110: Conflict Theory

Hey everyone, with great thanks to a patron named Felix, there’s now a script that creates a pokedex chapter at the end of my epubs and turns pokemon names into a link that goes a picture and short description of them! I’ve had in mind for years to do something like this, and I’m very excited to offer it to patrons. Thanks a lot, Felix!

I’ll be in Rotterdam for EAGx and Prague throughout November, so feel free to let me know if you want to say hi. Enjoy the chapter!


Blue feels like he should be pacing, but that would reveal nervousness to any potential watchers. So instead he just bounces his feet as he lies on one of the comfortable couches in the break room he was stowed in, listening to the hum of the vending machines and typing on his phone.

There’s something about this meeting that’s felt off to him from the beginning, and after Red left the call, Blue asked Leaf for a more detailed download of what he might have been missing that she could share. By the end of the call he was still unsure whether Silph was using Red as a pawn or not, but either way he doesn’t like the idea of just sitting back and hoping for the best.

Which is why he almost sends a message to Glen to get everyone who’s free and make their way to the Silph building. What slows his fingers to a stop is the expected next question:

Why?

The honest answer would include that there might be renegade activity here soon.

Which he expects them to do… what, about that, exactly?

He suddenly can’t shake off images of Glen struggling through physical therapy, of Maria’s occasional distant, haunted gaze, of Lizzy’s occasional sleepless nights that she admitted came from nightmares of facing down the renegade once again, except this time without the miraculous save…

Blue tries to convince himself that he shouldn’t be making this decision for them. It took Lizzy a while to find a therapist that worked for her, but she’s doing better. Glen would ask what the point of his working so hard to get back to his peak was for, if he’s not even called in to help. Maria… he’s not sure what Maria would say, actually. As for Elaine, that’s an easy one.

Don’t borrow so much guilt ahead of time, Blue. It’s very noble of you, but it’s patronizing as hell.

And still, he can’t bring himself to keep typing. Because Elaine isn’t traveling with them anymore, she’s taking a break, and Bretta and Slav and Sumi are focusing on different gyms with some of the others who already finished at Fuchsia, and that makes sense but it also might be to avoid being around Blue Oak, the danger magnet. Jamil and Viraj are new and eager to please, and they’re not novices just because they’re new to his group, but knowing they’ll come isn’t the same as being sure they’d come for the right reasons.

The scenarios they’ve been running prepare them for unusual battles (particularly since they’ve been watching the ones Vermilion continues to run so they can steal their good ideas), but it’s no good pretending that they’d prepare them for actual renegades. Maybe the average renegade, a little, but not the kind that would be infiltrating a place like this.

(Assuming there are any renegades and Silph isn’t just looking for excuses and justifications to get his workers scanned… but that’s a thought for later.)

Which means that despite getting immensely lucky a couple times, none of them have trained for this sort of situation. He thought about it of course, but there always seemed to be more important, more likely threats to prepare for.

And this doesn’t really change that. There’s no reason for anyone to get involved in this… not even him. His goal is to become Champion and stop the Stormbringers, not take down renegades.

But he’s here, and there’s no way he’s leaving until he knows how it shakes out, and makes sure Red is okay.

So he deletes the message to Glen and sends out new messages instead, canceling his plans for the day and filling grandpa in. If Gramps knew about the Master Ball and didn’t tell him Blue is going to be pissed… No, not really, he’d get it if it was part of some big secret thing with Aunt Laura. Still, he’s having trouble grasping what the invention might mean.

People have tried capturing the Stormbringers before, of course. Past champions, gym leaders, even some random trainers brave enough to attempt the impossible. A lot of words were written analyzing their failures, and what steps are required to get the job done.

The first barrier of course is just reaching them. Even the toughest pokemon tire quickly when flying through a storm under Pressure, and even fully insulated suits can’t protect their riders for long against the intense heat, electricity, and cold around the birds themselves.

The second is getting a ball lock. The storms reduce the range of even the strongest beams down to nearly nothing, and Blue knows first hand how hard it is holding one steady on a moving target while riding a pokemon, let alone doing it on a flying one in a storm.

Then there’s the throw, assuming you even get a lock. It’s hard to hear the confirmation over the storm, and those few who have sworn they felt the haptic feedback of a lock, thrown and hit, and still didn’t capture them. Damage to the balls from the intense temperature or electric currents was the primary guess for why.

And of course, all of this assuming the giant bird god is just flying in a straight line, and not concentrating its unstoppable power at you. Which is how most attempts failed, even with others helping support and distract.

There’s also the question of mass. While larger than any other birds, they’re probably not as dense as corviknight, most of which don’t hit the 200 kilo limit on ultraballs. But what if they don’t have hollow bones? How dense are their beaks and talons? Some fancy programs were run on video footage that tried to evaluate their weight by the way they flew and maneuvered compared to other pokemon, but they weren’t conclusive given the unique environment they created around themselves, and their unique immunities to it. The main thing Blue remembers from looking at that info years ago was that they somehow determined that articuno seems to weigh less than moltres, which made no kind of sense to Blue but made Red nod thoughtfully in what Blue suspected was just him acting like a know-it-all.

