Masaki enters the Saffron Police Department’s monitoring station, then steps in front of the main screen to observe the boy a few rooms over. He looks younger than 12, today, small in some hunched-in way that goes beyond his posture. Masaki can make out some resemblance to his mother, mostly the hair and shape of the chin, and wonders if Laura knew all along what her son was. “How’s he doing?”
“Same as before. Determined, but also miserable and scared, but trying to hide it. Doing a better job with the second.”
“Any use of his powers?”
“Not that I can tell, but I wouldn’t trust my assessment.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t.”
Touta rolls his eyes, but Masaki just sips from his coffee, gaze still on the boy. Red Verres’s file, insofar as he has one, was not enlightening. Barely anything of note until he started his journey, then it was one major thing after another, with occasional months-long quiet. Supposedly unlocked his powers just a year ago, and now there’s no one they can trust to evaluate him. Maybe Sabrina, if they could trust Sabrina to not be part of all this somehow, which Masaki also doesn’t.
He might get overruled on that, if the local League doesn’t see that Sabrina is the obvious person to have taught him how to do all these unique things. But that is, ostensibly, what she gathers students for in the first place, and so she has a convenient cover if any of them suddenly “develop” unusual powers.
“You’re being paranoid again.”
Masaki glances at Touta. “Lucky guess.” He wouldn’t have agreed to a psychic partner if he himself wasn’t dark, but Miracle Eye has changed things. Hard not to hold that against Verres, but he has to admit that possibility of teleporting someday does help… particularly given the ways the world is changing.
A “new age,” the Rocket leader said. As if he had the right to single-handedly declare that, and as if others hadn’t been saying the same for months now. But it was true, nonetheless, and in ways Masaki had been preparing for longer than anyone.
“With you it doesn’t take much luck, it’s practically the default. But no.” Touta taps the corner of his eye with his pen before bringing it back down to his notebook, his own gaze staying on Verres. “Slight squint. And you press your lips together, a little.”
Masaki considers, then grudgingly nods. “Thanks.”
“How much sleep did he get?”
“Was escorted to one of the Silph nap rooms about an hour after the broadcast, woke up thirty minutes ago, so… seven hours and change, assuming he slept the whole time in there.”
“Mm. Oversight, or deliberate?”
“Maybe confusion. If they’re still hoping to use him as an asset, they’ll treat him carefully so he doesn’t turn against them.”
His tone is pointed, and Masaki smiles. “And you think we should do the same?”
“You saying you don’t want him, if he’s legit?”
Masaki doesn’t answer. Just tends to the burning in his chest as the fire in him waxes brighter and hotter. Yes, he’d want Verres. Might even need him.
But he doesn’t trust him, and accepting his help without that could be more dangerous than going alone.
For over two decades of service, Masaki has been warning people about a possibility like Team Rocket. His superiors listened, gave him resources, connected him with potential allies. They did good work nibbling at the edges of such possible conspiracies, but the broader focus of Interpol was still on the day to day, the mundane, and his division was just two percent of their total resources.
In Masaki’s line of work, as often as not, being proven right feels worse than being wrong. He was, in fact, feeling sick to his stomach in the hours after the Rocket broadcast… until the call from his superiors, who informed him that the project’s budget and manpower were being increased tenfold, and that he was being given full authority in the Indigo regions to pursue and take down Rocket by any means necessary.
A mandate Indigo’s political powers may not particularly appreciate… which puts him in a position he dislikes being on the other side of.
His local informant hinted that Verres might be able to tell true lies to other psychics, and yet he has to act as though he doesn’t know that in case the regional police are in on whatever conspiracy produced Verres. In principle he doesn’t object to regions having their own secret methods of fighting crime, and would normally admire the security mindset that would keep them from sharing it with Interpol. But at a time like this, they should be laying their cards on the table… and no one’s mentioned anything to him yet.
Which means he has to assume he’s in hostile territory, and play things even closer to the chest than usual. Maybe whatever conspiracy birthed Verres was hiding him from the police because it knows they’re in league with the Rockets.
“When is everyone gathering?” he asks.
“Midnight. A couple of their dark leaders have to finish local meetings before they fly ov—”
The door opens, and Masaki turns to see the head of all Indigo police, Director General Akane Tsunemori. She’s a slight woman, rising only to Masaki’s chest, with short brown hair and a plain, calm face. “Good evening Agent Looker, and… Notebook, was it?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Pleasure to meet you.”
