It’s a testament to how good the food is that Red notices it at all, given the circumstances. Nothing exotic or fancy, but the karp is buttery-smooth in his mouth, and he’s never had more fresh seaweed salad. President Silph eats slowly, clearly savoring every bite, but Red gulps it down as he listens to Commissioner Burrell explain why he’s here.
“Our investigation has been slow and careful.” The short, heavily built man creases and rotates his cap between his hands as he shifts his weight from one foot to the other. When he noticed Red looking between him and the food, he gruffly explained that he had a late breakfast. “But this ‘Miracle Eye’ changed everything. As soon as it became possible, even hypothetically, for dark people to get scanned, we knew any dark criminals would start scrambling. And they knew we knew, so they scrambled as quietly as they could. Do you have any idea how many dark folk just flat disappeared in the week after your announcement?”
Red shakes his head as he slurps up some seaweed, suddenly feeling a sick turning in his gut. They predicted this sort of use case for Miracle Eye, of course, but it’s happening much faster than he predicted… and he should have predicted it, after Celadon.
“About a dozen reports in Kanto alone. Government, corporate, even some gym members, all in the wind. And we have to assume they were only the most cautious, or the least desperate.”
“Or maybe just the ones who weren’t close enough to completing their goal,” President Silph says and takes a sip of tea before clearing his throat. “I believe those in Silph can’t pull out now, because our latest project is too important to miss, and too close to being complete.”
Red pauses to drink some too, and is about to wipe his mouth with his sleeve before realizing he’s showing off bad table manners. Even the napkins are absurdly soft and comfortable. “Sorry, but just to be clear… you said ‘renegade,’ earlier. What makes you think they’re… that, instead of just, uh, spies, or thieves, or…?”
“It’s a fair question,” Burrell says, and glances at President Silph. “But not one we’re prepared to answer at this time. What we can answer is why you, in particular, would be helpful.”
“Today is just a normal day, as far as my staff knows,” Silph says. “Except I’ve allowed some controlled leaks to indicate that our most secret project will be ready for testing tonight, which means it’s in a complete enough form to be stolen, if stealing it is the goal.”
Red doesn’t imagine they’ll explain what this project is about, and they don’t. “So… you’re using it as bait? Isn’t that risky?”
“Risky is letting the renegades melt away, either with the tech or without it,” Burrell says. “Most don’t have access to the engineer labs it’s being held in, but we plan to do a full sweep of the building, just to be sure. Normally there’s only a slight chance something will turn up, if a previously scanned employee has been recently corrupted or blackmailed, but with someone to use Miracle Eye on each dark one we have a real chance at stopping them before they put their plan into action.”
“I would just change the testing date and location, but there’s no way to know who’s compromised,” Silph says. “If we coordinate with the police, however, we can ensure some level of preparation when our company psychics merge with them.” He holds up a hand to forstall Red’s objection. “And to be clear, all of my employees have signed paperwork allowing mental merger during internal investigations. The use of a pokemon to assist is new, however, and extensive legal consultation has produced new waivers. Anyone will be free to say no, upon which they will be asked to leave the building.”
Red frowns. “That still seems like they’ll be pressured into saying yes.”
“The alternative is to ask all my dark employees to leave for the day, and that we can’t do without seriously disrupting work, not to mention the test itself.”
It’s hard not to imagine that being something of a logistics nightmare, not to mention a PR one. Whatever Silph sees in Red’s expression, it makes him sigh and set his food down.
“I won’t deny that society has not always been fair to dark minds, but at Silph we have strived to treat everyone equally where possible, and I must admit to feeling some gall at the thought that this generosity may have been taken advantage of. At the same time, I take no pleasure in distrusting my employees like this.” He fiddles with his chopsticks, then puts them aside too and considers his linked fingers. “In fact I detest it. But it has been a difficult year for my company. I’ve seen and heard the seeds of suspicion blooming throughout it, and another piece of stolen technology may cause permanent division between my dark and non-dark staff.” He meets Red’s gaze. “But your new technique can change all that.”
“By letting people trust dark people,” Red guesses, feeling his stomach churn again.
“Yes. No longer will dark people have to deal with the suspicion of their peers, or their resentment at being exempt from such checks. Normally those feelings might be mixed with some pity over limitations they endure, like training psychic pokemon or not being able to teleport, but with that no longer a block, I worry resentment will grow. Instead, with these inspections everyone will be on a truly even playing field.”
Red hadn’t thought of any of this, and is unsure how much weight to put in that prediction. It strikes him as strange, and oddly petty… but Red knows that might be a blindspot of his. He’s never worked in any kind of corporate environment, while Silph has had decades of experience managing hundreds of people; if he thinks it’s a real concern, it probably is one.
