The first thing Leaf hears upon teleporting to Saffron is the emergency announcement blaring from the speakers on every street corner:
“—ade activity is ongoing at Silph Headquarters. Please evacuate from all surrounding blocks and seek shelter. Repeat, renegade activity…”
The air is full of pokemon carrying people above congested streets, while police guide crowds toward the city’s emergency bunkers. She scans the city skyline until she spots the silhouette of Silph HQ that stands tall against the cheerful blue horizon, then withdraws her abra and rushes down to the street level so she can bring out her bike.
Once she’s riding she taps her earphone to resume her call with Laura and Professor Oak.
“—when he arrived… Leaf?” Laura sounds calm, but Leaf knows her well enough to hear the tightly controlled fear under her words. “Have you arrived?”
“Yeah, I’m just a few blocks from the building, should be there soon.”
“Assess before rushing in,” Professor Oak says. “If the renegades are there for the master ball, the hunters might bring the whole building down.”
Leaf’s heart stutters. “Would the boys know that?”
“I hope so. But even if they do—”
“Right.” Even without the message that got passed along to the Professor, Blue isn’t the type to leave a situation like this once he’s in it. And so long as calls to both are still going undelivered, it seems likely Red is either trapped or fighting too.
Now Laura’s voice holds more than a fraction of the strain she must be feeling. “Sam, can’t you…?”
“No. I could run into the building myself and they’d still bring it down if they believed it necessary.”
Hearing the stark helplessness in his voice makes Leaf pedal harder. “How far are you now, Professor?”
“Just passing the western outpost, should be there in about nine minutes.”
“I’ll wait for you unless I—” Leaf’s earpod chirps, and hope shoots through her. “Hang on, getting a call.”
“Go. I’ll see you soon.”
“Be careful, Leaf.”
“I will, and I’ll let you know if it’s one of them.” She swaps. “Red? Blue?”
It takes Leaf a moment to recognize the voice of her and Laura’s informant over the blaring announcements. “Did you—do you know what’s happening?”
“Only what’s on the news. Are you there?”
“Almost. You coming?”
“No. I can’t.”
Leaf almost asks why not, then remembers that she’s dark. No way she’d make it here on time. “Then call me in an hour, one way or another it should be over by then—”
“Wait. I called because whatever’s happening there might be a smokescreen for something else. I wanted to make sure you go in there with your eyes open.”
Leaf tries to imagine what a public attack of multiple renegades on Silph Headquarters could be a smokescreen for, and fails. “You don’t think they’re there for the Master Ball?”
“I’ll decide after they succeed or fail. My guess is whatever happens, this benefits Silph in some way.”
“…evacuate from all surrounding blocks and seek shelter…”
Leaf wants to say she’s crazy, too tunnel visioned on her vendetta to accept a scenario where Silph may not be the bad guys. But whether that’s true or not…”So what do you want?”
“If you get the opportunity to grab a computer, they’ll think one of the renegades took it. Any of the executive’s computers would likely have valuable info, but the President’s own PC would be best.”
“You are crazy,” Leaf says this time. “Or you think I am, to agree to something like that.”
“The Rocket Casino—”
“—had a secret lab full of renegades, it’s totally different!”
“Leaf, we won’t get another opportunity like this.” Her frustration is clear even through the voice filter. “Silph can be the victim today, but they’ll still need to be taken down tomorrow.”
Leaf turns a corner and ends up behind a group of police riding toward the Silph building. The streets here are virtually empty, and she pedals harder to try and catch up to them. “Have to go, almost there.”
“Just think about it.”
Leaf hangs up, heart pounding in her ears as she slowly closes the gap between her and an officer in the rear riding a rapidash. She takes deep breaths so as not to arrive totally winded, and tries to focus on what she’ll say to the police if they try to stop her from helping.
But the informant’s words planted a seed of doubt, and more keep sprouting. Is all this some trick? Red’s description of what Silph wanted him to do was only surprising because it’s never been done before, but it wasn’t confusing, and opposed as she was to Red helping him, the fact that Silph turned out to be right about renegades in his company set her suspicions entirely aside.
What level of paranoid is the right level, when real conspiracies are afoot?
Maybe the more important question is, should she act just on the suspicion? She’s spent weeks working on a story with Fuji that she hopes will affect public sentiment about things like the Master Ball. If she finds hard proof of the skeletons Laura and their informant have been working to uncover, it could be much more effective…
“…renegade activity is ongoing at Silph Headquarters. Please evacuate…”
They reach the perimeter, where dozens of police and rangers prepare to face an unknown amount of pokemon, each trained to kill humans by people no doubt expecting exactly this response. She slows to a stop as the police in front of her approach someone that looks like they’re coordinating things. Nearby a pair of drones lift into the sky to join a dozen others that hover around the building, probably trying to get a clear view of what’s going on inside.
