Chapter 125: Interlude XXV – Shared Weight

Chapter 125: Interlude XXV – Shared Weight

Blaine?”

The call dragged him from sleep, back protesting as he abruptly sat forward in his chair. His office was dimly lit, and it took him a moment to regather his bearings, separate dream from reality…

Blaine, they’re here.”

A jolt of adrenaline chased most of the remaining drowsiness away, and he rushed to unplug his workpad as he stood. Pins and needles made him sag against the desk, but he forced himself around it and forward, grabbing his lab coat on the way out so he could shove his arms through its sleeves.

Yuki paced the hall, looking like she got just as little sleep as he did. Still, her hair was brushed into a glossy dark wave, her white coat spotless over a bright yellow halter top. All of which made him acutely aware that he didn’t bring a change of clothes for the morning, because he didn’t plan to fall asleep here. Mistake. Should have predicted…

You okay?” she asked, voice low.

Yes. My coat?”

She fussed at its collar to make it lie flat, then straightened his tie. “You shaved.”

Bad?” He touched jaw and cheek. It felt overly exposed and sensitive to the air, all except for his upper lip, where he’d left a mustache.

No, looks good. You stayed here all night?”

Had to make sure.”

I could have helped.” She stepped back.

My responsibility. You handled yours.”

I still could have helped.”

He shook his head. Part of him did appreciate the offer, but… working in the field, at labs, or in corporations showed him time and again the dangers of a diffuse work hierarchy. Worse, of a structure where the responsibility was diffuse…

So long as one person was, ultimately, responsible for each task, it was easier to not slack off and hope someone else made up the lack. For most things, delegation is necessary, but motivation and error correction could only be clearly evaluated and ensured when the chain of responsibility is clear and singular.

A knock at the front door. “One more minute!” she called out.

You didn’t let them in?”

And bring them where, to see you napping?”

He sighed and straightened his tie, only for her to reach out and straighten it again.

Remember,” she said, letting out a slow breath as her gaze met his. “Slow. Okay?”

Blaine nodded and took his own slow breath over the pounding of his heart. She smiled, squeezed his arm, then went toward the front door.

He checked his pad once more, making sure it was on the right page, then followed. They’ve done enough. Surely, it will be enough…

“—pleasure to meet you.”

The two League officials appeared to be around his age, which could be a good or bad thing. Either his lab was too small to warrant a serious investigation, or too small to warrant someone senior enough for complex decisions…

Dr. Ueda.” The woman bowed to him. “I’m Minori, this is Kenzo. We’re here to discuss—”

Yes, hello.” He returned the bow, but not before he saw Yuki’s wince from behind them. He knew why they’re here, they knew he knew why they’re here, why delay things? “I’ve prepared a list of our efforts to—”

Would you like some tea, first?” Yuki asked, raising her eyebrows at him.

I’ll pass, thank you,” Minori said, and Kenzo nodded his own appreciation. “But we can start with a tour, if that’s alright?”

Of course.” Blaine led them back the way he came, passing the shared office he, Yuki, and the other three at his startup shared. Past the bathroom and closet, and into the living room. Or what used to be a living room.

The walls were lined with shelves, three large tables filling most of the floor space. “Chemistry,” he said, pointing to one, then the second and third. “Mechanics, materials.”

The two league officials stared at the crowded space. He wondered if they were waiting for more explanation, but surely they knew what the lab was working on from their briefing… surely they’d had a briefing?

And… the kitchen?”

Not for food,” Yuki said with a smile. “Some intersection of chemistry and biology. Samples go in the fridge, any disposal in the sink. Don’t worry, we ensure they’re safe for the piping, and water soluble.”

It’s all in my documents,” Blaine tried, holding his pad up again.

Capture ball prototype?” Kenzo asked, speaking for the first time. Blaine followed his gaze to the casing of Silph’s newest design. It’s a marvel of engineering, almost small enough to fit in one hand.

Alterations. Testing heat and pressure tolerance.”

Testing… where?”