“Any update on identification?” Masaki asks before they can get derailed with small talk. The sooner they can question Verres the less time the potential conspiracy has to clean up their tracks.
Tsunemori raises a brow at him, but says, “Nothing we can match to a record yet, but we’ve got a name, ‘Archer,’ and a sketch.”
Touta looks between them. “The Rocket leader?”
“Supposedly,” Masaki mutters. “I’ll believe it when we interrogate someone who wasn’t at risk of being caught.”
The Director General ignores him, addressing Touta directly. “The young Oak helped Miracle Eye the renegades we caught. Most weren’t high ranked enough to know anything important, but our psychics confirmed that two of them had contact with a man they believed, at least, to be their leader. Supposedly everyone around them also acted like this ‘Archer’ was the boss of all their fellow renegades, and the two facial sketches match each other. We’ll be putting a generated image up with a bounty soon, regardless.” She steps closer so she can view the monitor. “How’s Verres doing?”
“He’s fine,” Masaki says. “I’d like to request—”
“Denied.” Her voice is calm, gaze taking the boy in without any obvious emotion. “You don’t trust me, I don’t trust you, and we still need to work together, so let’s just get to it, shall we?”
Fair enough. Masaki enters the interrogation room first, and watches as Red Verres’s gaze jumps to his, searching for something, then moves to the Director General and widens. The boy rises to his feet, and for an absurd moment Masaki thinks they’re about to get rushed… but no, Verres clearly recognizes her, and is reacting with respect.
It makes sense; while a Director General isn’t on the same level as a region’s Champion or Chairman, it’s not far below them in political power, above Leaders and on par with the Ranger General, if in a different hierarchy.
Still, the boy’s apparent surprise is itself surprising. It would be absurd to think he didn’t predict this level of response, so what is he trying to signal by pretending…
Not everything that’s surprising is suspicious, as Touta often says. It makes him a valuable partner, that he understands Masaki enough to work with him, while still balancing his perspective. If Red Verres is an operative for some secret organization, this is an act, but he should remain open to the possibility that he’s just a young psychic who stumbled onto some unique powers.
And in either case, from all accounts what he did earlier today was quite draining for him, which may explain why Verres is staring at Director Tsunemori’s hand, which is extended for him to shake. This surprise is more likely to be genuine, in any case, and the Director smiles. It makes her already young-looking face even softer. “I wanted to thank you in person. You and Oak saved a lot of lives today, not to mention keeping the renegades from getting all of Silph’s research.”
The boy tentatively reaches out a hand to take hers, which she squeezes and pumps once while Masaki takes his seat. “Sorry to keep you waiting, in any case,” Tsunemori continues as she takes her own seat. “Can we get you anything? Have you eaten?”
Verres slowly shakes his head, then seems to realize this is ambiguous and says, “I’m okay.” His gaze jumps to Masaki, clearly curious but unsure if he should ask.
“Agent Looker,” he says, letting his impatience color his tone more than it normally might. “Interpol. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Who trained you to do what you did today?”
It’s obvious, of course, that the international police would be the Bad Cop to the local leader’s Good, but it also naturally fits his personality better. He can do empathizing and understanding, any cop worth their badge can, but there’s something more… clean, about being able to freely let his suspicions out.
Verres blinks at him, then visibly steels himself. “No one. I figured it out myself, at the Casino.”
“It’s okay, Red.” Tsunemori’s voice is gentle. “You can tell him. You’re not in any trouble, and we’re all on the same side here.”
Verres’s eyes widen as he stares at her. “I… tell him what? I did, I…”
“You’re not in any trouble yet,” Masaki says, frowning at Tsunemori as if annoyed by her false promise. “The main reason you’re not under arrest, in case you’re wondering, is that no one’s quite clear what you did, so it’s a little hard to determine what laws, if any, you broke. Burrell and the others say you saved a lot of lives, but you clearly violated the spirit of Article 2 to do it. It wasn’t written with psychic powers in mind, but turning mon against their trainers certainly qualifies under ‘in any way intends to bring a human to lasting harm through use of living pokemon,’ by my reckoning.”
If Verres was pale before, he’s absolutely bloodless now. “I—”
“But,” Director Tsunemori says, jerking Red’s gaze to her own. “You did it against renegades. The reason we don’t deputize just anyone to use their pokemon to kill humans in a crisis is that it’s not something that can be restricted to just those moments. So maybe it’s fine. Or even better, maybe it only works on pokemon already trained to kill humans?”