So many people, all working together to save the hostages inside, to save her friends, to stop the madmen trying to take power that would be even scarier in their hands.
No. She can’t do it, can’t enter this thinking of how to steal from Silph. It would make her like Yuuta, taking advantage of a crisis… not for personal gain, maybe, but still. Civilization has to pull together for pokemon attacks, and that goes double for renegades. Going against that would chip away at something precious, even if no one else found out about it.
Once the group of newcomers is dispatched elsewhere, Leaf walks her bike over. “Hi, I’m Leaf Juniper. My friends, Red and Blue… has anyone heard from them?”
The man shakes his head, and Leaf is about to ask if she can go in—
“Hello again, Miss Juniper.”
She turns toward the familiar voice and sees a tall man in a brown trench coat. “Agent Looker? I thought you were working in Celadon.”
“Got here about ten minutes before things went to hell. You could say I had a hunch.”
“Ah.” Laura. “Does this mean interpol is—”
“My partner is coordinating with them now, but this will likely be over before anyone else arrives.” He studies her for a moment. “Were you planning on going in?”
“Are you going to stop me?”
“If it was just your life at risk, maybe not. But there are civilians in there, and hunters that may be engaging the renegades as we speak. I know you’ve fought some before, but only in the loosest sense. Your wigglytuff isn’t going to catch these by surprise, and from what I remember you’re not a competitive trainer. Have you ever actually fought against a human trained pokemon?”
Leaf feels her heart sinking. “No. But…” She tries to find an argument, something that justifies the burning need to get inside, to at least make sure Red and Blue are okay… “Professor Oak didn’t say not to.”
It’s a weak defense and she knows it. Agent Looker just raises a brow at her. “Well he’s probably not thinking straight either. There’s a chance the police have a plan, and untrained outsiders are more likely to accidentally mess those up. Oak at least can hold his own and won’t become a liability.”
Leaf’s heart feels like a rock in her stomach, and she can’t keep the bitterness out of her voice. “So I’m supposed to just sit out here and… do nothing?” She never expected to regret her decision to not battle other trainers, but if it keeps her from helping Blue and Red now…
“If it makes you feel better, the Professor doesn’t actually have authority here, and might get stuck outside too.” Looker turns to the coordinating officer. “What do you think, Jiang?”
“Wouldn’t want to be the one to try to get between him and his grandson, but orders to bring the building down if there’s no opening to save the hostages in the next…” He checks his watch. “Eleven minutes.”
“He’s arriving in about eight,” Leaf says, feeling numb. She wonders a moment later if she should have kept that to herself…
Jiang sighs. “We’re trying to counteract the jammer to figure out if the commissioner can give us a sitrep, maybe change our game plan. But at this rate… well, let’s just say there are a number of people here who are probably willing to tackle Professor Oak to save his life. Guess I’m one of them.”
Leaf’s rising sense of horror and helplessness make it hard to think, and she wanders off without saying anything, trying to block out the sounds of the blaring city message.
“…Please evacuate from all surrounding blocks and seek shelter. Repeat…”
She should call the Professor, warn him… maybe he can land on the roof, if it’s got a flat one… does it? Or fly straight through a window, if it doesn’t… Gods, this is just like what Red faced in Vermilion, but I don’t even have a choice… Or does she? She could probably make it through the perimeter without being stopped, but.. Looker is right, she’s fooling herself if she thinks she stands a chance in a fair fight against a renegade. Laura and the professor would say the same if they weren’t so desperately worried for Red and Blue… she would say the same if it was almost anyone else in there…
If I can’t win a fair fight, I should cheat. Good idea, but how? None of her pokemon are as good of an equalizer as Joy, and even if they strap her to another pokemon and fly her around the windows to sing through, there’s no guarantee that the renegades will be more disabled than those they’re fighting, even assuming they don’t have protection against sound attacks…
She turns to find Agent Looker has followed her. “Believe it or not, we’re mostly in the same boat, and I don’t like feeling helpless any more than you do. But there’s something else we can do to help besides rush in and hope for the best. It may not help save whoever’s inside, but it could stop the renegades regardless.”
“I’m listening.” She’d sound more eager if she wasn’t sick with fear.
“Something has been bothering me about all of this. A bunch of renegades attack in the middle of the day, hold hostages, but only above a certain floor, all to, presumably, steal the Master Ball. It looks coordinated, maybe a panic response to Silph bringing Verres in, but my question is, then what?”