Volcano and ocean.” Blaine tried to keep his burgeoning frustration in check as he avoided mentioning that it was in his documents. He knew they were here for direct observation, not just review their policies—that could have been done online. But he expected they would want to get on with their day as much as he did, and they would be able to ask more meaningful questions after reading the documentation…

And is this the state the lab was in during the license clearance?”

More or less,” Yuki said, skipping over the hours of cleaning, organizing, and cataloging they all put in. “We’ve added some equipment, but nothing that would add to risk profiles.”

Minori took another look around. “I have to admit, I expected your work here to be mostly theoretical, with the lab consisting only of simulation, or material production.”

We can theorize at home,” Blaine said, trying to restrain his sarcasm. It would serve no purpose. “Have either of you worked in chemistry or engineering?”

Material science,” Kenzo says. “For just a few years.”

Chemistry, but studied rather than worked in.” Minori said. “You likely don’t remember many names or faces, but our lab came to collaborate with yours in university. Unfortunately, the trip was cut short by—”

Moltres,” Blaine said, memories making his pulse quicken. Memories of air so dry and hot he worried his clothes would burst into flame. Of time slipping through his fingers, the waves of Pressure driving him to scramble from one minute to the next… “Yes, I’d forgotten that.”

Yuki was watching him. He should say more? He shifted his weight, cleared his throat. “It was a difficult time, after.” The reconstruction, the loss of life and destroyed work… the frustration he felt, after, with everyone’s lack of coordination, of ability… and his own powerlessness. “I’m glad you made it safely through.”

You too. I changed focus, after. Took up training again.”

Blaine nodded, then added, “I considered it.” He’d been good, as a trainer. Perhaps better than he was a researcher.

But his best efforts as a trainer weren’t enough. It wasn’t a path to keeping what happened that day from happening again.

There’s some more equipment through here,” Yuki said. “And then we can show you our documentation?”

They followed her, and it took another ten minutes before they were seated in the somewhat cramped office. Kenzo read from his phone after Blaine sent him a copy of the document, and Minori read from his pad, while Yuki and he simply watched them scroll. Blaine woke his computer at one point and tried to do some work, but he mostly failed to do anything more than check his mail numerous times.

Finally, Minori handed the pad back. Kenzo continued reading, but nodded when she said, “It’s an impressive list of measures, especially for a startup this small. I’ll let the League know that, by my judgment, your lab is being very cautious. Perhaps even overly so.”

His shoulders felt as though they were relaxing for the first time in days. He let out a long, slow breath, and beside him heard Yuki doing the opposite. “Thank you.”

However…”

He should have known.

I feel I should be upfront, and warn you that it’s possible their decision still won’t be favorable.”

He stared at her, saw the regret in her eyes, the way her hands clasped in her lap. Kenzo was slowly putting his phone away. “Why?”

We’re not part of those meetings. But my boss’s boss has been pretty insistent that what happened in Hoenn can’t happen here.”

But… we still have no idea why the computers became pokemon!”

Do we?” Yuki asked. “Is it being kept secret?”

Not as far as we know,” Kenzo said. “But the leading idea among the public is that maybe artificial pokemon come from places where things are being invented.”

Blaine opened his mouth to scoff, but Minori held a hand up. “I agree that’s not a good explanation. But the League is mostly deferring to civilian government on this, and the public has spoken. We expect a new category of zoning laws will go into effect, requiring laboratories to be away from residential areas.”

He felt the weight back on his shoulders, and deeper, in his chest. His hands were clenched on his armrests, and he took deep breaths, trying not to think of all the work they’d put into this, all the money and time… “We can’t relocate. We barely have the spare funding to move everything to another location, let alone build a whole new lab.”

And the prices of suitable places have already jumped,” Yuki murmured. “There have been rumors…”

Minori nodded, still looking sad, but didn’t say anything else. Blaine could feel himself wanting to yell, to plead. Their research wasn’t just a way to launch the company, it was important, it could change the kinds of pokemon everyone could tame, make the capture balls more durable…

But those would be emotional appeals, and none of it would matter. It’s not up to them. They heard his arguments and evidence, and none of it would reach those who are making the decision, ultimately.