Verres swallows, breaths audible in the quiet room as he wrenches his gaze from theirs and stares at the table. When he finally speaks, it’s in a whisper. “No.”
“No what?” Masaki asks, letting some of his buried tension out. “Speak clearly.”
“No, it… would work on any pokemon. Even if not trained by a renegade.”
The confirmation sends a chill down his spine, and Masaki doesn’t try to hide his emotions: awe, fear, anger, it’s all appropriate for this sort of revelation. But he keeps his suspicion to himself. He wasn’t sure Verres’s powers would turn out to be this maximally dangerous, but either way he didn’t expect the boy to just come out and say it if it was. “That’s it, then. The Director says you haven’t done enough to warrant a renegade investigation, so we can’t use a psychic to read your thoughts, but Interpol has different standards, and we will extradite you if you don’t cooperate.”
The boy’s breaths are coming faster now, and he swallows hard. “I… I don’t… th-that wouldn’t…”
Skillful interrogation is a fine art, despite the fact that it often looks indistinguishable from bullying. You have to know when to push, and when to ease off to get more information, or let the target hang themselves. Contrary to popular belief, even, depressingly, among fellow officers, getting angry or crying isn’t particularly correlated with guilt. Lack of sleep, traumatic experiences, shock, righteous indignation… there are plenty of reasons for any particular emotional response someone might have in a high stress situation.
The most interesting question is whether what he’s seeing is genuine or not, and he has to admit it’s hard to imagine it being a ruse at this point. Verres hasn’t even asked about whether he can have a lawyer, and Touta’s best guess from ‘surface readings’ was that Red is determined in some direction, beneath all his anxiety…
“…that wouldn’t help, because I can… hide my thoughts. From other psychics. And hide that I’m hiding them.”
Masaki can only stare as his plans unravel, hypotheses all fading. He should be reacting, should be more obviously skeptical of a lie so bold… maybe call him out for being desperate as to think they wouldn’t check anyway? But he knows it’s not a lie, or at least strongly suspected…
He can’t help but glance at Director Tsunemori, who… is leaning back in her chair, brow raised.
Surprise, not skepticism… and not sufficient surprise.
“You can’t be serious,” he says, finally managing to catch the thread of how his alternate ignorant self would react, upon seeing The Director General’s own reaction.
“Sabrina told us.”
“Of fucking course she did.” He lets his real frustration fuel the dynamic they’re playing at, but Tsunemori is still looking at Verres, and it takes him a moment to realize she was talking to the boy.
“You could think of it as a betrayal,” she continues, tone consolatory. “But in fact she seemed confident you’d admit it yourself.”
Like one of those visual illusions, where it’s both the selfish move on her part, and the one that shows great loyalty to Verres at once. There’s something fascinating in it, but he can consider it later. “And you weren’t going to tell me because you thought, what, that I’d have kept it from you, if I knew?”
“Not in this case, but it occurred to me that Interpol might already know this sort of thing is possible, and have kept it to itself for reasons I’m sure would seem very reasonable to you.”
He doesn’t act offended or angry, because the counterfactual him wouldn’t be even if she was wrong. But they are still in front of a suspect, and he has no intention of giving away his own source. “We’ll talk about this more later. Meanwhile, we still have to test it, to be sure.”
“Of course. Though I have to ask, Mr. Verres: why admit it?”
Because he expected Sabrina to talk, Masaki thinks… then realizes that if that’s true, it doesn’t hold up the theory that she taught him how to do it, nor does it serve whatever secret project he was suspecting them to be part of.
The boy takes a deep breath, then slowly lets it out. “Because there’s too much at stake. I always knew it would get out, eventually… and my mom would say not to, uh, to talk to you without a lawyer, but the announcement, earlier today… there’s no time for any of that. I’m scared… no, I’m terrified of what will happen to psychics when all this gets out. But we’re… just a small portion of the population. And if Team Rocket is lying about their ambitions, if they actually try to take over the region instead of making their own… I have to help stop that, however I can. Which… I think, means I have to help both of you.”
Despite himself, despite the cynical voice inside that says Verres only told them because he’d already told Sabrina and couldn’t trust she’d keep his secret, Masaki feels himself believing the boy. And that’s a dangerous thing to be feeling right now. “Alright, nevermind, we’re talking about it now. If you really want to cooperate, my partner will come in and ask you some questions during a meld.”
