Chapter 123: Drastic Action
Red sits in a mild daze through the hastily assembled meeting with Sabrina, Looker, and Tsunemori. The conversation with Rowan ended just twenty minutes ago, and keeps replaying in his head, his mind continually tossing up all the things he said, all the questions he failed to ask… they just had such little time to prepare… why didn’t he ask basic stuff, like where Rowan had been living lately…?
He knows what his brain is doing. Rumination is a useful, natural process when something goes wrong, or might. A way to try and learn or prepare, to avoid making mistakes in the future.
He also knows it can overfire, focusing endlessly on details that trigger embarrassment or anxiety spirals. So he tries to concentrate his thoughts on something concrete, something he can improve on or learn from.
Why didn’t the projection work?
It felt like he did everything right. So far as he could tell, he was in the right mental state, the same one Leaf helped him use in Lavender against the marowak anomaly. If it worked on the ghost, why didn’t it work here?
His mind is quick to suggest reasons. For one thing, Jason assured him at Lavender that his projection did something, but they didn’t really have an opportunity to tell what. It’s possible it just confused or stunned the marowak rather than making it feel safe or peaceful, and he can’t be sure the effect would be the same on a tamed pokemon. For another, maybe he doesn’t have the mental state as firm as he thought; he has practiced it a few times since, but never in a dangerous situation. Maybe there was leakage from the rest of him, which had been anything but calm and peaceful.
Another possibility, of course, is that the alakazam, or more likely Rowan, did feel the effects, but protected against it somehow. Just because Rowan acted unhinged doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of planning ahead: he knew what Red was capable of, and even if he was protecting against sakki, the defense against his pokemon having a mental state projected onto it would likely be the same.
Which may mean there wasn’t anything Red could have done differently… but either way, there are implications.
When he met Sabrina for the first time, back in Vermilion, she talked to him about the arms race between psychics. With so many different ways for minds to interact and affect each other, being able to partition part of your mind and offer that up while keeping the rest unaffected has obvious defensive applications, and it might not even take someone with Rowan’s skill to do it with a pokemon he’s merged with.
A lot of Red’s training has obviously included preparation for what to do if he encounters a renegade pokemon that sakki doesn’t work against, for whatever reason. Sakki only works by removing inhibitions of the pokemon’s most automatic instincts, which tends to lead to violence for the kinds of pokemon that renegades use, but there’s no reason they couldn’t start renegade training on pokemon that are more naturally mild mannered so that, if Red tried projecting sakki at them, at worst they would just run away.
They even brainstormed what sorts of training or programming the renegades might try to counteract the effects entirely. But utterly changing a pokemon’s basic instincts would take generations of breeding, and so they didn’t think it likely that a strike force would be able to field a whole team of safe pokemon, or a variety.
If Red is right about what Rowan did, however, then he’s possibly the most dangerous trainer in the world for Red right now, as he would be able to counteract sakki on any pokemon he has, and probably more than one at a time.
Red snaps out of his reverie when he hears Leader Sabrina saying, “…full responsibility. I should have paid closer attention to my student’s wellbeing—”
“No, Sensei.” Red looks around at the table. “It’s not her fault. Rowan went off to study the unown, at least a hundred psychics have talked about merging with them before without problems. No one had reason to believe this kind of thing might have happened, even with the partition weirdness.”
“Red…” Sabrina’s gaze is steady, but it seems to take her a couple tries to decide on what to say. Finally she just sighs. “I appreciate your defense, but I still should have paid more attention. There were signs that this might be dangerous for Rowan before he left, but Doctor Zhang and I signed off on him continuing because nothing bad had happened yet.”
“Do you actually think he would have stopped if you hadn’t?” Red asks. “It’s not like you were giving him direct tutoring.”
Sabrina sighs. “No, I don’t believe he would have stopped. Particularly since he said as much, after he assured us he was self-experimenting with both eyes open. But I could have at least tried to persuade him not to, and either way, I should have paid more attention to the effects it was having on him.”
“Enough.” Looker is slightly slouched in his chair, face calm, but there’s an edge in his voice and an intensity in his gaze as he drums his fingers on the table. “I’m not interested in responsibility right now, I want next steps. You both know him and have the best chance of guessing what he’ll do. Give us something.”
Red and Sabrina glance at each other, knowing even without merging minds what, specifically, Looker is worried about. “We have no reason yet to believe he can imitate the sakki,” Sabrina says. “But it’s possible that he’s spent time training renegade pokemon…”
“It would be extremely difficult in the timeframe you mentioned,” Tsunemori says. She sits with her hands clasped on the desk in front of her, leaning on her forearms. “Training required to overcome pokeball programming can vary by species, but even if he spent the full two months after we interviewed him working on this, it’s unlikely that he’d have more than a few renegade pokemon. In the time since he went off the map? Unlikely.”