All of which is to say that if Silph really did create a ball that would stay undamaged, could scan through a storm, and could guarantee a capture if thrown… the stormbringers might get caught before he even becomes Champion, something he hasn’t actually considered likely before.

He’s not sure how he feels about it now.

On the one hand, massively relieved. On the other… disappointed, that it might not be him. He knows plenty of others have just as much a right to get revenge on the birds, he doesn’t need it to be him. But he’s not sure how he’ll feel if he doesn’t at least help take down one of them, if they’re all gone before he even has a chance to try.

And deeper beneath that worry, there’s fear… and anger.

That’s what has his foot bouncing, as much as anticipation. His inner arcanine, who resembles Soul now, scars and all, is pacing for him, spreading heat through his chest and stomach.

Someone is trying to steal their best chance at stopping the Stormbringers.

It’s one thing to worry about how to keep the peace once he or some other trainer gets a legendary. If a renegade gets it, or some shadowy organization…

No, the answer would still be the same. Become an ideal champion, one that can rally the region and take it on. He’s not sure if renegade controlled Stormbringer would be more dangerous than a wild one, but better to avoid that altogether, if possible.

The more he thinks about it, the more obvious it is that this is part of his path. He can’t just walk away from something that has this much chance to ruin the region, the islands, plausibly even the world.

Even if there’s no real chance of making a difference, he can’t just walk away.

He finishes messaging his grandpa, then starts drafting one to Red to check if anything new has happened. He gets interrupted within seconds by a call. “Hey, Gramps.”

“Who else is with you?”

The straight to business tone, with none of his usual levity, makes everything feel more real. Blue sits up, checking the glass door to see if anyone is coming by. “It’s just me and Red.”

“Were you invited?”

“Nah, I kind of talked my way in.”

“Then keep your involvement off the web until you know how things shake out.”

Blue feels a surge of affection for his grandpa, who doesn’t even try to talk him out of staying, and instead goes straight to what matters. “You think it’s a bad idea? There still might be time to talk Red out of it.”

“I honestly don’t know, Blue, but it’s different for him in any case. We can get away with some things you wouldn’t be able to.”

“If it costs political power—”

“Not just that, there’s social drag to you admitting your mistakes, if you make one.”

“Right.” It feels unfair, but he gets it. “I’m going to stick around.”

“I figur—”

“Attention all personnel.”

Blue twitches at the sudden gruff male voice, then turns to find its source: an intercom in the corner of the ceiling. “Hang on, Gramps, something’s—”

“I heard.”

“—be doing a full update of the SecuriPass system, and will begin distributing new cards throughout the day. Please be aware that if you leave the building before receiving your new card, you won’t be able to re-enter until we can get you one.”

Well now Blue definitely isn’t leaving…

“Please pay close attention to your intramail so you know when it’s your turn to receive your new pass. We hope to get done with everyone within a few hours.”

Nothing new comes, and Blue says, “Okay, go ahead.”

“You said the police are involved?”

“The city commissioner is here himself. Burrell.”

“Hm. I don’t know him.”

“Problem?”

“Maybe not, but I want to know why interpol isn’t there. They were helping in Celadon.”

“Huh. Dunno. Think Aunt Laura can check if they’re in the loop, somehow?”

“I’ll do it myself. Try not to rush into anything, Blue. If a larger game is being played, you’re as likely to wreck things as help if you don’t know what’s going on.”

“Yeah, I get it. But if Red is being used—”

“I know. I’ll do what I can.”

“Thanks, Gramps. I know you will.”


Red thought they might go through the whole building, merging with Silph employees one department at a time. Instead he’s led from the president’s office down to the fourth floor, where the building’s security headquarters is. There’s already a small team of rangers and police inside, as well as a pair of hunters.

Red met some hunters while working with the Celadon police, and always found the experience a little surreal. He’s so used to seeing them in movies and shows, which portray them either as heroic, misunderstood figures just trying to do a hard job despite stigma, or hardened loners balancing on the edge of their duty and its effects on their conscience.

In reality most seem to just be quiet and reserved, fading into the background and just following the lead of the police and rangers. These two stand at either side of the door, one with his hands clasped behind his back, the other with a thumb hooked into her pokebelt. Red’s eyes get drawn, as usual, to the extra black line that splits their balls vertically. He knows it’s conditioning from shows and films that make such simple change cause the hunter balls to look so sinister, but just being in the same room with them makes part of his attention constantly track where they are.

The Silph staff members who come in for screening seem to feel the same, gazes darting nervously toward them even more often than they do Commissioner Burrell, or President Silph, or the company’s psychic, or even Red’s kadabra. He listens as each is told the real reason they were called in, and each agrees to be merged with rather than leave work for the day and pick up their new security cards tomorrow. Silph’s CAO, CTO, and CHRO were apparently told and screened ahead of time, which is why they were all waiting for them in the security office when they arrived. His CMO was the only C-Suite executive not to be pre-screened, and so she was the first to be called in after the announcement went out over the intercom, followed by the various other heads of departments.

Red wonders whether the consent they’re giving will feel less real if no one decides against it. Does it even matter if Silph is being honest about the lack of consequences if no one believes it? But then, what could he do about that? If it’s really costless to them, why would they subject themselves to it instead of taking the paid day off?