“Right. They get the Master Ball, or the blueprints for it, or whatever. Then what? The whole city knows they’re here, they’re surrounded.”
“Maybe they use a hardwired PC to transfer it?”
“First thing we did was cut off the building’s power and internet. It’s running on local power but we’ve got our own jammer up to keep them from using wireless.”
“Then they just…” No, Silph wouldn’t have had to do this special screening to find them if they weren’t dark, so they can’t teleport out unless they learned how to use Miracle Eye in the past few days… or…
Leaf’s eyes widen. Is it possible?
“You see it too, huh?”
“I thought… I thought Red had… caused this, by being here… Silph told him he suspected something already, but—”
“Right. What if Red didn’t just trigger them to attack instead of stealing it? What if him being here was part of the plan?”
Leaf covers her face with her hands. She should have argued harder, should have told Red to leave…
“Hey. Deep breaths. If they’re going to force him to use Miracle Eye so they can teleport, they have to keep him alive, right?”
She tries to nod, head jerking too quickly. “What… what can we do?”
“Nothing for now. This is just a theory, and we can’t act on it right now anyway.” He studies her a moment, as if checking to see if she can remain calm. She does her best. “Miss Juniper, we’re some of the few people here who know everything that’s happening, and aren’t busy preparing for a raid or to stop an escape. More importantly, we’re not part of the local police network. Do you get me?”
It’s not hard, once you’ve spent enough time talking to Laura. “You think there’s an informant.”
“I think trust is a dangerous thing when facing an organization this secretive and well prepared. The renegades know they’re on a clock, regardless, but yes, they might have someone in the police to feed them info. I doubt they’re going to still be in there if the building gets brought down, so we need to figure out what their plan is before they execute on it. And it has to be people like us, to make sure they don’t hear about it if we figure out their plan. So I need you to poke holes in this theory. Maybe Verres has nothing to do with their escape plan. Then what? How else might they get out?”
Leaf keeps taking deep breaths, trying to think through the new fears being piled onto the old ones. “Roof? Fly away?”
“The hunters are setting up a perimeter of fliers for both speed and endurance. They won’t get away by air.”
“They have to know that we’d use Earthquake if we had to. Same with any answer that involves hostages, it wouldn’t stop the hunters.”
Leaf tries to think of what else they might do. What would she do, if she had to escape a situation like this… “Maybe they… blanket the city with sleep powder, or…”
“Maybe. Start a list, alright? Anything you can think of, no matter how unlikely. We don’t have much time, but whatever they can think of, so can we.”
Once Lin and the CHRO have teleported to safety, the rest of those stuck in the security room line up in the order Burrell instructs. He checks to make sure everyone is ready, then nods to Jenson, who summons a machamp.
Its head nearly brushes the ceiling, and it looks around before zeroing in on the red pointer dot that Jenson is aiming at the wall beside the door.
“Three,” he murmurs. “Two… one… Cha!”
The machamp slams against the wall beside the door with all of its strength, body moving through the drywall in a single burst of raw strength. Jenson shoves himself through first, followed by Stocky (Red still hasn’t learned her name), Burrell, the young female cop (whose name he did learn, Mia), and Sicong. Valentin and Red listen to the sounds of battle through the hole, and only go through once it ends and Burrell calls “All clear.”
Red follows Sicong and Valentin out, stepping carefully around Jenson’s badly wounded machamp and the three dark pokemon around it. Nearly a dozen other pokemon are scattered around the hallway, broken and bleeding, but there are no renegades in sight. “They ran as soon as we came out,” Burrell says as they attempt to heal and revive their pokemon. The machamp is one of three that doesn’t respond to treatment, and each gets replaced with fresh Fighting and Bug types. “Not sure if they’re escaping or falling back to regroup, but we can’t give them time. Let’s move out.”
The hunters lead the way through the corridors at a jog, and for the first few moments Red is too busy trying to keep up to think of anything else. It’s hard to resist sending psydar pulses out, but he knows it’s not going to give him much info, and he needs to stay sharp, not risk destabilizing his thoughts any further. They pass the frightened faces of various office workers, and nearly make it to the stairs before more renegades find them.
Red has seen hunters battle renegades in movies. It’s usually depicted as being much quicker than normal trainer battles, each pokemon using their most lethal moves, and Red has occasionally thought about how he’d almost rather fight through a Tier 3 incident than get caught in the crossfire between a renegade and hunter.