A sudden feeling of rebellion rises up, and he remembers to be cautious in taking the older man’s word on anything that might persuade Red to do what he says. “It may have been unfair that some people could get a job with less scrutiny than others. But those who weren’t dark did sign up for the expectation of scrutiny, and those who were signed up without it, and that feels… important? There’s this thing called meta-honesty—”
“—yes, I read your post on the concept, and your own policies on it.”
“You did?” If so, it’s the first time in the past few weeks that someone he’s had to explain it to has actually saved him the time.
“Twice. My guess is you’re worried that those who were not dark and had some private secret that outweighed their desire to work here had the opportunity to make that informed decision, while those who were dark made a different mutually agreed-on decision, which is now being changed. How close am I?”
Despite the circumstances, Red smiles. There’s something like… relief, to be understood so quickly and easily. “Yeah, that was basically it.”
“It’s a reasonable concern, and I won’t pretend there would be zero pressure. But you have my word that I won’t fire anyone simply because they refuse, not least of which because it would set a terrible precedent. I simply must ensure that, while this research is being completed, we minimize risk as much as possible.”
“On that note, I want to reassure you that this would pose minimal danger to you,” Commissioner Burrell says. “We’ll have officers present in case anyone tries anything.
“Will you do this for us, Red?” President Silph asks. The older man’s voice is calm, his gaze piercing. “It is ultimately your decision, and I’ll understand if you say no. But this is the best chance we have to end this peacefully, and safely.”
Red doesn’t respond right away, simply stirring the remnants of his salad around with his chopstick. He understands that he’s being manipulated in every obvious way. The stakes are high. There’s a time pressure to give a response. He can’t ask others for help. And he doesn’t even have to take responsibility for the actual violation of others’ privacy; he’s just putting everyone on an equal playing field.
Still, it feels wrong.
“I’m sorry,” Red says after deliberating carefully on his words. “I understand that the prospect of a renegade in your company is a serious issue, but… the Miracle Eye is too new for me to feel comfortable making moral decisions like this with it. I’d like to help, but… I don’t think I can.”
President Silph doesn’t look disappointed, but he does set aside his chopsticks again and steeple his hands together as he inspects Red, who tries not to shift under the scrutiny. “Then I must tell you what’s at stake. It will be public information soon enough that we’ve developed a new pokeball that we believe will be able to capture legendary pokemon…”
Red listens as he describes the “Master Ball,” implications bouncing around in his head even before President Silph starts talking about their worries of one ending up in the wrong hands. The idea of a pokeball that could catch the Titans, maybe even the Beasts or Stormbringers, would change the world. It would provide real hope that things could change, might even calm people’s fears about the mysterious threat everyone’s been dreaming about… Blue is going to absolutely flip…
Oh shit, Blue! He completely forgot about him, he’ll have to remember to mention that he’s here at some point.
“…top secret, but I’m sure you can understand, now, how many degrees of caution feel appropriate.”
Red swallows, then drinks some tea. “I do, yeah. My friends and I talked about the idea of someone catching a legendary pokemon, and the good it could do… but also what it would mean for interregional peace. Is there… a plan for that?”
“Simply put, to sell as many of them as possible, so that all the power is not concentrated in any one person, or region’s hands. One of the features of this ball will be that it can capture a pokemon that’s already caught without causing permanent damage.”
“Woah. Okay, so using a legendary against anyone who might have another masterball would be a huge risk…” Red feels himself being convinced, little by little, and takes a breath. “Okay, so I get that this is important. I think… I need to get some outside counsel at this point.” It’s still strange to Red that he has a personal lawyer who he can call up and ask questions now, but he also means his mother. He knows she’s waiting to hear from him anyway.
“I completely understand. But I have one request: no journalists.”
Red meets his gaze and decides not to ask for the obvious exception. “If you expect all this to stay secret…”
“No, it’s not about the use of Miracle Eye itself; that will be public information soon after.”
“Because I have little doubt there are many throughout my company that act as sources for them. Even in the best of times, it’s a troublesome thing to balance the good of the company and its proprietary information, and the freedom of individuals to freely associate as they choose.” There’s a stiffness to the way he says the second part, and he lets out a breath. “But in this particular case, it’s imperative that we not lose the element of surprise, and I don’t trust any journalist to hear of this sort of thing and not immediately reach out to learn more.”
Alright, much as he dislikes it, this seems like time for a firm condition of his own.
Even if it’ll end up sounding… really juvenile.
Red puts his pride aside and forces himself to say, “I’d really prefer to talk to my mother before agreeing to something like this.”
“I understand that you’d want some advice from those close to you—”
“Sorry, I wasn’t clear enough.” Ugh, why is this so hard? He feels like he’s pushing against some invisible force, some sense of… not just politeness, but basic decency, to be so openly suspicious.