Red swallows, but meets his gaze. “I’m, uh… getting a sense, from my… hidden thoughts… that I have a few secrets that aren’t mine to share. I want to flag them, for, um, meta-honesty norms, and let you know about them ahead of time, so that, even though your partner won’t always sense that they’re there… you won’t have to worry about whether I’m hiding things, because I am, just… nothing related to my powers.”
Once again, Masaki feels disquieted by the mixed signals he’s getting off of Verres. If he hadn’t heard about how the boy seemed to veer between total calm and losing his shit throughout the attack on Silph, he’d be wondering what Verres is playing at. As it is, he decides it’s probably just stress, and grudgingly allows for some admiration.
“Bullshit,” is all he says. The last thing he wants right now is for Verres to realize he has some leverage. “You don’t get to say you’re cooperating then pull that. We have more information than you do, and we know how to keep unrelated information we gain in pursuit of an investigation to ourselves. You’ll tell us everything, and we’ll decide if it’s relevant.”
He leaves before Verres can respond, and goes directly back to the monitoring room to watch as Director Tsunemori puts a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“He can be an asshole, but only because he cares a lot about stopping Rocket. It’s fine with me if you have some private memories, and I appreciate you sharing what you did about your powers. I’ll buy you some time to recover before his partner comes.”
Masaki can’t tell if she’s still playing Good Cop, is feeling genuine trust, or is just treating Verres like the prized asset he is. Either way, the boy seems close to tears again as he gives her a grateful look, then rests his forehead on the table and lets out a long breath once she leaves.
“Give him ten minutes,” Masaki says, only a little begrudgingly, as he puts on his coat. “And bring him some snacks and a soda. Get on his good side if you can, in case I burned a bridge.”
“You got it. What if he asks about his mother?”
“Tell him I’m speaking with her.” Which he is, if responding with one message for every dozen increasingly angry ones counts as “speaking,” which in Masaki’s opinion it does. Much as he’s come to respect her, she’s clearly a mom first in this circumstance, as she should be, and it would be an injustice to allow the extra power that her profession gives her to sway him from treating her son like any other suspect. Not to mention dangerous, if he has good reason not to trust either of them.
Tsunemori knocks, and Masaki leaves to join her in the hall, then follows toward the elevators. Once they’re on the roof (and reasonably sure they’re out of the boy’s range), he walks a circle around it to make double sure there’s no one else here, then rejoins her at the entrance, which she leans against with her arms folded, eyes watching him beneath shadows cast from the lights above the doorway.
Masaki sticks his hands in the pockets of his coat and meets her gaze, wondering if she’s expecting him to break the silence first. She probably expects him to lay down some heavy-handed ultimatum, or declare that he’s recruiting Verres, which he would if he had any sense that they could trust him—
“Does it bother you at all, that it took a scared young boy’s honest desire to help others to get the two of us to cooperate?” Her voice is soft. “Do you ever wish things could be different?”
Aha. So she wasn’t just playing Good Cop down there. Unless of course all this is a ruse. “What are you—”
“I won’t ask you to reveal your source, but you didn’t react well enough to hide your lack of surprise.”
He could play the game further, point out that she doesn’t know him well enough to judge that, even add that she’d say the same thing in a world where he did react differently just to judge his reaction to that or see if she could fool him into revealing it…
…but she’s right. It does bother him. He does find it sad, deep down, that he can’t trust the police of any given region he goes to work in. He does wish things could be different.
And yet now might be the worst time to trust a local cop not to be corrupt, even the head of the local cops (maybe especially the head of the local cops), given that her region was revealed to have the first confirmed secret organization of renegades in it. His paranoia is screaming at him not to trust her, to keep treating her as a potential renegade collaborator, or at best a source of leaks.
He could also admit that they’re in a strange ‘new world,’ admit that his way of doing things didn’t in fact lead to the revelation of the renegades, accept that she’s going to expect him to have an inside source regardless of what he says, and… actually openly collaborate with her fully, the way Red Verres is appearing to.
Or he could try going one level higher.
Masaki looks away first, and takes a few moments to draw the new identity, the new reality, around himself. “Of course it bothers me. But I can’t…”
“I know. You’d be more than justified in wondering if Rocket sprang up and maintained its presence here because I’m incompetent or complicit. I’m sure many others are as well, which is why I turned in my resignation papers.”
He turns back to her in genuine surprise, knocked out of his frame once again. “Your chairman refused?”
“She did, though she added that if I want to resign again in a month, she’ll accept it if there’s been no progress. Said it’s my mess, not something I can hand off to someone else.”