“But he said what he’s going to do is ‘already done,'” Red says, voice tense. “Does anyone know if renegade psychics have used their powers to speed up the process before? Or… do hunters do that?”
“It’s been theorized as possible,” Tsunemori says, speaking slowly. “But it’s not a legal area of study, even for Hunter use.”
Of course that just means one more thing we don’t know and the bad guys might…
Though it’s possible she’s not being honest, or even doesn’t know.
“Could Rowan have meant something else?” Sabrina asks Looker and Tsunemori. “Have there been any incidents that haven’t been publicly reported?”
Now it’s Tsunemori and Looker’s turn to exchange glances. “There’s always something, large and small,” Looker says. “I’ll put some people on it.”
Tsunemori nods, already typing into her phone. “It shouldn’t be hard to collate everything from the past couple months, but he’s not an Indigo citizen, and it could be harder to get info from the other regions.” She gives Looker a questioning look.
Interpol’s special administrator rubs his eyes. “This has all the signs of an impending catastrophe, but… it’s not Rocket related, there’s no evidence it’s even renegade, and while his words gave some indication of crimes beyond one region, so far we’re not sure he’s done anything except be crazy.” He sighs. “I trust your sense of urgency, here, but I can’t say this justifies the use of full tracking measures.”
“I get it,” Red says, kicking himself again for not asking where Rowan had been lately. Some hint, any hint at all of where to start… “Maybe there will be hints from the WCN researchers he traveled with.”
“There still another potential lead.” Looker is watching Red, but then he turns to Sabrina. “I couldn’t follow half of what Rowan was saying, but it seemed pretty clear that there’s some history between you two, or at least between you and what he calls the… lonely mind? The ‘Dreamer?'”
“Ah. Yes.” Sabrina’s posture shifts, becoming straight again in what Red has come to identify as her way of bracing herself for something unpleasant… either that she would say, or how others might respond. “I believe I know who they meant by the Dreamer.”
Sabrina shares the same thing with them as she did her students, about how she suspects someone she used to teach has been the one projecting the dreams all around the island. Looker and Tsunemori exchange another look, but don’t interrupt, and Red finds himself wondering if she also knew anything about the “outside” mind that she hasn’t been sharing.
He wants to trust her. He does trust her, for some things. He believes she doesn’t mean him harm, at least. But if she has mixed priorities… well, even if she’s been circumspect in ways that have helped him, it would be stupid to think she’s not capable of deceiving him, too.
“You see why I have some ‘trust issues,’ now, I hope?” Looker asks Tsunemori, voice wry. He turns back to Sabrina before the Director General can respond. “You’re just an endless vault of surprises, aren’t you? Let me guess, you also reported these to the ‘proper channels?’ Are we going to find a document lost in a network somewhere with a full report about the Dreamer, dated months ago?”
“No,” Sabrina says, unruffled. “I didn’t report it because if I’m wrong I would be violating their privacy and putting their life at risk, and even if I’m right it’s not worth the risk until I know they’ve done something wrong.”
“They violated nonconsensual projection laws a million times over, at least,” Tsunemori says, voice firm without being antagonistic, somehow.
“I didn’t say illegal, I said wrong,” Sabrina says, voice and gaze level. “Believe it or not, the person I have in mind has many good reasons not to risk the attention those dreams drew onto them. That they did it anyway tells me the risk is real, and great, and maybe justifies breaking the law… even if I would have preferred they’d done something else.”
“If you think—”
“Something like what?” Tsunemori says, cutting Looker off.
“Find someone else to speak through. Someone respected.”
“Someone like yourself?” Looker jumps back in.
“I was thinking of Elite Agatha, actually.”
“Leader, I don’t mean to make threats. But if something happens, and it becomes apparent that your old student is responsible, or could have stopped it, and you did nothing—”
“I said I’m willing to take responsibility for this.” Sabrina’s lips are pressed into a thin line, her knuckles white on the seat of her chair. Red has never seen her like this, and watches her in surprise and sympathy. “You can’t threaten me with something I’ve already accepted, whether you mean to or not.”
“Sabrina,” Tsunemori says, voice softer. “I don’t doubt your willingness to take responsibility, but… if a student of yours may have set off a series of events that leads to an incident, and there’s a significant chance that they can help stop it… wouldn’t they want to at least know that’s the case?”