But if his relationship with Silph requires keeping secrets from his mother then it won’t survive for long anyway. And if he wants it to be anything like an equal relationship, or one of respect, then just going along with everything Silph says is probably not the way to get there, if he can at all.
“I’m saying that I won’t do this without the ability to get counsel from anyone I feel the need to.” Red lets out a breath. “I’m not trying to be difficult, and will understand if you don’t trust me to be able to convince others to hold off on doing anything like that. But I at least want to be clear that it feels like a test of my judgment too.”
The older man across the desk meets his gaze for what feels like a minute straight, but is really just a couple rotations of Burrell’s cap in his hands before saying, “Of course. I suppose I’m extending enough trust as it is, and if you’re sure you can be persuasive about how dire the situation is… I have a private room to the side, if you’d like to use it.”
What he’d like to do is leave the building entirely, but saying that would imply that he’s being spied on, which he has no particular reason to believe President Silph’s own quarters would be. “That would be great, thank you.”
“I’ll go check with your people to ensure everything’s okay,” Burrell says as he puts his cap on. “Either way this goes, we’ll be ready to start within the hour.”
“Thank you, Commissioner.”
“Message me if anything changes.” He tips his head at Red and strides for the door.
“Uh, same for me. I don’t know how long I’ll be, but probably not an hour?”
President Silph begins eating again, and Red looks at his mostly eaten food, scoops up one more piece of fish, then walks over to the door and enters a plush sitting room with a large screen in the wall and a minibar. Red messages his lawyer first, who asks for a ten minute wait while he wraps something up, then calls his mom in the meantime.
She answers before the first ring ends, and he can tell she’s trying to sound calm and neutral. “Hello, Red.”
“No emergency. Well, sort of. Also I might have to pause to take a call from my lawyer soon—”
“Right, so I’m in President Silph’s private office, there’s something going on that he wants my help with…”
It takes a surprisingly short amount of time to explain it, and when he finishes he feels a little silly. What exactly is he expecting his mother to say, other than—
“You can’t trust him, Red. Whatever he’s got planned—”
“Okay, sorry, this will sound rude but… can we jump to when I convince you I don’t, and you try sharing your models first before giving advice?”
Part of Red winces as his voice comes out more annoyed than he intended, but he doesn’t take it back, and after a moment his mother says, “Your voice is changing.”
Red blinks. “It is?”
“Yes. Getting deeper.” She sounds… he’s not sure how she sounds. Not angry, at least. “I’m sorry, Red, give me a minute.”
“Sure.” Red paces the room a little as he waits, then wonders if he’s being watched, then reminds himself President Silph’s own office isn’t likely to be bugged… then realizes that it could have been, particularly as he invited Red over and probably predicted he’d want somewhere private to talk to others…
He keeps pacing, hand tapping a rhythm against his leg as he tries to decide whether he’s being too paranoid or not paranoid enough. Clearly not enough up until now, if he’s being this slow to think of these things… what if his mom is right to worry he’s trusting Silph too much?
He’s about to say so when she lets out a breath. “Okay, so I’m still in a bit of shock that he told you about the Master Ball—”
Red almost reacts out loud to the revelation that she knew about it, but stops himself at the last moment.
“—and that it’s nearly ready. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that makes this clearly a trap for you, so long as Burrell is there and you check with your lawyer and get something in writing.”
“You trust Burrell, then?”
“More than Silph, sure, but coming from me that’s not saying much.” His mom hesitates a moment. “He could be corrupt, but from what I’ve heard he’s clean, just a bit of an asshole.”
Red almost says that he seemed nice enough, if a bit understandably high strung, but a few sentences in a few minutes (while around President Silph) wouldn’t be a particularly good window into his character. “So if there’s no major risk for me, is there any for you?”
“It might undermine things I’ve said about him, when it comes out that you’ve helped him. But that seems like a reach for something this major, and also might serve to show impartiality if people assume we’ve got a more friendly relationship.” She sighs. “It also puts you in the middle, which I dislike on a number of levels.”
He understands why, but if he can act as a mediator or go-between, that seems better for everyone. Red wants to reconfirm that there’s no evidence Silph has personally done anything illegal, but is aware of the potential for bugs, and instead just says, “We’ll be okay. You know I wouldn’t—”
“Wouldn’t turn against me? Wouldn’t take his side?” Despite the words, she laughs. “No, Red, I know you wouldn’t. You’ll side with what you think is true, and I can’t be anything but proud of that.”
An unexpectedly strong surge of emotion fills Red’s chest, and he feels tears gathering at the corners of his eyes, and after a moment the wave fades, leaving him wiping at his eyes and trying to process what he felt. There was something in it that felt more like pain or grief than he expected…
“I’m just worried you’ll be misled,” his mom continues, and sighs. “But in this case, if there’s some hidden knife, I can’t see it.”