Thankfully their environment limits what that means, on both sides, though it’s hard to tell if they’re holding back at all. He’s not sure how far a Hyper Beam would penetrate the walls and ceiling of this place, maybe the renegades are worried about bringing the building down themselves, but they’re doing enough destruction without it.
Acid splashes, fire bursts, and electricity arcs out as roars of pain and challenge by half a dozen pokemon drown out the commands of their trainers. Red pulls his gaze away from the sight of a pinsir using its horns to pin a mightyena to a wall as a weavile tears into its side, keeping his head on a swivel so he can watch their backs. That’s all he has to do, and so even when the renegades start to use non-dark pokemon, he doesn’t try to use sakki. He was given a task to do, and he’s going to let the professionals handle everything else rather than risk doing something that takes them by surprise and complicates their plans.
Which doesn’t mean it’s easy to turn his back on a lethal battle, even just for a few moments at a time, but he has to trust them, and his jangling nerves will just have to be endured.
No one attempts to flank them, however, and within a minute the battle is over. Red spares a glance back, dreading what he might see… but while there are once again numerous dead pokemon throughout the hallway, all the humans seem unhurt, and the renegades appear to have fled again.
“Something’s weird,” Jenson says as he heals his pokemon. “They’re not targeting us.”
“‘Us’ as in you and Hitomi?” Mia asks between checking the nearby offices with Sicong to ensure no one hiding in them got injured.
Oh that’s her name. Red stares blankly at the carnage for another few moments before he realizes he could be helping, and takes out some potions to heal their pokemon faster.
“Not just that,” Hitomi says as she aims her laser pointer at one of the downed renegade pokemon. Red looks away as the hunter’s pinsir braces its horns around the mightyena, but he still hears the crunch and wet sound of spraying blood. “They’re not targeting any of you, either. Our pokemon, yes, but not us.”
Red tries to recall the battles he had as best he can through the memories flooding him from multiple broken partitions. Did any pokemon directly attack him instead of his pokemon…?
“You think they’re trying to avoid killing?” Sicong asks, skepticism interwoven with hope. “That would make their threat against the hostages a bluff…”
“The hostages don’t know that.” Burrell says as he finishes healing his hitmonlee. “And it doesn’t make sense. They’d be branded regardless.”
“Still, if we reach them—”
“Hostages might get killed in crossfire,” Jenson says. He checks them over, then starts for the stairs again. “Power first.”
Red follows into the lingering smog of the stairway, and this time he does send out psydar pulses to make up for the lack of visibility. It makes it hard to focus, but this would be the perfect spot for an ambush…
“Couldn’t just exit here, hit it from below?” Valentin asks.
“We’d have to bring the whole ceiling down to be sure,” Hitomi replies, voice barely audible to Red over the sound of their feet. “They’d be able to collapse down on us before we do.”
One more flight of stairs without incident, and then they’re rushing through more hallways until they leave the offices behind and approach a door warning off any unauthorized access. Jenson holds up a fist and presses himself to the opposite wall, and they all quickly follow suit.
“Step light,” Jenson whispers between hard breaths. “They’ve had time to prepare a trap.”
Hitomi nods. “Two people could stay out, guard against being surrounded.”
“No, maximum push,” Burrell says. “Top priority is taking the power out.”
“They might take us all out in one blast if we go in together.”
“She’s right, Sir. It’s what I would do.”
Burrell frowns, and then they hear a “Hey!” that makes Red’s pulse spike before he recognizes the voice and turns with the others to see…
…Blue, shoeless and breathing hard as he jogs over from the direction of the stairs.
Nearly boneless with relief, Red reflexively steps forward to catch his friend in a hug. He belatedly realizes how unprofessional this looks, but Blue hugs him briefly back, and Red releases him at the same time. “Glad you’re…” He almost says ‘okay,’ but there’s something in Blue’s expression that Red can’t interpret, and he instinctively sends a psydar pulse out before remembering how dumb that is. “Alive.”
“Same to you,” Blue turns to the others and salutes the commissioner. “Blue Oak, reporting for duty, Sir.”
“At ease, Oak. You the one that turned off the lower backup generators?”
“Destroyed them. There was a renegade guarding. Came to take out these too.”
“Good man.” The commissioner glances down at Blue’s feet, seems about to say something, then turns back toward the others. “Alright Jenson, it’s your play. Who goes in first?”
“With Oak here, we’ve got more options. Mia and you will breach with me. Hitomi comes in with Sicong and Valentin a ten count later. The kids can make sure no one flanks us, or come in if it sounds like we just got blasted.” He turns to Hitomi. “Left or right?”
“I’ll go right.”