Because those people didn’t exist, not really. They were everywhere, an amorphous blob of fear and superstition, made up of people who he can barely talk to on a normal day, on regular topics. No one person is taking responsibility for the decision or the counterfactual harm, not even the Champion or President.

The silence went on for over a minute, and it was Yuki who stirred first, and murmured, “Thank you, both of you, for your time.”

Of course. I wish we—”

You could have just said it.”

A hand gripped his shoulder. He almost shook it off.

It’s not a sure thing, Dr. Ueda. I just—”

The warning is appreciated.” Yuki’s fingers dig into his arm, but what harm, to be frank? What would it matter? “It would have been appreciated more a week ago, or even yesterday. If you’re visiting anyone else,” he grits out, heart pounding and jaw aching with his restraint. “I suggest you tell them up front how little their efforts will matter, and that you’re just there to check boxes off a list.”

Blaine—”

They should know as soon as possible that—”

It’s not their—”

It’s alright,” Kenzo said, and stood. “Really. I think it’s better if we go.”

Minori stood as well. “I’m sorry. And thank you for the… suggestion, Dr. Ueda. It’s… not something I’m supposed to say, but I… would have felt bad, if I hadn’t said anything.”

Blaine’s mind buzzed, anger hot in his lungs, despair heavy in his chest. He couldn’t respond, couldn’t think of any words to fill the silence with that wouldn’t be just as hollow as the ones before. Eventually Kenzo touched Minori’s arm, and they bowed before leaving.

Yuki’s hand stayed clenched around Blaine’s arm until they heard the distant sound of the front door closing. Only then did her fingers relax, her hand sliding partway down to his elbow. “Blaine…”

It’s my fault.” The words were like hot lead as he forced them out. “I didn’t take it seriously enough, consider worst case scenarios. I’ll think of something. Look for new funding.”

I can help—”

It’s my responsibility. You go home, sleep.”

I don’t w—”

I’d like to be alone.” His stomach was full of acid, and he finally felt his hunger. He didn’t eat anything the night before, or this morning… “Please.”

She was silent, all except her breathing. Shallow. Uneven. He didn’t look at her, and eventually she squeezed his arm once more, and stood up, and left.

Slowly, he placed his arms on the table. Slowly, he sank his head down, until the acid stopped swirling in his stomach, until the burning fled, leaving only the weight over his heart, twice as heavy each time he thought of Yuki’s hand on his arm, or the way he didn’t even look at her before she left.

Also his fault. Also his responsibility. No one else’s.

He didn’t know how he’d fix anything, yet. But it was the only way he knew to try.


The manor was a ten minute flight from Blaine’s nearest teleport point, and he spent those minutes trying to imagine the confrontation ahead. Who might be there, what they might claim, how he would respond, and whether it would be better for Kiko and Mathew to be with him.

They ride behind him, now, their charizards trailing by enough distance that none of them get territorial about their airspace. They were the two at the gym when the call came who 1) had mounts who could keep up, 2) were senior enough, and 3) were available on short notice. That they happen to ride charizard as well is serendipity, and he’ll take the extra edge it might give them.

Anyone assuming it would be a show of status would be wrong; it’s a show of force, which he hopes won’t be necessary, but is rarely unhelpful in speeding things to their conclusions.

The sun gleams off Kokuyōseki’s dark scales as Blaine angles her into a slow, graceful swoop that brings the manor into sight, and it takes him a moment to recognize what he’s seeing around the manor as… a picnic.

Multiple picnics.

He notes his confusion, and sets aside the burgeoning frustration. He would be rather upset over this all being some misunderstanding that led to a waste of time, but he would also rather that be the case than whatever else might have brought him here…

Sudden movement draws his attention to the north, where a—

“Dragonite,” he says, pressing his earpiece.

—rises abruptly toward them. Kokuyōseki’s challenge roar sends a flood of adrenaline through him, kickstarting his shift to analyzing opening attacks and evasive strategies…

The dragonite roars its challenge back, but also turns to mirror them at a constant distance. Blaine is still processing the sudden shift while his head cranes to look around by trained habit, and he sees the honchkrow flying silently above them.

