most days he can pretend he’s just an overqualified security guard.

Today has not been one of those days.

The earthquake splits the ground like a loaf of bread, and Ramin’s luck stays with him through the collapse of the ceiling; the crack that caused it went through the whole basement of the casino, and his station in the third sublevel is to the side of where the rubble ends up. At first, through the wrenching roar of concrete and metal, Ramin thought the whole casino was coming down on their heads. Dust filled the halls and he felt a chunk of something bounce off his shoulder, but when the shaking ends (for the moment) he’s still alive and unhurt.

“Archer, you there?” he asks after coughing his lungs clear, hand triggering his earphone again and again without response. He switches channels. “Maddie? Roark? Anyone reading this?” He waits another few breaths, but gets only silence. The building’s wireless must have been knocked out.

Still, he can vaguely make out the sound of people moving through the walls, coughing and yelling for help.

Ramin looks around in the emergency lights, then starts moving through the halls. He briefly considers bringing out his machamp to have it smash through a wall, but the building is unstable enough that he doesn’t take the risk.

Instead he finds a spot close to the voices and presses his ear against it, hearing them talk through the drywall.

“Are you okay?”

“I… I don’t think so… my leg… it h-hurts…”

“Oh gods… don’t move, I think it’s broken…”

Ramin steps back, a cold certainty slowly filling him.

Those weren’t voices he recognized. Which means it’s not just the floor above his that crashed down, but floors all the way up to the casino itself.

As if to punctuate the point, the walls and floor vibrate around him again for a few seconds, and once it ends the emergency power comes on… followed by the annoying jangle of slot machines.

Ramin strokes the pokeballs at his waist, deep in thought.

His orders are clear. Anyone who learns of the lab without authorization is to be eliminated.

But the earthquakes add a level of uncertainty; these are random civilians, not spies or investigators. And when rescue operations start, they’ll discover the lab anyway…

Another miniquake sends vibrations through the building, and he steadies himself against the wall, waiting to see if anything else would collapse.

When it doesn’t, he makes his decision and starts moving through the halls to find the survivors, hand settling on his golem’s heavyball. Soon he finds a passage to the other side of the wall where he heard the voices, and he summons his pokemon.

“Shh… do you hear that? It sounded like a pokeball… is someone out there?!”

“Yes,” he calls out. “I’m here. Just stay still, I’ll get you out in a minute.” He turns to his pokemon and gestures. “Dig.”

“Oh, thank the gods,” the other voice says, and he hears quiet weeping as his golem starts to pull chunks of concrete and drywall out of the way. Ramin waits until the hole is big enough, then reaches in to help pull the people out. Both are covered in dust and blood, one from a gash on her head, the other from a badly broken leg.

“Thank you,” the man whispers between gasps of pained breath as Ramin eases him down on the ground beside the woman. “I thought… I thought we…”

Ramin pulls his hand from the man’s and pats his shoulder. “Just rest. Help is on the way.”

He goes to stand behind both prone figures, then points to both and snaps his fingers.

His golem takes a chunk of concrete in each hand and smashes them down to crush the ribcage of the man and the head of the woman.

The stench of blood is faint under the dust, and Ramin withdraws his pokemon, stomach churning. It’s been years since he’s had to kill anyone. He wishes it had been longer.

It had been nice, pretending to just be a security guard.

But it had to be done. Archer or Giovanni might pull some strings, take control of the situation. They’ve pulled off wonders before, they can do it again. Even if the lower levels are revealed, their purpose could be spun… as long as there aren’t contradicting reports from survivors about what was down here.

Ramin listens as he walks around the rubble at the center of the lab. He hears more voices, and starts searching for the easiest way to reach them to check if they’re Casino employees.

If not, the least he can do for the unfortunate survivors is make their deaths quick. Luck, as he discovered himself years ago, can only take you so far.


The battle against the sea god rages, and the sea rages with it.

Leader Surge watches from above as Groudon continues to strike at Kyogre, assisted from the newly created shore by over two dozen trainers. Their pokemon stand at the edge of the ocean so that whenever Kyogre tries to circle around its nemesis, it would be struck by bolts of lightning, beams of concentrated sunlight, and blasts of draconic energy. The attacks don’t seem to do much, on their own, but neither does Kyogre ignore them entirely, and even a minor flinch is often enough to give Groudon the opportunity to turn and attack it again before it slips away.

Surge’s clothes, instantly soaked upon arriving at his only teleportation point in Hoenn, dry within minutes of flying into the sunlight surrounding the battle. The harsh heat raises a perpetual mist off the ocean around the battling titans, and he’s pretty sure he’s going to have a sunburn by the end of all this. He almost hadn’t made it, the rain growing in intensity until it’s nearly a solid, constant layer of water that pushed him and his swanna down, and he doesn’t think most non-Water/Flying pokemon would be able to even fly over such a long distance. Other Leaders and Elites from around the island have already arrived, along with a few particularly powerful rangers and random other trainers, but few along the island chain are as focused on Electric or Grass types, which is why he’s doubly glad he came. His city has been fairing well enough, so far, and few others can be as particularly effective against Kyogre.

Not that he can go as all-out as he’d like to. Ships would help give him somewhere to land and attack from, but there’s only one that’s arrived through the choppy seas, and it seems to be engaging in combat against something else below the water, the occasional explosion sending sprays of water up through the air.

Normally Surge would have his pokemon summon lightning down on their foe, but with the clouds above cleared away they would have to draw from the much further clouds, and there’s little chance Kyogre would still be where the bolt was aimed by the time it comes. Instead he scans the positions of the trainers as they shift to attack the sea god wherever it appears, trying to spot a fulcrum in the battle.

What they’re lacking is zone control. Kyogre gets beaten away quickly whenever it appears, but then it flees to a safer distance, only reentering the range of the trainers assisting Groudon when forced to by Groudon’s attacks. What he needs to do is limit its mobility, and force it into the attack zones of the other trainers more often.

He sends Cirrus into a dive, landing far from the battle and giving her a moment to rest as he climbs down, stumbling slightly as another tremor sweeps the earth.

The ground is rough under his boots, black and grey and brown rocks that constantly shift under him. His swanna clearly dislikes it, lifting one foot, then the other to get more comfortable, and he takes a moment to calm her, reminding himself to check her feet for cuts once this is all over.

Surge quickly digs through the saddle bag, swapping balls from his belt with those inside it. He brought almost every pokemon he owns, unsure what would be needed and what wouldn’t, and soon has his three magnezone and two magneton clipped to his waist alongside Cirrus’s.

After spraying some Ether into the swanna’s bill, he climbs back into the saddle and takes off, staying low enough to skim the ocean once they’re over it. He waits until they’re far enough to make sure he’s covering an area the other trainers’ pokemon can’t reach, then starts pausing to release his magneton and magnezone in a half-circle around Groudon, giving them orders to stay above the water and attack any pokemon that approach.

Twice he has to dodge massive waves that rise rapidly around him, threatening to slap him down into the ocean. He can’t tell if they’re guided by Kyogre, but a part of him mourns the pokemon he’s summoning into such a mess. Even if they don’t draw the ire of the sea god, their magnetic levitation is hard to sustain for long, and he has no way to recover them once they sink underwater.

Before he even finishes summoning the last one, he hears the distant, rapid cracks of an ongoing electric discharge and looks over his shoulder to see one of his magneton pouring electricity at Kyogre as it surfaces to blast Groudon with another volley of water. It only sends a couple jets out before submerging again, flinching away from the electricity, and he feels a savage grin stretch over his face…

…until it breaches again, jaw open wide to grab his pokemon out of the air and sink back underwater with it.

“No!” Surge almost loops back to return his other pokemon, but after a moment grimly releases his last one instead, jaw clenching so hard his teeth hurt.

It’s hard to get attached to artificial pokemon; they’re not cute, or cuddly, or easy to anthropomorphize. But they have personalities, all the same. Differences between them that he noticed after training a dozen magnemite to find the strongest ones, not just in electric power but those least willing to quit when things get tough.

All of his pokemon are soldiers, hard working and loyal. None are expendable, but each’s full value can only be measured by what they accomplish. Against an enemy like this, it’s not hard to calculate that even a minor chance to take it down is worth their lives.

But it’s not easy, either.

“Choke that fucking fish, boys,” Surge mutters as he reclips the last ball to his belt and signals Cirrus to climb. “Then cook it from the inside out.”

If they do, however, it’s not enough to take the monster down. A few minutes later it reappears amidst a tidal wave that seems to grow out of nothing in seconds. The leviathan is glowing gold and blue, its roar as loud as the waves as it crashes the full force of the ocean directly into the trainers and their pokemon on the shore.

Many of them get washed away, but some get pulled back by the tide, and Surge immediately dives toward them. He watches Kyogre eat one of the struggling figures, then swiftly retreat as Groudon sends a spike of earth out at it. He dearly hopes it was a pokemon, but the shape he angles toward is a person for sure.

He holds an arm out and bends over the side of his pokemon, hand skimming the water until he reaches the trainer. He grabs their hand and pulls, guiding Cirrus with his legs so that the swanna flaps hard enough to lift them out, then flies over land, where Surge unceremoniously drops the trainer and wheels back around.

That’s when he sees the two shapes blurring in a zigzag pattern through the air, then come to an abrupt stop. The pokemon, whatever they are, are levitating without moving any body parts, and both have trainers atop them.

What strikes him most, even above his confusion over trainers riding such unfamiliar species, is the fact that neither pokemon has a saddle. Once his outrage as a flying license examiner fades (he doesn’t know what Winona is teaching Hoenn trainers but it’s not his responsibility) he guides his swanna down toward them and takes a megaphone from his hip.

“Whoever you two are, you here to help?”

As he gets closer he realizes the pokemon look nearly identical; the smaller one is red and white, the bigger one blue and white. Same pokemon, probably, with a different male and female form. The two trainers turn toward him, and he notices one is a girl and one a boy. The girl raises a fist, thumb up.

“We’re focusing on the big fish first. Drive it away or kill it and we think we can take down the other more easily. Understand?”

They look at each other, seem to talk for a moment, and then their pokemon drop out of the sky in steep dives that make Surge’s stomach rise in his throat. How are they staying on…?

The pair go straight for the water and start firing pulses of purple energy into the waves, illuminating Kyogre’s shape with each wash of draconic plasma. It responds with a volley of high pressured water, too fast to be dodged… but no, the pokemon was already moving before the attack formed.

Psychic type, Surge realizes. They knew exactly where it was beneath the water, and even if the trainer was psychic and sensed the attack coming, their mounts’ reflexes were too smooth for them not to be connected too. As for a second type, those Dragon Pulses looked powerful. Too powerful for them not to be Dragons too, by his guess.

Are there any Psychic/Dragon pokemon in Hoenn?

He’s never heard of such a thing, not throughout the entire island chain for that matter. And they look strong enough that he would have if they were normal pokemon from some obscure region. Which means they’re something else.

There are so many myths of pokemon, some individuals, some spoken of in pairs or groups of three or more, and he doesn’t have time to sift through them all. What matters right now is that they’re here, and seem to be under the control of the trainers riding them.

“Come on, girl, let’s not get left behind,” he says, and guides Cirrus down so he can get Zeus from his bag, a new note of hope thrumming through his chest.


For Glen, it’s the night of the storm all over again.

Celadon and Vermilion are very different cities, but with this much rain coming down those differences are barely noticeable. Thunder doesn’t boom over the city (the lack of lightning in general is strange, given how strong the storm is) but earthquakes make up for it, both in noise and danger. And while there’s no Pressure—praise be to Arceus’s golden hula hoop—the same fear it evoked twists like a knife in his gut every time he thinks of Blue or the others dead.

He tries not to, given how much focus he needs to ride his bike through the wet and shaking streets. There are a lot more people out than that night, and a lot less pokemon thankfully, but at least then he knew what was going on. Now there’s just confusion, and fear of watching any more of the swaying buildings topple before whatever is causing all this stops.

“Hey, coming through!” he yells over the sound of the rain, and the crowd ahead parts to let him and the others ride between them. As they blur by an intersection, he spots a gaggle of doduo and dodrio running down the street, feathers sodden as their heads try to duck under each other for shelter from the rain.