Red clears his throat. “Okay. Let me know if you do. I might still say no, but…”
“I understand. Let me call some people—”
“Wait, you can’t do that! This has to stay secret for at least the next hour, or else we might tip them off.”
His mother is quiet for a moment. “That’s Silph speaking, but I can’t argue the logic of it. I won’t check with anyone in the company.”
“Or anyone who might check with anyone in the company.”
“Yes, Red, I understand. But there are some people who need to know. Do you trust me?”
Red forces himself to relax. “I do. Sorry.”
“It’s alright. Be careful, Red. I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom.” He ends the call, then just stares at his phone for a minute, trying to untangle the stew of feelings he had during the call. A moment later he feels a renewed sense of urgency and messages Satori to let her know what’s going on.
His lawyer calls just as he finishes up, and Red goes over the details a second time. James doesn’t react particularly strongly to any of it, just going “uh huh” and “okay” and “right” through revelations that would set most people on the edge of their seat, until the question of whether Red might be liable comes up.
“Well, that’s an interesting bit of new jurisprudence you’ve landed in,” he says, and Red can hear his smile. “I’d have to see the waivers myself to be sure, but Silph is likely to be sure to cover their—their butts.” When they met, James told Red that he’s the youngest client he’s ever had, and it’s obvious now and then that he’s not used to it. But he never talks down to him, and Red enjoys the way he nerds out over legal things. “Send me a copy and I’ll let you know if they’re covering yours too.”
Satori is calling him now, so he says, “I will, thanks James, gotta go,” and swaps. “Hi Satori.”
“Hello, Red. I have… many questions, but I’m not sure which are time relevant.”
“I don’t want you to feel rushed. This was your discovery more than mine, and your primary project for years. If there’s any part of this that feels off to you, or like it might have a negative impact…”
She sighs. “When we talked about this happening, we imagined far less pressing scenarios. You know that this side of things always felt less interesting to me.”
“I do.” It was pretty clear she wanted the ability, or something like it, to exist for personal reasons, and her altruism extended mostly to what it would do for others like her or her sister. “Still, it feels important to make sure you’re okay with it.”
“For your own feelings of permission, or for potential public backlash?”
Red hesitates. “Both? But permission is the wrong word, I think. I just don’t want you to…”
“Regret having created it?” She laughs. “You know better.”
He smiles. “Okay, I guess now that you say it out loud, I do. It helps to hear it.”
“It isn’t ours anymore, Red Verres. We discovered it, shared our knowledge, even profited from it. But it belongs to the world, now, and if you are not the first to do this, someone else will be on another day. My legacy, such as it is, will be untouched whatever you choose yours to be. Do as you will.”
He’s not sure what to say to that, other than, “Thanks.” He almost says goodbye, but then has a thought. “I’m not seeking permission, but I am actually curious… what would your sister say?”
“You’ve met her. What is your belief?”
From what he could tell from a few conversations, what drove Koishi beyond the desire to be closer to her sister was to be like everyone else. “Insofar as this helps her, and those like her, be treated ‘normally,’ I guess she would be for it.”
“Having shared her mind as much as I have over the past weeks, I can confidently say you guess correctly. Be well, Red Verres, and good luck.”
Red closes the call and wonders if he should check with anyone else. After a five minute internal check, the only people that come to mind are Leaf and Blue.
He pulls them both into a group call, and for the fourth time goes over everything.
“…make sure you don’t say anything to anyone in the building obviously, Blue, and Leaf if you could avoid—”
“I can’t believe the Master Ball is almost done! This is way too early!”
Red blinks, then puts it together. “You and Mom knew about—”
“How do I get one?” Blue asks, voice hard.
“I don’t know, it’s not even done yet—”
“Blue you don’t want one—”
“The hell I don’t—”
“—there’s something Silph hasn’t told you about it, Red, it’s not just something that captures legendaries, it turns them into slaves!”
Red has a spare moment to notice his confusion in the ensuing silence before Blue says, “Uh, don’t you already think that regular pokeballs do that?”
“No,” Red says as it clicks. “She thinks it makes them tame, but the Master Ball… what, makes them completely obedient? Without the need to… get to know them or something?”
“Worse than that, it wipes their mind completely, turns them into robots!”
“How do you know that?” Red asks at the same time Blue says, “Oh come on, we’re talking about the Stormbringers.”
Red has a sudden sinking feeling, but he can’t think of something to say before Leaf retorts, “They might not only be used on Stormbringers, Blue, and they’re still feeling creatures—”
“They killed my parents—”
“—and a million more—”
“Guys, shut up a sec!”
Silence, and Red belatedly remembers to lower his voice. “Sorry, but… I’m not really here to decide whether these things are good or not.” He’s also closer to Blue’s side on this, but it’s clear Leaf feels strongly about it and he’s not sure how to talk about it yet. “I’m just being asked to try and prevent them from getting stolen, which we can all agree is bad, right?”