How long had it been there? Likely long enough to take them by surprise if the dragonite had completed its charge…

“We’ve got a tail,” Kiko says just a few rapid heartbeats after Blaine’s realization, but then she adds, “Kilowattrel.”

Surrounded.

But they’re not being attacked, and when Blaine looks back down at the manor, it’s clear from the way the distant figures scramble toward the building that they’re not all combatants. Which also solves the problem of where to land.

“Kiko, perimeter,” he says. “Mathew, stay high and follow anyone that leaves.”

“On it.”

“Yes s-zzhshhhhh…”

Blaine frowns and taps his ear piece to turn it off, ending the static. As if the dragonite weren’t confirmation enough, jamming comms implies something more serious than a bunch of looters. More organized.

Kokuyōseki eases out of the glide for a gentle landing, her breath coming out in a slow, hot stream that washes over him like a sauna. He clenches his teeth to avoid biting his tongue as she hits the ground in a short lope that tears up some grass and a couple picnic blankets… which, on closer inspection, appear to be tablecloths.

None of the people around the manor have fled farther than it took to create a safe landing zone, and they also haven’t summoned any pokemon. By the time his boots have hit grass, a few are even approaching at a jog.

“Oak.” Confusion mixes with relief as he also recognizes Verres and Juniper, along with Ranger Neasman and the foreign cadet. “Explain.”

Juniper begins to speak. “With all due respect, Leader—”

The young Oak cuts his friend off by raising a hand in front of her, and simply says, “You first.”

Blaine’s eyes narrow, and he removes his flight helmet and exchanges the goggles for his sunglasses before he looks up to where the dragonite is flying a tight circle beneath Kiko’s charizard. He tests his earpiece again, then takes a closer look at those around them.

Men and women, all dressed for mining work, if he interprets the thick, dirt-stained material properly. He doesn’t see any obvious signs of digging, but perhaps within the mansion… “What’s the accusation?”

Oak hesitates, this time, and when Juniper looks at him, he nods, and she steps forward. “Delaying us.”

“Us?” He focuses on the expressions now, the way those around them hold themselves. Not confused, not intimidated. Level, assessing looks.

Not simple contract workers.

His gaze jumps back to Verres, who stands quietly behind, simply watching with those red eyes. The hunter beside him is scanning the skies with eyes hidden behind shades of his own, which Blaine guesses are more than they appear.

Interpol, or…? Blaine turns back to Verres, thoughts lapping around the edges of anything too private by focusing instead on his intent. “Yours?” He points up, where the dragonite and others are still circling.

The teenager shrugs. “Only some.”

Someone new is jogging toward them, coat flapping behind him in the wind, and Blaine shakes his head as the Special Administrator arrives to confirm his guess. “Warrant?”

“In the works,” Looker says, breathing deep. “There’s a lab under this ma—”

“I know.”

Everyone reacts visibly to that, and Blaine frowns. The implication of Interpol being here is obvious; that this is an illegal facility, like the one in Celadon, plausibly harboring renegades. Which means they believe he’s implicated himself, which would be twice as insulting as simply believing him a criminal. “Proof?”

“Forensics are sweeping each—”

“Nothing, then.”

Looker’s lips purse, and he shakes his head. “Still searching.”

Blaine doesn’t try to rein in his disgust, though part of him distantly appreciates the man’s lack of wasting verbiage. “It has approval. I ensured patrols didn’t reveal it.”

“It’s not on any of the manor’s paperwork.”

“Filed as a separate facility.” It was one of the principles he pushed for, upon becoming Leader. That Cinnabar would be a place that facilitated change, rather than feared it. And he would take responsibility for ensuring the safety of everyone on the island.

Looker snorts and sticks his hands in his pocket. “This isn’t a mom-and-pop living above their ramen shop. If you want to challenge our presence here—”

“Legality.”

“Who even sent you?”

“The mayor’s office. Sensors were tripped, sending others risked revealing the facility.”

“Convenient,” Juniper says, drawing Blaine’s attention to her. The youth’s tone is light, though her gaze is not. “For the builders. They keep their secret, and a Leader as free security.”