Not my problem, he reminds himself for the third time at least. He slows to take a corner, feeling his tires skid slightly and leaning his body to stay upright, then flashes a look behind him to make sure the others are okay.

MG always looks strange without her wide hat on, pale face strained under her dark helmet as she struggles with the same puddle of water. Slava’s bike wobbles under him too, and he uses a foot to stabilize himself before pedaling harder to catch up. He looks back himself to make sure Sumi is okay, but she glides her bike around the corner in a smooth arc, looking worried but focused, and Glen turns forward again. Normally he bikes faster than the others unless he consciously slows himself down, but even in these conditions they have no trouble keeping up.

They all want to make it in time to help, even if that means passing by half a dozen other situations that need help too. That is the biggest difference from that night, ultimately; their purpose isn’t to save the city. It’s to save their leader.

His headset rings, startling him, and he jabs at his ear to answer it. “Lizzy?”

“No, it’s Elaine, did you reach—no of course you didn’t—”

An emergency vehicle flashes by, sending twin sprays of water out in its wake. “We’re a few blocks away,” he says once the scream of the siren fades. “You alright?”

“I’m fine, I had the thought to reach out to Professor Oak while I was getting ready to join you guys, but he didn’t answer, and I saw… Glen, there are giant pokemon fighting in Hoenn! Groudon and Kyogre, they’re myths from the region, that’s what’s causing all this!”

Glen doesn’t have attention to spare being properly shocked, mind jumping instead to the implications. “They’re doing all this… from there?” Meaning this isn’t natural, meaning it won’t stop until they’re stopped…

“Yeah, and people are going to fight them, a call went out from Professor Birch for all strong trainers on the islands who have a teleport point near there to come help. Lance went, along with Surge and Sabrina, and—”

“And Oak. Shit!” The curse is mostly from spotting a muk pulling itself out of a sewer drain up ahead, but once he’s zig-zagged his way past it and checked to make sure the others have too, the sentiment remains. He’s glad the heavy rain blocked the smell. “What about Daisy?”

“I left her a message, no answer yet. I’m heading out the door to the casino now. I’ll see you there!”

“Be careful,” he says, and curses again once the call ends. So much for getting help from the big guns.

The Casino looks totally fine from the outside, though there’s a massive crack running through the streets that goes right under the building, some sections open enough to have formed deep puddles. Glen leads the others to a skidding stop under the front door’s awning, and doesn’t bother storing his bike before rushing inside.

The interior is dimly lit with red emergency lights, a few glowing pokemon, and the flashing of slot machines… many of which are in a massive hole in the ground.

“Holy shit,” Sumi gasps, breathing hard and clutching at a stitch in her side. It’s only then that Glen realizes his own tiredness, the burning ache in his chest and legs, but there’s no time to stop; he can see a line of people and pokemon, working together to pull rubble and furniture out of the hole and stack it to the sides out of the way.

“Lizzy!” he calls out as he rushes forward. “Bretta!”

“Here!”

They pick their way down the slope until they reach her. “Where’s Lizzy?” MG asks.

Bretta wipes her sweaty curls from her face. “She said she’s going to get the power back on… there’s stairs that lead down to the employee areas, I think she went there, but it might be blocked off too, and she doesn’t have anything to dig with.”

Glen is still looking around at the pile of rubble, and after a moment realizes why Lizzy left. It’s hard to see anything, the digging would probably go twice as fast if they had real light. “I’ll go help her. You guys help here.”

“I’m coming with you,” MG says, and Glen mentally reviews her pokemon, then nods and scrambles up the side of the hole again, cutting a hand on a jagged piece of something and scraping his leg against the edge as he pulls himself back out. He checks the cut to make sure it’s not deep, then races for the stairwell.

Once reaching it he finally has to pause for breath, and MG slumps against the wall beside him, breathing hard too. He fumbles out his potion bottle and sprays his hand, then takes out his canteen for a deep swallow. The salty-sweet flavor of his energy drink feels reviving all on its own, and he passes it to MG without looking.

“Do you think he’s alive?” she asks after she hands it back. Her voice is calm, but there’s something in it, the vibration of a tightly wound thread.

Glen looks at her, then away, tipping the canteen up for another drink before he caps it and shakes his head. “I don’t know.”

“Don’t lie to me.” The quaver is more pronounced, now, and her next breath is too sharp. “That hole—”

“I don’t know how anyone could have survived that, if he was in it.” The words feel like stones coming up his throat. “But if he had a moment to prepare… to react… he might be okay.” He remembers the sight of all that broken rubble and furniture, packed deep into the ground, and amends, “He might be alive.”

Be alive, Blue. Glen closes his eyes, thinking of his friend’s expressive face, his sharp smile, his alert eyes as he watches a pokemon match, the aliveness he brings to everything he does. Blue Oak is someone who knows what he wants, and goes all in after it.

More than that, he pulls others in his wake, uses their energy and somehow gives them back more in return. He certainly turned Glen into something more than he ever expected of himself when he came to Kanto. He just wanted to be a good trainer, and figure out what other trainers were lacking most so he could get it to them. Now…

Now he feels like a leader in his own right. Like he might have the potential to actually make it all the way to the top, the same way Blue does. He can’t wait to reach that top with his friend, to challenge him there as an equal.

“Ready?” he asks, and MG nods, pushing away from the wall and following him down the stairs.

Be alive, because I can’t do this without you.


Steven watches as Kyogre gets hit dead-on by Groudon’s next beam attack, and disappears for what feels like the hundredth time beneath the waves.

After what feels like half an eternity, but is likely less than a minute, it doesn’t resurface.

Eventually Groudon roars, back arching up, and begins to stomp the ground with its feet and tail. The sunlight intensifies around them, going from uncomfortable to mildly painful, and the earth shakes as new ground boils up from under the water.

Steven toggles his earpiece, covering his open ear with his other hand. “Drake, report.”

“I think we’ve defeated the pirates, Champion. We can’t detect their submarine anymore, and they took a pretty heavy hit a few minutes ago. They’ve either sunk or retreated.”

“And Kyogre?”

“It’s still on the sonar, but… it’s sinking, sir.”

Steven closes his eyes for a moment, feeling a rare and treasured moment of… relief? Hope? He can’t tell. “Thank you, Drake. Stand by and keep watch on it.”

“Aye, sir.”

The shaking stops, and he looks up to see Groudon has finished its victory dance, or whatever that was, and begun walking forward again, unchallenged.

Steven looks around at his fellow trainers, injured and exhausted by heatstroke and the occasional bone crushing waves. Gym Leaders, Elites, even a few fellow Champions from around the islands are here, interspersed with some random rangers and trainers who wanted to help… and of course, the renegades.

A moment later the Legendary Eon Duo flies down to hover overhead, a familiar pair of trainers on their back. He’s not sure where the crazy teenagers found them, or how they caught them, but he’s glad they’re here.

“Alright, folks. Easy part’s over. I’ve just heard that Kyogre is sinking, its allies driven off or dead, which means we need to take on the big guy now.”

Matsubusa stirs. “Are we certain? If it still lives…”

“Confirming that might take hours. Point is it looks to be out of the fight.”

“The rain clouds,” Professor Oak says, pointing. Steven turns to look, and yep, they’re thinning at the edge of where the sun shines through. He turns back to the professor, who is already summoning a snorlax and blastoise to join his pidgeot and venusaur. “So, Ground, maybe Ground/Fire?”

“Sounds about right,” Cynthia says, and summons a garchomp and milotic to join her roserade. She glances at Lance, whose three dragonite watch her garchomp with the gaze of predators on the hunt. “You’re not swapping anyone?”

“I’d rather it be aiming up than focusing on things on the ground,” the current Indigo Champion says, and pulls the hood up on his cloak. “But I’ve got a kingdra and Alolan exeggutor if needed.”

“Finally found a use for that overdramatic cloak, huh?” Steven asks.

Lance grins under the shadow of his hood. “Jealousy is unbecoming.”

Steven chuckles. “Wouldn’t say no to an umbrella. Let’s get this done so I can find one, huh?” He turns to the trainers that have finished gathering around them. “Let our pokemon go in first. Keep your own hitting it from a distance if you can, and be ready to dodge if it’s so much as looking in your direction. That Super Hyper Beam comes fast.”

“Super Solar Beam,” Professor Oak corrects. “The lack of precharge time comes, I think, from the abundance of sunlight. My venusaur is benefiting from it too.”

“But it isn’t spamming it,” Lance says. “The Groudon Beam might need to recharge, like a Hyper Beam.”

Steven snorts. “We’re not calling it that.”

“Says you.”

“Yes, says me, it’s my region’s world-ending monster, I’m naming its attacks.”

Cynthia clears her throat. “Perhaps we could decide this after it’s dead.” She looks pointedly at all the Gym Leaders and trainers watching them bicker.

“Right.” Steven turns toward Groudon’s retreating back, wondering if it even has a destination in mind, or is just setting out to cover as much of the ocean in land as it can. “Time to see if your theory is correct, Matsubusa.”

He pulls the orb out of his pocket… and immediately yelps and drops the shining red sphere, which shatters on the ground.

Before it was just the safe side of burning, but his pants and the general heat around him kept him from noticing how much hotter it’s grown; it felt like holding a live ember. He watches the bright red pieces scatter on the ground, then looks up to see everyone (aside from Matsubusa, whose face is a picture of shocked dismay as he stares down at the pieces) watching him incredulously.

“In my defense, that’s actually what I meant to do. Just not like that.” He thought he’d need to have his pokemon smash it.

“Steven, your rings,” Cynthia says, and he follows her gaze to see what they were really staring at; the gems on his rings are glowing again, and the light doesn’t fade.

He stares at them, awe setting his hair on end. The gems on his rings are, in fact, mineralized bits of metagross and aggron, which is why he came up with such silly names for them when his father gifted them to him as a child. After a moment he re-summons his two strongest pokemon, pokemon he’s been fascinated by all his life, and approaches them, glowing rings held out.

“Steven, what are you—”

A collective gasp is heard as his pokemon begin to glow… and grow.


The roof of the Sky Pillar is completely dry.

It’s one of the least surreal details in an overwhelmingly surreal day, but Wallace still takes a moment to stare after he steps out of the stairwell, clearing the way for Wally to climb up after him. When they first approached the tiny island it was strange enough seeing the structure on it illuminated by sunlight in the otherwise dark and rainy horizon. The thin golden beam made it easier to spot, but Wallace was too busy struggling through the oddly heavy rain and tumultuous waves to do more than just write it off as a coincidental shift in the weather.

But in the time it took for them to fight their way through the various ghosts and bats that make the tower their home, he would have expected the clouds to shift and cover the island.

Instead the bright hole in the sky remains fixed over it, allowing them to look around in wonder at the dark, rainy world that surrounds them. With such limited visibility, the horizon is an endless ocean in every direction, like the whole world has already been swallowed by some restless, primordial sea. It’s a beautiful, if haunting, sight, and he fights the urge to pull out his phone to take a picture or video. It would make a fantastic piece of art, a landscape wraparound for his living room…

Admire it later. He turns back to the structure he’s standing on, testing the ancient stones under his feet to make sure they’re sturdy. In the near pre-historic days of its construction, the Sky Pillar would have been a monumental feat; five floors is nothing by modern standards, but back then it may well have been the tallest structure in the world. He’s not even sure how the people of ancient Hoenn got the building materials to this tiny, distant island in the first place, let alone constructed it.

Of course, its age means a lack of certain features. There’s no hatch for the stairwell, so Wallace orders his starmie and milotic to guard the entrance in case anything comes out after them, then walks over to the kid, who’s already at the center of the tower’s roof, putting his bag down and unzipping it.

It’s too late to say something like “are you sure this will work,” because of course he’s not and they’re about to find out one way or another. But he wants to. He, a middle aged man, a Gym Leader, wants reassurance from a 13 year old. It would be embarrassing, if this particular 13 year old hadn’t solved a riddle that archaeologists around the world spent their entire professional careers trying to crack.

So instead he just says, “Let me know if I can help,” and guards the stairway. The pokemon here were some of the strongest wilds he’s ever seen, a good indicator that this island has been basically abandoned for decades, at least.