There’s a pause, and then Leaf mutters “Right,” sounding more… surly, than Red’s ever heard her.
“Damn right,” Blue says. “What can I do?”
“Nothing, Blue, you’re not even supposed to know—”
“It’s been weird here, I knew something was off—”
“—I just wanted to check if you thought it was moral for me to do this with Miracle Eye.”
Silence again, and after a moment Blue says, “Huh. Didn’t really think about it, honestly. Kind of saw it coming, you know? Thought it would happen with people in power first though, what few of them are allowed. Guess that was naive of me.”
Red bites his lower lip. “Sounds like you don’t think it’s okay, then…?”
“I mean, it’s not my head being looked in. So long as they can walk away, not really my business.”
“Oh. Well. Alright, then.” He’ll dig into that later. “What do you think, Leaf?” He has a sudden worry that she’s mad at him…
“I’m not sure how to feel about it, honestly,” Leaf says. “It’s hard to put aside my feelings about Silph and the Master Ball enough to give any sort of answer. I’m not sure how to say this, but it feels bad to justify this sort of thing by how much is at stake?”
“What do you mean?” Blue asks. “If that was true we’d stop using hunters to catch renegades.”
“I know, I just don’t like that it’s being pushed on Red like it’s his fault if he says no and something bad happens. If they know there’s a renegade there then asking them to let their minds be read feels weird, because of course they’ll say no… but he’s saying they’ll just let them walk away and not treat them differently after? I guess they can’t know for sure who just has a really big secret, but I’m skeptical this will make people less suspicious of dark people. It’ll just make a new split between those willing to let someone read their mind and those not willing to.”
“Shit,” Blue says. “She’s right, and anyone not willing to will be seen even worse than they are now, since they have the option but are refusing it… ugh. Red, I may need you to casually comment about what merging thoughts with me is like at some point so people know that I’m not hiding any deep secrets.”
“Sure,” Red says, leaving unasked whether he’s actually going to want Red to merge with him first. He’s not sure how comfortable he’d be lying about that, though he does trust Blue… “So you think I shouldn’t do it?”
“Nah, doesn’t change anything. Was just saying, it’s going to happen, right or wrong.”
“Obviously if I had to choose between renegades getting it or Silph selling it to the Indigo League or whatever, I’d take the latter. Though that’s easy for me to say, since Unova isn’t near Indigo… no, obviously I’d still want it out of the hands of renegades.” She sighs. “I don’t know, Red. When this gets out, you’re going to get asked to do it a lot more by others before more people learn to. Are you ready to decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t?”
Red’s pacing slows, then stops as he stares out the window over the city. He didn’t think of that.
“I don’t know. I guess… it’ll depend on what’s at stake.”
“And how much they offer.” Blue says.
“What? I’m not going to charge for it!”
“Why not? Don’t tell me you turned down money!”
“They didn’t offer any, and I didn’t ask. That would be like charging for, I don’t know, saving people from a pokemon incident!”
“Nah, totally different. You think hunters and police don’t get paid? Is the Commissioner there on his off-time?”
“Blue’s right,” Leaf says. “Plus, it’s not like Silph can’t afford it.”
Red rubs his eyes, trying to decide if this is good sense or just a difference that comes from growing up poorer than the other two. “If I charge money for it, I can’t be sure I’m just doing it for moral reasons.”
“Hmmm… I guess from a PR angle…”
“Yeah, it’s a good point on both counts.” Leaf sighs. “Well, I’m out of wisdom on this one. Sorry, Red.”
“No, you’ve been helpful, both of you. Thanks.”
“Of course. Good luck!”
“Hey, seriously, if I can help—”
“I’ll let you know. But probably you should just sit tight, or maybe we can meet up later, in case this takes a while?”
“Fuck that, I’m staying.”
“Alright. Later guys.” Red ends the call and stares out over the city for another minute before he takes a breath and enters the main office.
President Silph is still sitting at his desk. Some dessert has appeared, and the older man carefully adds some crushed nuts onto his ice cream before he turns to Red. “That was quicker than I expected. Do you have your answer?”
“Mostly. I need to send whatever waiver you have to my lawyer…?”
“Of course. I’m still waiting on confirmation from Burrell and my head of security, so I’ll send you a copy now.”
He does so, and Red forwards it as he sits across from him again and looks over his own ice cream, wondering if it’s meant to further nudge Red into agreement. There’s an awkward silence as they wait for responses, or at least awkward for Red; President Silph seems to be enjoying his ice cream, and after a moment says, “Well, as we have some spare time, and didn’t have as productive a lunch as we might have liked… is there anything you’ve particularly wanted to discuss since our last one?”