The implication rankles, and Blaine’s anger almost comes out in wasted words, defending his ego, assuring her that anyone who sent him to be a tool of theirs had badly misjudged him.

His anger also almost comes out in a command for them to leave. He was granted the authority, and by his understanding, Interpol is clearly beyond its remit.

But if they suspect criminality, and the mayor is being used, or if he is…

Whoever invited you here is playing you against us.

Ultimately, responsibility is his.

Blaine glances around them again, then walks to his mount and takes her saddle off before he summons a water trough in front of her. “Rest,” he murmurs, stroking her snout.

Her breath surrounds him in a puff of heat, sweat and wind quickly cooling him back off. He drops the saddle on one of the tablecloths, then starts walking toward the manor. “Follow.”

“Stay sharp, everyone!” Looker calls out to the assembled workers as he keeps stride. He lowers his pitch, head turned behind them. “Were you inviting this lot, too?”

Blaine looks to see the teenagers, rangers, and hunter following as well. “It’s fine.” The lab’s secret is already out, and he has no authority over the two rangers if they were to claim they’re here seeking ditto. As for the others…

He picks a room that’s missing a wall so as to avoid staying in one that would be full of dust, and to allow them the sunshine as light. It was a bedroom once, and some furniture has survived the elements with minimal damage, though everyone remains standing. The foreign cadet, Wendy Burton, stays beside Ranger Neasman and mirrors his posture, while the hunter faces out the open wall. Looker paces around the room, gaze roving as if he’s searching for something with purpose.

Blaine turns back to the three teenagers. Oak meets his gaze, chin held high.

He’d been told that if he wanted to challenge for his badge sooner, the island had to be in better shape. And yet he was spending his time here.

Beside him is Verres, who somehow became the region’s best hope of holding off an organized army of renegades. Also spending his time, and his bodyguards’, here.

And then there’s Juniper, who acts like she knows something he doesn’t. Who the others seemed to be deferring to, in minor ways, even more so than they were Interpol’s Special Administrator.

“Explain,” he says. “Succinctly.”

She opens her mouth, then closes it and looks at Looker, who only spares her a glance before continuing his examination of the room and saying, “Assume the worst.”

Blaine crosses his arms, but holds his tongue and simply gestures for her to get on with it when she looks back at him.

“Okay. So… I met a scientist who told me a story about a secret lab performing unethical biological research to create a powerful new pokemon. When I came here to help find ditto nests… I recognized the manor from his story, and kept exploring until I found a sign of the lab.”

“In custody, or a source?”

“What?”

“Scientist.”

“Oh. A source. He’s… I think he’s on the run, at this point, or… he’s been abducted, maybe.”

Blaine glances at Looker, who has finished his circuit and pulled gloves out of a pocket so he could start rifling through drawers. Blaine wonders briefly if the man is testing him, then returns his attention to Juniper. “Inconvenient.”

“I wouldn’t do all this just for… for a story, or some fame. I know it’s using up a lot of valuable resources, a lot of people’s time, but if the story he told is true, it’s important. And if you’re not in on it, the fact that you know just enough to have helped keep it covered up… Leader, what if the ditto were created here? Wouldn’t you want to know?”

The others give her sharp looks as well. Verres smacks his forehead, and Neasman swears under his breath, while Oak frowns and gives his friend a calculating look.

Blaine does his best to ignore the pageantry, other than to register it as a sign that she doesn’t have reason to believe it. Not that she’s shared with them, at least. “Proof?”

She closes her eyes and takes a breath. “That’s what we’re here for, to find some. If… I’m worried that, now that they know we found it—”

“Enough.”

“—I think we’re against the clock, and if you send us away until the warrant—”

“Leaf,” Oak says, touching her shoulder. “He gets it. You made your point, and he dislikes emotional appeals.”

Blaine is already looking at the rangers. Neasman, who was among the first to face the ditto in the field. Burton, who suggested they search for ditto in ecological balance. “Nests?”