Masaki snorts. He doesn’t know how predictable that sort of thing was, but he agrees with the chairman’s attitude. Besides, while it’s dangerous to have a corrupt or incompetent person heading the investigation into Rocket, someone paying attention could get information about which category Tsunemori is in over the next month. If it was his call, Masaki would have a separate subdivision that tries to do the opposite of whatever directives she gives, just in case… but that might lead to more chaos if the different investigations get in each other’s way…
Something to think on, later. “So, what does trust look like, here?”
“It looks like me giving you some extra power, extra decision-making ability, over the Indigo police. And in return, you give fair and due consideration to the advice of me and my subordinates, who know this region best, and don’t take actions that will cause irrevocable harm or ill will toward us from the citizenry without damn good reason to believe it will stop Rocket.”
It’s a better offer than he expected. Almost too much so. “I want Verres, too.”
His smile is wry. “Power is clearly overrated.”
“Think, Agent Looker. If he hadn’t admitted that he can’t be mindread, we’d both still be assuming the other had secretly trained him. But if he’s not actually some secret operative, if he really is just a young prodigy who’s doing his best to help, we’re not going to pressure him into doing anything he doesn’t want to while we’re fighting each other, and I don’t trust Interpol not to do that to him enough not to try myself. He’s an Indigo citizen, and unless he decides to join you on his own, you can’t have him.”
Masaki turns to take in the city again, watching lights move along the streets between mostly dark buildings. There aren’t as many as there should be, even this close to midnight. Saffron is still spooked by what happened today, likely the whole region is, and he can practically smell that fear on the wind, feel it himself in the tension around his shoulders, the tightness in his stomach. The Rocket renegades are out there, planning their next move, maybe even swelling their ranks, while the rest of them argue over how to stop them. “My special project is about to have more funding and personnel than any other in the entire history of the international police. The nightmare scenario is real—”
“Yes, and you’ve been telling people for years about it, but it’s real in my regions. If it’s just in Kanto, then Johto might break off if it decides we’re botching the investigation, or if we wreck too many civil liberties along the way. Plus, the world is watching. We’re setting an example here, with every move we make.”
“The fact that they’re operating here doesn’t mean they’re native or rooted here. If they all decide to leave tomorrow, how would you even know? That boy needs to be trained and integrated as soon as possible if we’re going to have any chance at stopping them.”
“Training he can receive here, by both of us. He’s offering to cooperate.”
Masaki frowns as some stubborn shard of skepticism rises back up in him. There’s a way in which they’re being played, he can feel it, he just can’t think of what it might be. It gains their trust if Red knew they’d find out in other ways, but is a horrible gamble to take otherwise, since if they hadn’t, he’d have been able to clear his name entirely. And the alternative…
Regardless of how he and Tsunemori react, society as a whole is going to be freaked out enough by what Verres can do, even without knowing that they can’t check whether he’s used his powers to kill someone that isn’t a renegade. He must know that, given how dangerous his powers make him, he could face lifelong imprisonment or exile at best. If they are getting played, what possible plan would being trusted less be the first step of…? Outrage over mistreatment to a hero? He is connected, Oak and his mother would raise hell… plus…
“There was a part of the broadcast I keep thinking of,” he muses. “Overall the thing was pretty standard manifesto, but… ‘So long as psychics are trusted in society, it is no longer safe for us.’ What did you make of that?”
Tsunemori is frowning now too, gaze distant. “I thought it stuck out too, at the time. A personal vendetta, maybe, mixed into the overarching philosophy. It’s not untrue, just…”
“Odd to call attention to.” Masaki runs a hand through his hair as the warm summer breeze brings the scents of the countryside beyond the city to him. “It makes people trust psychics more, makes the public believe they should have more power, if it’s what renegades are afraid of. I don’t like it, and I like it even less that Verres confessed what he could do to Sabrina and she just sat on the information. Did she even have a justification for that?”
“She said it was told to her in confidence, and that she only reported it to those she was required to. In other words—”
“League business.” Masaki makes a disgusted sound. “That can’t possibly hold for a thing like this, and just sounds like psychics covering for each other, as usual.”
She gives him a look. “Isn’t your partner—”
“I’m not a bigot, it’s the timing that bothers me.” And if he’s not exactly excited by the prospect of psychics having even more power in society, he hardly thinks that’s bigotry. “I don’t trust how self-defeating it was, saying that, and whoever Archer is, if he’s really leading Rocket, he shouldn’t have been able to do that all these years making mistakes like that.”