“I think I’m good,” Wally says as he starts pulling pokeballs out, each with a sticker on it. Even with the world ending, the boy takes the time to place each ball in order. Apparently Wally spent the past year of his pokemon journey collecting the things, even travelling all the way to Johto to confirm his landmark theory, so a bit of obsessiveness is understandable. Still, considering how many people may be dying right now and the risk that an ancient Ghost pokemon might pop up after them to eat their minds, Wallace has to bite his tongue to keep from hurrying him.

Only once all are out around the boy does he toss the bag behind him outside the circle of balls, and start summoning his pokemon one after another.

A… B… C…

The unown appear in flash after flash of light, their bizarre forms floating in midair like voids in the world. They don’t have any actual surreality, like ghosts, but their very existence evokes a similar feeling, like someone’s black-and-white drawings have come to life. Or “life,” rather. Dissections have proven that the unown are living beings; that they have flesh and blood, that the round eye that makes up most of their mass is in fact connected to a brain of sorts, distributed through their simplistic nervous system. But they don’t act like other living beings, simply appearing out of seeming thin air, floating randomly about, then disappearing again.

As far as Wallace knows, Wally is the only trainer in the world to have personally captured all of them. A few months ago that wouldn’t be true; obsessive patience would be enough for anyone to do it, hypothetically, and a few of the more zealous and rich pokemon collectors have bought and traded and captured their own set before.

But Wally’s discovery of an additional two unown, and how to get them to appear, is what sets him, and his collection, apart.

…H… I… J…

Wallace watches as they hover in midair, bobbing gently with the wind… no, there is no wind, and even if there were it wouldn’t be shifting them all in different directions like this. And yet they continue to behave like balloons, all invisibly tethered to a fixed point in space, never far enough from it to risk touching each other.

And the noise of them…

Even over the distant sound of the rain and waves, Wallace can hear the unown. A constant wheedling in the air, like a dozen vibrating tuning forks, combined with intermingling warbles and chirps and pops like static from a radio… and interwoven through it all, just faint enough to be practically imagined, are snatches of what sounds like distorted, babbled human speech.

…N… O… P…

Someone once set a recording device at some ruins for days until they captured enough samples to turn into a haunting song of sorts (someone else then took the sounds and applied enough autotuning to actually make pretty catchy club music). With so many in one place, however, no amount of editing could salvage the whispered, cacophonous scream that’s building with each summoned pokemon, just shy of overwhelming thanks to how quiet it remains.

…X… Y… Z…

It’s a sound that could drive someone insane, if they had to listen to it long enough.

Wallace watches Wally take a deep breath, and then…

…?… !

The last two shapes complete the loop around the boy…

…and abruptly, like a speaker whose plug was pulled, the cacophony cuts off.

The hair on Wallace’s neck stands on end at the abrupt silence, a silence that seems to mute the background noise of the rain and waves rather than make them clearer. The unown have also stopped moving, all except the last two. Wallace still has trouble believing what he’s seeing; as far as he’s aware, no one has ever seen punctuation marks as unown before Wally discovered them, not even in the ancient carvings of the Cave of Origins that he grew up near.

He spent years studying them as a child, a familial calling that was passed down to him as soon as he was old enough to read. There were times he resented the extra lessons, the stale and cryptic history he was forced to learn rather than being able to go diving or exploring the Caves themselves… but he applied himself anyway, because it was expected of him, and because it was interesting in its own way, a puzzle of sorts.

It’s the way he discovered how to find and enter the Sky Pillar. It’s how he recognized the importance of Wally’s discovery.

They’re not punctuation marks… maybe humans just used them as punctuation because we didn’t know what else to do with them, just knew they weren’t like the others…”

“I can feel it,” Wally says, voice taking on the distant tones of a psychic engaging his powers. “You were right, they’re reacting to the location. This is a place of power, for them… a place where things are… thinner…”

The ? and ! unown have closed their eyes, and with a (likely instinctual) flick of his fingers, Wally sends them levitating higher. A wave of his arms sends the other unown in front of him, suspended in the air, and it only takes a moment for Wallace to recognize the pattern.

It’s the layout of a keyboard, floating mid-air.

…we think in language, so they were treated like letters to form words… but as symbols they can mean so much more than a single sound…”

Wally begins to “type,” his fingers twitching, and Wallace watches unown shiver in the air as if plucked by invisible strings. He doesn’t seem to be typing out words, but rather exploring each symbol, then combining them.

The ? and ! unown wait at the sides, still as keyholes into another world.

“I think I can do it,” Wally says after minutes pass, his young voice uncertain. “But…”

“But what?” There’s no answer, and Wallace leaves the stairwell to kneel beside Wally, hand on his thin shoulder. “Wally?”

The boy twitches, then turns to him. Wallace stares into the eyes of the boy who shares his name, the boy who started his journey three years ago with nothing but a ralts, and now is one of the strongest psychic trainers in the region… but still a child, with a child’s uncertainty.

And fear.

“The vaults,” he whispers. “I can feel them… all three.”

Wallace lets out a breath of relief. “It’s working, then?”

“Yes, but… the earthquakes are opening them!”

Wallace’s pulse jumps at the boy’s sudden alarm. “What do you mean? You’re the one that opened them, to let the unown out.”

“No, there’s more! They were guarding the barrier, keeping the unown in… I mean, out. In themselves, out of our world. But they held more, I think… and if I do this…” His eyes focus on Wallace’s. “Leader, I’ll wake them!”

“Wake who?”

“The titans!”

Wallace stares at the boy in growing comprehension, and does his best to mask his horror. “Titans, here? In Hoenn? Like the ones in Sinnoh?”

“I-I don’t know if they’re the s-same. They were sleeping, and sealed… they’ll go back to sleep on their own, and they’re normally trapped… but if I wake them with the quakes opening their chambers, they’ll break out!”

Wallace closes his eyes, feeling twice his age. Regirock, Registeel, and Regice aren’t the worst catastrophes a region could face; they’re slow, and predictable, and don’t cause Pressure or summon storms.

They’re just indestructible, massive, and utterly implacable in moving in whatever direction they desire.

Unleashing three such permanent blights on their region… could they do such a thing? Do they have the right? Does anyone?

“Rayquaza’s coming?” Wallace asks, eyes still closed.

“Yes. It’s already close. Too close. I won’t be able to finish on time…”

“That’s alright. Just… do your best. And Wally…” He opens his eyes, meets that frightened gaze again. “You didn’t know. Understand? And if anyone asks, it was me. I told you to do it.”

Wally’s eyes widen. “I can’t… Leader, you—”

A tremor goes through the earth. They can hear it, see the shockwave of it travel through the ocean…. but the island is untouched, the force parting around the tower like it’s not even there. Not a single stone tremors with its passing.

“Am I?” Wallace asks. “Your Leader.”

Wally’s lip trembles, but after a moment he nods.

“Then repeat after me: you didn’t know.”

“You… I… I didn’t know.”

“I made you do it.”

“You… m-made me…”

Wallace squeezes his shoulder. It feels so thin under his hand. “Good man.” He stands. “Now get to work.”

The Gym Leader watches the boy begin tapping into an ancient force greater than himself. The collective power of humanity (or at least that’s what the ancient humans thought) wielded in “prayer,” not to stop a god, not even to give it a command… but just to nudge it, a little. To plant an impression, an idea, an urge.

At just the right time, sometimes that’s all it takes to change the world… for a price.

As Earth and Sea both raged, their war did wake the Sky

With ancient hunger stirred, it came with rending cry

To feast on all it saw, and claim anew the sun

Till sacrifice was made, and peace at last was won

Wallace is going to have to have a long talk with Steven, when this is all over.


Dr. Light stares at her computer monitor, face set in a position of calm concentration for the sake of anyone that passes by her office door even as her heart sinks into her stomach. The air conditioning broke down ten minutes ago, and she still feels her blood running cold.

She hadn’t lied to her employees about the flowchart. It’s what she’s looking at now, color coded and interactive; a simple two dimensional image could never hold all the information this does, and as she goes through it yet again, pruning trunks and branches with each click, the colors start to shift first to the bright red of emergency lights, then darken to dried blood.

They’re down to one generator, and both stairwells are in some state of collapse. They can dig their way out, need to dig their way out, because the elevators are damaged too. Most of the flowchart doesn’t specify why the bad things are happening, however, there’s no room for context that assumes things might steadily get worse, so as their situation continues to deteriorate, she keeps going through the flowchart, ending in more and more extreme responses that still fail to address worse situations they quickly find themselves in.

Dr. Light can’t even get mad at the flowchart, though she wants to. There are systemic situations mapped, involving enemy action, the volcano erupting, a normal series of earthquakes, the specimen attempting to escape, a mutiny by some members of the staff… whoever designed this thing put a lot of thought into it.

They just didn’t think of… this. Which means it’s up to her to decide the best path forward.

“Begin data hardcopy transfers,” she tells Zach, reading off her screen. With communication across the lab down, she has to give everyone their orders directly. “Once each is done, wipe it before powering down.” The chief technology officer doesn’t look happy about it, but nods and jogs out the door. She almost yells after him to change out of his pajamas, but she hopes he has that much sense and has other things to worry about. She turns to her operations manager. “Kim, get everyone prepped for evacuation. Nothing that doesn’t fit in a bag, leave their hands free, understand?”

“A bag, singular?”

Dr. Light rubs her eyes. Some of the people have been living in the lab for years, and would easily be able to fill a bag with just some of their belongings… not to mention those who would prioritize things from the labs. “If they’ve already got more than one packed by the time we’re ready to go then fine, just so long as they’re not holding anyone up and their arms are free.”

“Understood.” She heads out too, which just leaves Shaw, the head of security. He’s not a restless man, she’s seen him stand at attention for hours at a time, but right now he’s shifting his weight, and she knows what he’s waiting for.

She just doesn’t want to give it.

Where the hell is Sabrina? Giovanni can’t teleport, but at a time like this, with communication down, the psychic should be here, giving insight into the experiment’s thoughts. Lending weight to any decisions made about it.

Shouldering some of the responsibility for potentially making the wrong call.

Dr. Light feels a surge of self-disgust at the thought, and puts her computer to sleep to preserve power. Maybe Sabrina is upstairs already, stuck with no way in. “What’s the last word on the mansion?” Shaw’s job pertains to both external and internal threats, which means he has the direct line to their people on their off-shifts at all times.

“Got out an order to evacuate and set up a perimeter before the landline went down.” He watches her, face calm but body shifting again. “Been trying occasionally, but no new messages have come through. My people down here are prepared for any further orders.”

“Speak plainly, there’s no one here but us.” It’s a consideration that all the Dark members of the lab have had in the back of their minds for the past decade: what they say around their non-Dark peers, who may at that very moment be an unknowing host to Mewtwo.

“If we evacuate, we need to kill it,” he says, face calm even as the walls tremble around them. He shifts his weight to stay on his feet, and she clutches the edge of her desk to keep her chair from moving.

“You don’t like Gyokusho’s suggestion, then?” she asks, voice wry. “Or did you mean to kill it after it helps save our lives?”

“This isn’t the time for sentim—”

“Shut up, Shaw, I meant what I asked and nothing more.”

He holds her steady gaze for a moment, then nods. “Whether we use it to get out or not, it needs to die. It’ll be dead in a few hours anyway without the lab, and no one knows what it might do if it gets desperate.”

“Killing it might set this project back a decade, maybe more. None of the followup experiments are sapient, we still haven’t isolated what sets this one apart, and all that aside, Giovanni might just kill us anyway if we end his project without a good reason.”

“We’d have to survive first for him to kill us,” Shaw points out, still calm. “Either way, the worst case scenario is that it survives while we don’t.”

Dr. Light’s jaw clenches. “We’re lucky its life support hasn’t been damaged yet, considering how badly ours is doing, and if we die it’ll be because they go down or the whole place gets buried. In either cases it’ll be dead too.”

“Only if we assume its capabilities are what it presents them as.”

She doesn’t call him paranoid. It’s a perspective their boss endorses, she knows that, and one that runs through her mind often as well. She suspects he selected both her and Shaw for their positions because they’re both cynics. Pessimists, even; she’s been told, back in the days before she joined this operation, that her outlook gets in the way of having better “people skills.” Probably cost her a promotion or some opportunities for collaboration once or twice.