Red half expected the President to bring up something related to his mother, and is wondering now if this is his way of inviting questions around that. Maybe give his side of the story, or judge whether Red is upset about it.
But Red doesn’t really want to talk about that, and bringing it up would put them in a frame of potential argument and conflict. He’s more interested in getting the President’s thoughts on his guilt over the pokemon prices going up…
“Yes, actually. I recently made a lot of money by selling pokemon capable of Miracle Eye—”
“Yes, I saw.” Silph’s smile is warm. “Congratulations are in order, not just for the discovery, but for capitalizing on it even better than you did the abra catching technique.”
“Right.” Red shifts in his seat. “It’s just, I’m not sure how to feel about the people who can’t afford abra, or other Miracle Eye pokemon, now.”
President Silph spoons another bite of ice cream up, but studies Red rather than eating it, smile gone. “You feel you’ve done something wrong?”
“Sort of, yeah. It felt good making abra easier to catch, since more trainers could get one, and it brought the price down so more non-trainers could buy them… but this feels like, I don’t know, I just made them harder to get than ever.”
Red blinks at the older man. “Nonsense as in, I didn’t?”
“Absolutely not.” He gestures out the window behind him. “They are all there, just as easy to catch as they were before. Their numbers have not dwindled, their supply has not shrunk. What changed is that your discovery increased the value of them, and the market is merely reflecting that.”
“But… for those who can’t catch them, those who are too old or who aren’t trainers…”
“Believe me, Mr. Verres, when I say I share your sorrow that not everyone who has a want can yet have it fulfilled.” Put like that, Red feels a little silly, but Silph seems serious. “I am, after all, doing my part to help alleviate that problem. But that we have yet to reach utopia is no individual’s fault, let alone the fault of simple supply and demand. You would not blame physics for failing to accommodate our every whim, would you?”
“Well, no, but that’s different, isn’t it? People could choose to sell something for less than others…” Red trails off, because he of course didn’t make that choice for most of the pokemon he’d bought. Why would he, when those he sold to could just resell the pokemon for higher themselves? Not that everyone would, some might really want an abra or natu themselves, but he’d have no way of knowing that himself… maybe if some law was passed to keep people from reselling pokemon for a time after purchase… but wait, that would have stopped him from making any money off his discovery at all.
Red feels the guilt churning in his stomach again as he considers that maybe he shouldn’t have made money off it, and is interrupted by President Silph lightly tapping him on the nose with the handle of his spoon.
Silph meets his startled look with a level one. “I know the expression that was on your face just now, and it is a tragic thing on anyone, let alone those as bright and enterprising as yourself. While it would be no less proper for the price to rise due to scarcity, it would at least be regrettable. What you are failing to understand is that you have caused the price to go up because the knowledge you uncovered, the technique you developed, created value, and that is what the market is reflecting by the higher price.”
Red feels himself frowning, though the sick feeling in his stomach is starting to fade as he slowly realizes what the old man is saying. “But… what if people are wrong about how valuable something is?”
President Silph sprinkles some more nuts on his ice cream, and Red decides to try some himself. “Are you asking because you don’t know, or because you’re worried about your personal situation?”
“You’re right, I know the price will go down once people realize it’s not as valuable as they think.” Theoretically, at least. It might take a while. “And yeah, you’re right about the personal bit too. I guess I’m still not used to changing things on such a large scale…”
“And so you’re prepared to feel bad no matter which way things go.”
That’s not… quite right? Red takes a breath, finding the felt-sense in his chest and focusing on it as he speaks. “It’s more that… none of this feels real? No, none of it feels solid. In science there’s no certainty, but there’s at least knowledge that can be tested. There’s no right or wrong, morally, there’s just the pursuit of truth. I don’t have to worry about what it means for others if I succeed, because succeeding in science is always good for everyone…”
He trails off as he feels a painful twist in his chest as he says the words, but before he can focus on it he gets distracted by President Silph’s wry snort. “While business must always be zero-sum?”
“No, not always,” Red acknowledges. “Or at least, I get that on an intellectual level. But… well, now that I think about it, I guess all this is just an extension of what I was worried about before, with Miracle Eye’s effect on dark people. Overall the world will probably be better having it, but some people’s lives will individually be worse, and… that sucks.”
Red expects President Silph to scoff, but the older man stares into his ice cream bowl, spoon stirring it slightly as he slowly nods. “Yes. It does ‘suck,’ indeed, and it’s good to remind ourselves of that, once in a while.” The older man smiles slightly. “When my nephew was young, he said that I sound as though I worship the ‘invisible hand of the market’ that I was no doubt boring him with my repeated lectures on. I, a tad less jokingly, replied that I knew of nothing else as worthy of venerating, save perhaps for human ingenuity. But in truth, my god is as cold and impersonal as any other. I assume you have no faith?”