“Hold until I make the hole.” Jenson summons a rhydon and pulls a flashbang off his belt.
“Hey, I think this is yours?” Blue asks Mia as he unbuckles the police belt. “Thanks for it, saved my ass.”
“Keep it for now,” she says with a brief smile. “You might need it more.”
“Going in three,” Jenson says. “Two. One.”
He rushes forward, opens the door, and throws the flashbang in before using his laser pointer to indicate the wall between the group and it. “Cha!”
There’s a muffled bang just as his pokemon dashes headfirst into the wall and crashes through. Jenson is right behind it, followed by Mia, Burrell, and their pokemon. The sounds of battle are immediate, but continue for long enough that it’s clear they didn’t get blown away completely.
“Watch from the T-section,” Hitomi says to Red and Blue as she goes to the opposite side of the door with her poliwrath, who smashes another hole through the wall on her command and leads the way in. Once she and the other two are inside, Red moves to cover the hall opposite the way they came, while Blue steps beside him facing the opposite direction, then summons Soul.
“Shit,” Red says as he sees the state of Blue’s arcanine. His friend immediately starts spraying the patches of acid-burned flesh with potions, then sprays some antidote into his pokemon’s nose. “What happened?”
“Renegade filled the room with smog, then sent a muk at us.” Soul’s breaths are no longer rasping, and after another few moments it opens its eyes and carefully gets to its feet, though there’s hardly room for it to stand. Blue finishes healing his pokemon, then sprays some ether into its mouth and rubs his neck. “Maturin is down too, but she evolved, so… I think she’s alive. Gon didn’t make it.”
The pain and anger in his voice makes Red’s eyes water, and he almost goes to hug him again. “Damn. I’m sorry, Blue. I lost—”
A vibration runs through the walls and floor as something explodes in the room beside them. “Are they—”
Get a hold of yourself. Red sends out a pulse of psydar. “Everyone’s still alive.” Though two of their pokemon are dead or withdrawn, and one is in immense pain.
He takes deep breaths, trying to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the pull of different urges. Seeing Blue has quieted a lot of his anxious thoughts, but he still feels raw in some strange way, still feels like his thoughts are slipping against each other, or like he’s losing seconds of awareness. How long has it been since they left the security room? A minute, two? Are the hostages already dead?
He wants to bring Kadabra out to merge and check, but reminds himself again that he needs to conserve his power use—
Red only freezes for a second when the man rushes around the corner ahead of him, spots Red, and skids to a halt. Then his arm snaps up to summon his new lapras as the renegade brings out a cacturne.
His lapras is small enough that her shell stops just below his eye level, which means he has to rise onto his tip toes to see past where her body fills the hallway. The burst of freezing air slowed the attacking cacturne down, but eventually it manages to spit a Bullet Seed back, and Red drops to his knees behind his pokemon.
The lapras’s melodic cry is heartbreaking in pain, and Red claps his hands over his ears. “Icy Wind!” he yells, unsure whether his lent pokemon could even survive the next attack, and then—
It takes him a moment to process the words—is Blue telling him to switch to his forretress?—and then he gets it and withdraws his lapras before pressing against the wall so Blue can send Soul barreling at their attacker. He resists the urge to watch how the battle goes, instead moving to where Blue was to watch that side as his whole body shivers with adrenaline and something else, something taut and strained near to the breaking point. He feels like he’s acting entirely by reflex and instinct, and while that might work for short periods he dreads the moment a difficult or complex choice is in front of him. He wishes he could use the battle calm, but it will take too much juggling if there’s an emergency and he has to use sakki… assuming he could still use it, in this state…
One more, he thinks as the sounds of battle behind him end. I’ve got at least one more in me, if I have to… He doesn’t know if it’s true, but when he glances over his shoulder at the sound of rapid footsteps, he sees Blue and Soul are the only ones in the hall, along with the bodies of the cacturne and an arbok. “He’s gone?”
“Yeah, but stay sharp. Might be back with help. When did you get a lapras?”
“It’s a borrow. Lost most of my team.”
“Damn.” Blue lets out a long breath, and Red can practically see the battle calm leaving him, now that he knows what it feels like. “I don’t get it, some of these guys fight till the bitter end, others scamper as soon as… wait, you hear that?”
Red focuses, but doesn’t hear anything… Oh. “The battle’s stopped.” He sends another psydar pulse out. “They’re alive.”