Unless they’re really just that dedicated to their work. This is Silph HQ, after all, and so far they’ve all been fairly high up in the hierarchy. They’re probably intrinsically dedicated, and if they really have nothing to hide or are used to being scanned, this sort of thing would seem routine to them.

Things change when they reach the first dark employee, one of the R&D managers. He gets a longer explanation, and his reaction is more nuanced, a nervousness woven into his acceptance.

“You’re sure you’re okay with this?” Red can’t help but ask, looking into the man’s eyes himself.

“Yes, yeah, I’m good.” He wipes a palm on his pantleg. “You did it on Blue Oak, right? And he’s fine? There was no pain?”

“Yeah.” Red didn’t expect the main worry to be whether it was painless, but at the man’s nod he just accepts that he’s being over-cautious and mentally commands Kadabra to use Miracle Eye. “Okay, it’s happening now.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the man says after a moment, cheeks pink as he keeps his gaze on the floor. “If something… uh, unusual comes up.”

“It’s fine, Sir.” The company psychic, Lin, has been clinically professional with everyone, and Red has wondered whether he’s a full time Silph employee or a contractor that works for other organizations too. “It’s very common for people to inadvertently think of things they try not to during a merger, but it doesn’t bother us.”

That’s a polite fiction, of course, some psychics do find the thoughts that come up in people’s minds disturbing, but that does fade with experience. It’s fair to say that someone in Lin’s position, at least, is probably long past any embarrassment or shock, but either way, he’s too much of a professional to show any.

After a few pointed questions to direct the manager’s thoughts to the Silph company, his feelings about it, and his career plans, the psychic nods to indicate that he’s withdrawn his mind, and Red tells Kadabra to end it.

“That’s it?” the man asks, looking around with another moment of apprehension.

Lin nods, and the head of security, Sicong, hands the man his new passcard. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

“Of course. Um, good luck.” He takes the card, bows to the room, and leaves.

“I think that went well,” the head of HR says, and President Silph nods.

“Let’s hope the rest do as well.”

And for the rest of the company’s dark senior staff, they seem to. There’s surprise for most, but not all; many are calmly, almost resignedly, accepting, as if they expected something like this. A few are even cheerful about it. Red can’t tell how genuine those are, since he’s just assisting with the Miracle Eye and not doing the mergers himself. But from what he can pick up by the brief period of surface thoughts, there’s nothing obviously incongruent.

There’s a brief break as Lin pauses to use the bathroom, and Red stretches his limbs by walking over to the glass wall that looks over the city’s main street and cranks one of the levers on the side to open a window slot, letting some fresh air into the crowded room. One of the cops is leaning against the glass with Pranav, another Silph security. “I don’t like it,” Red hears the cop murmur around her coffee cup. “If they talk about what we’re doing, give warning…”

“What’s the worst that happens? Someone leaves early?” Pranav shrugs. “Doesn’t change much.”

“Tips them off, if they’re planning something.”

“I’ll take it. Know you guys want to grab them, but so far as I’m concerned a boring day where everything goes smooth is a win.” He glances at Silph, who’s sitting at a desk and answering emails. The president said he prefers to be present, ensure the employees know the orders and assurances are both coming straight from the top, but Red can imagine it strikes the company’s security as an unnecessary risk. “Besides, not like they’re going to subject themselves to a merge anyway, if they are planning something.”

Red has to admit that he’s also unsure how this would help capture the potential renegade. There’s always some chance they’re overconfident, or feel trapped and let themselves be merged with rather than raise suspicion… but the more likely outcome is they just leave.

But after another half hour of working their way down through the middle managers and to the lowest ranks, no one’s done that yet, and Red starts to feel more nervous about it. Not the sort of nerves that makes him feel like he’s in danger; one of the hunters has a wigglytuff out and earplugs in, if anyone who walks in tries to start something they’d be unconscious in seconds. But still, his feet keep tapping restlessly under his seat.

He’s just about to try Focusing to see if his unease is coming from moral ambiguity, or something else when the CAO, whose name Red has already forgotten, claps his hands together with a satisfied sigh.

“Alright, that’s everyone in leadership. Kazue, I think we can deal with everyone else without you.”

President Silph looks up at him. “You’re sure?”

“Yes,” says the woman in a three piece suit that Red is pretty sure is the CHRO. “They’d probably feel more intimidated than anything. Go get some work done.”

President Silph smiles. “You know me too well.” He fiddles with the mouse and keyboard for a moment, then straightens his cuffs as he stands. “Alright, I’ll be in my office if you need me.”

Sicong looks to his subordinate. “Pranav, go with him.”

“Yes, Sir.” He gives the female cop a small wave and escorts the President to the door, where Silph pauses and turns back to Red.

“Be sure to come back up before you leave, Mr. Verres, so I can thank you again.”

Red just nods, and then they’re gone. As soon as the president leaves, some tension leaks out of the collective minds in the room, and the CHRO doesn’t waste a moment before turning to the CAO and CTO, saying, “Same goes for you two.”

They exchange glances, and the CAO opens his mouth, then closes it with a wry smile and nods. “Yeah, alright. Call me—”

“If I need you, yeah, yeah.”