Red shakes his head as he sprinkle some of the nuts on his vanilla ice cream and takes a small bite. It is, of course, delicious, silky and sweet, and the nuts provide a grounding crunch. “Never saw a convincing reason to.”
“I’ll switch back to the scientific analogy, then. I made the comparison to laws of physics for good reason; there is fundamentally no difference between a man building his house on a faultline and his business unsuited to the market, save that it is easier for us to identify the outcomes of the first. It was not always so, and perhaps one day we will know better than to rail against the market for our failures to predict it, the same way we once couldn’t predict earthquakes.” Silph shrugs. “In either case, it is tragic that people may lose to forces beyond their ken or control. But to blame reality is childish. When one business creates a better product than another, it may put many out of a job. We can sympathize with them, hope that they find another, even collectively help via social safety nets. But as a society we’re improved by them losing that job, because they are no longer doing redundant, less valuable work, and we have the better service or product.”
“You support social safety nets?”
Silph smiles. “It surprises many people, but I do, within reason. They can encourage people to take professional risks that might benefit us all.”
Red’s not sure if it’s the ice cream or the words, but he is starting to feel better. He wants to take his journal out to make notes of why so he can check the reasoning later, run it past some others. Instead it strikes him again just how valuable this time is, and decides to jump to another question. “I’ve also been having trouble learning how to… spend money? I know that sounds silly, but it still feels like a rare resource, to me. On the ship you said to spend every dollar as deliberately as my first, and I feel like I’ve always done that, but now that I’m still doing it even with lots of money it feels particularly wasteful.”
Mr. Silph’s brow is raised. “Fear of wasting money is understandable, but ‘deliberately’ needn’t mean perfectly.”
Well, when he puts it like that… “Does that mean you sometimes regret purchases you make?”
Now it’s Red’s turn to raise his brow. “Really?”
“Really,” Silph deadpans, then shrugs. “I used to, until I realized I was orienting to it incorrectly. I have goals, and I want those goals to be achieved, and so it feels bad if there are any wastes of time and resources that delay that. But if by regret you mean some sense of internal suffering, or self-flagellation, I have no time for such. It is much more productive to learn from failure and move on.”
Easier said than done, Red almost says, but the frame is familiar. “So if I treat every purchase as an experiment, something I learn from, whether I get what I want or not…”
“Precisely. Thus, ‘deliberately,’ but without dithering, and without frustration.”
Red smiles as he feels the new mental frame settling into place. “I’ll have to try that out next time, but I already think it’ll help. Thank you.”
“Of course, though I suspect it’s only half of the issue.”
“What do you mean?”
“Most people either are not used to earning regularly, or are on a fixed salary. This leads to—”
Red’s phone pings, and he checks it to see a message from James. “My lawyer says the waiver looks good.” He feels a strange mix of relief and disappointment, and knows the latter to be something uncomfortably close to cowardice.
“Excellent. Does that mean we can count on your help?”
Red tries to mentally shift gears back to considering what brought him here. He’d been enjoying the conversation, enjoying learning and having good ice cream, and he doesn’t want it to stop, doesn’t want to go around the building meeting strangers just to command a Miracle Eye on them over and over…
…but he doesn’t want renegades to steal the Master Ball either.
Assuming they really are renegades…
“Commissioner Burrell said he can’t reveal why you think there are renegades here. He looked at you when he said it, so if you’re the reason he can’t… I think I’d need to know, first.” He almost apologizes for adding yet another condition, but it feels appropriate.
Silph has finished his ice cream, and instead pours a small spoonful of nuts from the serving spoon into his personal one and eats that directly. “I am not the reason he ‘can’t,’ but rather, he is the reason I have not. There are ongoing investigations from the lab that held the stolen Silph Scope technology, and we’ve been keeping the details close. I suggested you be told, given your involvement in that incident, but Burrell disliked the idea. I could ignore his preference, but that would feel like defecting. Still, if it’s what you need, perhaps he would change his mind.”
“No,” Red says after a moment. “I mean, I’d like to be told, but there’s no actual reason for me to be, so long as I know there is good reason. No mental shield is perfect, and if it’s sensitive information…”
Silph is smiling at him again. “You continue to impress me, Mr. Verres. And so?”
“And so… yes, I’ll help.” Red tries not to let the compliment warm him too much, but he supposes it doesn’t matter if he does or not, now that he’s decided to go ahead.
“Excellent.” Silph lets out a breath as he picks up his phone. “I’ll let Burrell know. Thank you, Mr. Verres.”