But in this organization that shit doesn’t matter so much as seeing things clearly, and she’d like to think Giovanni chose her well.

Which means she knows better than to confuse relentless pessimism with wisdom.

She agreed with him, an hour ago when the engineer asked what would be done if they had to evacuate. The plan has always been to default to killing the experiment if they’re ever in a situation where they can’t be very confident, by similar prior circumstances, that they can contain it.

There are no priors on this circumstance, however, and while back then she’d lied to the engineer without a thought, automatically and (she hopes) convincingly, the safe route gained some extra complications once the rest of the lab became at risk.

Their life support systems are failing; far faster than they should be, and they have to dig their way out, amidst an earthquake, without collapsing the whole lab on themselves. She’s one of only three people in the lab who now knows about the CO buildup from broken heater exhaust pipes. With the vents to the surface all blocked, the whole lab will be dead within the hour, even if the earthquakes miraculously stop.

Unless.

Unless she rejects the “safe” option, and takes a risk on the experiment. Let it out of its pod, let it don the armor that will preserve its life for up to four hours, then let it help them dig their way out with its psychic powers.

It’s been training in them for weeks, and its ability to sense through another pokemon’s senses is, of course, as unparalleled as its ability to do the same with humans’. If anyone can guide their diggers to make an escape route for them without bringing the whole place down, it can.

Dr. Light considers Shaw for a moment, then sighs. “I understand your worry. But the facts are undeniable. It’s been years since it so much as ‘raised its voice,’ let alone threatened anyone. More than that, it never took a single one of those traps you and the boss set up to see if it would try to escape. And we just had Sabrina here for weeks, sharing its brain for every waking minute, without any sign that it’s planning to betray us or hurt anyone… her exact report is that it’s happy, now that it can go outside and take a more active role in its purpose.”

“Sabrina could be compromised,” he says, voice flat.

She decides to let the comment pass, because she gets it and now isn’t the time. “Look. I know it’s your job to push for safe over sorry, but here’s the bottom line. Whatever new and exciting horror came out of Hoenn to cause all this shit shows more than ever why we need this project to succeed. Gyokusho is right; it’s a resource, and while normally crappy platitudes like ‘every crisis is an opportunity’ make my eyes practically roll right out of my skull, this crisis is an opportunity to test it, really test it, for the first time. And we’re going to use it. And we’re not going to kill it unless it makes us.”

Shaw’s back is stiff, but he nods. “By your orders, ma’am.” He turns to leave.

“Shaw.” The security lead pauses at the door to look back at her. “Once we’re topside, have your people bring out their best.”

There’s paranoia, then there’s preparation; she doesn’t know the details, but she does know that the experiment’s guards have pokemon they never summoned around it, pokemon that it wouldn’t expect if it ever tried to fight its way out.

“All of it, Doctor?”

“All of it. No point in holding anything in reserve now, when there might not be a tomorrow.”

Shaw’s second nod is less stiff, and then he leaves.

Dr. Light sighs and rubs her face, then starts backing up her computer as another quake goes through the lab. She puts in the code to have it wipe itself afterward, then starts packing her things. Anything important for work goes into one container, while she puts her personal effects in a second ball. It doesn’t take long; despite working here for over a decade, and having this office for roughly half that time, she hasn’t accumulated much beyond a few decorations.

She finally has a moment to breathe. To wonder, and worry, about the future.

Where would they go, after this? What would they do? Shaw was right to say that they likely can’t save the experiment once its suit is empty; they could have made redundancies, of course, but keeping it reliant on the lab was the point. Without the experiment, they would normally focus more of their resources on the problem of replicating its success, rather than leaving that to the secondary lab.

But without their lab… a lab that’s been not just their place of employment but their home…

What would be left for them? It’s not like they can just find other jobs and reintegrate into wider society, after years of secluded living. She’s aware that it takes a strange sort of person to be okay with living so far from civilization for years, but she’s been happy here. It’s her home.

This isn’t the time for sentiment, Shaw said, and she sighs, then nods and tucks the container ball into her bag. Survival first.

Dr. Light grabs the memory drive from her computer, tucks it into her pocket, and leaves her office for the last time, heading toward the experiment’s room at a quick pace as people move about the facility to prepare their own escape.

She braces herself as she reaches the experiment’s room. In the early days it was always a strain, being in its presence. So closely watching her words, her expression, even her tone. Ensuring she does nothing that might upset it.

It’s gotten easier over the years, but she still takes a moment to rehearse what she’ll say, what her goal is. There’s a state of being that she found in herself for her dissertation defense, a way to be firm without being rigid, focused on her goal while effortlessly able to adjust to any unexpected questions or challenges. She’s found it similarly useful since then, when around either Giovanni or the experiment, as long as she has time to prepare herself.

It’s what she mentally wraps around herself before she opens the door and walks in, another quake rocking the lab as she crosses the threshold. Dust drifts down from above, and she glances up to see a long crack in the ceiling. A few meters closer to the pod and it might be dead, she thinks as a cold fist squeezes around her heart, then lets the thought go as she approaches the experiment’s tank.

“Good evening, Mewtwo.”

Its violet eyes were tracking her as soon as she entered, and she forces herself to meet them as it psychically types out its response, each word spoken a moment after. “Good evening, Doctor. Is it a good one? Everyone seems rather frightened.”

“No, I suppose it’s not. Have you learned why?” A delicate way to refer to the experiment’s constant, effortless violation of people’s privacy, the sort that any normal workplace would have had mass protests and strikes and walkouts over. She’s made her peace with it, as she has so many other things, but then it’s easier for her and the other administrators than the normal staff.

“Something about the Hoenn myths rising from the dead. Giovanni predicted thidaxq-” The lab shakes around them, rattling the various electronics and toys surrounding the experiment’s pod, and it stops typing for a moment as she leans against the glass, feeling it vibrate against her palms. Once the shake is past, the typing continues. “Predicted this, or something like it. Not so soon, however.”

This is news to her, despite what she said to the others, earlier. All she says, however, is, “Anything else?”

“Many believe they will die. Are we in that much danger?”

The experiment’s electronically assisted pseudo-voice isn’t monotone; to her ear, the deep, baritone voice sounds calm, powerful, even somber, with properly inflected questions that make it seem like it’s really talking, sometimes, like if it stepped out of the tank this is the voice that would come from its lips.

But even still, it’s not a human voice. It’s easy, while listening to it, to think of an emotionless machine, rather than a living creature that, by all reports, truly does feel things as deeply as any person. Looking at its alien visage doesn’t help; the experiment’s eyes can narrow or widen, but its brow is not expressive, and the muscles of its face are too taut to allow much expression beyond slight curves of its lips.

Not enough, all told, for her to tell what it feels as it says those words. To tell if it’s afraid, or if the calm words she hears, the calm expression she sees, reflect an inner calm, an inner certainty, that it will survive no matter what happens to the rest of them. She wishes, for a moment, that they never got rid of its old heart monitor; annoying as the beeping might be, at least she could tell if its pulse has sped up.

“We are. But you can help, if you’re willing.”

“Of course,” he responds without pause. “Whatever I can do.”

“I want to warn you, Mewtwo, that this may be the last time you leave this pod,” she says, wishing fervently that Sabrina were here. Saffron City better be sinking into the center of the fucking earth… “The suit can sustain you for a couple hours, and we have refills for a couple more. Maybe we can jury-rig more after that. But the lab is being abandoned in case it all comes down on us, and if it does once we leave… you’ll likely die before we can reach and repair your pod.”

The experiment is quiet, for once without an immediate response. She can practically feel the others around her, lab techs and security guards all holding their breaths. Or maybe that’s just her. The lab itself seems to be waiting, no tremors or quakes interrupting the quiet.

“How likely is it you’ll survive, without my help?” he asks after what feels like a minute.

The question makes her feel better, somehow. It shows a level of self-preservation that she trusts more than she would blind self-sacrifice. “Not high. We’ll try anyway, of course, but at this point we’re desperate.” We must be, to let you out in a situation like this. “If you’d rather stay inside, not risk getting cut off from the pod, I’ll understand. But you’d be at just as much risk of the lab’s power going out while we’re gone, or the room collapsing.”

“I understand. I’ll take my chances with the rest of you.”

Dr. Light lets out a breath, and nods. Some small part of her had continued to hope that the decision would be taken out of her hands. If the experiment refused, she would have had to kill it rather than leave it alone down here unobserved. Instead she gestures to the techs to get his suit, then has them begin copying and wiping the servers.

A few minutes later the pod is being drained and opened, and the experiment is disappearing under piece after piece of the dark grey metal. The sight isn’t as frightening as it once was, though watching it fight does quicken her pulse.

Once the last piece of armor is on, the technicians scatter to wipe the lab in earnest, leaving her, the experiment, and the four security trainers. Shaw isn’t here, likely with the extra men they keep stationed around the lab, and as another shake makes the lights flicker she hopes they’re ready at the stairwell.

“I’m ready.” The experiment flexes its knobby fingers beneath their gauntlets, then waits respectfully for the security to lead the way. The man waits for her nod before moving forward, and she follows alongside the experiment, wondering if it really believes the security is here to protect it rather than protect others from it. Sabrina said it did, but such naivete seems at odds with a creature so intelligent.

Not that we haven’t been carefully raising it to believe what we want it to. It wouldn’t be the first sheltered, intelligent being to believe in patent absurdities. A lot of people manage it incidentally.

Still, the thought bothers her the whole walk up the unblocked internal stairwells until they reach the top floor of the lab, which is itself ten meters from the ground floor of the mansion. There she sees the crowd waiting in the halls.

Hope and fear flash across their faces as they see her and the experiment approach, but she keeps her gaze forward, trying to look calm and in control as they approach the work being done at the less blocked external stairwell. “Tenshin, report.”

“Yes, Doctor.” He tugs a pair of plugs out of his ear and detaches the seismometer from the door, then wipes his brow. “We think the major breach is between the fourth and fifth floor, which is where enough earth spilled in to fill the stairwell.”

“It should have stopped there, shouldn’t it?” she asks with a frown. “Once the dirt reached the cracks?” It’s not water, thank the gods. She’s not sure if it’s possible to make an undersea lab, but if that were an option she’d rather get sucked into a greatball, thanks very much.

“Normally, yes, but pokemon have been approaching the structure ever since the earthquakes started. It turns out they’ve been damaging our equipment, perhaps as much as the earthquakes themselves.”

Dr. Light opens her mouth to curse, instead turning the motion into a deep breath. “Are you telling me we’re under attack?” There are flowchart contingencies for that. “Why wasn’t I told?”

“I’m sorry, Doctor, I may have been unclear… we’re not actually sure how much damage they’ve done. It’s nearly impossible to sense them with all the noise, and they don’t seem to be trying to actually breach the structure. They’re just… around. Another chaotic element.”

She rubs sweat from her eyes. “So how is this related to the breach?

“There are others, smaller ones where the soil isn’t spilling out fast enough to block the way yet, but the broken concrete is. The pokemon might grow agitated when we approach and widen the holes, but even if they don’t, if we move the concrete—”

“The soil could bury us.”

He nods. “Another problem is what happens when we get near the top,” Tenshin says, looking up. “The moisture in the soil is going to turn things muddy, which is harder for most of our pokemon to dig through. We have a few Ground/Water types specifically for that purpose, but the switch will be difficult to time.”

Dr. Light nods, then just stares at the wall in thought. The others know her well enough to wait silently as she plays scenarios out in her mind, imagines each of them going wrong, focuses on whether they’re preventable, then repeating the process…

“Mewtwo.”

“Yes, Doctor?”

“How much dirt could you move at once?”

“I’m not sure. Soil is difficult. Lots of small particles with little friction or cohesion.”

She knew all that, but was hoping he’d say it’s easier for him. “So handfuls, or something more? Could you put up barriers that would block it?”

“Not reliably. But there is something else I could do, with your permission?”

She glances at him as another quake hits, this one bad enough to send a few people to their knees or against the wall. The experiment himself shifts his footing and tail, but seems otherwise unbothered. “What is it?”

“From this close, I can sense the pokemon around the stairwell, and possibly drive them away.”