“You alright here, Valentin?” the CTO asks the guy in the room who’s been reprogramming people’s new security badges. Red presumes he’s in charge of cyber security, but it’s been hard to tell what the organizational structure here is.

“I’m good, Sir.” The IT engineer flashes a thumbs up without looking away from his computer. “Everything looks good from the lab, too.”

“I’ll go see how they’re doing with the rest, then.”

Once the two men leave, the room starts to feel a bit less crowded, with just the CHRO, Valentin, Sicong, and Lin from the company, while Burrell, the female officer, and the two hunters represent the city. Red didn’t even learn their names, but the guy is lanky while the woman is short and muscular, so he’s been thinking of them as Tall and Stocky.

Red has been a little surprised by how casually everyone’s been acting toward each other, particularly given the high ranks of some of them, but he can tell that they’re all more than a little nervous. Still, that does seem to be decreasing, even for the cops and hunters, who are getting more and more relaxed over time. Even Burrell, whose hat has gone uncreased for nearly ten minutes now.

A steady stream of employees continues to trickle in, most of them non-dark, and as everything becomes more and more routine Red starts to wonder if it would be disrespectful to fiddle on his phone while he waits for Miracle Eye to be needed again.

He checks in with Kadabra instead, merging with his pokemon to send reassurance at some of his restlessness, then sending their combined senses outward in every direction. With Kadabra’s incredible range, he could count every employee mind on the surrounding floors if he wanted to, and it’s a little dizzying being aware of so many anonymous minds at once. At best he can aggregate, emotional impressions: a dozen people feeling anxiety, another dozen or so deeply focused on some task, a small scattering of people who seem to be on break, or relaxing in some other way, particularly clustered in a couple rooms that he guesses are kitchens.

It’s particularly interesting noticing where people’s attention is focused, and how “open” they are to the world around them compared to something specific that they’re deliberately paying attention to. He wonders whether his own awareness shifts, and, as he notices the way it automatically seems to “glance” at the people around him, what triggers it for himself when he’s not deliberately focused on anything…

“This is Red Verres, who will be allowing me to merge with your thoughts…”

Red pulls his mind back and focuses on the employee in front of him, trying to look attentive and unthreatening. The woman doesn’t seem too concerned, though she asks some questions about privacy expectations before agreeing.

Once the merger is done and she leaves, he decides to finally pull out his phone to message Blue and see how he’s doing. The text doesn’t go through, however, and after a moment he notices that his phone has no signal.

The sight of the error sends a small jolt through his stomach, and even as part of him knows he’s probably overreacting he looks around to see if anyone else has noticed something wrong. Maybe they just block it in here, and he has to get on the local wifi…

THUD

Everyone jumps, turning to face the door. The loud noise came from just the other side of it, and seemed to rattle it in its frame.

“What was that?” Commissioner Burrell asks. Everyone in the room with a pokebelt has a hand on a ball.

“I sent for lunch,” the CHRO says, but her tone is doubtful, and when one of the hunters twists the handle and pushes, it doesn’t budge.

“What in the h—”

BOOMMMMMmmm

Red waits until the floor stops vibrating to stand, knees slightly bent. “That came—”

“—above us—”

“Attention Silph Employees. This building is now under our control.”

Red stares at the intercom speaker in what feels like a haze of surreal shock, even while part of him feels like all of this is totally normal. Burrell swears, and the hunter tries to open the door again, this time shoving his shoulder against it.

“Everyone below the fourth floor may evacuate immediately. Everyone on the fourth floor and above, remove any pokebelts and lie facedown, hands on your head. If you attempt to stop us, we will kill our hostages, including President Silph.”

The room is frozen, for a moment, and Red has to withdraw his senses to avoid getting overwhelmed in the mix of emotions pinging off everyone’s minds. There’s a click from the intercom before the voice returns.

“Commissioner Burell and associates in security, you’ve no doubt noticed by now that you’re trapped behind a ton of iron. This means we can’t assure your disarming compliance. However, we have people throughout the building, and if you use any pokemon to break through the doors, walls, ceilings, or floor, we will kill the President. Just sit still, and no one needs to die.”

“Who is this?” the Commissioner asks, and Red is impressed by how even and commanding his tone is despite the vein that’s visibly throbbing on his temple. The man’s face is flushed to a dark mahogany, and his hat lies crumpled on the ground, fists clenched at his sides. “What are your intentions?”

There’s no answer, and Burrell takes out his walkie talkie. “Haru?” He twists a knob. “Emiko, come in.” Another twist, this one going through multiple clicks. “Burrell to all points, come in, over.”

“Internet’s down.” Valentin says, voice low as he starts typing rapidly. “Lost landline and wifi—”

“Jammer for phones and for radio frequencies,” Sicong says, breathing hard. The head of security is twisting his own radio through frequencies, each click sounding incredibly loud, then seems to force himself to stop.

Burrell seems about to throw his own radio, then catches himself and places it on the table next to him, palms flat beside it as he stares at the wall.

“What do we do?” the CHRO asks, voice low. “How did this happen?”

“I’m thinking.”

“They have Mr. Silph—”

“I’m thinking!”

The hunters have stopped trying to bust down the door, and Lin just sits with wide eyes. “The window…?”

“Four stories up,” Burrell says. “Any of you have a pokemon that you can ride that climbs walls?”