The table is quiet, and Sabrina’s eyes drop. “Yes, I think they would want to know.” Sabrina says, voice quiet. “But it’s not just about how willing I am. I tried to reach out, recently, through a mutual acquaintance. It didn’t go well. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else I can do.”
Red watches her, feels the regret, the defeat, in her voice, and leans forward, speaking before he really intends to. “What’s stopping you?”
Sabrina blinks at him. “Nothing. Or, I suppose, reality is. I just don’t have another way to try again.”
Red shakes his head. “I’m not saying you’re wrong, Sensei, but I’m skeptical. Not because I think you’re hiding something, just… because I think there might be things you’re not thinking of, or maybe have costs that you don’t want to pay. Maybe for good reasons! But this is important, and I think it’s worth at least checking.”
Sabrina seems to absorb this for a moment, then nods. “Alright. How would I do that?”
Red feels the other two watching him and sets aside his self-consciousness. “Well, when I’m stuck on something I want to do, I start by figuring out if the thing is physically impossible. And that’s, you know, kind of rare. If your student is on the moon, then it would be really hard to contact them, and there’s probably a whole bunch of problems that would need to be solved to do it. But it wouldn’t be impossible. Similarly, if they’re living in the forest without any technology, yeah, that makes it hard. But not so hard that there’s literally nothing you could do to reach them. And if they have a mutual acquaintance that could be reached… what did you mean by ‘didn’t go well?’ Because that’s different from ‘it didn’t work.'”
Sabrina takes a deep breath, then lets it out. A day ago he would be more worried about overstepping boundaries, even if he’s not her student anymore. Despite how much he’s seen her struggle with all her different responsibilities, she still put off an air of quiet confidence, of self-reliance.
Now he realizes she’s as lost in all this as the rest of them, grasping for some way forward on questions she can’t ask for help with. Or thinks she can’t, at least.
“It didn’t work in the sense that I didn’t get the chance to speak directly with my old student. It didn’t go well in the sense that I burned that bridge too. I wouldn’t even be able to contact the acquaintance again either, now, and there are no others.”
“Are they living alone in a cave somewhere?” Looker asks, frowning slightly. “Is that the sort of person they are?”
Sabrina purses her lips, then shakes her head. “I honestly don’t know. But it isn’t… as unlikely as you make it sound.”
“Not unlikely, fine, but maybe they’re not. Maybe they have an apartment in Celadon.”
“That’s… much less likely.”
“But not impossible,” Red adds. “And even if they’re on some farmhouse by the border instead, the acquaintance might be. Or someone else who knows them, who you don’t.”
“What are you suggesting, Red?” Looker asks, though he sounds curious rather than skeptical.
“Nothing specific, just trying to make sure all of solution space is explored.” He looks back at Sabrina. “The second thing I do, after thinking about whether the thing I want to do is literally impossible or not, is to pay attention to what tradeoffs I don’t want to make.” He thinks when he first went to Saffron to be Sabrina’s student, and how impossible it felt to make friends, given how embarrassing it would have felt—and did feel—to just go up to people and ask them if they wanted to be his friend or not. “If not that, then I’m thinking of moral rules or laws that feel wrong to break, which, you know, makes sense as reasons not to do it,” he says with a glance at Looker and Tsunemori. “But both of those are different from can’t. Forget everything that makes it impossible. What would you wish you could do, right now, to contact them, if you ignored all the costs for a moment?”
Sabrina meets his gaze a moment, brow furrowed. “I would… try to speak to them directly, in my mind, no matter the distance.”
“Okay. As far as we know that’s not possible, so what else might you do?”
“…go to every city and town, the way they might have, and… project outward, as far as I can, in the hopes of finding them.”
“Good.” Red almost notes how this is actually possible, but it’s a good sign that she’s not fixating on impossible things. “Social cost is obvious there, but what else?”
“I’d… get a very big megaphone, and…” The Leader breathes in, then closes her eyes as she lets it out. “I see it. I know what I can do.”
For a moment Red thinks she really does mean to get a big megaphone, then realizes—
“An emergency broadcast,” Tsunemori says. “One that will be sure to spread to every communication device in Indigo.”
“And the rest of the island,” Looker says. “Keep it vague around sensitive details, but make it unmistakable for those that know your student.”
“It still has to be about something real,” Tsunemori says. “We need some idea of what Rowan is planning. A fully general warning would be worse than confusing. Is there anything that would even make sense to announce, right now?”
Red is still surprised that his prompts helped that quickly, but the question reminds him of something else. “Definitely. That thing Rowan talked about, the mind that touches outside… I think I’ve experienced it before.”