“Or he’s a true believer. If he can really finish the Master Ball… then it’s not just a fantasy. They really could carve out their own region, or take over one, and enforce a policy against psychics reading criminal minds.”
“Right.” It’s not hard to hide his skepticism. The character he’s playing, of someone who’s suspicious of Tsunemori but ultimately trusts her, wouldn’t necessarily reveal it, if he’s worried about being dismissed as paranoid.
If everything that happened today was a ruse, and Verres is secretly working with the Renegades to… give psychics more power in the world… no, it doesn’t quite fit. All those dark renegades were willing to sacrifice themselves for something they thought was real, which would be easy to set up even in a world where their minds wouldn’t be expected to be read, but Miracle Eye alone was good enough for that. The ability to make pokemon attack their trainers is too toxic to gamble with.
He’s still missing something. But he can figure it out later, when he has more time to observe Verres, and do some poking around of his own.
The Director General considers him for another moment, then goes back to staring at the lights of the city around them. Finally she says, “We have to decide, before we go back down, how much we’re trusting him.”
“No more than we have to, obviously.”
“And does that mean not sharing what we’ve learned in the investigation? If he’s working with us, there’ll be no keeping it from him. And if we don’t want the public panicking in one direction or the other, he needs to be working with us, or at least appearing to.”
Masaki wastes a few seconds wishing they had the option to keep Verres’s capabilities secret. But even if the officers who were there kept it to themselves, too many hostages witnessed renegades being attacked by their own pokemon, rumors would spread, and even if the public bought some other story, Rocket could figure it out.
Red Verres is going to have multiple targets on his back, after tonight. Masaki wastes another few seconds feeling sorry for the kid, in worlds where he’s innocent, then says, “Alright, let’s give him what we’ve got so far and see what, exactly, he’s willing to offer.”
They go back down to find Touta and one of the local police psychics in the room with Verres, who’s sitting with his eyes closed. An empty sandwich wrapper sits in front of him, along with a can of soda, and Masaki remembers to check his phone to see if Mrs. Verres has said anything useful lately… nope, mostly just more demands for proof her son is okay, along with veiled threats. He snaps a picture to at least show they’re feeding him, and sends it, along with a comment about how he’s now speaking with the Director General about recruitment possibilities.
“Alright, that’s good enough,” Touta says to Verres. “Now, please think about the first time you used your powers like this again, this time while focusing on the possibilities that ran through your mind…”
His partner’s voice is friendly and soothing as he walks the boy through memories that they can verify, repeating half a dozen prompts with different emphasis each time to ensure all the relevant aspects of the experiences rise enough in his thoughts to be legible. Though there are similarities to non-psychic interrogation, Touta once described it to him as being only somewhat easier with a resistant target, particularly one that has trained themselves to mix their memories and focus on different things than what they’re prompted to.
Masaki can tell just from listening to the prompts that Red isn’t resisting, and spends another few minutes responding to various messages until the psychics are done. Touta thanks Verres, then asks if he needs anything else, and the officer beside him escorts the boy to a nearby washroom while Touta returns to the monitoring room.
“So far as I can tell, he’s being completely honest,” Agent Touta says, and you’d need to know him to hear the thread of pensiveness in his words.
“But you think he’s hiding something, still?”
“No, it’s not that. I mean, I have no idea if he is… there’s some sign, at least, that something weird is going on, but namely it was the way we’d get the occasional thought from his partitioned self. That was noticeable, but only because it was noticeable to him as it happened too, and… I think if it decided to stay silent, he wouldn’t notice, so to us it would just seem like his normal self.”
Tsunemori raises her brow. “‘It?’ That makes it sound like there’s a second person in his head.”
“That’s not entirely inaccurate, or at least it didn’t used to be. That’s what’s on my mind, really… his brain has been a strange place, over the past year. But he definitely didn’t design this sakki to be a weapon against trainers, the name wasn’t even his idea. And so far as I can tell, he’s being honest that the idea to use it against renegades came to him in a burst of desperation while he was trapped under the casino.”
“What was Sabrina’s reaction, when he told her?” Masaki asks.
“From what he could tell, she seemed genuinely shocked… despite the fact that it was, apparently, her directive to her students to figure it out.”
“I knew it—”
“Let him finish,” Tsunemori says.