A slight chill goes down her spine despite the heat. She turns to look down each hall of the intersection and sees more people have gathered, ready to leave. Not the time to ask what its range is and panic people. Sabrina confirmed that it could read everyone in the lab, but she never asked about what the limits were past the walls. Was it about distance, or intervening substance, maybe?

Does it know about the explosives? Could it sense them?

An idea occurs. “How many people are left in the lab that aren’t here?”

“Twenty-seven that I can sense. Most are on their way.

“Is the generator room still within your range? Is anyone there?”

“It is, but not unless they’re dark.”

They would be, she knows some brave souls are going to stay down there as long as they can to keep giving them air and light as long as they can. She turns to some engineers who aren’t dark. “Florent, Abi, go swap with whoever is there. Mewtwo will let you know when it’s time to come up.”

There’s fear in their gaze, both glancing at the experiment, but then they nod and hurry back downstairs. She’s already turning back to it. “Upstairs, in the mansion. Can you reach anyone there?”

“Yes, all the non-dark, non-psychic staff are in my range.”

And now she has a better sense of its range. It’s not too paranoid, she thinks, to recognize that Mewtwo could have been the one that made the pokemon damage the stairwells. It doesn’t particularly matter, now. “Search their thoughts for anything that might seem relevant or helpful. Can you communicate with them?”

“I can, though it would be—”

Another quake makes everyone shift, and a loud crack from somewhere in the facility makes a few people cry out in fear. Dr. Light’s heart is hammering in her throat, but she keeps her gaze on the experiment. “It would be?”

“Difficult for them.”

Right. And even assuming they don’t freak out, they might not be believed. None of the leadership isn’t dark. “Try anyway, if you find someone who seems calm and receptive. Tell them our situation as best you can.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

Dr. Light lets out a breath and runs through her list of available resources again, making sure she’s not missing anything. “Alright, then. Let’s get to work.”

Once they begin, it goes surprisingly smoothly. The pokemon are sent through first with their trainers to clear the rubble and hold it in place, with the experiment using their pokemon’s senses to report what they feel and ensure nothing they do causes further damage. Eventually people start making their way up through the cramped, humid, dark stairwell, every tremor and shake sending dirt down on them until they reach the collapsed top…

…where those on the surface have already dug their way down, clearing the rest of the way. Dr. Light is at the head of the last group to leave, along with the last two engineers, the experiment, and the last two security guards.

There’s a lingering sense of celebration when she emerges, applause breaking out as people stand around in the pouring rain, just happy to see their peers alive… until everyone stops, and stares, and she knows the experiment has stepped out from the ground behind her.

The experiment doesn’t seem to notice, or care; its attention is on the security guards’ pokemon, both those that were with it downstairs and those from the other shifts who are moving to carefully surround it. They’ve brought out their best, weavile and greninja and hydreigon and krookodile. They’d probably be bringing out tyranitar and incineroar if it weren’t raining.

Even now they’re acting carefully, facing outward as if forming a perimeter to protect the experiment from anything that might come at it from the darkness and rain, trusting the others outside the perimeter to watch their backs. But still she watches the experiment with a feeling of unease, watches its helmet slowly turn to her… then tilt up, letting the rain hit its visor with the sharp plink of water on metal and glass.

Dr. Light swallows the dryness in her throat. The cold rain, drenching as it is, feels amazing on her sweaty skin, but she’s unable to even take a moment to celebrate the fresh air and lack of impending doom. “Thank you, Mewtwo. I believe we all owe you our lives. Are you… do you need anything? Are you tired?”

“No, Doctor, I am quite well. I believe I’ll take a walk.”

Shit. Shit shit shit. “I think maybe you’d better wait, Mewtwo. The situation’s uncertain, and…” She almost says Sabrina isn’t here, but that hasn’t always been a requirement.

“I’ve taken walks in the rain before. Earthquakes are new, but what’s the worst that happens? If these may truly be my last few hours of life anyway… surely you wouldn’t deny me that?”

It’s a trick. She knows it’s a trick, knows it deep in her bones.

No, that’s just fear talking. Her options are simple: deny it, and force its hand if it refuses to comply, or… if it’s not a trick…

Deprive the experiment its final wish before it dies. Even assuming it’s not a trick, would that be enough to anger it, make it force her hand?

No. There’s still a chance that the earthquakes end, that they can return downstairs and repair any damage and save it. She tries to hold to that, even as she reaches into her pocket to slide her fingers around the remote for the failsafe built into its suit.

“I hope they won’t be, but yes, you’re right. May I accompany you?”

“Of course, Doctor. I’d hoped you would.”


Within three caves, deep in forgotten temples of Hoenn, rock and metal and ice shift, and lights glow in patterns ancient and terrible.

Chapter 81: Interlude XIII – Titans

The worst thing about learning that a myth turned out to be true, is learning it also turned out to be incomplete.

Professor Birch stares transfixed at the sight of the titan on his monitor, eyes moving restlessly over it. Armor plates cover its body from head to tail, even redder than a crawdaunt shell, and every step of its two massive lower claws sends rumbles through the earth. It looks like it would more naturally crawl on all fours, but instead it stands with a forward hunch, wide tail beating a secondary rhythm behind it with each stride. Though the helicopter is flying high enough to stay safely away from it, he can tell that it’s fast, faster than anything so big has a right to be. But that’s not what keeps him watching in horrified fascination.

When the footage first started airing, Groudon looked a little taller than a house. Now it looks as wide as one, and its head would probably tower over his three-story lab… and it’s still growing. But that’s not what keeps him breathlessly watching either, even as he feels his home shake around him with the quakes that continue to ripple through the region.

The helicopter’s footage abruptly wobbles as turbulence hits it, and a moment later the lingering sunlight that had illuminated Groudon is covered by a downpour, enough rain to make the titan only barely visible. It stops, flexes its body, and roars, the sound piercing through both the rain and the helicopter’s propellers. Between the red scales, Birch sees light flare, like magma deep within Groudon’s body, and within moments the rain cuts off to a trickle, and sunlight returns to reveal it.

There’s a moment of disorientation as the cameraman swings the lens up to the sky, clearly wanting to capture on video the way the rain clouds race away from Groudon in a ring. Even in the middle of setting, the sunlight somehow seems to blaze through the atmosphere, making the pokemon’s scales shine when the cameraman brings it back into focus.

And even that is still not what keeps Birch from the dozens of things he should be doing right now, including silencing his phone’s regional warning, which has been blaring nonstop (and rather superfluously, all things considered) ever since the quakes started.

What keeps Birch glued to his screen is what’s happening around the legendary pokemon. The copter caught up as it was approaching the coast, and at first it seemed like it would just walk straight into the sea.

Instead, new earth rose up to meet its steps as it approached the water, magma boiling the sea into steaming clouds before solidifying under its stomping claws. The beach now extends nearly a kilometer further than it used to, and the group of trainers (he assumes they’re rangers, but they’re hard to make out) that were chasing after it are clearly having trouble traversing the rough, newly risen ground.

Professor Birch wouldn’t believe what he’s seeing if he hadn’t already run through every dream check he knows, including slapping himself across the face. Now that he knows he’s awake, all he can do is stare in horror as the colossal pokemon wreaks havoc on his region.

It stomps down onto all fours, and a few seconds later he feels the quake hit his house; not the constant tremors that have been ongoing, but a real earthquake strong enough to make the whole house rock back and forth.

His phone shakes to the edge of his desk, then off it, and after a moment he realizes it’s also ringing in between the harsh buzz of the alerts. He hears it continuing to ring under his desk, and half shifts, half falls off his chair to get onto his knees, cursing his gut as he shuffles forward to grab it before it vibrates further out of reach.

“Hello?”

“Birch, where are the kids?”

“Norman!” Birch’s head rises too fast as he pulls back, and he smacks it on the underside of his desk. The stunning pain makes him bite back another curse as he settles a hand on ground to steady himself. “They were in Sootopolis an hour ago!”

“They’re not answering their phones!”

Fear jolts through the professor, and he pushes himself up only to fall back onto his hands and knees. “You think they…” He trails off, not needing to finish the question. He distantly hears glass breaking downstairs, and recognizes that the quake is still ongoing and he should get out of the building.

Instead he looks around, then shuffles on his free hand and knees toward his headset, looping it around his neck and turning it on so he can jam his phone into his pocket and shuffle back toward his computer.

After everything their kids have been through on their journey together, would Brendan and May be staying safely out of the way at a time like this?

Or would they be racing toward the crisis, hoping to help stop it?

“Where are you?” he asks as he climbs onto his chair, which wobbles but stays mostly in place.

“We’re forming a perimeter around Petalburg, local pokemon are panicking!”

Birch’s heart sinks the rest of the way down into the pit of his stomach. Hoenn sees its fair share of rampages, some even reaching Tier 3 status, but despite its size it’s not like Kanto or Johto, with their Birds and Beasts, or Sinnoh with its Titans. He always felt a mix of relief and guilt when he considered how much less stress he’s had to deal with, growing up and becoming Professor of such a relatively safe region. He’s not a battle trainer, never has been, let alone ex-Champion like Oak and Rowan.

Thirty-five years of relief and guilt, all wiped away in a matter of minutes as he stares at the monster that’s been slumbering under their “safe region.” A titan all their own, and one that’s affecting the entire island, skipping the mostly-theoretical 4 to reach a true Tier 5 event.

“Birch, are you there?”

“Yeah.” The Professor forces himself to minimize the window and pins his vibrating keyboard in place with one wrist as his other grabs his thankfully corded mouse to pull up the pokedex tracker. Hundreds of dots populate the map of Hoenn, and he clicks his most recent filter on. “The kids are…” He trails off, blinking.

“Are what, Birch?”

“I don’t understand, they’re… it must be glitching.” He clicks each dot to confirm he’s filtering the right three trainers. “They’re not with each other, it says Wally is at some tiny island while Brendan and May are flying over the sea.” He watches the dots move across his screen in real time, which is absurd given the distance involved.

Norman lets out a gust of breath, and mutters something that sounds like a prayer. “Thank Arceus, for a minute I thought… When did they get fliers?”

“They never registered any.”

“So they’re hitching a ride somewhere? Hang on, I need to take th-“

The sound cuts out as Norman puts him on hold, and Birch realizes that the quaking has finally trailed off. He opens the tab with the chopper’s live feed again and sees that Groudon is back on its hind legs, striding toward what looks like a new island that’s forming in the distance. The coast stops pushing out in every direction as magma stops rising at its edges, all of it concentrating on what looks like a land-bridge to the newly rising surface.

He gets another call of his own from Littleroot’s mayor and ignores it as he switches back to the tracker, cycling through a few other filters to ensure they’re working properly. Most of the other trainers he’s keeping tabs on are about where he expects them to be, so why—

“Birch,” Norman says, now outside from the sounds in the background. “Thanks for letting me know, I have to—”

“Norman, the kids are moving fast. Faster than any pokemon I know of.”

“What are you saying, they’re on a jet?”

Birch watches as the dots move independently from each other. “Two jets, more like.”

“Where would they… where the hell are they going?”

“It’s hard to tell,” Birch hedges, his heart pounding as he watches the dots move, erratically but steadily, in a particular direction. “They’re not moving in a straight line, but… it looks like they’re headed to…”

The Gym Leader’s voice is barely controlled. “No, they can’t be… they have to know there’s nothing they can do!”

Birch would have agreed with him even a year ago. But the things those three have gone through since they started their journey… “They’re not kids anymore, Norman,” he says as he sets his own fear aside. Well, Wally is, but thankfully they seem to have left him behind… how did he get to that island, anyway? “And this is their home, their world, too.”

He hears Norman let out a gust of breath. “I haven’t been the best father, Birch. I know that. But I can’t leave my gym.”

“I understand.” He just wishes he could go himself… that he wasn’t so soft, so weak…

He blinks as a thought occurs. This is a Tier 5 event. Surely the other regions…

“And I’m going to do everything I can to help them,” he finishes, already taking his phone out to make some calls.

“Thank you, Birch. I have to go.”

“Good luck, Norman.” Birch closes the call, then hovers his finger over Sam’s number before skipping it to call Lance first. Oak nearly died just a couple months ago, and he doesn’t know if these things create Pressure yet.