“Right,” Looker says, giving Red a level stare. “I was going to bring that up later. You implied to Rowan you went through something similar, and Elite Agatha helped you. Was that true, or were you blowing smoke?”
“I was being honest, if that’s what you mean,” Red says. “But whether it really is similar… that I don’t know. What he was saying, I recognized some of it. Or at least, my mind used the same sort of language to understand what I went through at Lavender.”
Tsunemori’s lips quirk. “This is the point at which I admit that, despite reading the rangers’ reports, I had a hard time following what took place in Lavender Tower.”
“You’re not alone,” Looker says with a sigh. “Notebook tried explaining it to me, but…”
“To be fair, it’s outside both of our field,” Tsunemori says with a smile. “Which is why we consult with experts.” She looks at Sabrina.
“I got the debrief from Jason, who is an apprentice of Elite Agatha as well,” Sabrina says. “They work in a slightly different paradigm, among psychics, but from what I understood, the Elite helped ensure Red’s mind didn’t have any lingering effect from touching the ghost’s. Surreality affects us more deeply than non-psychics.”
“But unown aren’t ghosts,” Looker says. “So what’s the similarity? Or do we think the unown are a coincidence, and he just ran into another marowak ghost, or something similar?”
“If the unown are what create new pokemon species, that could fit,” Red says, voice low.
“You were seeking the origin of species, weren’t you? Were you disappointed? Or was it all you wanted it to be?”
“Sorry, just thinking.” Something to dig into later. “It might be the simplest explanation that fits all the facts. But from what we directly know, for now, he was hunting wild unown to merge with them. If we take for granted that he managed to find some…”
“Then we need to warn others,” Sabrina says with a nod. “Particularly any other psychics who have used their powers to create tulpas, or anything similar, in case that makes them particularly vulnerable.”
“To be extra safe, anyone who maintains too many partitions should also probably avoid them,” Red says. “I mean, most professional psychics have some amnesia’d memories, but if they regularly switch back and forth…”
“Yes, you’re right. Then it’s decided.” Sabrina takes another deep breath. “I don’t know if it will help anything, but it’s better than doing nothing. And if there’s a chance what happened to Rowan might happen to someone else, we need to warn people.”
“Keep us updated on anything you learn from the researchers that were with him. We also need to send a message out on the WCN network… and we need you to meet with our communications team to make sure you don’t reveal anything we don’t want Rocket or other bad actors to know.”
Sabrina nods. “I’ll get on it right away.”
“And as for you—”
“I have people I can reach out to,” Red says. “And I need to run some tests with other psychics, about how my powers work, and… how they might not work.”
Looker leans forward, gaze intense. “You tried something. And it failed?”
Red nods. “But I’m not sure why. It could have been because I didn’t do it right, or—”
“Or it could have been because Rowan stopped it,” Sabrina murmurs, eyes wide. “If his partition ability was projected through his merger…”
Looker points at her. “Broadcast draft first.” His finger shifts to Red. “Verres, I want a full report by the end of the night. Experiment after it’s written.”
“Not right after,” Tsunemori says. “We need to schedule some interrogation and hostage negotiation training for you. They’re skills we’ve neglected for what seemed like good reasons, given everything else we’ve had to prioritize, but it’s come to bite us, I think.”
Red knows she doesn’t mean it as rebuke, but it still stings, and he sighs, nodding. The day has barely started, and he already knows it’s going to be a long one.
The artificial morning wakes Leaf little by little, sunlamps sequentially changing the color of her room from pitch black, to sunrise red, to orange-gold, and finally to bright blue. She buries her face in her pillow, feeling like she could use another hour of sleep, but the light does its job, and her sleepiness melts away little by little over the next few minutes until she sighs and swings her legs out of bed.
Her next deliberate act is to check her security monitor, which tells her at a glance that all the windows and doors have remained undisturbed, and only one proximity sensor went off in the “night.” She taps it, and sees a brief video of a pidove landing on the windowsill, then flying away a few sped-up minutes later.
She taps the monitor off, then limps over to the shower, hot water helping ease her sore muscles. The past few days have been a strenuous marathon of riding around Cinnabar island, helping the rangers track the semi-isolated ditto nest that they finally managed to tag for close study.
The experiment has had mixed results so far. Ditto continue to prove the most invasive species ever to be documented, integrating into almost any ecological niche by simple exposure to that niche’s current members, then supplanting them by outbreeding the competition.
It’s a little scary to watch happen day by day, even with a dozen trainers and rangers’ efforts to keep the nest from taking over the whole area. To watch maps of an area turn more and more pink as the rangers and gym members indicate where they found new nests, and realize that the same thing could happen to the entire island chain if the ditto were to spread that far.