“Not yet,” Ranger Neasman says. “But the lab isn’t fully explored, and some parts might connect to a tunnel network.”

“Obviously.” Blaine studies him. “The first nest you found wasn’t far.”

“Right. That’s why I wanted to check this area in the first place.”

Blaine turns and walks toward the outside, gazing up to spot his people as they fly above and around. If they’re trying to communicate with him, he can’t hear them, and they may not even know he can’t. But they can see him, and they trust him. Each of them has a responsibility, and they can see to them, follow them well.

“Oak,” he says without turning around. “Lesson one.”

The teenager’s voice comes clear, confident. “You do not control fire. You take responsibility for it. Your pokemon, their attacks, what their attacks hit, what is around them, what else might get spread to. All of it is your responsibility. Others can teach you. Others can help you, if you make a mistake. But you own all the consequences, every time. If someone teaches you poorly, you can still learn from others. If others help you, it does not remove your responsibility. In this gym, that is your only responsibility. Learn well. Practice carefully. Fight confidently.”

“Well said.” Blaine turns back to the room, everyone’s attention is on him. Looker has stopped his endless searching, and the hunter keeps his attention outside. As it should be.

“Outside my gym, people take many responsibilities. You cannot fully commit to more than one. Splitting your responsibility evenly is worse than prioritizing. And I learned long ago that you cannot take more responsibility for something than you have power over. The two must remain proportional, or you will stumble.”

Verres blinks, then stands a little straighter. Juniper is watching him warily.

“I know what my responsibility is. I attend to it as best I can. I learned to ask for help over the years. I had to, to become an effective Leader. But I never stopped believing that I am the last one to decide, and live with those decisions, for all that I do and claim to care for.” He looks around at each of them. “You’re asking me to trust your sense of how severely this matters, and become complicit in whatever you do. In return, I ask you all now, each of you. Do you know what your responsibility is? Can you tell me, honestly, that you are serving it, here and now? Or is there some greater commitment that is worth the potential risks and sacrifices you’re making, by staying now that the situation has changed from what you hoped for?”

Looker is far enough from the others that they can likely tell he’s watching the Special Administrator first. The man has his hands in his pockets, face blank as he returns the stare.

Fair enough.

He looks to Juniper next, whose wariness has mixed with something else. Alarm? Guilt? He can’t tell, but he understands what might be part of it. The worry that Blaine is corrupt, and stripping them from the scene with more than fiat authority. By manipulation, by emotionally turning them from their resolve.

Words don’t even come to mind by which he might try to convince her otherwise. No words he says otherwise should convince her. He can only be forthright, and let their own integrity reveal itself.

She begins to look particularly uncomfortable with his stare, and he almost looks away when—

“There is for me.”

Oak has stepped forward, as Blaine hoped he would. The young challenger turns to the rest of them. “I’m only here because I think it’s important. But I trust you guys, at least one of you, to make sure it’s looked into properly. I need to focus on the region… or at least, the portion of it I currently have power to affect. And right now that means making sure Cinnabar is stable.”

“Me, too,” Burton says, only briefly glancing at Neasman. “I need to focus on the ditto nest we found. I’m just here because… well. It’s exciting, isn’t it? And has huge implications. But I don’t really add anything unique.”

Ranger Neasman sighs, then looks between everyone. “I can trust one of you to keep CoRRNet in the loop, when it’s appropriate?”

Looker nods. “You have my word.”

“And mine,” Blaine says.

“Alright. We’re off, then. Good luck, to the rest of you.”

They leave, and Oak begins to as well. He stops when Leaf raises a hand.

“Blue,” she murmurs. “I’m sorry, if I—”

“You didn’t.” He smiles at her. “It was on me, and I’m still glad you included me.”

There’s a sharpness in Blaine’s stomach, watching the ease with which the young Oak takes responsibility and reassures his friend at the same time. He understands. It wasn’t just knowing to recite the right words, and knowing that stepping forward would earn him favor. He understands, and he has the ability to show his care, at the same time. To smile, and leave his friend smiling.

For a moment, Blaine feels old, his heart heavy.

And then he straightens. Later. For now, this.