“Did they wi—”
There’s a crashing sound, and they’re abruptly plunged into darkness as the lights go out. “Guess so.” Red turns on his belt light a moment after Blue snaps his on, and they rotate to watch the halls. Any relief he might feel is overwhelmed by the creeping fear of an attacker making their way toward them in the dark. Come on, come on…
It feels like minutes later, but is probably less than one, when the door opens and everyone files out. “Everything quiet out here?”
“One came, we chased them off.”
Sicong is striding toward the stairs without slowing, and Red reflexively follows, only checking after a few steps whether the others are coming too.
They are, and the hunters quickly catch up to Sicong. “Careful. If they have nothing else to lose—”
“Wait,” Red says as he sends another psydar pulse out, then another. “Someone’s… going up the stairs…”
Red takes a deep breath, focusing as hard as he can as he sends his senses out to their limits, merging with the mind for a brief moment-tension-fear-burninglegs-RENEGADES[?!]-dark-smog-before it goes out of his range—
“It’s the president!” he gasps just as his knees buckle. Blue and Mia catch his arms. “There are renegades with him!”
Sicong is already running, as are the hunters. “Go,” Blue says to Mia, and she releases him to follow the bobbing lights of the others. “Red, what’s going on? Are you hurt?”
“It’s… I’m fine…” The hallway is spinning, though he can distantly feel that he’s sitting with his back against the wall.
“He exhausted himself,” Valentin says. Red didn’t even realize he’s still with them. “Used his powers to take out a bunch of renegades before we went for the generators.”
Red remembers that there’s a conversation or ten that he’s dreading, but it’s hard to focus on anything right now besides Silph. “We have to go up…” He tries to push himself to his feet, only to be pushed back down.
“It’s fine, Red. There’s nothing more we can do now that they won’t, and it’s even more dangerous for us to battle around them in the dark.”
“I don’t get it, though,” Valentin says. “Why take the president up instead of down? Are they going to try to fly away with him?”
“They wouldn’t make it three minutes. I looked out the window on the way up, the place is surrounded. Actually, we should probably head down, tell them what’s going on so they don’t bring down the building…”
“They’ll know the power is out, but good call.”
“Oh, are our phones working now?”
“Already checked, mine’s not. Jammer must still be active, somewhere… I’ll go down, you stay with him until he’s more rested.”
Red tries to say he’s fine again, but the hallway is still spinning, so he just rests his forehead against his knees as they continue to talk briefly, then Valentin’s footsteps recede. He’s thinking of what the tech lead said, about why they might bring Silph up. It doesn’t make sense, they’re missing something… missing multiple somethings. Why did they let some hostages go but not others? Why didn’t they try to kill any of us?
“Something’s wrong, Blue,” he mutters. “We’re missing something…” Or at least, he tries to say it, but the words come out backward and echoey as he feels his back sliding against the wall, and then the darkness becomes absolute.
The thought hits her like the pichu’s thundershock in Viridian Forest, sending tingles through her body and tightening all her muscles as she sucks in a breath.
And then she’s up and dashing toward Agent Looker, who’s arguing with Professor Oak and a couple officers in fancy uniforms.
“The hostages!” Leaf shouts as she runs. “Looker! It’s the hostages!”
The group turns to look at her, their anger shifting to confusion… all except for Agent Looker, who looks like she just punched him between the eyes.
She had to go back to basics, think of everything the renegades had at their disposal, every resource and limitation. What do they have? Pokemon, office supplies, hostages. What can’t they do? Use internet, fly out, travel…
Could they have discovered a way for pokemon to teleport with objects? No, if she imagines that they learned how to do something completely new, the possibilities are endless. She has to stick to what she understands or else she has no chance of guessing something probable on time.
What doesn’t make sense? Letting some hostages go…
At first she thought they would just leave it somewhere in the building and recover it later, but no, it’s much easier than that. They let everyone below certain floors go, but kept them where they were operating. All they have to do is hand the data or Master Ball parts to one of them, and then it doesn’t matter if they escape or not.
So long as no one saw them acting as a renegade, any one of them could just walk out with it once the dust has settled.
Agent Looker turns to the man beside him. “Deputy Commissioner, I’m requesting a holding area within the jammed zone. Everyone who leaves the building gets a full search, understand? All of them.”
Professor Oak, meanwhile, has taken the opportunity to start walking toward the building. The cop from before who was organizing the response steps in front of him.
“Get out of my way, Son,” Oak says, voice low and calm.
“Can’t do that, Professor. This is an active—”
“The power’s out!”
Everyone turns as one toward the voice that shouted. It’s one of the drone operators, who’s staring at a tablet. He fiddles with some controls, and Leaf looks up to see one of the drones swooping around the building. “I’m seeing dark on every floor—”
“I’ve got eyes on a stairwell, emergency lights have turned on—”
The organizing officer has a pair of fingers on his headset, looking distracted. Professor Oak steps around him and strides toward the building, but he doesn’t go after him, instead lifting the bullhorn from his belt and switching it on.