They don’t intervene often, since the point is to study what a ditto nest in equilibrium looks like, but they’re learning a lot from watching which species are able to adapt quickly to the invasion and which aren’t. By only removing invaded nests that can’t combat the ditto anyway, there’s still a selection pressure in favor of nesting practices that repel the ditto or keep them from taking over entirely… which is leading to a whole lot of new knowledge about nesting habits in general.
It’s far from a perfect study, but the small islet right off of Cinnabar’s coast is diverse enough to show a variety of different interactions, and a nest as close to stable as this one was too rare to pass up the opportunity. It feels a little amazing, sometimes, that she’s part of such novel research just because of her interest in wild pokemon welfare.
It’s the kind of thing Red would probably love to be part of, if he wasn’t busy with everything else.
As if summoned by the melancholy thought, when Leaf finishes dressing and packing her bag for the day, she sees a new message on her phone: News from the dig team. Meet up after breakfast?
Excitement spikes through her, and she sends an affirmative before teleporting to her mom’s house, mind abuzz with what might have been discovered. It’s only been a few days since the excavation started, but she has no idea how slow or fast the process might be, and they didn’t even give estimates considering all the constraints they were under. Maybe they found the lab already… they might even have been inside it!
The cool night air is bracing, and she reminds herself not to get too carried away as she withdraws her abra, then uses her key to enter the house. “I’m home!” she calls out as she logs into the PC by the door to swap her abra’s ball for another.
“Good morning!” her mother calls back from the kitchen. “Brinner is almost ready.”
Leaf smiles and unclips her pokebelt and hangs it with her bag on the hook by the door. “Is Grandpa in?”
“No, he’s on a late flight over to Kalos. He’s been swearing he’d make the trip for years, and after more of those strange type interactions are being documented, he finally did it.”
“Yeah, though I don’t think that was his primary motivation.” She can hear her mother’s smile. “More dissatisfaction with the inconsistency of the pokedex entries being registered. I messaged Sycamore to give him time to prepare.”
“You could be a diplomat if you ever hang the labcoat up.” Leaf enters the kitchen to see her mother still wearing her lab coat, though she has let her long auburn hair down and stripped off her jewelry. “Morning,” she says as she hugs her mother from behind.
Professor Juniper lays her arms over her daughter’s, then turns and kisses her head. “Sleep well?”
“Yeah, though I was a bit sore when I woke up.”
“So it goes. There’s some deep tissue potion capsules in the cabinet.”
Leaf half-expects to feel the automatic sense of rejection, of being mothered in the restrictive, hovering sense. But it doesn’t come, maybe because her mother just stated it rather than making it a suggestion, and so she smiles and says, “Thanks.” She looks up at her mother, seeing no new signs of worry or tiredness. “Good day at work?”
“It was! New discoveries from the unown sublab matching the vibration frequencies observed at the last genesis event… which reminds me, I need to reach out to that fancy new lab in, Cinnabar was it? Or is that the island you’ve been working at, lately?”
“They’re the same one, yeah.”
“Convenient. I swear, I’m getting more forgetful every year.”
“It just happens more when you’re excited about something new,” Leaf assures her. “And only for unimportant things.”
“I somehow doubt the island residents would agree.” Her mother turns off the stove, then brings the pot over to the table and starts to serve from it. “What do they say over there? Itadakimasu!”
Leaf grins. “It’s only really said at tourist restaurants nowadays, I think. But it smells great, thank you.” The “brinner” today consists of a veggy stir-fry with some classic Unovan breakfast staples thrown in. She pours some ketchup on a clump of hash brown that have absorbed the vegetables’ flavors and makes a sound of appreciation as she bites into the sweet-vinegar-starchy goodness. “Tastes great too.”
“I’m glad.” Her mother smiles, and starts eating too as she turns on the television with her free hand and browses the menu. They were never really a talkative family during mealtimes, but Leaf can tell her mother is trying, and commenting on whatever’s on the news or some show is less fraught than bringing up the potentially dangerous things Leaf has been involved in lately.
Her mother’s gotten a lot better about accepting that Leaf is where she wants to be, these days. But talking about what she does there, or what’s happening, still tends to bring the overprotectiveness out.
They’re about halfway through an episode of some court drama her mother likes when the video suddenly pauses, and is replaced by a yellow warning symbol.
Leaf feels her heart kick, peripherally sees her mother’s hand reach out to grip hers as they stare at the screen… but it’s a yellow symbol, not a red one, and so they simply wait in silence as the special alert sounds play, and a voiceover finally speaks.