No one answers.

“They’d probably count that as trying to escape too,” Sicong murmurs. “And kill Kazue, and whoever else they have.” Red can tell he’s thinking of Pranav, maybe wondering if he’s already dead.

We’re trapped.

Red’s heart is beating hard in his chest, but steady. He merges with Kadabra and sends their psychic range out as wide as it can go, sensing the minds fleeing the floors below them, doing his best to filter out the universal fear and shock radiating from all the others in range.

They’re all trapped.


In a way, part of Blue had been waiting for the first boom that shudders through the building all along. It should have been like a shot of espresso, a jolt of adrenaline that set his heart racing. Instead Blue immediately enters his battle calm as he swings his feet around and stands, then moves out the door and into the hall that led to the elevator Red went up, hands automatically moving to unclip the airmask from the side of his bag and slip it on.

Maturin, Gon, Ion, Soul, Zephyr, Rive. The last two wouldn’t be able to be summoned indoors, and Soul would be pretty cramped too…

Soon he’s in the office area that leads to the private elevator. It’s a wide open room with a couple dozen desks scattered through it, each pair forming the Silph logo when placed side by side. The office workers are still at their desks looking mildly confused as they stare at the ceiling, or look around to see what others’ reactions are, and Blue’s steps slow as he wonders whether he should tell them to evacuate or ignore them and head for Red.

Which is when he notices one of the people take a pokebelt out of a suitcase and clip it on.

In any other context, Blue would admire the person’s level-headedness and reaction time. If you hear something like that, regardless of where you are, your first step should be to reach for your belt.

But there’s something too calm, too sure, about the man’s movements, and the memory association is immediate and impossible to ignore; it’s been nearly a year since he helped catch Yuuta, but he still dreams about it, sometimes.

Renegade!”

The word comes out before he can consider it, an explosion of sound that gets more reaction from everyone than the boom had.

Only too late, in the moment where everyone turns to him in shock, does Blue consider other explanations for what he saw: an ex-trainer or ranger, or even an undercover cop or security guard…

And then the man throws two balls at the only relatively empty parts of the office: the spaces in front of the doors. One releases a vileplume, the other a blastoise. The pokemon have barely been summoned before he takes a facemask out of his suitcase and has clipped it on. “Nobody move—”

Blue has already started kicking rolling chairs and shoving over desks, throwing himself behind one as he tosses out a ball. “Go, Gon! Sa!”

As the freshly summoned breloom shoots a cloud of sleep inducing spores at the blastoise, Blue has a moment to uselessly wish he had a chance to use a PC and switch his pokemon, and then he’s rolling across the floor to shove more things out of the way so he can summon his arcanine, which takes twice as long. As he works, a barked command from the renegade sends a splash of acid onto Gon from behind, causing him to cry out in pain.

Blue grits his teeth and finishes clearing a space. “Go, Soul!”

People start yelling and rushing out of the way as soon as the arcanine appears, head brushing the ceiling. Blue almost orders a Flame Charge as a second blob of acid sails through the air, drops leaving smoking holes in the carpet, then remembers where they are and shouts “Faf!” instead, pointing up and vaguely toward the vileplume from behind cover.

The next few moments are full of screams and crashing sounds as Soul goes charging through the office space. Someone has started making an announcement on the office intercom, but Blue has no attention to spare for it, and cranes his head up to see how the battle is going… which is how he spots the renegade clearing some space around himself.

If Blue had been asked how annoying it would be to have a real pokemon battle in an office building, he could have gone on a two hour rant. Just because he hasn’t trained to battle renegades doesn’t mean he hasn’t trained to battle indoors; after everything he and his friends have been through, particularly stories of Leaf and Red’s battles in Vermilion, he’d have to be a fool to expect most incidents he ends up battling in to be in the wild.

So he practiced in sims, and looked up advice online, and even found a few buildings marked for demolition to set a few of the Fuchsia scenarios in. One of the main difficulties involved not having space to summon pokemon, so Blue got good at thinking and acting in ways that would create space while acting on new ones that show up naturally in the course of the battle, even while he found it incredibly annoying and tedious compared to the smooth back and forth of even a wild outdoor battle.

Of course his practice sessions didn’t include battling a renegade who was also trying to make space, and at the end of the day who uses it comes down to who’s got better reflexes.

His arm snaps out while the renegade is still raising his ball, and Maturin appears just as the man tries to summon his own pokemon.

The renegade’s ball gives a low error beep to indicate that the summoning area isn’t clear, and as the man scrambles to create more space Blue quickly checks the other battles.

Gon has put the blastoise to sleep, but is clearly hurting from the vileplume’s acid. Thankfully Soul is savaging the flower pokemon, flame-lined jaws tearing burnt petals off one at a time, so Blue rushes over to spray some potion on his breloom before a “Sab!” has it spitting seeds out in a rapid stream at the blastoise’s tough shell.

Blue turns back to see Maturin standing in ready expectation, its attention shifting between the pokemon fighting around it. It has nothing that he could order it to do to a human, but once the other battles are done the three pokemon he has out should be able to easily overwhelm whatever the renegade summons. Still, better to deny that one too, if he can…

He prepares to throw Ion’s ball, then notices that the renegade has stopped pushing desks out of the way and finished yanking a greatball out of his pocket, a variety of others falling and scattering on the ground, and a jolt of energy sends Blue rushing forward even as the man enlarges it and takes aim at Maturin.