“Power is down, confirmed! Units one through four, breach!”
Everything happens very quickly after that.
Leaf wants to help, but Looker’s remark from earlier still holds true. Instead she watches for a few moments as police and hunters flood the building, some riding on pokemon that climb quickly to higher floors and break through windows. Her restless energy shifts her from foot to foot until she forces herself to go over to where Looker and someone she hasn’t seen before are speaking to a growing group of high ranked officers.
“No, this is an interpol operation now. My partner and I are going to oversee this. All you people need to do is ensure no one leaves without being screened, understand?”
Less than five minutes later some pokemon fly away from the building at high speeds in every direction. More rise to intercept them, and Leaf almost believes she was wrong for a moment, but no, she’s sure… almost sure, that those are decoys.
Fifteen minutes later the hostages are starting to trickle out, but by then there’s a cordon line set up and officers at every building entrance, watching to ensure no one leaves the area until their belongings are thoroughly checked.
“Building is clear,” one of the drone operators says soon after. “We’ve got multiple confirmations from unit leaders, all hostiles are down.”
“Understood. Requesting the city to bring the power back online.”
“Keep the internet connection severed,” Looker says, and the officer nods and repeats that to whomever is on the headset with him.
And five minutes after that Professor Oak re-emerges, spots her, and gestures.
Leaf’s feet feel like they barely touch the ground as she runs toward him, whole body light and tears leaking down her cheeks. She follows him through the halls, barely registering the signs of battle in one of the big office spaces they pass through.
Red and Blue have been given their own room to recuperate in, with police stationed outside. They’re half draped over a couch big enough for four, both looking like they’re ready to sleep for hours. Both have water bottles and snacks from the vending machine scattered around them, and Blue is flipping through channels on the wall monitor, each showing news coverage of the event.
Leaf doesn’t spare it a glance before rushing over to pull the boys into a massive hug. One of them smells like they walked through a burning chemical plant, which is as good a reason as any for the prickling in her eyes.
“…word from the commissioner, who was also on site during the attack. Casualties are still unreported, but…”
“On reconsideration, Red,” Leaf says, and clears her throat. “I think you should charge Silph. Lots.”
Blue laughs, though Red only gives a weak chuckle. “It might be hard to put a market price on… everything that happened today.”
“Just means any number you give can’t be unreasonable.”
Professor Oak clears his throat. “We’re still not getting signal in here, and probably won’t for a while. I’m going to go call Laura, tell her you’re alright.”
Leaf pulls back as he leaves and takes in the sight of them both, gaze lingering on the strain around Red’s eyes. “You exhausted your psychic powers again, didn’t you?”
Red’s surprised and guilty look is answer enough. “How did you…?”
“Seen it too many times not to recognize it, I guess. Though I can’t tell if this is as bad as Celadon, or Vermilion? Or… Lavender?” He looks somehow more tired than he did at the tower, not that that means much, considering he looked well enough then until he suddenly wasn’t.
“He already passed out,” Blue helpfully says. “But he was fine after ten minutes or so. Well. Awake again, at least. That’s not what’s eating him, though.”
“What is eating you, then?” she asks. “Your pokemon…?”
“We both lost some, but it’s not that.” Red glances behind her, and she turns to see what he was looking at. The police standing by the door? But then he says, “I think we lost.”
Leaf looks between them, some of her joy fading. “Did they kill—”
“The President is okay, they got him away from the renegades. They didn’t kill anyone, actually, as far as we can tell all of the hostages are fine. But they managed to get two-thirds of the Master Ball, apparently, and a bunch of the renegades flew off.”
“I keep telling him they won’t get far, but he insists we missed something, and they got away with the info. I think he’s just paranoid.”
Leaf lets out a breath. “Oh, is that all. Well, I’m pretty sure I actually figured that out.” They stare at her for a moment, and she smiles. “See, I think one of them disguised themself as a hostage, or maybe got it handed off to them. They set up a checkpoint outside, all the hostages are being searched before they’re allowed out of the area. We’re jamming any signals, so they can’t transfer anything.”
Red is still staring at her, but some new life is in his eyes. “Leaf, you’re a genius.”
“Nah, I just thought about it for a bit. Everyone else was too busy, you know, actually trying to solve the crisis. It was Agent Looker who made me, he deserves a lot of thanks—”
“…sorry, I’ve just received word that… a group of renegades has claimed credit for the attack.”