“The following message was flagged non-critical urgency by the authority of the Interregional Police, and contains time sensitive information. Your devices will return to your control shortly.”
Interpol? News about Rocket…?
“Leaf, is this—”
“I haven’t heard anything—”
“Hello, regions of the world.” Leaf feels a moment of surrealness at seeing Leader Sabrina on the television while she’s in Unova. Unlike Professors or Champions, nonlocal Leaders don’t normally make interregional news. “I apologize for this interruption to your day or night, and will try to make this address short and to the point.”
The Saffron Leader sits at a desk in what’s likely her office, looking both tired and perfectly composed. Leaf hopes fleetingly that she could someday project that kind of confidence and poise, the rest of her mind on sudden worries that something happened to Red…
“This broadcast is primarily for my fellow gifted. First, those psychics who are hunting wild unown clusters in order to merge with them, and those who have experienced the apocalyptic dreams projected throughout the Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku islands. And second, the psychic responsible for the dreams themselves.”
Leaf is aware of her mother’s relief, but her own anxiety doesn’t go down by much, and she reaches blindly for her phone, diverting her eyes for just long enough to ask Red, What happened?
“For the first group, I’m issuing a warning to cease all wild unown mergers immediately, and possibly even all tamed unown. A student of mine, Rowan Donkerk, appears to have undergone a psychological break after conducting research on them. We don’t yet know many details, and are unsure if it was the result of volume or bad luck. But we have confirmed by those who traveled with him that he was merging with multiple clusters, and when he felt this wasn’t enough to answer his curiosity, he allegedly left them behind to seek bigger clusters rumored to have been spotted in the untamed wilderness.
“We can confirm that he survived to return from his ventures. But he showed multiple alarming signs of psychosis and mania, including prolonged lack of sleep, severe weight loss, and fragmentation of his sense of self. If anyone has any news of Rowan at all, or any other psychics who have recently experienced similar symptoms, please call or message Interpol as soon as possible, codeword: unown.”
Sabrina lets out a breath, gaze down. “It’s also possible that the unown simply interacted poorly with specific partitions Rowan has been researching and practicing, and so I’d like to particularly warn those whose use of partitions extends beyond amnesia. But that’s just a hypothesis, and until we learn more, I hope psychics around the island, and world, take the risk seriously.”
A picture of Rowan is displayed on the screen, the young man captured mid-smile as he watches something out of frame. Leaf remembers him from the times he attended her classes, remembers the way he seemed so moved by the mental state she was embodying for them to share…
“Rowan was a dedicated student, a beloved teacher, and a brave researcher who was willing to put himself through many experiments to explore the forefront of knowledge. I hope no one else undergoes the same fate, and I hope we can still find and help him. If you have any information you would think would help in that, please message me directly, topic name ‘Rowan.'”
His picture fades, and Sabrina is once again staring straight into the camera. “As for the gifted who experienced the wandering dream… it seems like part of Rowan’s condition is due to the merger that occurred for the dream.
“Again, we don’t have much data on this. It’s possible that it was the combination of both the dream and the unown mergers that caused Rowan’s mental break, and psychics outside of the islands have nothing to fear. But the effects they had on Rowan seem to be driving him toward extreme actions, and while we don’t know exactly what he plans to do, or has already done, the situation seems critical enough that caution is warranted. If you’ve experienced any persistent personality changes that began after exposure to the dreams, even if it began weeks or months after, please message me, topic name ‘Dreams.’ If my assistant believes it’s warranted, we would be happy to pay for travel and accommodations to try and determine if our guess is correct, and see what might be done to help you. If you do not wish to be ‘helped,’ for whatever reason, and don’t trust us not to force you into anything… all I ask is that you try to send anonymized mail to let us know what you’ve experienced.
“Finally, I have a message for the Dreamer themself, on the small chance that you’re listening to this, or maybe if there’s someone out there who can convey this message to you.”
Sabrina pauses. “There’s a lot I would say, if I were not taking the time of others to say it. But the most important, right now, is that I believe you have good intentions, and would not want anyone to suffer from your actions. The dreams have led to a lot of confusion about your goals, and what the right path forward might be in avoiding the threat. But I believe we’re better with the warnings than without it, and I thank you for them… even if I wish there was a way for us to better understand what led you to take such drastic action.
“In any case, my concern right now is for Rowan, and what he might do as a result of his exposure to the dreams and unown. If there’s anything you can tell us, or any help you can offer… I would be most sincerely grateful. And I have the assurance of Interpol that nothing you do within the window of responding to this potential crisis will be used against you, or in any way that might make you regret it.”