Touta shrugs. “Like I said, genuine-seeming shock. Apparently she meant it as a theoretical exercise, to see if it was even feasible, and to train them in various other ways in the process of trying for the impossible. They spent months at it without any sign of progress beyond those other benefits, until Red merged with an exeggcute, which gave his specially partitioned brain what he needed. He’s been giving regular reports to a ‘Dr. Zhang’ at the gym in case there are side effects of what it did to his mind, but he didn’t reveal that it also allowed him to hide lying, not even to his therapist.”
“Satisfied?” Tsunemori asks. “Or are you going to demand that he reveal every secret he’s keeping for anyone? And what are you prepared to do to him if he refuses, given we can’t even check, and he can apparently set it up so that he doesn’t even know he’s doing it?”
Masaki scowls. “I need to know who Sabrina reported it to—”
“Yes, and I’m sure the League will be happy to cooperate, but why don’t you send Agent Notebook to make that request, while we talk with Verres?”
Masaki feels antsy not having better answers, about them knowing there are secrets Verres isn’t sharing… but she’s right to say there isn’t much they can do about it in the moment. He looks at Touta, who nods, and sighs. “Alright, go. Message me with any updates.”
“You got it.”
Once he’s gone, Masaki turns back to the monitor showing Verres, back in the room and resting his forehead on his arms this time. “Got a more comfortable room?”
Ten minutes later they’re in the station’s staff office, each with a cup of coffee or tea and a box of various pastries on the table. Verres still looks a little shocky around the edges, and a little wary, like he doesn’t know how much of all this to trust. Masaki lets him finish his first cookie before breaking the silence.
“I still don’t trust you.” Tsunemori sighs, but Masaki ignores her. “Still, the Director General has made a compelling case to try and acquire your collaboration, and I’m willing to see what happens, because our circumstances are desperate. I’m not promising sanctuary, even if nothing you’ve said to us so far turns out to have been false.”
Verres just meets his gaze and nods. “I understand.”
He doesn’t, though. Masaki has exactly one lifeline to offer Verres if the people of Indigo decide, upon finding out what exactly he did to become the hero of Silph and the casino, that they don’t actually want a psychic-who-can-turn-any-pokemon-lethal-without-others-knowing walking their streets, and he’s going to only offer it once the boy has no other options.
Because whether Verres has co-conspirators or not, whether Verres is secretly coordinating toward some end with Rocket or not, he’s not going to be able to remain an independent entity forever. He’s become too powerful for that, and he may not have realized that his days as a simple researcher are over, but telling him now won’t make it sink in the way it will over the next few weeks.
In a Prisoner’s Dilemma, most people, criminal and innocent, believe that cooperation is by default the correct choice. But in a proper dilemma, defecting is the most rewarding option for the individual, so long as they believe their peers will cooperate. There are, of course, external complications that can be brought up to determine whether the reward is “actually” the best decision, like if a criminal is part of an organization that will punish them for speaking to the police, or if a negative reputation will make someone regret a decision that’s beneficial to them in the short term.
Which is why a real evaluation of any payoff matrix should incorporate things like that in the final scores. If an outcome is scored higher without taking all the factors into account, it’s a bad measure… which means influencing what someone decides to do in a dilemma requires figuring out as many of their considerations as possible, then making sure you can promise things that accurately tip the numbers in the directions you want them to go.
He doesn’t trust that Sabrina really revealed everything she knows about Verres, and Verres admitted that he’s hiding other people’s secrets. He can claim it’s unrelated, but he wouldn’t necessarily know that for a fact. If he really is as innocent as he appears, then Masaki would bet his badge that someone’s manipulated him… even if it’s the ‘partitioned self’ Touta mentioned.
And since the most reliable way to get people to cooperate in a Prisoner’s Dilemma is if both participants know that it is going to be repeated multiple times, or that others they could end up interacting with will know what they chose, Masaki needs to shut off any avenues of transparency or memory between Verres and anyone he might have collaborated with. Which means he first has to figure out who they are… and if that doesn’t shake the whole conspiracy down, then he’ll make his offer and promise Red a defection he won’t be able to refuse.
“Then first things first. Do you know this man?”
He opens the folder beside him and slides over the AI generated images built off the video clips and the profile sketches the psychics got out of the captured renegades. It’s a man in his early or mid thirties, with the pale skin of someone who spends most of his time indoors, an angular face, short teal hair, and pale blue eyes like chips of ice.
There are a dozen of them with slight variations, and Verres studies them all with a slight frown. “No. I’ve never seen someone like this, that I can remember at least. Who is it?”