Leaf turns to the television in surprise. The news anchor is holding a hand to his earpiece. “What the hell?” Blue mutters, and lifts the remote to turn the volume up.
“A video was uploaded to the net just minutes ago, and appears to be… a manifesto of some kind…”
All three of them are staring at the screen, and one of the police officers has even stepped in to frown at the monitor.
“We’re going to play the video now, but be advised that we have not verified the authenticity of any claims within it.”
And then the news anchor at his desk is replaced by…
—Leaf’s breath catches at the wash of unreality, of this all being a bizarre dream—
…another desk, black marble, with a man in a white suit sitting in a chair. His face is cast in shadow, and on the wall behind him is…
A big red R, in the same style as the Rocket Casino’s sign.
“Greetings, people of the world. Greetings, people of Indigo.” The words aren’t distorted, but hold the artificial intonations of a text-to-voice program. “Months ago, a mystery was uncovered in your City of Rainbow Dreams, uncovered by chance… or if you’d like, by an act of gods. Renegades, beneath your very homes, working in secret for ends unknown.
“Police both local and international attempted to learn all they could. The public demanded answers. Where did they come from? What were their goals? Were they part of some broader conspiracy?
“I am here to give you all those answers and more, starting with the last: Yes. My conspiracy.”
“What the fuck,” the cop mutters, voice low.
“Our goal is also simple to answer: power, and survival. The Rocket Casino was among the smallest of our operations. It was a source of revenue, and a secret place to study stolen technology. We have many more like it, and will continue to use whatever means necessary to carve out a place for ourselves in a world that has rejected us.
“As for where they came from…” The man spreads his hands. “Everywhere. Nearly every region on the planet treats renegades the same, and so I have gathered them into one organization, and put them to useful purposes.
“Though renegades were employed at the Rocket Casino, none had orders to harm anyone unless threatened first. At least one disobeyed those orders, or perhaps believed the Casino to be under attack. It was an error that cost people lives, and we do not celebrate that. Our goal, as I said, is enough power to survive, not mayhem or destruction.
“And while many have wondered what other evils the Rocket renegades did in their time there, I can answer truthfully that up until the earthquakes, they did nothing. They acted as simple citizens, no different than any other criminal enterprise that keeps to lawful pursuits for most of their days.
“You see, renegades are not mindless killers, striking without reason. Celadon suffered not a single renegade attack in the five years it had my people there, up until the day of the incident, and while I regret the loss of life that occurred, I cannot fault my people for acting from a place of fear.”
“Bullshit,” Red whispers… but he looks uneasy.
“Your culture has lied to you. It has convinced you that renegades are not people, and deserve to be treated as less than people. And so people will continue to feel they need an alternative.”
The man opens his arms wide. “We are that alternative. We’ve operated in secret until now, but that time has passed. Psychics have had too much power throughout history, and with Miracle Eye they will only have more. So long as psychics are trusted in society, it is no longer safe for us.”
Red makes a sound Leaf can’t interpret, and she turns to see him staring with wide eyes. The next words pull her gaze back to the screen.
“Today we attacked Silph Corporation to steal the Master Ball. We did it because we know it marks a new age. An age where the regions have trainers, League or otherwise, who wield legendary pokemon. In this new age, any without one will be incapable of defending themselves. Having this technology was a necessary step for our fledgling region to defend itself, and so we took steps to secure it. I can say now that we mostly succeeded. I now possess two-thirds of the completed prototype, and my engineers will work tirelessly to recreate the rest.”
No. Leaf can’t tell if she says the word out loud or not, her whole body feels cold. She solved it, she stopped them, how did they…?
“And just as importantly, we accomplished this without harming anyone, at the cost of our own lives, to prove that renegades are no worse than ordinary criminals. Criminals that deserve arrest, if caught, and trial. Nothing more, nothing less.
“But we know that is unlikely. And so I say to you today, those of you who fear being branded a renegade, even if you have not committed any crimes… those who have been branded, and don’t wish to live your life as a monster on the run… those who believe it is wrong that your friends and family and neighbors will condemn you without proper trial or proportion… do not despair, for we are here.
“Join us, and together we will have enough power to fight for our own safety. And those of you who have used pokemon against others… we will hear you out, judge your character, and perhaps give you a second chance at life. You may not have freedom, but neither will you be discarded inhumanely.
“This past year has seen many changes in our world. For many, it seems clear we are entering a new age. And I declare this as true for renegades as anyone else.
“We are Team Rocket. We are everywhere. And we will defend ourselves from any attempt at annihilation.”