He’s not going to make it.

Time fractures, two futures splayed out before him. In one he sacrifices his starter to what might be permanent psychological damage. Maybe he’ll be able to clean up the confused mix of conditioning, with months of careful reprogramming and retraining, but maybe not.

In another, he withdraws Maturin, the renegade summons a new pokemon in the empty space, and Blue probably dies before his other pokemon can come save him.

It’s the sort of decision that can only ever be made one way.

He wants to believe he’s fast enough to withdraw and throw at once, but he doesn’t have another ball prepared and the renegade does, and the renegade will just do the same thing to whomever he sends out to replace Maturin anyway.

And so he has a full second to accept that he’s likely lost Maturin, a second to prepare to summon his luxio, the only other pokemon he has on him that would fit in the cleared space, and then finds himself throwing Ion’s ball just as the man does, pegging the empty greatball out of the air with a tink.

He doesn’t stop to think about what he just did, other hand already moving to get an empty ball of his own, which he enlarges and chucks directly at the man’s head.

The renegade’s reaction to his ball being deflected midair is admirably/annoyingly unphased, but he also clearly doesn’t see Blue’s followup coming, and gets smacked in the temple, which sends him stumbling back a step. Unfortunately he recovers quickly, and Blue feels a rising frustration as his options grow more and more limited. Tactics that keep the renegade from using his pokemon aren’t enough, Blue needs some way to end the fight. Maybe Blue can pull the man’s mask off and have Gon use Spore, but the renegade is bigger and stronger than him, and probably knows how to fight—

Something hits the man in the back of the head, and he stumbles forward a step. A stapler clatters to the ground, and Blue sees a woman standing behind the renegade, half concealed by her desk, a half-panicked, half-furious look on her face.

“Nice shot!” Blue yells, a savage grin splitting his face. That was an ex-trainer’s throw, or his name isn’t Oak.

The renegade regains his footing and spins toward her, and Blue winds back another empty ball as she scrambles away—

Another object flies by, this time from the left. It misses the renegade by a few inches, but makes him reflexively crouch, which makes it easier for Blue to peg him in the back of the head and almost sending him headfirst into the desk beside him.

Blue has the fleeting, annoyed thought that this scene is going to look ridiculously cartoonish in whatever film gets made about his life, but the renegade does seem to be having trouble standing straight now, so he starts to look around for something heavier to throw.

And then three objects fly at the renegade within a few seconds, one striking him in the back and another in the side, and he starts to spin wildly, eyes wide behind his mask. Blue sees a marble paperweight and dives to scoop it up, rolls into a crouch, throws—

—but the renegade is running now, withdrawing his unconscious blastoise before dashing through the doorway it was blocking.

Blue curses and chases after him before he can stop to think, scrambling to swap balls and bring Maturin with him. “Return!” he yells, then adds “Soul, come, Gon, come!” before realizing there’s no way Soul will fit through the doorway and giving a yell of frustration, pumping his legs faster as the renegade turns a corner ahead of him. He must be running for the front lobby, and if he reaches the open space there first…

But when they arrive Blue sees it’s full of people, all rushing for the building’s front entrance. The renegade doesn’t stop, and within moments he’s lost in the crowd that’s shoving its way through the main doors.

Blue slows to a stop, then looks around to make sure people aren’t running from something more immediately dangerous. He almost grabs one to ask what’s going on, if there are other renegades elsewhere, but then Gon rushes up beside him, tail bobbing as he hops protectively around his trainer.

Blue takes a moment to catch his breath, then returns Gon to his ball and rushes back the way he came, past open and empty offices to where Soul’s head is stuck through the doorway of the room they were in, clearly trying to find a way to squeeze his body through. He makes a plaintive growl as he spots Blue, rotating his head as he tries to shift a shoulder past.

“That’s alright, Boy,” Blue murmurs, stretching a hand out to pet the arcanine’s snout before gently pushing so that he backs up into the room. Blue checks him for injuries, rubbing at the stitch in his side, then withdraws Soul and looks around the wrecked office area. “Everyone okay?”

The Silph employees are still mostly cowering around their desks, but one has gone over to the vileplume’s corpse, presumably to ensure that it’s dead, while another is going from desk to desk trying phones. It’s the woman who threw the stapler at the renegade, and she smiles and nods to him.

“We’re all safe, Trainer, thanks to you.”

Blue is about to express his own gratitude to her and the others for the part they played when a shrill voice yells, “Thanks to him? What kind of maniac starts a battle in a crowded room?!”

He turns to the source, an older woman who’s sitting beside an upturned desk, a broken PC in her hands, and tries not to let his incredulity and anger show, reminding himself that she’s probably just scared. “You’d rather I let the renegade do what he wanted?”

“Ben wasn’t a renegade, he was… I mean, he…” She shakes her head, eyes wide and confused. “He probably would have let us go! That’s what the guy on the speaker said!”

Blue frowns at her as he vaguely remembers the intercom saying things while he was fighting. “What did he say, exactly?”

“That anyone below the fourth floor was free to leave!”