As the phone rings, he looks back at the screen and feels a fist form in his stomach, crushing the mild hope that had risen.

Groudon is definitely bigger than the last time he looked. And unless its density is surprisingly low, a heavy ball is no longer enough to contain it, if it ever was.


Up until the floor of the casino cracked like the shell of her favorite cream-filled chocolate egg, Lizzy’s primary worries involved the power plants. Even minor quakes could cause major problems for the more delicate types of infrastructure work, and her sister is overseeing construction of a new site to the north of Lavender Town.

Because of that worry, she expected the power to go out at any moment, and so already has her magnemite summoned and glowing by the time the air fills with crashes and screams, slot machines and people sliding into the dark depths of the earth.

Bretta clearly had other concerns, because she uses the same time to grab Lizzy’s arm to yank her toward the corner of the casino. The two of them run around card tables and chairs, some empty as people flee in a panic, others still occupied by people either paralyzed by fear or desperately trying to hold onto tokens that threaten to spill all over the shifting tables and floor.

Feeling the ground tilt under her feet as she runs is one of the scariest things Lizzy has ever experienced, including everything that happened in Vermilion, but they find firmer footing as soon as they reach the corner of the building. She turns back just as the emergency lights kick in and the quake subsides to a steady series of vibrations again.

The red-tinted casino is in shambles, the destruction centered around a rubble-filled crater close to the food court and rippling outward in a slope. The cries of the injured and scared are, unfortunately, still competing with the cheerful jangle of many slot machines, because of course a casino would put its game machines on the emergency power supply…

“Where’s Blue?” Bretta asks, looking wildly around.

“He was at the slots over there,” Lizzy says with a gesture, and her blood runs cold as she sees nothing but a pile of machines and broken rubble.

Most people are running for the exits, but Lizzy and Bretta turn to stare at each other, and in that moment she thinks of Aiko, crushed by a roof, then Bretta, standing alone against Surge on a dragonite.

“Don’t—” is all she manages before Bretta grabs her shoulders.

“Get the others—”

You get the others, let someone else be the hero for a—”

Another quake hits, rocking them on their feet. It’s not as powerful as the last one, but they still hear things breaking outside the casino.

“You think it’ll be any safer out there?” Bretta asks. “I have the pokemon for this, you don’t.”

“Every minute we argue is one they might suffocate.” Fear makes her whole mouth taste like copper, her heart beating so hard she can feel her pulse in her throat, but she keeps her gaze on Bretta’s, and the fear she sees mirrored there keeps her anchored. “I’ll call them while you start, but I’m not leaving.”

Her friend scowls at her, then hugs her tight. She hugs her back, and then they’re moving toward the rubble as Lizzy gets her phone out.

“Liz?”

“Glen! Are you still at the gym?”

“Yeah, things are a mess—” There’s another quake, and she hears someone near him shout “Watch out, up top!” before there’s a crashing sound.

“What’s going on there?” she asks as Bretta summons a sandslash and sets it to digging. The two of them start working together to haul tables and chairs out of the pit.

“One of the buildings nearby collapsed against another. Pieces of it keep shaking loose when another quake hits.”

Lizzy curses as she strains to flip a slab of tile from the broken floor, feet slipping under her. “Ngh… figures…” She gasps with relief as someone reaches her and helps, and looks around after to see more people bringing pokemon out to start digging.

“What about you, everyone okay?”

“No, Blue got buried in—”

What?!”

“—the floor of the casino, ow, don’t yell, Glen!”

“Is he… sorry!… do you need help?”

“Help would be nice,” she says faintly, and looks up at the roof as another mini-quake trembles through the earth. Luckily it doesn’t look like the ceiling is damaged at all, but another big one might change that. “Is the power out there too?”

“Yeah, through the whole city, looks like.”

Come on, Sis, get on it. “I need to focus on this… if you guys have a chance to come…”

“Yeah, we’re on our way,” Glen says. “Hang in there, Liz, and be careful.”

Relief courses through her. She knows part of her should feel guilty; there are other people in danger, and they might need everyone’s help more… but the idea of Blue down there, in the dark, injured…

“We need more light over here,” someone calls from another part of the hole, and Lizzy goes still as a new thought hits her:

Comparative advantage.

Hers is not digging through rubble.

“Bretta,” she says as she scrambles toward her friend. “They’re on their way, but I’ve got to go. I’m leaving my magnemite.”

“Go where?” Bretta grunts as she lifts a stone her pokemon cut in two, then hands it to someone else. People are forming a chain to move the rubble.

“To get the power back on.”


Petrel finishes climbing up the hatch and into the roof, taking his first breath of fresh air in over a day. He’s gone longer without it before, but the past 24 hours in Team Aqua’s headquarters have been hard to get through considering all the dead bodies in it.

He lets the rain pelt his face for a few precious minutes, treating it like a brisk shower to fight his tiredness, then pulls himself the rest of the way out of the hatch and lets it close behind him with a clang. The battle that raged through the headquarters left not just bodies, but broken machinery that allowed the base to function as a submarine port, and they just managed to finish repairing enough that it stopped taking on water when the quakes started. His muscles ache and his thoughts feel slow with exhaustion from both the battle and the cleanup, but he knows he has to report in before he can rest, now that he finally has a moment to get outside the base’s communication blocks.

He pulls his earphone out of his pocket and turns it on, then speaks Giovanni’s private number by memory, keeping his eyes closed as the storm rages above and the base continues to occasionally vibrate from the quakes beneath him.

It’s been months since he was stationed here, long enough to make some friends among Archie’s people, even if he didn’t quite buy into their mission. Giovanni didn’t ask him and the others to come here and convert, though; just keep tabs on things, gather intel, and help however they could.

Now the whole region is going to hell, tremors still occasionally rocking the headquarters as they struggle to keep things stabilized, and he hasn’t received any new orders from Archie in a day. He needs to know what’s expected of him, and the boss needs to know what happened here, if he doesn’t already.

Giovanni responds at the fifth ring. “Lambda?”

“Hey, Boss,” Petrel says, and can’t help but smile.

“You’re alive.” There’s relief there, too, but also tightly reined frustration. “I requested immediate alerts of any battles between Magma and Aqua, including major breakthroughs in the search for Kyogre or Groudon, even if it would blow your cover. Now all three of these things have happened, and I only found out about it in the past few hours.” Giovanni audibly takes a calming breath. “I’m happy you survived so I can ask you directly… what happened?”

“Sir…” Petrel licks his lips and tastes something bitter in the rain. “We were kept entirely out of the loop on any new developments after the orbs were retrieved on Mt. Pyre. Since then we’ve been stationed at Aqua’s headquarters without anything to do until it came under attack yesterday.”

“Magma?”

“Yeah, but others showed up too.”

“There’s no gym in Lilycove…” Giovanni trails off, then guesses, “Norman and Birch’s kids?”

“And others,” Petrel confirms. The two prominent trainers were among the group at Mt. Pyre that nearly managed to stop Archie and Maxie from getting the orbs that reawakened Groudon and Kyogre. “A shorter boy with green hair, a—”

“They were working with Magma?”

“I don’t believe so, Sir. I had a quick look at the security feeds, and they came in after. Magma came straight for us, but they fought only when challenged, and seemed to be after something else. Videos didn’t capture what.”

Giovanni is silent for a moment, and Petrel’s hand finds his side, still tender from where a Vine Whip cracked his rib. Potions applied to the surface only help so much with damaged bones.

“I don’t see any relevance there,” Giovanni finally says, voice terse, which Petrel thinks is the boss’s way of saying he has no idea what to make of it either. “Get me a copy of that feed and I’ll look over it myself. In any case, Groudon and Kyogre have been resurrected, within a day of each other. That cannot be coincidence, Aqua and Magma must have known where to find them already and kept that knowledge hidden. Has there been any word from Archie or anyone else from within the inner circle?”

“No, Sir, not since yesterday.”

“Then it’s possible they’re all dead. How are the others there reacting?”

“There’s an air of confusion and uncertainty here, but no one is panicking or acting as though they’ve heard something definitive.”

Giovanni sighs. “Alright, then. If Archie or any of his inner circle live, they’ll have the orb with them. Chances of getting it at this point seem low, but I need a copy of their research on it.”

That would be more difficult. “The research lab is still being heavily guarded,” he says to ensure he knows what the boss is asking of him.

“Do anything you have to, Lambda. You’re coming home after.”

A rush of relief eases some tension deep in his stomach, and Petrel swallows the thanks that rise to his lips. He should feel worse about having just been told to kill the members of Team Aqua that get in his way, some of whom he’s even grown to like and respect, but right now all he feels is glad he has permission to get the hell out of the region that still feels like it’s being shaken apart under him. “Yes, Sir. Should I pull everyone on this, or do they have their own orders?”

“This is the new priority. The fate of the world may rest on what we can discover in that research, even if it won’t come quick enough to save Hoenn.”


The end of the world, Steven Stone reflects as he mounts his skarmory and commands it to take off from the roof of the Sootopolis Gym, should not be so wet.

Oh, there are stories of the world ending in water, of course. From this very region, in fact. There are also myths that warn of the world ending in the pure oblivion of Arceus’s final Judgement, or all of life being drained away and turned to stone, or its light eaten away to leave them in eternal darkness. Fire, that’s a popular one too, as well as ice.

But water is just… undignified. He feels dampness seeping down his neck and reaches back to tug his collar more firmly against his skin. Even suits specifically tailored to be water resistant don’t look particularly impressive while sodden, and no one’s hair looks better wet, not even Wallace’s.

He wonders if it’s normal to worry about how your hair looks during the end of the world, then reassures himself that the world probably isn’t actually ending; just Hoenn, and maybe a few of the closer regions.

Though the sun is still in the process of setting, the massive rain clouds turn the sky nearly as dark as night… or they would, if not for the circles in the clouds that keep growing and shrinking. The visible beams of sunlight they let through turn the horizon into a gorgeous dance of light and shadow, but the largest, steadiest sunbeam illuminates a scene that makes it hard to focus on the beauty of it all.

Cold as stone. He heard it a number of times growing up (and once from a boyfriend during their breakup) for how unexcitable he was, whether from good things or bad. Once Devon Corporation started to grow internationally, his father changed the family name to Stone to reflect their beginnings in gem mining and excavation; Steven inherited his interest in studying rare minerals, particularly the evolutionary stones.

But his dad gets angry, and excited, and frightened, and passionate. No one’s ever compared his dad to a stone, not that Steven has heard at least. The calm… that seems to just be him. Excitement, fear, anticipation, anger… all things he understands in abstract more than any stirring in his chest. Losing his mother caused some, as did becoming Champion.

Steven’s pulse, a slow and steady thing even in the heat of battle, has barely changed since the earthquakes and rainstorms began. Even learning about the sudden appearance of the mythical pokemon didn’t change that.

It’s only when he sees them that he feels it, the thumping against his ribs, his pulse vibrating in a dozen different places throughout his body, sharpening his focus until every detail seems to burn into his memory.

The red one is practically glowing in the sunlight, or maybe it’s the body itself that’s glowing beneath the scales. It’s stopped traveling as it fights the other one, whose shape is only visible when it surfaces as a pattern of gleaming white circles and red lines along its body and fins.

Steven watches as waves rise up higher than a stadium, then crash against Groudon, trying to sweep it out to sea. It roars in defiance, the sunlight seeming to brighten as it stands its ground, then stomps its tail down. A spike of earth juts out of the water, barely missing Kyogre as it dives back under. A moment later it resurfaces on its opponent’s other side, multiple jets of water shooting out to pelt Groudon.

The impact of each jet is audible even above the rain and waves, but Groudon stays upright, then hits the ground again. Boiling magma sends a cloud of steam up near Kyogre, who swiftly retreats from what must be a much larger pocket of heat under the ocean. Steven quickly banks his skarmory to the side to avoid the hot cloud as it spreads upward, unable to tear his gaze from the battle below.

He thought he’d seen what pokemon could do when he visited Kanto and fought against Articuno. The power they held, power enough to bring a city to its knees.

What he’s seeing now are two pokemon who are turning the planet itself into weapons against each other, and everything happening to his region and those around it is just collateral damage.

Badump, badump, badump. His heart is pounding, his breaths uneven, and despite everything, he finds himself smiling as he raises a hand to his headset.