“The renegades supposedly called him ‘Boss,’ but a couple knew him as ‘Archer.'”
The boy’s crimson eyes snap up to his. “This is… the Rocket leader? How—”
“Oak helped us Miracle a few of the renegades we captured. We also have reason to believe that Archer probably wasn’t bluffing when he said he got the two Master Ball parts, given their plan… apparently the reason they let the hostages on the first few floors go was so a non-dark collaborator could rush in during the confusion, without anyone noticing, and teleport out with it. We’re still doing a thorough search, just in case, but we’re not hopeful about it. With pokemon unable to teleport with items on their own, it fits as the only remaining explanation for how they got it out.”
Verres leans back in his seat, eyes closed. “So there’s a chance it was all for nothing.”
“Nothing?” Tsunemori asks. “Far from it. You saved many lives, and if Rocket had the complete prototype now, our timeline for catching them would be much shorter. Victory isn’t guaranteed, of course, but—”
The boy shakes his head. “I didn’t… I know it wasn’t literally for nothing, I just meant…” He bites his lower lip.
“Ah,” Masaki says, and sips his coffee as he watches Verres. His face is so expressive, it’s hard to imagine he’s not playing things up just to appear more open. “You mean revealing your secret.”
The boy nods, plainly miserable. “I thought… even if every psychic in the region, in the world, gets exiled or… at least it would be worth it, compared to…”
“Have some faith, Mr. Verres,” Tsunemori says. “In people, and in the rule of law.”
Verres looks at her with eyes that want to believe. “You think…?”
“Like Agent Looker, I can’t promise anything, either for you or psychics as a whole. Perhaps society’s reaction will be… less than measured. But that’s why we must believe in the system we’ve created, and its ability to change to match the new worlds we keep finding ourselves in.”
Once again, Masaki finds himself surprised by the Director General. He wonders how genuine she’s being, while Verres listens with rapt attention. “Change how?”
“That’s what we all need to figure out, together. While the League struggles against pokemon never seen before, and to prepare for alien pokemon far more powerful than any we’ve seen so far, this is our challenge, as a society. What it means to be a renegade has changed, from both your discoveries and from the advances of technology.”
Verres is nodding, gaze back on the pictures of the Rocket leader. “I was thinking about that. Earlier today, someone mentioned that because of Miracle Eye, people have been… disappearing. Slipping away from their lives, probably, afraid of what might happen to them. And now, with that message… what’s going to stop every renegade from joining him? Or… people worried about being branded one… I think there might be more of those than most would expect.”
“It’s true that the law doesn’t always protect the people it should,” Tsunemori says, voice soft, gaze on her tea. “But people must protect the law, and not give up on it. Or else Archer is right, and renegades are right to flee to the sanctuary he provides. And if people don’t just turn against psychics, but turn the law against them as well… then they would be right to flee too.”
Masaki isn’t sure he should interrupt whatever she’s trying to do here, but he has to ask… “If they would be right to flee, then why not just say the laws are wrong? What does ‘protecting the law’ mean, to you?”
Her plain face is solemn as she turns it to him, but her eyes burn with conviction. “The law isn’t a set of rules, but the accumulation of a region’s feelings. Fragile, irreplaceable feelings, to live in safety and peace with those around them, to dare hope that’s even possible. All throughout time, people have dreamed of a better world. In order for that dream to continue to hold meaning, we have to try our best to protect the law to the very end, even from people who would change it to reflect hatred, or people who would break it to accomplish some ‘greater good.’ We can’t just give up on it, or else we give up on that dream.”
Before he can answer, she turns back to Verres. “Will you help us, Red? I know you have other aspirations, that this isn’t your fight. You’ve done more than we could ask of you already, and almost lost your life for it. But we’ll give you training, and some amount of authority, what protection we can, while in this twilight zone between the old world and the new. I wish I could tell you your work will be well rewarded, in the end, will be justly rewarded… but all I can say is we need your help, if we’re going to stop Rocket. And in return, I promise to do my best to protect anyone innocent of any crime… whether psychic or suspected renegade.”
The boy meets her gaze with something, for the first time all night, like hope. He sits a little different, his shoulders and neck a little straighter, as he says, “I’ll do everything I can.”
Masaki sips his coffee again, feeling both relief and suspicion. There’s plenty he needs to do beyond this, but through it all, he’ll have to watch Verres closely, to make sure their “miracle” isn’t worse than the problem they need his help to solve.