Her gaze drops to her clasped hands. It only lasts a moment before she’s looking into the camera again. “If my word means anything… I can vouch for Elite Agatha, who has been among your most staunch supporters in taking the dreams seriously. She and I have only a professional relationship, and she may be… better placed… to help you, if you need it, or have further information you would like to share.”
Sabrina bows her head. “Thank you all for your time. Be safe.”
The leader disappears as the screen abruptly transitions back to the emergency broadcast symbol. A few moments later the crime show is back on, but her mother is already holding the remote to pause it. Afterward she turns to Leaf, eyes wide.
“Do you have any idea what that was about?”
Leaf checks her phone to see another message by Red, which simply says Tell you in person. Want to meet now? “No, but I’m about to find out,” she says as she sends back an omw, then looks at her plate. She almost decides to leave the rest uneaten, then forces herself to finish despite her lost appetite. It seems like it’ll be a busy day.
“You knew him, though? The young man, Rowan?”
“In passing,” she says between bites. “Never had a private conversation.” She drinks the rest of her juice, then stands and brings her plate to the sink. “I’m gonna go, see what happened. I might be able to share it with you tomorrow.”
When she turns around, her mother looks like she’s holding back from saying several things at once. Leaf goes to give her a tight hug. “It’s fine, Mom. Nothing to do with me, not really.”
“But your friend, Red? He did research with the unown as well, didn’t he?”
“Only briefly, and he didn’t have the wandering dream.” Leaf is still processing everything Sabrina said, the implications around how she spoke to the Dreamer… “What about your people? Does the sublab have any psychics in it?”
“Two. We’ll have to… have a meeting, see what response makes sense…” Her mother hugs her back, then stands to get her own phone. “I should call around, before everyone goes to bed.”
“You too, Hon.” She gives a wan smile. “‘Be safe,’ right?”
“I will.” She collects her things, then steps outside to summon Simon. She closes her eyes, touches his head, and says “Teleport.”
The temperature change is immediate, as is the sudden brightness through her lids. She waits for her eyes to adjust, then opens them to look out over Cinnabar Island in the morning light.
Her teleport point is within the perimeter of one of the ranger outposts clustered around the middle of the island. The city is vaguely visible in the distance by the southeastern shore, and if she wants to reach the mansion, she just has to turn almost entirely around and fly to the opposite side of the volcano. It was a convenient teleport point for when she had multiple different places she might go any day, and while she could have changed it to one of the outposts closer to the monitored ditto nest, she didn’t want to lose the optionality having Simon registered here gives.
She takes a moment to feed him some berries, then summons Crimson and mounts up to head to the mansion, thoughts on the broadcast.
Specifically, on the idea that Rowan is out there, somewhere, in a bad mental state… and if Leaf read between the lines correctly, in a position to do something dangerous to others. Further supported by Interpol’s involvement… otherwise, with just one known “casualty” to whatever effects the dream or unown merger had, it hardly seems like an interregional emergency.
Which makes her wonder what else they might not have said, and wonder how complete a story Red is actually going to give them, whether intentionally or not.
There was a time, not long ago, when such conspiratorial thinking wouldn’t have come this naturally to her. She knows the primary cause of such thinking: assumptions that anything that goes well for people in power must have been planned, or that people in power must primarily do things aimed at retaining their power, rather than having a complex mix of motivations in which power is just an instrumental one.
She knows that sort of thinking can lead to absurd beliefs. She’s read a number of such theories about herself, so convoluted and selective in their “investigation” of the facts that she had to laugh, sometimes, even if the rest of the time it was a bit chilling to think of what thousands of strangers believed of her.
But… well. She is part of some conspiracies, even if they’re aimed at stopping greater ones. And she knows that some conspiracies are real, particularly when they seem justified by the people involved.
Maybe all real conspiracies are actually just in defense of “enemy” conspiracies. It would be nice, in a Mistake Theory sort of way, to think that’s true. It even fits some of the conspiracies she knows exist, like the government’s relationship with the hidden Endo tribe of professional spies and assassins.
But if she considers that public broadcast as a possible move in some psychic conspiracy’s grand plot… she has to be open to the possibility, and looking for evidence, that it’s the opposite. That it has nothing to do with the secret lab, let alone the consumption of hummus.
She tries to hold that frame of mind as she lands beside the mansion, where Red and Blue are already waiting. They exchange hugs, and then she unattaches Crimson’s saddle and gives him some water to drink before taking out her own water bottle and saying, “Okay, spill. First, what did they find here?”
“We’re waiting on the rangers for that,” Blue says. “So spill about the psychic drama first.”