“I have them in sight. Still no Pressure.” Unless this stirring excitement counts.

“Roger that, Champion,” Drake says. “I’m five minutes away.”

“Three minutes,” Phoebe reports.

“Ten.” Glacia’s teleport point turned out to be the furthest.

Ten minutes before they’re at full force to engage, since Sidney won’t be joining them. As the only Dark member of the Elite Four there’s no way he’d be able to reach them anytime soon, which led him to defend Lilycove instead. It’s the first time the Elite being Dark has really felt like a liability, but they’ve never faced a threat that’s needed every member of the League before. He’d like to call in every Gym Leader too, and their Seconds and Thirds, but they’ve got their own troubles to deal with; there’s barely a town in Hoenn that isn’t facing rampaging pokemon, not to mention damage from the earthquakes and heavy rain.

He watches the battle for a few more moments, a plan slowly forming. “Some good news, this thing might just be a Ground type. As long as we stay high and mobile to avoid any rocks or steam clouds it sends up, we might be able to t—”

Groudon’s whole body suddenly flares with light, and a beam of superheated air escapes its mouth with a roar, sending clouds of steam up from a whole stretch of the ocean. “Nevermind,” Steven says once his ears have stopped ringing. “It just… did something, like a Solar Beam super-charged by a Hyper Beam, but also hot enough to flash-boil the sea.”

“Didn’t sound like you had much warning, either,” Phoebe comments.

“Barely a second.” Which means they need to get off their pokemon to fight it. “Going to find a place to land.”

Steven scans the area around Groudon for something safe, and notices a group of about a dozen people, close enough to stay within the circle of sunlight while far enough to avoid any of the massive waves that occasionally rise up to batter Groudon. He angles his skarmory to land in front of them. “There seem to be rangers already nearby,” he says. “Touching down now.”

“Rangers?” He can hear Drake’s frown in his voice. “CoRRNet didn’t report anyone nearby…”

“Yeah, looks like I spoke too soon again,” Steven says as he lands. They’re dressed in red and black, but they aren’t rangers. Rangers don’t hide their faces, and he’s seen these uniforms before; on the renegades that he helped fight off at the Mossdeep Space Center.

“You,” he says as he slides off his skarmory’s back and summons his aggron and metagross, “Should count yourselves lucky that I have a bigger concern right now than a pack of renegades, which are words I never thought I’d say, and leave while you can.” His pokemon both shine silver in the bright sunlight as they face off with the dozen pokemon in front of him, taking on battle stances despite the tremors that constantly undermine their footing. Steven trained both to overcome their weaknesses as much as he could, and they’re the only ones he trusts to take a hit from something that powerful.

The pokemon he’s facing are heavy on Dark, Poison, Fire, and Ground types, with what looks like the leader fielding the biggest camerupt he’s ever seen. The other man steps forward, one hand on his pokemon’s orange fur.

“Hello, Champion.” His voice is modulated by his mask, the upper half a visor that shows just a glimpse of the eyes behind it. Most of the glass is covered in some display too small for Steven to make out. “I understand your animosity, but believe it or not, we are here to help.”

Steven smiles, a distant part of him noting that his clothes are already dry, and that the sunlight is actually uncomfortably hot against his skin now that he’s holding still. “I won’t pretend this isn’t a desperate situation, but it’s not quite desperate enough to accept help from people I can’t trust.” Groudon slaps the ground again, and everyone’s knees bend as they brace and shift to withstand the tremor. “You have sixty seconds to get out of range before I blow the lot of you to oblivion. Fifty-nine… fifty-eight…”

The group is silent, or rather their leader is, and they all wait on his cue. Probably incredulous that he thinks he can stop them all himself, and he wonders if they’ll call his bluff.

Of course, “bluff” is the wrong word; he prefers “delay tactic.” Not that it might not be interesting to see how many of them his boys could take down, but he needs to save his pokemon’s strength if he can help it, and some of the pokemon they’re fielding are powerful enough that he’d actually lose.

Steven keeps counting, carefully not taking his eyes off the leader to check if Phoebe or Drake have arrived yet. He reaches “twenty-four” before their leader pulls a red orb out of his pocket.

Even in the harsh sunlight, the orb is visibly lit from within. Steven prepares for an attack, but instead the leader just says, “This was the tool to awaken Groudon, and also a way to control and empower it.”

Steven briefly wonders if they’re purposely delaying too, but the bait is too good not to bite. “You want me to believe you’re not only responsible for summoning that thing, but you’re actually controlling it?”

“Summoning, yes, but unfortunately control was lost. It seemed like our custom programs had tamed it upon capture, but during our tests it began to grow, subtly at first. It soon became too large to be contained in any ball, and shortly after stopped listening to even basic commands.”

“So you raised a pokemon that myths describe as a god, tried to run experiments on it, then were surprised when it escaped?” Steven shakes his head. “Jirachi’s tears, haven’t you people seen any movies?”

“Life is not a movie. You have ample reason not to trust me, but consider this: Kyogre was not our doing, and we did everything we could to stop it from rising as well.” Another quake nearly drowns out his next words, and he raises his voice to be heard over it. “We were attempting to be prepared for this eventuality!”

Steven shifts his feet and balances himself with his arms until the quake is past. “I don’t see how two island-destroying titans are better than one.” Steven takes his eyes off the group for just a second to glance at Groudon, who is advancing again on newly risen land. “Them killing each other would be too lucky, and meanwhile Hoenn is being torn apart and drowned.”

“If Groudon were not here, Kyogre’s power would go unchecked. Glaciers would be melting around the planet, releasing enough water to submerge every coastal city in the world, and—”

Phoebe lands beside him on her oricorio, its violet feathers practically pink in the sunlight. He really hasn’t seen any movies, Steven thinks. Or he’s watched too many League matches and thinks monologuing is a part of serious pokemon battles.

“Disperse.” The normally cheerful Alolan girl’s tone is flat as she summons her pokemon. Not surprising, considering he was still broadcasting everything he said to the others; they all know who’s responsible, now. Her palossand immediately forms a wall out of the hardened earth beneath them, and her marowak’s spinning bone burns brighter than he’s ever seen it, making it even harder than usual not to get unnerved. “You will not be asked again.”

The tension among the group has visibly increased, all except for the leader and the two contrasting figures on either side of him. But still no one moves to leave, and after a moment the leader slowly returns the orb to his pocket to free up his hand. And now we fight, Steven thinks, resignation stronger than any other feeling. Drake will be arriving within a minute, and with the three of them even a group this big doesn’t stand a chance. What a waste.

Instead of reaching for his pokebelt, however, the leader raises his hands to his mask… and unclasps it.

There’s a stir of surprise by those around the man, and even Steven takes a moment to understand what he’s seeing as the terrorist drops the mask to the quaking ground. A moment later he presses something on his visor, and reveals his upper face as well.

“Matsubusa.” Steven stares at the famous paleontologist as the pieces fall into place, irritation a mild prickle under his skin. “Studying them wasn’t enough, you had to prove they were real?”

“I knew they were real,” Matsubusa says, calm voice tinged for a moment with pique. “I had to ensure they were controllable, before someone else woke them with other intentions. Don’t be foolish,” he suddenly snaps, and it takes Steven a moment to realize he’s talking to his own people, whose hands are rising to their masks.

Soon they’re falling to the ground, one after another, and when the large subordinate to his left responds it’s out loud. “We will follow you to the end. You should have known that.” Steven isn’t sure if they’re a man or woman, but he vaguely recognizes their round face and wide smile from somewhere… One of dad’s employees?

“Our odds of survival do drop,” the girl to his right says in a detached tone as she shakes her hair out after pushing her own visor back, along with the hood that was covering her hair. “But it was not high enough to matter, if we do not survive together.”

Steven watches with mild fascination as Maximilian Matsubusa’s face, always calm on camera, twitches with some barely controlled feelings. Max has always seemed similar to himself in the way he emotes, or rather doesn’t, and Steven finds himself a little envious. Not of the loyalty shown, which he expects he would receive as well in a similar circumstance, but in the way it so clearly overwhelms the normally stoic man.

“This is touching, really,” Phoebe says, her voice just a hair less cold as Drake finally lands to Steven’s other side, his salamence kicking up a mild windstorm as it touches down. “But we don’t need your help.”

“You do,” the girl says as their leader regains control of himself. “If we leave now, there’s a chance it will weaken. Perhaps you will be able to defeat it, but then Kyogre will remain unchecked. How will you stop something this powerful, but underwater?”

Steven exchanges a glance with Phoebe, then Drake, who looks mad enough to Draco Meteor them all right now. The older man spits to the side from atop his dragon. “I can stop it, aboard the Tidal.”

The first henchman to speak shakes their head. “Your ship, while impressive, is not a match for the God of the Sea on its own, let alone one being assisted by a group of pirates in the stolen Explorer.”

Steven feels his irritation growing as he learns how connected the crime spree that has plagued his region was. “Of course that was related to all this. Next you’ll tell me Professor Birch is leading that group?”

“Birch?” The man(?) sneers. “That close-minded fool laughed at the idea that either could be resurrected.”

“Their leader is a pirate named Archie Aogiri.” Matsubusa looks like he bit into a lemon. “We used to work together, until he stole my research.”

“So both of them were awakened on purpose,” Phoebe says, her disgust plain. “You made it sound like Kyogre was going to rise on its own, and resurrecting Groudon was insurance.”

“I knew Archie, and I knew Kyogre was real. This outcome was entirely predictable.”

“With eighty-seven percent probability,” the girl to his left adds.

“Uh huh.” Phoebe’s hands are still on her pokebelt. “So where is this Archie now? Underwater, making Kyogre stronger with another of those gems?”

“We suspect so,” Matsubusa says, “As Kyogre has been growing in strength as well.”

“Then you’re saying he should be our target.” Steven turns to Drake, who nods.

“The sea’s in as fine a mood as I’ve ever seen her, but if he’s down there, we’ll find him and flush him out.” Drake salutes, then turns his salamence and guides it into a running leap before it soars off.

Steven turns back to the group and realizes the rain is approaching them, and glances at Groudon, who looks farther away. It’s hard to tell given that it’s still growing. “Is it taking the sunlight with it?”

“In a manner of speaking. It seems to create a localized high temperature atmosphere that—”

“Forget I asked, we need to move.”

“Then you’ll let us help?”

Steven considers the other man for a moment. “I don’t believe you’re being honest with me. Or maybe you’re just telling the story in a way that makes you look good, and gets us to focus on your rival.”

“Collateral,” Glacia suggests in his ear.

Steven almost nods, and wonders if she’s in sight of them yet. He holds out his hand. “If you really mean to help, give me the orb.”

Matsubusa stares at him, then slowly takes the red sphere back out of his pocket.

The round renegade stirs. “Maxie—”

“He’s right,” Matsubusa interrupts, and steps forward past his pokemon. The camerupt tries to stay ahead of him until he gestures with his hand, settling it in place. “We hold some responsibility for what has occurred. If this will help us make it right…” Despite his words, as he steps past Steven’s pokemon the Champion can see the reluctance on his face. Matsubusa gazes into the glowing gem for another moment, then slowly, regretfully, drops it into his hand.

It’s warm. No, hot. Burning, but without any real pain. Steven stares into the depths of the sphere, fascinated. It’s not a ruby, he’s almost sure of that; too flawlessly round, and not transparent at all, somehow. There’s a shape within it, gleaming gold… he can almost make out what it is…

“Steven,” Phoebe says, and something in her voice makes him turn to her. “Your ring…”

He follows her gaze as he turns his hand over, and sees the gem on his ring is glowing, a rainbow flame swirling at its center. “Huh.” He feels a mild awe stir in his chest, and looks up at Matsubusa to see naked shock on his face.

“What sort of gemstone is that?” the paleontologist whispers.

“Aggronite,” Steven says. He shifts the orb to his left hand, and the gem on his ring continues to glow for a moment, then slowly returns to normal… and as he suspected, the gem on the ring of his left hand has started glowing instead. “And metagrossite.”

“I’m not… familiar, with those names…”

“Yeah, I kind of made them up.” He pockets the orb. “Well, we’ll figure out what that’s about later. Your people will follow our orders, understand? I can’t guarantee amnesty after this crisis is passed, but first we need to make sure it does pass.”