“I think… I should go too,” Verres says, before Oak starts walking again. “Now that Looker is here, I’m kind of superfluous. And… I’m worried they might try something somewhere.”

Looker nods. “It’s been on my mind. It’s what I would do, commit to an attack, draw everyone’s attention elsewhere.”

“I should get some rest, let Jensen and the others rest too, then continue my training. Make sure we’re all ready.” He turns to Juniper. “Sorry—”

She shakes her head, and keeps her chin high. “No, you’re right. You got them to come, got Looker here. It’s enough.” She suddenly steps forward and hugs him. “Thank you.”

He hugs her back. “I’ll be back in a thought, if something happens.”

Blaine’s gaze rises to Looker again, and he can see the mask peeling, at the edges. The indecision, rather than being reassured by Verres’s departing, has only grown, as he feels his own contrasting responsibility all the keener.

Oak and Verres leave together, and the hunter goes with them. Now it’s just the three, standing in a loose triangle, Blaine at the furthest point.

Juniper’s hands are fists. Her shoulders unbent. She meets his gaze through his sunglasses. Defiant, or sure?

“Juniper.”

She turns, prepared.

Looker sighs. “I don’t trust people. I don’t trust you. But I trust that if you pull something, it won’t be in their direction. And that you know there’ll be consequences. We understand each other?”

The young woman nods. “We do. Thank you.”

“Don’t fucking thank me, Arceus’s sake, kid. I’m giving you a job and I’m not paying you except, maybe, in respect. You get to the bottom of this thing, and you tell me first. Not Mrs. Verres, not your friends, not even your mom in Unova. Or else you go it alone. That’s fine too, if that’s what’s in your,” he flicks a glance at Blaine. “Responsibility. Is it?”

“It is.”

“I figured. Then this is option two. Non-negotiable, take it or leave it.”

Juniper swallows. “I’ll take it.”

“Right. Reach out if you need something.”

He starts to leave, pausing at the broken wall beside Blaine. “Now’s the part where you either kick my men out until the warrant shows up, or I tell them to keep working.”

“Your men can stay. I’ll take responsibility.” As he must for everything on Cinnabar.

Juniper seems to sway, for a moment, but the Special Administrator just nods. “I’ll have a talk with your mayor about this whole secret lab registration thing later. Or maybe Tsunemori will, eventually.”

Blaine just nods, and then it’s just the two of them.

“What will you do?” Juniper asks. She’s recovered herself, but there’s still uncertainty, there.

“I’m going to get to the bottom of whatever happened on my island.” Blaine watches her for a moment, then another. He would like to say he’s contemplating something, examining pros and cons.

But in truth, he’s just uncertain.

The heaviness is still on his heart, now and then. He and Yuki parted ways, eventually. Amicably. He was, ultimately, able to get funding for his startup… but he burnt himself out, doing so. He knew he had to give leadership of it to her, keeping only his shares. They’ve done quite well over the years. She’s done well. They still talk, now and then.

But the weight persists, if lesser than it once was. It was a young Leader Giovanni who eventually gave him the funding he needed. A man who spoke with both brevity and eloquence, and who holds a very similar philosophy to his own. Nihil supernum, he said on one of a handful of nights spent sharing a meal and sparse but meaningful conversation. I’ve always found myself at my best when I reminded myself that if I fail, nothing greater could be relied on.

Giovanni. The man who helped him see, by example, how he’d neglected his ability to work with others well, even if he had to find his own way to stay true to himself. The man who eventually convinced him to pursue Leadership of his own, helped him realize that his style of leadership was better suited to a Gym than a lab or company. And the man who helped him realize how a single company, whatever its contributions, would be unlikely to accomplish as much as a whole island more amenable to easy innovation.

But it would be a mistake to believe everyone took their responsibility as seriously as he did, even as a young man in charge of a small company. And worse, if those who created this lab weren’t negligent, if they were duplicitous in some way, or even criminal…

The weight is still on his heart, but… it is lesser. And it still, with its occasional presence, helps him go slower. Reassess. Error correct.

“Would you care to help?”