“He also said they’ve got hostages,” the first woman retorts. “If he was going to let us leave he wouldn’t have blocked both ways out of here.”

“Hostages?” Blue asks before they can get into an argument. Why the fourth floor? “Who?”

“We don’t know, but President Silph is one of them.”

Blue’s fists clench, and he takes out his phone to call Red, then grimaces at the lack of signal and puts it away. “It doesn’t make any sense. They block communication but let people leave… what starts on the fourth floor?”

“I don’t know, it’s… there’s some storage? Security?”

“Not IT?”

“No, that’s fifth.”

Security probably, then. Maybe they put most of their people there? Fuck it, he doesn’t have time for guessing. “Alright, I’m sure there are a bunch of people calling the police and rangers and news and so on once they leave, but when you leave could you message my grandpa, let him know I’m okay?”

The woman’s eyes widen. “Yeah, of course. You’re… going up? What about the hostages?”

“Renegades don’t take hostages,” he says, trying to ignore the churning in his stomach. Red’s okay, he’s got to be…

The woman on the ground is shaking her head. “You can’t just decide that! They’ve clearly got a plan, you don’t know they’ll kill anyone—”

“Renegades don’t leave witnesses!” Blue yells, heat filling his chest thinking of what happened under the Casino. “They’re evil, pure and simple, and whatever they’re here for they can’t be allowed to get it! If Silph is alive it’s because they need him for something, but once they have what they want they’ll kill anyone who saw them! Letting others leave means they know they’ll be gone before the police and hunters get here.”

What they’re not accounting for is him being here.

The lady hangs her head, staring at the broken computer, and he feels his anger flare up again before he forces it out with his next breath and turns back to the younger woman. “Is there a PC connected to the storage system on this floor?”

“No, I don’t think so. But they should have one—”

“On the fourth,” he guesses, and sighs when she nods, running a hand through his hair. He’d like to swap some of his pokemon out… hell, he’d like to get some backup. He’s painfully aware that he didn’t win that fight, just stalled it until he got lucky. The whole reason he didn’t tell Glen and the others to come is that none of them are equipped to handle renegades, and part of him is kicking himself for not having called them anyway.

With time to think, to imagine what’s ahead, he can feel fear trying to creep through his body, to freeze him in place. Red would tell him not to be stupid, not to rush into the field full of beedrill, or the burning building.

But he has no idea what’s happening upstairs right now, and if delaying a few minutes means the renegades get the Master Ball, or something happens to Red…

He goes to find Ion’s ball and reclip it to his belt, trying not to think about the way he threw one pokemon away on a slim chance of saving another, then heads for the private elevator, picking up the marble paperweight along the way.

I’m coming, Red.


Once the shock starts to wear off, it’s not long before tempers begin to flare.

“Thank you for your advice, but the presence of renegades makes our job clear.”

My job is to keep President Silph safe—”

“It’s also to keep company tech from falling into the wrong hands,” Burrel says, facing the chief of security down with a flat expression. “And I could imagine the president would say that if it’s between his safety or the Master Ball—”

Sicong shakes his head with a look of disgust. “Whether you’re right or not, there are other lives on the line too. I’m not assisting with any plan that might put them in danger.”

“If you expect the renegades to let him live,” Stocky says. “You are badly mistaken.”

The hunters have completely changed. From passively fading into the background, their bodies are brimming with energy, and they seem a hair’s breadth away from sudden action at any moment, which makes it hard not to feel an adrenaline kick just from being in the same room as them.

Red is spending half of his attention soothing Kadabra, who began to grow agitated from picking up on the tension and fear around them. Red would have withdrawn him, but it’s useful having the extra range for his psychic senses.

“Reinforcements will be here soon,” Lanky adds. “But they plan to be gone by then.”

“The hostages—”

“Renegade activity presumes constant danger to everyone,” Stocky says, then turns to the police commissioner. “With your permission, Sir?”

“Now wait just a minute—”

“Not yet,” Burrell says, ignoring Sicong and turning to Valentin. “I need you to tell me how compromised the labs might be. Is there any chance they can take what’s there?”

Valentin stares at the commissioner for a moment, then glances uncertainty at his livid security chief, then back. “I don’t know. It’s… they shouldn’t be able to get anything, the Master Ball is being digitally stored in multiple parts, but if they have hostages… they might be able to convince someone to give them what they need?”

“Which is likely, if they threaten to kill them or those around them.” Burrell takes a deep breath, then lets it out, vein still throbbing in his temple before he turns to the hunters. “Suggestions.”

“Bring the building down,” Lanky says, one hand patting an ultraball on his hip.

“Can you do it from here?”

“No, Sir. Would need to get outside first.”

The commissioner nods, then turns to the other hunter, who shrugs.

“If they need hostages to get the ball, call their bluff,” Stocky says. “Fight our way to them. But Jenson’s right, they’re confident they can get it and leave soon, so—”

“We need to know where they are first,” Burrell says with a nod, then turns to the female officer. “We could split up. Cover all bases, do our best to slow them down until reinforcements come.”

“But it’s not certain, Sir,” Lanky—Jenson—says. “And they could teleport away as soon as they realize they’ll lose.”