Red looks a little tired, but also better than the last time she saw him. More comfortable in his hunter outfit, maybe, or just more focused. “Right. So, here’s what happened…”
He relates the message he got, then a summary of his meeting with the other psychic students, followed by his meeting with Rowan. Whatever Leaf was expecting, it wasn’t that, and cold creeps up her body as the true horror behind Sabrina’s warning is revealed.
Including what it might have meant for Red, if he’d gotten less lucky…
“Red…” Blue shakes his head. “What the fuck, man, are you okay? Like, actually okay? I don’t know how close you guys were, but that’s… pretty fucking heavy.”
“I’m… mostly okay. We weren’t that close, but yeah, it’s a lot. Still, I had a whole day to process it while Sabrina drafted her announcement and ran it by Interpol, and…” He takes a breath. “I’m worried about Rowan, and what he might do next, but right now I’m trying to focus on making sure there aren’t others out there who went under the radar. I reached out to WCN and my psychic network, and am going to make a public post about it too.”
Leaf nods. “Whatever happened to him, and whatever he does, it’s bigger than that if it’s related to the warning in the dreams. And… if it’s related to what you experienced, with the marowak?”
Blue turns to her in surprise, but Red just nods. “I reached out to Agatha too, to see if I can talk to her more about what happened to me… what I experienced, back at Lavender.”
“Shit,” Blue mutters. “And on top of all that, there’s still the worry that this guy is training renegade pokemon, and ones that might be immune to sakki.” Blue runs his hand through his hair. “Is there anything we can do?”
“Not much. Some public posts of your own, to signal boost, keep it on people’s minds…?”
“Thanks.” Red lets out a breath, looking up. “We can talk about it more later, here comes…”
Ira and Wendy land near the mansion, and they jog over to the ranger and cadet duo as they dismount. Red sends a message on his phone along the way, then says, “Hey, guys. Nice to see you again.”
“Hey, Red,” Wendy says, waving to the other two while her gaze lingers on him. “Crazy day already, huh?”
“Crazy month,” Red says with a shrug.
“Crazy year,” Ira adds with a nod. “I’ve got questions, if you have spare time to indulge my curiosity, but what’s the news here, first? If you’ve got an earth-shattering revelation, we should probably get to it first.”
“I don’t actually know myself, I just sent word out to you guys when the site lead told me to come.” Red points to the edge of the cliff. “He should be waiting that way, I think, or coming soon.”
Stairs have been cut into the side of the mountain, leading down to a staging area that’s been dug out beneath the edge of the cliff, complete with guardrails and a cordoned off teleport pad. Someone appears on it as they approach, their belt intermixing ultra balls with industrial strength container balls, and gives Red a half-cocked salute. “Verres.”
“Hi, Rob. Rob, this is Blue, Leaf, Ira, and Wendy.”
“Pleasure. Mind if I cut to the chase?”
“Please,” Ira says, and Rob nods.
“We found the structure you suspected. More than that, we confirmed what we first suspected upon arriving. That crater? It wasn’t caused by the earthquake.”
“A pokemon?” Blue asks, brow drawn and voice intense.
“Not even.” Rob gestures toward the tunnel. “The rubble we found had clear blast marks, the melting and shatter patterns consistent with high yield explosives. Whatever’s in there, it wasn’t buried. It was destroyed.”
Leaf’s heart leaps, and she can see from the others’ expressions that they believe what she’s suspected all along.
Whatever was down here didn’t suffer some accident. Someone wanted it hidden.
Which means the most important question now, is… “Did anything survive?”
“That’s why I sent word.” Rob crosses his arms. “Verres said you guys needed to all be here before anyone takes a look inside. So? You all ready to rock?”
Red looks around at each of them in turn. Wendy’s eyes burn with curiosity, but she turns to Ira, who’s rubbing his chin.
“Any chance more explosives might still be in there, not set off?”
“Sure.” Rob shrugs. “Also a chance there are pokemon nesting in some pockets in the rubble we’ve detected. There’s a bit of seismic activity still occurring, at least.”
Ira sighs. “We have enough that I need to report this to the higher ups. But I’m guessing Interpol… or rather, you lot, are going to want to go in before any other group shows up?”
Red looks to Blue, who gives a do you even need to ask look, and Leaf, who nods, heart hammering as she thinks of how close they are to finally uncovering the truth.
Be safe her mom had said. And she would try.
But she has to know. They’ve come too far to risk losing it now, if the wrong person hears and swoops in to stop them or clean up any lingering clues.
Red turns back to Rob and nods, hands on his pokebelt. “Let’s go.”