“Understood, Champion,” the other man says, still clearly preoccupied by what he saw. “We’ll focus on Kyogre first, then?”

“I’d rather take out the one we can more easily get, especially if it will stop the quakes… but if taking this orb away from Groudon will make it grow weaker, then yes, we’ll help it beat Kyogre first.”


At first, Kawabata Gyokusho thinks Cinnabar’s volcano is erupting.

It’s an alarming thought, but not a catastrophic one. The lab was purposefully built here, after all, with every eventuality planned for, and more added in the years after 2.351 awoke and its capabilities became known. They ran simulations and drills, and even if the entire island gets covered in magma they could still survive in the lab for over a week as they use their pokemon to dig themselves out.

But instead of rising into an eruption, the shakes dip and rise and continue in sporadic bursts that make the whole structure groan throughout the day. The lab is equipped with the best seismometers in the world, sensitive enough to tell them if a diglett is moving anywhere in the mountain the lab is built into in case the experiment tried to drive other pokemon to attack the lab in an effort to free itself, but the data they’re getting from them don’t point to any local source.

It becomes clear that something unnatural is happening when the evening shift begins and the quakes start to chain into each other more rapidly. Eventually there’s a crack that everyone in the lab can feel through the floor, and things go downhill from there. Still, it’s only when the alarms start to go off that the fear hits.

Being one of the lab’s engineers shielded him from panic when the power cut out, and even when the elevator shaft collapsed. But the alarm he’s hearing now isn’t one he knows. It’s not the fire alarm, or the invasion alarm, or the subject escape alarm. Those would all be better, because by process of elimination, he can now guess what this alarm is.

When Kawabata joined the lab, the end of the interview process included an additional offer to be one of Mewtwo’s comforters if he was willing to live in the lab rather than the manor above. The idea that his free time could serve the double purpose of giving Mewtwo–then just the subject–a source of peace and positivity seemed a form of charity, something he was happy to do considering how little it impacted his own happiness; he’s always been one of those apparently unusual people who enjoy being inside as much as possible.

The downside was that, if something happened, he would likely have no chance of surviving. Every scientist, engineer, guard, cook, and plumber in the lab feels the sword hanging over their heads. You can forget it, most days, sometimes even for as long as a week or a month. But sooner or later you remember, and the fear returns, for a few minutes at least.

Fear of the final fail-safe.

They don’t all know what it is, of course. Or at least, the non-psychic, non-dark employees don’t. But they have guesses. Poison gas in the air supply. Bombs rigged in the walls to bury them in rubble. Things that would kill everything in the lab, in case it’s invaded by a hostile force set on capturing their research.

And, since the subject awoke, probably also in case it goes rogue.

But it isn’t trying to escape, and they’re not being invaded. The creators of the lab thought through a lot of possibilities, but did they imagine ceaseless, ongoing earthquakes that would make it seem like those things were happening?

Kawabata is prepared to die if it means keeping such a powerful pokemon from falling into the wrong hands, or becoming another perpetual Tier 3. They all are, or they wouldn’t be working here.

But dying to a freak accident… worse, the subject dying to it, erasing all their progress over the years, removing humanity’s best chance at defeating the Stormbringers and other legendaries? Something in him rebels against the thought.

It’s been months, but he remembers the day he met it like yesterday. They were all informed that the subject would be let out of its room for the first time, but he hadn’t expected it to just show up at his door, with Sabrina and Giovanni and Dr. Light all there with it, looking into his room as it complimented a drawing he didn’t ever name except in his own head.

The sight of it stayed with him ever since, and he resisted the itch to draw it for a long time, until finally one night he gave in… only to get a distinct feeling of sadness, and quickly destroyed the drawing. He knew that it had been with him, then, and that it didn’t like the way it looked.

The subject has occasionally touched his mind since, always at seeming random, to express gratitude and appreciation for the things he draws. Not being remotely psychic himself, he never knew it was there until he suddenly felt himself experiencing an emotion with no apparent cause.

He never told anyone that he had an invisible friend when he was young, and he hasn’t admitted that it’s been a bit like having one again… except real, this time. He’d think things at it, wonder how it felt about stuff going on around the lab that it surely also experienced through others. It never responded to his thoughts in words, but it was still like a conversation.

It’s dangerous to think that way. There are people that aren’t spoken of by name in the lab, past employees who left the project for reasons that are never spelled out. But negative space can form a picture too, and eventually it became clear that there’s more than one reason no one gets too close to the subject.

But letting it die just so they can all live, when it didn’t do anything wrong… worse, letting it die rather than letting it help save itself, and them all… it feels wrong. More, he can’t imagine that Giovanni would want something like that.

Which means he has to do something about it.

The alarm cuts off before he finishes putting a fresh voltorb in one of the backup power banks, then comes back on as he goes down the diagnostic list to ensure the transformer is undamaged, then cuts off again by the time he reaches Dr. Light’s office. There’s already a crowd there, and Kawabata stays near the back and listens as the project leader’s harried voice drifts over the sound of the quakes.

“—a station to get to, get to it,” she says. “We ran those drills for a reason, and nothing that’s happened so far is outside the scope of Giovanni’s predictions.”

“The Sevii Islands are sinking!” someone calls out.

“Well we’re not on the Sevii Islands, are we?” she shoots back.

“Director, are you saying Giovanni actually knew that Groudon and Kyogre would rise?”

Dr. Light makes a disgusted sound. “I know this situation is freaking everyone out, Leo, so I’m going to ignore the fact that you just asked me to reveal information that might be above your security cl—”

Another quake hits the lab, dimming the lights and causing a round of cursing as people are nearly knocked off their feet. Kawabata leans against the wall, feeling it vibrate under his hand.

“What I will reiterate,” Dr. Light continues once it fades, “Is that Giovanni and our security team predicted many circumstances, there’s a goddamn flowchart and everything, and we are still within the part that translates to not abandoning the lab while there’s still a chance of salvaging it.”

“Have we been in contact with him lately?” someone else asks.

“He checked in when everything started,” Dr. Light says. “We reported what was happening and he told us to stay the course.”

“That was before the power lines were damaged,” someone points out. “Have you tried raising him since?”

“Yes,” Dr. Light admits after a moment. “There was no answer, probably because he has other fires to put out!” she yells to be heard over the new outbreak of comments. “I’m not repeating myself again, people. Get to work or I’m going to start writing names.”

The iron in her voice quells the air of potential mutiny, if not quite the panic. The two fears clash silently for a moment, and then the crowd starts to disperse.

Kawabata almost leaves with them, but after a moment his resolve hardens. He has something legitimate to report, and he can use it to lead into the conversation. He steps into the office once the last person leaves, and weathers the glare Dr. Light aims at him with a salute.

“Oh put your hand down, Gyokusho, what is it?”

“Ma’am, the backup generator is online—”

“I’ve noticed.”

“—but it’s the second-to-last undamaged one we have.”

Her lips purse. “The others are being repaired?”

“Yes Ma—” Another quake pitches him forward, and he catches himself on the desk as Dr. Light grabs it to steady herself too. After it fades he straightens. “Yes Ma’am, but… in these conditions… with the ongoing damage, there’s no way to predict how long we can maintain this. It could be hours, it could be minutes.”

Dr. Light closes her eyes, hands massaging her temples, and he waits in silence as an after-tremor rattles the lab.

“The stairwells are still unblocked?” she asks at last.

“One of them is,” he says. “The other has some damage, but is still passable with a bit of work.”

“If they collapse while people are in them, those people will die,” she says. “If we all stay in here, we can dig through once the quakes pass.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He bites his lip, but he can see the same thought in her weary eyes. If the quakes pass. They’ll have to eventually, of course, but it’s already been an hour. They might not survive another.

“You have an alternate suggestion,” she guesses. Maybe hopes.

Still, he hesitates. “Ma’am, what happens if we do evacuate? I mean what happens to… the subject?” He almost said Mewtwo, but one of the “superstitions” in the lab is that thinking of it directly can summon its attention. He doesn’t believe it, exactly… and yet.

“We take it with us, of course,” she says. “Its suit can sustain it for nearly four hours now, long enough that hopefully all this would be over and it can return to its pod.”

“I see.”

He doesn’t believe her.

She spoke with such authority, such conviction. Like it was the most natural answer.

But a moment ago even the simplest responses came out with… more. Call it grumpiness, for she could be grumpy, or stress, as they’re all stressed, but there was something that was there and gone between responses, and…

He shouldn’t be thinking about this. He shouldn’t be thinking about how, if they have to abandon the lab, there’s almost certainly a part of that flowchart that insists on ending the subject’s life… or that if it gets to that, she might just trigger the whole lab’s destruction.

It can’t be allowed to come to that.

“Ma’am,” he says, swallowing his nervousness. “What if it helped?”

The office is silent, or as silent as it can be while they hear the dim sounds of frenzied activity through the stone walls and ceiling. “Helped how, Gyokusho?”

“I’m not sure,” he says. “But it can coordinate people, right? And move or hold up debris, maybe it can even sense a quake when it’s coming, or help secure infrastructure…”

“Perhaps,” she says. “But its room is the safest, most secure area of the lab. Letting it out in such an uncertain situation to move about the building would be putting at risk the very thing we’re all trying to protect.” The lights flicker as another quake hits them, and she dismisses him with the words, “Still, thank you for the suggestion.”

“Of course, Ma’am.” He leaves the office at a jog to check on the generators again, still worrying over what he said, and what the director didn’t say.

Mixed in with those worries are a feeling of gratitude, and it isn’t until he reaches the power room that he recognizes it as separate from himself.


The director of the Hoenn Weather Institute is having a bad year.

First a bunch of criminals ransacked the place and stole some of their very rare, very valuable castforms.

Then the regional grant money was cut to help shore up “other deficits,” as if their losses didn’t qualify as a deficit worth shoring up.

Then his wife left him, probably because he started drinking again. He only did that to deal with the stress of knowing the board is probably going to vote him out once the year is over.

And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, or perhaps out of sympathy for his troubles, the world seems to have decided it might be time to just get it all over with… through torrential downpours and earthquakes, of course, so he’ll probably be blamed for this too. He can hear his soon-to-be-ex-wife already… Didn’t see the storm of the century coming, with all that fancy equipment? Working late with a bottle that night?

He was, as a matter of fact, but his subordinates weren’t, and they didn’t say shit about any of this. Which is why, while everyone runs around in a panic through the building, he is already drunk as a croagunk on the roof, where tables are set up for people to eat on their lunch breaks or after work. A wide umbrella keeps off the rain as he watches the anomalous weather shift and spread throughout the region, both on his laptop and right in front of his eyes.

The weather has turned particularly bad around the mountain they’re set on, and he can vaguely make out a helicopter as it struggles to fly in the downpour. Doesn’t make sense, he thinks for the fifth time as he takes a long pull of bourbon, feeling the burn slide down his throat as he watches the rain come down in sheets. Barely any wind. This much precipitation is absurd on its own, of course. Entirely wrong time of year for it besides, but what does he know, he’s just a self-pitying fool with poor administrative skills and…

The helicopter is spinning out of control. The director watches in sickened fascination as it fights to stay aloft, then to land… but it’s falling too quickly, and he raises his bottle in mournful salute as it drops into the distant hills, a brief flash of light signaling its end.

His other arm rises to wipe his face, and he curses the umbrella for not catching all the rain. Once his eyes are clear, he looks back at the laptop, feeling hollow inside as he sees rain clouds continuing to spread over every region on the island, and beyond them. Satellite comparisons show the ice at the planet’s poles are already noticeably shrinking, and there’s rising ozone depletion just south of Sootopolis, right above the biggest gap in the clouds. It’s nonsensical, the atmosphere thinning should be at the poles for the ice there to be melting… there’s no reason they should be melting at all, unless… he switches to measures of the ocean currents, stomach churning as he sees the graph of the temperature rising.

Doomed, he thinks, and raises the bottle to his lips again only to find it empty. He tosses it over his shoulder without a second thought and stares at the screen with eyes that see nothing… not even the thin line that’s forming in the clouds above Hoenn, parting the swirling white like a knife to cut its way toward the hole in the atmosphere.