“That’s still a win, right?” Lin asks, speaking for the first time. “Getting them to leave—”

“Every renegade that escapes is a potential slaughter,” Jensen says, voice flat. “That goes twice for renegades as organized as this. The only acceptable priority is extermination.”

“You can’t,” the CHRO says, voice low and obviously scared. “You can’t just… bring down the whole building, on all the people in it, just to…”

No one answers. They don’t need to: the hunters could, in fact, do just that.

Assuming Burrell agrees. He’s still the ranking officer, and they’re under his command.

Everyone watches the commissioner as he slowly runs a hand over his cropped hair, then walks over to the window, staring out at the bright day outside. As Red picks up on the tension in his mind, the wavering fear and certainty and dread, he feels his own fear spreading and growing, sinking him into the sense that this is all a prolonged nightmare. If the commissioner gives the word, the renegades will start fighting their way out… the hostages will be killed… and then, if they make it to the ground floor, they’ll bring the whole building down.

Options, options, we need options…

What do the renegades believe?

That they hold all the cards. That as long as the police and hunters are stuck in here, and as long as they have hostages, they can get the master ball.

So they need to get the hostages away from them.

But they can’t do that while they’re stuck here.

Red feels sweat beading his skin despite the cool breeze, and glances at the window beside Burrell. They’re not actually stuck here, any of them with a teleporting pokemon can leave… he could leave, if he’s willing to wash his hands of all this. Make it not his problem.

Save himself, and maybe consign Blue and the others to death.

Or, perhaps worse, let the renegades get the Master Ball.

His heart starts to beat faster, and Red closes his eyes. Options, he needs options. What can he do that the renegades won’t expect…

…and then his partition is down, and he’s his full self again, considering all the options he’s already cataloged while it was up.

They don’t know he can perfectly lie to psychics, but that doesn’t help him at the moment.

They don’t know he can project sakki, but that only helps if he can merge with their pokemon.

Most importantly, they don’t know he can teleport indoors. Not unless they believed his claim that he could, which most who don’t know him don’t seem to, and which they’re certainly not acting like they do.

Of course, whether he can isn’t the issue. It’s whether he will, if he tries. His abra was able to teleport him to his room because he fundamentally believed it was safe. There’s no way he’s going to believe that about any part of the Silph building…

Unless he tricks part of him into believing it by partitioning and amnesia’ing what he’s doing it for.

It feels like a dangerously convoluted plan that he wishes he’d thought to try practicing earlier, but… it just might work.

Lin is giving him a strange look, and Red meets his gaze and sends a wordless question. Trust?

The other psychic holds his gaze, then nods.

“I think,” Commissioner Burrel says, voice rough, and Red can sense his decision from the sense of dull finality in his thoughts. “That we don’t have a choi—”

“Wait,” Red says, heart hammering even as his resolve hardens to certainty. “There’s another option.”

Burrell’s face doesn’t show the hope Red senses from him, only skepticism. “Speak.”

“I can teleport out, and—”

“Help won’t come on time—”

“—save the hostages.”

The skepticism is radiating from everyone now, but it’s mixed with an odd kind of hope from the non-hunters, a desperate kind that’s looking for miracles.

Burrell’s hope isn’t that kind. He’s staring at Red as if seeing him for the first time, and giving an odd smile. “Knew there was another reason Silph wanted you here. You’re his ace in the hole, aren’t you? All that stuff with Celadon, you did more than help search buildings.”

“What can you do, exactly?” Stocky asks, and Red senses suspicion from her.

It’s understandable. Only the best trainers could hope to fight renegades without having pokemon that could go for a trainer kill too, and Red doesn’t have any badges. Which, to them, implies he might have illegal pokemon.

“I can teleport indoors, and I have a secret psychic ability that lets me shut down renegade pokemon.”

“That’s imposs—”

Jenson cuts himself off, and Red both senses and sees it. The moment they remember who he is, and what he’s done.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, in some ways, but also makes some part of him relax, his back straightening as he meets their gaze one by one. Another part of him is terrified of what the consequences of his secret coming out might be… but maybe, if he’s careful…

“He’s not lying,” Lin confirms after a moment, voice quietly awed. Even without being merged, Red knows the other psychic can sense his resolve. “He’s scared, but… he really believes he can do this.”

Burrell’s eyes are wide, and he licks his lips, hand going to his hair again. His gaze jumps to his hat where it’s lying on the ground, then back to Red. “Ten minutes. Get Silph to safety, if you can. Stop the renegades, if you can. And then we’re breaking out.”

Red nods and turns to Valentin. “I need to know where I’m going. The only spots I’ll be able to teleport to are Silph’s office and the back elevator.” They’re the only places in the building he formed enough of a strong emotional memory to return to. “Can you tell me how to get to the lab from either?”

“I’ll do you one better. Give me your phone, I’ll transfer you our security codes and the building schematics.” Valentin hesitates, then turns to Sicong. “Assuming—”

“Yes, fuck it, give him whatever we’ve got!”

Red hands his phone over, then prepares himself for a very strange conversation with his partitioned self. After a moment he turns to Lin. “How far is your psychic range? Does it reach the bottom floor?”

“It doesn’t reach the top floors, but I can sense most of the building.”

“Then I’m going to need your help…”

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