Red just nods and eats more of his half-melted ice cream. Now that he has decided to go ahead, he feels lighter, though part of him still dreads the work itself. But at the end of the day, whatever the Master Ball is or isn’t, whatever people think of him for doing this, if there are renegades in the building and they get away, or worse, steal something that would let them capture a legendary… it would be partially on him. He can wish it were otherwise, but he can’t actually ignore what he knows about the world. There are older, stronger, smarter people than him doing their best to keep things together, but they’re not enough, and that he was asked for help means he can help.
And he won’t even be risking his life to do it. The more he thinks about it, the less it feels like a real dilemma at all.
“We have another ten minutes, and Burrell will be joining us with Sicong, my head of security.” Silph pours himself and Red some more tea. “Feel free to relax here meanwhile, and finish your ice cream.”
“Alright. Um, you were saying, about wealth?”
“Ah yes! Wealth…” He sips his tea, then pours the last of his melted ice cream into it and stirs. “Most people treat it as a fixed number, either saved in the bank or on a refreshing budget. What you must internalize is that you have something even more valuable than a large amount of money: what you have is earning potential. Many wealthy people do feel free to spend money because they simply have an enormous amount, but that is still the thought on the surface; the true secret is having an abundance mindset. To put it simply, your ability to spend money is a function of your ability to make it.”
Red suddenly remembers a thought he had while bored and scrolling headlines, about some superstar who had gotten millions into debt. It made him wonder, at the time, how anyone could spend that much money without realizing they were out of it… and how anyone could be allowed to spend that much money without having any.
But he was given tons of money just based on the confidence people had that he’d be able to make good returns, and in his mind there’s now a concept of wealth not as a fixed point, or even a trendline, but a range on an axis. “I think I get it, yeah. I was trying to internalize this earlier today, but I was just doing it from feelings of abundance and relief and success. The idea that I’m reliably able to pull off things like this more than once might take a while to update on, but… yeah, I see how that would help me feel less bad about spending money.”
“I’m glad, though I have to say, it is a bit odd that you felt confident enough to borrow money on speculation, but not to spend it. I suppose you felt it as enough of a ‘sure thing?'”
“Yeah, normally I think I’d be way too risk averse.” Red wonders if he should stop eating to let his stomach settle, then decides more nuts might be okay. “I guess I could also try to focus on the things I’m buying as ‘sure things’ too… just in a different way than I’m used to thinking of purchases.”
“Knowledge of a thing’s quality, knowledge of your tastes, unique experiences… there are many things we’re assured of, when we buy something, even if we dislike it.”
Red lets the thought and ice cream digest for a moment, sipping his tea and blowing on it. He feels like he should be preparing himself more deliberately, but he was told to relax, so he tries to relax, and finds himself still thinking of the financial questions that were dominating his thoughts before he came here.
“One last question?” Silph asks, watching him over his tea cup with a small smile.
“Yeah, actually. I was going to ask what you’d do with the money I have, but I guess that’s a silly question.”
“Because I assume you’re already doing everything you want with money? And we have different goals, so…”
The older man chuckles. “Another motto of mine, to add to our growing list: a man poor in fortune or spirits will only purchase that which already exists, while a man abundant in either will spend it to purchase what has yet to exist. Most of my wealth is being used to bring ideas into existence, whether material or systemic or conceptual. So what I would do with your money is, essentially, more of the same of what I’m already doing. You’re welcome to check my company’s site for the full list and explanations for which technologies we invest in and political causes we champion, but if you don’t find those particular arguments convincing, the important question is to ask what you would like to see done in the world, and spend money on that.”
Red thinks over all the many notes he’s taken throughout his journey about inventions he wished existed, or different policies or protocols that he wished were different. “What if I don’t know anyone working on those problems already?” He thinks of the CoRRNet incident report system, and how it doesn’t use Bayesian reasoning to determine what Tier a threat might be.
For the first time, Silph’s reaction makes Red feel like he asked a stupid question. “Then you pay them to do it.”
“Oh, sure, but… just like that? Even if they’re working on other things already?”
“Of course. What do you think money is, but a way to reallocate labor in a way you’d prefer?”
He’d never thought of it in quite those terms, but… “And if no one still wants to?”
“Then you didn’t offer enough.” President Silph shrugs. “I won’t pretend there aren’t other factors. Some work is so risky or unpleasant that virtually no one will do it, no matter how much you offer… though that is quite rare. The more difficult problem is finding people who are passionate about the thing you want them to work on, as they will, by and large, be much more competent and productive than those doing it just because of the money.” Something on his desk buzzes. “That is why talent searching is so important and valued.” He presses the button. “Yes?”
“Burrell and Sicong are here.”
“We’ll be right out.” He takes one last sip of tea, then stands, and Red gets up too. “There’s a PC here, if you need to summon your Miracle Eye pokemon.”
“I’ve got him on me.” Red’s fingers brush the balls along his belt until he gets to Kadabra’s. “I’m ready.”